Time for Some Saturday Church Sign Humor

Who says Christians aren’t funny? Check out some of these signs.

Thanks, @LeezaS1972!

Thanks, @griffingulledge!

Thanks, @1NickMiller!

Also, in June, I am speaking at a number of events. Join me if you are available!

Disaster Ministry Conference – June 23, 2018

Amplify Conference – June 26-28, 2018

Converge Conference – June 29th, 2018

One Mission Society Illuminate Conference – June 29-30, 2018

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Reaching and Revitalizing Rural America: Overcoming Misconceptions, and Answering the Call (Part 3)

Christians belong in the space of need and desperation because we carry a message of hope that is vitally needed in those contexts.

Multiple voices have articulated a burden for this area, and they are no longer distant and inaudible. Many of these leaders grew up in rural areas and have answered God’s call to return and minister there.

In his book, Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking All the Rurals, Shannon O’Dell writes,

For centuries, the rural church has been isolated and insulated from the greater Body of Christ by the sheer realities of geography. Those days are gone. There’s absolutely no reason that we cannot be networking together as leaders — those who are resisting the urge to settle — by sharing resources, encouragement, wisdom, and vision. We do not have to do it alone anymore; together we can do so much more and do it so much better.

O’Dell pastors a church in Bergman, Arkansas, population 407. His church is now the hub of a rural church network spanning 13 facilities throughout Arkansas and Texas, with another campus in Russia.

Pastor Jon Sanders is another church planter and pastor who’s waving the flag for rural ministry and church planting. In April 2009, he and his family left Peoria, Illinois, to launch a ministry in Flandreau, South Dakota. That year, Jon received a call from God to reproduce life-giving churches in rural communities across South Dakota, the Midwest and the world. Utilizing Facebook Live, The Rescue Church now meets in five communities and has started an online training course, Small Town, Big Church, to help support and equip other rural pastors.

Bryan Jarrett, lead pastor at Northplace Church (Assemblies of God) near Dallas, is a voice of influence and encouragement for the rural church. At the first annual Rural Matters Conference last September, he challenged leaders …

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Interview: The Global Scourge of Violence Against Women

From sex-selective abortion to sexual abuse, it encompasses the entire female life cycle.

As a theologian and sociologist, Elaine Storkey has documented how women are abused, exploited, and killed across the globe. This work has propelled her into leadership roles with Tearfund, a UK-based Christian relief organization, and Restore, an international Christian alliance dedicated to ending violence against women. In her latest book, Scars Across Humanity, she outlines the scope of the problem and points to patriarchal attitudes that get in the way of addressing it. Sandra Morgan, director of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University, spoke with Storkey about her research.

Take us through some of the main ways that women around the world are targeted for violence.

It starts in the womb, in places like India and China, where boys are valued more than girls for reasons of religion, family, and economics. This leads to girls being aborted at alarming rates. In other countries, we see the practice of female genital mutilation to assure sexual purity for marriage. The next horror I found was child marriage: little girls violated by their husbands, losing everything, their education, and their independence.

Honor killing is another scourge. I met a Pakistani Christian woman who had changed her identity and even the color of her hair because if her family found her, she would be killed. We don’t know how many honor killings take place because societies don’t have figures on it. Across the world, women face intimate-partner violence, sex trafficking, and rape in proportions that should shock the conscience.

But this book really began taking shape when I started seeing the sexual violence of war. I saw women whose villages had been burnt down, with all the men killed, and they were raped by marauding …

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Fleming Rutledge: Why Being ‘Spiritual’ Is Never Enough

Americans increasingly identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Radical faith goes beyond both.

We hear a good deal today about “the triumph of the human spirit.” Books and movies about disasters are frequently marketed as triumphs of the human spirit, even though they often portray examples of human depravity. This emphasis on the human spirit first impressed itself upon me when, 32 years ago, our family was undergoing a crisis. I received a long, compassionate letter from a friend on the West Coast. Although the letter was wonderful, one line bothered me. My friend wrote, “Your spirituality will get you through this.”

When I read it, I recoiled. Whatever “spirituality” meant, I was keenly aware that I didn’t have any of it. In and of myself, I had nothing adequate for what was facing us at the time. I had only the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

As Barna and other research institutions have reported, there is a fast-growing category of so-called “Nones”—those who, like my friend, identify as “spiritual but not religious.” Generally speaking, people use this self-definition to mean that they want no part of the “institutional church” but seek a connection to some sort of transcendent dimension. Many millennials define themselves in these terms, so it is important to address these conceptions with warm pastoral sensitivity as well as audacious theological imagination.

