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Author Topic: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018  (Read 2225 times)

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patrick jane

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Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« on: November 05, 2018, 02:13:43 pm »



https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/october/announcing-gc2-summit-on-metoochurchtoo-one-day-summit-to-c.html


The GC2 Summit on #metoo/#churchtoo to Challenge and Equip the Church to Address Sexual Violence and Harassment in Our Midst


Join Beth Moore, Christine Caine, Max Lucado, Nancy Beach, Belinda Bauman, and others on December 13 as we begin to address #MeToo / #ChurchToo in our churches today.

 
Churches have struggled with how to address sexual abuse, harassment, and more.

Many leaders, attendees, and pastors alike find themselves living in the aftermath of not just what happened a year ago, but what’s actually been happening for decades. Trust has been broken, power has been abused, and most importantly, people have been hurt.

Many have been deeply wounded by the hands of others—more than we’d ever want to count.

For those of you who haven’t caught on yet, I’m talking about #churchtoo—an extension of the #metoo movement that took the media by storm a year ago. In #churchtoo, churchgoers shared their own experiences of abuse and harassment—and for many in the church, these things have been at best uncomfortable to hear; at worst, detrimental to the local community of believers.

You see, many of us would like to believe that the abuse of women (and men) is a purely secular phenomenon that happens in the outside world—a realm far beyond the comfortable pews and pulpits we call home.

But this is simply not the case. Sexual violence and harassment take place in churches, ministries, and more. It is past time all church leaders deal with it as we are called to.

If the stats are right and roughly 1 in 4 women have been sexually harassed or abused at some point, then this reality is everywhere, likely even in your local church.


In #churchtoo and elsewhere, it has been overwhelming to say the least to see so many women come forward and share things like, “I was raped,” “I was groomed by my high school youth pastor,” “The pastor didn’t believe my story,” and “My church held no one accountable.” I even have several staff members with a similar story. And it pains me deeply.

The media watched as stories of heartbreak and hurt like these became an internet sensation. But they also watched as several months later, the new year rang in, and with it stories of pastors whose behaviors were finally being exposed. But not just any pastors—these were pastors of mega churches with thousands of attendees and seminary leaders whose individual reaches spanned the globe.

At the end of the day, these stories of sexual abuse and mistreatment in the church are many and the damage is real. It’s hard to know where to begin to start picking up the pieces from this kind of darkness and confusion; it’s tempting to want to forget that any of this exposure happened in the first place.


But hear this, church: turning a blind eye is simply not an option.

People have been hesitant to speak out about the #churchtoo movement. There’s been a lot of silence coming from some of the pastors and leaders whom we most admire.

According to a recent study released by LifeWay Research, some congregations are confused about how to react—32% say that they find themselves still largely unaware of the implications of the #metoo movement. Even more unfortunate, we see that 14 percent have even become callous towards the issue.

While avoidance and inaction have characterized the responses of many, something’s got to change and soon.

The world is watching, people are being hurt, and the church’s witness is at stake not just today, but for future generations.

What we ultimately need is not just an apology for the wrong that’s been done, but tangible change. And this is not just changes in behavior and vows to ‘never do it again’, but systemic changes in churches, and protective practices that are put in place to ensure accountability.

But even more than that, we need changed hearts. We need to stop viewing people—in many cases, women—as objects intended for exploitation. Indeed, when we open our Bibles, we see quite the opposite.

In fact, we see a God who made all of us in his image, and who loves us all equally.

Dismantling abusive patterns requires all of us to take action. The church should never have been a place where the issues addressed in the #metoo movement were alive and well. Instead, the church should be (and should have always been) a place where we see the people of God living in rebellion against the cultural sins of our day.

That’s why in just six weeks, on December 13, the Billy Graham Center, is hosting the GC2 Summit on #metoo/#churchtoo at Wheaton College. We will explore ways that the church can address internal issues, repent of wrongdoing, and provide solutions so that the abuse and mishandling that paved the way for #churchtoo is no longer a reality.

I invite you to join me and many others at this very important event. Let me share just a few thoughts about some of the reasons we are in the situation we are in—and these all have to do with the role of pastors and leaders today.

We Need to Address Pastors

Pastors need accountability. That’s not a shocking statement. But the fact that so many are unaccountable is shocking.

When church leadership goes unchecked, the door to abuse is wide open. If our pastors can effectively do no wrong, and we have created an idol out of sinful flesh, then we can expect nothing but injustice to occur, for we are all prone to sin.

We will talk about ways to hold one another accountable that is redemptive and appropriate, which is ultimately good for everyone involved.

We need to Deal with Brokenness

It’s easy to think that our Christian leaders are beyond reproach; I mean, they are ‘holy’ by virtue of their faith, right?

Newsflash: everyone is fallen and sinful. The Psalmist wrote it thousands of years ago and, surprise, surprise, it’s still true today: “There is none who does good. Not even one” (Ps. 14: 1-3).

Seeing one another, pastors and all others, as perfect but living in a broken world isn’t helpful for you, nor is it helpful for them. Moreover, it opens the door for the exploitation of innocent people in a church community.

Most of All We Need to Care about Survivors

The real issue is that people are being hurt. They are being victimized. And, churches don’t know how to respond or respond poorly.

We believe there are better ways. There are ways that protect people and honor God.

And this is why we are having this GC2 Summit on #metoo/#churchtoo.

When Jesus bends his ear to hear, he turns none away. He is calling us to do the same—to respond to survivors in such a way that transformation, healing, and redemption will mark lives forever. We can do no less.

The truth has come to light and the church can either own up to its mistakes, or risk losing our witness in the world—and more.

I hope and pray that we choose the former.

So join Beth Moore, Christine Caine, Eugene Cho, Belinda Bauman, Max Lucado, Nancy Beach, York Moore, Laurel Bunker, me, and many others on December 13th as we continue the conversation that leads to honesty, addresses persistent issues, and looks for healing and grace.

Register for the GC2 Summit on #metoo/#churchtoo today.



Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

Gabriella Siefert contributed to this article.




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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #1 on: November 05, 2018, 02:17:46 pm »


https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/november-web-only/google-employees-protest-ai-weapons-christians-might-too.html


Rumors of AI Wars: Where Google and the Bible Agree


An understanding of human dignity and responsibility belongs in the development of artificial intelligence for military uses.

 
Recently, Google hit the pause button on a military artificial intelligence project amidst thorny ethical questions raised by its own employees. Increasingly in new drone and surveillance systems, human knowledge and actions are augmented and soon might be sidelined altogether. Should we shirk our responsibility and pass authority onto these machines? For Christians, the complex conversation about how AI should be developed as weapons centers on a biblical understanding of human dignity and responsibility.

For Google employees, protest began in April 2018 over involvement in a program to continue work on an AI-based image recognition program for the Department of Defense arguing that Google should not be in the business of war since the company’s historic slogan has been “Do no evil.”

The program, simply referred to as “Project Maven,” is designed to be used in identifying enemy targets on the battlefield. The research would improve an AI system, which processes a massive amount of video data captured every day by US military drones and reports back to military and civilian analysts with potential targets for future military engagement. The New York Timesreported that the Pentagon has spent billions of dollars in recent years to develop these systems and often partners with leading technology firms.

Yet, thousands of Google’s employees, including many senior engineers, signed a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai in protest of the firm’s involvement in Project Maven. In June, Google announced that it would not renew the government contract for Project Maven. Employees rejoiced at this decision, but Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and others have criticized the move arguing that dropping the research will increase the likelihood of war and civilian deaths.

Even with more precise computer-aided targeting, the United States Pentagon said earlier this year that “no one will ever know” how many innocent lives have been lost during the fight against the Islamic State and Syria. These tools are not 100 percent accurate and do fail, but they are more accurate than previous weapons systems. Even as specific numbers vary on the number of innocent lives lost, many argue the number of human casualties is less than it would be without the drones because ground troops are not needed as much and the systems are more accurate than previous target systems driven in large part by fallible humans.

But in July, 2,400 AI researchers signed a pledge to block the development of fully autonomous weapon systems because of the massive moral and ethical implications of the technology.

https://www.umcmission.org/Giving-Tuesday?utm_source=Christianity%20Today&utm_medium=300x250&utm_campaign=oTb-2018%20Giving%20Tuesday
Many people, including Christians, will understandably disagree on the best means and tools to be used in warfare. However, real human lives are at stake. So how might we go about navigating these issues as a society and apply wisdom to the implementation of artificial intelligence on the battlefield?

The dignity of all people
Christians believe that all people are created in the image of God and that our dignity is based solely on that reality (Gen. 1:26–27). This dignity extends even to our enemies because they too are created in the image of God. Because of our sin and rebellion against God, we ushered in the age of destruction, death, sickness, and brokenness, and the natural order of things is turned upside down. God’s creation also turned on each other, committing murder and devising war.

Google’s employees protested their company’s involvement in Project Maven because many did not want to be involved in the killing of other human beings. Soon after Google pulled out of the project, they released a set of AI principles to guide them in artificial intelligence work. It commits to not designing AI as “weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.”

Even though the company does not use the Christian understanding of human dignity, they were reflecting the God-given dignity and worth in which all people are created. This is common grace.

While the Scriptures teach that killing of other humans is not the way that God designed our world to work, we are called to seek justice for wrongs committed because the taking of the life of another image-bearer is such a serious matter. We don’t seek to engage in war or bloodshed, but we are to seek justice for those oppressed and downtrodden (Isa. 1:17).

This approach to a just war was first promoted by Augustine of Hippo based on his understanding of Romans 13:4. Just war theory explains that the only just cause for war is the protection of peace and the punishment of the wicked.

