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Good Behavior Matters After All

How I discovered God's plan to reach a lost and sinful world.

In the early 1980s, I was a young tutor at All Nations Christian College in Hertfordshire, England. In a faculty meeting, one of my colleagues said, “These students need to understand that mission is not something we add to the [biblical] text, an afterthought at the end of our exegesis. Mission is in the origin of the text.”

All of our students were preparing for cross-cultural mission. They had to study key passages about Christ, such as Hebrews 1, Colossians 1, and Philippians 2. My colleague was pointing out that such texts arose not as isolated doctrine, but amid missionary church-planting and the controversies surrounding it. The New Testament documents, he urged, are intrinsically missional in how they came to be.

His words struck me. Of course! Why did I not see that before? I wondered if this applied to the Old Testament. I had completed my doctorate five years prior in Old Testament ethics—the aspect of theology that attempts to determine right from wrong conduct. I wanted to understand and communicate the ethical message of the Hebrew Scriptures, and to help Christians know how to apply it.


The Reason for Election

These questions were on my mind in 1983, when I went to Pune, India, to teach at Union Biblical Seminary. At an end-of-the-year student show, some students lovingly mocked me. One of them read an obscure text from Chronicles and asked, “What are the ethical and missiological implications of this text?” Everyone laughed, and I was pleased that I had gotten them to ask the very questions I was wrestling with.

Then, while preparing a lecture on Genesis one day, I was arrested by God’s speech in Genesis 18:19, before Abraham pleads for God to spare Sodom ...

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Review: Creed

A film about legacies lives up to its own.

mpaa rating:PG-13 (For violence, language and some sensuality.)Genre:Drama, SportsTheatre Release:November 25, 2015 by Warner Bros.

When I watch movies about the experiences of people who are different from me, I’ve found they usually invite one of two approaches.

Some films take a sort of anthropological approach: the characters are depicted sympathetically, and viewers leave the theater with deeper insights into a set of life experiences dramatically different from their own. For me, Straight Outta Compton was such a film. Films like these can help erode prejudices, since they let us look at something besides the portraitures of prejudice.

But there other films go even farther. They allow us, and sometimes coax us, to not only learn about the “other” but identify with him or her. So they not only help chip away at prejudices, but they also lay a foundation for connection, friendship, acceptance, and love.

You can call these works of art whatever you want—incarnational, transcendent, humanistic—but they usually have a deeper impact. They can transport and transform us, rather than just enlighten or persuade us. These types of films might be different for different viewers. One of the first I encountered was Milos Foreman’s Ragtime, which made me weep for and with a wronged African-American in a way that (even as a white eighteen-year-old) I understood was different from how I was responding to Roots.

Ryan Coogler’s Creed is another. It’s not a tragedy, so the emotions it provoked were quite different from what I experienced in Ragtime. But provoke emotions, it certainly did. How? It reminded me that even when someone’s experiences are different from mine, there are no fears, joys, temptations, or blessings except those which are common to all people.

The title of the film refers to Apollo ...

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News: Protestants Follow Catholics' Lead on Martyr Tourism as Pope Francis Visits Uganda

(UPDATED) A swampy site that draws millions across East Africa symbolizes religious freedom. One day it may prove better than gorillas for the economy.

[First posted on Wednesday, November 25, at 12:23 p.m.]

Pilgrims walk hundreds of miles to swat at mosquitoes and dip their jugs, body parts, and even their babies into the murky water of a rectangular lake here on the northeast outskirts of Uganda’s capital city.

Millions of faithful Catholics show up in Kampala on “Martyrs Day” every June 3 from all over East Africa. They commemorate 45 young men—23 Catholics and 22 Anglicans—who died for their faith in the late 1800s as Ugandan political winds shifted. For this year’s observance, 500 pilgrims from Kenya spent more than a month walking 300 miles on foot to reach the Martyrs’ Shrine in Namugongo, according to the Vatican.

“What did you know at age 15?” said Jane Frances, a nun with the Comboni Missionary Sisters in Uganda, while on a recent flight from Kampala to Ethiopia. “At that young age, they were so brave. They were burned to death.” She attends the remembrance every year if she is not traveling.

