Author Archives: truex - Page 4156

Christian

What Is Church Attendance Like During Christmastime? New Data From LifeWay Research

By Ed Stetzer Most Americans attend church during the Christmas season, and many would come if invited. Recently, LifeWay Research conducted a study to learn more about church attendance patterns during Christmastime. Historically, pastors and church leaders know that Christmastime attracts more visitors than perhaps any other time of the year, outside of perhaps the Lenten and Easter season. Carol Pipes, editor of Facts & Trends, wrote the story for LifeWay Research: In a recent poll of 1,000 Americans, LifeWay Research found six out of 10 Americans typically attend church at Christmastime. But among those who don’t attend church at Christmastime, a majority (57 percent) say they would likely attend if someone they knew invited them. “Regular churchgoers may assume the rest of America has already made up their mind not to attend church,” said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. “In reality, many would welcome going to a Christmas service with someone they know.” Americans living in the South (66 percent) and Midwest (64 percent) are more likely to attend church at Christmastime than those in the Northeast (57 percent) and West (53 percent). And throughout the U.S., more women than …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Teen Mania: Why We're Shutting Down After 30 Years of Acquire the Fire

By Morgan Lee CT Exclusive: Ron Luce explains why global youth ministry is calling it quits. ‘There are three stages of every great work of God,” Hudson Taylor, the well-known British missionary to China, once said. “First it’s impossible, then it’s difficult, then it’s done.” Teen Mania founder Ron Luce quoted Taylor when explaining to CT why the nearly 30-year-old ministry announced it would cease operations. “Honestly, the hardest part about our closure is for people to misinterpret what the closing of a chapter means,” Luce said in an hour-long, exclusive interview. “Scripture talks about old and new wineskins. Sometimes old wineskins don’t need to be used anymore. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of Christian organizations that become institutions, that are dead and dry, and they’re old wineskins. We don’t want to become that. So it’s not a bad thing to say that the wineskin is done. We feel like we’ve completed this assignment.” An Army of Young People Luce became a Christian at the age of 16 and immediately devoted his life to youth ministry. An Oral Roberts University graduate, Luce participated in Young Life and Youth for Christ. But at age 25, Luce was hungry for something larger. So he said he …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

‘I Am Called a Cult Leader. I Really Don’t Care.’

By Bob Smietana How one of the world’s most beloved worship songs reportedly helped to fuel spiritual abuse at Wayne Jolley’s The Gathering International. For the past decade, “How Great Is Our God” has been one of the most popular worship songs in the United States. The song’s success helped to make Chris Tomlin the world’s top worship leader, and turned his co-writer Ed Cash into one of the most sought after Christian music producers in Nashville. It also helped launch what former members are calling a cult. Cash is a leading member of the Gathering International, a small group of followers devoted to Wayne “Pops” Jolley, a prosperity gospel preacher with a history of alleged spiritual and sexual abuse. Jolley’s followers, including Cash, call him a prophet and their spiritual father. They answer his sermons with “Yes, sir” and shower him with gifts and tithes in exchange for his blessing. They also submit the details of their lives—where to work, where to live, and who to associate with—for his approval. According to former followers, no one is allowed to question Jolley’s decisions. “Correction upward is always rebellion,” he often tells his followers. His critics, he says, are controlled by demons. And congregations that are run by a church board—rather than …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Five Errors to Drop from Your Christmas Sermon

By Andreas Kӧstenberger and Alexander Stewart If you want to help people see Christmas with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies. Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers: Have you thought about your Christmas sermon or lesson yet? If you want to help people celebrate Christmas this year (and every year) in keeping with established facts—not later legends, traditions, or popular imaginations—start by avoiding these common mistakes. 1. Don’t add details that aren’t in the text. This might seem obvious but bears repeating because it happens so often. The massive annual proliferation of Christmas cards, nativity scenes, and TV specials perpetuates these added details and gives the impression that they are facts. The infancy narratives in the Gospels lack many of the details that have been fabricated in subsequent centuries. For example, they don’t tell us about the nature of the stable (cave, open-air, wood, etc.); whether there even was a stable; whether or not there were animals nearby; or the number of wise men. These magoi (not kings and not necessarily three in number) almost certainly didn’t arrive on the night of the birth as most manger scenes depict. And a star wouldn’t have been suspended right above the roofline. With no mention of a stable, the manger could …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

