Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Review - Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Told

Just finished an interesting book titled, “Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You’ve Been Told,” by Bradley Wright. Dr. Wright is a believer, holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin and is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. I wonder if the author, when writing this book, was thinking of the phrase popularized by Mark Twain, about how there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics."

I highly recommend all believers read this book. It dispels a number of myths we’ve been told by the Christian and secular media, by Christian leaders, and by friends and colleagues.

Dr. Wright tactfully addresses several Barna studies and books that have been influential in addressing issues in the church. He does this by looking at much larger studies done over time that help get a handle on trends rather than small snapshot samplings. Here are some examples of his findings about Evangelical Christianity:

• We are more respected today than two decades ago. And the mixed attitudes from non Christians probably don't affect our mission.

• Growth in the church has risen from just under 20% in 1776 to over 60% today.

• Evangelical Christianity has had “strong growth in absolute numbers and steady in terms of percentages,” since the 70s.

• We have a lower divorce rates than nonbelievers.

• Christian belief and practices grows stronger with more education (secular). Go figure!

• “The percentage of young people who attend church has held steady over the past twenty years.”

• “Belief about God, Bible and heaven remain stable” with young evangelicals.

• “Prayer, evangelism and church attendance are up in recent decades” with young evangelicals.

• Our youth are doing well in the area of standing against sex, drugs, and stealing in both belief and behavior. Though they are having problems with fighting and everyday honesty.

Dr Wright concludes that, “here in America, Evangelical Christianity in particular and Christianity as a whole, is doing a pretty good job of being the church.” Wow! Juxtaposition that against the pervasive views espoused by Christian leaders, teachers and researchers who suggest we are going to hell in a hand basket. A close friend of Dr. Wright commented after reading the book, “I guess I don’t have to be embarrassed about being a Christian.” So why do we constantly drift towards believing the worst about the church and Christians? Perhaps it is because negativity sells and sticks like a tar baby.

Neither the author nor I are suggesting that Christians have arrived. But embracing untruths about ourselves does not advance the Kingdom of God.

Dr. Wright warns us to cautiously approach statistics. Over all the book was entertaining, kept my attention and was much more enjoyable than other statistical books I've read. Perhaps most importantly it has provided a sense of hope for the 21st century church and a desire to discern the times and the stats.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Spiritual Holiday – The Grove Church

The roots of The Grove church start in the fall of 2000 when a group of high school and junior high kids met in the backyard of a Tempe home for worship and prayer. They quickly outgrow the home as parents and friends joined. After several nomadic growth moves this band of 200 in 2002 secured their current 20 acre site.

By 2006, after herculean sacrifices by this band of Jesus followers, they took possession of a three building campus of 30,000 sq feet. And the morning we attended they announced the purchase of an additional 2 ½ acres for parking. Hum, maybe Barack, Bernanke and Wall Street could learn from these young spiritual entrepreneurs.

Getting into and out of the Grove is a bit of a challenge. Only half of a divided Gilbert Rd is usable and leaves only one way to enter and exit the church. At the speed that the City of Chandler moves it could be months before completion, so factor that into your drive.

The architecture of the worship center is multipurpose. Metal cages around the projectors and three point half circles were a dead giveaway. The stage area was unique from other churches we have visited. It sports a “Pier 1” look and feel. I’m guessing it might be their African mission mindedness. Lead pastor, Palmer Chinchen is the son of a missionary couple who started the African Bible Colleges (ABC). They also send teams from the church to this African mission.

The theme of this church is Love God, Grow Together and Serve the World.

Their doctrinal statement is standard evangelical mom and apple pie. They recognize two sacraments, water baptism and communion. The week we were there they didn’t serve communion; perhaps it is a monthly practice. A receptacle at the back of church is available for tithes and offerings. While one visit may not show how they walk out doctrine, their favorite books can give insight in how doctrine is assimilated.

Worship is loud, rock and very upbeat. The worship leader encouraged us to clap our hands while he demonstrated by clapping over his head. In the middle of the worship the leader had us read Romans 12:1,2 three times and ponder what we were reading. These scriptures would form the basis for Pastor Palmer’s sermon.

