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Interview: After 50 Years in a Wheelchair, I Still Walk With Jesus

On the anniversary of her accident, Joni Eareckson Tada reflects on Gods faithfulness.

On July 30, 1967, a teenage girl went with her sister to a beach on the Chesapeake Bay and suffered a diving accident that rendered her quadriplegic. Today, Joni Eareckson Tada leads an international ministry, advocates for those with disabilities, and is a sought-after speaker, best-selling author, and radio host. This weekend marks the 50-year anniversary of the accident, and CT connected with Tada to discuss how God has worked in and through her life over the past five decades.

At the time of your diving accident, you were just 17 years old. If you could speak to the young woman you were at that age, what would you most want to say?

As a young girl I was so distracted, enamored, fascinated, infatuated. The world was before me and I had so many options. If I could go back, I’d take myself by the shoulders and shake them and say, “Look at me, Joni, listen: Love Jesus more, obey him more. Follow him more closely—not at a distance. Don’t second guess the Holy Spirit’s whispers and convictions in your heart. Don’t make your own decisions without checking in with God—follow him much more closely.”

How do you feel as you reflect back over the past 50 years?

Just the other day I was reading 1 Peter 5:10 [ESV], where Peter says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace … will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Honestly, I’m amazed that the last 50 years feel like only “a little while.” Maybe God does that when we finally do love Jesus more, when we finally do follow him more closely. Maybe he erases all the horror, all the despair, all the depression of the past when we learn how to trust God. He pushes ...

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Dealing with Rejection: How to Move Past the No, Thanks to Continue Sharing the Gospel

God tends to our hurting hearts.

I was recently on a long car ride with my husband and two kids from Illinois to the northern woods of Minnesota. Anyone who has traveled that kind of distance with younger children before knows it can be rather challenging to find fun ways to break up the ride, without extending the road time.

I had recently learned an idea from another mom that I was eager to try. I had wrapped some coloring books, crayons, sticker books, toys, and foam airplane kits, and handed them out to my two boys along the way. They quickly became newfound treasures.

As my 4-year-old graciously shared one of these treasures with his 2-year-old brother, I unfortunately (or not) had the opportunity to teach them about Ephesians 4:26 (“Be angry and do not sin”) and Ephesians 4:32 (“Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”) as his younger brother tore his treasured foam airplane in half right before his eyes.

Of course, my 2-year-old did not do this maliciously—it was an accident—but nevertheless, the tears welled up and overflowed as my eldest son took in the sight of his treasure being destroyed. My mommy heart broke for him. He had entrusted something he treasured with someone he loved, and instead of this treasured gift (and trust) returning to him in the same condition he had shared it in, it was destroyed.

I can’t help but think that God feels the same way when believers share our “treasured” truth of Jesus’ love with others, and sometimes it doesn’t return to us in the same way.

Sometimes it is accepted, and sometimes it is ripped up—like that foam airplane—with rejection from that person’s past hurts or broken trust. And just as my heart broke with my son’s, ...

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The Value of Church Planter Assessment and Boot Camps

We identified seven challenges faced by most church planters.

Planting a church is hard enough. It is more difficult when the planter doesn’t have solid support and resources. And we’re not talking about money here. Church planter development is a crucial element to giving new churches a real chance to succeed.

I’m a big believer in facts and figures, not because they tell the whole story, but because they help the story make sense. Several years ago, I did a study to find out what successful church planters had in common. I surveyed over 600 seminary graduates who went on to plant churches. One of the most interesting things I found in this study had to do with the success rate among those who had extended training beyond seminary.

Everyone in my study had finished a three-year 90-credit hour Masters in Divinity. At the end of that, they could either participate in a three-day boot camp or not. About half did, and half did not. Four years later, those who did were leading churches that were substantially larger than those who did not.

So, yes, three days of church planting training made a huge difference after three years of seminary training.

Church planters greatly benefit from focused training

We can’t say that a boot camp is everything, but we can say that the difference between the groups was not theological schooling. Rather, it was focused training. What we discover from anecdotal experience is that people who go through some sort of boot camp find it to be an exceedingly helpful part of their process. Why? Because such training includes intensified instruction in areas that are more specific to church planters.

Years ago, as we were doing research to develop training, we identified seven challenges faced by most church planters. These seven areas are:

  1. Leadership development and reproducing culture

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Trump Picks Sam Brownback as Religious Freedom Ambassador

President makes his nomination much faster than President Obama.

Today the White House announced that Sam Brownback will be President Donald Trump’s nominee for America’s next ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

“Religious freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul,” the current Republican governor of Kansas tweeted. “I am honored to serve such an important cause.”

If confirmed by the US Senate, Brownback would follow in the footsteps of previous ambassadors-at-large David Saperstein and Suzan Johnson Cook in the State Department post.

