The world seems terribly conflicted. Politics amuck, racial stress, rumors of global warming, threats of war, refugee camps, ethnic cleansing, opioid addiction, children starving… Is this the best that planet earth can expect under the stewardship of mankind? Probably. On second thought, make that a firm “Yes!” Reform theologians assert that mankind is mired in a condition of total depravity. Is this assertion true? In the words of a well-known idiom: “The proof is in the pudding.” That is to say that the corporate behavior of mankind is full of missteps, ineptitude, illusions of grandeur, cruelty, stupidity, self-destruction, ignorance, violence and short-sightedness. The prophet Jeremiah lamented, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
I would like to think of myself as a problem-solver rather than someone who complains about it all and does nothing. Although I was raised in the church, I have lived in a secular culture my entire life and too often find myself thinking as a secularist. I earnestly believe that politics must be the answer. Just get the right people in charge, passing the right laws, enforcing the rule of law; and surely all the ills of society will be fixed. (Only in the dreams of an ideologue or alternative universe) Maybe education holds the key to what ails us. We will tame the wild beast of humanity by flooding children’s minds with information. Surely knowing the year, the War of 1812 was fought will help squash the desire for war and conflict. (Please forgive my sarcasm) If peace was the preferred state of being, PlayStation and Xbox would have a different list of top-selling games, and Marvel would remain confined to comic books.
If my hope of a better world was invested in mankind’s ability to problem solve, I would throw in the towel. The solution to the problems that plague the world (most of which are self-inflected wounds) will never be solved by “us.” We are, without a doubt, too depraved, too ignorant, and too power-hungry to figure it out. We are a runaway train headed for a spectacular crash…and yet there is hope.
Two thousand years ago there was a group of shepherds who experienced an angelic visitation. The angel brought news concerning the birth of the Christ child. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” …and there it is…the hope I have been searching for. Hope for tomorrow. Hope for all people. Hope for a planet shrouded in darkness.
“Merry Christmas” is a common greeting at this time of year; and the birth of Christ is cause for real merriment. The baby child grew up and fulfilled the ancient prophesies of the prophet Isaiah and became our Savior. He is the solid rock, the shelter, the shield, the strong tower. He is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Good Shepherd, the Ever-lasting Father, the Author and Finisher of our faith. He is the hope of glory, our hope in times of stress, and the hope of the world. He is our friend, our brother, our high priest, our advocate, our salvation, our solution. So, “Merry Christmas!” That sounds so good, I’m inclined to say it again, “Merry Christmas!!”
by Jayson Casper
Following years of frustration, Armenian Christians worldwide received a double blessing this week. For the first time in its history, the US Senate recognized the Armenian Genocide. And after 11 years of practical vacancy, the Armenian community in Istanbul, Turkey, elected a new patriarch. “It is very emotional for the Armenian world, and anyone who wants to see the truth incarnated,” Paul Haidostian, president of evangelical Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon—the only Armenian university in the diaspora—told Christianity Today concerning the resolution. “But it is very obvious this was the opportune moment to be bipartisan.”
Led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, the unanimous passage yesterday drove his co-sponsor Sen. Robert Menendez to tears. “I’m thankful that this resolution has passed at a time in which there are still survivors of the genocide,” said the Democrat from New Jersey, pausing for 20 seconds before being able to continue. “[They] will be able to see that the Senate acknowledges what they went through.”
About 1.5 million Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923, as the defeated Ottoman Empire transitioned into the modern Republic of Turkey. Less than half a million survived.
The resolution also mentions the Greek, Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Aramean, Maronite, and other Christian victims who lived in Asia Minor and other Ottoman provinces at the time. Turkey concedes that many Armenians died in the fighting and aftermath of World War II, though it believes the numbers are inflated. It calls for a joint academic commission of Turkish and Armenian scholars. But it rejects the term “genocide.”
