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We learned last night that Darren WIlson, the police officer who shot Michael Brown, was not indicted by the grand jury. Multiple businesses have been looted and burned, and our city—St. Louis—is trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces and move forward. Leading up to the grand jury decision, we wanted to prepare our church, regardless of the verdict, to rightly respond to the issues this case has unearthed.

Over the last few months, the elders and other leaders at The Journey have been encouraging our church and the wider community to let their guard down and step into hard conversations about justice, privilege, and race. To further equip our church, we gathered together several members of our church from different backgrounds with different cultural and political views for a roundtable discussion. We believe the way forward must include these kind of discussions with people who don’t share our skin color, preferably around a dinner table.
 

Each year in November, the President of the United States issues a proclamation to announce National Adoption Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness of the need for adoptive families and to encourage citizens to become involved in the lives of children and youth in foster care. Here are nine things you should know about adoption in America:

1. Adoption has been and remains rare. Between 1973 and 2002, the percentage of ever-married women 18–44 years of age who had adopted a child fluctuated between 1.3 and 2.2 percent. Men were twice as likely as women 18–44 years of age to have adopted a child. Among ever-married persons, men (3.8 percent) were more than 2.5 times as likely as women (1.4%) to have adopted.

2. Relinquishment of infants at birth is extremely rare. Only 1 percent of children born in the United States in 1996–2002 to women 18–44 years of age as of 2002 were relinquished for adoption within their first month of life.

3. Surveys reveal that women currently seeking to adopt would prefer to adopt a child younger than two years old, without a disability, and a single child rather than two or more siblings. (Two-thirds of women would not accept a child 13 years of age or older or a child with a severe disability.) The data also suggest that women would prefer to adopt a girl rather than a boy.

4. In 2012 there were 397,122 children in foster care and 101,666 waiting to be adopted. The average age of a child in foster care waiting to be adopted was 7.8 years old. The average age of children in foster care being adopted was 6.3 years old.

5. On average, a child will wait three years in foster care awaiting adoption. About 55 percent of these children have had three or more placements with foster care families, and 33 percent had changed elementary schools five or more times, losing relationships and falling behind educationally.

6. In 1851 Massachusetts passed the Adoption of Children Act, the first modern adoption law in America. The law is considered an important turning point because t required judges to determine that adoptive parents had “sufficient ability to bring up the child” and that “it is fit and proper that such adoption should take effect.”

7. The beginning of the foster care concept in America was the Orphan Train Movement. Between 1854 and 1929, as many as 250,000 children from New York and other Eastern cities were sent by train to towns in midwestern and western states, as well as Canada and Mexico. According to the Adoption history project, families interested in the orphans showed up to look them over when they were placed on display in local train stations, and placements were frequently made with little or no investigation or oversight.

8. Each year thousands of U.S. citizens adopt children from abroad. In 2013, Americans adopted 7,092 children from abroad. The total number of intercountry adoptions from 1999 to 2013 was 249,694. According to UNICEF, approximately 13 million have lost both parents.

9. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, a government-funded adoption information service, estimates the average U.S. adoption costs of various types of adoptions:

Intercountry Adoptions — $15,000 - $30,000

Independent Adoptions — $8,000 - $40,000+

Licensed Private Agency Adoptions — $5,000 - $40,000+

Facilitated/Unlicensed Adoptions — $5,000 - $40,000+

Public Agency (Foster Care) Adoptions —  $0 - $2,500


Recent posts in this series:

Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • TGC • Prayer in the Bible • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • C.S. Lewis • Orphans • Halloween and Reformation Day • World Hunger • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 6th Street Baptist Church Bombing • 9/11 Attack Aftermath • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court's Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues

“We pulled up to his house and called his cell phone to let him know that we had arrived,” the eyewitness testified under oath. “As Trey came down the steps of his front porch, his wife waived goodbye to him. There were three of us in the van already—the defendant was driving, I was in the passenger seat, and the shooter was on the seat bench right behind us. When Trey opened the sliding door and saw the blue tarp draped over the seat bench, he joked, ‘Who’s the body bag for?’ We all laughed, but uncomfortably. For we knew what he did not—that it was for him. Then he shut the door.”

I heard this testimony while sitting in federal trial court as an extern at Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY). Fascinated by the rule of law and the human condition, I had already taken every course on constitutional criminal law that Columbia offered—evidence, criminal investigations, and criminal adjudication. To me, this competitive externship at the EDNY was the culmination of my learning experience, taking what I studied in my casebooks and putting it into practice in real litigation. When I applied for the program, though, I did not know that I would be assigned a capital case.

From jury selection to eyewitness testimony to forensic evidence, I heard the story of a man who committed two murders-for-hire over the span of ten years. His first victim was a drug dealer with whom he was in competition for business; they worked the same corner of the same park in Brooklyn. His second victim, Trey, was the husband of the woman with whom he was having an affair; it was a modern-day David and Bathsheba story of killing the romantic competition.

Aftermath of Murder

After Trey closed the sliding door, the shooter—who, in his own trial, was so threatening to the court that he had to wear a Silence of the Lambs mask at one point—reached around Trey’s shoulders and pulled the trigger at the temple of Trey’s forehead. Blood spewed everywhere, but he didn’t die immediately. Instead, in a burst of energy he lunged at the door. As he mustered every effort to open it, the defendant passed the shooter another, more powerful gun to use. He did and dealt the final blow. Trey was motionless. And lifeless.

For the next year, the members of Trey’s family—except his wife, who was a part of the conspiracy—searched for answers. He was missing, but his body had not been found. As they circled the neighborhood on a weekly basis with a megaphone calling for people to come forward, Trey’s body was almost in plain view. “We decided to bury him in a cemetery,” the eyewitness, who had taken a plea bargain for his cooperation, confessed, “because, after all, there’s no strange dead body smell in a place that is filled with dead people. It’s expected.”

He was right. In fact, no one probably would have ever discovered Trey’s body if the eyewitness had not been riddled with guilt and come forward to the police.

My Role as a Student

Since I was a law student during the trial, I was not allowed to be at the table with the prosecutors. Instead, I sat with the families of the victims. I got to know their parents, their siblings, their nieces and nephews and, in the case of the first victim, his children.

One morning, while forensic evidence was being presented, Trey’s sister left the courtroom. I could tell that she was upset, so I followed her, hoping to talk with her or, perhaps, just listen. When I walked out the doors of the courtroom, though, I did not see her at the water fountain or in the hallway. So I checked the restroom, where I found her weeping. Sobbing, actually.

“No matter what that jury decides,” she told me through tears, “they cannot bring my brother back to life. That’s what I really want. I mean, I know he wasn’t perfect—he was a drug dealer and a terrible husband. But I think he was going to turn around. I hoped, anyway.”

I was speechless. As an officer-in-training of the court, I was supposed to be objective and represent the government. I was limited by the professional role I was tasked to play. As a Christian, though, I wanted to tell her about another judge—The Judge—who could bring the dead back to life, who once told a child, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41).

Proximate Justice

In that moment, I realized that proximate justice—that is, imperfect justice that recognizes that something is better than nothing—is the best we can do in this age. Steven Garber of the Washington Institute puts it like this:

When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are yearning for the way things ought to be, and someday will be—even as we give ourselves to what can be in a world where evil persists, sometimes very malignantly. If we think that the lordship of Christ over every square inch of the whole of reality means that we can settle for nothing less than explicit recognition of that claim and its reality in public life, then we will never be able to sustain the vocations that are required for meaningful political witness in the face of the continuing injustice, which comes from the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Proximate justice does not mean that we should forego the passionate pursuit of justice in this age. In fact, at the end of our trial, it was right and just that the jury convicted the defendant, because the evidence showed beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the crimes alleged. And if they had not convicted him, we would have had cause to protest their decision as an unjust exercise of jury nullification. 

