Update on Convoy of Hope Relief Efforts in Haiti


The Assemblies of God has been channelingThrough Convoy of Hope, the Assemblies of God has been channeling needed humanitarian resources to victims of the Haiti earthquake. In this video, Dr. George O. Wood (my dad) interviews Kary Kingsland about what’s happened so far.

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The iValue Campaign


The iValue Campaign is a new tool for Assemblies of God congregations to share core doctrine with their members. In this video, Dr. Jim Bradford, my boss, gives a 5-minute summary of the campaign. For more information, visit ivalue.ag.org.

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“Primal” by Mark Batterson


Mark Batterson, Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2009). $17.99. 192 pages.

When asked by a Jewish legal expert to name the most important commandment in the Mosaic Law, Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30, cf. Deut. 6:4, 5). Nothing in life is important as amo Dei, the love of God, which is referred to as the Great Commandment. Unfortunately, what Jesus said to the Ephesian church could be said to many Christians today: “You have forsaken your first love” (Rev. 2:4).
Mark Batterson’s new book, Primal, is an insightful guide to recovering your first love. If you are a spiritual seeker or a new Christian, this book will outline a simple but powerful vision of what following Christ is supposed to be. If you are a longtime Christian, it will refresh your faith. And if you are a pastor, it will help minister to both categories of parishioners.
Mark is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC, as well as a personal friend. If I recommend the book, it is because I can first recommend the man. Mark is a creative thinker and a gifted communicator. The church he leads meets at multiple theaters throughout the Washington DC area, not because he can’t find a place for a more permanent building, but because that’s where the people are. NCC also owns and operates Ebenezer’s, an award-winning coffee house and performance space near Union Station. All profits from Ebenezer’s sales go to missions.
Primal is all about living out the Great Commandment and centers on four key practices: “compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy,” which correspond to “heart, mind, soul, and strength” in Mark 12:30. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t think naturally of Christianity in those terms—especially not as it’s practiced by American Christians. We are not always a compassionate, wonder-filled, curious, or energetic crowd. But once you’re done reading this book, you won’t be satisfied with going back to your old routines.
One of Mark’s great strengths is to explain old biblical truths in fresh ways and with new word pictures. This is a thoroughly biblical book, but it avoids tired clichés and conventional thinking. I’ve read a lot of books on Christian living. Mark wrote a lot of things in this book that exposed deficiencies in my own thinking and practice of the faith without making me feel hopeless or helpless in the process.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
· “Christianity has a perception problem. At the heart of the problem is the simple fact that Christians are more known for what we’re against than what we’re for” (p. 6).
· “The American church needs a heart check. Or maybe I should say, a bank check. It seems to me that we have spiritualized the American Dream of materialized the gospel. Take your pick. And any attempt to monetize a relationship with God cheapens the gospel” (p. 32).
· “When we lose our sense of wonder, what we really lose is our soul. Our lack of wonder is really a lack of love” (p. 51).
· You are among the company of translators [of the Bible]. For better or for worse, your life is your unique translation. Just like the Septuagint or King James Version, your life translates Scripture into a language that those around you can read. God doesn’t just want to speak to you through Scripture; He wants to speak through you. He wants to write His-story through your life. And Scripture is the script” (p. 85).
· “The church ought to be the most curious place on the planet. We ought to be a safe place where people can ask dangerous questions, but all too often we’re guilty of answering questions that no one is even asking” (p. 97).
· “Lack of faith is not a failure of logic. It’s a failure of imagination. Lack of faith is the inability or unwillingness to entertain thoughts of a God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine” (p. 112).
· “As Christ followers, we need to take a why not approach to life. It dares to dream. It’s bent toward action. And it’s not looking for excuses not to do something” (p. 139).
· “I have a theory: most church problems don’t come from the abundance of sin but rather from a lack of vision. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t sin problems or that those sin problems aren’t serious. But in too many instances, there isn’t enough vision to keep churches busy. Our vision isn’t big enough to demand all our energies, so we manufacture petty problems to keep us busy” (p. 148).
· “Let me ask you a question: It might be the question. Which do you love more: your dream or God? Do you love God for what He can do for you? Or do you love Him for who He is? In its purest, mot primal form, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is loving God for God. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else” (p. 165).
I could go on and on, but I hope you get the drift. Mark has great insights and asks some tough questions whose answers are revealing.
Read Primal! And start practicing the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy that should characterize all followers of Christ!

