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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019  (Read 1456 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« on: April 01, 2019, 08:31:52 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/march/jewish-christians-messianic-jews-helsinki-consultation.html




Jewish Christians Are Recovering Their Distinctive Religious Heritage



A growing group of Jews who believe in Jesus is crossing boundaries to revive their identity and restore unity in the church.

 
The lights are dim during a Friday night service in a sanctuary that holds 4,000 people at the non-denominational Gateway Church in Dallas, Texas. Many traditional Jewish elements of the Sabbath are present: There’s a blessing over the bread and wine, candle lighting, a Torah scroll, and a prayer shawl. About 12 musicians play contemporary Christian music that contains a spattering of Hebrew lyrics.

Pastor Greg Stone, associate pastor of Gateway Jewish Ministries, offers a message based on the words of Ezekiel and Daniel to an audience of 700, of whom 30 percent are Jewish, according to an in-house survey. Gateway’s lead pastor, Robert Morris, believes in the principle “first to the Jew” (Rom. 1:16, ESV), therefore the church created this first Friday Jewish service and incorporates Jewish learning in its adult education classes on all six of its campuses. This megachurch of 36,000 also gives the initial one percent of its tithes and offerings to ministries that serve the Jewish people. “It’s part of the DNA of Gateway,” Stone said.

Gateway is only one of many Christian spaces around the world where Jews can foster their identity. In Toulouse, France, Sister Eliana Kurylo, a Jewish Catholic nun from The Community of the Beatitudes, prays Jewish liturgy on the eve of the Sabbath. In Jerusalem, Father Antoine Levy, a Jewish Dominican priest, studies modern Hebrew during a one-year sabbatical from his post in Finland.

Last August, Stone, Kurylo, and Levy joined a group of 40-plus Jewish believers in Jesus from various countries and traditions; they convened at The King’s University in Dallas for the First International/Interconfessional Congress of Jewish Disciples of Jesus.

The conference participants were Jewish Christian and Messianic leaders committed to a renewed corporate expression of Jews who believe in Jesus, yet without relinquishing particular ecclesial affiliations. They were motivated by their common lament that, for nearly two millennia, there has not been an extensive, visible Jewish body of faith in Jesus. Together they grieved that Christianity has been without its Jewish constituency and without the original Jewish orientation in Christian identity. For these attendees, this loss has deeply wounded the Christian church and the Jewish people, which can only be healed by resurrecting a visible Jewish presence within Christianity.

“We are given one chance to stand on our feet as a community,” said Levy, co-organizer of the congress. “Unity is bound up in the renewed presence of the Jewish people.

Repairing a Fractured History
Historically, tension between Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus dates back to an early dilemma: how to include Gentiles in the early Jewish Christian community of faith. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) decided to hold incoming Gentiles to limited Jewish ritual standards. Gentiles eventually eclipsed Jews numerically, and by the fourth century, the issue was reversed, with Gentile leaders questioning the presence of Jewish identity in Christianity.

From that point on, institutional Christianity cut itself off from its Jewish setting, requiring Jews to leave their community and identity in order to believe in Jesus. Within a few centuries, as rabbinic Judaism took shape, its leaders also marginalized Jewish followers of Jesus and put distance between a developing Judaism and an evolving Christianity.

Many attendees of the Dallas congress posit that this first “divorce” not only suppressed Jewish identity but also set a precedent. “The failure of the church to deal successfully with the Jew-Gentile distinction,” said Mark Kinzer, a Messianic theologian and co-organizer of the congress, “can be seen as a foundational flaw that set the stage for ruptures and schisms to follow.”

The congress stems from the Helsinki Consultation on Jewish Continuity in the Body of Messiah, a smaller group of Messianic Jews, Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal Jewish Church leaders worldwide. Evangelical Jewish leaders joined the consultation for the first time at the Dallas meeting. They included Greg Stone of Gateway; David Klein, a Presbyterian (PCA) pastor; and Lee Spitzer, a minister and general secretary of the American Baptist Churches USA.

The Helsinki Consultation has been meeting annually for more than ten years to hash out the theological rationale for Jews who believe in Jesus to maintain a distinctive Jewish identity. Its participants have developed statements that now serve as the core theology for this expanding network. Undergirding their theology are Bible verses about the irrevocability of God’s gifts and call to Israel (Rom. 11:29) and Jesus’ validation of the law (Matt. 5:17).

Potential exists for the creation of a large group of loosely defined Jews who believe in Jesus across denominational lines. Projections in the 19th century suggested that up to 300,000 Jews existed across Christian traditions, but current research is inconsistent. A recent LifeWay Research survey, sponsored by Chosen People Ministries (CPM), discovered that more than 870,000 people with one Jewish parent or grandparent attend American evangelical churches. Levy estimates that there are an additional 50,000 to 100,000 Jews in the Russian Orthodox church and about 10,000 Jewish Catholics globally. Jews in Messianic congregations likely figure in the tens of thousands globally.

Jacob vs. Jacob
The congress was an unprecedented gathering, given these Jewish attendees came from a diversity of Christian streams and denominations. Those at the congress view themselves as building on the work of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, an older fellowship of Protestant Hebrew Christians that began in 1915. This earlier alliance’s success was hindered by the Holocaust and the Messianic Jewish community’s stronger Jewish orientation, which created a chasm between Jews in churches and those in Messianic congregations.

Messianic Jews have been establishing their own congregations for half a century and could assist their siblings in churches that want to revitalize their Jewish identity. While a majority of Messianic Jews would prefer that Jews in churches join their community, many Jews are attached to their particular affiliations and believe their presence within their denominations provides a concrete connection to the Jewish people and an integrated witness to the kingdom of heaven. For unity to occur among Jewish followers of Jesus, Messianic Jews will need to accept the reasons some Jewish Christians choose to remain committed to their churches, despite the way it can restrict the flourishing of Jewish identity.

A sign of reconciliation occurred at the Dallas congress. Two Messianic Jewish leaders, Monique Brumbach, the executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, and Marty Waldman, the senior rabbi of a large Dallas Messianic congregation, expressed regret for having insisted that all Jews should be part of the Messianic congregational community. “I need to ask God for forgiveness and from my brothers and sisters for judging them,” Waldman said. “As a Messianic Jew with evangelical roots, I professed Jews who joined historical churches were mishugenah [crazy].”

Messianic Jews have striven to emphasize the Jewish context of Christianity for decades. If this new alliance grows, however, so could opposition from Christians and Jews alike. Many Jews and Christians remain uncomfortable with theologies they believe blur the boundaries between Judaism and Christianity.

Rabbi David Fox Sandmel, director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, admits that joining Jewish identity with belief in Jesus is less of a contradiction today than in the past. He attributes this to the growing appreciation among scholars of the Jewish roots of Christianity and secular or cultural Jews increasingly separating Jewish identity from faith. However, Sandmel maintains that Jewish institutions unequivocally reject Jewish Christians. From the traditional Jewish perspective, core Jewish identity is irrevocable, said Sandmel, “but there is pretty much a consensus that professing belief in Jesus places one outside of the Jewish community.”

Sandmel acknowledges some Jewish Christians have positively impacted the Jewish community, such as Catholic theologian Monsignor John Maria Oesterreicher, who worked to improve Jewish-Catholic relations by repudiating anti-Semitism. Tackling anti-Semitism is an ongoing objective of the congress. Spitzer, who published a book about Baptists hiding Jews during the Holocaust, attended the Congress with this motivation: “I feel that the church of the 21st century needs to proactively find its voice on anti-Semitism.”

The congress shares many key goals with the broader Jewish world. Faydra Shapiro, an Orthodox Jewish observer at the conference and executive director at the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, said in a Jerusalem Post article, “At a time when the mainstream Jewish community finds it so challenging to get Jews to live active and committed Jewish lives, this gathering was an unexpected inspiration.”

Re-Establishing Jews as the People of God
Many scholars believe all streams of Christianity are supersessionist, believing that Israel has been replaced by the Christian church. Such churches will be unlikely to encourage their Jewish brethren to renew their Jewish identity.

Gentiles need to acknowledge they are dual participants in the story of salvation, said Willie James Jennings, associate professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School and one of the founding members of the Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology. “Salvation was intended to be us learning how to enter the lives of others—Jews entering the lives of Gentiles, Gentiles entering the lives of Jews,” said Jennings, “figuring out in life together how we would worship and serve and love the one true God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

While some Christians see Jews as the people of God, many have not cultivated a theology that undergirds that view. Chosen People’s LifeWay survey found that 41 percent of evangelicals do not think that the church has replaced Israel, while 28 percent believe it has (32 percent weren’t sure).

Mitch Glaser, president of CPM, has noticed one difference. Most evangelical Christians apply passages about the people of Israel to themselves in light of their own needs, he said. However, he believes that many, when asked directly, would deny the church has replaced the Jewish people. “I call that pragmatic supersessionism,” Glaser said.

One of the Protestant attendees in Dallas, pastor David Klein, said his Christian faith has been shaped by Reformed theology, which formally denies that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God. In reality, Klein admitted, the theology effectively erases Israel, and the New Covenant supersedes the Old. Though raised attending a conservative synagogue, Klein recalled, “When I came to faith, I was given the clear impression that faith in Jesus is the doorway out of Judaism into Christianity, and not in any way an entryway into a deeper Jewish life.”

During graduate studies and while serving as a Presbyterian pastor, Klein came to a new understanding that encouraged him to think theologically and personally about Jewish life and identity. “It was a moment of genuine insight, followed by genuine horror,” he said. He was deeply distressed that his previous understanding had negatively impacted his family, ministry, and personal life.

To address such concerns, the Dallas initiative sees itself as a Jewish support network. Some denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God, and the Foursquare churches, have developed communal space for Jews through their own Messianic Jewish fellowships, and the Catholic church maintains an Association of Hebrew Catholics. Still, churches have a long way to go, according to Kinzer. “It is very difficult for Jews to sustain any kind of Jewish identity and preserve Jewish life within the church context,” he said. “It can only happen if something pretty dramatic changes.”

Unity Between Jews and Gentiles in the Church
The Dallas congress hopes to restore a space for Jews in churches and renew the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Christian churches by putting Jesus into the center of Israel’s story. For Kinzer, that doesn’t imply that all Christians should practice Jewish customs or offer Jewish services. Rather, he hopes that churches—Jewish members or not—would develop a sense that their identity is intertwined with the Jewish people. This could be acknowledged through church rituals, in prayers, and by forming relationships with Jewish people. Kinzer sees the Lord’s Supper as the ideal time for Jews and Gentiles to celebrate together and reflect the unity in diversity of the kingdom of heaven.

Some Christians, especially abroad, have grasped the centrality of the Jewish people to their faith, as witnessed by Ephraim Radner, a Jewish Episcopal priest, a theology professor at Wycliffe College, and an attendee at the Dallas conference. Radner warmly recalls the sermon that Archbishop Samuel Sindamuka preached at his ordination in Burundi in the 1980s. The archbishop was astonished that a Jewish savior, born from the ancient line of Abraham, would welcome into his fold a Gentile nation (the Barundi), who would in turn ordain a Jewish man, Radner, from the new world.