So, artificial intelligence can be used in ways that magnify our dignity but can also be used in ways that minimize our dignity in the name of efficiency, profits, and even military victory. AI is neither good nor bad, but a God-given tool to use with wisdom.

In line with just war theory, AI can strengthen targeting systems so that they are more accurate when used in long-range missiles and drones preventing accidental killings of the innocent.

Human in the loop
But just war theory also prohibits the use of “indiscriminate force” in war, meaning that weapons should be not used that cannot be controlled or contained. A nuclear bomb is an example of this type of weapon because we cannot precisely target enemies, and the bomb’s blast will affect anyone present including innocent men, women, and children.

We pursue justice, which can include war, because our God is a just God, but the human role in the use of these AI weapons raises valid questions about who is responsible and in control of them.

The role that humans play in decision making for these weapon systems was operationalized by military strategist and United States Air Force Colonel John Boyd in a loop called OODA. This loop has four stages: (1) observe, (2) orient, (3) decide, and (4) act. As decision making for identifying and engaging potential targets is increasingly automated and augmented, humans will naturally become less and less involved in the decision-making loop because of the speed at which life-altering decisions will have to be made.

At least for the time being, US military engagement will have a human in the decision-making loop per a directive from the Department of Defense in 2017, which aims to “minimize the probability and consequences of failures that could lead to unintended engagements or to loss of control of the system.” But that directive may not last if other countries and groups start to use more autonomous weapons because we may not be able to adequately defend against them based upon the speed and accuracy that the AI will achieve.

By shirking our responsibility to enact justice for wrongs committed and passing it to these automated systems, our true motivations are often revealed that show less of a concern for the human beings affected by our decisions and more of our desire for a quick ending to combat.

Our Brother’s Keeper
Humans are uniquely positioned by God to be morally responsible for those who are facing injustice. But humans also have the grave responsibility to care for and love even our enemies.

A major and often overlooked danger of AI-empowered weapons is a tendency to dehumanize our enemies. Soldiers may not come even close to them in combat, which can lead them to not think of these men and women as humans with families, livelihoods, hope, and dreams. Our enemies become mere pieces of data on the virtual battlefield. They become blips on a screen rather than flesh and blood human beings. AI can desensitize us to the realities of war where real human lives are lost.

www.trnty.edu/visit
So how should we think about the use of automated weapon systems in today’s military? While dangerous and potentially dehumanizing, the development of these AI tools should be pursued if we have any hope of defending the oppressed. We must seek to use these tools for good and not evil, to protect the innocent, and to fight for what is righteous. We should champion the dignity and worth of all people, including our enemies. But we must do so with eyes wide open, recognizing their limitations and the responsibility that we hold for how that justice is enacted.




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. He is married to Dorie and they have two sons.



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patrick jane

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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2018, 05:44:32 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2018/fall-state-of-church-ministry/embodied-church-in-digital-age.html


The Embodied Church in a Digital Age


Should we cheer or moan when online churches perform virtual baptisms?

 
Virtual Reality Church’s first baptism took place in a 3D house with an underground pool and a massive billboard overhead proclaiming “A Special Baptism and Communion service.” Alina Delp, 46—portrayed as a purple, robot-like avatar—stood submerged in the water while Pastor D. J. Soto proclaimed her new life in Christ and her sins washed away. When her avatar floated to the surface, dozens of congregants and family members cheered, their avatars sending heart and clap icons floating skyward.

Delp rarely leaves her house due to erythromelalgia, a rare condition that makes it painful to be outside for longer than a few minutes. Baptism would have been difficult for her in the past. With the virtual baptism, her family members from all over the country were able to witness the event in real time.

“When the opportunity came to me, I just had to do it. I was so excited that church was an option for me, that baptism was an option for me,” she said.

She believes it was a real experience, just like getting baptized in water.

“It was powerful. As D. J. was speaking and I was under the water, I could feel this life I lived before being lifted away, and there was this new, amazing future for me,” she said, getting emotional. “I was there. It counts.”

Virtual Reality (VR) Church is just the newest iteration in a series of digital church trends that have picked up steam in the past few decades—from livestreaming entire church services, to virtual campuses that stream a sermon, to fully digital churches and digital missionaries.

Such technology is increasingly used for evangelism and spiritual identity. More than three-quarters of Americans own a smartphone, and nearly half of all US teenagers describe their phone use as “constant.” A recent Barna study found that while more than half of Christians (55%) feel that technology makes others avoid spiritual conversations, about a third of Christians say they are just as likely to share their beliefs online—and 10 percent are even more likely.

Many believe the church needs a strong digital presence in a tech-immersed culture. Others argue that we are designed as physical creatures to be physically present to one another. So what is the role of the church in digital ministry?

Virtual Church Planting: A New Frontier
Pastor D. J. Soto has been in ministry for two decades. He left his last position at a Pennsylvania megachurch two years ago to pursue what he initially thought would be a physical church plant. Now he believes God was leading him to plant churches in virtual reality.

His family discovered the Oculus Rift VR headset and a new social networking application called AltspaceVR around the same time they left their church. Soto was immediately hooked. If he could meet people all over the globe in that digital space, why not hold a church service there? Two days after this initial thought, Soto held his first Sunday service. Five people showed up, including a Danish atheist.

Since its launch in 2016, the church has burgeoned into about 50 people weekly, coming from all different religious backgrounds, or none at all. About half of his congregants are unchurched, and a majority are over the age of 40. Soto created an elder board, formed a church government, started fundraising, created a server for weekly chats, and launched weekly life groups.

“If your irreducible minimum is that you want to connect people to the body of Christ, then online church is a great place to do that.”
Soto believes virtual reality is a mission field through a medium that will be commonplace soon. Last fall Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg claimed he wanted a billion people in virtual reality, though only a few million headsets have been sold. Regardless, Soto has already presented VR Church to employees at Facebook headquarters.

Some say church is a positive alternative in a realm known for graphic pornography and violent games. In many ways, Soto feels that his church offers more community and intimacy than his former megachurch, where it was easy to go unnoticed in the large crowd. Though the anonymity offered by an avatar is enticing to people who wouldn’t generally step foot in a neighborhood church, it’s impossible to hide when your username is listed for all to see. At VR Church, people ask questions after the sermon, and congregants greet one another before and after the service. They talk to Soto openly about suicide and other sensitive topics.

“This openness, this love at the forefront, you feel it immediately when you walk in the doors,” said Delp, who had not attended church much since her childhood.

Many Parts, One Body
Despite the press Soto has received, he knows VR Church is controversial (more on that below). Yet it’s not far removed from a more common church expression: digital campuses.

Dan Hickling has pastored Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale’s online campus for nine years. When hired, he was tasked with moving their growing online audience from “monologue to dialogue,” Hickling said.

http://www.stormtossedfamily.com/
Their strategy: to be present when others are online, engaging the audience through chat boxes and interacting during the sermon with intentional questions. As a campus, they have their own volunteers who greet, moderate, and pray with people online. In contrast to VR Church’s virtual baptism, Hickling encourages his online community to seek a local church for baptisms, and he directs his congregants to partake of communion elements at home in unison with the corporate communion at the main service.

“If your irreducible minimum is that you want to connect people to the body of Christ, then online church is a great place to do that. You can connect with hearts that are repelled by brick and mortar,” Hickling said. “Tech can come across as shiny and glamorous, but at the end of the day it’s just another way to connect with broken people.”

Hickling does not police his congregants to attend a physical campus.

“Online church is a tool in God’s toolbox. God wants people to connect to his church in all of its forms,” he said. “One thing the last nine years have taught me is that affinity trumps vicinity.”

Crossing the Digital Line
While digital ministry is clearly doing some good, many wonder if it can replace church as we know it.

The church finding ministry applications for available technologies is nothing new. It has used various media to build long-distance relationships since the Apostle Paul wrote letters to the early churches, said Skye Jethani, an author, pastor, and speaker. Church leaders have adopted everything from print media, radio, television, and cassette tapes to the more recent social media and podcasts to convey their messages. Technology isn’t the problem, because it can be useful, said Jethani. Rather we should be concerned with the blurring line between technology and the very definition of church.

Evangelical Christians tend to use the word church broadly—to mean a physical building, a Sunday morning event, a cultural institution, and a local or global community. Only that final definition conforms to the New Testament use of the word, Jethani said.

“Once you understand that church is not an event, a sermon, or a concert, but rather an incarnate community living with Christ and one another, you realize it can’t be disincarnated,” he said. “Use the tool, but don’t call it a church.”

http://www.apu.edu/seminary?a=2526
Alan Noble, assistant professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University and author of Disruptive Witness: SpeakingTruth in a Distracted Age, believes the church body is more than just minds and voices—it also includes our physical bodies.

“If we are going to disincarnate every part of our faith, why not disincarnate Jesus as well?”
“When I sit next to someone in the pew, I am conscious of their physicality in a way I can’t be online. I can smell them, I can tell if they’re distracted or concerned, how they’re reacting to a sermon,” he said. “We are not brains in vats. We are embodied creatures. That’s how we were designed.”

But what about situations like Alina Delp’s—someone who is homebound or isolated? Generally, virtual reality technology has tremendous potential to improve the quality of life for homebound people.

Writer, professor, and church leader Angie Ward believes there could be a purpose to online church, but narrowly—for those confined to their homes or as a mission field to draw people to the local church. Even so, her church still visits those who are homebound, she noted.

