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Bring Back Blind Dating

By Stephanie Rische, guest writer Online matches put the pressure on us, while setups offer a sense of community support. Married at First Sight is one of those extreme reality shows with a premise so far-fetched you can hardly believe it’s “reality,” yet there’s something about it that compels you to watch. As the title suggests, it features three couples who are matched by a panel of experts and agree to get married upon their initial meeting. While these brave souls may be the exception in the dating world, the show’s popularity speaks to what may be a growing weariness with today’s dating process. In his standup comedy and his relationship book Modern Romance, comedian Aziz Ansari likewise marvels at his own parents’ arranged marriage. He notes with some irony, “It was quicker for my dad to find a wife than it is for me to decide where to eat dinner.” Ansari contrasts the community-focused way his parents met with online dating, which relies heavily on personal preference … and is growing more specific and niche than ever. It’s true, there’s a specialty site for nearly every demographic: FarmersOnly.com, EquestrianSingles.com, VeggieDate.org, and even MouseMingle.com for Disney Parks fans. At these sites, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Church Planting At Thomas Road Baptist Church—An Interview with Jonathan Falwell

Thomas Road’s pastor discusses the church’s 60-year history of planting churches Ed Stetzer: Tell me about the church planting history of Thomas Roads Baptist Church as you look back at your 60 years. Jonathan Falwell: My dad was always about church planting. He planted Thomas Road in 1956 and planted the first church out of Thomas Road just a year later. The church in Arnold’s Valley, Virginia is still thriving today. In our close to 60 years at Thomas Road, we’ve planted 4,791 churches and we’re casting the vision for more. We want to go over 5,000 churches by the end of next year. That’s a passion that has always been part of our DNA and something we continue to work towards and pray about. We realize the way to change the world is not through elections, but through the local church. ES: When we talk about Thomas Road, everyone thinks about Liberty University. But does the passion and focus on church planting precede the university? JF: Absolutely. It goes back to the very genesis of our church. Recently, I read through some documents from the church in Arnold’s Valley telling how dad helped plant that church. Four months after he planted Thomas Road, in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Nominal Nation—The Shift Away From Self-Identified Christianity

By Ed Stetzer The decline of nominal Christianity is an opportunity for the gospel There was a time in American history when it seemed like everyone was a Christian. Now, depending on where in America you live, it can seem like no one is a Christian. In reality, in our lifetimes, there was never a time when everyone was a Christian, and there will never be a time when there are no Christians. We’ve used the term “Christian” so broadly that it sometimes doesn’t bear a resemblance to itself. It’s nearly become a word without a meaning in modern America. Or, I should say it has endless meanings. Therefore, we can get the wrong ideas about what is and is not true in the Church and in culture. The way things were At one point, there was more of a Judeo-Christian consensus. There was a time when most people in America lived by more religious principles. This is why America has been referred to as a “Christian nation.” Of course, we know that nations cannot be “born again” in an evangelical sense, so a nation can’t truly be “Christian.” Only individuals can be Christians. Now, 70-75% of American say they are Christians. I’ve estimated that about a third of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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4 Pieces of Advice for My Younger Self

By Ed Stetzer What we learn along the way can help those who’ve yet to live it What advice would you give your younger self? Thinking through that question can allow a new generation to learn from the journey of those who have gone before and have the scars to show for it. Several years ago Episcopalian priest Peter Wallace published 52 things he would have told his younger self. Among those: It’s a good thing that we don’t know everything that’s going to happen to us. (2) Your hard work in school will be worth it. But come on, don’t kill yourself.​ (4) Engage in self-reflection, but don’t let it become self-deception. (30) You can’t pray too much. (38) “Things I would tell my younger self” is another way to say “here as some things I’ve learned along the way.” Those of us who are older need to remember how much we can teach younger people if we will do it humbly. If I could go back in time, here are the four things I would tell my younger self. First, be cautious with whom you choose to work—not everyone has your best interests at heart. Why would I mention this point as my …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Amplifying Evangelism—Stay the Course

Keep your church evangelistically focused over the long term The idea of a marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who was sent from the Battle of Marathon to Athens—26 miles away—to inform the Greeks that the Persians had been defeated. Legend has it that Pheidippides ran the entire 26 miles without stopping, and upon delivering his message collapsed and died. Although there’s debate about the historicity of this event, the practice of the marathon is real. According to the 2014 Annual Marathon Report (yes, it’s a real report), 541,000 people were classified as “finishers.” In other words, 541,000 people who started a marathon actually completed it. Here’s a real simple principle when it comes to completing a marathon: anyone wishing to start and finish a marathon must have what it takes to stay the course. In the beginning… Leading a church is similar to running a marathon. For church planters there is much practice and preparation done before the big launch day. They cover a lot of groundwork prior to launching—building relationships, evangelizing people, connecting with community entities, creating communication pieces, and attempting to engrain themselves in the daily rhythms of the community. All of their preparation prepares them for the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christians Can't Help Abiding in Christ

