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Reading The Jesus Storybook Bible in Iceland

In the world’s most bookish country, evangelicals are taking up the ministry of translation.

In the pitch dark of Christmas Eve in Iceland, after family dinner and unwrapping presents, the lights stay aglow for another special tradition: reading. Not just reciting the Nativity story or The Night Before Christmas; book lovers in the tiny Nordic nation spend the night cracking into the shiny new hardbacks they received as gifts.

Gunnar Ingi Gunnarsson, a pastor in Reykjavík, remembers his father staying awake until 6 a.m. on Christmas, curled up with a box of chocolates and whatever book he’d received that year.

Even in the 21st century, the decades-old read-a-thon carries on. Bolstered by a cultural love for stories (dating back to the Viking sagas that chronicle the island’s history), Iceland now publishes and reads more books per capita each year than almost anywhere else.

Though sales have dipped due to digital options, Iceland’s printing output has remained steady at about 1,500 books a year, according to government statistics. The bulk of the new titles come out in the months leading up to Christmas during Jólabókaflóð, or the “Yule Book Flood,” so they can be given as gifts and read during the holidays.

For years, Gunnarsson has dreamed of his own three kids getting to unwrap one particular book: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

Though the popular children’s Bible has sold 3.2 million copies in 38 languages, Icelandic wasn’t one of them. Few evangelical books at all make it to the overwhelmingly secular island, deemed the “most godless country in Europe.” And just one version of the Bible is available in print in the local language.

But this year, Gunnarsson finally was able to give his kids—and hopefully thousands of others—an ...

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David Dockery's Look at the Notable Books of 2018

A brief survey of some of this year's most significant Christian books.

We are just days away from the conclusion of the 2018 year. Once again, it is time to reflect on some of the noteworthy books that have been released in 2018. Various estimates suggest that more than 750,000 different titles were published in this country over the past twelve months.

I obviously have not looked at all of these books, not even a significant portion of them. The book industry has enjoyed a fairly successful year due to the interest in books about President Trump and the runaway bestseller by former First Lady Michelle Obama. Similar to what I have done in recent years, I want to offer a brief survey of the most significant books that I have encountered this past year.

I am thankful for the encouragement to provide the list again this year. I am sure that I have missed a few favorites for some and have included books that will perhaps bring pause for others. Still, I am grateful for the privilege to share these observations.

Looking for the Right Gift

If you are looking for a book to give to a friend or family member for Christmas, I offer these titles for your consideration.

Karen Swallow Prior’s new work, On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life through Great Books (Baker), persuasively makes the case that reading good literature helps to cultivate virtue in one’s life. I heartily recommend Prior’s outstanding book. Also concerned with the need for virtuous living and careful thinking, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, in The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (Penguin Press), have produced an engaging and thoughtful volume. I really like Drew Hunter’s work on the importance of friendship: Made for Friendship: The Relationship ...

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Harvest Bible Chapel Disputes World Investigation of James MacDonald

Former staff and elders criticize shuffling of funds and 50-mile noncompete clauses for former pastors.

In an investigation published by World magazine yesterday, former Harvest Bible Chapel leaders raise concerns over the Chicago-area megachurch’s operations, including claims of shuffling funds between related ministries and efforts to restrict former staff through noncompete clauses and nondisclosure agreements.

Harvest officials said in a statement to CT that the report “fails to uncover desired scandal” and represents “the opinions of a few disgruntled former members” rather than the views of the church’s current elders.

In October, Harvest along with lead pastor James MacDonald filed a defamation lawsuit against the author of the World article, Julie Roys, for “asserting false allegations” during her eight-month investigation.

In this week’s “Hard times at Harvest” article, Roys follows up with a trio of former Harvest elders who had a falling out with the church in 2013. MacDonald issued an apology over their “unbiblical discipline” in 2014.

Leaders stated today that Harvest “has owned its mistakes and endured to become a happier and healthier church” since.

