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When It Comes to the Next President, We Need More Than Strength

From Trump to Clinton, would-be leaders promise authority without vulnerability.

My fellow Americans, the state of our union is strong.” So every president over the past several decades has declared in his annual address to Congress. This is a half-truth in the best of times. Because a new president will be inaugurated in January 2017, there will likely be no formal State of the Union speech next year. Just as well, because it is hard to imagine anyone saying with a straight face that our union is strong.

This is not the first time America has faced daunting internal tensions and external threats. But during this year’s presidential primaries, fear, despair, and dissatisfaction have drawn Americans to would-be leaders who promise radical change to restore our country’s strength.

Yet strength is only one part of real health for nations. All truly flourishing communities must also embrace vulnerability. They accept and even seek out meaningful risk for the sake of growth. Great leaders do not just promise strength: they call people to risk as well.

But around the world today we see the rise of leaders who offer various forms of authority without vulnerability—strength without risk. This is the promise of every authoritarian government and every dictator, and it is increasingly the currency of American political campaigns. One candidate promised to build a wall to keep out illegal immigrants from Mexico—and to make Mexico pay for it. Another promised free tuition at public universities—and to make “Wall Street” pay for it.

These promises have several things in common, and not just that they are entirely unfeasible. They promise goods without a price, protection without effort, and benefits without costs—at least to people like us. They depend on extracting ...

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Dont Call Me the Best Mom Ever

And Im no hot mess either.

Come Mother’s Day, our Facebook and Instagram feeds will fill with loving messages to mothers everywhere. From the excited husband who posts doting stories about his wife and their newborn to the granddaughter who praises her grandmother with a picture of last year’s vacation, Mother’s Day celebrates great work that moms do across ages and seasons.

I’m glad we do it. I think the work mothers do to raise children and make a home is valuable and vital to our society, and it may be the only thanks some moms get all year.

But our public celebrations often rank moms on their accomplishments, what they do or don’t do on behalf of their kids. Mother’s Day has moved from a celebration of mothers’ roles to an unspoken competition for who does the most—or even the least.

Take the loving families who label their matriarchs the #bestmomever. As kids and husbands proudly declare, the best moms are the ones who stay up late with the baby and get up early to make breakfast. They make cookies for the soccer team and keep the garden blooming for spring. They run 5Ks while pregnant. They romance their husbands and keep the playroom tidy. (Seriously, these posts can go from moving tribute to “check out my awesome wife” really fast.)

Who are these women who can juggle all these aspects of life without breaking a sweat? So many moms deny wanting to “have it all,” but when you look at their schedules, that’s what they’re gunning for: a nice house, well-behaved kids, clean kitchen, and dinner by 5:30. And when the rest of us pale in comparison to the real or imagined “best moms” we know—we either feel sorry for ourselves or boast in our failures.

That’s ...

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Wed, 04 May 2016 07:58:00 PDT
How Many Evangelicals? An Interview with Brian Stiller

Getting a handle on the global number of Evangelicals

Ed Stetzer: Brian, why did you think it important to produce Evangelicals Around the World?

Brian Stiller: I was browsing in a bookstore and saw Evangelicals for Dummies. In flipping through the pages I was impressed with their accuracy, but all they wrote about was the United States.

Listening to the news and hearing how Evangelicals have become a voting bloc in North America, I knew then it was time we defined ourselves.

ES: What was the next step?

BS: I contacted Mark Noll from Notre Dame and Chris Wright in England and asked them if a global book—defining Evangelicals—had ever been done. They knew of none. The more I searched, and as I came up against all kinds of misinformation and misalignments, I knew it was time we told ourselves and others who we are in the world.

ES: So how many Evangelicals are there?

BS: About 600 million.

ES: Where do Evangelicals actually fit in the broader Christian tradition?

BS: There are three basic categories: Roman Catholics are 1.2 billion. The World Council of Churches (which includes the Eastern Rite and Orthodox) are 500 million and the World Evangelical Alliance represents 600 million.

ES: Explain a bit about where Pentecostals fit since they "spill over" into other traditions.