Sindamuka had asked his congregation to marvel at this divine ordering of history that brought Jews and Gentiles together. Through Radner’s ordination, the archbishop had seen a glimpse of when God will “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:10).

Yet according to Radner, the archbishop understood that within that unity exists a distinction between the nations of the world and Jewish Israel. “The genealogy was not something to be surpassed in Christ,” said Radner, “but lifted up as a confirmation, in the present, of God’s reality and truth for others. Not only can one not shed one’s Jewishness in this context; to do so would be to deny the reality of God for others.”

This expanding fellowship of Jewish believers in Jesus is still in its infancy. The conference last summer produced a resolution on identity and vision and established a steering committee to strategize ways to approach Jews in varied church settings. Organizers are planning another congress to be held by 2020.

While promising, an extensive alliance of Messianic Jews and Jewish Christians, represented in part by the Dallas conference, still faces uncertainty. Jews across all streams of Christianity exist as individuals and small groups, but the question remains whether they will want to form such a broad, determined, and visible union—together with the established Messianic Jewish community—that could also eventuate a long-lost unity in the body of believers in Jesus and with the broader Jewish world.





“It’s kind of like trying to awaken a slumbering giant,” Kinzer said.

Deborah Pardo-Kaplan is a religion journalist living in Austin, Texas.











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« Last Edit: May 01, 2019, 08:01:31 am by patrick jane »
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, the gospel of our salvation, and repenting, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2019, 09:57:14 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2019/april/conversion-suicide-god-saved-me-from-death.html



God Saved Me From Suicide




I wanted nothing to do with faith. That changed the night I tried to take my own life.

 
I grew up with idealistic missionary parents who wanted more than punch-a-clock and pay-the-mortgage normalcy. They pursued a ministry life abroad, but after I was diagnosed with leukemia as a child, we were left stateside and struggling financially. We moved a lot—Hawaii, then Nepal, then back to Hawaii, then New Mexico.

For most of my teen years, we lived in Albuquerque, and during that time, I began to resent the ways God allowed us to suffer. I began to think God was cruel, a scarce and mean God who looked the other way when we were in need. My parents gave me space and didn’t force me to go to church with them, but I knew they prayed that I would come to know Christ. My dad would often say, “I believe God has a call on your life, Alia.” But I wanted nothing to do with faith.

Everything changed in the middle of my junior year. My parents got another ministry job offer and moved us back to Hawaii.

When we arrived in Pahoa, my dad surveyed the house the ministry had provided for us. It was unlivable. The house had no plumbing and no interior walls, only a concrete slab pooling with puddles of mosquito-infested water. Heavy green mold scaled the cement ruins and the jungle loomed around the house, unruly vines breaking through shattered windowpanes. No one had flown to the Big Island to inspect the house or property for years, and it had become uninhabitable.

We lived in Nepal in the early ’80s in a dung-style hut, so we’d never be accused of being high maintenance, but this was ridiculous. The ministry agreed to pay half the rent for livable accommodations. But even a month after we moved in, we had no furniture and couldn’t afford to get any now that we had to pay partial rent. We had two lawn chairs in the living room and a futon pad on the ground. Despite our situation, my parents decided to stay and see what God would provide for us.

The rain in Pahoa fell in constant sheets, pounding on our metal roof like an assault. And I took it as just that: a personal attack. I sat on our back porch—a slab of concrete with a tin covering—listening to the rain pinging like rapid gunfire while I dragged hard on my cigarette. This was my personal hell.

Reconciling these years of poverty and pain with a loving and merciful God seemed impossible. I could not believe in a God who continually abandoned us. I hurt everywhere. I fit nowhere. Home wasn’t a place I could feel.

And yet, I met God there one night. Or God met me.

It had been raining for 42 days straight when I considered taking my own life. I had no transportation, no license, and no hopes of getting one anytime soon. I was miles away from civilization and as sober as I’d ever been.

In Albuquerque, I had learned to silence the torment I felt inside. I didn’t know I had bipolar disorder; I just knew there were times my skin tingled with restlessness, my limbs seemed possessed, and my feet tapped out a Morse code. I felt invincible, immortal, immune to hunger and thirst and the incessant demands to slow down, to sleep, to recharge. My mind was a colony of secrets and schemes. But it’s an unfortunate law of the universe that what goes up must come down.

That night in Hawaii, blind with tears, I started ransacking the bathroom medicine cabinet and rifling through drawers. I decided it was time to quiet that steady hum once and for all. I wanted the shadows to disappear and the voices to stop, and I believed that death was the only way.

My hand shook as I picked up the flimsy disposable razor. I held it over my skin, trying to build up the courage to make the deep cut. I had flirted with death before, but just enough to blow my hair back, just enough to make me feel the tiniest bit alive. In that moment of desperation, I cried out to God: I never asked to be born! I never asked for any of this!

Never did I imagine that God would answer me. But he did. I found myself silenced, barefoot and open palmed, splayed like an offering across the floor. I was ready to take my own life and instead found myself laid out by God—physically knocked to the floor and flooded with a peace that to this day, I cannot fully describe. I felt the resuscitation of grace.

After that night, however, I began to make excuses. Maybe God reveals himself to desperate girls on chipped linoleum floors in the middle of a monsoon and says, “You belong to me. I have loved you with an everlasting love. You are mine.” But that was all too much for me to fathom. I wanted something to explain away the very real and terrible possibility that God existed and that he wanted something from me. I thought perhaps it was my body’s response to all the stress hormones and my legs had just given out. But even with all of my justifications, I couldn’t deny that I felt something I had never felt before. I felt God.

My parents had given me a Bible I never used and instead wedged under a tiny garage-sale table in my room to make the legs even. I pulled it out and began to read it at night behind my locked door. I didn’t want my parents to know. I didn’t want my dad to say, “I knew God had a call on your life, Alia Joy.” I didn’t want any spiritual I-told-you-so.

My bed was a rolled-out length of eggshell foam—the kind you put on a real mattress (should you actually have a mattress)—and not thick enough to keep my hips from falling asleep and aching through the night. As I read my Bible, I was confronted with questions and fears. I’d lie in the dark with God and whisper prayers into the void, hoping someone was there answering me back. Like Jacob wrestling with God through the night, this grappling changed my identity and renamed me.

In the Book of Genesis, when Jacob first prays for protection and deliverance from Esau, he prays to the God of his father Abraham and his father Isaac. After he wrestles with God and his prayers are answered, Jacob erects an altar with his new name, Israel. He names it El-Elohe-Israel, which means “God, the God of Israel.”

When I wrestled with God, he brought me to that same place of weakness. This weakness didn’t leave me more vulnerable before my enemies, real or imagined. Instead, it taught me that, even though we all walk with unsteady feet, we can rely on the God of our fathers and more than that, on the God who reveals himself directly to us—a God unmasked, a God who lets us grab hold of him in the darkness. In these times of wrestling, we might find ourselves transformed. We might feel the touch of God dislocating our hip as dawn breaks. God might take us to the ground.

I am not healed in the ways one might imagine. I still have bipolar disorder. Sometimes I still struggle with suicidal ideation. I take antipsychotic meds and antidepressants to help keep me alive. These, too, are ways that God meets me on the mat, meets me in the darkness, and lets me grab hold of him.

To this day, I carry the bruises of those restless nights, of a too-thin mat and a paralysis so severe I could only be laid at the feet of Jesus. Sometimes I remember that whisper-thin foam of my bed and the ache in my hips as I wrestled with God. I think of my parents choosing to stay in Hawaii and wait on the Lord. I thank God for their obedience, for helping bear witness to the goodness of God in that horrible rental where I first believed.

I came back to life in that home that wasn’t a home. It was the place where I met Jesus and the place where I learned that I’d always been called.





Alia Joy is a speaker and writer who lives in Oregon with her family. Her blog, AliaJoy.com, offers insight into her life, family, and faith journey. This essay was adapted from Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack by Alia Joy, copyright March 2019. Used by permission from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publisher Group.








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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2019, 12:09:51 pm »


https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/april/whispers-of-disruption-new-move-of-god-in-our-time.html




Whispers of Disruption: A New Move of God in Our Time



Three trends that may indicate the beginning of kingdom breakthrough.

 
“Who’s ever lost money investing in real estate?”

This was the single question that stood as the foundation of many people’s ‘all-in’ attitude for real estate investing in the early 2000s. My wife and I were certainly all-in, cashing out all other forms of investments to buy multiple homes.

For some years, it seemed like a no-brainer. Every deal followed a predictable pattern—I made money when I bought the house, I made money as I rented the house, and I made a lot of money when I sold the house.

Before the housing crash that marked the beginning of the Great Recession, most of us investing in real estate knew disruption coming—we just thought we had years to prepare for it.

Little did we know that the world was about to change quickly. The writing was on the wall—whispers of credit default swaps, bundled toxic assets, unsustainable growth patterns in homes…only fools believed things would go on as they were before, but disruption came quickly and when it did, there was no escape.

There is much to learn about the spiritual condition of America from the days leading up to the Great Recession. As a person who loves big data, I want to believe that we can interpret the future based solely upon data points available to us now, but this assumption is very much like the question “Who’s ever lost money investing in real estate?”

As a person who literally lost almost everything in the market crash, I’ve grown suspicious of what we can learn merely from data. There are variables, disruptive and life changing, variables that can quickly crush our trend analysis and usher in a new normal in the blink of an eye. I believe that we should always hold our data up against the winds of the whispers of disruption.

I believe we are going to see major disruption in the spiritual landscape of America—I’m convinced of it. This does not mean our data is wrong, just that it is about to be disrupted by unforeseen spiritual variables. The decline of the political and social normativity of the Christian narrative in America has been well documented, but at the same time, we are seeing new variables that will lead to a disruption in these trends.

Here are three ‘whispers of disruption’ that will lead to a new normal of kingdom breakthrough:

1 – Unprecedented Unity: I’ve been doing partnerships in my ministry for over 20 years, but I have never experienced the ease and the appetite to come together to do something bigger than I’m seeing now! Churches, denominations, parachurch and non-profit networks are coming together in ways we’ve not seen in America. We see this in the EveryCampusmovement, a coalition of now over 40 organizations that have agreed to share money, human resources, and data for seven years to reach every campus in America by 2025!

Among the growing numbers in this coalition are often perceived rivals InterVarsity USA,Cru, and Chi Alpha—three of the largest collegiate ministries in America. In 2019, through the EveryCampus coalition, each and every one of the 5,000 campuses in the U.S. will be physically prayer-walked on-site.

Organizations are investing in the future through EveryCampus as well by preparing a previously impossible multi-organization data portal to document, track and generate leads for campus ministry throughout the U.S.!

