God Hears Your Back-to-School Prayers

A new school year brings more challenges and opportunities for Christians in education.

The sight of the school supplies section is enough to cue a combination of excitement and anxiety for kids, parents, and teachers counting down to the first day of school.

In addition to the practical preparation for another school year, we find ourselves back in the ongoing debates and pressure surrounding education in America.

Andrea Ramirez, executive director of the Faith and Education Coalition for the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition, sat down in August with author and speaker Bianca Olthoff to talk about our role as Christians in education—including how to handle back-to-school stress and divides between public, private, and homeschool parents.

In honor of this weekend’s Education Sunday, where churches across the country will pray for their students and their local schools, we are sharing some highlights from their conversation.

You can watch the whole thing from CT Women’s Facebook page.

On how can parents incorporate God into preparation:

Ramirez: In the few weeks before school, there is just this time of dedication. I remember my parents explaining to me, “God has called you to do incredible things, and right now, what he called you to do is do well in school. He wants to open up your mind, to prepare you, equip you for the assignments he has for you, so how you spend your time at school—it’s worship… it’s an opportunity to invite the Lord into how you spend that time.”

There was this discipleship that happened. Instead of having a negative view about taking a test or taking notes, I felt like, “Wow, the Lord blessed my note-taking!” What really clicked for me was during my college years, an English professor at Dallas Baptist University …

Continue reading…

Are We Missing the Point of Spiritual Disciplines?

The goal isn’t merely getting closer to God, but making a difference in everyday life.

One crisp fall morning, I watched my son’s first-grade soccer team attempt to play soccer. Many of his teammates had not played the game before that season. Even a few weeks in, the young athletes were struggling.

While watching, I thought back to their practice earlier in the week and found myself intrigued. During practice, they had executed drills without any problems. They had dribbled, taken shots, and even passed the ball to one another. They looked like they could play soccer—but their practice did not translate into the ability to play a real, live game.

I began to wonder: Why was there such a disconnect between the practice and the game? Were their practices really preparing them to play the game of soccer?

Then I began to think of our churches and ask similar questions. Like my son’s soccer team, don’t we sometimes experience a disconnect between real life and what we “practice” at church? Are Sunday school classes, small groups, and spiritual disciplines the equivalent of ineffectual soccer drills? Perhaps, even when Sunday school classes are full, small groups well attended, and spiritual disciplines regularly practiced, these practices are not helping us know how to love God and our neighbors in the nitty-gritty of real life.

Vertical and Horizontal

These are the kinds of questions Kyle David Bennett asks in Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World. Bennett, a professor of philosophy and director of The Spirituality and Leadership Institute for Young Leaders at Caldwell University, is eager to show believers what it looks like to follow Jesus on the ground. Bennett believes that spiritual disciplines are supposed to help us as we seek to follow Jesus, …

Continue reading…

When Jesus Doesn’t Calm the Storm

As I faced the Houston floods, I found myself asking questions about God’s providence.

As a missionary kid growing up in Guatemala, I survived the destructive effects of a massive earthquake and a major military coup. As an adult now living in Houston, I have survived the destructive effects of a hurricane. But I don’t think I’ve coped with it very well.

Hurricane Harvey had already been at work for three noahic days when my wife, Phaedra, asked me to check on the condition of the streets so that we could make an informed decision: pack our bags or hunker down. We have a five-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son; we couldn’t afford to make a poor decision.

I raced down my street on a mountain bike in the town of Pecan Grove, just southwest of Houston, as sheets of rain lashed at my marine-blue jacket. At times, the water rose to my knees and soaked my shorts. My back brake pad suddenly fell off, leaving me with only my front brake to navigate the sloshing waters.

As I turned the corner onto Plantation Drive—the street that would usually take us out of the neighborhood—what I saw startled me: a small black sedan, like a child’s toy in the bathtub, bobbing up and down on the swollen waters that blocked our way out to safety. Approaching me were three men pulling at a canoe with ropes. In it sat two women, one of them holding a dog cage, gaping at the muddy brown waters that steadily rose around them.

By that time, nearly a trillion gallons of water had fallen over Houston and more were coming.

After staring at the canoe, I turned my bike around and bolted for home. I am 45, but I felt like 17—shot through with adrenaline. I knew there was one exit on the opposite side of our neighborhood that remained untouched by the floods, and I was determined to make it through …

Continue reading…

Iceland Capital’s Only Baptist Pastor Doesn’t Want Down Syndrome Eliminated

Pro-life minority faces major challenge in ‘most godless country’ in Europe.

My family has spent a lot of time at Landspítali, the major hospital in the capital of Iceland.

For over a year, our five-year-old son has been undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. Our youngest son, born this April, also spent two months at the hospital as doctors ran tests on him, finding a genetic mutation in his X chromosome that only two other people in the world have been diagnosed with.

Every day, as I walked into the intensive care unit at the hospital, I looked over a wall of pictures of young children and teenagers holding up photos of themselves as premature babies. They had been born after as little as 21 or 22 weeks of pregnancy. It was a monument to the lives that were saved.

