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By Jesse T. Jackson

kobe bryant death

During his 20 year career with the Lakers, Bryant won five NBA Championships and two Olympic gold medals for the United States. He wasn’t perfect on or off the court, but strived to be the best he could be no matter what obstacle was in his way. That drive later became known as the ‘Mamba Mentality.

Kobe Bryant’s Death Makes Us Reflect

When the world loses someone it looks up to, admires, and sometimes emulates, it is hard to accept why God would allow something so tragic to happen to someone so young. At these times it helps to hear from Christian leaders, pastors, musicians, athletes, and others who believe in the mighty savior Jesus, to guide us well into hearing the Holy Spirit during sobering times like this.

May this remind us that the entire world around us longs for someone to worship, but most don’t even realize this until we lose a hero. Brothers and sisters, we have that eternal hope and life we can offer them. We can’t make them take it, but we can tell, express, and plead they know it before it is too late. May we worship our King Jesus in a way that makes others long to worship as well.

Join us in praying for all of the families who were affected by the crash yesterday.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote his classic book, “Life Together”, but most of us know that not everyone in the church will be happy or on board with the direction of the church. Thom Rainer offers wise words below. ~ Bryan

By Thom S. Rainer

In any organization of size, there are likely angry people.

They are unhappy with the organization. They don’t like change. They don’t like the leader.

But here’s the catch: In most organizations, they are a distinct minority. I use the quantifier of ten percent more anecdotally than not, but I would conjecture most organizations, including churches, would have a number close to that.

In churches, I see pastors, again and again, yield to the pressures and criticisms of the ten percent. I get it. I’ve been there and done that. May I suggest some perspectives on this issue? Perspectives are not solutions, but they can help us persevere when the ten percent get really loud.

  • Ten percent can seem like a lot of people. Indeed, if your church has 200 active members, 20 loud critics can seem really loud. Brad Waggoner calls it “the power of negativity.” He says the negative person has a tenfold voice in the organization compared to the neutral and positive people.
  • Realize that the ten percent will take advantage of any forum you give them. They love to speak up in business meetings. They love to be the big voice in listening sessions and surveys. In fact, listening sessions can make the rest of the organization demoralized as the more positive members think the negative people are the norm.
  • The ten percent want you to think there are more of them. They will use phrases like, “Everyone says . . .” or “People are saying . . .” They not only can be negative; they can be downright deceitful.
  • While you want to have open communications, the ten percent will often dominate the rest of the voices in the church. Such is the reason you need to be careful about giving them the platforms and opportunities to spread their negativity.

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President Donald Trump is often compared to Hitler. And American Evangelical Christians are compared to the German Christians who supported Hitler and saw him as a savior for the nation. Sad to say, it seems that many Christians in America are placing more faith in Trump than Jesus. Leaders come and go, but the worship of Jesus will last forever. As far as Trump’s faith, I don’t know! I am a Trump supporter. Is he a brother in the Lord? I don’t know.

~ Bryan

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump.  Some of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”

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January 10, 2020

American evangelicalism

“One of the dilemmas that pop American evangelicalism is having,” said Jethani, “is a lot of especially younger people…are looking at the leaders they’ve put on these pedestals, and they’re recognizing they have really rotten fruit…And then what ends up happening is you meet someone from another tradition, whether Christian or otherwise, who holds very different theology, and you go, ‘Oh my goodness. They have more compassion and love and grace and maturity and fruit of the Spirit than I’ve found in my evangelical tradition, so I’m going to jump ship from that one to this one.’”

Deconstructing from American Evangelicalism

It’s helpful to note that people use the term “deconstruction” in different ways. Some, like Joshua Harris, have used the word “deconstruction” to mean leaving Christianity. Another author defines it this way: “Deconstruction is a careful and deliberate examination of one’s beliefs from the inside. It’s about coming to terms with what you believe outside of your inherited beliefs. It’s about growing INTO your faith, not out of it.”

So at its most simple definition, deconstruction is a modern way to describe doubting or questioning. Whether or not it means leaving a belief system entirely seems to depend on the person using it.

American Evangelicalism, the Marketplace and the Medieval Roman Catholic Church

Jethani believes the word “evangelicalism” “has been problematic for a while because it’s become associated with a certain cultural expression of Christianity that is not solely gospel-centered.” In the same way that social media reveals the negativity that has always existed in human nature, evangelicalism has always had what Jethani calls “ungodly undercurrents.” Now, certain events in culture have revealed evangelicalism’s unhealthiness.