The Good News Behind Why Teens Don’t Need a Bible for Christmas

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Most practicing Protestant youth already own one—and they’re reading it, according to researchers. Virtually all Americans ages 13 to 17 who identify as Protestant, attend a religious service at least once a month, and say their faith is very important in their life, own a Bible. And most of them are reading it, according to a new survey from the American Bible Society and Barna Group. Almost three-quarters read their Bible weekly or more: 16 percent read every day, 37 percent read several times a week, and 21 percent read once a week. Another 13 percent read once a month, 5 percent read three or four times a year, and 8 percent read less than that. When you add in the 91 percent that hear the Bible read aloud at church once a week or more, it adds up to about 95 percent of practicing Protestant teens (79% of whom are non-mainline) hearing or reading the Bible at least weekly. The numbers are similar to their adult counterparts—in a similar survey, 80 percent of practicing adult Protestants said they read the Bible once a week or more, and 90 percent hear the Bible read aloud at least once a week at a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

News: Orthodox Rabbis Say Christianity is God's Plan, Vatican Says Stop Evangelizing Jews

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Experts assess letter exchange marking 50th anniversary of famous detente. Five decades ago, the Roman Catholic Church famously acknowledged the unique relationship between Jews and Christians. In the wake of World War II, the Vatican officially rejected anti-Semitism and a common manifestation—charges of deicide—and affirmed the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Nostra Aetete declaration, a group of Orthodox rabbis signed and released a statement this month acknowledging that “Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.” In separating Jews and Christians, God was not separating enemies but partners with significant theological differences, the rabbis wrote. “Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty, so that all humanity will call on His name and abominations will be removed from the earth.” A week later, the Vatican honored the Nostra Aetete anniversary by releasing its own statement, this time saying that Catholics should not evangelize Jews—at least in an organized way. The back-to-back events weren’t unrelated: Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s international director of interreligious affairs, signed the first document and spoke …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

I Recently When to a Full-Blown Christmas Pageant for the First Time—Here's What I Thought

By Ed Stetzer Some disparage the idea of Christmas pageants, and I understand the concern. But, not so fast. So, I’ve never actually been a a real Christmas pageant. By “real” I mean one where my kids were not dressed as sheep or something. (Those are awesome, but of a different variety! Anyway, when I was recently in Fort Lauderdale, I was by an invitation to one of the more famous of these pageants— the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant. So, for a Saturday blog post, I thought I’d share a bit of it with you. It was opening night, so For King and Country opened. And, there was, shall we say, lots of energy. But, if you’ve never been to one of these pageants, it’s almost a cultural phenomenon. First, they do a lot of shows and they sell them all out. We had 3000 people in the room to watch the program. It started with a “holiday” theme, rather than a distinctly Christian Christmas story. There are dancers and singers. And toys and games. (That’s my family smiling in the front—and the pastor, Larry Thompson, leaning forward). The church goes all out. Santa comes in riding in an old car. They sang. And sang …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

The Mystery of My Healing

By Amy Julia Becker Unexplainable relief is a reminder of God’s grace, wholeness, and incarnation. I can’t remember when it began, but for the past few years, a constant pain has hugged my lower back. It was enough to wake me up at night. I tried Advil. I tried stretching. I started a new workout regimen to strengthen my core. I told our children I couldn’t pick them up or let them sit on my lap. With each solution, the pain faded, only to come back in a few days or weeks. Eventually it crept down to my tailbone. I had to modify the way I stood up and could only sit on cushioned chairs. Still, the pain persisted. And then one morning, it went away, never to return. I wish I could say healing came because I called upon the Lord. But for whatever faulty reasoning or theological neglect on my part, reaching out to Jesus to heal my minor-but-persistent back pain didn’t cross my mind. I had, though, called on a physical therapist and yoga teacher for help. We sat cross-legged, facing each other, even though sitting like that hurt my back. Instead of stretching or moving through postures, we talked. I told her about the creeping …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

