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Watch and Wait

Tarrying with Christ and the fearful dying.

For years and for complicated reasons, my friend of solitary temperament suffered privately with cancer and its harsh remediations. Pride, pain, denial, fatigue—all contributed to her debilitation—and fear, toward the end, once the medical professionals assaulted her denial and spoke only of comfort.

She said she wasn't afraid of death but of dying, not of meeting her Maker but of traversing the valley, crossing the bar. She had come to the end of her human resources and knew she had to throw herself toward the mercy of God, or maybe it was a more passive letting herself fall into the abyss of grace.

In an attempt to alleviate her fear, I left home somewhat impulsively at 7:30 in the morning to visit her, newly embedded in a residential hospice. She was heavily medicated, not speaking or eating, and hardly drinking, receiving no tubal hydration. I expected to return home within the hour, but when I found her alone, I stayed until early afternoon, when her family arrived.

I sang hymns and gospel songs that I had memorized as a child, sometimes improvising new lines. Though it was Lent, I sang the off-season Gloria and the all-season Sanctus: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord." In an alcove, I found coffee refills. I hadn't thought to eat breakfast, and by 10:30 a.m., I was hungry. In silences between songs, I carried on a conversation with myself.

Just go out and find a snack.

No. Remember Jesus' Gethsemane line: "Can you not watch with me for one hour?" Or with a dying friend for one morning?

I held off, claiming the consciously chosen hunger as a form of discipline, though I wasn't sure why my discomfort held any meaning beyond my body's chemistry.

I've fasted only ...

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Review: Transcendence

A solid, though not successful directorial debut with some odd religious overtones.

mpaa rating:PG-13Genre:Science FictionDirected By: Wally Pfister Cast: Kate Mara, Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman Theatre Release:April 17, 2014 by Warner Bros.

As my husband and I trucked up Broadway toward our subway stop after our screening of Transcendence, he said, "The problem is he did what she wanted, but he didn't ask her about it first."

"So this is a movie about communicating better with your wife?" I asked.

"I guess?" he said.

"Did we really need IMAX for that?" I asked him. He shrugged.

That, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with Transcendence, though it doesn't touch what's right about it. (And no, it wasn't a spoiler.)

It's not a bad movie, by a long shot. In fact, it has all the trappings of a good movie: great talent (Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Kate Mara), carefully framed scenes—Wally Pfister, the director, is best known for being Christopher Nolan's cinematographer—and an interesting plot that hits at the core of things we're interested in right now.

After all, this is the second movie in six months in major release that features a human in a close, even intimate relationship with artificial intelligences (the other was Spike Jonze's Her, winner of the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay this year).

It's also got something very strange and interesting going on beneath the surface. More on that anon.

The Thing About Sci-Fi

The thing about science fiction, good science fiction, is that you've got basically two directions in which it can go. One is to go heavy on plot, playing the story as a cautionary tale about the danger of some kind of human activity taken too far (genetic modification, technology, take your pick). Think Ender's Game. Or Metropolis. Or most classic sci-fi literature.

The other is ...

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Watch and Wait

Tarrying with Christ and the fearful dying.

For years and for complicated reasons, my friend of solitary temperament suffered privately with cancer and its harsh remediations. Pride, pain, denial, fatigue—all contributed to her debilitation—and fear, toward the end, once the medical professionals assaulted her denial and spoke only of comfort.

She said she wasn't afraid of death but of dying, not of meeting her Maker but of traversing the valley, crossing the bar. She had come to the end of her human resources and knew she had to throw herself toward the mercy of God, or maybe it was a more passive letting herself fall into the abyss of grace.

In an attempt to alleviate her fear, I left home somewhat impulsively at 7:30 in the morning to visit her, newly embedded in a residential hospice. She was heavily medicated, not speaking or eating, and hardly drinking, receiving no tubal hydration. I expected to return home within the hour, but when I found her alone, I stayed until early afternoon, when her family arrived.

I sang hymns and gospel songs that I had memorized as a child, sometimes improvising new lines. Though it was Lent, I sang the off-season Gloria and the all-season Sanctus: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord." In an alcove, I found coffee refills. I hadn't thought to eat breakfast, and by 10:30 a.m., I was hungry. In silences between songs, I carried on a conversation with myself.

Just go out and find a snack.

No. Remember Jesus' Gethsemane line: "Can you not watch with me for one hour?" Or with a dying friend for one morning?

I held off, claiming the consciously chosen hunger as a form of discipline, though I wasn't sure why my discomfort held any meaning beyond my body's chemistry.

I've fasted only ...

Continue reading...

Love Your Neighbor by Carol Pipes

This week on Thursday is for Thinkers, Carol Pipes shares how God's love for us in Christ motivates us to love others.

