Your Bible May Be Worth $100,000!

Senior1Under the bright stage lights, Daniel Staddon, 18, a home-schooler from Salem, W.Va., squeezed his eyes shut as he recited verse after verse from the Bible at the inaugural National Bible Bee.  He recited the first 20 verses of the fifth chapter of Ephesians and the 21 verses of Psalm 145 in the tie-breaker round, winning first place and a $100,000 prize.

Sifted from more than 17,000 students ages 7 to 18, the National Bible Bee finals grilled 21 children on their knowledge of Scripture. The five-hour finals were preceded by regional competitions in 49 of the 50 states in September, oral contests and SAT-like tests for 300 contestants.

The Bible bee, which required the mastery of six books of the Bible, was inspired by Shelby Kennedy, a Texas woman who died at 23 of a rare form of cancer in 2005. An anonymous benefactor was inspired when he learned at her memorial service of her commitment to Scripture memorization, and he donated money for the Shelby Kennedy Foundation to launch the bee.

The bee, attended predominantly by home-schoolers and members of evangelical churches, marks a new juncture in Bible memorization. Southern Baptist children do Bible drills, and Awana clubs at evangelical churches engage in Scripture memorization, but the tradition has faded elsewhere.

Pamela Braithwaite, office manager of Scripture Memory Fellowship in St. Louis, recalled winning a trophy in a church Bible bee as a teenager in 1971, but she said such activities have dwindled over the years. David Bunker, a spokesman for Chicago-based Awana, said his organization supports the bee and hopes that it will help reinvigorate Bible memorization.

Despite the spiritual emphasis — contestants’ T-shirts read “Building character . . . one Bible verse at a time” — some participants did admit that, at least at first, the thousands of dollars in prize money was a draw.  Staddon, too, said the $100,000 prize was an attraction. He said that he expects to use it for housing and schooling but that he will have to “ask the Lord” for advice.

As fellow contestants clamored around him after the bee’s awards banquet, he said he kept one of the Ten Commandments in mind as he studied the Bible passages.  “You have to say them every day,” he said in between signing autographs. “I wouldn’t say them on Sundays since Sunday was a day of rest.”

From The Washington Post

Dying for the Pittsburgh Steelers

steelersIt was a difficult Sunday here at the Potter home.  My son, Taylor, and I watched helplessly as the hapless Kansas City Chiefs defeated our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.  Granted, it was a road game, but if you’ve ever seen the Pittsburgh Steelers play a road game, it’s not uncommon to see thousands of fans waving the yellow and black “Terrible Towels” in the stands .

Our day, however, wasn’t as bad as the day fellow Steelers fan Zack Eddinger had earlier this season when he traveled to Chicago to watch the game between the Steelers and the Chicago Bears.

According to WTAE in Pittsburgh, Eddinger said he and his friends were involved in some trash talk with a group of Bears fans at a Chicago bar before the game.  After a spirited interaction, the Bears fans eventually offered Eddinger a drink as a “peacemaker.”  And that’s when he claims things started to go terribly wrong.

Eddinger alleges that not long after taking the drink, he passed out and was rushed to a nearby hospital, his heart stopping four times.  At first, doctors thought he had too much to drink, but realized there was more to it.  Eddinger’s family rushed to Chicago to be with him after doctors told them he wasn’t going to make it.

According to the report from WTAE, doctors believe the drink may have been spiked with toxic grain alcohol, which made Eddinger deathly ill.  After recovering from the alcohol poisoning, he was reported as saying, “I don’t think they tried to kill me. I think they tried to hurt me, but the killing came pretty close.”

Like I said, I was licking my wounds after today’s game – until I read this story.  I used to say that every time my beloved Steelers lose, a small piece of me dies, but after reading about Eddinger’s near-death experience at the hands of some crazed Bears fans, I don’t think I’ll be saying that anymore!

