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A Lament for Louisiana After the Floods

As I grieve the tragedy in my home state, Ive found solace in a surprising place.

I was born and raised in southern Louisiana, and flooding was a fact of life in our low-slung neighborhood. A summer cloudburst could put us on the five o’clock news in New Orleans, and we’d see our neighbors swimming in the drainage ditches and floating in pirogues down the street. Because I was a kid, this was more exciting than dangerous. School would be cancelled, and my parents would make daiquiris. I used to dream of waking up underwater, the house rocking gently, the window covered in fishing net. Those dreams were never unpleasant.

Now I’m grown with my own kids, and I live 1,000 miles away in Northern Michigan. I watched this summer’s historic flood unfold on my laptop screen. But this wasn’t just a routine summer storm in a neighborhood prone to filling up like a bowl. This was a freak weather event called a monsoon depression, and it dumped unprecedented amounts of precipitation across the south of my home state, killing at least 13 and displacing tens of thousands. I watched in horror as one of my closest friends posted video updates to Facebook. Mild concerns about whether the canal behind her house would hold quickly became frantic expressions of disbelief as the water filled her house and she boarded a truck driven by the National Guard.

“Just pray, y’all,” she signed off, her voice shaking. So I, dry and safe in my living room up north, lit my candles and prayed.

I didn’t leave Louisiana for any significant amount of time until I was well into adulthood. Where I come from, you grow up to live around the corner from your momma, but my momma died when I was 14. At 26, I moved to Pittsburgh for graduate school. I might as well have moved to the moon.

Those first ...

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The Louisiana Flooding: On The Ground With Relief Agencies And Why Christians Are Uniquely Suited To Help

Why Christians are uniquely suited to help in times of disaster.

Ed: Why are Christians uniquely suited to help those impacted by the flooding?

Ross Johnson, Director of Disaster Response, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: As Christians and congregations reach out, we're able to take care of spiritual and physical needs. FEMA and other organizations are very helpful with temporal needs, but they don’t offer spiritual care like local churches can. Congregations make a great hub of mercy and human care in their community. No one knows there community better than the local church or pastor, especially when a disaster happens and the majority of responders are from the outside, not always knowing the community’s history or culture.

Congregations were there before the tragedy and hopefully will be there for decades after the tragedy. After the first few weeks of the disaster, the congregation remains a hub of ministry, mercy, and outreach for the long term.

And it’s only the Church that has the voice of Christ which brings the peace that surpasses all understanding, whether it is to Christians or non-Christians. We have a phrase that we say: “Proclaiming the gospel even in the wake of a disaster."

Whatever opportunity that we have, we use it to share the good news for the hope that lies within. Our hope is not found in the things of this world that break and are destroyed, but rather, it's in the spiritual peace with God. I think the greatest disaster that one could go through is to die outside of the one true Christian faith.

David Melber, Vice President, Send Relief (North American Mission Board): In addition to the assessments, mud-outs, and feeding, we have a lot of chaplains here who will be ultimately ministering to the people who have lost everything they ...

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What 'No Man's Sky' and C. S. Lewis Tell Us About the Spirit of Our Age

The recent hit sci-fi video game promises an infinite galaxy to explore. Is that enough?

One wintry Minnesota morning when I was nine or ten, in the cold, dark hours before the sun would peek over the snowy woods and fields to the east of our farm, my mother shook me awake and asked me to go outside with her. I followed her downstairs, where she put on her old green parka and I, blinkingly, fumbled into my downy coat and snowpants. We went outside and she pointed to the night sky. At once I was filled with wonder and fear.

The aurora borealis, the Northern Lights, stretched and writhed in the sky above like a shimmering emerald snake wrapped around the world. As my mother walked to the barn, a milk pail dangling in her hand, I cowered beside her while stealing glances at the sky. As she went about her chores in the barnyard, I hid inside a doorway and peered upwards. For the first time in my life, I became aware of something utterly, even incomprehensibly, beyond myself. In that moment, I became like the stargazers of the Middle Ages, who looked on the night sky and saw not mere radiation and configurations of gas particles but the gates of heaven itself.

Around the same time, on the other side of the planet, the night sky of the Australian outback captured the imagination of another youth. Sean Murray, an Irishman whose family transplanted to the outback during his childhood, spent his evenings spellbound by the vast, twinkling vision of the Milky Way galaxy that blanketed the night sky. Unobscured by the light pollution of cities, Murray’s sky glittered and glistened in luminous brilliance. Murray grew up to be a programmer and video game developer. He worked on a variety of different projects and eventually launched a small, independent game studio called Hello Games. Through it all he never gave up on ...

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The Louisiana Flooding: On The Ground With Relief Agencies And How You Can Get Involved

What's happening and how you can help.

Ed: How is your organization responding to the disaster in Louisiana right now?

