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Are US Christians Really ‘Persecuted’?

By K. A. Ellis If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are. Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history. Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world. But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment….American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.” A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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An Invitation To Our First Billy Graham Center Vision Gathering

By Ed Stetzer We are building a Center that is rock solid on a vision to build One Body of Christ that shows & shares Jesus well in our broken and hurting world. Join us August 25 in Jackson, MS, to learn more! Just a little over a month ago I became the new Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. When I accepted this role, I knew the team at the Center was already doing some great work. So my primary goal here became two-fold: (1) to build on the legacy and work we have done in order to (2) create a Center where partnerships and coalitions are formed and sustained on a level that create deep change across dividing lines and leads us towards a new level of unity around our calling of showing & sharing the love of Jesus in a broken and hurting world. You will be hearing that a lot from us in the days to come: ‘showing & sharing.’ The proclamation of the gospel can never be divided from the demonstration of the gospel. Sometimes one rises in urgency over the other, but when laid side by side, the two can never be …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Adding Criminal Justice Reform to Prison Ministry

By Morgan Lee Churches and ministries are becoming increasingly involved in prison reform. In the early 19th century, evangelicals were at the forefront of prison reform—England’s Elizabeth Fry being a foremost example. Today, while many churches have or support prison ministries of mercy and evangelism, very few work on criminal justice reform. Four out of five American churches (80%) say they are not currently involved in advocacy to reform the criminal justice system, according to statistics from new LifeWay Research published this year. But among those that are involved, African American pastors are two-and-a-half times more likely (42%) than white pastors (16%) to say that they are currently involved. The PICO National Network is trying to change those statistics. Its Live Free campaign organizes dozens of predominantly black and Latino pastors to address mass incarceration and gun violence in their communities. PICO works across faith traditions, and since the campaign started in 2010, it has partnered with evangelical institutions like the Exponential Conference and Urbana to teach about mass incarceration. Michael McBride, director of the Live Free campaign, said, “I try to remind people that when it comes to addressing systems of justice, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.” Prison Fellowship’s …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Am I Humble Enough to Learn from Millennials?

By Nicole Sheets, guest writer Learning from my elders is easy. Learning from those younger than me—not so much. I was at a garden party last summer with my new baby. A group of twentysomethings smiled at her between bites of flatbread pizza and fruity, boozy popsicles. One of them admitted that the baby was cute, but asked: Doesn’t having a baby cramp your style? I told him I was really glad that someone was cramping my style, that I was starting to be afraid no one would ever cramp my style, that I’ve had so much time with my style! It’s one of the big benefits of being an old new mom. If turning 30 meant saying goodbye to my young youth, then 40 is saying goodbye to my youth, period. It’s accepting that some of my wildest fantasies involve eight consecutive hours of sleep, or sitting down in a chair with a magazine, or trying out a new kale soup recipe. As I try to figure out this new stage of life, I find myself more and more irritated by the ideas and habits of younger people. But to my surprise, I’m also discovering how much I have to learn from them. I teach English …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Are We Talking Past Each Other? 3 Tips For Talking Faith With Friends & Neighbors

By Barry Cooper It is past time we return to the basics if we are to relate to those around us in a way they will understand who God is and what it means to follow Him. When we send missionaries across an ocean, we know they will need to spend months learning not only a new language, but also new attitudes, customs, and expectations. But what about when we share the gospel with our next door neighbor? Most of our neighbors speak the same language we do, shop at the same grocery store, and take the same roads to work. We assume they will understand the words we use when we share with them the hope we have in Jesus. As Western culture is less and less influenced by Christian ideology, we can no longer assume our neighbors are familiar with basic biblical concepts or terms. When you say words like “God” or “saved,” your neighbor might hear dozens of different meanings. As a result, like cross-cultural missions, reaching out to our neighbors requires us to learn a new “language.” Just because we both speak English does not mean my friend will understand my words the way I intended. Needless to say, talking with …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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When The Church Becomes Complicit In Sin: Lessons On Preventing and Combatting Sexual Abuse

