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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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This Is a 'God Moment' on Race

By Mark Galli What Christianity Today believes our Lord is saying in recent events. Evangelicals are sensitive to what we call “God moments”—when circumstances fall together in a way that suggests God is at work in our lives in a fresh way. Mainstream white evangelicals have experienced collective “God moments.” In the 1970s, few churches concerned themselves with the relief of world hunger. Then Ron Sider wrote Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and before long, we just assumed that evangelicals should be concerned about hunger. Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was sidelined as a Catholic concern. But after the advocacy of Francis Schaeffer and others, we quickly saw the great evil that abortion is. These were God moments—times when our Lord graciously gave us moral clarity about an issue he was calling us to engage. We are currently experiencing a new “God moment,” when God is shining his burning light on how our nation and our churches are fractured by racial division and injustice. In the past two years, we’ve seen image after image of injustice perpetrated against black Americans. We’ve studied the statistics. And most important, we’ve heard the anguished cry of a suffering community that is understandably hurting, angry, and demanding progress. Moderate …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Pressure Of The Pastorate

By Shawn Lovejoy In order to truly flourish, pastors need authentic and safe friendships. Wow. I spoke with another friend and megachurch pastor who was removed from his church last month. As a leadership coach and pastor to pastors, it breaks my heart and causes me to lose sleep every time. What happened? Nothing really. Life. The gravitational pull. Pressure. Pride. That’s what happened. At the end of the day, the ministry model so common in our day tends to lend itself for this to happen. One thing is sure…this is us, except by the grace of God. This is us, if we’re not careful. This is some of us if we keep going the way we’re going. To finish well, we will need to fight against the gravitational pull, and beat our bodies into submission. This is our call: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). The #1 mistake I see pastors make is living in isolation. We don’t mean to, but we just get busy, overcommitted, overextended, exhausted, and sometimes even numb. After a long week of ministry, many of us just want to go home and binge on …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Louisiana Flooding: On The Ground With Relief Agencies And Why Christians Are Uniquely Suited To Help

By Ed Stetzer Why Christians are uniquely suited to help in times of disaster. Ed: Why are Christians uniquely suited to help those impacted by the flooding? Ross Johnson, Director of Disaster Response, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: As Christians and congregations reach out, we’re able to take care of spiritual and physical needs. FEMA and other organizations are very helpful with temporal needs, but they don’t offer spiritual care like local churches can. Congregations make a great hub of mercy and human care in their community. No one knows there community better than the local church or pastor, especially when a disaster happens and the majority of responders are from the outside, not always knowing the community’s history or culture. Congregations were there before the tragedy and hopefully will be there for decades after the tragedy. After the first few weeks of the disaster, the congregation remains a hub of ministry, mercy, and outreach for the long term. And it’s only the Church that has the voice of Christ which brings the peace that surpasses all understanding, whether it is to Christians or non-Christians. We have a phrase that we say: “Proclaiming the gospel even in the wake of a disaster.” Whatever opportunity that we have, we …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Louisiana Flooding: On The Ground With Relief Agencies And How You Can Get Involved

By Ed Stetzer What’s happening and how you can help. Ed: How is your organization responding to the disaster in Louisiana right now? Ross Johnson, Director of Disaster Response, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: Right now we’re partnering with Lutheran congregations across Louisiana, particularly in Baton Rouge. The first phase of our disaster response is to partner with local congregations that are going to be doing muck-out and dealing with immediate needs of people who have been affected by the flooding. We’re anticipating the first eight to ten weeks we’re going to be bringing volunteer teams in. We already have volunteers who going to do the muck-out, tearing out the flooring and drywall. We’re also giving out flood buckets and emergencies supplies. We have elders at our churches and congregational pastors who are doing spiritual care during the immediate phase. We like to blend hands-on help along with spiritual care. I think that’s one thing that makes a church-based response slightly different than government-based responses is we don’t only help out with temporal needs, but we also help out with spiritual needs. We find that oftentimes when somebody has gone through a traumatic event in their life and has enormous economic loss or has been displaced, that they also …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Should Churches Try to Minimize Disruptions?

By Compiled by Ruth Moon Observers weigh in on how churches should respond to children disrupting a worship service. At South Carolina’s NewSpring Church, children are not admitted to the main service and doors are locked after the sermon starts. In North Carolina, Elevation Church leaders removed a boy with cerebral palsy from church because he was disrupting the service. The incidents raise the issue of how to respond to disruptions in worship. Should churches try to minimize disruptions in services? “Willow Creek puts a priority on creating an environment that helps people engage in worship without distractions during the service. By providing a variety of venues (main auditorium, parents’ viewing rooms, a video café area) where people may view the service, no one has to miss the message, regardless of their circumstances. We rarely have issues with disruptions during the service, but if one arises, the Guest Ministry team assesses the situation and takes appropriate next steps, which could mean respectfully suggesting one of the alternate viewing options.” “One thing I used to tell students in the course of a class is as a pastor, you’re responsible for leading the assembly on Sunday morning, and the assembly depends on you not to allow disruptive people …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Reconciling Witness And Worship: Six Ways To Begin

