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Discussion | Christian News | Chaplain's Office => Christian and Theological News => Topic started by: patrick jane on March 02, 2020, 06:07:25 pm

Title: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 02, 2020, 06:07:25 pm

My Same-Sex Attraction Has an Answer

But it’s the answer God gives all of us.

When I wrote my first article on being a same-sex-attracted Christian, what surprised me most were the emails I started receiving from straight men. The notes often came from men my parents’ age, the same message nestled again and again into my inbox: “I never expected this to help me.”

People attracted to the opposite sex read about same-sex attraction for many reasons. Sometimes a pastor wants to disciple a young man who experiences same-sex attraction. Sometimes a woman wants to know how to love a sister who identifies as lesbian and has left the church. Still others simply want to think biblically about trends they see in the culture around them. But what they don’t usually expect, it seems, is commentary that helps them in their own fight for the obedience of faith.

My latest book, Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next, is meant to help same-sex-attracted Christians thrive in Jesus and also help others come alongside us in our journeys. But Christians who experience same-sex attraction are asking questions that tap into some very universal streams. God has made all of us embodied desirers, and as sinners who fall short of his glory (Rom. 3:23), we have similar challenges spring-loaded into our systems.

First, we all need to test our desires against the same target: Christ.

In the book, I wrestle in public with a very private experience: Many of us who love Jesus cannot shake romantic and sexual desire for those of our same gender. That desire is so potent that it can look and feel like our rightful master, and we wonder if we should bow down and serve.

But doesn’t that same siren call reach for all of us, in some way or another? Whether our desires are targeted at the same sex or the opposite sex, we’re easily controlled by ungodly desire, especially in the sexual realm. That’s why the words “You shall not commit adultery” and “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife” (Ex. 20:14, 17) both get prime real estate in the Ten Commandments. That’s also why the New Testament warns us against sexual licentiousness (1 Thess. 4:3; Eph. 5:3).

Both the world and the church have various coping mechanisms for the strength and persistence of desire, but rarely are they particularly Christian. We see heaps of shipwrecks all around us, brought down by the twin monsters of repression and indulgence, like the sea creatures Scylla and Charybdis from Greek mythology. We see no other option but to crash into one or both of them.

But God as the first desirer offers us another way. At the very best, our yearnings can be a picture of his yearnings, which pulse with goodness, energy, and even holiness. His desire gives us a compass and sets the course for our desires (yes, even our sexual ones).

That means part of Christian discipline is learning to see him as he really is, in his beauty and worth. There is a narrow pathway between indulgence and repression, but it involves carefully testing every desire against God and looking to him for direction over and over.

Second, we’re all called to transparency.

Unlike me, most of my Christian friends who experience same-sex attraction grew up in the church. One of the most unifying themes I hear from them is the ragged fear that tore at their hearts. They were terrified that someone would discover their attractions. They spent years praying for God to take the feelings away and decades policing their mannerisms in order to stay hidden. (Of course, they had good reason. Many Christians and Christian churches have demonized same-sex attraction, and some movements wrongly believe freedom in Christ is only found in becoming straight.)

This same sequestering happens for those who experience attraction to the opposite sex. For example, Christians are often scared to confess their strong desire to look at pornography, even though they know it’s wrong. Others feel harassed by the challenge of keeping their thoughts in check around desirable people of the other sex. I’ve talked to several women who are embarrassed to discuss the strength of their sexual urges, because it feels like good Christians just shouldn’t struggle with that. In each of these scenarios, people build walls of silence to protect themselves. But these walls slowly transfigure into prisons.

In the end, we all need the same exact thing that my friends needed years ago and the same thing that I need now: space to speak about what we really feel. The purpose of transparency is not to glory in our struggle but to find support in our quest for costly obedience. I have to know that my desire for women doesn’t put me beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit and that right in the midst of it, he can bless me. That’s true for each of us. Only when we’re honest about our sexual struggles can we hear this message: The Lord wants more for us. He wants our allegiance. He wants our holiness.

Finally, we’re all invited to the joy of obedience.

Paul begins the fifth chapter of Galatians by saying “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). He argues that trying to achieve salvation by works of the law is in fact slavery. We are children of the free woman (Gal. 4:31), born to be free. But then his word of caution comes: “Only do not use your freedom to indulge in the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). In other words, true freedom only comes through obedience to God’s commands, including the commands about our bodies.

For people like me who experience same-sex attraction, the world begs us to believe that our authentic selves are only found in giving in. It promises hero status if we submit to our attractions. Our desires whisper, like a serpent in a garden, that there is no death in going against God’s Word. This serpentine tongue drawing us toward sin speaks a native language to each one of us and offers each a tailored temptation—maybe a neighbor, an office mate, or a friend’s wife.

But there is good news. Jesus really is more beautiful, more worthy, and more satisfying than anything else. Same-sex-attracted believers, assaulted as we are from right and from left, need to taste and see that the Lord is good. We must experience this never-ending person who delights in us and delights in righteousness.

The same is true for every believer. Obedience was never meant as a bargaining chip to force God into blessing us—it was always meant to be the bountiful and delicious fruit of a life in relationship with our Creator and Savior. He has joy in store for us, which we can only fully find when we pursue the obedience of faith with transparency, honesty, and hope. No matter our temptations, no matter our patterns of desire, we press on to make this joy our own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own.

Rachel Gilson serves on Cru’s leadership team for theological development and culture. Her latest book is Born Again This Way: Coming Out, Coming to Faith, and What Comes Next (The Good Book Company, March 2020). Find more at or on Twitter @RachelGilson.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 02, 2020, 06:12:44 pm

Set Free by the Cross, Why Do We Live in Bondage?

The Enemy wants us to doubt the efficacy of God’s grace and the assurance of his mercy.

The United States of America is built upon the ideal of freedom. Though it has not always lived up to the true meaning of its creed, the great struggle in the conscience of America has been the struggle for freedom. On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry spoke the immortal words in defense of freedom and the American Revolution: “Give me liberty or give me death!” For Henry, it was liberty or death. For Jesus Christ, it was liberty by death. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ set us free. Yet, as all Americans know, freedom is not free. This is never truer than of the freedom we have in Jesus.

The Good News of the gospel is that Jesus died and rose again so we would be free from sin. Sin is a power that enslaves. From the beginning, the sin of Adam and Eve became the sin of all (Rom. 5:12). Consequently, being born in Adam is being born in bondage to sin. This is much like the great evil of human slavery we see in our history; one of the tragedies of the American slave system was that children born to slaves were slaves as well. But Christ broke the curse of sin in Adam and thus set the children of Adam free (v. 19). No longer slaves to sin, but now slaves to righteousness. No longer bound by the yoke of bondage, but now free in Christ. Nevertheless, that freedom is always under attack.

Following the Emancipation Proclamation and the formal end of slavery in the United States, there came a new kind of slavery, namely the oppression of Jim Crow laws. In some regards, this was more insidious and demeaning than the first. It gave the impression of freedom, yet it systematically and institutionally kept black Americans in bondage. This new slave system was not formal bondage, but it was oppression and bondage nonetheless and, as such, needed to be broken. Similarly, when a person has been set free from the penalty of sin through the cross of Christ, often that person may remain in bondage to the guilt and shame of his or her sin. The Cross sets us free from both slavery to sin and its guilt. This is where the promise and pronouncement of Romans 8:1 is critical to the Christian life. Anyone who is in Christ Jesus is no longer under condemnation for sins committed. In other words, Jesus not only paid the debt but also carried the guilt and shame often associated with it.

Guilt is one of the Devil’s most-utilized weapons against the Christian. Because sin yet remains in our lives and many live with daily struggles to overcome it, the Enemy of our souls often seeks to convince us to doubt the efficacy of God’s grace and the assurance of his mercy. He knows feelings of guilt and shame can be overwhelming and can lead to despair. If the Enemy can get you to despair and to wallow in your failures, he can keep you from living in the freedom Christ secured for you on the cross. And thus, he can bind you in a new kind of slavery—daily living below the dignity of your freedom in Christ and the joy of your salvation.

Yet Christ would have us remember that he put an end to all condemnation for sins past, present, and future. As the Bible asks and answers, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:33–34).

The Irish hymn writer Charitie Lees Bancroft said it well:

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look, and see him there
Who made an end of all my sin.

The work of Christ sets us free from sin and guilt in the past so we can live free today. This freedom is complete and demands we proclaim it.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech ends on an emphatic and unforgettable note. He reminds the nation that his dream was for a day when all peoples—regardless of race, gender, color, or creed—would be able to sing together, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” The apostle Paul used a similar tone when he wrote to the Galatians; he wanted them to hear him loud and clear: Free at last! Free at last! Because of the cross of Christ, we are free at last!

There may not be a more emphatic statement in all the inspired writings of the apostle Paul: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). If the nature of sin is bondage, the nature of the gospel is liberty. Christ died to free his people from the bondage of slavery to sin (Rom. 8:2). When Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia to emphasize again the extent of the freedom they had in Christ, the wording he chose drove home the importance of living as freedmen—free from the condemnation of the law, free from the guilt of sin, free to worship and live for our Lord Jesus Christ. Never before have men and women been so free. And never need they be in bondage again.

Consequently, of all the people in the world, Christians should be first and foremost in the cry for freedom. The gospel demands it. Our deliverance from bondage to sin is a theological truth that should bear the practical fruit of freedom from all kinds of human bondage. Human trafficking and slavery are incompatible with the gospel, as is the bondage of physical and emotional abuse. Because we preach the gospel of freedom from sin, we also preach freedom to live free. As Christians, we are free to live and love in Christ. And as ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), we are called to help others do the same.

Therefore, to preach the gospel is to preach men and women free. Though this freedom can primarily be understood in terms of our relationship with God and our freedom from sin and guilt, it also touches our human relationships as we seek freedom for others. For “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Anthony J. Carter is the lead pastor of East Point Church in East Point, Georgia. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando, he is the author of several books including Running from Mercy, Blood Work, and Black and Reformed.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 03, 2020, 11:02:05 am

Be Careful About Reading the Bible as a Political Guide

Without a mature understanding of God’s purpose for governments, we’ll default to the commonplace views of our culture.

When it comes to determining how the Bible addresses political issues, its many related verses can feel like a massive sack of Legos. One person opens the sack and builds a car, another a brontosaurus, another an old Western town. With enough skill, you can build whatever you want.

Want to make the Bible say welfare policies are bad? Find a proverb on laziness leading to poverty (Prov. 10:4). Want to say the opposite? Find another calling people to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8–9).

The point is not that Proverbs contradicts itself. All these passages say something true. But we lack clear rules for knowing how any one of them should guide today’s public policy. Further, we too often witness people and parties exploiting the Bible for their purposes.

Longtime Westmont College professor Tremper Longman III brings his Old Testament expertise to bear in The Bible and the Ballot: Using Scripture in Political Decisions. The book offers counsel on how to read Scripture politically, followed by what Longman believes the Bible teaches on ten public policy issues of our day: nationalism, religious liberty, war, abortion, criminal justice and capital punishment, immigration, same-sex marriage, the environment, poverty, and racism.

Institutional Awareness

Most of what Longman offers about how to read the Bible politically is sensible. He argues that the Bible does not provide us with specific public policies, only general principles we should take seriously. I agree entirely.

Longman’s chapters on religious liberty and abortion are worth unpacking at greater length. Starting with the former, Longman observes that “Christianity was birthed in a culture that had virtually no religious liberty.” From this, he concludes that religious liberty, “in short, is not a biblical principle.” Why the first-century Roman government’s position counts as the Bible’s is unclear.

Later: “Neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament suggests that religious liberty is a right or even necessary for God’s people. What the Bible insists on is that God’s people stay faithful in the midst of whatever circumstances they encounter.” The latter sentence is both true and important. Yet one wonders whether Longman has considered the biblical argument for religious freedom. It’s not a difficult case to make. First, God authorizes governments to prosecute crimes against human beings, but nowhere (except in the nation of Israel) does he authorize them to prosecute crimes against himself—idolatry, blasphemy, false worship, and so on. After all, there could be no proportional punishment, and certainly no way to compensate him.

Second, governments exist for the common-grace purpose of creating platforms of peace and order on which the storyline of redemption can proceed. There’s a reason God’s covenant with Noah, which authorizes coercive authority (Gen. 9:5–6), precedes his call to Abraham (Gen. 12). Paul reaffirms this. In Acts 17, he tells us that God established the boundaries of the nations “that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (v. 27, ESV). In 1 Timothy 2, he tells us to pray for kings and authorities so that we may live peaceful lives pleasing to God, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4). Governments exist, ultimately, to serve the purposes of worship. We need safe streets so that we can get to church. Common-grace platforms serve special-grace purposes, like teaching your children to read so that they can read the Bible.

The abortion chapter might be even more worrisome. Longman believes “the Bible does not speak to the issue of when life begins and only indirectly to the status of the fetus in the womb.” Then he walks through each passage suggesting otherwise—including “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13)—and argues that they don’t mean what pro-life Christians assume they mean. Instead, he believes that “a fetus is the potential of life rather than a human person with all the rights of a birthed child.”

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What’s left unstated is why he would assume “the fetus” is not a person, a human being, a God-imager. On what basis does he de-personify or de-humanize the child in the womb? The Bible doesn’t do that. It treats the unborn and the born as one thing—a human person.

Whether intentionally or not, Longman has smuggled in modern constructs of “personhood.” Pro-choice ethicists like Peter Singer grant that an unborn entity possesses human DNA. But these writers create the philosophical category of person to maintain distinctions between the unborn entity and a rights-possessing human. Being a person requires “viability,” “sentience,” or something similar. Once you dehumanize people, killing them is easier. (Historically, this has been the strategy of regimes bent on wiping out a class of people.)

Longman affirms that abortion is “sin,” but he explicitly denies that it entails breaking the sixth commandment against murder. Apparently, the offense is less significant, which is why we can feel slightly less bad about abortion and can focus on keeping it “safe.”

Inconsistent Guidance
Longman is correct in claiming that the Bible offers no “one size fits all” formula for engaging culture. Yet the Bible does offer a coherent political theology—that is, a coherent theology of justice and law, religion and government.

