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Why True Crime Is Making a Comeback

We have all been Jinxed and Serialed.

Last year’s Serial—a 12-episode podcast investigating the 1999 murder of a Baltimore student—sparked a phenomenon. Each week, millions of listeners anxiously looked to their smartphones, tablets, and computers for new installments of the true-crime drama to appear. Serial set off a slew of social media chatter, think pieces, and more podcasts. “In the normally low-profile world of podcasting,” wrote Ellen Gamerman of The Wall Street Journal, “Serial is a certified sensation—a testament to the power of great storytelling.”

Serial cocreator and narrator Sarah Koenig recounts the case of Adnan Syed, a man convicted of strangling his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, during their senior year of high school. Serial’s first season ended ambiguously, refusing to definitively answer the basic question, “Did Syed kill Hae Min Lee?” But the show’s ambiguity only piqued listener interest. Serial quickly became one of the most popular podcasts in history, the fastest, according to Apple, to reach 5 million streams or downloads.

Similarly, HBO’s documentary series The Jinx captivated audiences in early 2015. Sketching the life of enigmatic millionaire Robert Durst, The Jinx tried to prove that Durst murdered his first wife, his best friend, and a next-door neighbor.

Arguably, The Jinx succeeded where Serial fell short. The final episode ended with Durst saying that he “killed them all, of course.” Durst’s apparent confession, combined with his arrest on the day of the show’s finale, incited strong commentary from the media and broader public. According to Canvs, a qualitative social TV platform, 35,108 tweets went out about The Jinx in ...

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Finding the Right Church Plant Model: The Traditional Model (Part 2)

Which church planting model is right for you? Is it the Traditional Model?

In the introduction to this series, I listed the five primary models of church planting and outlined some considerations for church planters deciding between them.

The challenge is that too many church planters fall in love with a model of church planting before falling in love with the people being reached. They end up disregarding some tools that might fit their context.

In this post I want to provide some basic information regarding the traditional model and what reasons might compel someone to plant a church in this way.

Prior to the mid 1990’s, before the church-planting boom, before church-planting became mainstream, there were unsung planters like Larry Lewis, author of Church Planter’s Handbook, who simply embraced the mantra, “Go and tell.”

In other words, they had a call to fulfill Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). As a result, they would move to an area with an evangelistic passion to share the gospel with as many as they could. Over time, converts were made who then became the foundational base of the church.

That church would start worship when they had four faith families (that was Larry's stated plan), then would start Sunday School soon after, and use Sunday School to mobilize the church to reach more people.

You say, "Ed, is anyone doing it that way anymore?"

Well, you bet they are—just not at the big conferences.

While this model has lost its appeal as a model of choice for many contemporary planters, it is the most common choice among minority cultures. And, there are also some majority culture plants that start this way.

Why is this model effective among such groups?

Think about it.

Let’s say you are a Cuban who ...

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China Sees Red: Christian Protest Puts Hundreds of Crosses Back in Public

Protestants and Catholics unite for 'safe and legal non-violent disobedience.'

The government of "China's Jerusalem" has torn down hundreds of giant red crosses from church buildings over the past two years. Now Chinese Protestants and Catholics are joining together to put red crosses—albeit much smaller ones—back in the public eye.

In an online campaign, church leaders in the eastern province of Zhejiang have called on Christians to craft hundreds of small wooden crosses, paint them red, and display them at home or on their cars.

“Each time they take a cross down, we will put more up,” one church leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity, toldThe Guardian. “We are even considering making flags and clothes with cross patterns. We will make the cross flourish throughout China.”

The removal campaign began in 2013, but hit Christians hardest last summer. Hundreds of crosses were removed, sometimes along with the demolition of entire churches.

Christians protested, at times sitting in front of their building or cross to protect it. More than 100 people were detained or arrested in connection with cross removals in 2014, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported. Another 38 were beaten or injured during protests.

Cross removals decreased last fall, and seemed to die out altogether over the winter, but picked up steam again this spring. In May, 17 crosses were removed. In July, 10 more. (CSW compiled an interactive timeline.)

Also in May, the government released new guidelines for church crosses: They must be short, no more than one tenth the height of the building’s facade. They must be unobtrusive, painted a color that blends in with the building. And they must be placed on the building, not above it. The rules mean that most ...

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First Female Coach Enters the Mans World of the NFL

Welcome to the big leagues, Jen Welter.

If you do a Google image search for Jen Welter, the pictures are striking. Beneath the bulky helmet and facemask, her bright red lips and expertly made-up eyes pop. She curls a muscled bicep just enough to indicate strength and power. The feminine tone of her face seems to war with her masculine set of muscles.