2 – Metanetworks: We have entered the age of what I call ‘metanetworks,’ the leveraging of networks of networks. The unprecedented unity among organizations has led to the ability to leverage networks for the normalization of massive events and the dissemination of the gospel at an exponential rate.

In October, 2018, for example, Nick Hall and the Pulse team brought together hundreds of organizations to host ‘Together ’18’where over 90,000 young people came together to focus on revival in our time. Across America, young people are gathering by the tens of thousands at massive stadium events and conferences, like Jubilee Conference, Urbana, and One Thing.

The network of networks has made this possible, leveraging unity and communication to normalize gatherings that would have been historic in any other period in America. These gatherings do not comport to our data trends and represent a whisper of disruption, an indication of a new normal coming to America.

3 - Uber-openness to the gospel: While the normalization of Christian values is in decline, the openness to hear and consider the good news of Jesus is on the rise. InterVarsity USA has seen a year over year increase of conversions for the past ten years, seeing it’s highest numbers of new believers in its 80-year history.

InterVarsity is not alone. Many organizations are experiencing unprecedented conversion growth. The key to seeing this growth is, not surprisingly, a commitment to evangelism. Sharing the gospel with non-Christians is the number one corollary to seeing evangelistic fruit. Denominations and church planting networks that are committed to sharing Jesus are experiencing conversion growth.

The data is always right until it isn’t. Data doesn’t always tell the whole story. There are whispers of disruption all around us and these unforeseen variables are leading to a ‘new normal.’ We are beginning to see a new kingdom normal of breakthrough in word, deed and power. We are seeing this through unprecedented unity amongst ministries, the emergence of metanetworks, and an increasing openness to the gospel throughout America.

To learn more about this and other trends related to the church and this next generation, register for the Wheaton Mission & Ministry Conference to be held April 23 and 24, 2019, at Wheaton College. You can also watch the Tuesday evening session via livestream.

R. York Moore serves as National Evangelist for InterVarsity USA. He is the author of Do Something Beautiful: The Story of Everything and A Guide to Your Place in It, Growing Your Faith by Giving it Away, and Making All Things New: God’s Dream for Global Justice. As the National Director for Catalytic Partnerships with InterVarsity, York is a convener of leaders for evangelism and missions in America. In this capacity, York has helped to start the ‘Every Campus’ initiative, a national multi-organizational coalition focused on planting gospel movements on every campus in America.










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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #3 on: April 05, 2019, 10:09:24 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/martin-mosebach-21-coptic-christian-martyrs.html




21 Unremarkable Martyrs and Their Remarkable Gifts to the World



A writer goes in search of the young Coptic Christian men executed on film by ISIS.

 
Martin Mosebach’s new book, The 21, tells the story of 21 Coptic Christians martyred by Muslim extremists on a Libyan beach in 2015. I finished reading it a day before the horrific terrorist attack by a white nationalist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The echoes between the martyrdoms in Libya and Christchurch are uncanny. In both cases, the perpetrators made a video recording of their violent acts in order to heighten fear and promote their demented vision of purity. In both cases, the victims died because of their faith—and, for many, because they were vulnerable as migrants who had gone to a foreign land to work or make a new life.

In the aftermath of such terror, we often debate the extent to which we should focus attention on the terrorists and their motives. We’re conscious of how excess publicity can spread their destructive ideas and encourage imitators. (The Christchurch terrorist claimed that certain murderous predecessors had precisely this effect on him.) Yet our understandable interest in the perpetrators and desire to counteract what has gone wrong should never drown out our concern the victims, because they deserve our grief. And one way to honor them is by learning their stories and seeking deeper understanding.

This is the approach Mosebach, a German novelist, takes in The 21. In the book’s introduction, he explains he “had no intention to learn anything more of the perpetrators. … It was enough for me to leave them in the darkness they themselves aspired to. … I was significantly more moved by, and motivated to know more about, the fate of the murdered men.”

Contemplating the victims’ humanity makes the tragedy feel heavier. But in a small way, it also makes room for light to shine in, because it affirms that evil and the killers don’t get the final word.

‘Completely Normal Guys’
In The 21, Mosebach travels to visit the land, homes, families, and churches of the men killed in Libya by ISIS militants. Their deaths were dramatic: They were marched in orange jumpsuits along a beach, each led by a sword-wielding man dressed in black from head to toe (only their eyes were visible). But their lives, before their martyrdom, had been quiet and unassuming. All but one were migrant workers from Egypt, and they were Coptic Christians by faith. As Mosebach quotes one of their pastors, “These were average young men, completely normal guys. I never would have thought they’d become saints!”

Each chapter starts with a photo of one of the men. Because their lives were so “normal,” there is limited biographical material for Mosebach to recount, which often makes the book seem as much about the author’s journey in a lesser-known (for many of us) branch of Christianity as about the martyrs themselves.

Coptic Christians trace their history back to Mark, one of the four gospel writers. After the Council of Chalcedon in 451, they broke from the Roman Catholic Church on account of disputes over the exact nature of Christ’s humanity and divinity. A few centuries later, their position within Christendom became even more marginalized. Ever since the Arab conquest of Egypt in the 7th century, the Copts have persevered as a minority religion within their nation.

The 21’s strongest chapters take us deep into the lives and churches of these Coptic believers, with Mosebach exhibiting an attention to detail befitting his novelistic gifts. In a chapter called “The Martyr’s Liturgy,” we visit their church and learn about the sanctuary, liturgy, and eucharistic service. We hear that Hany “was friendly and had a kind heart” and that Sameh “gave alms even though he was poor.” When working in Libya, they slept in a single room, side by side on the floor. They sent the money they earned back to their Egyptian families. In the evenings they sang, prayed, and read the Bible, although some could only listen because they were illiterate.

We gain a rich impression of what shaped the lives and faith of these martyrs, and we witness how their martyrdom reverberates to this day through their families, churches, and communities. Their families each have an iPad with the video of their martyrdom. Photos of them as saints are on display in homes and churches.

As we follow along on Mosebach’s journey, we’re given a chance to consider how the martyrs’ gift is twofold: They gave their lives to God, but their lives are also a gift to those left behind, both a source of inspiration and an invitation to reflect on our own lives. They stop me in my tracks, compelling me to ask myself how serious I am about what is ultimately important. I’m inspired to ask what my story tells about experiencing God’s grace and following Jesus. And when I contemplate how they were vulnerable because they’d traveled as migrant workers to provide for their families, I remember migrant workers who have faced risks, family separation, and other challenges coming to the US as the only way to provide for their families. I think of the dad and son martyred in the Christchurch mosque who were Syrian refugees. I ask again how we can help those working and trying to survive on our society’s margins.

“They were poor—just an inconspicuous little group,” writes Mosebach, “heading out to look for jobs together. Who would care about such people?” The 21 reminds us why we should care about such people, our innocent neighbors suffering in various ways, even unto death.

Mosebach’s book carries the subtitle, A Journey into the Land of the Coptic Martyrs. At times, as I read, I found myself impatient with the notion of journey, wanting instead to hasten on to the destination. The book starts with a vivid description of the video in which these men are led out onto a beach to have their heads cut off. The scene is gripping, and I was anxious to enter straight into the stories of the 21 men. Instead, however, we meander through a long imaginary conversation in a Cairo teahouse, a paragraph about birds that “cavorted,” a paragraph-long reflection about garbage as “one of the twentieth century’s most diabolical inventions.”

Occasionally Mosebach’s musings felt off-tune, like when he writes of one of the martyrs that “he was fair-skinned, and looked as if he could’ve been of European descent. Might the influence he was said to have on [the other martyrs] have come precisely from this—the fact that he looked like a foreigner among the others, and somehow stood equally apart from all of them?” I would be reluctant to speculate that his European-ness is part of what made him special, especially in light of the Christchurch terrorist’s manifesto, which objected strenuously to “mass immigration” and remarked, “I only wish I could have killed more invaders and traitors as well,” and “I am just a regular White man, from a regular family. Who decided to take a stand to ensure a future for my people.”

The book’s travelogue structure wasn’t always the approach I found myself wanting, but it might not pose a problem for other readers. I’m grateful Mosebach made the journey so I could spend time learning about men whose story I only vaguely remembered from the news headlines a few years ago.

Our Next Steps of Love
The 21 also encouraged my own related (though much shorter) journey to attend a vigil for Christchurch mosque victims at a Chicago-area Islamic center two days after the attack. Among those who spoke were pastors, politicians, rabbis, and members of law enforcement. More than a thousand people attended. About half stood crowded around the walls of the room. Up front was one prayer rug for each victim. The imam said that as we mourn, we’re left with two questions: Why did this happen? What can I do about it?

The 21 models one important answer to the latter question. We can honor our martyred neighbors by seeking peace that passes—or maybe comes through—understanding. We can take a journey of empathy toward people we don’t know or understand. We can pray for God’s wisdom and guidance along the way. We can ask who among us is most vulnerable and needs protection. We can make the effort to learn and grow. We may not resolve all our serious disagreements, questions, and confusions. But we hope to develop the kind of empathy and connection that helps us love each other as neighbors and live well together.

Hospitality at the Islamic center vigil was remarkable, even as police were stationed in the lobby because of potential danger. I paused awkwardly at an entrance, wondering if I was about to enter a door reserved for women. A young woman in a hijab noticed and quickly said it was okay. She graciously showed me where to go. Men shook hands and thanked visitors for coming. They appreciated those who had taken a step in their direction in a moment when their community was mourning and feeling vulnerable.

In light of the sacrifice of those Coptic martyrs, this kind of personal commitment doesn’t ignore the challenge of taking on Muslim, Christian, nationalist, or white-supremacist extremists. It doesn’t ignore important theological differences. Rather, we can affirm that we won’t be paralyzed by fear. We can accept Jesus’ invitation to a faithful journey of following him, being his witnesses, and loving our neighbors.

Steps along this journey are crucial today if we’re going to have a more peaceful tomorrow. At the vigil, one of the pastors quoted Jesus’ words in John 14:27, words embodied by those Coptic men with each step they took on the beach that day—and words that can encourage us to take our next steps of love: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”







Kent Annan is director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College. He is author, most recently, of You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us (InterVarsity Press).










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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2019, 11:31:47 am »


https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/april/barna-pastors-social-issues-speaking-religious-freedom.html



Half of Pastors Worry Speaking Out on Social Issues Will Offend People




Protestant clergy feel the pressure around addressing LGBT identity and same-sex marriage, but that doesn’t mean they’ll change their message.

 
Protestant pastors aren’t as concerned about religious liberty as they were just a few years ago, amid high-profile cases challenging Christian convictions on abortion and marriage, but they increasingly feel the tension around whether and how to address hot-button moral and social issues.

According to a comprehensive new religious freedom and pluralism report released by the Barna Group this year, 9 out of 10 Christian pastors say helping Christians have biblical beliefs about specific issues is a major part of their role as clergy.