By Diane Langberg God wants those institutions that bear His name to be holy in the secret places. Only then are they truly His. Just a month ago Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz and a voice for justice, died. His words remain: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” In reading through the Professional Investigators International (Pii) report regarding sexual abuse in the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE), it is clear that the Christian world needs to give heed to the words of Dr. Wiesel. Donn Ketchum, a missionary doctor in Bangladesh, allegedly abused those under his care. When it was exposed, the system of ABWE used its power to ignore, silence, and cover-up that abuse. Although the investigation was invited by ABWE, it was significantly hindered early on by a lack of cooperation and ongoing lies. The Christian world would do great honor to the victims of this tragedy, and many others in the evangelical world, if we would heed the lessons inherent in this grievous situation. Lesson One: Sexual Abuse Can Happen Anywhere The first lesson is recognition that sexual abuse is not a problem out there; it is in here. It sits in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Weekend Edition - August 12, 2016

By Ed Stetzer Church revitalization, honoring a family of five, Phil Ryken, church signs, and more! What I Have Learned From 5 Years of Church Revitalization: Part One – Jonathan Akin John Piper’s Funeral Prayer for a Family of Five A Conversation with Phil Ryken about the Darkest Period of His Life: “I Started to Wonder How I Would End It All” – Justin Taylor with Phil Ryken Ten Things Pastors Would Love to Hear from Their Church Members – Thom Rainer Want to read a weekly digest of The Exchange blog?Click hereto subscribe to Christianity Today’s Newsletter for The Exchange to get weekly wrap-ups direct to your inbox. Earlier This Week on The Exchange Can Evangelism Emerge From The Next Generation? Are Young Evangelicals More Liberal Than Their Parents? When The Church Becomes Complicit In Sin: Lessons On Preventing and Combatting Sexual Abuse How Evangelism Can Be Woven Into All Parts Of An Academic Institution Saturday Is For Seminars: Gideons Gospel Impact Conference and Missio Nexus Leadership Legacies: Why Character Trumps All Church Signs In this case, gas is a good thing I think? It’s good they are saving the best for last! Thanks to Dennis and Tobin for this week’s church …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Second Life of the Man Who Wouldn’t Run on Sunday

By Owen Strachan How Eric Liddell, the hero of ‘Chariots of Fire,’ laid aside Olympic glory for the missions field. The scene is easy to recall. A group of young athletes in slow-motion, running on a beach, to a Vangelis score. The camera finds the beatific face of a young Eric Liddell, and the Chariots of Fire magic washes over you once more. It’s a great movie and a powerful story—the story of a unique Olympian, a conscience-driven Christian man, who was very fast and felt God’s pleasure in that fastness. Yet here is the remarkable truth: Chariots of Fire did not tell the most engrossing part of Liddell’s remarkable life. This is left to Duncan Hamilton and his new biography, For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr. Hamilton’s book spans the full spectrum of the Olympic champion’s life, allowing us an extended look at Liddell’s work as a missionary in China. The world might like the athletic heroism best, but Christians will find Hamilton’s portrait of Liddell’s sacrificial labor deeply stirring. Hamilton is well known in the UK as an award-winning sportswriter. This nearly 400-page text amply demonstrates his talents, as not a word is wasted, and many an opportunity …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Sausage Party

By Alissa Wilkinson A raunchy anti-Veggie Tales with surprising takes on atheism, faith, and tolerance. What is there to say about Sausage Party? A surprising amount. It’s being touted as the first R-rated computer-animated film, and boy does it earn the rating. Innuendo, profanity, drug use, racial slurs, and graphic sex (insofar as food items can have graphic sex) are all part of the film. I don’t expect many CT readers will go to see it. (I cannot repeat this strongly enough: do not bring your children.) But like earlier efforts by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg like This Is the End and Preacher, it’s also oddly . . . theological? (Some plot spoilers ahead.) The film starts with a hymn to “the gods,” sung by the food in the supermarket as it opens in the morning. The aforementioned gods are the shoppers, by whom the food items desperately wish to be “chosen” to go to the “great beyond.” Frank, a sausage (voiced by Rogen), and his bun girlfriend Brenda (voiced by Kristen Wiig) desperately hope to be chosen together on red, white, and blue day so they can finally, uh, be together. They fool around through their packaging. So we start with a sort of culinary Calvinism …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Saturday Is For Seminars: Gideons Gospel Impact Conference and Missio Nexus

