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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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Christian

Even on Thanksgiving, It’s Okay to Ask for More

By Megan Hill How our requests to God can actually fuel our gratefulness. The family sits down, lights the candles, admires the turkey, and begins the generations-old family liturgy: I’m thankful for family. I’m thankful for friends. For a house and a job. For this delicious food. But what if, in addition to naming our blessings, we also went around the table and asked God for the things we still want? I long for a husband. I need wisdom. Reconciliation with my neighbor. Healing from this cancer. Would the act of asking contradict the spirit of Thanksgiving? Frequently, I notice Christians trying to separate thanks from asking. We fill blogs and notebooks with lists of nothing but thanksgivings, numbered in the thousands. We write articles urging readers to focus on thanks and to save their requests for another day. We urge ourselves to appreciate what we have been given, and especially on Thanksgiving, it feels ungrateful to ask for more. When we pray, we often compartmentalize our prayers in some variation of the ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) formula, and give our prayer group instructions like these: Okay, everyone, we are going to thank God now. Please don’t pray any requests during this time. First …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian

A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner

What pastors, professors, and others are saying about the grand jury’s decision not to indict. On Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury announced its decision not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put an unarmed black man in a chokehold that resulting in the man’s death. Law enforcement attempted to arrest Eric Garner, a husband and father of six, for allegedly illegally selling cigarettes in July. His death made national news after a video was captured of the altercation, where Garner, who suffered from asthma, said repeatedly, “I can’t breathe,” as law enforcement brought him to the ground. Not all evangelicals believed that Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August, should have been indicted in a recent grand jury hearing. Others were silent on the issue. But Wednesday’s events brought a more forceful, and more united response that justice had not been served. Christianity Today presents a selection of these responses below. (See also our editorial, :”What One Racially Divided Family Can Do,” by Mark Galli.) PropagandaHip-hop artist “Okay now do you believe us?! People swear we make this stuff up. That the ‘media’ is spurring on the civil disharmony. … No …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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When Merry Christmas Doesn't Come Easy

By Bo Stern, guest writer In Christ, we get to celebrate even in our sorrow. I really loved my first forty-five Christmases. They certainly weren’t perfect, but they also weren’t painful. In fact, I would say that based on the purely imaginary Standard Holiday Happiness scale, although I had known highs and lows, my cumulative Christmas experience stood at a good, solid 8. I really liked holidays, and I loved making them happy for my husband and kids. It was a job I felt born to do. Then came February 2011. Just after celebrating our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary and on the day of our daughter’s sixteenth birthday, my wonderful husband, Steve, was diagnosed with ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease). ALS is a disease so fierce and foul that I feared all my holidays—before and after—would be redefined by it. I imagined looking at the family picture taken when we celebrated Christmas at SeaWorld and mentally recaptioning it: one year before our world fell apart. In the months after the gut punch of the initial diagnosis, I caught my breath a little. We began to get our heads around what we were facing and how we would fight it. Slowly, as spring moved into summer, we …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why We Need Rich Christians

By Amy Julia Becker Excessive wealth isn’t good for anybody, unless it’s used for good for everybody. Despite some recent economic good news—the unemployment rate is dropping and the economy as a whole has been growing for a while now—plenty of people in America have reason to worry about money. Fifteen percent of the nations live below the poverty line. Nearly 48 million people receive food stamps. The median household income has decreased in recent years, settling just above $50,000. (Data from The Nation’s Economy, This Side of the Recession.) Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer. According to Chris Matthews of Fortune magazine, “in America, the wealthiest 160,000 families own as much wealth as the poorest 145 million families.” It’s been in the news countless times—the top one percent of households controls a disproportionate share of wealth in the United States, and that share has only increased in recent years. That wealth poses problems for everyone, including the wealthy. Michael Lewis, writing for The New Republic, describes the negative effect of wealth on the moral behavior of wealthy people. He sites studies in which wealthy people, again and again, demonstrate a sense of entitlement and disregard for justice: drivers of expensive cars disregard pedestrians …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: Pixels