On his first trip to Africa last week, Pope Francis visited all three of Kampala’s martyrs shrines, dedicated to a group of young men who stood up to an unjust king and, in so doing, shook the conscience of the country toward religious freedom.

First, on Friday (November 27) Francis stopped at the Munyonyo Martyrs’ Shrine that honors the first three young men killed in 1886. Then on Saturday (November 28), he visited two other shrines that honor more victims: the Nakiyanja Protestant Martyrs’ Shrine and the Namugongo Catholic Martyrs’ Shrine, where he celebrated mass and urged Christians to remember the legacy of their spiritual ancestors.

"The Christian community ...

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15 Books that Are Good Enough to Give

Holiday book list: Her.meneutics writers recommend their favorites.

If you’re a book lover or if you have an avid reader on your list, you’re bound to spend some of your Christmas shopping standing in front of a book display or scrolling through the rankings on Amazon trying to pick the right title.

To help a little, here are just a few of our recent favorites. These are the kind of books that we’d be happy to wrap up and give to our friends—or snuggle up and re-read ourselves.

Let us know your recommendations in the comments! – Kate

For anyone who’s too busy to read: Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Shulte

I started listening to Overwhelmed, thinking it would be a self-help book that guided me in simplifying my life. Instead, I am very grateful for Shulte's thorough investigation of the social and political forces that have resulted in a culture of overwork and particularly the effect this shift in the way we spend our time has had on women and family. I highly recommend it.

- Amy Julia Becker

For suspense lovers: Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The premise — of imagining a stranger's life as perfect when one's own is a disaster — is one many of us can relate to. The novel's untrustworthy narrator and compelling storyline make this a quick and engaging read. In spite of a somewhat unbelievable last few pages, I would read it again. It makes for a relaxing and thrilling holiday reading.

- Ruth Moon

For young readers: Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

This wise and delightful fantasy novel tells the story of a boy who loves his grandfather so much that he'll do anything to save his life—even set out to find a legendary magical circus. It has moments of great sadness but ...

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Contextualization at Home: How Should We Do Church?

If the world looked at us, could they tell we are on a mission?

In many ministry conversations today, you will hear questions like, “Do we need to contextualize the way we do ministry?” or “Do we need to contextualize the presentation of the gospel?” These are good questions.

We understand the importance of contextualization when it comes to foreign missions. We know that you need to plant churches in Africa that reflect the current culture of that place. But contextualization is just as important in our Western culture.

In this three part series, we are looking at what it takes to contextualize the mission here in the West. To figure out how we carry out the work of God, we need to vigorously consider three issues.

Christology: Who is Jesus and what has He sent us to do?

Ecclesiology: What expression of a New Testament church would be most appropriate in this context?

Missiology: What forms and strategies should we use to be about the Kingdom of God?

Why Must a Church Contextualize Its Ministry?

As I’ve spoken and encouraged churches and leaders, I’ve often said, “If the 1950’s came back, a lot of our churches would be ready to go.”

So in kind of a popular sense, I’m calling for and encouraging a consideration of contextualization in the way that we do ministry. This isn’t about preaching a new Gospel, or adapting the Gospel to the culture. It is about sharing God’s truth in the culture using its own language.

God is a missionary God, and we’re reminded that the Church is to be a missionary Church because God has a mission. The Church doesn’t need to search for a mission. God’s mission has a church, and so the Church doesn’t just have a function of mission, but the Church exists ...

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Colorado Springs Pastor Killed in Planned Parenthood Shooting

(UPDATED) Attack at abortion clinic leaves three dead and nine wounded.

Members of Hope Chapel in Colorado Springs gave thanks on Sunday for the life of Garrett Swasey, a church elder and police officer who was killed on Friday in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic [see original post below].

The congregation of about 100 people watched a video clip of Swasey, a former competitive ice skater, and recalled fond memories of his role as preacher and guitar player for the church’s worship team.

“You don’t realize how much you love someone until you can’t tell them anymore,” said Hope Chapel co-pastor Scott Dontanville, according to The Gazette.

Church members also prayed for Robert Lewis Dear, who is accused of killing Swasey and two others in Friday’s shooting.

