CT Blog

Power in the Plate

The history of our food speaks of injustice— and invites us to redemption.

I sat in silence at a corner table of the bustling Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The spread before me was vibrant: a bright and creamy saag paneer, chicken curry spiced as one might find in the Kerala region of India, and stewed chickpeas prepared according to cooking methods from Delhi. A bed of rice tinged orange from turmeric and crispy bhatura, a yogurt-fermented white bread. The scent of star anise, black pepper, and roasted garlic rose from their respective dishes and melded together by the time they hit my nose.

Altogether, it achieved the symphony to which all chefs aspire, the trinitarian balance of acid, salt, and fat that elevates, without overpowering, the flavor of each element.

As a chef and scholar, a student of food theory and theology, I hungered for chef Vimala Rajendran’s handiwork in belly and mind. I’d long heard of her restaurant proclaiming the love of God through its blend of flavors and storytelling.

“A table laden with a variety of spices is a microcosm of how the world is made,” said Rajendran, whose work is daily influenced by her faith. “Spices personify that which is in people: fragrance, aroma, character, texture . . . intentionally made so by God the Creator.”

We sipped on cardamom tea and discussed its similarity to the Turkish coffee served at a bakery where I once worked. The warm bite of the spice elicited memories of my old roommate who’d grown up in Finland and encouraged me to incorporate cardamom into baked goods more often. While the tender green pod served as a point of contact between Vimala and me, a taste of the communion we shared, cardamom’s transnational culinary history is less enchanting.

It was ...

Continue reading...

Give Thanks for What Others Have That You Don’t

This Thanksgiving, praise God for other people’s blessings—even the ones you wish for.

One Wednesday night some years ago, I sat in a church prayer meeting next to Mandy, a single mom and dear friend. A few years earlier, Mandy’s husband had fallen into serious sin and left her to raise three young children on her own. But Mandy’s prayers that night were not for a change in her own difficult circumstances—though I’m sure she often cried out to God for that at other times. No, Mandy’s prayers were prayers of thanksgiving and rejoicing with others.

Of all the things on the prayer list that evening, Mandy chose to pray for the newly engaged couples in our church. She thanked God for their lives and their love, and she asked him to bless their upcoming marriages with happiness and faithfulness. She praised him for his kindness to these fresh-faced and starry-eyed young people and publicly shared in their joy. In essence, she gave thanks to God for everything that she did not have.

I have never forgotten that moment.

As Thanksgiving approaches, many of us will find ourselves in church gatherings or at family dinner tables where we have opportunities to give public thanks. Naturally, our thoughts might turn immediately to an inventory of our year. The blessings that are first on our lips and hearts will most likely be those we’ve experienced firsthand: steady work, warm house, loving family. But what if, rather than dwelling on our own circumstances, we choose instead to enter into someone else’s joy?

Scripture gives us a model for this practice.

The people of God are called to enter into the blessings of others and delight in God’s goodness wherever (and to whomever) it appears. “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15) is our Lord’s gracious invitation ...

Continue reading...

Interview: Why Prayer Is Still Public Schools’ Best Hope

The founder of Teachers Who Pray calls public education “America’s biggest mission field.”

Marilyn Rhames had made it. A journalist in New York City, she worked as a reporter for People and Time magazines. Then she started teaching Sunday school. “I discovered how much fun it could be and how good I was in front of kids,” she said. But pivoting her career to full-time education felt overwhelming—especially for the pay. Then came 9/11.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks, Rhames felt her priorities recalibrate. “Lord, if I had died today, if I was in those towers, would I be doing what I felt was significant?” she remembered praying. “As much as I loved being a reporter, it had lost its appeal, in terms of changing the world. After 9/11, I said ‘Okay, Lord, I’m done. I’m going to be a teacher.’”

A Chicago native, Rhames soon returned back to the Windy City and moved into the classroom. In 2011, she founded Teachers Who Pray, a national organization that seeks to support educators’ spiritual and professional needs through retreats, conferences, and curricula.

