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Atonement: Limited or Unlimited?

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A debate of long standing is over the issue of the extent of the atonement: for whom did Christ die? Some suggest Christ died only for the elect, whereas others emphasize that the death of Christ was universal—He died for everyone even though not everyone will be saved.


A term that is preferred to “limited atonement” is definite or particular redemption, suggesting that the atonement of Christ is limited to a definite or particular number of people. The defense for particular redemption is as follows.

There are a number of passages that emphasize Christ died for a particular group of people and not for everyone. As the Good Shepherd, Christ laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:15); not everyone is included in this flock. Christ gave His life for the church (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25); He died for the elect (Rom. 8:32–33). Therefore, the objects of God’s love are particular; He does not love everyone with the same love (cf. Rom. 1:7; 8:29; 9:13; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). “Since the objects of the Father’s love are particular, definite, and limited, so are the objects of Christ’s death.” This truth is also reflected in verses such as 1 John 4:10, and Romans 5:8 and 8:32.

If Christ actually made an atonement for sin then the objects of that atonement must be a particular group. Otherwise the atonement’s effect is weakened because not everyone is saved for whom Christ made atonement.

Other arguments advanced for limited atonement include the following. If God is sovereign (Eph. 1:11) then His plan cannot be frustrated, but if Christ died for all people and all people are not saved then God’s plan is frustrated. If Christ died for all people then redemption has been made for all and all are justified. That thinking logically leads to universalism (everyone will be saved). In passages stating that Christ died for the world it means He died for “people from every tribe and nation—not only the Jews.” Similarly, when the word “all” is used (2 Cor. 5:15) it means all classes of people but not every person.


The doctrine of unlimited atonement, as understood by evangelicals, means that Christ died for every person but His death is effective only in those who believe the gospel. The arguments for unlimited atonement are as follows.

  1. If the statements of the New Testament are taken at face value, then it is evident they teach Christ died for everyone.
  2. Limited atonement is not based on exegesis of the texts of Scripture but more on the logical premise that if Christ died for everyone and everyone is not saved, then God’s plan is thwarted.
  3. The world, as John describes it, is “God-hating, Christ-rejecting, and Satan-dominated. Yet that is the world for which Christ died” (cf. John 1:29; 3:16; 17; 4:42; 1 John 4:14). These passages emphasize a universal atonement.
  4. The word whosoever is used more than 110 times in the New Testament and always with an unrestricted meaning (cf. John 3:16; Acts 2:21; 10:43; Rom. 10:13; Rev. 22:17).
  5. The word all, or an equivalent term, is used to denote everyone. Christ died for the ungodly—everyone is ungodly (Rom. 5:6); Christ died for all, suggesting everyone (2 Cor. 5:14–15; 1 Tim. 2:6; 4:10; Tit. 2:11; Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9).
  6. Second Peter 2:1 indicates Christ died for the false teachers who were “denying the Master who bought them.” The context indicates these are heretics doomed to destruction, yet it is said of them “the Master bought them.” This militates against the limited atonement view.
  7. “The Bible teaches that Christ died for ‘sinners’ (1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 5:6–8). The word ‘sinners’ nowhere means ‘church’ or ‘the elect,’ but simply all of lost mankind.”

Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1989), 326–328.

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The Problem of Anger

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This week in our continuing study of 1 Samuel, we will see David fall into one of mankind’s most deadly traps–anger. In fact, we see the deadly nature of anger almost immediately after the fall when Cain’s anger toward his brother Abel causes Cain to kill his brother (Genesis 4). Like Cain, David’s anger in 1 Samuel 25 causes him to take 400 men and set out to kill the man who caused David’s anger to flash, a wealthy farmer named Nabal. Fortunately for David, Nabal’s godly and wise wife interceded on behalf of Nabal and gave David the opportunity to cool down, and he did. 

As we know from the Bible, there are two kinds of anger: sinless anger and anger that causes us to sin. The Apostle Paul notes in Ephesians 4:26 that we can be angry yet not sin. But that’s the trick, isn’t it? After all, In Galatians 5:19, Paul identifies anger as a work of the flesh. Perhaps the simplest line of demarcation between sinful anger and righteous anger is the root cause. Sinful anger is always rooted in self-serving motives; righteous anger is that which seeks either God’s good or God’s will.

As much as we might like to think that our anger is righteous anger, it’s usually not. Attempting to walk that fine line is equal to trying to light a candle in a room filled with natural gas hoping not to ignite the gas. To complicate matters even more, those of us who try and act from a righteous anger position find ourselves stepping into God’s shoes, which also is sinful. It is not our place to seek vengeance for the Lord; vengeance belongs to the Lord (Romans 12:19). Anger, like the sin of lust/adultery, is a sin of passion. Once ignited, it takes on a life of its own. It quickly leads us to sin. Proverbs 6 is describing the danger of adultery, but I believe the same reasoning applies to anger when Solomon asks, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). 