Brownback has governed Kansas since 2011, after representing the Sunflower State in the Senate (1996-2011) and in the House of Representatives (1995-1996). He was a key sponsor of 1998’s International Religious Freedom Act, which was significantly expanded by President Barack Obama last December. He was also 1 of only 3 members of Congress to receive a perfect score on the International Religious Freedom Scorecard for his efforts during Obama’s first two years in office.

A convert from Methodism to Roman Catholicism, Brownback served as a Catholic advisor to the Trump campaign.

“He is a man of convicted compassion and courteous candor who—as a function of his own deeply held Christian beliefs—will work tirelessly for people of all faiths and none,” said Chris Seiple, president emeritus at the Institute for Global Engagement.

Seiple told CT he has known Brownback for almost 20 years, and that the nation needs the Kansas politician’s nuanced and sophisticated approach to complex international issues more than ever.

“As America and the global community tackles the rising restrictions on religious freedom worldwide while working ...

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Politics, Elections, and Christians: Reconciling the Church after the Great Divide of 2016

Have you allowed election speech to replace the speech of the 'elect'?

The 2016 American presidential election divided the nation and many churches in a way that is unprecedented. It may seem like a long time ago, but the effects linger, often continuing to cause deeper wounds than we know.

The nation, it appears, is becoming more divided right now. As it does, I’m hoping the church can become more united—even as the politics of our nation polarize.

But, it is in the church as well, so let’s start there.

We have a lot of work to do to regain our civility, reconcile with our brothers and sisters, and establish peace in the Body of Christ. The world is watching, and they were pelted by the mud we threw. They saw us ostracize people who voted for “the other guy.” They heard us call people “Satanic.”

Now that it is over, we must learn from the chaos and mend relationships. If we do not, we further damage our witness in a world that is short on love and truth and long on hate and lies. It is long past time to deescalate. Here are a few things I believe we need to do to heal the disunity and move forward as a healthier Body of Christ.

Leave the political rhetoric to the political operatives

The Church has a mission. Pushing political agendas is not that mission.

We are ambassadors, calling people to a right relationship with God through Christ. We have opinions on various issues, and even biblical positions on some of those issues. But we are not here primarily to debate healthcare reform or immigration policy. In the field of politics, there might be a space for rhetoric and characterizations, but this is not so in the Church.

We aren’t here to bully people into our way of thinking with insincere speech. We offer Christ, mercy, love, peace, and truth. There ...

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Most White Evangelicals Dont Believe Muslims Belong in America

Pew updates its comprehensive survey of what US Muslims believe and do, and how their neighbors feel about them.

As much of American society undergoes a secular shift, most Muslims and Christians continue to attend worship, adhere to tenets of their traditions, and proudly identify with their faiths.

But despite this shared sense of religious devotion, as detailed in a new Pew Research Center report on what US Muslims believe and practice, survey data also show a huge gap in their perceptions of each other.

While Americans overall have warmed up to Muslims in recent years, white evangelicals express more concerns about US Muslims than any other religious group. Two-thirds of white evangelicals believe Islam is not part of mainstream American society and contend that it encourages violence more than other faiths, according to Pew.

Meanwhile, 72 percent of white evangelicals—compared to 44 percent of Americans overall—see a natural conflict between Islam and democracy. And 30 percent of Muslims themselves agree that the two are in conflict.

A small minority of Americans (6%) and Muslims (5%) attribute the tension to the belief that America is a Christian nation.

As CT reported in March, missions experts worry that evangelicals’ views of Muslims are sabotaging a long-dreamed-of moment. Previous research by Pew found that only 35 percent of white evangelicals say they have a personal connection to a Muslim, compared to about 40 percent of mainline Protestants and Catholics, 50 percent of unaffiliated Americans, and 73 percent of Jews.

“This is the best chance we’ve had in human history to share the love of Christ with Muslims,” said David Cashin, intercultural studies professor at Columbia International University and an expert in Muslim-Christian relations. “Because of these attitudes, we could miss ...

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Young, Female, and Pro-Trump

How white evangelical millennials are defying political predictions.

2017 ushered in a political wakeup call for American women.

For women on the left, it was the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Nearly two-thirds of Democratic women—more than men or Republicans—say they are paying closer attention to politics with Trump in office, Pew Research Center recently reported.

For some women on the right, it was another landmark that took place around the same time: the Women’s March, which drew controversy for not including pro-life groups among its official partners. According to Pew, 40 percent of American women oppose abortion in all or most circumstances.

“Since the Women’s March, Christian conservative women are realizing their voice isn’t being heard,” said Kelsey Gold, a recent Liberty University grad who remembers first hearing about the event on her way home from Trump’s inauguration. “The voices that claim to speak for all women really didn’t.”

