Archives For Culture

by Tom Strode

The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has announced a summit on race relations in the wake of grand jury decisions regarding police killings of black men that have provoked widespread protests and a nationwide discussion.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will hold a leadership summit with the theme “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” March 26-27 in Nashville, it announced Thursday (Dec. 11). The ERLC previously had announced the topic of its second annual leadership summit on the same dates would be developing a pro-life ethic but changed the topic in response to recent events.

On Dec. 3, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner despite a widely viewed video of the incident. The failure to indict also occurred in spite of a ruling by the New York City medical examiner’s office that Garner’s death was a homicide.

That decision in a New York City borough followed by only nine days a St. Louis County grand jury’s refusal to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. No incriminating video existed of Brown’s August death in…

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Mental HealthEvangelical leaders are increasingly speaking out about mental health issues. Many have begun to open up about their own bouts with depression or a family member’s illness.

Last month, The New York Times ran a front page story about pastors breaking the longtime silence around mental illness. The Times story led with the account of Southern Baptist pastor Matt Brogli receiving an anonymous phone call from a suicidal man.

Brogli, pastor of Eagle Springs Baptist Church in Eagle Springs, N.C., was new to the pastorate and admittedly ill-prepared for the exchange. Fortunately, he was able to talk the man out of taking his own life. Two years later, Brogli is the unofficial mental health counselor for the rural community of Eagle Springs.

The Times article cited a study by LifeWay Research, which revealed 59 percent of Protestant pastors have counseled someone who was later diagnosed with a mental illness. Nearly a quarter of pastors say they, too, have experienced some kind of mental illness.

In November, LifeWay Research in partnership with Focus on the Family released the findings of a study on faith and mental illness. The study included surveys of senior Protestant pastors,…

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In recent years there has been some significant discussion and controversy over the de-Christianization of Christmas. With shop workers being told to say “Happy Holidays” the over-emphasis of Santa Claus, Elf on the Shelf, and other such traditions, many have felt as though we’ve been committing treason against the reason for the season.

New LifeWay Research data released yesterday afternoon suggests that most Americans concur with the Christian idea that Christmas should be more about Jesus.

Here are some key stats from the new data:

  • 63% of Americans say poeople should visit church for Christmas
  • 79% agree that Christmas should be more about Jesus
  • 70% say Christmas would be better with a Christian focus
  • 39% say “X-mas” is offensive
  • 29% say “Happy Holidays” is offensive
  • 56% say God’s son existed before Jesus was born in Bethlehem

Here’s an interesting point on the singing of Christmas songs in school music programs:

Most Americans (86 percent) say children in public schools should be allowed to sing religious Christmas songs in school-sponsored musicals. About one in 10 (12 percent) disagree. Two percent are not sure.

Nine in 10 women (89 percent) and eight in 10 men (83 percent) agree. So do most Westerners (80 percent)…

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Ferguson ProtestsThe mood in Ferguson, Missouri, is tense, after a grand jury decided against indicting a police officer for the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. The tension ought to remind us, as the church, that we are living in a time in which racial division is hardly behind us. That reality ought to motivate us as citizens to work for justice, but also as the church to seek to embody the kingdom of Christ.

We haven’t as of yet sorted through all the evidence the grand jury saw and we don’t know precisely what happened in this nightmarish incident. What we do know is that the Ferguson situation is one of several in just the past couple of years where white and black Americans have viewed a situation in starkly different terms. White Americans tend, in public polling, to view the presenting situations as though they exist in isolation, dealing only with the known facts of the case at hand, of whether there is evidence of murder. Black Americans, polls show, tend to view these crises through a wider lens, the question of whether African-American youth are too often profiled…

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FergusonThe grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri has decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson following the death of Michael Brown. Last night, after the grand jury’s announcement, peaceful protests quickly turned into violence, arson, and looting.

It breaks my heart to see.

As the family of Michael Brown and the President of the United States ask for peace and change and this is what we see. However, it is important to note that this does not mean most African Americans are involved in the looting. Not at all.

Yet, the looting itself is repugnant in more than one way. It will cause many to lose property and some may lose their lives. However, it may also cause many to say, “See, this is what happens with those people.”

Even more, we need to be careful about our discussion of “facts.” Bryan Loritts says, “Facts are a first and last resort in a court of law, but when it comes to human relationships, let us first stop and feel before we go to facts.”

Please do not be one of those people who ignore the hurt. You would not do…

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I love small churches. I love medium-sized churches. And I love large churches and “megachurches” (typically defined as an evangelical congregation with 2,000 or more weekend service attenders). I also agree with a principle shared by Bailey Smith who once said, “There are no large churches. All churches are small, some are just smaller than others when compared to the surrounding lost population.”

I’ve pastored churches of 30 and I’ve served as a staff Pastor at a church that averaged about 22,000 attenders at the time. In many ways, the largest of them was also the smallest – the most capable of shaping and nurturing my soul. For whatever reason, church size is a very, very sensitive topic. Within the church, everyone seems to favor whatever size the church they’re part of represents. Some view small churches as ineffective and unwelcoming. Others view large churches as doctrinally weak or merely as corporate structures who prefer making dollars over disciples.