By Ed Stetzer Join me at the Gideons Gospel Impact Conference and/or the Missio Nexus annual mission leaders conference. It’s been a whirlwind of a week as the movers brought all of our things up to Wheaton and we are getting settled in. There’s a lot of change for us and I’d value your prayers during this time. Also, please pray for the events below and consider joining me at one of them if they are in your area! Gideons Gospel Impact Conference – August 12-13, 2016 – Toronto, ON Missio Nexus Mission Leaders Conference – September 29 – October 1, 2016 – Louisville, KY If you are a missions, denominational, or church leader I invite you to join us in Louisville in a little over a month. You can register here. Coming Soon September 9, 2016Capacity Conference Atlanta, GA September 16, 2016American Association of Christian Counselors National Meeting Dallas, TX September 30, 2016MissioNexus Louisville, KY October 3, 2016Lutheran Congregations on Mission for Christ Annual Gathering Denver, CO October 4-5, 2016Exponential West Irvine, CA October 6, 2016Summit University Alumni Fall Bible Conference Clarks Summit, PA October 17-18, 2016Centered & Sent Durham, NC October 25, 2016Sojourn Pastors Network Louisville, KY November 2, 2016Mosaix National Conference Dallas, TX November 14-15, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Celebrate Recovery Helped Evangelicals Open Up About Addiction

By Kate Shellnutt Over 25 years, the program has made churches a safer space for recovery. If you’ve heard a sermon, small-group discussion, Sunday school lesson, or testimony that addressed one of those once-taboo topics—alcoholism, drug abuse, anger issues, porn habits—you probably have Celebrate Recovery to thank. “It used to be if someone was an alcoholic or a drug addict or, heaven forbid, they had any kind of issue with anger, then it was hush-hush,” said Huston McComb, a licensed professional counselor who leads Celebrate Recovery at Houston’s First Baptist Church. “We’ve kind of taken that stigma away.” While some of the shame around addiction has faded over the decades, Celebrate Recovery has shifted how evangelicals in particular view “hurts, habits, and hang-ups.” The ministry hosts regular meetings at 29,000 churches and has trained more than 100,000 pastors in the recovery process. Its annual summit this weekend marks 25 years since John Baker founded the program at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, immediately following his own journey to sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous. Like many evangelicals at the time, he had reservations about the generic spirituality of AA, whose 12-step program refers to “a Power greater than ourselves” and “God as we understood him.” Baker saw a need to create …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Celebs from Michael Phelps to Kim Kardashian Want a Purpose-Driven Life

By Kate Shellnutt The bestseller’s buzz has not died down 15 years later. One of the 40 million copies sold of The Purpose Driven Life ended up in the large, paddle-like hands of Michael Phelps. In between winning Olympic golds, Phelps made headlines for very different reasons: repeated DUIs, parties and pot, weight gain and rehab. A couple of years ago, fellow athlete and friend Ray Lewis (aka “God’s linebacker”) gave the champion swimmer Rick Warren’s bestseller. “I basically told him, ‘Okay, everything has a purpose, and now, guess what? It’s time to wake up,’” the former Baltimore Raven said in The Washington Post. In an ESPN special, Phelps said the book “turned me into believing that there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet” and “helped me when I was in a place that I needed the most help.” It spurred him to reconcile with his dad. This summer, the media celebrated 31-year-old Phelps as stronger and more mature than ever; the record-crushing swimmer stayed sober throughout his training and brought along his fiancée and baby son to Olympic competition in Rio. This come-to-Jesus turnaround, as Lewis called it, began with a book that answers the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: Medal-Winning Swimmer Maya DiRado: My Faith Frees Me to Dream Big

