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Have Mercy as God Has Mercy

Mercy is what holiness looks like in the lives of God's children.

I hate to admit it, but vindictiveness comes easily to me. Recently, I was online for less than two minutes before I found myself relishing an opponent getting publicly mocked. He had said something particularly and typically foolish, so he surely deserved it. Right when I was going to pile on, Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Plain came to mind: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

It’s often passed over, but it’s an arresting thought. In form, it appears as a gloss of one of the most important commands in the Old Testament: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). The Lord, the Holy One, had saved Israel and set them apart from the nations to be his holy people (Ex. 19:4–6). They had been sanctified to reflect God’s holiness to the nations in their holy worship, conduct, and character.

Jesus teaches his disciples that living as “children of the Most High” (Luke 6:35) means loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, lending without expectation of return, and blessing those who curse us; this will set us apart. Put another way, mercy is what holiness looks like in the lives of God’s children.

Many of us don’t associate God’s holiness with his mercy. Holiness as purity, judgment, and wrath? Sure. God’s holiness is the distinctive glory, power, and majesty of his incorruptible life. But witness God’s self-testimony to Israel in Hosea (11:9):

I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
I will not come against their cities.

The Lord reveals himself as the Holy One precisely in his compassion ...

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One Body, Many Parts: The Crucial Role of the ‘Faith-Based FEMA’ After Florence

Working alongside government agencies, Christian volunteers aid hurricane victims based on what each denomination does best.

For years, Ed and Marian Stinnette have served as the hands and feet of Jesus in disaster zones, helping victims recover from devastating storms such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Now, the longtime Samaritan’s Purse volunteers and their home congregation, Port City Community Church, which has four locations in eastern North Carolina, are mobilizing close to home.

“I truly believe that it’s going to be the faith-based people that are going to be here for the long haul,” Ed Stinnette, 71, said from the historic river city of New Bern, North Carolina, where officials estimate Hurricane Florence damaged or destroyed 4,300 homes and 300 businesses. “They’re going to be the ones that are going to reach out and help the people recover from this.”

Convoy of Hope, a Springfield, Missouri-based nondenominational Christian organization, is partnering with Port City Community Church to distribute supplies from the church’s campus in Wilmington, North Carolina. As a result of Florence’s epic deluge, that hard-hit city became an island shut off from much of the world.

The Port City church also is teaming with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical humanitarian aid organization headquartered in Boone, North Carolina, to help Florence victims all over the deluged state. At least 37 people in three states have died, including 27 in North Carolina, as a result of the powerful Category 4 hurricane.

“Right now, we are focused on the cleanup stage,” Todd Taylor, program manager of US disaster relief for Samaritan's Purse, said from the charity’s New Bern command center. “That includes cutting trees, tarping roofs with blue plastic to prevent further roof damage and ...

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One-on-One with Daniel Darling on ‘The Dignity Revolution’

What does it look like to reclaim God's rich vision of humanity in a world that is increasingly asking what it means to be human?

Ed: What compelled you to write a book on human dignity?

Daniel: I’ve always been fascinated by the way the Bible describes the creation of human beings. While Moses describes God speaking the rest of the natural world into existence, he slows down his narrative in the first two chapters and describes the crafting of humanity in vivid and artistic language.

God sculpted humans from the dust of the ground and breathed into them the breath of life. King David tells us in Psalm 139 that every life is crafted with care in the mother’s womb.

I also think this is an important time for Christians to reclaim this rich vision of humanity in a world that is increasingly asking what it means to be human and in a world that sees daily assaults on human dignity, from abortion to war to the way we treat immigrants and refugees to the discussions about the end of life.

Ed: What exactly does it mean that humans are “created in the image of God?”

Daniel: Well, there is a lot of mystery here, so even in a book like this, we are only scratching the surface of what it means. However, we do know that to be human is to, in some way, reflect God in the world. I think this has two meanings.