How Can We Learn to Control Anger?

Anger is not something you can hope to rid yourself of and be free from for the remainder of your life. As we see in this week’s text and the example of David, anger ignites in the most godly people. So, while we can’t rid ourselves of anger, we can learn to control anger and not let it become a sinful, destructive pattern in our life. 

  1. Recognize the spark that ignites anger. As we observed above, the spark that leads to anger is almost always rooted in a strong sense of injustice, and the focus is always on either ourselves or those we love. We have a strong inner sense of what is right and wrong for us, and when someone crosses that line, it sparks anger within us. Learn to spot the small spark landing in your heart and quickly extinguish it. Don’t let it simmer until it becomes an uncontrollable flame.

  2. Watch for the physical signs of anger. You may not think you have them, but if you ask your family or those close to you, they can tell without question when you are getting angry. The signs may be subtle (e.g. your face or ears get red), or they may be obvious (e.g. you start to pace or your voice gets louder). Whatever are your signs of anger, learn to detect them and observe the warning.

  3. Learn to trust those who love you and know your patterns. Just as Abigail rushed to derail David’s anger in this week’s text, learn to trust those around you who attempt to derail your anger before you sin. Understand, however, that depending on your past history, this may take a lot of time. If you have vented your anger at your family and others close to you over the course of many years, they have likely learned to retreat from your presence rather than walk toward you when you are angry. Few things can sow more mistrust and relationship destruction than anger. Solomon warned, "Make no friendship with a man given to anger” (Proverbs 22:24). If you have subjected those in your family and circle of influence to the heat of your anger, you will need to walk in humble repentance for a long time as you re-earn their trust.

  4. Guard your physical and emotional health. As we noted above, anger is an emotion of passion, and we tend to be most vulnerable when we are physically and emotionally depleted. In our text this week, David and his men have been out on patrol, protecting the flocks of Nabal while running for their lives from Saul. They were tired and hungry. When Nabal refused to give his men food David felt they had earned, his anger sparked and he was off to the races to kill Nabal. We are no different. We are most vulnerable to sinful anger when we are tired, hungry, or lonely. In fact, a key tool used in 12-step programs is summarized by the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Those are triggers that make us vulnerable to sin. It’s important be extra cautious with our emotions when we know we are vulnerable, because it’s at moments like this when anger can go from 0 to 100 in seconds.


Bible Verses Concerning Anger 

As you wrestle with the problem of anger, here are some helpful bible verses to meditate on:

  • Proverbs 14:29–Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
  • Proverbs 15:1–A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
  • Proverbs 15:18–A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
  • Proverbs 16:32–Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
  • Proverbs 19:11–Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
  • Proverbs 22:24–Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,
  • Proverbs 29:22–A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.
  • Ephesians 4:26–Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
  • James 1:19–20–Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 

Free Downloadable Bible Study

Do you need help getting control of anger in your life? We are offering a free 44-page Bible study titled “Anger: Facing the Fire Within” by June Hunt. You can pick up a copy of the Bible study at the info wall or download a digital copy at http://myffc.co/2pCISVe.

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The Shack: A Warning for the Unsuspecting

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On June 8, 2008, an important milestone was reached: a small, relatively unknown, self-published book called The Shack sold its one millionth copy. Over the next several months, The Shack would sweep the American landscape like a storm. As of April 2009, according to its publisher, the book had sold over 6 million copies, and had been at number 1 on the New York Times best seller list for 36 weeks and counting.

“Wait a minute,” you are probably thinking to yourself, “what’s the big deal about The Shack?”

Perhaps you are reading this thinking, “I’ve read The Shack, and I thought it was a great book. In fact, I can honestly say it changed my whole perspective of who God is and how God relates to me.”

You are not alone. Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, a popular paraphrase of the Bible, compared the book to The Pilgrim’s Progress. On the book’s front cover endorsement he notes, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ did for his. It’s that good!”

Other endorsements found on the book include Michael W. Smith, who called it “the most absorbing work of fiction I’ve read in many years,” and singer Wynona Judd said “this story has blown the door wide open to my soul.”

Still, what lies between the covers of The Shack is what Dr. Albert Mohler referred to as “undiluted heresy.” The danger, as Dr. Michael Youssef observed, is that this heresy is wrapped in powerful emotions and covered by a beautiful landscape. In a sermon delivered to his church congregation in August 2008, Youssef noted that The Shack is “a measure of truth wrapped in a whole lot of poisonous dough.”