Why all the sensitivity? I think it’s social. We’re all a little protective of our identity, especially when we feel that someone is judging and assessing us as more or less worthy by secondary measures such as church size.

At Grace…

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Sexual BrokennessThe devil has no shortage of tools for destroying lives. And in today’s culture, one of his most effective tools is a distorted view of sexuality. The wreckage of such a view is everywhere: A marriage is broken by infidelity. A child is abused by a relative. A pastor is forced from his ministry due to a pornography addiction. A college student thinks back on her one-night stand with deep regret and a wounded heart. Such scenes are all too common. Perhaps no other human desire has been so distorted by our culture as sex. To borrow an illustration from C. S. Lewis, sexual desire has become like a piano key that is played at all the wrong times. Though God designed it for beautiful melodies, it has instead soured the music.

But there is good news. There is hope, because the gospel of Christ has the power to bind up every broken heart and heal every wound. The Word of God tells us that Jesus died to reconcile the sexually broken to himself. At the cross, he poured out his blood to make them whole again and to purify…

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Businessman taking oath.For hundreds of years as missionaries took the gospel to the ends of the earth, depending on the culture they encountered, the Christian community allowed them enormous latitude into how they chose to present the message. For instance, when a missionary worked in a culture steeped in polygamy, he didn’t start by teaching what the Bible said about “one husband and one wife.” He knew the key to changing embedded cultural behavior wasn’t immediate confrontation; it was the sometimes long process of winning trust, developing relationships, and earning the right to be heard.

From Sati (widow burning) in some Asian cultures to slavery and tribal warfare in Africa, missionaries understood that it may take years before they were trusted enough to speak against values and customs that had been part of a society for generations. Legendary Baptist missionary Lottie Moon is credited with helping to end the practice of foot-binding in China. Changing this commonly accepted but crippling practice was a massive shift for influential Chinese leaders at the time. But it was only Lottie’s deep and long immersion into that society which earned her enough authority to speak…

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Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court has declined to take up appeals from states in which the courts have found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. This paves the way for same-sex marriage in many, perhaps most, places in the United States. Many Christians may be unaware of how momentous this is, since the denial of cases doesn’t come with quite the shock and awe of a ruling handed down. The effect though is wide-ranging. So what should our response be as the church of Jesus Christ?

There are two responses we should avoid.

The first is the temptation to listen to those who would want to jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment. We have no authority to revise what Jesus has handed down to us. Our vision of marriage is not the equivalent of a church constitution and by-laws, adaptable by a majority vote. Marriage is not simply a cultural or legal practice, but is instead an icon of the union between Christ and his church, embedded in the creation (Eph. 5:22-31). Without a Christian vision of marriage, we have no Christian vision of the gospel.

The…

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With a goal of turning the stories of the Bible into a video game for all ages to enjoy, Ruben and Efraim Meulenberg, internet phenomenon and identical twins known as the “Tornado Twins,” have launched a Kickstarter, http://www.TheGameBible.com, to raise funds to develop several episodes about David, including the story of David and Goliath.

“The Game Bible Series” will be an epic 52-episode video game series to be released on multiple platforms and set to cover the entire Bible from Adam to Jesus, allowing the gamer to experience the entire biblical narrative in a side-scroller format — a game-genre where character, story and world-exploration come together.

The Meulenberg brothers have set a goal of $35,000 on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding social media site, to fund the first three episodes of the story of David. The first 10 episodes entitled “David, Rise of a King” will be fully funded at $380,000. Those interested in helping to fund “The Game Bible Series” have several options for donating, $5 and up. Each level of giving will allow a different level of access to “The Game Bible Series” before it is available to the general public.

“The stories of the Bible…

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By Bob Smietana 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – One in four Americans suffers from some kind of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many look to their church for spiritual guidance in times of distress.But they’re unlikely to find much help on Sunday mornings.

Most Protestant senior pastors (66 percent) seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.

That includes almost half (49 percent) who rarely (39 percent) or never (10 percent), speak about mental illness. About 1in 6 pastors (16 percent) speak about mental illness once a year. And about quarter of pastors (22 percent) are reluctant to help those who suffer from acute mental illness because it takes too much time.

Those are among the findings of a recent study of faith and mental illness by Nashville-based LifeWay Research.  The study, co-sponsored by Focus on the Family, was designed to help churches better assist those affected by mental illness.

Researchers looked at three groups for the…

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Nice ShoesIt’s no secret that millennials aren’t exactly flocking to churches these days. There are theories and statistics, but the fact remains the same: Our churches aren’t a place millennials tend to call home.

Instead of tackling the problem on a grand scale—instead of diving into theories and ideas as to the cause and the solution—I want to move in closer, to what millennials need from us in our churches today. While I’m not a millennial, and while this is not a comprehensive list, these thoughts are derived from some of the conversations I’ve had with millennials about this very topic.

1. A realism about the state of the world

I once heard someone say that churches have a tendency to put bandaids over bullet wounds, treating serious problems, hurts, and issues like they can be solved with a parable and a pat on the back.

Millennials aren’t so easily pacified.

Millennials, as a rule, tend to be activists—aware of the hurt in the world and passionate about solving it. One of the chief complaints I hear millennials give about churches is that they’re out of touch with the realities of the world and that they’re…

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