Meanwhile, the cultural conversation in the rest of Iceland seemed so distant from what I saw in the hospital. There were talks of new legislation pushing to make abortion available as late as the 22nd week of pregnancy. And this month, the issue of abortion in Iceland took the internet by storm, with a CBS News report on how the country (population 340,000) is on the verge of eliminating Down syndrome.

What sounded like an impressive medical achievement was quickly revealed to be a spin on our heartbreaking reality. Only two to three children a year are born with Down syndrome since nearly 100 percent of mothers whose tests show a high likelihood of the condition end up choosing abortion.

Those of us who value life in the womb see Iceland is not eliminating Down syndrome, but terminating babies who have it (or could have it) before they are even born.

The Icelandic media, taking up the CBS story, have even shifted to use new language around abortion. They use a term suggested by a government think tank—Þungunarrof, which …

Continue reading…

A Humble Political Influencer Gets His Crowns in Heaven

At least, that’s what I expect for the late Michael Cromartie.

Michael Cromartie, who passed away earlier today, was one of the most life-affirming people I ever met.

He had a radiant personality, deep and winsome faith, endless energy, and tremendous generosity of spirit. He touched and brightened countless lives during his earthly pilgrimage, mine very much among them.

I first met Mike in 1985, when we started to work together at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He has been a colleague for many of the intervening years and a close friend for all of them.

Mike was a wise counselor, a great raconteur, and a friend of just about everyone he met. He was also one of the most important figures in modern American Christianity. As director of the Faith Angle Forum, which he started in 1999, he worked to strengthen reporting and commentary on how religious believers, religious convictions, and religiously grounded moral arguments affect American politics and public life.

Through his work there, including as moderator and host of his two-and-a-half day retreats with scholars, theologians, and writers, Mike introduced a generation of journalists to the positive role faith can play in the life of our country. He enriched the public dialogue and helped shape American culture.

In addition to that, and in many respects more important than that, Mike enriched the lives of those who became part of his community with his kindness, his genuine interest in others, his light touch, and his joie de vivre. This was obvious based on the outpouring of affection as his health worsened. This was a man who left a deep imprint on people’s hearts and souls.

When I met with Mike soon after he learned his cancer had spread and was terminal, we talked about many things, including his own feelings about what lay …

Continue reading…

Houston Churches Fight Flooding After Harvey Cancels Services

Congregations take ‘all ready but not yet’ approach to Texas rains of biblical proportions.

It takes a lot to cancel church in the shiny Bible Belt stronghold of Houston, Texas, home to more megachurches than any city in America. Specifically, 9 trillion gallons of rain in a weekend.

Hurricane Harvey shut down Sunday services from downtown to the sprawling suburbs, where churches replaced typical worship gatherings with sermon videos posted on Facebook or simply messages to stay safe.

Almost all Houston-area churches—including the Bayou City’s biggest congregations such as Second Baptist, Houston’s First Baptist, Church Without Walls, Wheeler Avenue Baptist, and Woodlands Church—canceled all Sunday activities as a precaution.

The congregations were glad they did when unprecedented rain levels ended up blocking many routes and leaking into some church buildings by Saturday night and Sunday morning.

“We have five services on the weekend, and I cannot ever remember canceling all services,” said Chris Seay, lead pastor at Ecclesia. “We asked our community to stay home with family and to look out for their neighbors.”

Gregg Matte, pastor at Houston’s First Baptist, spent the weekend checking in with members of his congregation—from elderly evacuees to a local TV meteorologist—with whom he has been texting Bible verses in between broadcasts.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever prayed like that, like I prayed today, just asking God to have mercy on us,” Matte said in a Facebook video Sunday evening. “Just make the rain stop.”

Houston Christians did more than pray from the dry refuge of their homes or evacuation spots. Clergymen were featured in a couple viral news reports from Sunday: a preacher who checked submerged cars for trapped …

Continue reading…

The Holy Calling of Wealth Creation Isn’t So Simple

Why the latest manifesto about Christians and economics is important, helpful, and woefully one-sided.

At a conference in March 2017, the Lausanne Movement and Business as Mission Global issued the important, helpful, and much-needed “Wealth Creation Manifesto.” While this manifesto is reflective of important biblical themes, it ignores others and ultimately fails to provide the balanced wisdom and guidance so urgently needed on this important topic.

Astonishing success in reducing global poverty has occurred in the last 40 years—especially the last 20. In that period, more evangelicals have come to understand the extensive biblical teaching about God’s concern for the poor—with a corresponding explosion of evangelical programs working to overcome poverty. From the 1990 Oxford Declaration on Christian Faith and Economics to more recent books on economics and market economies, evangelicals have increasingly devoted attention to how biblical faith intersects with the world of business and economics.

