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The presidential contenders are wooing religious voters. How do the faithful make sure God isn't a political prop?

Pastor Telley Gadson was the calm center of St. Mark United Methodist Church in Taylors, South Carolina, as the congregation prepared for a visit from Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and a North Carolina congressman who would speak on Biden’s behalf. The historic black church is known as the 9-1-1 because of its street address. And the church did seem like it was responding to a minor emergency Sunday morning as people rushed around to get ready.

An usher burst into Gadson’s office to announce a reporter from Christianity Today just as two deacons hurried out to make sure good seats had been saved for the Biden campaign staff. But Gadson was calm. “It’s just another Sunday at the 9-1-1,” she said.

The service kicked off with an organ trio, an amplified Hammond backed by thumping bass and drums. As the music started, about 100 people found their places in the purple upholstered pews and another 25 or 26 got up on stage. Everyone started praising Jesus.

A minister stood up and said the thing black Christians say across the South when they gather to worship: “I want to thank the Lord who woke me up this morning.” And the people sang more.

Then it was the congressman’s turn. G. K. Butterfield, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, got up in the pulpit to deliver his message, and the church got quiet. Butterfield said, “I’m here to ask you to support my friend Joe Biden. And it’s easy to do, because I’ve known Joe Biden for a long time.”

Democratic candidates are doing an unprecedented amount of faith outreach this presidential primary campaign. Some Democrats in the past have talked about their faith, like Jimmy Carter and Barack ...

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What does it mean to teach our children about lament, fasting, and mortality? These books, apps, and flashcards can help.

It’s one thing to observe Lent solo. It’s another thing to try to practice Lent with a family, especially if your family includes fussy babies, grumpy middle schoolers, or fantastically busy teenagers. For some parents, every day feels like Lent. You’re often laying down your life or giving up things that you love. When Ash Wednesday comes around, what can you give up when you already feel utterly spent?

My wife and I have felt all these things in some fashion with our two children and have been deeply grateful to discover resources that others have created in order to practically help families who wish to follow Jesus on this 40-day pilgrimage. The following five resources, which include books, downloadable apps, and creative devotionals, will offer families a starting point to practice Lent together.

Lenten Survival Guide for Kids: I’m Supposed to Do What?! by Peter Celano (Paraclete Press, 2014).

Written for elementary and middle school-aged children, this playful guide aims to help kids understand why they should care about a terribly big word that adults frequently take awfully seriously: Lent. Without talking down to them, Celano, an editor at Paraclete Press, offers children a chance to learn about such things as “What Lent Is,” “What Lent Definitely Is Not,” “40 Days of Survival Tactics,” and “A Few Prayers and Practices—Only for Kids.”

As Celano explains in this book, Lent is not about “giving up” silly things or about making sad faces to show how difficult life has suddenly become. It’s about learning to love God and to know who Jesus is and what it means to follow him—even as a kid! With Scriptures to memorize and ...

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Compared to other colleges, students at evangelical institutions end up gaining the most knowledge of world religions.

One of the negative stereotypes of evangelical colleges is that they keep students in a religious “bubble.” But new survey data shows that these schools are particularly effective at teaching students about other faiths, and that this exposure to outside traditions is actually correlated with a deeper commitment to their own beliefs.

The Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS)—a panel study that surveys the same students before, during, and at the end of their college career—measures basic knowledge about world religions.

The sample included over 1,300 students from 15 evangelical universities, the majority of which were members of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Compared to students who planned to attend Catholic or private secular universities, evangelical students had a lower baseline level of knowledge. The average student attending an evangelical university could answer just 4.9 questions correctly. However, this score was higher than those attending public universities (4.8) and those who attended Protestant schools not classified as evangelical (4.6 questions correct).

All institutions of higher education impart some knowledge of world religions, but there are clear differences between the types of schools. For instance, the average student attending a Catholic college answered 0.64 more questions correctly after four years at college, which is close to the average for the entire sample (0.67).

Those attending evangelical schools—many of which require some sort of religious formation classes in their curricula—saw a larger improvement, answering 0.83 more questions correctly on average by the end of their college career. That gain ...

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The rhetoric around fallen leaders often erodes our high call to holiness.

L’Arche International recently published an internal report revealing the news that Jean Vanier, its founder, sexually abused women for decades. In the report, the leaders of L’Arche unequivocally condemned Vanier’s abusive behavior. They sought forgiveness from the victims while also lauding the victims’ courage to come forward and testify.

Along with many others, I was devastated by the news. After Vanier won the Templeton Prize, I contacted him about a possible interview. When his secretary was on vacation, he sent me a personal response that said, “From Jean, yes we can meet, tell me when you can come, peace.” Although I was never able to go, I cherished the invitation. I had been quoting Vanier in my writing for years. And in the seminary classes I taught, I repeatedly used Vanier as a role model of incarnational community and an exemplar of what it means to manifest Christ’s presence in the world.

