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Why the Local Church Is Trending Up

We needn't be afraid about the future of our congregations.

Fear for the church’s future is trending. It’s almost too easy nowadays to fall into despair: Christians’ interactions with culture and politics can often seem clumsy or foolish, and you don’t have to look far for biblical compromise, destructive power-plays, or “scandal du jour” moral failure. Compounding the problem is the fact that the modern church has been shattered into 30,000 to 42,000 denominations (depending on which study you read)—a degree of division that further damages its credibility.

Perhaps most damning, though, is the abundance of personal betrayals common church folk have experienced. I have personally survived three congregational civil wars, witnessed the deaths of two churches, and been pushed out of a plane mid-flight (figuratively speaking, of course) by pastors whom I trusted closely. Many Christians have known far worse than that.

It can be difficult, then, to feel rosy about the church’s future when it seems so weak, or even destructive. Yet an hour’s perusal through church history reveals that none of these fears are unique to our time; it’s always been easy to criticize the church because the church has always deserved criticism.

That same hour also shows there is always more to the story than compromise and incompetence. At any point in its history, the church is a case study in the contrast between appearance and reality. Despite all indications to the contrary, and far beyond any expectations, it has flourished. If you find yourself nervous about its future, though, consider the following:

1) The unstoppable growth of the church.

Maybe it’s harder to observe from a land of ecclesiastical decline like the United States, but globally, ...

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Tue, 10 May 2016 14:30:00 PDT
The Christian Struggle with Mental Illness

Mental illness is not a subject Christians should run from.

As I see the widespread presence and pain of mental illness, another reality confronts me: oftentimes Christians struggle with talking about and understanding mental illness.

There are three points that I want to lay out to encourage all of us to confront effectively the stigma and issues of mental illness. More importantly, let's seek training to care for our brothers, sisters, and even ourselves who suffer with these challenges.

We struggle with how to struggle

The first glaring issue is that Christians struggle with how to struggle with mental illness. In many ways, the church, the supposed haven for sufferers, is not a safe place for those who struggle with mental illness.

Throughout church history, people have written about the “dark times” and how they trusted the Lord in the midst of a trial. But in our churches today, we often feel like we can’t talk about our problems, and so we can’t effectively deal with our suffering.

This truth stretches from the top down. The sad reality of our present church culture is that if a pastor were to talk about the mental illness with which they’re struggling, the next church or organization to which they apply will likely choose another candidate.

How can we, the church, expect to offer the hope of Christ and life-changing help to those suffering if our churches are not a safe place for us to own our brokenness?

We first have to take off our masks and recreate the culture in our homes, churches, and organizations. We don’t know how to struggle with mental illness because the church is not a safe place to struggle.

What is the spiritual issue?

Part of the struggle is discerning the extent of the spiritual issue with mental health. How much is physiological ...

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Mon, 23 May 2016 13:00:00 PDT
Why Adult Coloring Works for Christians

I mocked the coloring book trend, until I discovered it for myself.

Last year, sales of coloring books in the US shot up from 1 million to 12 million units. The sales spike quickly prompted a slew of articles asking whether our culture is collectively stressed out and/or reverting to childhood hobbies. I, too, mocked the trend right up until I started coloring this year as a therapy tool and discovered that it settles my mind and helps me focus.

Now Christian publishers are jumping on board with “Christian adult coloring books" and even Bibles you can color in. Half of the top ten best sellers for May in the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (EPCA) are coloring books. The website for book No. 5 on the list, Whatever is Lovely, offers a playlist to “help set the perfect mood for worship, contemplation, and creative expression” when using the book. Similarly, Christian writer and Bible teacher Margaret Feinberg wrote the adult coloring book Live Loved. The pages are filled with elaborately designed Scripture verses that she hopes will help users “unleash the creative talents” God has given them. “Color and sketch,” she says on her website. “Whisper the words aloud, commit them to memory, and learn how to live loved in a tangible way.”

Is this all just smart marketing and an attempt to make money, or can Bible-themed coloring books actually aid spiritual discipline? I think they can, but like any tool, it depends how we use them.

Coloring has been used as a stress-reliever since Carl Jung, and agenda-based or “study” coloring books are not new, either. One of the first and still most popular adult coloring books is Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden, an “inky treasure hunt” so detailed that it’s ...

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Mon, 23 May 2016 06:22:00 PDT
Saturday is for Seminars—The Gideons and the Amplify Conference

The Gideons and Canada. What could be better?

Gideon’s Impact Conference, August 12-13, 2016—Toronto, Canada

Amplify Conference, June 28-30, 2016—Wheaton, Illinois

Click here to register for the Amplify Conference.

