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Showing posts from April, 2012

Attracting Younger Leaders

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Recently, I have been thinking and praying about how to become the sort of leader who attracts younger leaders to his team.   I have this crazy idea that if the Church is going to move and thrive into the next century it will need to do a better of job of nurturing, equipping and empowering the "next" generation for the task.

I'm the pastor of a mainline Protestant church---Presbyterian, to be precise---and mainline Protestant churches are not exactly known to be the sort of places where young leaders are valued and equipped.

Let's put it this way, at the ripe old age of 43 I still get approached by people at our denominational gatherings who are shocked that I am a "senior" pastor of a larger congregation.

So what I am saying is that in my particular context, I am perceived to be the young leader.  Most of the churches in my denomination fall in love with the idea of having younger people in leadership, but only in very specific, limited and diminished…

Who Gets To Go To Heaven?

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This week I am preaching the conclusion to the four-part sermon series, "Ever After."  We've been exploring what the Bible has to say about what happens to us when we die.

The sermon this week is entitled "Tickets" and deals with the difficult question: "Who gets to go to Heaven?" I have to say that this is a straight up three point sermon.  I'm kicking it old school here.  But it's not three points and a poem.  It's three points and some statistics, some scripture an illustration or two and some wisdom.  I couldn't find a poem.

First the statistics...

According to a recent ABC News poll, lots of people get to go to Heaven.

75% of Americans believe they are going to Heaven.
A scant 21% think only Christians go to Heaven.
60% of Americans believe that both Christians and non-Christians go to Heaven.
80% of American women believe they are going to Heaven.
70% of American men believe they are going to Heaven.

About those last two sta…

Heaven Is For Real? Pt. 2

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I have been in his brightest shining heaven
and seen such things that no man, once returned
from there, has wit or skill to tell about. 
         - Dante from Paradiso


"Peter," said Lucy, "where is this, do you suppose?"
"I don't know," said the High King.  "It reminds me of somewhere, but I can't give it a name.  Could it be somewhere we once stayed for a holiday when we were very, very small?"
 - C.S. Lewis from The Last Battle


What is Heaven like?  What can we learn from visions of Heaven that will give us a renewed sense of purpose here on earth?  How can we defy that old saying, Christians are so heavenly minded, "they are no earthly good?"

A Spirit-filled vision of Heaven should give us hope for the future, and a purpose for the present. 

When we go to the Bible we find some interesting visions of Heaven...

In Isaiah 2:2-4 we have this description of Heaven from the prophet:

2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple wi…

5 Challenging Books on Heaven

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The following list of books with accompanying reviews represents some of the more challenging books on Heaven that I read in preparation for the sermons I have been preaching on the Afterlife.  By challenging I mean that they challenge the status quo, the traditional views of Heaven.  Some of them were written by non-Christians, and each of them contains conclusions (and speculations) that push the reader to reassess his/her preconceived notions about Heaven.

Heaven:  Our Enduring Fascination With The Afterlifeby Lisa Miller [Harper Collins, 2010]

Lisa Miller is an award winning journalist in the field of religion.  She regularly has columns in Newsweek, and was formerly on staff at the Wall Street Journal  and The New Yorker.  Miller, who is Jewish, felt her fascination with the afterlife grow after the events of 9/11 and the subsequent work that she did in the new religious culture that emerged after that great tragedy.  Heaven is the culmination of hundreds of hours of interviews wi…

Reading About Heaven: 5 Popular Books

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As part of my research on Heaven these past couple of weeks, I have had the chance to read more than my fair share of books on the subject.

Here is a short list of the more "popular" books about Heaven with brief reviews of each:

Heaven Is For Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story Of His Trip to Heaven and Backby Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent. [Thomas Nelson, 2010]

This New York Times Bestseller became a phenomenon, selling millions of copies and garnering a great deal of attention.  The book recounts the experiences of young Colton Burpo, who "died" and went to heaven during a severe illness.  Later, he began to relate his memories of the event to his parents, who were astounded by what they believed to be unexplainable details in his stories.  This is an easy read that could be finished in an afternoon.  I have to admit, I was slightly underwhelmed by this book.  I expected a great deal more out of it than I received, to be honest.  I can definitely see how cri…

Heaven Is For Real? Pt. 1

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What is Heaven like?

Is it where God lives?  A city of gold with pearly gates?  Is it full of angels with wings, strumming harps?

Or is it just a state of being in perfect peace---one with the universe, some might say.

Is it where "good" people go to spend eternity after they die?

Does anyone really know?

Well, some people actually claim that they do.  According to a Gallup pole at least 8 million people in America alone have had near-death experiences, nearly all of whom emerged from them with an unshakable belief in the afterlife.

Once when I was visiting an elderly lady at her home she leaned over and in a conspiratorial whisper she told me, "I have seen Heaven."  Of course I immediately asked her "What's it like?"  She went on to describe an unbelievable journey from a bed in a hospital room through the air and to a beautiful garden filled with light.  I can still see her face as she described it.

Even the most skeptical people have a hard ti…

The Fear of the Lord: A Catholic Perspective on Hell

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This guest post is from my good friend Fr. Christopher Decker, who serves two parishes in Louisiana in addition to being one of the creative engines behind the popular Catholic Underground. Fr. Decker and I slogged through Clinical Pastoral Education together many moons ago, and I would not have made it without his friendship, wit and deep faith.  I asked him to jot down some thoughts from the Catholic perspective about Hell & Purgatory to dovetail on my recent sermon on Hell last week.  


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Of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the one that often turns up an eyebrow is “The Fear of The Lord”. What is it? Doesn’t the Lord Himself say to the apostles who are startled at his appearance upon the stormy seas, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid.”? It would seem that this gift contradicts Jesus who wishes to be known and to make known a God who desires a new depth of relationshi…

Hell? No.

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Like I said, I am preaching on Hell this Sunday... 


This is a continuation of the post that I posted yesterday where I sort of laid out the dominant images of hell that exist in Christian culture.

I also indicated that I didn't think hell was a place like we understand place.

I also indicated that I didn't think hell was a place where you burned alive for ever and ever.

Now to what I do think...

First, I have to say this.  I don't think that any reasonable person would say that they enjoy the idea of hell.  Most of us don't want hell to exist.  I get it when people say that they don't believe in hell.  I don't want to believe in it either.

Lots of people say that they don't really believe in hell---including a growing number of Christians.  Ironically, something like 87% of Americans believe in heaven.

The main two reasons that people cite for not believing in hell have to do with the nature of God.  First, they believe that eternal retribution isn'…