Longman’s apparent failure to work out this theology leaves his counsel, at best, inconsistent. On certain issues (immigration or the environment), he draws pretty directly from the Old Testament. On others he sounds like a philosophical liberal (same-sex marriage and abortion) or a quietist (religious liberty). In one moment, he rejects the view that God governs the civil realm and the church by different norms, saying this led to complicity with nazism. But his rationale for granting legal status to same-sex marriage strongly resembles this “two-kingdoms” view he claims to disavow. He looks askance at “morals legislation” in the chapter on religious liberty but makes moral arguments elsewhere. He should know, of course, that every law depends upon a moral evaluation.

You will learn much about the Bible from The Bible and the Ballot, especially when it comes to Scripture’s witness on caring for the poor. But for guidance on applying the Bible to public policy, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.

Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director for 9Marks and an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church in Bladensburg, Maryland. He is the author of How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age (Thomas Nelson).

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 07, 2020, 09:48:21 am

Evangelism Formation: The Power of Age 60+ in the Work of Evangelism

The truth is that Christians never retire. Until our last breath, God has work for us to do.

“How do we get younger people in our church? How do we engage Millennials and Gen Z?”

These are vital questions for all of us. Millennials, Gen Z, and younger, in the power of the Holy Spirit, are the future of Kingdom expansion on the face of the earth until Jesus returns.

We are not talking here about propping up dying institutions; instead, we are seeking ways to pass on the faith in Jesus Christ that has been delivered to us. The word “tradition’ stems from the Latin word traditio and tradere which means to pass on to, like the passing of a baton in a race or the transference of legal authority.

We are talking here about passing on LIFE in abundance found in Jesus Christ alone. The other option is decay and death. Like Moses we are imploring the next generation to “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him” (Deut. 30: 19-20).

In order for the next generation to choose life, it is vital that the older generations choose life.

As an evangelist, I spend a good deal of my time leading workshops which equip and ignite the church to engage in evangelism. For the past few years, my workshops have been packed with people over 60 and many in their 80s. Often, I would go home praying for God to send me younger people—people whom I thought could “do more ministry” and “make more of an impact for Christ.”

God has indeed sent me more Millennials, but perhaps even more importantly, the Lord has shown me the unique and vital plan he has for retirees. God is raising up an army of Baby Boomers and older believers who are strategically living longer for such a time as this!

Approximately 10,000 baby-boomers retire each day in America. This is over 3.5 million people annually. According to the U.S. Government, most people live on average 20 years after retirement.

The U.S. Census estimates that people over 65 will outnumber those under the age of 18 years by 2035. From a human point of view, we can chalk this up to medical advances. However, missiologists, those who study God’s mission in the world, see God giving the length of days to older people for his Kingdom purposes.

I would like to highlight three purposes God has for seniors in the work of evangelism: witness, wisdom, and work.


The average person encounters three new people on a daily basis. Over the course of “retirement,” a believer could reach over 21,000 people as he or she intentionally and missionally goes about day to day life, from the grocery store to a doctor visit and everything in between.

Many Americans under 65 years of age, are consumed by the time constraints of work and family life.

Retirees not only have more hours in the day, but greater quality time and the capacity to truly be present with others. One of the most powerful ways Jesus revealed himself to people was to see people (think Zacheus in the tree), listen to people (think the woman at the well), ask questions of people (consider Nicodemus), and eat with people (consider Matthew).

Those over 65 have more time to spend engaging people, being present, and in this, being and showing the love of Jesus. Growing up in a small Texas town, we had all ages at our family meals. My favorite dinner companion was a 96-year-old who always had time to listen to my newest ideas.

Americans are lonelier than ever at any time in our history. One of the greatest ways Christians can love our lonely and hurting world is to give people time and presence.


Proverbs 3:13 says, “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.” One of the greatest gifts “retirees” can provide others is lessons learned from life. Job stated it well: “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long-life bring understanding?” (Job 12:12).

During my 20s, a wonderful woman of God met with me weekly to discuss scripture. Over a lunch hour we looked at Bible passages together and discussed how they applied to daily life. Irene totally changed my life.

When I speak with retirees, they often say, “I am too old; young people do not want to spend time with me.” Nothing could be farther from the truth!

Generation Z (born between 1996-2010) are statistically the loneliest generation. Author of The Passion Generation, Millennial leader Grant Skeldon said his generation is desperate for the older generation to give them time:

When I ask older people, ‘Do you feel qualified to disciple someone?’ people usually will say no. But if I say, ‘Do you have someone younger you feel like you’re spiritually a step ahead of?’ the answer almost always is ‘yes.’ Older generations can say, ‘God’s perfect, but he still loves me even when I fall over and over. You’ll fall too, but I’m going to try to help you fall less than I did.’ One of the greatest gifts you can give is letting other people learn from your mistakes.


The truth is that Christians never retire. Until our last breath, God has work for us to do. Some of my recent heroes of the faith had vital ministries until late in life: the great Bishop and theologian Lesslie Newbigin, who shaped missiology perhaps more than any other in this century, didn’t start writing most of his books until after the age 65, with his last at age 93. My mentor, the evangelist Michael Green, preached the gospel doing university missions until his late 80s and even led people to Christ on his deathbed at age 90.

Some lesser known heroes of mine, but no less impactful, were a group of retirees in Los Angeles whose church became surrounded by night clubs. Instead of leaving their church like most older people in the area, they decided to engage their changing neighborhood.

On Friday and Saturday nights, 60-80-year-olds took a little cart with cookies and hot chocolate and invited clubbers to church. Where other churches in the area died, this church is thriving to this day in Hollywood.

Of course, the greatest work any follower of Jesus can do is to pray, and this work can be done any age. Right now, I have a team of 80-year-olds who travel with me and/or pray for me over the phone.

God is keeping the older generation alive to pray and intercede for us. My primary ministry partner is an 81-year-old mighty prayer warrior. We go everywhere together and are having the time of our lives.

She teaches me so much by her presence. When she feels ill, she prays from her bed. As she draws close to Jesus, so do I. God promises, “Then if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

We need ALL generations! If you are breathing, God has work for you to do until he takes you home. If you are over 65 years of age, these next years could be your most significant and joyful yet.

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Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 10, 2020, 10:59:32 am

The Old Testament Twins We’ve Forgotten

Jacob and Esau get all the attention. Yet it’s another pair of brothers who reveal the heart of the biblical story.

There are two pairs of twins in Genesis, but most of us only notice the first. Jacob and Esau get the headlines: the smooth wheeler-dealer who becomes the father of the Israelites and his hairy, oafish twin who gets tricked out of his birthright for a bowl of soup. By contrast, Perez and Zerah (Gen. 38) fly under the radar. They don’t appear in kids’ Bibles, or even sermons. Yet in many ways, they summarize the biblical story more crisply than any other siblings in Scripture.

The twins are born to Judah and Tamar, the product of an incestuous relationship between a father and his daughter-in-law, whom he thinks is a prostitute (another story omitted from kids’ Bibles). Judah will become the tribe of kings, so it matters greatly which twin gets the inheritance. During childbirth, one brother’s hand emerges first, and a scarlet thread is tied around his wrist to confirm that he is the heir. But when he withdraws his hand, his brother barges past and is born first. The line-jumper is named Perez, which means breach or breakthrough. The one with the scarlet cord is called Zerah, which means dawn or rising. In those two names is found the heart of the gospel.

The world looks for a Zerah. We want a king who rises up and shines like the dawn. We want the firstborn, with a mark of royalty on his fist. But God chooses Perez, the boy of the breach, the child of breakthrough. He wants the sort of king we never would choose: a younger, weaker boy, without the obvious signs of kingship, who only triumphs because God breaks through on his behalf.

This is the plotline of Genesis. Again and again, the “rising” that looks impressive loses out to the “breakthrough” that doesn’t. Human power rises up like the Tower of Babel and comes to nothing. Meanwhile, God makes a breach using an elderly couple in a tent. Older brothers (Cain, Ishmael, Esau, Reuben) fall; younger brothers (Seth, Isaac, Jacob, Judah) receive an inheritance. Natural fertility, based on the “rising” of human flesh, leads nowhere. The promises come through the women who wait for a breakthrough: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Tamar herself.

The life of David, likewise, is a Perez-versus-Zerah story. There are Zerahs everywhere: the seven older sons of Jesse who look impressive; King Saul, who rises head and shoulders above everyone else; Goliath, who rises nine feet tall and grasps the obvious symbol of victory in his fist. But they are each overcome by the last-born, harp-playing, stone-throwing shepherd boy, as he trusts the God of Perez to break through for him. David remembers this lesson as he ascends to the throne. He defeats the Philistines and names the battle site Baal Perazim, exclaiming, “As waters break out, the Lord has broken out against my enemies before me” (2 Sam. 5:20). Soon after, when one of his men touches the ark of the covenant and is immediately struck dead, the fear of God falls on David, who names the place Perez Uzzah, because “the Lord’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah” (6:8).

All of this helps to explain why Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus only names one person—Zerah—who is not an ancestor. Family trees don’t usually work this way. After all, there is no Ishmael in the genealogy, no Esau, no Reuben, Levi, or Ephraim. But Matthew feels compelled to record that Judah was “the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (Matt. 1:3). Jesus is a Perez rather than a Zerah. He does not have the obvious sign of royalty on his fist. He does not rise taller than everyone else. He wasn’t even conceived through the ordinary rising of human flesh, but only through the Lord who bursts forth, the God of breakthrough.

Ultimately, in one of those beautiful ironies only a sovereign God could orchestrate, Jesus is worshiped around the world for his rising, for bringing about the dawn of a new world. His fist now holds the symbols of royalty. But even his zerah is a perez. His rising is a breakthrough, a breach in the walls of death and hell, a bursting forth of the Lord against his enemies. Praise be to the boy of the breach.

Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor at King’s Church London and author of Spirit and Sacrament (Zondervan). Follow him on Twitter @AJWTheology.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 11, 2020, 03:47:41 pm

People are Addicted to Outrage: Four Ways to Walk a Better Path

Rather than seeing our world through the lens of everything that’s broken I argue we should use a lens with four main features.

There was a time when having a piece of cake or going out for ice cream was considered a treat. We had cake for our birthday, ice cream after an outing, and so on.

Today, everywhere you look you see “treats”—supermarkets filled with fresh cakes and pies, every convenience store displaying an array of snack cakes, honey buns, and donuts—what was once a rare “treat” has become a dietary staple for too many of us, with increased waistlines as evidence.

But a “treat” by definition is something we enjoy only occasionally. Having a piece of cake for your birthday won’t wreck your health. Turning a treat into a staple, whether it’s cake, chips, or fast food, doesn’t put you on the fast track to a healthy mind and body.

Returning to the idea of these sorts of food as an occasional treat is a great way to move toward better health.

Unfortunately, too many of us are doing the same thing to our emotional health we’ve been doing physically. In this case, rather than turning a treat into a staple in our diet, we’re feeding our souls with an unhealthy diet of outrage. Sure, there’s a time to be unsettled or perhaps even outraged over some things.

But today we have turned outrage into an emotional version of junk food binge eating—it’s too common, mostly unnecessary, and almost never useful. And, it doesn’t change things for the better.

We;ve become addicted to outrage and it’s killing us.

You can guess I’m not going to be writing a book on diet and nutrition anytime soon, but I did write a book to help deal with the incessant complaining and outrage characterizing our day. I wrote Christians in an Age of Outrage: How to Bring Out Our Best When the World’s at Its Worst not to scold Christians for being like the world in our constant sense of outrage.

I wrote it primarily to help us to be at our best in our age of outrage— how we can break the addiction and find a better path forward.

In the book, I talk about how Christians can be at our best today. Rather than seeing our world through the lens of everything that’s broken I argue we should use a lens with four main features.

First, when dealing with others we must be empathetic.

Instead of putting on our best Pharisee fatigues and going to war with people, we start with the view of Scripture, that our world is broken, lost, and in bondage. God’s solution for the world’s sin was not to be outraged but to love, sending Jesus to die for us.

Even as the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, representing our heavenly Father, hurried to meet his broken child, God has not abandoned the world and sin. He made a way of salvation in spite of it.

Second, we respond with humility.

In Philippians 2, Paul told believers to be of the same mind as Jesus. And what is that mind? “He humbled himself.” We can expect the world to respond with hostility when feeling threatened or misunderstood. We can understand when communities blinded by sin respond to Christians with tribalism and mistrust.

But we who know Christ must respond not with hostility but humility. We are not better than the people with whom we disagree; we have received a gift of salvation and should respond with humble gratitude. This also means we are careful to be accurate in how we characterize those with whom we disagree. It’s easy today to define those not like us by their worst day or worst examples, but none of us wants to be defined like that.

The third aspect of our lens is to see people as image bearing.

We value people as created in the very image of God. Even those who hate us are entitled to being treated with dignity. Remember Jesus told us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. You can respect a person as created in the image of God and still disagree with their lifestyle or ideology.

This is a key issue where Christians need to lead— all people are created in the image of God and worthy of dignity and respect.

Finally, our lens includes being sacrificial.

We can set aside our comfort to stand against injustices. We can choose to act on behalf of others rather than sitting back in fear. We will not win people to Christ by shouting at them online or spending all our energy in protection mode. Recognizing sinful patterns in our culture that hurt people and acting against them will not compromise the gospel, and it will likely help us to share it more winsomely.

When we respond like this we show the love Jesus shows: compassionate, respectful, and courageous (see Matt. 9:35-38).

By the way, if you see outrage as an issue in your church, you can order a six-week Bible study based on Christians in an Age of Outrage.

Today there are too many examples of those claiming to follow Christ being caustic, divisive, and irrational, contributing to dismissals of the Christian faith as hypocritical, self-interested, and politically co-opted. What has happened in our society? It seems one short outrageous video or pithy post can trigger an avalanche of comments on social media.

In this guide, Ed Stetzer, respected columnist and popular Bible teacher, and Andrew MacDonald lead small groups through a deep conversation of what it would look like if Christians were at their best. How might our world and our communities be different?

Spend the next six weeks discussing what it means to represent the love of Jesus Christ in this new polarized age. This discussion guide for small groups is designed to be used with the teaching videos featuring Ed Stetzer (available for purchase at
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 11, 2020, 06:33:01 pm

7 Lessons from Singapore’s Churches for When the Coronavirus Reaches Yours

Advice from Christians in the “Antioch of Asia” on how your congregation can survive—and thrive—amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Stores emptied of sanitizer, canned food, toilet paper, and water. Fights over the sale of limited supplies of face masks. Anger as congregations continue to gather for worship, prompting accusations of a lack of “social responsibility.”

