What Does the Lord Require of You?

Micah’s most beloved verse is more than a spiritual to-do list.

In the early 1960s, political writer Hannah Arendt attended the trials of Adolf Eichmann, the German officer who had orchestrated much of the Holocaust. She expected to find a monster. How could it be otherwise? Only a deranged psychopath could lend his considerable organizational skills to the mass murder of millions in Nazi Germany. What stunned Arendt and enraged some of her readers was her startling discovery of a “normal” and “simple” man at the trial. The notorious architect of the Holocaust did not appear as a devil but as a banal bureaucrat doing what he was told.

Arendt’s jarring discovery led to her oft-repeated phrase: the banality of evil. The implications of Arendt’s descriptive phrase are chilling. Without prudence and self-reflection, normal people are capable of gross injustice. Micah 6:8, perhaps the minor prophet’s most famous verse, has something to say about Eichmann and the banality of evil. It has something to say to us.

A Familiar Verse in Unfamiliar Territory

The prophetic books of the Old Testament bear their fruit with patience. They challenge. In their own ways, Martin Luther and Saint Augustine found the prophets puzzling. So, when you and I experience similar hurdles we are in good company. Philippians for morning devotions or Haggai? Jesus or Zerubbabel? If we’re honest, most of us would probably pick the former.

As a result, the prophetic writings remain a strange land for many Christian readers. But not Micah 6:8. This verse is the stuff of political speeches, Christian kitsch, and bumper stickers. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” …

Continue reading…

The Truth about Suicide

More and more Americans are taking their own lives. How the church can step up.

In 2015, more than 44,000 Americans died by suicide—one death every 12 minutes, as the Department of Health and Human Services put it. The overall suicide rate has grown by nearly 30 percent over the past 15 years, prompting some to call it a new public health crisis.

Al Hsu knows this reality personally. Nine months after the InterVaristy Press senior editor got married, he received a phone call from his mother. “Daddy killed himself,” she told him. When he heard the news, Hsu and his wife already had plans to visit his parents. His 58-year-old father was in rough condition after a stroke had left him partially debilitated and gravely depressed. The aftermath of his father’s death sparked Hsu to reflect and research, the results of which found their way into Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope (InterVarsity Press), first published in 2002 and re-released this year.

Hsu spoke with assistant editor Morgan Lee about the inner conflict of grieving a suicide, the best and worst ways his community responded to his pain, and whether ending one’s own life condemns a Christian to hell.

What is it like to lose someone you love to suicide?

Counselors call this kind of grief a complicated grief or a complicated bereavement because grievers are actually dealing with two realities: grief and trauma. The grief of losing a loved one is normal and expected, but with suicide comes trauma. In processing a suicide, there is no easy path to peace and the grief journey cycles through all sorts of different feelings and emotions.

So it’s important to realize that this grief will strike you in many different ways.

Right. For grievers, there are any number of emotions that …

Continue reading…

The African Diaspora (Part 2): What We Can Learn and Biblical Principles

Immigrants can bless their home countries and their host countries

In Part 1, we looked at the African diaspora and four biblical figures from which we can learn. Today, we seek to apply some biblical principles to the reality of the diaspora today.

Stay Close to God

Although Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah were far from their homeland, they were not far from God. They were people of prayer who made sure their relationship with God was fresh and current. Nehemiah and Daniel prayed regularly and before every important decision. Prior to interpreting the king’s dream, Daniel and his friends prayed.

His powerful prayer is recorded in Daniel 2:20-23. Daniel regularly prayed three times a day “giving thanks to his God” (Dan. 6:10). Before Nehemiah approached the king about returning to Jerusalem, he said, “For days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven” (Neh. 1:4).

Staying close to God through prayer is vital. When planning to leave your country of origin—whether for an opportunity or because you are forced to do so by circumstances—bathe your decision in prayer, asking for God’s wisdom and protection. The Lord can iron out obstacles and difficulties that could arise at any point of your journey.

One step that will help an immigrant stay close to God is to join a strong, Bible-believing church in the new country. Take the initiative because fellowship with other believers will be a great help. If you are able, connect with Christians of your host community to help you integrate into your new home.

Avoid taking illegal actions, no matter how expeditious or attractive they might be. If you emigrate through illegal means, you will continue to be confronted by situations to justify your residence in your new county that do not honor the …

Continue reading…

South Sudan: Famine, War, and Hope

The fields of South Sudan could feed the whole continent.

Three years ago, Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) flew us from Uganda onto a dirt landing strip in Yei South Sudan, a wind-blown village bravely holding onto life. For four days, with 90 chiefs, elders, and government ministers, we endeavored to broker a peace. These weren’t enemies because of religion; instead, they were fighting and killing each other over cattle dowries. In a Dispatch then, I outlined the feud going on among the tribes.

