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Interview: Lamentations: A Bottle for the Tears of the World

By Interview with Rob Moll Christopher J. H. Wright explains what one of the Bible’s most neglected books teaches about our cries of grief. We live in a world with untold amounts of pain from war, famine, and oppression. But our worship sometimes leaves little room for emotions of lament. In The Message of Lamentations (IVP Academic), Christopher J. H. Wright, Old Testament scholar and international ministries director for Langham Partnership International, introduces readers to one of the Bible’s most heartbreaking, poetic, and neglected books. CT editor at large Rob Moll interviewed Wright about the role of Lamentations in understanding—and protesting—human suffering. What is the likely setting in which Lamentations was written? Almost certainly, it is the immediate aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. It was the most traumatic moment in Israel’s Old Testament history. The writer paints a portrait of utter devastation and appalling suffering: starvation, disease, slaughter, rape, scavenging, looting, and the desecration of holy things. Unlike in Job and many of the Psalms, God says nothing to the writer of Lamentations. What should we make of his silence? One commentator, Kathleen O’Connor, calls God’s silence “inspired.” This resonates on three levels. First, God allows the suffering people to have their full …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How to Date When You’re Almost Middle-Aged

By Anna Broadway As I close in on 40, I’m learning how to live without marriage (even as I desire it). The older you get, the weirder your prospects for marriage become. At least that’s what a then-single cousin once told me. Those weren’t her exact words, of course, but the gist of what she said was that our odd quirks and habits become more prominent as time passes, and our rough spots get rougher without enough close human friction to sand-smooth them down. My cousin was probably younger than I am now when she said that and free to date without today’s many online “aids” to romance. But what she said rings true to my current dating experience as someone within spitting range of 40. (I just turned 38.) The men I meet—on websites and apps and in lines for coffee—are shaped by many more experiences and more settled in life than my youthful self ever imagined, and so am I. During the years when I thought I’d marry in my 20s, I assumed I’d figure out a lot of life’s big questions with a spouse. I thought I’d figure out a lot of me in relationship to a husband and probably children. Instead, I’ve …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Does This New Bill Threaten California Christian Colleges' Religious Freedom?

By Thomas Berg An expert in religious liberty law explains the Golden State’s controversial SB 1146. Later this year, California governor Jerry Brown may sign legislation with numerous harmful repercussions for the Golden State’s Christian colleges. The state is currently moving closer to adopting a bill that would subject religious higher-education institutions to regulations forbidding them to act on their religious tenets if their students receive state grants to support their studies. SB 1146 “could destroy the ability of numerous faith-based colleges and universities to pursue the mission for which they were created,” warned Ed Stetzer, the executive director of Wheaton College’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, in a recent post reporting on an earlier draft. The bill has received considerable criticism from legislators and college presidents. Fresno Pacific University president Richard Kriegbaum wrote in early June that the bill “would severely restrict the free and full exercise of religious freedom granted by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.” According to Asuza Pacific University president Jon R. Wallace, the bill “significantly reduces religious freedom” and “would effectively eliminate faith-based institutions as a choice for California’s most disadvantaged students.” “SB 1146 seeks to divest us of our religious …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Di-ver-si-ty: Overcoming Homogeneity in Our Churches

By Ed Stetzer Diversity, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is defined as the state of having people who are different races or who have different cultures in a group or organization. It can also mean the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, and the like. With these two definitions, it is no wonder Martin Luther King Jr. once pointed out that Sundays were the most segregated (most homogenous) day of the week. With regard to racial reconciliation and diversity on Sunday mornings, not much has changed for almost a half century. The majority of churches clustering for their worship gatherings still remain mainly homogenous. However, in recent years there has been movement towards embracing and enacting diversity within denominations and churches. Globalization, urbanization, and the onslaught of media coverage of racial turmoil have played a huge role in resuscitating the discussion and importance of diversity and racial reconciliation among evangelicals. And I think for the sake of the gospel and the mission of God this is a great thing. In his book, The Big Sort, Bill Bishop notes something that is interesting but shouldn’t surprise us. He argues that although America has become increasingly diverse, the places where we live …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Churches in America—Part 3