By Interview by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun She sets high goals inside and outside the pool, saying there’s more to life than swimming. First-time Olympian Madeline (Maya) DiRado has already earned a trio of medals—gold, silver, and bronze—as part of the US swimming team. She says it’s the “quiet confidence” of her Christian faith that allows her to be a grateful, joyful, and goal-oriented athlete, even at the highest levels of competition. A native of Santa Rosa, California, the 23-year-old has been swimming on the world stage for five years. After she narrowly missed qualifying for the 2012 Olympics, DiRado took this year’s trials by storm when she won three individual events. Her early performances in Rio earned her a spot on a relay as well; that 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay team went on to win gold. DiRado also placed second in the 400-meter individual medley and third in the 200-meter individual medley. She competes in her final event, the 200-meter backstroke, later today. Equally accomplished outside the pool, DiRado skipped second grade, started high school at the age of 13, and entered Stanford University at 17. After graduating with a degree in management science and engineering, she secured a consulting job that she will start soon …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Conversation with Nate Parker about 'The Birth of a Nation'

By Alissa Wilkinson CT talks to the writer, director, and star of the highly-anticipated film about his faith and race in America. On January 25, I settled into the balcony of the Eccles Theater at the Sundance Film Festival, next to another critic. We’d already seen two movies that day and were getting ready for the third, but before the film even began the crowd gave it a standing ovation. By the time it was over, most of the audience was in tears, and the film received another standing ovation after the credits rolled. We all had a sense that something historic had happened that afternoon. The film was The Birth of a Nation (read my Sundance review), the story of slave preacher Nat Turner and the 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia. In the film, Turner is (illegally) taught to read the Bible as a child by the mistress of the plantation on which he lived as a slave; as an adult, he becomes a preacher, and his study of Scripture as well as his observation of cruelty on the plantations he visits as a preacher leads him toward violent action. (The film has a great deal, thematically, in common with Braveheart.) Nate Parker, who …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Pew: More Sermons Endorse Clinton

By Kate Shellnutt Fewer pastors are politically engaged this election; fewer still are speaking for Trump from the pulpit. The candidate behind the biggest Republican push to allow pastors to back politicians from the pulpit has received fewer sermon endorsements than his presidential opponent, who favors the current ban. According to a new Pew Research survey, 1 percent of churchgoers said their pastor has spoken positively of Donald Trump, compared to 6 percent who heard praise for Hillary Clinton. Trump was also the subject of more pastoral criticism: 7 percent said their leaders spoke against Trump and 4 percent against Clinton. Trump’s religious freedom platform centers around his promise to get rid of the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches and other tax-exempt non-profits from endorsing or disavowing candidates, but still allows them to speak generally about political issues. “After 30 years of the so-called conservative leaders who have been elected by evangelicals, none of them thought to advocate for the repeal of the Johnson amendment, giving evangelical leaders political free speech,” Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University president and early Trump endorser, toldTime magazine. “ thinks it is going to be a revolution in the Christian world.” Even with the current the ban, which has been part of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Pete's Dragon

By Alissa Wilkinson David Lowery is a great match for reimagining the classic Disney film. Writer and director David Lowery (whom we interviewed after his 2013 film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) is a great match for this reimagining of the classic Disney children’s story. It’s still got Pete and a dragon named Elliott who can become invisible, but with Lowery’s touch the film is less camp, more wonder. Pete is no longer a runaway; instead, he’s an orphan, his story told in a heartwrenching prelude. The adult characters (played by Robert Redford, Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban, and Wes Bentley) are still largely stock and two-dimensional, but in a way that recalls old live-action Disney films. To understand why Lowery is such a great match for the story, it’s worth revisiting his 2009 film St. Nick, in which a brother and sister run away from home and live in an abandoned house. It’s a work of realism that is still infused with magic: the games of make-believe and the pleasure of playing house is filtered through the children’s eyes. We sympathize with them and grow to see the world through their eyes, which means when reality intrudes, it’s sharper and more stunning. The same …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Meet the Rio Olympians Who Put God Before Gold