As news about his abuse ricocheted across the globe, many of us took to social media to express our reactions and to collectively grieve. Many echoed Mark Galli’s question about sinful leaders: “What are we to make,” he writes, “of everything they taught, if their lives exhibited anything but what they taught?”

Others have opined that if we were more realistic about human nature, we wouldn’t be disappointed. “The lesson, surely,” Michael Coren tweeted, “is that nobody should be placed on such a pedestal.” Still others have wondered if we should have heroes at all.

They’re right, of course, but only in part. Scripture does tell us that “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). ...

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Doing does not result in done. It only leads to more doing.

Ed: Why did you write You Are What You Do?

Daniel: Because our definition of “normal” has changed—seemingly overnight. For example, working a steady nine-to-five job isn’t normal anymore. And waiting until you’re retired to explore the world, try new experiences, eat delicious food, and enjoy life isn’t normal either—if retirement is even a thing anymore.

What’s now “normal” is this desire that we all have for freedom and flexibility, which conveniently is exactly what the gig economy promises.

And contrary to common belief, this is not just something that affects those in their 20s and 30s. According to the research, there are people in every generation who have side hustles because this desire for freedom and flexibility has become our new oxygen.

I wrote You Are What You Do because I wanted to examine the ways that this new “normal” is affecting everyday work, life, and love. As I was digging into the research and examining the ways that this new “normal” was affecting the people with whom I interact on a regular basis, I discovered seven lies that were subtly and subversively affecting us right to our core: You are what you do, you are what you experience, you are who you know, you are what you know, you are what you own, you are who you raise and you are your past.

In You Are What You Do, not only do I show readers how to recognize these everyday lies in their lives—and why it’s sketchy to build their lives upon them—but I also unpack the truth on the other side—the truth that leads to freedom and will move us from surviving to thriving.

Ed: For whom did you write it?

Daniel: For the mom who’s rediscovering herself ...

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Why the Crucifixion is the center of our theology—and our lives.

The cross of Christ is the center of salvation. It is the crucial point, the place of convergence where everything about the gospel comes together. If you interrogate Christian faith and ask, “In one word, how does God save sinners?” the response of a healthy faith will be instantly and confidently to pick out the Cross.

Of course a healthy faith will also ask, “Please, may I have more words than one?” The Cross is meaningfully central only when it is recognized as the center of something vaster. Salvation in seven terms might include, along with the Cross, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, not to mention the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Salvation in 20 words could be explicit about even more ideas that are presupposed in a shorter answer. O for a thousand words to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, to paraphrase Charles Wesley! Christian faith is fluent and eloquent when it comes to salvation; speaking as a theologian, I would love to tell you about salvation in as many words as you will permit me. But just as strong as the impulse to elaborate on the greatness of God in the work of salvation is the impulse to condense the whole message to the key point.

Yet the condensed statement is always meant to call to mind the larger reality. Whenever we say anything about the Cross, we are almost always using a figure of speech called metonymy. A word functions as a metonym when we use it to refer to something else, usually something larger to which it is closely related. When Paul says he boasts only “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14), he is using one thing (a large, wooden object ...

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Attendance has dropped as much as 50 percent this year.

There has been no sustained community transmission of the coronavirus in the United States so far, and many Chinese churches such as Raleigh Chinese Christian Church (RCCC) are doing their best to keep it that way.

Taped to the entrance of the church’s glass doors is a yellow notice with the word “ATTENTION” in capital letters. It warns parents not to bring their children to church if they’ve traveled to Asia in the past 14 days.

Churches such as RCCC—a nondenominational congregation with services in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English—have taken it upon themselves to self-quarantine, in keeping with Centers for Disease Control guidance.

Many others have taken additional precautionary measures, such as canceling small group gatherings, Sunday lunches, and other communal events.

“I think there’s caution,” said Jerry Miller, RCCC’s youth pastor. “There may be a little bit of fear mixed in with that too, which is understandable.”

The outbreak of the virus, which began in Wuhan, China, has sickened thousands and has killed more than 2,700 people. At least 35 people in the US are infected with the so-called COVID-19 virus—all linked to overseas travel, including 18 people evacuated from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.

No Americans have died from the coronavirus thus far, and those infected have not spread it to the wider community.

Still, it is the Chinese American community that has borne the brunt of the health scare and it has also been the one to implement wide-ranging safety precautions.

The virus impeded communal celebrations of Chinese New Year, which fell on January 25. The lunar holiday is typically a time when hundreds ...

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The main reason people persevere is that they “see” something that is bigger than themselves or their current reality.

Ed:Why do you think emerging leaders need the message of this book right now?

Doug: One of the weaknesses of contemporary Western culture is our lost appreciation of the power of perseverance. We stand on the shoulders of previous generations who understood this vital quality. The sad reality of our time is their hard-won advancements are now slowly being swept away in a flood of pleasure and entitlement.

