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Immanuel: Is God Still With Us?

By Max Lucado Absolutely. And in the most active way possible. God fights for you. Is that news to you? Have you forgotten this following the heartbreaking events in San Bernardino? Has the threat of ISIS made God seem powerless? Do you wonder why God isn’t fixing the world? During this Christmas season, you’ve almost certainly been reminded of Immanuel, which means God is with us. Maybe you’ve heard about the God who made you, watches you, directs you, knows you. But the God who fights for you? Who blazes the trail ahead of you? Who defends you? Who collapses walls and defeats kings? Did you know that God is fighting for you? That “with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” (2 Chron. 32:8)? That “our God will fight for us” (Neh. 4:20)? That the Lord will “fight against those who fight against ” (Ps. 35:1)? Did you catch that? Not only does God promise to be with us, but he promises to fight for us. For you. God fights for you. Let those four words sink in for a moment. God. The CEO, President, King, Supreme Ruler, Absolute Monarch, Czar, Emperor, and Raja of all history. He runs interference and …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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Have Yourself a Merry Little Friendsmas

By Halee Gray Scott The holidays can be hard. Don’t spend them alone. Work has long been my defense against love. In high school, I skipped social activities, sports, family Christmas Eve celebrations, and even my junior prom in favor of running the school newspaper, writing for the town paper, waiting tables, car-hopping at Sonic, lifeguarding, and cleaning churches…whatever I could do to stay busy. Like Bill Murray’s character in Scrooged, work was easier than the hard, frightening labor of building relationships and opening myself up to the pain of rejection. My mother taught me that. The woman who was to nurture me instead physically and verbally abused me; I had a mother, but no Mommy. As a result, I did not trust people. It was easier, safer, to bury myself in work, achievements, tasks, and busyness. But I did not need busyness; I needed love. For most of us, our holiday expectations are tinged with a rosy glow. It’s the time of year for love, connection, and bonding—a perception reinforced with cozy ads and heartwarming movies with happy endings. But life is not a Hallmark movie, and sometimes the holidays hurt. We’re lonely, grieving, depressed, estranged from family, or stuck with dysfunctional relatives. Our …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Don’t Call Him Kanye’s Pastor

By Kate Shellnutt Rich Wilkerson Jr., a Pentecostal church-planter with famous friends, gets his own reality show. People magazine and E! Network dubbed 31-year-old Rich Wilkerson Jr. a “hipster celebrity pastor,” after he officiated hip-hop artist Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s wedding last year. Since then, the second-generation Pentecostal preacher has planted a church, filmed a reality series, released a devotional book, and spoken at the Hillsong and Catalyst conferences, all while continuing to pop up on entertainment news sites. (I’m willing to bet he’s the only guy to ever take Instagram photos with Pat Robertson and Justin Bieber in the same week.) And that “celebrity pastor” label? It isn’t going away. “I didn’t pick that title. If that’s the title that the world wants to put on me, then that’s what they’re going to give me,” said Wilkerson, son of Trinity Church Miami pastor Rich Wilkerson and cousin of the late evangelist David Wilkerson. “I don’t see myself that way. I see myself as a person who’s trying to build a church.” Wilkerson led Trinity’s youth ministry, Rendezvous, up until he launched his own congregation, Vous Church, in Miami, Florida, this fall. Vous attracts hundreds of attendees in the artsy Wynwood neighborhood and baptized …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Beyond Fight or Flight: $1 Million Reveals How Christians Cope with Persecution in 30 Countries

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Under Caesar’s Sword conference in Rome explores strategies in 100 beleaguered communities. From demolished church crosses in China to beheaded believers in Libya, the persecution of Christians regularly drew international media attention this past year. It also caught the attention of researchers, who spent three years and $1.1 million compiling “the world’s first systematic global investigation into the responses of Christian communities to the violation of their religious freedom.” Last week in Rome, scholars—gathered by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs—presented their findings at the Under Caesar’s Sword conference. “By now, the scale of Christian persecution has been amply documented,” stated Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project. “But nobody has examined systematically and globally what these communities do when they are under massive repression. Do they flee? Resist? Work with outsiders to build safe havens? Accommodate? Forgive? Or what?” That depends on the circumstances Christians face, researchers found, based on studying 100 Christian communities in more than 30 countries. Christians threatened by Boko Haram attacks in Africa or severe state pressure in Iran and Saudi Arabia flee. Those …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Church Planting 2015: Who Attends and What Attracted Them