After the worship Pastor Palmer took his spot on the stage sitting beside and slightly behind a little round table. This Sunday he would introduce his twin brother who is still very active with ABC. They shared some touching stories of growing up in Africa. One in particular dealt with the native’s reaction to the young twin white boys. It seems twins are bad luck and the second born is considered very evil. Pastor Palmer is the second born. We all laughed along with the two brothers.

Sermons are topical rather than expository. The week we were there they began a new series, “A few things happened on the way to Jerusalem.” The sermon title was, “Your Brain on God.” It tied in with the Romans worship reading about renewing the mind to think after God’s thoughts. The Pastor first applied the gospel plow in Luke 4:16-18,21 & 24-30. He told personal stories of how God changed the way he thought which affected his anger issues. He illustrated how attitudes affect our outlook by reading from one of his children’s favorite books titled, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” Good illustration. We could all track with his emphases on Jesus the healer of my moods and wrong attitudes. The sermon ended in Philippines 4:4-9 on how we need to think in Christ. He then concluded with practical advice: watch your diet and exercise, be a lifelong learner, hang out with friends, do less for self and more for others, pray and meditate on the scriptures.

If you are looking for upbeat worship, practical sermons and a young church, give The Grove a try.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On Spiritual Holiday - Grace Chapel

For more than twenty years, Grace Chapel has ministered in south Scottsdale. Pastors Richard and Becky Casteel founded this church after serving in two churches of the same name in Tucson and Springfield, Missouri. While each of these churches was founded as non-denominational, they all now belong to the Foursquare Church. Pastor Richard serves on the denomination's Board of Directors.

The worship at Grace Chapel was very upbeat even though the worship team appeared to have more 40-somethings that 20-somethings. (In fact, the congregation as whole had an unusual and winsome spread of ages, from very young children to the elderly.) Quite a few parents had their children with them during the worship service. And, communion was served the week we attended.

The Gifts of the Spirit were in evident throughout the service. People spoke in tongues, gave words of knowledge, and nearly half of the congregation responded to an alter call. A gentlemen approached us during the alter call time and gave us an accurate and encouraging prophesy.

The pastors took time to pray for several different young men and women going on missions trips this summer through organizations affiliated and not affiliated with the denomination.

A missionary to Africa was the guest speaker the week we attended. His sermon was a call for God's people to "Get Ready" for the work the Lord was about to do. It was impassioned and free-flowing.

According to its website, "[t]he mission of Grace Chapel is to increase the worship of God by making more and better disciples. Therefore, we work together to go near and far with the Gospel message and to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ." This goal was clearly evident in the worship service and through the programs of the church, which included bible studies, prayer meetings, a Celebrate Recovery ministry, and youth meetings.

If you're looking for a church that spreads the Gospel, makes disciples, and still experiences the vibrant work of the Holy Spirit, give Grace Chapel a try.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On Spiritual Holiday - Genesis Christian Church

Genesis Christian Church (GCC) began in February of 2008 with 188 people. They desire to be a place of new beginnings, for people to have a brand-new start with God. The church is located just east of Gilbert on Guadalupe Rd. It is situated on a long narrow piece of property so parking is in the rear. Visible from the outside but not on the inside is a beautiful display of stained glass windows. Though we would have opted for its visibility on the inside, it is an amazing blessing for this new church plant to have their own facility.

The main sanctuary looks like it could hold 400. There was close to 200 the day we attended. Seating is spacious, positioned so you need not make contortions as you pass the stationary seated isle saints to sit in the middle. Although the building is over 10 years old, the choice of new wall colors, carpet and seating were warm, inviting and updated appropriately.

Genesis is a sister church of Spring of Life Christian Church (SLCC). SLCC is a sister church of Central Christian Church located in East Mesa. See our blog on Central Christian.

Before attending I had called and left a message to find out if children were welcomed in the service. This is a must have for us and speaks volumes of a church’s response to a biblical world view toward family. Pastor Tim personally called and assured me that children are welcomed in the service. They do have a child care and children's ministry for the grade school ages which begins after the corporate worship. I liked Pastor Tim’s favorite authors C. S. Lewis and John Stott. We overlooked his Seattle Mariners sports preference.