By Ed Stetzer Convictional Christians are not leaving the faith. In addition to vital trends associated with Protestants and evangelicals, there are three more vital trends that are necessary to make sense of America’s religious landscape. The rise of non-denominational churches. The growth of nondenominational churches is often overlooked in analyses of U.S. religious data. These are congregations that are not affiliated with national church organizations like the United Methodist Church or Assemblies of God. The rapid growth of these churches demands attention. For example, the majority of the 100 largest churches in the U.S. are nondenominational. Soon, the largest evangelical ‘denomination’ will be nondenominational. The stability of historic African-American churches. Historically, African-American churches and denominations have continued to report steady numbers overall. These include denominations like the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Baptist Convention, and the Church of God in Christ, which emerged during segregation. Historic African-American churches tend to hold similar beliefs to evangelical churches, but do not prefer to use the evangelical label. Pew Research has found that about 7% of Americans identified with a historically African-American Church in 2009, and a similar number (6.5%) in 2014. The largest among these churches comes from charismatic and Pentecostal expressions, says Johnson and Melton from Baylor. In …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Churches in America—Part 2

By Ed Stetzer Mainline Protestantism as a whole is hemorrhaging. Mainline Protestants Mainline Protestants (those in the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America , Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church , American Baptist Churches, United Church of Christ , and The Christian Church ) have fared poorly in recent decades. While Christianity overall is not dying in America, Mainline Protestantism is getting closer. According to the GSS, 28% of Americans identified with a mainline church in 1972. By 2014, that number had dropped to 12.2%. A recent report from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) corroborates this trend. The report looked at church statistics from 2002 to 2013. The denomination reported net membership losses each year. In 2002, the denomination shrank by 41,812 members. This number peaked in 2012 when they reported a net loss of 102,791. Other Mainline denominations faced similar declines due to several factors, including aging membership, falling birthrates, a lack of theological clarity, and a shortage of new churches. Mainline Protestantism as a whole is hemorrhaging and is facing an existential crisis. If the current trajectory continues, some Mainline denominations could cease to exist in the next four to five decades. Evangelicals Evangelicals have remained steady for the most part, according to the polls. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Churches in America—Part 1

By Ed Stetzer Overall, the Church’s influence on Americans is beginning to fade. The polls are in and the news is bad for the Church in America. Christianity is on the decline, Americans have given up on God, and the “Nones”—those who have no religious ties—are on the rise. It is indeed true that parts of the Christian Church in America are struggling, while a growing number of Americans are far from God. As head of a research firm that studies the church and culture, I often tell pastors and other Christian leaders that “facts are our friends.” Surveys and other polls are a bit like running a series of tests during an annual physical. The scale, stethoscope, and blood tests don’t lie. There is no positive spin on your increased weight, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Research data gives us a realistic picture of our health—rather than the overly optimistic view we’d prefer. What the Numbers Tell Us (If We Will Listen) So what do the numbers tell us about the Church in America? Overall, the Church’s influence on Americans is beginning to fade. A growing number of Americans have given up on God—or at least on organized religion. They have become “Nones,” a term popularized …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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ChristianMingle Lawsuit Forces Site to Add Options for Gay Daters

By Kate Shellnutt For the first time in 11 years, same-sex couples can find “God’s match for you” on the site. ChristianMingle.com will open its 16 million-member site to gay and lesbian users following an anti-discrimination lawsuit. According to a settlement approved by a California judge last week, the country’s most popular Christian dating site will offer options for same-sex matches, rather than limiting searches to “a man seeking a woman or a woman seeking a man,” the Wall Street Journalreported. The plaintiffs in the case sued ChristianMingle in 2013 for violating a California civil rights law requiring “all business establishments of every kind whatsoever” to offer full accommodations regardless of a person’s sexual orientation (among more than a dozen other protected classes). A spokesperson for ChristianMingle’s parent company, Spark Networks Inc., said they recognize that “this is a divisive issue and hope that the greater good of our mission is what people appreciate about us.” ChristianMingle, known for its commercials promising to “find God’s match for you,” is the largest dating site owned by Spark Networks. The company brought in $48 million last year running niche sites including JDate.com, LDSSingles.com, CatholicMingle.com, and AdventistSinglesConnection.com, as well as sites for black, aging, and deaf daters. The …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Alcohol, Perry Noble, and the Church—What Now?

