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Am I My City’s Keeper?

By Ed Stetzer Jesus served people He came to save. We should join Him in that mission. There is much talk today about “seeking the welfare of the city.” To various people it means different things. As a Biblical phrase, it can have serious missional connotations. To have a biblically sound missiology, we should consider what the phrase means to us in the church today, and also tease out what it doesn’t mean. First, let’s look at the Scripture which gives us this famous phrase. Jeremiah 29:4-7 says, “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and live in them, Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.’” Jeremiah was writing to a people who did not want to be where they were. Because of their idolatrous ways God had made them captives …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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You Were Never Made to Be 'Productive'

By Dorcas Cheng-Tozun Why rest is at the center of God’s design. Compared to people in other industrialized nations, Americans work longer hours, take fewer vacation days, and retire later in life. Busyness, once seen as the curse of the disadvantaged, has become equated with status and importance. Our work increasingly defines who we are. On the surface, John Koessler’sThe Radical Pursuit of Rest: Escaping the Productivity Trap (InterVarsity Press) seems ideally suited to this particular moment in cultural history. Interestingly, though, one of the first things Koessler does is decouple the concept of rest from work. “Rest is an end in itself,” he writes in the introduction. “We do not work in order to justify the fact that we rest. We do not rest in order to work. Rest as the Bible describes it is our destiny. It is what we were made to do.” According to Koessler, this type of godly rest (distinct from play, relaxation, or sleep) is inextricably tied to our identity as children of God. Jesus is our ultimate rest, which we can only find when we release the worldly anxieties, ambitions, and expectations that pull us toward greater productivity. For an overachieving people-pleaser like me, thinking of rest as an …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Secret Ingredient of Our Poverty Relief

By Bruce Wydick Economists are showing that one emotion makes a statistical difference in developing nations. Driving on a main highway in Mexico, I slow down at a stoplight. A man outside my window is igniting a cotton ball on a stick soaked in gasoline and extinguishing the flame in his mouth. He starts approaching the cars to ask for money for his admittedly breath-taking stunt. I don’t give him anything; I don’t want to reward him for potentially blowing his head off. Nor do I want to facilitate the slow but certain onset of brain damage caused by inhaling gasoline fumes. I have the urge to give him 200 pesos if he promises to take the day off, but I know he won’t. The scene makes me wonder how hopeless a man must be to try to earn a living this way. For six months this year, my family and I lived in a small village in Oaxaca to study hope. Oaxaca is a curious place to try to find hope. It is the poorest state in Mexico, and many of the people in villages like ours are not very hopeful. The same social and political problems that have plagued other regions in Latin …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Humble Coach Behind Celebrity Christianity

By Paul Putz Remembering the tenacity and ironies of Fellowship of Christian Athletes founder Don McClanen. On Tuesday this week I spent the day hunched over a desk, reading letters that Don McClanen had written 60 years ago as he agonized over whether or not he should leave the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization he had founded in 1954. On Thursday I saw the news on my Twitter timeline that McClanen had died. A historian is supposed to keep a critical distance from his or her subjects of study, and I like to think that I follow that standard. Yet when I saw the news, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss for a man I never met, a man I know only through dusty letters written long ago. When I first began my research on the early history of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, I had no affinity for McClanen—I barely knew who he was. At first he seemed too earnest, too persistent. In his letters he badgered, he pestered, he shared too much information too soon. Yet the more that I encountered McClanen in the archives, the more I grew intrigued by his combination of intensity, sincerity, and humility. There is a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Sunday Journeys: Celebrating at James River Church, an Assemblies of God Church in MO

By Ed Stetzer James River Church is a people of worship and prayer I was recently back at James River Assembly in Springfield, MO (I was there in 2011 and again in 2012). It’s a flagship church in the Assemblies of God and one of the most welcoming churches I ever visit. I was there to preach and do a seminar from my book (with Eric Geiger) Transformational Groups. I’ll share the normal things about such a church, but then at the end, I want to focus on something about their personal ministry time. First, the worship is high energy and passionate. The praise band and team were participative and enthusiastic. John Lindell is the pastor (he’s written for The Exchange, too). You can tell he loves the church and he loves Springfield. The church has two services in its largest location, but has other locations as well. The folks at JRC sent me a pic of my preaching time. In my view, that’s too many pics of Ed Stetzer at one time. 😉 There is so much you could talk about from JRC. They run James River Leadership College. They are convictionally Pentecostal. They are …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Mandarin Moment: Should US Churches Switch from Spanish-Language Services?

