Is the Body That ‘Betrayed’ Me Still ‘Very Good’?

What the incarnation affirms about the reality of God’s creation.

I tend to sympathize with the Gnostics most in the morning. It’s currently common to deride these early heretics for despising our physicality and rejecting the goodness of creation. But when I wake up and tenderly place my feet on the ground, breathing slowly as I sense which sore muscles and joints I need to stretch with care, I get it—my body does not greet me as my friend.

Truth be told, my body and I have had something of a strained relationship since I was 24 when, at the peak of my physical health, I developed severe tendonitis in both knees. Since that time, a series of related muscle and joint conditions have led me from one physical therapist to the next. I often joke that my body is one of those carpets with a perennial bump in it—smooth it out in one place and it pops up across the room. And every new bump hurts.

It’s taken me a while to realize how this alienation from my body impacts my walk with God.

In his recent work Embodied Hope, Kelly Kapic insightfully calls attention to the way pain—especially chronic pain—can cause sufferers to “think hard thoughts of God” (to use John Owen’s phrase). We wonder if God loves us, or if he’s punishing us. In the face of suffering, we even question the goodness of God’s gifts, like our bodies, when every inch of flesh can hold a thorn used by Satan to torment us (2 Cor. 12:7).

At some point, all of us will suffer or watch our loved ones suffer pain such that it leads us to question, “Is God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, really for us when our own cells seem to be against us?”

At moments like these, we must recall the gospel of Jesus Christ incarnate, crucified, and risen has a word to speak …

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What I Would Have Done Differently

Billy Graham’s regrets, in his own words.

For all of Billy Graham’s remarkable accomplishments, he made his share of mistakes. These mistakes might have harmed his ministry if not for Graham’s willingness to confess them and learn from them.

“I’ve had to admit errors in judgment, and I’ve found Christian people more than generous in understanding my faults,” he told Christianity Today during the throes of Watergate in 1974. “It’s better to show humility, and it’s better to say ‘I’m wrong’ or ‘I’m sorry’ when you’ve made a mistake. … However, some of the criticism hurled at evangelical theology lands on me, and I suppose when I make a mistake it hurts the evangelical cause. I sometimes put my foot in my mouth. I’ve made many statements I wish I could recall. I am an erring, fallible disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ and am subject to all the temptations, human frailties, and errors of other disciples of the Lord.”

Kneeling on the White House Lawn

Graham would never again repeat his first big public mistake, which followed a 1950 meeting with Harry Truman, Graham’s first opportunity to meet a president.

“When we arrived at the side gate of the White House, we passed through the security guards and checkpoints easily enough,” Graham remembered in the opening of his autobiography, Just As I Am. “The President’s secretary then took us in hand, informing us that our visit would last exactly 20 minutes. Promptly at noon, we were ushered into the Oval Office. From the look on President Truman’s face, the chief executive of our nation must have thought he was receiving a traveling vaudeville team.

“When we stepped outside the White House, reporters …

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One-on-One with Michael Moynagh on “Church in Life”

Finding simple ways to follow Jesus alongside other Christians.

Ed: Why a book on Church in Life?

Michael: We hear much today about disciples making disciples and about Christians living out their faith in everyday life. But gather-and-scatter church makes this difficult.

We gather for worship and scatter as individuals for the rest of the week. Having worshipped, we practice our faith largely on our own—at work, in our hobbies and interests, and among friends who don’t attend church. And it is not always easy to be a Christian witness on your own.

A large company made a substantial number of people redundant. A group of Christians paid for a consultant to give free advice to each person losing their job. (Colleagues said, “These Christians are better than our HR department!”). This would have been very difficult for a Christian to arrange alone.

Time and again, missional discipleship requires that Christians be organised. Church in Life is about innovative ways for Christians to get organised to change their worlds.

Ed: So what’s the secret?

Michael: A new missional movement is emerging in the U.K., elsewhere in Europe, in parts of the United States and Canada, in Australia, and now Africa.

Christians get together in small groups, listen to people who don’t go to church, find simple ways to love and serve them, build relationships with them, share the gospel sensitively, help them to become a Christian community right where they are, and then encourage them to repeat the process in their own way.

A growing number of these communities are emerging in gyms and cafes around interests ranging from surfing to making cards, in old apartment blocks and new neighborhoods, among young and older people, and among poor people and the more affluent.

What’s fascinating …

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God’s Joy, Our Joy: How Sharing Our Faith Changes Everything

Here is Jesus’ promise: Come harvest time, the vine and the branches will both share in fullness of joy.

I have never interviewed a cow. In fact, thank God, I did not grow up anywhere near a farm. But if I was to guess as to the most joyful moment for any milking cow… I would say that it might be when the farmer stands in front of her and with great delight tastes a glass of her delicious milk.