“If church is just an educational institution, sure, you can get it disembodied and online. But spiritual formation needs to come in embodied relationships. That’s how you become like Christ.” But, she said with a laugh, “Digital church is an introvert’s dream!”

Alex Wilgus is the pastor of Logan Square Anglican Church, a small congregation in Chicago that limits its technology usage to an occasional recorded sermon audio and a topical podcast. While ministering to homebound people is not a new challenge by any means, said Wilgus, digital technology has great potential to reach out to those in that situation. “Beyond that it’s up to the body of Christ to go to those people.”

Noble goes a step further: “The appropriate response in that situation is for the ministers to go to that person regularly and care for them. That’s so important for a suffering person. To look someone in the eye and commune with them is more an example of what Christ calls us to do than giving them a streaming worship service.”

Anemic Ecclesiology?
While he’s not by any means opposed to technology, Wilgus is afraid the evangelical church is “in danger of being tempted away from experiencing Christ’s real presence, reducing the gospel to simply information.”

https://grow.pushpay.com/lp-ebook-2018--the-future-of-church-technology.html?utm_medium=display-paid&utm_source=christianity-today&utm_content=content-ebook&utm_campaign=the-future-of-church-technology&utm_term=faith--all--all
Jethani calls this “anemic ecclesiology.” Jesus could have dictated his message through any means, both Wilgus and Jethani pointed out, but he decided to become incarnate. He became flesh and blood, and dwelt among his people to show his glory.

“If we are going to disincarnate every part of our faith, why not disincarnate Jesus as well?” Jethani said. “This is where the church needs to be counter-cultural, to thoughtfully say, ‘This is what these technologies are good for, but here’s where we need to draw the line.’ The church can lead the way.”

According to Wilgus, if the church is calling us to be where people are gathered, and people are gathered in digital space— whether virtual reality or social media—the church should be there.

“With every technological innovation we should ask ourselves, how does Jesus want us to use this? What’s the ideal here?” he said.

“The ideal is for people to be physically together. Then the question becomes, how does digital technology help us get to that point, rather than how will it help us avoid that calling. If VR Church is a part of that, great, I’m all for it.”



Kara Bettis is a Boston-based reporter who writes on the topics of faith, politics, and culture.



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Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - 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 November 2018
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2018, 05:47:35 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/november/parable-of-caravan-immigration-jesus-ed-stetzer.html


The Parable of the Caravan


We need to pay attention to love’s deep call on our lives.

 
Jesus’ parables aren’t just stories to be read; they are meant to read us. Parables aren’t meant to affirm our rightness and everyone else’s wrongness. They can sneak past our personal armor to show us a better way to be. They can hold up a mirror (“Oh no, I’m the prodigal son’s big brother!”) or puncture our delusions (“Oh no, I’m the debtor who has been forgiven much but am unwilling to forgive a little!”), then show us where by grace we can grow in love.

The “migrant caravan”—as the large group of children and adults from countries like Honduras and Guatamala currently headed toward the US border seeking safety and better lives have been dubbed by the media—is excruciatingly real.

But in ways, the frenzied political debate about the caravan isn’t real because they’re so far from our border. Instead, what should be real is the opportunity to pay attention to love’s deep call on our lives.

One helpful way might be through the lens of a modern-day parable—and consider how it is reading us. Let’s call it the Parable of the Caravan.


* * *


Once upon a time, the world’s most powerful kingdom enjoyed a record-low unemployment rate and record-high stock market prices.

Other countries much poorer were hosting millions of refugees, but this kingdom did all it could to keep these refugees out. Then one day, a thousand miles away, a few thousand people in danger in their own land joined together with the unrealistic dream of walking—yes, walking—a thousand miles to safety and jobs in the powerful, far away kingdom.

Moms and dads and children joined this “Caravan,” though even if they somehow made it to the kingdom, they had no way past the wide moat, towering wall, thick gate, and vast army that awaited them.


Meanwhile, behind the kingdom walls, people watched this faraway Caravan on their screens.


The person concerned about safety saw the Caravan on the TV as a ragtag group of vulnerable, unarmed, powerless people made up of moms and dads, sons and daughters. He felt a tinge of empathy, but then squinted hard to look through the decoder lens provided by politicians and TV pundits.

What he saw then was a group of well-armed, well-fed, highly-trained mercenary invaders better disguised than anyone had ever been disguised. He thought, We need our troops and weapons to protect us from these attackers in disguise. He heard the ruler of the kingdom promise to protect the border from these invaders, so he felt safe. The next time he saw the Caravan on TV, he clicked on by.

http://www.apu.edu/seminary?a=2526
A virtuous Facebooker flipped past the Caravan on screen and thought, Let them in. Whatever it costs, someone else will pay the price, and I can claim the virtue. Saying ‘yes’ will feel good without having to do anything hard to help these people in need.

She could righteously ignore those who lost a loved one in a crime, who live near the border and face cultural upheaval and economic change, who teach these children in crowded classrooms and have to buy supplies out of their own pocket, or who house an asylum-seeking family. My duty here is done, she thought. She “liked” helping the Caravan without needing to pause beyond her screen to help.


A religious person went past the scene on his laptop screen and then quickly to his Holy Book, flipping past the verses about a (similar?) caravan escaping through a miraculously parted Red Sea, past caring for widows and orphans, until he found comfort in verses about respecting authority and remembered a verse (though he couldn’t find the actual location in the Holy Book) that says, “Just take care of your own. Because if everybody is your neighbor, then nobody is.” So now that we’ve taken care of this threat to our conscience, he thought, let’s get back to a debate that doesn’t ask us to love our poor neighbors. And he clicked on by.

* * *

Back in reality, those who make it to the border won’t get in. Depending on how policy changes in the days ahead, they can enter the same legal process of seeking asylum that already handles thousands of people. But in this parable, the Caravan is a Rorschach test: what we see in it reveals who we are. We can turn this into another opportunity to be outraged at each other, or we can let it reveal areas of ours lives where we need discipleship in the way of Christ.

If we look at the Caravan and see an invading army that is a threat to the rule of law and national security, then we should confess our fears, seek God’s protection, and pray that love casts out our false fear. We should seek truth, because how immigrants and refugees are being presented to us is blinding us to what is actually going on.

There has not been a deadly terrorist attack by a refugee since the Refugee Act of 1980, when we’ve often been receiving 80,000 to 90,000 refugees a year. Studies show that, overall, communities with high immigrant populations have lower crime than communities without immigrants. Refugees become net contributors to our economy and as tax payers.

I write more about the concerns and studies in my new book, because fears rooted in legitimate concerns should be taken seriously. But other times, we must discern when legitimate embers of concern are being flamed into a fire by the media and politicians that we let blow into our lives. Instead, I would do better to welcome the Spirit of Christ to shape my heart toward wise welcoming, as God has welcomed me.

If we look at the Caravan and see an exodus of people escaping oppression but don’t help, then we need discipleship to be more practical in our love. Have we called our senators and representatives, given to someone who is helping with immigration services on the border or addressing the root causes, prayed, found a way to love our neighbors who see the Caravan differently and engaged respectfully to try to change their minds?

If we look at the Caravan and see no biblical reason to care about the plight of the people in it, then we need more time with the parable of the Good Samaritan and passages like Exodus 23:9, Deuteronomy 10:18-19, 1 Kings 8:41-44, and Matthew 25:31-46 to remember who our neighbor is and that borders shouldn’t restrict our love, just as borders can’t restrict God’s love.

It’s complicated to help, sure, but we should work to love and welcome in some way—because God first loves and welcomes us. With this theological foundation, we can grow into our most generous selves and work out what is and isn’t possible.

Parables read us. But that’s not where the work of the parable ends. We’re then left asking: how do I respond to the world in a way that better reflects God’s love?

We want to be people who see and listen, who don’t just walk—or click—past suffering. We are being read by the Parable of the Caravan, but the story doesn’t have to end here. These very real stories, alongside the biblical parables, can transform us into people who grow in the love embodied by Jesus himself.





Kent Annan is director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College, where he provides leadership to the M.A. program within the Humanitarian Disaster Institute. His forthcoming book is You Welcomed Me: Loving Refugees and Immigrants Because God First Loved Us.



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Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - 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 November 2018
« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2018, 06:29:52 am »


https://theologyforums.com/index.php?threads/her-prayers-helped-pull-me-out-of-occult-fueled-madness.4738/

Her Prayers Helped Pull Me Out of Occult-Fueled Madness


While I plunged further into darkness, a middle-school classmate kept lifting me up to God.

 
I started walking in the valley of the shadow of death at a very young age. In first grade, I became aware of something: What you see is not all there is.

The spiritual world was real to me, even as a child, because of my engagement with the occult. What started out as intrigue and entertainment quickly led to a lifestyle of encounter with the stuff of Hollywood lore. I remember watching a chair slide across the floor and a candle floating off the coffee table. I saw things no one should see.

You can’t immerse yourself in the occult for long without going on a journey you cannot reverse on your own. I had night terrors so bad, so horrific, I was tormented for years. In junior high, the anxiety produced ulcers. Specialists couldn’t confirm what was wrong. I felt trapped, breathless, and alone.

My experiences with the supernatural led me on a quest for answers. In many ways, I was a typical boy, the kind who enjoyed basketball, skateboarding, and GI Joe cartoons. But I also studied religion and philosophy. I was gripped by an all-consuming desire to find a language or a belief system to describe my regular interactions with the unseen world.

‘Pray for That Young Man’


Eighth grade was a pivotal year. On the outside, I looked like a quintessential American teenager. Taking a break from the occult, I enjoyed school, engaged in athletics, and certainly didn’t look like someone immersed in darkness.

