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Virgin Births Happen All the Time

By Ted Olsen Birds do it. Bees do it. Snakes, sharks, lizards, and lots of other animals do it solo too. It was Christmas, the turkey had been eaten, and it was terrible. “It would be pretty hard for the Department to be serious and issue an obituary notice for a turkey,” an unnamed department official told the United Press. Nevertheless, news of the turkey’s death hit front pages around the world. Because it was Christmas. And Graydon the turkey was no ordinary turkey. He had no father. He didn’t have an absentee father. He hadn’t been born through artificial insemination or other technological advances. He literally had no father. His mother—one of dozens of turkey hens in an experiment—had been carefully separated from turkey toms by the government agency at a research facility in Beltsville, Maryland, under the watchful eye of embryologist Marlow W. Olsen. Graydon’s origin had been, in other words, a kind of virgin birth. Or at least a virgin hatching. He wasn’t the first fatherless turkey to emerge from the more than 28,000 eggs in Olsen’s experiment. There had been about 20 others. But almost all died within an hour or two. No others had lived longer than 22 days. But Graydon was 254 days …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why We Get Religious About ‘Star Wars’

By Alissa Wilkinson What accounts for our religious devotion – and our need to shoehorn ‘Star Wars’ into our own theology? Absolutely no spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I promise. It was inevitable, and truly a sign of our times. Reuters reports that Berlin’s Zion Church chose an unusual order of worship on Sunday: a Star Wars-themed service, obviously meant to coincide with the global release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh episode in the intergalactic space opera. This is notable partly because Zion Church is a landmark in Berlin, a place where Dietrich Bonhoeffer worked at the beginning of the 1930s, according to a Berlin tourism site. (That it was also the fourth Sunday in the Christian season of Advent, traditionally dedicated to contemplating “peace,” seems to have escaped most journalists’ irony detectors.) I’d wager quite a few Galactic Credits that Zion Church wasn’t the only place in which congregants heard some reference to Star Wars last Sunday, though maybe not everyone toted their light sabers to church. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (our review), the seventh episode in the intergalactic space opera, raked in record-breaking returns from critics, fans, and the box office. And it’s safe …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: Joy

By Alissa Wilkinson The film is uneven, but Joy knows just who she is. mpaa rating:PG-13 (For brief strong language.) Genre:Drama Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation The text at the beginning of Joy, the latest film from director David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), says it is “inspired by the true stories of daring women . . . one in particular.” That “one” is Joy Mangano, played here by Jennifer Lawrence, who is always fun to watch and certainly holds the film together. The character and her story are based on Mangano’s true story of inventing the Magic Mop, hawking it on the still-new QVC, and overcoming difficulty to become a business mogul able to support other inventors and entrepreneurs. Russell makes weird and frenetic movies that aren’t to everyone’s taste. They lurch around a bit and at times seem more infatuated with style than substance or coherence. That shows up again in Joy, which is narrated by Joy’s grandmother (Diane Ladd) and includes a montage introduction and a couple early black-and-white scenes from a melodrama, shot in soap opera style. Soon we segue into a whirling-dervish madcap romp through Joy’s house, with Joy as the axis, populated …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Importance of Leading Kids to Love Jesus

By Ed Stetzer I recently asked #kidmin leaders how they help children love Jesus for themselves. Ed Stetzer: How do we avoid teaching moralistic principles, making the focus moralism, but instead at all ages and at all stages making sure people understand the gospel itself. Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): I think that one of the important things is you know training our teachers because our teachers are the ones that are teaching the curriculum and they are the ones that are imparting the truth to the children. And I think helping them to see that God’s Word is a revelation of Himself. That the hero of the Bible is God. He is telling something about Himself to us and sometimes whether through curriculum or even our own growing up within our church backgrounds, we’ve learned so many of the stories but we always look at the stories through the human points of view and the perspective of you know that person, individual person. Instead of looking at a God-centered view of you know this is God’s revelation to us, something about Himself that He wants us to know and understand. And so I think that a part of helping our children to see that is …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The AIDS Epidemic and the Refugee Crisis: Faithfulness, Not Fear, Is Our Call