By Jessica Gibson An insidious version of a “family friendly” movie that is a shameful artifact of nerd culture – and some recommendations for better ones. mpaa rating:PG-13 (For some language and suggestive comments.) Genre:Action, Comedy Directed By: Chris Columbus Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage Theatre Release:July 24, 2015 by Columbia Pictures Most of the time, I’m an unashamed nerd. I’m an unironic, overenthusiastic, equal-opportunity lover of “the miracle of human consciousness.” I enjoy a lot of things with a lot of energy and I don’t easily calm down or back off from a cultural product I’m excited about. I say all this so you can understand how serious this is: seeing Pixels has made me want to go into nerd hibernation until this horrible storm blows over. The movie can stuff in as many beloved arcade game characters as it wants, but it will never compensate for its lazy storytelling, awful characters, blatant misogyny, and deeply unsettling moral code. It’s the worst kind of bad joke dressed up to look like a generationally inclusive nostalgia-fest. The most disappointing thing about it is in the hands of a different filmmaking team its concept maybe could have made …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christian

Conflicting Thoughts of Grace

By Samantha Blythe My Christian Life, Part 1: The Formative Phase There was a life, phase after phase,Which oft felt like running a mazeBut 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 watched the dead orange body spin in the whirlpool as it was consigned to its watery grave. I’m sure that must symbolize something deep, because I’m using it to begin this memoir. Within the next year or so, my dad remarried and moved to Florida, and so I was shipped off on a plane alone to spend summers with his new wife; my dad was a workaholic and I really only saw him on Sundays. Upon returning from one of these grand vacations, I was picked up at …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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Faith In the Wibbly Wobbly Universe of Doctor Who

By Sarah Bessey, guest writer How this sci-fi show won over a theology geek like me. I’m a bit surprised by how much I love the British TV series Doctor Who. After all, I’m more “period dramas” than “aliens and space stations.” But a few years ago, when I was quarantined with a houseful of sick children sleeping the days away, I decided to watch an episode or two to see what all the fuss was about. (I’m unapologetically an Anglophile when it comes to my television habits, so I’d begun to wonder if it was perhaps my duty to the Queen as a member of the Commonwealth.) Then I fell into the time vortex. I’ve since become that geek: the one with the TARDIS mug and the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, the one who writes a beginner’s guide to the series for newbies and can spiderweb the connections and storylines like a conspiracy theorist. If I ever get a dog, I’m determined to name her after the character Amy Pond so that I can repeat one of the show’s popular catchphrases, “Come along, Pond,” every day of my life. Everyone has some piece of pop culture they love without moderation or reason—I’m looking at you, Jen …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Billy Graham: Why Linger in the Land of the Dying?

By Billy Graham An excerpt from “Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond.” Those who keep Heaven in view experience joy, even in the midst of trouble. This was never more evident than with my friend Billie Barrows, especially in the months leading up to her death. Cliff and Billie Barrows joined me in ministry while on their honeymoon in 1945. It was the beginning of a long and joyful friendship. Cliff directed our music, and Billie played the piano in those early days. After forty-nine years of marriage and service together with our team, Billie Barrows transcended this life into eternity. I cannot help but think of the powerful words widely attributed to John Newton as he lay on his deathbed. Someone asked him, “Are you still with us?” Newton whispered, “I am still in the land of the dying, but soon, I shall be in the land of the living!” You see, death for the Christian is just the entryway to eternity, where the eternal God welcomes us in. The Bible says, “He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24). Ruth and …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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Why Settle for the 'Wilberforce Option' When We Have Dr. King?

By Gabriel Salguero There is a model for cultural engagement that doesn’t depend on power and privilege. “There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below.” This quote, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s essay “After Ten Years,” could describe many evangelicals after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling. Losing cultural influence is a necessary corrective to conflating Christian witness with political and cultural dominance. Christian witness is never a guarantee of success. But there is something missing in many descriptions of this “from below” moment. Evangelical Christians are not, and have never been, a monolith. Sweeping statements about past dominance and present dislocation show that, for many, evangelicals of color remain Ralph Ellison’s “invisible man.” Many Hispanic, Asian, and African American evangelicals are not having a “Chicken Little” moment. Our sky is not falling, because we have lived under fallen skies for years. Conservative Christians have been disproportionately affected by racism, immigration, poverty, and denial of voting rights (to name a few issues) for decades and centuries. Why did lack of progress on these issues not arouse similar concerns long ago? Author and activist Lisa Sharon Harper put the point vividly to me: “None of church …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Women Who Aborted Feel about the Local Church