By Morgan Lee China has overtaken Mexico as the No. 1 sender of legal immigrants to America. Fred Biby thought his congregation was missing an opportunity. Dozens of Chinese immigrants were sending their children to Bridges Community Church’s preschool. But the Fremont, California, church wasn’t engaging the adults. So the associate pastor teamed up with the preschool to promote Bridges’ Sunday morning services and outreach events in Mandarin. A Mandarin-language small group formed, and 15 years later, Bridges is a congregation of about 100, with a Mandarin-language pastor on its payroll. Biby’s initiative aligned with broader demographic trends: in 2013, China overtook Mexico as the No. 1 sender of legal immigrants to the United States. When Latino immigration spiked in past decades, many Anglo congregations launched Spanish-language ministries. Should US churches now devote more resources to the Chinese? And will the bilingual ministry learning curve be faster this time? Experts agree that churches won’t be able to cut and paste from their Spanish ministries. For example, since two-thirds of Mexican immigrants live in poverty and half lack health insurance, many churches offer social services like food pantries and ESL classes. But only one-third of Chinese immigrants live in poverty, and more than half are college graduates (compared …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Lauren Chandler: How God Wrings Out Praise During Tough Times

By Interview by Megan Hill The singer, pastor’s wife, and author opens up about God’s ‘Steadfast Love.’ When I asked Lauren Chandler about the challenges of being known as the wife of Matt Chandler, the lead teaching pastor of The Village Church in Texas and head of the Acts 29 church-planting network, she immediately knew her response. “They think that because Matt is bold and strong, then I must be quiet,” she said. “They think I’m his opposite, and I get pegged as something I’m not.” Chandler respects her husband, but also matches him in transparency and intensity. The worship leader at Village Church, one of the fastest-growing congregations in America, Chandler has recorded an album, written a book, and launched a marriage conference with her husband for thousands of couples worldwide, all within the past few years. The pastor’s wife and mother of three admits her weaknesses, laughs easily at herself, and acknowledges that she’s a big believer in biblical counseling. Whether she’s discussing rocky seasons in her marriage or her time in Celebrate Recovery‘s steps program, she comes across as unflinchingly honest. You don’t have to talk to Chandler for long before you see that she has a tender heart that longs …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Kathie Lee Gifford: How Billy Graham Led Me to Christ

By Kathie Lee Gifford, as told to Kate Shellnutt My Christian faith got me to and through Hollywood. For most of my childhood, my family honored God in a general sense but didn’t know him personally. We were culturally Jewish on my father’s side and culturally Christian on my mother’s side. But our faith—and indeed everything about our lives—began to change one night when I was 12. I came home to see my mother and sister in our living room, sobbing in front of the television. A couple years prior, President Kennedy had been assassinated, so I walked in thinking, What cataclysmic event has happened this time? But I discovered that my mother and sister had been watching one of Billy Graham’s televised crusades. That night they both came to Christ. A few months later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association released its first movie in theaters, The Restless Ones. It is about a girl at the cusp of making big decisions in her life. She asks herself whether she’ll follow the way of faith or the way of the world. I went to see it at a small theater in our town, Annapolis, Maryland. As I watched, I heard a voice speak to me directly. Although it wasn’t audible, I sensed God …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Joseph Fiennes Talks About Playing a Skeptic in ‘Risen’

By Alissa Wilkinson The star of the upcoming Bible film talks about his new film, the nature of belief, gladiator school, and Eric Liddell. The film Risen—which will hit theaters on February 19, 2016—is not quite like any film based on the Bible that I’ve seen before. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the film stars Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love) as Clavius, a Roman centurion who is assigned to figure out where the body of Jesus of Nazareth has gone after it disappears from the tomb. Clavius is a world-weary, ambitious man of Rome, but as he interviews various people from Jesus’ life, he starts to realize that more is going on here than meets the eye. I spoke with Fiennes by phone last November about playing Clavius, the nature of belief, going to gladiator school, and his upcoming role as Eric Liddell in The Last Race (which covers the period of Liddell’s life as a missionary in China, following the events of Chariots of Fire). The following transcript of our conversation was edited for clarity. Christianity Today: What attracted you to this project? Joseph Fiennes: I met with our director, Kevin . He is extremely intelligent—I loved his films and identify a lot with them. He had …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: How Victims of Sexual Abuse Can Get the Better of Satan

