CT Blog

Blessed Are the Slow

Scripture reminds us that love—and loving communication—is patient.

I have a box of letters that my husband wrote to me while we were dating last year. Traveling from Tennessee to South Carolina and back again, these paper conversations established our friendship, growing mutual trust, and admiration. Getting to know a person this way is reasonably outdated. It could have happened a hundred years ago. But for us it was new.

Letters are an old-fashioned practice worth preserving. Unlike most modern communication, letters are for someone, from someone. They are deliberate. They develop slowly and they arrive slowly. They take paper and stamps, maybe a walk to a mailbox to flip up the small red flag.

It’s fitting that the inspired writings of the Bible, our most important collection of words, took roughly 15 centuries to compile. And it seems significant that, alongside rich stories, laws, poetry, and history, much of the New Testament consists of personal letters that have endured and nourished recipients for hundreds of years. We get to know more of who God is by the way he breathed his thoughts—over time—through the day-to-day realities of these individuals within their communities.

Paul’s tone of voice, for example, displays his affection for the Philippians: “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy,” Paul writes. “All of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1).

This contrasts sharply with the posts, thoughts, and emotions that scroll through my noisy social media feed. Hurried and painting broadly, we are encouraged to say what we are thinking quickly and concisely. Our screen socialization often feels ...

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Turkey Keeps American Pastor Behind Bars—At Least for Three More Months

Andrew Brunson has spent most of the last two years in prison based on wild—or absent—accusations.

After nearly two years in a Turkish prison, hopes for the release of American pastor Andrew Brunson have been deferred. A Turkish court ordered 50-year-old pastor to remain bars until at least his next hearing on October 12.

On Wednesday, the court heard testimony from members of Brunson’s church who made “vague, unsubstantiated accusations” against Brunson, reported World Watch Monitor. When the judge asked how Brunson would respond to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses, he said, “My faith teaches me to forgive, so I forgive those who testified against me.”

Bill Campbell, a North Carolina pastor whose church belongs to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the same denomination as Brunson’s church, was among several supporters of the pastor who attended the trial.

“As usual, there was much spurious testimony against Andrew,” Campbell told EPConnection after the trial. “Andrew’s testimony was absolutely powerful. He presented the gospel with confidence and defended himself with boldness.”

Notably, the court heard a defense witness for the first time, although the witness Brunson initially requested to testify was not permitted to do so.

Many of Brunson’s supporters had been cautiously optimistic about his release—Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and US President Donald Trump had been photographed smiling and fist-bumping each other at last week’s NATO summit in Brussels. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) had also met with Erdoğan in Ankara the last week of June, though the focus of the meeting was to discuss US sanctions.

On Twitter, Freedom House’s Nate Schenkkan called the Turkish court’s ...

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Interview: Rethinking Apologetics for the Black Church

“Black people in the inner city need apologetics, but black people in the suburbs do, too,” says apologist Lisa Fields.

When Lisa Fields started college, she was a preacher’s kid who’d grown up inside of the church and never encountered opposition to her faith. That changed in her first New Testament class when she studied a textbook by Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who argues against the inerrancy of Scripture.

“I’d been in church my whole life,” says Fields. “I was in a Christian bubble. I thought the class would be like Sunday school, I thought it was going to be an easy A, but I really struggled. Through that experience, my dad introduced me to Ravi Zacharias and that helped me start thinking critically about my faith.”

In the years since then, Fields has founded an organization called the Jude 3 Project, which uses apologetics to address the unique “intellectual struggles of Christians of African descent in the United States and abroad.” The organization offers lectures and seminars, training courses, podcast discussions, and a conversation forum called Courageous Conversations, which pairs black scholars and pastors trained in both conservative and progressive seminaries.

Fields is currently spearheading an event in St. Louis, Missouri, called African Americans in Theology, hosted in partnership with Covenant Theological Seminary. She’s also undertaking an apologetics tour that travels across the country to historically black Christian colleges and universities.

CT spoke recently with Fields about the first fruits of her project and why black suburbia is one of her main areas of outreach.