By Ed Stetzer When a situation is not understood, the Christian response is often defined by fear. In New York City in the early 1980’s medical doctors began to diagnose a strange and frightening disease. The New York Times reported: A SERIOUS disorder of the immune system that has been known to doctors for less than a year — a disorder that appears to affect primarily male homosexuals — has now afflicted at least 335 people, of whom it has killed 136, officials of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said yesterday. Federal health officials are concerned that tens of thousands more homosexual men may be silently affected and therefore vulnerable to potentially grave ailments. It was initially called GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency). The disease wreaked havoc with the immune systems of its victims, in many cases opening the door to a rare skin cancer type: Kaposi’s sarcoma, which until that point was uncommon in younger men. The early death toll from GRID was higher than toxic shock syndrome and Legionnaire’s disease combined. The population that contracted the disease was primarily in New York City, New Jersey, and California. Those early victims, according to the Times, were primarily male homosexuals “in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Herod the Hero?

By Alexander Stewart Three recent books portray Herod more positively than he is generally depicted. But Matthew 2 is still important. In terms of wealth, power, and influence, Herod the Great rivaled King Solomon as the greatest king in the history of the Jews. Most Christians, however, know little more about Herod than what is reported in Matthew 2: his interaction with the Magi and the slaughter of Bethlehem’s infant boys. Far beyond the significance of those isolated incidents, Herod powerfully shaped the world in which Jesus and the earliest Christians lived. The collective historical opinion—colored by Matthew’s account—has viewed Herod as a paranoid, cruel, and murderous tyrant. Several historians, however, have recently sought to rehabilitate Herod’s image. Norman Gelb’s Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), Geza Vermes’s The True Herod (Bloomsbury, 2014), and Adam Kolman Marshak’s The Many Faces of Herod the Great (Eerdmans, 2015) all seek to positively reassess his reign. Gelb and Vermes provide accessible accounts of Herod’s life, while Marshak provides an academic appraisal of Herod’s rule in terms of the ancient political, cultural, and religious expectations of a good king. It is too strong to claim that these recent books indicate a sweeping renaissance …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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A 3,000 Year Old Version of 'Imagine'

By Sarah Lebhar Hall Isaiah’s song of hope for survivors of terrorism—and what it means this Christmas. On November 13, Davide Martello sat in a German pub watching the France-Germany soccer game when the terror attacks in Paris began. Minutes later, Davide loaded his grand piano on a trailer and drove 400 miles through the night to Paris. He parked outside the Bataclan concert hall—the site of the deadliest attack—and played a beautiful rendition of John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” When interviewed later, he said, “I wanted to be there to try and comfort, and offer a sign of hope.” Nearly 3,000 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah wrote a similar song, a song for people who had just been attacked, a song sung to a terrorized people. It was meant to be a balm, a picture of a peaceful future. While Isaiah’s song has a very different message than “Imagine,” the goal is the same: to restore hope in a community that has just lived through a nightmare. Isaiah 9:1–7 contains the now-familiar promise that we celebrate at Christmas: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” (ESV, used throughout). But this promise wasn’t given in a vacuum. It was made to people …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: The Revenant

By Brett McCracken In the 1820s frontier wilderness, survival is a bear. mpaa rating:R (For strong frontier combat and violence including gory images, a sexual assault, language and brief nudity.) Genre:Drama, Western Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation One of the memorable (and most talked about) scenes in The Revenant is an epic fight between Leonardo DiCaprio and a grizzly bear. The bloody brawl occurs early in the film and is the plot’s inciting incident. Gravely injured by the bear, 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is left for dead by his fellow hunters/fur-traders and must survive in the wilderness in the dead of winter. As if it wasn’t already hard enough to survive the Pawnee tomahawks and arrows, subzero temperatures, blizzards, dehydration, and treacherous men within his own group (most notably Tom Hardy’s villainous character Fitzgerald), Glass must do it all having been maimed, mauled, and flayed by a bear. But the death match with the bear is also thematically significant, as it sets up the film’s existential grappling with the meaning of humankind as unique (or not) among the creatures of the earth. What makes a man different from a bear? In their brutal fight, Glass and grizzly …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why I'm Not a Conscientious Objector