Coming Soon

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

June 8, 2016
Humanitarian Disaster Institute 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

September 9, 2016
Capacity Conference
Atlanta, GA

September 16, 2016
American Association of Christian Counselors National Meeting
Dallas, TX

September 30, 2016
Louisville, KY

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Sat, 21 May 2016 05:00:00 PDT
Go Ahead, Evangelicals: Use the P-Word

Only some believers are ordained. But all are priests.

This past November, at the gorgeous St. Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, I was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church of Australia. When the archbishop laid his hands on me and prayed for me, I was overwhelmed with feelings of joy and divine pleasure.

This journey into the priesthood has been significant for me in two ways.

First, it was the culmination of a long denominational journey from Baptist to Presbyterian to Anglican. I have fond memories of all the churches and traditions I have been involved with. I tell folks that the Baptists taught me to love Jesus, the Presbyterians taught me to love theology, and the Anglicans taught me to love the church. That said, Anglicanism feels like home with its liturgical worship, evangelistic proclamation, and charismatic affections.

Second, ordination helps me fulfill what I regard as my calling to be a mediator between the church and the academy. As a priest-scholar, I have one foot set in the lecture hall, and the other foot set in the sanctuary. I speak from both the podium and the pulpit. Plus, I get to engage people as diverse as unbelieving professors in secular universities and ordinary churchgoers in the pews.

Throughout my journey, Paul’s discussion in Romans 15 of his own ministry has been crucial. There, in verses 15 and 16, the apostle writes:

Yet I have written you quite boldly on some points to remind you of them again, because of the grace God gave me to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. He gave me the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

For me, this passage shows that my calling to preach the gospel is the calling to a priestly ministry. ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
News: Gleanings: June 2016

Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our June issue).

Ancient Post-It Notes Boost Bible

The archaeological equivalent of sticky notes is causing secular scholars to re-assess the age of the Old Testament. Sixteen to-do lists inked onto pottery shards from 600 B.C. suggest that literacy in the ancient kingdom of Judah was more widespread than previously thought. Such ostraca “impl[y] that an educational infrastructure that could support the composition of literary texts in Judah already existed” before the Israelites were exiled to Babylon in 586 B.C., concluded researchers at Tel Aviv University. Most evangelical scholars already believe that Moses penned the first books of the Bible sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries B.C., based on references to literacy in the Old Testament. “They’re moving in the right direction,” said Walter Kaiser Jr., president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, of his secular peers. “I just say, ‘Keep going.’ ”

Canada: Attempt to export religious freedom office fails

Canada’s attempt to replicate its southern neighbor’s diplomatic advocacy for international religious freedom lasted only three years. The previous Conservative administration opened the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) in 2013, modeled after the US State Department. But six months after the Liberal party won the latest elections, the four-person, $5 million ORF has been shuttered. Foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion said his party believes religious freedom can be better promoted from within a broader human rights office. According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Canadians say it is “very important” that people can practice their religion freely, compared with 84 percent ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
Cover Story: Standing with Charleston, One Year After the Emanuel AME Church Shooting

CT sent a reporter and a photographer to be with the family members of several victims.

Two unfathomable things happened, more quickly than almost anyone could have imagined, one year ago this June.

First, the terror: A young man named Dylann Roof, armed with a .45-caliber handgun, sat through almost an hour of the Wednesday night Bible study at Charleston, South Carolina’s venerable “Mother Emanuel” AME Church. Then he opened fire. Within minutes, nine—Depayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson—were dead. Five survived. In an instant, wives lost husbands, fathers lost daughters, children lost parents, and a church lost its pastor.

Then, the mercy: Two days later, as the nation simmered with outrage and disbelief, the families of those murdered by Roof were allowed, in accordance with the law for bond hearings, to speak by closed-circuit television to Roof. Television networks carried the feed from both rooms: the room where Roof stood, nearly expressionless, flanked by police; and the room where his victims’ relatives were gathered. One after another, they spoke words of forgiveness even as their voices shook with grief and anger. Perhaps the baldest declaration of forgiveness came from Nadine Collier, daughter of slain member Ethel Lance:

I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. . . . You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.

Of all the evidence in recent years that white supremacy remains imprinted on American life, the shootings were the most indisputable. A white boy had come of age in the 21st century drinking ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
Shane Claibornes Passionate Plea Against the Death Penalty

The author and activist puts a human face on the capital punishment debate.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best-selling 19th-century novel, rehabilitated America’s moral imagination. Author Harriet Beecher Stowe did so by humanizing a political issue. She not only gave slaveholding the villainous face of Simon Legree; she also made a Christian martyr of his slave. “If taking every drop of blood in this poor old body would save your precious soul,” Uncle Tom said, “I’d give ’em freely, as the Lord gave his for me.” The abolitionist polemic was so successful that, upon meeting Stowe amid the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.”

In Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us (HarperOne), Shane Claiborne takes a similar approach to argue for the end of capital punishment in the United States. Throughout the book, the activist and founder of the Simple Way tries to put a human face on the victims and perpetrators of the death penalty, even the executioners themselves.

