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J.I. Packer: How I Learned to Live Joyfully

By J.I. Packer A wizened sage named Ecclesiastes tamed my youthful cynicism. Christians like to quiz each other about their favorite book in the Bible. Finding out how people experience Scripture—especially those who write books about the Bible—is a natural interest to us. When asked which Bible book is my favorite, I say Ecclesiastes. Should people raise their eyebrows and ask why, I give them two reasons. First, it is a special pleasure to read an author with whom one resonates. That is how the writer, who called himself Qohelet—Hebrew for “Gatherer,” a title that in Greek became Ecclesiastes, the “Assembly-man”—strikes me. I see him as a reflective senior citizen, a public teacher of wisdom, something of a stylist and wordsmith. As his official testimonial or third-person testimony (it might be either) in 12:10 shows, this man took his instructional task very seriously and labored to communicate memorably. Whether he was the Solomon of history or someone impersonating him—not to deceive but to make points in the most effective way—we do not know. All I am sure of is that each point has maximum strength if it comes from the real Solomon at the end of his life. Whoever he was, Qohelet was a realist …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Leading Lawyer Defending Crosses in ‘China’s Jerusalem’ Kidnapped Before Meeting US Ambassador

By Timothy C. Morgan Zhang Kai among 270 people detained or arrested. China has arrested the leader of “Lawyers for Protection of the Cross,” among more than 250 attorneys, pastors, and human rights activists detained or arrested since July in the latest state-sponsored suppression of religious freedom. On August 25, police in Wenzhou —a coastal city known as “China’s Jerusalem” where the government has been stripping the skyline of church crosses—jumped a wall at Xialing Church and arrested Zhang Kai and his intern, Liu Peng. The arrests occurred on the eve of a scheduled meeting with David Saperstein, the US ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom who took office in January. “These detentions fit into the disturbing pattern of state intimidation of public interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, religious leaders,” Saperstein said to news media. “Also other people that I have met, or tried to, have suffered harassment of some kind. demands the immediate release of these activists, who boldly underline the precariousness of religious life in China.” According to China Aid, Zhang and Liu are being held for six months in a so-called “black jail,” one of several detention facilities outside the established penal system. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Maze Runner to God

By Samantha Blythe Wrong turns and dead ends punctuated by unexpected grace. We started to publish this delightful testimony as a serial, and then belatedly realized that the narrative flow was lost in breaking the story into parts every other day. Here now is the full version without even page breaks. The piece is much longer than our usual fare, so you may want to print it or save it to your favorite online reader after you’ve read for a bit. It is still organized by the phases that Samantha describes. Enjoy. –The Editors. The Formation Phase There was a life, phase after phase, Which oft felt like running a maze But no matter how odd, ‘twas all planned out by God, to Whom be all glory and praise. One of my earliest memories is of my five-year-old self, coming home from school a few months after my parents divorced. There was a goldfish in a bowl on the kitchen counter, with a note saying something like, “I thought you might like this. Love, Dad.” I hadn’t seen my dad for weeks, and I don’t think the slimy little guy or gal was much consolation. I remember having to flush it down the toilet a few weeks later. I …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Moses and Jesus Didn’t Have Their Dream Jobs By 30, Either

By Liuan Huska Calling may look more like a wandering journey than a singular career path. People start asking the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” when kids are in preschool. I’ve had many responses along the way—a stock broker, a doctor, a journalist, to name a few. When I graduated high school ten years ago, I assumed that by now I would finally be living the answer to that question. Instead, I’ve given up on finding one. That question—and the belief that a singular career will become our identity as adults—holds less meaning for today’s job hoppers and career jugglers. Earlier generations choose their profession and, for the most part, stuck with it. They envisioned careers as linear paths up a company hierarchy or at least within the same field. Of course, there were workers who switched industries and took zigzag job routes, but they were exceptions. Now, they’re becoming the norm. A typical millennial career path may involve dabbling in different fields, getting multiple, unrelated graduate degrees, and working at Starbucks in the meantime. There are economic reasons for our seeming capriciousness. Many of us entered the job market in the depths of the Great Recession, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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My Small Group Looks Like Me