“We want to create communities of faith among educators and mobilize them to deeply love God and deeply love the students he’s given us to teach,” said Rhames. “If we do those two things, we will transform the educational experience, especially for children who are from vulnerable families and underserved communities.”

Rhames recently spoke with Christianity Today about the power of prayer, talking to God in the classroom, and how public education today is America’s biggest mission field.

When did you become first aware of the power of prayer?

I was in the third grade and my dad was a national semi-truck driver. He’d say he’d come home on Monday ...

Continue reading...

Populism vs. Progressivism: Who Knows Best?

Opposing types of knowledge are at the heart of today’s polarization. How does a Christian decide?

Across Europe and the Americas, from Budapest to Brasilia, a striking mass migration is well underway. This migration involves no passports, asylum claims, or border police. It is happening within each nation’s own borders and can be made without leaving your house, street, or hometown (which may be why many of its migrants are quite unaware that they are part of such a thing).

As a mass movement of people, it is based on the emergence of two rival visions of the world. Each envisioned world emits a kind of gravitational pull—cultural, rather than physical—that draws some, but not others. One attracts those receptive to the restoration of national greatness, the importance of groups over individuals, and the conservation of the past. The other pulls on those receptive to a starkly individualistic future, unhitched from the obligations of the past, and bound, instead, to the notion of progress.

Crucially, each of these cultural forces also repels those who prove unreceptive to it. For this reason, our cultural commentators now talk of Two Americas, Two Brazils, and Two United Kingdoms. In each of these settings, populations migrate toward opposite polar extremities, one a City of Progress and the other a City of Populism.

As those called to reside between the inextricably intermingled City of God and the City of Man, and who are “foreigners and strangers on the earth” (Heb. 11:13), what should Christians think about their polarized host cultures?

Who knew?

One largely neglected aspect of this ideological migration concerns the act of knowing itself. The fault lines opening up across the West reflect a fragmented set of beliefs on two distinct kinds of knowledge. On the one hand, there is the apparent ...

Continue reading...

Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again

An interview with Sam Owusu.

Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?

Sam: It is true that we are living in challenging times culturally. However, challenges like persecution and assimilation have been the fertile soil in which the church of Jesus Christ has been creative and transformational. From a North American point of view, we are experiencing the death of Christendom, which could be turning out for our good. Phillip Jenkins has written about this in many of his works on Global Christianity.

We are in many ways returning to a time similar to the early church in that we are a disenfranchised minority. Religion and monolithic cultural Christianity are powerless without the support of the powers that be. Yet, we are also seeing widespread growth and the spread of Christ followers in Africa, Asia, and South America.

With globalization, we see the phenomena of immigrants taking the gospel back to European countries and North America. Calvary Worship Centre is such a story, too, with people from more than 106 nations worshipping together and seeing people come to Christ every week by the grace of God.

Jenkins proclaims that:

Charismatic people movements that seek to change their world through the translation of Christian truth and the transfer of power. These grassroots movements are a combination therefore of a spiritual factor (the Spirit of God), a people factor (the transfer of power to the marginalized), a truth factor (the application of the gospel to the pressing questions of a people group and culture) and a justice ...

Continue reading...

The Necessity of Teachability for Mission

The church needs a resurgence in teachability if we’re going to see a movement of evangelism in our day.

Anyone who writes for public consumption on a regular basis is forced to wonder whether readers’ views are shaped, or even changed, by the steady consumption of pieces like this one. I often fear that, rather than altering anyone’s perception, most writing merely reinforces previously held presuppositions and creates an unending echo-chamber among those who already think alike.

Take Halloween for example. There’s no shortage of opinions on the posture Christians should take toward this holiday. Some argue for total distance and disengagement, others for a more active attempt at neighbor-love by leveraging the opportunities Halloween presents. Every year, the last week of October is loaded with tweets, blogs, and think-pieces attempting to articulate the proper alternative.