“Subsequent to the most vocal departures, the Elders of [Harvest] designed a system of Elder government filled with meaningful accountability for staff and active involvement of volunteer Elders that exceeds in every way the former system filled with conflicts of interest and poor decision making,” they stated.

However, the former elders continue to critique the financial and organizational structures at Harvest, which numbers 13,000 attendees across seven locations.

World reports that Harvest shifted significant funds from MacDonald’s popular radio program, Walk ...

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Philippine Church Hasn’t Heard These Bells on Christmas Day for 117 Years

Catholics celebrate the return of religious artifacts taken by US soldiers as spoils of war.

After waiting more than a century for the United States to return a trio of church bells looted during the Philippine-American war, a Catholic parish on the Philippines island of Samar will finally be able to ring them again.

The Balangiga bells were handed over to officials this week and will spend a few days on display at a national museum before making their way home to the Church of San Lorenzo de Martir (St. Lawrence the Martyr), where they originally hung before US forces took them as spoils of war following a 1901 massacre.

The three metal bells, each between 23 inches and 30 inches tall, have taken on meaning as national symbols of freedom and resistance for Filipinos and Catholics, who have petitioned the government for their return since the 1950s.

According to accounts of the Balangiga massacre, Filipino fighters snuck into San Lorenzo in a plot against American troops occupying the small town. They tolled the church bells to signal their attack, which left 48 Americans dead. In a retaliatory strike on the small town, US soldiers killed thousands and claimed the bells from the ruins of the church building.

Those who defended US possession of the bells, including some descendents of servicemen who fought at Balangiga, saw them as instruments of war. They had been kept on military installations—two at a US Air Force base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and another at a US Army post in South Korea.

Their return, two years after the military gave back another Philippine church bell that used to be on display at West Point, represents the US finally righting a longtime rift with the southeast Asian nation.

“… Church bells belong in churches calling the faithful to worship. They don’t commemorate military deeds,” ...

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4 Reasons to Believe in the Christmas Miracle

Why the supernatural events of this season are both credible and incredible.

“I don’t believe that.”

I’d just read my four-year-old the story of the angel Gabriel meeting with Mary. I tried not to panic.

“Well, do you believe that God made you?”

“Yes, I believe that.”

“And do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?”

“Yes.”

“And that he rose from the dead?”

“Yes.”

After more gentle probing, it turned out it was really just the angel that she didn’t buy. But nonetheless, my daughter isn’t alone in her natural skepticism about the supernatural. When we stop to think about it, Christmas stretches our credulity. It comes complete with an angel appearing, a virgin conceiving, a star guiding, and heavenly hosts singing. How can rational, scientifically literate, 21st-century people like us believe such things, when even a child finds them hard to take?

Here are four reasons to believe in Christmas in all its supernatural glory.

1. Miracles aren’t hard for God.

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’re familiar with an a fortiori or “how much more” argument that draws secondary conclusions from a greater first point. For instance, Paul reassures the Christians in Rome of God’s care by saying this: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Paul argues from the greater thing to the lesser. If God gave up Jesus for the sake of believers, surely nothing else will be too hard for him to give!

By similar argumentation, to believe in the God of the Bible who created the universe and not to believe in miracles is rather obtuse. It would be like my daughters believing ...

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Christmas Is Really Act 2

Can’t get enough of Christmas? You’ll love the prequels and sequels.

It is the season for prequels and sequels. Mary Poppins is the big sequel this year. It’s the first year since 2012 that there hasn’t been a hobbit or a stormtrooper on the big screen. Fans will have to wait until next Christmas for Star Wars: Episode IX.

I watched the first Star Wars—later retitled as Episode IV: A New Hope­—when it came out in 1977. I might not have seen it at all had our dorm’s resident adviser not insisted I go. He said, “Looper, you’ve got to see this movie. There’s a guy in it that looks exactly like you. Exactly.”

“Really?” I asked.

“You’ll know him when you see him. His name is Chewy.”

The movie was fun and my friends and I saw the resemblance with my doppelganger, but I didn’t realize at the time that the movie fit into a larger narrative. It had a backstory—a prequel—and would have a fore-story—a sequel.