But they sense the pressure from all sides: Many express being subject to scrutiny from outside their congregations as well as within them. “The stakes are high in the public square,” the researchers wrote. “The issues pastors feel most pressured to speak out on are the same ones they feel limited to speak on,” with LGBT issues and same-sex marriage at the top.

Half of Christian pastors feel occasionally or frequently limited in their ability to speak out by concerns they will offend people, Barna reported.

Pastors also recognize how shifting views on sexuality will continue to impact the religious liberty landscape. Barna found that three-quarters (76%) of US clergy believe religious freedom is becoming less valued, and just under half (44%) predict that other freedoms will be at risk in the coming decade.


Religious Freedom Fears

Pastors from non-mainline Protestant traditions—generally evangelical groups like Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and charismatics, non-denominational Christians, and those from Wesleyan-Holiness backgrounds—are more likely than leaders from other traditions to believe that clergy play a unique role in defending religious freedom (72%). They are also the wariest about its future.



While a majority of religious leaders across faiths expressed concern about threats to religious freedom, 85 percent of non-mainline leaders said religious freedoms were becoming less valued. By comparison, 71 percent of Catholic and 54 percent of mainline leaders agreed.

Interestingly, fears about the fate of religious freedom have fallen since 2014. Since that time, a number of landmark religious liberty stories made headlines, including Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which then-governor Mike Pence stated would protect businesses from being forced to act contrary to their faith; the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court victory; and the game-changing Obergefell ruling that legalized gay marriage.

Barna points out that a decline in concern among clergy, despite these landmark cases, may indicate a decrease in “headline sensitivity” among Protestant pastors. While pastors expressing high concern about religious freedom restrictions in the next five years dropped from 55 percent in 2014 to 37 percent in 2017, the percentage of those “somewhat concerned” rose from a quarter to 39 percent in the same period.

Christian leaders still have significant concerns around religious hospitals being compelled to perform abortions, religious organizations being required hire without consideration of sexual orientation, and greater restrictions or bans on religious organizations on college campuses. Perceptions about the degree of threat for these issues and others varied across Christian denominations, but a majority of pastors in all segments perceived them as “extreme” or “major” threats.

Preaching Pressures
Homosexuality is the issue pastors feel most pressured by their congregants to talk about and the most limited.



Close to half (44%) of Christian clergy say they feel limited in their ability to speak about homosexuality by people within their own churches. At the same time, 37 percent say they feel pressured by their congregations to speak on the matter.

Far fewer pastors feel these limitations or pressures on issues like abortion, sex before marriage, or immigration.

The Barna report tracked faith leaders’ responses in surveys spanning from 2014 to 2017. Among non-mainline pastors, 46 percent said it has become harder to speak out about biblical beliefs related to social issues than it was five years ago, while 49 percent said it is the same. Only 6 percent said it has become easier.

Barna Group president David Kinnaman told CBN News that a large majority of pastors feel constrained in what they can teach. “They actually feel pressured to not preach on certain topics or pressured to speak on topics that they are not ready to talk about,” he said.

Non-mainline Protestant pastors are the least likely to say this shift has led them to change their message. While 11 percent of all Christian pastors feel “frequently” constrained by concerns of causing offense, just 7 percent of non-mainline pastors, 6 percent of Southern Baptists, and 8 percent of African American Protestants feel constrained that often.

The researchers noted that over just a few years, Protestant pastors became less likely to say they “never” felt limited by causing offense and more likely to say they “occasionally” felt that way.

“The likeliest explanation for this shift is that between 2014 and 2015–16, a number of pastors found that political remarks, which in previous years went mostly unnoticed, were rather suddenly received with some hostility,” the researchers wrote.

“It is also possible that during that window more clergy had a bad experience on Facebook or Twitter after posting a link or video that might have been seen as unobjectionable in previous years but elicited a stronger response in the current context. As a result, clergy who once felt completely at liberty to speak about political questions felt the need to be more cautious.”



Most pastors (64%) worry more about how their own congregants will respond than the outside world, though they say most of the pressure they feel comes from outside the church.

In 2017, CT asked whether pastors should address current events in sermons. “The church needs to become part of the voice on hot news stories,” Tulsa pastor Alex Himaya responded. “I think any time we can reference the gospel and insert biblical truth into a hot topic, we should consider it.”

Plenty of other pastors encouraged preachers to bring Scripture to bear on the issues of the day.

“As long as it promotes the gospel and equips the saints to live more faithfully, I would not avoid carefully applying God’s Word to current events,” Mika Edmondson, a pastor in Grand Rapids, told CT. “However, it takes wisdom and care to broach current issues in a way that serves—and does not detract from—the Bible’s eternal message.”

“If we were to address issues more regularly, while still doing so biblically and respectfully, our congregations would be far less scandalized when we do,” said Seattle-based pastor Peter Chin.

LGBT Rights and Religious Rights
Overall, more than 9 in 10 US clergy across faiths (92%) assert that religious communities must remain free to teach a traditional definition of marriage, and 79 percent of American adults agree, according to Barna surveys. In 2015, the same percentage of Americans overall said religious institutions should not be legally compelled to perform same-sex weddings.

Despite that consensus, pastors continue to worry about how LGBT protections will challenge Christian convictions in schools, workplaces, and the public square.

Just as evangelicals debated “Fairness for All” legislation as a model for safeguarding the rights of both groups, a 2017 Barna survey found Protestant pastors were fairly split: 53 percent favored federal legislation to protect LGBT rights and religious freedom and 47 percent opposed.
Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins, the gospel of our salvation, and repenting, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV - 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 KJV - Ephesians 1:10-14 KJV - Romans 10:9-10 KJV - Romans 10:13 - Romans 10:17 - Ephesians 1:7 KJV - Colossians 1:14 KJV -


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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2019, 05:04:47 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/april/new-witnesses-millenials-gen-y-mission-arts.html




New Witnesses



God is doing a new thing in the millennial generation through his witnesses.

 
In a contemplative and reflective frame of mind, I was trying to discern what God is doing across this land. For example, a decade ago, during the financial crisis that led to the Great Recession, I happened upon a series of sermons on holiness by David Platt. I knew God was working with a new generation.

Now, in the midst of a very noisy culture, I asked God the same question again: What are you doing across this land? Delightfully, I am discovering that God is already doing new things from the arts, to calling, to declarations. He is doing something new!


Lord you search me, how you know me You perceive my every thought from afar In all my wandering, still you love me
King of glory you pursue my anxious heart
Even when I'm not, you're faithful
Even when I doubt your truth holds
Even when I'm lost you won't let me go
When my heart is dry your grace flows
No matter where I run, I'm not far from home
Yea, I may be weak but you're able
Even when I'm not, you're faithful
Even when I'm not, you're faithful (Eric Neider—Faithful)


In the morning when I rise to meet You
In the morning when I lift my eyes
You're the only One I wanna cling to
You're the first thought on my mind
Let our voices rise
All creation cries
Singing out an endless alleluia from this moment on
Join with Heaven's song Singing out an endless alleluia!
In the moments where You go unnoticed in the ordinary day to day
Countless miracles of life around us Point like arrows to Your name (Cory Asbury—Endless Alleluia)



And every knee will bow in a great surrender
And all the nations come, crying out together
That Jesus is the Lord, and He reigns forever
Salvation to our God, to our God forever
And every knee will bow in a great surrender
And all the nations come, crying out together
That Jesus is the Lord, and He reigns forever
Salvation to our God, to our God forever
Forever and ever
Oh we pour out our praise to You, Jesus
Who reigns forever and ever
The Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, Jesus, hey! (Lindy and the Digital Circuit Riders—Stand In Awe)



The lyrics in the worship songs have experienced God, speaking about his enduring faithfulness, unmatched, and one can only stand in awe. The personal revival of individuals are breathlessly captured in words and songs. The society categorized them as the millennials.

But they are the new generation of witnesses for God across this land.

His new witnesses have also created new categories; David Bowden and his poetry helps all of us to engage with the living God of the Scriptures in a totally new way. Bowden's 'I Believe In Jesus' among his repertoire of deep theological poetry strikes a chord with the listener not only because it is sound, but also because the beauty of theology can be so simply expressed. Here is a unique category from a new generation providing witness of the gospel in this land.

Or consider this: there is a call for one million African-American men to serve in missions across the Middle East. In a recent February stadium rally of ‘The Send’, which gathered 58,000 people, David Bryant testified how God called him out of Detroit to join this movement to reach the unengaged unreached people groups in the world.

God has his new witnesses.

Gender ‘reveal’ is becoming a cultural phenomenon. From live streaming, to parties with friends, the 30 and under generation are using various venues to reveal the gender of their babies. This is not only among Christians; this is widespread across this land. At a time where society is purportedly confused about gender and fluidity, there are new witnesses declaring the gender of the baby who is still in the womb.

For every example cited herewith, there are hundreds of thousands that God is breathing through as witnesses. Our politically correct silences, eyeballing space occupying vitriol digital memes, in a culture of outrage have shielded us from what God is doing.

God is doing a new thing in the millennial generation through his witnesses.

Have you spotted his handiwork, listened and watched his artists, identified and prayed for his witnesses?








Samuel E. Chiang is a husband, father, ordained minister, and President and CEO of Seed Company in Arlington, TX, a nonprofit committed to Scripture translation for people without God’s Word through Great Commission Partnerships.










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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2019, 01:28:25 pm »



https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/suffering-submission-garden-of-gethsemane.html




Suffering and Submission in Gethsemane



Even as Jesus struggled, he was resolute about what he wanted most of all.

 
“He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’” (Matt. 26:39).

When we sing the old hymn “I Am Thine, O Lord,” Fanny Crosby provides us with words to express what we want to say to God on our best days:

Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
And my will be lost in Thine.

Certainly this is a worthy aspiration—that our desires would be so conformed to the will of God that they would become indistinguishable from his. Yet we often find our desires in conflict with his. When we said “Your will be done” as part of the Lord’s Prayer as we gathered with the saints last Sunday, we meant it ... or at least we wanted to mean it. But it was a vague notion at that point. Today we find ourselves a bit offended by what God seems to be requiring of us. His will—which requires self-denial—has come into conflict with our will that is bent on self-preservation. We’ve begun to wonder if it is really possible that our will could ever be lost in his.

It is at this point in the struggle to submit that we find companionship, hope, and help as we peer into the scene that takes place in Gethsemane, a garden on the Mount of Olives given a name that means “oil press.” As we gaze into the darkness of that night, we can see that Jesus is being squeezed like an olive in a press, to the point that his sweat is dripping off of him like drops of blood. We can see that he is sorrowful and troubled. Then we hear him say to the disciples he has brought along with him, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matt. 26:38).

This is the same Jesus we’ve heard command the storm to be still, drive out demons from a man, and make bold claims of being the way, the truth, and the life. We’re used to hearing him speak with strength and conviction. But on this night, we overhear sobs of weakness.

