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3 Sermon Prep tips for Bi-vocational Pastors

By Marty Duren Being a bi-vocational pastor can be dreadfully taxing. Marty Duren shares how to make sermon prep not as burdensome. There may be no more under appreciated person in the Kingdom that the bi-vocational pastor. Many of them are the only staff member of a small church. They work a job during the week and are still expected to perform most, if not all, of the ministry functions of a full-time pastor. Through the years I have known bi-vocational pastors who had to take time off work to do funerals, did periodic weddings, and still had to preach two or three sermons a week. They did counseling, attended deacons meetings, met with the personnel committee, finance committee, or any number of other groups. The week of a church planter was recently summarized like this: Long days have become the standard for Nathan Vedoya. As a bi-vocational church planter, there’s no such thing as typical, but this may be as close as it gets. He wakes up early, shares the breakfast-making responsibilities with his wife, and drops the kids off at school before heading to his full-time job as the shelter manager for Hope Mission in Edmonton, Alberta. His wife, Deen-Deen, also heads …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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20 Truths from Gaining by Losing by J.D. Greear

By Ed Stetzer You need to check out this new resource from J.D. Greear on how your church can be a Great Commission church. 1. Jesus did not say come and grow, but come and die. (17) 2. We live by losing. We gain by giving away. What we achieve by building our personal platform will never be as great as what God achieves through what we give away in faith. (18) 3. Study after study shows that most Christians have never even shared their faith—most indicating that somewhere 90 percent of evangelicals have never shared their faith with anyone outside of their family. (22) 4. The church is now Jesus’ vehicle for the completion of his mission. Jesus finished the purchase of our salvation, paying the full price for our sin on the cross and shattering the powers of death in the resurrection, but the mission of salvation is not yet complete. (31) 5. Blessing the community might certainly include growing a big church, but it would also mean giving away some of our resources. (42) 6. A “sending” ministry always starts with a heart exam. Sending out people and giving away your resources, you see, will most often compete with your church’s “bottom line,” not benefit it. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why We Need Rich Christians

By Amy Julia Becker Excessive wealth isn’t good for anybody, unless it’s used for good for everybody. Despite some recent economic good news—the unemployment rate is dropping and the economy as a whole has been growing for a while now—plenty of people in America have reason to worry about money. Fifteen percent of the nations live below the poverty line. Nearly 48 million people receive food stamps. The median household income has decreased in recent years, settling just above $50,000. (Data from The Nation’s Economy, This Side of the Recession.) Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer. According to Chris Matthews of Fortune magazine, “in America, the wealthiest 160,000 families own as much wealth as the poorest 145 million families.” It’s been in the news countless times—the top one percent of households controls a disproportionate share of wealth in the United States, and that share has only increased in recent years. That wealth poses problems for everyone, including the wealthy. Michael Lewis, writing for The New Republic, describes the negative effect of wealth on the moral behavior of wealthy people. He sites studies in which wealthy people, again and again, demonstrate a sense of entitlement and disregard for justice: drivers of expensive cars disregard pedestrians …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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When Jesus Says, ‘Don’t Follow Me’

By Jeff Strong And, instead, return to where you came from. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” —Luke 2:20 “And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” —Matthew 2:12 This year as I read and prayed through the Christmas story again and again, one dimension that I’d never noticed before caught my attention. The second chapters of both Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels reveal a theme of post-Christmas returning. After their respective epiphanies, we read that both the Magi and the shepherds returned. Returned to what? They returned to their vocations and their normal, everyday lives. How strange would that have been? The shepherds had seen the glories of heaven, heard the songs of angels, and been led to the manger of the Christ child. The Magi had experienced their own awe-inspiring, star-guided vision leading them to the new King. And now both groups find themselves returning to the lives they once knew. But they couldn’t have returned the same. When you encounter the Christ child, there is no going back. You return, but you return …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Good News Hiding Beneath the Headlines