I have never interviewed a vine either. But if I was to guess as to the moment of her greatest joy and satisfaction… I would point to the instant when someone, having pulled a bunch of her grapes, delights in their juicy taste!

But I have interviewed people who have launched out into a commitment to share their faith in Jesus with others.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says that we, his disciples, are like branches and he is the vine. And he promises that if we remain in him, like a healthy branch well connected to a vine, we will bear much fruit. Imagine that–branches overflowing with clusters of grapes. What an image!

But that’s not all. “And my joy will be in you,” he explains, and “your joy will be made complete.”

Here is Jesus’ promise: Come harvest time, the vine and the branches will both share in fullness of joy.

Joy, the pure delight of life, the steady stream of satisfaction that we all dream of having… seems to be in short supply, doesn’t it?

A while ago, I was training a group of friends in how to share their faith. We had been trying to hear Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Luke 10.

Everything in those instructions seems pretty bleak. Jesus tells them:

  • They should see their mission as sheep hanging out with wolves. Huh?
  • They are to go without enough supplies for their travels. Ouch!
  • What’s more, from the very beginning he assures them that in many places people would reject them. What?

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Level Ground at the Cross

Billy Graham drew people together his whole life. In a segregated South, he wrestled with what that should mean.

Among Billy Graham’s greatest contributions to evangelicalism was the way he defused prejudice to bring people together. Perhaps more than any other high-profile American figure in the 20th century, Graham challenged Christians to look beyond worldly divisions and remember their call to the ministry of reconciliation.

In the early 1950s, a few years before Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement garnered the national spotlight, Graham was talking about the church’s obligation to overcome the race problem in America. “The ground at the foot of the cross is level,” he said, “and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross.”

Decades later, in a 1993 Christianity Today article, Graham was still on message. He wrote, “Of all people, Christians should be the most active in reaching out to those of other races.”

To be sure, Graham was never at risk of being mistaken for a civil rights activist. His proclivity for caution and incremental steps on controversial matters was another one of his legacies to the evangelical movement. Still, for a white evangelical of his stature to put the issue of race relations on his ministry’s agenda was quite remarkable.

The Evangelist’s Evolution

Graham did not, of course, arrive on the scene 60 years ago with a fully developed theology of inclusion. It took him years to finally shake off the rituals of American apartheid that defined the era of his national emergence. For instance, during the early years of Graham’s ministry, he freely accepted the custom of segregated seating at his Southern crusades.

Soon, Graham’s every move drew media attention. Reporters inquired about the negligible …

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John Perkins Has Hope for Racial Reconciliation. Do We?

The civil rights hero delivers his “final manifesto” on race and the church’s call to unity.

In this 50th year since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., some argue that our nation is more racially divided than it has been in decades. Others are quick to suggest the divisions are merely being exposed: They were always there, like fault lines hidden beneath a manicured landscape, visible only to those with eyes to see. The church is hardly exempt from these racial rumblings; indeed, to our shame, it has proven to be the cause of some of them. There are encouraging signs of racial repentance in the church; there are also signs that younger Christians of color, wearied by the fight for belonging, are beginning to make an exodus from “evangelical” churches. The fault lines run through our pews, too.

John Perkins—the civil rights activist, herald of biblical justice and reconciliation, famed author, and founder of numerous organizations, including the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA)—addresses this situation in his latest book, One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race. “We’re at a unique moment in our history,” he writes. “We’ve come through—and in many ways are still in the midst of—great upheaval. The soul of our nation has been laid bare. When I talk to people all over the country it seems like everyone is looking for an answer.”

With this book, Perkins seeks not only to provide some answers but also to pass the torch to a new generation of Christian leaders who are ready to take up the mantle of reconciliation. At 87 years old, Perkins offers One Blood as his “last words” to the church. He describes it as his final “manifesto,” by which he means “my most earnest attempt to put down in …

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The Origin Story of Martin Luther King Jr.

How the civil-rights hero honed his preaching skills and prophetic vision at a Northern liberal seminary.

In this age of the blockbuster superhero movie, audiences have come to expect the hero’s origin story. Why does he wear that cape? Where did she learn to fight like that? Why do they hide behind those secret identities?

Many recent superhero movies shuffle through the origin narrative as quickly as possible. Every so often, though, films will invest the time necessary to transform their protagonists from one-dimensional archetypes into flesh-and-blood human beings.

Most biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. have focused on King the civil rights icon, spotlighting his role from the Montgomery bus boycott onward. In The Seminarian, Patrick Parr instead gives us an extended look at the formative years of the preacher’s postgraduate education at Crozer Theological Seminary near Chester, Pennsylvania, then a small, liberal-minded school of fewer than 100 students (less than a quarter of whom were black).

Parr is a wonderful guide through this pivotal season of King’s intellectual development, spiritual formation, and youthful angst. We feel the young seminarian’s anxiety as he arrives at a predominantly white school, we witness his encounters with the North’s less flamboyant but equally treacherous brand of racism, and we experience the heartbreak of his short-lived romance with a white student.