Invite-Only Church

MelGet a load of this: World Entertainment News Network reports that Mel Gibson is closing the doors of his Catholic church to the public in a bid to prevent unwanted visitors from leaking stories to the press.

The man who brought Jesus to the general public through The Passion of the Christ is keeping the general public from worshiping Jesus at his church at the Holy Family Chapel in Agoura Hills, Calif.

Evidently, Gibson is planning a baptism for his newborn daughter Lucia, with girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva – and he wants to keep the media out.  Gibson’s nephew broke the news to church goers during Mass last Sunday, revealing worshipers will have to be personally invited to join in the weekly services. Regular attenders of the church will have to submit an application for an invitation to worship there from now on.

Online Church: It’s Catching On…But Should It?

LifeChurch2Ever heard of LifeChurch.tv?   It’s an Oklahoma-based cyber-church that offers online church services to people all over the country and the world.  Craig Groeschel is the senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, and under his leadership, it has become one of the country’s biggest multi-campus churches.

There are over fifty weekend worship experiences at thirteen different locations throughout the United States – all watching the same thing via satellite.  And, if there’s not a campus near you, then you’re invited to join them at their “Internet Campus.”

“We were blown away at how people could actually worship along [online],” says Groeschel. “The whole family will gather around the computer, and they’ll sing and they’ll worship together. Instead of trying to get people to come to a church, we feel like we can take a church to them.” (cnn.com, 11/15/09)

The concept of worshiping online and joining a “virtual” church is starting to catch on…but should it?

LifeChurch.tv has a large Internet following, but it’s not the only church that invites people to have their church experience over the Internet.  The Internet campus of the Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City, Florida, pulls in more than 2,000 congregants from around the world during its Sunday services.  And some online churches go so far as to offer traditional sacraments like communion “virtually,” asking viewers to grab grape juice and a cracker from the fridge and take communion in front of their computer screen with other internet followers.

I’m not that old (not even 40…yet), but this is a hard concept for me to embrace.  I’m all for making church as culturally relevant and appealing as possible (to a point obviously), but the idea of calling an online experience “church” and telling people that physically gathering together for worship is not necessary seems a bit over the top for me.

What are your thoughts?  How do you think the Internet should be utilized when it comes to the church?  Am I showing my age and lack of cultural relevance by struggling with the concept of online church, or is my struggle valid?  What say you?

Living Homeless (On Purpose)

KurtKurt Salierno is a man who has dedicated his life to living with and ministering to the poor and needy in his corner of the world. Since 1977, he has been involved in working with the poor and homeless across the country.  Kurt walks the streets of Atlanta developing relationships with the men and women he meets in order to help them get off the streets.  He has seen God work in the lives of drug addicts, drunks, prostitutes and thieves. Although Kurt stutters, he effectively communicates his love and concern for the homeless and poor through the power of Jesus Christ.  I had the opportunity to chat with Kurt, and here’s a portion of our conversation.

The Bible makes it clear that we are to minister to the oppressed. What made you decide to work with the homeless as opposed to other people who might be oppressed?

It’s the passion that God’s implanted in my heart. In Scripture it says that when we give and care for the poor, we’re giving and caring for Jesus. The Word of God says that as I’m caring for the poor that I meet in the streets, I’m caring for Jesus. That changes the mindset because I’m not really doing it for the poor, I’m doing it for Jesus, and the recipients are the poor and the homeless that I meet.

There’s been a lot of frustrations in your ministry to the homeless, but if you have this perspective, you can keep going, can’t you?

Absolutely. In fact, that perspective keeps me focused when bad things happen. Sometimes I get shot at, or guys will try to mug me or abuse me on the streets. Sometimes there are brand new homeless people that have just come in who don’t know me but see all the goodies that I have in my grocery cart and try to rob me. The understanding that I’m not doing it for them, but I’m doing it for God, helps me keep the whole thing going. Plus, at least once a week, I’ll see a man or woman make a decision to change their life, get some help, and they begin a new adventure through Jesus Christ. That makes it all worthwhile because we actually see people get healed constantly. There’s something about working with homeless people that is close to the heart of God. His power and His grace are constantly evident as we work with the poor.