The COVID-19 virus has spread from Asia to Europe and North America rapidly over the past week, bringing with it a level of panic and angst—everywhere from the supermarket to the stock market to the local church—not seen in recent times. The global tally is now more than 110,000 infected and more than 3,900 dead.

Churches in Singapore, which Billy Graham called the “Antioch of Asia,” have already weathered the anxiety now sweeping the world. On February 7, the nation-state’s government raised its national risk assessment level from Yellow to Orange, indicating “moderate disruption” to daily life—and in particular to large gatherings of people.

March 7 marked the one-month anniversary of Singapore—which has seen 150 cases but zero deaths—going Orange. This means that for the past month, local churches—which account for about 1 in 5 Singaporeans—have been forced into an extended period of self-examination, reflection, and action.

The process has not been straightforward, with a senior pastor afflicted with the coronavirus (and subsequently discharged), entire denominations suspending services, church-based preschools closing, and very public online disputes—in a nation that strictly enforces religious harmony—on how the situation is being handled by church leaders.

To help churches in the United States, Italy, Brazil, and other countries now facing decisions that churches in China, Korea, and Singapore have been grappling with for weeks, here are seven lessons the Singaporean church has learned over the past month:

1) Your church’s worship will change. Hold tight to what is sacred—and hold everything else loosely.
Congregations are creatures of habit. Churches are built on traditions, liturgies, and order in worship. Over time, every church’s line between what is fundamental to the faith and what is merely institutionalized response gets blurred.

Does Communion have to be actual wine and unleavened bread to still count as holy? If you don’t actually lay hands on someone, are prayers of healing still effective? Does a church have to gather in the flesh to count as a congregation?

Every church, and every member of your church, will have different views on such often-undiscussed questions. The COVID-19 outbreak presents a needed moment of doctrinal stocktaking.

Every church board and pastoral staff team in Singapore has come together many times over the past month to grapple with what is non-negotiable in God’s eyes.

“The biggest lesson for me has been navigating the road between fear and wisdom,” said pastor Andre Tan of The City Church. “It is especially tough as fear often has a way to masquerade itself as wisdom. How many precautionary measures are actually sound judgment and how many are too much, such that they teeter over into irrational fear and anxiety?

“It is a tough road to navigate, as we had to both convey safety to our members—by way of implementing recommended health measures—and yet not succumb to the cultural climate of fear, anxiety, and self-preservation,” Tan told CT. “We do so in all our notices by ensuring that we are not just communicating measures but also casting a vision for how to be the people of God in this time.”

In practical terms, a church’s response will vary depending on its doctrine, local context, and exposure to suspected cases of COVID-19. There is no correct answer; all are seeking the most appropriate response in extraordinary times. Precautions that Singaporean churches have taken to maintain services include:

Taking temperatures at worship services and smaller-scale gatherings.
Mandating travel declarations and recording contact details of attendees to facilitate tracing of contacts if needed.
Suspending gatherings of more vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or children.
Suspending Communion, or moving to alternatives such as pre-packaged bread and wine.
Moving away from hymnals to limit physical points of communal contact and using projection screens instead.
Some have chosen to suspend their services entirely. The Roman Catholic archdiocese in Singapore took the unprecedented step of suspending Mass in its 32 parishes starting February 15, advising congregants to continue to fulfill their spiritual obligations by tuning in to online sermons, spending time in prayer, and reading the Word at home. (The Catholic church, which accounts for about 7 percent of Singapore’s 5.8 million people, has announced that Mass will resume March 14.)

2) Be a strong leader. Your members will want guidance.
“In moments of crisis, people are looking for leadership,” said Ian Toh, pastor of 3:16 Church. “The first responsibility of the leader is to remain calm. Panic causes tunnel vision, which is terrible for decision-making. Strong leadership reminds people that God is in control of every situation and there is never a reason to panic.”

Toh told CT his leadership team found their role was “to teach from the Bible, minister to and encourage those who are fearful.” The process drove them to their knees, seeking divine wisdom in an unprecedented situation.

“The biggest lesson that I have learned dealing with COVID-19 is the need to be humble as a church leader," said Toh. “There is so much that I do not know and have to learn. And that increases my desire and the need to seek the face of the Lord daily.”

As the virus continues to spread globally, church leaders around the world should be aware that their flocks are watching their shepherds intently. Signals of faithfulness will have implications long after the COVID-19 season is over.

“A senior leader once told me, ‘A leader’s action is a theological statement,’” said Rick Toh [no relation], pastor of Yio Chu Kang Chapel. “As leaders, we need to have a theological stance on all things. We need to process our fears before God and let our actions be inspired by faith and guided by sound theology. Let not disease, or earthly decree, but doctrine guide our decisions.”

3) There’s no better time to up your church’s tech game.
While the Singaporean government has said an upgrade to the Red risk assessment level is “unlikely,” local churches have explored improvements to their video recording and live-streaming capabilities in preparation for a worst-case total lockdown scenario.

Seeing the need, various groups have put together websites and webinars with free advice for churches on how to switch to livestreaming.

For example, the Bible Society of Singapore partnered with ThunderQuote, a procurement-related startup founded by Christians, to launch Streams of Life, a resource center listing various livestreaming options ranked by difficulty level.

“It is a wonderful time for the ecclesia to exercise practical wisdom and explore creative methods of ministry,” the Streams of Life team states on its website.

In a similar vein, Singapore Bible College conducted an “Introduction to Instant Message Broadcast and Live Video Streaming” workshop, while digital-exploration ministry Indigitous partnered with church IT specialists to host a “So You Want to Livestream Your Church Service” webinar via the Zoom video conferencing platform.

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Church worship and AV teams are also navigating the music licensing challenge that livestreaming presents. Many local worship groups have explicitly granted permission for churches to play their songs on livestreams without fear of copyright or licensing issues.

Awaken Generation, founded by Calvin and Alarice Hong, was “keenly aware” of how small churches could find it difficult to afford livestreaming licenses for worship services. “Given the backdrop of things, we simply felt that it was really not the time to enforce our strict rights in collecting livestreaming communication fees,” the worship group told CT. “So it was our honor to offer these songs for use.

“They were written by and for the people of our nation, and it was our privilege to see them used as an offering as the nation rallied together to intercede and break down barriers of fear.”

Bible Study Fellowship’s 7,500 members in Singapore have kept up their weekly lectures and discussions via Zoom.

Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) chose to suspend weekly gatherings from mid-February as an act of social responsibility. “This decision was a very difficult one to make,” said senior pastor Daniel Khong. “We were constantly checking ourselves to make sure that we were not responding out of fear, and weighing out all the various considerations. But our main church building sits in the heart of a neighborhood with a population of about 46,000 people. With how dense this area is, this could potentially become a major cluster for the virus to spread.”

An unexpected result: The move to livestreaming seems to have strengthened the church community, Khong told CT.

“Many of our cell groups come together in homes to watch our service livestream. We deliberately end our livestreamed services early so that our cell groups can go out and pray over their neighborhood. Many have said they now feel a sense of responsibility for the spiritual well-being of their community, and some were even able to share the gospel with people they met.”

FCBC members are now on a journey of rethinking their understanding of church, said Khong. “The church today must be a people of purpose that are willing to go beyond the constraints of ‘place’ or ‘program.’”

4) There’s no better time to up your church’s prayer game.
At noon every day since Valentine’s Day, the historic bells sound at St Andrew’s Cathedral in the heart of Singapore’s civic district, while phone alarms go off across the island. It’s a signal to believers that it is time to stop whatever they are doing for a moment of united prayer in the face of the COVID-19 threat.

“For such a time as this, unity is the key,” said LoveSingapore, a local prayer and church unity movement, in announcing its PraySingapore@12 initiative. “We believe in the power of prayer agreement. For such a time as this, we need every believer to arise and seek God together for Singapore. A prophetic act, just like the ringing of church bells, summoning the faithful to action when their village or town is threatened.”

In a similar move, the Assemblies of God of Singapore has called for united prayer across its churches at 7 p.m. daily, in an initiative it has dubbed COVID–19:00.

“It’s crucial that in times of crisis, the church rises up to be a standard,” said Dominic Yeo, general superintendent of Singapore and secretary of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship. “As salt and light, the church needs to stand strong in the Lord so that others can see the hope we profess.”

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5) Expect backlash—from both outside and inside the church.
Inflammatory comments about race and religion are banned in Singapore under the Sedition Act and the recently updated Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. However, since two coronavirus clusters formed in two churches, and negative associations have spread from the Shincheonji sect responsible for much of South Korea’s outbreak, the church at large has come under scrutiny as Christians continue to meet in relatively sizable gatherings.

The criticism is unfortunate but unavoidable; non-Christians cannot be expected to understand the tenets and teachings of our faith.

But more painful is the criticism that has come from fellow Christians with every decision their leaders have to make. Decide to suspend services, and be castigated for a lack of faith. Decide to continue to gather, and be derided as “socially irresponsible.”

If you are pastoring a church in an area where a case of COVID-19 has surfaced, prepare for unprecedented pressure from all levels: from your board to your staff to those in the pews. They will respond based on their own faith convictions and public health opinions. Be prepared to go deeper into prayer than you’ve ever gone. Be prepared for the reality that your decisions will not please everyone.

And be prepared to lose members no matter what. Churches in Singapore have reported declines in attendance of 20–30 percent, with even greater numbers opting out of elderly gatherings and children’s church.

One consolation, from the Singaporean church experience, is that you will likely be pleasantly surprised by how many of your members will step up to the plate to volunteer to serve during services or to bless the neighboring community.

Crisis shows the true character of a Christian. The anxiety around COVID-19 will allow you to really discern the spiritual state of your flock, said pastor Benny Ho of Faith Community Church in Perth, Australia, and a continuing committee member of LoveSingapore.

“If we respond to this crisis correctly, it can turn out to be a defining moment of discipleship for our nation,” said Ho. “In the face of imminent dangers, our priorities are rearranged. This is a great opportunity to have deep conversations about what we are living for. Are we merely existing, or are we truly living? Are we living for the right stuff? Are we marching to the right drumbeat? Are we governed by biblical or worldly values? Are we living for what really matters?”

6) Love your neighbor. Good deeds will go a long way with a fearful public.
While much of the secular world’s response to the virus has been inward-looking, driven by fear, pastors in Singapore agree that the COVID-19 situation presents a God-given chance to shine in the darkness of the moment. However, for that to happen, the church must look beyond its own concerns and awaken to the opportunity.

“Having put in place the necessary measures in the church, we realized that this crisis has presented an opportunity to help and reach the community,” said Lim Lip Yong, executive pastor of Cornerstone Community Church.

After the initial window of adjusting to the new normal, churches have begun to observe how their local community has been affected. The needs are both practical—such as education on public hygiene for the elderly—and emotional, with panic and uncertainty the prevailing mood in the weeks after the first confirmed cases surface locally.

“One of the distinct things that we wanted to affect was the atmosphere of the community,” Lim told CT. “At the onset of the outbreak, people acted in fear. In Singapore, panic buying took hold of many people. Healthcare workers were chased off public transport for fear that they had come into contact with outbreak patients. Highly discriminatory remarks were made against Chinese nationals.

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“We can never fully remove these negative elements in society,” he said, “but what we can do is ensure that there are more positive vibes being generated than negative ones. So we sent our people out to care—to be kind and go the extra mile to help.”

Among other efforts, his church staff and members have reached out to migrant workers—many of whom have been unable to earn a living after projects were canceled due to virus fears—and taxi drivers, whose business has been badly affected with people choosing to stay home during this period.

Similarly, Christians across Singapore have kickstarted many acts of love and kindness, including:

A song of hope written by a 12-year-old.
Blessing neighborhood cleaners.
Giving migrant workers free masks and vitamins.
Making thousands of handmade notes to encourage healthcare workers.
Organizing a blood drive to help local blood banks that run low on supplies as people avoid hospitals.
Viruses spread quickly, acknowledged Lim. “But kindness is infectious too.”

Who is hardest hit in your area? Those directly afflicted with the virus? Those whose jobs have been disrupted by fear of it? Those emotionally weary of responding to it? Many of their doors would otherwise have been closed to the church, but Christians in Singapore have found new inroads through acts of love in this time of coronavirus.

7) Amid all the bad news in the headlines, the Good News of Jesus Christ is more relevant than ever.
“The world has a virus infection that is far greater than all the viruses we’ve ever known throughout its history. That virus is sin,” said Edmund Chan, leadership mentor of Covenant Evangelical Free Church.

“And with this virus, there is absolutely no immunity, no survivors, and no hope. And it infects 100 percent of all humanity. No one is spared from this.

“The world is in need of a Savior. The world is in need of salvation.”

Headlines that regularly ratchet up the local and global death counts are daily reminders of our mortality, forcing everyone to look beyond the routines of life and to consider what lies beyond. Memento mori; we all will someday die, by COVID-19 or otherwise.

It is a matter of urgency that your church is able to look beyond your present difficulties and look out for opportunities to share the hope that we have in Jesus.

“We need conversations on deeper issues,” said Ben K. C. Lee, pastor of RiverLife Church. “Is the meaning of life and our time on this earth the prolonging and preservation of life for as long as possible? Is it to be occupied with temporal things: material wealth and comfort? Or is it to fulfill Jesus’ desire to see all the rooms in our Father’s house that he has prepared being filled to the brim?”

This starts with a public, visible expression of the victory and hope that we have in Jesus. There is an unprecedented opportunity to share the reason for our posture of faith amid fearful times, said Chua Chung Kai, pastor of Covenant Evangelical Free Church.

“We do not live as those without hope—that’s what the gospel is all about! But we have friends, neighbors, and family who do not know that hope. They may open up to share their fears and concerns during such crisis,” Chua told CT. “As the Old Testament prophet Daniel wrote [in Dan. 12:3], ‘Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.’”

The panic is tangible. But so, too, can be the love of the church, said Chua.

“These are gospel moments. We can spread love, not fear, nor the virus. Let’s not waste this epidemic.”

Edric Sng is founder and editor of Christian websites Salt & Light and, and is a pastor at Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church in Singapore.

Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 13, 2020, 09:54:43 am

Politics as Christian Witness

We are all witnesses for—or against—the gospel when we engage in politics.

In the weeks preceding the 2018 election, a headline on my Facebook feed caught my attention. It read: “New Study Suggests Arguing about Politics is Most Effective Method of Evangelism.”

The story described survey results, reporting that it “confirms that arguing vigorously about politics is still the most effective way for Christians to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.”

Researchers concluded that “whether online or in person, Christians should seek to find someone from the other side of the aisle and just flatten them, exactly like the early disciples did.”

Thankfully, the source of this report was none other than satire site The Babylon Bee. Although a parody, the fake study points to a genuine problem—the angry way too many people approach politics—and offers a humorous yet powerful reminder that the way Christians engage politics affects their Christian witness.

We are all witnesses for—or against—the gospel when we engage in politics. People inside and outside of the church are watching to see what we say, how we say it, and what our political views reflect about our priorities.

If our political behavior lines up with what we describe as our Christian values, people will notice and perhaps be inspired. If they don’t align, we’ll be dismissed as hypocrites. More importantly, people who need to hear the Gospel message may turn away.

The following principles can help us approach politics in a manner that is worthy of the gospel and gives glory to Christ.

Model Christian virtues

If we want to be positive Christian witnesses, we need to live lives of virtue, not vice. Consider one of the many biblical passages that describe Christian character:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col. 3:12-14)

As Paul reminds us, Christian virtues call us away from self-love and pride and toward seeking the good of others. Imagine a politics led by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, one in which we engage with a spirit of forgiveness and Christian love.

If we are clothed with these virtues as we discuss politics and interact with those who disagree with us, others will see the love of Christ.

Prepare before debating public policy

Follow current events from reputable news sources, and compare different accounts of the same event. Newspapers remain some of the best sources for detailed reporting. If you tend to follow sources with an ideological bent, also follow coverage from different vantage points to provide balance. If a news story seems overly fawning or evokes fear, look for other coverage of the same story to verify the facts.

When debating political issues, begin by differentiating between ends and means. Think about the policy in question, first identifying the end goal you hope to achieve, and then weighing the different possible ways to achieve it.

Look for points of agreement as conversation starters. When discussing policy differences, do so in a way that honors those with whom you disagree. Seek opportunities to engage meaningfully with those who hold different policy views, asking questions to help you understand their perspectives.

Expect compromise.

In a democratic republic like the United States, elected officials represent diverse people with a wide range of views and interests. In such a system, elected officials rarely reach consensus. Instead, a healthy democracy requires compromise and bargaining as elected officials weigh policy alternatives.

Sweeping change is uncommon and often unpopular, so most people work toward their political goals in smaller steps, seeking incremental changes that move in the right direction. In such a political system, it makes sense to consider compromises, accepting partial solutions that may not achieve everything preferred but nonetheless work toward desired goals.

On some issues, compromise is extremely difficult or even impossible. Under such circumstances, the best way forward may be to look outside the political process for ways to help.

Approach politics with prayer.

Scripture speaks directly interactions with those in power. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (I Tim. 2:1-3). It’s really easy to complain about politics and get angry about political leaders’ actions. But we can redirect these unproductive thoughts into the most productive tool of all: prayer.

Our posture towards those in authority—whether we voted for them or not—must first be one of prayerful concern and thanksgiving. This prayerful posture also extends to political candidates. Whatever our views of the candidates, we should pray for them with sincerity.

As you follow current events and talk about them, take time to pray and bring your concerns directly to God. We should also pray for ourselves and our Christian witness in such divisive times. Instead of trying to win arguments or score political points, we can pray to be more faithful witnesses to the gospel.

The hateful and angry tone of so much current political discourse gives many reasons for despair. But we have an opportunity to approach politics as Christian witness and model a different way, one that offers a stark and appealing contrast from the world around us and points people to Christ.

Dr. Amy Black and Michael Wear, founder of Public Square Strategies, will be joining us on Tuesday, March 17 at 12PM CT for a webinar on Politics, Polarization, and Our Christian Witness. Drawing on their recent report for The Trinity Forum, “Christianity, Pluralism and Public Life in the United States: Insights from Christian Leaders,” Black and Wear will explore insights gleaned from Christian leaders in how Christians can engage on politics. You can sign up to join us here.

Dr. Amy E. Black is Professor of Political Science at Wheaton College.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 13, 2020, 07:57:30 pm

When your Church Can’t Meet, Gather your Family for Worship: How to Have a Family Worship Experience at Home

Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or friendly neighbor, you can still gather together for a worship experience.

Many churches are pushing pause on gathering their congregants for weekly worship services during this season of coronavirus risk, including children’s ministry classes and groups. While many of us might be tempted to enjoy a break from church, that’s the last thing we really need. At times like this, we desperately need God’s Word to reassure us that He is in control; we need to sing songs that remind us of His power; we need worship.

The Bible teaches us to “watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together (emphasis mine), as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, CSB) We know, as Christ followers, that we are called to gather together as the Church—the bride of Christ Himself. However, as we retreat to the safety of our houses under city ordinances and precaution, we should look around and recognize that the very people we live with in our homes are part of that same calling—our family. We should continue (or start) to gather together to worship as a family.

Whether you are a parent, a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or friendly neighbor, you can still gather together for a worship experience. This may sound intimidating to you, like something you are not equipped for, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact now is the perfect time to start doing a family worship time, and to keep doing long after coronavirus leaves us.

If you read the portion of Deuteronomy 6 sometimes referred to as the Shema, it’s easy to see that family discipleship is a scriptural command: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up(emphasis mine).” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7, CSB) So, let’s face it. Many of us will be “sitting in our houses”—with our kids or other family members—for longer periods of time than we are currently used to, as some schools may close and workplaces may go to a temporary remote work model. Chances are, your family might be experiencing some anxiety in this unprecedented situation. Use this extra time wisely and talk about God’s Word—the ultimate soother of our souls and healer of our hearts!

Try this to get you started: read, pray, sing—repeat! In his little book, Family Worship, Donald S. Whitney gives a simple formula for how to have a family worship time. Most of us are capable of doing this. Just gather your crew, open your Bibles, read a chapter or two aloud, say a prayer, and sing a song!

Read: You might choose to go through one of the Gospels together, or read a Psalm and a chapter from Proverbs. The ages of your children might dictate the content you choose. If you have younger children, consider grabbing one of their Bible storybooks and selecting a Bible story to read aloud while showing pictures. Older children and teens can help read aloud portions of Scripture. Everyone can add to the discussion by asking questions and offering comments. And guess what? If you don’t know the answer, that’s ok. Acknowledge the great question and offer to do some research and report back next time. Of course kids and teenagers are really good at asking questions that we would all like to know, but simply won’t have the answer this side of Heaven. It’s okay if that’s your answer too.
Pray: End your Bible reading and discussion time in prayer. You can ask your family what they would like to pray for. Are they worried and fearful about the coronavirus? Are people you know in your community actually sick with COVID-19 and need prayer? Is anyone in your family lonely and feeling isolated from friends and classmates? Is there too much sibling conflict from being cooped up? Offer prayers of hope and encouragement, repentance, and intercession.
Sing: Close your family worship time by singing a song or two. Singing together might feel strange if you’ve never done so before. You might start by playing a worship song your family is familiar with from church worship or the radio. Ask everyone to sing along. Or, sing simple hymns that everyone knows—no accompaniment necessary.
Now, repeat the routine. It will get more comfortable each time. Try gathering weekly and work up to bi-weekly or even daily. This habit could change your family forever.

It may be inevitable that your church cannot gather for one or more weeks, but that does not mean you shouldn’t gather as a family and experience the one true God together through His Word, through prayer, and through song. As an extension to your family worship time, my team at LifeWay Kids has put together a family worship experience for you, which includes a Bible story video and life application videos, as well as a discussion guide and activity sheet to download. Simply follow the steps below.

Step 1: Go to

Step 2: Register if you are a new user or login if you already have an account.

Step 3: Enter this redemption code: VZMD4SSQ38.

Step 4: Click “Access” (if prompted to sign in again, sign in and then click “My Dashboard,” and go to LifeWay Kids at Home).

Step 5: Download your Activity Page and One Conversation Page to use as you watch the video session.

Jana Magruder serves as the Director of LifeWay Kids. She is a Baylor graduate and offers a wealth of experience and passion for kids ministry, education, and publishing. She is the author of Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith and Kids Ministry that Nourishes: Three Essential Nutrients of a Healthy Kids Ministry. She and her husband, Michael, along with their three children reside in Nashville.

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The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 16, 2020, 01:21:33 pm

A Different Kind of Calling: Spiritual Disciplines in Uncertain Times

Spiritual disciplines matter all the time, but we need to be reminded of that in tumultuous times.

Right now, it seems the world is on fire.

And, ironically, that’s why we need to get some time with Jesus.

Spiritual disciplines matter all the time, but we need to be reminded of that in tumultuous times.

Spiritual Disciplines

Over the past three decades the topic of spiritual disciplines has experienced something of a renewal. Writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, Don Whitney, and others have shown believers the importance of, to use Whitney’s phrase, disciplining ourselves for the pursuit of godliness. Walking with Christ in the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, worship, and service helps believers in all seasons, including times of certainty.

The coronavirus has provided plenty of uncertainty just now.

However, it is circumstances like this that remind us that we need to lean in to God in times like these.

Ironically, I wrote about spiritual disciplines as an aid to help us deal with stressful times in my book Christians in an Age of Outrage [1]. While I was talking there about how to focus on those practices that help to focus us on Christ can direct us to a godly response to outrage, I believe they are even more useful as we daily watch the news updates on COV-19.

Followers of Christ are frequently called disciples in the New Testament. The terms discipline and discipleship come from the same root, right? A person can be disciplined and not be a disciple of Jesus, but can one be a disciple of Jesus and be undisciplined?

The coronavirus offers the Christian community both an opportunity and an inventory. It provides places where we can serve the Lord and others, and it will test the depth of our discipleship. Will we surrender to fear, or will we trust the Lord and serve others?

I want to suggest three primary disciplines to help us live godly lives in this particularly tense time. I want to categorize these three in terms of inputs, outputs, and necessities.

First, we input truth through Scripture.

In a world of information overload and too many choices (168 kinds of cereal at the local supermarket, for example), amid a sea of fake news and clickbait, how do we discern truth and avoid overreacting to the information we want and need?

We lash ourselves to the Bible.

We need to return again and again to the Word of God to reorient our worldview. We do need to be aware of the best wisdom on the coronavirus and be wise in our personal response and as local churches. But we start with Scripture and we look to it for hope and wisdom. Like a car badly out of alignment, if we are careless with the information we consume, we will inevitably end up in a ditch of being swayed by worry.

Bible reading, memorization, meditation, and study keep our gaze on the path the Lord has set before us and helps us to pull against the currents to stay attuned to him.

In a world that doesn’t always regard believers in noble ways and in a time of uncertain days, immersing in biblical content reminds us of our identity. We aren’t as likely to place our security in the markets, the white house, the courts, or our circumstances when we are daily reminded our security is in a God who is both sovereign and who can be trusted.

Second, we output our concerns through prayer.

Paul had reason to be concerned as he sat incarcerated while writing the Epistle to the Philippians. Yet, in Philippians 4:6-7, he reminded his readers:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Don’t be anxious. Instead, pray. And, pray with thanksgiving.

Studies show that people who begin their day writing at least three things for which they are grateful show a remarkable decline in anxiety. That’s anyone. How much more is this true for believers who begin their day in prayers of gratitude to God.

In our current context, we can cry out to God with our needs, knowing God cares. And we can be grateful, even while the immediate future is unclear.

Scripture tells us many times where prayer was given before engagement with the world happened: Nehemiah before speaking to the king (Neh. 1:4-11); Paul asked for prayer for a future door for the gospel (Col. 4:3-4); and Jesus, prior to the cross, prayed to his Father (Luke 22:41-44).

Before reading the news update, pray. Before posting on social media, or before replying in haste, pray.

Third, fasting shows the necessity of God being in our midst.

Our consumer culture has made fasting the least practiced of disciplines. We live in a time where we struggle to distinguish between what we truly need and what we want. Discipline, someone said, is choosing what you want most over what you want now.

Only right now we have a pandemic in front of us. In days past in times of famine farmers in a community would gather to fast and pray for their crops. It might be a helpful practice for believers to fast for a meal (or more) and take that time pray regarding the coronavirus.

Fasting brings that reality to the forefront as we willfully and prayerfully abstain from the very food that gives us life to be reminded our ultimate need is for the Lord. In my book Christians in an Age of Outrage, I state: “Fasting is designed to reorient our hearts to God and to reveal our dependency upon him and the complete insufficiency of this world to meet our needs.”

Spiritual Practices in Tumultuous Times

We face short term uncertainty with the virus in our midst; we can turn to these practices to remind us certainty remains: our God Is here, he is not silent, and he is at work. Maybe it’s a good time for each of us to hit pause, refocus our minds in the Word, reflect more in prayer, and resist knee-jerk reactions by seasons of fasting.

We may find our lives becoming better for it in the middle of dark times, and we may make a better impact on our world than we knew.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article.

[1]See Christians in an Age of Outrage: How to Bring Our Best When the World Is at Its Worst Tyndale, 2018).

The Exchange is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 16, 2020, 04:37:03 pm

What Now When We Can't Meet? Putting the Mission into Missional

Start by mobilizing your church to meet small and serve big!

The new CDC guidelines came out last night. They recommend no gatherings “of 50 people or more throughout the United States” for the next eight weeks.

What now?

I talked to an official in the administration, and I learned that the federal government is very wary of telling churches they can/cannot meet, but we should expect this kind of guidance for no large groups to include churches.

In addition, I reached out to the Surgeon General’s office. (As I mentioned, I had met with the Surgeon General and his team a couple of weeks ago.) Dr. Janet Wright shared this:

Thank you for your note. I know you and your networks are aware of the CDC guidance to faith-based organizations, available here and last updated on March 6. While the new guidance (Mar 15) does not specifically call out churches, the public health principles of social distancing and protecting the most vulnerable definitely apply. Like all CDC guidance, this is a recommendation based on the best available science.

In other words, this will almost certainly be what your communities will expect unless we hear something more from the CDC. Thus, we should plan accordingly.