“Half truths,” Youssef said, “almost right, outwardly appealing, are far more dangerous than plain wrong and evil. We must learn to discern subtle heresies, even when they are wrapped in powerful emotions.”

The Shack is just such a book. 

William P. Young

The Shack was written by William P. Young. The author is the son of missionaries, and spent his childhood in New Guinea. He is a bible college and seminary graduate. Before becoming a writer, Young served in the ministry for a number of years. Young has also experienced great trauma in his life.  According to published interviews, he was first sexually abused by tribal men at the age of four in New Guinea.  After he was transferred to a boarding school for missionary children, he was again abused at the school. Those who have met and visited with Young report him to be a likable and genuine person.

In an effort to communicate to his children some of the hurt he had experienced as a child, and how he believed God had healed him from his inner pain as a result of the abuse, Young wrote The Shack. He admits that he never intended for his story to be published. Young initially made 15 copies of his story, one for each of his six children and the others for friends and family. His small audience was so impressed with the story they encouraged him to publish it.

After reworking his manuscript, and with editing assistance of some friends, Young submitted The Shack to 26 publishers. It was rejected by all of them.  Tired of attempting to publish via the traditional route, Young and two friends formed Windblown Media and self published the book in 2007. They spent $300 on marketing The Shack. The book reached the New York Times best seller list in June 2008 and by the end of 2008, The Shack was the top selling book of fiction for the year. In addition to the secular market, The Shack was also the top selling Christian book of 2008.

The Story

From Amazon.com, here is the book’s summary:

Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at The Shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever. In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant “The Shack” wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book! 

When the main character, Mack, arrives at The Shack he meets a most unlikely trio identified as the Trinity. God the Father is presented as a large African-American woman named “Papa.” She is described as an Aunt Jemimah-looking woman, also known as “Elousia,” who enjoys cooking, listens to pop music on her iPod, and spending time in the kitchen. “Jesus” is presented as a common-place, unattractive Jewish carpenter in a plaid shirt with a big nose and a tool belt. The Holy Spirit is described as an Asian woman named “Sarayu,” a mystical river in ancient India related to the Hindu deity Kali. 

In March 2017, The Shack was released as a major motion picture.

The Underlying Heresy in The Shack

Begin to research The Shack and you will find many critics. Some of the Bible teachers and scholars who have spoken out against The Shack include Dr. James De Young, Dr. Michael Youssef, Janet Parshall, Jan Markell, Mark Driscoll, Dr. Larry DeBruyn, Norman Geisler, Chuck Colson, Chuck Swindoll, and Dr. Albert Mohler. 

Why is The Shack so dangerous? There are many reasons. First, the dialog between Mack and the various members of the Trinity is very casual. There is not one place in the book where Scripture is referenced. As a result, the reader is presented with “divine revelation” in the form of casual conversation.

For example in one conversation between “Papa” and Mack, “Papa” declares, “I’m not a bully, not some self-centered demanding little deity insisting on my own way. I am good, and I desire only what is best for you. You cannot find that through guilt or condemnation….” (p. 126).

In another dialog, “Papa” explains how the Trinity views rules:

[Mack] “Are you saying I don’t have to follow the rules?”

[Papa] “Yes. In Jesus you are not under any law. All things are lawful.” 

“You can’t be serious! You’re messing with me again,” moaned Mack. 

“Child,” interrupted papa, “you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet.”

“…enforcing rules [says Sarayu] …is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, I have a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse” (p. 203)

Theologically, Dr. Norman Geisler outlines 14 areas of disagreement with fundamental biblical doctrine. Eric Barger highlights some of the most significant problems with The Shack

  • Young’s Papa character insists that sin is its own punishment. This distorts the reality of Hell and discounts eternal retribution for sin.
  • Readers of The Shack are told that Jesus is only the best way to know God – not the only way.
  • The Shack teaches that when Jesus went to the cross, God Almighty died there too. This is a heresy known as patripassianism.
  • The Shack states that there is no structure or hierarchy within the Trinity and that the three personages of God are all equally subject to one another and to humans as well.
  • Young’s “Papa” character is suspiciously akin to a Polynesian/Hawaiian goddess who also happens to be known as “Papa.” The similarities with The Shack’s God character are stunning.
  • The Bible is very clear: do not portray God in an image. It is impossible to make the Creator part of the creation. Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and he who worships Him must worship Him in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24). The second commandment forbids us from making a visual portrayal of God. To worship such an image is pure idolatry (Exodus 20:4-5). Paul, in his epistle to the Romans states, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Romans 1:21-23a).