How has “living” with the homeless allowed for a much greater opportunity for ministry as opposed to just occasionally visiting them at a homeless shelter?

They know that I care about them and that I understand their plight. I know what it’s like to sleep under the bridges and fight the rats off from biting you. I know what it’s like to run away from drug deals gone bad. I’m with them in the rainstorms, when it’s miserably cold, and when they’re hungry. Sometimes I’m on the street for four or five days and nights in a row. I sleep with them. A man walking by would not recognize me as a pastor. He would think that I’m one of them.

Normally, when we pass by homeless people, we don’t look them in the eye, and we don’t acknowledge them as human beings. We bypass them. For me to develop a relationship with them and love them as they are, I earn their respect and their trust. This seems to be the key element to staying alive for one thing, but it also allows me to have relationships with them to the point where they share their deepest issues with me. We can then go beyond that to the place where Christ can touch their lives.

Give us a feel for who the homeless people are, where they’ve come from, and why they’re on the streets.

There are doctors and professional people who had a life of prosperity with their families and career, but who – through the use of alcohol and drugs – have lost it all. The common thread running through almost every homeless man is that he has made bad choices. Some of them have made one bad choice, and some of them have made a combination of bad choices.  Some of the homeless are mentally unstable and can’t hold down a job. Some of them are unstable from birth, some unstable from being on drugs and alcohol, and some of them are mentally unstable from living on the street. You can’t live on the street more than a few years without becoming somewhat mentally unstable.  There are some great people with fantastic hearts living on the street. Some of my best friends are homeless people that are alcohol and drug-free. They are some of the most caring and loving people on earth who just so happen to be homeless.

How can we as parents help our children develop a heart for the poor – one that goes beyond feeling into action?

One of the things that I would encourage parents to do is to create opportunities for their kids to give to other people. We often have calls from families telling us that they have a box of clothes that they’d like us to give to the homeless. I always tell them that although I appreciate the offer, I’d rather they come with me and pass the clothes out themselves. I want them to see the faces of the human beings that they’re giving to. Better yet, I want them to wear some of the clothing that they want to give away and take the items off of them and hand the clothing to the homeless people. It’s more symbolic to give something off your back than giving something out of a box. It symbolizes to a young person that we’re supposed to be giving what we have on us to those in need.

Giving is the beginning, middle, and end of a strong relationship with yourself and with God. We’re called to give. We’re saved to save others, blessed to bless others, and God has given to us to give to others. Young people have the concept and many adults do today that God blesses us so we might store up. That’s not right. Many believe that God gives to us so that we might enjoy for ourselves. That’s not right. He blesses us, gives to us, and saves us to bless and give and save others.

I believe parents ought to be helping young people find arenas where they might give, like at a nursing home, a homeless shelter, or a clothing closet. They need to offer a place where young people can give of themselves without getting something back in return like a paycheck. It will give them a place where they can give from their heart unselfishly.

Kurt is the director of Salierno Ministries.  His wife, Lori, is the director of Celebrate Life International.

Ted Haggard is Back

HaggardPastor Ted Haggard is a man who once had the ear of White House staffers and lobbied Congress for conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices.  Back in 1985, he began holding a weekly Bible study in his home that eventually grew into a 14,000 member church.  Then in 2006, it all came crashing down as he was forced to resign amid a sex scandal that rocked the evangelical world.

Now, three years later, he’s back.  He and his wife are once again hosting a Bible study in their Colorado home…and people are coming.  Nearly 100 this past Thursday.

Many of those who attended carried cookies, pies, and brownies along with their Bibles. By the time the Bible study began, more than 50 cars were parked outside their home. Haggard insists that his intent is not to start a new church, but he isn’t ruling out the possibility. He said the reason for starting a home Bible study after three years of exile was a simple one.  “We were getting lonely,” he said.