First, it means every human being has value and dignity, above the rest of the creation, because we bear God’s image. Even in a fallen world, sin has corrupted the human experience, turning us against each other in violence, but it has not removed our value. Our dignity is not diminished based on our capacity or even our choices.

Second, to be created in God’s image means we have responsibility. We were created by a Creator to create, to reason, to love, to fill the earth with his glory. In a sense, the gospel message is telling ...

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Here’s Who Willow Creek Chose to Investigate Bill Hybels

Independent advisory group of four evangelical leaders—two women and two men—hope to complete work by early 2019.

Today Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) and the Willow Creek Association (WCA) announced who will lead the promised investigation of the numerous allegations against Bill Hybels that led to the early retirement of the founding pastor and the resignation of his heirs and elders.

The new Willow Creek Independent Advisory Group (IAG) is co-chaired by Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita and current ambassador of The Wesleyan Church, and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

The other two members are Margaret Diddams, provost of Wheaton College and a professor of psychology, and Gary Walter, past president of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois.

Their task:

  1. “Consider allegations related to Bill Hybels as founder and pastor of the church and founder and spokesperson of the association”
  2. “Review organizational culture of the church and association”
  3. “Make recommendations to the church and association for future actions”

Members for the group were nominated by evangelical leaders outside of both the church and the association, which jointly stated:

The IAG will work autonomously. WCCC and WCA have pledged their full cooperation, but neither will be represented on the IAG nor party to the group’s work except for providing information as requested.

The advisory group “has decided to decline press inquiries and interviews while they complete their review and develop their recommendations.” Its members “hope to complete their work in early 2019.”

“Fascinating,” tweeted Greg Jao, senior assistant to the president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. “The 4-member review team for this non-denominational ...

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The #MeToo Movement Has Educated Pastors. And Left Them with More Questions.

More pastors say they are addressing these issues from the pulpit. Still, half say they lack training in how to address sexual and domestic violence.

In recent months, churches have been rocked by high-profile accusations of sexual misconduct among clergy.

While the Catholic church’s continued abuse scandal has dominated the headlines, Protestant churches have also seen high profile pastors accused of sexual misconduct.

More accusations are likely to come—from congregations big and small.

One in 8 Protestant senior pastors say a church staff member has sexually harassed a member of the congregation at some point in the church’s history. One in 6 pastors say a staff member has been harassed in a church setting.

Two-thirds of pastors say domestic or sexual violence occurs in the lives of people in their congregation. And many pastors believe the #MeToo movement has made their churches more aware of how common sexual and domestic violence are.

More pastors say they are addressing these issues from the pulpit. Still, half say they lack training in how to address sexual and domestic violence.

Those are among the findings of a new study on pastors’ views on #MeToo and sexual and domestic violence in churches from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study, sponsored by IMA World Health and Sojourners, is a follow up to a 2014 survey.

Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says the #MeToo movement—and more public discussion of sexual and domestic violence—seems to have gotten pastors’ attention.

“Pastors are starting to talk about issues like sexual harassment and domestic abuse more than in the past,” McConnell said. “They don’t always know how to respond—but fewer see them as taboo subjects.”

Most aware of #MeToo

For the study, LifeWay Research conducted a phone survey of 1,000 Protestant ...

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America’s Age of Skepticism: How Christians Should Respond

As Christians, how we choose to engage skepticism matters; we’re called to do so with thoughtfulness and conviction.

There’s no question, Americans are—and have been for quite some time—becoming less and less religious.

In a study conducted by Pew Research, we can see this shift happening over the course of even the past few years. In 2007, 78.4% of the U.S. population would have called themselves a Christian; just seven years later in 2014, that number dropped by almost eight percent. In other words, this decline represents a one percent decrease in the number of Americans identifying as Christian per year—a small, yet staggering, data trend.

Particularly, though, this trend can me seen most profoundly in young adults—Millennials as they are so infamously known. When asked, only about four in ten Millennials would say that religion is important in their lives. Furthermore, looking at data from the American Religious Identification Survey, about one third of all college students identify themselves as secular and generally irreligious.