By Morgan Lee, with reporting by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun A glimpse of inspiration and testimony from some of Team USA’s Christian athletes. There’s nothing like the pomp and prestige of the Olympics Games to raise the stakes for the world’s top athletes. With millions of viewers watching, more than 10,000 will compete in this year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Fans tune in not only for the physical feats, but for stories of triumph. We want to see who achieves the dream of winning gold on a global stage. Competing at this level forces participants to reckon with priorities. Some Christian athletes enter with a perspective that explicitly challenges the idea that Olympic success would be the pinnacle of their lives. Some learn that lesson as they go. Regret over having “failed the world” with her silver medal placement in the 2008 Games eventually led gymnast Shawn Johnson to realize that even if she won “12 more Olympic gold medals…it’s not my purpose in life, and he will always be my greatest reward,” she said in a recent video for I Am Second. The following Christian competitors share how faith inspires and influences their Olympic aspirations, from a shot-putter who leads the team Bible study to a synchronized diver who says …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Leadership Legacies: Why Character Trumps All

By Gary Corwin Good leaders are known for leading, encouraging, and caring for those in their organization. The Apostle Paul wrote, What after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who made things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. (1 Cor. 3:5-8) Whatever else one may say about Paul’s logic, he makes it clear that all the credit and glory for his work belongs to God. Every person in ministry would humbly acknowledge the same truth. And yet, how often do we seek to position ourselves so that when the report, article, or book is written, we will receive significant credit for the breakthrough? We can’t seem to help wanting to take some of what should be God’s glory alone. And the problem is even wider than the scope of the personal example Paul cites. Not only are there those who plant and those who water, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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France and Nigeria Mourn Clergy Killed by Terrorists

By World Watch Monitor France’s Jacques Hamel wasn’t the only Christian leader killed this summer. Last week, France buried Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old Catholic priest murdered by Islamist extremists while celebrating mass on July 26. Thousands of people, including journalists from around the world, attended the funeral. Three days earlier, another pastor was buried, also a victim of a terrorist attack. She was the second of two pastors murdered in Nigeria this summer. Their funerals were local; their deaths largely unnoticed by the media. What pushed Hamel’s story onto Europe’s front pages was its location. Since the January 2015 mass shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris, France has suffered nearly 240 deaths in more than 10 attacks by people claiming allegiance to ISIS. Though Christians were among the victims of those attacks, Hamel’s killing was the first to target Christians specifically, in a church. “This tragic attack, so close to home and following other recent horrors, is another example of the persecution we see all too often in countries around the world,” stated Open Doors UK, the British arm of Open Doors, a global ministry that supports Christians who live under pressure because of their faith. In its World Watch List 2016, Open Doors …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Exclusive Video Premiere: Churches Take on the Billion-Dollar Industry Making the Poor Poorer

When the state government did nothing, Texas churches stepped up to fight for change in their local communities. A new documentary by Deidox Films tells the true story of church communities rising to protect the poor from predatory loans. The Ordinance documents an unprecedented battle in Texas towns to protect their citizens from predatory lenders. In a time when political disillusionment is growing, this story serves as an important example of how the best, and worst, of our political system can unite a community. Christianity Today is proud to partner with Deidox Films to provide this exclusive free debut of this fascinating documentary about the power of the local church to combat injustice and stand for the poor and vulnerable in their communities. When state and local governments stepped aside, Texas churches and faith-based organizations stepped up to defend the vulnerable in their communities from predatory payday loans. You can rent, buy, or purchase a screening kit here. Christianity Today is proud to partner with Deidox Films to provide this exclusive free debut of this fascinating documentary about the power of the local church to combat injustice and stand for the poor and vulnerable in their communities. … …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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