I met Mr. Balentine in the summer of 1993. A group of 10 high school students and their leaders had been sent to Mr. Balentine's to make much-needed repairs to his house, which sat in a secluded cove of the Appalachian foothills. What started as a simple project turned into a major rebuild. The only thing keeping the front wall attached the house was a thin layer of shingles overhead. The entire house had to be razed and rebuilt.

At the end of the project, Mr. Balentine walked into his "new" home. Tears in his eyes, he remarked that his family could finally return and all live together. His words are forever etched in my memory: "You've not only restored my house, you've restored my dignity."

That summer and many mission trips later have opened my eyes to the hurting and neglected neighbors who live near and far. We live in a broken world. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, creation and humanity were scarred. Enter broken relationships. Deceit. Hunger. Corruption. Poverty. Disease. Envy. War. These are only a few of the manifestations of our broken world. But God is in the restoration business.

God did whatever it took to make things right between us and Him, ultimately giving His Son as a ransom for our very lives. God broke through the ceiling between heaven and earth. His Son lowered Himself to live among us only to be raised up on a cross. He took the burden of every sin—past, present, and future—and burdened Himself for our sake. Through a relationship with Him, we are restored and made right with God.

When God raised Jesus from the dead, He proved there's no wound He can't heal. There's no brokenness He can't mend. The gospel has the ...

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Neither Fully Widow Nor Fully Wife

Alzheimers puts caregivers in painful in-betweens.

Last week, I observed two examples of loving service at the dinner table. At one end, my sister-in-law smooshed peas in a plastic bowl for Beatrix, the newest member of the family. At the other, my grandmother sliced steak into pieces for my grandfather, who can no longer manage both knife and fork. Both women performed the same task, but for different reasons and with vastly dissimilar expectations.

My sister-in-law will experience joy as she watches my niece master new skills and learn new words by the chubby handful. But for my grandmother, the outcome isn't so promising, as her husband will continue to lose abilities with each passing year. She is one of 15 million people in the United States caring for someone with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia.

According to a recent report by the Alzheimer's Association, more than 5.2 million Americans are affected by this disease, and the number is expected to climb to 13.8 million by 2050.

Women bear the brunt of this illness in more ways than one. Not only are we more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but we also shoulder the burden of being primary caregivers. (Between 60 to 70 percent of people nursing a loved one with this condition are female.)

Sadly, despite the fact that this disease is now the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer's research receives a fraction of the funding apportioned to cancer, AIDS, and diabetes, Newsweek reported. This disparity led Seth Rogan (a self-proclaimed "lazy, self-involved, generally self-medicated man-child") both to create Hilarity for Charity, a foundation to help raise awareness about the disease, and to testify before a Senate subcommittee about the need for ...

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Morning Roundup 4/17/14

Leading in Community; Bart Ehrman's Obsession with Jesus; 10 Key Events in 20th Century Evangelicalism

Don't Do Leadership Alone, Build a Leadership CommunitySelma Wilson

Selma Wilson continues to show why she is one of the most beloved leaders at LifeWay.

Hey Bart Ehrman, I'm Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You've Got Him All WrongMichael Bird

I've been reading Michael Bird's beastly Evangelical Theology. He's a fun and interesting read— and this article reflects that.

10 Key Events: Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in 20th Century AmericaJustin Taylor

A fascinating history for the nerds among us…and you know who you/we are.

Download this week's edition of The Exchange Podcast on Songs for the Book of Luke.

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, joined me at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville, Tenn., to discuss his story, the new direction of the organization, cultural engagement, his book ReFocus and the new documentary Irreplaceable.

Focus on the Family is a global Christian ministry dedicated to helping families thrive. We provide help and resources for couples to build healthy marriages that reflect God's design, and for parents to raise their children according to morals and values grounded in biblical principles. This clip, we talk about the controversial Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad for Focus on the Family.

Grab Daly's book, ReFocus here.

Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

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Review: Heaven Is for Real

A toddlers report that he has visited heaven is met with skepticism from everyone but his father.

mpaa rating:PGGenre:DramaDirected By: Randall Wallace Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale Theatre Release:April 16, 2014 by For thematic material including some medical situations.

I believe heaven is for real. Allow me to get that out of the way up front. About the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, I am as confident as I can be regarding any doctrine that is ultimately an article of faith.

But about Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo's book chronicling his son Colton's emergency appendectomy and subsequent claim that he had visited heaven, I am a skeptic. It's awkward but necessary that I tell you that before I explain the ways in which I thought Randall Wallace's adaptation of Burpo's book improves upon its source material, and where, perhaps, the film may frustrate readers expecting less ambiguity and more vindication.

