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Do Digital Decisions Disciple?

Online evangelists report the equivalent success of one Billy Graham crusade per day.

Three years ago, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) shifted its focus to online evangelism. It laid off about 50 people—10 percent of its staff—and “redeployed resources to focus on areas of greater impact.”

The change seems to be paying off. In 2014, the BGEA shared the gospel with almost 9.5 million people around the world. Of those, only about 180,000 were in a live audience at a crusade, while 7.5 million were reached through BGEA websites.

Of the 1.6 million people who told the BGEA they prayed “to accept Jesus Christ as [their] Savior” in 2014, less than 15,000 did so in person, while more than 1.5 million did so with the click of a mouse.

Since the BGEA launched its family of evangelistic websites—which include SearchForJesus.net and PeaceWithGod.net—less than 4 years ago, more than 5 million people have indicated a decision for Jesus.

More than 20,000 people view a gospel presentation every day, essentially “a crusade a day online,” said John Cass, the BGEA’s Internet evangelism director.

And the BGEA isn’t even the biggest kid on the block. Global Outreach Media (GMO), which began in 2004 as part of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) and spun off in 2011, reports more than 30 million online decisions for Jesus in 2014 out of 400 million viewed presentations across its 250 sites.

The numbers are mind-boggling—and accurate, said Michelle Diedrich, GMO’s chief marketing officer. “We have had our tracking and reporting verified and our systems audited. The great thing about the Internet is it’s all trackable.”

While some doubt that eternal salvation can be gained with the click of a button, ...

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Welcome to the Golden Age of Global Charity

Thanks to innovations in accountability, poverty-fighting efforts are flourishing like never before.

The global aid industry is experiencing an unparalleled era of evolution and transformation. Globalization of media has increasingly brought the plight of the world’s poor, disadvantaged, and disabled before our eyes. A growing awareness of the chasm between the privileged and the poor has spawned a tremendous burst of creativity in efforts to end poverty.

At the same time there has been an increasing demand for heightened scrutiny over the impact of poverty programs. Do any of them really work?

New evaluation tools have been adopted by a generation of academic researchers keen to answer this question, and we now have an array of surprising results. In A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, husband and wife Nicholas Kristof (columnist for The New York Times) and Sheryl WuDunn (a business executive and former Times journalist) chronicle these exciting developments. This is the best new book for those with a passion for understanding the most innovative and effective ways to love their global neighbor.

Restoring Accountability

The size of the charitable aid industry would surprise most people. The 1.4 million charities in the United States alone receive $1.5 trillion in revenues every year, mostly from private donations and government grants. Kristof and WuDunn point out that just in terms of its sheer mass, the charity industry is enormous, more than twice the size of the U.S. defense industry. The central theme of A Path Appears is how charitable endeavors are being transformed by a series of welcome innovations.

For example, until recently there has been very little understanding of whether dollars given to purported beneficiaries have translated into actual benefits. In many respects ...

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Make New Friends, Keep Texting the Old

Technology does too good a job at sustaining our distant friendships.

More than one million young, college-educated Americans move across state lines each year, according to new research reported in The New York Times. I belong to this mobile generation, with each move forcing me to say goodbye to pals from childhood, college, graduate school, and beyond.

I am grateful to have several friends whom I consider kindred spirits—who I can call up at any time and talk to about anything, who listen closely, care deeply, and pray unceasingly for me.

Every single one of these friends lives out of state.

Because of cell phones and constant Internet access, that distance doesn’t matter as much as it once might have. Friends message urgent prayer requests and updates. Through social media, we can keep up with some of the more mundane aspects of each other’s daily lives.

When psychologists and anthropologists investigate how modern technology affects our relationships, they often note the sheer number of “friends”—the average person on Facebook has 338. And they look at ways social media help to create an ever-widening network of shallow virtual connections and acquaintances.

Yet for people like me, social media let us keep certain people as part of our inner circle despite the distance, thus diverting our energy away from newer, in-person acquaintances. In a paradox of the times, technology has helped this generation maintain emotionally close, long-distance friends while staying emotionally distant from local friends. We can keep the friends we found in college and graduate school as we move to different locations seeking jobs. Though we may make new friends locally, technology enables us to fall back on old friends far away when crises hit. Quick texts ...