Pastor Tim Kelly went to Western Oregon State University where he played two years of college hoops. After graduating he had a desire to help students grow in their Christian faith. For the next ten years he worked with Campus Crusade for Christ in Colorado and Chile. Tim went on to graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry from Phoenix Theological Seminary. Pastor Tim started Genesis from the ground up. Tim and Lisa Kelly have 3 children ages 5 and under. Lisa is one of the worship leaders and you might recognize her; she is a local CBS News journalist.

Pastor Tim has a relaxed, no-pulpit style of teaching. The week we were there his sermon was on “The Way of the Resurrection,” taken from Mark 16.

Genesis strongly encourages attendees to be active in Growth Groups. These weekly small groups of 10 -12 people meet in homes and ...... study the Bible. Yes! And it is within this context that singles and couples alike have the opportunity to laugh, cry, grow in faith, ask the hard questions, and learn more about God in a loving environment.

Worship was contemporary, and upbeat, just the way the Lewis' like it, however at times it was difficult to know who on the stage was leading the worship, even on Easter Sunday when we visited. The worship was a blend of updated hymns and new songs and the environment lent itself to raising of hands. We sang five songs (Let the Praises Ring, Christ the Lord is Risen Today!, Amazing Grace / My chains are Gone, Jesus Paid it All and You Raise Me Up). The singing was followed by communion and a special musical number “The Way of the Resurrection,” by a classical violinist. We could remember all this because of a section in the bulletin informed us on what to expect in the service.

Along with a strong evangelical doctrinal statement they listed out their values. They noted such items as living generously, practicing prayer, experiencing grace (receiving it and giving it), honoring God (being wise stewards of everything He has given us, including our bodies), changing the culture, building healthy relationships (committed to working through conflict in marriage and friendships), impacting the world (partnering with God's work around the globe) and building up others (encouraging others and refraining from complaining or gossiping) observed by all believers. Great values to pursue; a foundation for a healthy church.

We always look for healthy signs in churches like community partnerships. GCC partners with Crisis Pregnancy Center for the Walk for Life, and Arizona Reservation Ministries , tutoring service for students and various foods drives. Another value that caught our eye is engagement in the culture or changing the culture. If the church shies away from the politically incorrect issues of our day and age then there is no hope for a moral reformation in our country.

If you are looking for a midsized church in order to plant yourself into the lives of a vibrant Christian Community, take a look at GCC and consider a new beginning at Genesis.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

On Spiritual Holiday - Superstition Springs Community Church

“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you. To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) This scripture captures the mission of Superstition Springs Community Church (SSCC).

SCCC is a sister church to Cornerstone Church in Chandler. It was birthed out of Sun Valley Community Church in 1995 and they met at Highland High School for 10 years. In 2005 they hired Mark Connelly as lead pastor, moved into their present facilities and have since experienced phenomenal growth. Weekly they fill five services in their soon-to-be-replaced chapel that holds 400. We attended the 10:30AM service. Don’t be stylish late at this church because by 10:15 it was standing room only. SSCC is well on its way to becoming a mega church with all that entails.

We received a heads up about this church from a respected friend of ours. Glad he did and we would like to hear from you readers about other churches to attend and review.

SSCC not only has a rock solid grip on the Gospel for the soul put capably applies it outside their four walls by partnering locally with House of Refuge and their developed worldwide ministry of Vision Abolition.

Approaching the church at 4450 E. Elliot Rd in Gilbert we turned unto a temporary dirt road and made our way to the back to park. They are three weeks into construction of their new worship center. All along the way of our walk from the parking lot to the chapel we were greeted by serving members who stood out sporting light colored short sleeved pin stripped shirts embossed with service team logos much like you would see at a bowling alley. Interesting touch!

Lead pastor Mark Connelly preached. The Lewis family agreed that Mark resembles friend and Pastor Brian McKay at SGC. Obviously Brian is better looking, younger, and better at church announcements.

