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How the Prophet Habakkuk Built an Anti-Fragile Faith
Lessons on worshiping a consistently unpredictable God.
My son, Luke, is a brilliant soccer player. Even at a young age, he had fantastic control skills and a powerful kick. Luke is also a brilliant artist, appreciating the beauty of the world around him and translating that onto paper with pencil and paint. Unfortunately, this combination was lethal. Luke’s team members had no idea whether he had his eye on the ball or was observing a falling leaf or a pink-petaled daisy. One minute he would be dedicated and deft, the next distant and distracted. By the time he turned five, it was made clear to my son that he had no future in the cutthroat world of our local boys’ soccer team. Unpredictability, it seems, makes relationships, trust, teamwork—and coming out on top—virtually impossible.
We all know that God never lets us down, that he is utterly reliable and consistent. The Bible teaches that God is immutable; unchanging in his nature, character, and purpose. He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” and does not “change like shifting shadows.” He is our Alpha and Omega, beginning and end; his love endures forever. So what do we do when he seems distracted? What do believers do when the circumstances of our lives make God seem erratic, distant, and unpredictable?
In Scripture, God’s people do not always experience God as predictable. God is more likely, it seems, to surprise and shock us. We ask him for one thing, and he gives us another. How can we trust a consistently unpredictable God who continually confounds our expectations?
Talking Back to God?
Economist Nassim Taleb describes how governments face a similar dilemma in the face of what he calls “black swan” events. These are incidents that nobody can predict; ...
How to Escape Americas Anger Problem
In this rancorous post-election season, some women are turning to tried-and-true solutions.
Last year, the BBC asked a question that many of us are still asking: “Why Are Americans So Angry?” According to a CNN/ORC poll from a year ago, “69 percent of Americans are either ‘very angry’ or ‘somewhat angry’ about ‘the way things are going’ in the US.” At the time, Republicans were the most angry, but more than two-thirds of us were angry about the economy, immigration, “Washington, and America’s ‘place in the world.’” 2017 has only fueled the fire for voters on both sides, and many of us are still getting red-faced about these and many other issues, as evidenced by the recent events at Middlebury and other free-speech squabbles.
While it’s easy to blame Trump for the rise in anger, his presidency is a reflection of our rising anger and not the cause of it. Moreover, there are larger forces at work, beyond economic and political ones. In a recent article for the Atlantic Monthly, Peter Beinart writes that a rising secularism is “making America’s partisan clashes more brutal.” He goes on to say, “As Americans have left organized religion, they haven’t stopped viewing politics as a struggle between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Many have come to define us and them in even more primal and irreconcilable ways.” Although he concedes that “establishing causation is difficult,” the absence of faith in some people’s lives has arguably impacted their disposition toward those with whom they disagree.
For those of us who still faithfully participate in church communities around the country, we still face the same problem of anger and partisan rancor that marks the American ...
Launch of the Chicagoland Church Planting Alliance
The Moody Church hosted the inaugural meeting.
Church planting can be hard, lonely work. Church planters often plod along, encouraging their flock without a peer network with which to share triumphs and frustrations.
As discussed here on The Exchange, one of the key issues facing church planters is maintaining spiritual, physical, and mental health. Many church planters are natural networkers, but very few major cities have church-planting alliances created specifically for this purpose.
The Chicagoland area is no exception. As we started to explore ways in which the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) could convene thought leaders in and around Chicago, our team discerned a need to bring together church planters in the Chicagoland area to do just that.
Several weeks ago, 70+ church planters from around the Chicagoland area braved a lakefront storm to meet at the historic Moody Church in Chicago. The first meeting of the Chicago Church Planting Alliance (CCPA) convened church planters from around the Chicagoland area—a metropolis that boasts a population of nine million plus. Over the years, church planters have worked tirelessly to reach Chicagoland with the gospel. The CCPA was created to raise awareness for the need for church planting, to share best practices, and to encourage church planters in the Chicagoland area.
Speakers for the first meeting included Ed Stetzer, Erwin Lutzer, David Washington, Gary Rohrmayer, and other church planting thought leaders.
Pastor Lutzer, who served as pastor of The Moody Church for thirty-six years, was asked to speak to attendees on finishing well in ministry. Lutzer shared six lessons from Moses’ life and experience to help planters think through what finishing well in ministry looks like.
Gary Rohrmayer shared several ...
The LAUNCH Survey: Helpful and Hindering Factors for Launching into Long-Term Missions
Sending agency surveyed 299 long-term missionaries.
A few years ago the founder of our training program said, “We have a lot of people who come to us with a desire to serve God internationally, but not all end up overseas. How can we help people get to the mission field? What things are helpful? What things hinder? How can we help address these issues?” These simple questions led to a search for how to appropriately steward the gifts and resources of people God has called and support them all the way into long-term missions. Out of these simple questions, the LAUNCH Survey was born.
There is no question that retention of missionaries once they reach the field is an essential issue when considering stewardship of missions mobilization. Thanks to the work of others, the missions community has studies on how to effectively retain missionaries on the field (Blocher 2005).