The film depicts many events from Burpo's book, though it obscures the timeline between Colton's operation and the first time he mentions to his father that he visited heaven. Gradually, under increasingly leading interrogations from his father, Colton reports having sat on Jesus's lap, seeing many animals, having angels sing to him, meeting Todd's grandfather, and, finally, meeting his own unborn sister, of whom he purportedly had no previous knowledge.

This compression is important because regardless of the content of Colton's memory, his level of recall seems contrary to the way most research demonstrates human memory actually operates. (For a good summary of social-science research on memory, see chapter three of Chabris's and Simon's The Invisible Gorilla).

Once Colton begins sharing his experience, the film deviates from the book more in tone than in substance. In his book, any doubts Todd has about the authenticity of Colton's experience are minimized. "By the time we rolled across the South Dakota ...

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Review: Heaven Is for Real

A toddlers report that he has visited heaven is met with skepticism from everyone but his father.

mpaa rating:PGGenre:DramaDirected By: Randall Wallace Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale Theatre Release:April 16, 2014 by For thematic material including some medical situations.

I believe heaven is for real. Allow me to get that out of the way up front. About the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, I am as confident as I can be regarding any doctrine that is ultimately an article of faith.

But about Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo's book chronicling his son Colton's emergency appendectomy and subsequent claim that he had visited heaven, I am a skeptic. It's awkward but necessary that I tell you that before I explain the ways in which I thought Randall Wallace's adaptation of Burpo's book improves upon its source material, and where, perhaps, the film may frustrate readers expecting less ambiguity and more vindication.

The film depicts many events from Burpo's book, though it obscures the timeline between Colton's operation and the first time he mentions to his father that he visited heaven. Gradually, under increasingly leading interrogations from his father, Colton reports having sat on Jesus's lap, seeing many animals, having angels sing to him, meeting Todd's grandfather, and, finally, meeting his own unborn sister, of whom he purportedly had no previous knowledge.

This compression is important because regardless of the content of Colton's memory, his level of recall seems contrary to the way most research demonstrates human memory actually operates. (For a good summary of social-science research on memory, see chapter three of Chabris's and Simon's The Invisible Gorilla).

Once Colton begins sharing his experience, the film deviates from the book more in tone than in substance. In his book, any doubts Todd has about the authenticity of Colton's experience are minimized. "By the time we rolled across the South Dakota ...

Continue reading...

Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon

If you want to help people see Holy Week with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.

1. Don't say Jesus died when he was 33 years old.

The common assertion seems reasonable that if Jesus "began his ministry" when he "was about thirty years of age" (Luke 3:23) and engaged in a three-year ministry (John mentions three Passovers, and there might have been a fourth one), then he was 33 years old at the time of his death. However, virtually no scholar believes Jesus was actually 33 when he died. Jesus was born before Herod the Great issued the decree to execute "all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under" (Matt. 2:16, ESV) and before Herod died in the spring of 4 B.C. If Jesus was born in the fall of 5 or 6 B.C., and if we remember that we don't count the "0" between B.C. and A.D., then Jesus would have been 37 or 38 years old when he died in the spring of A.D. 33 (as we believe is most likely). Even if Jesus died in the year A.D. 30 (the only serious alternative date), he would have been 34 or 35, not 33 years old. No major doctrine is affected by this common misconception. But don't damage your credibility by confidently proclaiming "facts" from the pulpit that are not true.

2. Don't explain the apparent absence of a lamb at the Last Supper by only saying Jesus is the ultimate Passover Lamb.

While it is gloriously true that Jesus is "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), this does not mean there was no physical paschal lamb at the Lord's Supper. In fact, there almost certainly was: "Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb [pascha] had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, 'Go and prepare the Passover ...

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Why Resurrection People Remember the Dead

Keeping the memory of our deceased loved ones alive.

When I was a child, a family in our church lost their daughter in a tragic car accident weeks before her high school graduation. For years after Vicky died, my mother kept in contact with her parents, mentioning her in conversation long after our community had stopped talking about her.

On one occasion, my mother asked, "Do you ever wonder what Vicky's children would look like?" Talking about the dead in this way makes a lot of people uncomfortable. But for Vicky's parents, it was a breath of fresh air—healing air. At one point, Vicky's dad told my mother, "You are the only one who ever mentions Vicky's name. Everyone else is afraid to." He and his family were pained by losing the memory of Vicky, so speaking her name was for them a source of comfort.

Death is a cyclical reality in all communities, and often families are forced to travel the grieving journey alone. After his young son died, a close friend of mine said, "Pretty soon Isaac will fade from most people's memory. And any future children we have will never know him. Instead they will associate him with times of the year when Mom and Dad are sad—his birthday, the day he died, and Mother's and Father's Day." My friend was not only grieving the loss of Isaac; he was also grieving the loss of his memory in the community. Forgetting Isaac meant deep alienation for his family.