BS: There is a debate as to where they fit as members of the Evangelical clan, but most scholars see them as part of the Evangelical family. Although, with their influence in other Christian communions and the wider Charismatic groupings both within the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities, as a group it is estimated to be around 300 million.

ES: How did you go about the project?

BS: I assembled three outstanding scholars and writers: Todd Johnson, Director for the Center for the Study of Global ...

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Wed, 04 May 2016 05:00:00 PDT
Some Thoughts on Mass Evangelism

How do we spread the gospel today?

To many, there was a time when evangelism was primarily defined by traveling evangelists speaking at mass gatherings. Yet, that is changing now and it is no secret that mass evangelism is in decline in the West.

More on that in a moment…

Regardless of culture, the Evangelist is a biblical role and traveling evangelists have been around a very long time. At the end of the New Testament era, we see wandering prophets and evangelists delivering God’s message to the people.

But looking at our context today, it seem have seen a decline in certain evangelistic strategies by evangelists in the West. Perahps Charles Finney (in the 1800s) and Billy Graham (in the 1900s) serve as the two bookends of the great age of mass evangelism.

Finney and others during the Second Great Awakening were not the first to practice mass evangelism—that was Peter (Acts 2). But, mass evangelism seems to be becoming the exception rather than the rule today, in many places.

A Major Shift

Some may balk at the idea of mass evangelism going by the wayside.

But if you grew up in the Pentecostal, Wesleyan, or Baptist tradition, think about your history. Twenty years ago, you probably had spring and fall revival services in your church. That was seen as an effective way to reach the community. It was a time of intentional evangelistic preaching where church members would bring lost friends and family to hear a guest speaker urgently preach the gospel.

But in all likelihood your church no longer has those services or brings in that traveling evangelist. That’s a major shift. The major evangelistic strategy 50 years ago is now a tangential strategy at best. For better or worse, mass evangelism is in mass decline.

I’m not saying that mass ...

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Tue, 03 May 2016 10:00:00 PDT
I Forgave My Teen Daughters Killer

The gospel taught me that forgiveness is not a pardon.

The same week that Kate Grosmaire visited the hospital where her 18-year-old daughter lay in a coma from a gunshot wound to the head, she visited the jail where the shooter was being held by police.

Even before they took Ann off life support, the Grosmaires knew wanted to forgive her murderer, her high school boyfriend Conor McBride.

“Conor has said that act could not have been anything but from God because people alone can’t do that; it has to be from God,” said Kate, who still talks to McBride on the phone once a week. “That was the start of his salvation.”

Since Ann’s death in 2010, Kate and husband Andy Grosmaire have become advocates for an approach to criminal punishment called restorative justice. In their daughter’s murder case, the Catholic couple learned they could push for lighter charges than life in prison.

Before the trial, the Grosmaires and McBrides sat down with community representatives and a public defender to talk with 19-year-old Conor about his sentence. Because of their initiative, he never went to trial and ultimately took a plea deal for 20 years with 10 years of probation along with anger management classes, volunteering, and speaking on teen dating violence.

After their story was featured in The New York Times Magazine, “we had people come up to us and say that they wanted to forgive others because of our example,” said Kate, who recently released a book exploring their family’s story, Forgiving My Daughter’s Killer. “We knew that we wanted to share that message with a wider audience.”

Kate spoke with assistant editor Morgan Lee about why they sought out this alternative route in the justice system and Christian forgiveness ...

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Tue, 03 May 2016 07:21:00 PDT
Bey and Bey's God

God and women's freedom are tied up together in Beyonc's 'Lemonade.'

In “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” the third and angriest track on Beyoncé’s album Lemonade, the singer spits out the phrase “God complex” as an insult at the target of her song—contextually, her husband, the rapper Jay-Z, to whom she has been married since 2008. That little line, and some other bits slipped into the lyrics and visuals, form a sort of a skeleton key to pry open what the project has to do with God.

The story of Lemonade has a lot to do with God, and with idols.

Released without warning a week ago, Lemonade is a “visual album,” meant more to be watched than to be listened to (though you can do that too). It’s an hour-long devastating film, gorgeously shot, rich in imagery. Spliced into the tracks—sometimes in the middle of them—are Warsan Shire’s poems, along with home video and images of Beyoncé’s parents and her own marriage, heartbreaking moments with the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown holding their son’s portraits and staring into the camera, dance, and other familiar faces and voices.

