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Confessions of a (Sinful) Overachiever

By Nana Dolce, guest writer Praise or mockery: The problem with our reactions to “super-moms.” Someone once told me that in another life and time I could have been a good monk. (The thought had crossed my mind too—albeit, I saw myself as a nun instead.) The truth is, I enjoy the disciplined Christian life. I embrace prayer, study, and fasting as ordinary means of grace. I’m discouraged by passivity and compelled to practice the spiritual disciplines with intentionality and purpose. It’s been this way since my sophomore year in college, when my conversion brought a sudden and abiding appetite for God’s Word. I’d finish my homework just to have free time for the Bible. As I studied, I spent days fasting and hours in prayer. These early habits have persisted with the years, despite the natural changes that marriage, motherhood, work and schedules bring. My practice of faith, like most things in my life, is sustained by a propensity for difficult work. I’m a hard driver, often choosing the coarse road. As a mother, I give birth without epidural, nurse for fourteen-months, make my own baby food, homeschool my little ones—all the while working part-time and teaching small groups. It’s admirable—if not for the pesky tendency to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A Christian College Brings Contemporary Art to Chapel

By Lisa Ann Cockrel Hand-blown glass and color combine in Peter Brandes’s striking glass windows. Blue, yellow, and red—those are the letters,” says celebrated Danish painter and sculptor Peter Brandes. “They’re like alpha and beta in the Bible: they are the beginning of everything. I could go on and make any language with those colors.” Color is the language Brandes speaks fluently in his most recent project, his third in the United States: four large contemporary stained glass windows for the newly constructed Christ Chapel at Cornerstone University, an evangelical college in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For Christ Chapel’s westerly window, Brandes employed 250 sheets of hand-blown glass in 48 different shades of blue to explore the idea of baptism and rebirth. In the east, red represents the resurrection morning. To the north, yellow brings joy into the crucifixion scene, foretelling resurrection. To the south, a trio of complementary colors—green, violet, and orange—pays homage to the relationship between blessing and sacrifice in the Old Testament. Each window is made of about 1,000 pieces of glass. The glass used for all of the windowpanes was blown by hand in France at a factory that is 300 years old. The $14 million building is the first dedicated worship space …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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'Hail, Caesar!' — A Tale of the Christ?

By Alissa Wilkinson “Hail, Caesar!” is both a romp through Hollywood’s Golden Age and an unlikely Passion Play. Look, I know there’s no bigger cliché than a Christian critic sitting around identifying “Christ figures” at the movies. But in their latest, Joel and Ethan Coen show their hand so obviously—the subtitle for the Ben Hur-like film-within-a-film, also called Hail, Caesar!, is “A Tale of the Christ”—that I’m either being trolled or baited. I’ll bite. Among many (many, many) things, Hail, Caesar! is a passion play: a canny bit of work on the Coens’ part, given this year’s proliferation of Biblical epics both remade and reimagined. In just the next few months, that includes Risen, The Young Messiah, Last Days in the Desert, the Tyler Perry-hosted The Passion Live, and the ABC show Of Kings and Prophets—and, yes, a Ben Hur remake. The Coens (being Coens) come at it as a farce, with about eighteen different things rumbling beneath the surface. On its basic level, Hail Caesar! is an affectionate celebration, mild critique, and winking pastiche of Hollywood’s Golden Age, when studios owned actors’ contracts and shot everything from swashbuckling song-and-dance numbers to sword-and-sandal epics on the back lot. Josh Brolin plays Eddie …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Messages from the Edge: Suicide Notes on Social Media

By Halee Gray Scott How Facebook turns the left-behind into horrified witnesses. They say she drove to a small, isolated chapel in the woods, shared her suicide note on Facebook, and then carried out a decision that was both final and fatal. Not too long after my friend posted the note, I watched in horror as the events unfolded. Each update came in real time on my newsfeed: the timid, then panicked inquiries about her welfare, the frantic attempts to pinpoint her location for the authorities, and then finally, the death knell blow: “She has been found. She has taken her life.” Over 40,000 Americans and more than a million people worldwide die by suicide each year. It’s the country’s tenth leading cause of death overall and one of the most common causes of death among young people and people in middle age. As social media becomes a mainstay in our day-to-day lives, recent research probes the relationship between our online activity and suicide. Studies indicate that social media can intensify depression and suicidal behavior, especially among girls. The more we submerge ourselves in the faux-reality of carefully crafted posts and curated photographs, the greater our risk of depression and suicide due to social …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: Hating the Way Jesus Hates

