Baptism Doesn’t Have to Be Divisive

Despite our different methods, we’re all immersed in the same Christ.

The first time I heard the phrase “the waters that divide” as a way of describing baptism, I didn’t get the joke. It had never occurred to me to think that way. Admittedly, I was christened as a baby and then baptized at age 14, so in some ways, my own life embodies this “division.” Yet for all our disagreements on baptism, and for all the draconian ways in which our ancestors sometimes dealt with them (drowning, for instance), the most striking feature of the baptismal waters is not the way they divide but the way they unite.

Baptismal liturgies vary widely, and each makes its own contribution to our understanding of what baptism means. In my church, we baptize people by immersion in a tank. It draws attention to all sorts of things that baptism enacts: our plunging into and identification with Christ, the washing away of our sins, our drenching in the Spirit, our burial with Jesus in his death, and our rising again to new life in his resurrection.

At the same time, there is much we miss. We don’t pour or sprinkle, so we lose the imagery of anointing with the Spirit, of having him poured over us, of being sprinkled with the blood of the covenant. We don’t baptize in rivers, largely because rivers in London are very cold, so we lose the symbolism of what some church fathers called “living waters”—not to mention the image of our sins disappearing downstream, never to be seen again. We don’t have a font at the back of the church, so the weekly ritual of walking past baptismal water on your way to worship, with all that it says about identity and new creation, is absent. Reflecting on different methods of baptism can help us grasp different dimensions of its meaning. …

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What to Give Up for Lent 2018? Consider Twitter’s Top 100 Ideas

Last year, Trump ranked between Facebook and hope.

Once again, you can follow in real time what Twitter users say they are giving up for Lent, which this year begins Wednesday, February 14.

Last year, food items were three times as popular to abstain from as technology items or personal habits, according to 73,334 tweets analyzed by OpenBible.info’s Stephen Smith during the week of Ash Wednesday 2017. Alcohol ranked No. 1 for the first time since his project began in 2009.

The creator of the Twitter Lent Tracker was most curious how high Donald Trump would rank last year among perennial favorites such as social networking, alcohol, and chocolate. The President ended up finishing No. 22 in 2017, up from No. 82 in 2016.

Meanwhile, LifeWay Research offered a chance to compare Twitter’s serious vs. sarcastic sharers last year via its study on what Americans who observe the Lenten season before Easter say they actually give up.

Of note: 3 in 10 Americans with evangelical beliefs (28%) say they observe Lent; of these, 42 percent typically fast from a favorite food or beverage while 71 percent typically attend church services.

Catholics remain the most likely to observe Lent (61%), with 2 out of 3 fasting from a favorite food or beverage (64%).

Overall, 1 in 4 Americans observes Lent (24%), according to LifeWay. Most American observers fast from a favorite food or beverage (57%) vs. a bad habit (35%) or a favorite activity (23%).

Hispanics are the most likely ethnic group to observe Lent (36%), and are more likely than whites to abstain from a favorite activity (34% vs. 17%) or a bad habit (50% vs. 30%).

Twitter’s top five Lenten choices have proven consistently popular since Smith began tracking Lent in 2009. Here is how the top 5 ideas of 2017 have trended:

Smith charts …

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The Unexpected: A Ministry to Widows in the Ukraine

The Kiev Symphony Orchestra cares for widows and orphans.

Wes Jansen and I walked the empty Saturday morning streets of Kiev, turned down Shevchenko Street and into the National Arts building, heading up to the fourth floor. The door opened and we stepped into a room of some 250 women. Most seemed older than my 75 years, but I learned most were younger.

A tough life can add on its years.

This was a Saturday morning Bible study, but not your average group. They were widows who were brought together by a symphonic orchestra and chorale.

It all began years ago when Americans Roger and Diane McMurrin founded the Kiev Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Today, led by Canadians Wes and Kim Janzen, it tours Europe and North America. Now well known in Ukraine, professional musicians have joined. The message of the gospel struck a chord with them, and one by one the musicians and singers came to personal faith in Christ.

As their music flourished and their fame spread, the musicians noticed in Scripture that the Lord had a special place for widows and orphans. Out of years of deep struggle, first under Soviet Union rule and now living with war on their eastern front, many widows find poverty is the norm.

And it is here that the story takes an interesting turn.

These musicians took it upon themselves to bring special care to widows and then orphans. Today in Kiev, 309 widows are supported by friends around the world and cared for by St. Paul’s Evangelical Church.

It took a few minutes for me to understand the nature of this group and what this represented. I watched from the rear of the room as Kim dismissed the first group. They quietly filed out of the concert hall, taking the stairs to the first floor. How they exited mattered, for only as they stood to the inside of the stairs could the next …

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250 Child Soldiers in South Sudan Begin Recovery with World Vision

The world’s newest nation remains its most fragile state.

With the help of World Vision, more than 250 South Sudanese children will have the chance to return to school, reunite with their families, and receive counseling after years of being forced to serve as soldiers and domestic workers during their country’s civil war.