One day, as I was standing at my school locker, a female classmate sensed in her heart that God was whispering my name. (I wouldn’t learn this, of course, until later.) The whisper said something to the effect of, “Pray for that young man. You are going to marry him one day.” Some of life’s most significant moments come disguised with the ordinary. She dared to slow down long enough to listen to the whisper and believe.

We struck up a relationship befitting middle-schoolers. I remember going to her home and eating her mom’s macaroni and cheese. She came and watched me play basketball. She was just perfect in every way. We even told people we were going to get married one day.

But when the school year ended, we went our separate ways and formed our own friend groups. She was a cheerleader and attended church. I, on the other hand, delved further into the darkness than ever before. I had regular encounters with the demonic realm, became addicted to numerous drugs, looked like a human skeleton, and lived life in quiet desperation.

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In my junior year of high school, after getting high during lunch break, I went to physics class. We dropped balls down ramps and calculated velocity. One day, while I was tripping on LSD, my physics partner noticed my odd behavior. He wasn’t the sort to spend time with others who hallucinated and, frankly, I didn’t talk to people who hadn’t. As was my custom, within a few minutes, I began asking him about religion. I was curious to know whether he believed in God, what proof he could cite for his beliefs, and whether he knew the supernatural realm like I did. He didn’t say much, but he did invite me to church. I actually went.

People were singing, lifting their hands, clapping, and listening to the pastor read from the Bible. I left thinking they were a bit strange and remained uninterested. But I had no idea what was about to happen, for another invitation was coming.

On a Sunday night, after the effects of crystal meth wore off, I said goodbye to my friends and went home. I lay in my bedroom, alone, unable to sleep, once again sitting in quiet desperation. My mind raced, thinking about who God was and what the truth could be. I remember the warm tears falling down my face. Crying wasn’t something I did. It was almost as if the sky opened up and, for the first time in my life, I sensed real and pure love.

I felt like God himself had come into my room. I remember saying out loud, “Jesus, you are who you say you are.” It didn’t seem like he was angry with me, ashamed of who I had become, or appalled at my choices. Deep inside, I believed he loved me the way I was.

Night after night, once school and work were over, I couldn’t wait to get home and talk to God. This was the first time in a long time that I remained sober. God’s presence was so thick, so real, that I could almost feel him breathing in my face.

I told my physics partner I would go back to church with him on a Wednesday night. I said, “Remember that thing the pastor did at the end of church a few weeks ago? He asked if people wanted to ask Jesus to forgive them. Well, I think I need to do that.”

I ended up going to one of the most dysfunctional church services in history.

A Surprise in the Mail
I walked in wearing my tie-dyed shirt with a marijuana leaf on the chest. Rather than singing and preaching, I heard crying and yelling. I found out that they were having a “family meeting” because one of the congregants had made threats against the pastor. The youth group was hearing an explanation for why the threat-maker’s family, which included two teenagers, would never be back. People were angry and devastated. The police were there. I knew one of the officers well, as he used to search my car on weekends. I felt right at home in the dysfunction.

At the end of the meeting, a volunteer pastor (who happened to be the father of my physics partner) said a prayer and shared the gospel. On that night, I responded to the opportunity to meet Jesus. I was the only one who responded. That night, when I embraced the grace of Jesus, I experienced some fairly remarkable things. My body was supernaturally and instantaneously healed. My substance addictions vanished. It’s almost as if I met myself for the first time.

The very next day, I discovered something incredible in the mailbox. I can’t recall why I checked the mail that day. I seldom did. Inside was a handwritten letter from the girl who dared to listen in eighth grade when God touched her heart. Though she had written the letter a few weeks before, she was compelled to hold on to it. One day, while walking through the shopping mall, she was impressed again in her heart, and she mailed it. It just happened to land in our mailbox the day after I met God.

After I married that amazing girl, my beloved Ali, I found her prayer journals. That’s when I discovered how God used the prayers of her and others, often whispered when no one was watching, to help soften my hardened heart.

Looking back at my salvation, I can’t help thinking of Psalm 23. The psalmist makes it clear that God prepared a table not while he was luxuriating in green pastures but while he was trudging through the valley of the shadow of death. I am the product of a girl who dared to believe when God whispered, an invitation to church, the power of prayer, and the Savior who stepped into my darkness and, instead of turning away in horror, showed me who he was and who I was created to be.





Heath Adamson is chief of staff for the relief organization Convoy of Hope and global chairman of the Next Gen Commission for the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. He is the author of Grace in the Valley: Awakening to God’s Presence When He Feels Far Away (Baker).



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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2018, 10:08:46 am »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/november/reaching-out-to-non-believers-this-holiday-season-ed-stetze.html



Reaching Out to Non-Believers this Holiday Season


Relationships are a significant means through which people can be reached with the gospel.

 
Going to church, believe it or not, can be a controversial topic around the holiday season. Some of us go consistently each week, some of us used to go, and some of us have vowed to never walk through the halls of a church again.

Everyone comes from different families, cultures, and backgrounds and thus we all have different stories in this regard.

Recently, I was having a conversation with my Uber driver about her experience in church. As we spoke, she shared that at one point she had been attending pretty frequently but has since found herself less engaged. During the course of our time together, as a pastor of course, I couldn’t help but suggest that she might reconsider her decision.

You see, we all know people like my Uber driver across many spectrums. Many have a complex relationship with churchgoing over the course of their individual lifetimes. Some are believers who have gone; others are believers who’ve stopped going altogether.

Others still actually aren’t believers at all, but perhaps people who are trying church out for the first time—in fact, chances are, there are people like that sitting next to you in service more Sundays than not.

Around the holiday times each year, followers of Christ have the opportunity to enter into spiritual conversations with family members and friends. Many of those conversations will likely end up at the very least touching on the subject of church in some way, shape, or form.

According to Scott McConnell, the executive director of LifeWay Research, that despite our many assumptions, the reality is that “many would welcome going to a Christmas service with someone they know.”

A study performed by LifeWay Research shows that across the country, Americans are much more likely to attend church at Christmastime. When asked the question: “If someone you know invited you to attend church with them at Christmas, how likely would you be to attend?” Over half (57%) of respondents said they’d be likely to come.

As we see here, relationships are a significant means through which people can be reached with the gospel.

Now, of course God can reach people through any means he chooses—not just through family members, friends, and neighbors. Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus with neither a soul nor an evangelist in sight.

http://www.apu.edu/seminary?a=2526
But, the beauty about all this is that even though God doesn’t need us, he chooses to use us as a means through which to reveal himself to people. We are conduits of his love and grace in a broken and hurting world with the unique honor and privilege of entering into the work that he’s doing in the lives of those close to us.

Just for a moment, think about how much more compelling the gospel message is coming from someone you already know and trust. Who are you more likely to listen to—a stranger on the street handing you a flier telling you to come to church or a friend who’s known you all your life and walked with you through thick and thin?

LifeWay Research did a study in cooperation with the Billy Graham Center on unbelievers’ willingness to enter into spiritual conversations with their friends. As it turns out, nearly 80% say that if a friend values his or her faith in Jesus, they are willing to talk to the friend about it even if they themselves are not believers. Scott McConnell shared his thoughts this way: “Unchurched Americans aren’t hostile to faith…They just don’t think church is for them.”

Truthfully speaking, people in this demographic won’t know otherwise until they’re invited to check it out for themselves.

While the idea of inviting an unbelieving friend to church can seem daunting from afar, know that there are times in the New Testament that we are told to account for the presence of unbelievers in our Sunday morning services. This is not a foreign concept to the early church, and neither should it be to us in our 21st century context today.

This holiday season, I encourage all of you to find ways to reach out to the unbelievers and infrequent churchgoers in your circles extending them an invitation to join you at church. Here are some quick strategies to go about this well.

First off, extend pressure-free invitations. The people you know and choose to invite should always feel welcome to join you without sensing a certain pressure to take you up on your initial offer. I’ve tried to, in my own personal life, make a habit of inviting my neighbors to church around Christmas and Easter each year.

I’ll let them know about the special services we’re having, and let them know that I’d love for them to join—I’d recommend that you try doing the same with your neighbors this year!

In the event that the person (or people) you invite choose to turn you down, refrain from getting frustrated, defensive, agitated, or bitter about it. Know that God asks you only to plant seeds which frees you to keep all your interactions and invitations pressure free.

Second, welcome questions. It’s quite natural that unbelievers who find themselves in church around the holiday season or any other time don’t really quite know what to believe, where to connect, or why it matters in the first place.

If someone you know and love joins you on a Sunday morning, invite them out for lunch afterwards. Offer to talk through what they’ve learned, what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they might still have questions about.

Even if you don’t know all the answers (and you probably won’t), what matters most is maintaining a consistent posture of honesty and humility. This will help your friend feel safe, known, heard, and willing to dive into spiritual conversations.

Last, be a friend. Recognize that whoever you invite to join you at church this holiday season, that person is on a spiritual journey all their own. God alone is overseeing that process of growth—not you, not me, not your pastor, only the Lord.

You’ve been called to be a good friend to this person whether they live near you, work in your building, or are related to you by flesh and blood. You can’t save them, but you can love them, care for them, and most importantly, you can also pray for them.

In Christians in the Age of Outrage, I talk about writing the names of friends, co-workers, and neighbors down to pray for them. And our latest resource at the Billy Graham Center is called Be.Loved. and is focused on 25 simple ways to love those around us this holiday season. I invite you to download your digital copy here.

Friends, we need to be asking God each day for chances to bless and encourage those around us as well as share the gospel message. These opportunities are priceless—may we take advantage of them each and every time.




Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.



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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #6 on: November 15, 2018, 09:54:53 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2018/october/first-female-evangelists-mary-magdalene.html



The First Female Evangelists


Mary Magdalene and the woman at the well couldn’t help but share their good news.

 
We each have our notions about who is and who is not an evangelist. People like Billy Graham, who filled arenas, come to mind. Or perhaps we think of the person who first shared the gospel with us. Bold people. Gifted people. Often it is those who strike us as evidently holy people. Rarely do we think of ourselves as evangelists.

For some, the idea of evangelism causes fear and anxiety. Perhaps we’ve heard horror stories from others or we’ve had our own bad experiences with it. Our notions of evangelism might conjure up thoughts of a complex and slimy enterprise that involves Christians aggressively pushing our faith on others despite their protests. As a result, we may be disinclined to want any part of it.

But when we turn to Scripture, we find an evangelism that is much different than the corruptions we’ve experienced or of which we’ve heard. In the Old Testament, Isaiah 52:7 joyfully declares, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” In Greek, “the evangel” essentially means “to tell good news, to bear witness, and to proclaim.” Princeton Theological Seminary professor C. Clifton Black tells us that New Testament authors use the term good news “to mean the news of salvation, or liberation from sin, brokenness, and estrangement from God. God reveals this good news through Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.”

Isaiah tells us what we all know to be true: Those who witness and proclaim good news are beautiful—not odious. Don’t we all welcome good news—and the messenger by which it comes—with joy? In fact, upon hearing it, we celebrate! Some of us throw our arms around the neck of the person bearing good news and plant kisses on his or her cheek. Others of us throw a party, a feast, or hold a ticker-tape parade. Still others post good news all over social media so many can share in our joy. We may even dance a jig. Those of us of Hispanic/Latino descent might dance the salsa or merengue. One thing is for sure: There’s no way we are going to keep good news a secret—not for long, anyway. We let the cat out of the bag the first chance we have. That idea is at the core of evangelism. When it comes to good news, we can’t help but bear witness, can’t help but tell others.

In John 4, we see this up close. Jesus sits down at Jacob’s well and asks a Samaritan woman who has come to draw water for a drink (vv. 6–8). For her part, drawing water was a routine, ordinary task. And it was amid her daily routine that she unexpectedly encountered God. At the well, conversation ensues. She discovers that Jesus claims to be the Messiah, knows everything about her, and is offering her life eternal (vv. 13–18, 26).


Soon after, she hightails it back into town. She is so overjoyed by her encounter with Jesus that she leaves her jug, not giving a second thought to the water she came to fetch. She had more important things on her mind. Once in town, she becomes an evangelist. She is bursting with the good news of Jesus Christ. She beckons her neighbors into her joy and wonder with an invitation: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (v. 29). Many of her neighbors responded to her invitation. They believed in Jesus because of her testimony and spent time with him. They told her, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (v. 42).

In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Samaritan “woman at the well” is called Saint Photini and, as Eva Catafygiotu Topping writes in Saints and Sisterhood, she “occupies a place of honor among the apostles. In Greek sermons from the fourth to the fourteenth centuries she is called ‘apostle’ and ‘evangelist.’ In these sermons, the Samaritan Woman is often compared to the male disciples and apostles and found to surpass them.”

A similar thing happens with Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ crucifixion. She has gone with other women to Jesus’ tomb in order to anoint his body with spices, a customary burial practice (Mark 16:1). She is standing outside Jesus’ tomb and begins crying in anguish because she believes Jesus’ body was stolen from his grave. However, her anguish quickly turns to joy. Instead of witnessing Jesus’ decomposing body, she witnesses the resurrected Christ (John 20:14)! It is truly the best news in the world.

The resurrected Jesus commissions Mary to deliver the good news to the disciples. He says, “Go … to my brothers and tell them” (v. 17). Flabbergasted and awestruck, she runs with joy to share the good news with the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (v. 18). In that extraordinary moment, Mary Magdalene becomes an evangelist to the disciples who are some of her closest friends. She couldn’t contain her joy. And that’s why Thomas Aquinas deemed her apostolorum apostola or “apostle to the apostles.”

When we think of evangelism, we needn’t think of an unnatural, contrived, or scary process. Nor should we think that evangelism necessarily entails crossing land and sea (although for some it will). When we think of evangelism, we can think of it as an overflow of our life in Christ wherever we are. We see this in the lives of the Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene. They couldn’t help but share the Good News with the people around them.

Evangelism happens when we rub elbows with people on the highways and byways of our lives—the laundromat, dog park, coffee shop, church, community events, social events, work, or school. It happens among our neighbors and family members. When we connect with others in our daily routines, they have an opportunity to encounter Jesus. If they ask us about ourselves and about what is important to us, the Good News will naturally spill out of us—if we are being honest about who we are and what has happened to us. In our everyday circumstances, we can invite people into sharing the joy and wonder of knowing Jesus. It needn’t be awkward or forced. Some will respond to the Good News we share and embrace it with joy. Others won’t. But those who do will hail us as beautiful, for we have been the joyful messengers of God’s salvation, of God’s abundant resurrection life to them.




Marlena Graves is the author of A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness. Learn more at MarlenaGraves.com.




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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2018, 04:01:53 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/november/paradise-california-churches-camp-fire-revival.html


Paradise Fire Burned Most Church Buildings, But ‘the Church Is Still Alive’



California pastor opens up about the most difficult sermon of his career—and the prospects for resurrecting ministry from the ashes.

 
The wildfire that left Paradise, California, in grim, dusty ruins this week destroyed more than half of about two dozen houses of worsip in the town, along with thousands of homes and other structures.

From safer ground in nearby Chico, pastors have worked to coordinate physical and spiritual relief for their now far-flung congregants. They’ve also been tasked with delivering updates on their church buildings, as Paradise residents hope for any indication that their homes, schools, or sanctuaries may have been spared from the worst.

“Though the physical attributes of our earthly Paradise are destroyed, the spirit of Paradise has spread across the country and around the world, as people are moved to volunteer resources to help,” wrote leaders from Paradise Adventist Church, whose building was burned in the Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history.

In the community of around 27,000 people, most congregations lost buildings, including Our Savior Lutheran Church (LCMS), Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA), Paradise Church of Christ, First Assembly of God, Craig Memorial Congregational Church, Paradise Foursquare, New Life Apostolic Church, Paradise Pentecostal Church of God, Community Church of the Brethren, and Hope Christian Church. A Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) meetinghouse and a Center for Spiritual Living were also destroyed.

“Building was burnt down, but cross and rock still standing,” wrote Hope Christian’s lead pastor Stan Freitas. “The church is still alive.”

Freitas and church members had constructed a new worship space just this year, building a tall wooden cross in front of the new structure. This week, he shared a picture of the hand-carved cross, bearing the motto, “Love God, Love People”—which remained erect though the rest of the building had crumbled.

At over a century old, Craig Memorial Congregational Church was one of the most historic churches in Paradise, built in 1909 to replace an even earlier building that had been destroyed in a fire.

Its leaders remembered the stained glass lilies in the historic sanctuary: “These flowers represent the resurrection—which draws us to the words of 1 Corinthians 15, verse 42: ‘So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.’”

So far, more than 60 people died in the blaze, and more than 600 remain unaccounted-for. Baptist Press reported that at least one Southern Baptist congregation in the area confirmed one of its members is among the dead. In the midst of grief and loss, Paradise’s Christians continue to hold gatherings at churches in Chico or other neighboring cities, proclaiming messages of hope, renewal, and revival.

ChurchSalary
“Our building has been lost ... but our hope and our trust in Jesus has not!” declared a Facebook post by First Assembly of God. New Life Apostolic, which lost its parsonage and church building, quoted Psalm 30:5 (NKJV), “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!”

Some churches were damaged but not destroyed. Jubilee Church lost its sanctuary, but its office and new construction survived. The Adventist Review reports that both Paradise Adventist Academy and Adventist Health’s Feather River Hospital were mostly intact, with only some portions burned down.

Given the limited access to return to Paradise, multiple congregations initially relied on reports from others on their status; Paradise Nazarene and Congregation Harei Yeshua, a Messianic community, first got the news that their buildings burned down, only to later hear confirmation that they were still standing.

Even churches whose buildings were spared face the same harsh reality as the rest of Paradise; the vast majority of their pastors, staff, and congregation have lost their homes.

After last week’s evacuation, church leaders spent the past several days checking in on families, coordinating an overwhelming wave of relief supplies, and rethinking what ministry will look like in the short-term.

“Our church is spread out all over California and the surrounding states. That’s been the hardest part because being the shepherd, you now have no idea where your people are even at,” said Josh Gallagher, pastor of Paradise Alliance Church.

He left Paradise last Thursday, initially for a shelter at Neighborhood Church in Chico. He later learned that his family had lost their home, along with 18 of 21 families on the church’s staff—a proportion that corresponds with the degree of loss across the community.

Gallagher spoke with CT about ministry in the aftermath of the wildfires.

What was going through your mind as you evacuated?

I knew it was serious, but I had a peace about what was going on.

My first instinct was help my neighbors, and we did that, then get my family to safety. … Once my family was heading down to Sacramento, I felt like I could go into serving and helping mode. It was this overwhelming sense that I needed to stay near the need. There were a lot of people from our congregation that came to the shelter, and more importantly, I was able to be there for the community.

What’s the message that you want your congregation to hear right now?