Nonetheless, I would argue that the biblical witness is neither “spiritual” nor “religious.” Both of these categories present us with serious problems concerning the proclamation and teaching of the gospel.

When I use the word religion, I am using it the way Freud used it in The Future of an Illusion. He argues that religion is the projection of human …

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Despite Disappointing Some, New Mark Manuscript Is Earliest Yet

Bible scholars have been waiting for the Gospel fragment’s publication for years.

The Egypt Exploration Society has recently published a Greek papyrus that is likely the earliest fragment of the Gospel of Mark, dating it from between A.D. 150–250. One might expect happiness at such a publication, but this important fragment actually disappointed many observers. The reason stems from the unusual way that this manuscript became famous before it became available.

Second (or Third) Things First

In late 2011, manuscript scholar Scott Carroll—then working for what would become the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C.—tweeted the tantalizing announcement that the earliest-known manuscript of the New Testament was no longer the second-century John Rylands papyrus (P52). In early 2012, Daniel B. Wallace, senior research professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, seemed to confirm Carroll’s statement. In a debate with Bart D. Ehrman, Wallace reported that a fragment of Mark’s gospel, dated to the first century, had been discovered.

As unlikely as a first-century Gospel manuscript is, the fragment was allegedly dated by a world-class specialist. This preeminent authority was not an evangelical Christian, either. He had no apologetic motive for assigning the early date. The manuscript, Wallace claimed, was to be published later that year in a book from Brill, an academic publisher that has since begun publishing items in the Museum of the Bible collection. When pressed for more information, Wallace refrained from saying anything new. He later signed a non-disclosure agreement and was bound to silence until the Mark fragment was published.

As a general rule, earlier manuscripts get us closer to the original text than later manuscripts because there are assumed to be fewer …

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Whatever Happened to Gifts of Language, Prophecy, and Healing?

Let’s ask the early church fathers.

Sometimes we start our history in the wrong place. It can be tempting to trace our roots back to the origin of our denomination or even the origin of Christianity in our country. But taking a longer view by tracing our roots back to the early church fathers leads to some surprises. We discover that some things, though relatively unusual in recent times, are actually very normal across the broader sweep of human history. Angels and demons would be an obvious example. Or, more surprisingly, miraculous gifts.

There is general agreement today that gifts like languages, prophecy, and healing disappeared early in the church’s history. Among those who believe they have ceased, this confirms the view that miraculous gifts are novel or even unorthodox. Among those who believe they continue, it confirms the view that modern charismatics are the radical heirs of a long-lost flame.

If we start our history at the Reformation, this is understandable. Ongoing prophetic (let alone apostolic) revelation sounded like the Roman Catholic view of the papacy. Miraculous gifts could easily be associated with practices like venerating the relics of saints. Those we call “charismatics” or “Pentecostals” today—people like me—would certainly have troubled many of our Reformation ancestors.

Yet if we take the long view of church history, the picture looks different. The New Testament is obviously full of miracles, but many patristic writings suggest that this continued throughout the first few centuries. Justin Martyr, the first great Christian apologist, put it bluntly in his Dialogue with Trypho (written around A.D. 160): “For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time.” So did …

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Reaching and Revitalizing Rural America: Overcoming Misconceptions, and Answering the Call (Part 1)

To paint any people with a broad brush is not to see them for who they truly are.

We live in a world of paradoxes.

As in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, it is the best of times and somehow also the worst of times. It appears to be the age of information and knowledge, yet proves to be an age of foolishness. It is an era of belief and a time of faithlessness, a season of light in a world of complete darkness, a spring of hope amidst the winter of despair. This seems to be the narrative of many churches in America, but especially in rural America.

The story of rural America is one of grit, resourcefulness, independence, craftsmanship, and sheer determination. It is the story of community, lifelong relationships and family bonds. This image holds a nostalgic place in many hearts.

Those who live in, or have spent significant time in, rural areas may have witnessed its endurance — the warm-heartedness of neighbors, the firmness of family values, the closeness of relationships and community. There are still examples of this today throughout rural America. It is a wonderful narrative to embrace and catalyze in ministry and mission, an ideal worthy of aspiration.

But it is not the full picture.

There is another story of rural America, and it is much more troubling.

J.D. Vance called our attention to this last year in Hillbilly Elegy. It is a story of a struggling, aging, diminishing, and sometimes decaying culture. It is a story of limited resources in communities abandoned by a population that has clambered to its cities. It is a story of losses in industry, government, philanthropy and even the church. It is a story of growing poverty and challenges with healthcare and addiction. It is a story of dramatically disintegrating family structures. This story is also part of the picture.