Yet we pursue proximate justice in this age even as we recognize that true justice—the kind of justice that brings the dead back to life—will ultimately come in the age to come. Our longings for justice will only finally be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth. As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory.”

The stats are staggering. And the safety of our children is at stake.

So what’s your church doing about it?

Deepak Reju’s new book, On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse (New Growth), is a brilliantly helpful resource aimed at instructing and empowering churches to respond to this quiet crisis. With 25 endorsements from a diverse range of leaders, On Guard is widely praised and tragically needed. After introducing us to the issue, Reju presents eight practical strategies for protecting against abuse and three for responding to it. 

I corresponded with the pastor of biblical counseling and family ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., about why churches are so vulnerable, what makes his strategy uniquely effective, how a church can get started, and more. (After reading, watch our roundtable video discussions on “Preventing Sexual Abuse in the Church” and “Caring for Victims of Sexual Abuse” featuring Justin Holcomb, Scotty Smith, and Trillia Newbell.)


How widespread is the problem of child abuse in our churches?

Nobody knows for sure, but we can start with an FBI report on child abuse stating that:

  • 1 out of 5 girls, and
  • 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually molested by their 18th birthday. 

If you are in a congregation of 200 that means about 20 women and 16 men will have been abused. That’s 18 percent of your congregation—a sizable group.

But consider that these numbers are based on those who actually report the abuse. Many more are either too scared or find the pain too overwhelming to open up to others, let alone to get the authorities involved. So 18 percent is probably a conservative estimate.  

What are some of the biggest misconceptions you encounter among evangelicals concerning this issue?

There are quite a few. The assumption that abusers are monsters and not anything like us. A sexual offender is probably “seedy” looking, a drug addict or an alcoholic, visibly insane, depraved, brutal, or mentally retarded. Pick your version of a boogeyman and that’s what many people envision when they picture a sexual predator. But the truth is sexual offenders are people just like us—single or married; male or female; blue or white collar; educated or uneducated; rich, middle class, or poor. What surprised me is how many professionals are offenders. I came across examples of a college professor, doctor, lawyer, athletic director, pastor, and many, many more.

Other false misconceptions include:

  • It will never happen to us. Look at the statistics, and you discover it’s likely to affect your family or someone you know and love.
  • We know the people in our church. Relationships among Christians can be superficial. Have you ever considered how easy is it for someone to hide and not be known in your church? Sexual offenders know this fact and take advantage of it. Often, we know a lot of facts about our friends but don’t really know them deeply.  
  • Our church is safe. Do you know this for sure? Have you ever asked your pastor or children’s minister what they do to protect the children in your church? Some of you will ask and be delighted at how thoughtful your church is, but others of you might be surprised at how little your church is doing.

Why are churches particularly vulnerable to child abusers?

Many believers are ignorant about this issue of child abuse. They don’t want to bother with such an “icky” subject. And because Christians don’t know the extent of the problem, they don’t guard against it. This kind of ignorance can lead to a naiveté that makes children vulnerable.

Another reason is that too many churches provide easy access to children. Sexual offenders know that churches are always looking for help with children’s ministry and are often facing shortages of volunteers. They know that volunteers are often late, cancel at the last minute, or don’t even bother showing up for their service. So sexual predators show up at churches eager to make themselves known and ready to serve. No other organization provides such quick and easy access to kids.

A third reason is cheap grace. If a sexual offender is actually caught, he or she counts on cheap grace—grace that comes freely and with little cost. Abusers are not dumb. They know that if they cry, offer words of contrition, and promise never to do it again, they are likely to avoid significant consequences. Pastors and churches are forgiving. They are quick to apply the gospel and slow to apply the consequences that come from the law.

I list several other reasons in On Guard, including abuse of authority, manipulation of religious language, and attitudes of invincibility.

What’s the main way your plan for preventing child abuse is “more comprehensive” than others you’ve encountered?

Most churches will have parts of this strategy in place. A few will be doing all of these strategies. Sadly, many churches will be doing nothing. Look at the literature directed at churches. You see a lot about writing a policy, screening, reporting abuse, and responding to abuse. But there’s little other current and accessible instruction for churches. So On Guard details eight strategies for protecting against abuse and three for responding to it.  

Eight Strategies for Protecting Against Abuse:

  • Creating and implementing a child protection policy
  • A check-in and check-out process
  • Membership
  • Screening and verification
  • Building design
  • Training your staff and volunteers
  • Preparing church leaders, parents, children, and teens before abuse happens
  • Getting to know the people and resources in your community

Three Strategies for Responding to Abuse:

  • Help a church be responsible by reporting abuse
  • Help a church respond wisely to victims, the congregation, 
and the media
  • Help a church deal wisely with a child abuser

There were a few subjects—like how to deal with a sexual offender when he or she visits your church, or how to design your children’s ministry wing, or the problem of child-on-child abuse—that I couldn’t find anywhere. So I talked to several experts and churches that have dealt with such matters, did a lot of thinking in these areas, and came up with some guidelines to help others out.

None of us wants to deal with this issue, but the stakes are too high to ignore it. How would you counsel a church to get started?

Start by establishing a protocol for your church, which means writing up and implementing a child protection policy (CPP). A CPP is a set of self-imposed guidelines that describe how a church is going to protect and care for the children under its care. An important part of fighting abuse is planning ahead. You create and implement a CPP because you want to define the parameters for a safe environment for your children before a problem arises in your church.

But this is only a first step. There’s so much more we can and should do to protect the children in our care.

Famous for its tango dance, love of beef, and omnipresent consumption of the herbal tea “mate” (pronounced ma-te), Argentina is the second-largest country in South America and the eighth-largest country in the world, according to land size. Argentina has a population of more than 43 million, and about 76 percent of the population identify as Roman Catholic, although less than 10 percent practice.

In 2013, to the surprise of many, Argentina took center stage as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the new pope, the first one chosen from the Americas. On social issues, in 2010 Argentina became the first country in Latin America to approve same-sex marriage; as for abortion, with a few exceptions, it remains illegal. Mirroring trends in Europe, there is a growing secularist tide in the country. In this context, it’s not surprising that only 9 percent identify as evangelicals.

That said, there are many reasons to be encouraged. As Jairo Namnún of The Gospel Coalition’s Spanish site wrote recently, there are stirrings of revival in Latin America. We want to highlight a few of these “stirrings” and hear from those on the ground. With that in mind, I corresponded with Sam Masters, president of the Seminario Biblico William Carey in Cordoba, Argentina, about the evangelical church in Argentina, the challenges and encouragements of ministry there, and more.


How would you describe the state of the church in Argentina?

People often tell me they have heard there is a great revival in Argentina. In spite of what C. Peter Wagner has said, I haven’t seen it yet. With the return of democracy in 1982, certain sensationalistic tendencies gained ground in evangelical circles. Televangelists filled stadiums, and certain churches grew. Evangelicals gained greater influence. However, some highly visible moral failures such as that of TV preacher Hector Gimenez damaged the church. The result was a slight increase in the percentage of people who identified themselves as evangelicals and the alienation of more than 90 percent of Argentines from the gospel.

Now the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian cult, is gaining ground. This group combines elements of neo-Pentecostalism and fetishism. It has actually begun to spread to the United States and the United Kingdom. This cult has had numerous problems with the law and most people aren't well enough informed to distinguish it from historic evangelicals. In spite of this, we see there are many who respond to clear expository teaching of the Scriptures. We are also encouraged by the growth of gospel-centered ministries like Fiel in Brazil. We are praying to see similar movements in the southern cone.