Why did you decide to specifically focus on African Americans?

I realized that all of the apologetics books I was reading were written ...

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The Big Conversation: A Q&A with Justin Brierley on Engaging Intellectual Thinkers around Issues of Faith

By modeling good conversations about faith between people on both sides of the debate, we can hopefully improve the discourse globally.

Ed: So what exactly is The Big Conversation?

Justin: The Big Conversation is a 6-episode video debate series in which I sit down with some of the biggest intellectual thinkers from the atheist and Christian world to debate some of life’s biggest questions.

It began with the Canadian psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson in conversation with atheist psychologist Susan Blackmore. Peterson has risen to enormous prominence in recent months and is attracting many young men with his approach to finding meaning in life. They had a very lively debate on the question “Do we need God to make sense of life?”

Blackmore said ‘no’ and Peterson said ‘yes’.

Ed: Is Jordan Peterson a Christian then?

Justin: Good question! I actually spent the first and last part of the program asking that question of him.

He has consistently refused to be pinned down on his personal religious convictions. When I pressed him on it, he described himself as a “religious man” who was “conditioned in every cell as a consequence of the Judeo-Christian worldview.” The closest I could get to whether he really believed in God was that he lives his life “as though God exists,” saying, “The fundamental hallmark of belief is how you act, not what you say about what you think.”

However, he stands strongly against the new atheists who claim that religion is a force for evil. In fact, he came out strongly defending Christianity as the worldview that has shaped the values and freedoms we hold dear in Western civilization. When Susan Blackmore pressed him that certain secular Scandinavian countries are doing fine without religion, he reminded her that such post-Christian nations in the West ...

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How Christians Can Take the Lead with Paid Family Leave

A new report from the Center for Public Justice offers guiding principles for how church communities, policy makers, and employers can put pro-family beliefs into action.

“Jane” is a young mother who has worked at a call center for two years. When she was pregnant with her second daughter, she worked full-time up until she went into labor. “My work doesn’t pay for maternity leave, but they told me they would hold my job if I returned within the month,” she said. Like 20 percent of new mothers in the US, Jane returned to work two weeks after giving birth. She said she is sad she can’t breastfeed and be present with her child in the crucial first months of life.

Jane is a client of Parenting por Vida, formerly known as Mom’s Place, based in Phoenix. It’s one of the hundreds of faith-based nonprofits that give expectant and new moms financial and emotional support throughout pregnancy and beyond. Many clients grew up in poverty, steeped in trauma and abuse. But director Susan Leon said she’s impressed by the young parents’ resilience. After 17 years, the first cohort of children raised by these parents is finishing high school, and among the second generation, teen pregnancy is rare.

Even still, Leon says, most of her clients find the work-family balance extremely precarious. A majority of them work low-wage shift jobs that provide little flexibility and have no maternity leave policy, even unpaid. Yet working outside the home is an economic imperative. For low-income families, childcare presents less-than-ideal options, such as expensive childcare centers or care from extended family, which can be dangerous if there is addiction or abuse.

Jane is one of the dozens of parents that Center for Public Justice (CPJ) resident fellow Rachel Anderson and I profiled for a new report, “Time to Flourish: Protecting Families’ Time for ...

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Renewing Your Church: Growing Together to Discover Our God-Given Purpose

I asked if they were ready to see God do something new. When they affirmed that they were, I told them that we would be changing absolutely everything.

November 2014 marked the month of my 32nd birthday and my first week as Lead Pastor of what was then known as Thornville Community Nazarene, in Thornville, OH. I would take the position as bi-vocational, being on a plane three days a week for my corporate job, with the hopes of growing the position into something that might be full-time in the future.

Fifteen adults greeted me that day for my first service, though 30-35 would come in and out of the building during that first month. The church was in decline, in crisis, operating in the red, irrelevant—you throw out the title and it fit. In a town of 1,000, this church once had 200 people in the late 1990s, but then went through two splits and had averaged 25-30 people for over the last decade in a KJV-only environment.

