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Evangelism, Church Planting, and Alpha Course

What bridges between denominations and churches need to be built for the trust to make collaboration possible? In the UK, over 8,000 church buildings have been closed over the past 25 years. In Canada, where I live, just one of our mainline denominations has announced that over the next 5 years, 1000 of their buildings will follow suit. It doesn’t take much of a news scan to see this repeated throughout the Western Church. Maybe this is a good thing? Maybe it is a shake-up, a wake-up, an opportunity? There is also a dark side: as one of our Anglican leaders in the UK said, “a closed church appears to a city like the empty palace of a long-forgotten King!” Just over 10 years ago, Nicky Gumbel (pioneer of Alpha and leader of my home network & church, Holy Trinity Brompton) wrote a letter to the national church authorities in England telling them that, “over my dead body will you close another one of these buildings—you name the building and we’ll send a team!” A generation of us stood up to say “over our dead bodies too” and as a team by God’s miraculous intervention, some 45+ London UK churches have now been …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian

Amid ‘Evangelism Crisis,’ Southern Baptists Bring In $400 Million More

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra While the No. 1 evangelical denomination reports the highs and lows of 2015, America’s No. 3 reports just highs. Over the past year, Southern Baptists went to church less, gave less to missions, and baptized fewer people. Yet new churches continued to open, and the people actually in the pews donated more dollars. These are among the mixed findings of the 2015 Annual Church Profile (ACP) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The report is released each year in advance of the 15-million-member denomination’s annual meeting. Last year, the SBC immersed about 295,000 people, down from about 305,000 baptisms in 2014. At the same time, SBC pastors planted almost 300 new churches, bringing the total number of SBC churches to about 46,800. Church membership dropped by about 204,000 people to 15.3 million, and average weekly attendance dropped by about 97,000 people to 5.6 million. In contrast, undesignated giving increased more than $406 million to surpass $9 billion. Giving to Great Commission ministry programs was down by about $24 million to $613 million, but since October, giving to North American and international ministries has been rebounding, SBC president Ronnie Floyd noted in his reaction to the report. Last year, budget constraints forced the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian

Weekend Edition—June 24, 2016

By Ed Stetzer Church members, Stats, Singing Scripture, Church Signs, and more! Five Reasons It Is So Painful For A Pastor To Lose A Church Member—Thom Rainer If you are a pastor who hasn’t suffered this pain, you will. Singing Scripture is really good for you—Aaron Armstrong And the psalms are a great example of it. where are God’s people to end slavery? slavery could end — and it begins here—Ann Voskamp & Gary Haugen A strong reminder about a crucial problem. Gay Marriage in the U.S., After Obergefell v. Hodges—Marina Koren This is included to bring you the latest stats. Success Focused on Yourself Poisons Your Soul—Chris Martin Success as a byproduct is great. As a goal, it can be trouble. Don’t forget to subscribe to the The Exchange Podcast in iTunes. Click here to listen to my interview with Dr. Bruce Ashford. Earlier this week on The Exchange As goes the mainline, so goes the nation The Future of the SBC—Is Not White What the Tower of Babel Can Teach Us about Our Desire for True Gospel Witness The Future of the SBC—State Conventions Some …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christians Don't Want to Stop Serving Their LGBT Neighbors

By Duane Litfin A balanced take on the gay rights-religious freedom debate requires an understanding of complicity. America’s culture wars show little sign of letting up. In recent years the federal government’s executive and judicial branches have heated the battle by pressing hard on controversial LGBT issues, including the right to marry. Some state legislatures have followed suit. California and Iowa, for instance, are presently weighing new laws designed to pressure recalcitrant faith-based organizations to get on board. Unsurprisingly, those who believe their religious rights are being infringed by these developments have pushed back. A series of southern states have passed laws they say are needed to protect religious freedom. These laws in turn have generated some push back of their own: state boycotts by a collection of high-profile individuals, companies and organizations. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Department of Justice fired off a lawsuit against North Carolina’s law in particular—to which North Carolina quickly responded with a countersuit against the Justice Department. Thus do the battle lines in this dispute seem more entrenched than ever. What should we make of all this pushing and shoving? Inevitably in our digital world, a cacophony of commentators have offered their counsel. Virtually all of America’s major media …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Man Who Humanized War