By Ed Stetzer By now, you’ve probably read that Perry Noble is no longer the pastor at New Spring Church. The Greenville Online newspaper explained: The Rev. Perry Noble, who started NewSpring Church nearly 20 years ago, is no longer its senior pastor. Early in Sunday’s 9:15 a.m. service, Executive Pastor Shane Duffey announced that Noble had been removed as pastor on July 1, after the NewSpring board of directors had “made a difficult and painful decision” to make a change. Duffey said the termination by the state’s largest and richest church came after Noble “had made unfortunate choices,” and that the board members had confronted Noble on numerous occasions regarding his use of alcohol. I don’t know what the “unfortunate choices” are and won’t speculate. For the record, I also think adding “richest church” is both silly and offensive. But, I do want to stop and think about the one detail that NewSpring has been clear about: alcohol issues and pastoral ministry. First, the view of many Christians has changed toward alcohol. A few years ago I shared an interview with an anonymous pastor about this very topic. Here are some excerpts: It appears that views of alcohol are changing …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Border Crossing: 5 Ways to Move Church Voting Beyond the Status Quo

By Elizabeth Drury Church voting should reflect vision, not current reality. If your church’s voting isn’t diverse, your church isn’t diverse. Like many other tribes, my denomination elects regional officers, committees, and boards at conferences during the summer months. Too often, the voting process works against the values we espouse. I’ll posit a hypothetical Huckleberry District as if it were my own. In a representative governance model like ours, the election process culls a handful of trustworthy people from the mass of larger bodies to form smaller working groups that can efficiently make decisions. Local churches elect delegates, who then elect leaders at an annual regional meeting. At each level, those elected represent equitably the concerns, commitments, and strategic sensitivities of the Huckleberry District. But what is the Huckleberry District? When I try to imagine God’s perspective on this question, a seemingly minor change in focus seems necessary. If the Huckleberry District is primarily the 350 people gathered in the room for annual conference, and if committees and leaders are supposed to reflect that larger body (egalitarian in this example), then based upon the faces historically present, we need to be electing maybe one woman and one person of color. The rest should continue to be white males, as a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Bible Study Meets Crafting: The Bible Journaling Craze

By Tricia McCary Rhodes, guest writer What this artsy trend among Christian women shows us about offline spirituality. Lately I’ve been more than a little intimidated by the pictures people are posting of their Scripture art-journaling on social media, probably because they make my own quiet-time doodling look like the work of a five-year-old. Though I’ve been marking up my Scripture reading and prayers with pens and colored pencils for several years, my colorful masterpieces are not crafted for public consumption. Scroll through hashtags like #illustratedfaith and #biblejournaling and you’ll see that women are not only spending such valuable time in God’s Word but also communing with each other about their experience, sharing from the deeper places of their hearts with such amazing creativity. Why has this become such a craze, with literally thousands of websites, books, Bibles, and even kits designed to turn us all into spiritual Van Goghs? There are many reasons: Breaking out the art supplies and opening God’s Word takes us back to a simpler, less stressful time, and it reminds us of what it is like just to be a child in God’s presence. It gives us a hobby to connect with our sisters in Christ. But beyond that, drawing, note-taking, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Weekend Edition—July 1, 2016

By Ed Stetzer Care for Refugees, America Divided, Church Signs, and more! Evangelicals and refugees: Care first, conversion maybe later—Adelle M. Banks Love and care may open the door to the gospel, but even if not we should love and care. Today’s Betrayal of Women by the Female Bloc on SCOTUS—Dr. Gerard Nadal Razor sharp analysis of how the three female SCOTUS justices betrayed women. The Plight of the Falling Pastor—Daniel Darling interviews Scott Sauls Pastors can never have too much encouragement toward faithfulness. Dream, Believe, Do, Repeat.—Audrey Assad A Syrian-American worship leader reflects on the refugee crisis. DIVIDED AMERICA: Evangelicals Feel Alienated, Anxious—Associated Press Without an intervention of God I don’t see this changing. The Associated Press also produced this video based on the above article. Don’t forget to subscribe to the The Exchange Podcast in iTunes. Click here to listen to my interview with Bruce Ashford. Earlier his week on The Exchange Wise Decision-Making in God’s Economy Issues in the Future of Evangelicalism 3 Challenges in Urban Ministry What to Expect When You’re Expecting (a Church) Gospel-Centered Evangelism for a Multiethnic World The Nations Have Come to Our Cities California’s …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Small Church (Chicagoland) Pastor, Need a Break? I'll Preach for You Tomorow

