Charisma News | Breaking News. Spiritual Perspective. Thu, 24 Apr 2014 18:11:57 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb The Shattering of Jars of Clay

Beginning on Tuesday, April 21st, Dan Haseltine, front-man for the popular Christian band Jars of Clay, took to Twitter to announce his apparent support for same-sex “marriage.” And for the life of him, he can’t figure out a single good reason to oppose it.

It is for reasons like this that we have been sounding the alarm these last 10 years.

In a series of tweets posted over a three-day period, and prompted by a movie he watched while in flight, he wrote: “The treatment of people as less than human based on the color of skin is crazy... Or gender, or sexual orientation for that matter.”

Of course, to compare skin color with “sexual orientation” is to compare apples with oranges, as has been demonstrated many times before.

But that was only the beginning. He added, “Not meaning to stir things up BUT... Is there a non-speculative or non ‘slippery slope’ reason why gays shouldn't marry? I don't hear one.”

This really boggles the mind.

When you’re sliding down a dangerous slippery slope, you don’t say, “Give me one good reason we’re in danger, other than the fact that we’re careening down this deadly slope.”

No. You grab hold of something to stop your fall and then figure out how to climb back to solid ground.

Does this gifted artist not realize that the only reason we’re talking about redefining marriage today is because we are well down that slope already?

This is the day of full-blown incestuous relationships on popular TV shows like Game of Thrones; of other shows glorifying polyamory (married and dating!), polygamy (from Big Love to Sister Wives to My Five Wives), and teen pregnancy; of news reports about the “wedding” of three lesbians. It is the day of almost half of all first-time American mothers having their babies out of wedlock, with cohabitation rates up more than 700% since 1960, and it is against this backdrop that talk of same-sex “marriage” has become prominent.

Do we really want to accelerate the destruction of marriage?

Dan also tweeted, “I'm trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But it doesn't hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women's suffrage. Is the argument born of isolated application of scripture or is it combined with the knowledge born of friendship with someone who is gay? I just don't see a negative effect to allowing gay marriage.  No societal breakdown, no war on traditional marriage. ?? Anyone?”

Assuming Dan’s sincerity, let me reply to his questions.

First, for years now, Christian leaders have been articulating many good reasons why it is not good for society to redefine marriage, quite apart from the (very valid) slippery slope argument, and some of them have not even used the Bible to prove their points. Important books on the subject include those of Frank Turek, Matthew D. Staver, Erwin Lutzer, and, most recently, Robert P. George, Sherif Girgis, and Ryan T. Andersen, among others.

My YouTube debate on the subject is readily available, and there are fine books outlining the biblical definition of marriage and sexuality, including studies by Andreas Kostenberger and Richard M. Davison.

Second, while there is strong biblical support for gender distinction, there is no support for the oppression of women, which is why the spread of Christianity around the world has had a liberating effect on women over the centuries. In stark contrast, the Bible condemns all forms of homoeroticism (as is recognized by many gay scholars as well), while every single example of God-blessed marriage or romance takes place between a man and a woman.

I have an online lecture that addresses this issue, and I tackle the subject at length in my new book as well. There is simply no comparison between women’s rights and sanctioning homosexual practice.

Third, the argument against same-sex “marriage” is based on the consistent testimony of Scripture, affirmed by Moses, Jesus, and Paul, and it is never contradicted a single time from Genesis to Revelation. Again, I demonstrate this in my new book, and other scholars, most notably Robert A. Gagnon, have argued this persuasively in depth. (Despite many attacks on his work, his arguments stand strong.)

Fourth, many of us have gay friends or relatives, and our positions are motivated by love. But what does having a gay friend or relative have to do with understanding God and his Word? I have dear friends who are very religious Jews, and they are some of the finest people I know, yet I still believe they are lost without Jesus. (And they, of course, see me as gravely deceived.)

Do we rewrite the Bible to accommodate our sentiments towards others, just because they are nice people?

Fifth, as articulated in the books cited in the first point, above, there are many negative consequences to redefining marriage, including: The assault on the freedoms of conscience, speech, and religion of those who do not accept this redefinition; the establishing of households that guarantee that a child will have either no father or no mother; the transformation of children’s education to include the validation of all forms of “marriage”; the continued deconstruction of gender distinctions, leading to all kinds of societal confusion; and much, much more.

It is for good reason that gay activists have long declared that if they can redefine marriage, the rest of their goals will inevitably be realized.

In short, yes, redefining marriage declares a massive war on “traditional marriage” (better framed as “true marriage” or “natural marriage”) and yes, it leads to all kinds of societal breakdown.

Put another way (and this is a question for you, Dan), Do you think that God’s order for marriage and family, established plainly in the Word and recognized by virtually all societies in history, can be thrown aside without consequences?

Dan, you wrote, “Never liked the phrase: ‘Scripture clearly says...(blank) about... Because most people read and interpret scripture wrong.”

Perhaps this is the root of your problem? Is the Bible not clear about anything? Sin? Salvation? Forgiveness? Jesus being the only Savior and Lord? Adultery being bad? Fidelity being good? Shall I list 100 more items that are abundantly clear in Scripture?

But it appears you’re not really certain about many moral issues, based on your tweet that said, “I don't think scripture ‘clearly’ states much of anything regarding morality,” and, “I don't particularly care about Scriptures stance on what is ‘wrong.’ I care more about how it says we should treat people.”

Did you really mean to write this? Is it possible to spend 5 minutes reading God’s precious Word without recognizing that Scripture clearly states a tremendous amount regarding morality and that, without his moral standards, we will never treat others rightly?

You also asked, “Just curious what ‘condoning a persons [sic] homosexuality’ does. Does it change you? Does it hurt someone? What is behind the conviction?”

Do you not realize that couples involved in consensual adult incest (and other relationships) are asking this exact same question? What do you say to them?

Perhaps it is a Jesus-based, Spirit-led, scripturally-grounded morality that is behind our convictions? And if we condone something God opposes – which means that it is not good for the people involved – how are we showing them love? To the contrary, we are actually hurting them.

My brother, as an influential Christian leader, you have a tremendous responsibility before the Lord to those who follow you, especially to impressionable, young believers, and you have not acted wisely by opening up a volatile discussion like this on Twitter.

Were there no godly leaders you could counsel with privately? Was it good stewardship of your popularity and influence to announce your views on Twitter and then expect a substantive dialogue delimited by 140 character tweets? Are subjects like the meaning of marriage and the authority of God’s Word in the life of a Christian now decided by who can come up with the catchier sound bite?

You probably don’t know me from Adam, but I’ll be glad to spend time with you to help you address these issues from the position of grace and truth. My door is open to you, and as one who greatly appreciates the culture-impacting power of music and song, it would be my privilege to meet with you.

That being said, if these tweets expose the soft, scripturally weak underbelly of the contemporary Christian music scene, then let’s put on our seatbelts and expect the worst.

The good news is that this will separate the wheat from the chaff, and in the end, the light will outshine the darkness.

Michael Brown is author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or at @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

Michael Brown Featured In the Line of Fire Opinion Thu, 24 Apr 2014 09:00:00 -0400
Rancher Cliven Bundy Draws Criticism for Racist ‘Negro’ Comments

Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher, has been in the news lately over his crusade against the government’s roundup of his cattle in the Bunkerville area, less than 75 miles outside of Las Vegas.

Though the 67-year-old rancher has drawn hundreds of supporters, he has also received backlash for controversial comments he made about “the Negro.”

The New York Times first reported on the remarks, which Bundy made on Saturday during a 55-minute impassioned speech “about his views on the troubled state of America,” the newspaper reported.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids—and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch—they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.”

The father of 14 continued: “And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he continued. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Though Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have previously voiced their support for the Republican rancher, the lawmakers quickly distanced themselves.

“Sen. Heller completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way,” Heller’s spokesman told the Times in an email.

Paul’s spokesman said in a statement to Business Insider: “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

The federal government has backed down, but Bundy said Saturday he would continue holding a daily conference. The press conference Saturday drew just one reporter and one photographer. The Times reported he “used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.”

Gina Meeks Featured U.S. News Thu, 24 Apr 2014 17:30:00 -0400
Troubled Pop Star Justin Bieber Says He’s ‘Thankful for God’s Everlasting Love’

Justin Bieber has had a rough several months—filled with arrests and bad publicity—but he wants the world to know that he is a devoted Christian who reads his Bible.