By C. John Collins If we are in Jesus, we will stay connected to him. When I began my senior year of college in the fall of 1975, I had been a believer for nearly two years and was being discipled through a campus parachurch ministry. One morning, I overslept. When I realized that I had missed my weekly appointment with the graduate student discipling me, I wondered whether any of this Christian stuff I had embraced was even real. It certainly didn’t seem to be making much of a difference in me. I thought, Maybe the most honest thing to do would be to throw it all away and quit the religious pretense—which is what I thought my “faith” was. What kept me sane? My connection with other Christians, the tender patience of my discipler, knowing that the guys I was discipling were depending on me, and my sense of how my defection would hurt other believers. In this season, I began to own the words of Peter. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to check out, he replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68, ESV used throughout). My interconnectedness with and outright dependence …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dear Everyone: Stop Writing Open Letters

By Rebecca Jones, guest writer Open letters have changed history, but our petty online rants are getting old. When Dear Mom on the iPhone went viral a few years ago, sparking a lively round of retorts, I’d just had my first baby and purchased my first smartphone. Thanks to fluky timing, that debate seemed strangely personal. Of course it wasn’t, and I’ve toughened to the mommy guilt since—but I’ve also kept a curious eye on the groundswell of “Dear ____” posts. Do a little Googling and you’ll find page after page of open letters addressed to quarterbacks and ex-boyfriends and snarky salespeople who won’t ever actually read them. And now, like all good overgrown fads, the game has gone meta: In December, TIME published an open letter to all the open letter writers (ahem). Though the Internet has offered us all a megaphone for addressing the masses, these letters aren’t remotely new. Over history, they’ve proved an effective rhetorical device, making us smarter, making us tougher, and, most importantly, making us think. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, after all, worked as an open letter—inked, as he said, to spur dialogue “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light.” In similar …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale—‘Alone in Berlin’

By Alissa Wilkinson A misfire that had great potential. About twenty minutes into Alone in Berlin, I began to worry for my health: I’ve been in Germany for three days, and I’m an experienced traveler, so I couldn’t figure out why the jetlag was still affecting me so badly. I blinked madly, willing myself to stay awake, chewing gum, rubbing a knot in my shoulder, annoying the guy sitting next to me. Thirty minutes in, I realized it wasn’t me. (Partly because the woman beside me started snoring loudly.) Alone in Berlin boasts a truly fascinating premise, based on the 1947 German novel Jeder stirbt für sich allein (which translates to something like “Every Man Dies Alone”). The story is based on a true one: a German husband and wife lose their son in World War II, then become part of the Resistance not by joining a cell but acting as their own small unit, writing cards with subversive messages about Hitler’s regime and leaving them all over town. Theoretically, the fact that Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson play the couple should be in its favor as well—two terrific actors. But in this case it’s the exact opposite. There is something profoundly strange about sitting …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale—‘The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’

By Alissa Wilkinson This joy-filled music documentary also makes a case for friendship across traditions and borders. One of my favorite films from 2015 was Best of Enemies, Morgan Neville’s documentary about the Buckley/Vidal debates of 1968. That film, which plays like a thriller, explored the contentious relationship between two public figures that exploded in the public eye and gave birth to our age of horrifying, shouting-head, mass-media political punditry. (Next time you’re tempted to watch yet another debate, make the good-citizen move and watch Best of Enemies instead. It’s on Netflix.) Neville’s next documentary premiered in Berlin on Monday night. The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble is like a photo negative of its predecessor. As you will have gathered from the title, the documentary is about the world’s most famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, and his Silk Road Ensemble, which is more of a project than just a group of musicians who perform together. The film tracks the development of the Silk Road Ensemble from the genesis of the idea to their first gathering at Tanglewood in 2000, and through various difficulties they’ve encountered along the way. It also functions as a mini-introduction to Ma’s life, though he quickly takes a back …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale–'A Quiet Passion'

