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Make American Politics Hopeful Again

How the call to “carry one another’s burdens” breaks down partisan stalemates.

In our increasingly polarized nation, elections are not just perceived to determine the direction of our nation’s policies but as a declaration of who is included and who is excluded. We cannot have a nation where half of the country wakes up the morning after an election feeling like they no longer have a place in their own country without severely fraying our social fabric.

At a time when politicians and party activists increasingly argue that their obligation is only, or primarily, to a subset of the American people—defined by race, socioeconomic status, religion, ideology, or some other category—the American people themselves must take extraordinary steps to force political actors to consider problems, concerns, and ideas that they would typically ignore.

A new year calls for a new kind of politics, and there is one radical idea as old as Scripture that might provide a way forward.

When the apostle Paul was writing to the Galatians, he was addressing a community that was in deep disunity. Paul had helped form the Galatians through his teachings, but they were straying from their foundational commitments. Sin, false teachers, and parochial motives and interests were creating, well, polarization. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, then, represents an attempt to speak clarity into the conflict, and help the community reform around its foundations.

Into this polarized environment, Paul instructs them to do something radical, something completely contrary to everything polarization promotes: They ought to “carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2, CSB).

Paul’s command shows no favoritism. His call is not to one group only, to those with ...

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Words of Wisdom for Those Graduating High School and Beyond

God has a plan. He will pursue you. He will use you mightily—just trust him.

Recently, McLean Presbyterian church in Virginia tweeted a question out to several evangelical leaders in preparation for an upcoming weekend youth retreat. Their request: words of wisdom to share with seniors in high school as they prepare to navigate the challenges of life and faith in the years to come.

It’s an important question. We’ve all heard start about student dropouts. Students who found themselves eager to attend youth group and spend time in scripture during high school head to college and later find these disciplines hard to maintain. They’re isolated from their family—in many cases, the bedrock of their faith—and often attend secular universities where Christian communities are far and few between.

McClean tagged several of us, and my answer is at the end, but let’s take a look at some of the advice offered in response to McClean Presbyterian’s bold question:

Tim Keller

Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Now he leads Redeemer City to City, which has since launched 250 churches in 48 cities. His books—among them, The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and Generous Justice—have been enjoyed by millions.

In his response, Keller advised students to “be resilient.” He pointed out that college is a place of discovery—a time to deal with life’s biggest questions of “identity, purpose and choice.” Going to college means leaving behind the familiar comforts of family, friends, church that youngsters always used for support during times of trial and weakness. According to Keller, the experience requires students to open up the floodgates and allow their minds to venture into dangerous territory ...

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Rural Fish Bowl

Pastor Dad needs to be just Dad.

Growing up in a rural town, I came to understand the lack of privacy just by picking up the local newspaper. Our local gossip column was called “Out and About.” It kept everyone in the loop of how many ladies made it to bridge club that week and that Ida Hayes was absent due to a cold.

Holidays were always a little more interesting because of folks coming to visit. Every time my aunt came down from Kansas City, it was big news! I remember reading my pastor’s name in this section on a regular basis. He had been “out and about” delivering groceries, meeting for coffee, or praying for the meal at the fire hall fundraiser.

As he was my mentor, I was destined to do the same. As a young 20-something youth pastor, I went to the Assisted Living Center to have coffee and lead a Bible study. Sure enough, I would be in the news. I thought it was cool because I was meeting the expectations of the community and they all knew it.

Unfortunately, it did not occur to me that those expectations would be placed on my wife and my children. It has been a harsh reality-check and weight that I hate they have to bear. It seems like it’s magnified in a small town.

My daughter is a sophomore in high school and has always been very responsible, helpful, and smart. Teachers often tell us that she’s a leader among her peers. However, this past semester has been a challenge of a different kind.

Although she attends a public school, God and his provisions are often referenced in literature class. Every time religion or spiritual topics come up, many students (and even the teacher) look to her for the answers. After all, she is the pastor’s daughter so obviously she would be the expert on the subject.

Not only ...

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Christian Parents and Schools Have 529 Reasons to Like New Tax Law

A Q+A on how college savings plans can now be used to pay for private K-12 tuition.

Parents now have another way to save for Christian school tuition—and this one comes with tax benefits.

Thanks to the GOP-led tax reforms, the 529 college savings vehicle—so named for the relevant section of the Internal Revenue Code—can now also be used to save money to pay tuition at any “elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.”

CT spoke to George Tryfiates, director for government affairs at the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), to find out how it works. His office worked for months on this small section of the tax bill by visiting legislators, joining coalitions, and generating almost 9,000 calls to Congress, President Donald Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence from the ACSI community.

How did this come about?

