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Are You And Your Church Acting Like Sheep? An Invitation To Correctional Ministry

By Karen Swanson Our biblical mandate requires us to care for tho marginalized, including those impacted by crime. I cannot be more thrilled that the September issue of Christianity Today is dedicated to correctional ministry. You can read the main article here. Correctional ministry is often omitted or marginalized; however, it is a ministry which impacts everyone touched by crime—offenders, victims, families—through the transforming message of the gospel and holistic care which is grounded in love. In my first 39 years of life, I really didn’t think about prisoners or criminal justice issues. My only prison experience was seeing prisons from my car while traveling on family vacations growing up. But that all changed when a friend asked me to go with her and teach in a faith-based program at a men’s maximum security division at Cook County Jail in Chicago. That one visit changed my thinking, career, and life. God hooked my heart and gave me a growing passion for the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, and their families. At the time, my husband (an assistant pastor) and I attended a church where a congregant was sent to a federal prison for a few months. The pastoral staff and members of the congregation came alongside him and …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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After Tweaking 29 Verses, Bible Translation Becomes Unchanging Word of God

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra The new permanent ESV echoes the example of the KJV. A popular Bible translation is now literally the unchanging word of God. The English Standard Version (ESV) received its final update this summer, 17 years after it was first authorized by Crossway, its publisher. More than 100 million printed copies have been distributed since the ESV was first published in 2001, including 30 million in the last year. The translation oversight committee changed just 52 words across 29 verses—out of more than 775,000 words across more than 31,000 verses—for the final “permanent text” edition. The board then voted, unanimously, to make the text “unchanged forever, in perpetuity.” The ESV is following the example of a much older translation. “The text of the ESV Bible will remain unchanged in all future editions printed and published by Crossway—in much the same way that the King James Version (KJV) has remained unchanged ever since the final KJV text was established almost 250 years ago (in 1769),” Crossway announced. One difference: while the ESV copyright is held universally by Crossway, the KJV copyright held by the Crown of England is only valid in the United Kingdom. So modified versions of the KJV have been popping up in the United …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Local Pastor Turned Public School Champion

By Nathan Clarke and Laura Joyce Davis Don Coleman, Richmond’s newly elected school board chairman, wants more churches to adopt local, struggling schools. When Don Coleman (above) talks about being elected chair of the school board in Richmond, Virginia, he doesn’t mention personal agendas or his leadership skills as a local pastor. He talks about his role as a public servant and how Jesus served the poor and oppressed. Coleman grew up in Richmond and went to the schools he now represents. A foster kid, he never imagined he’d one day be trying to help kids like him. Coleman tries to communicate to young people that no matter the challenges, they can serve their community. “I know where I came from and I know what I’m saying is reality, because I am the reality,” Coleman told us. Coleman was elected to Richmond’s school board in 2008, and two weeks ago was voted its chairman 9-0. He talks passionately about working with the school board, the city council, and Mayor Dwight C. Jones to give Richmond public school kids a brighter future. But he’s also realistic about the challenges they face: 79 percent of Richmond’s 24,000 students receive free or reduced price lunches and belong to the 20 percent …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why Burkinis Should Matter To Christians Who Care About Religious Freedom

By Ed Stetzer We must speak into religious liberty issues that protect the rights of those who believe differently than we do. Yesterday I wrote an article for Religion News Service about women and burkinis. But, it was not really about women and burkinis. It was about secularism and its march. Before you go much further, click here and see this picture at the New York Times. It’s of the French police making a woman take off more clothes to stay on a beach. So, this is not really about burkinis, but it is about the right of religious people to live out the implications of their beliefs, even in the face of the secular march of the Western world. I’ve written on that before, talking about religions freedom in an earlier RNS column. In “3 reasons Christians should back religious freedom for all,” I explained: The First Amendment does not protect certain faiths, but all faiths, and people of no faith. Minority faiths, like minority viewpoints, are the ones who need the most protection. When those of us who identify as Christians allow the government to pick whose freedoms are recognized, we undermine our own religious liberties. So, why do I, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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What We Can Learn From The Black Church When We Are Pushed To The Margins