According to Jethani, the evangelical church in the U.S. has somewhat ironically fallen into some of the same errors as the medieval Roman Catholic Church. “The abuse of power, the exaltation of leadership, the financial shenanigans that went on, the selling of indulgences,” he said, are all abuses of which we can see parallels today.

One example of what he is talking about is the celebrity pastor. During the Reformation, the Protestant church got rid of the Catholic priesthood and replaced it with the priesthood of all believers. But, said Jethani, “We have completely abandoned the idea of a priesthood of all believers, and so many American evangelicals now live their faith vicariously through their celebrity pastor.” So when a leader like that dramatically fails, as many have, the consequences are devastating.

We can see an unhealthy focus on money and power, says Jethani, because American evangelicalism tends to value pastors for their charisma, influence and giftedness, instead of their spiritual maturity or their strength of character. Jethani said that when he was involved in Christian publishing a little over 10 years ago, an executive once told him, “In today’s Christian publishing environment, Eugene Peterson never gets a publishing contract.” The reason was that, while he might be doing good work as a pastor, Peterson did not have the kind of influence modern evangelicalism values, such as a megachurch or a lot of followers online.

Complicating this problem is the instability that pluralism has introduced to our society. It is healthy to question assumptions and to allow for diverse points of view. But the fewer common, assumed values people in a society have, the more choices they have to make about what they believe and, therefore, the more anxiety this introduces into their lives.

Eventually, people can get to the point where it’s easier to choose fundamentalism (whether on the liberal or conservative extremes) instead of thinking through their doubts and questions well. So some of the problems we’re seeing in evangelicalism simply arise from a desire for stability.

Help When Deconstructing

Jethani was careful to point out that all traditions have their own “unique problems.” Sometimes leaving a tradition is the right choice, but, “It isn’t just like, white American evangelicalism is toxic, and everything else is ok. We just have to diagnose the toxicity in each of these traditions and recognize and disciple accordingly.”

A couple of days ago, I went to the gym and the place was packed with many unfamiliar faces. It happens every year at this time. The gym is filled with new members who have made a New Year’s resolution to either exercise more or to start exercising in the New Year. They possess an eagerness to be healthier and to perhaps transform their bodies. To do so, one must be patient and take things slow. But many will start out too fast and their bodies will pay a price. I have seen over the years a couple of things with the New Year’s Resolutioners:

  1. They often exercise too hard, lift too much weight and run too fast. I witnessed a guy tear a muscle when he attempted a bench press a few years ago during the first week of January.
  2. Most of them will not stay committed. Sadly, by March, many of the new members will rarely be seen.

Physical fitness is achieved through slow and steady exercise. The heavier weights and faster sprints will come over time–but in the beginning, it is best to be slow and steady.

Spiritual growth is like that–slow and steady will lead to spiritual strength and maturity.

~ Bryan

Start the New Year with a box of Luden’s Cough Drops

by Ray Howell III

Dec 28, 2019

Whenever I see Luden’s Cough Drops in the store I have this great desire to purchase a box, even if I don’t have a cough. It takes me back to the fourth grade when the most popular kid in the class was the one with the box of Luden’s.

We were not allowed to bring candy to class, but this was medicine — right?

Watch a kid start coughing and bring out a box of Luden’s. Remember what happened? Every other kid sitting close to him also starting coughing and the next thing you knew, the newly anointed most popular kid was passing out Luden’s Cough Drops to all of his friends.

There is a reason that Luden’s Cough Drops taste a lot like candy. In its heyday, in addition to the much desired cough drops, the company produced more than 500 varieties of candy. Sure, they do help a little if you have a cough, but their greatest benefit is being able to share something good with your friends.

I think I will buy a box of Luden’s for the New Year. It’s always good to have something to share. There are some more important boxes that need sharing in the New Year, beginning with the box of kindness.

I can’t think of anything we need more in today’s world than kindness. There is something that is more important than being right and that is being kind. Kindness is contagious. Be kind to someone, and they will be kind to you. Kindness cannot only make a difference in our world, it can transform it.

Along with kindness, we need to have a box of compassion. Compassion is powerful because it enables us to defeat indifference, intolerance and injustice. Compassion is impossible unless we place ourselves in the situation that evokes our concern. When we do, we are able to treat everyone as equals, realizing that every human being is a person of worth, created in the image of God.