The 20-year-old singer from Canada shared a quote inspired from Romans 5:8 on his Instagram page Monday.

“I loved you at your darkest Romans 5:8,” the graphic said, accompanied by his caption, “Thankful for God's everlasting love.”

The actual Scripture reads: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Bieber was arrested Jan. 23 in Miami Beach on charges of driving under the influence, resisting arrest and driving with an expired license. Later in the month, he was charged with assaulting a limousine driver in Toronto in December.

He has also been accused of egging his neighbor’s house, urinating in a prison cell and performing questionable acts with strippers.

But those close to the pop star say he’s a good kid who has recognized his mistakes and is trying to change.

“The bad influences in his life, for the most part are being weeded out,” a source told E!. “He’s making more of an effort to hang out with people who are positive influences in his life.”

The celebrity singer does seem to be making some changes. In February Bieber made headlines after he unsuccessfully searched for a pool to get baptized in with Hillsong NYC.

“Justin and his team spent time on Saturday searching for a place with a pool where they could conduct a baptism for him, a cleansing ritual, with the Hillsong Church. But they couldn’t find a place in time,” a source told Page Six after Super Bowl weekend.

Another source said, “Justin is serious about his Christian faith, and after recent events, he needed to take a pause.”

The megachurch’s pastor, Carl Lentz, is reportedly a friend of Bieber, to whom Bieber tweeted, “Amazing sermon at church this morning. Love you man. I broke down today,” after attending a service in September.

Gina Meeks Featured Culture Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Traffickers Offering Flight, Hotel, World Cup—and Sex Slave—for $12,000

Brazil hopes to attract more than half a million fans for this summer's World Cup and take in billions of tourism dollars. 

Sex traffickers are also planning to take an already profitable market there and make it even more lucrative this year. Their perverse business model links world class soccer with child sexual exploitation.

"You can go online and see $12,000, $10,000 for the flight, the hotel, the game—and the girl," Diego Traverso, Latin America anti-trafficking programs manager for Operation Blessing, told CBN News.

Many believe that showing just how trafficking affects children to both tourists and Brazilians before the games even start is the best way to fight it.

That's the idea behind a documentary that CBN's Operation Blessing will release next month in Brazil.

"We're trying to raise the stigma against this and educate the people coming in for the World Cup that this isn't just a service you can buy without consequences, that these are children trapped in a hell," David Darg, vice president of International Operations for Operation Blessing, explained.

"We see kids, talking 12 or 11 if you haven't lost your virginity at 11 you're wrong—something's wrong with you," he continued. "I see many, many cases of mothers selling their daughters like to neighbors, on the street, taking them to the street, teaching them kind of the business, to survive."

Traverso said this twisted mindset combined with poverty created the perfect storm in Brazil, which now carries an international reputation for child sex trafficking.

Operation Blessing hopes to air its documentary on Brazilian national television, and will also produce a short video for airlines bringing World Cup fans to the games.

The aid group is also working with other ministries to reach fans directly at the venues and speak out against the tragedy of trafficking.

Heather Sells and Efrem Graham/CBN News Featured World News Thu, 24 Apr 2014 15:30:00 -0400
What Church Founder Had to Do With the Korea Ferry Disaster

The head of the South Korean family that operated the ferry which sank last week is a billionaire once jailed for fraud, a photographer who has held an exhibition at the Louvre under a pseudonym and the founder of a church that owns the website

At other times in his checkered past, Yoo Byung-un, in his 70s, has been bankrupt and an inventor of household and health-related devices. He was investigated and cleared of complicity in the suicides of 32 members of his church in 1987.

Prosecutors have raided Yoo's house in their investigation into last week's ferry sinking in which hundreds of passengers, mainly school children, were killed or are missing presumed dead.

Son Byoung-gi, the lawyer representing Yoo and his family, told Reuters that they had not been summoned by prosecutors and that as far as he was aware there were no irregularities in the financing of the company.

"Yoo and his family will take all legal and social responsibility for this tragic accident if they have to as major stakeholders of the company," Son said.

Prosecutors have also raided the shipping company's offices and financial regulators are investigating borrowings of the company and of businesses that are part of a wider holding firm.

Financial filings show that Yoo has no stake in the shipping company Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd, which took over the ferry assets of his business empire when he went bankrupt in 1997. It is now majority owned by an investment company run by his two sons.

Son, the lawyer, confirmed that Yoo was Ahae, the pseudonym for a reclusive photographer who once hired part of the Versailles palace and the Louvre in Paris for an exhibition as well as commissioned British composer Michael Nyman to write a symphony for the occasion.

Yoo has a wide range of other business interests from organic farms to a resort in California, according to official documents and information on company websites.

Yoo's two children, Yoo Dae-kyun and Yoo Hyuck-ki, are majority owners of the shipping company Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd through an investment vehicle. The ship company was formed to hold assets of part of Yoo's empire after bankruptcy.

The investment vehicle of the two sons, I-One-I, owns a stake in Ahae Corp, a paint manufacturing company, which in turn owns 10.2 percent of Ahae Press France, according to its filing with South Korea's Financial Supervisory Service earlier this month.

I-One-I's shipbuilding unit Chonhaiji also owns 24.51 percent of Ahae Press France.

Ahae Press France organized the Paris exhibitions and Ahae Press Inc. maintains a publicity website for Ahae, the photographer. An official French government bulletin with the monthly listing of companies domiciled in France lists the March 19, 2012 founding of Ahae Press France in Paris, managed by Yoo Hyuk Kee.

'Little Child'

Ahae means "little child" and was a nickname used by a church of which Yoo was a founding member, according to the church website.

Ahae was said by his website to have taken 2.6 million nature photographs over a period of years on the grounds of one of his properties.

Ahae describes himself on the website as having been born in 1941 in Kyoto, Japan where his family was displaced during Japanese colonial rule of Korea.

The photographer identifies himself as having a "broad spectrum of interests" including designing and inventing "household items; numerous health-related products; and various boats and small ocean-going ships that now plow the waters of the Han River in Seoul and further afield".

Yoo's corporate interests have encompassed cosmetics, organic products and Yoo's shipping interests started with a ferry operation on Seoul's Han River in 1986 before it expanded into a sea-going ferry company.

The website identifies Ahae as the owner of an organic farm in the United States called 123Farm at the site of the Highland Springs Resort in California. Yoo was chairman of the board of the company that bought the resort.

I-One-I subsidiary Dapanda owns 9.9 percent of the Highland Springs Conference and Training Centre at the resort, according to regulatory filings.

"Ahae has been a conservationist all his life and has done everything within his power to ensure that his business activities do not conflict with his endeavors to maintain the purity of the natural world," the website biography states.

Religion and Conviction

"Ahae" is the nickname used in reference to Yoo in correspondence on a Evangelical Baptist Church website EBC World.

The name itself may be taken from a Korean poem written under Japanese rule and is believed to refer to Jesus and his 12 disciples, among other interpretations.

The Evangelical Media Group founded by Yoo said "he first began to live for the sake of the gospel in 1961" and that the shipping company founder "worked as an inventor and businessman to support the spreading of the gospel all over the world."

Yoo was one of 11 students admitted to a bible school called the "Good News Mission" set up in South Korea by Western missionaries in 1956.

The Evangelical Baptist Church runs a rural training camp nestled between leafy mountains near Anseong, a city two hours south of Seoul. Carriages from a subway train sit in the clearing in the woods at the camp.

Men who identified themselves as members of the church refused to allow Reuters journalists access to the area, and denied they were connected to Yoo's family, despite reports that Yoo takes photos and his subsidiary companies sell products on the site.

Ahae Press bought an abandoned French village last year, according to media reports.

Bankruptcy and Probe

The business empire built by Yoo expanded rapidly in the 1990s before Semo Co. Ltd, his holding company, went bankrupt.

According to company filings, Chonghaejin Marine Co. Ltd was set up on February 24, 1999, a day before a court approved the restructuring of the bankrupt Semo, and became a key entity to consolidate Semo's shipping business.

Yoo was a founder of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Korea and prosecuted and jailed for four years for fraud in 1992.

The court case records show that Yoo was convicted of using the funds and property of church members to fund the expansion of his businesses.

Yoo was investigated in 1987 when 32 members of his church were found dead, bound and gagged in a factory near Seoul. He was not charged.

Yoo denied that he had any involvement in the deaths in a magazine interview after his release from jail in the fraud case.