The New York Times reported this week that 87 girls and 224 boys were freed in the second-largest release by armed groups since the conflict began, and several hundred more are expected to transition in the coming weeks.

World Vision, which has worked in South Sudan since 1989 and currently reaches 1 million people displaced by the conflict, received the children on Wednesday and will oversee their recovery and reunification.

“We are particularly concerned about a number of the girls being released who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence,” said Mesfin Loha, interim national director at World Vision South Sudan. “We will get them the support so they have a sense of hope again.”

With high levels of poverty, widespread displacement, and lack of education (70 percent of South Sudanese children are not in school—the highest proportion in the world), youth in what World Vision ranks as the world’s most fragile state are particularly vulnerable targets for the armed groups.

The United Nations has coordinated the release of almost 2,000 of 19,000 children recruited and kidnapped since the civil war began in 2013.

World Vision’s reintegration program gets support from the UN Children’s Fund, or UNICEF. Moving forward, World Vision case workers in the city of Yambio will work with children in recovery, offer school and vocational training, and provide interim care for those unable to locate their families.

“South …

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Giving God the (Olympic) Glory: Christian Athletes to Watch in PyeongChang

These athletes walked with God along the arduous road to the Olympics.

Winter Olympic sports take strength, grace, speed, precision, and incredible courage. For many of the athletes we’re about to see in PyeongChang, South Korea, those qualities are bolstered by their faith in God, which has seen them through their darkest hours and hardest struggles. Here are just a few of the athletes who have shared about God’s role in their Olympic journeys.

Maame Biney, speedskating (USA) @BineyMaame

Just before her 18th birthday, Maame Biney became the first African American woman to qualify for the US Olympic speedskating team, winning accolades from one of her heroes, Apolo Ohno. For the bubbly teenager, it’s been a long road from her native Ghana, which she left at the age of five to live with her father, Kweku, in the United States.

Both Biney and her father thank God for her phenomenal success. Kweku Biney believes it was God who first drew his attention to a sign advertising skating lessons, which inspired him to ask Maame if she wanted to try—though he sometimes regretted it when his little girl woke him up early on Saturdays to go to the rink. As Maame herself posted on Instagram after her win at the Olympic trials: “If God hadn’t given my dad the strength to wake up, and take me to practice, I wouldn’t be here today.” In her emotional post, she also thanked her church family for their “prayers for safe travels and successful competitions.”

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, figure skating (USA) @Scimeca_Knierim

A couple on and off the ice—they were married in 2016—the Knierims won the United States’ only pairs spot at this year’s Olympics. But their victory wasn’t always a foregone conclusion. Not long …

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Understanding God’s Control When You’re a Climate Scientist

A geophysicist on balancing God’s sovereignty over nature with human understanding of weather.

Thomas P. Ackerman navigates a world of difficult questions and tense conversations. A geophysicist at the University of Washington and director of the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, he is at the forefront of research on geoengineering, a science that focuses on manipulating the environment to, among other ends, combat climate change. Ackerman thinks a lot about ethics as he researches how making clouds more reflective could compensate for a warming planet. He shared how a life spent trying to understand the climate has contributed to his understanding of God.

People often think of God as bringing the rain or the seasons. What does climate science say about God’s control?

One of the sections of the Bible that I’ve turned to the most often is the end of the Book of Job [38–40]. God talks to Job, and there is this beautiful series of scientific questions. And God says to Job: “Do you understand this? Do you understand this? Do you understand this?” And the answer of course, to all of them, is “No, I don’t understand them.” And Job ends up concluding, “All of this is too wonderful for me”—that the knowledge of God is beyond his knowledge.

I resonate with Job. There’s this sense that people have that science makes you less in awe of the power of God, and that’s just frankly a bad idea. People say, “Do you think God is in control?” I say, “Sure. Let’s talk about how God controls the weather not whether God controls the weather.”

This is where it really gets tricky: What’s the role of prayer in physical systems? Let’s take hurricanes. People see a hurricane trucking up the coast. They …

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God Came to Me in My Cancer

At a time when I should have felt abandoned by God, I experienced what Augustine called “the sweetness.”

I am at the office, pacing at my treadmill desk and flipping through my latest research, when my phone rings. “Hello, this is Kate.” It’s Jan from the doctor’s office. She has a little speech prepared, but my mind is zeroing in and out. I can hear that she is talking, but I can’t make out the words. It is not my gallbladder, I catch that much. But now it is everywhere. “What’s everywhere now?” I ask. “Cancer.” I listen to the buzz of the phone. “Ms. Bowler.”

The treatment at Emory begins at the end of October. I am tired most of the time, but I feel driven to catalog everything and wring every bit of time for all it’s worth. I start to write. In bed, in chemo chairs, in waiting rooms, I try to say something about dying in a world where everything happens for a reason. Whenever there is a clarifying moment of grief, I jot it down.