By Morgan Lee Why some multiethnic churches don’t mandate diversity at gatherings. On any given Sunday at New Life Fellowship, worshipers from more than 75 ethnic backgrounds gather at the church’s three services in Queens, New York City. But during the week, an increasing number of them go to small groups intentionally split along ethnic lines. Congregations like New Life face a challenge when it comes to small groups: the things that make small groups thrive—like common interests, backgrounds, and culture—often work against the church’s goal of building multiethnic community. Some church leaders believe homogenous small groups actually attract diversity. At New Life, ethnic fellowships function as a “great entry point into a multiethnic church,” said small group pastor Phil Varghese, the son of Indian immigrants. “It’s a cultural shock for newcomers to see so many people groups gathering,” he said. “We’re building Spanish-language and Filipino, South Asian, and Indonesian ethnic fellowships.” Such groups can make new immigrants feel at home. Knowing that they can find weekday fellowship in their own language, many “first-generation parents will sacrifice not hearing a Spanish-language message because their kids are loving what they are getting at our church,” said Jorge Molina, an El Salvador native who pastors small groups …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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New Parents: Your Sex Lives Are Going to Change

By Courtney Reissig How healthier expectations for marriage might keep us away from Ashley Madison. I’ve followed the coverage of the Ashley Madison list, each scandalous revelation exposing yet another seemingly wholesome family man with a wandering eye. We know by now that many Christians, and our leaders, visited this site. Sadly, sin can be a great equalizer as we fall under our lust for attention, sexual satisfaction, and freedom. As a mother of a three-month-old and twin toddlers, I can’t help noticing the young husbands and fathers who sought affairs through Ashley Madison. Despite appearances of happy families, despite praising their wives for loving them and caring for their children, these men wanted more, and looked for it in the dark corners of the Internet. This reality hit close to home for me, and perhaps for many parents in the tiring early months and years after starting a family. Having a baby drains you physically, mentally, and emotionally; sometimes I feel too exhausted to carry a full conversation with my husband, let alone be intimate with him. We are both overwhelmed. As much as we love each other and our growing family, I’d be lying if I didn’t say this season isn’t grueling. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: A Walk In The Woods

By Kenneth R. Morefield Why are good books so hard to adapt to the big screen?. mpaa rating:R (For language and some sexual references.) Genre:Comedy, Drama Theatre Release:September 02, 2015 by TriStar Pictures It’s hard to adapt a beloved book to the screen, but it’s not impossible. For every high-profile success—think To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, or Lord of the Rings—the Hollywood roadside is littered with even more colossal misfires: The Scarlet Letter, Ender’s Game, The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, Alice in Wonderland, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Unbroken, Dune. The worst adaptations are the ones that leave you asking in frustration, “What went wrong?” and insisting, “But that should have been a great movie!” Bill Bryson wrote the wonderfully comic A Walk in the Woods. But while this film keeps the bare outlines of Bryson’s story, it both misunderstands his comic voice and conveys it wrongly. The result is a drab road trip film, a cross between Grumpy Old Men and National Lampoon’s Vacation, as the aged Bryson (Robert Redford) and his crude former buddy Katz (Nick Nolte) set out to hike the Appalachian Trail. Ho hum. So the book was better. What else is new? The fascinating thing about A Walk in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Russell Moore Wants to Keep Christianity Weird

By Sarah Pulliam Bailey The public-policy leader for the largest US Protestant denomination isn’t worried over Christians’ loss of power. He says it might just be the best thing to happen to them. Moore didn’t expect to see female bodybuilders tanning naked across the street on a hot June day. So the eighth president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the public-policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, took to one of his pulpits: Twitter. “These people told me we ought to keep all the neighbor kids inside while they are naked out here. Y’all have never seen me this mad,” tweeted Moore, a father to five boys. Moore chuckled recounting the story while holding his youngest during family dinner. The day after his neighbors agreed not to tan naked in their front yard, Moore tweeted, “So far today we still have our First Amendment religious freedom and everyone in my neighborhood has their clothes on outside. #winning” Compared with today’s myriad court battles in which Christian individuals and organizations worry that their religious freedoms will soon vanish, tanned bodybuilders seem like a minor threat. But the encounter epitomizes the way Moore is practicing patient pluralism—and helping a denomination of about 16 million do the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Save the Drama: Raising Girls Who Speak Truth