By Lisa Cannon Green – Facts & Trends Successful new churches share four factors, LifeWay Research finds. Protestants are planting new churches in America faster than their old churches are closing. More than 4,000 new Protestant churches opened their doors in the United States in 2014, outpacing the 3,700 that shuttered, according to estimates by LifeWay Research based on input from 34 denominational statisticians. And American church planters say 42 percent of their worshipers were unchurched while 43 percent switched from an existing church, according to LifeWay’s 2015 National Church Planting Study, released today. For the study, the Nashville-based research organization analyzed 843 churches started since 2008 by 17 denominations and church-planting networks, including: the Assemblies of God, Baptist Missionary Association of America, Center for US Missions (Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod), Christian and Missionary Alliance, Converge Worldwide, Evangelical Free Church of America, Free Methodist Church USA, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Texas District, New Thing Network, North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention), Presbyterian Church in America, Project Jerusalem, Path1 (United Methodist Church), Southern Baptists of Texas, Vineyard Church, and The Wesleyan Church. “In winning new converts to Christ, church plants are light years ahead of the average church because of their focus on reaching the unchurched,” said executive director …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Bruised and Bleeding: Watching 'Daredevil' and 'Jessica Jones'

By Kristen O’Neal Two Marvel shows give us an uncommon abandonment of the lone-hero trope. Just before Thanksgiving, the much-anticipated Marvel series Jessica Jones released in full on Netflix–and it lived up to every expectation. The show follows the critically-acclaimed spring release of Daredevil (the two heroes, as well as Luke Cage and Iron Fist, will come together eventually to become the Defenders). But Jessica Jones stands firmly on her own two feet, offering her own narrative that is as good, if not better, than Daredevil. The shows have wildly different protagonists, but both explore complicated moral and psychological quandaries. Daredevil‘s Matt Murdock, a blind, justice-loving Catholic lawyer with heightened physical senses, takes it upon himself to right the corrupt wrongs of his own neighborhood—through his law practice by day, and by putting on a mask by night. He’s not saving the world. He’s just trying to make a difference in his corner of the city. Questions of morality, God, and the devil swirl at the center of Daredevil, with a rendering of faith that’s uncommonly honest and respectful, that paints doubt as valid and involvement in social issues as necessary. The show continues a long tradition of onscreen Irish priests and gangsters (think On the Waterfront) …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Commentary: On ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ After the San Bernardino Shooting

By Andy Crouch Prayer—and lament—is the proper first response to tragedy. We can say with some confidence that all the following are true. 1.a. When news of a tragedy reaches us, almost all of us find our thoughts overwhelmed for minutes, hours, or days, depending on the scope and severity and vividness of the loss. This is called empathy—our ability to put ourselves in the place of others and imagine their suffering and fear, as well as heroism and courage, and to wonder how we would react in their place. 1.b. Almost all human beings, whatever their formal religious affiliation, find themselves caught up in a further reaction to tragedy: reaching out to a personal reality beyond themselves, with grief, groaning, and petition for relief. Even those far from the church will find themselves, almost involuntarily, addressing God in these moments. This is, in a way, another and perhaps higher form of empathy. It reflects our instinct that our own experience of personhood, identification, and love must ultimately reflect something—or Someone—fundamental to the cosmos who is personal, who has identified with us, and who responds to us and all the world with love. 1.c. Unless the tragedy is literally at our door, this empathic response—call it “thoughts …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Commentary: Four Theses on ‘Thoughts and Prayers’

By Andy Crouch Prayer—and lament—is the proper first response to tragedy. We can say with some confidence that all the following are true. 1.a. When news of a tragedy reaches us, almost all of us find our thoughts overwhelmed for minutes, hours, or days, depending on the scope and severity and vividness of the loss. This is called empathy—our ability to put ourselves in the place of others and imagine their suffering and fear, as well as heroism and courage, and to wonder how we would react in their place. 1.b. Almost all human beings, whatever their formal religious affiliation, find themselves caught up in a further reaction to tragedy: reaching out to a personal reality beyond themselves, with grief, groaning, and petition for relief. Even those far from the church will find themselves, almost involuntarily, addressing God in these moments. This is, in a way, another and perhaps higher form of empathy. It reflects our instinct that our own experience of personhood, identification, and love must ultimately reflect something—or Someone—fundamental to the cosmos who is personal, who has identified with us, and who responds to us and all the world with love. 1.c. Unless the tragedy is literally at our door, this empathic response—call it “thoughts …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Good Behavior Matters After All