By Alissa Wilkinson A film about the life of Emily Dickinson evokes what it meant to see life through the poet’s twin obsessions with mortality and eternity. “Do you wish to come to God and be saved?” At the start of Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion, a group of young women stand in a cluster, submitting to questioning en masse from a stern woman at the front. We are at Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1848, and the headmistress demands that the young women who wish to come to God move to her right, while the others move to the left. (Sheep and goats, indeed.) One young woman remains in the center of the room: Emily Dickinson. She is not sure about her soul, feels no belief, and thus refuses to compromise and risk lying to God about her faith, even in a room full of expectant eyes. Soon she’s collected by her family and brought home to Amherst, and a quiet life of deep passion begins. The real Emily Dickinson is a figure of mystery and intrigue to so many people; in a press conference during the festival, Cynthia Nixon—who plays the poet for most of A Quiet Passion—noted that she’s a bit of a blank …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale–'Midnight Special'

By Alissa Wilkinson The latest from Jeff Nichols that is something quite different beneath the scifi surface. As a genre, science fiction often gets trotted out in service of big ideas: political tensions, social problems, ideological conflicts. When it puts a hot-button issue in a context unlike our own (a different universe, the future, outer space), scifi can make big arguments indirectly, coming at flashpoints slantwise—think of Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. Sometimes it opts to work closer to home, looking at those things that trouble the human heart by working outside a strictly human context. Consider E.T., in which the titular extraterrestrial helps a child work through grief, loss, and his relationship to his family. Midnight Special, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Friday night, does both. It is a film without twists to unwind or keys to discover. The point isn’t the mystery. The point, instead, is in our hearts. That Midnight Special takes an unconventional approach to its genre is no a surprise. Writer/director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud) makes accessible, simple, beautiful films rooted in the American south and midwest that have garnered critical acclaim and a loyal band of fans, myself among them; it’s a complete mystery to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Don’t Force the Celebration at Funerals

By Courtney Reissig Even knowing the truth of the resurrection, it’s still okay to cry. In college, I told my friends that I wanted the Jars of Clay cover of “All My Tears” played at my funeral: “When I go don’t cry for me / In my Father’s arms I’ll be.” I disliked the thought of my loved ones saddened at my death, since I knew I would be “in a better place.” For Christians, the phrase is no mere euphemism; our death brings us to Jesus, sin clawing at our heels no more. In my youthful zeal, I thought my funeral should be a joyous celebration. I wasn’t alone. Many funerals today are not about mourning death but a “celebration of life.” As our culture discards all-black attire and other formalities of a traditional funeral, families create more personalized—and often more upbeat—experiences to honor the deceased. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on the trend of “happy funerals,” noting that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” had become the UK’s most popular song played at memorial services—replacing Verdi’s Requiem. After celebratory memorial services, we are encouraged to “move on,” comforted by memories and knowing that the person we’ve lost …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Evangelicals Make March for Life More 'Catholic'

A snapshot of Christian witness in the world (as it appeared in our March issue). As US abortions dropped to their lowest level since Roe v. Wade, evangelicals joined the annual March for Life in an unprecedented way. Focus on the Family and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission registered 500 people for the first corresponding evangelical gathering—making the traditionally Catholic rally in Washington, D.C., more truly catholic. In March, the Supreme Court will hear its first major abortion case since 2007. An affirmative ruling would shut down three-quarters of Texas’s abortion clinics. … …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: How Victims of Sexual Abuse Can Get the Better of Satan

By Interview by Mary DeMuth A Christian therapist shares lessons from 25 years of counseling survivors. Just over 25 years ago, Christian therapist Dan Allender released The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. For thousands of victims suffering the aftereffects of sexual trauma, it became a trusted guide. Now, after decades of clinical practice, Allender has published a follow-up:Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation (Baker). Author Mary DeMuth, who has written widely about her own recovery from childhood sexual abuse, spoke with Allender about the spiritual contours of healing and the importance of kindness to victims. What have you learned about the aftermath of sexual abuse since writing The Wounded Heart? We now know much more about the brain. We know, for example, that trauma shuts down the left functional lobe where language resides. We have always known that trauma victims have fragmented memories, but now we have a clearer understanding of why. The more we understand about the psychology of sexual abuse victims, the greater the potential for showing kindness. We can say, “This is what one would expect given the harm.” When clients have a better understanding of the neurology of trauma, it opens the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Joseph Fiennes Talks About Playing a Skeptic in ‘Risen’

By Alissa Wilkinson The star of the upcoming Bible film talks about his new film, the nature of belief, gladiator school, and Eric Liddell. The film Risen—which will hit theaters on February 19, 2016—is not quite like any film based on the Bible that I’ve seen before. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the film stars Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) as Clavius, a Roman centurion who is assigned to figure out where the body of Jesus of Nazareth has gone after it disappears from the tomb. Clavius is a world-weary, ambitious man of Rome, but as he interviews various people from Jesus’ life, he starts to realize that more is going on here than meets the eye. I spoke with Fiennes by phone last November about playing Clavius, the nature of belief, going to gladiator school, and his upcoming role as Eric Liddell in The Last Race (which covers the period of Liddell’s life as a missionary in China, following the events of Chariots of Fire). The following transcript of our conversation was edited for clarity. Christianity Today: What attracted you to this project? Joseph Fiennes: I met with our director, Kevin . He is extremely intelligent—I loved his films and identify a lot with them. He had …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Kathie Lee Gifford: How Billy Graham Led Me to Christ