#ChurchLifeMatters

By Joshua Ryan Butler Why the fight for racial justice in America needs a God-centered vision. Due to cities like Ferguson and Baltimore, activist movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe, and tragedies like last year’s massacre of nine black Christians by a white supremacist in a South Carolina church, conversations about race are once again in the national spotlight. As a pastor whose church has moved to broaden its ethnic diversity, and as a Hispanic man whose heart breaks over systemic injustice, I’m pleased to see so much attention devoted to healing some of our country’s deepest wounds. Thus, I was excited to learn that Jim Wallis, the founding editor of Sojourners magazine, has weighed in with America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Brazos). For many reasons, the book offers a welcome contribution. First, it’s an excellent resource for getting “up to speed” on contemporary race relations in the United States. Wallis provides a solid overview of troubling social realities like mass incarceration, the “school-to-prison” pipeline, racialized policing, immigration, and America’s shifting demographic makeup. Second, it highlights systemic injustice, connecting the dots between historical legacies and present-day realities. There are powerful, indicting statistics on dysfunctions in our criminal justice system, public schools, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Interview: What Kind of Astronomical Marvel was the Star of Bethlehem?

By Interview by Greg Cootsona And was it even a star? A biblical scholar investigates the mysterious object that guided the Magi to Jesus. Generations of Christians have helped ring in the Christmas season by singing John Henry Hopkins Jr.’s 1857 carol, “We Three Kings,” with its evocative chorus: Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright Westward leading, still proceeding Guide us to thy perfect light. We know, from the Gospel of Matthew, that these kings—or “Magi,” as Matthew calls them—saw something brilliant in the night sky, a celestial body that beckoned them to Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. But what exactly was this mysterious “star of wonder”? Biblical scholar Colin R. Nicholl is the latest to venture an explanation for this astronomical marvel. Blending Bible research with findings from expert astronomers, Nicholl makes the case that the Star of Bethlehem was actually an extraordinary comet. Greg Cootsona, a writer, teacher, and leader with the Scientists in Congregations program (funded by the Templeton Foundation to integrate science and theology in churches), spoke with Nicholl about his claims in The Great Christ Comet: Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem (Crossway). As a biblical scholar, what drew you to astronomy? If figuring out the biblical text requires me to understand …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Alejandro González Iñárritu Talks to CT About ‘The Revenant’

By Interview by Brett McCracken Fresh off last year’s Oscar win, the director discusses the spiritual themes of his new film. Less than a year ago, director Alejandro González Iñárritu won three Academy Awards (best picture, best directing and best original screenplay) for Birdman, a comedy that signaled a potentially more lighthearted new direction for a filmmaker known for rather bleak films about human suffering. Iñárritu’s first three films, after all, comprised what came to be known as the “Death Trilogy”: Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006). His fourth and least acclaimed film, Biutiful (2011), was criticized for being a “spectacle of unrelieved misery” and an “oppressive 150-minute dirge.” Iñárritu’s latest film doesn’t quite revert to the miserablist depths of his earlier films, but it is certainly no breezy Birdman. No, The Revenant (in theaters on Christmas Day) is stark, bleak and punishing for most of its 156 minutes. Inspired by the true survival story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), the film picks up Iñárritu’s familiar explorations of visceral portraits of emotional and physical suffering, this time set in the snowy wilds of the American west. Shot in 100% natural light and freezing temperatures by Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, The …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Building a Volunteer Culture in Your Church

It can be difficult, at times, to recruit volunteers at church. How might we create a volunteer culture in our churches? “Pull a Henry.” Their heads tilted; some brows furrowed. They thought I was crazy. It was working. When you are given the 8 p.m. Monday night slot for teaching seminary students, you’d better say something that awakens them from their post Sunday church hangover. I repeated myself, “If you want to build a volunteer culture in your church, you’ll have to pull a Henry. A Henry Ford. “ Henry Ford was the inventor of the first automobile assembly line. He wanted to produce more cars and ensure great quality, but in order to do that, he knew he needed a system. Henry hoped and dreamed that his system would change the automobile industry and culture and it did just that. So what on earth does pulling a Henry have to do with church and building a volunteer culture? Cars and people are the same? Nope, I’m not saying that. How they relate is that the ability to build a system that produces more and has better quality will ultimately change a culture. To this day, when consulting with churches, I haven’t met …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Why Are Christian Guys Silent About Abstinence?