This Sunday Pastor Mark announced a new addition to the church’s family ministry, Gary Smalley of the Gary Smalley Relationship Center. Gary is best known as a teacher, counselor and writer of such well known books as, The Blessing, The Two Sides of Love, The Language of Love and 25 other award winning books.

Mark is a quite a dynamic preacher. We heard he worked for General Mills and felt the call to ministry later in life. He is another one of those guys who doesn’t use a pulpit, however he differs in that he moves over the entire stage during his message. His style and delivery easily engages the congregation and draws them into the sermon with humor, relevant stories and spot-on scriptures that cleanly pierce the heart.

His sermon this Sunday was on forgiveness. He started with things Jesus never taught about forgiveness. First, forgiveness is not having to feel good about a bad thing that happened. Second, forgiveness is not about forgetting what happened to you. Thirdly, it is not synonymous with trust, and finally, it is not the absence of consequence. He then unpacked the ground rules by showing in the scriptures that we follow Christ‘s example, we have the power and capacity to choose to forgive, and that because we have received underserved grace and limitless forgiveness, we do not keep records or wrongs.

The sermon ended with simple and clear application questions like; “Who do I avoid? Who makes me cringe when I see them? Who in my past do I no longer keep in touch with and why?" In addition a helpful little card was handed out with forgiveness exhortations and questions.

Worship was dynamic with a mix of contemporary songs and upbeat hymns. And it made it easy for the non musically inclined Lewis family to participate. The congregation worshiped uninhibitedly with enthusiastic singing and clapping and raising of hands.

The Sunday we attended 50 new believers were baptized, ten of which during our service. SSCC has a unique approach to baptism. After a brief time of worship one of the pastors came forward and introduced each new believer with their brief story. Then the congregation returned to worship. Off to the side of the stage, the ten were baptized and the experience was projected on the massive screen behind the worship team. What a powerful combination! The songs were so pertinent and it was a true worship experience. The most touching moment came when a family of five was baptized. First mom and dad went under; Then the pastor stepped to the side while the newly baptized couple led their children into this most consecrated Christian sacraments.

As we left the church we couldn’t help noticed Big League Dreams (BLD) with its eight replica baseball stadiums just to the north. In BLD one can live in his dream fantasy however in SSCC one can live in his dream reality to the Lord.

Monday, April 20, 2009

On Spiritual Holiday - Desert Springs Church

Desert Springs Church located at 19620 S. McQueen in Chandler was started as an Assembly of God church plant back in 1997. They have been meeting in their own attractive and well functioning building for almost a year.

Parking was easy and there were plenty of friendly faces to greet us on our approach to the church doors. Once inside a youthful, early 30s, greeter struck up a conversation with us. She asked lots of conversation generators which prompted us to ask our fair share of questions. At one point our questions garnered an invite to meet and talk with Pastor Brad Davis. We found this man of God warm, engaging and easy to talk with.

Pastor Brad Davis and his lovely wife of over 20 years, Becky Davis, are motivated by their vision to “Touch a Generation for the Kingdom of God.” They are both graduates from North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota where they met. Becky is a talented singer who led us in worship the morning we visited the church.

Their core values are expressed by being people who:
· are filled with passion for God,
· raise the bar,
· are unafraid to dream,
· refuse to settle,
· embrace today,
· leave it better than we found it and
· speak life.

Although striving to be relevant in today’s culture, at least in our first visit, the church is holding to the essentials of the Christian faith.

Their goal is to equip people through praise, relevant preaching, passionate times of prayer and allowing ample time in the service for the Holy Spirit to move.

We commend them on the last point of giving time and place to Spirit. Within their upbeat worship where the saints feel the liberty to raise or clap hands they punctuated with a pause, to listen for the Lord’s promptings, and “singing in the spirit.” And although the church is Pentecostal in its origin, we didn’t believe anyone accustomed to today’s contemporary worship style would feel uncomfortable worshiping with these dear saints.

Pastor Davis has a straight forward easy to listen to teaching style. He is topical rather than expository in his approach to the scriptures.