What most encourages you about the evangelical church in your country?

We may be seeing the beginnings of reformation in some circles. Many young people are responding to teaching they find online. The Gospel Coalition’s Spanish website, for example, is an important resource. For now we are probably talking about hundreds and not thousands, but there are focal points all over the country. We need more churches committed to Reformed doctrine to guide these young people.

What is the biggest challenge facing the evangelical church in Argentina?

To find the path of sound doctrine without falling into unhealthy extremes. In general, we see churches that either are formal and legalistic or, on the other side, preach the health-and-wealth gospel and have pastors that claim to be apostles. I believe there is a great opportunity for churches that can combine cultural sensitivity and theological seriousness. We need reform that is both thorough and balanced.

What distinguishes the church in Latin America from the church in the United States?

A major difference between the evangelical church in the United States and Latin America is that in Latin America it has never been in the majority. There are different degrees of growth from one country to the next, but across the board the cultures of Latin America are still waiting to receive the benefits of the Reformation. The United States has for a long time been squandering the historic benefits of its heritage. Latin America, on the other hand, is still looking to the future in hopes of a true revival. Sadly, one of the biggest obstacles is the unbiblical religious influence being exported from the United States, particularly the prosperity gospel.

How can we pray for the church in Argentina?

Please pray that the Lord would continue to raise up Latin American leaders who are committed to his Word and that he would provide the resources to train and send them out.

You serve as president of the Seminario Biblico William Carey in Cordoba, Argentina. Can you share more about your role there and the mission of the school?

We have about 100 students studying online. For now we offer a variety of diplomas for students who want to prepare for Christian service. We have students in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico, and Cuba. In 2015 we will be opening new study centers in northern Argentina and southern Chile. Every year we host a theological conference that draws together people interested in Reformed theology. Over the short term our plan is to open a master of divinity program here in Cordoba. We are committed to Reformed theology and missions outreach. We believe in the enormous potential of the Latin American missionary force. If we can put the right tools in their hands I have no doubt they will turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).


Editors’ note: The Gospel Coalition National Conference returns next year to Orlando, Florida, from April 12 to 15. We're delighted to partner with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for a special pre-conference for Spanish speakers on April 12 and 13. TGC Council members Sugel Michelén, Miguel Núñez, Don Carson, and Albert Mohler will deliver keynote addresses, while Tim Keller, Juan Sánchez, and Felix Cabrera will join them on panels about gospel partnerships, church planting, and evangelism methods in the 21st century. Spanish speakers who stay for the full National Conference receive a 30 percent discount on the subsequent event, which features workshops and simultaneous Spanish translation.

Today there are more single adults in America than married ones—and the number is not shrinking. What can pastors and church members do to honor and care for singles in their midst?

“Singleness is not monolithic,” Carolyn McCulley explains in a new roundtable video with Jennifer Marshall and Betsy Childs. “It’s helpful to minister based on life stage more than on marital status. A single 50-year-old is very different than a single 20-year-old.”

“It’s vital to cultivate a congregation where families absorb singles, wrapping them up in the everyday life of the church,” adds Marshall, author of Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century (Multnomah, 2007). “We need to be learning from people who are different than us, who have different burdens and challenges.” As Childs points out, diverse community groups—as opposed to, say, siloed “married” and “singles” groups—can help foster such a culture.

After all, just as marrieds can give helpful input to singles, singles have valuable input to offer marrieds. “I think often we can absorb the culture’s false message that unless you’ve experienced something, you can bring no truth to it,” notes McCulley, author of Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?: Trusting God with a Hope Deferred (Crossway, 2004). “We must really strive to emphasize the siblinghood of Christ.”

“Isn’t it wonderful to have the example of Jesus himself?” Childs concludes. “He knows from firsthand experience what it’s like to live as a faithful single.” Amen. See more from Childs in her article "Should I Be Content in My Singleness?"

Watch the full nine-minute video to hear these three women discuss the idolization of marriage, what McCulley loves about Psalm 25, advice for the discouraged, and more. 

Honoring Singleness and Encouraging Singles from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Gratitude should fill the Christian’s life (1 Thess. 5:18; Acts 2:46-47), especially with Thanksgiving on the horizon. So why am I so prone to ingratitude? Genuine gratitude seems elusive.

We live in maybe the most prosperous country in certainly the most prosperous era yet of all time. And as people bought back into relationship with God by the merit of Jesus Christ, Christians should be even more thankful than anyone else. Besides, gratitude is fun! As G. K. Chesterton says, “Thanks are the highest form of thought, and gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." We miss out on so much when we fail to live gratefully.

I think there are three big reasons why gratitude can seem so hard to find.

1. Gratitude requires making more of the good we have than the good we don’t.

If you’re like me, you tend to dwell on what you’d like to have. I’d love to own a house. I’d like to have a permanent job. A book deal, maybe? I’m always looking to the next thing, the bigger or better thing. Wishing isn’t necessarily wrong. But wishing does necessarily preclude gratitude, because by definition I can’t be grateful for something I don’t have. And if wishing is all I do, I’ll never be grateful.

Gratitude requires moving my eyes from the things I don’t have to the things I do have. It means saying there is good, real good, in this car. In this job or this home. I have to say, in one sense, “This is enough.”

Gratitude celebrates blessings received. As long as we’re consumed with blessings we haven’t received, we’ll never possess it.

2. Our society cultivates ingratitude.

As if we couldn’t be ungrateful enough on our own, ingratitude may be the yeast that makes American culture rise. Advertising persuades us that this thing will satisfy that need we didn’t know we had 30 seconds ago. HGTV shows us how beautiful our homes could be if we only had $50,000 and a professional crew. Political radio—doesn’t matter the party—says we cannot rest until this agenda is met and those people are thrown out of Washington.

“If only” is the prayer behind ingratitude, and it’s everywhere.

Let's try a simple thought experiment. Pick an area of your life you talk about with your friends: your job, your salary, your body, your family. Then imagine one of your friends saying something like, “Guys, I want you to know that I’m really happy with the salary at this job.” Or, “I actually love the way my stomach looks right now.”

If you’re like me, you may have thought: Wow, she sounds a little full of herself. Or maybe, Let’s see how long he can whitewash this thing before we hear how he really feels.

Our culture assumes that normal people operate with a consistent level of discontentment. We think that “real” equals “dissatisfied.” We definitely don’t want to live with a Botox spirituality that papers over real problems with a smile. But we don’t want to steer so far from that ditch that we fall into its opposite. Our society’s gravitational pull is already toward ingratitude.

3. Ingratitude elevates desire for a creature over desire for the Creator.

We desire food, shelter, friendship, health, happiness. These appetites may lead us into sin, but God made us with them, and they’re good at root (see Ps. 104:14-15).

However, God also gave us an appetite so unique it has its own category: the desire to see and savor his infinite, eternal presence. Ecclesiastes describes it as God “put[ting] eternity into man’s heart” (3:11); Augustine captures it with the line, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” We all hunger for God.

More often than not, ingratitude comes when we try to satisfy this hunger for God with blatantly sinful desires or too much of our basic needs. Somewhere in our hearts, maybe on a level we’re not consciously aware of, we convince ourselves that whatever created thing we lack—health, popularity, pleasure—will satisfy us if we can get just a little more of it. 

But as Christians, we know that our satisfaction can only be found in God. Our creaturely appetites will be fulfilled in the new creation; but for now, Christ suffices in abundance or need, plenty or want, life or death (Phil. 4:11-13).

Gratitude is elusive because we’re easily duped into thinking that an eternal hunger can be satisfied with temporal things.