What’s concerning isn’t these articles, but the comments or retweets that follow. There are those who clearly agree, reinforcing the author’s point of view with their own pithy remarks. And, there are those who disagree, verbally sparing over a seemingly endless array of errors in judgement, misstatements, or fallacious arguments—many who clearly haven’t taken the time to read the post or digest the position of their opponent. What you rarely see are those who say, “You know, that’s a helpful way of framing this discussion. I think I’m changing my mind on this matter.”

Granted, tweets or short-form writing aren’t the best means of challenging long-held views or presuppositions, but the absence of solid, logical discussion that results in shifting opinions on issues of public debate may demonstrate of a lack of teachability that plagues most Christians. Given time, most professing ...

Continue reading...

Live at the Intersection of Grace and Truth

We don’t get to pick "either/or." It is a distinctly "both/and" proposition.

We live in a day when the church’s influence in our culture and community is waning. In a moment like this, we have to ask ourselves, “How do we as Christ-followers live out our missional calling in a context that is becoming rapidly unchurched and progressively opposed to Christian values and beliefs?”

Scripture gives us an abundance of answers and examples, but perhaps none so compelling as we find in John’s description of Jesus in John 1:14-17:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

So, what do we take away from this portrait of Christ to apply in our own lives and missional efforts as we lead and disciple others?

Invest Deeply and Relationally into Our Communities

First, we have to invest ourselves deeply and relationally into our communities.

We cannot expect to stand on the outside isolated from the existence and experience of our neighbors and hope that others will listen and hear our message. The offer of reconciliation with God we long to share with others will only be effective when we commit to dwell among those we seek to engage. To live in their neighborhoods. To put our kids in their schools. To be invested in their youth programs. To be engaged in their local struggles. To volunteer on local commissions and be involved in community initiatives. Jesus left the comforts of Heaven to come ...

Continue reading...

David Jang’s Christian University Charged in $35 Million Fraud Scheme

Manhattan DA’s case involving the former heads of Newsweek and the Christian Post expands to include Olivet University.

The case against the ex-publisher of the Christian Post and the affiliated Christian Media Corporation has expanded to an alleged $35 million money laundering scheme involving a California-based Bible college.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office on Thursday charged Olivet University with making up a fake accountant to make its financial standing look better than it actually was so it could obtain funding to support day-to-day operations. An indictment filed last month accused Christian Media Corporation and former Newsweek owner IBT Media of similar activity.

The case naming Olivet—founded by controversial Korean pastor David Jang (not to be confused with Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois or Olivet College in Michigan) —brings about a dozen more charges against William C. Anderson, who led the Christian Post from 2010 until last summer, IBT CEO Etienne Uzac, and their companies. They were indicted by the DA on an initial $10 million fraud in October, as CT reported.

Though all have denied the alleged wrongdoing and pled not guilty, the district attorney’s case legally brings together several entities suspected to be working together under the influence of Jang’s network, but have long denied any official or financial connection to one another.

The defendants see the case as, essentially, a victimless crime, since the loans they allegedly obtained through fraudulent means have all been repaid.

“Olivet University denies the charges announced [Thursday] by the District Attorney’s Office and will vigorously defend itself against these unsupported allegations — including the puzzling claim that lenders who have suffered no loss were somehow victimized,” Olivet spokesman ...

Continue reading...

Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again

An interview with Sherry Harney.

Ed: We are living in challenging times. The church’s influence is fading. We are struggling to find answers to hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church, especially as it relates to our witness?

Sherry: There is no question that the influence of culture continues to grow. There are battles being waged for the hearts, minds, and the very lives of people we encounter each day. God’s people need to be ready to face the battles that are raging in our culture and in the spiritual realms. Mere intellectual and human strategies will not lead to victory.