However, little has been published to understand the factors that help and hinder those who aspire to become long-term missionaries in the first place. The LAUNCH Survey aimed to investigate factors long-term missionaries attribute as being helpful or hindering to beginning their journey of working alongside Christ to fulfill the Great Commission.
Additionally, the survey considered whether or not generational differences exist about which factors were most helpful and which were not. The results include the most frequent positive factors leading to service, interesting generational differences that can impact future mobilization, and more questions than answers for which hindrances most get in the way of reaching the field.
The LAUNCH Survey was created following a preliminary open-ended survey of twenty respondents. From the qualitative answers of the preliminary survey, potential factors were ...
Engaging Churches in Caring for Incarcerated Persons and Their Families
Correctional ministry leader calls churches to care for the incarcerated as they do the sick.
What if churches treated prisoners with the same care and support that they treat those in their congregation who are sick? What if churches invested in the redemption of incarcerated persons with the same regularity and resources as they do the healing and restoration of those who are sick?
Both persons receive mention by Jesus in Matthew 25. Yet while entire congregations mobilize around the sick, ministry with and among incarcerated persons remains the domain of a select few volunteers. What if we could mobilize entire congregations around incarcerated persons and the families left behind?
Healing Communities USA trains and supports congregations around the country in this important work. The staggering numbers of persons in the criminal justice system makes it virtually impossible that an individual church does not have a family impacted by crime and incarceration. By creating a congregational culture of healing and restoration, a church can reduce the stigma around incarceration and help families come to grips with the ways in which they are directly impacted, and turn to the church for help.
One church in our network experienced this capacity for redemption in a powerful way. After hosting a Saturday training in the Healing Communities model, the next morning’s sermon dealt with the connection between the church and the incarcerated, acknowledging that:
4 Things Beth Moore Taught Me About Writing
What the biggest name in womens Bible studies wants the next generation to know.
By nearly every measure, Beth Moore is a powerhouse in our evangelical world. She’s prolific and popular, with dozens of books and Bible studies earning her spots on bestseller lists. She’s spoken at hundreds of conferences and hosts a weekly TV show.
She’s Beth Moore.
When someone has that level of success (not to mention her perfect Texas hair), we’re bound to wonder if she could really be as wise and wonderful as she seems. So I was skeptical but hopeful as I stepped into the sold-out writers conference, Lit, hosted by her Living Proof Ministries a few weeks ago.
The 59-year-old author launched the new event as a way to reach a group she saw being underutilized in the church and in need of encouragement: women in their 20s and 30s who are writers, teachers, and speakers. She gathered a dozen women who she has mentored through that stage to help instruct the 800 women in attendance. I was one of them, and here’s what I learned.
1. Each idea has a shelf life.
Moore compares the longevity of an idea to a train on tracks. The first stop is social media. Sometimes you’re riled up about something that demands an immediate response, so you fire off a tweet or Facebook post, and that’s that. But social media might fuel your passion, and the resulting discussion grows the idea into a blog post. If the idea still has more facets to explore, that blog post could develop into a sermon or session at a speaking engagement. Finally, when ideas continue to gain steam through social media, online articles, and teachings, they turn into longer-form projects like books or Bible studies.
Some ideas shouldn’t find their way past social media, few books could—or should—be distilled to a ...
Healing Victims of Human Trafficking: A Long, Slow Road to Transformation
When we give our lives to the service of others, THEY will change US.
If you’ve heard or know anything about human trafficking, then you’ve heard the term “modern-day slavery.” And that’s exactly what it is. There are more slaves in the world today than any other time in our history. We should be facing this social issue—this human issue—dead on, not stopping until human trafficking no longer exists. Men and women, boys and girls all over the globe are being forced into both labor and sex trafficking, and the life for someone coming out of this type of exploitation is devastating.
I first saw and experienced what human trafficking looks like on the streets of Chicago. It was 2011 when I participated in street outreach and met women and girls who were being forced to sell their bodies. It changed me forever, and led us to pursue opening a home for women who have been commercially sexually exploited. Five years later, Naomi’s House opened, and we welcomed our first resident in December 2016.
I’ve learned so much over the past five years. When I reflect on the journey, most of what I’ve learned has come from the survivors themselves, who have taught me that they are more than modern day slaves.
Clearing Up an Important Myth
Most women who are being sexually exploited are not being physically restrained. In fact, many survivor leaders warn anti-trafficking organizations not to use pictures of girls in handcuffs or chains to represent the women and girls who are stuck in this life. If we believe that sexually-exploited girls are always chained up, we’ll miss those who are being trafficked before our very eyes.
The exploitation of women and girls is everywhere, many times in plain sight. Nita Belles, author of In Our Backyard: A Christian ...
Princeton Seminary Reforms Its Views on Honoring Tim Keller
School rescinds a major theology prize amid complaints over womens ordination.
The most popular Reformed preacher and author in America today is not eligible to receive Princeton Theological Seminary’s annual award in Reformed theology and public witness.
The mainline seminary reversed its decision to honor Tim Keller with a prize named for neo-Calvinist theologian Abraham Kuyper following outcry over the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) pastor’s conservative positions.