Cultivating Gratitude

With these three reasons for ingratitude in mind, here are some thoughts about how to cultivate gratitude this Thanksgiving season.

1. Raise your ingratitude-sensing antennae.

Start sensitizing yourself to ingratitude, in your own heart and around you. Complaints about a job or a spouse or a body part. Fantasies of a bigger house, a bigger bank account, a different political climate. Being aware of ingratitude-messages will help you deal with the root problem.

2. Cultivate contentment in Jesus.

Jesus Christ is the one and only key to human happiness. As God incarnate, he provides our ultimate satisfaction; as our atonement and mediator, he alone makes it possible for us to have the communion with God that brings ultimate satisfaction (Ps. 16:11).

Cultivating that relationship with God through Jesus builds contentment in our hearts. Preaching the gospel to ourselves, meditating on the Word, worshiping God through prayer and song—all these open our hearts to the divine fount where we find satisfaction. Tasting and seeing God’s goodness leads to gratitude.

3. Supplant ingratitude with thanksgiving.

Botox spirituality misses that gratitude grows out from the inside. Ingratitude, like any sin, is a lion that grows when we feed it and shrivels when we don’t.

Once we catch the messages of ingratitude around us and inside us, we can start supplanting ungrateful thoughts with prayers of thanks. Sure, our 2003 Ford Escape isn’t sexy; but it’s given us 150,000 miles of reliable service with barely a repair needed. Yes, my job will end in seven months; but it’s been a wonderful experience and kept our family fed for the last two years.

I don’t practice a Sabbath, but a rhythm of remembrance and worship seems like a great way to cultivate gratitude. Israelite festivals marked major occasions—both yearly rhythms like the harvest and also national turning points—with prayer and the celebration of God’s actions. Building times of identifying and celebrating blessing into our weeks, months, and years could help open our eyes to see and celebrate God’s goodness. Thanksgiving this week is a great time to start.

A few months ago, I led my church in a community evangelism effort. Our outreach was a little old-fashioned: we knocked on doors and talked to people, hoping the Lord would draw some to himself through the gospel.

Executing door-to-door, “cold call” evangelism has many challenges in the modern context. Rejections of the gospel run the gamut from angry to flaky: One man told me that he hated religion, hated religious “zealots” like us, and believed hell was built especially for those of our ilk. Another woman said that she adhered to Jewish religion in which her father taught her that faith in any object, “even a rock,” would punch her ticket to heaven. None of my questions about the monotheism of the Old Testament and the Torah’s prohibition of worshiping idols made a dent in her rejection of Christ. I even told her that the Scripture called Jesus the rock, but she at last politely said goodbye and returned inside the door to her cats.

Still, I am thankful that God’s gospel can subdue the rebellious heart, whether seething or silly. 

Use of Means 

For training purposes, Christian leaders have long sought a good outline to help us recall the gospel when we are witnessing to lost people. Indeed, many thoughtful, careful, and biblical outlines have been used effectively—Two Ways to Live and Evangelism Explosion come immediately to mind, and I know there are others.

But recently, in my regular reading of C. H. Spurgeon’s sermons, I have discovered an excellent and pithy approach to the gospel, one that is fully biblical and establishes both man’s universal dilemma and God’s antidote in Christ: Spurgeon’s “Three R’s”: ruin, redemption, and regeneration. I like Spurgeon's outline for several reasons: it is simple, the alliteration makes it easy to remember, the biblical texts all surround the number three (another aid to memory for the throes of nerve-busting, face-to-face evangelism).

Also, the three R's cover three things a gospel presentation needs to establish: the problem, the solution, and the response. Spurgeon told young students in his pastor's college that these three doctrines must permeate their evangelism and preaching. I agree and thus commend it to modern readers. Spurgeon was a gifted, tireless evangelist whom God used to win untold thousands to Christ. 

Three Core Doctrines of Evangelism 

Spurgeon called them “three doctrines that must be preached above all else,” and he drew as texts for them “three third chapters (of Scripture) which deal with the things in the fullest manner.” Let's consider Spurgeon’s three R’s.

Ruin (Gen. 3:14-15). This is what man has done. “How did man get in this miserable condition?” Spurgeon asks. R. C. Sproul frames it another way, and his question is one I hear often in gospel conversations: “Saved from what?” In our post-postmodern culture, we must begin here with creation and the fall. Biblical illiteracy appears to be spreading, thus many have never considered that there is something desperately wrong in our world. Beginning here establishes the problem into which God has launched his rescue mission: Man has rebelled against his maker, broken his law, and now lives under a curse that will one day incur the white-hot, unmediated wrath of God. But in the second half of verse 15, we hear the faint promise of God’s solution, one that will grow louder as history advances and as the redemption story of the Bible unfolds. The seed of the woman will crush the head of the seed of the serpent. The serpent will bruise the heel of the woman’s offspring, but this promised one will deal the death blow to the snake, killing him as one must a serpent: a smashed head. As Spurgeon pointed out, this background leads quite naturally to the good news of God’s rescue mission.

Redemption (Rom. 3:21-26). This is what God has done. This is the good news that trumps the bad news. In the scope of five verses, Paul articulates what some commentators have called the thesis of Romans or the magna carta of salvation. In these glorious verses, Paul establishes the demands of God’s law, the futility of salvation by works, the law’s definition of sin, the righteousness of God received by faith in Christ, justification by faith through the redemption of Jesus Christ, and his satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin. This paragraph contains the entire matrix of the work of Christ that he accomplished on the cross, work that provided full pardon from the guilt of sin for every sinner who believes. It is perhaps the most glorious paragraph in human history.

Regeneration (John 3:1-8). This is what God must do in sinners to enable them to believe. Spurgeon, along with Reformed evangelicals throughout the ages, taught that regeneration precedes faith. In other words, God changes the sinful human heart, sets it free from bondage to sin, and enables it to believe that Jesus is indeed the way, the truth, and the life. Regeneration, like the entire work of salvation, is a unilateral work of grace. It was a central theme of Spurgeon’s preaching and evangelism, and it must be foundational to ours as well, particularly as we think through issues of “results” in evangelism. The reality of regeneration urges us to call sinners to repentance and faith while resting in the work of God who alone opens blind eyes and unstops deaf ears. It removes the pressure from us and frees us to boldly share the gospel while knowing that the results are in the hands of a sovereign, benevolent God. Out of a biblical understanding of regeneration, we may call on sinners to repent and be reconciled to God while leaving the results to him. Thus, I hold out hope for the lady with the Jewish background and all others whom I have engaged over the years.

Spurgeon’s “Three R’s,” whether you use them or not, should undergird all our evangelism. And like Spurgeon, pastors today should make certain that these three doctrines regularly appear in the diet of biblical exposition they feed to hungry sheep.

Daniel Heimbach. Why Not Same-Sex Marriage: A Manual for Defending Marriage Against Radical Deconstruction. Sisters, OR: Trusted Books, 2014. 504 pp. $19.99.

At this point in the debate over same-sex marriage, those who recognize the authority of Scripture are largely convinced that same-sex marriage (SSM) is immoral. On the other hand, proponents of SSM are convinced marriage is a social convention that can be redefined to match current theories of psychology and the nature of gender. In the middle a large number have likely tired of hearing arguments about the topic and do not believe either position will make much difference in the long run. In many cases, the emotional force behind arguments for the redefinition of marriage and attacks against those who publicly question the morality of SSM lead the otherwise unconvinced to take the path of least resistance and publicly affirm SSM despite any private concerns. Some on both sides of the debate have been convinced by arguments that are untrue, illogical, or both.