Christmas is like that. It is intriguing and satisfying: the tale of an unwed mother and an ostracized family, an angelic messenger, and noble shepherds. We can enjoy it without knowing the rest of the story—or even that there is a rest of the story. We can enjoy it, but we won’t grasp its importance until we understand how Christmas fits into the larger narrative.

Christmas has a prequel and a sequel, and it only makes sense within the context of the larger story of what God is doing in the world. What makes this story different from others is that we are not merely viewers; we are participants. The story is interactive: We have a role and the story adapts itself to how we play it.

The origin story of Christmas

What is the prequel to the Christmas story? To relate it in any detail ...

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We Were Women Comforted by Shared Pain

I never imagined my fibromyalgia would help me serve refugees. But chronic pain is something we both understand.

“It’s just the stress of being a college student,” the doctor assured me. “Try to get some more rest and you’ll feel better soon.”

“Your blood work came back completely normal,” another doctor said. “Have you considered going to therapy? Because to me, it sounds like you might just be depressed.”

I had been bouncing around from one doctor to another for two years, trying to find a medical explanation for the pain I felt in every joint and muscle of my body during every minute of every day. Sports medicine doctors told me I had overexerted myself as a dancer in high school. Chiropractors told me that regular adjustments would relieve my pain. Internists instructed me to try gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and processed-sugar-free diets. But none of them could find any abnormalities in my body to explain why I was in pain.

Finally, one doctor implied what the rest may have been thinking: that the pain was all in my head. I was devastated. Doctors—the people I most needed to help me cope with my very real pain—refused to believe me. I was studying to be a Bible translator, but I could barely make it through a day of classes before collapsing in my dorm room early each evening. Why? I asked God over and over. What was the point of this pain? And worse, why would no one believe it was real? Sometimes God’s purposes are not clear in the moment, and this was one of those moments, but over the next several years, I would begin to catch glimpses of how God could use my pain to comfort others.

During the years that my symptoms and concerns were being callously ignored by medical professionals, I had no idea that every day women across the US and around the ...

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Max Lucado Reveals Past Sexual Abuse at Evangelical #MeToo Summit

(UPDATED) Beth Moore and other leading Christian survivors don’t just want to take the church to task. They also believe it plays a key role in helping victims heal.

[Editor’s note: This post has been updated with comments from afternoon speakers, including Max Lucado, Nancy Beach, Ed Stetzer, Jeanette Salguero, and Laurel Bunker.]

“I am a survivor. My home was my unsafe place. My church was my harbor.”

Growing up as a victim of abuse, Bible teacher Beth Moore was grateful that she could escape to her church. But in retrospect, she wished it could have done more.

“I have often wondered what a difference it would have made if that same harbor had not only been a place to hide, but a place to heal,” Moore said during a summit held Thursday at Wheaton College to address the evangelical church’s response to abuse in the wake of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements.

The Southern Baptist ministry leader has repeatedly spoken out on the issue over the past year, joining a wave of evangelicals calling on churches to more explicitly condemn, prevent, and help the victims of sexism, harassment, and abuse.

“What if I had heard my pastor or my teachers express what I was going through? Call it what it was? Tell me that I wasn’t to blame and not be ashamed? What if they shared a safe place I could go and tell what I endured? What if I had known I wasn’t alone? What if I had known that there was help? What if tens of thousands of us had?”

Today, Moore joined major evangelical leaders—including Australian evangelist Christine Caine, bestselling author and San Antonio pastor Max Lucado, and Seattle pastor Eugene Cho—for a Billy Graham Center event called Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence.

The event represents the largest inter-denominational response to sex abuse since #MeToo took off last ...

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All Faith Groups, Evangelicals Included, Need to Reflect on #MeToo

We are going to hear the voice of survivors, trauma counselors, and Christian leaders who will call evangelicals to a better way.

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

The reality of that agony is more real than ever as this powerful imagery speaks volumes to an important issue we face as a nation, and inside our church walls, today. The issue of sexual abuse and scandal has rocked and ravaged our front pages, our computer screens, and our congregations within the past year.