Princeton president Craig Barnes announced the news in a letter released Wednesday morning.
Because the PCA conflicts with the seminary’s denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), on women and LGBT clergy, leaders agreed not to award Keller the prize and thus affirm his differing stance. However, the school has still scheduled the Redeemer Presbyterian pastor to speak on mission at an annual conference hosted by its Kuyper Center for Public Theology in April.
“In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the [PCA’s] views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year,” Barnes wrote.
Earlier this year, Princeton announced that the New York City pastor would receive its 2017 Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness. Its release called Keller “an innovative theologian and church leader” and a “catalyst for urban mission.”
In recent weeks, some Princeton alumni voiced concerns that, as a PCA pastor and complementarian, Keller’s beliefs conflict with the seminary’s embrace of “full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church.” A Christian Centurypost described his belief in male headship as “baptized abuse” and “toxic ...
Sharing the Gospel with People Who Aren't Thinking about Death or Eternity
How do we witness to people who don't think about heaven and aren't fearful of hell?
“That could’ve been me.”
We hate to be selfish and think about ourselves at a time like this, but we can’t help it when someone we know who is close to our own age dies. Death is unavoidable, and when it hits close to home, we can’t help but briefly wonder, What if?
The truth is, however, Americans are thinking about death and what happens afterwards less and less frequently, and this is especially true among young adults.
According to a somewhat dated (but likely still accurate) study done between 2006 and 2008 by Lifeway Research and reported on in Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them, 55% of young adults either never think about death or if they do, it’s only once a year. It’s just not on the radar for them.
Should this make a difference in how we try to share the gospel today?
There are several implications, but one thing is certain: many of us probably need to rethink our approach to evangelism because we are likely talking to people who don’t think about heaven and aren’t fearful of hell.
Factually, death is as present and inescapable as it ever has been, but it’s also an irrelevant topic to many, so we ought to approach it wisely. This at least implies to us that asking spiritually diagnostic questions about the eternal state of someone’s soul within the first 15 minutes of a conversation may not be the best idea.
Asking people if they know where they will spend eternity and why they believe what they do is as important as the topic of death itself and Christians should help people think about this.
However, as a rule for daily life in America today, pastors and leaders ought to spend more time helping the people we lead to ...
Why We Need Useless People
Babies with Down syndrome are aborted all over the world for being a burden to society. Heres how we can advocate for them.
My daughter Penny is in the fifth grade. She just went away for the weekend with her best friend and her family for the first time. She wears glasses. She feels nervous around dogs. She loves reading and spelling and recently asked her Prayer Buddy at church to pray for her about learning how to add fractions. She is responsible, smart, talented, and loving. She also has Down syndrome.
Today is World Down Syndrome Day, a day to celebrate the approximately six million children and adults around the globe who have Down syndrome (also known as trisomy 21). Any website or book devoted to this topic lists a set of physical features, medical concerns, and potential disabilities common among people with Down syndrome, but it is hard for me to think in these generalities anymore. Rather, I am drawn to portraits of people with Down syndrome that demonstrate their distinctive traits. I love reading stories about their different interests, abilities, and friendships. And yet most people in our world still see Down syndrome as something both monolithic and negative—a condition to be eradicated rather than a group of individuals to be welcomed and loved.
Historically, people with Down syndrome were pushed to the margins of our society through institutionalization. In more recent years, with the advent of prenatal screening tests that indicate the likelihood of trisomy 21 in fetuses, more and more women have chosen to pursue those tests and, in many cases, to terminate pregnancies accordingly. Although the number is tricky to calculate, in the United States, the rate of babies aborted with Down syndrome is around 50 percent and is likely to rise with the increased use of these prenatal tests.
A similar story can be told in developing ...
Church-Planting Shifts, Part Three: Preparing Our People for Witness
How do we prepare the mission force for the mission field?
In the past few weeks, I have talked about some recent church-planting shifts that I have noticed, both through the lens of research and some though anecdotal observations.
The world today is still reasonably familiar for church planters; yet the scene is changing as secularism grows, presenting a new challenge to the mission and ministry of the churches. The truth is, we are seeing more ‘nominal’ Christian people self-identify as no faith (“nones”) instead of Christian. Since nominal Christians have been a key part of the church planting strategy for most Christians (see my last post on this topic), it’s a shift that’s both new and challenging.
If we are to succeed in this new (more secular) space, we need to do more than simply acknowledge this shift. Instead, we need to prepare for it, and this includes preparing our church people for the paradigmatic shift to come.
So how do we prepare the mission force for the new mission field?
It begins with teaching our people to engage in ways that they’re not now accustomed to engaging. This is easier said than done, but it is essential for new church plants and movements of Christianity in the years to come.
In today’s culture, it’s easy to compare church experiences and allow people to decide which church they would like to attend. Our job is to invite them to a good church. In the secular context, however, having any prior exposure to church life should not be taken for granted.
The shift here is from invitation to engagement.
It’s from an approach which says, “Would you like to come to my church? It’s a great church!” to “How can I answer ...