Initially nurtured by Youth With A Mission, a global network of Christian business leaders, theologians and ethicists have come together in an important network, Business as Mission. In 2013, they produced an important document, “Business as Mission and the End of Poverty,” a document that emphasized the biblical concern for the poor and insisted that ending poverty be a central concern of every Christian in business. That 2013 document, followed by the 2014 consultation by the Lausanne Movement on “Prosperity Theology, Poverty, and the Gospel” helped prepare the way for this 2017 “Wealth Creation Manifesto.”

A Crucial Caveat

This manifesto rightly establishes wealth creation as a “holy calling,” established by the Creator. He made persons in the divine image …

Continue reading…

3 ABNY Social Realities Shaping North American Missions

The New Testament Church was birthed in the messiness of a religiously pluralistic society.

“Already but not yet” (ABNY) is a phrase which arises out of a system of Christian thought called kingdom theology. It captures the notion that God’s kingdom was inaugurated in Jesus’ death and resurrection and that this kingdom is already here on earth, but not yet in its fullness.

Likewise, in North America, we’re experiencing social realities that are ABNY. These sociological phenomena are at the cusp of fully breaking through. Now, even in their early stages, they’re already changing the conditions in which we think and do North American missiology. But when they’re in full bloom, missions in North America will never be the same.

If the North American Church of today can thoughtfully take into consideration these three social realities, we might not only catch up to how fast culture is changing, but we’ll also play a role in leading some of the change.

ABNY SOCIAL REALITY #1: Demographic Shifts in the U.S.

Much has been said about the 2010 U.S. Census and how demographers forecast that in the next few decades the U.S. will no longer have a majority race.

Basically, the U.S. is becoming like the city of 40 or 50 years ago where Whites were leaving and minorities were moving in.

In his book, Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America, sociologist and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, William Frey, points out that Whites are aging and having fewer children. This, alongside the growth of Latino, Asian, and multiracial groups, will mean that in less than 30 years, Whites will comprise less than half of the U.S. population.

Besides racial composition, Frey points out that migration is something else to consider. Blacks are leaving cities for the suburbs …

Continue reading…

Hurricane Harvey Is Here. Time for Christians to Show What We’ve Learned Since Katrina.

Advice for US churches on Category 4 storm from a disaster researcher who survived 2005.

If current projections hold true, Hurricane Harvey will be the strongest hurricane to strike the United States since Katrina, Rita, and Wilma hit in 2005.

A decade ago, maybe your church volunteered, planned a short-term mission trip, gave money, or helped rebuild Gulf Coast communities beaten down by one of America’s most deadly and destructive disaster seasons.

Harvey, a Category 4 hurricane by Friday evening, offers Christians a chance to be even more helpful—to show God’s grace and mercy to a disaster-filled world. But it means we have to be willing to learn from experiences like Katrina.

I’ve learned a lot myself, both personally and professionally. Katrina walloped my community six days after I moved to South Mississippi. Within weeks, I was on the ground researching how faith helps peoples’ resilience and how the church can best respond. Today, I run the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, the nation’s first social science research center devoted to the study of faith and disasters.

For churches in the path of Hurricane Harvey, there are still some “just-in-time” preparedness strategies you can implement before the storm makes landfall. For Christians far away, there’s a lot more you can do than wait and watch Twitter like it’s an unfolding disaster movie.

Below are some of the most important research-based ways your church can prepare and care, as well as spiritual survival tips for locals and responders alike.

What Churches in Harvey’s Crosshairs Should Do Right Now

You may have never thought about your church’s role in preparing for a disaster in your own community. Even if you have, you still may not know how to prepare as you watch …

Continue reading…

Our Two Spiritual Time Zones

Living in the tension between present promise and future fulfillment.

“As we have heard, so we have seen in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city of our God: God makes her secure forever. Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love.” –Psalm 48:8–9

I woke up before the sun on a recent morning, just home from some overseas travel. The discomfort of jet lag is one of my favorite embodied metaphors of our spiritual reality. We live in liminal space. We are pulled between two time zones. On the one hand, by faith we are held secure in the love of God. We have received full redemption. On the other hand, though we have been made secure in Christ, we continue to experience uncertainty. We are sojourners, not yet home.

Psalm 48, which on the surface is a song about the temple in Jerusalem, acknowledges this truth. “As we have heard” is the first phrase, a suggestion that we know certain things to be true even if we haven’t seen them. “Seeing” often comes later. Present grace pushes us toward the future, while future grace comes to meet us in the present. Grace propels our movement toward restoration, even as we run forward in the strength God gives us.

But often just because something is true doesn’t mean it feels true. What I believe often feels out-of-sync with my circumstances. Reality unleashes pervasive brokenness: job loss, abuse, oppression, poverty, divorce, illness, and persecution. But in gospel hope, we are supported by the good news that God’s restoration is tenaciously breaking in. He is with us.

Sometimes we don’t sense that God is with us. Our understanding is often delayed. In suffering we wait with expectation, but it takes time for our hearts to catch up to the reality of things.

Not long ago, …

Continue reading…