By David Neff He still shapes our wartime ideals 150 years later. Sometimes a little book can make a big difference in how people think about right and wrong. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, profoundly affected the way white Americans perceived slavery. Ten years later and across the Atlantic, Henry Dunant published another revolutionary book, A Memory of Solferino: his eyewitness account of the aftermath of one of Europe’s bloodiest battles. Dunant’s book is rarely read today. But if you are outraged when bombs, rockets, or artillery shells fall on hospitals, schools, and places of worship, you can trace that presumption—that these should be safe places—to Dunant. Dunant was a Swiss investor working in Algeria. He had been unable to get land and water rights from the colonial authorities, so he appealed directly to the French emperor, Napoleon III. But the emperor was trying to liberate northern Italy from Austrian domination. When Dunant arrived in Solferino, Napoleon’s headquarters, the landscape was littered with dead, dying, and wounded soldiers. Surprised by the scale, the two armies were completely unprepared to bury their dead, comfort the dying, or tend the wounded. Their field hospitals and medical supplies were woefully inadequate. Compassion for wounded enemies was also in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Have Yourself a Merry Kitschy Christmas

By Sarah Arthur What weird Nativity sets get right about the story of Jesus. I’m not a collector, but I love the Nativity sets that begin appearing this time of year. Whether ornate, simple, ethnic, crafty, plush, porcelain, enormous, or fit-in-eggshell teeny—show me a crèche, and I’m a kid on Christmas Eve again. But even I admit there’s a point at which crèches cross into the realm of weird. Nativities starring chickens, for instance. Or trolls. Or zombies. Or any of the bizarre kitsch that youth ministry veteran Mark Oestreicher has found for his ongoing list of “the worst and weirdest nativity sets,” including the Meat Nativity—made of bacon and sausages on a bed of hash browns. Discerning Christians in the West often protest the mishandling of Christmas: the tacky, irreverent, quaint, and theologically-problematic distortions that pass as the gospel, not to mention as art. While I find the Meat Nativity hilarious, I realize a hotdog Jesus takes the carne of the Incarnation a little too far. But I wonder if, in our hurry to correct such spiritual shallowness, we miss a vital opportunity to engage the broader culture at a moment when our neighbors are actually focused on the right thing: the story …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Conversation with Nate Parker about 'The Birth of a Nation'

By Alissa Wilkinson CT talks to the writer, director, and star of the highly-anticipated film about his faith and race in America. On January 25, I settled into the balcony of the Eccles Theater at the Sundance Film Festival, next to another critic. We’d already seen two movies that day and were getting ready for the third, but before the film even began the crowd gave it a standing ovation. By the time it was over, most of the audience was in tears, and the film received another standing ovation after the credits rolled. We all had a sense that something historic had happened that afternoon. The film was The Birth of a Nation (read my Sundance review), the story of slave preacher Nat Turner and the 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia. In the film, Turner is (illegally) taught to read the Bible as a child by the mistress of the plantation on which he lived as a slave; as an adult, he becomes a preacher, and his study of Scripture as well as his observation of cruelty on the plantations he visits as a preacher leads him toward violent action. (The film has a great deal, thematically, in common with Braveheart.) Nate Parker, who …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Flooded by a Storm, Then by Grace