I would tell them to grieve well. This Sunday, I told them we serve a God who understands the “ands.” We can love him and still be mad at him. We can have faith and still question him. We looked at Psalm 88, where he declares, “God I know that you’re God and you can save me,” but the whole rest of the psalm, he blames God, he questions God, he’s scared, he’s raw with his emotions. I said, “This is our psalm right now.”

That was the hardest message I had to deliver because we found out confirmation that we had lost our home, and we didn’t grab a whole lot. … God’s been faithful with helping me take it one step at a time. I need to grieve well with my family, then I need to grieve well for myself, then with our church, and then with our community.

What do you imagine for your congregation going forward?

That’s the big question that we’re all wondering. We go from a church of roughly 3,000, and now they’re spread everywhere. Who’s going to come back? When will they come back? Thank the Lord the church building is still standing. The other big structure that’s still standing is the high school. Between those two areas, that’ll probably be the rallying point for the community. We want to use that as best we can to serve the community, and the needs that they’re going to have.

Long-term we’re just going to have to assess, week by week and month by month, where our congregation is at and what this church is looking like moving forward. We’re going into a little bit of a “church plant mentality.” I planted a church before this, so I’m familiar with that.

You’ve been at Paradise Alliance for just over three months. After the fire, do you still feel called to serve there?

I do feel called to this church and this community for this season. God has confirmed that over and over again in my mind and my heart. My goal is to be the most faithful lead pastor and community member that I can during this time.

The word or the theme that God laid on my heart during this season where our congregation and our community is everywhere is engage. In some ways God may have been preparing us, since our church has been big on how we connect during the week. I’m going to be putting out weekly devotionals, and they’re going to be getting text messages with daily Scripture readings, questions to be discussing about God’s Word, prayers to be praying. Since those platforms are in place and our people are used to that, we’re going to capitalize on those to keep our people close to God and close to each other.


What would you want the Christian community to know about the church in Paradise?

One of our city representatives was able to meet with FEMA, and he shared that conversation with me. They said, “We’ve never seen an entire city completely wiped out like this.” They said that for the best chance of reviving this city, the faith community needs to be engaged moving forward because the faith community is where people find belonging, they find acceptance, they find hope.

After we had that conversation, our [denominational] district superintendent came up to me and said, “Josh, you’re maybe here not to bring revival to a church but to an entire community.” We’ve been praying for revival like many people do. I feel like God has given us an opportunity to experience revival on a church-wide level, but also a community-wide level. He’s put all of the churches in Paradise, not just ours, at the center of that revival.

I would say, pray for revival—in a spiritual sense, absolutely, but also in an economic sense, in a building sense, across relationships, all of it.



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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #8 on: November 20, 2018, 06:34:16 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/november-web-only/politics-polarization-populism-vs-progressivism-who-knows-b.html


Populism vs. Progressivism: Who Knows Best?


Opposing types of knowledge are at the heart of today’s polarization. How does a Christian decide?

 
Across Europe and the Americas, from Budapest to Brasilia, a striking mass migration is well underway. This migration involves no passports, asylum claims, or border police. It is happening within each nation’s own borders and can be made without leaving your house, street, or hometown (which may be why many of its migrants are quite unaware that they are part of such a thing).

As a mass movement of people, it is based on the emergence of two rival visions of the world. Each envisioned world emits a kind of gravitational pull—cultural, rather than physical—that draws some, but not others. One attracts those receptive to the restoration of national greatness, the importance of groups over individuals, and the conservation of the past. The other pulls on those receptive to a starkly individualistic future, unhitched from the obligations of the past, and bound, instead, to the notion of progress.

Crucially, each of these cultural forces also repels those who prove unreceptive to it. For this reason, our cultural commentators now talk of Two Americas, Two Brazils, and Two United Kingdoms. In each of these settings, populations migrate toward opposite polar extremities, one a City of Progress and the other a City of Populism.

As those called to reside between the inextricably intermingled City of God and the City of Man, and who are “foreigners and strangers on the earth” (Heb. 11:13), what should Christians think about their polarized host cultures?

Who knew?

One largely neglected aspect of this ideological migration concerns the act of knowing itself. The fault lines opening up across the West reflect a fragmented set of beliefs on two distinct kinds of knowledge. On the one hand, there is the apparent expert, drawn from an elastic group of authoritative voices ranging from Stephen Hawking to Lady Gaga. On the other, there is the ordinary Joe with practical, pragmatic wisdom and common sense that understands what’s happening “on the ground.” These two poles have been pushed far apart in the spirit of the current age.

On the populist side of this gulf, in the world of Trump, Bolsonaro, and Brexit, the “expert” is viewed with much cynicism. There, the best kind of knowing is earthy and intuitive, makes no virtue of coherence, and sells itself as anything but “expertise.” On the progressivist side, the turf of academics and media elites, the opposite is often true: There, the expert is king, and the knowledge possessed by those without higher education is often looked down on as second rate in comparison.

https://www.umcmission.org/Giving-Tuesday?utm_source=Christianity%20Today&utm_medium=300x250&utm_campaign=oTb-2018%20Giving%20Tuesday
Given that this division brings into question what counts as knowledge and wisdom, it is increasingly difficult for the two sides of this dichotomy even to communicate with one another. The question of Who knows best? plays an important, and often destructive, role in our fractured societies. But what are we even asking? Are we asking who has our best interests in mind? Whose understanding matches reality most closely? Or, whose method of knowing things is the most correct?

Is the question who knows best? Who knows best? Or, who knows best?

“You know what I mean”
Incidentally (or importantly), the particularities of the English language make it a limited vehicle to talk about these questions. We rely on a single verb, to know, when covering a broad range of meaning on which things we know, and the different ways in which we know them. Many other languages express these distinctions in more precise vocabulary.

For example, German has a pair of verbs relating to knowing, kennen and wissen, as does French with the equivalents connaître and savoir. In each of these, the first word (kennen, connaître) refers to a knowledge that is personal, intuitive, and subjective. It is a kind of knowledge that is indispensable to human existence, but that cannot be taught in textbooks or lecture halls. You use this kind of verb when you talk about knowing a person, a city, an intuition, or a feeling.

The second word in each couplet (wissen, savoir) is different. It is less immediate, deals with causes, is more impersonal, and comes about in another process: You use this word to talk about why geese fly south in winter, how grammar works, or what economics is. (The same distinction is found in many languages: Hungarian, Finnish, Swedish, and Dutch, among others.)

Theologically, these different kinds of knowledge are closely related, and function together in the richness of our human existence. In the goodness of God’s creation, they exist in a complementary way and sustain each other. And in our day-to-day lives, of course, we constantly engage in both kinds of knowing.

In a lecture titled, “Our Instinctive Life,” the 19th-century Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper describes this point by talking about the weather: “People empathize with nature; they feel a thunderstorm coming.” This kind of knowing deals with sensation, perception, and observation, and it leads to action: We seek shelter. To know the weather, however, takes more than our own subjective impressions. Our kennen becomes wissen as we turn to (or for some, become) meteorologists, in search of a different kind of knowledge: How long will the thunderstorm last? Where will it go next? How intense will it be? Will my flight be canceled? Kuyper’s point was that our instinct forms the basis of our reflection and that human experience teaches us that both are necessary to the progress of human knowledge.

Despite the constant use of both types of knowledge, the relationship between the two has been recast as brutally competitive in our current cultural moment. The spirit of our age sets gut feeling against careful reason, intuition against intentionality. In the blood sport that is 21st-century politics, savoir and connaître are goaded into fighting as though they were mortal enemies. Those who lead the City of Progress tell us, “Trust me, I’m an expert” and disdain their political opponents as deplorably ignorant, while their equivalents in the City of Populism say the opposite, “Trust me, not those phony experts.”

The politics of knowing
This much certainly seems true of current populist versus progressivist conflicts in the United States and the United Kingdom. In a thought-provoking essay last year, Barton Swaim described the new American reality as a struggle between the supporters of Expertocracy, on the one hand, and a War on Expertise on the other. In that setting, it seems, Donald Trump’s choice to position himself as anti-expertise and decidedly unprofessional—precisely the things to which Hillary Clinton appealed—was politically astute, given that many Americans appear to feel the same way about experts and their particular kind of knowledge.

Something similar can be observed on the Old World side of the Atlantic. In the build-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, the Brexiteer politician Michael Gove responded to the near-unanimous anti-Brexit views of British economists by publicly stating that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” While Gove’s blanket dismissal of the economist guild drew shock and astonishment from the British media and academy, his dismissal of the experts proved effective. Soon afterward, a narrow majority voted to leave the European Union, despite the intelligentsia’s dire projections. That studied opposition has not yet abated and continues to be met with general indifference by Brexiteers.

www.trnty.edu/visit
This growing divide is also heard in commonly aired sentiments on higher education. In progressivist circles, the knowledge gained through an accredited degree is often held to be worth far more than anything the “university of life” can offer. In populist circles, conversely, many believe themselves to have been quite successful at navigating life without gaining academic credits on Dostoyevsky or retail management.

As Swaim has noted, support for anti-expert leaders thrives in cultures where—among other things—higher education’s purview expands relentlessly in order to provide academic certification in skills that traditionally were learned on the job. Nobody, his argument goes, would assume that holding a BA in business means that person is therefore excellent in the real world of business or that every outstanding businessperson must have a degree in business studies as the essential first step down that path.

Navigating the cloud of unknowing
What should Christians think as they see this mass migration pull our varied kinds of knowing apart? Should they join the migration, and if so, with which caravan should they march?

In their manufactured conflict between the experts and hoi polloi, the Cities of Progress and Populism call on us to support cartoonish leaders who answer the question Who knows best? by pointing to themselves: all savoir and no connaître, and vice versa. In so doing, they load the world with an antithesis that should not be there.

