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Your Kids Don’t Need a Megachurch

By Amy Julia Becker What children learn about community without the bells and whistles It was a typical Sunday morning. We got to church early for Bible study, and our kids—Penny, 10, William, 7, and Marilee, 5—scampered downstairs to play. They emerged 45 minutes later to serve as the week’s greeters. Despite some conflict over who got to shake hands and who got to hand out the programs, they managed to greet each visitor with a hug or handshake—Penny’s 70-year-old “prayer buddy,” a former babysitter, a classmate, the head of the volunteer fire department. During the service, William, wearing a blazer and tie, read Scripture with his dad. When it came time, he moved a small red chair behind the pulpit and stood up tall to read aloud about Jesus’ transfiguration. In the car after church, William said, “I had to say thank you about a bazillion times!” because so many people had praised his reading. Our church has one Sunday school for children from kindergarten to fifth grade. Most mornings we have 6–8 children and about 60 adults in the pews upstairs. I used to think that the smallness of our church would hinder our kids’ spiritual development. Our former, nondenominational church counted over 400 members, …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why You Can Still Bet Your Life on Christ

By Michael Rota An updated version of Pascal’s wager offers a powerful argument for Christian commitment. Many Christians believe in God fundamentally because they sense his presence. But what if you don’t sense his presence? Or what if it comes and goes—at times deserting you and leaving you doubting? What should we do when certainty proves elusive? Should we commit to living a devout Christian life only if we are absolutely convinced that Christianity is true? Blaise Pascal, a 17th-century thinker, famously addressed these very questions. An influential mathematician, scientist, and inventor, Pascal was also deeply religious. In his early 30s, he had a religious experience so powerful that he kept a written description of it stitched into his coat until his death at 39. Pascal left behind a major, unfinished work of apologetics, but notes for the project were found among his belongings, compiled by editors, and published as the Pensées. In one of his notes, Pascal makes several attempts at a pragmatic argument that one should commit to living a devout Christian life even without certainty that God exists. “Pascal’s wager,” as the argument is called, can be summed up in a single sentence: For those who choose the way of Jesus, there is …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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4 Responses to Cultural Change

By Ed Stetzer Christians must know how to engage culture. As followers of Christ, we won’t always fit into the world in which we live. In fact, we’ll often find ourselves going against the flow of popular culture in certain areas of life. It’s necessary for us to have a solid biblical foundation to stand on in the midst of a rapidly shifting cultural landscape. We need to know how the eternal Word of God shapes our understanding of current issues and how we can share the gospel compassionately and courageously with the people around us. Here are four possible responses to cultural change. 1. WE CONFORM. We start compromising what we believe and the way we act in order to appeal to and appease the surrounding culture. We may even genuinely believe that doing so is both loving and strategic, hoping somehow people will be attracted to Jesus through a less offensive form of Christianity and will ultimately be saved. However, we have to realize that our goal isn’t to make following Jesus easier. The message of the gospel is necessarily countercultural and offensive to the human heart. 2. WE CHECK OUT. The opposite extreme is to secede from culture, distancing ourselves so completely that we never have …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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It Starts With "Shukran"

By Bekah Stoneking Perhaps learning a new language is your next discipleship move. “I’d like a green tea, please.” The cashier swiped my card as her co-worker put the ingredients into my cup, snapped on the lid, and handed it over the counter without much eye contact; she had already turned to tend to the next customer. “Shukran!” She turned back to my direction and I repeated myself—in English this time. “Thank you.” As my tea steeped, I began to panic. Did her nametag really say she was from Egypt? Did I use the correct form of “thank you” for her as an Egyptian woman? Did I use someone else’s “thank you” and offend her? Did I even say “thank you”?! Oh no. Here she comes… When she asked if I spoke Arabic, I told her I was learning to read the Qur’an but had been practicing conversational phrases for about a week. She seemed delighted and told me how important she thought it was for people to learn Arabic since many Middle Easterners were moving to the city. We went back in forth with basic phrases and she even taught me some new ones “Allah mahaba. Allah is love,” she said. She opened the door; all I had to do …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: Why Did Jesus Choose the Cross?