By Sandra Van Opstal Imagine a church that considers its’ surrounding ‘neighbors’ and the future majority of our country in developing practices of worship. How will our future worship witness to the God of all nations? Imagine the year is 2025 and you are congregating in your church. Your mind and heart are focused on the Lord and His invitation to make disciples of the nations. Close your eyes and take a minute now to imagine it (yes, I do mean now). Did your future reflect the reality of a younger, browner, unchurched majority? Were the images you saw the multiethnic, multiclass church singing in many styles and praying in many languages? Be honest. In the U.S., we are well on our way to seeing no ethnic majority projected for the 2050 census. The latest census numbers show a population younger than 5 years old stood at 49.9% minority in 2012, and among those under 1 year of age, the minority had become the majority*. In only two years, 2018, minorities will become the majority among children. This has huge implications for children’s ministry, youth ministry, family ministry, and future leaders of the Church. We have an opportunity to witness to the kingdom through how we form …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Putting the Fear of God in the Fashion Industry

By Whitney Bauck Menswear creator Jerry Lorenzo wears his faith on his sleeve. You don’t expect to spot a reference to Oswald Chambers devotionals in the pages of Vogue—unless you happen to know the man the magazine calls “LA’s coolest” menswear designer, Jerry Lorenzo. Considering the name of Lorenzo’s brand, Fear of God, or that the promotional video for his latest collection features the church favorite “How Great is Our God,” it’s clear that the 39-year-old doesn’t shy away from the Christian faith that inspires his work. Without context, the Bible references on his apparel seem like lip service at best or ironic appropriation at worst. But the fervency and frequency of Lorenzo’s God-talk prove his faithfulness is more than a brand fad. You’d almost assume he was trying to evangelize through cheesy T-shirts if his style wasn’t so supernally hip. “What makes Fear Of God cool is that it taps into the nostalgia guys from 50 years old to 18 years old have for the ’80s and ’90s,” explained GQ style writer Jake Woolf in an email. “He’s taking the touchstones of that era—stonewashed denim, plaid, slightly looser fits, awesome rock band tees—and setting them against a 2016 backdrop where streetwear, high-fashion, and ‘middle …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Let Them Bake Cakes

By D.L. Mayfield, guest writer The Great British Baking Show teaches me about offering and receiving friendship in a fractured world. A few weeks ago, I sat down for coffee with a family from Syria. I was teaching an English class in our apartment complex and afterward the mother of this family invited me into her home. They arrived in the US very recently. If you’ve paid attention to the news, then you might have a dim view of this family’s background: They faced suffering and the threat of violence; they most likely fled their country in an arduous journey; they had to wade through camps and bureaucracies to make it all the way here, to the outskirts of Portland, Oregon, where they are the first of their community to be resettled. You might have images of boats and tents and mothers clutching their children. But I have in mind a more immediate, more personal image: I was sitting in a sparsely decorated living room drinking coffee that was served thick and dark and sugary in tiny red cups. I drank it, even though it was late in the evening and I knew I would pay for it later. I drank it because that coffee contained …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Resources Changed My Mind

By Ed Stetzer The books we read and allow to influence us hold great importance, for good or bad. When I was a young teen, my mom (a new Christian) gave me a book called Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. She said it was a science fiction book written by a Christian. Being the sci-fi fan that I was, and intrigued by the idea of a Christian authoring those types of books, I finished it and the rest of Lewis’ Space Trilogy. At that time, I had no idea how much I would come to be influenced by their author. I later discovered C.S. Lewis as the man behind The Chronicles of Narnia and numerous other works influenced by his faith. His nonfiction writings built my passion for accessible theology. I read Mere Christianity and have since shared it with hundreds of different people as an apologetic defense of the gospel. As a young, recently converted believer, I was drawn to the writing of Lewis—an articulate and engaging Oxford professor who talked about Jesus. To me, Lewis made it OK to love Jesus and have a brain. Half a century after his death, we still read his works because of how he wrote …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Grapes of Wrath: Refugees Face Steinbeck Scenario in Lebanon's Napa Valley

By Jeremy Weber While US debates resettling 10,000 Syrians, a country smaller than Connecticut struggles with hosting 1.5 million. Faysal stands amid the rolling fields of the Bekaa Valley. Just down the road are award-winning, decadent vineyards—a product of the fertile agricultural region’s 5,000-year head start on Napa Valley. The Romans even chose to build their temple to Bacchus here. Above loom the snow-covered slopes of Mt. Hermon, where many today place Jesus’ transfiguration. Surveying the sea of green plants rustling in a pleasant breeze, the 43-year-old describes what he feels: “A knife in my heart.” For Faysal, a Syrian refugee, the scene is not one of grandeur but of guilt; in the field before him are three of his children—his 15-year-old son and 13- and 11-year-old daughters—bent in half as they weed potatoes instead of attending school. “I have no choice,” says the father of six. In Aleppo, one of Syria’s most war-torn cities, his job as a truck driver once provided a four-room house and a middle-class, urban life. Now, having injured his back in his own efforts at day labor, he can’t pay the rent for their cobbled-together shelter on a farmer’s property. So he just stands and watches his children. And cries. “As …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Given Deborah, Jael, and Judith, Why Shouldn't Women Serve in Combat?