By Charlie Dates The powerful, painful history of the Black Church has much to teach us as our culture continues to push the church to the margins of society. At dinner the other night, our family sat in earshot of a group of people discussing presidential politics. They were older, Caucasian, and rather conservative in their political leanings. It was clear that they, like many Americans, are uninspired and—in their words—disheartened by the current party presumptive nominees for this year’s election. Their reflections echoed aged sentiments of prestige, shared beliefs, and religious privilege once represented by the Oval Office. I mentioned to my wife how nice it must have been for generations past, and cultures unlike ours, to enjoy a political system concerned about their values and attentive to their voices. Our forefathers experienced a rather different portrait of American presidents and politics, one that left them living not in the center, but on the margins of American culture. This is no bitter slight to American history so much as it is an acknowledgement of the new disequilibrium so many American Evangelicals are feeling in the wake of a cultural shift. More accurately, it is like an earthquake; the changing political and cultural landscapes of our nation …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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We Need More Politics on Social Media, Not Less

By Alicia Rollins, guest writer How our feeds feed popular opinion. I hesitated to sign up for a Twitter account years ago, knowing I didn’t need anything else to distract or disconnect me from my real-life relationships. These common stigmas of social media began to fade when someone pointed out to me: “An important conversation is happening and will continue to happen whether you are there or not.” I quickly learned that she was right. On Twitter, I tapped into new perspectives. I found myself in communication overload, following significant conversations on politics, race, theology, and art. Jon Stewart once said that “the Internet is just a world passing around notes in the classroom.” Except this time, the messages don’t just come from our friends and neighbors, but also world leaders, celebrities, experts, and influencers. Surrounded by so many voices, how could any one of us make a difference? What do I possibly have to offer to these conversations? And given the potential for controversy, wouldn’t it be easier not to try? A few years of tweeting, retweeting, and replying later, I still find myself scrutinizing and questioning my participation in social media. I’m no expert, and I worry whether it’s actually wise to speak out on every …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Louisiana Flooding, Part 3: On The Ground With Relief Agencies And How You Can Get Involved

By Ed Stetzer More on what’s happening and how you can help. Ed: What is your organization doing right now to help those impacted by the flooding in Louisiana? Tim Haas, Manager of U.S. Disaster Relief, Samaritan’s Purse: Samaritan’s Purse is leading volunteer teams to mud-out homes that have been flooded in this deadly event. That work includes taking out furniture, flooring, sheetrock, soaked insulation, so that the house can eventually dry out. Currently, we have two base locations of operation: one in Baton Rouge, the other in Lafayette. Our sites are designed to work 100 or more volunteers a day per site. We will be working for several weeks, even months from now to continue to give relief assistance to homeowners. Kevin Watterson, Response Director, ReachGlobal (EFCA): We are currently gutting damaged homes, gutting and cleaning up a church in order to host volunteer groups, and collecting needed items to help families rebuild their homes when gutting is complete. We are mobilizing local churches in the area to serve with us until we get more volunteer teams from throughout the country. Gary Fairchild, Director of Global Response, CAMA (the relief and development arm of the U.S. Alliance): CAMA has partnered with the Alliance …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Hollars

By Alissa Wilkinson What can you do with your regrets? John Krasinski (of The Office) directed and stars in The Hollars, which belongs to a genre I rather like: the small family comedy about the city kid who comes home when something happens to a family member, and then and learns some Life Lessons. (Think Garden State.) Some of these are pretty awful—This Is Where I Leave You springs to mind. They can be patronizing (“look at the cute quaint home folk!”) or just dumb (“let’s revisit everything we did in high school, for no reason!). But American culture is mobile and transient, obsessed with self-discovery and reinvention, and so the feeling of returning home is a familiar one. In The Hollars, Krasinski plays a graphic designer named John, who lives in New York City with his very pregnant girlfriend (Anna Kendrick). His mother Sally (Margo Martindale) ends up in the hospital in Ohio, and he flies home, where his hapless brother Ron (Sharito Copley) and worried father Don (Richard Jenkins) are by her side. Hijinks ensue, for reasons of history. Ron is still in love with his ex-wife, whom he divorced, and who is now seriously involved with a kindly youth pastor (Josh …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Teens Read Bible More During the School Year