A year after Isaac died, another family from my circle of friends lost their little girl, Poppy, in the third trimester of pregnancy. As with Isaac's father, Poppy's parents were afraid that Poppy's memory would be lost. In a tender moment, Poppy's father said, "I am afraid to lose the pain over ...

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India's Christians Shrug

The countrys likely next leader is a Hindu nationalist who has suppressed other faiths. Why church leaders arent worried.

Narendra Modi, leader of India's divisive Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will almost certainly become the country's next prime minister. But given the party's platform of Hindu nationalism and association with religious violence, it's surprising that many Christians aren't concerned about his election.

The reason? Modi is promising jobs.

"Believers . . . don't have any difficulties with Modi. In fact, they applaud his developmental efforts," the head of the Jacobite Syrian Church told reporters in January.

Since the economy peaked at 9.3 percent annual growth in 2011, growth has plummeted to about 5 percent. India's Christian minority has long backed the Congress party, which has been in power since 2009. But corruption, scandals, and ineffective economic policies have tarnished the party. "Congress can no longer be sure it retains the trust of the poor, the Dalits, the tribals, and the minorities, [who] voted for it all these years," John Dayal, cofounder of the All India Christian Council, announced on his blog.

The nation's economic downturn has allowed for the resurgence of the BJP, the Hindu nationalist group that governed India from 1998 to 2004. Many Christians have accused the BJP of inciting violence against Christians and Muslims.

Modi, 63, has been chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat since 2001. To the delight of India's corporate class, Gujarat now accounts for 72 percent of all new Indian jobs.

But Modi will find it hard to distance himself from one of India's worst recent cases of religious violence. In February 2002, Hindu rioters killed 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, in Gujarat. The attacks have been labeled a pogrom, ...

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Vietnam Is Getting Better, and Worse

Some see small signs of freedom even as the country moves up the list of top persecutors.

Secretary of State John Kerry's December trip to Vietnam was meant to improve relations and urge greater protection of human rights in a country that climbed three spots on a list of the world's worst persecutors of Christians.

Kerry attended Mass in Ho Chi Minh City, a move faith-based adviser Shaun Casey called a step "beyond rhetoric to highlight religious freedom."

Life Without Limbs evangelist Nick Vujicic's visit seven months earlier was even more notable, said Reg Reimer, former missionary and longtime advocate for religious freedom in Vietnam.

Vujicic took the stage before more than 60,000 Vietnamese in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, sparking hope that the Communist country may be easing its religious restrictions.

"Nick's visit was a bright spot in Vietnam's long, dreary, turn toward a better way of treating religions," Reimer said.

The visit indicated that some in the Vietnamese government are comfortable with foreigners publicly sharing their faith, said Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) president Chris Seiple. "It is also in Vietnam's self-interest to be known as open to such things."

It is encouragement sorely needed. Vietnam's Decree 92, which went into effect in January 2013 and was meant to clarify earlier laws, allows religious groups to legally register. But before they can preach, perform sacraments, or choose their own leaders, they must have worshiped for 20 years without disturbing the government.

The 2014 World Watch List, a ranking from Open Doors of the countries that most persecute Christians, put Vietnam at No. 18, up from No. 21 last year. Meanwhile, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) again ...

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Three Views: If a Cure for Down Syndrome Is Found, Should Parents Accept It?

To many families, the limitations are no match for love.

Cure, But Don't Harm

Leticia Velasquez

For years, I have grappled with whether I would welcome a cure for Down syndrome for Christina, my 11-year-old daughter. I was once forced to answer the question on live television in New York. "Would you take Christina's Down syndrome away if you could?" talk-show host Michael Coren asked me.

Shocked, I stared into the camera and said, "I love her as she is. Down syndrome has shaped her, but it does not define her. Yes, if there were a safe treatment to improve her memory and learning, I would give it to her."

It sounded like a politician's answer, but it is the truth. I love my daughter's loving and spontaneous personality. And I fear what a cognitive "cure" would do to affect her singular qualities, innocence, and complete lack of concern for the opinions of others. She has taught our family how to love unconditionally and approach God with childlike confidence.

Still, Down syndrome places real limits on Christina's life. She gets frustrated often by her inability to communicate effectively. It breaks my heart. When she was 5, she could speak very well. But her verbal abilities sharply declined after that. I can't help hoping that one of the many cognition-improving medicines currently in clinical trials may be a "cure" to help her speak and make friends.

I worry that it will become a societal goal to eliminate these loving members of society rather than to help them reach their potential. Jérôme Lejeune, the renowned French pediatrician who discovered the genetic cause of Down syndrome, sought treatments that physicians could apply in utero. In the late 1960s, Lejeune, a Christian, became ...

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