By Interview by Mary DeMuth A Christian therapist shares lessons from 25 years of counseling survivors. Just over 25 years ago, Christian therapist Dan Allender released The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse. For thousands of victims suffering the aftereffects of sexual trauma, it became a trusted guide. Now, after decades of clinical practice, Allender has published a follow-up:Healing the Wounded Heart: The Heartache of Sexual Abuse and the Hope of Transformation (Baker). Author Mary DeMuth, who has written widely about her own recovery from childhood sexual abuse, spoke with Allender about the spiritual contours of healing and the importance of kindness to victims. What have you learned about the aftermath of sexual abuse since writing The Wounded Heart? We now know much more about the brain. We know, for example, that trauma shuts down the left functional lobe where language resides. We have always known that trauma victims have fragmented memories, but now we have a clearer understanding of why. The more we understand about the psychology of sexual abuse victims, the greater the potential for showing kindness. We can say, “This is what one would expect given the harm.” When clients have a better understanding of the neurology of trauma, it opens the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Evangelicals Make March for Life More 'Catholic'

A snapshot of Christian witness in the world (as it appeared in our March issue). As US abortions dropped to their lowest level since Roe v. Wade, evangelicals joined the annual March for Life in an unprecedented way. Focus on the Family and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission registered 500 people for the first corresponding evangelical gathering—making the traditionally Catholic rally in Washington, D.C., more truly catholic. In March, the Supreme Court will hear its first major abortion case since 2007. An affirmative ruling would shut down three-quarters of Texas’s abortion clinics. … …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Don’t Force the Celebration at Funerals

By Courtney Reissig Even knowing the truth of the resurrection, it’s still okay to cry. In college, I told my friends that I wanted the Jars of Clay cover of “All My Tears” played at my funeral: “When I go don’t cry for me / In my Father’s arms I’ll be.” I disliked the thought of my loved ones saddened at my death, since I knew I would be “in a better place.” For Christians, the phrase is no mere euphemism; our death brings us to Jesus, sin clawing at our heels no more. In my youthful zeal, I thought my funeral should be a joyous celebration. I wasn’t alone. Many funerals today are not about mourning death but a “celebration of life.” As our culture discards all-black attire and other formalities of a traditional funeral, families create more personalized—and often more upbeat—experiences to honor the deceased. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on the trend of “happy funerals,” noting that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” had become the UK’s most popular song played at memorial services—replacing Verdi’s Requiem. After celebratory memorial services, we are encouraged to “move on,” comforted by memories and knowing that the person we’ve lost …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale–'Midnight Special'

By Alissa Wilkinson The latest from Jeff Nichols that is something quite different beneath the scifi surface. As a genre, science fiction often gets trotted out in service of big ideas: political tensions, social problems, ideological conflicts. When it puts a hot-button issue in a context unlike our own (a different universe, the future, outer space), scifi can make big arguments indirectly, coming at flashpoints slantwise—think of Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica. Sometimes it opts to work closer to home, looking at those things that trouble the human heart by working outside a strictly human context. Consider E.T., in which the titular extraterrestrial helps a child work through grief, loss, and his relationship to his family. Midnight Special, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Friday night, does both. It is a film without twists to unwind or keys to discover. The point isn’t the mystery. The point, instead, is in our hearts. That Midnight Special takes an unconventional approach to its genre is no a surprise. Writer/director Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud) makes accessible, simple, beautiful films rooted in the American south and midwest that have garnered critical acclaim and a loyal band of fans, myself among them; it’s a complete mystery to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale–'A Quiet Passion'

By Alissa Wilkinson A film about the life of Emily Dickinson evokes what it meant to see life through the poet’s twin obsessions with mortality and eternity. “Do you wish to come to God and be saved?” At the start of Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion, a group of young women stand in a cluster, submitting to questioning en masse from a stern woman at the front. We are at Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1848, and the headmistress demands that the young women who wish to come to God move to her right, while the others move to the left. (Sheep and goats, indeed.) One young woman remains in the center of the room: Emily Dickinson. She is not sure about her soul, feels no belief, and thus refuses to compromise and risk lying to God about her faith, even in a room full of expectant eyes. Soon she’s collected by her family and brought home to Amherst, and a quiet life of deep passion begins. The real Emily Dickinson is a figure of mystery and intrigue to so many people; in a press conference during the festival, Cynthia Nixon—who plays the poet for most of A Quiet Passion—noted that she’s a bit of a blank …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale—‘The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’