As most churches will follow the recommendations, that means we are about to see a mass movement to smaller settings or groups––starting now. For churches, this means all your Easter plans to this point have just changed.

We will be providing more resources about this, including a podcast launching today on leading through this crisis at The new podcast will be called, Leading in the Coronavirus Crisis and will include pastors, scientists, counselors, and more.

This is not the first time churches have been asked not to meet for a period of time due to a contagious outbreak. See this article for a precedent in Washington, DC, in 1918. But it is the first time in our lifetime to face anything like this. Here are some initial thoughts as we move forward.

First, we need to remind ourselves and those we lead that God is still in control and is not surprised by any of this, and we need to do this consistently and continually.

In Acts 4, when the early believers faced their first persecution involving the arrest of Peter and John, how did they respond? After their release, Peter and John with the church lifted their voices in prayer, starting with “Sovereign Lord” (Acts 4:23). We continually praise and honor God no matter what our circumstances are.

Second, we need to see this as an opportunity and not necessarily a liability.

Instead of saying to your people that we have to do this because of the government recommendation, we can say we get to do something special in our community to show our care for those at greatest risk and to demonstrate that the church is far more than a gathering on the weekend. It might be that this Easter the church will be more powerful scattered throughout our communities than gathered in our buildings.

Third, the elephant in the room regards services over the weekends for the coming weeks.

If you aren’t already utilizing online technology for services, now is the time to start. Here are some resources to help: I saw a number of instances where small groups gathered to watch the services together. What a great opportunity to gather and to invite others who aren’t in the higher risk demographic to come together in worship. At the same time, let’s be much in prayer for pastors who have many decisions to make.

Fourth, we can live out the Great Commandment.

Start by mobilizing your church to protect those at risk. We can give thanks for the fact that almost all people under age 60 who are otherwise healthy should be able to ward off the coronavirus should you contract it.

And every person in that significant demographic should give first attention to protect those outside it, in particular the elderly. Tell your seniors that they can fully exercise their freedom in Christ to stay away from gatherings and to practice social distancing and effective sanitary practices as we all should.

Set up a ministry to check on them and help them. Let me be direct: if you are a young or middle-aged adult, heed the words of Dr. Michael S. Saag, a world-renowned Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama-Birmingham: “Someone over the age of 80 has up to a 40% mortality risk.”

Fifth, this is the time to live out the Great Commission as your church becomes the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus in the coming days.

This includes how we treat one another, how we respond to adversity, and how we both show and share the love of Christ to the unchurched. God has given us an amazing opportunity to live out our faith in our communities. Some specific ways:

Providing childcare for healthcare workers whose kids are out of school
Preparing meals for children and families in need
Walking a dog for elderly neighbors
Offering to pick up food and supplies for those most at risk
Regularly calling and texting those in your neighborhood to check in
Offering words of HOPE for those dealing with anxiety and depression
Support local businesses through ordering out as you are able
When you have to go shopping, inquire with workers as to how they are and tell them you will be praying for their safety
Finally, when this season has passed––and it will pass––let us plan a great celebration of thanks to God, inviting our entire communities to gather with us. What a remarkable opportunity to join with our people, healthcare workers, officials, and so many others who walked this path together.

May this be a time where the uncertainty and discomfort of this season make us catalysts for creative and effective means to reach others. May it be a time when we show those around us that we care about them and the most vulnerable in our communities.

Paul ministered primarily in the synagogue when he first came to Ephesus in Acts 19. However, he soon faced opposition which forced him to adapt. He moved to a different place and shifted his focus to teaching daily. What happened? Verse 10 says:

“This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” Sometimes, the unexpected trials we face open opportunities for ministry we never thought of before. May this be such a time, and may we be ready.

Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article.

The Exchange is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 21, 2020, 10:56:35 am

Churches Reconsider Drive-In Worship

Faced with COVID-19 quarantines and new rules for social distancing, some pastors are serious about reviving the 1950s fad.

Drive-in church seemed like a joke. And then, in a moment, it didn’t anymore.

The idea was a novelty in the 1950s, promoted as the church of the future. But it’s time didn’t come, and never came, and then it was gone, and the whole thing seemed silly. There were still a few drive-in churches around, of course, but they were curiosities, fading roadside attractions, dingy and decaying outside of town, monuments to bygone Americana.

Nik Baumgart, the pastor of an Assemblies of God congregation in a suburb of Seattle, certainly never dreamed of having a drive-in church. He had thought of a lot of ways to reach people, grow his church, and meet the spiritual needs of his congregation, and honestly the idea of a drive-in church never came up.

But then the staff of The Grove Church in Marysville, Washington was having a meeting to try and figure out what to do in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, the church would have about 1,200 people gather in the sanctuary on a Sunday, but health officials were discouraging any groups over 50. There was talk of “social distancing,” requiring healthy but possibly infectious people to stay at least six feet away from each other, reducing human contact to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But how do you have church with people more than six feet away from each other? A lot of groups were moving everything online. Was that what they should do?

Jon Rich, the administrative pastor, thought of something funny. “Maybe we should look into drive-in church,” he said, and the staff all laughed.

There was a beat. Then Baumgart said the sentence again: “Maybe we should look into drive-in church,” he said. It wasn’t funny this time. It was an idea that seemed like maybe it was perfect. Maybe it’s time had come.

Within a few a minutes, Baumgart told Christianity Today, the staff had embraced the concept they had never taken seriously before and moved to the technical challenge: how do you actually do a drive-in church? How does that work? What equipment do you need?

Pastor Bob Kemp-Baird spent his week fielding questions like that at the Daytona Beach Drive-in Christian Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. The Disciples of Christ church has been in operation for 66 years and Kemp-Baird has been pastor for eight. He confesses he’s still not an expert at low-frequency FM radio broadcasting, but he says it's actually pretty simple.

“It’s not all that difficult to do,” he told Christianity Today. “It’s not like there’s a lot of equipment that you need beyond what churches have anyway to amplify the message.”

A low-frequency trasmitter emits sends out a signal that can be received for half-a-mile to a mile. It costs a few hundred dollars and can be plugged directly into the churches existing sound boards. People can tune in on their radios. Most states do not require licenses for that limited broadcast.

The bigger challenge of a drive-in church, according to Kemp-Baird, is that it can feel like you’re preaching to a parking lot.

See Beyond the Cars
“I’ve come to adapt my preaching and my mindset as well, to know that there are people behind those windshields,” he said. “I’m not speaking to cars. I’m speaking to people.”

Kemp-Baird talks a lot about the people in the cars. Who they are. Why they come. Why a drive-in church meets their specific needs in ways other churches can’t. It used to be, that when people asked Kemp-Baird about drive-in church, they asked him how it could possibly be a good thing to have a church where people were so isolated from each other, each in their separate cars.

This week, though, as Kemp-Baird supervised the volunteers preparing communion for Sunday—making sure they all washed their hands and wore gloves as they filled the single-serving cups and individually wrapped the wafers to hand to drivers as they pulled into the church for worship—the phone kept ringing. Pastors kept calling with questions, and no one asked him to justify the idea of drive-in church. They just wanted to know how to do it.

“Churches are trying to find any way they can to gather people together,” Kemp-Baird said. “They’re really feeling from their congregants, ‘we want to come together to worship, but we recognize the health risks. So what do we do?”

Originally, according to Kemp-Baird, the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church served vacationers. People would drive to Florida to spend their vacation at the beach and they would want to go to church on Sunday, but not dress up. They could stay in their cars in their shorts and swimsuits, hear a good message, and then go right to the beach.

That was similar to the idea behind America’s most famous drive-in church, started by Robert Schuller in 1955, according to sociologist Gerardo Marti, who has a forthcoming book on Schuller and megachurch ministry, co-authored with sociologist Mark Mulder.

The slogan for Schuller’s drive-in church in Southern California was “Come as you are in the family car.”

“Churches are incredibly inventive,” Marti told CT. “Schuller contrived a way for strangers to come to church and come to church without having to know people and be concerned about how you present your self. People felt like they could just come. And that was emphasized. You don’t have to worry about anything else but can I get there?”

Schuller, a minister in the Reformed Church of America (RCA), had great success with his church and promoted the idea far and wide. Some thought the novelty of church-in-cars could only work in Los Angeles, but Schuller disagreed.

“This was the revolutionary thing that was going to reinvent the denomination,” Marti said. “He felt the entire culture was moving to automobiles, with the federal investment in highways, and the new drive-in restaurants you had being developed by Ray Kroc and others. You had all this convenience around automobiles, so building around automobiles was a compelling vision.”

By 1971, there were at least a dozen RCA drive-in churches around the country. But then there was an oil crisis in ’73 and gas prices shot up, making it more expensive to spend time in your car. Cars became smaller, in subsequent years, and less comfortable, and everyone agreed that people didn’t want to sit in their cars for church. The drive-ins faded, another fad of the ’50s passed.

Meeting Needs They Didn’t Know to Expect
Except in some places, it continued. And the drive-in churches that kept going found they were meeting a need they hadn’t planned on meeting.

“We provide community for people who have a hard time accessing it in other ways,” said Traci Parker, pastor of the Woodland Drive-In Church, an RCA ministry in Grand Rapids, Michigan, that started more than 50 years ago. “A lot of people who come to the drive-in come here because it means they have that option to stay a bit more separate from other people.”

Parker said she knows drive-in churches have seemed like a punchline. But spend a little time at a drive-in church, Parker says, and you’ll see a beautiful community of people who don’t feel like they fit anywhere else.“It’s hard to describe to people who’ve never seen it,” she said. “The first time I came here to preach, I didn’t know what to expect. You’re preaching to cars. And it was December, so it was cold and snowy. But there was so much community… People wanted to know your name, and they wanted to know your story, and they wanted to know if you would care for them.”Parker’s email inbox has been flooded with pastors asking her about drive-in church in the last week. She hopes they try. And hopes it actually has a long-term impact.

“Anytime the churches can see people they didn’t see before, who they weren’t looking for,” Parker said, “that’s a good thing.”

Hope for Revival
That was the idea that convinced Scott Thompson to start a drive-in ministry at University Parkway Baptist Church, in Johnson City, Tennessee. He was on vacation with his family in Florida, about five years ago, when he saw the Daytona Beach Drive-In Christian Church. On the drive back to Tennessee, he and his father-in-law, another Southern Baptist minister, made a list of all the people who might not go inside a building for church who could go to a drive-in service.

They thought of people undergoing chemotherapy treatment, people with anxiety issues, people who struggle to walk in from the parking lot, soldiers with post traumatic stress, moms with new baby’s they don’t want everybody touching, and grieving people who aren’t ready to brave all the well-intentioned questions.

“The list is very long,” Thompson said. “When we got home from that vacation, my father-in-law said, ‘Well your church is crazy enough to try it. You should try it.’”

Thompson brought it to the church staff meeting, thinking they would laugh and that would be it. But it didn’t seem like a joke, and pretty quickly the church was talking about the technical aspects of how to do it.

“The biggest challenge was the transmitter, figuring it out,” Thompson said. “But it’s just one input. You plug it into the sound board.”

Thompson is excited about the possibility that the public health crisis, brought on by coronavirus, could bring about the revival of drive-in churches. For years he’s been telling everyone who would listen that they should try this. But no one would listen. Now he’s gotten so many phone calls he can’t return them all before Sunday, and he’s trying to direct people to his explainer video on Facebook.

“Sometimes it takes hard times for revival to come,” he said, “for political walls to come down, and personal walls to come down, and church walls to come down. And now the church has to go outside the walls. A lot of people have been praying for revival, and this could be the time.”

According to Thompson every church could have a drive-in service set up by Easter. If they’re thinking about it now, he said, they’re just in time.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 23, 2020, 10:14:56 pm

To Cancel or Not to Cancel: That Is the Question

A statement from the leaders of the National Association of Evangelicals and Christianity Today.

A Critical Question

To cancel or not to cancel? That is the Shakespearean question confronting churches today. It is not a question of mere expediency. The gathered worship service is central to the church’s identity, and therefore, cancellation seems to trample on more than tradition. It can feel like a threat to the church’s existence.

Government officials, medical experts, and civic leaders have all asked citizens to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus by practicing physical distancing. According to leading experts, churches are one of the top places of community spread. Why? Christians shake hands, embrace one another, and kiss cheeks. Some are liturgically directed to drink from a common cup; others pass the peace with a warm touch. Our bodies do naturally what our souls do supernaturally. We connect. And we do so intergenerationally.

What are churches to do?

Our mandate as Christians to obey governing authorities (Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17) is a good reason for churches to cancel worship services. But there are other Biblical principles that help us embrace this difficult decision.

Canceling in-person worship services is not the same as canceling worship. Christians should never stop worshiping, because God is worthy of all our praise. Those in the persecuted church have long worshiped God without buildings, because they know that church is not primarily a place but a people. And technology now gives us unprecedented options. This does not mean, of course, that place is unimportant. God himself authorized the building of a temple that would serve as a place where his name would dwell. Even with that decree, however, at the dedication of the temple, Solomon humbly acknowledged that God cannot be consigned to a place (1 Kings 8:27).

The Book of Hebrews warns we should “not forsak[e] our assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25, NASB). Does closing church doors lead to direct disobedience of God’s command? The habitual practice of “missing church” may reflect a disregard of faith or a dismissive view of corporate responsibilities. Such is not the case for churches that are suspending gathered worship services in a pandemic. This decision comes out of sacrificial love, not from habitual or casual disregard for worship. The amount of angst displayed proves this point. Nor does it arise from a dismissive view of corporate responsibilities. The very reason for canceling is predicated upon a deep sense of responsibility for others. The coronavirus has reminded us that we are so interconnected that our very lives are impacted by proximity.

Sabbath and Service
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus challenged the contemporary understanding of the Sabbath. When his disciples had picked grain for food on the Sabbath, Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ criticism by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27–28). Jesus later applied this statement about the Sabbath to a situation of service.

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mark 3:1–5)

Jesus reminded the worshipers that a critical dimension of Sabbath involved care for the needy and vulnerable in society. He healed on the Sabbath, because healing is an appropriate thing to do on the Sabbath.