"I feel really insulted just to think that people link me to the accident," Yoo said in the 1999 interview with monthly magazine Chosun.

"Do you know how I feel? I feel like I'm a woman living in a small village and one day you suddenly got sexually assaulted. This is really unfair but you can't talk about it to anyone in our (Korean) culture and there'll be just rumors getting out of control that you are the one who screwed up."

Additional reporting by Miyoung Kim, James Pearson, Narae Kim, Jumin Park and Christine Kim in Seoul, Alexandria Sage in Paris and Victoria Cavaliere in New York; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

David Chance/Reuters Featured World News Thu, 24 Apr 2014 15:00:00 -0400
REVIEW: Experience One of the Most Powerful and Prophetic Worship Albums of the Decade

I am convinced that Bethel Music’s You Make Me Brave (available now on iTunes) is a landmark worship album. The songs powerfully and prophetically speak of the season that God is ushering the church into. He is stripping off timidity. Impossibility is quickly becoming an abnormality to followers of Jesus Christ. Since the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside of you and me, we have every reason to agree with these lyrics and live like they are really true.

In short, God is bringing our Christian experience into agreement with the realities we are singing about. The songs emerging in this season are inviting worshippers across the Earth into a whole new way of living.

The title track, “You Make Me Brave,” written by Amanda Cook, is simply stunning (watch the YouTube here). It is both a timely and timeless anthem for a community of believers rising up to fulfill divine destiny, walk upon the waters of impossibility, and scale the mountains of life. Cook delivers several other standout tracks on the album, including the beautiful and intimate, “Shepherd.” Surely, mountain-moving faith will be ignited in worshippers as they declare the beautiful bridge: How I love You, how I love You… You have not forsaken me!

The album’s second track, “It Is Well,” was written by Jesus Culture artist and Bethel worship leader, Kristene DiMarco. The song maintains a delicate tone throughout—that is, until the sweeping conclusion where she incorporates the timeless hymn into her brilliantly-written confession of stability in Christ. The waves and wind still know His Name.

“We Dance” is absolutely worth noting. It is subtle, intimate, and lyrically impressive. Songwriter and worship leader, Steffany Frizzell-Gretzinger, invites us into a snapshot of her relationship with Jesus, while giving worshippers a wonderful expression of romance to the Lover of their souls. The picture she paints of a divine “dance” works very effectively. I will lock eyes with the One Who ransomed me, the One Who gave me joy for mourning. Truly, this is a song to both play and quietly ponder. It is cuts like “We Dance” that stir up great excitement for Gretzinger’s upcoming solo album.

Jenn Johnson’s “Come To Me” (originally from Bethel’s Loft Sessions) is undeniably a highlight—although, I would contend that every single song on the recording is a highlight in its own unique way. This live version has some strong prophetic/spontaneous moments that will escort you into deep moments of intimacy with a good and faithful God. It was also a delight to hear Jenn deliver a fresh rendition of an older classic, “A Little Longer” (which was originally featured on Bethel Music’s second album, We Believe).

One thing that Bethel Music does not do is simply recycle old songs. They may occasionally repeat the same songs on different albums, but I guarantee you, the different versions of the songs will always be fresh. In fact, I have had the privilege of attending multiple services at Bethel Church and although the basic song order/structure remains the same from one service to the next, how the songs are delivered constantly changes based on the prophetic direction of the Holy Spirit. This same flow transfers over to Bethel’s worship recordings.

I have no doubt that the masses are going to fully unwrap the treasure that is Bethel Music through the dynamic cut, “Forever.” Even though songs like Kari Jobe’s cover of “Love Came Down” and Passion’s rendition of “One Thing Remains” have progressively been pushing Bethel Music into more of a mainstream worship spotlight, “Forever” is nothing short of epic. Lyrically, it is one of the most refreshing “popular” praise and worship songs circulating in church today.

Like “Victor’s Crown,” (Darlene Zschech’s contemporary classic) “Forever” is a song that actually releases a breakthrough anointing into the atmosphere as worshippers offer up unified declarations of victory based on the finished work of Calvary. The verses and chorus are well-written and absolutely gripping, but there is something utterly profound about a group of believers joining together and singing the incredible bridge: "We sing Hallelujah/ We sing Hallelujah/ We sing Hallelujah/ The Lamb has overcome!"

Raw moments like this start to bring worshippers as close to the sound of Heaven as possible, this side of eternity. The strength of this song should come as no surprise, since the lyrics simply reflect the eternal Song of the Lamb that is being heralded throughout the ages.

Every track on You Make Me Brave is truly exceptional. Nothing feels arbitrary or randomly placed on the recording “just to take up space.” In addition, the album captures some dynamic moments of spontaneous, prophetic worship. They do not come off as forced or contrived. The strong presence of the Holy Spirit that was clearly moving during the actual recording can be experienced by listening to this album. As a result, there is such a beautiful authenticity that flows from the explosive introductory anthem, “You Make Me Brave,” to the quieter moments of Jenn Johnson’s spontaneous prayer/song, “We Step Into Freedom” that concludes the album.

Pick up the CD or order the digital download, expecting nothing less than a refreshing and empowering encounter with Jesus, the Champion of Heaven!

You Make Me Brave is now available on iTunes

Larry Sparks is the author of Breakthrough Healing (Destiny Image, 2014). He is a conference speaker, blogger, columnist and host of the weekly radio program Voice of Destiny ( Featured in Charisma magazine and on CBN’s Spiritual Gifts webcast, Larry is also founder of Equip Culture—a ministry that equips believers with the tools and resources to live victoriously through the supernatural power of God. Subscribe to his blog Follow him on Twitter @LarryVSparks.

Larry Sparks Featured Culture Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Mississippi Cracks Down on Abortions With 20-Week Limit

Mississippi will ban abortions after more than 20 weeks of pregnancy from July, joining other conservative U.S. states that have placed restrictions on the procedure.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 but the practice still polarizes U.S. society.

A handful of states have in recent years enacted laws that place restrictions on the procedure, especially on late-term abortions, citing hotly debated medical research that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks of gestation, halfway through a full-term pregnancy. The Mississippi bill referred to that research.

"Today is an important day for protecting the unborn and the health and safety of women in Mississippi," Governor Phil Bryant said in a statement after signing the bill, which becomes law on July 1.

Physicians who defy the law could lose their medical license.

Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Texas are among the states that have passed similar legislation.

In Mississippi, abortions would be legal after 20 weeks if a woman's life was in danger or if the fetus suffers "from fetal abnormalities so great that life outside the womb is not viable," said Bryant, a Republican.

According to data collated in 2011 by the Guttmacher Institute for sexual and reproductive health, 23 percent of U.S. abortion providers offer terminations after 20 weeks, though only 1.2 percent occur later than that.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by John Stonestreet

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Reuters Featured U.S. News Thu, 24 Apr 2014 12:30:00 -0400
Free Speech Takes on Sacrilegious Meaning at Chicago Jesus Display

"The Divine Mercy" display, an image of Jesus that was set up in Chicago's Daley Plaza by private citizens on April 17, was vandalized Tuesday night.

For the past eight years, private citizens have displayed an Easter cross and image of Jesus the Divine Mercy in Daley Plaza, expressing free speech and exercising freedom of religion in the public square. For the previous seven years, the display held its nine-day vigil without incident. This is the first time that someone has defaced the images.

"No display—whether religious, political, or artistic—should be destroyed by those who disagree with the message," said Attorney Jocelyn Floyd of the Thomas More Society. "It is shameful that the image of Jesus Christ was marred last night, but private citizens should not allow the occurrence of vandalism to discourage them from expressing their faith in the public square."

Free speech and expression of faith is protected by the First Amendment," Floyd added. "Destruction of others' speech is not."

Several holes were found punctured through the bottom of the 10-foot tall canvas Wednesday morning, and the glass over four posters related to the image was shattered.

"It looks like someone took a bat to the glass," said Jocelyn Floyd, attorney for the Thomas More Society.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Floyd said the display will stay up the full course of nine days as planned.

Charisma News Staff Featured U.S. News Thu, 24 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -0400
'God's Not Dead' and How Christian Films Are Kind of Like Horror Movies

Over Easter weekend, I went to see the film God’s Not Dead, which by all accounts has become a certified blockbuster in the realm of Christian films. Made for $2 million, at the time of this writing it has grossed over $48 million at the box office, which is absolutely incredible. I cannot deny its success. The problem I have is how exactly to talk about this film with others.