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News: How Libya's Martyrs Are Witnessing to Egypt

Murders spark largest outreach ever amid new freedoms and new threats.

Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Christians in Libya, the director of the Bible Society of Egypt saw a golden gospel opportunity.

“We must have a Scripture tract ready to distribute to the nation as soon as possible,” Ramez Atallah told his staff the evening an ISIS-linked group released its gruesome propaganda video. Less than 36 hours later, Two Rows by the Sea was sent to the printer.

One week later, 1.65 million copies have been distributed in the Bible Society’s largest campaign ever. It eclipses even the 1 million tracts distributed after the 2012 death of Shenouda, the Coptic "Pope of the Bible." [A full English translation is posted at bottom.]

The tract contains biblical quotations about the promise of blessing amid suffering, alongside a poignant poem in colloquial Arabic:

Who fears the other?
The row in orange, watching paradise open?
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?

“The design is meant so that it can be given to any Egyptian without causing offense,” said Atallah. “To comfort the mourning and challenge people to commit to Christ.”

The Bible Society distributed the tract through Egypt’s churches, but one congregation went a step further.

Isaaf Evangelical Church, located on one of downtown Cairo’s busiest streets, hung a poster on its wall at eye-level with pedestrians. “We learn from what the Messiah has said,” it read over the background of an Egyptian flag. “‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you….’”

Pastor Francis Fahim said the poster was meant to express comfort to all Egyptians, Muslim and Christian.

As CT reported on Thursday, the beheadings by the Islamic ...

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Are Butterflies a New Creation After All?

Their metamorphosis has inspired spiritual metaphors and biological debate for centuries.

If you were to describe how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it would probably sound a lot like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. You might not include his bits about chocolate cake, lollipops, sausages, and pickles—but you know he gets it basically right. A caterpillar hatches from an egg, eats until it gets really fat, then creates its chrysalis shell. After a few weeks it pushes its way out and becomes “a beautiful butterfly”!

But wait, how did the caterpillar turn into a butterfly?

You have to love the answer at kidsbutterfly.org: “This is not easy to explain.” It goes on to try: “You can say that inside the chrysalis the caterpillar changes clothes and turns into a butterfly. (An esoteric explanation: Inside the chrysalis the caterpillar structures are broken down chemically and the adult's new structures are formed.)”

Right. But getting “broken down chemically” isn’t exactly compatible with “changing clothes,” unless you’re talking about a sartorial stew. The most frequently used word to describe the inside of a chrysalis at its most transformative moment as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly is soup. There’s no caterpillar carefully attaching wings to its back, or half-caterpillar half-butterfly hybrid. It’s just a wet, gooey mess in there.

The caterpillar’s body has melted, special enzymes dissolving tissues as the creature digests itself. Its legs? Gone. In fact, if a caterpillar lost one of its legs during its life, not to worry: The butterfly will have six anyway upon its emergence. The caterpillar’s eyes? Liquefied into the protein sludge, to be remade into some new part of the ...

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Amnesty Is Not a Dirty Word

Christians, of all people, should know that.

Before President Obama announced his executive order this fall to integrate some 5 million illegal immigrants into our political life, and before a judge halted the program this week, charges of “Amnesty!” rang loud and clear.

Like “The Case against Obama’s Amnesty,” which Sen. John Cornyn argued at National Review days earlier. Afterward, the charges only rang louder: “Congress hasn’t passed immigration legislation,” announced the Heritage Foundation, “but that hasn’t stopped President Obama from issuing directives that grant amnesty to illegal immigrants.”

The word has been so toxic, pro-reform groups like the Evangelical Immigration Table (a Christian coalition that includes World Vision, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) avoids it like the Ebola virus. Even the President distanced himself from it, saying that giving legal status and work permits to nearly 5 million immigrants is “certainly not amnesty, no matter how often critics say it.”