The doctrine of creation provides a better lead: It reminds us that the world, as made by God, is the natural environment for human flourishing and that God has equipped us—in our faculties of perception, sensation, and understanding—to know our Creator and the world in which we find ourselves. In the divine mandate to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen. 1:28), Scripture affirms the human life as one of gut instinct and mental deliberation, of kennen and wissen.

This creation mandate from Genesis 1 affirms that a human being does not need a university degree to live well—glorifying and enjoying God—within the creation. Likewise, it affirms that the ordinariness of life, knowledge included, is inherently good. However, that mandate also contains the impulse to develop what we know: It is hard to subdue the earth without cultivating knowledge of it. The doctrine of creation teaches us not to despise that kind of knowledge. In our day, it calls for a greater degree of humility and respect across our political divides because it denies either side a monopoly on something as rich and complex as knowing.

Taking a cue from Augustine, we can recognize that both Cities—those of Populism and of Progress—are different iterations of the same City of Man. They are disordered differently, to be sure, but neither can be mistaken for the City of God. In both of its present guises, the City of Man certainly has its own gravitational pull. We see this disordered force in action as it draws our fellow citizens toward polar extremes, leaving those who live on the same streets to conclude that they aren’t really neighbors at all. What should Christians make of this pull, as they find themselves in the midst of this mass migration?

Timothy Keller has recently offered a sage reminder of the interaction between Christian faith and political action: Our faith compels us toward political engagement but will always make us an awkward fit on either side of a two-party spectrum. In a bipartisan political environment, he argues, the gospel itself will incline Christians to sympathize with the political right on some issues and the left on others. The same is true between the Cities of Progress and of Populism. Only when a believer’s sense of Christianity’s own unique gravitational pull has diminished will they be fully or uncritically satisfied in either of these two cities.

Like the City of Man, the City of God exerts its own attractive power. The Christian faith is its own agenda and moves most naturally when dancing to its own tune. When the crucial distinction between City of God and City of Man is recognized, Christians who find themselves as residents at either polar extremity (progressive or populist) will invariably find that they do not quite fit in—pilgrims and sojourners who “are looking for the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).





James Eglinton is Meldrum Lecturer in Reformed Theology at the University of Edinburgh.




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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2018, 08:43:40 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/november/gift-of-seeing-scott-arbeiter-image-of-god.html



The Gift of Seeing


To see the potential and dignity in every person is a gift we must receive and then cultivate.

 
Some years ago, pastors Stuart and Jill Briscoe were visiting our World Relief staff in Cambodia. Their trip included visits with vulnerable Cambodian women for whom World Relief’s ministry was an oasis of hope.

At one point, Jill rather abruptly turned her attention from the women to the scores of children scurrying about waiting for the cue that it was time to go home. Jill asked a simple but pointed question: “And what about the children?”

At the time our work in Cambodia was quite new and there were many details yet to be ironed out. The staff, recognizing that they had lost track of the children amid the intensive care of the mothers, were spurred to action.

In time, the ministry to children became a core component of our World Relief program, drawing more mothers and impacting entire families. Over the years, cell churches were birthed from this work and there are now over 500 such churches in Cambodia, all because Jill Briscoe has the gift of seeing.

To see the potential and dignity in every person is a gift we must receive and then cultivate.

It is not easy, however, to see through the debris of the tornado of our everyday lives. Advertising researcher Jay Walker-Smith says that the number of advertisements we are exposed to each day has increased from about 500 per day in the 1970s to now over 5,000 per day.

Layered over this is a self-induced barrage from television, internet, and social media. We are exposed to nearly every human experience and emotion in rapid-fire, with little to no time to process or engage at a human level.

For most of us this impacts our daily interactions as well. People can become commodities. The person alongside us in the elevator, on the commuter train, in the hallways at work or in the cars next to us in traffic become indistinct, blurred and unnoticed in the backdrop of our overloaded lives. The velocity of our lives creates a psychic numbing that can cause us to lose sight of even our families and friends.

Like blind Bartimaeus, we need a miracle.

We may think we already see those around us. But we must ask if we are truly seeing them. In our honest moments we may have to say, as Bartimaeus did, "I see people. They look like walking trees” (Mark 8:24). We need the ongoing miracle of Jesus to see not just the blurred images of people, but the intricate detail—the glory and the ashes of the lives we intersect. We can be encouraged by what follows: "Once more Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly” (Mark 8:25).

http://www.apu.edu/seminary?a=2526
The gift of seeing clearly is simply to see people as God sees them. I want this kind of clarity of vision— I really do. But I find my vision clouded by a variety of spiritual cataracts.

Blindness to the Imago Dei

Theologically, we know that each person we encounter is made in the image of God and is therefore imbued with dignity and worth.

Sadly, our theology can be quickly suffocated by the bias, prejudice and even self-righteousness that mars our souls.

This is not unique to us. Jesus infuriated the religious leaders of his day because in their incomplete notion of the character of God; they could not fathom that Jesus would befriend and pursue the very people they saw as fit only for judgment. It was their sense of “goodness” that made them blind to each person as an image-bearer, causing them to stand in opposition to the very mission of Jesus.

Friedrich Nietzsche commented on this phenomenon: “the good and the just” could not understand Jesus because their spirit was imprisoned by their good conscience; they crucified him because they construed as evil his rejection of their notions of good. And as Miroslav Volf tells us, “Exclusion can be as much a sin of ‘good conscience’ as it is of an evil heart.”

The gift of seeing allows us to see the image of God in each person, regardless of their present views and behaviors. We see what may be hidden to others. No longer “like walking trees,” each person becomes to us a person of inestimable worth and potential. Seeing with God’s eyes elevates each person we meet, even as it rightly humbles us. Only with this posture can we bring worthy witness to Christ.

Blindness to Divine Judgment

The reciprocal to excluding some from grace is excluding some from judgment. It is possible to become blind to the need for the gospel to be proclaimed to some because in our heart we have become the judge—not to bring judgment but to deem it unnecessary.

We look on our neighbors, friends, or colleagues who are so reasonable and kind and who live in our neighborhoods and share our social circles, political views, and who laugh at our jokes. We need the gift of seeing so as not to be blind to the fact that all their human goodness does not justify them before God.

We must expunge the notion that our friends simply need reform when they in fact need repentance. May God remove the spiritual cataracts that dim our view of the reality that “there is none righteous, no not one” and “that there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.”

Blindness to Divine Potential

Beyond the redemption of individual lives, we know the gospel impacts families, communities, and even nations. It is the good news that Jesus brings healing and flourishing to every aspect of our lives. The gift of seeing opens our eyes to also see the gospel as how the right order is established in every relationship, including the creation of just systems, reconciliation between races, genders and political or economic adversaries.

We can be spiritually blind to the purposes of God to bring flourishing to entire populations, writing off nations and peoples as beyond hope. When we miss the Imago Dei in individuals we lose the vision of a redemptive wave of God’s grace more broadly.

Once, while traveling in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I was struck by the magnificent mahogany trees, one of the great natural treasures of this troubled land.

At a sawmill, I could see the great trees being cut to make lumber and furniture. Alongside the great trees were smaller pieces of wood, cast off as unusable as they were small, covered with moss and lichen and misshaped.

It struck me that within each of these pieces the image of the mahogany, the grain and color still existed. Were someone to take time to carefully cut, patiently sand, and lovingly apply fine oil, he or she could release the image of the mahogany hidden within. The discarded and covered could become a work of art worthy of display in a fine art gallery.

To see the divine potential in individuals and through individuals is to get a glimpse of God’s great redemptive purposes.

Open my eyes, Lord!




Scott Arbeiter is the President of World Relief.



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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2018, 12:40:30 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2018/november/fostering-attitude-of-gratitude-thanksgiving.html



Fostering an Attitude of Gratitude


Changing our posture towards God’s goodness in our lives will begin us on the path towards a changed heart.

 
It’s that time of year again. Each year when late November starts rolling around, churchgoers everywhere can expect a sermon (or a series of sermons) on the same topic: giving thanks.

I have one coming up this weekend at my church, Highpoint Church.

Not only does Thanksgiving create an opportunity to enjoy large amounts of delicious food with friends and family, but the holiday also serves as a convenient reminder to pause and reflect. Thanksgiving makes a seasonally appropriate time for all of us to think about the ways that God has so generously blessed us.

God is the giver of good gifts

Scripture tells us that every good thing we have received is from God: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

There is not one thing we have in this life—no relationship, no material possession, no ministry opportunity or job – that does not come to us by direct means of God’s goodness.

Jesus himself knew this—just look at the story we read in all four gospel accounts where Jesus feeds a crowd of 5,000 people (Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15).

In many ways, Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the perfect Thanksgiving miracle. Some of you right now in this very moment are experiencing the anxiety that comes along with the burden of hosting Thanksgiving dinner in your own home. You’ve got grandparents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws all depending on you to fill their hungry bellies and satisfy their turkey cravings.

To say that can be stressful is an understatement. Chances are, you don’t have more than 50 people coming to your Thanksgiving dinner. Imagine what it would feel like to have 5,000 people depending on you for a meal!

A posture of gratitude

Despite all this pressure from the hungry crowds, though, Jesus doesn’t crack. Before doing the job he came to do—before finishing the work or bringing about the miraculous creation of hundreds of fish and even more loaves of bread—he stops everything that he is doing and prays.

Matthew 14:19 says that he “directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.” Jesus is fully God—one with the Father in heaven. Yet, here he models for us what a posture of true gratitude looks like.