“God, we forgive him. We can’t not,” Dontanville prayed, according to TheDenver Post. “You’ve forgiven him. Garrett's forgiven him.”

Bloggers began circulating the words of Swasey’s last sermon, given two weeks ago. “Our objective is not to bring glory to ourselves but to bring glory to God,” he said. “How? By transforming our lives through the gospel. Apart from that it can’t be done, not in our own strength.”

Dear is scheduled to appear in court this afternoon to face charges in the shooting, which also injured nine people.

So far, the motives for the attack remain unclear.

CNN reported that Dear told law enforcement officials that he opposes abortion. He also reportedly made a comment about “baby parts,” a possible reference to a series of videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue to researchers.

Dear reportedly had previous run-ins with the law. According to CNN, he was ...

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Shopping the Movies

Got some folks with very specific movie tastes on your list? We've got suggestions.

DVDs are one of the most convenient gifts you can give this Christmas, even in this age of digital access and market saturation. And the best part is that there are so many choices—far more than the latest Hollywood flick being pushed at Best Buy or Wal-Mart. But knowing you can get a DVD for that hard-to-please person and knowing which one to get are two different things.

Not to worry. We’re here to help. Here are some suggestions for everyone, with a more personal touch than whatever Amazon algorithm keeps trying to get you to buy Fifty Shades of Grey for your grandma.

The Cinephile

It’s not too late to take advantage of the Criterion Collection’s semi-annual half-price sale and pick up a classic or two for your film-loving friend. But because you can choose from literally hundreds of selections at Barnes & Noble, knowing your Secret Santa’s taste will help. Still not sure?

One great option is the Ernst Lubitsch comedy To Be or Not to Be, starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. It stands up to repeat viewing better than most comedies, and the lean but helpful essay by Geoffrey O’Brien included in the Criterion enriches viewers’ appreciation without condescending to them.

Or try the classic John Wayne/Montgomery Clift western Red River, which includes a “new” interview with Peter Bogdanovich. And you can’t help but enjoy how gorgeous and glorious Howard Hawks’s films often were.

The Foreign Film Buff

If you are shopping for someone who likes foreign-language films and you don’t know subtitles from intertitles, try Film Movement’s recent pair of Eric Rohmer classics: The Marquise of O and Full Moon in Paris. Both come with ...

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How Paris Affected American Attitudes on Helping Syrian Refugees

World Vision poll suggests terrorism didn't change compassion. Other polls highlight fears.

Nearly 3 out of 4 American adults (72%) say they are willing to help Syrian refugees after the Paris terrorism attacks, according to an Ipsos Public Affairs poll sponsored by World Vision.

The number is virtually unchanged (71%) from when Ipsos/World Vision asked the same question in October, before the City of Lights experienced tragedy and American politicians began debating state bans on Syrian refugees in response.

Of poll respondents who said they were unwilling to help, 7 in 10 (69%) said they thought Americans should help people in the US first, up from 6 in 10 (58%) in October. And 41 percent said they feared Syrian refugees are potential terrorists, up sharply from 25 percent in October.

The World Vision study, which sampled 1,006 adults between November 18–19, found a more positive response to the Syrian refugee crisis than other recent polls, including an Ipsos/Reuters poll taken the weekend after the Paris attacks. In that survey, more than half of Americans (52%) said that countries accepting Syrian refugees were less safe.

Respondents were almost equally split on how to respond to that risk: 40 percent said that countries should continue to accept refugees because they are fleeing terrorism, while 41 percent said countries should close their borders to refugees because they might be dangerous.

In the pre-Paris poll conducted by Ipsos/World Vision among 1,004 adults between October 6–7, about three-quarters of self-identified "committed Christians" (76%) said they were willing to take future action to help Syrian refugees. However, only 37 percent of Americans overall and 44 percent of committed Christians said they had helped Syrian refugees already.

About a quarter of committed ...

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Thanking Our Immigrant Parents

How Master of None points to the joy, not the guilt, of Honor your father and mother.

Our relationships with our parents are so important that they make it into the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:12 instructs us to “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

I’ll admit, that verse has always made me uncomfortable. How do we honor our parents as adults? When we disagree with them? When we have a different cultural reality or worldview? I’ve struggled most of my life to understand how to live out this particular commandment, especially when it comes to my Korean-born mother, who emigrated to the United States in the 1980s.