I remember reading that Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” about six months after the death of my six-month-old daughter, Hope, who’d been born with a rare metabolic disorder. I wrote two words beside the verse in my Bible that day: Jesus understands. Jesus understands what it is like to experience sorrow so heavy that it feels like it is pressing the life out of you.

We read, “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,’ ” (Matt. 26:39).

What is this cup? Jeremiah 25 speaks of a cup in the hands of God that’s filled with the wine of his wrath against sin. This was the cup that was being handed to Jesus to drink. In eternity past, Christ covenanted with the Father to drink this cup. It’s what he came to Earth to do. Yet here in the Garden there is a very real human struggle going on between obeying the Father and avoiding the Cross. Somehow it helps me to know that Jesus wrestled with the Father’s plan for his life and his death even as he sought to submit to it, because I, too, have wrestled with the Father’s plan for my life even as I have sought to submit to it. Maybe you have too.

We tend to think that if we are good enough, if we are godly enough, if we can get enough people praying for whatever it is we are desperate to see God do, then God will be inclined to say “yes” to our prayers—that we’ll be able to bend God’s will toward what we’ve determined to be the best outcome. But clearly goodness and godliness does not obligate God to say “yes” to our prayers. If anyone ever deserved to have his prayers answered in the affirmative, it was Jesus. But the obedient Son’s plea to his loving Father is met with silence—seemingly a tacit “no” from God. The Father said “no” to Jesus so that he could say “yes” to you and me for all eternity. Jesus drank the cup of wrath to the dregs so that you and I can drink from the cup of salvation forever in the greater Garden to come.

Even though Jesus was struggling as he told the Father what he wanted, he was resolute about what he wanted most of all. We see it in verse 39: Jesus said, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” And, after asking the second time, he says, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (v. 42).

Jesus was able to submit what he wanted for the sake of what he wanted more. He had a greater longing that trumped and trampled his desire to avoid enduring the judgment of God; it was to fulfill the purpose and plan of God.

Here is the hope we find in catching this glimpse into Gethsemane. Here we discover that it really is possible to overcome our own wants, to push through them into glad surrender. As we are joined to Jesus by faith, his perspective begins to shape our perspective, his power begins to flow into us and through us. We discover that, by his Spirit, he is actually changing what we want. We begin to enjoy an inner strength and rest—a firm confidence that whatever God asks us to endure is purposeful. We begin to truly believe that the joy of surrendering to his will is going to be worth whatever it may cost. We trust that as our will is lost in his, we will not ultimately lose out.

As we bring our wants and pour them out before our Father, we increasingly find that we can say along with Jesus, empowered by his Spirit, “I want your will to be done, not mine.” And he gives us the grace we need to say it, not through gritted teeth, but with open hands.







Nancy Guthrie is an author, speaker, Bible teacher, and host of the Help Me Teach the Bible podcast. Her newest book is Even Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything About Your Story.











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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #7 on: April 12, 2019, 11:49:25 am »


https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/artificial-intelligence-facial-recognition-muslims-china.html



Artificial Intelligence Favors the Powerful. But It Doesn’t Have To.




Why we stand up for Muslims targeted by China’s surveillance technology.

 
Millions of our global neighbors live under authoritarian and autocratic governments where the power of artificial intelligence (AI) is abused to retain a sense of control over others. Nations, such as China, use these tools, created for the common good, to diminish dignity in minority groups. Religious freedom and the pursuit of justice are threatened by the implementation of these tools each day.

This is why a group of over 60 evangelical leaders, including Russell Moore, Jackie Hill Perry, J. D. Greear, and Richard Mouw, have signed a new statement of principles on AI today in Washington, DC. The project was organized by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention to help the church navigate the issues surrounding AI with wisdom and hope proactively rather than responding to them after the effects are widespread.

AI tools and their limitless potential can be at odds with a belief in human dignity based in the image of God. To be clear, these tools lack a moral sense. However, individuals can use and develop them in ways that demean and oppress other human beings.

Furthermore, the use of technology doesn’t always lead to a dystopian future as some futurists predict. These same tools can be used in righteous ways that can give a voice to the voiceless and help set captives free. As Christians living in a fallen and broken world, how are we to navigate these tensions in a way that parallels how our Savior taught us to live in the world? (Matt. 22:37–39)


The Pursuit of Power

Every human being desires power and control over their lives. At its core, sin is a desire for autonomy and power outside the design of God. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that technology is often used in ways to exert this desire. Autocratic and authoritarian rulers are not new. The Bible is filled with rulers such as Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Herod who sought to control their people through military might or forced labor.

In our own time, authoritarian regimes like those of China and North Korea commit some of the most blatant violations of human dignity and deny many of their people basic God-given rights enjoyed by many of us in the West. Other countries like Russia and Egypt are not far behind in deploying these AI tools like facial recognition.

Along with other nations, China has been involved in controversial uses of technology and artificial intelligence for many years, such as the use of a massive surveillance network to control what their people can see and share online.

In one blatant example of technology being exploited, the Chinese government forced its citizens to download an application called Xuexi Qiangguo, which roughly translates “study to make China strong,” to their phones. The Chinese multinational corporation Alibaba developed the app for the government. The app is filled with Communist propaganda and some claim that the app also tracks citizens.

As sociologist Michael K. Spencer explains, “The internet is legitimizing a dark use of technology that’s now going way beyond privacy invasion and censorship [and] getting into social credit ranking and conformity punishments.”

As Spencer alluded to, the government assigns social scores, which rank individuals and their loyalty to the state. This system is used to stamp out any political dissidents.

Chinese officials use technology to reinforce power over minority groups, like Christians and the Uighur people, who are ethnically Turkic Muslims living in western China.

In August 2018, a UN human rights committee was informed by human rights groups that Chinese officials had detained over a million Uighur Muslims in the western Xinjiang region, where these people were subject to re-education programs. Reports from Human Rights Watch claim that Uighurs are forced to learn Mandarin Chinese, swear loyalty to the Chinese president, and renounce their faith. These image bearers even have DNA samples taken from them and are tracked wherever they go using tracking systems powered by AI.

China also proudly boasts that it deploys AI facial recognition systems to follow its citizens’ every move under the banner of national security. Many law enforcement officers are equipped with augmented reality glasses that allow the government the ability to constantly track citizens alongside the government-accessed public cameras that many cities have installed. This is a growing reality for Christians in the country as well.

People of faith are often targeted by authoritarian governments, like the Communist Party of China, precisely because they answer to a higher authority. As Christians, we know that government is not ultimate and that even our leaders are accountable to God for how they rule. Freedom of religion will naturally weaken these authoritarian structures because it allows for a pluralistic society where differing viewpoints are discussed and a single unified belief system is stifled.

Some, like historian Yuval Noah Harari, have argued that technology favors tyranny and authoritarian states because it re-centralizes knowledge into a single figure. According to his argument, democracy was born out of a realization that no one person or group should have access to all data and knowledge. With the rise of AI and other technologies, power can now be re-centralized into smaller groups or individuals. This centralized power is then used to stamp out dissidents. But this vision for the future of governance does not have to be the case unless we allow it.

Power can corrupt, but it doesn’t have to
Technology like AI will continue to be used by rogue groups and nation-states to deny God’s design for humanity: people who can exercise their God-given rights to conscience, speech, and freedom. But when used with wisdom, this same technology can also enable human flourishing.

Christians must advocate for the vulnerable, those whose voices have been suppressed, such as the Uighur Muslims, and for the very concept of human dignity in our age. Through the internet, and specifically through social media, we in the West learned about these injustices, giving us better tools to care for the oppressed.

As a major technology-producing nation, we can also stay involved in improving the development of AI. When we see unfairness, we can participate in the solution. Last week Facebook was sued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development over algorithms for housing ads discriminating based on race, gender, and religion. We can examine closely how these tools highlight injustices committed here and how we can improve them.

We can also use our power and influence for selfless gain as we proclaim a rich vision of human dignity grounded in the doctrine of the imago Dei. When we advocate for international religious freedom, we do so with this vision of dignity and freedom for all people created in the image of God, whether or not they ever come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. When use of AI threatens that foundation, people lose their voices. Religious freedom does not only mean freedom to believe but also freedom to be seen as more than just data in the pursuit of ultimate power.

As we continue to pursue innovation, let us do so in a way that upholds the value of every human life. Let us pursue justice, uphold liberty, and advocate for the least of these just as Jesus did over 2,000 years ago. Technology will not and cannot change the truth of who God is, who we are, and our responsibility as humans to love our neighbor.






Jason Thacker serves as the creative director and associate research fellow at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. He is the author of a forthcoming book with Zondervan on artificial intelligence and human dignity releasing March 2020.











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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2019, 06:25:35 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/notre-dame-cathedral-fire-gothic-style-history-good-friday.html





At Notre Dame, Good Friday Came Early




The cathedral’s famous Gothic form, which proclaimed Christ in shape and structure, will never die.

 
Gothic architecture has long reached where Christian missionaries would go but are not permitted: the minds and hearts of the faithless. The world’s grief over the flames at Notre-Dame de Paris revealed its power as far more than architectural style.

For the great medieval commentator William Durandus (d. 1296), the Gothic church took the shape of Christ’s body: the chancel the head, the transepts the arms, the altar the heart. And if the Gothic church symbolizes the body of Christ, to see Notre Dame burn this Monday was to experience Good Friday early.

It was excruciating to watch its spire fall. But at the risk of saying this too soon, the Gothic style represented by Notre-Dame de Paris cannot be stopped by fire. This style has given the church a theology of glass and stone, a model that has spread to Catholic and Protestant structures across the centuries and around the world.

Fifty miles from Paris, the greatest and most complete of Gothic cathedrals, Chartres, was itself born of fire, built and rebuilt after blazes in 1020, 1134, and 1194. It is no different with the delicate stonework of Reims, France’s great coronation cathedral—the result of a fire in 1208. Gothic architecture, like the art of pottery, does quite well with flames.

The Gothic style first emerged in the mid-12th century at the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis just north of Paris. Abbot Suger’s innovation there was the equivalent, the art historian Erwin Panofsky once commented, of a new president remaking the White House in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. And his bold architectural risk paid off.

The plain evidence for Gothic’s theological and liturgical inspiration is unavoidable. Over the door of Saint-Denis, Abbot Suger carefully inscribed the purpose of the new illumination from the cathedral’s windows: “To brighten the minds, so that they may travel, through the true lights, To the True Light where Christ is the true door.” The point of the light was not just to dazzle, but to evangelize.

Nor was this an airy mysticism devoid of contact with the earth. For goodness’ sake, even the ingredients of the cement bore theological weight. For Durandus, the lime is love, the sand temporal works of mercy. Neither makes cement without the third ingredient, water, which points to the Holy Spirit, without whom the good works of the believer are in vain.