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If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com page.

“Steering through Chaos” by Scott Wilson


Scott Wilson, Steering through Chaos: Mapping a Clear Direction for Your Church in the Midst of Transition and Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010). $18.99, 224 pages.

By the time most churches choose to change, it is almost too late. They are in crisis and decline. They are experiencing opposition rather than momentum. Scott Wilson’s Steering through Chaos offers church leaders valuable insights about how to make changes while their churches are growing and experiencing momentum so that they experience greater levels of faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry.

Scott is a personal friend; senior pastor of The Oaks Fellowship in Dallas, Texas; and an ordained Assemblies of God minister. The insights he presents in this book are biblically grounded, organizationally savvy, field-tested, and passionately presented. I have read many books on church leadership and church growth. They apply best practices from the business world to the church world with real insight and effectiveness. Scott does so here as well, where appropriate. But he also offers this timely reminder:

Certainly, we can learn valuable lessons by looking at the way a business organization is operated and led, but ultimately we need to remember that Christ is the head of the universal church and of every local body of believers. The church doesn’t exist to make a pastor’s plans a reality; it exists to live out Christ’s vision for his body and for our community.

Scott’s big on a church carrying out Christ’s vision for the community. He writes, “Vision isn’t something I determine—it’s something I discover as I walk with God day after day.” Christ’s vision for the church keeps leaders from small-mindedness, but also from big-headedness. The problem is that pastors let their sight get focused on things other than the vision Christ has for their churches.

When pastors choose to focus on Christ’s vision for their churches, they are choosing to steer into chaos rather than out of it. Throughout this book, Scott reinforces the idea that choosing to make visionary changes in the way your church does things creates chaos, as people are required to change settled habits of doing things and embrace new strategies. This creates relational tension, which most pastors work hard to avoid, but which Scott counsels to embrace since they offer opportunities for growth and renewed commitment. Relationships are central to the ministry of the church. “People aren’t here to help me [the church’s leader] fulfill the vision. They are the vision!” Relational touch must be established before, during, and after chaos. And communication is central.

So is prayer. Scott’s book is one of the few books on church leadership I’ve read that includes an entire chapter on corporate prayer. But this practice flows directly from the belief that the church’s vision is Christ’s vision. It is through prayer that God inspires us to follow his vision for the church. And prayer is also helpful for bringing people together during times of relational tension. “Too often we avoid corporate prayer when we need it most: in times of tension and turmoil.” In both the chapter on prayer and the chapter on relationship, Scott teaches the concept of “cascades.” When we communicate, we ought to communicate with leadership, who communicate to followers in ever-widening circles of the organization. We should pray in the same way. Cascading communication and cascading prayer are two valuable tools Scott teaches.

I don’t want to do a chapter-by-chapter summary of Scott’s book, which has many excellent suggestions. But let me include two further items Scott writes about: celebration and coaching.

“Gratitude for what God has done and will do,” Scott writes, “should be a natural and normal part of our life and ministry.” Part of that gratitude is expressed in telling stories of what God is doing through the members of the church. Too often, church leaders don’t celebrate the small wins. Scott is leading The Oaks Fellowship toward creating a culture of storytelling in which testimonies and praise for others are a regular and important part of the church’s life.

Finally, coaching. Scott considers getting a life coach the most significant principle he teaches in the book. He writes: “Many pastors remain some of the most isolated and lonely people in the world.” As the former pastor of a small church, I myself know how those pastors feel. We also know what it’s like to be discouraged and to feel resourceless and burned out. A life coach can be, in Scott’s words: “an accurate mirror,” “a vision stretcher,” “a gifted strategist,” and “a trusted confidant.” No church leader, especially not the senior pastor, should be without a mentor. And those leaders in the church who are so gifted should be coaches.

I strongly recommend Steering through Chaos. It shows church leaders how to choose, communicate, and implement strategic change when momentum is at their backs rather than decline in their faces. And it does so by contextualizing good organizational practices in the framework of a vital spirituality.