Facts are our …

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Christ at the Checkpoint in the Age of Trump

As Christian Zionism influences US policy in Israel, Palestinian evangelicals seek greater acceptance from the American church.

Fares Abraham grew up in the West Bank village of Beit Sahour, where tradition says the angels sang “Peace on Earth” to the startled shepherds. But his clearest memory is of his mother shot in the back by an Israeli soldier as she shuffled him and the neighborhood kids into her house during the first intifada (“uprising”).

Now in his mid-30s, the Liberty University graduate created Levant Ministries five years ago to mobilize Arab youth to fulfill the Great Commission.

And when he comes back home, he is at peace with his upbringing.

“When I was young, I asked myself if I should join the resistance or be a bystander,” he said to the 500 attendees—including 150 local Palestinian Christians—gathered in Bethlehem from 24 countries at the fourth biennial Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference in 2016.

“But now I can go up to a checkpoint, look a soldier in the eye, and say, ‘I forgive you and love you in the name of Jesus.’”

Working also with global partners, Abraham believes the younger generations are pro-peace, becoming increasingly pro-justice the more their lives are transformed by the gospel.

It is a message communicated at CATC, though its anti-Christian Zionism is often criticized as being anti-Israel.

“We as Palestinian Christians, victims of the occupation, want the worldwide evangelical church to stand with us,” said Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust and a conference organizer.

“But after six years, I am hearing less and less of this focus. Before we allowed the political agenda to lead our theology. Now we ask how our gospel theology should drive us within the conflict and politics.”

But that was two years …

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Memorial Day: For What Shall We Live?

Whether we wear a uniform or not, we all have sacrificial service to offer.

Memorial Day likely conjures up memories for all of us. Mine start from when I was too young to know what the day meant. When I was a young boy, it was a family time, a holiday from school or other obligations, and a time for picnics, multi-generational baseball games in an open field, and reunions with seldom-seen relatives.

Over the years I have gained a much greater appreciation for this day and what it means. From my first assignment in Vietnam to my last in Germany, I was continually reminded of the extraordinary sense of commitment and service in the young men and women with whom I was privileged to serve.

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

During my last assignment, as 33rd commander of the US Air Forces in Europe, I routinely received invitations to speak at memorial events at one or more of the many cemeteries in Europe where young Americans are interred. I was particularly moved by an event in Paris at the Arc de Triomphe.

The heavy traffic that normally circles that beautiful edifice at a frantic pace had been stopped, and a crowd had gathered to remember and honor French and American men and women who had given their lives in the horrible wars of the 20th century. Many living veterans of those conflicts wore the uniform they had first donned at a much earlier age, and some of them still bore the scars of war. It was humbling to be in their company that day.

For four decades, I was honored to serve with thousands of dedicated young men and women. Some of them would die in service to their country. We were extremely sad at their loss as we comforted their loved ones and each other. They gave their very best, and we were reminded that we must do the same. They died serving something bigger than themselves—the transcendent …

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Reading Together, Early Church Style

New historical research by Brian J. Wright shows that early Christians were surprisingly bookish.

Brian J. Wright first experienced communal reading more than 15 years ago, which led him into the field of textual criticism and put him “three inches from the text.” He spent time photographing manuscripts and working with the fine details of the biblical texts. But when he began PhD work, Wright wanted to step back and ask who was reading what in the first century. His advisors told him—and others scholars all thought—that he would have to include the first three to four centuries to have sufficient evidence on communal reading, but his research revealed a vibrant and active culture of communal reading in the first-century Greco-Roman world.

Wright’s recently published book, Communal Reading in the Time of Jesus, details his findings and has been drawing praise from a wide variety of established scholars. Wright, now an adjunct professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, spoke with associate theology editor Caleb Lindgren about what Christian reading communities in the first century looked like and what that means for Christians today.

Most of our study Bibles tell us that many of the apostles and early Christians were not members of the educated elite classes, and are often assumed to be illiterate. How widespread was literacy in the
ancient world?

Great question. My book is not specifically on ancient literacy, but the consensus view of literacy in antiquity, as you just mentioned, is that the vast majority of people were illiterate. Up until now, no one has documented or argued for the widespread practice of communal reading in the first century. So while I disagree with that illiteracy assumption, it really isn’t the focus of my work.

Because I’ve demonstrated that communal reading …

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