Trump made such a priority of parental choice in education during his campaign that, immediately after his election, people began working on school choice proposals in earnest. All the ideas people have had over the years—education savings accounts, Title 1 portability, tax credit scholarships—got new life. So did expanding the 529 savings accounts.

How does a 529 savings plan work?

The 529 savings plans were created by a federal law but are administered by the states, so the benefits can be twofold—in other words, from both federal and state taxes (depending on the state).

Parents create and put money into a 529 account, which is then invested in stocks and bonds, more like a 403(b) or a 401(k) than a bank savings account. They can select their level of risk: perhaps choosing a plan that invests in higher-risk options with higher rates of return for a child in first grade, then switching to safer options such as bonds as a child ...

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Church-Based Academic Partnerships—How the Church and the Academy Can Better Connect to Raise Up and Train

Students receive practical ministry training, in context, when church and academia partner.

Ed Stetzer: Why bring the church and the academy together? Why is that important?

Colin Smith: Study matters, but so does hands-on experience. So bringing what can best be learned in the classroom together with what can best be learned in the church offers the best way to equip leaders for sustainable ministry.

Ed: What’s the advantage of doing theological formation while in ministry apprenticeships?

Colin: Everything we do in life needs to have a purpose and that includes studying theology. When people say, “I want to do a degree in theology,” I ask them, “Why? What is God calling you to do with your life?” The answer I hear most often is, “I want to serve the church.” That’s a great answer, but anyone who wants to serve the church will be best prepared for what they want to do by being immersed in the life of the church. That’s the opportunity we want to offer, and it has huge benefits in making progress towards the goal.

Then when it comes to the complexities of church leadership, the art of pastoral care, and the demands of sustaining a preaching ministry, nothing can beat a total immersion in the life of a healthy local church.

Weeping with those who weep is better learned at a funeral or beside a hospital bed than in a library. Rejoicing with those who rejoice is better cultivated at a wedding or a baptism than in a classroom.

Ed: What do you hope for people who walk through the apprenticeship / academic partnership?

Colin: The partnership is designed to bring people to a place where they are ready to be deployed in ministry. I would like to see people who commit to this program gripped by the gospel, devoted to the church, fired up for service, passionate about godliness, ...

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Not an Act of God: Ministries Respond to Surge in Mass Shootings

Christian counselors once focused on natural disasters now frequently address manmade crises.

Chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) arrived in Parkland, Florida, within hours of Wednesday’s school shooting that killed at least 17 teens and faculty members.

This is the fifth deployment this year for the ministry’s rapid response team, trained to provide emotional and spiritual support amid crises.

Each 2018 deployment has been gun-related.

“Our hearts break for the parents who sent their children to school, and are now with them in the hospital, or living a parent’s worst nightmare,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, in a statement.

“So many lives have been forever changed by this evil act. As we pray for the students, faculty, and families, we know God can bring hope and comfort, in Jesus Christ, in the darkest hours.”

At times of tragedy, Christian churches and ministries rally to remind survivors of a God who the Psalms tell us “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

For decades, they have been among the first on the scene to care for people in the wake of hurricanes, tornados, fires, and other uncontrollable natural disasters. In recent years, ministries increasingly find themselves consoling victims of manmade violence: shootings and terrorist attacks.

BGEA president and CEO Franklin Graham first formed the rapid response team in the wake of 9/11, and its chaplains have since responded to hundreds of crisis events, including last year’s major shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Of the 26 shootings that BGEA chaplains have responded to in the US, more than half have taken place since 2014—including the 5 so far this year. Gun violence now makes up about ...

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The New View of Heaven Is Too Small

Our recent emphasis on “kingdom work” misses the real hope of the afterlife.

Heaven isn’t what it used to be.

A friend of mine’s favorite Sunday school song growing up was “Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit,” the first verse of which goes, “Dwell in me, O Blessed Spirit, Gracious Teacher, Friend Divine. For the home of bliss that waits me, O prepare this heart of mine.” But my friend, Laura Smit, who is now a theology professor at Calvin College, notes that this song is now revised in the hymnal to read “For the kingdom work that calls me, O prepare this heart of mine.” Apparently, those revising the song worried that speaking of the “home of bliss that waits me” leads to otherworldly passivity. Rather than prepare our hearts for the “home of bliss” in the age to come, we should focus on “the kingdom work that calls me.”

This revision reflects the broader trend of evangelical scholars and pastors countering a wispy, ethereal view of heaven, separated from our present life. Rather than use “rapture” movies to scare non-Christians into faith so they are delivered from the burning earth, these evangelicals insist that Christian hope is not for the annihilation of the earth, but the restoration of all creation to service of the Lord. Our heavenly hope is that the Lord sets things right, and heaven comes to earth. Our kingdom work now anticipates the new creation to come, in which we reign with King Jesus in the renewed creation.