In Why Not Same-Sex Marriage: A Manual for Defending Marriage Against Radical Deconstruction, Daniel Heimbach attempts to break through the barriers to communication by carefully examining arguments for SSM and posing reasoned objections to them. His goal is to “convince the undecided of the social necessity of keeping the nature, meaning, and structure of civil marriage from being radically deconstructed” (xv). In other words, he is aiming both to instruct the “mushy middle” and to equip evangelical Christians facing a hostile culture.

Building on Previous Work

Heimbach’s True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis (Crossway, 2004) was a comprehensive look at the philosophical underpinnings of the sexual revolution, explaining how culture developed opinions on sexual morality and comparing those opinions to a biblical model of sexual morality. Why Not Same-Sex Marriage builds on the foundation of his earlier work and focuses on the particular issue of SSM, which is a logical outworking of the sexual revolution.

The bulk of the book consists of two or three page chapters, each summarizing arguments for SSM, providing a gracious but firm rebuttal, and offering bibliography of sources on both sides of the debate. Instead of building straw men, Heimbach, professor of Christian ethics at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, presents opposing arguments fairly and answers them with careful reasoning in terms accessible to lay people. Each of the arguments and responses is indexed according to both the argument and refutation, making this a helpful resource. At the end of the book, Heimbach includes testimonies of formerly active gay people, two reprinted academic articles on normalizing SSM, and a list of resources for those seeking more information on the topic. 

Refreshing Approach

The 500-page book is a refreshing approach to the debate over normalizing SSM. Much (though certainly not all) of the debate thus far has focused on emotional appeals and personal attacks, often in the form of name-calling. It seems that significantly less energy has been directed toward careful evaluation of arguments from either side. Meaningful deliberation about such a significant change in cultural structures has often been thwarted by vitriol from both sides and retreat to largely unchallenged presuppositions.

For some Christians, the template for a healthy marriage that is evident in Scripture––one male husband wedded to one female wife for life––provides a sufficient foundation for rejecting SSM. However, arguing based on the content of Christian and Jewish Scriptures tends to have a limited appeal since most of the world’s population do not acknowledge the Bible as authoritative. Heimbach presents arguments that don’t depend on accepting the authority of Scripture in order to communicate beyond the ranks of those already convinced of the traditional definition of marriage. In other words, this book fulfills the important task of making the argument for marriage as necessary for the common good in terms acceptable beyond the Christian sphere.

Societal Flourishing

Even among those who hold to a traditional definition marriage, some see SSM as a “live and let live” issue that has few negative consequences for society. Although Heimbach does not make apocalyptic predictions about the immediate demise of Western civilization due to the normalization of SSM, he does present reasoning that shows the superiority of traditional marriage for building a stable society.

The definition of marriage, he observes, is foundational to all of human society. Those who seek to alter the foundation must provide a compelling basis for such a radical change. This book shows that the arguments for the redefinition of civil marriage largely depend on individualism and emotional appeals. Such emphases on personal fulfillment undermine the common good over time. Thus, far from being an attempt to impose a theocracy, support for a traditional definition of marriage is support for the common good. According to this reasoning, defending a traditional definition of marriage is not an attempt to assert political power but a pursuit of societal flourishing.

Optimistic Approach

Heimbach’s arguments are built on ethical reasoning that expects to find a moral order in creation. Since God designed the world to function in a manner consistent with his character, the common good will be enhanced through morality that resonates with biblical norms. Dispassionate reasoning from observable facts, then, should lead toward conclusions consistent with Scripture.

This approach to the debate is helpful because it is optimistic. The arguments of this book engage readers graciously, accurately presenting both sides and allowing readers to weigh the evidence to make a decision. Although many will not be convinced by any arguments because of their previous attachment to a position, others will pursue truth for the common good.

Thorough and Unique

This is a thorough book—the most comprehensive evangelical resource on the topic of same-sex marriage available today. It will not settle the public debate over SSM; that is too much to hope for any book. However, Why Not Same-Sex Marriage does make a compelling case for a traditional definition of marriage. It also provides an invaluable reference manual for proponents of traditional marriage to consult when formulating gracious, informed responses to arguments for the redefinition of marriage.

At the very least, the book brings the light of reason to bear on the best arguments from both sides of the debate, which is a precious virtue because of its rarity in this age.

TGC Spotlight highlights TGC articles from earlier in the week, previews articles coming next week, and links to items around the web that you might have missed. 

Around the Web

President Obama to Unveil Plan for Unilateral Action on Immigration

What is President Obama’s immigration plan?

Last night, in a national televised address, the President provided details about his plan to take unilateral executive action on immigration Obama’s decision is an expansion of his 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA, created by executive action after Congress failed in its attempt to pass the similar-themed DREAM Act, allowed 600,000 qualified immigrants ages 5 to 31 to remain and work in this country without fear of deportation.

What will the new plan do?

This new executive action will give temporary visas to undocumented immigrants whose children were born in the U.S. It is expected to protect an additional 4 million and 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation for at least the remainder of Obama’s presidency. Obama will also expand a program that gives work permits for up to 29 months to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math. The president is also expanding the pool of young undocumented immigrants eligible for DACA. Currently, only people who can apply are those who have lived in the U.S. since June 15, 2007.

Will this action provide a path to U.S. citizenship?

Not directly. The action will not grant citizenship or legal permanent residence (i.e., a "green card"). People will be required to register with the federal government and, if they clear a series of background checks and other requirements, will be shielded from deportation proceedings. They will be given work permits and assigned Social Security numbers, so they can legally work and pay taxes.

Can Obama do these things unilaterally?

That’s a key point of contention.

The executive branch, through the Department of Homeland Security, is required to enforce immigration laws and deport people who have violated such laws. However, the Homeland Security has some discretion in determining the best way to implement and enforce the law. The White House's argument is they since they are not stopping deportations completely (they’ll still deport about 400,000 people a year) that they are complying with their requirements.

Critics disagree and say the discretion function of the executive branch was always intended to allow for prudent actions on a case-by-case basis and not used as a blanket policy that circumvents the will of Congress and the American people (a recent poll found that 46 percent of Americans say the president should wait for Congress to take action on the issue). Even some supporters of the administration and its pro-immigration stance say that the action is violating the law and, as the editorial board of the Washington Post said, is equivalent to “tearing up the Constitution.” Many also fear that President Obama, who previously renounced such unilateral acts by previous presidents, is setting a dangerous precedent for future executive action. For example, a future president could say that the IRS is not going to focus on collecting specific taxes on favored interest groups.

For more on TGC's coverage of the immigration issue, see: 

Romans 13 and the Immigration Crisis (July 11, 2014) 

Immigration Policy and Ministry (May 8, 2012) 

Evangelical Leaders Call for Immigration Reform (June 14, 2012) 

The Gospel and Immigration (May 1, 2012) 

 

Quick Takes

• "Gospel-centered" has become a popular buzzword in Reformed evangelical circles. John Piper explains three things it means in this brief video.

• A 100-second animated explanation of Edmund Burke's difference between the beautiful and the sublime.

• Four rabbis were recently murdered while praying in a Jerusalem synagogue. Jewish writer David Goldman explained the Har Nof massacre to his Christian friends by saying, "this is roughly comparable to terrorists invading a cathedral and killing a Cardinal among other clergy. Rabbi Moshe Twersky H"YD . . . was one of our sages. Our grief and outrage are past description." Here is a brief explainer on this most recent terrorist attack.

What is reparative therapy? Heath Lambert explains, and says that "in spite of some positive elements, RT is an unbiblical and ultimately unhelpful approach to change for same-sex attraction."

(For even more links, see the "Remainder Bin" at the end of this post.)

Featured TGC Articles

Mothering In The Internet Age | Betsy Childs

Contrary to what online voices communicate, you’re not really in control of your child’s life—God is. And that is good news.

