Why God Still Works Through Fools Like Samson

The deeply flawed Old Testament “hero” was set apart for a very specific purpose.

Growing up in church as a scrawny kid, I was captured by stories of David slaying Goliath, Gideon defeating the Midianites, and especially Samson taking out 1,000 Philistines practically barehanded. While I loved the daring of those figures, I was also taught to be careful about the temptations of great champions: David’s moral failure and desperate attempts to cover it up, Gideon’s late-in-life slip into creating an idol and snare for his family, and the dramatic and colorful life of Samson and his sensational self-destruction.

All of these stories served as lessons to us that great strength demands responsibility, and there is danger of misusing those gifts. The consecrated life demands constant self-examination and moral integrity.

When I re-read the account of Samson recently, in Judges 13–16, I was looking for that lesson I had been taught as a young man. But it wasn’t there. Instead, what I discovered was a new way of looking at what it might mean to live a consecrated—but empty—life.

Can a fool with no redeeming qualities still be consecrated? The conclusion I came to after re-reading the tale of Samson surprised me.

The hero Israel deserved

Samson was a miracle child announced by the angel to his mother and father—like Samuel, John the Baptist, or Jesus—so it’s easy to expect great things from the beginning. Why else would there be so much preparation for his arrival? Fully a quarter of his entire story is spent on the buildup to his birth, so it makes sense to assume after his miraculous birth announcement that he will have a life and calling to match. Anxious to believe he will be the one to deliver the people from their oppression and rebellion against God, we soon …

Continue reading…

‘Little Girls Need Their Daddy’

Billy Graham’s children are thankful for their father; they just wish he’d been around more.

When Franklin Graham was five, his famous father was in Australia for six months preaching at a Billy Graham Crusade. Like many youngsters, “I’d wake up in the morning, go down the hall and crawl into bed with Mama,” Franklin says. “Well, one day I went in and Daddy had come home. So here he was, this man in her bed. I asked Mama, ‘Who’s that?’”

Billy’s children say that his frequent extended absences marked them, but so did his unconditional love. While he sometimes chose ministry over family, they also knew that he loved them deeply and unconditionally.

The Graham children have both struggled and triumphed. Three out of the five have been divorced; both boys openly rebelled. All of them wrestled with simply being the offspring of the 20th century’s most famous evangelist.

Today, the Graham children are all engaged in full-time ministry, but more importantly, they respect and honor their parents. As adults, they look back on their peculiar childhood through the lens of grace.

The eldest, Gigi Graham Foreman, has written seven books and is a sought-after speaker. Anne Graham Lotz runs AnGeL Ministries, which hosts Bible teaching revivals and conferences both here and abroad, and has authored numerous books. Ruth “Bunny” Graham leads Ruth Graham and Friends, a ministry to help hurting people within the church, and also writes and speaks extensively. Franklin Graham is CEO and president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, a compassion and relief organization. Ned Graham, the youngest, has been a pastor and now runs East Gates, an organization that works to print and distribute Bibles in China (where their mother, Ruth Bell …

Continue reading…

In the Face of Moral Crisis, Churches Can’t Choose ‘Neutrality’

How Civil War–era churches that avoided taking sides on slavery ended up siding with its supporters.

In antebellum and Civil War–era America, churches and denominations along the border between North and South voiced what would have been considered “moderate” opinions on slavery. But as April Holm shows in A Kingdom Divided, neutrality was attractive but never really neutral. It was a political choice like any other. Border-region evangelicals were not proslavery ideologues; neither were they abolitionists. Mostly, they believed churches should focus on “spiritual” matters and avoid weighing in on controversial political debates.

Slavery, however, was an all-encompassing system—the central fact of politics, economics, and culture, especially for white Southerners. As Holm puts it, the idea that the church “had no place promoting equality and freedom, or opposing racism and slavery,” was “neutrality” in theory only. “In practice, it was proslavery.”

Holm, director of the Center for Civil War Research at the University of Mississippi, studies the behavior of churches and denominational organizations in the border area—defined here as Delaware, Maryland, western Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and some part of each of their adjoining states. People living in this region initially thought of themselves as being part of “the West.” In the first third of the 19th century, migrants populated the region, thanks to Indian removal as well as forced slave migrations. By the mid-20th century, border residents thought of themselves as peaceful moderates. In practice, however, they were more anti-abolitionist than they were anti-slavery. As one editorialist in Louisville put it in 1846, “ABOLITIONISM IS A SIN.” Interestingly, in this regard, …

Continue reading…

10 Bible Translations You’ve Never Heard Of

Why we should read lesser-known versions of the Bible.

English readers have access to more translations of the Bible than readers of any other language. The American Bible Society estimates that there have been around 900 full and partial biblical translations into English. Naturally, that staggering number isn’t readily available, but you can easily order more than 50 different translations in your favorite bookstore, and many more can be found in used bookstores and libraries.

These numbers bear witness to the remarkable treasure available to English readers, a uniquely rich and multilayered resource for gaining fresh insights into the Word of God.