The Senate’s Resolution 150 is a duplicate of the US House of Representatives’s Resolution 296, approved overwhelmingly six weeks earlier by a 405–11 vote, as CT reported. But they are not “joint resolutions,” and therefore neither require President Donald Trump’s signature nor have the force of law. Turkey nonetheless responded harshly, calling the resolutions “irresponsible and irrational,” and “a political show.”
by RJ Dugone
(Disclosure: I do not equate my opinion to truth. The following is an opinion based on my observations. I commonly associate with people who drink alcohol. I have close relationships with people who struggle with alcohol abuse; and I love and pray for them. This is also not an attempt to recreate a standard of legalism from the past, it is simply to call on Christians to be more careful and circumspect with regard to alcohol use. As in all things may we learn to be as “smart as serpents and as harmless as doves.”)
If I ever say or write anything about the issue of Christians drinking alcohol, I know that I am treading on dangerous territory. (This is almost as bad as talking politics) Alcohol use has moved from a place of Prohibition to prominence in the American Culture. As in almost all things, the Church has followed the lead of the culture. Alcohol is now the drug of choice both in the culture and in the church. Since the Bible doesn’t strictly prohibit the use of alcohol, you will probably never hear me preaching in the pulpit on the evils of alcohol consumption; on the other hand, I would rather that God’s people be filled with the Holy Spirit as opposed to wine. I grew up in a religious tradition that strongly opposed the use of alcohol. So much so that to be a member you had to pledge that you would abstain from its use. Over the years, as this denomination as become more secularized, the use of alcohol has become the norm, even among the clergy.
Is there any danger associated with using alcohol—even in moderation? The answer is “yes.” Before you become defensive, please know that this is the official opinion of many medical associations, rehabilitation organizations and psychologists. It comes down to this: Some people will be able to use alcohol in moderation with no negative effects; while there will be others that are inclined to become alcoholics.
Alcoholics don’t wear signs that identify them as such; but, in every church that I have ever been associated with, there have always been people in the congregation who struggle with an addiction to alcohol. It is a growing problem within the church community. If you personally have the freedom to drink alcohol in moderation, you need to be very circumspect in that freedom. Quite often the feeling of shame will cause an alcoholic to hide their problem, so we should not simply assume that “all” the people around us are unaffected if we drink alcohol in their presence. The feeling of shame may also keep an alcoholic from sharing their addiction with someone who can seemingly drink alcohol with no apparent problem.
Time for some truth: Alcohol is a depressant. According to WebMD, “Any amount you drink can make you more likely to get the blues. When you drink too much, you’re more likely to make bad decisions or act on impulse. As a result, you could drain your bank account, lose a job, or ruin a relationship. When that happens, you’re more likely to feel down, particularly if your genes are wired for depression.”
I made a decision long ago—I don’t drink alcohol. There are several reasons, but at the top of my list: I don’t want anything in my behavior to contribute to the addiction of another person. Secondly, I think that I might be vulnerable to such an easy addiction, and I’m taking no chances. My wife’s family was destroyed by an alcoholic father. My great uncle (Paul Donahue) was a rich inventor and his life was destroyed by alcohol. A good friend of mine (19 years old) was killed by a drunk driver who was a repeat offender. Another friend of mine lost his football scholarship when he seriously injured his knee in a one-car accident under the influence of alcohol. (In my time of ministry alcohol abuse has been associated with arrests, disorderly conduct, accidents, suicide and a host of dysfunction) I could go on and on… Maybe alcohol use enhances life for some, but for others…
Freedom always has consequences. As a Believer in Christ, I am free! However, there is a caveat. Not everything is “beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV) 12 "Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything. It is my hope that my words are not offensive, but food for thought.
Final Words: If you don’t drink—don’t start. If you drink alcohol—be circumspect. If you have an addiction to alcohol—get help. Let me know, I’ll be your friend, which means, I will not judge you, but I will pray for you and be available to talk you through those times when addiction is putting pressure on you. Blessings, RJ
For further reading: https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/298190-can-christian-drink-alcohol.html
New York, 3 October 1789
By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us; and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
Article by Greg Stier
Youth ministry is often dismissed as something less than strategic in far too many churches. Some even view it as a kind of glorified babysitting. In their thinking, teenagers need just enough games and God to keep them coming back….until they are old enough to make a difference in the church. The unspoken implication is that teenagers aren’t “real members” until they are old enough to have jobs, give offerings and serve in the big boy/big girl roles of the church. But Jesus didn’t wait for the disciples to get out of their teen years to appoint them as “real” apostles. He appointed them to lead the charge while they were still in their teen years. Do you find that hard to believe? Then check out Matthew 17:24-27 where Peter, Jesus and the disciples go to Capernaum but only Peter and Jesus pay the Temple Tax. If you cross reference this passage with Exodus 30:14 you’ll see that this particular tax, originally the Tabernacle Tax, was only applicable to those 20 years and older.