There seems to be only two ways to approach Christian films these days. The first is what I call the “kindergarten approach,” where everyone is wonderful and everyone is a winner. This, of course, isn’t true at all in the real world, but since kids are small and innocent and cute, we go along with it and everyone gets a ribbon for trying their best. Sure, it’s not a perfect film, we say, but hey, at least people are getting a dose of God when they go to the movies as opposed to all the other garbage that’s out there. Maybe this movie will convince someone not to be an atheist anymore. And it’s made a lot of money so, you know, it must be good. …

Then there is the “Christian snobbery” approach, where well-meaning Christians who are sick and tired of seeing Christian movies not stacking up to the quality of their secular rivals simply unload on a movie like this. The acting is bad, the story is lame, predictable and totally unrealistic, and this movie simply reiterates the stereotype that Christians are shallow thinking, unimaginative twits who are afraid of anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

Both of these approaches, while well-meaning, aren’t very helpful. The first effectively sticks their head in the sand and the second is mean-spirited and haughty. I would suggest a third approach to Christian films, namely a “level-headed” one.

While filming my new movie, Holy Ghost (due out Sept 16), I interviewed Devon Franklin, Senior VP of Production at Columbia Pictures and one of the driving forces behind the new movie, Heaven Is For Real. Devon is a friend and an incredibly smart guy, and he’s a very devoted Christian who understands the movie business better than anyone I know. When I asked him for his opinion on the state of Christian films, he didn’t put on rose-colored glasses or laugh at the message-driven slop filling up Christian bookstores. He instead likened Christian movies to, of all things, horror films.

Devon pointed out that the Christian film is actually still in its infancy, much like the horror film was in the early 1970s. Back then, horror films had no budget, terrible acting, paper-thin story lines, and existed simply to do one thing: scare you. But as the filmmakers behind these films got better, people started to take notice, the movies started to do good business, and in turn, budgets went up, better writers and actors got involved, and the horror film grew to be a staple in the cineplexes.

Christian films, likewise, are getting better (although they aren’t perfect by a long shot), they are getting noticed, they are making money, and it is only a matter of time before the scales tip and the Christian film begins to draw real talent and tell real stories that reach more than just the faithful.

So is God’s Not Dead a good movie? In some ways it is, and in some ways it isn’t. Whatever it is, it is clearly an evolutionary step in the right direction, as is Heaven Is For Real, and (hopefully) as is my own Holy Ghost which will be released later this year.

If God is glorified through any film, then it is a good thing. If He is glorified through a good film, even better. But I look forward to the day when He is consistently glorified through truly great films.

Darren Wilson is the founder of Wanderlust Productions and the creator of various films, including Finger of God, Furious Love and Father of Lights. Darren’s new book, Finding God in the Bible, is available in stores everywhere. Visit his website at  

Darren Wilson Featured Opinion Thu, 24 Apr 2014 11:30:00 -0400
Second Grader Prohibited From Reading Bible During 'Read to Myself' Time

Liberty Institute sent a letter Tuesday to Cypress Fairbanks Independent School District (Cy Fair ISD) officials in response to a complaint from the family of a Hamilton Elementary School second grader, whom a teacher allegedly prohibited from reading the Bible during “read to myself” time.

The student and parents, who requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation or reprisal, say the teacher told the student not to bring the Bible back to school again because it is inappropriate reading material.

In its letter to Cy Fair ISD—the third largest school district in Texas—Liberty Institute explains that the teacher’s alleged censorship of private, student religious expression is illegal and violates the U.S. Constitution, federal guidelines and state law.

“We expect Cy Fair ISD officials to resolve this unfortunate incident quickly and amicably by informing us that they have addressed this matter with District employees, and by assuring us that this will not happen again,” said Michael Berry, Liberty Institute senior counsel.

“More than forty years ago, the Supreme Court famously stated that students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’ That means that second graders have the right to read the Bible during ‘read to myself’ time.”

Liberty Institute Featured U.S. News Thu, 24 Apr 2014 11:00:00 -0400
12-Year-Old UK Mom Proof Positive That Society Has Lost Its Moral Compass

A 12-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy have become Britain’s youngest parents, in a case described as “symptomatic of a society that has lost its moral compass.”

According to The Sun newspaper the girl, who has not been named, was primary school-aged when she conceived.

She lives with her mother, who has become one of the U.K.’s youngest grandmothers at 27, in London. The pair reportedly posted a picture of themselves and the baby online.

Speaking to radio station LBC, a man claiming to be the girl’s father said while he was “proud” of her, he would not allow the situation to happen again with his other children.

But he told presenter Nick Ferrari: “If they do things behind their parents’ back that’s something we’re never going to be able to find out.”

The man, who LBC called Greg, described the situation as “heartbreaking,” and said, “It’s not the ideal situation; we will be keeping an eye on things in the future.”

He also commented: “That little girl does not bring shame to me at all, I’m so proud of her.”

Responding to the story, Director of Family Education Trust Norman Wells said, “children having children is one of the bitter consequences of a highly sexualized society.”

He said that a shift in attitudes was needed, and not more sex education, saying teaching the subject at an early age “runs the risk of breaking down children’s natural sense of reserve.”

“Unless we begin to challenge the common perception of sexual intimacy as a casual recreational activity, we shall continue to see cases of children giving birth to children as the cycle continues from generation to generation.”

Wells noted that restraints aimed at curbing underage sexual activity had been removed in recent years.

Now, he said: “It is time to reverse these trends and restore the restraints.”

“We need to encourage an understanding of sexual intimacy that recognizes it as an expression of giving, not getting; of love, not lust”, Wells commented.

The Christian Institute Featured World News Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Why Did a News Outlet Cancel This Church's Easter Ad?

A New York City news organization has apologized after it canceled a church’s advertising campaign promoting its Easter Sunday services—just three days before Good Friday.

The Journey Church, a Christian evangelical congregation, paid $1,400 to run a series of ads on the Capital New York website. Capital New York is a sister publication of Politico. And for the sake full disclosure, I attend The Journey Church.

The advertisement read: “You’re invited to discover #HOPE at The Journey Church this Sunday April 20. Click here to discover how you can find hope when you feel like giving up.”

Pastor Kerrick Thomas tells me the advertisement ran on Capital New York’s website earlier in the week—but on Wednesday the church received an email notifying them that the ad was being pulled.

“Capital is implementing a new policy company-wide that we won’t be running any religious-affiliated campaigns moving forward,” the email read.

It certainly seemed rather convenient that the company’s new policy was implemented just days before the holiest of holidays for Christians. Heaven forbid Capital New York soil their fine reputation by taking money from Christians.

“It stings a little when someone says they won’t work with you because you are religious or Christian or a church,” Thomas said. “But we are going to love everyone and keep moving forward to have an impact for Christ in New York.”

The news organization’s decision put the church in a jam.

“As a church we have limited resources—so we have to be strategic when we invest in outreach,” Thomas said. “We thought working with them could be a cool way to bless New Yorkers. The fact that it was canceled the week of Easter made it impossible for us to use our resources to try something new in such a short amount of time. We really felt like it wasted our time and a great opportunity at Easter.”

But fortunately, this Easter story has a happy ending.

About an hour after I started sniffing around and asking questions, Capital New York suddenly had a change of heart—a come-to-Jesus moment.

The company reversed course and apologized.

“The Capital New York brand is very young and there was some confusion around the advertising policy,” read a statement the news outlet sent me. “In this case, the Journey Church ad should not have been pulled.”

Pastor Thomas confirmed that he received an email as well—offering to run the church’s ad without charge.

So, let’s review. A wrong has been righted. Apologies offered. Forgiveness granted. And all’s well that ends well. Happy Easter, America.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is God Less America.

Todd Starnes Featured Opinion Thu, 24 Apr 2014 09:30:00 -0400
What George O. Wood Really Thinks About Pentecostals Speaking in Tongues

Several decades ago, I visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Looking up to Michelangelo’s great fresco of The Last Judgment, I thought to myself, Why is everyone raving about this work of art? It’s very occluded and dark.

What had happened is that over the last four centuries, there have been so many candles burning in the Sistine Chapel that the smoke had gradually put a layer of gray over the painting. So when I saw how dark it was, I wasn’t impressed at all. Now, many years later, it has been restored. All the smudge is gone and the colors are radiant and alive, and it’s as though the painting had just been done yesterday.