By Philip Yancey As we begin another year, Philip Yancey reminds us: Grace hasn’t vanished. After listening to several dark reviews of 2014—recapped news of the beheadings in Iraq, the Ebola epidemic, racial strife, airplanes crashed or missing, ongoing violence in Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, and several African countries—it’s no wonder we’re glad to put last year behind us. Amid all the fear and anxiety, where can we find some good news? After a steady diet of cable news, you may be surprised to learn the following: Abortions in the US are at their lowest rate since 1976. Violent crime has hit a 20-year low, with overall crime falling for fifteen straight years. Globally, absolute poverty (what’s necessary to afford minimal standards of food, clothing, health care and shelter) has reached the lowest level in recorded history. Deaths from wars in this century are fewer than at any comparable period in the twentieth century. Life expectancy continues to rise, reaching 78 in the US and 71 worldwide (up from 59 in 1970). Child mortality rates have dropped dramatically in the last forty years while education and literacy rates have soared. Statistics don’t always dispel doubt, I realize. Yet …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The 'Boy Who Came Back from Heaven' Retracts Story

By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Tyndale pulls best-selling book after Alex Malarkey, now 16, says, ‘I did not die’ and ‘Bible is sufficient’ on heaven. Tyndale House Publishers has stopped production of the book and DVD of The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven after the book’s coauthor and subject, Alex Malarkey, released a statement retracting the book’s contents. In an open letter, the self-described “boy who did not come back from heaven” wrote: Please forgive the brevity, but because of my limitations I have to keep this short. I did not die. I did not go to heaven. I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible. It is only through repentance of your sins and a belief in Jesus as the Son of God, who died for your sins (even though he committed none of his own) so that you can be forgiven may you learn of heaven …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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How I Almost Lost the Bible

By Gregory Alan Thornbury Had it not been for the first editor of CT, I likely would have gone the way of liberal scholar Bart Ehrman. I was born at the Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania—a fact that once prompted a friend of mine to say, “You’re evangelical born, evangelical bred, and when you die, you’ll be evangelical dead.” My father, John Forrest Thornbury, was the model of a country parson, serving as the pastor of Winfield Baptist Church, a historic congregation in the American Baptist tradition, for 44 years. My childhood environs prefigured what has become my life’s passion: the relationship of Christian faith to higher education. Lewisburg is home to Bucknell University, an elite private college whose alumni include two evangelical luminaries: Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and Makoto Fujimura, acclaimed contemporary painter. Several years ago, Tim told me that he had occasionally attended my father’s church while at Bucknell. Founded by a Baptist association, Bucknell originally existed to further the cause of Christ. Writing to fellow churches across Pennsylvania, the association’s leaders explained that through Bucknell, they sought “to see . . . the cause of God, the honor and glory of the Redeemer’s kingdom promoted in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Ewan McGregor and Rodrigo Garcia On Jesus, Satan, and 'Last Days in the Desert'

By Alissa Wilkinson Our exclusive interview with the star and director of the hotly-anticipated Sundance feature. “I cringe a little bit when I think ‘Bible movie,'” says Rodrigo Garcia, with a smile. The writer/director is talking about Last Days in the Desert, his new film premiering at Sundance next week, which stars Ewan McGregor as Jesus and Satan. Garcia isn’t against Biblical epics, but that isn’t what he’s made—no eye-popping effects, no epic battles, no lines lifted from Bible passages. Instead, Last Days is a character-driven meditation on family and mortality, haunting and spare. On a cold December weekend in New York City, I’m meeting Garcia over breakfast and coffee to talk about how you make a movie about fathers and sons in which the main character also happens to be the most famous son of all time: Yeshua, as the film calls him. “I wrote a few pages in which I called him Jesus,” Garcia explains. “But when you’re writing a screenplay and it says ‘Jesus walks, Jesus says,’ after a while, the weight of the name is paralyzing.” As Garcia reminds me, in his native Spanish, Jesus is a common name. “But in English, it has big connotations”—nobody in the English-speaking world names their kid Jesus. …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Duke vs. Franklin Graham: Which Christian Spaces Are Off-Limits to Muslim Worship?