 

Man, Woman, And The Mystery Of Christ: An Evangelical Protestant Perspective | Russell Moore

The sexual revolution cannot keep its promises. People are looking for a cosmic mystery, for a love that is stronger than death. They cannot articulate it, and perhaps would be horrified to know it, but they are looking for God.

 

Is Open Theism Still A Factor 10 Years After Ets Vote? | Jeff Robinson

Open theism is no longer debated within ETS, but its adherents now spread the openness view of God through more popular channels.

 

Trip Lee Brags On The King | Matt Smethurst

There aren’t many musicians more successful right now than rapper Trip Lee. But the man off the stage might surprise you a bit.

 

Featured TGC Contributor Articles

A New Film on Selma, Alabama (1965), and the Best Thing to Read | Justin Taylor

I am really looking forward to this new film, Selma, coming out in January 2015.

 

Who Do You Say That I Am? | Kevin DeYoung

The greatness of God is most clearly displayed in his Son. And the glory of the gospel is only made evident in his Son. That’s why Jesus’ question to his disciples is so important: “Who do you say that I am?”

 

Overcoming Evangelistic Paralysis with an Unbelievably Good Gospel | Trevin Wax

Earlier this year, I read Jonathan Dodson’s book, The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing (Zondervan), and found it to be a solid resource that gives careful attention to the message we proclaim as well as the person with whom we are speaking.

 

Will Ferguson Be Our Transformative Moment? | Thabiti Anyabwile

We’ve felt this feeling before, that sitting on the edge of your seat, stomach in knots, hoping to win but not hoping to offend feeling. We waited this way in 1992 to see what the jury would do when four officers were caught on tape beating Rodney King.

 

This is that mystery | Ray Ortlund

“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours."

 

A Prayer for Those of Us with Loved Ones Impacted by Memory Loss | Scotty Smith

Dear heavenly Father, though Isaiah used the image somewhat metaphorically, mothers and fathers do forget the children they have brought into the world. I know this quite well, having lived through the journey of watching my dad forgetting my name, then my face, then everything about me. The process was very painful, yet you met us time and again, with your mercy and grace.

 

Coming Next Week at TGC

How the Normalization of Pornography Fuels the Rape Culture | Jacob and Joseph Phillips

Why does society all too often objectify female bodies while devaluing or ignoring female consciousness and experiences?

 

When Dad Doesn’t Disciple the Kids | Jen Wilkin

Moms dealing with spiritually absent dads rightly feel anxiety for their children and confusion in their role—but what should they do?

 

The Role of Singing in the Life of the Church | Rob Smith

Congregational singing is a gift to treasure dearly, engage in regularly, use wisely, and protect carefully.

 

Upcoming Events

Albuquerque Regional Conference (March 20-22, 2015)

Assembled Under the Word: Preaching and Christ. Speakers include Alistair Begg, D.A. Carson, and David Helm.

2015 National Conference (April 1-15, 2015)

Heading Home: A New Heaven and a New Earth. Speakers include Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, Philip G. Ryken, Ligon Duncan, and many others.

Remainder Bin

Bioethics

India's dark history of sterilisation Soutik Biswas, BBC

The death of 15 women at two state-run sterilisation camps in Chhattisgarh has put a spotlight on India's dark history of botched sterilisations.

Down syndrome mom: the “death with dignity” debate insults my son’s life Anne Penniston Grunsted, Quartz

Earlier this month, Brittany Maynard made the much publicized decision to end her life rather than wait for her Stage IV cancer to inevitably kill her instead. Like many people around the world, I felt great sadness and sympathy for the choice she made, a choice I believe she had the right to make.

J.S. Mill and the Pro-Life Cause Christopher O. Tollefsen, Public Discourse

In spite of its many problematic aspects, the political thought of J.S. Mill provides a low but solid foundation for the essential convictions of the pro-life movement: that the unborn, in virtue of their common humanity, deserve the full protection of the law.


Christianity and Culture

5 Ways Christian Relationships Look Different Corrie Mitchell, OnFaith

Much of what culture teaches us about relationships is pretty off base from a Christian perspective.

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Black Church Nicole Symmonds, OnFaith

There’s more to the story than soulful music and whooping preachers. Way more.

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Evangelicals Warren Cole Smith, OnFaith

A reporter offers his insights on a religious movement everyone talks about but few understand.

A Theolgoy of Sport: On the Rebound Lincoln Harvey, First Things

As I argue in my book, sport is a regulated form of physical play that is specifically designed to produce both winners and losers. Of course, some sporting contests do end up in frustrating ties or sterile dead-heats, but this outcome is never the aim of the game.

Church of England Approves Plan Allowing Female Bishops Katrin Benhold, New York Times

The Church of England overturned centuries of tradition on Monday with a final vote allowing women to become bishops, with the first appointments possible by Christmas.

Drugs and Alcohol

How Marijuana Really Affects the Brain Laura Tedesco, Yahoo Health

Clearing the air: New science reveals that toking up may be more addictive than previously thought.

Colorado panel makes no progress on edible marijuana Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press

A Colorado task force wrapped up a final task force meeting on Monday with no consensus on what marijuana-infused foods and drinks should look like.

Hello ladies, goodbye Communion? The Economist

If this week is remembered as an important one by church historians, it may be for a different reason: it was the moment when the archbishop of Canterbury finally acknowledged that the Anglican Communion, the global family of churches numbering about 80m of which he is head, may be impossible to hold together.


Family Issues

Is There a Link between Childhood Homelessness and Single Parenthood? Leslie Ford, The Daily Signal

A new report from The National Center on Family Homelessness concludes that “the challenges of single parenting” is one of the serious causes of homelessness. This conclusion makes sense. Single-parenthood drastically increases the likelihood of poverty and the risks of negative outcomes for children.



Health Issues

Drowning: 'Hidden childhood killer' Smitha Mundasad, BBC

Drowning is one of the 10 leading causes of death for children and young people across the world, a World Health Organization (WHO) report reveals.

Ebola patient Dr. Martin Salia dies in Omaha Mike Dubose, CBS News

A surgeon who contracted Ebola while treating patients in Sierra Leone has passed away in a hospital in Nebraska, where he had been flown for treatment, officials announced Monday.

 

International Issues

Deaths Linked to Terrorism Are Up 60 Percent, Study Finds Alan Cowell, New York Times

As Western governments grapple with heightened apprehension about the spread of Islamic militancy, an independent study on Tuesday offered little solace, saying the number of fatalities related to terrorism soared 60 percent last year.

Israel Shaken by 5 Deaths in Synagogue Assault Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner, New York Times

The Orthodox Jewish men were facing east, to honor the Old City site where the ancient temples once stood, when two Palestinians armed with a gun, knives and axes burst into their synagogue Tuesday morning, shouting “God is great!” in Arabic.


Marriage Issues

Pope Francis stands firm on marriage at Humanum Colloquium Phillip Bethancourt, ERLC

Pope Francis began the Humanum Colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage by stating that "this complementarity is at the root of marriage and family." Throughout the message, he was clear about the necessity and value of marriage despite progressive "ideological notions" on the family in our day.

Same-Self Marriage Timothy George, First Things

It’s only a trickle, not yet a trend, but it is out there, and it has a name: sologamy. Sologamy is the marriage of someone to one’s own self—the his- or herness of it is not relevant, although it seems to be mostly women who are doing it.

British Rabbi Tells Vatican Conference We Must Defend the Family of "Man, Woman and Child" Aleteia

Rabbi Lord Sacks blames the breakdown of the traditional family for society's ills.