By Owen Strachan, Jan McCormack, and Alan “Blues” Baker Three views on the warrior women of the Bible and today, as the Pentagon announces it’s lifting the ban. Editor’s note: The Associated Press reported today that the Pentagon is removing its 1994 ban on women in combat. Men Are Fitter Owen Strachan is a contributing writer for the Gospel Coalition and executive director of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Recently, the Marine Corps Gazette published a bold op-ed on a hot topic: women in combat. This essay was not written by a patriarchal jarhead, however. It was authored by Katie Petronio, Marine captain. Petronio, a former college hockey player, shared that after five months on the frontlines in Afghanistan, “I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change.” Eventually, Petronio lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. She concluded, “There is no way I could endure the physical demands of the infantrymen whom I worked beside.” This experience confirms the fears of evangelicals who have concerns about women in combat. Scripture teaches that woman was made from man, a truth that grounds her dependence on him (Gen. 2:21-22). It details how Adam failed to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Extreme Athletes Don’t Have to Settle for Adrenaline Highs

By Kate Tracy Action-sports ministries help wakeboarders, surfers, skaters, and snowboarders ground their passions in gospel truth. Action sports have slowly made their way into the Olympics over the years, and the International Olympic Committee announced that surfing, climbing, and skateboarding will be among the new sports added to competition at the 2020 Games in Tokyo. On the winter side, skiing has been a staple since 1936, and snowboarding was added back in 1998. About 10 percent of the Olympic athletes on Team USA prepared for competition at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. All around our state, athletic prowess is in the air. It’s no coincidence: Training at this altitude is thought to improve performance. The mountains have become a destination for a range of dedicated athletes. People flock to ski towns each winter, and beach towns each summer, often bringing with them idealistic notions of outdoors and adventure. These action sports, which appear to offer a sense of freedom and excitement, end up building a culture of highs and lows. Pitkin County, home to Colorado’s ski mecca Aspen, has a suicide rate that is three times higher than the national average, while Utah’s Salt Lake County—home to training facilities for the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Does Your Church Talk About Prison?

By Morgan Lee The disparities in America’s criminal justice system find an echo in which churches do, and don’t, discuss the issue. In a study of 1,000 mainline and evangelical pastors conducted by LifeWay Research this year, only 26 percent said they had addressed the country’s incarceration rates in the past six months. Four out of five pastors (83%) said they had visited a correctional facility, and about three out of four pastors whose churches averaged 250 or more attendees reported that individual members were ministering to those in correctional facilities (80%), the families of the incarcerated (73%), and those coming home (78%). But these same churches were far less likely to have formal programs: Just over half (53%) said a team from their church worked in correctional facilities. About 1 in 4 churches had a formal ministry to families of incarcerated people (24%) and people leaving correctional facilities (22%). Responses varied dramatically by race. One third of African American pastors (32%) reported mentioning mass incarceration in the last month, compared with only 7 percent of whites. White pastors were most likely to say that they had never addressed it in a sermon (41%). That’s partially because of their audience: About one third of African American pastors …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Behind the Trinity Tussle

By Kate Shellnutt For complementarian women, the debate was more than abstract. The evangelical blogosphere engaged in a major theological debate about the Trinity this summer, with more than 150 posts published within five weeks. Malcolm Yarnell, theology department chair at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he had “never seen anything like it.” The debate focused on Christ’s relationship to God the Father. Some argue that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, while others say the Son was subordinate in his earthly life only. It transformed a decades-old proxy war between some complementarians and egalitarians over what the Trinity reveals about God’s design for gender roles into a civil war between complementarians (see CT’s online explainer, “Gender and the Trinity,” June ’16). While complementarian women wrote only a handful of the posts, they played a significant role in launching the conversation and raising concerns over how the distinction can play out in the pews. The original post came from Presbyterian pastor Liam Goligher. He stated that theologians Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem are distorting Trinitarian relations in order to uphold their view of gender roles. (Grudem is the founder of the complementarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood .) Goligher’s post appeared at Housewife Theologian, a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Before Flooding Louisiana With 'Help,' Read This

By Ed Stetzer Suggestions that will help you help without causing unintentional harm. Thinking of jumping in your car and driving to Louisiana to help those affected by the flood? Wondering how you could mail some food or hand-me-down clothes to help? If you answered yes — don’t do it. Yet, that is. Hit the brakes for a moment before acting. Here’s the deal: Volunteers and resources are going to be needed. In a recent Humanitarian Disaster Institute study, we found that social and spiritual support was vital to fostering resilience among flood survivors. However, being a spontaneous unaffiliated volunteer (what we call an SUV) is likely to cause more harm than good. Sending supplies before communities are ready to receive them isn’t the way to help either. You will likely only add to the chaos happening there. Here are some suggestions that will help you help without causing unintentional harm. Pray As people of faith, we are called to pray for others, especially for those in need. We don’t think that saying “sending our prayers” is a meaningless gesture; we think it’s a God-ordained means of calling out for divine help. In times of disasters we shouldn’t see prayer as an afterthought, but rather as …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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