Why are so many of us frightened of amnesty—defined as “a general pardon for offenses, especially political offenses, against a government”—for illegal immigrants?

Opponents of Obama’s recent order lament a disregard for “the rule of law.” As Kansas’ secretary of state—a devout Baptist and ardent opponent of immigration reform—put it, “I believe in rules and fairness.… We can argue it a million ways, but really, what more is there to say?” The argument continues: If we pardon illegal immigrants, law and order will break down, and millions more immigrants ...

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China on the Move: The Great Gospel Migration

For separated families, Lunar New Year reunions mean more than ever.

Think of it as the Chinese version of Christmas. Lunar New Year—celebrated today, February 19—is the one holiday when everyone in China returns home to be with family, exchange gifts, and eat as much as they can.

But this simple cultural tradition has turned into a logistical nightmare for Chinese citizens, increasingly drawn away from their countryside hometowns for jobs in urban centers. With upwards of 260 million migrant workers—nearly one-fifth of the entire population—heading home for the holiday, Chinese authorities predict there will be 2.8 billion individual passenger journeys across the Middle Kingdom in the next few weeks.

It has become the largest annual human migration on the planet.

New Year reunions are so important that most Chinese will go to any lengths to make the trip, including waiting in line for days for train or bus tickets, or shelling out a sizable amount of their income to purchase flights. When I was living in China, a co-worker of mine purchased a standing-only train ticket home because it was all he could get. The one-way trip took 12 hours.

Many migrant workers in China’s cities have left behind aging parents; some have left behind their own children. The government forces these hard choices with its hukou system of family registration. Individuals inherit their designation as either “rural” or “urban” residents, which determines where they can access government benefits for education, healthcare, and retirement. Even if their parents are working in a city, rural children often cannot attend school or gain affordable healthcare there, and so are left in the countryside with their grandparents or other relatives.

Today as many ...

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We Are More Than '21'

The '21' showed us that despite our differences, we are one family in Christ.

Last week I saw something gruesome, but then something beautiful.

I forced myself to watch the execution of 21 Coptic men by ISIS members in Libya. It was one of the most nightmarish things I have ever witnessed. I did not do this because I relish violence in any way, but because I felt it was important to be reminded of what true persecution is. Contrary to the conception that I often hold, persecution is not when someone scoffs at my beliefs or smirks when I pray before a meal. That is “aggravation.” “Persecution” is someone pressing a knife to your throat because you follow Christ. And as much as it hurt my soul to watch that video, I needed that reminder.

But over the week that followed, I witnessed something truly beautiful take place. First, the Coptic church stood quickly in solidarity with their fallen sons. The men were officially canonized by the church as martyrs. One slain man’s brother thanked ISIS for including their final cries to Jesus in the video, saying that by doing so, ISIS had inadvertently “strengthened our faith.”

But these tributes were not limited to the Coptic church. From all around the world, Christians from diverse traditions stood in solidarity with those 21 men. Facebook and Twitter profile pictures were changed to the number “21,” honoring the 21 lives that were lost. Many Western evangelicals voiced their support, including Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer. Ann Voskamp wrote a powerful tribute and initiated a prayer campaign for persecuted Christians around the world. And Pope Francis gave this stirring statement:

“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out. If they are Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, ...

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Black Future Month: Why We Choose to Look Ahead

In a nation still plagued with injustice, we remember history so we can move forward.

Black History Month, held each February, is a consecrated time on America’s calendar when we honor the sacrifices of our ancestors: the tireless efforts of women’s rights activists like Sojourner Truth, abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, thought leaders like W.E.B Du Bois, movement shakers like Martin Luther King Jr., and voting rights activists like Fannie Lou Hamer.

These leaders, their names are familiar from Black History Month lessons and tributes, worked over centuries to address the country’s moral failure to value black lives. From the moment that the first blacks were forcibly removed from West Africa and placed on this soil, we have fought for this country to recognize what God has always affirmed: our humanity.