Ross Johnson, Director of Disaster Response, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod:

Right now we're partnering with Lutheran congregations across Louisiana, particularly in Baton Rouge.

The first phase of our disaster response is to partner with local congregations that are going to be doing muck-out and dealing with immediate needs of people who have been affected by the flooding.

We're anticipating the first eight to ten weeks we're going to be bringing volunteer teams in. We already have volunteers who going to do the muck-out, tearing out the flooring and drywall. We're also giving out flood buckets and emergencies supplies. We have elders at our churches and congregational pastors who are doing spiritual care during the immediate phase.

We like to blend hands-on help along with spiritual care. I think that's one thing that makes a church-based response slightly different than government-based responses is we don't only help out with temporal needs, but we also help out with spiritual needs.

We find that oftentimes when somebody has gone through a traumatic event in their life and has enormous economic loss or has been displaced, that they also need spiritual care. We have elders and spiritual care leaders within our congregation that are visiting as well as mucking-out homes.

David Melber, Vice President, Send Relief (North American Mission Board):

Right now we are doing a lot of assessing. The expanse of the flooding has impacted somewhere near 100,000 homes, and the estimates are running right now between 250,000 and 350,000 people. It is a disaster of epic proportions in the fact that so many of the people who had their homes ...

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The Pressure Of The Pastorate

In order to truly flourish, pastors need authentic and safe friendships.

Wow. I spoke with another friend and megachurch pastor who was removed from his church last month. As a leadership coach and pastor to pastors, it breaks my heart and causes me to lose sleep every time. What happened? Nothing really. Life. The gravitational pull. Pressure. Pride. That’s what happened.

At the end of the day, the ministry model so common in our day tends to lend itself for this to happen. One thing is sure...this is us, except by the grace of God. This is us, if we’re not careful. This is some of us if we keep going the way we’re going. To finish well, we will need to fight against the gravitational pull, and beat our bodies into submission.

This is our call: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

The #1 mistake I see pastors make is living in isolation. We don’t mean to, but we just get busy, overcommitted, overextended, exhausted, and sometimes even numb. After a long week of ministry, many of us just want to go home and binge on Netflix or self-medicate in some other way.

What’s missing in the lives of many megachurch pastors I know is genuine friendship, camaraderie, koinonia, and intimacy. We are missing relationships that are FOR us and WITH us, not just BEHIND us or UNDER us.

Jesus is our greatest example. Why did He pick the 12 apostles? Mark 3:14 tells us: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach…”

Even Jesus knew He needed people with Him and for Him. What do pastors really need? If there was one value I would list above all others it’s this: friends. Not acquaintances, ...

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A Splintered Boko Haram Becomes an Even Greater Threat to Christians

The plight of the 218 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls remains uncertain after a recent split in the worlds deadliest terrorist group.

A fracturing Boko Haram isn’t good news for the 218 mostly Christian schoolgirls who have been held captive since 2014.

In fact, militants killed 10 and kidnapped 13 more women and children from the primarily Christian village of Chibok on Saturday—the same place the girls are from. And a new video of the girls seems to signal new pressure on the Nigerian-based radical Islamist group.

Outside pressure comes from Nigeria’s military, which cracked down on Boko Haram’s territory in the northeast after the country elected Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015. Buhari promised to dismantle Boko Haram within a year; although he hasn’t done so, military pressure on the terrorist group has increased and its territory has shrunk.

Buhari has also been working on his relationship with the United States, which stepped up military help to the area. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Buhari in Nigeria this week; security concerns are on the agenda.

Boko Haram also faces internal fractioning. Earlier this month, ISIS backed a new leader for them. (Boko Haram transferred its loyalty from al Qaeda to ISIS last year.)

Abu Musab al Barawi, who is the son of Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf, was reportedly chosen because he is less violent toward Muslims than his predecessor. He immediately promised to narrow the scope of attacks to Christians.

The militants will handle Christians by “booby-trapping and blowing up every church that we are able to reach, and killing all of those who we find from the citizens of the cross,” al Barawi reportedly told an Islamic newspaper.

But Abubakar Shekau, the previous head of Boko Haram, hasn’t stepped aside. In a new video, he called al Barnawi an infidel who ...

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Does Your Church Talk About Prison?

The disparities in America's criminal justice system find an echo in which churches do, and don't, discuss the issue.

In a study of 1,000 mainline and evangelical pastors conducted by LifeWay Research this year, only 26 percent said they had addressed the country’s incarceration rates in the past six months.

Four out of five pastors (83%) said they had visited a correctional facility, and about three out of four pastors whose churches averaged 250 or more attendees reported that individual members were ministering to those in correctional facilities (80%), the families of the incarcerated (73%), and those coming home (78%). But these same churches were far less likely to have formal programs: Just over half (53%) said a team from their church worked in correctional facilities. About 1 in 4 churches had a formal ministry to families of incarcerated people (24%) and people leaving correctional facilities (22%).