All the disciples were there but only Peter and Jesus paid the Temple Tax. That means that, 11 of the 12 apostles, were teenagers when they began to follow Jesus. Why in the world would Jesus choose mostly teenagers to lead the charge for the most important mission in history? Wrestle with that question! How can you utilize and mobilize the teenagers in your youth group for community-wide impact like Jesus did? Wrestle through that question too!
Here’s a few realities to think about as you do:
1) Teenagers come to Christ quicker than adults.
Almost 70% of those who trust in Christ as their Savior do so by the time they are 18 years of age. Let that sink in for a moment.
If I was a businessman and I knew that 70% of those most likely to purchase my product were 18 years old and younger, then I’d put at least 70% of my marketing dollars into reaching them. But most churches do the complete opposite!
The typical church focuses the majority of their marketing (aka “outreach”) dollars into reaching the adults in their communities for Christ. From Christmas pageants to Easter outreaches to special sermon series, the majority of our church-wide efforts and budgets are put into reaching adults for Jesus. Meanwhile, the majority of youth ministries across the United States today are vastly underfunded. I talk to youth leaders from coast to coast who have to scrape and scrap by to raise enough money to for camps, conferences and curriculum. With a lot of prayer and a little duct tape, they generally pull it off. But they have to work extra hard to make it happen week in and week out (fundraisers, letters to parents, etc.) It’s a shame so many youth ministries are undervalued and underfunded. Down deep inside, there must be an inner voice that whispers in church leaders’ ears things like, “Well adults are the ones who are going to fund this church, not teens or children.”
But since when did church outreach become about building church budgets? As the church our currency comes in the form of souls saved, not checks cashed. And, because teenagers are far more open to the Gospel than adults are, we must, as the Southern expression goes, “get the gettin’ while the gettin’s good.”
Three things not to say when responding to severe criticisms of Christianity
NATASHA MOORENOVEMBER 21, 2019
A commenter going enigmatically by “notme” once responded to my rundown of a controversy over Scripture classes in schools: "What has religion got to offer but War, Intolerance/hatred (of other religions and minority groups),and poverty? religion should not only be banned from classrooms but from the whole planet"
I faithfully reproduce the comment as is, grammatical warts and all, keyed in, I imagine, in the first flush of a righteous indignation. They’re common accusations, straight out of the New Atheist playbook. Religious belief is irrational, snarling, psychologically and socially stunting. In the enduring formulation of Christopher Hitchens in God Is Not Great (2007): “Religion poisons everything.” But underneath the cynicism, the absolutism, sometimes the smugness, I wonder if what I’m really hearing, often, is: pain. The pain of someone who sought grace in a church community and instead found judgment and guilt. The pain, perhaps, of someone who invested their trust in a Christian group or friend only to meet with hypocrisy or cruelty. If I listened with more imagination and humility, what I might hear is the lashing out of the wounded.
Both have a terrible legitimacy. Christians have, after all, tortured heretics, burned witches, hoarded wealth, propped up slavery, rubber-stamped colonialism, expelled or massacred entire Jewish communities, silenced women, persecuted gay people, and moved known child molesters from parish to parish. These are not accusations; they are history. And not only history. You don’t have to look far – probably not much further than the murky corners of our own hearts – to see the same old uglinesses cropping up today: the self-righteousness, the love of respectability and comfort, the inertia and cowardice, the militant certitude, the blindness to inconvenient truths, the fear of difference, the fear of losing power, the fear of change or challenge.
On the Other Hand...
And yet, if the gospel is true, it is nothing less than the master story of life on this planet; the reconnection of fallen, broken creatures to their Creator and his purposes for them. If it is true, won’t it work? Even allowing for the tenacity of sin and the bumpy work of sanctification, won’t it change things, for the better, and observably – not just for the reconnected, but with ripples travelling far beyond them?