By Cody Hill, guest writer When we don’t talk about male virginity, we imply that it’s not important. In an age of sexual exploration and broad acceptance of sexual activity, virginity has held on to its stigma—and not just if you’re Tim Tebow. Ask any 20-something guy trying to save sex for marriage. Even as our culture increasingly emphasizes individual choice and freedom, encouraging young people to honor their bodies and wait until they are ready before having sex, most of that messaging isn’t geared toward my demographic. People largely assume that all college-aged men have already had sex, since most of them have. And here’s the thing: Even as a male student at a conservative Christian university, I still see male virginity carry a stigma. That’s how pervasive our society’s messaging about sex is. While my school’s policies prohibit sexual contact between unmarried students, that doesn’t mean all of us toe the line without a struggle. I’ve watched friends encounter a wide range of expectations and backgrounds while dating. One friend was interested in a woman at school here, and things progressed until he discovered that she wanted only a physical relationship. He felt ashamed that he had to break things off, and some of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Interview: What’s So Dangerous About Grace?

By Interview by Wesley Hill Biblical scholar John Barclay explains why Paul shocked his religious peers—and reminds us how radical the gospel really is. John M. G. Barclay, Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University, UK, is recognized by his peers as one of today’s most influential New Testament scholars. Barclay began his academic career focusing on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Since then, he has published widely on Second Temple Jewish texts and social history. His book Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora is widely regarded as the definitive treatment of the topic. In the past few years, Barclay has turned his attention back to Paul, most recently with his monumental 2015 book, Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans). For nearly four decades, scholarship on Paul has operated on the assumption that what makes Paul unique is not his view of grace. In fact, many scholars believe he had nothing new to contribute on the topic. Since the advent of the “New Perspective on Paul” in the late 1970s—which shifted attention away from “justification by faith” as the center of Paul’s theology to the social, ethical dimensions of his missionary efforts—many interpreters of Paul have neglected the topic of grace. Barclay’s new book opposes this …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Review: 45 Years

By Alissa Wilkinson When the ground beneath a marriage is shaken, can it hold up? mpaa rating:R (For language and brief sexuality.) Genre:Drama Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Sundance Selects Much about 45 Years makes it clear that it’s adapted from a short story, but nothing more than the moment when Kate (Charlotte Rampling) is surveying the hall in which she intends to host her 45th wedding anniversary party at the end of the week. “So full of history, you see?” says the man showing her the room, which after the English fashion is old and stately. “Like a good marriage.” That line is a cipher for the story, the thread you tug and hold your breath to see if the whole thing will unravel. Kate and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are just on the cusp of old age, retired but well-off and childless and still very fond of one another. The film takes place over the week leading up to their anniversary celebration, and it’s filled with the quiet shorthand that long-married couples use with one another, with a constant classical music backdrop. For much of the film, director Andrew Haight contrasts very wide shots of the fields and landscapes around Kate and Geoff’s …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Commentary: Love Doesn't Stop at Two

By Matt Reynolds Why China’s two-child policy is barely better than its one-child policy. For more than three decades, China has enforced draconian restrictions on family size. Now, after a sudden shift announced in late October, China will enforce slightly less draconian restrictions. The country’s notorious one-child policy has become a two-child policy. It’s a modest retreat from the oppressive status quo, stopping far short of the full dismantling that opposition groups rightly demand. Even so, there’s an understandable urge to celebrate. All Girls Allowed founder Chai Ling rejoiced that “the Lord has done a great and mighty thing,” likening the new reform to God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea. Indeed, if any one principle sustains pro-life morale amid serial disappointments, it’s that incremental progress beats no progress. Relaxing China’s one-child policy means fewer forced abortions and sterilizations. Fewer little girls targeted in the womb or left to die as infants so that couples can preserve the possibility of male offspring. Fewer invasive state fertility checks, and fewer moments dreading inadvertent pregnancy. Praise God for every flicker of mercy in this dark world. But let’s keep the champagne corked for now. As any number of cool-headed observers have remarked, China’s loosened stranglehold on family …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Review: Joy