By Matt Moorman I can’t condemn war in the way my Anabaptist friends so quickly do. This June, CT drew attention to veterans’ experiences in the cover story “Formed by War.” To continue the discourse sparked by that story, alongside the Centurions Guild, CT is hosting an online series called Ponder Christian Soldiers. (Read the introduction to the series here, and the following installments here, here, here, here, and here.) On March 20, 2003, I watched a handful of countries invade Iraq under cover of American air power. I was both horrified and mesmerized—the strange mix of emotions a 19-year-old experiences at the sight of war. Three days later, standing at attention at the Air Force Reserve recruiter’s office, I took the oath of enlistment, beginning my journey as a citizen airman. Nearly 10 years later, in 2012, I leaned against the living-room wall of a house in Gloucester City, New Jersey, surrounded by 30 or so tattooed hipsters from the Philadelphia area. They had gathered to discuss war and what they called the “American military industrial state.” We were Christians, part of a growing community within the New Anabaptist movement, and the house …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Tarantino's Incarnational Aesthetic

By Brett McCracken Quentin Tarantino is an unlikely contributor to the theology of Incarnation. This article is adapted from a chapter in the newly published book Tarantino And Theology. The Hateful Eight will be the second Quentin Tarantino film in a row to be released on Christmas Day (following 2012’s Django Unchained), a fact that probably has more to do with the lucrative holiday market than anything related to the significance of Christmas. But what if Tarantino’s films actually do have something theological to say in this season of celebrating Christ’s Incarnation? Tarantino is admittedly an unlikely contributor to the theology of Incarnation. But in their fixation on bodies (both fierce and frail), curious interest in food and drink, and focus on the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the material world, Tarantino’s films represent an aesthetic that is distinctively “incarnational.” They help the viewer re-sensitize to the physical, fleshy world in which Christ lived, breathed, died and rose. By paying attention to the incarnational aesthetics of Tarantino’s films, we push against the increasing disembodiment of our digital world, as well as our western Christian tendency to etherealize our faith, divorcing it from a material and embodied context. Flying Limbs, Exploding Hearts, and The Centrality of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Faith of the Candidates: Interview With Marco Rubio (Part 2)

By Ed Stetzer In the second part of my interview with Senator Marco Rubio, we talk about “lost” people, and how “President Rubio” would share his faith. Ed Stetzer: You used the phrase “lost people” . So talk to us a little bit about that. What is the role of the Christian, the Catholic, the Evangelical when it comes to sharing with people who are, to use a term you used a minute ago, “lost.” What’s our role? Senator Marco Rubio: We’re called to spread the gospel. Now obviously you can spread the gospel in different ways. Some of it is verbal, especially if someone is curious and asks. We should never be shy about sharing our testimony. Oftentimes it’s just in the way we treat others. That, sometimes, is the best way to bring someone to the faith is first foremost by how you treat them. many people, their image of Christianity will be formed by how they interact with Christians and how Christians treat them—or how Christians behave. I’m convinced that the growth in the early Church was significantly influenced by how the early Christians dealt with adversity and with the circumstances around them. But both the supernatural peace that …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: 45 Years

By Alissa Wilkinson When the ground beneath a marriage is shaken, can it hold up? mpaa rating:R (For language and brief sexuality.) Genre:Drama Theatre Release:December 25, 2015 by Sundance Selects Much about 45 Years makes it clear that it’s adapted from a short story, but nothing more than the moment when Kate (Charlotte Rampling) is surveying the hall in which she intends to host her 45th wedding anniversary party at the end of the week. “So full of history, you see?” says the man showing her the room, which after the English fashion is old and stately. “Like a good marriage.” That line is a cipher for the story, the thread you tug and hold your breath to see if the whole thing will unravel. Kate and her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are just on the cusp of old age, retired but well-off and childless and still very fond of one another. The film takes place over the week leading up to their anniversary celebration, and it’s filled with the quiet shorthand that long-married couples use with one another, with a constant classical music backdrop. For much of the film, director Andrew Haight contrasts very wide shots of the fields and landscapes around Kate and Geoff’s …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Mystery of My Healing

