Palm Sunday and the Gift of Disillusionment

How the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry—and my chronic pain diagnosis—helped me trade in false hopes for a truer picture of God.

The December sky was low and gray on the morning I woke up and could not feel my hands. I wrung out my arms, hoping the sensation would return. I shook them violently to no avail. Rushing to the bathroom, I held them under hot water. Then frigid water. Neither helped.

Within days, prickly tingles crept up my arm and spread to my shoulders. The numbness turned into pain that burned, ached, and stabbed. Even my fingernails throbbed. A neurologist performed tests using electrified needles inserted into my muscles and shock pads placed on the skin. Nothing appeared abnormal.

Next came a series of scans and a litany of tests for minor problems like vitamin deficiencies, major illnesses like Lupus, and life-threatening conditions like multiple myeloma. Each brought excruciating waiting and worry. I was, after all, a writer whose livelihood depended on having control of his hands. All returned negative.

My symptom list grew with each passing month. First came nerve twitches in my legs, arms, back, and face. Then a paradox of sapping fatigue and insomnia. Severe panic attacks struck without warning, and I broke out in excruciating shingles from the overwhelming stress. The slightest stressor—a large crowd or a long line, common in New York City, where I live—left me bedridden.

The revolving door of physicians left me without a diagnosis and drowning in an ocean of medications: anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, nerve pills, pain killers, antiepileptic drugs, sleeping pills, and a healthy dose of Lexapro and Xanax to keep me from a full-on mental break. I grasped for anyone who would help, scheduling appointments with cardiologists and chiropractors, naturopaths and nutritionists, holistic doctors and Hasidic Jewish …

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Will Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ on Israel-Palestine Please Evangelicals?

CT asked 11 leaders in US and Middle East to assess the red lines of a peace plan, expected soon after Netanyahu’s coalition wins election.

When it comes to Israel, nearly all evangelicals hold dear the biblical maxim: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

But what does it mean after a fiercely contested election?

President Donald Trump will soon propose his vision of practical exegesis.

Two years in the making, Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is slated to be released soon, now that Israel has reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His Likud party secured a virtual tie with challenger Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, but Bibi’s right-wing coalition will push him over the top.

Neither leading candidate made the peace process with Palestinians a major plank of their campaign as the entire Israeli electorate has shifted to the right, emphasizing security over negotiation.

Other American presidents have tried and failed to advance official US policy of a two-state solution. But while Trump has brought a new energy—and unpredictability—to forge an elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, he may face two very skeptical partners.

Even so, Trump has shaken the system.

Last year in May, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

In February, he stopped US funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Last month, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

And more than any president prior, he has courted evangelical opinion. LifeWay Research shows that 67 percent of American adults with evangelical beliefs have positive perceptions toward Israel, with 80 percent believing Abraham’s covenant is for all time.

But while analysts have panned Trump’s decisions as decidedly one-sided against the Palestinians, he has dangled his own deal-making reputation as—at times—a warning to the Israelis.

“Israel will …

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Who Says Social Media Can’t Make You Wise?

Done right, Facebook offers a chance for discernment and connection.

Facebook decided to kick off 2019 with a challenge: Compare your first profile picture to your most recent one to see how hard aging hit you over the past ten years.

I pulled up my first profile picture and stared at it, the air exiting my lungs and an odd numbness seeping up from my toes. Hello, fresh-faced person. I remember you. I remember that shirt, the wallpaper in that kitchen, that haircut. I also remember the night I uploaded you in 2008, sitting in the bedroom with my husband, lightheartedly filling in my Facebook profile with enough information for my identity to be stolen and my house to be robbed.

The picture, actually taken in 2005, was the only scanned picture I had of myself at the time—back when I knew nothing of smartphones, selfies, or the social media platforms that now seep into every idle moment of our days.

Twitter rants and hashtags, internet trolls, humble brags, virtue signaling, sub-tweeting, Instagram stories, Snap streaks, tagging, and liking were not in my vocabulary or experience. So, staring down a younger version of myself, my first thought was not “What a wrinkled hag I have become,” but instead, “This is the ten-year anniversary of the year we gave our hearts to social media.”

Hard to believe a decade has passed since social media’s cultural watershed, since parents and grandparents joined their kids on Facebook, and since Twitter expanded from niche networking to the mainstream. Not to disappoint, but I don’t really hate social media. Like any other innovation, it can be used either for help or harm, according to the one who holds the tool in her hand.

Any crowded room we enter contains its share of sages and fools; social media platforms are just very …

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Interview: ‘I Thought God Loved Only the Hutu’

Tutsi widows and orphans felt betrayed by the church during the genocide. Survivor Denise Uwimana made it her mission to help them heal.