That’s what Pentecostalism, in its purist form, tries to do. It tries to erase the smudges on the church for the last 20 centuries and get back to what the early Christians believed and practiced. That is our goal—to get back to biblical, original Christianity.

I have been asked a number of times by national reporters about speaking in tongues. I was talking with a reporter from the New York Times and told him there’s nothing unusual about what Pentecostals are doing today. If you look at the first-century church, all the writers of the New Testament spoke in tongues and the Early Church spoke in tongues. So Pentecostalism, at its roots, is basically a restorationist movement. We believe that we can cut through 20 centuries of church tradition and get back to the original church. It doesn’t mean that we do everything like the original church, but we’re trying to have the same doctrine and experience of the Early Church.

In so many of our American churches today, little emphasis is placed on the Holy Spirit. Those of us in leadership, out of concern over this neglect, urge our pastors and churches to pray and provide opportunities for people to receive Spirit baptism with the initial evidence of speaking in other tongues. But, we must not stop there.

Pentecostals have always believed and taught that speaking in other tongues is the initial physical evidence.

But it is initial. We must have the initial evidence, but we must also go past the initial to the enduring work of the Spirit. The seventh doctrine of our Statement of Fundamental Truths declares that with the baptism in the Spirit “comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry.”

This tenet also states: “With the baptism in the Holy Ghost come such experiences as an overflowing fullness of the Spirit, a deepened reverence for God, an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work, and a more active love for Christ, for His Word, and for the lost.”

We believe the baptism in the Spirit brings the delight of initially speaking with other tongues, but if we stop there, this Pentecostal experience will have no ongoing fruitfulness. I grew up in the Assemblies of God when it was preached that the baptism of the Spirit is for the empowerment of believers for life and service.

In short, the enduring evidence of the baptism in the Spirit results in our fulfilling Acts 1:8. Evangelism and outreach is enduring evidence of the Spirit’s work. If we are not seeing this evidence—fruitfulness—we’re in trouble.

George O. Wood Featured Opinion Thu, 24 Apr 2014 08:00:00 -0400
Which One of These 8 Reasons Is Really Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church?

Many young people are leaving Evangelical churches. Statistics vary, but there is general consensus that large numbers of post-high school age Evangelical youth shed the faith of their fathers and mothers upon beginning their college years.

The reasons given are multiple. They include such things as over-identification of older Evangelicals as angry Right-wingers who disdain homosexuals and are skeptical of global warming; a subculture that is unwelcoming to the young and secular; Christianity's claim of exclusivity as to truth and salvation; and the general superficiality of the preaching and teaching.

Summing up much of this line of thinking, Carol Howard Merritt writes, "There are three major reasons that a younger generation is leaving Evangelicalism: pernicious sexism, religious intolerance, and conservative politics"

Yet this analysis, so neat and damning (and, for critics of Evangelicalism, rewardingly severe), seems woefully incomplete.

First, the idea that younger Evangelicals are jettisoning their youthful faith could well be overstated. University of Connecticut sociologist Bradley Wright, author of Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites and Other Lies You've Been Told, challenges the conventional wisdom regarding the young and Evangelical Protestantism:

Evangelicalism increased among all age groups from 1972 through the early 1990s, and it has decreased in all groups since then. The differences exist in rates of change, namely it's dropped among young people faster than older people. It's worth noting, however that the biggest drop of faith in young people happened in the 1990s, and that current levels are about the same as the early 1970s. 

Still, this doesn't alleviate the fact that a noticeable number of younger Evangelicals are departing from the pews in which they were raised. Let's also agree that the verbal and political excesses of some Evangelical conservative leaders have been off-putting and that personal friendships with gay men and lesbians make younger believers alert to real and perceived insults by believers of homosexuals.

But is the (supposed) ecclesiastical exodus of collegiate and post-collegiate Evangelicals really as simple as disgust with the excesses of political conservatism, discomfort with Christianity's claim of exclusivity regarding the path to salvation, a desire to "live green," and simply get along in an adverse society?

I propose several other reasons why some young people are leaving their Evangelical heritage. They are these:

1. Evangelical churches try so hard to be palatable and relevant that we become distasteful and irrelevant.

Desperate contemporaneity has become the coin of the age as Evangelicals make gasping efforts to draw in the disaffected. We preach on methods of achieving various kinds of success (with one or two Bible verses thrown in) instead of the books and themes of Scripture. We have become what Michael Patton calls "the entertainment driven church." After awhile, manic superficiality in the name of "relevance" induces cynicism, and rightfully so. As described by Alan Jamieson, "the institutional church" has become "irrelevant or unhelpful ... for so many reflective and intelligent believers today" (quoted in Julia Duin, Quitting Church, p. 175).

"We've taken a historic, 2,000 year old faith, dressed it in plaid and skinny jeans and tried to sell it as 'cool' to our kids," writes Marc Yoder. "It's not cool. It's not modern. What we're packaging is a cheap knockoff of the world we're called to evangelize."

This plunge into irrelevance through "relevance at any cost" is the fruit of a tepid theology and only further weakens the orthodox spine. This theological weakness is augmented by something we find decidedly uncomfortable raising: the sin of Eden, also known as pride. As an anonymous contributor to "Juicy Ecumenism" has written caustically:

A lot of people come up to me at conferences, to which, as a very successful hipster-progressive post-evangelical blogger, I have been invited to speak, asking me how they, too, can make a name for themselves as a voice for the disaffected semi-faithful ... The trick of post-evangelical blogging is to take the issue du jour, be it gay marriage, birth control, gun control, abortion, or assisted suicide, and re-interpret it as a fundamental and authentic challenge to the assumptions of the suburban evangelicalism which for you represents the sum total of Christian belief and experience. 

As King's College President Gregory Alan Thornbury writes, "If we cannot reconcile our theology with the sturdy basis for biblical Christianity that framed evangelicalism and once made it great, we will find ourselves and our children cut loose from our tradition" (Recovering Classic Evangelicalism, p. 208). This result must be unacceptable to those born of the Spirit.

2. Evangelical leaders too often don't preach/teach on the essential doctrines of Scripture because of their lack of confidence in the power of God's Word to transform and because they don't want to offend.

Many people sitting in the pews of theologically orthodox Protestant churches would have difficulty offering a simple explanation of the Trinity and why understanding the Triune nature of God is important. They have neither been taught these things nor had explained to them why they are critical to Christian living.

In 2000, the British pastor Phil Newton wrote, "The issue in preaching is proclaiming faithfully, accurately, and clearly the Word of God, so that the truth of the Word penetrates the mind to affect the heart, rather than the cleverness of the preacher impressing the hearers. At the core of all a preacher does is to dig deeply into the given text of Scripture, seeking to understand it grammatically, historically, and doctrinally." In the intervening years, too few have heeded his exhortation.

Instead, Evangelicals too often have followed the counsel of Screwtape, writing of Jesus to the junior demon Wormwood: "We (must) distract men's minds from Who He is, and what He did. We first make Him solely a teacher ... all great moralists are sent (by God), not to inform men, but to remind them, to restate the primeval moral platitudes."

As David F. Wells has written, "the Church is going to have to become more authentic morally, for the greatness of the Gospel is now seen to have become quite trivial and inconsequential in its life. If the Gospel means so little to the Church, if it changes so little, why then should unbelievers believe it?" (Losing Our Virtue, p.180).

Wells and others have written extensively on these themes and their observations and exhortations are compelling. However, here I will quote from an email my colleague Carrie Russell (herself a "millennial") sent me recently:

As a whole we've stopped preaching the Gospel, sin and death, redemption and the pursuit of holiness. We just water it down more and more till it becomes practically irrelevant ... We've cheapened grace, by refusing to pursue holiness, a natural result of fearing the controlling legalism monster. The same kind of preaching that brought about the great awakenings of the past is needed today: the truth of sin, death, and redemption. We're losing kids in good part because we've hidden from them the truth they really need.

Amen. Neither Packer nor Piper could say it better. Marc Yoder concludes:

... most of our churches are sending youth into the world embarrassingly ignorant of our faith. How could we not? We've jettisoned catechesis, sold them on "deeds not creeds" and encouraged them to start the quest to find "God's plan for their life". Yes, I know your church has a "What we believe" page, but is that actually being taught and reinforced from the pulpit? I've met evangelical church leaders ("Pastors") who didn't know the difference between justification and sanctification. I've met megachurch board members who didn't understand the atonement. When we chose leaders based upon their ability to draw and lead rather than to accurately teach the faith? Well, we don't teach the faith. 