Women across the country—and around the world—have put up with too much for too long. The tidal wave of reports bringing their stories to the surface in a tidal wave of reports called us all to reckon with the #metoo movement.

Last year, Time Magazine’s person of the year was actually more than one person. That annual high-profile cover showed us “The Silence Breakers,” those behind the movement that gave voices to so many women.

But well over a year after this all began, we still have so far to go—especially in the church.

What followed #metoo was #churchtoo—the telling of stories of abuse specifically within the context of church life. The posts, tweets, and hashtags once again flooded our social media pages and dominated conversations everywhere. And still, the stories haven’t stopped.

Most are aware of the fire being felt by the Catholic Church for the behaviors of priests and bishops towards children. Some of the headlines this past year alone have read, “American Priest is Accused of Molesting Boys in the Philippines” and “U.S. Catholic Church Hit with Two National Lawsuits by sex-abuse victims” and “Catholic Priests Abused 1,000 Children in Pennsylvania, Report Says.” The pope, in response to what happened in Pennsylvania, wrote ...

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Karen Swallow Prior: Good Books Make Better People

Why history's wisest figures have seen a connection between reading well and living well.

When I was a young girl, I gathered up all my books from my bedroom, carried them downstairs into our finished basement, arranged them on a bookcase, and opened my own little library. I’d like to say I did this in order to let my friends check out the books to read, but I think it’s more accurate to say that I made them do it. Now as an English professor, I make my students read books, and it has been both my passion and my job to encourage people to read widely.

When I began teaching, I found I had to become a kind of apologist for literary reading. Some of my Christian students (along with their nervous parents) were wary of reading “worldly” literature by authors who, perhaps, were hostile to the Christian worldview. As a young professor at an evangelical university, I developed an approach to teaching my classes that began with a biblical basis for reading literature, including literature that is not necessarily “Christian.” I came to relish every opportunity to teach my students (and sometimes their parents) how such reading ultimately can strengthen one’s Christian faith and worldview. I became an evangelist for reading widely.

Then, over the past several years, something began to shift. Now nearly everyone seems to be reading more—and more widely. I seldom encounter students who have been sheltered from diverse points of view, transgressive ideas, or atheistic arguments. Or even Harry Potter. Between blog posts, Twitter feeds, listicles, and long-winded Facebook rants, everyone seems to be reading something most of the time—right from the palm of their hand. Yet we don’t seem to be better readers. In fact, we seem to be worse. (Just spend two minutes following ...

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Hundreds Accuse Independent Baptist Pastors of Abuse

Investigation by Fort Worth Star-Telegram finds 400 allegations against 168 leaders spanning almost 200 churches and institutions.

Hundreds of women and men have accused leaders of independent fundamental Baptist churches of sexual misconduct in a major investigative report published last weekend by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The series uncovered 412 allegations of abuse across nearly 200 churches and institutions, which by definition exist apart from denominational affiliations and in contrast to more mainstream Baptist or evangelical bodies like the Southern Baptist Convention.

“From Connecticut to California, the stories are tragically similar: A music minister molested a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina and moved to another church in Florida,” the Star-Telegram wrote. “Another girl’s parents stood in front of their Connecticut congregation to acknowledge their daughter’s ‘sin’ after she was abused by her youth pastor, beginning at 16. This year, four women accused a pastor in California of covering up sexual misconduct and shielding the abusers over almost 25 years.”

In all, 168 leaders—including some of the most prominent pastors among the group’s thousands of US congregations—faced abuse accusations over incidents spanning from the 1970s to present-day.

More than 130 of them have been found guilty of rape, kidnapping, sexual assault, and a litany of other crimes, with most victims being children and teens, according to a database compiled by the Star-Telegram. Dozens of abusive pastors had multiple victims—one raped 11 girls in his congregation—and several had abused children as young as 7 years old.

Victims repeatedly cited deference to pastoral authority as a factor for why they initially trusted their abusers and why it became so difficult to bring their wrongdoing ...

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