By Interview by Mark Galli The reason he died a bloody, horrible death. The Crucifixion has been a problem from the beginning—from devout religionists (Jews and Gentiles) who found the idea of a crucified messiah scandalous, to fans of the late Christopher Hitchens, who said, “I find something repulsive about the idea of vicarious redemption.” Whether it’s the bloody method of death or the theological meaning of the Atonement, even Christians are tempted to give the Crucifixion its due and move briskly to talk about the hope of the Resurrection. It is so much more life affirming! Not so fast, says Fleming Rutledge. A retired Episcopal priest who spent 22 years in local church ministry, Rutledge is recognized as an outstanding preacher and a teacher of other preachers. She’s also a theologian, as her latest work attests. The book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans), attempts to resurrect (as it were) the centrality and necessity of preaching the Cross. She argues this is especially urgent in an age of unmitigated evils, which she says only the Cross can explain and redeem. She was interviewed by Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today. Why write a book about the Crucifixion today, especially in a …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Pakistani Christians Fleeing Persecution Get Tied Up in Thailand

By Morgan Lee Churches fall victim to their own successful welcome of Pakistani refugees. Nearly four years after refugees from Pakistan began showing up at evangelical churches in Thailand, church members were overwhelmed. What started as a handful of families asking for money at Bangkok services had become hundreds. Today, nearly 10,000 Pakistani refugees are living in Thailand. An estimated half of them are Christians fleeing persecution like the Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore. It is easy and inexpensive (compared with neighboring countries) for Pakistanis to obtain 30-day tourist visas to Thailand. Further, the majority Buddhist nation has lost more than 6,000 people to Islamist extremism since 2004. This leads Pakistani Christians fleeing persecution to believe the country will be sympathetic to their plight, says Jeffrey Imm, an advocate for such refugees. Even so, after the tourist visa expires, Thailand considers all refugees to be illegal immigrants. Most left Pakistan not knowing that Thailand has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, a treaty that protects refugees’ rights. Without legal status, many families fear that they will be arrested and forced to endure harsh conditions in immigration …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Amplifying Evangelism—One Way to Amplify Our Gospel Witness...Unplug!

By Ed Stetzer Evangelism is not possible until we engage those around us Okay, so this is how I would listen to records as a kid: I had a small stereo in my bedroom and my mom did not like me playing it too loud. I would put on The Who, Stevie Wonder, Super Tramp, or some other album, and lie on my back on the floor in the middle of my room. I had positioned two speakers facing each other about two feet apart. I would place my head directly between the speakers and turn the volume up as loud as I could without hitting a level that would bring my mom into the room. In these occasional moments alone in my room, I could amplify my music to a level that I could hear nothing else. I could close my eyes and forget the world around me. I could block everything else out. This experience I had as a kid is no longer a rare moment; it is now the norm…it is the world in which we live. So many people are plugged in and blocked out much of the time. We wear ear buds that pipe music, talk, or pump other content into …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Amplifying Evangelism—Doing Evangelism in the Workplace

By Ed Stetzer Integrating evangelism into our workplaces is critical. If the average person spends at least eight hours on work five days of the week, then in the span of a year, this adds up to 2,080 hours a year in the workplace setting and community. Even if this number is half of this, that’s still a lot of time. Much ink has been spent on how Christians can share their faith in the workplace and why or why not those who follow Jesus should even try to do evangelism in the workplace. If done properly, there is one foundational reason that all of us should be seeking ways to share our faith wherever God has placed us: we have been called to share our faith by the very God we acknowledge is Lord. I won’t go into all the scriptures that call us towards a gospel witness in both word and deed (e.g., Isa. 6:8-9, Acts 22: 14-15; Acts 4:20; Matt. 28:19). What I will say is that evangelism, when done in the proper way and the proper setting, is of utmost importance if we are to see God’s kingdom grow and more people come into a saving knowledge of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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7 Spiritual Lessons from Running