Responses varied dramatically by race. One third of African American pastors (32%) reported mentioning mass incarceration in the last month, compared with only 7 percent of whites. White pastors were most likely to say that they had never addressed it in a sermon (41%).

That’s partially because of their audience: About one third of African American pastors (29%) estimated that 10 percent or more of their church’s attendees currently had an incarcerated family member. Fewer than 1 in 10 white pastors (8%) said the same.

About one third of churches overall said that no one in their congregation had been previously incarcerated. That was more likely to be true for majority-white churches (33%) than majority-black churches (19%).

Overall, however, Karen Swanson, director of the Institute for Prison Ministries at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, thinks these latter numbers are too high. Instead, it’s likely ...

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Adding Criminal Justice Reform to Prison Ministry

Churches and ministries are becoming increasingly involved in prison reform.

In the early 19th century, evangelicals were at the forefront of prison reform—England’s Elizabeth Fry being a foremost example. Today, while many churches have or support prison ministries of mercy and evangelism, very few work on criminal justice reform. Four out of five American churches (80%) say they are not currently involved in advocacy to reform the criminal justice system, according to statistics from new LifeWay Research published this year. But among those that are involved, African American pastors are two-and-a-half times more likely (42%) than white pastors (16%) to say that they are currently involved.

The PICO National Network is trying to change those statistics. Its Live Free campaign organizes dozens of predominantly black and Latino pastors to address mass incarceration and gun violence in their communities.

PICO works across faith traditions, and since the campaign started in 2010, it has partnered with evangelical institutions like the Exponential Conference and Urbana to teach about mass incarceration.

Michael McBride, director of the Live Free campaign, said, “I try to remind people that when it comes to addressing systems of justice, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.”

Prison Fellowship’s traditional way of engaging churchgoers has been through ministries of mercy. Its Angel Tree program encourages donors to purchase presents for the children of prisoners. McBride’s wife benefited from the program herself as a child.

Earlier this year, however, Prison Fellowship also created an advocacy volunteer coordinator.

And this May, Prison Fellowship announced an 18-member Faith and Justice Fellowship. The bipartisan network of politicians, ...

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Behind the Trinity Tussle

For complementarian women, the debate was more than abstract.

The evangelical blogosphere engaged in a major theological debate about the Trinity this summer, with more than 150 posts published within five weeks. Malcolm Yarnell, theology department chair at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he had “never seen anything like it.”

The debate focused on Christ’s relationship to God the Father. Some argue that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father, while others say the Son was subordinate in his earthly life only. It transformed a decades-old proxy war between some complementarians and egalitarians over what the Trinity reveals about God’s design for gender roles into a civil war between complementarians (see CT’s online explainer, “Gender and the Trinity,” June ’16).

While complementarian women wrote only a handful of the posts, they played a significant role in launching the conversation and raising concerns over how the distinction can play out in the pews.

The original post came from Presbyterian pastor Liam Goligher. He stated that theologians Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem are distorting Trinitarian relations in order to uphold their view of gender roles. (Grudem is the founder of the complementarian Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood [CBMW].)

Goligher’s post appeared at Housewife Theologian, a blog written by Aimee Byrd and hosted at an Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals website. Byrd, alongside co-hosts Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt, have challenged certain complementarian rhetoric and teaching for years.

“She is the one continually bringing it up to these men and calling out patriarchy,” said Hannah Anderson, author of Made for More, a book about Christian women and identity. “She can ...

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Urban Churches Face Black Flight

African American congregations try two new options to stay in DC: white neighbors and developers.

Elegant and enormous, Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church dominates fashionable H Street in Washington, DC. The building appears busy: Families come and go for preschool, and two services are held on Sundays.

But the banner out front hints at a complicated truth: “Two Churches, One Mission.” The Romanesque-style church, home to a robust black congregation for more than half a century, has faced steep membership declines in recent years.

In an effort to survive, the church has joined forces with a new one composed largely of young white residents—which already outstrips their group in size.

The changes at Douglas Memorial echo those happening all over the capital, and in many pockets of the country. Cities are transforming as young, educated whites flock to urban areas, including low-income neighborhoods.

At the same time, in a trend some are calling “black flight,” African Americans are leaving cities in record numbers. Middle-class black families are cashing in on skyrocketing property values; others are renters forced to seek lower housing prices outside city limits.

According to a 2015 analysis by Governing magazine, over half of DC’s eligible census tracts have gentrified since 2000. Over the same period, the city’s black population dropped from 60 percent to less than 50 percent, while its white population rose from 30 percent to more than 40 percent.

In some cases, blacks leaving for the suburbs will drive back to the city for church on Sundays. Parking spaces are increasingly scarce, leading to a recent clash between the churches and their new neighbors. When the city proposed a bike lane that would’ve reduced parking near several large black churches, supporters on either ...

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