In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the battles we face are not ultimately against flesh, blood, and people. The real battle is spiritual and God has given us armor as well as weapons. There are many ways the church can prepare to stand strong and walk in the love and power of Jesus. Here are some specific ways we can walk in the power and presence of Jesus as we fight spiritual battles:

Put on the armor. Pray the words of Ephesians 6:10-18 daily or weekly. Ask the Spirit of God to protect you as you seek to show the love of Jesus and speak the truth of the gospel.

Take the sword of the Spirit. Open God’s Word daily and fill your heart and mind with the truth. Love the Scriptures, know them, and follow what God teaches.

Pray at all times. You can talk with God with your eyes closed and with your eyes open. Ask for God’s power to be unleashed in your life, through your church, and in their lives of those who are still not aware of God’s love and the grace of the Savior.

Be authentic. The world is looking for people who are transparent, real, and authentic to the core. Show people that when Jesus enters a human heart and ...

Continue reading...

Paradise Fire Burned Most Church Buildings, But ‘the Church Is Still Alive’

California pastor opens up about the most difficult sermon of his career—and the prospects for resurrecting ministry from the ashes.

The wildfire that left Paradise, California, in grim, dusty ruins this week destroyed more than half of about two dozen houses of worship in the town, along with thousands of homes and other structures.

From safer ground in nearby Chico, pastors have worked to coordinate physical and spiritual relief for their now far-flung congregants. They’ve also been tasked with delivering updates on their church buildings, as Paradise residents hope for any indication that their homes, schools, or sanctuaries may have been spared from the worst.

“Though the physical attributes of our earthly Paradise are destroyed, the spirit of Paradise has spread across the country and around the world, as people are moved to volunteer resources to help,” wrote leaders from Paradise Adventist Church, whose building was burned in the Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history.

In the community of around 27,000 people, most congregations lost buildings, including Our Savior Lutheran Church (LCMS), Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA), Paradise Church of Christ, First Assembly of God, Craig Memorial Congregational Church, Paradise Foursquare, New Life Apostolic Church, Paradise Pentecostal Church of God, Community Church of the Brethren, and Hope Christian Church. A Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) meetinghouse and a Center for Spiritual Living were also destroyed.

“Building was burnt down, but cross and rock still standing,” wrote Hope Christian’s lead pastor Stan Freitas. “The church is still alive.”

Freitas and church members had constructed a new worship space just this year, building a tall wooden cross in front of the new structure. This week, he shared a picture of the hand-carved cross, ...

Continue reading...

Bulgaria Considers Controversial Restrictions on Church Activity

New amendments could halt training, foreign funding, and missionary outreach by evangelicals.

A controversial new law before the Bulgarian Parliament would keep Protestants and other minority faiths from freely worshiping, teaching, evangelizing, and tithing in the southeastern European nation.

Today’s vote marks the legislature’s second hearing for amendments to Bulgaria’s religious denominations act, which were initially approved October 4.

Over the past month, leaders from all faith groups in the former communist country have condemned the proposed additions, which prevent minority religions from offering clergy training, restrict worship services to designated sites, and place new regulations on international missionaries and giving.

“Should the law pass, existing theological seminaries are at risk of shutting down, evangelical church pastors may no longer be able to conduct worship services, and the acceptance and use of donations will be subject to government approval and limitations,” stated the World Evangelical Alliance, which has joined with the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance to oppose the legislation.

About 2,000 Christians gathered at the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, on Sunday to pray and protest against the proposed amendments, The Baptist Standard reported, and they have continued smaller demonstrations in hopes that the law will be rejected.

Evangelical Protestants make up less than 1 percent of the population in Bulgaria, where about 85 percent of citizens consider themselves Eastern Orthodox and about 10 percent are Muslim. Because of their small size, Protestants—along with Catholics, Jews, and others—fail to meet the threshold for certain government recognition under the draft law, which legislators say is meant to protect against foreign threats but religious ...

Continue reading...