By Kathie Lee Gifford, as told to Kate Shellnutt My Christian faith got me to and through Hollywood. For most of my childhood, my family honored God in a general sense but didn’t know him personally. We were culturally Jewish on my father’s side and culturally Christian on my mother’s side. But our faith—and indeed everything about our lives—began to change one night when I was 12. I came home to see my mother and sister in our living room, sobbing in front of the television. A couple years prior, President Kennedy had been assassinated, so I walked in thinking, What cataclysmic event has happened this time? But I discovered that my mother and sister had been watching one of Billy Graham’s televised crusades. That night they both came to Christ. A few months later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association released its first movie in theaters, The Restless Ones. It is about a girl at the cusp of making big decisions in her life. She asks herself whether she’ll follow the way of faith or the way of the world. I went to see it at a small theater in our town, Annapolis, Maryland. As I watched, I heard a voice speak to me directly. Although it wasn’t audible, I sensed God …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Lauren Chandler: How God Wrings Out Praise During Tough Times

By Interview by Megan Hill The singer, pastor’s wife, and author opens up about God’s ‘Steadfast Love.’ When I asked Lauren Chandler about the challenges of being known as the wife of Matt Chandler, the lead teaching pastor of The Village Church in Texas and head of the Acts 29 church-planting network, she immediately knew her response. “They think that because Matt is bold and strong, then I must be quiet,” she said. “They think I’m his opposite, and I get pegged as something I’m not.” Chandler respects her husband, but also matches him in transparency and intensity. The worship leader at Village Church, one of the fastest-growing congregations in America, Chandler has recorded an album, written a book, and launched a marriage conference with her husband for thousands of couples worldwide, all within the past few years. The pastor’s wife and mother of three admits her weaknesses, laughs easily at herself, and acknowledges that she’s a big believer in biblical counseling. Whether she’s discussing rocky seasons in her marriage or her time in Celebrate Recovery‘s steps program, she comes across as unflinchingly honest. You don’t have to talk to Chandler for long before you see that she has a tender heart that longs …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Mandarin Moment: Should US Churches Switch from Spanish-Language Services?

By Morgan Lee China has overtaken Mexico as the No. 1 sender of legal immigrants to America. Fred Biby thought his congregation was missing an opportunity. Dozens of Chinese immigrants were sending their children to Bridges Community Church’s preschool. But the Fremont, California, church wasn’t engaging the adults. So the associate pastor teamed up with the preschool to promote Bridges’ Sunday morning services and outreach events in Mandarin. A Mandarin-language small group formed, and 15 years later, Bridges is a congregation of about 100, with a Mandarin-language pastor on its payroll. Biby’s initiative aligned with broader demographic trends: in 2013, China overtook Mexico as the No. 1 sender of legal immigrants to the United States. When Latino immigration spiked in past decades, many Anglo congregations launched Spanish-language ministries. Should US churches now devote more resources to the Chinese? And will the bilingual ministry learning curve be faster this time? Experts agree that churches won’t be able to cut and paste from their Spanish ministries. For example, since two-thirds of Mexican immigrants live in poverty and half lack health insurance, many churches offer social services like food pantries and ESL classes. But only one-third of Chinese immigrants live in poverty, and more than half are college graduates (compared …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Sunday Journeys: Celebrating at James River Church, an Assemblies of God Church in MO

By Ed Stetzer James River Church is a people of worship and prayer I was recently back at James River Assembly in Springfield, MO (I was there in 2011 and again in 2012). It’s a flagship church in the Assemblies of God and one of the most welcoming churches I ever visit. I was there to preach and do a seminar from my book (with Eric Geiger) Transformational Groups. I’ll share the normal things about such a church, but then at the end, I want to focus on something about their personal ministry time. First, the worship is high energy and passionate. The praise band and team were participative and enthusiastic. John Lindell is the pastor (he’s written for The Exchange, too). You can tell he loves the church and he loves Springfield. The church has two services in its largest location, but has other locations as well. The folks at JRC sent me a pic of my preaching time. In my view, that’s too many pics of Ed Stetzer at one time. 😉 There is so much you could talk about from JRC. They run James River Leadership College. They are convictionally Pentecostal. They are …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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