By Amy Julia Becker Unexplainable relief is a reminder of God’s grace, wholeness, and incarnation. I can’t remember when it began, but for the past few years, a constant pain has hugged my lower back. It was enough to wake me up at night. I tried Advil. I tried stretching. I started a new workout regimen to strengthen my core. I told our children I couldn’t pick them up or let them sit on my lap. With each solution, the pain faded, only to come back in a few days or weeks. Eventually it crept down to my tailbone. I had to modify the way I stood up and could only sit on cushioned chairs. Still, the pain persisted. And then one morning, it went away, never to return. I wish I could say healing came because I called upon the Lord. But for whatever faulty reasoning or theological neglect on my part, reaching out to Jesus to heal my minor-but-persistent back pain didn’t cross my mind. I had, though, called on a physical therapist and yoga teacher for help. We sat cross-legged, facing each other, even though sitting like that hurt my back. Instead of stretching or moving through postures, we talked. I told her about the creeping …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why Are Christian Guys Silent About Abstinence?

By Cody Hill, guest writer When we don’t talk about male virginity, we imply that it’s not important. In an age of sexual exploration and broad acceptance of sexual activity, virginity has held on to its stigma—and not just if you’re Tim Tebow. Ask any 20-something guy trying to save sex for marriage. Even as our culture increasingly emphasizes individual choice and freedom, encouraging young people to honor their bodies and wait until they are ready before having sex, most of that messaging isn’t geared toward my demographic. People largely assume that all college-aged men have already had sex, since most of them have. And here’s the thing: Even as a male student at a conservative Christian university, I still see male virginity carry a stigma. That’s how pervasive our society’s messaging about sex is. While my school’s policies prohibit sexual contact between unmarried students, that doesn’t mean all of us toe the line without a struggle. I’ve watched friends encounter a wide range of expectations and backgrounds while dating. One friend was interested in a woman at school here, and things progressed until he discovered that she wanted only a physical relationship. He felt ashamed that he had to break things off, and some of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Importance of Teaching the Big Story, Not Just Morals

By Ed Stetzer It’s easy to teach moralism, but it’s important to teach more than that. Ed: Why do you think the storyline of the Bible itself is important for kids to know? Why do they need to know the big story? Lou Cha (Kenwood Baptist Church, Cincinnati, OH): As a congregation, we value the whole counsel of Scripture… It’s like a puzzle and the kids do not see the whole picture. It’s important for kids as they are growing and learning God’s Word to be able to put the puzzle pieces together to see how they connect and that the God of the Old Testament is the same God as the God of the New Testament. And that since the creation of the world and the fall of humanity, He’s been redeeming people to Himself. This is what God has been doing all along. It provides a more consistent picture and image of who God is. It also demonstrates to the children the character, the faithfulness, the compassion, and also the righteousness of God throughout the different historical periods of the Bible and the different people in the Bible. I think it really helps children to be able to piece the Bible together to see the whole …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Alejandro González Iñárritu Talks to CT About ‘The Revenant’

By Interview by Brett McCracken Fresh off last year’s Oscar win, the director discusses the spiritual themes of his new film. Less than a year ago, director Alejandro González Iñárritu won three Academy Awards (best picture, best directing and best original screenplay) for Birdman, a comedy that signaled a potentially more lighthearted new direction for a filmmaker known for rather bleak films about human suffering. Iñárritu’s first three films, after all, comprised what came to be known as the “Death Trilogy”: Amores Perros (2000), 21 Grams (2003) and Babel (2006). His fourth and least acclaimed film, Biutiful (2011), was criticized for being a “spectacle of unrelieved misery” and an “oppressive 150-minute dirge.” Iñárritu’s latest film doesn’t quite revert to the miserablist depths of his earlier films, but it is certainly no breezy Birdman. No, The Revenant (in theaters on Christmas Day) is stark, bleak and punishing for most of its 156 minutes. Inspired by the true survival story of 1820s frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), the film picks up Iñárritu’s familiar explorations of visceral portraits of emotional and physical suffering, this time set in the snowy wilds of the American west. Shot in 100% natural light and freezing temperatures by Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, The …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Interview: What Kind of Astronomical Marvel was the Star of Bethlehem?