By Jen Wilkin, guest writer Don’t let power plays manipulate young friendships. Growing up the only girl among four brothers, when I pictured myself as a mother, I never saw myself having daughters. In my mind, girls meant girl drama. Despite my lack of imagination, God still graciously gave me two daughters, and over the past 18 years, I’ve learned over and over again how wrong I was to believe the negative hype around raising girls. Girl drama is definitely a thing, and a well-documented one at that. Queen Bees & Wanna Bees (the book that inspired the movie Mean Girls) examines the unique tensions of adolescent girls, specifically stemming from their relationships with each other, and countless teen movies, books, and TV shows rely on these-all-too-common tropes. Anyone who has spent time around tweens or teens has probably noticed these kinds of power plays: pouting, shunning, hyper-sensitivity, clinginess, playing favorites, spreading gossip. Though girl drama is nothing new, today’s technology makes it even more pervasive. Drama no longer pauses when the school bell rings, it follows our daughters around in their pockets wherever they go. It does not sleep, and it never takes a summer break. But don’t panic: drama doesn’t have to plague our daughters. We …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Should Adulterous Pastors Be Restored?

By R. Kent Hughes and John H. Armstrong The Bible’s teaching about returning fallen ministers to the pulpit. “Genuine forgiveness does not necessarily imply restoration to leadership,” former CT editor Kenneth Kantzer once wrote after the moral failure of several prominent evangelical leaders. Yet the impulse to link forgiveness with restoration to ministry remains strong. Here two pastor-theologians argue for the importance of keeping separate the restoration to the body of Christ and restoration to pastoral leadership. The North American church is seriously vexed by the question, “What shall we do with an adulterous pastor?” Over the past decade, the church has been repeatedly staggered by revelations of immoral conduct by some of its most respected leaders. How do we respond to those who have sexually fallen and disgraced themselves, shamed their families, and debased their office? The typical pattern goes like this: The pastor is accused and convicted of sexual sin. He confesses his sin, often with profound sorrow. His church or denominational superiors prescribe a few months, or often one year, in which time he is encouraged to obtain professional counsel. Then he is restored to his former office, sometimes in another location. He is commonly regarded as a “wounded healer,” one who now knows what it means to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Stinginess Is More Sinful than Divorce, Say Churchgoing Evangelicals

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Pew asks Americans what constitutes a sin or socially acceptable behavior. Refusing to write a check to charity while living in luxury is a sin, according to almost half (48%) of white evangelicals who attend church weekly. That opinion is also shared by almost half (47%) of all Americans who attend worship services weekly. And 36 percent of all black Protestants (two-thirds of whom identify as evangelicals) feel the same way, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center. In fact, being stingy with charitable giving draws more condemnation than divorce. Only 37 percent of white evangelicals who attend church weekly told Pew that divorce was a sin. So did a quarter (26%) of all black Protestants. (CT recently noted which reasons for divorce are sinful in the eyes of most Americans.) The more generous attitude toward divorce may stem from its frequency. The percentage of Americans who have divorced has almost doubled over the past 53 years, from 24 percent to 45 percent, according to University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright. Evangelical divorce rates were slightly higher than average (47%) from 2010-2014 and correlate with church attendance, Wright told CT. Only 38 percent of evangelicals who attend church …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Drifters

By Photographs by Christian Sardet; introduction by Mark Ohman Plankton planet: Meet the creatures who make up 98 percent of the oceans’ biomass. Even when God makes a little thing, it is great because of the wisdom displayed in making it. The microscope has taught us the greatness of God in creating tiny creatures of wondrous beauty, yet so small as not to be perceptible to the naked eye. “The works of the Lord are great.”—Charles Spurgeon, Exposition of Psalm 111 Take two breaths. For one of them, you can thank the plankton, in particular the single-celled photosynthetic drifters that compose the phytoplankton of the world ocean. Remarkably, these elegant, microscopic cells perform nearly half of the photosynthesis and consequent oxygen production on Earth—equivalent to the total amount of photosynthetic activity of land plants combined. These tiny single cells have transformed the ocean, atmosphere, and terrestrial environment and helped make the planet habitable for a broad spectrum of other organisms, including ourselves. In many cases, blooms of phytoplankton reach such densities that they change the color of ocean surface waters and are even visible from satellites orbiting Earth. Every schoolchild knows that baleen whales, the biggest animals in the sea, subsist on huge quantities of krill, which are small zooplankton. But ocean …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Long Tail: No Man Is An Island