Support for Trump among white evangelicals tends to exacerbate the trends among Americans overall, with regular churchgoers, men, and older demographics more likely to skew Republican.

Yet, Gold’s generation represents one exception to the pattern; unlike any other age group, millennial evangelical women were more likely than their male counterparts to vote for Trump, according to the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) provided to CT by Ryan Burge, politics researcher and blogger for the site Religion in Public.

In last year’s election, 73 percent of white evangelical women under 35 voted for Trump compared to 60 percent of white evangelical men of the same age.

“That is a really interesting statistic that kind of defies the national trend,” said ...

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Pew: What Christians Worry About Most

How five religious groups rank seven bad scenarios.

President Donald Trump might do better to focus on fixing health care instead of tackling terrorism.

The white evangelicals who largely voted for him are more worried about their health than about terrorism or gun violence, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Among self-identified white evangelicals, 75 percent worry about a personal health crisis, while only 66 percent worry about being the victim of a terrorist attack and only 38 percent worry about being the victim of a mass shooting.

In fact, 26 percent worry “a lot” about their health, compared to only 15 percent who worry a lot about terrorism and just 5 percent who worry a lot about mass shootings.

The questions about worries were broken out for CT by Pew as part of its in-depth study on firearms, which includes who loves God and guns. (Though two-thirds of black Protestants identify as evangelicals, Pew could not break them out on many questions due to small sample size.)

White evangelicals are more concerned about health than any of the other six problems posed by Pew, including not being able to pay bills, losing a job, having their home invaded, or being the victim of a violent crime.

But they still aren’t as worried about a health crisis as other major religious groups, including Catholics (90%), black Protestants (88%), white mainline Protestants (86%), and the religiously unaffiliated or “nones” (84%).

Americans who attend religious services weekly are just as worried (76%) about their health, while those who attend less often are even more concerned (86%). Americans with low levels of religious commitment—measured by weekly church attendance, daily prayer, saying religion is very important in their lives, and ...

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Caste Aside: Indias New President Has No Room for Christians

Church leaders believe Hindu nationalism will outweigh the Dalit leaders lower-caste loyalties.

Ram Nath Kovind, India’s new president who took office today, represents an unusual case of a little-known politician from the country’s lowest caste, the Dalits, rising to power.

However, as others champion his victory, India’s Christian minority—the majority of whom are Dalits themselves—know that a Hindu nationalist politician from the Dalit caste is still a Hindu nationalist politician.

Like the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that nominated him, Kovind represents a continued threat to non-Hindus in India, including its estimated 25 million to 60 million Christians. (As CT has noted, that’s a tiny minority amid 1 billion Hindus, but still sizable enough to rank among the 25 countries with the most Christians, surpassing “Christian countries” such as Uganda and Greece.)

If Indian officials were to move forward with anti-conversion legislation or other policies directed at Christians, “he would be a good rubber stamp for the government,” said Sandeep Kumar, a church planter and principal of Mission India Bible College, in an interview with CT. “There is no room for Christians in his understanding.”

Since 2014, India has been led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a BJP leader notorious among Christians for permitting religious freedom violations to spread unchecked. Meanwhile, the position of president is mostly ceremonial and selected by lawmakers.

Kovind’s election this month indicates that the BJP is gaining support among Dalits (once called “untouchables”) with its polarizing vision of India as a nation whose religion, language, and culture is solely Hindu, an ideology known as Hindutva that originated among the higher castes.

When ...

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Died: Haddon Robinson, Champion of Biblical Preaching

The seminarian who taught and inspired decades of expositors goes home to God.

Haddon Robinson, the respected author and seminary president who set the standard for expositional preaching, died Saturday. He was 86.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Robinson served as an interim president and professor of preaching, broke the news of his passing and posted a tribute this weekend. Robinson also taught at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and was president of Denver Seminary.

In his books, classes, and radio instruction, Robinson taught that sermons should be guided by the biblical text and focus on one idea or theme.

Christianity Today featured Robinson—formerly the senior editor of a fellow CT site, PreachingToday.com—in a 2002 article on the neglected craft of expository preaching:

Robinson has been teaching students about expository preaching for decades. His classic (and recently updated) tome Biblical Preaching, which is used in more than 150 seminaries and Bible colleges, has become the go-to text for aspiring expositors.

“The number of preachers who really begin with the text and let it govern the sermon is relatively small,” laments Robinson. “Today, the danger is that some preachers will read the latest psychology book into the text. They're not driven by a great theology but, instead, by the social sciences.”

In addition to Biblical Preaching, Robinson wrote more than a dozen books on the topic and regularly taught through radio ministries Discover the Word and Our Daily Bread. He warned preachers about veering into heresy with biblical application; distracting the congregation with sermon illustrations; or ostracizing parts of the audience with tone.

Among many striking quotes about preaching, Robinson had said, “There are no great preachers, ...

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