By Ed Stetzer I’m moving to Chicago. Need a Sunday off? I’ll come preach. Need pulpit supply and you pastor a small church in Chicagoland? I’ll be happy to preach for you, July 3, 2016. As you may have heard (if you are a blog reader), I’ll moving to Wheaton, IL. It’s close to my new job. ;^) Yesterday, Jaclyn (my daughter) and I drove to Wheaton and now up so I’ll be in the Chicago area Sunday, July 3. I’m not scheduled to preach anywhere that day, and most of my family is not yet here, so here’s the deal. I’d like to start my time in Chicago at a small church. The typical church is a small church, with an average attendance of under 100, actually. And, we’ve got some exciting plans coming up at the Billy Graham Center related to small churches (more on that later). But, I’d like to start my new role in this new city at a normal church—which is a small church. So, if you pastor a church of less than 150 and would like a Sunday off, I’ll be happy to preach for you in the morning service. I can go to lunch with the pastor, staff, other key …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Health Is About Way More than Weight

By Matthew Loftus Our bodily well-being can’t be reduced to a number on a scale. Which is worse: being overweight or being ashamed of being overweight? In recent years, some advocates have urged that we take a new approach to obesity. They argue that shame over body size only makes overweight people more anxious, depressed, and prone to disordered eating habits. Some go so far as to argue that obesity isn’t a real problem. The most rigorous research, however, still identifies obesity (defined as a high body fat percentage) as a risk for many diseases and early death. (It’s worth noting that many of those who downplay obesity receive money from Coca-Cola.) And excess weight isn’t the only problem. People who eat unhealthily and don’t exercise are also at greater risk for diseases like diabetes, even if their metabolism allows them to maintain a normal weight. But here’s some encouraging news: research suggests that people who change their lifestyle but don’t lose weight (or only lose 5 to 10 percent of it) still reduce their health risks if they maintain those healthy behaviors. And this provides a window of opportunity for local churches. Christian communities have not always taught a holistic view of what our bodies are …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Patriotic Worship is Coming to a Church Near You

By Ed Stetzer Pastors and churches mix patriotism and worship around July 4th. Doubtless most Americans believe America has a special relationship to God. Last year LifeWay Research found: Despite headlines lamenting the global decline of the United States since the Cold War, 54 percent of Americans believe the nation is on the upswing, according to a September survey by LifeWay Research. Only 4 in 10 think “America’s best days are behind us.” And though the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of God, 53 percent of Americans say they believe God and the nation have a special relationship, a concept stretching back to Pilgrim days. Even a third of atheists, agnostics, and those with no religious preference believe America has a special relationship with God. For followers of Jesus this should be cause for careful reflection. Following July 4th weekend a few years ago, I noted: For example, this past weekend was undoubtedly one of much pomp and patriotism in many churches throughout America. As an interim pastor at several churches, I’ve participated in such celebrations and appreciated the intent. However, as a pastor at churches I serve, we have not made a major practice of emphasizing patriotic holidays during …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Creating for Good

By Richard Clark Our hope isn’t simply to solve a perceived problem, but to address deeper causes. There’s a certain entrepreneurial impulse I’ve always admired. To an entrepreneur, problems are opportunities. Read enough business books—or watch a few episodes of Shark Tank—and you’ll recognize the pattern. Someone experiences a problem and solves it with a new business model or product. It’s human nature to get tripped up by the problem itself, to assume it’s here to stay, or to cynically pass it on to someone else. These days we’re awash in business models that “work” for one group of people at the expense of another. Retailers sell cheap goods crafted by those who barely make a living wage. Media outlets produce content designed to court grievance and controversy rather than empathy. But God has called his people to seek justice, and Scripture focuses on root problems, not merely their outward effects. Our cover story (p. 40) showcases 20 Christians who have gone further than a surface-level treatment to address such problems. These producers, musicians, writers, and designers saw the world as it was and sought to make it better. We can all do that in our own spheres of influence. Even without a business model, it’s possible …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Come Out of Your Gender-Role Foxholes