Acts of compassion can transform people, both the one who gives and the one who receives. Compassion is the bond that unites all of humanity.

The New Year is a great time for us to focus on the needs of others and make a positive difference. When we do, we realize that our problems are not as big as we imagine them to be. We also find a tremendous amount of fulfillment and well being, knowing that we can give hope to many who are suffering.

It felt good to be the most popular kid in the class, passing out those Luden’s Cough Drops. It feels good as an adult to know that you are passing out the gifts of kindness, compassion, love and mercy to those who have great needs.

There is one more thing I need to go buy. I believe I will buy some boxes of civility and cooperation and send them to our friends in government. We place our hand over our heart and pledge that we are “one nation, under God.” Is this still true?

The poisonous rancor of division and hatred has replaced reason and cooperation. The art of political compromise has been lost in a sea of vitriol and acrimony. I pray that we will see the day when our leaders will show respect and have a sense of dignity for those with differing views. Until then, it is impossible to have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The great German pastor and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that we should “Live every day as if it were our last, yet live in faith and responsibility as though there were a great future.”

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New Study Asks: How Long Do Most Pastors Preach?

pastors preach

The trends uncovered in the study, titled “The Digital Pulpit,” aren’t representative of all U.S. Christian churches, Pew notes. For one thing, posting sermons on a website—or even having a church website—involves technical expertise, meaning that larger and urban congregations are likely overrepresented. Plus, Easter’s occurrence during the study period likely affected some outcomes. Yet the results offer interesting glimpses into the length and content of sermons that parishioners actually heard from the pulpit.

Pastors Preach From 14 to 54 Minutes

Findings about sermon run-times reveal “striking differences” among the four Christian traditions Pew studied:

In Catholic churches, sermons (called “homilies”) average 14 minutes.

In mainline Protestant churches, sermons average 25 minutes.

In evangelical Protestant churches, sermons average 39 minutes.

In historically black Protestant churches, sermons average 54 minutes.

Overall, the median length of the 49,719 sermons studied is 37 minutes, with a median word count of 5,500 words. When measured by word count alone, sermons at the black churches aren’t necessarily longer; instead, the duration of the preaching stretches out due to stylistic features such as musical interludes and call-and-response interaction with congregants.

Mainstream media outlets zeroed in on the report’s sermon-length numbers, with a Washington Post headline asking: “Does your pastor preach too long?” The article quotes New York City pastor and author Tim Keller, who opines: “I don’t think most evangelical pastors are good enough for a 39-minute sermon. That needs to shorten.” (As an aside, Keller says more people might now be listening to preaching online, podcast-style, rather than in pews. That’s “disastrous,” he notes, if it “undermines the times you’re in Christian community.”)

Another preacher who chimes in about the debate is the Rev. John Baldovin, a Jesuit priest near Boston who caps his messages at 10 minutes. “You can tell when people are ready for you to land a plane,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than listening to a plane come into the runway and take off again.”

Word-Usage Patterns Also Vary by Faith Tradition 

After removing smaller common words (such as “the” and “their”) and combining similar words (such as “biblical” and “Bible,”), researchers pinpointed the most-used terms among all studied sermons. These include “say,” “come,” “people,” “know,” “life,” and “God.” Though “Jesus” ranked 20th on the list, that name appears in almost all the sermons.

As Faith Leaders Criticize CT Editorial, Subscriptions Surge

Trump editorial

On December 19, CT editor-in-chief and former pastor Mark Galli published an editorial decrying Trump’s “profoundly immoral” actions, saying they harm Christians’ credibility and evangelistic effectiveness. Trump immediately condemned the magazine (founded by Billy Graham) as “far left” and touted his efforts on behalf of evangelicals. Galli and his critics have been appearing on various TV programs to discuss the controversy.

Faith Leaders Say They Feel Targeted by Trump Editorial

In their letter to Dalrymple, evangelical leaders say it was “astonishing” that Galli “offensively dismissed our point of view” during a CNN appearance because “historically, we have been your readers.” They also point to Galli’s essay in the book Still Evangelical? in which he characterizes Christians who voted for Trump as largely uneducated and unemployed—as opposed to so-called “elite” evangelicals.

The letter-writers maintain they are “Bible-believing Christians and patriotic Americans who are simply grateful that our President has sought our advice as his administration has advanced policies that protect the unborn, promote religious freedom, reform our criminal justice system, contribute to strong working families through paid family leave, protect the freedom of conscience, prioritize parental rights, and ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values while making our world safer, including through our support of the State of Israel.”