Sabbath observance was never just about what worshipers gained personally, but also what they gave communally. Sabbath encompassed the well-being of others. In Deuteronomy 5:12–15, the Israelites were instructed to observe the Sabbath by not working and also not allowing others to work. In the ancient world, it was astounding to be commanded to regularly release your household, servants, animals, and even the immigrant workers and refugees from work. Sabbath answered on a weekly basis the age-old question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes! We are called to ensure the flourishing of those within our sphere of influence.

With fresh power and unique authority, the Lord of the Sabbath applied the prophetic connection between worship and service. We hear echoes of Isaiah’s declaration of true fasting in acts of justice for the hungry and poor (58:6–7), of Micah’s concern for true sacrifice in expressing mercy (6:6–8), and of Amos’ lyrical entreaty for festivals of worship to be coupled with rivers of righteousness (5:21–24).

The teachings on Sabbath as an occasion of healing and service as an aspect of worship provide guidance for us on the question of whether or not to make religious services remote. It is lawful to do good and not to do harm, to save life and not to kill. Churches for thousands of years all around the world have had to find creative ways to worship. By physical distancing, the church practices preventative healing to mitigate the spread of a deadly virus. This would seem to be not only lawful but loving. We cancel physical gatherings not because we fear a virus but because we love the vulnerable and care for the world God loves. We remember that healing—both spiritual and physical—are aspects of worship.

Love of God and Love of Neighbor
Some of our brothers and sisters have argued that shuttering in-person services elevates the love of health over the love of God. We do not share this view. Of course, as Christians we believe there are worse fates than the loss of physical health or even this earthly life. We too admire the example of Christians throughout history who have risked their lives out of devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we are being asked temporarily to convene remotely, not to deny our faith or to cease worshiping God. It is one thing to risk your own life in order to worship together in person; it is quite another to risk the lives of countless others, when so many churches are finding creative and compelling ways to carry on in worship and community from a distance. By offering their remote services and proclaiming the hope of the gospel in troubled times, many churches are reaching audiences they have never reached before.

For those who feel called by their faith to demonstrate the love of God in the midst of the pandemic in ways that are self-sacrificial, we encourage you to do so in ways that do not endanger others. Offer to watch a neighbor’s children so she can continue to work. Distribute food to the poor and the vulnerable. Arrange remote “visits” with the elderly and the isolated. Give sacrificially to your church and to other ministries engaged in the fight. We need not fall short in either our love of God or in our love of neighbor; the church can be the church outside the walls of the sanctuary.

Even if our observance of worship is less than ideal, even if there are honest mistakes or misjudgments made in the cancellation of services, God sees the heart of faith. During the time of King Hezekiah, the people of God sought to celebrate Passover after years of neglect. But because they could not get their act together, they observed the Passover in the wrong month (2 Chron. 30:15). They compounded bad timing with bad practices: “they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.” (v. 18). Yet, even though the people were “not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary” (v. 19), the Lord accepted their worship because it was done in good faith, albeit not in good practice.

Will the Lord show any less grace to us than he showed to his people in Hezekiah’s day? In our moment of crisis, we suspect the Lord will see the deep faith and sincere intentions of his people, and will be pleased with worship that may not follow liturgical protocols but nonetheless seeks to honor him. We will not be passing the peace with hugs, but rather with texts and phone calls. Are these modes inferior? Yes. Will they be acceptable to the Lord? We also believe, yes.

Conclusion: Next Steps
As the nation closes down non-essential businesses, the church must rise up to its essential work of prayer. Nobody is exempted from this work: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 6:18). Physical distancing in household worship or online services still reflects our profound spiritual solidarity.

We can pray for Spirit-filled creativity to worship God, serve our communities, and love our neighbors. As our faithful brothers and sisters have done throughout history, we should be prepared to accept some personal risk as we look for innovative ways to serve that minimize danger to the broader community.

Let us join together in this prayer of Clement of Rome: We ask you, Master, be our helper and defender. Rescue those of our number in distress; raise up the fallen; assist the needy; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who stray; feed the hungry; release our captives; revive the weak; encourage those who lose heart. Let all the nations realize that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your Son, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture. Amen.

Dr. Walter Kim serves as pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville. He is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the president and CEO of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 24, 2020, 10:41:02 am

Will COVID-19 Lead to a Long-term Shift in Church Attendance?

This coming weekend may represent the fewest people engaging in corporate worship in the last two millennia.

We are entering truly unprecedented times for people of faith. Churches, synagogues, and mosques around the world have suspended regular worship services for an indefinite period of time. This coming weekend may represent the fewest people engaging in corporate worship in the last two millennia.

This is uncharted waters for those in church leadership. Many pastors and denominational leaders have struggled with questions related to the immediate concerns facing the church. Issues like: How do we take our service online? or How do we take care of the elderly and vulnerable members of our faith community? While it’s key that pastors do their best to tackle these immediate concerns, at some point thoughts may begin to drift further out.

It’s crucial that pastors begin to think about the long term. Specifically , is COVID-19 going to lead to a long-term shift in church attendance?

Survey data related to an event like this doesn’t exist. In order to take an educated guess at what the future may hold, we can work with the next best thing—panel data. A panel survey asks the same people the same series of questions over a long period of time as a means to detect how behavior shifts and to identify the possible causes of those changes. I have panel data that was collected in 2010, 2012, 2014. It offers an illuminating glimpse into how church attendance changes over time.


The first impression from the graph is that there is a lot of shifting in church attendance in just two-year periods. Many people changed their frequency of church attendance from 2010 to 2012 and then changed their behavior again by 2014. There are portions of the population that are more consistent, however.

The thick blue bands on the right side of the graph indicate the lack of movement among people who never attend church services. When people are out of church, they are unlikely to return. Note also that the size of the never attenders increased over a four-year period of time.

There are also thicker bands of movement among those who attend church weekly or more than once a week. That indicates a general sense of stability—frequent attenders don’t alter their behavior, either.


The overall shifts come into starker relief when just observing the changes from 2010 to 2014. The rows going down the left side of the above graph are individuals’ self-reported church attendance in 2010 and the size of the bars going left and right indicate where those groups ended up in 2014.

Starting at the top of graph, 82.4 percent of people who never attended church in 2010 were still never attenders in 2014. Added to that the fact that 13 percent said that their attendance has shifted to “seldom”; it becomes clear that this group is not radically changing its attendance pattern.

But that’s also true on the high end of the spectrum as well. Nearly 94 percent of people who said that they attended church more than once a week in 2010 were still attending weekly in 2014.

The middle of the spectrum is where a lot of movement occurs. While 60 percent of weekly attenders still attend once a week four years later, another 15 percent increased their attendance to more than once a week.

However, that also means a quarter of them are attending less.

The monthly and yearly categories indicate some points of concern. For those monthly attenders, a quarter were attending more four years later but 38 percent were attending less. For yearly attenders, the situation is even bleaker. Just 18.2 percent said that their attendance had increased, while 44.6 percent said attendance had gone down.

If pastors are thinking about ways to ensure that their church attendance does not suffer permanently from the effects of COVID-19, the data points to good places to begin making connections. It’s clear that the most faithful members will likely stay that way, and people who have never attended church won’t be coming to church in large numbers after the lockdown is over.

Instead, a good place to start would be to touch base with infrequent attenders in their congregation.

Pastoral teams should identify people who show up once every four or six weeks. The data indicates that the people in the middle of the attendance seem to be much more open to encouragement.

A quick email, a short phone call, or a private message on social media may be enough to keep them feeling connected to their church and their pastor.

And it’s always a good idea to publicize ways in which the church is still serving the community by posting pictures and updates on Facebook and Twitter.

Even people who have fallen away from a regular church may be looking for a social outlet when the pandemic has begun to fade and frequent posts may be enough to plant a seed in their mind when things have blown over.

Ryan P. Burge is an instructor of political science at Eastern Illinois University. His research appears on the site Religion in Public, and he tweets at @ryanburge.

The Exchange is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 24, 2020, 08:21:41 pm

Are Church Services Considered ‘Essential’? Depends Where You Live

Several states are offering religious exemptions to restrictions around public gatherings.

As multiple governors issue orders to curb large gatherings and implore residents to stay home in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus, at least a half-dozen states have exempted some level of religious activity.

The divergent treatment of faith in some states’ pandemic-fighting orders comes as a few houses of worship across the nation continue to greet people in person, despite federal public health guidance to avoid gatherings larger than 10 people and decisions by most religious leaders to shift services online. While the pandemic has heightened political tensions, the states including religious exceptions in their orders designed to combat the pandemic are led by governors in both parties.

In Michigan, for instance, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced a stay-at-home order on Monday that banned all gatherings outside of individual households. Guidance on the order noted that “a place of religious worship, when used for religious worship, is not subject to penalty” for violating it, a standard that the state had applied to its previous order curbing gatherings.

In Tennessee, where Republican Gov. Bill Lee issued a Sunday order limiting gatherings to 10 people, Pastor Greg Locke said he plans to keep having service at Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet. Locke said that he plans to be in touch with attorneys about remaining open, and that he is providing essential services to locals still recovering from tornadoes that slammed the state earlier this month.

“I don’t think a church staying open in days of chaos, when people need hope—I don’t think that should be controversial,” said Locke, describing himself as “shocked” by the degree of public pushback he received for continuing to hold services.

Religious gatherings were exempted from Ohio’s stay-at-home order, issued Sunday by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine. Solid Rock, an Ohio megachurch whose Cincinnati location hosted an event for evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump last month, held an in-person service on Sunday and said on its website that it would exert a constitutional right to continue meeting.

“We do believe that it is important for our doors to remain open for whomever to come to worship and pray during this time of great challenge in our country,” the church stated, noting that it wants to “help keep people safe.”

DeWine posted a Sunday warning on his Twitter account, asking “religious leaders to think about their congregations” as they weigh state guidelines crafted for public health reasons.

“We did not order religious organizations to close, but my message to EVERYONE is that this is serious. When you are coming together, whether in a church or wherever - this is dangerous,” DeWine tweeted.

Another pastor who took heat for holding in-person service on Sunday, Tom Walters of Pennsylvania’s Word of Life Church, posted an apology on the church’s Facebook page and said he would move to online-only worship amid the virus.

“Please believe me when I say that it was not out of arrogance or defiance” that the church met, Walters wrote, “but solely for the purpose of praying for our churches, communities, and nation.”

Other states declining to force closures of places of worship include Pennsylvania, where the list of essential businesses permitted to keep operating includes “religious organizations,” and New York, where all nonessential businesses across the state were ordered closed as of Sunday night. Guidance accompanying that order said that “houses of worship are not ordered closed,” but “it is strongly recommended no congregate services be held and social distance maintained.”

Tony Suarez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a member of President Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory board during the 2016 campaign, tweeted on Tuesday that he was “thankful” to see the number of states “listing churches as ‘essential services’.”

States that did not exempt religious activity in their pandemic-related shutdown orders include Oregon, whose Democratic governor moved to prohibit nonessential gatherings on Monday, and Maryland, whose Republican governor’s list of activities limited to 10 people on Monday included the “spiritual (and) religious.”

California’s stay-at-home order, by contrast, classified ”faith based services that are provided through streaming or other technology” as an essential function.

Frederick Gedicks, a Brigham Young University professor who specializes in religion and the law, said arguments exist for both accepting and rejecting exemptions for worship.

On the one hand, Gedicks said, religion could be considered “especially important during a national emergency”—but from another perspective, “it’s not singling out or targeting religion” to constrain worship at a time when most secular activity is also getting reined in.

Gedicks added that states’ divergent approaches during the current pandemic are no more problematic than they’ve been on other issues: “What we’re discovering now is the limitations of federalism in a time of national crisis.”

Columbia University law professor Katherine Franke said that since “the overwhelming majority of at least Christian congregations are meeting online,” state officials may have issued the exemptions in the hopes the impact would be minimal, assuming “most people will do the right thing.”

Indeed, many faith leaders have gone to creative lengths to continue delivering spiritual support during the pandemic. In states such as Utah, where a mass gathering to welcome back returning Mormon missionaries sparked criticism from the state’s GOP leaders, Catholic priests have offered to hear drive-up confessions that heed social distancing rules crafted to stop the virus.

But a handful of other houses of worship continued to meet. One Louisiana pastor reportedly welcomed hundreds to his church on Sunday, flouting public health restrictions for the second straight week and earning a rebuke from Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Edwards exempted travel “to and from an individual’s place of worship” in his state’s most recent stay-at-home order, which restricts gatherings larger than 10 people.

Next-door in Mississippi, Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has not ordered business closures or limits on social behavior. During a Sunday prayer session he led on Facebook, Reeves asked that residents have “the wisdom to do what’s right, not only for themselves but what’s right for all of their fellow Mississippians.”

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.

Associated Press writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed from Jackson, Mississippi.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 25, 2020, 02:58:23 am

An Easter Without Going To Church

The pandemic has laid an egg on our worship

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a formal recommendation that public gatherings be postponed or canceled for the next eight weeks. For organizations that serve high-risk populations, the threshold is 10 people, though most churches aren’t even doing that. Easter worship (April 12) as we’ve known it is doomed. Early on, many pastors probably presumed that preaching to cameras rather than congregations wasn’t going to encompass a whole season.

Events are moving quickly from bad to worse. No doubt pastors worry that two months of canceled worship services will provide the proverbial straw to break the camel’s back of congregational decline. For years we preachers told our congregations how “coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian” (usually followed by the tread bare analogy about how being in a garage doesn’t make you a car). We never really meant to be taken seriously. Fewer and fewer adults already report attending church in America. What’s going to happen when this last remnant gets used to spending Sundays at home? Like everything in this anxious moment, it’s too soon to tell.

The first Easter found the most faithful huddled away from their congregations, hiding out with a different fear. Instead of a pandemic, the disciples were afraid of the religious and political authorities who’d crucified Jesus and were likely coming after them too. Perhaps they also feared Jesus. After all, they’d sworn never to deny or disown him, but when everything went south, they’d scrambled and fled, leaving a small group of women to keep the faith afloat. And now Jesus was loose! The disciples’ socially-distant hideout proved a bad barrier. Jesus appeared in their midst (John 20:19–21) to forgive and to bless and, a few weeks hence, to empower with his very Spirit.