So, what does this data mean for our nation?

The data doesn’t lie

It seems clear that we are living in an increasingly skeptical and—in some ways—a post-Christian culture. That’s not to say that America has completely relinquished its Christian roots and begun the process of closing churches and or religious institutions. Thankfully, Christians living in the U.S. aren’t being actively persecuted for their faith as our brothers and sisters overseas experience on a dailly basis.

Instead, what we’re seeing is the growth of an American populace that is largely disinterested in the faith of their forefathers. Many who maybe grew up in a church-on-Sundays kind of home and loosely practiced their faith are choosing to abandon their affiliation with the ...

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How Mothers (and Others) Minister in Disrupted Spaces

Christ's kingdom work involved detours. Can we follow his model?

For many parents, the advent of the school year brings with it a familiar and difficult dynamic: cycles of interruptions. As mothers, in particular, we learn to be flexible with our plans and structure our days to bend to our kids’ needs. Nonetheless, as Michelle Radford notes in her recent CT interview, the unique challenge of parenting often precipitates a crisis of identity for many women.

When my two kids—born 14 months apart—were young, I felt as if I’d never get ahead in my career because I was too busy changing diapers, waking up in the middle of the night to feed my children, or running to the store for a bottle of baby Motrin. I struggled with the incessant interruptions and spent much of my time relinquishing well-made plans.

Now, however, as my children move into their teens, I’m beginning to recognize that, in those early years, God was teaching me to be openhanded with my hopes in order to serve others. What I thought hindered me from real ministry was, in fact, God’s tool instructing me to be present to the immediate needs around me, and what felt like falling behind in my career was just the character formation that Christ had been looking for. In sum, those early days of parenthood were teaching me to listen to the voice of Jesus.

All of us—mothers, fathers, pastors, teachers, and everyone else—are part of God’s ministry of interrupted plans, his kingdom of “on-the-way.” We see this in Scripture.

Much of the Jesus’ ministry happened on the way to something else. In Mark 6, Jesus finds out that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded. The apostles gather around to pass on the terrible news. Jesus then tells them that they need to come ...

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Can You Hear Me Now?

In an age when most are rushing to have their say, Christians can love by giving others a hearing.

I remember having a discussion around faith matters years ago with an intelligent person. I met him at an event I was attending with a few friends. On one particular evening, we all decided to have dinner together. Just from the incidental conversations we had before this meal, I knew that he and I did not see eye to eye on many issues.

After the meal finished, the three others got up to use the restroom while he and I sat talking across the table. We entered into a contentious theological issue, and it soon felt as though someone had turned up the temperature in the room. His face became red, and I am sure mine was too.

Eventually he looked at me and said, “Oh I understand now. You are a foundationalist!” If I weren’t so caught up in the emotion of the conversation at the time, I would have asked him what a foundationalist is.

He quickly moved on to his next accusation, clothed in the form of a question: “Tell me, where did you study?” When I mentioned the two universities at which I had done post-graduate education, he dropped his case against me. In hindsight, I am convinced that he was looking to categorize me, but he couldn’t do it because the universities I mentioned simply would not fit the anticipated boxes to be ticked.

As I think back to that intense conversation, I wonder how I could have navigated that situation better and how the Christian faith might inform my frame of mind.

Many of us have been in conversations like this in which we stop listening to the person with whom we are speaking. Lyell Asher, English professor at Lewis and Clark College, proposes a meaningful antidote to this challenge in his American Scholar article. He makes the point that instead of listening for what ...

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The Myth of Missionary Neutrality

Everything we do either propels God’s mission forward or hinders the embodiment of his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Cars rarely operate in neutral, but churches do all the time.

Maybe this is because neutral is the normative posture of those who make up the church.

It’s common to hear people speak as if there are three possible positions for life in relation to God. Some are in drive—moving forward in active obedience to the Great Commission. Others are in reverse, demonstrating rebellion against God’s authority and living to undermine God’s mission in the world. The rest are sitting in neutral, somewhere between drive and reverse.