By Morgan Lee Call-to-prayer controversy at university chapel prompts debate over sharing sacred space. Duke University’s reversal of today’s plan to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from its historic chapel tower has reinvigorated a debate over shared worship space. The Durham, North Carolina-based school had authorized Muslim students to recite the three-minute chant from Duke Chapel on Friday, the weekly day of assembly in Islam, but rescinded the decision this week, following criticism and citing a “serious and credible security threat.” Franklin Graham, whose ministries (Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) are headquartered in North Carolina, attacked the university’s decision and condemned the use of a Christian space by members of another faith. “It’s wrong because it’s a different god,” Graham said. “Using the bell tower, that signifies worship of Jesus Christ. Using (it) as a minaret is wrong.” Muslim students had gathered for jummah prayers in the chapel’s basement for years, according to CNN reports. The chapel’s website describes it as “a Christian church of uniquely interdenominational character and purpose,” welcoming people of “all faiths and circumstances.” However, the dean of Duke Divinity School, Richard Hays, raised concerns about the use of the chapel for the Muslim call to prayer …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why Russia’s Evangelicals Thank God for Putin

By Mark R. Elliott Despite the Crimea takeover and Ukraine conflict, many church leaders are grateful for Putin’s leadership. Evangelicals in Russia have become ardent fans of President Vladimir Putin because of Russia’s efforts to maintain its influence in Ukraine, its takeover of Crimea in 2014, and the widespread Russian belief that the West is to blame for the present economic woes on the home front. This realization dawned on me during my November visit to Russia. The evidence is hard to ignore. Meeting in St. Petersburg back in May, the official Congress of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists ended their meetings with a strong endorsement of Putin just two months after brutal conflict broke out in eastern Ukraine. Addressing Putin, they said, “We express to you sincere appreciation for your labor in the post of president. . . . We reaffirm our principled loyalty with respect to state authority, based on the unchanged words of the Bible, ‘Let every soul be in subjection to the higher powers: for there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God’ (Rom. 13:1, ASV).” The evangelical congress also directly challenged the legitimacy of Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution and the February 2014 overthrow of pro-Russian …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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When Disability Isn't

“By avoiding children like Cory, I avoided the painful confrontation with my own limitations.” A guest post by Dorothy Littell Greco My nephew Cory just spent the week with us. For 16 hours a day, he neither paused nor stopped. He played board games and Ping-Pong, threw himself on the trampoline, chatted endlessly, and on the final day, learned how to dive. In between slipping into the pool headfirst, he explained to me how friction causes swimmers to work harder and eventually slow down. I couldn’t tell if he was earnestly seeking to explain the mechanics of swimming or offering condolence for my interminably slow laps. At dinner one night, he made a card for his grandmother which he delivered with the stunning line, “I made this for you because I love you more than I love myself.” On the way to the airport, he said, “I will miss you for an entire year.” Cory is six. Cory is on the spectrum. Since his diagnosis four years ago, my sister has openly shared her heartaches, frustrations, and triumphs. In the process of trying to support her, I have learned much and become acutely aware of our culture’s skittishness towards folks who have gifts that are …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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The Bible is More Than Stories of Morality

By Ed Stetzer It is possible to teach Bible stories without ever teaching the Bible Story. It is safe to say that most churches want their kids and students to learn the Bible. But in reality, as you’ll often hear The Gospel Project team say, it is possible to teach Bible stories without ever teaching the Bible story. In other words, it is possible to teach the Bible in a way that is not distinctively Christian. There are many too many approaches to teaching the Bible that teach people values, virtues, and behavior – and that’s it. That should disturb us. The Bible is Not a Book or Virtues, but a Gospel Book The simple fact is the Bible is not just a collection of stories with morals for life application; the Bible is the story of God’s grace in redemption through Jesus Christ. There is a soul-endangering consequence in virtue-based Bible study material, centered on life principles or character qualities, and ripped away from the central focus of the Bible– Jesus Christ. When I was a young pastor, some people in our church wanted us to get involved in Bill Gothard’s “Basic Life Principles” teachings. Gothard was well known in the 70’s and 80’s for his curriculum focused on virtue …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Review: Predestination