The Gothic style has given the church a theology of glass and stone, a model that has spread to Catholic and Protestant structures across the centuries and around the world.
Following Saint-Denis, Notre-Dame de Paris gave us the first example of everyone’s favorite art historical term: the flying buttress. These addendums to the nave projected more weight outwards, permitting larger windows that let in more light. The buttresses envelop the structure as if a massive spider were resting after delicately weaving the rose windows. The flying buttress innovation was so successful that rival cathedrals (Mantes, Reims, Canterbury, Laon) scrambled to follow.

The Italian art historian Giorgio Vasari, vexed that Italy never rose to such architectural heights, mocked the style—then known as the opus francigenum (French work)—as that of the barbarian Goths. But as with famous insults like “Impressionism” or “Cubism,” the term “Gothic” stuck, but it could not stop a movement.

The emergence of Renaissance art and architecture in continental Europe nearly extinguished the style’s influence, but Gothic embers kept burning in England, where the great medieval experiments at Essex, Westminster, and Wells in England were too successful to fully suppress. In time, pointed Gothic pavilions crept into quiet 18th-century gardens, pinnacled castles sprung up to distinguish Britain from the Baroque. In the next century, the religious fervor of architect A. W. N. Pugin, the principled and pugnacious undergraduates of Cambridge’s Ecclesiological Society, the optimism of the early Oxford Movement, and the infectious pens of Victor Hugo and John Ruskin all brought the Gothic style back to a roaring flame.

Not all of its new uses were theologically inspired. The Gothic could provide an “inexplicable feeling of oneness” for Goethe, while the great French restorer Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (d. 1879) saw in the style a cool, structural rationality. Perhaps Monday’s collapse of the spire he added to Notre Dame—calamitous as it was—might even be understood as a return to the Gothic’s foundational, religious core. The commercial Gothic of the Woolworth Building in New York and the Tribune Tower in Chicago, after all, have never been entirely convincing. As Michael J. Lewis puts it, Gothic needs far more than “a residue of vapid spiritual associations” to endure.

But the style’s rich connection to Christianity is what enabled it first to thrive in a mostly Protestant America, as rival denominations sought to compete with majestic Catholic buildings, eradicating any lingering Puritan suspicions. These were the years where Manhattan welcomed Richard Upjohn’s Trinity Church and James Renwick Jr.’s Grace Episcopal Church. The New York Ecclesiological Society goaded Gothicists to excellence with stinging criticism. Even denominations traditionally suspicious of high-church culture—Methodists and Baptists—were unable to resist the pull of the pointed arch. And so it was that American Protestants and Catholics, divided by theology, were unified by trefoils, tracery, and transepts.

The result was a national forest of spires built in a few decades. “It was the Gothic going up like a flight of arrows,” wrote Chesterton of Europe’s great 13th century, “it was the waking of the world.” A similar waking happened in America as well in the 19th century and beyond. The entire globe, in fact, has Gothic skin. There are handsomely Gothic structures in China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil, each adapted to their own environments. Gothic is to Christian building what the suit and tie is to menswear—functional, appropriate, flexible. A fire at Notre Dame cannot stop this any more than a fire at Men’s Wearhouse corporate headquarters can undo the necktie.

As a perennial expression of Christian faith, Gothic never dies; it only rests for a while.
Take these personal anecdotes as illustrations: Two days ago nearly 200 students and staff of Wheaton College walked under a head of an apostle from Notre-Dame de Paris at the Art Institute of Chicago, a city where Notre Dame’s influence—through St. James Chapel, Fourth Presbyterian, or Holy Name Cathedral—affords graceful epaulettes to the city of broad shoulders. And just after my wife called me to tell me the news of Notre Dame’s destruction, I drove into Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I saw several Gothic spires, directly indebted to Notre Dame, guarding this American skyline, as they do in cities throughout the world.

A century ago, Émile Mâle wrote this about Gothic architecture: “Even the modern man receives a deep impression of serenity, little as he is willing to submit himself to its influence. There his doubts and theories may be forgotten for a time.”

The global reaction to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris burning yesterday confirmed Mâle’s insight. But as a perennial expression of Christian faith, Gothic never dies; it only rests for a while. And like Christ this coming Sunday, it will rise again.







Matthew J. Milliner is associate professor of art history at Wheaton College. He tweets as @millinerd.












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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2019, 10:48:58 am »


https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/joy-overlooked-aspect-of-cross-good-friday.html




Joy, the Overlooked Aspect of the Cross



Even in the midst of the sorrow, pain, and shame of the cross, Good Friday is still very good.

 
I do not look forward to Good Friday. I’m an upbeat kind of guy. A negative situation is always an opportunity, not a problem. The glass is always half full, and more is probably on the way.

But all that changes on Good Friday. Sure I feel down and out other days of the year. The waves of life will do that to you. But Good Friday plunges me into a much darker place. Waves of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness come crashing in on Good Friday.

For many years, I took part a Tenebrae service on Good Friday (from a Latin word meaning “darkness”). During the service, a candle is extinguished after each reading of the last seven words of Jesus on his way to the cross. The sanctuary gets progressively darker and darker. After Jesus’ last words from the cross are read, the last candle is put out, plunging the sanctuary into darkness. The last words hanging in the air are the question, “What is to become of the light of the world?”

We left in silence contemplating a world where God never came to save, where the light never shined into darkness, where all was death and silence forever. We left still burdened with our sin and lost in our brokenness. The reality of it all was devastating.

The Abyss


After a Good Friday service like this, even the most affable of people cannot resist the pull toward the abyss. Alcoholism, addictions, anger, violence, or any kind of struggle to overcome a world made meaningless all make sense to me on Good Friday. I can understand why people respond to the darkness of the world with more darkness, more destruction, more death. Why not? What else is there to do?

And yet for Jesus, for the one who died that Good Friday death, Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was “for the joy set before him” that he endured the cross.

How can that be?

How could such a thing prompt joy, something that rightly prompts not just sorrow and anxiety but horror and fear, not just at the execution of a person but at the very death of God?

And why connect joy to the cross at all? Isn’t love enough already? Sacrificial love we can understand. But sacrificial joy?

The Bible already tells us that God is motivated by love. Isn’t this enough?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).
“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
The apostle Paul prays that we would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:18–19).
What, then, does joy add when love is already present?

A suspicion of joy can spring from the view that something is not quite right about joy. Wary of too much joy, we view it as a naive response to a painful world, wishful thinking within a wasting world, or a distraction amid the devastation. Only children are full of joy. But the world eventually breaks their spirits and installs a more sober mindset. Good Friday, for the sober minded, is “good” exactly because it looks straight into the horrors of life without flinching, revealing a God who is honest about it all.

Love can work in the midst of all this. But joy seems ill equipped for such travails as the cross.

The Pursuit of Happiness?
Our discomfort with joy comes from confusing joy and happiness.

These days, pursuit of happiness is the law of the land, the way of the world. We are told to do what makes us happy—in our work, our relationships, our free time, our hobbies, our sex lives. Do whatever makes you happy—as long as it doesn’t make someone else unhappy. Everything is permissible, desirable, and legal, as long as you are pursuing happiness. From an early age, we are trained to do what makes us happy, even if we are told to do what is right and good.

But this demand to be happy fails us because happiness is so vague and so fleeting. Happiness is too often connected to fading circumstances, emotions, or experiences. Unfortunately, these quickly fade into the past. So we look to the future for another happiness fix—something to distract us from the disappointments of life, our painful relationships, and our miserable mistakes. From memories of the past to hopes for the future, happiness always seems to be just beyond our grasp.

Joy, however, is not happiness.

While happiness pines for something in the past or longs for something in the future, joy is rooted in the present. Joy is focused more on relationships rather than circumstances. As psychologist and theologian Jim Wilder says, joy is a “dynamic relational experience” in which you are in the presence of someone who is glad to be with you. Joy is the experience of your presence bringing delight to others, and you delighting in the presence of others.

We see joy at work in small children when a parent comes home from work or comes back into the room after a brief absence. The child explodes with gladness at the sight of the one who is glad to see them. Writing on the intersection of neuroscience and clinical therapy in Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self, Allan Schore notes that infants naturally seek out the eyes of others, looking for signs that they are welcomed, noticed, and loved. From the very beginning of our developmental process, God created us to seek out joy in and through others, to seek out connection and communion. And joy results when this connection is found.

But, unlike happiness, joy is even available in the midst of pain. Wilder notes the experience of someone “who is glad to be with us when we are hurting. When we settle into the arms of a friend who rushed to the emergency room while we waited to see if a loved one would survive.” While we might weep with grief instead of excited euphoria, “it is joy all the same. Someone is with us and we are not alone.” Instead of disappearing because of pain, joy helps us live through our pain in a meaningful way. A joyful connection, felt in gladness or sorrow, grounds us in the present and draws us into deeper relational bonds.

This joy, even in the midst of pain, is why so many flocked to Jesus. Especially the poor, the sick, and the outcast.

Joie de Vivre
We might not usually think of it this way, but I think it’s safe to say Jesus was the life of the party. He was so often in the midst of a celebration that he got in trouble with the religious authorities. They thought he and his disciples did too much feasting and not enough fasting (Luke 5:33–35; 7:34).

Why did people love to be with Jesus? If joy is the experience of being in the presence of someone who is glad to be with us, and if we like being around people who fill us with joy, then people loved being around Jesus because he brought them joy. Jesus was glad to be in the presence of all kinds of people: the sick, the poor, the rejected, and the outcast. And they responded with joy.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about the joy of heaven that flowed through him—the joy of finding the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. This joy of heaven flowed through Jesus to all who had lost hope of being accepted, welcomed, or delighted in. When people come into the presence of Jesus—the presence of his joy—they are transformed by it.

Indeed, a main motivator for Jesus was to place his joy in us (John 15:11), a joy that will never be taken away (John 16:22). The joy Jesus gives is the knowledge that God delights in us and longs for us to dwell in his presence.

As theologian Jürgen Moltmann reminds us, “If we really think about it, we arrive at a surprising conclusion: Christianity is a unique religion of joy. Faith is living in the Christian feasts,” just as Jesus and his disciples feasted and celebrated.

And yet, Moltmann continues, “the universal symbol of Christianity is the cross, a symbol of pain, suffering, and cruel death. How do these things go together?”

How is the cross connected to joy?

Joy Through Death
Let’s answer this by asking again, Why did Jesus have to die?

Certainly, there is a myriad of reasons. To forgive us. To take our penalty. To free us from death. To defeat the powers and principalities. All these ways of explaining Jesus’ death begin with overcoming the consequences of sin.

But what if we started with Jesus’ joy?

What if we started with God’s joy and delight in us? That God is for us because God longs to be with us.

What if Jesus longed to extend to us the delight and joy he experiences eternally as the Son in the presence of the Father through the Spirit? What if Jesus’ joy was to bring us into the joy he knew in his baptism, when the Spirit rested on him and the Father’s words of delight and approval washed over him?

Offering this joy was the “joy set before him.” Offering this joy to us was the reason Jesus “endured the cross,” bringing us into the joyful presence of the Father through the Spirit.