Perhaps the greatest error presented in The Shack is its blatant universalism. As Eric Barger observes, however, William P. Young’s brand of universalism is different from traditional universalism. Young believes in what is called universal reconciliation.  Classical Universalism teaches that all religions lead to heaven. Jesus is a way to heaven, but Jesus is not the only way. Universal reconciliation teaches that all of mankind is already saved because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. In other words, when Jesus died on the cross, He died for all mankind, and at that moment all mankind was reconciled to God.
Barger notes, “This position purports that there is no penalty for sin, no literal hell and no need to accept Christ and repent of one’s sins. It dramatically undermines the work of the Church, evangelism and the core teachings of the New Testament. It is a satanic trap denying essential beliefs taught by Jesus, the Apostles and Bible believers throughout the Church Age.”
Unfortunately, Universalism is sweeping through American Christianity.

What is most concerning about this book is that it has been so warmly embraced by American Christians. Pastors are encouraging their congregations to read the book and embrace it. Christian booksellers have The Shack prominently displayed in their stores. Christians are giving away books by the thousands telling their friends and family that it has changed their life. Churches are using The Shack in their small groups and Sunday school classes.

American Christians are falling in love with universalism. From Brian McLaren to Joel Osteen, American Christian writers, pastors, teachers, musicians, politicians, etc., are all on the politically-correct bandwagon that declares all men saved.
Bert Kjos states, “countless pastors and church leaders are delighting in its message. By ignoring (or redefining) sin and guilt, they embrace an inclusive but counterfeit ‘Christianity’ that draws crowds but distorts the Bible. Discounting Satan as well, they weaken God’s warnings about deception.“

Michael Youssef warns that “The day is coming when Jesus Christ is going to sit on the judgment bench to separate those who have accepted His Father’s plan from those who have accepted another plan. He will separate those who tried to stretch His plan, who are trying to make the plan popular, or are trying to rewrite His plan.”

The foundation for the beautiful cathedral in Lübeck, Germany was laid in 1173. Inscribed on one of its enormous medieval doors in an ancient gothic alphabet are the following words:
Ye call me eternal, then do not seek me.Ye call me fair, then do not love me.Ye call me gracious, then do not trust me.Ye call me just, then do not fear me.Ye call me life, then do not choose me.Ye call me light, then do not see me.Ye call me Lord, then do not respect me.Ye call me Master, then do not obey me.Ye call me merciful, then do not thank me.Ye call me mighty, then do not honor me.Ye call me noble, then do not serve me.Ye call me rich, then do not ask me.Ye call me Savior, then do not praise me.Ye call me shepherd, then do not follow me.Ye call me Way, then do not walk with me.Ye call me wise, then do not heed me.Ye call me Son of God,  then do not worship me.When I condemn Ye, then do not blame me.

May each of us take seriously our calling as Christians who hold high the authority of the Word of God. The challenges before us are great, but so are the opportunities. Whether you sit here today as one who has never heard of The Shack or you are someone who believes it has transformed your view of God and of what it means to be a Christian, the lesson for us is clear: let every word that is preached, written, spoken, sung, be held up to the mirror of Scripture. Don’t believe something just because it is well said, covered in beautiful language and powerful emotions. Learn to discern. Know your Bible and ask God for the wisdom to guide in the paths of righteousness and truth.

Challies, Tim. “The Shack” by William P. Young. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://www.challies.com/archives/book-reviews/the-shack-by-william-p-young.php.
Duin, Julia. “’The Shack’": Book on accessible God hits big.” Washington Times, August 7, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://washingtontimes.com/news/2008/aug/07/story-about-accessible-god-becomes-best-seller/.
Grossman, Cathy Lynn. “’Shack’ opens doors, but critics call book ‘scripturally incorrect,’” USA TodayMay 29, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2009 at http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2008-05-28-the-shack_N.htm.
Posted by Chris Eller with 1 Comments

The Key Ingredient in God's Personal Development Program

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When we are presented with a problem, an opportunity, or a challenge, our instinct is to do something. Even Nike has adopted as its company slogan, "just do it." Words like "action" and "proactive" fill our modern-day books and teaching on leadership and management. The fact is, few of us would attribute concepts like waiting and patience with the image of a strong leader. Strong leaders are men and women of action!

Unfortunately, waiting and patience are qualities the Lord often asks of us as His people. In fact, it could be argued that waiting is the chosen way God uses to prepare someone for leadership. Joseph waited (in prison) for years before the Lord elevated him to a position of leadership in Egypt. Moses waited 40 years before he started leading Israel out of Egypt. David waited many years between when he was chosen as king of Israel and when he became king of Israel following the death of Saul.