This is the woman who made history last week when she became NFL’s female coach. Welter was picked up by the Arizona Cardinals as an assistant coaching intern, scheduled to work with the organization's inside linebackers during training camp and the pre-season. As Welter puts it, "It's exciting to show not only women and girls, but pretty much everyone that anything is possible."

For years, media, fans, and NFL insiders speculated whether or not a woman could ever join the ranks of an NFL coaching staff. Many were, and remain, skeptical. As Mike Francesa put it on his daily talk show, “I did not think, folks, that I would see a female coach in the NFL...It’s not that she can’t know the x’s and o’s—it’s not about the x’s and o’s. It’s about the idea of how football teams are run.” For years it’s been said that women can’t coach football because they don’t play football. Welter’s resume, however, tells a different story.

Welter, who holds a master's and PhD. in sports psychology is no stranger to the barriers her gender has posed to her chosen career path; she has blasted through them before. In February, she became the first woman to join a men's professional coaching staff when the Texas Revolution (a professional indoor football team) hired her to coach the organization’s linebackers ...

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3 Sermon Prep tips for Bi-vocational Pastors

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 out to a full day of work at around the same time.

Vedoya spends every weekday—between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.—working at Hope Mission. Then, as the family reconvenes at 5 p.m. for dinner, he spends much-needed time discipling and enjoying his family.

But on nights and weekends Vedoya’s focus shifts to planting a church in one of the toughest-to-reach cities in North America. Despite the busyness, this often-hectic lifestyle is not something the father of three regrets.

“I’m working 50 hours a week and planting a church. My wife is working, too,” said Vedoya

It may not be possible to save time at every point of the week, but here are ...

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To Kill a Predator

What is it about this lions death that has us so outraged?

Even though the story of Dr. Walter J. Palmer and Cecil the Lion was an unusual one—a Minnesota dentist who illegally lured, tortured, and killed a famous lion in Zimbabwe— it was easy to predict how people would react:

1. Palmer would become a public enemy, criticized and declared evil. He would have to hide.
2. His news would be read in comparison to the other social justice stories in our feeds. So, those expressing outrage over the lion’s death would get shamed for caring more about the slain animal than the unborn or Sandra Bland.

I knew the first because I've been around the Internet long enough. People's lives and careers have been trampled by tweets, shares, and likes for “less” than illegally shooting a beloved lion. And I knew the second because I've been around Christians long enough.

From the time as a kid I began applying Scripture about justice to protecting animals to my current outspoken advocacy for pit bulls, I've heard people try to redirect my outrage. Why do I care more about homeless dogs than homeless people? Why do I care more about overcrowded animal shelters than overpopulated orphanages? Why am I more at ease sharing the “good news” about pit bulls than I am about Jesus?

Drained of my defensiveness, I’ve stopped responding with a resolute, “I don’t!” and started asking, "Why would you think that?" I’d pose the same question to those who think outrage over a lion’s slaughter means we don’t care about unborn children and selling baby parts or about police brutality and the suicide of Sandra Bland. This isn’t an either/or situation.

That the tale of Cecil the Lion and ...

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Review: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Saving the world—and a dark and bloated summer movie season—at the last possible second.

mpaa rating:PG-13 (For sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity.)Genre:ActionDirected By: Christopher McQuarrie Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg Theatre Release:July 31, 2015 by Paramount Pictures

I suspect that by the time the next Mission: Impossible film rolls around I won’t remember a thing about Rogue Nation’s plot—or much else, except maybe Tom Cruise hanging on to an airplane door. (Or was that the one where he was hanging from a glass skyscraper?) It’s surprisingly pleasurable, a romp through a series a snazzy set pieces that are linked by familiar themes. What’s fun about it comes from how it's executed, rather than any innovation.

And execute, it does. The latest installment in the long-running franchise somehow manages to find the shrinking sweet spot between pretense and camp. The movie never winks at the audience, but it also refuses to take itself too seriously.

After its prologue–one of several echoes of the Bond franchise that seem deliberate–we see Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) adrift. He’s learned that the secrecy and integrity of the IMF force has been compromised, and then he watches a colleague’s execution. Hunt himself escapes the same fate through the intercession of the mysterious Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), who then becomes the focus of Ethan’s attempts to find out and take down a shadowy syndicate responsible for much of the world’s terrorism.

Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Dunn (Simon Pegg) are pressured to help bring Ethan back into the fold by Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) and a group of snotty government oversight types who have the temerity to suggest that the IMF’s track record is mostly the result of . . . luck! (This might be one of the film’s half winks to the audience, signaling that all of us know how absurd this genre is, one in which members of the team are saved from death or torture, by less than a second, ...