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra The latest study from Barna also shows how many teens think the Bible offers hope, and whether their house rules are influenced by Scripture. Most practicing Protestant teenagers—those who identify as Protestant, attend church at least once a month, and say their faith is very important in their lives—who read their Bible do so the same amount all year long (73%), much like all Bible-reading American teens (69%). Of those who are left, 18 percent of practicing Protestant teens read more during the school year; only half that amount read more during the unstructured summer (9%). Those numbers echo across all teens (21% read more during school, 10% in the summer) and non-practicing Christian teens (19% read more in the school year, 10% in the summer). Those findings come from the second annual poll of how more than 1,000 teens ages 13 to 17 interact with the Bible, commissioned by the American Bible Society and conducted by the Barna Group in May. Though there are fewer of them (16%, compared to 20% in 2015), practicing Protestant teens look a lot like they did last year. Slightly fewer said the Bible contains everything needed for a meaningful life (85%, down from …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Recovery After Disaster: Lessons From Katrina For Today

By Bill Day It’s been 11 years since Hurricane Katrina. And there is still much we can learn from that disaster. Eleven years ago on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore between Louisiana and Mississippi. It was one of the most destructive natural disasters in United States history. Katrina caused the deaths of almost 1,500 Louisiana residents. Approximately 80% of the city was flooded. The population of New Orleans fell from 455,188 before Katrina (July 2005) to 208,548 one year later (July 2006). While Katrina’s destruction happened years ago, it has important lessons for us today. As a professor at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I began a study of the impact of Katrina on all of the 1,504 worship centers (all religions) in five parishes (counties) around New Orleans. After four years, over 25% of the worship centers in Orleans Parish were not yet operational. Today, most of the worship centers have not returned to their pre-Katrina numbers. Over 11 years, my research team and I have made repeated visits to churches that were not previously operating. Recently, I was excited to learn that two churches I thought would never recover were now operating. In one of these churches located in a remote …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Q+A With Christena Cleveland: ‘I Felt For the First Time—I’m Not Alone’

By Interview by Morgan Lee What everyone needs to know about supporting women of color in conferences and churches. If you’re a woman of color who works in or serves with an evangelical organization, you’re probably used to being the only one who shares your gender and background. The overwhelming majority of evangelical organizations, colleges, and churches are run and often staffed by white men (and to a lesser extent white women). Conference speaker lists and book award lists can look similarly homogenous. Dealing with the patronizing or ignorant remarks of well-meaning coworkers and people who “don’t see color” may leave you exhausted. Enter the Women of Color retreat: Organized for the first time last year by Duke Divinity School professor Christena Cleveland and McAfee School of Theology professor Chanequa Walker-Barnes, the 24-hour program is designed to encourage and support women of color of faith. This year’s conference will be held this weekend in Los Angeles at the conclusion of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference. (More info here.) “So much of the work that we do, the battles that we face, and the quandaries that we find ourselves in, we’re doing it isolated, because we’re each called to different organizations,” Cleveland recently told CT. Last …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Moms, Go on with Your ‘Bad’ Self

By Jennifer Grant In a culture that expects perfection, sometimes failed moms are just doing their best. My friend Ellen posted a status update on Facebook: “For some reason, Pinterest thinks I’m interested in lists of things I should do to be a super-duper mom who never bruises her children’s fragile egos and aims to make every moment of their days 1,000 percent positive and enlightening.” “Pinterest,” she wrote, “is mistaken.” The recently released comedy Bad Moms hurls the “Pinterest-perfect mommy myth” against the wall, shattering it like a doe-eyed Precious Moments figurine. Some reviewers have complained that the movie glorifies bad moms and bad parenting, and the Christian review site Movieguide even started an online petition against Bad Moms, saying it insults mothers and is “dangerous” because of “excessive cussing by mom’s , drunkenness, sexual perversion, and disregard of parental responsibilities and safety.” (This begs at least one question: Would excessive cussing by dads be more palatable?) While there is no arguing that Bad Moms is a raunchy romp, I respectfully disagree with Movieguide’s claim that the movie insults mothers. I believe it attempts to do just the opposite. It both portrays the many ways that committed mothers are overworked and overwhelmed and affirms …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: The Good (and Bad) News About Christian Higher Education