In Acts 1, we find the disciples waiting for the promise of the Holy Spirit. They have been given a strong commission by Jesus to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). They are also experiencing the transition of leadership left by His ascension. What we find is a group of people waiting and praying. Commentators believe the Apostle Paul spent more than 10 years between his salvation and the start of his apostolic ministry.

Waiting and praying. Praying and waiting. Mix in the challenges of life's trials contrasted with the truths of God's word, and that is the curriculum the Holy Spirit uses in God's School of Leadership Development.

In truth, the Bible has much to say about waiting on the Lord. Here is a sampling:

  • Show me Your ways, O LORD; Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, For You are the God of my salvation; On You I wait all the day.--Psalm 25:4–5.
  • Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the LORD! -- Psalm 27:14.
  • Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way. -- Psalm 37:7.
  • I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, And in His word I do hope. My soul waits for the Lord More than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. --Ps 130:5–6.

Learning from FFC's Waiting Periods

Even in the short history of First Family, we have experienced the process of waiting upon the Lord. Todd has shared that the seed to plant a church in Ankeny took root in his heart in 1998. While Todd was ready, this was not the Lord's timing. In fact, it would be six years before the Lord opened the door and First Family Church was birthed.

Through our search for a permanent home, we learned the value of waiting on the Lord. In the early years, we met at the Nevelyn Center, Ankeny Christian Academy, and Parkview Middle School. We were prepared to build on Ankeny's northwest side. We purchased and paid for land, and started the process of planning and designing a building. But, our Elders discerned the timing was not right. They heard the Lord telling us to wait. The building was put on hold and our church prayed for direction. Not long after making the decision to stop our building plans on NW State Street, God opened the door for us to purchase our current property on SE Magazine Road.

Waiting Makes Sense in Hindsight

As is often the case, when we view life through hindsight, everything seems to make perfect sense. We often see God's sovereign hand leading us and we see the wisdom of His waiting for His providential will. While walking through that valley, however, the waiting process can seem pointless.

Does God have you in a period of pause in your life? Maybe you are in job that is taking its toll on you or you are watching your children go through a difficult year at school. Perhaps your marriage is in trouble or you are growing weary of praying for the salvation of a spouse who is lost.

Take courage. Place your trust in the Lord and in His Word. Pray faithfully. If you need some encouragement, read in the book of Psalms. Here are a few chapters to get you started.

Posted by Chris Eller with

Sermons in the Age of Twitter

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The weekly sermon is as much a part of the traditional worship service as the bulletin and singing the doxology at the conclusion. But wait, we don't sing the doxology at the conclusion of the service, and more and more churches are moving away from a printed bulletin in favor of a digital version.

So much in our church services has changed over the last 40 years, but one thing is still the same: the sermon. Sure, it's been modified over the years. It may be shorter, or longer, depending on your church, and it may focus more on answers to a nifty "how to" question with four or six memorable responses, again, depending on your church. But essentially, it's still the same.

At the same time, the process of learning has changed dramatically over the last 40 years, and continues to change at a rapid pace.

At a recent symposium of which I was a part, hosted by the Iowa Distance Learning Association, one of the presenters made the point that teaching and learning in colleges and universities is falling behind in their methodology compared to K–12 schools. Students entering college in 2016 are native learners in the land of 21st Century Learning, while many colleges and universities still employ "old school" methods of teaching. Primarily, the lecture accompanied by the ever-present PowerPoint deck, which usually has a blue background with a lot of white text. A lot. In old school teaching, the instructor is the one working, and the students are sitting and watching. In 21st Century learning, the students are the ones working and the teacher is there to guide their learning and discovery.

Churches would be wise to follow some of the changes happening within K–12 schools and higher education, and at least become familiar with the trends. Students today have a shrinking attention span. In their K–12 classrooms, they are likely to be engaged in project-based learning that forces the students to become active in the learning process, rather than passively sitting while a teacher lectures. Lectures, on the other hand, are often pre-recorded and delivered to students via a podcast or screencast that gives them the information they need to work on their projects, in collaboration with their teacher and other students when they are in class.

This is very different from a church service. Think about who is active in a church service, and who is sitting and observing? If you are 30 years and older, this is a common experience; if you are 29 years or younger, it is more likely a foreign way of learning.