3. Evangelicalism has failed to articulate and advance the biblical view of human sexuality.

Too often, we have proclaimed only what we are against and failed to explain the goodness of sexual expression (and sexual chastity) as designed by God. Instead, too much of the time Evangelicals (a) seem embarrassed by the Bible's definitive teaching about human sexuality; (b) are ignorant of why the Bible teaches what it does on sexuality and sexual intimacy (this involves serious thinking and intellectual wrestling, something younger Evangelicals often are better at than their teachers); (c) are afraid that people will be put-off by gracious but uncompromisingly truthful teaching concerning Christian faith and sex; and (d) evade what have become culturally hard truths because we are afraid of being accused of being bigots, haters, homophobes, clueless, etc.

In a recent letter to columnist Rod Dreher, a self-identified "ex-Evangelical," a young man writes that he was never taught the theological bases of his tradition's opposition to homosexuality. As he puts it,

In all the years I was a member, my evangelical church made exactly one argument about SSM. It's the argument I like to call the Argument from Ickiness: Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worst kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.
When you have membership with no theological or doctrinal depth that you have neglected to equip with the tools to wrestle with hard issues, the moment ickiness no longer rings true with young believers, their faith is destroyed. This is why other young ex-evangelicals I know point as their "turning point" on gay marriage to the moment they first really got to know someone who was gay. 

How eloquent, how correct, and how sad.

It's hard to talk about the Bible's vision of human sexuality, because it involves challenging the assumptions of the post-modern many and affirming the exclusivity of intimacy reserved for one man-one woman marriage. To many ears these assertions sound immediately anachronistic, and many of those who make (or should be making) the case for them are themselves too untaught or un-thoughtful to articulate them well.

We must recover the clear vision articulated by Andreas Köstenberger, editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Seminary:

... the Bible makes clear that, at the root, marriage and the family are not human conventions based merely on a temporary consensus and time-honored tradition. Instead, Scripture teaches that family was God's idea and that marriage is a divine, not merely human, institution. The implication of this truth is significant indeed, for this means that humans are not free to renegotiate or redefine marriage and the family in any way they choose but that they are called to preserve and respect what has been divinely instituted. This is in keeping with Jesus' words, uttered when his contemporaries asked him about the permissibility of divorce: "What therefore God has joined together let not man separate" (Matthew 19:6)."

4. The subjective and highly personal nature of some Evangelical churches fails to satisfy the deep longings of many young men and women.

In many youth-focused churches, Jesus is portrayed as more like a sympathetic friend than a holy and transforming Redeemer. This is understandable, given how many young people come from broken homes and need a foundation of reassurance, security, and love before their walks with God can deepen. Yet as understandable as it might be, such a presentation of Jesus, at least if sustained, is too one-dimensional to meet the needs of the spiritually emaciated and intellectually curious. An active mind and a healing heart want more than repetitive, doleful, and emotionally cathartic "praise songs."

Adding to this problem is the tyranny of urgent need: If a parishioner has a son is addicted to drugs, what she needs immediate help, sound counsel from the Word of God and the application of biblical truth to her situation. A harried pastor might find little time for deep study and reflection in an era of moral collapse.

Yet this underscores both the need for strong seminary training and also reasonable boundaries that will constrain the onslaught of the "right now" to enable pastors and other Christian leaders to have the time they need to study, ponder, and pray about deep issues. Additionally, many pastors and Christian teachers have been too schooled in Rogerian counseling to be able to bring a healing, if sometimes hard, word from God to such situations, and, these leaders often lack grounding in biblical moral philosophy and Scriptural teachings about such issues as substance abuse and human sexuality.

To paraphrase Lincoln, the assumptions of the quiet past (e.g., most kids growing up with a mom and a dad; sex outside of marriage viewed as always wrong, etc.) are insufficient for the stormy present.

Additionally, our "fun" activities can become an idol and, to maturing younger believers a hindrance. Pizza parties for our youth are fun and healthy, but must be seen not as ends in themselves but as a means to draw students into grace-and-truth filled discussions about what they believe, what the Bible says, and why. As Marc Yoder writes, "If church is simply a place to learn life-application principles to achieve a better life in community you don't need a crucified Jesus for that."

5. Public education and popular culture encourage relativism and sentimentality as the highest goods; truth is seen as non-existent or at least unknowable. "Our national character stinks to high heaven," wrote Walker Percy in The Moviegoer, "but we are kinder than ever." We have substituted emotion for truth, affirmation for integrity, niceness for virtue, and consensual opinion for rationality.

"Moral relativism has had a pervasive influence in our culture, especially on the American educational system," write Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl. "In fact, relativism has been officially incorporated in the education curriculum, known as values clarification" (Relativism: Feet Planted Firmly in Mid-Air, pp.74, 75).

Our schools and our media discourage belief in truth as permanent and discernible, in consequence of which calling something morally "wrong" is seen as offensive, even obstreperous. We rationalize our incapacity to call certain things good and others evil, and we breed the "men without chests" warned of by C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man. University of Virginia professor Vigen Guroian writes,

... we fall back on the excuse that we are respecting our children's freedom by permitting them to determine right from wrong and to choose for themselves clear goals of moral living. But this is the paean of a false freedom that pays misdirected tribute to a deeply flawed notion of individual autonomy ... Our society is embracing an anti-human trinity of pragmatism, subjectivism, and cultural relativism that denies the existence of a moral sense or a moral law. (Tending the Heart of Virtue, p.4)

6. Our youth have been raised in an era in which personal autonomy is seen as the greatest good and in which revealed truth is seen as malleable. As a result, many don't want to follow biblical moral teachings on sexual and recreational activities.

When younger Evangelicals are told that such things as pre-marital sex and recreational use of mild hallucinogenic drugs are wrong, many bridle: It sound pretentious to say something is wrong and unfairly limiting to their efforts toward self-discovery (translation: I really want to sleep with my boy-/girl-friend; who are you to tell me not to?). Here's one example:

Brittany, a 24-year-old veterinary technician, is an example of the newly disaffected (Evangelical youth). In high school, she attended a conservative Episcopal church in northern Virginia. She enrolled in college thinking of herself as a conservative and not wanting to have sex until she was married. Her views changed when she met her boyfriend. She began to question the theology of her home church on a number of social issues. 

This young woman's theological views of human sexual morality changed when she wanted to sleep with her boyfriend; perhaps exacerbated by peer pressure and loneliness, her theological transformation was grounded less in conviction than rationalization. Note, too, that she began questioning biblical teaching not just on this but on "a number of social issues." Autonomous desire spars with unbending and limiting truth: which one wins in a culture of self-exaltation?

The Barna Group* augments the portrait through compelling statistical data:

With unfettered access to digital pornography and immersed in a culture that values hyper-sexuality over wholeness, teen and twenty-something Christians are struggling with how to live meaningful lives in terms of sex and sexuality. One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church's expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality. One-sixth of young Christians (17%) said they "have made mistakes and feel judged in church because of them." 

7. Similarly, personal relationships are difficult to trump: Friendships with people who live "according to the flesh" are hard to integrate with a firm stance for truth.

Co-workers, friends, and family members who cohabit, are openly homosexual, and avow atheism or agnosticism are real people with the same hopes and enjoyments and struggles as any sexually pure young Evangelical. Upon getting to know them, a lot of younger believers are a bit shaken - how can I oppose someone I have come to love? How can I say "no" to a person who earnestly believes what he does is morally right?

This is where, as noted above, the necessity of the foundation of truth becomes indispensable. Truth teaches that is ungracious to be personally insulting, but unloving to affirm a behavior or a habit that is wrong and destructive. Unemboldened by such conviction and themselves often deeply wounded, many young people find it much more appealing (and often easier) simply to affirm that which does not immediately harm them or self-apparently harm those engaged in it.

Truth divides. This is discomfiting, but unavoidable. If a friend you love rejects you because you take a moral stand contrary to her beliefs or behavior, that hurts. No one ever wants to damage or lose a cherished relationship.

But Jesus, the most gracious Man and truest Friend Who ever lived, was rejected and crucified. We are called to be like Him, even at the cost of relationships.

This never justifies crude, abusive, or boorish behavior, but we are left without excuse regarding our obligation to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) to those we care about deeply, even if doing jeopardizes their friendship.