By Interview by Greg Cootsona And was it even a star? A biblical scholar investigates the mysterious object that guided the Magi to Jesus. Generations of Christians have helped ring in the Christmas season by singing John Henry Hopkins Jr.’s 1857 carol, “We Three Kings,” with its evocative chorus: Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright Westward leading, still proceeding Guide us to thy perfect light. We know, from the Gospel of Matthew, that these kings—or “Magi,” as Matthew calls them—saw something brilliant in the night sky, a celestial body that beckoned them to Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem. But what exactly was this mysterious “star of wonder”? Biblical scholar Colin R. Nicholl is the latest to venture an explanation for this astronomical marvel. Blending Bible research with findings from expert astronomers, Nicholl makes the case that the Star of Bethlehem was actually an extraordinary comet. Greg Cootsona, a writer, teacher, and leader with the Scientists in Congregations program (funded by the Templeton Foundation to integrate science and theology in churches), spoke with Nicholl about his claims in The Great Christ Comet: Revealing the True Star of Bethlehem (Crossway). As a biblical scholar, what drew you to astronomy? If figuring out the biblical text requires me to understand …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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I Recently When to a Full-Blown Christmas Pageant for the First Time—Here's What I Thought

By Ed Stetzer Some disparage the idea of Christmas pageants, and I understand the concern. But, not so fast. So, I’ve never actually been a a real Christmas pageant. By “real” I mean one where my kids were not dressed as sheep or something. (Those are awesome, but of a different variety! Anyway, when I was recently in Fort Lauderdale, I was by an invitation to one of the more famous of these pageants— the Fort Lauderdale Christmas Pageant. So, for a Saturday blog post, I thought I’d share a bit of it with you. It was opening night, so For King and Country opened. And, there was, shall we say, lots of energy. But, if you’ve never been to one of these pageants, it’s almost a cultural phenomenon. First, they do a lot of shows and they sell them all out. We had 3000 people in the room to watch the program. It started with a “holiday” theme, rather than a distinctly Christian Christmas story. There are dancers and singers. And toys and games. (That’s my family smiling in the front—and the pastor, Larry Thompson, leaning forward). The church goes all out. Santa comes in riding in an old car. They sang. And sang …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: Sisters

By Jessica Gibson Good for fans of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but not for much else. mpaa rating:R (For crude sexual content and language throughout, and for drug use.) Genre:Comedy Theatre Release:December 18, 2015 by Universal Pictures This is a great movie for fans of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who are OK with laughing until they cry at dirty jokes that have no right being that funny. Anybody who’s just one, the other, or neither, should probably steer clear and go see Star Wars. For those of you left in that small camp, you’ve hit a gold mine. Sisters is hilarious in all the worst ways, one of those movies you feel bad for laughing so hard at and enjoying so much. Maybe that’s what makes Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in combo so good – they can land some of the nastiest punchlines by making them feel as awkwardly spontaneous as crude jokes should. That chemistry is the most significant thing about the film. The story could be a lot worse, but any movie that bookends an hour-long party plot with brief sympathy-building scenes could be better. Tina and Amy play to their strength of playing off each other as polar-opposite sisters Kate (Fey) …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Biggest Apology for Christian Persecution of Other Christians Ever

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra In an ‘astounding admission,’ global church leaders repent for past abuse of other denominations. 2015 was a year filled with apologies. Pope Francis offered them to both the Waldensians and the Pentecostals for past Catholic persecution of Protestants. Matt Chandler’s Acts 29 megachurch asked a former member for forgiveness after wrongly subjecting her to church discipline. Bob Jones University said it was sorry for failing sex abuse victims. Turkish Christians asked forgiveness 100 years after the Armenian genocide. Pastor Kong Hee bowed three times after his conviction for siphoning millions from his Singapore megachurch. And Creflo Dollar’s board apologized for seeking $60 million to replace his private plane. But the most significant mea culpa came in Albania from 145 representatives of “virtually all Christian confessions,” who said they were sorry for having abused each other. “We repent of having at times persecuted each other and other religious communities in history, and ask forgiveness from each other and pray for new ways of following Christ together,” wrote the group, comprised of delegates from the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), the Pentecostal World Fellowship, the Vatican, and the World Council of Churches. The delegates, who represented more than …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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