It is this same Holy Spirit who has empowered Christians to serve and to love through every crisis—from pandemics to natural disasters and world wars. Researcher Lyman Stone reminds us how Christians historically sacrificed for others during epidemics and plagues. Christians built the first hospitals where caring for the sick could happen safely. Their courageous conviction to love and care for the least and the poor bore witness to the Spirit’s power. The result was more an expanding than diminishing church and the spread of the gospel.

Controversially, Stone goes on to advocate for congregational worship for the sake of community. To be the body of Christ on earth requires we meet together as physical bodies. Stone adds that seeing one another in gathered space is not only a matter of supporting one another but a way to keep tabs on each other’s well-being.

However, even if we do practice stringent hygiene and social distancing, coming together as congregations in the face of this pandemic actually mars our witness. Rather than looking courageous and faithful, we come off looking callous and even foolish, not unlike the snake handlers who insisted on playing with poison as a proof of true faith. Better the recent encouragement from Wheaton College’s Esau McCaulley: “The church’s absence, its literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location. The church remains the church whether gathered or scattered.”

The church remains the church online, too. During a season of illness when I couldn’t attend church in person, I benefited from what theologian Deanna Thompson calls “the virtual body of Christ.” Relying on digital church during her own deadly illness, Thompson writes, “I received a prayer shawl from my local church community on the day I was diagnosed, [but] through the spreading of my story digitally, five more prayer shawls arrived in the mail from church communities across the country. It’s possible to read this as a (most wonderful) digital extension of the local church.”

In northeast Minneapolis at the beginning of the pandemic, pastor Stephanie O’Brien reported that her congregation designed a flyer to distribute throughout the neighborhood offering childcare help, transportation, grocery shopping, or anything else to love their neighbors. Though not coming together as a large group to worship, they can, assisted by social media and virtual reality, provide physical hands and feet to people in critical need. This is happening all across the country.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we might expect other unexpected blessings during this pandemonious Lent: extra alms to donate to the poor, time to meditate and to pray, and a growing concern for the needs of the world and even the planet, the imposition of self-denial and silence.

Turn to the Easter story proper and you find remarkable silence, the greatest in all Scripture. Nowhere does the Bible offer a description of the Resurrection itself, no language telling us how exactly how it happened, no speculation as to what went on in the tomb that first Easter morning.

Instead, the risen Jesus simply and shockingly shows up to his disciples huddled in fear. In time, this merry band of uneducated fishermen, outcasts, and losers upended the Empire. Salvation arrived for all believing humanity. Read to the end of the New Testament, and this same gospel redeems the entire cosmos. All of this emanates out of a glorious emptiness we celebrate Easter morning, whether gathered or scattered.

Daniel Harrell is Christianity Today’s editor in chief.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 26, 2020, 10:48:51 pm

The Pandemic in Prison

You can’t lock it up without letting it loose.

The advice to slow and curb the spread of the novel coronavirus is by now familiar: Practice social distancing. Don’t congregate in large groups. And always, always wash your hands.

But what if you live with another person—or two or three—in a 6-by-8 foot cell, and you eat every meal in a cafeteria that seats dozens, and you have no soap?

That’s the situation facing around 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in America and another 700,000 in local jails. As the COVID-19 pandemic escalates, detention facilities risk becoming “superspreader” sites, rapidly overloading inmates’ medical resources. The United States has the largest prison population and highest known incarceration rate in the world, and incarcerated people are uniquely at risk in this pandemic.

As Christians, we are called to their aid. Jesus listed “proclaim[ing] freedom for the prisoners” among the Spirit’s purposes for his ministry (Luke 4:14-21), and he described care for those in prison as an identifying mark of his followers, connecting those imprisoned to himself (Matthew 25:31-46). Scripture is replete with stories of the wrongfully detained—Joseph, Daniel, Peter, Paul, and Christ, for a night—yet it never makes innocence a condition of our call to care. Rather, as in Hebrews 13:1-3, we are simply exhorted to “remember those in prison as if [we] were together with them in prison,” to treat them as we would hope to be treated were we, but for the grace of God, in their place.

Polling commissioned by Prison Fellowship finds Christians—and especially evangelicals—are more likely than most Americans to want “safe and humane” detention conditions. COVID-19 creates a desperate need to put our faith into action (James 2:14-18).

The single best and most achievable way to do that is to get people out of jail. Most people held in American jails are in pre-trial detention, meaning they’re presumed innocent and haven’t been convicted of their alleged crimes. Thanks to changes in pre-trial procedures, jail populations have exploded in the last three decades, leaving many facilities dangerously overcrowded. This isn’t about public safety: Three in four jail inmates are low-level offenders accused of nonviolent infractions, and many have been cleared for pre-trial release. They remain locked up only because they can’t afford bail.

Some jurisdictions, including Los Angeles County, Ohio’s Cuyahoga County (which includes Cleveland), and Saint Paul, Minnesota, where I live, are evaluating their jail populations to release low-risk inmates to reduce the risks of infection.

There are two ways individual Christians and congregations can help. One is advocacy. Your city or county jail’s policies are significantly controlled by local government: judges, the police chief or sheriff, and the mayor or city council. You can contact these officials (make sure to call, not email) and ask them to release all jail inmates eligible for bail.

If advocacy doesn’t work, the other option is contributing to a bail fund. Bail funds have their roots in the black church’s fight against slavery and Jim Crow, when congregations pooled their money to buy their loved ones’ freedom. Most modern bail funds—like the state-based funds listed in the National Bail Fund Network or local branches of The Bail Project—don’t have a church affiliation. However, you may be able to find a church-connected bail fund where you live.

Look for something like Restoring Justice, a Christian legal aid nonprofit in Houston which partners with area churches as well as Baylor University. Restoring Justice operates a community bail fund, and it is “making emergency, research-based compassion bond motions and arguments” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 29, 2020, 06:15:38 pm

Fake Dead Sea Scrolls Displayed at Museum of the Bible

Updated exhibit will focus on forgery.

The Museum of the Bible displays 16 fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls—and all of them are fake, according to an independent analysis contracted by the museum. The forgeries will remain on display, with an updated exhibit that attempts to use the embarrassing situation as an educational opportunity.

“Our goal is to educate the public about these items, educate the public about the academic process, and make a contribution to the field,” said Jeffrey Kloha, the museum’s chief curatorial officer. “We are currently developing content for updating our exhibit.”

The Museum of the Bible purchased the forged fragments in four different lots from four different antiquities dealers between 2009 and 2014. The Dead Sea Scrolls were one of most important discoveries in biblical archaeology in the 20th century. It was felt that a museum dedicated to the history of the Bible had to have examples of them, if they were available.

The ancient scrolls were discovered by Bedouins in 1947. A cobbler in Bethlehem named Khalil Eskander Shahin and known as Kando served as an intermediary between the Bedouins and the institutions that wanted to buy them. The Kando family kept some of the fragments, as an investment.

When a number of scroll fragments began to come on the market in 2002, some were directly connected to the Kando family, and few questions were raised about their authenticity. Before the Bible museum opened, however, a group of scholars examined the fragments while writing a book about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Questions began to surface about five of the 16.

When the museum opened, the Dead Sea Scrolls were displayed with signs acknowledging the questions about their authenticity.

“Some scholars insisted they were authentic, some insisted they were not,” Kloha said. “We felt as a museum it was important to help the public understand that these are challenging questions.”

Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and chairman of the Museum of the Bible, was also fined $3 million and forced to return 5,500 ancient cuneiform tablets and seals in 2017, after a federal investigation determined they were from war-torn Iraq and not Turkey or Israel as customs forms had claimed.

Faced with some strong criticism and increased suspicion about the museum’s exhibits, the organization decided to hire an outside firm to independently examine all 16 of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments. The Museum of the Bible contracted with Colette Loll, of Art Fraud Insights, who specializes in detecting forged artwork. Loll assembled a team of experts and launched a nine-month investigation.

The investigation revealed that most of the fragments were leather, rather than the parchment typical of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To the naked eye the materials look very similar. Under a microscope, the difference was obvious. More evidence of forgery mounted.

“We saw things like ink waterfalling off the edges, ink going into cracks, ink going over thick surface deposits,” she said. That would mean that when the text was written “this material was already decomposing,” Loll said, which provided more physical evidence of forgery.

Investigation Reveals Deliberate Forgeries
When the experts finished, Loll’s team had no trouble drawing a conclusion.

“After an exhaustive review of all the imaging and scientific analysis results, it is the unanimous conclusion of the advisory team that none of the textual fragments in the Museum of the Bible’s Dead Sea Scroll collection are authentic. Moreover, each exhibits characteristics that suggest they are deliberate forgeries created in the 20th century with the intent to mimic authentic Dead Sea Scroll fragments.”

The investigative report, which was paid for by the museum and is now available on the museum’s website, includes videos and images which will help people understand the forgery.

The museum hosted an academic symposium on March 13 to report the results of the investigation. A panel of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars were responded, including Christopher Rollston, professor of Semitic languages at George Washington University; Sidnie White Crawford, professor emerita of Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judiasm at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and Lawrence Schiffman, professor of Judaic studies at New York University. All three praised the museum. Even though the fragments were one of the museum’s most prized possession, it did the right thing, funding an investigation and publicizing the results.

“They didn't have to fund these tests,” Rollston told CT. “Many other museums have not come clean like this. I think the museum deserves some credit for that.”

The three scholars also called for an inquiry into the fake artifacts, to figure out who perpetrated the fraud. “We need a full-scale criminal investigation,” Schiffman said.

Rollston hopes an investigative journalist will go to work on the scandal and find the perpetrator. He suspects it may be someone he knows, someone in the community of Dead Sea Scrolls experts, a trained scholar who perverted professional expertise to engage in criminal activity.

“I believe forgers do great harm to the field,” he said. “They prey on the hopes and desires of good people. I would love to see this person exposed and prosecuted.”

Other Scroll Fragments may be Suspect
There are about 70 other Dead Sea Scrolls fragments in other collections around the world that may be forgeries as well. The Museum of the Bible is encouraging the owners of those fragments to launch their own investigations.

“We hope to set a benchmark here for other collections and hopefully uncover the truth about all of these fragments,” Kloha said. “The ultimate goal is to have the truth and to be able to present it accurately and make it available to the world.”

He added: “We’ve learned a lot more about how forgers go about their methods. We have also learned that documentation from dealers can’t always be trusted.”

The news of the fakes may have damaged the credibility of the museum, but Rollston said he would not hesitate to visit with family members and friends who come to Washington, DC. “The serious blunders of the museum, these breeches of ethics and law, are part of the past,” he said.

Rollston recommends visiting the Israel Antiquities Authority room on the sixth floor, one of the largest exhibits of material excavated in Israel on display outside of Israel. And the changes that are coming in its Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit will make the museum even better.

“It will be really fabulous to put together an exhibit focusing on modern forgeries,” Rollston said. “It’s a useful thing for the public, a way to make lemonade out of lemons.”
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 30, 2020, 08:46:58 pm

Florida Pastor First to Be Arrested for Defying Coronavirus Order

Misdemeanor charges against Rodney Howard-Browne set up legal battle over right to worship in a pandemic.

Florida officials have arrested a megachurch pastor who allegedly held two Sunday services with hundreds of people in violation of a safer-at-home order in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Rodney Howard-Browne turned himself in to authorities in Hernando County where he lives on Monday afternoon, according to jail records. He was charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order. The two misdemeanors carry a possible maximum sentence of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Hillsborough Coutry Sheriff Chad Chronister said his command staff met with leaders at The River at Tampa Bay Church about the danger they are putting themselves—and their congregation—in by not maintaining appropriate social distancing. The Sheriff's Office also placed a digital sign on the road near the church driveway that said “practice social distancing.” But Howard-Browne held the services anyway, according to sheriff’s office detectives.

“Shame on this pastor, their legal staff, and the leaders of this staff for forcing us to do our job. That's not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency,” Chronister said. “We are hopeful that this will be a wakeup call.”

Several churches across the country have boldly violated gathering restrictions and stay-at-home orders to continue in-person worship, but Howard-Browne at The River is the first to face punishment for doing so. Recent research shows 1 in 10 Americans say their house of worship is continuing to gather in person, according to data reported last weekend by Deseret News.

The church has said it sanitized the building, and the pastor said on Twitter that the church is an essential business. Howard-Browne defended the church’s right to gather for worship and attacked the media for “religious bigotry and hate.”

Howard-Browne is a controversial Charismatic preacher associated with the prosperity gospel and known for promoting uncontrolled laughter—called “holy laughter”—as a manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is originally from South Africa, and is a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump.

Howard-Browne has also preached a number of conspiracy theories, claiming without evidence that the CIA trains ISIS fighters in the United States, and that vaccines are part of a secret plot to sterilize people, and that there was a secret assassination attempt on President Trump. He has also promoted wild theories about forces controlling the coronavirus.

Emergency rules instituted by county and state government ban all meetings of 10 or more people, including those held by faith-based groups. Health officials say this will help limit the spread of COVID-19. A live stream of Sunday's three-and-a-half-hour church service showed scores of congregants at The River.

On March 18, the church called its ministry an essential service, just like police and firefighters, and said it would keep its doors open.

In a Facebook video Sunday, Howard-Browne said “it looks like we're going to have to go to court over this because the church is encroached from every side.”

“This is really about your voice. The voice of the body of Christ,” he said. As recently as last year, Howard-Browne's church hosted an event with Paula White Cain, who was named an advisor leading President Donald Trump's Faith and Opportunity Initiative. She's also an unofficial spiritual advisor to the president.

Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 31, 2020, 08:18:44 am

The CARES Act & Your Church Staff: What You Need to Know & 4 Steps to Take Now

The new stimulus bill includes churches and has implication for church staff. Please learn more before making any staff decisions.

We are in unprecedented times, and (for most of us) the health crisis is just weeks away. However, for all of us, the financial crisis is here.

There are roughly 350,000 churches in the United States. Most are small and have a single (often part time) staff member. Some employ thousands. However, Warren Bird of the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability estimates that there are 1 million people on the payroll of US churches, the majority of whom are part-time, often working other jobs.

Thus, the Congress and the President included them in the most recent stimulus bill, The CARES Act (and the Paycheck Protection Program), as part of a plan to avoid sudden and vast unemployment.

While this is a fluid situation, we are committed to learning more about the CARES Act in the hours and days to come.