When I sat at my first board meeting with the leaders of the church, I asked if they were ready to see God do something new. When they affirmed that they were, I told them that we would be changing absolutely everything. After they said they were okay with this, I repeated the question, being sure that they knew that I really meant it and qualified the statement by saying that if we were not getting the desired results, then everything had to be up for discussion.

They consented and off we went. I took lesser pay so we could hire a part-time youth pastor. Praise music from the 1980s and 1990s quickly transformed into the likes of Hillsong, Bethel, and Elevation. We put up a new sign, changed the name of the church, and overhauled the foyer, sound system, sanctuary, and the landscaping. We took down every single decoration, award, plaque, and memento that might remind anyone of who we had been.

One of my favorite memories from this time was when the gatekeeper ...

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How to Witness to a Distracted World

Effective Christian evangelism and discipleship requires us to be disruptive.

Most days I can hardly hear myself think.

It feels like there are a million voices calling for my attention as long as I’m awake: text messages, work emails, kids wanting a drink of water, looming deadlines, billboards, the sense of missing Something Important on social media, breaking news, Instagram, app notifications, Netflix, podcasts, music, a smartwatch telling me to stand up.

My mind is scattered and cloudy most of the time. Probably as a result, I often discover that I’m anxious or depressed or worried about something but I can’t remember what, let alone why. There’s just too much going on. So when these feelings come, the easiest and most efficient thing to do is unlock my phone. And then the dread mostly goes away, for a little while. A shot of dopamine from Twitter keeps the anxiety away.

It’s not just the technology that creates this feeling, it’s also how ordered and scheduled and deadlined our lives are. We feel like we are constantly missing out on something or failing to do enough. There are always more shows, exercise, dishes, dieting, organizing, reading, and podcasts to catch up on.

The effect of all this is that from the moment we get out of bed until we crash at night, life feels like a buzz of attention-grabbing technology and busyness for a lot of modern people. One of my great worries about this distraction is that it makes recognizing and repenting of sin hard to do. When do we have the time to quietly reflect on our day and prayerfully evaluate our actions and words?

Not-So-Silent Night

The answer used to be at night. Traditionally, the moments before we fall asleep have been some of the most convicting in life. When you are stuck in bed with the lights off and nothing ...

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Helping Teenagers and Children Cope Spiritually and Emotionally after a Crisis Like the Thai Cave Rescue

Odds of being trapped in a cave like the Thai soccer boys is rare – but childhood trauma is not.

People from around the globe celebrated the heroic rescue of the Thai boys’ soccer team this week. Statistically speaking the odds of being trapped in a cave like the Thai soccer boys is rare.

But numerous national studies have shown trauma is more common in childhood than most people realize. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health almost half of children living in the United States have gone through one or more serious traumas (e.g., violence).

For this reason, it’s important for parents and caregivers to be informed, recognize the signs of reactions to stress, and learn how to best help teenagers and children cope spiritually and emotionally.

Recognizing the Signs

For many teenagers and children, responses to a traumatic event are normal reactions to abnormal events. But some reactions may point to the need for further help. As I shared with the USA Todaysigns to watch for include major changes in sleep patterns (including trouble falling asleep, frequent nightmares, or sleeping too much); shifts in temperament; and even jumpiness and increased anxiety or changes in play. These indicate that additional support is needed.

The risk of enduring psychological distress increases given the circumstances. Teenagers and children at a higher risk include those who experience direct exposure to a trauma—including being evacuated to observing the injury or death of others, experiencing injury themselves or fearing for their lives. Those grieving the loss of others, those still experiencing on-going stressors such as temporary living situations, or children losing touch with friends, families, other caregivers, and social networks are also at a greater risk for experiencing long-term consequences.

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How Do I Get Connected? A Conversation with a Hasidic Israeli Jewish Man

The relationship connection throughout all of the Lord’s promises was the same.

“How do I get connected?” The question was a text from an earnest Hasidic (ultra-orthodox) Israeli Jewish guy named Aviel.*

After a series of casual conversations, he made a theological comment about God and time. That was the introduction for deeper discussion. How could anyone know God? His religious orientation was around what he must do to connect with the Lord. My perspective was a little foreign to his way of thinking.