Translations are produced with different methods and goals. Some versions—particularly the “mainstream” ones such as the New International Version, the English Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the Christian Standard Version, or the New American Bible—were carried out by large committees. And while they each have specific reading levels in mind, they generally try to be acceptable to all potential readers.

Other translations have specific readers in mind—Native Americans, British youth, literature enthusiasts, and so on. And still others have “celebrity” names attached to them, such as recent translations by scholars N. T. Wright and David Bentley Hart. These tend to be lesser known, but because of their unique audiences (and authors), they can bring new perspectives into particular passages.

Let me introduce ten of these by showcasing the riches of John 1:1–5 and Luke 22:14–19 in each translation. My hope is to pique your sense of adventure to seek out these or other translations and immerse yourself in them.

All but one of these versions were translated by …

Continue reading…

Beth Moore: My 5 Keys to Accountability

In this celebrity culture, it’s easy for a servant to lose her way. These few habits keep our eyes on Jesus.

Recent conversations on social media and elsewhere have been sounding alarms on the toxicity of celebrity culture within the body of Christ. I was asked to chime in on the subject by sharing several ways that I practice personal accountability and attempt to protect myself from getting sucked into the celebrity quicksand.

Most of what I’ve learned in this area (and every other) I’ve learned the hard way, and I don’t pretend to have this one mastered. I so badly want to walk the remainder of my journey without detouring into a deep ditch but, if I’m able to do so, it will be by God’s grace.

These are the particular graces he’s given me that help me along my way:

1. I don’t trust myself.

The upside of a downward spiral into despair and defeat in young adulthood is that pretty early on, I was forced to face not only the foolish things I had done but also the stark realization that there was likely no end to what I was capable of doing. The parts of my past that I loathe most are those God most uses for my present protection. God forgives our sins and casts them into the depths of the sea—a comfort and relief beyond words—but nonetheless, he does not mind me remembering those sins well. I never walk in front of a group without recalling the pit from which I was rescued and the rock from which I was hewn.

As a safeguard to my listeners, I also practice personal transparency in my teaching by being open about my present flaws and past failures. I spare them the graphics but try to make sure every audience knows the truth: that God has delivered me from serious strongholds of sin and, if I stand, I stand by grace alone.

2. I don’t particularly trust other people.

I don’t …

Continue reading…

Tyndale Sued by Boy Who Didn’t Come Back from Heaven

Subject of retracted afterlife account demands damages for using his name.

After growing up and retracting his controversial account of “coming back from heaven,” 20-year-old Alex Malarkey is now suing the Christian publisher who made his story famous, then infamous.

Malarkey, who was left paralyzed and spent two weeks in a coma after a 2004 car accident, filed a lawsuit this month against Christian publisher Tyndale House for associating his name with the controversial book coauthored with his father, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven, and not paying him for the story.

Tyndale took the book out of print in 2015, after Malarkey admitted he made up the story of dying and going to heaven after the accident.

“Now that he is an adult, Alex desires to have his name completely disassociated from the book and seeks a permanent injunction against Tyndale House requiring it to do everything within reason to disassociate his name from the book,” according to the complaint, which was covered in The Washington Post.

Malarkey has sued on the grounds of defamation, financial exploitation, and publicity placing a person in a false light, saying that Tyndale went forward with initially publishing and promoting the book knowing his opposition. He states that he did not write any part of the book or consent to the use of his name as a coauthor and story subject.

The suit states that he has “never been permitted to read the contract, nor to review any accountings provided under the contract, he refuses to acknowledge that the contract ‘is in effect and binding,’ now that he has reached the age of majority.”

A New York Times bestseller, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven sold over a million copies and launched several spinoff products based on Malarkey’s story.

Tyndale …

Continue reading…

This Week, Speak the Name of Andrew Brunson, A Persecuted Brother in Turkey

Please join us in standing with Brunson’s family and home church in lifting the name of Andrew Brunson to the God he serves.

On July 15, 2016, Christian pastor Andrew Brunson had no idea that a group of Turkish rebels were about to make a choice that would put his own life in serious danger.

On this day, a group within the Turkish armed forces attempted to overthrow their government. Over 300 were killed and more than 2,100 were injured before the rebellion was squashed by the State.

In the days and weeks that followed, the Turkish government began their campaign to hunt down and punish anyone who they believed might be disloyal to their regime. First and foremost, the administration blamed a Turkish Muslim cleric named Fethulla Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, for spreading teachings they believed inspired the rebellion. Since Gulen was out of reach in the United States, however, they began sweeping up anyone they suspected of being disloyal to the government—particularly religious leaders and Americans.

The New York Times described how this crackdown “swept up tens of thousands of Turks — military officials, police officers, judges, journalists and others — in prosecutions and purges that are wrenching Turkey back to darker eras it had appeared to have left behind.”