By Alissa Wilkinson This joy-filled music documentary also makes a case for friendship across traditions and borders. One of my favorite films from 2015 was Best of Enemies, Morgan Neville’s documentary about the Buckley/Vidal debates of 1968. That film, which plays like a thriller, explored the contentious relationship between two public figures that exploded in the public eye and gave birth to our age of horrifying, shouting-head, mass-media political punditry. (Next time you’re tempted to watch yet another debate, make the good-citizen move and watch Best of Enemies instead. It’s on Netflix.) Neville’s next documentary premiered in Berlin on Monday night. The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble is like a photo negative of its predecessor. As you will have gathered from the title, the documentary is about the world’s most famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, and his Silk Road Ensemble, which is more of a project than just a group of musicians who perform together. The film tracks the development of the Silk Road Ensemble from the genesis of the idea to their first gathering at Tanglewood in 2000, and through various difficulties they’ve encountered along the way. It also functions as a mini-introduction to Ma’s life, though he quickly takes a back …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Berlinale—‘Alone in Berlin’

By Alissa Wilkinson A misfire that had great potential. About twenty minutes into Alone in Berlin, I began to worry for my health: I’ve been in Germany for three days, and I’m an experienced traveler, so I couldn’t figure out why the jetlag was still affecting me so badly. I blinked madly, willing myself to stay awake, chewing gum, rubbing a knot in my shoulder, annoying the guy sitting next to me. Thirty minutes in, I realized it wasn’t me. (Partly because the woman beside me started snoring loudly.) Alone in Berlin boasts a truly fascinating premise, based on the 1947 German novel Jeder stirbt für sich allein (which translates to something like “Every Man Dies Alone”). The story is based on a true one: a German husband and wife lose their son in World War II, then become part of the Resistance not by joining a cell but acting as their own small unit, writing cards with subversive messages about Hitler’s regime and leaving them all over town. Theoretically, the fact that Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson play the couple should be in its favor as well—two terrific actors. But in this case it’s the exact opposite. There is something profoundly strange about sitting …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dear Everyone: Stop Writing Open Letters

By Rebecca Jones, guest writer Open letters have changed history, but our petty online rants are getting old. When Dear Mom on the iPhone went viral a few years ago, sparking a lively round of retorts, I’d just had my first baby and purchased my first smartphone. Thanks to fluky timing, that debate seemed strangely personal. Of course it wasn’t, and I’ve toughened to the mommy guilt since—but I’ve also kept a curious eye on the groundswell of “Dear ____” posts. Do a little Googling and you’ll find page after page of open letters addressed to quarterbacks and ex-boyfriends and snarky salespeople who won’t ever actually read them. And now, like all good overgrown fads, the game has gone meta: In December, TIME published an open letter to all the open letter writers (ahem). Though the Internet has offered us all a megaphone for addressing the masses, these letters aren’t remotely new. Over history, they’ve proved an effective rhetorical device, making us smarter, making us tougher, and, most importantly, making us think. Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, after all, worked as an open letter—inked, as he said, to spur dialogue “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light.” In similar …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Christians Can't Help Abiding in Christ

By C. John Collins If we are in Jesus, we will stay connected to him. When I began my senior year of college in the fall of 1975, I had been a believer for nearly two years and was being discipled through a campus parachurch ministry. One morning, I overslept. When I realized that I had missed my weekly appointment with the graduate student discipling me, I wondered whether any of this Christian stuff I had embraced was even real. It certainly didn’t seem to be making much of a difference in me. I thought, Maybe the most honest thing to do would be to throw it all away and quit the religious pretense—which is what I thought my “faith” was. What kept me sane? My connection with other Christians, the tender patience of my discipler, knowing that the guys I was discipling were depending on me, and my sense of how my defection would hurt other believers. In this season, I began to own the words of Peter. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to check out, he replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68, ESV used throughout). My interconnectedness with and outright dependence …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Amplifying Evangelism—Stay the Course

Keep your church evangelistically focused over the long term The idea of a marathon comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who was sent from the Battle of Marathon to Athens—26 miles away—to inform the Greeks that the Persians had been defeated. Legend has it that Pheidippides ran the entire 26 miles without stopping, and upon delivering his message collapsed and died. Although there’s debate about the historicity of this event, the practice of the marathon is real. According to the 2014 Annual Marathon Report (yes, it’s a real report), 541,000 people were classified as “finishers.” In other words, 541,000 people who started a marathon actually completed it. Here’s a real simple principle when it comes to completing a marathon: anyone wishing to start and finish a marathon must have what it takes to stay the course. In the beginning… Leading a church is similar to running a marathon. For church planters there is much practice and preparation done before the big launch day. They cover a lot of groundwork prior to launching—building relationships, evangelizing people, connecting with community entities, creating communication pieces, and attempting to engrain themselves in the daily rhythms of the community. All of their preparation prepares them for the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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