Lemonade also boasts a deep religious sense. Its images of water and fire seem torn from a book of prophecy, a personal apocalypse. It relies on the narrative of baptism and redemption, and yet is a remarkably complex work of art. On release, it inspired a frenzy of writing on a variety of topics, from feminism and womanism to marriage, adultery, American history, its African and Creole sources, and much more. The film also draws on images traditionally associated with fertility, particularly the ankh she wears around her neck in “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” The ankh was a symbol of life in ancient Egypt, ...

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Mon, 02 May 2016 14:18:00 PDT
Missiology, Church Models, and Cultural Alignment

Understanding culture is crucial to a church's effectiveness.

Missiological Quest and Cultural Question

In each era and each cultural environment, the church defines its missiological quest in culture.

Now, that does not mean that eveything is on the table. There are marks of a biblical church that matter in every cultural setting. However, each church has a quest to figure out how to engage its community and organize its ministries. That's its missional quest and every church should ask such questions.

Taking into account the missiological quest, churches then ask based upon the current cultural moment what is the most effective way to accomplish the tasks of a biblical church? This is the cultural question.

While the missiological quest should never change, the answer to the cultural questions do change.

Though not in every way, the how of ministry is in many ways determined by the who, when, and where of culture.

Observing Paul’s missionary journeys show that he employed different strategies, methods, and/or terminologies in reaching Jews compared to those used in reaching Gentiles. The mission (and the missiological quest) was the same, but the cultural question changed the way he engaged the host culture.

With the cultural question constantly changing, this gives us contextualized church models.

It’s not just an evangelism question; it’s deeper. How we do church also changes from one culture to another. For example, how long does the service go, what approach to music, how to we disciple, etc?

Think of it this way: Missiological quest + Cultural question = A contextualized church model.

Let me illustrate the above.

Thoughts from the Seeker Church Approach

Think back to the seeker church movement.

Many such churches blossomed in a day when a lot of boomers were asking ...

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Mon, 02 May 2016 09:00:00 PDT
Can People of Color Really Make Themselves at Home?

There's a big difference between being a guest in a largely white organization and being able to "move the furniture."

In the early 1990s, during my first years of ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I worked with a thoroughly multiethnic campus ministry team in New York City. We had two to three members from each of several major American racial and ethnic groups—black, Latino, Asian, and white. Our team believed that God loves people of every ethnicity and culture. Frankly, if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have had much of a student ministry in New York City. And during our city-wide conferences, when students gathered in worship, we looked like that picture of the new creation in Revelation 7: every nation, tribe, people, and language gathered in praise.

As a Chinese American who grew up in Hawaii, I deeply appreciated InterVarsity’s commitment to multiethnicity and racial reconciliation. In InterVarsity, my ethnic background felt like an asset, not a path to being a somewhat abnormal would-be white person. InterVarsity, some said, was the most multiethnic campus ministry in the country, and we were the most multiethnic team in InterVarsity.

One of the ways our ministry embraced a multiethnic vision was sponsoring ethnic student conferences—opportunities for black, Latino, Asian, and white students to work through issues of ethnic identity, community, and faith in a safe environment. The first year we ran all the conferences at the same time in the fall, the students at my predominantly Asian American Columbia University fellowship promptly delved so deeply into their ethnic journey, especially what I call the “angry stage,” that they forgot to welcome new students. Obviously, this didn’t help the growth of our fellowship.

I spoke with my colleagues of color who ran the other ethnic conferences ...

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Mon, 02 May 2016 08:27:00 PDT
Saturday is for Seminars—The LifeWay Pastors Breakfast at the SBC in St. Louis

LifeWay hosts an important breakfast at the SBC annual meeting.

This week I want to take a moment to highlight a leadership meeting in my own tribe, the Southern Baptist Convention. This breakfast, sponsored by LifeWay, is open to messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting this June in St. Louis.

If you are an attendee of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, you can register for the breakfast via this link.

Coming Soon

May 19, 2016
National Conference on Preaching
Washington, D.C.