8. Finally, broken marriages that fail to model Christ to their children.

While data are mixed on the percentage of divorce within professing Evangelical families are mixed, it is beyond dispute that millions of young people raised as Evangelicals have also been raised in homes without one of their biological or adoptive parents.

My colleagues Pat Fagan and Henry Potrykus have documented the effects of divorce on the economy, but as Fagan notes separately, the human toll is exhaustive and tragic:

(Divorce) frequently leads to the development of destructive conflict management methods, diminished social competence, the early loss of virginity, diminished sense of masculinity or femininity, more trouble with dating, more cohabitation, greater likelihood of divorce, higher expectations of divorce later in life, and a decreased desire to have children ... (Divorce) diminishes the frequency of worship of God and recourse to Him in prayer; diminishes children's learning capacity and educational attainment; reduces household income and deeply cuts individual earning capacity; significantly increases crime, abuse and neglect, drug use, and the costs of compensating government services; weakens children's health and longevity; and increases behavioral, emotional, and psychiatric risks, including even suicide.

It is not difficult to imagine how such wounds are deepened when a child is told that there is a God Who loves him and cares tenderly for him and then witnesses his parents rejecting each other. Little wonder that jaded young people looking for love and acceptance will seek them in such troubling places as the back seat of a car or a deserted classroom.

In summary, many younger Evangelicals who leave "the faith once delivered" do so for reasons well beyond the "pernicious sexism, religious intolerance, and conservative politics" noted earlier.

As Evangelical leaders pray about and discuss ways of winning younger men and women to Christ and also ways of keeping many who have come to know Him in fellowship with Him and His church. Our ministries are diluted and rendered, ultimately, powerless, when we fail to proclaim the whole counsel of God, when we cater to listeners' feelings more than their needs, and when self-loathing becomes more prevalent than holy confidence.

A "famished and fainting race," in Carl Henry's memorable and compassionate phrase, deserves more, as does the Lord Who calls us to draw men and women to Himself.

* The author appreciates the many contributions of George Barna and his research team over the years, but encourages discernment when it comes to accepting all the conclusions they propound.

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared on Canon and Culture, April 17, 2014.

Rob Schwarzwalder Featured Opinion Thu, 24 Apr 2014 07:00:00 -0400
5 Reasons We Don’t Develop Meaningful Friendships

Last month two close friends of mine, Matt and James, drove several hours from South Carolina and Alabama to pray with me about some important decisions I’m facing. They didn’t ask me for money for gas or meals. They didn’t charge me a consulting fee. They just wanted to do what friends do—they sacrificed their own time to offer love, counsel and support. They know I’d do the same for them.

I’ve come to learn that good friends are more valuable than money, fame or career success. Yet many Christians I know struggle in the area of relationships. Many people I’ve met—even pastors—admit they have no friends. And many churches are full of lonely people who are starving for friends but don’t know how to make any.

The modern church does not always place a high value on relationships. While the New Testament commands us to “fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22, NASB), we have developed a cold corporate culture. We are content to herd people into buildings for services and then herd them out. Our main concern is that they occupied a seat and listened to a sermon. But did they connect with each other? Even in churches that try to nurture relationships, only a fraction of the people get involved in small groups.

Personally, I don’t believe we will see New Testament revival power or New Testament impact until we reclaim fervent New Testament love. But that realm of love isn’t possible without deep healing and serious attitude adjustments. Here are five of the most serious reasons Christians today struggle in the area of relationships:

1. Self-centeredness. Jesus defined love when He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Real friendship is always sacrificial. We tend to want friendship on our terms; we want to be loved and encouraged and comforted. But if we want that kind of love, we should be willing to give it to someone else first. British preacher Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Any man can selfishly desire to have a Jonathan; but he is on the right track who desires to find out a David to whom he can be a Jonathan.”

2. Lack of transparency. Too many people today live with secrets. We are experts at faking it. We hide our private pain behind masks and thick body armor. We go through the motions and we mouth the right words—but church life becomes shallow and superficial without raw honesty. True friends take off their armor, reveal their shame and share their hearts—and they confess their sins to each other (James 5:16). This is the path to true healing.

3. Bitterness. Paul told the Ephesians, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Yet many Christians today have never let go of their resentments. They don’t realize that people who seethe with anger over past hurts poison themselves—and make it impossible to develop close friends. Bitterness will make you unfriendly—and people will avoid you because you are toxic. We must learn to pay close attention to our hearts and purge any grudge the instant it takes root in our souls.

4. Low self-esteem. Jesus told us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31). But our love for others is short-circuited when we don’t think we have anything to offer in a relationship. Many people lack the confidence to reach out and make friends because they don’t think they deserve to be loved. Self-hatred can be caused by abuse, lack of parental affection, bullying or other factors. If you struggle to love yourself, you must be willing to crawl out of your shell and seek help. Reach out to the people around you. God has prepared someone to pray with you!

5. Fear of rejection. I meet people who have given up on church altogether because they were betrayed. Some have even left ministry positions because friends turned their backs on them. Their attitude is “I will never let anyone hurt me like that again.” But is it really worth it to close the door on the possibility of friendship just because of one or two bad experiences? Proverbs 18:24 says, “Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family” (MSG). The loyal friends in my life have more than compensated for any disappointments. Friendship is a risk worth taking.

When Jesus brought heaven’s kingdom on earth, He assembled a group of followers who came to be known as His friends (John 15:15). He called them to follow Him as disciples but also to be connected to one another in deep fellowship. Our vertical connection to Christ makes a horizontal connection to our brothers and sisters possible. Don’t let anything stop you from enjoying healthy relationships.

J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at @leegrady. He is the author of 10 Lies Men Believe and other books.

J. Lee Grady Featured Opinion Thu, 24 Apr 2014 06:00:00 -0400
Were Ananias and Sapphira Believers?

Were Ananias and Sapphira believers who were judged by God because of their blatant sin? According to one prominent pastor, they were not, since things like this do not happen to believers in Jesus, to those under grace, since the Lord already took our judgment on the cross. Is this pastor correct?

Actually, the text does not tell us explicitly whether they were believers or not, but without a doubt, this account was recorded as a lesson for all of us, and the New Testament makes very clear that the Lord sometimes judges His own blood-bought people who engage in blatant sin.

Are we willing to accept the testimony of the Word of God?

This pastor, who is a gifted teacher with many good things to say, claims that in Acts 5, it is “very clearly stated” that Ananias and Sapphira were not believers, and for him, the lesson we learn from this passage of Scripture is that God will judge those who try to hurt the church, which is “very consoling” for him.

Of course, the New Testament does say clearly, “If anyone destroys God’s temple [which refers to us, His people], God will destroy him” (1 Cor. 3:17, ESV), but again, that is not the lesson of Acts 5.

To be clear, nowhere does Acts 5 say that Ananias and Sapphira were not believers. It only says that they conspired to deceive. So, we are not told about whether they were unsaved deceivers or believers who conspired to deceive.

What we do know is that as a result of the judgment that fell on this couple, “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11). Great fear!

If this was God’s protective hand, keeping the church from being deceived by this unsaved couple—as this pastor alleges, and which he finds “very consoling”—then why did “great fear” come “upon the whole church”?

For argument’s sake, let’s say that Ananias and Sapphira were not true believers. The church still saw this as an example of God’s holiness and of the reality of the presence of His Spirit, as a result of which great fear came upon the believers (as opposed to great consolation).

What about this pastor’s teaching that “even when you sin, there is no more judgment,” because Jesus took our judgment on the cross?

Actually, the Word says that there is no condemnation—meaning final judgment, damnation—for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1), so in that sense, absolutely, Jesus took our judgment at the cross. In Him, we will never be condemned, and that is something to shout about. Praise God for that!

But the New Testament plainly states that God does judge His people, meaning that He brings loving discipline and correction, sometimes sternly. And while it is gloriously true that our sins are forgiven in Jesus, there can be still consequences to our sins in this life, just as an alcoholic forgiven for decades of drinking may still develop cirrhosis of the liver.

Paul addresses the question of divine discipline in 1 Corinthians 11, where he rebukes the believers there because of their abuses at their communal meals where they partook of the Lord’s Supper. Some were getting drunk on the wine while others were eating all the bread before the other hungry believers arrived, which made a mockery out of this sacred meal.

He wrote, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (vv. 27-32).

Some hyper-grace teachers argue vigorously that it was unbelievers at Corinth who got sick or died when they partook of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

But the overall text of 1 Corinthians makes such an interpretation impossible, since Paul writes to the church (ekklesia) in Corinth, to those sanctified in Messiah Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 1:2), and every time he says “you” or “we” or “us,” he is referring to believers, often in contrast with the lost. (See, for example, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-6; 14:23-26.)