By Mark Moring Time-travel thriller asks whether our actions are foreordained, or a matter of choice. mpaa rating:R (For violence, some sexuality, nudity and language.) Genre:Science Fiction Directed By: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes Cast: Sarah Snook, Ethan Hawke, Noah Taylor, Elise Jansen Theatre Release:January 09, 2015 by Vertical Entertainment “What if I could put him in front of you, the man that ruined your life? If I could guarantee that you’d get away with it . . . would you kill him?” So goes the voiceover (and, essentially, the film’s premise) in the trailer for Predestination, a stirring new movie about time travel—and how one’s actions in the past can have huge ramifications for the future. It’s a cinematic conceit I’ve always enjoyed pondering, going back to watching 1960’s The Time Machine as a boy, and continuing through such films as Back to the Future, Groundhog Day, the Terminator films, Looper, and, most recently, Interstellar. (Oh, and one you may have never heard of, the obscure 2004 indie gem Primer.) Done well, it’s a great genre. It forces you to think hard and use your imagination. But done “well” does not necessarily mean you’ll completely get it. Such movies always require a suspension of …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Remembering Andrae Crouch, Dead at 72

By Robert Darden The gospel music legend combined Saturday night with Sunday morning. On the stage of Waco Hall, I was worried that the world was about to come to an end way too soon and I just wasn’t ready. In 1972, I saw—for the first time—Andrae Crouch and the Disciples performing “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” “Soon and Very Soon,” “My Tribute,” “Through It All,” and “Bless His Holy Name.” I was both mesmerized and a little frightened. I had been a fan of black gospel music since childhood. But as a freshman at Baylor University, I knew that this was something different. I just knew. And it was something different for Jesus Rock (the term “contemporary Christian music” or CCM wasn’t in wide usage back then). Crouch was an innovator, a path-finder, a precursor in an industry noted for its conservative, often derivative approach to popular music. He combined gospel and rock, flavored it with jazz and calypso as the mood struck him and the song called for it, and is even one of the founders of what is now called “praise and worship” music. He took risks with his art and was very, very funky when he wanted to be. Tonight …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Microfinance Is a Women’s Issue

By Ashley Dickens, guest writer How our philanthropy can empower our sisters across the globe. While we continue to “lean in” and fight for gender parity at work, it’s important to recognize the position of privilege American women have in the marketplace, simply by virtue of living in this country. Women in the U.S. are rising in the workforce, at every level. They’re starting businesses and working their way up to executive-level positions. As a result, according to the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, women control more wealth in the United States today than ever before. To state the obvious: We hold immense financial resources in our hands, particularly in comparison to women in the developing world. Our wealth gives us more chances to give, to invest in fellow mothers, wives, and sisters by bringing them the opportunity to work and earn. “I’m not sure Western women understand the power of restored dignity through work,” wrote Christian author, Jen Hatmaker. “We often disparage work, a luxury of the already empowered. But in a context like Rwanda, work is honorable and coveted, strong and transformative. It literally changes lives.” When we look at the lives of impoverished women around the world—far more likely than men to be …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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David Oyelowo: 'Selma Was a Spiritual Endeavor For Me'

By Alissa Wilkinson and Morgan Lee We talked to the ‘Selma’ actor about praying on set, playing an icon as a real human, acting as a calling, and why Christians ought to see the movie. If you head out to see Selma this weekend and have the sneaking suspicion that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. looks awfully familiar, you wouldn’t be wrong. David Oyelowo, who plays the civil rights leader in the film, is everywhere this year—from roles in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and J. C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year to his major role as King. What you might not know is that Oyelowo is also an outspoken Christian whose faith played a major part on the set of Selma and in his career. He and his wife Jessica moved from their native England to Los Angeles in 2007, where they live now with their four children. Oyelowo, who is gracious and humble, spoke with CT by phone about praying on set, feeling God’s presence, playing an icon as a real human, how acting can be a calling, and why Christians ought to see Selma. The film opened in limited markets on Christmas Day, and opens wide tomorrow, January 9. Alissa reviewed it for CT. And Ken Morefield, who …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Commentary: Border Crisis = Church Opportunity