By Interview by Elesha Coffman ‘Christian colleges are as strong as they’ve been since the 1920s,’ says historian William Ringenberg. But there are challenges on the horizon. Academic freedom might seem like an ivory-tower concern. But Taylor University historian William C. Ringenberg links it to two central Christian emphases: truth and community. His latest book, The Christian College and the Meaning of Academic Freedom (Palgrave Macmillan), begins by rooting academic freedom in such virtues as honesty, humility, and love. Ringenberg then narrates the history of Western European and American higher education, with a focus on changing notions of academic freedom, before exploring case studies of academic-freedom challenges at Christian colleges. Elesha Coffman, assistant professor of history at Baylor University, spoke with Ringenberg about the mission of Christian higher education and its future prospects. What does the mainstream academic community need to understand about Christian colleges? Practically speaking, the secular community needs to understand the importance of the First Amendment protection of freedom of assembly. There’s a lot of talk about freedom of religion and freedom of speech, but freedom of assembly is just as vital. The Christian college experience is about gathering together and pursuing truth with people who don’t necessarily think alike on all things, but who …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Churches Change the Equation for Life After Prison

By Morgan Lee One of the hardest days of incarceration may be the day it ends. The church can be there to make a difference. Two blocks from the North Carolina Capitol, a dozen women are sitting on couches in a circle. Unmarked, with dark windows and fluorescent lights overhead, the upstairs room of Raleigh’s First Presbyterian Church smells musty and damp. Alice Noell’s Job Start program is in session, and the women are here to make sense of their lives. The women currently live in the Raleigh Correctional Center for Women, which they leave five days a week to attend Noell’s 15-week course. Noell—an energetic and passionate teacher—isn’t speaking right now. Instead, she’s invited one of her former students to address a captive audience. All of the women, equal numbers black and white, lean in as Miea Walker walks in, waves, and finds the recliner in the center of the circle. Walker, 45, was released from prison in March 2012, a date still fresh enough for her to drop the names of wardens and guards. “I know what it feels like,” she says. “You feel like you can’t breathe. You’re in a box all day long.” During her own nine-year sentence for embezzlement, Walker received her bachelor’s …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Fearless Faith in a Time of Forgetting

By Brett McCracken Our culture can’t remember what makes Christianity good, but there’s no reason to freak out. The paradoxical pairing of nostalgia and forgetfulness are everywhere in today’s American culture: Trump supporters who want to “make America great again,” one shocking @realDonaldTrump tweet at a time; hipsters who want grandpa’s vintage manliness without his Eisenhower-era values; movie fans who love period films but can’t remember the best-picture winner from last year. Then there’s this particularly widespread memory lapse: We say we want a good society with morally upright citizens, but we forget the significant role Christians play, and have played for millennia, in the world’s flourishing. It’s something Christians themselves are forgetting. Many are increasingly embarrassed, self-loathing, and viciously infighting. At times, they’re more vocal on blogs and Twitter about the alleged good-for-nothing horribleness of Christians than the most ardent atheist. Today’s religious freedom debates exemplify this amnesia about Christianity’s contributions to the common good. In the balancing act between LGBT protections and free exercise protections for religious businesses and institutions, federal and state governments seem poised to dispense with the latter for the sake of the former. This summer California debated a controversial proposed law (SB 1146) that threatened to drastically narrow religious protections …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Fearless Faith in a Time of Forgetting

By Brett McCracken Our culture can’t remember what makes Christianity good, but there’s no reason to freak out. The paradoxical pairing of nostalgia and forgetfulness are everywhere in today’s American culture: Trump supporters who want to “make America great again,” one shocking @realDonaldTrump tweet at a time; hipsters who want grandpa’s vintage manliness without his Eisenhower-era values; movie fans who love period films but can’t remember the best-picture winner from last year. Then there’s this particularly widespread memory lapse: We say we want a good society with morally upright citizens, but we forget the significant role Christians play, and have played for millennia, in the world’s flourishing. It’s something Christians themselves are forgetting. Many are increasingly embarrassed, self-loathing, and viciously infighting. At times, they’re more vocal on blogs and Twitter about the alleged good-for-nothing horribleness of Christians than the most ardent atheist. Today’s religious freedom debates exemplify this amnesia about Christianity’s contributions to the common good. In the balancing act between LGBT protections and free exercise protections for religious businesses and institutions, federal and state governments seem poised to dispense with the latter for the sake of the former. This summer California debated a controversial proposed law (SB 1146) that threatened to drastically narrow religious protections …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Am I Called To Be A Church Planter?