How the War on Poverty Has Hurt American Marriage Rates Robert Rector, The Daily Signal

It is no accident that the collapse of marriage in America largely began with the War on Poverty and the proliferation of means-tested welfare programs that it fostered.

Gay Marriage Could Happen in Mississippi Very Soon David Knowles, Bloomberg

A federal judge appointed by President Obama could decide this week whether to issue an injunction blocking the state's ban on same-sex unions.


Military

Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill John Markoff, New York Times

As these weapons become smarter and nimbler, critics fear they will become increasingly difficult for humans to control — or to defend against. And while pinpoint accuracy could save civilian lives, critics fear weapons without human oversight could make war more likely, as easy as flipping a switch.

Why Air Force Cadets Need to Study Philosophy Alexandra Ossola, The Atlantic

Greater emphasis on humanities means more well-rounded decision making.


Other Faiths

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Sikhism Simran Jeet Singh, OnFaith

Despite being the fifth largest world religion, Sikhism is one of the least understood traditions.



Religious Liberty

Air Force Amends Instruction On Religious Freedom and Accommodation Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

Last week, the U.S. Air Force announced that Air Force Instruction 1-1 on Air Force Culture has been updated as of Nov. 7 to clarify standards on free exercise of religion and religious accommodation. The amended Instruction (full text) strengthens free exercise and religious accommodation rights of military personnel, and weakens restrictions on proselytizing.

Sexuality Issues

First magazine aimed at gay teenagers is launched Theo Merz, The Telegraph

The publishers of one of the UK’s top gay magazines have launched a digital offering for the youth market.
Ed Stetzer - Lifeway 

Pat Hood explains what it is like to pastor a "sending church."

Tell me about some unique things your church is doing in outreach.

I don't know if we do anything that's really "unique." I would describe our outreach as "simple." I think Jesus' was too. He simply told his disciples, to "Go, make disciples." That's what we teach our people. We challenge them to live sent lives in every domain of their life. We tell our people that we have no marketing campaign. We don't blanket the community with fliers. We don't rent billboards. We tell our people they are the outreach plan.

How did LifePoint transition from a traditional First Baptist to an international, multi-ethnic "sending church?"

In 2004, I felt a clear direction from the Lord to lead our church to a time of prayer, fasting and worship. We would fast for three days and then meet together at night for a time of intense worship: no preaching, just fasting and meeting together to pray and worship.

We had already begun to transition some external things like our music style and dress, and, as a result, had seen lots growth. As a result, we were in the middle of a building program to build a new auditorium. We thought this time of prayer and fasting was to prepare us for what God was going to do when we opened our new auditorium. However, during those three days of prayer & fasting, we realized that God had called us together because He wanted to open our eyes to His heart for the nation. So, our focus changed from bringing more people in to sending more people out.

How did you measure success in the past?

I've always been a pastor who loved people and love seeing their lives transformed by Jesus. But, admittedly, there was a time when I was more ...

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A Conflict of Christian Visions; An Open Letter to Church Planters; Anti-Psychotic Overmedication

If you are not reading Anthony Bradley, you really should be. In this article, he pushes a bit about our view of the creation narrative. Interesting stuff…

A Conflict of Christian Visions: Gen. 1-2 vs. Gen. 3 ChristianityAnthony Bradley

Christine was recently on The Exchange (along with my friend Kathy Ferguson Litton), for an interview regarding her new book, The Church Planting Wife. Here is a related letter that's worth a read.

An Open Letter to Church Planting PastorsChristine Hoover

We've talked a lot about mental illness lately. I've written for CNN, and at my own blog. The Huffington Post, the Blaze, CNN (here and here), and lots of others have reported on our data. In my most recent article, I wrote about the danger of overmedication. Being an evangelical, one of the biggest challenges is to encourage Christians to see mental illness as an actual illness. We have a long way to go, based on our recent research. However, the other extreme is that of overmedication, as this article explains.

Doctors: Anti-psychotic meds overused for dementia, kidsKim Painter

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with evangelist Luis Palau on The Exchange. What regrets does he have in his experience as an international evangelist? Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

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Large and fast-growing churches make sacrifices for the kingdom of God.

Outreach Magazine just released their Outreach 100 issue for 2013. LifeWay Research does the research for this issue. I was particularly encouraged to see the list focus especially on fastest growing churches. You can subscribe to the magazine here. Here is my article with a bit of analysis of some of the fastest-growing churches in America.

----------------------------

Each year at LifeWay Research, we work together with Outreach Magazine to create the Outreach 100 listings of the country's Fastest-Growing and Largest Churches. On one hand, these lists are one of the most anticipated things we do each year. People seem to eagerly await the lists so they can learn from these churches about what God is doing to build his kingdom across the United States. On the other hand, there are those who complain about the lists. They seem to think this is a way of exalting "big churches" in an effort to make them look better than the churches that are not on the list, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Remember folks: facts are our friends.

I love to learn. I have spent a significant portion of my adult life in the classroom, either as a student or as a professor. These lists feed our hunger to learn as we evaluate the temperature of the churches we study in an effort to learn more about the ways God is working. I hope these lists encourage you and challenge you. I hope, like me, you read them and celebrate the ways God is working. I hope they challenge you to think through your own strategy to reach your community with the gospel.

On this year's lists, we noticed many of the same trends we've seen in the past. Among the recent trends, we continue to see multisite churches becoming more and ...

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Evangelicals Wrong on Mental Illness; 4 Public Invitation Tips; Stop Copying

Amy Simpson responds to our research on mental health that has been reported at CNN (here and here), The Huffington Post, the Blaze, and lots of other places.

Evangelicals, You're Wrong about Mental IllnessAmy Simpson

I appreciated Ronnie Floyd's words here. At our church, we don't do a "come forward" invitation-- that does not work in a movie theater-- but we always invite people to Christ at the end of every message. I found his comments helpful.

4 Words to Keep in Mind When You Give a Public InvitationRonnie Floyd

Helpful article on innovation from Justin and Matt.

How to Stop Copying and Start InnovatingJustin Blaney and Matt Carter

A couple of weeks ago I sat down with evangelist Luis Palau on The Exchange. Listen to the advice he had for others who share the Gospel. Don't forget to join me every Tuesday at 3:00 PM Eastern for The Exchange.

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How church partnerships can help foster multiplication.

Denominations and networks of churches were and still are created for the purpose of partnership in mission. At times, these organizations have successfully unified churches around their common goals and accomplished much. But sometimes the very institutions meant to unify and encourage the mission have inadvertently hindered their own ability to multiply efforts through partnership.

Without a clear avenue to foster partnership for multiplication, the need for these organizations becomes less clear. If denominations and networks do not exist-- at least in part-- to multiply churches, then they have lost a big part of their purpose.

Denominations, networks, and other such partnerships (referred to occasionally as simply "partnerships" for sake of space), when functioning correctly, should help foster multiplication.

I regularly work with a variety of denominational leaders to help them chart a course toward unified missional engagement. There are several points of weakness common to many of the organizations I have seen.

Since these blind spots seem to be somewhat universal, it makes sense to give broad consideration to the ways of overcoming them. So, I have taken a talk I gave to the Evangelical Free Church leadership and modified it a bit to share here.

Hopefully this information can serve other groups as well. Here are six key steps toward creating the type of unity among churches in denominations/networks that leads to sustainable multiplication of a movement.

1. Recognize that Multiplication is Part of Health.

First, your partnership must understand that multiplication is a sign of health.

Healthy churches multiply disciples, groups, ministries, and churches-- and healthy partnerships cultivate ...