By Halee Gray Scott What hitting the running trail taught me about the Christian life. I can trace my zeal for running back to a single moment: Summer 2003, at Yosemite National Park. My friends and I sat down to eat chips and deli sandwiches in the park’s Village Store when I realized I’d left my water bottle in the car. As I trudged the dusty 100 yards back through the dirt parking lot, I was appalled by my own dejection. How did I become a person too lazy to walk the length of a football field? That single moment catapulted me into more than a decade of fitness fanaticism. I’ve benched my body weight; scaled 14ers, some of the biggest mountain peaks in the US; hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, and finally, last year, completed my first marathon. This year, as the running season ramps up, I’ve already begun hitting the pavement here in Colorado to train for my first triathlon and my second marathon (and okay, the Bolder Boulder). Of all my fitness endeavors, running has done the most to improve both my physical and spiritual fitness. Given all the lessons I’ve learned on the running trail, Hebrews 12:1 resonates deeply with me …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Did Will Smith Deserve an Oscar Nomination?

By Kenneth R. Morefield How do we judge good acting? And why does it matter? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences appears to have defused the #OscarSoWhite controversy—for now. There are still no actors or actresses of color nominated in this weekend’s ceremony, but changes to the nomination and voting procedures have blunted the movement to boycott the ceremony or lodge some kind of protest. What about viewers? Should they skip the ceremony to express solidarity with the performers they feel have been slighted? Actors I spoke with—professionals, teachers, and students—expressed dissatisfaction with this slate of nominations but also deep ambivalence about a potential protest. A boycott potentially hurts the individual performers the ceremony is designed to honor more than it helps undervalued artists gain the recognition they are striving for. A better way to effect change might start with examining the craft of acting so that arguments about awards are informed by something more than name recognition and studio ad campaigns. Many critics and viewers agreed that actors such as Will Smith (Concussion) and Michael B. Jordan (Creed) deserved to be nominated, especially in the relatively weak field of nominees for Best Actor. But in the wake of their anger and disappointment, an important …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Around the World in 46 Chromosomes

By Rebecca Randall I expected to discover myself in my DNA test. But I found us all. “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him…” Acts 17:26–27 My heart beat rapidly with excitement when I received the email proclaiming that my DNA results had been analyzed. But nothing could prepare me for the surprise I experienced when I clicked the link that would take me to my results. Colored circles lit up the world map showing me where my ancestors had ancient origins. Not surprisingly, a large blue circle highlighted East Asia—my mother was born in Korea and adopted as a child by a family in Missouri. What caught me off guard was the circle around West Africa. According to my results, 20 percent of my DNA originated in what is today Nigeria, while another nearly 18 percent came from other parts of Africa. Growing up, my assumptions were all wrong, according to this, and my emotions swirled around trying to make sense of it. Yet I was also …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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4 Pieces of Advice for My Younger Self

By Ed Stetzer What we learn along the way can help those who’ve yet to live it What advice would you give your younger self? Thinking through that question can allow a new generation to learn from the journey of those who have gone before and have the scars to show for it. Several years ago Episcopalian priest Peter Wallace published 52 things he would have told his younger self. Among those: It’s a good thing that we don’t know everything that’s going to happen to us. (2) Your hard work in school will be worth it. But come on, don’t kill yourself.​ (4) Engage in self-reflection, but don’t let it become self-deception. (30) You can’t pray too much. (38) “Things I would tell my younger self” is another way to say “here as some things I’ve learned along the way.” Those of us who are older need to remember how much we can teach younger people if we will do it humbly. If I could go back in time, here are the four things I would tell my younger self. First, be cautious with whom you choose to work—not everyone has your best interests at heart. Why would I mention this point as my …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Saturday is for Seminars—Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago

I’m looking forward to being back at TIU! Trinity International University Colloquium—Deerfield, IL As you may have noticed I write about evangelicals and evangelicalism. A lot. No, I mean a lot. March 22, at TIU Rick Richardson and I will look at the state of evangelicalism as a movement and it’s engagement in evangelism, in particular. The presentation will include statistics on the culture, the church, and its mission. The colloquium will look at barriers to mission and evangelistic engagement and ways churches and Christians are overcoming those barriers. If you’re a student at Trinity come say “hello.” It’s also open to the general public, so feel free to drop by if you are in Chicago. Coming Soon February 20-21, 2016Christ Fellowship Miami Miami, FL February 23, 2016National Religious Broadcasters Convention Nashville, TN March 1 & 3, 2016Talbot Faculty Forum (lectures and chapels) La Marida, CA March 2, 2016Ignite Church Planting Gilbert, AZ March 12-13, 2016Christ Fellowship Miami Miami, FL April 8-10, 2016Colson Center Wilberforce Weekend Washington, D.C. April 17, 2016The Moody Church Chicago, IL April 22, 2016 AWANA National Meeting Streamwood, IL April 23-24, 2016Christ Fellowship Miami Miami, FL April 26-28, 2016Exponential East Orlando, FL April 27, 2016Reformed …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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On Dying and Reckoning with the Prosperity Gospel

By Interview by Morgan Lee How church historian Kate Bowler’s cancer diagnosis brought her face-to-face with the beauty and terror of the popular movement. Kate Bowler is a Canadian professor at Duke Divinity School who researches the prosperity gospel movement. She’s also 35, a wife and mother, and critically ill with cancer. In a widely shared New York Times piece “Death, the Prosperity Gospel, and Me,” the author of Blessed reflected on her research and how it informed her convictions on suffering and faith. (Read CT’s book review.) “I’m never very theologically declarative,” said Bowler. “I’ve really tried to hold off on doing that in order to make enough space for people to make up their own minds. But in this case, it was just a lot more personal. I don’t have a lot of pretention anymore.” Bowler recently spoke with Christianity Today‘s assistant editor Morgan Lee about how Americans define suffering, what she would embrace from prosperity gospel theology, and how she copes with the loss of control that suffering brings. “It’s very bizarre to be eclipsed by a disease you barely knew existed a couple months ago,” she said. “It’s been a really intense year.” In what ways have your feelings changed towards the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Should Christians Disagree? Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians Try a New Model

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Joint statement by believers in Israel and Palestine is a small but hopeful step toward peace. Historically, Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories haven’t gotten along much better than their respective governments. The list of issues to argue about is long: security, the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, equality of citizenship in Israel, refugees, acts of lethal violence, and the search for justice and peace were examples listed at a gathering last month of 30 Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews. However, the group didn’t gather to argue. Instead, they spent four days in study and prayer before issuing a statement of unity. “In times of tension and violent conflict, relationships suffer, while suspicion, accusation, and mutual rejection thrive,” the statement read. “At such times it is even more essential that we who affirm our unity in the Messiah must uphold ethical standards of life that are worthy of our calling, in all our attitudes, words, and deeds.” The conference was hosted in Cyprus by the Lausanne Initiative for Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine (LIRIP) with the hopes of promoting “reconciliation within the body of Christ and our wider communities in Israel and Palestine.” The network of participants was meant to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Kanye West’s Work-in-Progress

By Jason Bellini Why the rapper’s new “gospel” album, The Life of Pablo, has Christians curious. Earlier this month, rapper Kanye West described his latest release as “a gospel album with a lot of cursing.” The phrase exemplifies the sense of confusion and apparent contradiction surrounding The Life of Pablo—which came out February 14, after lots of hype and speculation. Christians also wondered about what was to come from the famous husband of Kim Kardashian (and foil to Taylor Swift): How much gospel will be in this “gospel album”? Who exactly is Pablo? For starters, it isn’t a typical album in any sense. Following its digital release, it has yet to be transferred to a physical format (no CDs, no vinyl). The Life of Pablo is not, and may not ever be, available for purchase. So while we’re told the album exists, it requires a certain amount of faith to experience. It is not available on iTunes, Amazon, or Spotify. No man cometh unto The Life of Pablo except through Tidal—the online music-streaming site run by Kanye’s figurative “big brother” Jay-Z offers the only legal way to listen to the project. During the final months of production, the album went through a spiritual …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Mavis Staples: Voice of Joy and Justice

