Our Blood Exposes Our Physical—and Spiritual—Health

When we are sick and need to know what can make us whole again, there is no other fount we know. In the time it takes to read this sentence, your body will produce 17 million blood cells deep in its marrow. To put that in context, that’s as many cells as twice the population of New York City. Once created, those red blood cells move into the bloodstream—red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, all bobbing along in plasma through 60,000 miles of vessels in the human body. And in the time it took you to read the first paragraph, all of the blood in your body has completed its regular journey—it has traveled from your heart to your extremities and returned, there and back again. Your blood knows your body better than your brain does, as your blood has seen all but the cornea, from the brain to the toes and everything in between. It has sailed on the quick current of the great arterial rivers and through the smallest cholesterol-clogged creeks. It has seen it all. Because of this Hobbitesque journey, remnants of all of the battles waged by the white blood cells against the enemies…

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Taylor University Still Shaken by Unsanctioned Conservative Newspaper

Controversy over the anonymous handout, “Excalibur,” has the campus pushing for public dialogue. A month later, Taylor University is still buzzing about an underground publication, Excalibur, which claimed the evangelical college was becoming more liberal on sex, immigration, and race. True to its namesake, the controversial newsletter sliced through campus conversation, drawing students and staff to take sides in classroom discussions, op-eds, and official communications since its February 21 release. Weeks after Taylor president Paul Lowell Haines condemned the anonymous publishers for “sow[ing] discord and distrust, hurting members of our community,” four members of the faculty and staff came forward online as its creators: Jim Spiegel, professor of philosophy and religion; Richard Smith, professor of biblical studies; Gary Ross, men’s soccer coach; and Ben Wehling, marketing director. They apologized for the uproar, but even their website was pulled due to the controversy. “The newsletter aimed to fill a growing conservative void” on the Upland, Indiana, campus, Spiegel explained in an email to CT. Organizers came up with the idea in the fall, naming their project after King Arthur’s sword—a reference to the biblical imagery of the sword as a symbol of truth and justice. They thought if their publication were…

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What Dostoyevsky’s Prostitute Can Teach Us About the Cross

Crime, punishment, and Christ's easy yoke. The cross of Christ has sometimes been compared to the electric chair or other forms of execution, meaning we are wise to remember that it was an instrument of death in the ancient world. The cross is also often used to prompt us to give ourselves sacrificially for him and others. But comparisons to other forms of execution can miss the deeper biblical teaching about the cross. And the cross is much more than an object lesson in how we should live. It’s very shape, it turns out, is not incidental to its deeper biblical meaning nor to the very nature of God who hung there. To get at the deeper meaning, we can turn to the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, especially one scene in the middle of Crime and Punishment. The lead character Rodion Raskolnikov had brutally murdered an elderly pawnbroker and moneylender, Alyona Ivanovna. When Ivanovna’s half-sister, Lizaveta, stumbled upon the scene, he murdered her as well. Raskolnikov later meets a young woman, Sonia, who has been compelled by poverty to become a prostitute to support her family. He is immediately drawn to her, and after he learns that Sonia had…

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20 Truths from Small Church Essentials

Just because a church is small, doesn’t mean it’s broken. Karl Vaters’ new book Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250 has just released and it’s a great read for pastors and leaders of smaller churches. Karl has been a small church pastor for 30 years, is the author of The Grasshopper Myth: Big Churches, Small Churches, and the Small Thinking that Divides Us (2013), and travels extensively to churches and conferences to speak about leading a small church well. Below is what I found especially helpful. 1.Church leaders often wring their hands over the “problem” of small churches, and how to turn them into big churches. Like most prejudices, however, our problems with small churches aren’t what they seem. Just because a church is small, doesn’t mean it’s broken (pg. 10). 2.Just because we don’t have a kickin’ worship band does not mean we’ll settle for passionless worship (pg. 43). 3.On average, about one-third of the big church principles can be applied in a church of 200 and about one-fourth in a church of 100 or fewer. To know which third to keep, I have to understand how big churches and small churches…

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What Will You Do Each Day to Make Our World—and Those Around You–Better?