May 20, 2016
American Association of Christian Counselors' The Church and Mental Health Summit
Charleston, SC

May 28-29, 2016
Christ Fellowship Miami
Miami, FL

June 8, 2016
Disaster Ministry Conference
Wheaton, IL

June 11-12, 2016
The Journey Church
St. Louis, MO

June 13, 2016
Southern Baptist Convention Pastor's Conference
St. Louis, MO

June 28-30, 2016
Amplify Conference
Wheaton, IL

July 18, 2016
Church of God General Assembly
Nashville, TN

August 12-13, 2016
Gideons Global Impact Conference
Toronto, Ontario, CA

On Sundays I’m not traveling, I preach at Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where I’m blessed to serve as Teaching Pastor. I’d love to have you visit!

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Mon, 02 May 2016 08:27:00 PDT
Beyond Bono and Eugene Peterson: The Most Searched and Shared Psalms

Fuller Seminary video wants more reading. Here's what people already are.

Fuller Theological Seminary wants you to read the Psalms more. And it enlisted Bono and Eugene Peterson to make the case.

According to research, many Americans already are.

“What is your earliest memory of the Psalms?” asks Fuller professor David Taylor of the U2 singer-songwriter and the author of The Message.

The two friends were sitting down together at Peterson’s kitchen table to talk about why they love the Psalms. The videotaped chat was part of a 20-minute documentary released Tuesday as part of a new Fuller Studio initiative.

“I was totally confused, because I grew up in a culture where every word of the Bible was the word of God literally. Don’t mess around with it. That’s the way it is,” Peterson said. “And I was starting to read that he keeps my tears in this bottle, shields, javelins, rock. ‘God is our rock.’ Come on.”

Bono first remembers the Psalms through hymns at his childhood Church of Ireland congregation.

“I remember thinking, ‘Great words. Shame about the tunes,’” he said with a small smirk. “Except for ‘The Lord is My Shepherd,’ which is a great tune.”

Multiple U2 songs reference the Psalms: “Gloria,” “With a Shout,” “Magnificent,” and, most famously, “40,” which refers to Psalm 40.

Peterson and Bono aren’t the only ones who love the Psalms. Almost a quarter (22) of the 100 most popular Bible verses searched for in 2015 came from the Psalms, according to Bible Gateway.

Leading the way at No. 5 was Psalm 23:4, which in The Message [which CT will cite throughout this post, instead of the usual NIV] reads, “Even when the way goes through Death ...

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Mon, 02 May 2016 08:27:00 PDT
Will Ben Carson's Bible Advice to Donald Trump Work? Heres What Americans Think

Can more Bible reading make the presidential election more civil if Trumps favorite verse is an eye for an eye?

Starting Sunday, the entire Bible will be read aloud in 90 hours on Capitol Hill. Hundreds will make their way to the 27th annual reading at the US Capitol, where 100 English and foreign language versions of the Bible will be available.

Former presidential candidate Ben Carson recently told reporter Rita Cosby that his advice to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump on handling his temper was to “read the Bible and pray and learn how to put yourself in other peoples’ shoes.” (Trump recently said his favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye.”)

But not even regular Bible reading could make Trump and other presidential contenders more civil, believe 44 percent of Americans.

That’s an increase from 40 percent last year, according to the 2016 State of the Bible report from the American Bible Society (ABS), conducted by Barna Group.

Only 51 percent of Americans said politics would be more civil if politicians read the Bible regularly, down from 56 percent last year.

The number of Americans who believed that reading the Bible regularly would make politicians more effective fell from 58 percent in 2015 to 53 percent in 2016. Those who thought Bible reading would not make a difference rose from 40 percent in 2015 to 43 percent in 2016.

Only practicing Protestants (those who identify as Protestant, attend church at least once a month, and say their faith is very important to them) thought the Bible was especially needed this year: 86 percent said politicians would be more civil if they read their Bible regularly, up from 81 percent in 2015.

Less likely to think regular Bible reading would make politicians more civil were practicing Catholics (63%, down from 70% last year) and non-practicing Christians ...

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Mon, 02 May 2016 08:27:00 PDT
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