By Interview by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun Why more believers need the courage to get angry at sin. As a young woman, Sarah Sumner never allowed herself to be angry, until her parents divorced when she was 22. The experience was one inspiration behind her doctoral dissertation (at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) on godly anger, which has blossomed into a book, Angry Like Jesus: Using His Example to Spark Your Moral Courage (Fortress Press). San Francisco–based Her.meneutics writer Dorcas Cheng-Tozun spoke with Sumner, former dean of A. W. Tozer Theological Seminary, about bringing a healthy dose of righteous anger to today’s church. Why is the topic of godly anger so significant to you? Over the years, working in Christian organizations, I have seen fudging and compromise and blatant refusals to do things in a Christian way. And then people want to cover it up. That makes me angry. I don’t mean blustery anger, where I want to slam the door. It motivates me to try righting wrongs in a structured, strategic way. What’s the difference between sinful and godly anger? Sinful anger does not trust God, while godly anger does. Sinful anger is prideful, while godly anger flows from humility. Sinful anger participates in evil, while godly anger abhors evil. But the …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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If We Can’t ‘Fear Not,’ Let’s Fear Better

By Amy Simpson How to show love in a time of terror. Remember the color-coded terror threat alert system implemented by the Department of Homeland Security after September 11? Each color represented a different threat level; the greater the threat, the more vigilant citizens should be. That scale was replaced in 2011 with the National Terrorism Advisory System, which offered more specific designations and steps communities, agencies, and private citizens can take to protect themselves or prevent an attack. According to Homeland Security, this newer system “recognizes that Americans all share responsibility for the nation’s security, and should always be aware of the heightened risk of terrorist attack in the United States and what they should do.” In other words, it’s more realistic and more helpful to simply accept significant risk as reality. The old alert system never went to green (low risk) or blue (guarded). It stayed at yellow (elevated risk) most of the time and occasionally moved to orange (high risk). Yellow became the color of everyday life. Yellow became easy to ignore as we learned to live in a new normal. While such adaptation can turn into complacency, it’s also a healthy process—we are not designed to be chronically on guard. In …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How Pro-Life Activism Became Personal Again

By Krissie Inserra, guest writer After years of being ‘too busy’ to help, I found myself getting involved once more. In 2002, I found myself in an all-day training session to become a peer counselor at my local crisis pregnancy center. Looking back, I have no idea how I even knew about the opportunity. Perhaps I heard something about it from my church or by word of mouth, but I was there, listening. As I listened to all the possible scenarios the center finds itself ministering in and heard about the immense need for caring and compassionate counselors, something clicked. This was my calling! I was getting a minor in psychology, so of course my 21-year-old self thought that made me an expert on all things counseling. I knew this was what I was meant to do. Because I was in college, I was assigned to the moms and babies room, where material assistance is provided for mothers who have chosen life for their babies. Every Thursday night, I would go up the stairs above a little Italian restaurant in a Winn-Dixie shopping center and spend two hours volunteering. I would fold baby clothes, read pamphlets and articles, and spend time getting to know these precious pregnant …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How 'No Country for Old Men' and 'Spotlight' Help Me Serve a Broken Church

By Elijah Davidson Do I really want to count myself among Christians if they let injustice continue? As I left the theater after seeing Spotlight, two members of the film’s publicity team asked for my thoughts on the film. I fumbled for words and said I was heartbroken. My wife mercifully pulled me away before I broke out in tears. Spotlight left me helpless. The film, which tells the true tale of the Boston Globe investigative journalism team that uncovered the child molestation scandal in its local Catholic archdiocese in 2002, ends with a list of cities in which similar abuses have been discovered. I was overwhelmed by the scope of the atrocity, the knowledge that this sin-crime is not solely a Catholic problem, but a Christian problem, and the horror of realizing I, too, am complicit in this systemic injustice. (Read CT‘s review of Spotlight.) Spotlight focuses on the little things that accumulate over time to create systems that either function well or deplorably. We watch characters have endless conversations with lawyers who won’t say anything; knock on doors hoping to get impromptu interviews, only to have them slammed instead; wait in government offices for hours only to be told they’ll have to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Here’s What Evangelical Experts on Missions and Muslims Think of Wheaton's ‘Same God’ Debate