By Christopher J. H. Wright How I discovered God’s plan to reach a lost and sinful world. In the early 1980s, I was a young tutor at All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire, England. In a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues said, “These students need to understand that mission is not something we add to the text, an afterthought at the end of our exegesis. Mission is in the origin of the text.” All of our students were preparing for cross-cultural mission. They had to study key passages about Christ, such as Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, and Philippians 2. My colleague was pointing out that such texts arose not as isolated doctrine, but amid missionary church-planting and the controversies surrounding it. The New Testament documents, he urged, are intrinsically missional in how they came to be. His words struck me. Of course! Why did I not see that before? I wondered if this applied to the Old Testament. I had completed my doctorate five years prior in Old Testament ethics—the aspect of theology that attempts to determine right from wrong conduct. I wanted to understand and communicate the ethical message of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to help Christians know how to apply it. … The Reason for …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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Contextualization at Home: How Should We Do Church?

By Ed Stetzer If the world looked at us, could they tell we are on a mission? In many ministry conversations today, you will hear questions like, “Do we need to contextualize the way we do ministry?” or “Do we need to contextualize the presentation of the gospel?” These are good questions. We understand the importance of contextualization when it comes to foreign missions. We know that you need to plant churches in Africa that reflect the current culture of that place. But contextualization is just as important in our Western culture. In this three part series, we are looking at what it takes to contextualize the mission here in the West. To figure out how we carry out the work of God, we need to vigorously consider three issues. Christology: Who is Jesus and what has He sent us to do? Ecclesiology: What expression of a New Testament church would be most appropriate in this context? Missiology: What forms and strategies should we use to be about the Kingdom of God? Why Must a Church Contextualize Its Ministry? As I’ve spoken and encouraged churches and leaders, I’ve often said, “If the 1950’s came back, a lot of our churches would be ready to go.” So in kind of a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Colorado Springs Pastor Killed in Planned Parenthood Shooting

By Jeremy Weber and Bob Smietana (UPDATED) Attack at abortion clinic leaves three dead and nine wounded. Members of Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs gave thanks on Sunday for the life of Garrett Swasey, a church elder and police officer who was killed on Friday in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic . The congregation of about 100 people watched a video clip of Swasey, a former competitive ice skater, and recalled fond memories of his role as preacher and guitar player for the church’s worship team. “You don’t realize how much you love someone until you can’t tell them anymore,” said Hope Chapel co-pastor Scott Dontanville, according to The Gazette. Church members also prayed for Robert Lewis Dear, who is accused of killing Swasey and two others in Friday’s shooting. “God, we forgive him. We can’t not,” Dontanville prayed, according to TheDenver Post. “You’ve forgiven him. Garrett’s forgiven him.” Bloggers began circulating the words of Swasey’s last sermon, given two weeks ago. “Our objective is not to bring glory to ourselves but to bring glory to God,” he said. “How? By transforming our lives through the gospel. Apart from that it can’t be done, not in our own strength.” Dear is …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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An Update on the GC2 Summit on the Christian Response to Refugees

By Ed Stetzer Here’s what we have planned so far for the the GC2 Summit on refugees in January. Recently, we announced the GC2 Summit, a gathering for Evangelicals to consider an appropriate response to the growing, global refugee crisis. Here’s the more formal information. The Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College (BGCE) and the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College (HDI) have announced a summit, in partnership with LifeWay Research, to help Christians respond to the global refugee crisis. The meeting, called a GC2 Summit, will focus on leading a conversation on meeting needs, caring for, and engaging refugees around the world. The GC2 Summit will feature a number of key speakers and collaborators from the Evangelical community who specialize in ministry to refugees, in addition to senior denominational leaders, non-profit, and church leaders. The GC2 Summit will occur in two parts, with the first pre-meeting conversation occurring on Thursday, December 17, 2015, and the second gathering occurring on Wednesday, January 20, 2016. Both events will take place on the campus of Wheaton College. GC2 is a moniker that reflects an Evangelical commitment to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. The intent of the gatherings is to reflect on and call for …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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15 Books that Are Good Enough to Give

Holiday book list: Her.meneutics writers recommend their favorites. If you’re a book lover or if you have an avid reader on your list, you’re bound to spend some of your Christmas shopping standing in front of a book display or scrolling through the rankings on Amazon trying to pick the right title. To help a little, here are just a few of our recent favorites. These are the kind of books that we’d be happy to wrap up and give to our friends—or snuggle up and re-read ourselves. Let us know your recommendations in the comments! – Kate For anyone who’s too busy to read: Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Shulte I started listening to Overwhelmed, thinking it would be a self-help book that guided me in simplifying my life. Instead, I am very grateful for Shulte’s thorough investigation of the social and political forces that have resulted in a culture of overwork and particularly the effect this shift in the way we spend our time has had on women and family. I highly recommend it. – Amy Julia Becker For suspense lovers: Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins The premise …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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How We Forgot the Poverty of Christmas