Although we met in Israel, both of us grew up in the United States. We were introduced to ideas about God through Judaism, though our ways of doing religion were pretty different, even before I believed in Yeshua (Jesus). Interestingly, as children we both wanted to know the Lord and to be his child.

Aviel texted me a Hebrew quote about God’s children from a passage early in Jeremiah 31. It spoke of God’s love for his children who returned from captivity in northern Mesopotamia. Since Aviel introduced Jeremiah, I was free to suggest something from the same chapter in response. With his permission, I sent Jeremiah 31:31-34, speaking of the new covenant relationship.

He immediately saw the words “new covenant” and asked what it meant. I tell Christians we shouldn’t assume other people know the Bible, even a religious Hasidic Jewish guy. And, no, I’d never heard of a “new covenant” in the Hebrew Bible before I believed in Jesus.

So I wrote, “It speaks of God’s promise for a new covenant RELATIONSHIP. Though offered to Jewish people, it’s for individuals. The text speaks for itself in context. God offered a covenant with our people that promised renewal of his faithful love.”

Aviel immediately understood but wanted to think about ...

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Five Key Things About Church Revitalization That Most Leaders Miss, Part 2

We need to patiently endure as leaders. Don’t give up.

Third, most revitalization does not actually work at first.

Another thing about church revitalization most leaders miss is that most revitalization does not actually work at first.

Church revitalization is often a process of two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes, it’s two steps forward, two steps back. And sometimes, it doesn’t work at all. This is not always due to the resistance of people, although this can play a major role.

You need to become accustomed to slow, steady success with frequent failure.

Revitalization doesn’t usually occur with a sudden swarm of new believers zealous for sharing the gospel knocking down the doors of your church. It’s slow, steady success with frequent failure. It’s making the right choices, helping organize things well, leading from a spiritual perspective, and helping the church through revision.

Revitalization is frequent failure. There are many things that don’t work in church revitalization. If that freaks you out, you are probably going to really struggle with church revitalization.

One church where I led as interim pastor years ago was at a crisis point. It was near bankruptcy, but we were able to turn it around and get it healthy again. Then, the church hired a pastor and the pastor came in with an attitude of “I’m here and this is my plan.” He neither wanted to love the people nor wanted to walk with the people. His ideas shattered some of the unity we had worked towards as a church.

In the end, he got discouraged because he couldn’t figure out why the people weren’t doing what he wanted. Here’s the key that he missed: Revitalization usually doesn’t work at first. It’s a series of struggles, sometimes ...

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Can Preachers Make an Impact in a Post-Christian World?

Herman Bavinck’s advice to 19th century pastors still holds true today.

In post-Christian Britain—a culture where few people listen to any kind of public speaking, sacred or secular—Rev. Michael Curry’s royal wedding sermon succeeded in capturing the public imagination in a way that few had expected. For many Brits, the royal wedding’s most unexpected outcome was that a sermon, of all things, could spark a national conversation on race. “Who would have thought,” the response went, “that preaching could actually be engaging?”

At present, it seems as though preaching—in its quality and significance—is often held in low esteem, both within and outside of the church. The common reaction in the British media to Rev. Curry’s preaching is a good example of this. Reflecting on his sermon, one opinion writer in The Guardian noted quite frankly, “I had not expected to be moved.”

Within the Christian community it might be said that the internet, which offers us instant access to a small pool of exceptionally gifted preachers, has produced a general culture of dissatisfaction with preaching. Although few of our local preachers can preach at that superstar level, many of us nonetheless hold them to that unattainable standard. In 2018, it is common for Christians to be enthusiastic about one or two preachers, who are almost never their own pastors, rather than about preaching in general.

T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Preach has put forward that current day preaching is not particularly good, and that most churchgoers do not expect it to be. In his argument, the typical 21st-century sermon is a rambling, inarticulate, and unsuccessful attempt to say something that is somehow connected to the Bible. This is the case, ...

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