The figures honored during Black History Month have granted us freedom, the ability to vote, and housing and employment legislation promising equal opportunity. Schools are no longer segregated, we are sitting at the same lunch counters and in the same restaurants as our white brothers and sisters, and we are generally living better lives than our ancestors. The significance of these gains cannot be overstated.

While we must remember the sacrifices of those who came before us, we cannot allow memory to dull us to the present reality. In 2015, it’s become all the more important for black people to envision how we will build upon the work of our ancestors. What will our contribution be in a society that continues to struggle with systemic injustice?

Writing for Sojourners, Dominique DuBois Gillard explains how this February marks not only Black History Month, but also Black Future Month:

Black Future Month, a term coined by the new black vanguard, seeks to build upon ...

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The Secret Shame of Abortion in the Church

A more public discussion of abortion stories can lead the way to healing.

When Jackie sent an email to her church asking about its post-abortion recovery group, she used an alias and created a new account to hide her identity. Even now, 11 years after her abortion, and after sharing her story to dozens of other women, Jackie asked me not to use her real name. She still hasn’t told her daughter or many people at church that she’s had an abortion. “It’s just such a shameful secret,” she said.

Abortion is difficult for almost any post-abortive woman to discuss. Pro-choice activists attribute this reluctance to a pervasive stigma that stems from society’s “shame-based message that abortion is wrong.” They try to remove this shame by defending abortion, saying unborn babies are not persons or convincing women that abortion actually did them, or society, a favor.

However, in the church, we face the challenge of upholding the sanctity of life, while simultaneously ministering to women who feel overwhelming shame about their abortions. Our response is not to deny the sin and death inherent in abortion. Instead, we point women to the healing found in a community centered around the One who redeems us from all sin.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in every five women who gets an abortion identifies as a born-again, evangelical, charismatic, or fundamentalist Christian. Given that more than a million women abort each year in the US, this means a staggering 200,000 Bible-believing Christians annually. And according to Christian ministries working with this population, a vast majority of them will never reveal their secret.

In interviews with about a dozen post-abortive Christian women, I heard each say they deeply regret their abortions ...

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The Problem with Quiet Times

As a mother of three small children, when I stopped having disciplined set apart time with God, my faith grew.

When I was in high school, I learned about this practice of many evangelical Christians called quiet times. Quiet times didn’t only involve an absence of distracting noise, but also a Bible and a journal and maybe a book about something spiritual. I read through the New Testament during my quiet times one summer. I wrote down my prayers and filled a bookshelf with those pleas and confessions in one spiral bound notebook after another. I learned a lot about God, I soaked in a lot of Scripture, and I grew as a Christian.

I don’t mean to imply that I did this every single day for years, but a methodical and disciplined walk through the Bible, with some time for prayer and reflection built in, did become a part of most of my days.

Then I had children, and what had been a life-giving regular practice became first a task, and then an area of failure. First, I was tired. Not just one morning, but every morning. For years. Second, I was often feeling somewhat angry with God for my situation. My prayers for William to sleep longer at night went unanswered. My prayers for patience and endurance also seemed ignored. And I wondered if my life had any meaning as I faced the tasks of cleaning bodily fluids, rocking a fussy baby, and managing an onslaught of laundry. Third, even when I wasn’t exhausted or angry, my kids don’t believe in quiet. They believe in noise and interruptions. On the odd morning that I would set my alarm earlier than their usual time to awaken, they simply woke up along with me. They were loud. And they interrupted often.

So I abandoned the idea of a daily, set aside, sit-by-myself, quiet time.

My faith grew.

The problem with quiet times as I knew them was that they made no room ...

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ISIS Kidnaps 100 Christians in Syria: Prisoner Swap, or Libya-Style Propaganda?

(UPDATED) Christian leader: In light of 'barbaric record with the captured, the destiny of these families is a major concern to us.'

Update (Feb. 25): Assyrian activists tell CNN that they expect ISIS to release a video today threatening to kill the approximately 150 Christian captives unless President Obama and other leaders end joint air strikes against the group.

An "official" confirmed the claim, CNN noted Wednesday morning on its Twitter account.