The problem is apparent when you look around a congregation during a sermon. How many folks do you see who are engaged with their phone or tablet? Does this mean they are not engaged in the sermon? Not necessarily; we've become very skilled at multitasking when it comes to listening. Most folks today have their phone out when they watch television or even when they engage in conversation. Get a room of young people together in a social environment, and watch how many  are playing a game on their phone or browsing Facebook while fully engaged in conversation and watching television, all at the same time. Many of us only carry our phone or tablet to church with us, instead of a physical Bible. I get that. The Bible apps available today are excellent. Yet, we would be lying if we didn't admit that at least the temptation to glance at Facebook or email during church is always there. Just when you get to an important point in the sermon, a little notification goes off telling you someone just tagged you in a Facebook post with a headline, "YOU WON'T BELIEVE THIS!!!!!!!!!" 

Is the sermon dead?


But, it is perhaps a harbinger of necessary change. Pastors and teachers within the church need to be aware that they are speaking to an increasingly distracted congregation with a decreasing attention span. One thing our teaching team does at First Family Church is carefully craft a Take Home Truth for every sermon. This simple sentence captures the key learning objective of the sermon and serves as the single point of application we want folks to take home. We work hard to make it simple and easy-to-remember. When it is all boiled down, we hope it is the Take Home Truth that sticks.

Staying Engaged During the Sermon

Here are some tips to help you stay engaged during longer periods of time and improve your overall learning retention:

  • Carry a Bible. If you impulsively wander from what you should be doing (reading the Bible, listening, or engaged in discussion) to things like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, leave your device in your pocket or your purse and carry a Bible. (NOTE: a book is a device with paper pages and words printed by ink.)
  • Use paper and pen. Research is showing there is a stronger cognitive connection when you use paper and pen rather than a digital device. You are engaging different areas of your brain and the simply physical representation of words on paper creates a stronger mental link that simple pixels on glass.
  • Take notes. One of the simplest and easiest ways to stay engaged and improve retention is to take notes. Lots of them. It forces you to become an active listener and to create summary nuggets of information as you listen, process, then write a note. Moreover, your notes will become valuable over time as you gather more in-depth notes on the Bible.


Posted by Chris Eller with
in Books

It's Time to Get Small

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In his recent book, Storm: Hearing Jesus for the Time in Which We Live, Jim Cymbala cites the warning signs of an approaching storm for the church in America. He states, 

I believe we are in the early stages of a storm that has the potential to damage our churches, our families, and ultimately the cause of Christ in the nation. I believe followers of Jesus in America are on the cusp of something horrible. I, and many others, see the early warning signs all around. You may see them too. I want you to consider three specifically.

The Three Warning signs are:

  1. We Are Not As Big As We Think
  2. Personal Transformation is Rare
  3. Biblical Literacy is Declining

Personal Transformation is Rare

All three warning signs are relevant, but the one that jumped out at me is the second: Personal Transformation is Rare. 

Cymbala explains the symptoms of this warning sign:

In 2012, the Barna Group found that 46 percent of churchgoers said “their life had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing.” On top of that, “three out of five church attenders (61 percent) said they could not remember a significant new insight gained by attending church services.” What is even more bothersome is that “one-third of those who have attended a church in the past have never felt God’s presence while in a congregational setting” (emphasis added).Think of it: More than half of churchgoers don’t remember even one significant new insight gained by going to God’s house! Something strange is going on here. It is obvious the overwhelming majority of our ministries are not producing much fruit in the form of converted, changed lives. And people are not experiencing God in our churches. This would have been unthinkable in the early days of the Christian church as described in the New Testament. This is a critical warning sign that something is terribly wrong.

We Are At A Turning Point

In many ways, we are approaching a generational turning point. This happens every 30 or 40 years when the old generation exits the global stage and the new generation begins to take over. It happened in 1960 when John F. Kennedy became the first president elected who was born in the 20th Century. The last shift happened in 1992 when Bill Clinton became the first Baby Boomer to become president. This election, we could be witnessing the last of the Boomer generation to lead our country. The next president, elected in 2020 or 2024, will likely be considerably younger than either party’s nominee in 2016. With generational transition comes change. The church will not be immune.

This single issue—the lack of true personal transformation— could become an obvious crisis in America. Currently, the lack of transformation within the church is hidden by the presence of many “cultural Christians,” people who attend church regularly because that’s what they have always done. Baby boomers (born 1946-1965) were Ok with this arrangement; Millennials (born 1981-2000) are not. Boomers, for the most part, were loyal to the institution of the church, while Millennials are highly individualistic and loyal to their peers, not an organization. Boomers wanted their children to participate in church because of the values taught; Millennials want their children to have as many opportunities as possible, and the church is just one among many opportunities.