By Alissa Wilkinson The film is uneven, but Joy knows just who she is. mpaa rating:PG-13 (For brief strong language.) Genre:Drama Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation The text at the beginning of Joy, the latest film from director David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), says it is “inspired by the true stories of daring women . . . one in particular.” That “one” is Joy Mangano, played here by Jennifer Lawrence, who is always fun to watch and certainly holds the film together. The character and her story are based on Mangano’s true story of inventing the Magic Mop, hawking it on the still-new QVC, and overcoming difficulty to become a business mogul able to support other inventors and entrepreneurs. Russell makes weird and frenetic movies that aren’t to everyone’s taste. They lurch around a bit and at times seem more infatuated with style than substance or coherence. That shows up again in Joy, which is narrated by Joy’s grandmother (Diane Ladd) and includes a montage introduction and a couple early black-and-white scenes from a melodrama, shot in soap opera style. Soon we segue into a whirling-dervish madcap romp through Joy’s house, with Joy as the axis, populated …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Faith of the Candidates: Interview With Marco Rubio (Part 2)

By Ed Stetzer In the second part of my interview with Senator Marco Rubio, we talk about “lost” people, and how “President Rubio” would share his faith. Ed Stetzer: You used the phrase “lost people” . So talk to us a little bit about that. What is the role of the Christian, the Catholic, the Evangelical when it comes to sharing with people who are, to use a term you used a minute ago, “lost.” What’s our role? Senator Marco Rubio: We’re called to spread the gospel. Now obviously you can spread the gospel in different ways. Some of it is verbal, especially if someone is curious and asks. We should never be shy about sharing our testimony. Oftentimes it’s just in the way we treat others. That, sometimes, is the best way to bring someone to the faith is first foremost by how you treat them. many people, their image of Christianity will be formed by how they interact with Christians and how Christians treat them—or how Christians behave. I’m convinced that the growth in the early Church was significantly influenced by how the early Christians dealt with adversity and with the circumstances around them. But both the supernatural peace that …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Review: The Revenant

By Brett McCracken In the 1820s frontier wilderness, survival is a bear. mpaa rating:R (For strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.) Genre:Drama, Western Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation One of the memorable (and most talked about) scenes in The Revenant is an epic fight between Leonardo DiCaprio and a grizzly bear. The bloody brawl occurs early in the film and is the plot’s inciting incident. Gravely injured by the bear, 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is left for dead by his fellow hunters/fur-traders and must survive in the wilderness in the dead of winter. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to survive the Pawnee tomahawks and arrows, subzero temperatures, blizzards, dehydration, and treacherous men within his own group (most notably Tom Hardy’s villainous character Fitzgerald), Glass must do it all having been maimed, mauled, and flayed by a bear. But the death match with the bear is also thematically significant, as it sets up the film’s existential grappling with the meaning of humankind as unique (or not) among the creatures of the earth. What makes a man different from a bear? In their brutal fight, Glass and grizzly …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »
Christian

Tarantino's Incarnational Aesthetic

By Brett McCracken Quentin Tarantino is an unlikely contributor to the theology of Incarnation. This article is adapted from a chapter in the newly published book Tarantino And Theology. The Hateful Eight will be the second Quentin Tarantino film in a row to be released on Christmas Day (following 2012’s Django Unchained), a fact that probably has more to do with the lucrative holiday market than anything related to the significance of Christmas. But what if Tarantino’s films actually do have something theological to say in this season of celebrating Christ’s Incarnation? Tarantino is admittedly an unlikely contributor to the theology of Incarnation. But in their fixation on bodies (both fierce and frail), curious interest in food and drink, and focus on the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the material world, Tarantino’s films represent an aesthetic that is distinctively “incarnational.” They help the viewer re-sensitize to the physical, fleshy world in which Christ lived, breathed, died and rose. By paying attention to the incarnational aesthetics of Tarantino’s films, we push against the increasing disembodiment of our digital world, as well as our western Christian tendency to etherealize our faith, divorcing it from a material and embodied context. Flying Limbs, Exploding Hearts, and The Centrality of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
Continue Reading »