My discomfort came up again watching the “Parents” episode of the new, lauded Netflix comedy series, Master of None. The show’s co-creator, Aziz Ansari, stars as Dev Shah, a second-generation Indian American trying to figure out his future and working out relationships with his friends, lovers, and parents. In an early scene, Dev’s dad (played by Ansari’s father) asks for help fixing his iPad calendar. Dev responds with a string of excuses, finally ending with, “I’m not your personal computer guy!”

We flashback to scenes throughout his dad’s life: his poor upbringing in India, the struggle to become a doctor, racism during his early years in America, and an understatedly ironic and touching moment where he gives his young son a computer as a gift. Back in the present, Dev’s final refusal echoes, and his father wearily accedes.

Meanwhile, Dev’s Taiwanese-American friend, Brian, has a similar exchange with his father after he asks a favor. We see moments from Brian’s dad’s upbringing and his dream for his son to have a ...

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The Colonists New Religious Mystery

Sorry, Pilgrims: Jamestowns spiritual life is suddenly much more fascinating.

When the English settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, sailed into Chesapeake Bay in 1607, the first thing they did was plant a cross on the shore. They may not have had the same kind of focused religious mission as the Puritans of New England, but Virginians cared about things of the spirit.

As typical English people, the Virginia colonists were stridently Protestant. They were products of the warring worlds of the Reformation. Roman Catholics were the great imperial and religious enemy to most English Protestants. But the recent discovery of a Catholic reliquary (devotional box) in the grave of an early Virginia leader suggests that the colony’s religious story may have been more complicated than we knew.

The site of the Jamestown colony has become arguably the most exciting archaeological dig in America over the past couple of decades. Scholars once assumed that the James River had long since covered over the site of the original Jamestown fort. But in the 1990s, renewed excavations revealed that the fort’s remains were still on land, just waiting to be dug up. The new dig has produced stunning and tantalizing evidence about life at Jamestown.

In 2011, Jamestown announced that it had discovered the foundations of the fort’s church, likely the first Protestant church ever built in America. That church also hosted the most famous wedding of the American colonial era, between John Rolfe and Pocahontas.

Now excavators have unearthed the graves of several of the earliest colonists, including the Reverend Robert Hunt, who performed one of the first Anglican Communion services in America in 1607. More controversially, the grave of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the colony’s early leaders, yielded a ...

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Review: The Good Dinosaur

Possibly the most generic Pixar movie ever.

mpaa rating:PG (For peril, action and thematic elements.)Genre:AnimatedTheatre Release:November 25, 2015 by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Parents at the multiplex who are looking for a movie the whole family will like probably can’t do better than The Good Dinosaur—especially given the other films opening on Thanksgiving weekend (The Danish Girl; Creed; Janis: Little Girl Blue; Victor Frankenstein) and those already playing in theaters (The Hunger Games, The Night Before, Love the Coopers, Goosebumps).

But they’ll mostly be settling. Compared to other Pixar films, The Good Dinosaur is not particularly clever in its storytelling, nor does it pack as powerful an emotional punch.

The “good dinosaur” of the title is Arlo, the youngest of three sibling dinosaurs. From the moment he is hatched, Arlo is a fearful little guy. At first Momma and Poppa (even the names are generic) think his egg is empty. Only after they tip it over and peer inside do they spot the undersized runt of the family, pressing vainly against the bottom of the shell to avoid entering the world.

Poppa is confident that Arlo just needs a little more time to “make his mark”—but clearly, he finds his son’s cowardice consternating. In a last effort, Poppa sets up a rope trap to catch a critter. All Arlo needs to do to prove his manhood is kill whatever creature is caught in the trap. That ends up being Spot, a human(ish) boy whom Arlo pities enough that cuts him loose, rather than beating his brains in.

Now the thematic stakes are set. Arlo gets separated from his family by a storm. He meets up with Spot and they form a sort of family of their own in an effort to find and return to their real families. The ensuing journey riffs on Monsters, Inc. (big scary monster scared of tiny human child) and Disney’s The Lion King (male child ...

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