By Kenneth R. Morefield Films (and one television show) about community you can watch at home. Alissa’s note: Ken Morefield, a longtime contributor to Christianity Today Movies and a cinephile and critic for whom I have great respect, writes a post we call “The Long Tail.” Each month, he looks at a few films that are being primarily distributed to American audiences through DVDs or Internet streaming and tries to surface some movies that might otherwise fly under the radar. If you’re worn out on on comic-book films and bubble gum blockbusters, you may be ready to scan the lists of DVD and streaming releases for less flashy fare. September offers some great options, unified by a common theme: individuals who are both shaped by their communities and trying to influence them. Francesco: St. Francis of Assisi Film Movement kicks off the month of September with a Blu-ray reissue of Liliana Cavani’s powerful and affecting Francesco—a biography of St. Francis of Assisi. On paper Cavani, best known for the controversial sadomasochism-themed The Night Porter, would seem an odd choice for this project. And Mickey Rourke, coming off of Nine ½ Weeks, Angel Heart, and Barfly, would not have been among the first fifty actors I would have imagined playing …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why Adulterous Pastors Should Not Be Restored

By R. Kent Hughes and John H. Armstrong Repentance is not enough for returning fallen ministers to the pulpit. “Genuine forgiveness does not necessarily imply restoration to leadership,” former CT editor Kenneth Kantzer once wrote after the moral failure of several prominent evangelical leaders. Yet the impulse to link forgiveness with restoration to ministry remains strong. Here two pastor-theologians argue for the importance of keeping separate the restoration to the body of Christ and restoration to pastoral leadership. The North American church is seriously vexed by the question, “What shall we do with an adulterous pastor?” Over the past decade, the church has been repeatedly staggered by revelations of immoral conduct by some of its most respected leaders. How do we respond to those who have sexually fallen and disgraced themselves, shamed their families, and debased their office? The typical pattern goes like this: The pastor is accused and convicted of sexual sin. He confesses his sin, often with profound sorrow. His church or denominational superiors prescribe a few months, or often one year, in which time he is encouraged to obtain professional counsel. Then he is restored to his former office, sometimes in another location. He is commonly regarded as a “wounded healer,” one who now knows what it means …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Are You Worshiping a Fake Jesus?

By Will Willimon Daniel Darling catalogues the impostors vying for your devotion. You know the old saw: God created humans in his own image, and we have spent ages returning the favor. How ironic that Jesus, who came to transform us, has so many followers intent on remaking him into a more congenial idol. At first we dressed him in a royal robe and placed a crown upon his head—before nailing him to a cross. Today we continue to downgrade the original Jesus into someone less threatening and demanding. In The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is (Baker), Daniel Darling takes aim at a score of popular but fake saviors: “Guru Jesus,” “Red-Letter Jesus,” “Braveheart Jesus,” “Dr. Phil Jesus,” “Prosperity Jesus,” and more. No matter how confidently you proclaim fidelity to biblical teaching, this book will snag you with at least one of its pseudo-Christs. In his usually gentle, sometimes funny, always astute skewering of trendy myths about our Lord, Darling (vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) vindicates a key insight of one of his theological heroes, John Calvin. The Genevan Reformer said that idolatry is our root sin and that the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Survey Can Make You Less Moral

By Susan Wunderink What behavioral economics has to do with scary statistics. Surely by the time Elijah wandered off into the desert to die, he would have been a hard guy to discourage. He had stood up to some of the most memorable (and pathetic) murderers in the Bible, survived a long famine, and sacrificed alone as a servant of God vying against Baal’s priests. Throughout his life, God had vindicated his faith and kept him safe. But in the little speech Elijah prepared for God to tell him why he had gone off alone and prayed to die, he reveals something: he doesn’t want to be the only one obeying God. “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” Elijah was using his exaggerated spiritual isolation as an excuse to quit. Someone else in his place might have said, “Less than one percent of the people of God worship you exclusively!” He might have been exceptional in almost every way, but Elijah wasn’t the only faithful believer in Israel, and he wasn’t the last faithful believer to demonstrate an irrational response to statistics. We’re all more likely to act faithfully when we think we’re in the moral …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Asking 'Why Me, God?' But in a Different Way