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Tullian Tchividjian Resigns after Admitting 'Inappropriate Relationship'

(UPDATED) Billy Graham's grandson says hiding from public eye would 'undermine the very message that I claim to believe.'

Update (July 30): Less than six weeks after resigning as the senior pastor of a prominent Orlando-based church because of an affair, Tullian Tchividjian says he has no plans to withdraw from the public eye.

“One of the big questions I’ve wrestled with is, how do I properly steward this glorious ruin?” wrote Tchividjian on his Facebook page Tuesday. While Billy Graham’s grandson wanted to crawl “into a hole and be anonymous for a long, long time,” Tchividjian said he feared that his message of grace—the topic of many of his previous books—might be undermined if he stayed quiet.

“If I only let you see me when I’m ‘good’ and ‘strong’ and polished and ‘at the top’, I undermine the very message that I claim to believe,” wrote Tchividjian. “...But if I run away because I don’t want you to see me broken and weak and sad and angry and struggling with fear and guilt and shame, then I fail to practice what I preach—and one of the many things I’ve learned from this is that failing to practice what you preach is destructive.”

Tchividjian, who has continued to tweet and post on Facebook since the news of his affair broke, said he would use the social media platforms to update the public on “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Some of his tweets show family life, with photos of a new grandchild. On July 29, he tweeted a photo of his late father, Stephan Tchividjian.

“My dad would've been 76 today,” he wrote. “No one would've helped me more right now than him. I miss him. Bad.”

Tchividjian’s ministry Liberate, which launched in 2012, closed indefinitely ...

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From the Lunch Table to the Dissection Table: The Latest Planned Parenthood Pricing Parts Video

(UPDATED) 'Another boy!' says fetal tissue procurement tech as medical director discusses strategy to avoid legal problems.

Update (July 30): A Planned Parenthood medical director in Colorado discussed in April how to talk about the organization's procurement of fetal tissue and body parts as "research," not as a business transaction to avoid violating federal law. This is featured in the fourth video from the pro-life Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

"Putting it under ‘research’ gives us a little bit of an overhang over the whole thing,” said Savita Ginde, medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM), an affiliate that performs 10,000 abortions per year. "If you have someone in a really anti state who’s going to be doing this for you, they’re probably going to get caught." The comments were made as CMP plants recorded the discussion with an undercover video camera.

Later in a lab, a PPRM lab tech exclaims, "Another boy!" as the fetal body parts are examined to determine if they are not too "war-torn" and could be processed and shipped to a research lab.

CMP used two people to pose as procurement middlemen to expose the allegedly criminal trade in fetal body parts and tissue. Ginde in another clip from the video says that PPRM asked its attorney to address the legality of tissue procurement.

“He’s got it figured out that he knows that even if, because we talked to him in the beginning, you know, we were like, ‘We don’t want to get called on,’ you know, ‘selling fetal parts across states,’ ”

The CMP plant asks, “And you feel confident that they’re building those layers?”

Ginde replies, “I’m confident that our legal will make sure we’re not put ...

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Interview: Meet the Filmmaker Exposing Planned Parenthood

How a 26-year-old founded the undercover operation to take down the abortion giant.

For years, a group of pro-life activists and politicians have waged a fierce political and brand war with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a billion-dollar nonprofit that has positioned itself as a champion for women’s health.

Pro-life groups and other critics called the abortion giant—Planned Parenthood terminates more than 300,000 pregnancies per year—a rogue organization that misuses about $500 million a year in government funds to underwrite its lucrative abortion business.

After a string of victories from 2011, the movement to defund Planned Parenthood largely stalled out. A month ago, the movement was dead in the water.

Not anymore.

A series of undercover videos, showing Planned Parenthood executives haggling over the price for donated fetal tissue and organs over lunch and during a dissection, have the abortion giant on the defensive.

The videos, which claim Planned Parenthood profits from selling fetal tissue, caused public outrage and launched nationwide rallies. As many as seven states, including Texas, have planned hearings or investigations into Planned Parenthood’s tissue donation program. Pro-life members of the US Senate introduced a bill to cut all federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

All of which is what David Daleiden wanted.

Daleiden, 26, is executive director of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the pro-life nonprofit that produced the videos. He’s a former director of research for Live Action, a pro-life group that specializes in undercover abortion clinic videos. Daleiden told CT he started CMP to focus on more long-term, in-depth projects.

For years, he told CT, Planned Parenthood has donated thousands of fetal remains to biotech middlemen, ...

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