“Ultimately, we are not talking about an issue,” he explains. “We are talking about people.” While the book relies heavily upon these “faces of grace,” Claiborne also takes up an array of biblical, historical, and sociological arguments.

Arsenal of Evidence

Early on, Claiborne engages familiar biblical texts to dispute the well-worn notion that the death penalty is God’s idea. Among his contentions: In the Bible, murderers like Cain, Moses, and David are not executed but spared. The Old Testament’s eye-for-eye standard of justice was not license for death, but a limit on retribution (Lev. 24:14–23). Further, Claiborne argues, Jesus applied a ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
In the Battle Between LGBT Rights and Religious Freedom, Both Can Win

Why we neednt fear the worst-case scenario.

Last summer, even before the Supreme Court decision legitimizing same-sex marriage, conservative Christians were already anxious about the consequences for religious freedom. It is not an irrational fear. Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California–Los Angeles, was quoted in The New York Times as saying:

“If I were a conservative Christian (which I most certainly am not), I would be very reasonably fearful, not just as to tax exemptions but as to a wide range of other programs—fearful that within a generation or so, my religious beliefs would be treated the same way as racist religious beliefs are.”

Matthew J. Tuininga, assistant professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, voiced the concerns of many about Obergefell’s potentially far-reaching implications:

”We are not just talking about photographers, florists, or cake decorators being forced to serve at gay weddings, though those concerns are legitimate. We are talking about adoption agencies being required to assign children to gay couples, colleges and universities being required to offer same-sex couples access to married housing, and any number of similar scenarios revolving around perceived discrimination against gays and lesbians.”

Since Obergefell, the anxiety has only risen. One reason is the religious nature of the disagreement. Both religious conservatives and LGBT activists ground their respective claims in metaphysics. To simplify: The first group believes that sexual mores are rooted in God-given teaching and the natural order. The second group believes every individual has the right to determine how to live sexually, and we each are duty bound to be true to ourselves, however we conceive ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
A Unified Church Is Gospel Witness

In a society rife with racial conflict, US evangelicals are in a unique position to build cross-cultural bridges.

I grew up in Fremont, California, the second most diverse metropolitan area in America. Each day, the Filipino, Mexican, black, Korean, white, and biracial kids on my block would play kickball in the street and then break bread—Popsicles from the ice cream truck—together. It never occurred to me that this type of cross-cultural contact was unusual. It was simply my life. My school was diverse. The staff and clientele at the grocery store were diverse. My church was diverse.

Fast forward 30 years. As the country’s ethnic landscape continues to change, large swaths of America are looking more like my hometown. Research on this demographic shift has found that over the past three decades, 97.8 percent of urban areas, 97.2 percent of suburban areas, and 95.6 percent of rural areas have experienced a significant increase in diversity (measured by all ethnic groups having equal proportions of an area’s total population).

The American evangelical landscape is changing, too. Recent data on global migration patterns from Jehu Hanciles, who teaches global Christianity at Emory University, illustrates that US evangelicalism is diversifying at a faster rate than the broader society. He predicts that in the near future, American evangelicalism will be predominantly non-white (in large part due to the arrival of African Christian immigrants).

In a society rife with racial conflict, such as tensions around the policing of black Americans as well as the treatment of immigrants and refugees, US evangelicals are in a unique position to build cross-cultural bridges. Indeed, in Philippians 2:1–2, the apostle Paul calls us to be leaders in this way:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
Before You Help Someone, Show Some Respect!

An excerpt from 'Slow Kingdom Coming.'

You walk down a dirt path in a Haitian village and come to the edge of someone’s yard, called a lakou. It’s more than a yard. Much of life happens outside—washing clothes, repairing farm tools, cooking, eating. Walking directly into this space would be like barging through someone’s front door in Pittsburgh.

You call out, Honé, meaning “honor.” This announces that you visit with honor for them, their family, their property. You’re acknowledging their humanity, their dignity, their right of response. You’re confirming that it’s up to them whether you will enter and on what terms.

Respé, meaning “respect,” is the word you wait to hear. Perhaps the woman over a pot of rice in the cooking shack recognizes your voice and calls out without seeing you. Or maybe it’s someone you’ve never visited before, and the person walks up without saying respé to inquire about the reason for your visit. Honor and respect are established as integral to your interactions moving forward.

The ritual slows one down to recognize there is a you and an I, to commit to the work of respect that is ahead. These words are not only said the first time one visits. Best friends still call out honé and await respé.

Respect is having a due regard for the feelings, wishes, and rights of others. This is essential at every stage of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly in the world. If we rush through without slowing down, we may not be offering respect, even if the goal is helping. Sometimes we call out honé and need to wait years to build trust before hearing respé. The pause honors the different circumstances and concerns, the ...

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Fri, 20 May 2016 11:00:00 PDT
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