It has been 25 years since the Rwandan genocide, when Hutu extremists murdered at least 800,000 Tutsis over the course of 100 days. Women, men, infants, and children were assaulted with grenades and machine guns, cut down with machetes, beheaded, or burned alive. Denise Uwimana, who lost her husband to the genocide (and gave birth to a third son as the slaughter reached her home), has made it her life’s mission to provide material and spiritual assistance to fellow survivors and promote reconciliation between Hutus and Tutsis—in part through the organization she founded, Iriba Shalom International. Bethany Hoang, an author and advisor with International Justice Mission, spoke with Uwimana about her memoir, From Red Earth: A Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness.

How did you hold on to hope during those 100 days, as you feared for your life and your children’s lives?

Being a believer did not spare me from tribulation, but my faith in Jesus remained firm. He showed me that he is with us in every situation, up to the final minute of life. I saw this in Oscar, a Tutsi and friend of my family, who prayed for me before the Hutu paramilitary killed him.

During the worst of the genocide, I thought God loved only the Hutu, because Tutsis were killed like flies, and no one raised their voice in our defense. I was disappointed at how church leaders were involved directly or indirectly in the killing.

My prayer life became a quarrel with God. I reminded God of the promise he makes in Psalm 118, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans” (v. 8). I told him, “I don’t have anyone to help me. I will see if your word is true and how I will survive among the killers.” God …

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How the Bible Project Is Using Video to Get People into Scripture Again

The Portland-based animation studio is seeing unprecedented success in an age of biblical illiteracy.

My screen fills with a glow of color, rich golds and reds blending and shifting. Particles phase into the outline of a DNA double helix, mimicking the pinpoint lights of the globe. A soothing voice speaks, and a story leaps into animated life: a man falling victim to a cosmic setup, a heavenly gamble with the reputation of God at stake. A whirlwind forms among the images, constellations flickering within like lightning or the synapses of a great mind. All morphs into a virtual tour of the universe. Sea turtles swim among the stars; the rings of Saturn give way to underground caverns prickling with crystals.

It plays on, until in just 4 minutes and 39 seconds I have “seen,” like never before, the Book of Job. It’s time I read Job again, I think.

I’m watching a video from The Bible Project, a Portland, Oregon, animation studio. With my viewing, the video will have been watched more than 3.4 million times. The Bible Project has more than 1.2 million subscribers on YouTube and over 90 million total views on their videos. I’ll soon be having coffee with Bible Project founders Tim Mackie and Jon Collins, old acquaintances, at their offices to hear the story behind their efforts to connect the world to videos like this—visions of the Bible as “a unified story that leads to Jesus.”

Since the Reformation, Protestants have held that a rich relationship with the Bible is central to the Christian life. But today, confidence in the Bible’s truth and reliability is rapidly eroding, questions about how the text came to us are at an all-time high, and even among scholars friendly to faith, there seems to be little consensus about how to read our sprawling, enigmatic, diverse, and often-confusing …

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Sunday Journeys: North Phoenix Vineyard Church

This church represents the passion the Vineyard founders had to make the world more like Jesus would have it to be.

I used to do a regular series called “Sunday Journeys”. The series was primarily about things I observed while visiting churches from different traditions and the practices they had that may be helpful for others. Typically, I began with a brief description and then one or two notable things at that church. We had dropped the series because for the past few years, I have been preoccupied preaching at Moody Church almost every Sunday.

However, this past fall I took some time away from that and did a book tour where I had the privilege of speaking at several churches.

Now that the new year has begun, I have one or two Sundays a month to preach at other churches. So it’s time to return to my church visit series.

Today I want to talk about North Phoenix Vineyard Church. The Vineyard is a movement of churches most associated with John Wimber. Early on, the movement was predominantly found in the Southern California area, and the spiritual birthday of Vineyard is Mother’s Day 1980. Hundreds of Vineyard churches have been planted around the world. One of those churches was planted by Brian and Thora Anderson.

What’s particularly fascinating about Brian and Thora is that they were actually not preparing for vocational ministry. Rather, their focus was to be high school teachers. They met as high school teachers. I learned a bit about their journey when Donna and I went to dinner them.

When I attended North Phoenix Vineyard Church, a few things stuck out to me. First, it was a child dedication Sunday. It’s always encouraging to see this many children and parents gathered together to dedicate their kids to the Lord.

Also worth noting is they had the Lord’s Supper set up in the aisles. I’ve noticed increasingly …

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20 Truths from Brave Souls by Belinda Bauman

“The incarnation is the fullest expression of the empathy of God.”

1. “What impacted me most was their capacity to love. They regularly overcame their wounds—physical, emotional, and psychological— choosing to forgive the perpetrators, reconcile with their enemies, and serve their communities” (Page 6).

2. “Empathy became an engine to bring change to their communities. It was real, muscular, disciplined” (Page 7).

3. “Empathy is also a radical departure from sympathy in that it doesn’t just involve our emotions. It engages our intellect as well, and it’s proven true by our actions. Leaning into the situation, perspective and feelings of others so we can act for the good of all is a helpful way to understand a practiced, embodied kind of empathy” (Page 8).

4. “But for all our connectedness, we are subtly—and sometimes not so subtly—ignoring each other’s perspectives, circumstances, and needs. Instead of seeking to understand, we quietly pronounce judgment, stoking a simmering anger. Or we smile civilly, nodding our head, feeding the isolation among us” (Page 9).