What if we challenged ourselves to shift our focus from self-improvement to fostering community? As what all too quickly happens, the New Year pizazz motivates us to make some positive changes or accomplishments with our lives and year ahead, and then quickly dims into tiredness, excuses, or disappointments as only about 8% of us actually keep our resolutions. But what if we were to have a different focus this year which might last the whole year through? What if we challenged ourselves to shift our focus from self-improvement to fostering community? What if each day this year, we woke up with this challenge running in our veins, motivating us to make a positive impact right in our own homes, neighborhoods, and communities? And what if this challenge was fueled by a deep love for Jesus and a desire to show and share his love with others? This is something the Billy Graham Center is all about—showing and sharing the love of Jesus in this broken and hurting world. It's a place I'm grateful for as both a world hub of evangelism training and a team to be serving on. This team of outstanding professionals love Jesus and desire to make…

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The Palms, the Temple, and the Nations

What made Jesus explode in the Temple on Monday is actually related to his Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. The black Baptists of the South are not known for their adherence to a liturgical calendar, but we do know Palm Sunday and Easter. Palm Sunday is the tremor before the earthquake of our resurrection celebration, the birth pangs. Palm Sunday, then, is not the time for the best songs, suits, or dresses. The palms and shouts of hosanna are a preparation for something greater, the acclamation that Christ is risen. But as the Palm Sundays have stacked one upon the other, more questions linger. What did Jesus want to teach us when he entered Jerusalem astride a donkey to the shouts of hosanna? Did he do it so that we would have a nice liturgical action of palm-waving to entertain the kids on the verge of Eastertide? Immediately following Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem amid waving palm branches, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record that his next stop is to clear out the Temple. What does the clearing of the Temple have to do with palms and the parade from earlier? Last and most importantly, what do these two events have to…

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Bill Hybels Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Former Willow Creek Leaders

John and Nancy Ortberg, others confront megachurch with its own #MeToo moment. “The charges against me are false,” says Hybels of former friends’ “collusion.” When the #MeToo movement arose this past fall, Willow Creek Community Church sprang into action. “If you’ve been sexually harassed or harmed, your pain matters—to us and to God,” the suburban Chicago megachurch posted on its Facebook page, along with details about how to get help. A handful of Willow Creek’s female leaders, including cofounder Lynne Hybels, also joined the Silence Is Not Spiritual campaign, calling on evangelical churches to stand up for women who had experienced sexual harassment and sexual violence. Now the megachurch may have a #ChurchToo problem, one that pits cofounder Bill Hybels against some of his longtime friends. A group of former pastors and staff members has accused Hybels of a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct, the Chicago Tribune reported tonight. The group includes John and Nancy Ortberg, well-known pastors and authors who are both former teaching pastors at Willow Creek and longtime friends of Bill and Lynne Hybels. It also includes Leanne Mellado, a former Willow staff member who is married to Santiago “Jim” Mellado, the former longtime head of…

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One-on-One with Brian Rosner on Known by God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity

Being known by God brings significance, humility, comfort, and direction. Ed: How did you get interested in the topic of personal identity? Brian: It was for very personal reasons. Back in the 1990s I had my own crisis of identity of sorts. Some big changes happened in my life and I found myself asking some uncomfortable questions. I talk about it in the opening pages of the book. Being a Christian, I turned to God and the Bible for answers. What I found made an enormous difference to me personally. It also dawned on me that I was far from alone in wrestling with questions of personal identity. In the ensuing years I had conversations with and read about people in all sorts of circumstances—people who’d been made redundant; people whose parents had died; people whose identity online leaves them feeling like a phony; people with questions about gender and sexuality; people who felt deflated by their aspirations for life not coming to fruition; people who felt diminished by consuming responsibilities for children or parents; and people who felt at sea in our rapidly changing world. As Kevin Vanhoozer puts it, at the beginning of a new millennium, the human…

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We Need an Independent Investigation of Sovereign Grace Ministries

Allegations of child sexual abuse and staff cover-up continue to swirl. Let’s set an example for all churches to follow, bringing healing to victims and churches alike. For nearly six years now, an open wound has been festering in the evangelical community. It’s time for healing to begin. But that healing cannot begin until we all know the exact nature and extent of the wound; until all the facts are out in the open; until the truth that liberates can be known; and most importantly, if and when it is pertinent, there is repentance. To put it simply: Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC; formerly Sovereign Grace Ministries) and its individual churches and leaders, present and former, who have been accused of failing to adequately respond to past incidents of child and sexual abuse should submit to a thorough, truly independent investigation. For six years now—and more intensely in the last few weeks—charges and counter-charges (see links below), accusations and defenses have been conducted in public forums and in the courts, without a satisfactory conclusion. This has left many, many observers bewildered, angry, and deeply suspicious of SGC and these accused churches. What’s worse, these unseemly events reverberate outward, mixing with the…

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Empathy & Evangelism

Empathizing with others leads to greater effectiveness in evangelism. In his bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains that empathy is a key to effectiveness. He exhorts us to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” It’s so easy to jump right into the point that we want to get across, but if we don’t first take the time to understand where others are coming from, there can easily be unintended miscommunication. Cultivating the ability to empathize with others leads to greater effectiveness in all forms of communication, including evangelism. In fact, Jesus himself models this as he empathizes with our brokenness. Hebrews 4:15 explains that “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” After emphasizing that Jesus can empathize with our weakness, the writer of Hebrews goes on to say “Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The fact that Jesus stepped into our…

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