Not Bigger, But Deeper

Many of today’s churches have grown accustomed to having a full house on Sundays without focusing too much on real transformation in the lives of their members and attenders. This time could be coming to an end, and, in a way, that is a good and necessary thing. In order to survive in the next decade, churches must focus on life transformation—what the Bible calls discipleship—and this happens best within the safety and familiarity of a few deep relationships.

The New Testament doesn’t tell us how to do church as much as it shows us how to do church—in small groups. Jesus didn’t start a megachurch in Jerusalem that was running thousands within three years, but he did focus his attention on 12 disciples, and within that group, he spent the most time with three—Peter, James, and John. 

The church in Acts numerically, but the Bible is clear to show us in several places that the church of the New Testament was essentially a community of small groups. The Apostle Paul aggressively planted churches, but invested in a few individuals who would carry on his work and pastor the churches he started.

In two weeks, we will begin sign ups for our 2016–17 Lighthouse Year. Real life transformation doesn’t come casually, but intentionally, and it happens best within a small group of committed friends doing life together. Watch for more information on how you can join a Lighthouse starting in September. First Family, it’s time to get small.

Lessons We Can Learn From the Mormon Church

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As I write this blog post, I am with our Utah Mission Team as we conclude our 2016 trip to Manti, Utah. Our team this year consisted of 37 folks; 26 from First Family Church, and 11 from Crossway Community Church in Wisconsin, where John and Jenny Andrus are members. Keith and Nikki Ryan and their two oldest daughters also joined us from their new home in Reno, NV.

The most exciting aspect of our Utah Mission Trip is seeing our young people engaging in ministry and in street evangelism. What else can top seeing a 14 or 15-year-old student sharing their faith and the gospel with an LDS student of the same age? This is the cherry on top of all of the hard training and preparation for the trip!

Nothing can help cement the gospel into the heart of a young person like being forced to defend their faith in conversation with a person with a very different belief system.


Utah is a changing landscape when it comes to the LDS church. Not unlike the evangelical church, the leadership team in Utah sees a massive shift towards secularism within the younger generation of Latter Day Saints. Because of the Internet and the influence of television and movies, the Mormon church is struggling against a tide of secularism that is invading their ranks.

One Manti veteran who is on his 17th annual trip to Utah told our team he has seen a seismic shift in the last 10 years. There was a time when he knew what answers to expect when in conversation with a Mormon regardless of the age. Now, he sees a distinct difference between the older generations (35 years and up) and the younger generations. The younger generation sounds more "Christian" in their conversation, but they are just as lost. This makes witnessing to them even more difficult, because their doctrine is a blend of Mormonism and Christianity, yet they are missing the essential elements of the gospel, and are therefore unbelievers.

There is still a tremendous need for solid, Christian churches in Utah. Those who live in Utah tell of news reports that suggest as many as two-thirds of Utah Mormons are not active in the church and are transitioning out of Mormonism, but instead of turning to a healthy church, they simply fade into agnosticism or even atheism. One Utah resident, who is active on a weekly basis ministering to Mormons, told our team there is a tremendous need for churches that would simply focus on reaching families who are transitioning out of Mormonism.

Our Church Is Not Immune to the Influence of Secularism

For those of us who are comfortable and secure in our Christian homes and churches, we need to observe what is happening to the Mormon Church and how it is being impacted by the secular society in which we live. Sometimes it is easier to see how trends like secularism are impacting someone else than to see how the same trends are impacting us.

As I watch the shifting landscape within the American Church, I see several trends that suggest to me we are approaching a tipping point within the Church. Each generation must struggle with new dynamics within the culture and how they impact the church. The last major shift within the Protestant church happened in the 1960s. Visit with our grandparents, who were Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or any of the other mainline denominations, and we would learn how orthodox and doctrinally sound these churches were in the mid-20th Century. Yet, we would also see liberalism invading the church and destroying the institutions of the church, starting with the seminaries.

In response to the shift to liberalism, we saw the the rise of the Evangelical Megachurch movement. By the mid-1970s, churches like Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Community Church were starting to form, and by the mid-to-late 1980s, these churches were transforming the model and philosophy of the church. They were no longer strongly tied to a denomination, and essentially began to serve as their own denomination in areas of missions and church partnerships.

Today, I believe we are seeing a shift away from the Megachurch model. Many of these churches are becoming murky in their doctrine and beliefs and continue to follow the impulses of culture in an effort to grow their church. These multi-million dollar corporations continue to expand their influence through franchises and largely human-driven efforts, but their impact is diminishing. In 10 years, I believe we will see many of these Megachurches following the way of the mainline churches--physically large an impressive, but spiritually dead.