Two in three evangelicals were attending monthly or more at the time of their first abortion. On behalf of Care Net, a national network of crisis pregnancy centers, LifeWay Research surveyed more than 1,000 American women who have terminated one or more of their pregnancies. Here’s what evangelicals and churchgoers, defined as those attending church once a month or more, as well as all women who have had abortions, said: Church Attendance at Time of First Abortion 2 in 3 evangelicals were attending monthly or more. (“Evangelicals” is based on self-identification.) Judgment vs. Care Both churchgoers and non-churchgoers equally reported receiving or expecting reactions from local churches that were “judgmental” (1 in 3) or “condemning” (1 in 4). But churchgoers were much more likely than non-attenders to report or expect reactions that were “caring” (31% vs. 7%), “helpful” (28% vs. 7%), “loving” (25% vs. 6%), and “informative” (17% vs. 5%). Still, less than one-third of churchgoers said they received or expected such positive reactions from their local church. Reaction of Local Church (Received or Expected) In the Secret, Quiet Place 52% of churchgoers say no one at church knows they terminated a pregnancy. 38% say someone at church does know (including 55% …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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God or Transcripts: Where Do You Put Your Trust?

Too many students (and parents) make idols of grade point averages. Find your hope in Jesus. When I was growing up, there were A-students, and B-students, and C-students, and no one—not the kids, not their parents—worried much about it. We all found our way. A single generation later, my son arrived at our local public high school fresh out of a K-8 parochial environment to discover honors students taking Adderall to give them the edge in AP-cram sessions and the SATs, and parents being called home from PTA meetings to find their high-achieving daughters breathing into paper bags. It’s not surprising that our secular culture has allowed the pressures of quarterly-earnings-report thinking to invade the American childhood in the name of “just wanting them to be happy.” By what other standard would success be measured? But what about those of us who claim to follow a God who promises that our children are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14); that in all things He “works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28); that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10)? Assured that there …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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20 Truths From The Four Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership

By Ed Stetzer What does extraordinary leadership look like? Learn from Jenni Catron’s new book. 1. When I consider my life as a leader, it means leading with all of who I am for the benefit of God and others. (xvii) 2. The heart of a leader is the truest part of who he or she is. Your heart is the center of your emotions, desires, and wishes. Your heart is what most connects you with others. “Love God. Love others,” begins here in the heart. (xviii) 3. The soul is the part of us that longs to know God. It’s the epicenter of morality, integrity, humility, and servanthood. (xviii) 4. I believe that at its core, the word leadership is an observation of greatness. Leadership is rarely observable in the moment, but it is recognizable in outcomes. (5) 5. Extraordinary leadership is found in a leader who has searched to discover his or her authentic self and from that place influences others to accomplish great dreams through intentional relationships (heart), spiritual awareness (soul), wise counsel (mind), and relentless vision (strength). (7) 6. You become a leader when you develop the skills and the competence to put that influence into action. (12) 7. The very purpose of leadership is to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Unexpected Book of the Bible that Comforts Me the Most

By Laura Turner In the midst of my anxiety, I remember God’s power through reading Revelation. I was nine years old the first time I watched Psycho. My mother brought it home from Blockbuster and lined the three of us kids up on the couch. I remember being confused—this wasn’t our usual cartoon fare—then terrified. That night, I slept with one eye open (which is to say, not at all) because I was sure that Norman Bates was going to creep through my bedroom window. I eventually fell asleep in the early morning hours and came home from school the next day ready to watch Psycho again. It remains one of my favorite movies, part of a genre that proves terrifying viewers is one of the most powerful effects a film can have. In the same way that horror films and Shirley Jackson offer me some odd comfort, I am drawn over and over again to the book of Revelation. I have struggled with anxiety most of my life, and many well-meaning friends have pointed me to passages like Matthew 6:34 or Philippians 4:6. But as I read these verses urging Christians not to worry, I’d wonder, what was wrong with me, that …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Importance of Teaching the Big Story, Not Just Morals

By Ed Stetzer It’s easy to teach moralism, but it’s important to teach more than that. Ed: Why do you think the storyline of the Bible itself is important for kids to know? Why do they need to know the big story? Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): As a congregation, we value the whole counsel of Scripture… It’s like a puzzle and the kids do not see the whole picture. It’s important for kids as they are growing and learning God’s Word to be able to put the puzzle pieces together to see how they connect and that the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament. And that since the creation of the world and the fall of humanity, He’s been redeeming people to Himself. This is what God has been doing all along. It provides a more consistent picture and image of who God is. It also demonstrates to the children the character, the faithfulness, the compassion, and also the righteousness of God throughout the different historical periods of the Bible and the different people in the Bible. I think it really helps children to be able to piece the Bible together to see the whole …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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