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Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission 
<p><span class="caps">NASHVILLE</span>. Tenn., November 24, 2014—Russell Moore, president of the Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, responds to the decision by the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo. to not indict officer Darren Wilson:</p> <p>&#8220;We haven&#8217;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&#8230;. In the public arena, we ought to recognize that it is empirically true that African-American men are more likely, by virtually every measure, to be arrested, sentenced, executed, or murdered than their white peers. We cannot shrug that off with apathy. Working toward justice in this arena will mean consciences that are sensitive to the problem. But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?</p> <p>“In order to get there, we will need churches that are not divided up along carnal patterns of division—by skin color or ethnicity or economic status. We will need churches that reflect the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) in the joining together of those who may have nothing else in common but the image of God, the blood of Christ, and the unity of the Spirit. When we know one another as brothers and sisters, we will start to stand up and speak up for one another.”</p> <p>To read Russell Moore’s entire comments on the grand jury decision, click <a href="http://www.russellmoore.com/2014/11/24/ferguson-and-the-path-to-peace/">here</a>. </p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy entity with offices in Nashville, Tenn. and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_KfLDmkaBxu='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_KfLDmkaBxu'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span> D.C., Nov. 20, 2014—Russell Moore, president of The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, responds to President Barack Obama’s forthcoming decision to use executive action on immigration reform in his op-ed today for <span class="caps">TIME</span> Ideas:</p> <p>“I disagree with President Barack Obama&#8217;s decision to act unilaterally on immigration policy. I am for immigration reform, for all sorts of reasons that I have outlined elsewhere. The system we have is incoherent and unjust. I have worked hard to try to see the system changed, and will continue to do so. It&#8217;s because of my support for immigrants and for immigration reform that I think President Obama&#8217;s executive actions are the wrong thing to do.</p> <p>“On more than one occasion, I asked President Obama not to turn immigration reform into a red state/blue state issue. I also asked him not to act unilaterally, but to work for consensus through the legislative process. Acting unilaterally threatens that consensus, and is the wrong thing to do. </p> <p>“My hope is that the Republicans in Congress will not allow the President&#8217;s actions here as a pretext for keeping in the rut of the status quo. More importantly, I pray that our churches will transcend all of this posing and maneuvering that we see in Washington. Whatever our agreements and disagreements on immigration policy, we as the Body of Christ are those who see every human life as reflecting the image of God.”</p> <p>Moore’s full response can be found <a href="http://time.com/3597981/obamas-executive-action-immigration/">online.</a> </p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_xfQBvnNnfl='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_xfQBvnNnfl'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span> D.C., Nov. 18, 2014—Russell Moore, president of The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, joined Pope Francis and others in addressing a worldwide interreligious body at the <a href="http://humanum.it/en/">Vatican</a> on issues of marriage and family. Despite theological differences among attendees, Moore said there is a need to “stand together on conserving the truth of marriage as a complementary union of man and woman.” </p> <p>“Marriage is embedded in the creation order and is the means of human flourishing,” said Moore. “We recognize that marriage, and the sexual difference on which it is built, is grounded in a natural order bearing rights and responsibilities that was not crafted by any human state, and cannot thus be redefined by any human state.”</p> <p>On the subject of “complementarity,” Moore said marriage and family are &#8220;icons of God&#8217;s purpose for the universe&#8221; and “there is a distinctively Christian urgency&#8221; for why Christians must bear witness to marriage.</p> <p>Moore ended his address by insisting Christians must maintain their witness on the issue of marriage. “We will not capitulate on these issues because we cannot,” Moore commented. “To jettison or to minimize a Christian sexual ethic is to abandon the message Jesus handed to us, and we have no authority to do this.” Instead, “We stand and speak not with clenched fists or with wringing hands, but with the open hearts of those who have a message and a mission. . . . We must do so with the confidence of those who know that on the other side of our culture wars, there’s a sexual counter-revolution waiting to be born, again.”</p> <p>Moore was one of two evangelical Protestant leaders to speak at this event. Other speakers included Rick Warren, author and pastor of Saddleback Church; Jonathan Sacks, former Prime Rabbi of the UK and the Commonwealth; and Pope Francis, who opened the colloquium with an address on the good and beauty of complementarity in marriage.</p> <p>A full transcript of Moore&#8217;s address can be found <a href="http://erlc.com/ecommerce-files/Vatican-Address.pdf">here.</a></p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_RmhUaLhuuu='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_RmhUaLhuuu'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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<p><span class="caps">NASHVILLE</span>, Tenn., Nov. 12, 2014—The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention received a financial gift of $250,000 from The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention for the purpose of training <span class="caps">SBC</span> churches across the nation for gospel-focused ministry to those who have same-sex attractions, as well as strengthen biblical marriages in their churches. </p> <p>“The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> is committed to equipping Baptist churches to stand up for the whole gospel in changing times,” said <span class="caps">ERLC</span> President Russell Moore. “This means upholding the sexual ethic given to us by our Lord and it means ministering to people caught in the whirl of a culture that seeks to redefine the meanings of marriage and sexuality.” <br /> Same-sex marriage is now legal in 32 states and the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to vote on nationalizing same-sex marriage as early as 2015. The <span class="caps">ERLC</span> recently concluded a three-day conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage” where more than 40 speakers addressed conference attendees on how to apply the gospel to marriage issues with convictional kindness in their communities, families and churches. </p> <p>Through the financial gift provided, the <span class="caps">ERLC</span> plans to execute strategies to raise awareness of the issues by providing training opportunities and creating resources to equip pastors and leaders ministering in these areas. </p> <p>&#8220;There is no more timely social issue than the challenge to biblical marriage posed by our culture&#8217;s support of other models of family,” said Jim Richards, Executive Director of Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “The <span class="caps">SBTC</span> is pleased to be able to assist Dr. Moore and his staff as they train our church leaders toward stronger marriages and gospel ministry among our neighbors who feel same-sex attraction. We pray for the Lord&#8217;s wisdom as we together seek to serve our churches in the face of new challenges.&#8221;</p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_NDimLUdzbj='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_NDimLUdzbj'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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<p><span class="caps">WASHINGTON</span>, D.C., Nov. 6, 2014—The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld marriage laws in four states—Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee—in a 2-1 ruling. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote the majority opinion. The ruling creates a split among federal circuit courts, increasing the likelihood of a U.S. Supreme Court review.</p> <p>Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, reacts to the 6th Circuit’s decision: </p> <p>“This circuit split means that the Supreme Court&#8217;s ignoring of this issue will not be able to continue,” Moore said. “The people of the states have the right to recognize marriage the way virtually every human culture has, as the union of a man and a woman. The Supreme Court should affirm this right, for all fifty states.”</p> <p>Moore recently held a national conference for evangelicals, “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” designed to equip attendees to defend marriage in the culture and strengthen marriage in the church. He has also been invited by the Vatican to speak at a November colloquium in Rome, where he will provide an evangelical Protestant perspective on marriage and family—joining Pope Francis and religious leaders from all over the world.</p> <p>The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics &amp; Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.</p> <p>- <span class="caps">END</span> &#8211; </p> <p>To request an interview with Russell Moore<br /> contact Elizabeth Bristow at (615) 782-8409<br /> or by e-mail at <span data-eeEncEmail_McHTFYxdXB='1'>.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)</span><script type="text/javascript">/*<![CDATA[*/var out = '',el = document.getElementsByTagName('span'),l = ['>','a','/','<',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112','>','\"',' 109',' 111',' 99',' 46',' 99',' 108',' 114',' 101',' 64',' 115',' 115',' 101',' 114',' 112',':','o','t','l','i','a','m','\"','=','f','e','r','h','a ','<'],i = l.length,j = el.length;while (--i >= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, '&#'));while (--j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute('data-eeEncEmail_McHTFYxdXB'))el[j].innerHTML = out;/**/

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