By Jeannine Seery The superstorm almost destroyed our home. What happened afterward shocked me. My husband and I stood at the front door and paused. We knew that we’d reached a watershed moment—literally. With one turn of the key, nothing in our lives would stay the same. And although there was nothing we could do but step inside, we stopped, as if doing so would keep our nightmare from becoming a reality. The storm surge of Hurricane Sandy dumped more than 4 feet of water into the first floor of our home. Our living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom had absorbed a mix of ocean water, diesel fuel, raw sewage, and whatever else the Atlantic Ocean had to offer on October 29, 2012. We knew that the water had receded, but we had no idea what our lives looked like on the other side of that door. Nothing could prepare us for what we saw. Only a thick layer of wet sludge remained on the floor, and the water hadn’t reached our second floor. But the force of the ocean had taken all of our furniture and moved it around the first floor. The refrigerator had capsized, spilling out its contents. Our sofa was now …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian

Call Out Locker Room Talk for the Sin That It Is

By Karen Swallow Prior We can’t excuse inconsistent principles in our politicians or in each other. “It’s just locker room talk.” With these five words, Donald Trump and many of his supporters have tried to brush away the presidential candidate’s sexually predatory comments recorded in a 2005 conversation between the GOP presidential candidate and NBC host Billy Bush. Presumably, the same defense covers Trump’s conversations with Howard Stern about threesomes, anal sex, and his own daughter’s derriere. Putting aside the more serious question of whether Trump’s words in his conversation with Bush accurately describe real actions he has committed (something he denied when pressed by Anderson Cooper in Sunday night’s debate), let’s consider the notion that all this is “just locker room talk.” The locker room, with its shiny little lockers and their built-in locks, lulls us into the illusion that compartmentalization of our lives is possible. The locker room offers the appearance of privacy, but at the same time elicits public performance (as every awkward middle school student knows too well). A liminal space, the locker room requires people to be at their most vulnerable—naked—in front of other people and therefore elicits the most bravado, whether feigned or genuine. Thus the locker room is emblematic of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian

I Used to Think Abuse Was Love

By Angie Hong I’m learning that true healing requires facing the past The concert ran late and I knew I was breaking curfew, which spoiled any of the fun I had in the previous hours that night. I carefully tiptoed up to my room hoping that, for a change, my mother had already gone to sleep so my punishment would come in the morning. This wasn’t the best move to make right before leaving for college. But I wasn’t running too late; maybe there was a chance that she would forget about it. Maybe not. I quietly turned the corner to enter my room, and my jaw dropped in horror as I found all my belongings in a big pile in the middle of the floor. Everything, from pencils to underwear to my computer, was built into a giant mountain. She was wild-eyed and furious, waiting for me to arrive, and like a lion pouncing on its prey, she proceeded to yell and scream, reiterating her analysis that I was inherently bad. This sort of dramatic reaction to my disobedience was not unusual, each time leaving me in a state of confusion and shame. But something about the way she said it this day was different. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Lovekindness: A Post-Election Path for Christians in America

By Barry H. Corey Democracy sees the value of dialogue for the common good. Where do we go from here? It is November 9, and after an exhaustingly long, divisive election that has at times felt apocalyptic, America now has a new President-elect, Donald Trump. But while there has been resolution to the long-contested question of who will occupy the White House come February, the problems that gave rise to (and were exacerbated by) this horrific election will not be gone from America. We are a nation divided. And the wedges were driven deeper by the vitriol of this campaign. We state our intractable views on everything from race to religion to class to sexuality to culture to Colin Kaepernick. Facebook used to be a place where friends shared updates and photos. Now, it’s a forum for overheated ranting among strangers. Sadly, Christian communities have been complicit in this culture of divisiveness. Whether the topic is Trump, transgenderism, or refugees, on any given day the Christian Twitterverse is barely distinguishable from any other angry subculture. American Christians, like all Americans, are being conditioned by the rhetoric of division. It’s the air we breathe on 24-hour cable news, on social media, and in the click-bait articles that favor unnuanced and …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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You Are Plural