Even when you think that what you have is yours—when you think that you earned your salary, you fixed your house, you take care of your kids or (seasonally appropriate) you made those mashed potatoes and stuffed turkeys—remember that these things are simply not the full story.

http://www.apu.edu/seminary?a=2526
Every good gift in our lives originates with God. Who provided you with that job? Who made you with the ability to do it? Who sustains your each and every breath?

When we see Jesus taking time to pray and express gratitude, we know that we have also been called to go and do likewise. We should stop and take time to thank God for the good things that he has given us. If Jesus thought it was worth doing, we certainly should too.

Think about this for a moment—how different would your life look if it were lived with gratitude? John Ortberg says, “Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. It opens us up to wonder, delight, and humility. It makes our hearts generous. It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation.” [1]

As much as we want to live lives of gratitude, sometimes it can be hard to cultivate in ourselves. Here are some practical steps to take if you are wanting to grow in gratitude and thankfulness:

First, slow down.

Sometimes we live at too fast a pace. We miss the little things—the blessings that God so intentionally sends our way. Try slowing down, spending time in God’s word, and reflecting on all that He’s done for you. Just making space to stop and reflect can make a big difference in our hearts.

Second, stop the comparisons.

The grass truly does always seem greener on the other side—it’s easy to look at the people around us and assume that they’re so much better off than we are. We see their perfect-looking lawn or their perfect-looking life on social media and assume their lives are happier and more fulfilling than our own.

Sometimes, though, many of us find ourselves doing the opposite. We’ll look at someone of limited means or someone who’s sick or suffering and assume that God cannot possibly be good to them amidst their pain.

What we really need to do is stop comparing our lives, experiences, and livelihoods to those of the people around us. God is the good provider—just as he cares for the lilies of the field, he will care for you and your neighbor.

That doesn’t mean we get to have everything we want in life (certainly not) but changing our posture towards God’s goodness in our lives will begin us on the path towards a changed heart.

Third, practice generosity.

It’s simple, really. Want to be a grateful person? Be generous with what you already have.

Try to focus less on what other people are doing for you, giving you, or helping you with and instead focus your energy on the ways you can be the hands and feet of Jesus in their lives. Set your mind on the ways you can be a servant to them, rather than on the ways you want them to be a servant to you.

At the end of the day, nothing we have now really belongs to us anyway; we’re stewards of what God has given us. So, let’s practice gratitude and remain in the freedom to live radically generous, self-sacrificing lives.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.



[1]Ortberg, John, When the Game Is over, It All Goes Back in the Box. Zondervan, 2015.




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Re: Christianity Today Magazine November 2018
« Reply #11 on: November 26, 2018, 02:45:59 pm »

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/november-web-only/cybernetics.html


Your Brain Is Not a Computer


Why being human means we must be embodied.

 
Human bodies married to metallic bodies—one complex system intertwining with another—happen with more frequency these days. Samsung revealed research this month on technology that would allow people with physical disabilities to control their TVs with their thoughts. Johnny Matheny became the first man to receive a robotically controlled arm earlier this year.

But in some ways, movement toward cyborg (cybernetic organism) applications sounds like a leap into dystopian science fiction. Businessman Elon Musk aims to connect the brain to computers, and one neurologist was even willing to hack his own brain to further research on human speech, hoping to one day attain life extension itself.

While recent advances in medical science have shown just how complex the human body is, and therefore how difficult this will be, computers continue to become more and more complex. The study of these two systems developing together over time is called cybernetics, a term coined by the mathematician-philosopher Norbert Wiener in an attempt to explain the newfound technological ability to “command and control” machines—including biological organisms.

Noreen Herzfeld, a professor who teaches at the intersection of life and tech at Saint John’s University and College of St. Benedict, spoke with CT recently about whether computers will one day control our human bodies, why embodiment matters, and how bodies and souls are a part of the human system. With degrees in both theology and computer science, she has written numerous books and articles, including In Our Image: Artificial Intelligence and the Human Spirit, Technology and Religion: Remaining Human in a Co-created World, and Religion and the New Technologies.

How does this idea of “system” speak to the near future with the closing of the gap between computer and human?

You could think of both the computer and the human as components of larger systems. You can also think of each of them, in and of themselves, as a system. We’re a system of blood and muscles and bones and mitochondria. The computer is like this at the software level; it is a system of interlocking programs.

The other idea inherent in cybernetics is that a system that has agency—actually does something—works towards a goal. Then comes the question: “Can a computer have a goal?” If we believe some of the AI fabulists, yes it can. It can only have its programmer’s goal. But once the programmer gives the goal to the computer, it is now the computer’s goal. So, the computer has a certain amount of agency even if it isn’t self-directed.

https://www.umcmission.org/Giving-Tuesday?utm_source=Christianity%20Today&utm_medium=300x250&utm_campaign=oTb-2018%20Giving%20Tuesday
So, a computer having a goal gives it more human-like characteristics. Then what distinguishes a human?I recently argued that contemporary Christian theologians have placed too much emphasis on embodiment and we need to return to the soul. Both soul and body are necessary, yet how do we balance the discussion?

I agree with you that as theologians we could use a little more balance. On the other hand, when I put on my computer science hat, I am very strong on embodiment. Current thinking among many proponents of artificial intelligence and transhumanism is that we might be able to upload our brains to computers. And what they’re really introducing there is a new quasi-Cartesian dualism, that what matters about us is something that is entirely separable from our body. And I strongly disagree with that. I think that we need bodies in order to be in authentic relationship with one another.

Embodiment is very important, and it is also central to the whole Christian understanding of the incarnation and the importance of the incarnation. I think one of the things that Christianity brings to the discussion is this sanctification of our mortal flesh, of the material existence that we have, and this idea that divinity can penetrate that material existence.

I think in part it comes down to the question of emotion. Love stands at the center of Christianity—the great commandment that we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. If we think of that love in terms of charity or empathy … well, empathy is that you see someone else’s difficulty; you feel an emotion, and you respond. If you skip the middle step, and you just see the difficulty and calculate what a response ought to be, you’re acting like a sociopath, who calculates rather than genuinely feels another’s pain. And it’s pretty hard to have a long-term, authentic relationship with a sociopath.

So then you say, “Well, how do you feel an emotion?” The psychologists who are working with the science of emotion say it actually has to be felt bodily. When something frightens us, our heart speeds up, we get physically ready for fight or flight long before the cerebral cortex kicks in and calculates what it is that is frightening us and what we ought to do. When we feel love for someone, there’s a bodily feeling there before there’s a calculation.

It seems that bodily stimuli are critical to our humanity, not only here, but also in the resurrection?

Yes. In the Apostles’ Creed, we talk about the resurrection of the body. I think a lot of Christians don’t actually believe that; a lot of Christians that I know are functional dualists and talk as if the minute I die my soul goes to heaven. Yet on Sunday they say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” So there’s a little bit of a disjunction there.

When we say we believe in the resurrection of the body, we mean we will remain a separate entity after death. In other words, we’re not just slurped into the godhead somehow. The Christian view is: “No, I will still be a separate entity, but that entity will have undergone some process of deification. It will have become like god, but it will not be God.”

Popular pronouncements from recent scientific studies suggest there’s no soul. Is there a soul, and why does the soul matter?

From my own background, as a Quaker, the Quakers have a saying, “There is that of God in every human being.” I guess I believe that that constitutes our soul. The soul is the locus of our connection with the divine and that makes it matter. I think one of the things that we have sometimes gotten off track with in Christian theology is seeing the purpose of a soul as for the afterlife rather than as a way of being in this life. What matters most about the soul is that it’s the place of connection with the divine in this life.

Do you believe people will one day become cyborgs, uploading their minds to electronic devices? Or will there be some type of quasi-upload that becomes a mockery of being human?

I don't think it’s going to happen. I think it is a dream that is held by a lot of Silicon Valley types who are not religious but not ready to let go of a hope for an afterlife. They are holding on to this idea that they can somehow give themselves an afterlife.

One reason it’s not going to work is due to the complexity of the brain and the entire human being. There are projects to map the connectome of the brain. The idea is that if we can do the human genome, then why can’t we do the connectome? But the connectome of the brain is much more complex than the human genome. We have billions of neurons, and each of those neurons can possibly be connected to thousands of other neurons. Plus, these connections are plastic; they change. We kill neurons off, we grow new neurons, we reconnect, we end connections that are not being used, and we build new connections in other places. Plus, we’re now finding out that we’ve got an awful lot of neurons in our gut as well. There’s a strong connection between the brain and the gut, and it’s not one way—brain to gut; gut to brain is connected as well.


So even if we do get to a point where we can reverse engineer the neural connections in the brain, we’re still missing a lot of what makes us us. And to add in all that other stuff—now the complexity is horrendous. Second, you’re going to diverge from whatever it is that ends up in the computer the minute they unhook you. Now there might be something in the computer, some curious doppelgänger, which has my memories. But it’s not going to have any of the same processes of retrieving those memories. It’s not going to have a bodily feeling when it retrieves a memory the way I do. I, in a computer, would be a very impoverished thing. Finally, I doubt that whatever is in the computer would be conscious; I think it will not be operative. And if it were conscious, the first thing it would say is “Let me out of here!”




Douglas Estes is associate professor of New Testament and practical theology at South University. He is the editor of Didaktikos, and his latest book is Braving the Future: Christian Faith in a World of Limitless Tech.



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Hearing, believing and trusting the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; His death, burial and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins and REPENTING, seals us with that Holy Spirit of Promise - EPHESIANS 1:10-14 KJV - 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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