5. “Empathy is a movement deep in our soul. It takes us from standing by to standing up, from sleeping to awakening” (Page 12).

6. “Empathy is not reserved for a few saints who walk above the earth. It’s not a feeling or an epiphany. No, empathy is gritty, personal, concrete, and practical, available for anyone thirsty enough to pursue real love” (Page 29).

7. “Empathy is the place where I meets you—where souls intersect at the crossroads of love” (Page 38).

8. “The incarnation is the fullest expression of the empathy of God” (Page 40).

9. “…civility will never bring real change. …

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21 Unremarkable Martyrs and Their Remarkable Gifts to the World

A writer goes in search of the young Coptic Christian men executed on film by ISIS.

Martin Mosebach’s new book, The 21, tells the story of 21 Coptic Christians martyred by Muslim extremists on a Libyan beach in 2015. I finished reading it a day before the horrific terrorist attack by a white nationalist on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The echoes between the martyrdoms in Libya and Christchurch are uncanny. In both cases, the perpetrators made a video recording of their violent acts in order to heighten fear and promote their demented vision of purity. In both cases, the victims died because of their faith—and, for many, because they were vulnerable as migrants who had gone to a foreign land to work or make a new life.

In the aftermath of such terror, we often debate the extent to which we should focus attention on the terrorists and their motives. We’re conscious of how excess publicity can spread their destructive ideas and encourage imitators. (The Christchurch terrorist claimed that certain murderous predecessors had precisely this effect on him.) Yet our understandable interest in the perpetrators and desire to counteract what has gone wrong should never drown out our concern the victims, because they deserve our grief. And one way to honor them is by learning their stories and seeking deeper understanding.

This is the approach Mosebach, a German novelist, takes in The 21. In the book’s introduction, he explains he “had no intention to learn anything more of the perpetrators. … It was enough for me to leave them in the darkness they themselves aspired to. … I was significantly more moved by, and motivated to know more about, the fate of the murdered men.”

Contemplating the victims’ humanity makes the tragedy feel heavier. But in a small …

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African American Students Respond to Southern Seminary’s Slavery Report

After an unflinching look at its racist past, SBC’s flagship seminary aims to honor a more diverse population on campus.

After overhearing a tour guide honoring the early leaders of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary buried in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, Latevia Priddy felt like she had to speak up.

“It’s like you’ve given a one-sided version of the history of Southern,” Priddy, a biblical counseling student, explained later to a staff member at her campus job. “These men did some very awful things and refused to recognize people who looked like me as actual people but viewed them as property—and we’re praising their names. That’s not a fair assessment of history.”

When Priddy was asked to share more about her concerns, it marked a significant moment in her experience as an African American at the flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), where she led a student group promoting racial reconciliation. “What’s fair and good and right is for us [Christians] to be truthful about what happened in the past,” she said.

Last December, Southern Seminary publicly owned the truth of its ugly racial history in a 70-page report chronicling the institution’s ties to slavery and claims of white superiority, including details down to how many slaves its founders owned and quotes from leaders’ theological defenses of inequality.

Though the SBC confessed and condemned the denomination’s early support of slavery in an official resolution in 1995, Southern’s reckoning “goes much further,” said Thomas Kidd, a Baptist historian at Baylor University. “It names names. It gets much more specific about who committed what sins and how.”

Several black students at Southern told CT they already knew about slave ownership among …

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Making Missions Count: How a Major Database Tracked Thailand’s Church-Planting Revival

A movement in Southeast Asia shows how real-time reporting is building Great Commission connections.

Dwight Martin can tell you the exact number of churches in Thailand. At the start of 2019, his site reported 5,805. By the next week, the number would be different.

While missionaries overseas, and even Western churches, often rely on broad estimates, he can calculate exactly how many subdistricts in the Buddhist kingdom have no churches at all (5,509) and how many people live in communities without any Christian neighbors (62.5 million).

The American missionary-kid-turned-IT-guru oversees the most comprehensive national church database in the world, with corresponding maps indicating exactly which corners of the colorful Southeast Asian country are most desperate for the gospel.

Fluent in Thai from his childhood, Martin had presented his findings dozens of times to church leaders and missionaries over more than a decade serving as the official research coordinator for the Thai church.

When he initially shared the data with the founders of a growing Thai church-planting movement, they balked, wondering why a white man was trying to make them feel bad about the outlook for the church in their country.

But the Free in Jesus Christ Church Association (FJCCA) eventually invited Martin to give his presentation to 60 of their top leaders, a third of whom had converted to Christianity less than a year before. Once they saw Martin’s maps, with data drilled down to the village level, they realized just how unreached their own nation remained.

After 190 years of Protestant ministry in Thailand, 95 percent of 80,000 villages in the country still didn’t have a church. While their humble house church movement had begun to multiply across their province in Central Thailand, provinces all over the region—and to the east and …

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