Recently, I landed with Aiah Fouday-Khanenje, head of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, in Juba, capital of this newest of nations, South Sudan. Since its 2011 independence, warring factions within the government has left thousands dead and exasperated food shortages. Five years after independence it has what it wanted: nationhood. But it also got what it didn’t want: civil war.

At home in Canada, a friend winced when he heard of the places I visit. He asked, “How can you do it?”

I heard myself say, “I love being there.” There are more convenient and comfortable places to visit; yet it is here, in a county hanging on by its fingernails, that one experiences the joy of faith. The opportunity to make a difference sounds its call.

A Great African Nation

As a country, before its separation into the north and south, Sudan was Africa’s largest. It was critical to the spread of the Christian message. One of the largest missionary agencies in the world, SIM, had its name by way of this country: Sudan Interior Mission. Catastrophe after calamity, this area and its people are still at the forefront of the church. What they do and become matters, and this is made more urgent by the steady crawl southward of Islamic influence.

Historically, Sudan has had …

Continue reading…

Interview: Stephen Mansfield: Why So Many Conservative Christians Wanted a ‘Pagan Brawler’ in the White House

And how their choice of Trump has affected the church since last year’s election.

Election 2016 ended a year ago, but its effects on American culture, including the American church, persist. Many are still asking how Donald Trump became president, and what part evangelical Christians played in making that happen. Stephen Mansfield, author of bestselling books about the religious faith of recent American presidents, believes that faith matters in the story of President Trump as well. Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him describes Trump’s remarkable partnership with conservative evangelicals. Blogger Samuel D. James spoke with Mansfield about what the events of last year mean for Christians and how a divided American church can heal.

Is it fair to consider Donald Trump a prosperity-gospel Christian?

He’s definitely drawn to the side of Christianity that preaches personal power, prosperity, and success in this world. Part of that preconditioning comes from his years hearing sermons from Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale privately believed in “born again” Christianity, but Trump fed from the stream in Peale’s thought that was essentially secular motivational philosophy. Trump sees himself as a religious man and sees his own success as the result of living out certain religious principles—just not the ones at the heart of the gospel.

You describe how meeting with religious leaders during the campaign gave Trump something of an “education” he didn’t know he needed. Were his stances on religious liberty, abortion, and socially conservative issues a product of political ambitions?

A good illustration is his approach to the Johnson Amendment, which prevents pastors from endorsing …

Continue reading…

The Game of Thrones Christians Should Be Watching

Arab believers assess crown prince’s pledge to modernize Saudi Arabia’s Islam.

Before the crown prince of Saudi Arabia stunned the world with his sudden arrest of dozens of fellow princes and millionaires on corruption charges, he stunned many Christians with his stated desire to moderate its version of Islam, commonly dubbed Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia was founded in 1932 as an alliance between Bedouin warriors of the al-Saud tribe and strict Salafi Muslim scholars following Mohamed ibn Abd al-Wahhab. Discovering oil six years later, it also became one of the Muslim world’s wealthiest nations. The combination has led many religious freedom advocates to blame Saudi petrodollars for funding a worldwide rise in Islamist extremism.

But last month, Mohammad bin Salman said his conservative Muslim country would return to “what we were before: a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world.”

Extremist ideas would be destroyed, the crown prince proclaimed, blaming Iran for sparking Saudi Arabia’s notoriously tight religious control. He pledges now to reverse this and stamp out extremism.

“What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia,” bin Salman said. “What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries; one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it.”

But many aspects of Saudi Arabia’s closely regulated enforcement of Abd al-Wahhab’s version of Sunni Islam were in place long before Shiite Iran’s revolution.

Many analysts—including Christians—are skeptical of the scapegoating. In terms of faith, Saudi leaders have long applied the deathbed instructions of Muhammad that …

Continue reading…

What’s a Christian to Do with Statements and Confessions?

Public pressure to sign or abstain from them undermines their greatest value.

Two recent documents remind us of the importance of doctrinal clarity and how hard it is to achieve unity on doctrine.

The Nashville Statement addresses a burning issue of our day: human sexuality. The social and political pressures to deny the biblical teaching on God’s intent for our sexuality are immense, and we believe the statement’s creators clearly grasp the need to stand firm. This is not merely an ethical debate about what one can and cannot do in the bedroom; in fact, on this issue rest crucial aspects of the doctrine of Scripture and theological anthropology.

Unfortunately, in attempting to clarify classic orthodox belief, the Nashville Statement ended up confusing some issues and has divided advocates of biblical sexuality. This is in part because it was largely driven by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (although the group had conversations with other organizations) and lacked broader participation, failing to garner a consensus among those most deeply sympathetic to its main affirmations.