By Clayton Carlson Trillions of foreign creatures in and on our bodies shape our health, desires, and behavior. Here’s why they matter. Let us make humankind in our image,” said the triune God. And then he made us plural, too. “Male and female he created them,” but we are even more plural than that phrase indicates. Each of us is plural. We might picture our “self” as a single body. We know we’re a grand collection of cells, trillions of microscopic units that do everything from moving blood to processing nutrients into energy. But when we think about these cells, we take comfort that together they’re all one “me,” a huge organism sharing one DNA code that all started from one fertilized egg cell. True, we are that. But we are more: Each of us is a collection of communities, millions of millions of organisms working together, with very different DNA. We have about as many bacteria and other microbes in and on our bodies as we do human cells. For decades biologists estimated that we had about 10 times as many microbial cells as our own. But a new study found that the average man has about 39 trillion bacteria in his body and about …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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News: Why Two Tombs Compete for Jesus’ Burial

By Gordon Govier Historic renovations at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre won’t change some Protestants’ preference for the Garden Tomb. Beneath layers of ancient marble, renovators at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem say they have found what may be the limestone bench where the body of Jesus was laid after his crucifixion. For the first time in half a millennium, church officials have allowed access to a tomb even more famous than that of “King Tut,” the Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun. However, they can’t say for sure that it is the right tomb. The official purpose of the historic project is to rebuild the Edicule, the shrine in the middle of the church rotunda which encloses the tomb. Built in the early 19th century over previous constructions, the shrine was in danger of collapse and barely held together by iron girders added decades later. Beginning October 26 and working nonstop for 60 hours, a team from the National Technical University of Athens removed marble coverings and layers of fill and debris, before finally reaching the revered limestone level at the base of the tomb. They also discovered, surprisingly, that the limestone walls of the tomb were somewhat intact beneath the layer of marble. “We can’t say …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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Your Husband’s Infidelity Is Not Your Fault

By Julie Roys, guest writer Adultery comes from a greedy heart, not an insufficient wife. Though in many ways polar opposites, reality TV stars Khloe Kardashian and Anna Duggar are receiving similar messages about their husbands’ infidelity from two radically different sources: a pimp and a Christian matriarch. For Kardashian, the message came from Dennis Hof, owner of the brothel where her estranged husband, former NBA standout Lamar Odom, was found unconscious last week after ingesting cocaine, alcohol, and herbal sexual stimulants. “If she really cared about this man,” Hof said, “he wouldn’t be at my place with my girls.” This, even though Odom’s relationship with drugs and prostitutes predates his relationship with Khloe Kardashian. For Duggar, the remarks weren’t as direct. Following the Ashley Madison leak, her husband, Josh, admitted to several affairs and a porn addiction. Then, the Duggars’ family pastor in Arkansas addressed the leak in a sermon on infidelity. “If a husband or wife fails to keep his or her partner happy sexually they are opening themselves up to the attack of the enemy,” he said. “And that enemy is going to take your spouse away from you.” A recent blog post from Anna Duggar’s mother-in-law Michelle carries that implication. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Does Halloween Scare Off Americans? New Data from LifeWay Research

By Ed Stetzer How do you view the holiday? Share your thoughts in the comments. Earlier this week, LifeWay Research released data from a recent survey gauging American views on Halloween. The holiday is one of the more controversial of the most popular American holidays because of it’s relationship with witchcraft, paganism, and other “dark” elements. Historically, many people in varied strands of Christianity have opted out of the holiday in favor of more neutral “fall” or “harvest” themed celebrations. Where Americans Stand Our survey told us that a third of Americans avoid Halloween or its pagan elements. Here’s a fun graph depicting the data: As you can see, well over half of Americans see Halloween as being all in good fun, acknowledging the reality that most people who celebrate Halloween are not worshiping Satan or sacrificing animals in the name of false pagan gods. Still, though, as Carol Pipes reports for LifeWay Research, about one third of Americans avoid the holiday, or just the pagan elements: Although 3 in 5 Americans told LifeWay Research Halloween is “all in good fun,” 21 percent avoid the holiday completely and another 14 percent avoid the pagan elements. Halloween has been known in North America since colonial …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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