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Special journal looks at whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, why it matters, and better questions to ask. Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Nearly two dozen evangelical experts on missions and Muslims have compiled their thoughts on how the answer affects Muslim missions, why it’s a bad question to begin with, and propose better questions to ask instead. A 32-page, special edition of the Occasional Bulletin from the Evangelical Missiological Society (EMS) seeks to constructively contribute to the highly publicized dispute over whether Wheaton College should discipline professor Larycia Hawkins for stating in a Facebook post that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” Robert Priest, a mission and anthropology professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and current EMS president, has “watched with interest” the unfolding Wheaton-Hawkins debate because, for evangelicals worldwide, “what Wheaton does affects us all.” “As I’ve observed the unfolding drama, I’ve had concerns over the way Wheaton has framed the issues, over the repercussions of this for Christian witness, and over the failure to include missiologists and missionaries as interlocutors,” wrote Priest. “That is, for most evangelicals in America, our encounter with people who are Muslim is relatively recent, relatively superficial, and …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Evangelism, Church Planting, and Alpha Course

What bridges between denominations and churches need to be built for the trust to make collaboration possible? In the UK, over 8,000 church buildings have been closed over the past 25 years. In Canada, where I live, just one of our mainline denominations has announced that over the next 5 years, 1000 of their buildings will follow suit. It doesn’t take much of a news scan to see this repeated throughout the Western Church. Maybe this is a good thing? Maybe it is a shake-up, a wake-up, an opportunity? There is also a dark side: as one of our Anglican leaders in the UK said, “a closed church appears to a city like the empty palace of a long-forgotten King!” Just over 10 years ago, Nicky Gumbel (pioneer of Alpha and leader of my home network & church, Holy Trinity Brompton) wrote a letter to the national church authorities in England telling them that, “over my dead body will you close another one of these buildings—you name the building and we’ll send a team!” A generation of us stood up to say “over our dead bodies too” and as a team by God’s miraculous intervention, some 45+ London UK churches have now been …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Dispatch from Sundance: 'Agnus Dei'

By Alissa Wilkinson A must-see film that quietly suggests a surprising answer to the problem of evil. One of the oldest refrains in the world is the theodicy question: how could a good God let bad things happen? That question animates Agnus Dei, which premieres at the Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday. But the film’s answer is expansive, complex, and subtly subversive. Directed by Anne Fontaine (CocoBeforeChanel, GemmaBovary) and led by an all-female cast, the movie tries to approach (but not fix) the repercussions of unspeakable cruelty with the quiet balm of beauty. It’s a must-see for CT readers. Agnus Dei is set in 1945, amid the ruins of World War II. Mathilde (Lou de Laâge) is a young French doctor working with the Red Cross in Poland. Through an unusual set of circumstances, she comes into contact with a convent of Polish nuns who, she discovers, are in advanced stages of pregnancy. Months earlier, a group of Russian soldiers had broken into the convent and raped the women repeatedly, staying for several days. The horror haunts them still, even while they have tried to regain their faith and practice their vocation. Full of shame, they’re convinced of the need to conceal their condition, lest …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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7 Signs You’ve Become Too Busy for Your Own Good

By Alli Worthington An excerpt from the new book Breaking Busy. My granddaddy used to say, “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” That’s some good Southern preacher wisdom right there. Before I broke busy in my own life, I proudly wore my busy badge of honor. I was the queen of busy. I even had the tiara and sash to go with it. Busyness made me feel productive and needed, and I overlooked the havoc it was wreaking in my life. Oh, there were warning signs, but I just kept straightening my tiara and assuring myself I was a strong, confident woman, who could handle the stress and chaos. But contrary to what many of us have been told, we can’t handle it all, nor should we. So how do we know when we are reaching our limits? We aren’t like our phones with flashing numbers that tell us we’ve reached our capacity. But there are signs our body gives us if we’re paying attention, signs that may look different for each of us. For some the warning signs may be emotional. For others they might be physical, relational, or spiritual. But rest assured, if you are over capacity, you will …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why 734 Pastors Quit (and How Their Churches Could Have Kept Them)