Emerging Christian leaders must learn the value of the long pull, and that every advance in Kingdom work is the fruit of gritty courage, patient determination, and strong but gracious resistance to the deceitfulness of sin.

Christ’s redemption was not cheaply won. It will not be easily realized. We must view leadership – with eyes wide open – as a rewarding but challenging task. What distinguishes successful leaders from all others is their long-term dependence on the enabling grace of God. Such leaders are not heroes. They are common men and women who have discovered they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength.

Christ’s redemption, now fully purchased and freely given, is completed in each of us only after patient endurance through joys and sorrows, and wonderful moments of overcoming glory and sometimes desperate pain.

Leaders who thrive have prepared themselves for this reality. They walk with holy reverence for what Christ has done for the world, and have fixed their eyes “not on what is seen, but what is not seen,” namely the eternal purposes of God.

Ed: Why do people persevere? What makes people put up with difficulties, delays, and struggles?

Doug: The main reason people persevere is that they “see” something that is bigger than themselves or their current ...

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(UPDATED) COVID-19 outbreak prompts 750,000 to petition South Korean president to outlaw apocalyptic movement deemed a cult by Christian leaders.

SEOUL — An apocalyptic sect whose leader claims he is an angel of Jesus has become the biggest cluster of coronavirus infections in South Korea, which now leads the world in cases of COVID-19 disease outside of China.

President Moon Jae-in has put his country on its highest alert for infectious diseases, ordering officials to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to fight a soaring viral outbreak tallying 1,100 cases and 11 deaths, mostly linked to a congregation and a hospital.

Globally, more than 80,000 people have been infected in 37 countries, and more than 2,700 have died.

More than 400 of those infected have been directly linked to a single house of worship, a Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony—viewed as a cult by mainstream Korean Christian organizations—where a woman in her 60s attended two services before testing positive for the virus. Nationwide, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) attributed 501 of 977 cases (as of the last breakdown on Feb. 25) to Shincheonji members.

Officials are also investigating a possible link between churchgoers and the spike in infections at the Cheongdo hospital, where more than 100 people have been infected so far, mostly patients at a mental illness ward.

Health officials were screening some 9,300 church followers, and said that 1,261 of them have exhibited cough and other symptoms. Late Tuesday, Shincheonji provided a list of 212,000 members which the government pledged to screen for respiratory symptoms, reported Yonhap News Agency.

Among them, four had traveled abroad in recent months, including one to China, although that trip came in early January and was not near Hubei.

More ...

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God is our refuge in times of troubles, and he is our defender, as well as our deliverer.

The World Health Organization has named the Coronavirus, “Covid-19” (https://time.com/5782284/who-name-coronavirus-covid-19/). This virus started in Central China and has spread to over 51,800 lab-confirmed cases globally (https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200216-sitrep-27-covid-19.pdf).

This outbreak has impacted economic growth, tourism industries, geopolitical landscapes, and “people on the move.” Specifically, thousands of travelers—businesspeople, international students, migrant workers, family members seeking reunion, and even recreational migrants, have been locked down and isolated.

Airports, markets, malls, schools, recreational facilities, and even church buildings are closely monitored. Foreigners in China are now being evacuated and repatriated to their homelands — a reverse diaspora!

Last week, the Asia Theological Association announced that Rev. Dr. Wilson Teo, a respected Singaporean church leader, senior pastor of Grace Assembly in Singapore, has been infected with Covid-19. To date, 16 cases linked to the congregation have been identified (https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/coronavirus-grace-assembly-of-god-services-suspended-but-members-using-tech-to-pray-and).

How do we respond to the Covid-19? I am not a medical expert, economist, or political scientist, but just like Wilson Teo, I was a local church pastor, and a reflective practitioner of international migration.

Let me suggest a brief response to this global crises through the lenses of biblical-theology, missiology, and pastoral ministry.

First, we need our theology to be moored in solid biblical truths and principles, because this will help our ethical practices.

God is sovereign ...

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To be black and to be Christian is to remember the brutality of our experience and the brilliance of our resistance.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night just to touch him, to lay my hand on him and whisper a little prayer. I am reminded of all the families who prayed over children who never returned again. You just never know.

Prayer can seem like all we can do for young people that look like my son. Imani Perry, in her letter to her sons entitled Breathe, lamented, “There are fingers itching to have a reason to cage or even slaughter you. My God, what hate for beauty this world breeds.”

I know the feeling. Just last summer, during a run, an older white man started taking pictures of me and telling me that I “didn’t belong here.” On the walk home, I stopped, bowed my head, and cried. These were not tears of weakness. I cried because I felt what many of those who looked like me have felt: the tragedy of blackness in an unloving world. My tears were my song, with a “fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still.”

When I arrived home, I told myself: You are black. You are known. You are loved. You must survive. I understand the caged bird a little better now. In its weakness, he opens up his throat still. The caged bird must sing.

Still.

Here, then, is the dilemma, and it is a puzzling one, I admit. No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at these crossroads; has ...

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