The Assyrian Human Rights Network has been chronicling the attack's aftermath via photos on its Facebook page. The US State Department said it "condemns [the attack] in the strongest possible terms."

CT will update this post as events unfold.

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ISIS militants launched surprise attacks on 35 Christian villages along a river in northeast Syria yesterday, taking an estimated 100 to 200 hostages. Coming one week after the videotaped beheadings of 21 Christians in Libya, the incident raises concern of whether a prisoner swap or another propaganda-driven massacre is in the making.

The fierce offensive along a 40-kilometer stretch of the Khabour River in Hassaka province forced some 3,000 Assyrian Christians to flee their homes. A teenage Christian boy and four Assyrian militia fighters were reported killed in the first day of fighting, and dozens of Assyrian men, women, and children were reported to be held hostage by the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Militants seized an unconfirmed number of Christians from at least 100 Assyrian families in the attacks, according to a Christian source in Hassaka city who spoke on Tuesday morning with Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana, of the Assyrian Church of the East.

The hostages were taken prisoner in Tel Shamiran, Tel Goran, Tel Jezirah, and Tel Hormizd. In these four villages, the source said, the IS militants separated the captured ...

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It's Time for Busy Ladies to Give It a Rest

How to find the downtime you never realized you had.

What started as sniffles turned into a full-blown, wear-your-bathrobe-all-day cold. Nonetheless, I knew I would have no break from childcare, housework, or client demands. My husband pitched in more than usual, and I allowed the kids extra TV time. Otherwise, I plowed on, my “sick days” looking barely different than any other day—save for doses and doses of meds and piles of tissues.

According to Jessica Turner, author of the new book The Fringe Hours, and Brigid Schulte, author of New York Times bestseller Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, my response is the norm for women today. Both write how women have become so caught up in today’s quest to have and do it all that their bodies, minds, and souls have forgotten how to engage in of “me time,” self-care, and leisure, even when they need it most.

We desperately need to be refreshed. Or even just a nap.

...

It’s exactly those spots of not-quite-downtime that Turner, a working, blogging mother of three, embraces in her book The Fringe Hours. There are “little pockets of time throughout the day that often go underused or are wasted altogether,” she said. “If not intentionally redeemed, [these] fringe hours slip thorough one’s fingers like sand.”

Turner’s goal is to teach women to find this time and fill it with the enjoyable, leisurely activities Schulte’s research shows women are so sorely lacking.

As an example, Turner points to moments of waiting we encounter throughout our days, such as in school car pool lanes or at the post office. Even if we don’t know exactly where, when, or how long, we can expect we’re bound to be waiting around at ...

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Christianity and the Camelot Test

David Skeel asks which belief system best accounts for humanitys great dreams—and failures.

Though best known for My Fair Lady, the musical duo of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe also created one of the all-time great Broadway musicals: Camelot. Lifted high on a wave of soaring music and exquisite lyrics, audiences are compelled to witness the happy rise and tragic fall of King Arthur’s court. The first half of the play celebrates the courtship and marriage of Arthur and Guinevere. Inspired by his love for Guinevere and for justice, Arthur creates the Round Table and establishes a kingdom where might is to be used for right.

Sadly, Arthur’s dream is no sooner accomplished than his greatest knight, Lancelot, and his beloved queen fall into an adulterous affair. As a result, the Table cracks, the dream shatters, and England falls into civil war. But the play does not end there.

In the final scene, the despondent king comes upon a boy lurking in the shadows. When he questions the lad, he discovers that he has sought out Arthur in hope of becoming a knight. Arthur is shocked and asks the boy how he learned about the Round Table. Through stories, the boy tells him, stories about brave knights who fight evil and rescue fair damsels. In response, Arthur knights the boy and commissions him to stay behind the lines and survive the battle so that he may carry on the tales of Camelot.

I have always been intensely moved by that closing scene, for it enshrines a great truth about us and our world. Because we are noble creatures made in God’s image, we will continually strive to build Camelot. But because we have fallen into sin, our dreams will always fail in the end. When I took my teenaged children to see the play, I impressed this paradoxical truth upon them, challenging them to assist in the building ...

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