By Lisa Cannon Green – Facts & Trends LifeWay Research studies how churches can help pastors last longer. No sabbatical. No help with counseling. No clear picture of what’s expected. Hundreds of former evangelical pastors say these were the crucial elements missing from the final churches they led before quitting the pastorate. A recent study by LifeWay Research points to ways churches can encourage pastors to stay in the ministry, said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Nashville-based organization. “Almost half of those who left the pastorate said their church wasn’t doing any of the kinds of things that would help,” Stetzer said. “Having clear documents, offering a sabbatical rest, and having people help with weighty counseling cases are key things experts tell us ought to be in place.” LifeWay surveyed 734 former senior pastors who left the pastorate before retirement age in four Protestant denominations: the Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, and the Southern Baptist Convention. Trouble begins early, the survey indicates, with 48 percent of the former pastors saying the search team didn’t accurately describe the church before their arrival. Their churches were unlikely to have a list of counselors for referrals (27%), clear documentation of the church’s expectations of its pastor (22%), a sabbatical …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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When Planned Parenthood Praised Ed Dobson

By Marshall Shelley The unlikely friendships the former Religious Right leader built while serving AIDS victims. I first met the late Ed Dobson when he was a columnist for Fundamentalist Journal, a publication published by Jerry Falwell. I was raised not far removed on the theological spectrum from fundamentalists, so I read each issue of the publication with great interest—and a tinge of fear. Would they represent the fundamentals in a positive or a cringe-worthy manner? I came to depend on Ed Dobson’s column as one place you could always find clear biblical convictions—as you would expect from one of the architects of the Moral Majority—but articulated with great compassion. To Ed, people weren’t just souls to be won (and tallied for their PR value), or voters to be recruited, but individuals to be loved as Christ loved. When Ed became pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it wasn’t long before I was tapping him for Leadership Journal (LJ). I was impressed that some of his first contacts in Grand Rapids were with local leaders of Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women. This certainly wasn’t in any pastor’s manual at the time. But because Dobson took Jesus’s words so seriously, he …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Wheaton, Hawkins: Let Us Reason Together, Please

By Mark Galli How might a Christian college handle a controversy that threatens to undo it? The situation at Wheaton College continues to unravel. Political science professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins refuses to meet any longer with the administration, and the college is now initiating the process of firing her—many assume because she said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. (If you’re not aware of this controversy, check out our news coverage here and here and here.) Of course, a controversy of this magnitude—it’s been international news for weeks, with stories and comments in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Guardian, and now Time—is never actually “all because” of one thing. The media coverage has often needlessly inflamed the conversation, and yet you could hardly invent a case that would touch on a greater number of fundamental issues in Christian higher education: 1. The theological integrity of a Christian institution. Evangelical Christians want their institutions to have and maintain standards of belief and behavior. We’ve seen too many historical examples of Christian institutions that let their theological guard down, and the result has been the sabotaging of the institutions’ Christian identity. 2. Loving our Muslim neighbors. Islam …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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What to Watch When There’s Nothing New to Watch

By Kenneth R. Morefield You’ve resolved to expand your film horizons. But where do you start? Americans watch a lot of movies. A 2015 poll from Rasmussen showed that 9 percent of those surveyed said they watched a movie “every day or nearly every day”; almost half (47%) of the respondents answered that they watched once a week or more frequently. But are we watching a lot of different movies—or just the same ones over and over? Older movies are more accessible today than ever before—but over 50 percent of the fans’ highest-rated movies at IMDB were released in the last 25 years. Nearly a quarter of the films that IMDB voters love best were released in the 1990s. What explains this? With so many movies at our disposal, why do we stick to the same favorites over and over? One reason might simply be choice paralysis: there are just more good movies than you can watch in a lifetime. Getting a foothold—finding a place to start—can feel intimidating. Yet watching broadly helps us become more aware of the world around us—and can even help us understand, feel empathy for, and learn how to love people who aren’t like us. Or it can give us a firmer grasp …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Violent Side of Jesus' Baptism