And then, in a flurry, I shoot it off to The New York Times, not thinking too much about whether it’s any good but sending it because I have been infected by the urgency of death. Then an editor there sees it and puts it on the front page of the Sunday Review. Millions of people read it. Thousands share it and start writing to me. And most begin with the same words. “I’m afraid.”

Me too, me too.

“I’m afraid of the loss of my parents,” writes a young man. “I know I will lose them someday soon, and I can’t bear the thought.” “I’m afraid for my son,” says a father from Arkansas. “He has been diagnosed with a brain tumor at forty-four, which would have been devastating enough if he had not already lost his identical twin brother to the same disease …

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To Defend Mideast Christians, Can Advocates Critique Islam?

Diaspora leaders in America disagree on how to improve religious freedom back home.

What’s the best way for Middle Eastern Christians in America to help fellow believers back home? A single misspelled email address inadvertently revealed the breadth of this dilemma for activists in the diaspora.

The mishap sparked a spat this summer between two prominent US Arab groups: the Arab American Institute (AAI), a polling and policy organization led by James Zogby, and Coptic Solidarity (CS), which champions the religious freedom of Egyptian Christians and other minorities.

Zogby, who has a Lebanese Maronite background, was a scheduled participant in CS’s annual Washington conference, which leaders often use to advise DC’s foreign policy establishment on Middle East issues.

But two days before the June 15 conference, Zogby unexpectedly withdrew.

Zogby explained in an article weeks later that he withdrew after receiving word that some controversial anti-Muslim “hate groups” would be at the conference and that the title of a panel in which he was participating had been revised to suggest that violence and impunity are endemic in Muslim and Egyptian culture.

“The best way to reinforce the message of the haters of Christians in Egypt is by giving them the ammunition that Copts in the US are working with Islamophobes in Washington,” Zogby told CT. “I felt it important to call out CS for what I strongly believe is a wrong-headed and potentially dangerous path.”

Stunned by Zogby’s withdrawal and his public criticism, CS wrote an angry response, accusing Zogby of a “dhimmi mentality,” a reference to the secondary status of non-Muslims in the historic caliphate.

“He intentionally tried to hijack our event and tarnish our reputation,” Lindsay Griffin, …

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Super Bowl LII Brings Bold Testimonies of Faith and Many Opportunities for Prayer

NFL players leverage their visibility to fight human trafficking and pediatric cancer.

Super Bowl LII is today and football fans across the country will gather around their television screens to watch the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles battle it out at U.S. Bank Stadium. Nachos and wings in hand, one thing’s for sure: we’re in for quite a night.

Athletic events have a real knack for bringing people together—no really, I mean that. Even when the Philly and Pats fans in your home start going at it with each other, it’s the enthusiasm and mutual appreciation for the game that really matters… am I right?

Most spectacular of all is the platform players from these two teams have been given. For one night of the year (and many more in between), they’re able to capture the attention of Americans in cities across the country—111.3 million in total just last year, making it the most watched television event of 2017.

I can’t help but wonder: What are the implications of this kind of nationwide, worldwide fame? Moreover, how might one approach the stewarding of such a vast fortune and deeply influential public image?

For some in positions of power in the NFL and elsewhere, these questions are seldom even asked. Most are quick to use the gifts they’ve been given to self-satisfy and gratify. They turn to the usual remedies, using their resources to buy love, affirmation, approval, and most importantly, an escape from burdens heaped on by the demands of a success-obsessed culture.

But for others, the question matters, and so do the implications of the response. For players who claim to follow Christ, there is an understanding that the resources at their disposal do not belong to them—they really belong to God. What they choose to do with what they’ve …

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Puerto Rico: 3,000 Churches Damaged, Fewer Christians Left to Rebuild

Attendance drops as 400,000 island residents move to the mainland.

The evangelical church in Puerto Rico won’t be the same after Hurricane Maria.

Even congregations that have resumed their regular gatherings after repairing buildings and regaining power are still missing a major part of church life: some of their members.

An estimated 400,000 of the island’s more than 3 million residents have left the US territory for the mainland since the record-setting September storm. Like every other aspect of Puerto Rican life, church attendance has taken a hit.

Gadiel Ríos’s 350-member congregation in Arecibo, La Iglesia del Centro, saw five to six families relocate to the mainland after enduring ongoing power outages and financial hardship—a number similar to losses experienced by fellow pastors.

About a third of Ríos’s congregants still don’t have power—the same proportion of electricity customers island-wide who are still waiting for service. He estimates Sunday attendance has dropped 5 to 10 percent.

“All of this is putting a lot of strain on families,” he said. “Remember that Hispanic families are very close and tend to live in clusters to support each other; now Maria is disrupting this way of life.”

Meanwhile, Spanish-speaking congregations in the States have welcomed the Puerto Ricans who have fled, particularly those in Orlando, where the “great migration” is expected to transform the city. Of all the people who moved to the continental US from the Caribbean island in the past four months, more than 300,000 settled in Florida alone, according to the Sunshine State’s division of emergency management.

Members of Calvario City Church greeted arrivals from Puerto Rico as soon as they landed in the Orlando …

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