The leaders emphasize their reliance on grace, their commitment to public service, and their objection to “the entirely partisan, legally dubious, and politically motivated impeachment” of Trump by the House of Representatives one day before Galli’s editorial was published. They also imply that CT will be championing a Democratic candidate in the 2020 election.

Signatories—including Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Jack Graham, Danny Gokey, Greg Laurie, Eric Metaxas, Rod Parsley, Robert Jeffress, Tony Perkins, and Chonda Pierce—close by writing: “Your editorial offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens-of-millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations. It not only targeted our President; it also targeted those of us who support him, and have supported you.”

CT: ‘We write for a readership of One’

In an update posted on CT’s website Sunday, Dalrymple says responses to Galli’s editorial “have spanned the spectrum.” While the magazine has “received countless notes of encouragement from readers who…no longer feel alone [and] have hope again,” it also has “heard from many readers who felt incensed and insulted.” Though CT welcomes all input, Dalrymple writes, “At the end of the day, we write for a readership of One. God is our Tower.”

CT’s president asserts that the publication, which has no editorial board and doesn’t endorse political candidates, is “theologically conservative” and “pro-life and pro-family.” As part of a global ministry that supports the “global Body of Christ,” Dalrymple adds, CT “can no longer stay silent.”

Charlotte Pence

People of religious faith carry a burden of belief around with them. In recent years, Americans have witnessed a rise in the maligning of Christians and dismissals of their faith and practices. I have come to believe this burden isn’t constrained to time or shifts of culture.

Some argue that the past few decades have resulted in a more secular society where citizens substitute a pursuit of moral truths for selfish endeavors. However, I don’t think the 21st century is the culprit for people of faith being put on the defense for their beliefs.

Religious groups felt isolated long before Twitter was an idea in anyone’s mind, and they will continue to. The call to a life of religious belief is a lonely one; it will set you apart, but it promises to give back much more. Separation is an anticipated sacrifice. It is a companion to the decision to live for a purpose higher than the mere physical world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor active during Hitler’s regime, repeatedly put his life at risk to decry injustices happening within Nazi Germany; he even lost his life doing so. But just like Christians today, he grappled with questions of how best to engage.

Examine Bonhoeffer’s concept of “religionless Christianity.” While he was imprisoned in Germany, he wrote letters to his friend, Eberhard Bethge, asking, “What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world?” He wanted to understand how people of faith should interact in the world without getting bogged down in inaccessible theology or swayed by non-religious values.

To be “religionless” while still religious means to engage with the secular world while maintaining one’s cherished belief system. This shouldn’t lead to religious doctrines being replaced with more world-friendly ideas. Instead, Bonhoeffer told Christians they ought to meet non-religious people where they were—all while sharing the love of Christ.

It isn’t only Christians who are at risk of being sequestered by the louder voices of the culture. Religionlessness is a complicated concept and best broached alongside people who share the desire to live a life of faith, even when their specific beliefs differ from one another.

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By Thom Rainer

church member

What a Church Member Should Not Say 

I wrote a little book (I Will) on statements church members make that can move a church toward Great Commission and Great Commandment greatness. But there are some sentences that can prove harmful, even deadly, to a congregation. Here are seven of the most deadly statements:

  1. “I like our church just the way it is.” When you begin to hear this statement expressed among church members, you can be certain there is no Great Commission heartbeat. We should never want our church to stay just like it is; we should be constantly seeking to reach new people with the gospel.
  2. “My pastor doesn’t visit me enough.” There are so many things wrong with this statement. First, it reflects a ministry where there is expectation that the pastor is to do most of the ministry, instead of equipping others to do the work of ministry. Second, it reflects a dependence and self-centered ministry on the part of church members.
  3. “I always vote ‘no’ just to keep the leadership in check.” This person is the disrupter I described in an earlier post. He or she really wants the focus on self. Attention seeking and self-focus are characteristics of this person. They are toxic to churches.
  4. “I just can’t worship with our style of music.” The worship wars aren’t over. These church members could never be missionaries because their indigenous people group probably wouldn’t be singing hymns from the hymnals. There is no sense of worship with these church members; they are all about their own preferences and desires.
  5. “People know where our church is if they want to come.” This statement reflects deadly ecclesiology and deadly missiology. It assumes that the church is a place; and it assumes that the Great Commission is, “Y’all come.”
  6. “I love you pastor, but…” 

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