There’s plenty of evidence that this is exactly what’s happened in our world over the last two thousand years. That as followers of Jesus did love their neighbours as themselves, turn the other cheek, care for the least of these, forgive as God forgave them, and let their light shine before others, the world changed dramatically. (Read More)
By Mel Johnson On January 14, 2019
Sir Anthony Hopkins is one of the most well-known actors of our time. For years, he was a well-known atheist, too. But all of that changed when a woman at an AA meeting challenged his disbelief with one, simple question. That was the beginning of the inspiring Anthony Hopkins testimony!
No matter how successful someone may seem from the outside, we all have our own internal struggles. During the earlier years of Anthony Hopkins’ career, he found himself in his own battle with alcoholism. Anthony’s addiction started “innocently.” He adopted a worldly mindset and drank because “that's what you do in theater, you drink." But as is the case too often, the social pastime soon took over his life. By 1975, Anthony’s drinking had spiraled out of control. "I was hell-bent on destruction," the award-winning actor recalled. "It was like being possessed by a demon, an addiction, and I couldn't stop. And there are millions of people around like that.”
Sir Anthony Hopkins realized he needed help. So, he turned to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Up until then, Anthony Hopkins had been an atheist. But during an AA meeting, a woman asked him a simple question. "Why don't you just trust in God?" It’s not something Anthony had ever tried. But as desperate as he was, he thought, “Well, why not?” Deciding to believe and trust in God was the moment everything changed for the desperate actor.
“I could not stop [drinking], but I just asked for a little bit of help and suddenly, pow. It was just like, bingo," Anthony Hopkins recalled. Miraculously, Anthony says the craving to drink was taken from him, “never to return again.” And he’s believed in God ever since, working day after day, year after year, to grow in his faith. When asked in a CNN interview with Piers Morgan if he believed in God, former-atheist Anthony Hopkins replied wholeheartedly, “Yes, I do. I do.”
Years after finding faith, Anthony Hopkins is regarded as one of the greatest actors of our time. In fact, he earned the title of Sir Anthony Hopkins when Queen Elizabeth knighted him in 1993, for his contributions to the performing arts. As such an esteemed actor, Anthony was invited to speak to a crowd of nearly 500 high school and college students at the annual Leadership, Excellence and Accelerating Your Potential conference (LEAP). And he shared with them the dangers of confirming to the world. “If you chase the money, it’s not gonna work. And if you chase success, it’s not gonna work.”
In fact, in a separate interview, Anthony opened up about how unfulfilling success alone is: You know, I meet young people, and they want to act and they want to be famous,” and I tell them, when you get to the top of the tree, there's nothing up there. Most of this is nonsense, most of this is a lie. Accept life as it is. Just be grateful to be alive." After sharing how he was saved from the depths of alcoholism, Anthony Hopkins explained the power our words and our beliefs have over our lives. He also touched on how God can use anything, even our biggest messes, for good. “I believe that we are capable of so much,” Anthony said to the students. “From my own life, I still cannot believe that my life is what it is because I should have died in Wales, drunk or something like that. ... We can talk ourselves into death or we can talk ourselves into the best life we’ve ever lived. None of it was a mistake. It was all a destiny.”
While Anthony Hopkins has, at times, played characters who are truly evil, the actor lives out his real life with Christ in his heart. He’s been an atheist before finding God and now he just feels sorry for atheists, comparing a life of disbelief to “living in a closed cell with no windows."
"I'd hate to have to live like that, wouldn't you?” Sir Anthony Hopkins asked. What a beautiful reminder the Anthony Hopkins testimony was of the hope we have through Jesus!
By Stephen Altrogge
What comes to your mind when you hear the word legalism? The Pharisees? Those old folks in your church who hate rock n’ roll and cards? Your weird, Fundamentalist uncle? Westboro Baptist Church?