Over and over again, starting with the Tower of Babel, we see God frustrate and ultimately abandon movements by man that begin to build upon the strength and wisdom of man. God desires a faithful people who have one desire––to worship Him in Spirit and Truth. It is His Kingdom and His dominion, but man is often motivated by building his own kingdom and spreading his own dominion. Even when we do so in the Name of God, our motives can easily become infected with pride.

For me, this has been one of the lessons we need to take away from our time in Utah. It is a blessing to see our young people growing in their faith and striving to share the gospel with others, but at the same time, we are not immune to the disease that is impacting the LDS Church. The world and its ways are attractive, and each generation must make the choice whether to go the broad, inviting way of the world or follow God along a narrow, ancient path.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’"

Is Donald Trump part of God's judgment on America?

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There is an interesting phenomenon happening within the American political scene right now. It’s called Donald Trump. Understandably, Republicans are starting to panic as they face the growing possibility of Trump becoming the GOP nominee in 2016 for President of the United States.

Typically, as candidates gain a groundswell of popular support and delegates during the primaries, the party leaders coalesce around the frontrunner. Not this year. Last week, 2012 GOP Nominee Mitt Romney publicly denounced Donald Trump as unfit to lead. In a highly publicized speech, Romney described a Trump as dishonest, phony, greedy, a bully, and as a candidate who would destroy the modern conservative movement in America. Those are strong words for any candidate, but they are unbelievable coming from a candidate’s own party leaders!

The Republicans are not the only politicians concerned about a possible Trump nomination. The Democrats are sitting on the sideline nervously watching the Trump campaign gain momentum. Why should Democrats be concerned? Because exit polling in primary states where Trump has won shows he is attracting a broad cross section of the American voters…not just the typical Republican primary voter.

Donald Trump is reaching an entire block of the American electorate that has been disenfranchised by both parties over the last 15 years. These voters consist of white, older, mostly blue-collar Americans who have voted both Republican and Democrat in past elections. They are middle-of-the-road voters who are neither liberal or conservative.

In short, politicians and pundits from both sides are starting to cautiously acknowledge that Trump’s base represents voters from both parties who are not ideologically tethered to the policy platforms of either the Democratic agenda or the Republican agenda. And these voters are angry.

For many months, political observers considered Donald Trump an interesting aberration within the political landscape, one that would go away as quickly as it arose. This is no longer the case.

Concerned Americans are coming to grips with what could be the harbinger of a new political reality in America, and they do not like what they see.

Donald Trump has instinctively reached into the heart of America and he is openly and loudly channelling the anger of many Americans. He is described as crude, racist, hate filled, impractical, obscene, a misogynist. He has pulled the curtain back on the ugly side of the American public and is giving voice to the previously hidden thoughts of the silent majority.

Observers are pointing to an unavoidable and unfathomable conclusion–Donald Trump is a reflection of us.

There is always a danger of drawing historical comparisons with Germany of the 1920s. What’s important to note is that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party did not grow to become the dominant party in Germany in a vacuum. Germans were angry and felt betrayed by the political leaders of the 1920s. In his political genius, Hitler grasped the depth of anger within the German people and gave voice to it. In his speeches, he talked of a new Germany that was strong and vibrant. He pointed his finger at the cause of the shame Germans felt, and the cause was the Jews and the Communists. Adolf Hitler was elected through a democratic process.

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. Trump is not a fascist, even though some of his detractors would like us to think he is. (One could argue, however, that Trump is authoritarian.) The danger with Donald Trump is that his political power is based in anger and bitterness, and this is the historic seedbed of revolutionary movements that can gain a life of their own and lead to unintended consequences.

The Judgement of Abandonment

As Christians, this is a time to be diligently praying for our country and for God’s mercy on our country. I believe Romans 1 teaches what is called the Judgment of Abandonment. When a people or nation who know God and have witnessed His grace, mercy, and blessing abandon God in favor of their own evil desires and preferences, God turns His back (or abandons) that nation. When God abandons a nation, He simply allows it to go its natural way, no longer restraining the natural forces of evil that rule within the heart of man.

This could be happening to America. We may look back on June 26, 2015 as the date when America once and for all abandoned God, and as a result He abandoned America. What happened on June 26, 2015? This was the Friday the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage as legal, moral, and as the law of the land. That night, in celebration of the decision (and open rebellion towards God), the White House was displayed with Rainbow Colors, the recognized symbol of the homosexual movement. Coincidentally, that same month (June 16, 2015) Donald Trump announced his candidacy.

Donald Trump may not be what America wants, but in God’s eyes, Donald Trump may be what America deserves.

God help us.

Posted by Chris Eller with