Albuquerque pastor, Alan Hawkins, traveled to Colorado Springs to be in Haggard’s living room last Thursday.  He said, “The essence of our faith as Christians is to forgive. When this thing happened, I said, ‘Ted, nobody is defined by their worst moments.'”

I’ve been following Haggard’s journey over the past three years, and on Friday, I listened to the audio of Haggard’s first public speaking engagement that took place one year ago.  I found him to be contrite, humble, and surprisingly honest about his journey up to that point.  I was actually inspired by his words and felt a great sense of compassion for him as I listened.

At the time of the recording, Haggard said that he was selling life insurance and reported that he was actually beginning to make enough money at it to provide for his family (five kids, including one son with special needs).   I was happy to hear that he was finally back up on his feet and able to provide for his family once again.

Then today I read the news story that he is holding a Bible study in his home and is open to the possibility that it may become a church – with him as the leader – sometime in the future.  I’m torn about this.  On the one hand, I celebrate with him the forgiveness, freedom, and restoration he claims he has received from the Lord.  I – along with Alan Hawkins – believe that the scandal he was involved in three years ago does not define him.

However, I struggle with whether he should be so quick to assume – whether official or unofficial – the role of pastor.  By his own admission, the problems that led to his “fall from grace” were deep-seated and could be traced all the way back to his childhood.  Is three years enough time to deal with those issues and assume a role of spiritual leadership once again?  And, because he was in such a high-profile position of leadership and because so many people were affected by his fall, I wonder if three years is enough water under the bridge for those who were impacted.

I fully believe that God can and has forgiven Ted Haggard of his sins.  I also know that it is incumbent upon all Christians to view him through the lens of Ephesians 4:32 where Paul tells us to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving of one another just as we’ve been forgiven by God through Christ.  However, I do question the timing of his re-emergence into a pastoral role.  Is three years enough?  What do you think?

First Church of Dog

Religion Today Dogs In ChurchWould you EVER attend a church that does this?

When the Rev. Tom Eggebeen took over as interim pastor at Covenant Presbyterian Church three years ago, he looked around and knew it needed a jump start. Most of his worshippers were in their 60s and attendance had bottomed out and the once-vibrant church.

So Eggebeen came up with an idea: He would turn God’s house into a doghouse by offering a 30-minute service complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and an offering of dog treats. He hopes it will reinvigorate the church’s connection with the community, provide solace to elderly members and, possibly, attract new worshippers who are as crazy about God as they are about their dogs.

Last Sunday, Eggebeen stepped to the front and the piano struck up the hymn “GoD and DoG.” One by one the pooches lay down, chins on paws, and listened. Eggebeen took prayer requests for Mr. Boobie (healing of the knees) and Hunter (had a stroke) and then called out the names of beloved pets past and present (Quiche, Tiger, Timmy, Baby Angel and Spunky) before launching into the Lord’s Prayer.  At the offering, ushers stepped over tangled leashes and yawning canines to collect donations and hand out doggie treats shaped like miniature bones in a rainbow of colors.

Eggebeen believes that many Christians love their pets as much as human family members and grieve just as deeply when they suffer — but churches have been slow to recognize that love as the work of God. “The Bible says of God only two things in terms of an ‘is’: That God is light and God is love. And wherever there’s love, there’s God in some fashion,” said Eggebeen, himself a dog lover. “And when we love a dog and a dog loves us, that’s a part of God and God is a part of that. So we honor that.”

The weekly dog service at Covenant Presbyterian is part of a growing trend among churches nationwide to address the spirituality of pets and the deeply felt bonds that owners form with their animals.  Traditionally, Christians believe that only humans have redeemable souls, but a growing number of congregations are challenging that assertion with regular pet blessings and, increasingly, pet-centric services.

A recently survey revealed that a half-dozen congregations across the country are holding worship services like Eggebeen’s, including one in a Boston suburb called Woof ‘n Worship.