Among those taken prisoner were several Americans. They took a chemistry professor, a real estate agent, and a scientist into custody. And they arrested 48-year-old Christian pastor, Andrew Brunson, who had peacefully lived and ministered in Turkey for 23 years.

As we work to support persecuted Christians in over 60 countries that are hostile to the Christian faith, Open Doors is incredibly concerned about this situation in Turkey—a country who is #31 on our World Watch List, which ranks regions where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Today, …

Continue reading…

An Iranian Refugee’s Terrible Journey to God

I survived snowy mountains, a filthy prison, and an abusive husband. Then I discovered who had protected me all along.

When Arif marched up to me in church, it was obvious that he was angry. With his eyes narrowed in hate and his long beard trembling with rage, he was incensed that I, a Christian woman, would be trying to convert Muslims. Within seconds Arif was flat on his back as if God had acted supernaturally to get his attention. (This is not an uncommon experience when I witness to Muslims.) It didn’t take long for Arif to break down and start crying, and once he’d opened up his heart to God like that, it was only a matter of time before he turned his back on Islam and gave his life to Jesus. All I had to do was stand to the side and pray.

But not everyone meets God this way. For some, the journey to seeing Jesus as Savior is sudden and dramatic like it was on the road to Damascus. But for others, the journey to faith looks more like the road to Emmaus: a gradual realization that Jesus is closer than the air we breathe.

I know, because that’s exactly how it was with me.

Robbed of Joy

I was born in Iran—beautiful, peaceful Iran. My life was good, and it got even better when I fell in love, got married, and gave birth to my son, Daniel. I was 18 years old with a husband who loved me and a newborn baby we both adored. Even the fact that my country was being overtaken by Islamic revolutionaries couldn’t dampen my joy. Like so many people whose lives feel perfect, I had little appetite for God. But all that was about to change.

Death came like a thief one morning soon after Daniel was born. My husband was killed in a traffic accident, and in an instant my life was robbed of joy. I was in shock. I was in denial. And for the first time in my life, my mind turned to God. I asked, What have I done to deserve this?

In …

Continue reading…

Farm Boy: How Billy Graham Became a Preacher

A boyhood in rural North Carolina shaped the evangelist his entire life.

If you go to Charlotte, North Carolina, you will find that the farmland where Billy Graham grew up has been transformed. The rolling fields of the early-20th-century agricultural South have morphed into the strip malls, office buildings, and subdivisions of the New South. But Charlotte of 1918, the year of Graham’s birth, was a sleepier town. Its first streetcars, creating new suburban residences, had just been built, and it wasn’t until Billy was three years old that one of the nation’s first radio stations graced Charlotte’s airwaves. A year later, Efird’s Department Store, which described itself as “the only store south of Philadelphia with escalators,” opened. It was in this Charlotte—straddling rural and urban, and experiencing the first pangs of transition into the world-class city people know today—that Graham was born.

Frank and Morrow Graham built, and reared their four children on, a thriving dairy farm. The children grew up in a colonial-style house with indoor plumbing. The family was close-knit. Indeed, Billy and two younger siblings, Catherine and Melvin, shared a bedroom until Catherine was 13. Jean Graham Ford—the youngest Graham sibling, born almost 14 years after Billy and his only surviving sibling today—recalls the special bond shared by Billy and his mother. Billy was always doing little things to please her, like going out into the fields and bringing her wildflowers. Jean also recalls that young Billy loved Morrow’s cooking and had a seemingly insatiable appetite: “When you walked in the back door during the spring and summer months, Mother would always have tomatoes on the shelf in the back porch. He would pick up the tomato and eat it …

Continue reading…

Bill Hybels Resigns from Willow Creek

Megachurch pastor “accelerates” October retirement weeks after former colleagues went public with misconduct allegations.

Bill Hybels has stepped down as senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago-area megachurch he founded over 40 years ago, citing the controversy over recent allegations against him.

Many in the wider Christian community have been confused by those allegations, he said, and the controversy has distracted his church’s leaders from their mission and has hurt the church’s ministries. “They can’t flourish to their fullest potential when the valuable time of our leaders is divided.”

Hybels, who previously planned to retire in October, revealed the news Tuesday evening at a “family meeting” where about 1,000 Willow Creek members gathered at the multisite church’s flagship South Barrington, Illinois, campus.

The crowd listened in silence as their longtime pastor began to read a 12-minute-long prepared statement, then groaned in disappointment when he confirmed what so many of them had feared. Several voices shouted, “No!” across the 7,000-seat auditorium.

Hybels will also leave the board of the Willow Creek Association (WCA), a network of thousands of churches around the world, and will no longer host Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit (GLS) in August. “This too was my decision and mine alone,” he said.

Hybels has strongly denied the pattern of misconduct that former Willow Creek staff members recounted in an investigation published three weeks ago by the Chicago Tribune and covered by Christianity Today. At the family meeting, he repeated his denial.

“I’ve been accused of many things I simply did not do,” he said. “But let me acknowledge things I have done. I confess to anger at the accusations. … I sincerely …

Continue reading…