Those in the first position are the missionary superstars of the church. They preach, lead, or better yet, they go across the world to take the gospel to those who’ve never heard. Those in reverse are clear enemies to the gospel. They flaunt their depravity through heinous acts that are universally decried as wicked.

Then there’s everyone else—the mass of humanity who saunters through life in a seemingly neutral posture.

Some of these neutral people profess faith in Jesus yet perceive of their existence as morally and missionally neutral, devoid of meaning most of the time. Others do not believe, however their posture toward life differs little from their neutral, supposedly believing friends. They simply live making decisions and investing time in ways that have little significance beyond the meagre reach of their influence, or so they think.

I (Jeff) write about these themes in my book, Kingdom Matrix, where I suggest that, contrary to this tripartite way of thinking, there are ultimately two, not three, kingdoms in which we can live.

The first is the kingdom of God wherein our lives are caught up in the grand mission of God and infused with worth, value, and significance ...

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How Poetry Quiets the ‘Pandemonium of Blab’

Poet Christian Wiman helps us tune our ears to silence, so God's voice won't be lost in the noise.

If I could, I would give this review a flashing, neon title. I would aim on it a bright and roving spotlight. I would print it up like a recruitment poster, pointing finger and all, because I WANT YOU, yes you, to read this book.

You’re not that interested in art? Poetry isn’t really your thing? Your stack of books to read is already too high? Make those apologies, and I will only press my point harder. It is precisely because there are too many voices calling for our attention—too many books on our bedside tables, too many apps fired up on our screens—that we, as people of faith, should tune our ears to silence. Poets, in particular, help us do exactly that. Only when the “pandemonium of blab—ceases,” Christian Wiman writes, can we “hear—and what some of us hear … is a still, small voice.”

Poetry depends on silence. It depends on the word not written, the pause of line break or comma, the white space on the page. If you are intrigued by the silence that poems can open up in and around words when those words are placed with artful precision and concision, you could dive right in to the quiet rhythms of T. S. Eliot’s quartets, Seamus Heaney’s metaphors, or Mary Oliver’s epiphanies. I suggest beginning with He Held Radical Light, the latest offering from Wiman, a poet, editor, and, most recently, divinity school professor.

Pressing into the Silence

He Held Radical Light is a book-length essay woven of spiritual memoir, literary criticism, and lyric poetry. It demonstrates with intelligence, honesty, and humor how vital poetry can be for any exploration of faith, an argument the subtitle (“The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art”) makes ...

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China on My Mind: Why We All Must Care about Our Suffering Brothers and Sisters

Their suffering does not go unnoticed by God, and so it should never go unnoticed by us.

Friends, our brothers and sisters in China covet your prayers.

This past Sunday, Zion Church—one of Beijing’s largest house churches—is being persecuted by Chinese government authorities. These threats came after months of persecution and harassment endured by Zion’s pastor Jin “Ezra” Mingri and many parishioners.

To add some background, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities has been taking place in China for decades; the country has been listed as a country of particular concern on the State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report since 1999.

But religious persecution as a whole in China has been on the upswing ever since President Xi took office back in 2013. Under his leadership, the nation has tightened its grip on religious affairs taking place within its borders.

In February of this year, a list of Regulations for Religious Affairs was released by the Chinese government with the supposed aim of “protect[ing] citizens’ freedom of religious belief.” The governments actions, however, continue to speak louder than their words.

After Pastor Mingri refused authorities request for the church to install video cameras for “security reasons,” the retaliation began. Parishioners were harassed by government officials. The church’s landlord suddenly evicted them from their building. Pamphlets were distributed to Zion’s attendees advertising the “officially sanctioned” churches that they might attend.

Sadly, this story isn’t told in isolation; churches across the country could tell us similar tales of the ways President Xi and his officials are attacking their religious rights. The Chinese government ...

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