By Tish Harrison Warren How men and women can have better conversations about leadership, love, and life together. “Just pick a side.” This message has come to characterize the intermural, evangelical debate over gender roles. Complementarians versus egalitarians. Choose a team; fly your flag; toe the party line. Only two options. Choose carefully. Complementarians believe that though men and women are equal in worth, men alone should hold leadership roles in the home and in the church. Egalitarians believe that women and men can share leadership in these roles. There can be an unstated belief that these terms, though unrecognizable to most Christians historically and most non-evangelicals currently, are the sole ways of approaching questions about gender and power. But perhaps there is more to sussing out complex truth than just choosing a side. The complementarian/egalitarian debate has become so stagnant, entrenched, even predictable, that it feels like a stuffy room, windows pulled tight, dim and dusty. In Neither Complementarian nor Egalitarian: A Kingdom Corrective to the Evangelical Gender Debate, New Testament professor Michelle Lee-Barnewall seeks to open the windows, let some fresh air in, and set a table where the conversation can begin anew—with new starting points and new questions. New Lenses Lee-Barnewall’s analysis of the blind spots …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Wise Decision-Making in God’s Economy

By Anne Bradley How do we know that we are pleasing God in all that we do? Who will be our next president? It’s a question that is on everyone’s mind. In light of the upcoming presidential election, economic questions like, “Should we trade with China?” or “How do we pay for our debt?” are swirling in the minds of Americans. Questions like these are important, but they are also overwhelming and seem to best belong with pundits and academics. The reality is, the average American has little impact on the economic policies that answer these questions. The way we affect change is far more micro than macro. It starts with everyday questions like, “How should I spend my time?” or “What job should I take?” The futures of our families, churches, communities, and nation are grounded in our personal responsibility to make decisions that please God. From “What should I eat for breakfast” to “What ministry at church should I volunteer for?”, our responsibility as Christians is to be obedient to God’s desires in everything that we do. As believers in Christ, we strive to hear the blessing of our Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21). …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why Complementarian Men Need Complementarian Women

By Courtney Reissig In the midst of our civil war on the Trinity, we need to put down our arms and remember that men and women are in this together. Being outnumbered by men has always been part of my life. I was raised in a family of brothers. I’m the mother to three sons. I’m also the only female editor at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), so I’m all too familiar with what it’s like to be the only woman around. Amid the recent “civil war” among complementarians about the Trinity and Christ’s subordination (recap by CT here), Christians following the back-and-forth on social media have been asking—where are all the women? Well, here’s one of them. I can tell you from personal experience that being the only woman in a room of complementarian men doesn’t mean that I’m ignored, overruled, or seen as a token female. At CBMW, I’m frequently called on to provide my unique perspective. More often than not, my male colleagues yield to my opinion. (And yes, that is consonant with our views.) More often than not, they’re interested in how a woman might perceive what goes up on our site. Even as we work through …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why Can’t We Christians Laugh Anymore?

By Leslie Leyland Fields At a time when evangelicals feel culturally embattled, it seems we’ve lost our ability to laugh. When 50 Shades of Grey took over the world last year, it spawned so much Christian outrage that I took to satire and wrote a piece called “A Modest Proposal: 50 Shades of Grey in Every Classroom.” In it, I commended the author for successfully ignoring ISIS and the wars around the world and instead using her artistic skills toward a far greater social ill: puritanical mores and sexual repression. Both were clearly harming marriages and hampering our over-studious youth. A copy of 50 Shadesin every classroom should do the trick! So many of my (mostly Christian) readers were incensed and offended at my “proposal” that I had to explain I was using satire. And then, to some, I had to explain satire. (My shorthand definition: “When people are deaf,” wrote novelist Flannery O’Connor, “sometimes you have to shout.”) Last week I ventured into political commentary on social media. Along with the cascade of Republicans who were struggling to express their qualified support of Trump, I joked that I too found a way I could support Trump. First, he’d have to choose a smart, non-racist, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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