By Peter W. Chin The question “Why me, God?” can be a lament, but also an expression of gratitude. I have much to be thankful for this year. January will mark five years since my wife’s breast cancer surgery, after which her chances of recurrence drop significantly. Thinking back to the frightening months following my wife’s initial diagnosis, I remember that many doubts and questions dominated my mind. But no question was more paralyzing and difficult to answer than this one, as well as its myriad variations: “Why me, God?” “God, why did you let my wife get sick with breast cancer? Did we do something wrong? What had we done to deserve this?” “God, why did you let my church plant close down? Am I a terrible pastor, a failure?” “God, why have I been unemployed for so long? How am I going to provide for my family, how am I going to afford insurance in case my wife gets sick again?” “Why God? Why me?” These are questions that every person asks themselves at some point in their lives. But what sets these questions apart are that they are not just personal but theological in nature, and so lay bare our understanding of self, of God, and …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Pastors Are Passing the Leadership Baton

By Warren Bird Succession plans can destroy a church. Or help it thrive for years to come. What are the keys to success? Every pastor is an interim pastor. That statement may sound harsh or abrupt, but it’s becoming a catchphrase. Saddleback’s Rick Warren commented about the quote on Instagram, noting that it’s something his dad—also a pastor—said repeatedly. As William Vanderbloemen and I explain in Next: Pastoral Succession That Works (Baker Books), a day will come for every church leader when a successor takes his place. And based on our research, the smartest churches address succession head-on. A church that doesn’t handle it well faces significant losses, sometimes to the point of no return. Crystal Cathedral is now bankrupt due in part to succession issues. The same is true of many once-prominent churches, like Earl Paul’s Chapel Hill Harvester Church, that are now gone. An outstanding long-term pastorate offers no guarantee that a church will survive, let alone thrive. In 1968, 12 years after Jerry Falwell founded Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, the church was drawing more than 2,000 weekly worshipers, putting it on early “top 10” lists from Elmer Towns and John Vaughan. Then in 2007, at 73, Falwell died …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How a French Atheist Becomes a Theologian

By Guillaume Bignon Inside my own revolution. If French atheists rarely become evangelical Christians, how much rarer it is for one to become an evangelical Christian theologian. So what happened? One might argue that with 66 million French people, I’m just a fluke, an anomaly. I am inclined to see it as the work of a God who says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). Hearing the facts may help you decide for yourself. I grew up in a wonderfully loving family in France, near Paris. We were Catholic, a religious expression that seemed to arise more out of tradition and perhaps superstition than conviction. As soon as I was old enough to tell my parents I didn’t believe any of it, I stopped going to Mass. I pursued my own happiness on all fronts, benefiting from my parents’ loving dedication. It allowed me to do well at school, learn to play the piano, and get involved in many sports. I studied math, physics, and engineering in college, graduated from a respected engineering school, and landed a job as a computer scientist in finance. On the sports front, after I grew to be 6 feet 4 inches and discovered I …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: Forming a Society Worthy of Humans

By Interview by Joseph E. Gorra Robert Sirico says that in order to get economics right, we must first understand what it means to be human. Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and co-founder of the Acton Institute, is perhaps one of the most economically literate clergymen you will find among America’s public intellectuals. While most seminaries do not train future pastors and lay leaders to think theologically about economics, Sirico says understanding questions about economics is necessary if Christian leaders want to rightly seek the good of society and train others to do the same. Joseph Gorra, founder and director of Veritas Life Center, talked Sirico about economic life and human flourishing. At this year’s Acton University conference, you spoke on how love is an indispensable basis for economic life. To some, that might seem odd if economic life is viewed as the maximization of utility and material well-being. We can’t enter the marketplace as something other than what we really are, and real human love demonstrates the impossibility of being merely homo economicus (“the economic man”), which is essentially a thesis that reduces human beings to their materiality. Humans are simultaneously material and transcendent, individual and social. We are not merely individual entities, though we are uniquely …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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