This particular Sunday we caught one of a five part series on marriage. Using a large flat screen console loaded with the Wii game of baseball he proceeded to demonstrate how this type of game only has meaning when you interact with another person, just like marriage.

In his sermon he walked the fine line between God hating divorce and yet not hating divorced people. He emphasized God’s grace and forgiveness. He supplied plenty of statistics on divorces damaging effects. Yet he did not disqualify the repentant from the kingdom of God. The service concluded with prayer up front for those with needs. Like all the churches we have visited thus far children are welcomed in the services. So if you are looking for community, relevant teaching and Holy Spirit friendly worship, give Desert Springs a chance.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Spiritual Holiday - Central Christian

One church two campuses

Central Christian is an East Valley mega church. Founded in 1959 as a non denomination bible believing church it has grown to over 8000 members. Cal Jernigan has been the senior pastor since 1999. The primary campus is located at University and Lindsey in Mesa. We attended the newest campus which is located 10 miles due south on Lindsey and Germann.

You can’t miss the Gilbert Campus. Its architecture is a modern southwest motif that fits beautifully into the new Gilbert look. Once on campus we followed the signs to visitor parking and were able to park near the worship center. Plenty of smiling faces and warm welcoming greeted us upon our entry into the worship and visitor centers.

The campus buildings are spaciously laid out in community style. One visitor shared that it is like a village inside of a village. This hi-tech facility even has a kiosk in the middle of the campus to check children into the various activities and the visitor’s center has its share of PCs.

The church has numerous outlets for doing and receiving ministry for everyone in the family. There is something for all ages and stages. And children of all ages are welcome in the main service. There is no reason to be bored or uninvolved at this church.

Once in the worship center big guys will quickly notice how easily you can navigate down any row without bothering the seated saints. Tom especially loved the room. The squished feeling gets old quick.

We sat near the rear of the facility in order to see what would transpire during worship. Lights were subdued and two large projection screens at the front of the church afforded close ups of the worship team. The worship comes with a strobe and haze effect. The bulletin has a Surgeon General type of message informing you that the haze fluid is water based and safe for you and the environment. We chuckled! We must be getting old. Although the worship team is polished we found the complexity of the songs difficult for us to sing; we were tempted to spectate rather than participate in the worship. However, the post-message worship did draw some of the congregation out with expressions of raised hands.

After the worship, the youthful Corey Bullock, Gilbert Campus Pastor of evangelism, took to the stage to welcome all and to tactfully direct our minds to Jesus and the gospel of salvation. He then had us greet one another, which was followed by Communion. We were served at our seats with the bread which you dipped into the common juice container. Finally, in a low key manner the offering was taken.

As time for the sermon came, a large screen, the width of the stage, was lowered. Then Cal Jernigan, senior pastor, was projected live in HD from the Mesa Campus. As we stated previously in our blogs, projecting live is surprisingly easy to adjust to. The speaker is much easier to see. Being in HD, Pastor Jernigan, appeared crisp, clear and slightly bigger than life.

We liked his style, a melding of emerging church no pulpit and with the traditional podium approach. This was accomplished by positioning Pastor Jernigan beside a small, round, elevated, hip, Starbucks-type coffee table. Here he would stand or sit during the message with notes on table accomplishing an open inviting and relaxed approach. Wow! Tom could envision himself doing this – being free of the podium safety net and going emergent.

Pastor Jernigan’s sermon this Sunday was the last in a series of nine messages under the heading of “Repulsed – Confronting the Sins of the Church.” The specific topic of this message was, “The Sin of Presumption.”

Pastor Jernigan is a gifted, easy-to-listen-to speaker. Starting with the story of the freakish death of Steve Erwin the Australian Crocodile Hunter, he brought out how little of life we do control. He followed the story with a simple definition, “presumption is when we seek to assume the place of God in our lives.” He topically demonstrated the definition from Daniel, Acts and James. All this flowed seamlessly with the sermon outline provided in the bulletin. We were moved by the sermon with our souls running the gambit from encouragement to conviction.

The service was concluded with worship and a very effective HD video mosaic that pieced together all nine sin’s definitions covered by the former sermons. This church knows how to use technology to more powerfully proclaim the truth.