I embrace the main features of this counter-narrative to the rapture account. Redemption restores God’s good creation. Heavenly hope involves a material, embodied restoration. Heaven and earth will come together as Christ’s kingship is recognized by all creation. Moreover, we ...

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Shootings, Grace, and the Gospel: An Interview with Pastor Eddie Bevill of Parkridge Church on the Parkland Shooting

Parkridge Church met in the high school for 7 years—now they're hosting a vigil for those killed in the shooting.

Another tragedy has struck our nation, this time at a high school in Parkland, Florida. According to reports, it’s one of the nation’s deadliest attacks at a high school. My heart dropped when I heard the news yesterday. Another community, and more families, wrecked by violence. I reached out to Pastor Eddie Bevill of Parkridge Church, which first met at the school, to learn how churches are responding.

Ed Stetzer: Tell me a little bit about the background of the church, specifically related to that facility.

Pastor Eddie Bevill: My wife and I founded Parkridge Church in 1992, and we met in the facility for about 7 years, until we were able to purchase land and build our first building, and we are now currently located about a mile or less from that school, and still have a strong relationship there.

We have several families who have students who go there because it is our local high school. We also have a few employees. I know for one, the band director is a member of our church, and maybe some others as well. As far as I know, they are all safe, and not harmed. But information is still a little sketchy on all the names. But as far as we know, we’ve heard from all of them, and they seem to be basically okay.

Ed: How are you and other pastors in the community responding to minister to the community?

Pastor Bevill:TJ McCormick is the pastor of Coastal Community Church and they happen to lead a first priority club group meeting there. And when all this went down, they actually had a couple of their staff on the campus. And so I was getting texts from TJ. He was sharing that they have some people there, and they weren’t letting anybody else in at that point, because by then law enforcement had come. So they’ve ...

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The Hard Truth About Mr. Right

An excerpt from “Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness.”

I don’t know if you feel this way, but one of my largest struggles is that now it seems people are only as valuable as they are marriageable. Some days it feels like once a guy knows you’re not wife material, he decides you’re not worth knowing at all.

It’s hard enough when it feels as if this whole dating scene is a crazy, drawn-out game of musical chairs. In the beginning, when you’re 16 and carefree and only a little boy crazy, the game is still fun. But year after year, round after round, that music still plays and you see your friends scrambling a little faster to ensure they have a seat. You start to realize there are fewer and fewer chairs, and yet so many people. Suddenly your best friend since second grade elbows you in the ribs to get a seat as the music screeches to a halt. And with all that anxiety and pressure and sweating, the game’s not as much fun as it used to be.

Dating is really exhausting. And when you have those days (and nights) where the difficulty catches up to you and you’d rather bury your head under a pillow, lounge in your leggings, and cancel on your latest blind date, know that you can join me for a Golden Girls marathon anytime. As long as you bring takeout.

The Only One We Were Made For

I wonder if all this floundering is due to the fact that there’s so much pressure to choose the right person. You have to feel that too, right? You have to search high and low to find that person who’s a good fit for your strengths and weaknesses. That person whose life plan lines up with yours. That person who is patient enough and kind enough and spiritual enough. That person you’ve stopped calling the One but still secretly long to believe in.

Now, I ...

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The Olympics Have Begun! What Can We Learn from the Top Athletes?

Is physical activity, like running, swimming, and dancing, an act of worship unto the Lord?

Just last week, the torch in Pyeonchang, South Korea, was lit; the 2018 Winter Olympic Games have begun. Over the next week or so, the world will watch as teams compete in a myriad of events from bobsledding to biathlons across the snowy slopes.

Athletic events like this are an incredible display of human talent and the wondrous works that are our physical bodies. These competitors’ capacity to perform such feats of physical strength and mental discipline are an astounding testament to God’s creative genius.

Believers competing at this level recognize that their capabilities are a gift from God to be used for his glory. In Romans 12, Paul instructs believers, because of God’s mercy, to offer our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God,” saying that this is a form of “true and proper worship.”

Many (rightly) apply this to their work, athletics, and other efforts.

Many churchgoers might find this verse and the application quite puzzling. Worship in our minds involves music, lyrics, and raised hands. It’s something you do in church before the pastor gets up to give a sermon; it gives glory and praise to God and brings peace to our weary hearts. But Paul’s understanding of worship seems much broader.

Now, that does not devalue the worship we do in church. But we can work as worship. We can run as worship. And there is much more.

So, in light of the Olympics, it is worth considering at this time.

As Christ’s church, do we consider physical activity—be it running, swimming, or dancing—as acts of worship unto the Lord? Do we understand that God is glorified in our stewardship of the gifts and talents he has so graciously given to us?

Few Olympic athletes ...

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