For example, the Nashville Statement says, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” This critiques those who, while honoring the Bible’s teaching to refrain from same-sex relations, still describe themselves as “gay Christians.” Some signers of the statement have argued that our identity cannot be grounded in a broken state but instead must be grounded in Christ. This argument fails to appreciate the nuances of identity, however.

Take the parallel example of Christians who are alcoholics—an admittedly tired and imperfect comparison but one that is still apt. Some long …

Continue reading…

How to Care for Abuse Survivors in Your Congregation

Practical ways to care for the wounded.

Alex left home 10 years ago when he was 18 and hasn’t been to church since. When a friend at work mentioned going to church, Alex felt nagging guilt. Alex hoped that by attending church with his friend he might feel better about himself.

As a young boy, Alex was sexually abused by his uncle. When Alex told his parents about the abuse, they instructed him to “be a good Christian” and forgive his uncle. It’s been years since Alex has seen his uncle, but the shame left by the abuse remains and has made him feel disconnected.

Alex remembers his former pastor’s attempts at transparency during sermons. The pastor spoke about arguments with his wife on the way to church and failure to rest on Sabbath days. “If those are the darkest aspects of your life,” Alex thought, “you could never understand my experiences.”

While sitting in the church service with his coworker, Alex felt worse about himself. Everyone else seemed put together and healthy. “I’m broken and out of place,Alex thought.

Alex’s experience is one of many stories about the aftermath of abuse and how attending church can be difficult for those who, like Alex, have endured trauma. No single statistic captures the ubiquity of abuse. The National Center for PTSD estimates that 7 to 8 percent of the general population will have Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point. However, there are many people who do not neatly fit a PTSD diagnosis but have experienced what psychologists call “attachment trauma” and other forms of abuse or neglect. The National Center for Victims of Crime shares that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse. The National Domestic Violence …

Continue reading…

The Promise and Failure of Antibiotics

How the church can play a key role in better stewardship of antibacterial medicine and avert a global health crisis.

In 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics began encouraging doctors to treat certain ear infections with what they called “watchful waiting,” an attempt to combat the skyrocketing incidence of antibacterial resistance that was due in part to the overuse of antibiotics.

For me, that meant when exhausted parents showed up in my ER halfway through a sleepless night with a child cradling a painful ear, I could explain to them that in 95 percent of cases the infection is viral and therefore not helped by antibiotics. We could talk about ways to make the symptoms better, how the infection would likely resolve itself in a matter of days. I could point out that starting antibiotics to treat a viral infection could, in fact, cause diarrhea, allergic reactions, and most importantly, antibacterial resistance that could reemerge as a severe and even life-threatening infection in their child in later years.

I could then give the parents a prescription for antibiotics and tell them that if the fever and pain weren’t gone in 48 hours—the point at which most viral infections would have resolved—they could fill the prescription and start the medication.

I have spent hours on these conversations: urging parents to be patient, reinforcing that antibiotic resistance is a real and dangerous side effect, and trying to convince them that waiting is in the best interest not only of their child but of their entire community. The drug-resistant bacteria that develop from unnecessary or inappropriately administered courses of antibiotics are a real risk to children and everyone children “share their cooties with.” I hand over my prescription, ask them again not to fill it for two days, and then call them back …

Continue reading…

The African Diaspora (Part 1): A Brief History and Lessons

Immigrant lessons from Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah

We live in a world where emigration is an option for many people. For some, persecution or famine in their own country causes them to flee their homeland. Many of us know people who have felt forced to emigrate. For others, the promise of a better life for their family is hard to resist. Still others move to another country for an education or a job opportunity and never return to their homeland. Many of us emigrate to Europe or America, but the African diaspora is worldwide. For instance, a large African community lives in Guangzhou, China.

Diaspora means the dispersion of people from their original homeland. There were two examples of a diaspora in the Old Testament—the voluntary immigration of the Israelites into Egypt and the forced immigration of the Jews to Assyria and Babylon.

The people of Africa have been dispersed throughout the world perhaps more than the people of any other continent.

Thirteen hundred years ago, Arabs took Africans from their homelands in East Africa to the Middle East to be slaves. Three hundred years ago, Europeans took Africans from West Africa to Europe and the Americas for the same purpose. Today, many Africans emigrate voluntarily. Do Africans living in other countries have to renounce their faith, their origins, or their culture? How can they have a positive influence on their new country? What are their responsibilities to their home country?

We can learn from stories in the Bible about those who have emigrated from their homeland. Most of these stories involved forced immigration (although Jacob immigrated to Egypt voluntarily), but they still show us how believers should or should not act in a new land.

Learning from Joseph

Sold to Ishmaelite traders by his jealous and bitter brothers, …

Continue reading…