From the vantage point of a Northern city, the Atlanta-born King began to reflect on the racial injustices of the Deep South and the cleansing potential of a liberal religious activism. This was King’s first extended time in the majority-white world, and he felt obligated not to perpetuate stereotypes associated with Southern Negroes. Consequently, he worked hard to prove to his white professors and classmates …

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Interview: Visit Those in Prison. Just Remember Jesus May Have Gotten There First.

Very often, people behind bars already have a relationship with God.

Two centuries ago, philanthropist Elizabeth Fry visited an English prison and left horrified by the filthy conditions. Driven by her Christian faith, Fry spent her life building relationships with the incarcerated and advocating improvements to their physical environment. Dominique Gilliard, the Evangelical Covenant Church’s director of racial righteousness and reconciliation, points to Fry’s example in Rethinking Incarceration: Advocating for Justice That Restores, which explores the intersection of Christian faith and criminal justice reform. CT associate digital media producer Morgan Lee spoke with Gilliard about the hope and tension of restorative justice.

What does your book contribute to the current conversation about criminal justice reform?

Most people mention two particular prison pipelines: the war on drugs and the privatization of prisons. But very few people talk about what I would describe as a war on immigration that is modeled closely after the war on drugs. And hardly anyone talks about the deinstitutionalization of the mental health facilities, which is another important driver for mass incarceration.

But I’m also trying to make this conversation relevant to the church. When you look at books like Just Mercy or The New Jim Crow, you don’t see much explicit analysis of the connection between Christian theology and support for mass incarceration. Christians, as a voting bloc, have been pretty beholden to tough-on-crime legislation.

What is your opinion of evangelical ministries that work directly with prisoners?

Certainly, passages like Matthew 25 call us into communion with the incarcerated. But one problem arises when evangelical ministers or volunteers assume that they alone are bringing …

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How Billy Graham Killed Communism with Kindness

Graham preached behind the Iron Curtain, driving his critics crazy.

The Billy Graham of the 1950s reflected the political mood of the United States of that era. His visceral anticommunism expressed itself during the Greater Los Angeles crusade of 1949 in his assessment of the looming Soviet threat.

“Sleek Russian bombers,” he said, were poised to strike America. “Do you know,” he thundered at wide-eyed listeners, “that the Fifth Columnists, called Communists, are more rampant in Los Angeles than any other city in America?” Communism, he said, “is a religion that is inspired, directed, and motivated by the devil himself who has declared war against Almighty God.”

For years, Graham stayed true to that course as a fire-breathing patriotic American orator. But by 1992, he was paying a respectful visit to one of the most tyrannical communist regimes on earth: North Korea. He made comments about the North Korean dictator that made many people roll their eyes in wonder. Kim Il-sung, Graham observed, was “a gentle and logical thinker. There are statues of him all over the place. The people there really do love him.”

Well, the people probably “really did” love Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong, and other communist tyrants of the 20th century. To demonstrate anything less might have secured a lifetime pass to their country’s labor camp system. So Graham’s views changed over time. How did this happen? And why?

Change in Strategy

The answer is not that Graham actually changed his view of what communism was. Until his dying day, he believed that communism was a malevolent attempt to usurp the sovereignty of God on earth.

But he changed in how he thought Christians should behave towards Communists—the people, not the ideology—and …

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What Do We Do With the Very Real Resurrection?

Does the biblical resurrection account leave us with as little evidence as some assume?

Today is Easter and we celebrate the good news that Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!

We rise—some of us much too early—to scenes of Easter baskets, jelly beans, and all things pastel. Our children climb out of bed with excitement ready to embark on a day filled with candy consumption; candy, many of them believe, that came from the Easter bunny.

This fictitious, fluffy creature has become Easter’s version of ‘Santa Claus,’ helping retailers everywhere to sell more candy, decorations, and chocolate bunnies.

Each Easter, many of us make the distinction in our own minds between the fake bunny story and the real Jesus story without much trouble. But for others, this conclusion is not as simple. Many often conflate the holiday ‘myths’ together, asserting that the likelihood of a man being crucified, buried, and resurrected is about as probable as a giant bunny rabbit bringing candy to all the world’s children.

But is this really the case? Does the biblical resurrection account leave us with as little evidence as some assume?

Scripture discusses in great detail the importance of walking by faith and not by sight; sometimes, God calls us to trust in intangible realities we can’t possibly come to see or understand this side of heaven. That being said, God has never once asked his followers to walk through life completely blind.

The evidence in support of the crucifixion, the empty tomb, and the resurrection is stronger than many think. That does not replace the need for faith, but instead shows those of us struggling with doubt that trusting in God’s saving work on the cross doesn’t first require checking our brains at the door.

We can ask tough, probing questions, knowing …

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