By Bruce Wydick The international difference a local congregation can make. A feeling of hopelessness and insecurity in Central America has fueled the exodus of 43,000 unaccompanied Central American children and teenagers to the US border this year, a ten-fold increase since 2009. The origin of the crisis lies in the growing menace of the violent narco-trafficking underworld in three countries: Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Paradoxically, many of the roots of the crisis lie in the very country to which the children are fleeing—our own society’s insatiable demand for narcotics, and the network of gangs originating in Los Angeles which have extended their talons deep into Central America. Our non-profit organization, Mayan Partners, has witnessed the consequences of this hopelessness and insecurity first-hand. During our most recent trip to Guatemala this summer, we sensed a growing desire among those with whom we work to leave their home country and seek refuge in ours. Many Christians want to know how we can be part of a solution to this crisis, how we can genuinely bring grace and peace to the situation, and not just feel better for our efforts. But first we must understand the origins of the crisis. The Cancer of Organized Crime There are seven countries …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Breaking the Silence After a Gruesome Battle With Cancer: A guest post by Margaret Feinberg

Too often, pastors aren’t ready to deal with crises like cancer. For the last 18 months, I’ve been battling breast cancer. Breast cancer isn’t just one disease; it represents thousands of different diseases with their varying components and factors. This has been through a brutal year through chemotherapy, radiation, and more surgeries than I can count or want to remember. Yet through the journey, I’ve found God’s grace and goodness in the most unexpected ways. I look back in awe of His faithfulness. In my own spiritual life I had been studying joy for a year and was putting the finishing touches on book on joy—just two weeks from turning it into the publisher, when I received the diagnosis. I had been pursuing and activating joy in my life in the relatively good times, now I had to do it in the midst of darkness, depression, torturous pain. Through the process, I began discovering the breadth, depth, and power of joy—that despite hundreds of sermons and many decades in the church—no one had told me of before. I learned that more than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life’s battles. In Fight Back With Joy, I describe in detail how …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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An Anointed Trend? Christian Women and Essential Oils

By Kate Shellnutt Faithful users rediscover the ancient practice and the healing within God’s creation. My pastor’s wife recently posted an opinion on Facebook that led to dozens of comments on both sides of the issue. It wasn’t a theological position or even a stance in the so-called Mommy Wars. Instead, she confessed that she wasn’t going to jump on the “essential oils bandwagon.” The recent resurgence of essential oils—concentrated plant-based liquids used for their aromatic, healing, or cleansing properties—has found an interesting home among Christian women. These oils are championed as natural remedies, appealing to homeopaths, organic shoppers, young moms, and faithful believers, who note their use throughout Scripture. “In the very first image of creation, there’s a tree of life in the middle of a garden. Then, on the very last page of Scripture, another vision of the Kingdom is this heavenly city where there’s the same tree of life…whose leaves are made for the healing of the world,” said Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest in Nashville. She found 400-450 examples of ancient oils used for healing and anointing in Scripture, from the cinnamon-olive oil blend God prescribes to Moses in Exodus 30 to the oils poured on Jesus by women in …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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Why You Don't Need to Read the Whole Bible

By Amy Julia Becker If you’re new, or if you’re prone to overachieving, consider scaling back that New Year’s resolution. It’s New Year’s resolution time, and for some subset of the population, reading the Bible is one of those things—like weight loss and exercise—that people vow to do more of at the beginning of each year. Countless plans and systems exist to help people try to keep up (as Tim Challies documents here). These plans encourage reading the entire Bible in 365 days (or in some cases, two to three years), start to finish. I’ve read through the Bible before, and I suspect I will do it again. I consider the Bible the Word of God, inspired by God and authoritative in my life and in our world. And yet I also wonder about the helpfulness of reading the Bible in its entirety. Plenty of people admit to falling off the wagon, so to speak, when they get to Leviticus (the third book of the Old Testament), and plenty more get tripped up by the warfare and sacrifices throughout, but my concerns about this type of Bible reading go deeper than the practical problems some of our ancient Scriptures pose. First of all, reading the Bible …read more Source:: Christianity Today       ...
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