What Is Legalism, Really?I tend to think of legalism in pretty black and white terms: Legalism is trying to earn God’s forgiveness and acceptance through my obedience rather than through the finished work of Christ. Bam! Problem solved, legalism identified, on to the next. And while that may be the technical, dictionary definition, I’m beginning to learn that legalism is much slimier and more slippery. It shows up in odd places, unexpected and unwelcome. It slides into the nooks and crannies of my heart. It’s an expert con man, pretending to be my friend and convincing me to give up the free grace of God for a much heavier burden. But legalism always carries with it certain symptoms. It’s like a disease. It may not be easily detectable, but if you know what to look for, you can usually spot it and root it out.
One of those primary symptoms? Becoming irritable and frustrated at God’s grace poured out to others.
LEGALISM IN THE VINEYARD Remember the story Jesus told of the workers in the vineyard? Some worked all day, busting their backs in the hot sun after being told they would receive a day’s wages. Others worked half a day, some worked a quarter day and a few only worked an hour. At the end of the day, they all received the same wages. The men who worked all day were seriously ticked off:
Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house… (Matthew 20:10-11)
The workers thought they deserved more because they worked more. It was simple mathematics and economics to them. They were angry at the master for being gracious to those who worked for only an hour. Even though they got a completely fair wage, they were furious that those who worked less got more than a fair share. When they saw grace, it grated against them. (Read More)
By just about every metric there is for music, entertainment icon Kanye West’s latest album “Jesus Is King” is an unmitigated success. After scrapping “Yandhi” earlier this year, West moved forward with “Jesus Is King,” which dropped Oct. 25 and became his ninth consecutive album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, an all-genre survey. West is now tied with Eminem for the highest number of records to debut at the top of the chart.
The “Closed on Sunday” rapper also made his first appearance in Billboard’s faith-based surveys. The Gospel-infused album rocketed to the top spot on both the Top Christian Albums and Top Gospel Albums charts. West’s first Christian album sold 264,000 equivalent album units in the U.S. in the first week, which ended Oct. 31, according to data from Nielsen Music. Of those sales, 109,000 were physical record sales while the rest were streaming purchases. “West is the latest artist to cross to No. 1 on the faith-based tallies after first establishing stardom at other genres,” reported Billboard. “Among others, the King of Rock & Roll, Elvis Presley, and country icons Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire all boast Top Christian Albums No. 1s since the start of 2017.” (Read More)
If his conversion is sincere, is there any doubt that he’s “free indeed”? In Edgar Allen Poe’s harrowing short story, The Premature Burial, a cataleptic man worries that his bouts of unconsciousness will be misinterpreted by the medical establishment as a sign that he has died, and that he will accordingly be buried alive. In one particularly jarring moment in the story, the narrator is awakened in the dark after a cataleptic episode:
At length the slight quivering of an eyelid, and immediately thereupon, an electric shock of a terror, deadly and indefinite, which sends the blood in torrents from the temples to the heart. And now the first positive effort to think. And now the first endeavor to remember. And now a partial and evanescent success. And now the memory has so far regained its dominion, that, in some measure, I am cognizant of my state. I feel that I am not awaking from ordinary sleep. I recollect that I have been subject to catalepsy. And now, at last, as if by the rush of an ocean, my shuddering spirit is overwhelmed by the one grim Danger — by the one spectral and ever-prevalent idea. When the narrator opens his eyes, he regains his faculties one by one until that horrible moment when he announces: “I am cognizant of my state.”
Woke, if you like.
Religious conversions tend to proceed the same way. The convert is taken first by impulse, the inborn instinct toward the supernatural, the soul’s longing for purpose. Next, thought: the rationalizing of the spiritual impulse, earnest contemplation of the divine. Then, memory and subsequent dread, recalling and lamenting one’s former self. The convert confronts “the one grim Danger — by the one spectral and ever-prevalent idea” that he might be lost, damned, or otherwise beyond hope. Then, as it does for Poe’s narrator when he realizes he is actually in the “cabin of a small sloop lying at anchor in the stream,” comes relief.
Kanye West’s conversion has followed the same basic schema. First, West felt the urge for meaning. After his hospitalization in 2016 for psychosis and bipolar disorder, West left the hospital starving for something that would give him order and purpose. That impulse begot the thought that perhaps the one worthy of worship was other than Kanye West. The rapper announced that his faith required his “being in service to Christ,” and “radical obedience” to God — a radical departure from the self-obsessed Ye of years past.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.