By Mark Moring The new HBO documentary “Mavis!” takes a look at the woman who has lent her distinct voice to the cause of love for more than six decades. It’s unfathomable that Mavis Staples didn’t win a Grammy Award till she was 71 years old. She’d been one of America’s most distinct voices for six decades before finally taking home the trophy in 2010. And even then, the recognition came in a somewhat unexpected category: Best Americana Album for You Are Not Alone. Staples was best known for her gospel, soul, and R&B music through the decades, including many with her family group, The Staple Singers. But when you think about it, Mavis Staples is Americana—certainly a big slice of it, of those things that make up our history, folklore, and cultural heritage. She helped redefine gospel music and bring it to the mainstream. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and was a powerful voice in the civil rights movement. She has performed for five sitting presidents—she sang at Kennedy’s inauguration and recently, at the White House for the Obamas. She interacts easily with people of all races and music of all genres. She is loved by all and, with a big heart of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Have Christians and Jews Extended the Olive Branch Too Far?

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Orthodox rabbis say Christianity is God’s will. Vatican says don’t formally evangelize Jews. Five decades ago, the Roman Catholic Church famously acknowledged the unique relationship between Jews and Christians. In the wake of World War II, the Vatican officially rejected anti-Semitism and affirmed the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Now, the Vatican and a group of Jewish leaders have extended the olive branch even further through an exchange of letters on the 50th anniversary of that Nostra Aetate (“in our time”) detente. In December, more than 50 Orthodox rabbis stated that “Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.” In separating Jews and Christians, the rabbis wrote, God was not separating enemies but creating partners—ones with significant differences in belief. “Both Jews and Christians have a common covenantal mission to perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Almighty, so that all humanity will call on his name and abominations will be removed from the earth.” A week later, the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews announced that Catholics should not evangelize Jews—at least in an organized way. Entitled “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable” (a nod …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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10 Obscure Gospel Moments Most Jesus Films Miss

By Peter T. Chattaway A look at commonly neglected gospel stories and films that depict them. Ten years ago, I compiled a list of my ten favorite Jesus movies for CT. Several new Jesus films have released since then, with more coming out this year: Risen (February 19), The Young Messiah (March 11), and a new version of Ben-Hur (August 12). But I’ve never felt a need to update the list. The original still holds up pretty well, I believe. That said, while none of the newer films have nudged their way into my all-time top ten, some of them have highlighted aspects of the Gospels that most other films miss. Indeed, one of the things I value more and more, as I study this genre, is the way some films highlight aspects of the Gospels that are often overlooked—not just by other filmmakers, but also by teachers, preachers, and other Bible readers. So I wanted to supplement my earlier list with a newer, more particular list of ten stories that usually get ignored by Jesus movies—and the (often obscure, sometimes edgier) films that have actually dramatized those stories. Here they are, in more or less biographical order. 1. The Circumcision of Jesus On the eighth day of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Am I My City’s Keeper?

By Ed Stetzer Jesus served people He came to save. We should join Him in that mission. There is much talk today about “seeking the welfare of the city.” To various people it means different things. As a Biblical phrase, it can have serious missional connotations. To have a biblically sound missiology, we should consider what the phrase means to us in the church today, and also tease out what it doesn’t mean. First, let’s look at the Scripture which gives us this famous phrase. Jeremiah 29:4-7 says, “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and live in them, Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.’” Jeremiah was writing to a people who did not want to be where they were. Because of their idolatrous ways God had made them captives …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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