By Daniel Im Regardless of if we are called specifically to be church planters, all of us are called to be ABOUT church planting. The question, “Am I called to be a church planter?” is not a straightforward one. It’s not like, “Should I breathe?” or “Should I love others as Jesus does?” The question, “Am I called to be a church planter?” is kind of like asking, “Should I go into an Arts program, Science Program, or a Trade Program?” What’s implied behind this question is the importance of further education. So the question is more a matter of, “Which route will you take?” Or it’s like the question, “Should I eat a pop-tart for breakfast?” Yes, obviously you need to eat food, but if you eat a pop-tart for breakfast, how is that going to affect what you eat for lunch? And how will you deal with the sugar crash and belly rumblings mid-morning? When we look at the biblical commandment to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,” the natural outflow of that is the planting of new churches. We see this through the Early Church and how the apostles preached the gospel, made disciples, and planted churches that then preached the gospel, made …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why Jesus, Not Salvation, Is God’s Greatest Gift to Us

By Andrew Wilson We’re too quick to see the What instead of the Who. Jesus is the greatest gift there is. That is a staple of Christian theology, not to mention Christmas cards. Yet as soon as we hear this statement, we’re apt to collapse it into a statement about some other gift, like salvation. Being given Jesus, in our minds, quickly morphs into being given forgiveness, or rescue, or eternal life. Jesus himself, the gift who perfectly embodies God’s generosity and goodness, gets bumped to the third page. The Gospels don’t do that. From his Incarnation to his Ascension, Jesus Christ puts the liberality and largesse of God on display. It is not just at the Cross, or even in the Resurrection, that Jesus represents the grace, the gift-giving-ness, of God to us. In every miracle, every parable—simply by being in the world at all—Jesus is proclaiming, “God is good, he loves giving, and I’m here, among other things, to prove it.” Many parables in the Gospels present God as an irrepressible giver, even when the parable has other goals. Once there was a farmer who scattered seed so liberally that most of it didn’t take root. Once there was a king who forgave a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why I’m Not a World-Changer

By Michelle Van Loon In my middle-age years, I’ve traded revolution for good old-fashioned faithfulness. Recently, a friend of mine named Katie confessed her deep discouragement over her “failed” quest to turn the world upside down for God. She’d pursued a ministry degree from a Christian college and after graduation, secured what she believed was a world-changer job at a world-changing church. But then her vision collided with longstanding, intractable politics that had turned the congregation inward on itself. Three years later, mired in student loan debt and disillusioned by her experience, she left her position. “The only one who has changed is me,” she told me. For years, I moved in Christian circles where young people were coached into adulthood with motivational victory-speak that called on them to do great things for God. Even now this sentiment can be found in every corner of the evangelical world: Christian colleges, discipleship programs, and among both conservative and more progressive streams of our movement. How many 20- and 30-somethings among us have attended a youth conference—Passion or Acquire the Fire (sponsored by the now-shuttered Teen Mania Ministries)—and heard at least one speaker tell their audiences they were destined to be world …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Trends Among Growing Churches: Some Reflections on the Fastest Growing and Largest U.S. Churches

By Ed Stetzer Large and fast-growing churches make sacrifices for the kingdom of God. Outreach Magazine just released their Outreach 100 issue for 2013. LifeWay Research does the research for this issue. I was particularly encouraged to see the list focus especially on fastest growing churches. You can subscribe to the magazine here. Here is my article with a bit of analysis of some of the fastest-growing churches in America. —————————- Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country’s Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting “big churches” in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth. Remember folks: facts are our friends. I love to learn. I have spent …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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