The apostle Paul declared this very thing:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:4–6)

It is our joy to call out to the Father through the Spirit of the Son. And it is the Father’s joy to say over all who live in the Son, “You are my Child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

The celebration of heaven that Jesus told parables about (Luke 15) comes down to earth because of Jesus’ death, because through his body, through his death, we all have “access to the Father by one Spirit” (Eph. 2:18). As biblical scholar N. T. Wright says, in Jesus there has “come about a new union between heaven and earth, with the celebrations of one spilling over necessarily into the celebration of the other.”

This celebration between heaven and earth offers us joy here and now. This joy is no mere happiness receding into the past or pining for the future. It is a joy that remains in the present as we rest in the presence of the one who delights in us, even in the midst of sorrows, pain, and suffering. It is a joy that remains even as we carry our cross daily.

As we contemplate the passion of Christ, as we enter into Good Friday this week, let us remember the joy of the one who is present even in the midst of our pain.

Let us remember Immanuel, God with us, the source of our joy.







Geoff Holsclaw is a theology professor at Northern Seminary and pastor at Vineyard North in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His mini-course, The Forgotten Reasons for Jesus’ Death, explores how Jesus offers us not only forgiveness, but freedom, and a new family.















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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2019, 04:35:39 am »





https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/how-body-christ-talks-christopher-smith-conversation.html




The Rise of Conversational Churches



Why a growing number of congregations are taking deliberate steps to relearn the habit of talking together.

 
In this age of social media, it is widely accepted that we don’t know how to talk together—and especially with those whose perspective differs greatly from our own. From Washington, DC, where the federal government teeters on the brink of shutdown every time a new budget must be passed, down to the smallest social gatherings, society in the 21st century is marked by an inability to talk about complex and divisive questions.

And our struggles to converse go far beyond political and ideological divides. Economic, racial, generational, educational, and gender divides also play a role. And of course, social media technologies that give preference to brevity and consensus only amplify this problem. Amid these widespread failures of conversation, some churches across North America are devoting themselves to learning the practice of conversation, among their members and with their neighbors.

Although this budding movement of conversational churches goes against the flow of contemporary society, it follows in the footsteps of a long Christian tradition of conversation. The Gospel accounts of Jesus himself, for instance, portray him as one who didn’t shy away from difficult conversations with the Pharisees or others who might have been construed as enemies, including tax collectors, lepers, Samaritans, and others on the margins of first-century Jewish culture.

Amid stories of persecution and the early travels of the apostles, the Book of Acts also records a series of vital conversations that gave shape to the early Christian communities. Faced with the challenge of certain widows that were being neglected and not wanting to add an additional burden to the apostles, the Christian community talked together and selected seven leaders who could take on the work of providing for them (Acts 6). Other tense conversations in Acts revolve around the question of how Gentiles were to be integrated with Jews in this new community of the Spirit. How should they share meals together in spite of their contradictory habits of eating (Acts 10–11)? Should male Gentiles be circumcised when they decide to follow Jesus (Acts 15)?

These questions were vital to the life of the early churches, and at times the disagreements threatened to tear them asunder. Yet, as the Epistles reflect, the churches continued to discuss and wrestle with them forthrightly.

The practice of conversation has continued to play a vital role in the Christian tradition throughout its history. The ecumenical councils that spanned the first millennium of church history (and the Roman Catholic councils that continued over the second millennium) reflect practices of conversation and discernment on the shape of Christian theology and life. And conversation was just as important to the Protestant Reformation. The Swiss Reformer Huldrych Zwingli argued for “The Rule of Paul,” a congregational worship practice rooted in the habits of sharing, conversation, and discernment that Paul recommended to the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:26–33). (This practice was also important among the early Anabaptists.) Dinner-table conversation was essential to Martin Luther’s practice of the faith, and as Joanne Jung has described in her recent book, The Lost Discipline of Conversation, the life of Puritan churches was centered on a practice of conversation that they called conference.

Circling Up
These traditions are largely unknown today, even among churches that are beginning to recover them. When my own congregation, Englewood Christian Church on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis, began our weekly gathering for conversation almost 25 years ago, we certainly had no idea we were following in those Christians’ footsteps.

Our weekly conversations began when, like a lot of evangelical churches in the early 1990s, our Sunday evening worship service began to fizzle out. Although we realized we couldn’t continue doing the evening worship service in the same way that we had for prior decades, some of our members didn’t want to give up being together on Sunday nights, so someone had the idea of circling up chairs and having a conversation together. But we quickly realized that we didn’t know how to talk well together (even in those days before social media, and even the internet). People sometimes yelled at one another or made sarcastic remarks. Some people left the church because of the conflict that was stirred up; others stopped participating on Sunday nights.

In spite of the volatility, we continued the conversation week after week, year after year. We sit in a circle and have a specific question or topic that we focus on each week. We also have a facilitator who makes sure that our conversation stays civil and on track. Each week’s conversation picks up from where we left off the previous week. We talk about Scripture, theology, and the shape of our life together. Although we’ve made a point of never bringing up operation or financial matters, our weekly conversations inevitably have an effect on our identity as a church and the decisions we make.

As conversations unfolded over the years, we found that we were being transformed, although not in the ways one might expect. We were not being magically transformed into like-mindedness. Most people continued to think in the same way and operate under the same convictions. What was happening, instead, was that we began to actually hear one another and grow in our knowledge and trust of one another.

This opened the doors for an even wider range of conversations and undertakings. We started businesses together as a church. An increasing number of our members decided to live in the tiny Englewood neighborhood where our church building is located. We eventually found ourselves immersed in a sea of conversation with one another and with our neighbors. Although Englewood and the surrounding neighborhoods of the Near Eastside faced some significant challenges, our neighborhood conversations led to some major transformations in the architecture and economy of this place.

We continue to gather weekly for conversation. In early 2018, we moved our conversation from Sunday evening to Sunday morning immediately after our worship service, so that more of our members could participate. Every year we learn how to talk better together: how to orient and integrate new members into the conversation, for instance, or how to engage existing members amid the changing seasons of their lives. Just as the human body functions as a conversation of diverse parts carried out through the nervous system, we are learning to be a healthy and maturing expression of Christ’s body that is capable of talking together and navigating different realities and challenges.

Appreciative Inquiry
Some churches have stumbled into the practice of conversation as they find themselves trying to discern the future direction of their congregations. Although some congregations may find organic ways of structuring their conversations about the way forward, others have turned to a conversational method called Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Widely used in business settings, AI challenges an organization to reflect on its past and draw upon the most energizing parts of its history as guides into the future.

Faced with the recent departure of a pastor and the reality of declining membership, First Presbyterian Church of Altadena, California, decided to take on an AI conversation. Mark Lau Branson, a member of this church and professor at Fuller Seminary, describes their experience in his book, Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry, Missional Engagement, and Congregational Change. With the AI process in mind, the congregation assembled a list of questions about the church’s past and present that it would ask its members in a series of interviews. Church leaders conducted these interviews, taking copious notes that would be used to discern common themes among the members’ stories.

The church took five key themes and fleshed them out into specific proposals for moving forward. Each proposal gave vision and direction to the church. Recognizing the crucial role that older Japanese American members had exercised in past decades of the church’s life, they launched another AI conversation aimed at identifying ways of enriching care for senior members. The church’s AI conversations set them on a course toward a deeper identity as a community and a deeper care for one another as members of that body.

Divisive Issues
Other churches are drawn into conversation when faced with divisive issues, including disputes about sexuality, gender, and marriage. One such congregation is Grandview Calvary Baptist Church, a church of about 300 members that is very active in its neighborhood on the east side of Vancouver, British Columbia. Grandview is part of the Canadian Baptist denomination, which maintains a traditional understanding of sexuality. It is also situated in an urban neighborhood with a thriving LGBT community, and recent years have witnessed fractures in the church body related to questions about same-sex relationships. The congregation may not agree with one another, one leader observed, but perhaps they could go deeper in their love and mutual understanding.

One of their means of talking about these questions was to send a select group of members on a retreat referred to as a “deeper dialogue.” The church selected 12 members known for their spiritual maturity—and also for possessing a wide range of perspectives on sexuality. They represented a diverse mix of genders, ages, and experiences. One of the church’s pastors met with each participant before the date of the retreat. She recalls that there was fear and apprehension on all sides of the disputed questions.

This retreat began with a reflection on Philippians 2, a reminder that their shared hope was to grow in the mind and humility of Christ. Most of the retreat was spent telling and listening to one another’s stories about how their views on sexuality had been formed, in grappling with the witness of Scripture, and in talking about other experiences and relationships that may have shaped the perspectives of each participant.

The retreat ended with participants sharing what they had learned. The pervasive fear and anxiety that the group brought into the retreat had dissipated. “We may disagree,” said one participant, “but I can go into our church meetings and know that you all have my back.” The group agreed that this retreat was a powerful experience of talking openly with one another and learning to do the hard work of loving one another. As the group came back and eventually shared stories of their experience with the church, they bore witness to the possibility of a different way of loving one another and being Christ’s body together.

Formed into Christ’s Peace and Healing
In the mid-1990s, Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church in Seattle established a conversational process for orienting potential members to the way of Christ in their particular congregation. This program—which spans the better part of a year, from fall until Pentecost—is a structure that demonstrates to potential members how to participate in the conversational life of their church.

Each candidate is paired with a sponsor, an existing member of the church, and together they go through the program. A sponsor and candidate may connect during the week, and each weekend they participate in a gathering of all sponsors and candidates. The gathering begins with a meal, after which participants spend significant time reading and discussing the passage of Scripture that will be the focus of the next Sunday’s worship service. The Scripture passage is read in a lectio divina format that invites conversation with the text and with a small group of others.

This immersive process has been wildly successful in forming new members for participation in that church body. Candidates who complete the process and become church members are often eager to sponsor new candidates in subsequent years. Although the primary focus is church membership, another benefit is that Phinney Ridge’s members are learning to talk and to work together—often across generations—building relationships that help propagate their identity and facilitate their shared work as the church.

In the present age of strained conversation, churches like these are learning to practice conversation among their members, and in doing so they are recovering an ancient Christian tradition and finding a deeper life together, along with a strengthened capacity for talking with their neighbors, coworkers, and others outside their congregations.

These stories offer hope that a renewal of conversation is possible. And more importantly, they offer hope that by learning to talk together in our churches and taking these skills into our homes, our workplaces, and our neighborhoods, we bear witness of a way forward for an often bitterly divided society. Conversation can be a means through which Christ’s peace and healing is poured out on our broken and lonely world.








C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. His latest book is How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press), from which parts of this article were adapted.


















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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2019, 11:36:15 am »



https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/sri-lanka-easter-church-bombings-biblical-response.html




Six Biblical Responses to Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings



Colombo theologian: God gives Christians the freedom to leave the revenge cycle and instead love and bless Muslims.