By Jeff Strong And how it helped me discover my Father’s love. I grew up with a father who couldn’t communicate love or concern for me in a way that was meaningful. Whether he was unwilling to do so, I am still unsure. For most of my childhood, my father seemed indifferent to me. In the same way, he was a satellite orbiting my world. I knew he existed, but he was peripheral and seemingly untethered to my day-to-day needs. Relationships with fathers can get complex. I’ve wrestled with what it means to extend grace to a parent whose dominant posture toward me was and is apathy. Through prayer, I have sought to forgive my father for his shortcomings, and I have looked to therapists to help me grieve the absence of a father-son relationship that seems out of reach to this day. But despite all of my efforts to address my pain and longing, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to a chronic ache that continues to haunt me in my quiet moments. I ache not knowing whether my father was even on my side. Still, I have experienced healing, most recently as I prepared to teach on Jesus’ baptism as it is recorded …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Gospel, Breaking Sinful Patterns, and Addiction

By Ed Stetzer How Steps can bring a new kind of recovery ministry to your church. I’m a big believer in recovery from addiction. I’ve seen the power of recovery among friends and family. Yet, I’m also a Christian, and an evangelical one, passionate about the gospel. So, as we talk about recovery and higher powers, I’m convinced that the power of the gospel is what matter most. Yet, many people in our culture claim to be Christians but have never heard a comprehensive gospel message. Therefore, discipleship—in general—and recovery ministry in our churches—more specifically—must begin by laying the foundation of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross for those who believe (gospel truths) and then bid people to live out the call to follow Christ (gospel imperatives). As disciples, part of the sanctification process is examining our hearts before the Lord. This process of personal assessment involves confession and prayer about the fruit of our lives and its roots. We bring all this before the Lord so that He can uproot our sinful patterns and heal our hearts, freeing us to act faithfully for His kingdom. People both inside and outside of our churches need help breaking sinful patterns in their lives. Our culture offers various ways to …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Force is With Her

By Alicia Cohn Star Wars’ leading lady sends a message to the boys, too. Star Wars: The Force Awakens probably would have made $1.5 billion even without its female lead. But it’s only fair that a female character get her due when she plays such a central—and compelling, thanks to actress Daisy Ridley— role in one of the most enduring and culturally-defining movie series in generations. In response to fan outcry around the hashtag #WheresRey, Hasbro this week announced they would re-release Monopoly: Star Wars to include Rey, Ridley’s character who wasn’t part of the original game. Retailers are scrambling to stock enough Rey toys to satisfy demand—especially Target, which left Rey out of a set that included only the male leads from the movie. This outcry didn’t come as a surprise to director J.J. Abrams. “I’ve been to enough Comic-Cons to be well aware that Star Wars has a wonderful and enormous female fan base,” he toldUSA Today. “But a lot of the approach to marketing has been to sell to boys.” The StarWars audience traditionally skews heavily male, though Rentrak reports the audience was just 66 percent men on opening weekend. Sci-fi has proven a feminist-friendly storytelling genre, perhaps …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Passion, Revisited: Remembering When I Was Radical for Christ

By Sharon Hodde Miller How can we stay ‘sold out’ for our faith? What would my 20 year-old self think of me now? Last week, I sat in an arena with 20,000 college students, asking this question. The Passion Conference—simultaneously hosted at three arenas in Atlanta and Houston (with a combined attendance of 40,000 students)—felt like a time machine. It was as big and amazing as 15 years before, when I sat in a similar arena with a similar group of students, praising God and dreaming of a radical life for Christ. Back then, I believed anything was possible. Anything. Nothing was too great for God. I had countless friends giving sacrificially, sharing faith without fear, and traveling overseas as missionaries. That’s what we thought it meant to be Christian, and that’s what I committed to, for the rest of my life. Attending the Passion Conference again so many years later felt like going to a wedding and remembering my vows. It reminded me of my promises and my dreams. It was also a heck of a gut check; I’m not the same person I was back then, and ever since I came home last week, I wondered why. As I grew up, I went through …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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