By Katelyn Beaty The Incarnation is not a story we can package or market. It is also the greatest story ever told. We don’t believe in Christmas anymore. We believe in Christmas gatherings, Christmas shopping, and Christmas recitals, of course, and even Christmas outreach events and Christmas acts of charity. If you are reading this issue of CT while fighting tryptophan-induced sleep, you know that Christmas has dominated our mass-mediated imagination since before Halloween. Christmas is the piece de resistance of a year spent hustling from one “big event” to another, anticipating the next holiday as we try to enjoy the present one. Christmas is the biggest celebration on the calendar. But we know not what we celebrate. Church leaders are in a major bind with this one. They have to compete with the usual rivals—Santa Claus, TV specials, and generic holiday cheer that can be felt without taking the family to a church. This year, Christian leaders face the allure of the new Star Wars. In a tossup between the baby Jesus and Luke Skywalker, I’m not sure most Christians would bet on the Christ Child over the Jedi Fighter. In an effort to capture their neighbors’ flitting attention, churches have perfected their Christmastime marketing game. It’s …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Paris Affected American Attitudes on Helping Syrian Refugees

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra World Vision poll suggests terrorism didn’t change compassion. Other polls highlight fears. Nearly 3 out of 4 American adults (72%) say they are willing to help Syrian refugees, according to an Ipsos Public Affairs poll sponsored by World Vision nearly a week after the Paris terrorism attacks. The number is virtually unchanged (71%) from when Ipsos/World Vision asked the same question in October, before the City of Lights experienced tragedy and American politicians began debating state bans on Syrian refugees in response. Of poll respondents who said they were unwilling to help, 7 in 10 (69%) said they thought Americans should help people in the US first, up from 6 in 10 (58%) in October. And 41 percent said they feared Syrian refugees are potential terrorists, up sharply from 25 percent in October. The new numbers are a more positive response to the Syrian refugee crisis than other recent polls, including an Ipsos/Reuters poll taken the weekend after the Paris attacks. In that survey, more than half of Americans (52%) said that countries accepting Syrian refugees were less safe. Respondents were almost equally split on how to respond to that risk: 40 percent said that countries should continue to accept refugees …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Contextualization at Home: What Would Jesus Do Here?

By Ed Stetzer We can’t reach the world for Jesus if we don’t know Jesus and how He operates. Getting Started Contextualization is a hot topic. How do we share the gospel in a way that is both true to God and appealing to people? But we seem to understand the importance of contextualization when it comes to foreign missions. No one sends an American missionary out to turn an African nation into Pennsylvania. Rather, we train them to offer the Gospel in a way that makes sense to the people they are trying to reach. For the longest time, however, we apparently didn’t think that approach was necessary in our culture. But it is. I have written and spoken about what I call the Missional Matrix. To figure out how we carry out the work of God, we need to be vigorously considering three issues. Christology: Who is Jesus and what has He sent us to do? Ecclesiology: What expression of a New Testament church would be most appropriate in this context? Missiology: What forms and strategies should we use to be about the Kingdom of God in context? In this new three part series, we will look at each of these and what it takes to contextualize the mission here …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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College Can Kill Our Colorblindness (If We Let It)

By Heather Caliri, guest writer I used to be the white girl who didn’t get it. Earlier this month, protests about race erupted at several American colleges. The uproar began at the University of Missouri, where the chancellor and president resigned over their responses to racially charged harassment. Meanwhile at Yale, an official email about avoiding racist Halloween costumes, such as blackface, inspired one faculty member’s response asking for “free speech and the ability to tolerate offense.” The initial upheaval in Columbia and New Haven sparked tensions elsewhere. Someone posted anonymous online threats towards students at historically black Howard University, and protests followed last week on campuses at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and nearly two dozen others. These protests reflect the recent grassroots activism around the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but the racial tensions they attempt to address are nothing new. For decades, white administrators and students themselves have ignored or downplayed the concerns of people of color regarding the racial climate on campus. I know because I was one of them. Like many white students, I hadn’t experienced real diversity until I went to college. The idea of diversity seemed nice before I arrived on campus. But once I started my freshman year at Rice University back in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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