One particular trusted resource that we want to note is Richard Hammar’s overview posted at Christianity Today. Hammar, senior editor at Church Law and Tax, notes the following about the PPP (Paycheck Protection Program):

The Act establishes a new US Small Business Administration loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program for small employers (including nonprofits and churches) with 500 or fewer employees to help prevent workers from losing their jobs and small businesses from failing due to economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The program provides federally guaranteed loans to cover payroll and other operating expenses.
To be eligible, the small employer must have been harmed by the pandemic between February 15, 2020, and June 30, 2020. The Act requires eligible borrowers to make a good-faith certification that (1) the loan is necessary due to the current economic conditions caused by COVID-19; (2) the funds will be used to retain workers and maintain payroll, lease, and utility payments; and (3) they are not receiving duplicative funds for the same uses from another SBA program.

Principal amounts on the loan for the first eight-week period from the time the loan was made may be forgiven if used to pay:
compensation under $100,000 (per employee)
payment of interest on any obligation
The amount of loan forgiveness is reduced based on an employer’s decline in workers or wages (declines between February 15, 2020, and April 26, 2020, do not reduce the amount of loan forgiveness but only if the employer returns to pre-decline levels by June 30, 2020).
Any portion of a loan not forgiven is carried forward as an ongoing loan with a term of ten years at four percent interest.
The program is retroactive to February 15, 2020, to help bring workers who may have already been laid off back onto payrolls. The loan period ends on June 30, 2020.
What is Covered?

In addition, our friends at Vanderbloemen have provided some helpful resources about how the loan funds can be used to cover payroll costs, group health insurance benefits, paid sick leave, medical and insurance premiums, mortgage or rent payments, and utilities.

Furthermore, payroll costs can include:

Salary or wages, payments of a cash tip
Vacation, parental, family, medical and sick leave
Health benefits
Retirement benefits
State and local taxes
Limited up to $100k annual Salary/wage for each employee
What You Need to Do Now

Therefore, in light of what we do know, here are four things you need to be doing now with regard to thinking and praying through your church’s finances in this crisis.

#1 Decide if this provision is right for your church

Yes, there are many factors for pastors and church leaders to consider in applying for this loan. For some, there may be an overall principle that your church doesn’t believe in acquiring debt. For others, there may be hesitation taking any money from the local government.

Maybe, there are others, you are wondering about specific details.

Here’s what we know regarding the details. Again, a big thanks to our friends at Vanderbloemen in laying this out:

Lenders will most likely be your current banker
No loan payments under this program will be due for a year
No fees are included in the loan
Interest rate will be less than 4%
You will need to certify the loan will be used for supporting ongoing operations, retaining workers, maintaining payroll, or making mortgage, lease, and utility payments
No collateral or personal guarantees will be required
If you sense your church might not make it out of this crisis, or if you expect to be laying off staff or taking significant pay cuts during this crisis, you might want to consider this option. You should contact your bank and your accountant, as both will be needed in this process.

Some experts are saying you should do this quickly, though others are reassuring that additional funds will be made available as needed, so there is some uncertainty about the timing.

#2 Contact your local bank and let them know you want to participate in the Paycheck Protection Program from the CARES Act

This action is pretty straightforward. However, there is a possibility that your bank isn’t a participant of the CARES Act. In that case you will want to contact a larger regional bank in your area to start that conversation and process.

#3 Begin working on your spreadsheet to calculate your average payroll cost

The way this program works takes your average payroll cost for the last 12 months (March 2019–March 2020)—and multiplies it by 2.5.

Keep in mind, this not only includes full-time and part-time staff, it can also include 1099 employees such as off-duty police officers, interns, and other monthly costs related to outsourcing to run the church.

After you’ve tallied up your average payroll for the year, and multiply it by 2.5, you will have the loan amount for which you will apply.

You should contact your accountant who is also receiving guidance about this act.

But you need to be working on that now as the bank will want to see how you’ve arrived at that number.

#4 Tell your staff that you are working on a plan

We know these are uncertain times that bring upon a heightened sense of panic and anxiety. While we know that Jesus is our ultimate hope, it still brings your staff a practical level of comfort knowing that you are working on a plan to help sustain your church (and staff) financially during this crisis.

Let me encourage you to listen to the podcast with Slingshot Group (about staff issues) and with William Vanderbloemen about staff and stimulus bill issues.

Stay tuned, as we will continue to keep you updated on this stimulus package and how it relates to church finances.

Josh Laxton currently serves as the Assistant Director of the Billy Graham Center, Lausanne North American Coordinator at Wheaton College, and a co-host of the podcast Living in the Land of Oz. He has a Ph.D. in North American Missiology from Southeastern Seminary.

For other resources, check out:

OVERALL LOAN INFO: / (PDF doc - including graphics)

Loans available: Paycheck Protection Program)

Loan forgiveness/interest rates/etc:

Loan FAQ: /

Paycheck Protection Program overview, eligibility:

Here is the site:

Here is a recent Q&A with Guidestone Financial Services with regards to how churches, pastors are eligible for relief in the stimulus package.
Title: Re: Christianity Today Magazine - March 2020
Post by: patrick jane on March 31, 2020, 11:57:57 am

Playing God: Pandemic Brings Moral Dilemmas to US Hospitals

Two Christian bioethicists on life or death issues that American doctors may soon face.

Medical professionals across the US are preparing COVID-19 units in a suspenseful quiet, while others in places like New York are already overwhelmed with patients. The city has ordered hospitals to increase capacity by 50 percent, and they are looking at ways to use temporary facilities, including a recently arrived Navy hospital ship, hastily built field hospitals, and even hotels.

In the midst of all this, doctors and nurses are preparing to face agonizing ethical decisions as their Italian counterparts have already in recent weeks. According to some estimates, the number of projected coronavirus patients needing ventilation in the US could reach anywhere between 1.4 and 31 patients per available ventilator.

There are three main ethical concerns that medical professionals are now facing, according to the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity: protecting the vulnerable by not overwhelming health care systems, allocating insufficient medical supplies, and keeping medical workers safe who lack the proper protective equipment against the virus. The questions are very real: Who should receive medical care when there aren’t enough resources to go around?

Two ethicists aiding US medical workers with these dilemmas are Carol L. Powers, a lawyer and the co-founder and chair of the Community Ethics Committee out of Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics in Boston; and David Stevens, a physician and CEO emeritus of the Christian Medical & Dental Associations in Bristol, Tennessee who spent 11 years on the front lines of the HIV/AIDS and malaria epidemics in Africa.

CT spoke to Powers and Stevens about how Christians should approach issues of life or death.

How does the relationship between the physician and patient change during a public health crisis like a pandemic?

Powers: In the normal course, the physician-patient relationship is shaped by two different “spheres of decision-making.” Typically, the patient is charged with articulating their individual goals of care based upon their personal values and preferences. The physician then responds with various treatment options that would accomplish those individual goals of care.

In a public health crisis where health-care resources become limited, the physician-patient relationship changes drastically. The weight accorded to an individual patient’s goals of care diminishes in light of the community’s increased need for health care resources. Rather than focusing solely on the patient in the bed, the physician must now consider the many patients in many beds. Treatment options available to both the physician and the patient become necessarily limited.

Critical care resources—an isolation unit or an ICU bed or a ventilator or dialysis—may not be a treatment option offered or it may even be withdrawn. In the case of non-critical medical needs, surgeries or treatments may be delayed or become completely unavailable. Resource allocation questions force a shift in the physician-patient relationship so that the patient’s desires for specialized medical treatments cannot be accommodated and the physician reluctantly becomes a gatekeeper for access to any care at all. Medical care that was once assumed to be available may become limited or completely unavailable.

For the physician, an uncomfortable shift occurs from providing patient care supported by evidence-based medical standards offering a full panoply of treatment choices to operating under crisis standards of care providing limited treatment options in an attempt to save as many people in jeopardy as possible.

Whenever the question arises “what should we do?” then you are in the arena of ethics. The focus of decision-making in ethics often centers upon balancing benefits and burdens of competing “good or right answers.” In our pre-March 2020 world, a patient was able to exercise a good deal of decision-making authority about what treatment options they wanted based upon an ethical decision-making principle of autonomy. In our post-March 2020 world, the ethical principle of justice asserts itself and physicians must find ways to allocate limited resources in ways that are fair and do the most people the most good. For years, we have stayed away from talking about rationing health care and now, because of a crisis beyond our control, we are being forced to ask hard resource allocation questions.

How are medical professionals making decisions about who to prioritize for care?

Stevens: The four basic principles of ethics [include] beneficence, which is doing good; non-malfeasance, which is doing no harm, justice, [and autonomy], and all those things are impacted by an epidemic.

You have the ethical quandary of, do I take care of the sickest folks or do I take care of the most folks? You focus on those in the middle. You have those that aren’t very sick, you tell them to stay home. And then you have people who are desperately sick and when there are not enough respirators, there’s going to be a decision-making situation where you’re going to say, this person is so sick, I’m just going to sedate them or give them something for pain or air hunger, but I don’t have the resources nor the time to focus on this person to the detriment of 15 others who are moderately sick who I can save. That is what we call competing goods. Both of those are good things but you can’t do both.

I remember as a young missionary, we had a lot of premature births—some of the highest in the world because we had the highest multiple births—that one out of every 28 deliveries was a set of twins. So we had a lot of preemies. We didn’t have 24-hour electricity. We had a little generator we could use to run one isolette. You can put three premies in an isolette, but what do you do when the fourth one comes? I had to make this decision many times and say, Okay, great, this one’s doing better. I think we can take it out and put this one in. But other times you looked, and all of them were doing bad and you think, this one is so bad in the middle, I’m going to take that one out and just give it comfort care and give it back to its mother and I’m going to take this other one that was just born and is doing better and put it in.

Well, that’s not fair. You can’t be fair in these types of resource-depleted situations. And you get into what we call utilitarian ethics of doing the best you can to save the most people when you can’t save them all. You do that while not violating any moral absolutes.

Powers: There are several different ways to allocate scarce medical resources. One could argue for a first-come, first-served system or even a lottery. What most hospitals are instituting are crisis standards of care that are that trying to maximize the most life years. What that means on a practical basis is a patient with COVID-19 whose health is already compromised by other life-threatening medical conditions may not receive as much intensive medical support as someone whose health is not medically compromised.

Doctors are trying to assess who will benefit the most for the longest when they offer access to scarce medical resources. It means hard choices are inevitable, especially because we have come to rely on the physician acting as an advocate for their individual patients. In order to keep that relationship intact as far as possible, hospitals are now putting into place triage teams—clinicians who are not directly providing care to a patient—who evaluate the test results and determine who will be most likely to benefit the most.

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Stevens: One of the premises of medicine is you do no harm. We are taught in health care in this country that you never do anything you’re not trained to do, that you’re not competent to do. We’re already moving past that in New York because you’re going to have people that haven’t practiced medicine in years coming back to help out. This is a place where you have to do that. There’s a place when you’ve got a moral duty to help people, but you have a conflict. And you've got to set priorities and you have to allocate limited resources. All these things play into it and make it a very difficult situation, especially here in the US where people haven't had to deal with these things.

How are these policies formed? Who is involved in making decisions?

Powers: Because these policies are being formulated under duress in exigent circumstances, the opportunity for community review is limited. Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics has provided some resources to a Community Ethics Committee which I have overseen for the last 13 years. It is a diverse group of community members that provides review and comment on hospital policies. We were asked to comment upon a draft policy promulgated by some of the hospitals within the Harvard system and we are working on drafting informational materials to help the public navigate these turbulent health-care waters. A sister group at Yale called the Community Ethics Forum has also been looking at this topic.

Stevens: At a hospital level, there are ethics committees, there are administrators, there are chief of staff, physicians, and others. But often ethics committees have the time to do this. The trouble in these types of epidemics is that you don't have that time as things get worse. You have to essentially trust your doctor. It gets as basic as that.

Powers: Even if we were able to provide robust community input, the problem lies in the fact that incredibly difficult medical decisions will have to be made at the bedside with limited time and limited knowledge of the patient’s life and values. The volume of patients needing intensive care could potentially require a total reliance upon a team of clinicians deciding access to critical care resources based on the results of medical tests and nothing more.

Each community member can be involved in their own health care by educating themselves about advance care directives. Health care proxies should be signed and personal values that inform choices for medical care should be discussed with family members. Proactively, each one of us should reach out and mend broken ties to the extent we can. We need to tell our loved ones how important they are to us. And goodbyes should be said now. That sounds like a drastic recommendation but given the prohibition of hospital visitors, we need to do now what we may not be able to do later.

Do people have a right to palliative care in the event that there is not enough equipment? If that isn’t possible, how are medical professionals thinking through dignity at the end of life?

Powers: The dignity each of us experiences at the end of life is provided not by who is at our bedside or what medical treatments have been made available to us. The dignity each life has is based upon the image of God bestowed upon each of us—with our first breath given to us at our births to the last breath taken at our deaths, our dignity is based upon our relationships with each other and our God. Because our God will never leave us or forsake us, he will be with each one of us as we die. It is our loved ones who will need that sense of dignity—a sacramental leave-taking —that may be missing in this world of isolated dying. To my point above, we all should spend this time in closing accounts—communicating our love and showing our respect and giving our blessing —with those we love. Therein lies our dignity.

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Stevens: You always want to provide comfort even when you cannot provide a cure. That's not difficult. It doesn’t mean people have to physically suffer, as long as the medications last. You always want to show compassion as best you can.

How should Christians think about these ethical dilemmas?

Stevens: For Christians in health care in particular, you’ve really got to dig into God’s Word. One of the verses that really helped me as I dealt with these things for 11 years [in Africa] was 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God had not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.”

It means you pray for wisdom and help [patients] with compassion. People care less that their doctor can cure than that they really care. If they know they care, they know they’re doing the best that they can.

For centuries, Christians have not run away in situations like this in a crisis—they’ve run to them. I think this is a tremendous opportunity for Christian health-care professionals—and of course, I deal with 35,000 of them—it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate Christ, not just in word, but in deed. That's the good news—that we don't have to fear. God is still in control. I didn't walk home in the middle of an epidemic [in Africa] afraid to death for my wife or kids. I took reasonable precautions and then trusted God. I realized he was in control. He called me there and this wasn’t a job. This was a calling.

Kara Bettis is an associate features editor at Christianity Today.
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