 
I was not at church in Colombo on Easter Sunday morning, as I was sick and had stayed home. Then text messages began to come about a bombing, then several bombings, in my home town and in two other towns. One was only a few miles from my home.

Ten years after our protracted war had ended, I realized that Sri Lanka, my dear nation, was again confronting severe violent attacks. I had preached several times in one of the targeted churches, Zion Church in Batticaloa. The sister of one of my colleagues was at the service, and was seriously injured. She is still battling for her life. The death toll has risen to 320. Unbelievable.

Whenever tragedy hits a nation, Christians need to ask how to think biblically in response to the situation. As Christianity is a body religion, it is best that groups of Christians meet and discuss a common response to the challenges. We cannot delay our response. There are both immediate responses and more long-term responses to heal the wounds of our people.

I have thought of at least six necessary responses from Christians to what has happened:

1) Lament Loss


Christians must join the nation in lamenting and mourning over our losses. Protestants have been somewhat lacking in espousing a theology of groaning (Rom. 8:23) that opens the door to lament (though that seems to be changing). The Old Testament has many instances of elaborate mourning customs, and that is found in the New Testament too. The church responded to Stephen’s death with a “great lamentation over him” (Acts 8:2; also see 9:39). Each country has its cultural ways of lament, and we must look for practices to adopt which harmonize with Christianity. In addition to Easter time, April is New Year in Sri Lanka and most Christians have cancelled their usual festivities because of what has happened.

2) Condemn Evil
The Bible is loaded with condemnation over the wrong that takes place in a nation, and the ministries of the prophets are a good example of this. Where possible and appropriate, we need to strongly condemn—with no reserve—the barbaric acts that have happened. Like the prophets, we may also need to denounce the failure of our national leaders to take appropriate steps to protect the people in response to intelligence reports.

3) Alleviate Suffering
Part of the Christian answer to the problem of evil is action to alleviate suffering, as people made in the image of a God who works. The Bible is loaded with advice to care for those who are wounded and vulnerable. We must look for opportunities to help. Some of these are more formal projects done in an organized manner by groups—Christian or general community efforts. Others are personal responses. As representatives of the God of all comfort, we can seek to comfort those who are hurting (2 Cor. 1:3-4). I was able to pray with my Hindu neighbor when he came home on Sunday and told me that his sister and her husband and daughter had died in one of the blasts. Visiting people in the hospital, donating blood, transporting the needy, providing meals, keeping people in our homes—these should be standard Christian practices which become part of the Christian lifestyle.

4) Leave Vengeance to the Lord
In our hearts we must apply the principle of God’s “holy-love” as we think through the situation. The Bible is clear that our holy God punishes wrong. The reason we are to “never avenge [ourselves]” is because we “leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Rom. 12:19). When wrong is done, something in us says, “That deserves to be punished.” That is a biblical sentiment. God has given government officials the authority to be agents of his wrath by punishing wrongdoers (Rom. 13:3–4). We must let justice take its course. But even if it doesn’t take place on earth, we know that it will at the final judgment.

The doctrine of judgment on earth and at the end of time is one of the factors influencing our response to the evil that occurs on earth. God gives us the freedom to take our hands off the revenge cycle. Instead we are told to do what we can do: We are to love our enemies and bless them (Rom. 12:17–21). Without a doctrine of judgment, we would be too bitter to forgive and show love to those who hurt us. Freed from bitterness, we can be agents of healing and reconciliation. This is especially true in a situation like Sri Lanka’s attacks which are being touted as revenge for the Christchurch mosque attacks. We can choose to stop the downward spiral of revenge where violence begets violence and huge destruction results.

Revenge is often considered the honorable response to harm in Sri Lankan culture. It comes out of the correct notion that sin must be punished, but misapplied to personal revenge. We must teach our people that personal revenge does not solve problems. We leave it to the state and to God to handle that. That is a hard lesson for our people to learn. But I believe that when it springs from the doctrine of God, there is a convincing base for people to latch onto. How important to teach these aspects of God’s nature to Christians before tragedy strikes!

5) Don’t Bear False Witness
The Bible is severe in its condemnation of false accusation and harming the innocent. Racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice often comes from lumping large numbers of people alongside a few radical members of the group they belong to. I do not want to be naïve about the plans of some Muslim groups to control the world and use violence to achieve that end. But in Sri Lanka, for centuries we have lived harmoniously with Muslims. I often feel that my Muslim neighbors are better neighbors to me than I am to them. If we lump all Muslims under the category of terrorist sympathizers, we do many of them a huge injustice which is abhorrent to God. Such attitudes could isolate them to the point of pushing them to find refuge among radicals. It is no secret that violence against Muslims encourages radicalism. We must conscientiously do all we can to prevent that from happening.

Besides, we look at Muslims through the lens of the cross—with gospel-influenced eyes. They desperately need to hear the good news of salvation by the God who loves them. How can they hear that from us if we do not befriend them? We must extend the hand of friendship to the Muslims among us. If we see that they are vulnerable to attack, we must do all we can to help, reassure, and protect them.

6) Pray
While it may seem foolish to spend time praying during a crisis when there is so much to do, this is the most powerful thing God’s people can do in a national crisis (1 Kings 19). We need to mobilize individual and corporate prayer among Christians. Leaders must take the lead in calling for prayer. Christians in Sri Lanka often lose hope when they are faced with wave after wave of bad news. But we don’t pray with a defeatist attitude. We know that God is building his kingdom culminating in the return of Christ, and that our actions are building blocks in this process.

Holy-love will win in the end! Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20).






Ajith Fernando is teaching director of Youth for Christ, Sri Lanka, and author of Discipling in a Multicultural World (Crossway 2019).


















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Re: Christianity Today Magazine - April 2019
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2019, 09:57:55 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/whos-to-blame-synagogue-shooting-orthodox-presbyterian.html






Who’s to Blame When the Shooter Is One of Our Own?




The latest synagogue attack has shaken fellow Orthodox Presbyterians—but it implicates all of us living in a fallen world and divisive culture.

 
Last weekend’s news of another synagogue attack was shocking but, sadly, not a shock. Mass shootings, while thankfully not routine weekly occurrences, have become a matter of “when” rather than “if” in modern America.

Yet, this attack at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California stirred particular interest and questions among Christians since the suspect, 19-year-old John Earnest, was reported to belong to a Presbyterian church. In fact, he was apparently a member of a nearby congregation in my own denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

In our response to such evil, we instinctually want to find an explanation or pinpoint a source to blame—in this case, some (even within the OPC) learned about his affiliation and speculated about hate preached from OPC pulpits. Faced with another’s tragedy, we are tempted to put our enemies at fault and score points for our side. But such tidy speculation loses sight of the complexity of such matters and casually commits the serious sin of slander.

A thoroughly Christian response cannot defensively eschew responsibility either—it should be informed by biblical teaching on life in this fallen world and the complicity of each and every one of us in it.

When we reflect a figure like John Earnest, we often think by default, “I thank you, Lord, that I am not like the other men who influenced this person”—be it the racists, the Leftists, the Rightists, the Nazis, the homophobes, the Jihadists, or another group. Perhaps it would be better to ask, “Is it I, Lord? Has anything I have said or done fueled the toxic culture in which such things are happening?”

When murder has become routine and mass shootings are starting to become a part of life, it is time for Christians to examine with sorrow our complicity in a fallen culture. Perhaps details will later emerge around the particular thoughts, actions, and events that led this troubled young man to such a despicable act—his family, church, and the watching world will be waiting for the results of the police investigation—but the fact that he appears to have acted alone should not exempt us from serious self-examination in the meantime.

I learned long ago, to my chagrin, that provocative comments I made in the classroom could be picked up and used by students in harmful ways I never imagined and that we all are responsible for the way we speak and speak about others. Over the years, I have struggled to speak respectfully and appropriately about those with whom I disagree. Regardless of our scope of influence, our words have consequences, as does the tone with which we speak and write them.

While John Earnest represents the exceptional case of someone angry enough to attempt mass murder, according to Christ, our rage and slander are akin to murder (Matt. 5:21–22). Breaking the Ninth Commandment with a sneer and snarl is the fashionable and respectable sin in many Christian quarters. Day after day, anger, slander, stereotyping, and simplistic but furious blame-games play out on social media. We should all acknowledge our complicity in the larger cultural milieu that fuels division and hatred.

As a former pastor and as an Orthodox Presbyterian minister, I want to see the church ask: What can we do to try to stop such things happening in the future?

In the case of the OPC—a denomination of around 30,000 people—a single killer is one too many, but hardly a sign of widespread, anti-Semitic radicalization among our youth. The path to becoming a racist murderer and an attempted mass shooter is likely very complicated and, until more details emerge, it is inappropriate to apportion specific blame to anyone or anything but the killer himself.

However, we cannot respond with complacency. The OPC, like most churches, attracts a cross-section of society, including its fair share of misfits and socially marginal figures. Embracing sinners, as Christ himself did, also brings risks. I remember a professor of pastoral theology telling me that in any 150-person congregation, there’s likely someone engaging in spousal abuse; that proved true in my experience. Our congregations must be ready for the possibility of a John Earnest or other types of deeply disturbed individuals in our midst.

Pastors in particular need to take care in how they speak and write, lest their words be seized upon by those who might twist them to a violent purpose for which they were never intended. And they should also be conscientious in how they shepherd people, so that they can identify the troubled souls in their midst, help them, and, where necessary, protect others from such.

This is not a call for us to become cult-like and to police and micromanage the lives of congregants. Rather, it is an appeal for us all to take interest in how our congregants treat others, particularly those with whom they disagree, and to model in our own lives a better way.

In our culture, violence has become so routine that we have been anesthetized to it. It now takes a murder with a special context—racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, misogyny, or sheer number or age of victims—to provoke outrage. Yet, we as Christians are called to mourn with those who mourn regardless of circumstance; murder is not made intrinsically more or less evil and tragic by the motivation of the murderer or the identity of the victim.

Every murderous death, whatever the circumstance, involves the destruction of one of God’s image-bearers and the permanent devastation of a family and a community as a result. We mourn for the victim of Saturday’s shooting, Lori Gilbert-Kaye, and her family and friends left to grieve such a vicious and awful attack. Her death is not an opportunity to score pitiful political points; it is an occasion to lament the devastation of sin upon this world in general, and upon her and her community in particular.

I do not know John Earnest, and I do not know what led him to commit such a terrible crime. But I suspect the anger that sadly characterizes so much of contemporary public discourse, and in which too many of us Christians, right and left, indulge, did not help.

This is not a moment for blaming “them” for what has happened. It is a moment to grieve with the family that has been destroyed by this senseless action, to examine our own part in this fallen culture, and to ask ourselves how we can truly represent something better to the watching world.





Carl R. Trueman is a professor at Grove City College and an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.




Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the magazine.

















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Last post June 28, 2019, 09:21:34 am
by patrick jane

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