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P.S. If you thought this review was helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon page.

Global Restrictions on Religion


The Pew Research Center has a new report, “Global Restrictions on Religion.” From the executive summary:

“Global Restrictions on Religion,” a new study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, finds that 64 nations — about one-third of the countries in the world — have high or very high restrictions on religion. But because some of the most restrictive countries are very populous, nearly 70% of the world’s 6.8 billion people live in countries with heavy restrictions on religion, the brunt of which often falls on religious minorities.

Some restrictions result from government actions, policies and laws. Others result from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups. The highest overall levels of restrictions are found in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, where both the government and society at large impose numerous limits on religious beliefs and practices. But government policies and social hostilities do not always move in tandem. Vietnam and China, for instance, have high government restrictions on religion but are in the moderate or low range when it comes to social hostilities. Nigeria and Bangladesh follow the opposite pattern: high in social hostilities but moderate in terms of government actions.

Among all regions, the Middle East-North Africa region has the most government and social restrictions on religion, while the Americas are the least-restrictive region on both measures. Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and India stand out as having the most restrictions when both measures are taken into account, while Brazil, Japan, the United States, Italy, South Africa and the United Kingdom have the least.

Pentecostals and evangelicals have a stake in religious freedom since the gospel is a free offer of salvation to be received by faith, not under threat of force. We should stand up for religious freedom everywhere!

The Search for God and Guinness


Stephen Mansfield, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009). $24.99, 304 pages.

We’re all familiar with oxymorons, those delightful phrases that embody a contradiction: giant shrimp, deafening silence, minor crisis, etc. To which we can now add another: evangelical brewer. For American evangelicals, traditionally teetotalers, a Christian beer-maker makes about as much sense as a Christian pimp or a Christian bookie.

What, then, to make of Arthur Guinness—founder of the Guinness brewing dynasty and devotee of Wesleyan Methodism? Stephen Mansfield’s new book offers an answer, and it is well worth reading, even if you are a teetotaler.

Mansfield is the author of several books, including The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. A politically conservative Christian with a Ph.D. in history and literature, Mansfield writes that he wrote The Search for God and Guinness while in something of a funk. The nasty response from conservative Christians to his Obama book made him weary of America’s vituperative political discourse. The shady actions of Wall Street execs—who seemed to get paid handsomely no matter how badly their companies performed, even in a recession—made him long for a better, more Christian business model. And the myth about Guinness—that he brewed his ale as an alternative to the cheap whisky and gin so prevalent on Dublin’s boozy streets—covered up the reality of a genuinely philanthropic company.

So, Mansfield wrote the Guinness story with the hope that it would inform and inspire of a better way. The story doesn’t begin with Arthur, however, but with a chapter-long history of beer-making, which is interesting in its own right. It then tells Arthur’s story and some of the stories of his children as they grew and took responsibility for the company their father had started.

Interestingly, not all the Guinness clan went into brewing. Some entered the world of banking and finance. Others went into the ministry. So, the story of the Guinness family is a story of Guinnesses for gold, for God, and for, well, grog. Interestingly, the Guinnesses for God (the Grattan line of Guinnesses) were teetotalers. The prominent evangelical thinker, Os Guinness, is also one of Arthur’s descendants, although whether from the Grattan line I can’t say.

What most impressed me about the Guinnesses for grog is how philanthropically they ran their company. During their reign, Guinness employees enjoyed above-market rate wages, health care and education, company-built homes (some of which still stand), and pensions.

Other interesting factoids covered in this book include the world-famous Guinness marketing campaign (“Guinness is good for you!”), the origin of the Guinness Book of World Records, and the widget that nitrogenates bottles of Guinness upon opening.

Mansfield alludes to the many problems Guinness began to experience in the 1980s, when it passed out of family control and into the hands of a multinational corporation. No doubt the corporate culture changed. And perhaps Mansfield’s portrait of pre-80s Guinness history is a bit idealized.

Nevertheless, this is a story well told, and hopeful in its way. A business, under the tutelage of genuine Christian philanthropy, can use its wealth for the good of others. Whether you drink beer or abstain, I’m sure you can agree that’s an important lesson for the world to learn, especially in our current climate of economic recession.

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