The immediate context of 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 also makes clear that Paul is speaking about believers, referring to “many of you” being sick (with some even dying), speaking of the need for us to judge ourselves so that we will not be judged by the Lord, and stating clearly that when He does discipline us, it is so that we will not be “condemned along with the world.” (This does not mean that God makes us sick; the sickness and dying were evidence of something being very wrong, pointing here to divine discipline.)

But these are not the actions of an angry, mean-spirited, fault-finding, nitpicky God. They are the actions of a compassionate and holy Father who loves us more than we could ever imagine and who, in strong actions motivated by love, sometimes disciplines us to keep us from destroying ourselves, destroying others or bringing reproach to His name.

This should cause us to walk in holy fear—meaning reverential awe—before Him, as Peter wrote: “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:17-19).

It was Peter who also wrote, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17).

Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 that the judgments God brought on the Israelites in the wilderness were written down for our benefit, so that we would not follow in their footsteps. May I quote a portion of this to you?

 “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.’ We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (vv. 6-12).

Why give these warnings if we could not possibly be judged (again, I didn’t say condemned) or disciplined by the Lord? And why did Paul say over and again, “Don’t do this and don’t do that,” if, as is commonly taught by hyper-grace leaders, the New Testament way of turning believers away from sin is to speak only of the goodness of God, since it is His goodness alone that leads us to repentance?

The fact is, just as the fear of the Lord came on Israel when Nadab and Abihu were judged in Leviticus 10 (for the context, be sure to read the previous chapters), the fear of the Lord came on the early church when Ananias and Sapphira were judged in Acts 5. This teaches us an important lesson about God’s holiness, a lesson about the sacred responsibility of ministering before Him (see Lev. 10:3).

That’s why Hebrews 12 closes with this exhortation for us as children of the new covenant, for those who have not come to Mount Sinai but to the heavenly Jerusalem: “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. ... Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (vv. 25, 28-29; the CSB renders verse 28 with, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe.”).

This too is part of the New Testament message of grace.

Will we receive it, or will we turn the Word on its head to conform it to what we already believe?

Please do give this prayerful consideration before the Lord. We cannot afford to trivialize these holy truths.

Michael Brown is author of Hyper-Grace: Exposing the Dangers of the Modern Grace Message and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or at @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

Michael Brown Featured In the Line of Fire Opinion Wed, 23 Apr 2014 08:00:00 -0400
Did God Tell This Christian Couple to Open a Pot Shop to Share the Gospel?

Would God really tell His followers to open up a pot shop? According to Bryan Davies, that’s exactly what happened.

Time reports that Bryan and Lanette Davies opened up the medical marijuana dispensary they run in Sacramento, Calif., on the advice of God. The shop, Canna Care, sells the drug to patients battling a range of ailments, from AIDS to insomnia to arthritic disorders.

“God told me to open up a cannabis shop,” Bryan Davies says.

The couple reportedly uses their store to spread their Christian faith. There are Bibles on a table in the lobby for anyone to take, and all of the employees—and sometimes patrons—stop what they’re doing every day at 6 p.m. to hold hands and pray.

“It has to do with taking care of the sick and ill,” Lanette Davies explains. “Jesus Christ made a statement that all people should care for one another, and this is our way of taking that to our community.”

The Davies are currently involved in a case with the Internal Revenue Service that could set an important precedent for the medical marijuana community, according to Time.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed to deduct ordinary expenses, such as rent or payroll—which would be standard for an average small business—due to a 1982 law. Even if a business is operating legally according to state laws, the federal government and the IRS say the business is technically trafficking illegal drugs.

The couple has refused to pay an $875,000 tax bill the IRS says they owe and have gone to court to fight. They’re waiting for a ruling, which they say they’ll appeal if it’s not in their favor.

“We pay our taxes. We are completely legal in this state,” says Lanette Davies.

In the meantime, the couple will continue to sell pot while sharing the message of Jesus Christ.

Gina Meeks Featured U.S. News Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:30:00 -0400
Ex-Gay Donnie McClurkin Shares How Music Delivered His Soul From Shame

Pastor and recording artist Donnie McClurkin recently shared an emotional testimony with an audience at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, Fla.

The Grammy-winning pastor of Perfecting Faith Church in Freeport, N.Y., credited his God-given musical talents and the prayers of gospel artist Andrae Crouch for helping him break free from shame he had felt since he was 11 years old.

“I never thought that I would be doing this because people told me what I could not do,” McClurkin said. “They didn’t tell me who I was. They never told me what I could accomplish, who I could be. They put the shackles on and the limits on.

“But God used music in order to free me by increments of all the bondage—until I could move past what people thought of me, until I could move past people's opinion, until I could move past people's naysaying, until I could see in me what others wouldn’t tell me was there.”

He shared how Crouch, a pastor and one of the pioneers of contemporary Christian music, encouraged and prayed for him when he was 11.

“And Andrae Crouch laid his hands on my head … and prayed one simple prayer: ‘Lord, give him what you gave to me,’” McClurkin recalled.

The 54-year-old, born Donald Andrew McClurkin Jr., has spoken in the past about troubles he faced in his youth, including the death of a sibling and being sexually abused by male family members.

He has also faced criticism since sharing his ex-gay testimony and was allegedly uninvited from a Martin Luther King Jr. memorial concert in Washington, D.C., last year because of his views.

Watch a short video of his testimony below.

Gina Meeks Featured Culture Wed, 23 Apr 2014 15:30:00 -0400
The Sad Power of an Atheist’s Temper Tantrum Against a Christian Football Coach

Angry atheists are at it again.

This week, they’re taking on Dabo Swinney, head coach of the Clemson Tigers. His alleged unlawful conduct? Expressing his Christian faith and allegedly making a number of voluntary religious activities available to his players—the adult student-athletes at Clemson.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sent Clemson University a “letter of complaint” detailing Swinney’s alleged constitutional violations, including such atrocities as the team’s volunteer chaplain writing Bible verses on a whiteboard and the team making available bus transportation to players who wish to attend church.

In a reasonable constitutional world, this complaint would be ignored by the media and discarded by the university. After all, there’s no evidence that Clemson or Coach Swinney did anything other than expose players to the coach’s religious point of view, a point of view he’s constitutionally entitled to hold and express.

Players were not compelled to attend church or Bible study, and the university is not paying the volunteer chaplain. So, how could any of these actions “establish” a religion within the meaning of the Establishment Clause?

We do not, however, live in a reasonable constitutional world. Because of a quirk in the law, atheists have the power to go to federal court simply because a public acknowledgment of religion offends them. Their mere offense can often give them “standing” to file a federal lawsuit.

Thus, an atheist’s temper tantrum has real-world power.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation exercises this power to the fullest, using litigation and threats of litigation to challenge everything from the national motto (“In God We Trust”) to war memorials to even the display of the Star of David at a Holocaust memorial (yes, really).

This real-world power is multiplied tenfold by media complicity. Just look at the Clemson controversy. Within days of FFRF’s press release, news of its latest attack on religious expression raced across the Internet, putting the university under immediate public pressure—when not one single player had complained about the coach's conduct.

In other words, there’s no constitutional violation and no victim, but there is still a national controversy.

The combination of potential court action and media pressure unfortunately causes public officials to back down again and again, often before lawsuits are even filed. Fortunately, however, Clemson is backing its coach.

And so are tens of thousands of Americans. We are sending a letter of support to the Clemson coach, and in just 24 hours, more than 50,000 Americans expressed their support for Coach Swinney.

The response has to be twofold. First, confront FFRF and its angry atheist allies in court, fighting their cases not just on the merits but also contesting the very idea that mere personal offense can be sufficient grounds for filing suit. There is reason to believe the Supreme Court of the United States—when it considers the issue—will do away with “offended observer” standing, and if it does, it will restore constitutional sanity to First Amendment doctrine.

Next, FFRF must also be confronted in the media. The avalanche of coverage it enjoys can often deceive public officials into believing angry atheists have a high degree of public support. In fact, there are many atheists who have no problem hearing religious viewpoints—after all, no reasonable person expects to always hear statements they like—and have no problem with religious liberty.

It’s doubtful that the angry atheists at FFRF command majority support even among American Atheists (its membership is only 20,000), much less the millions of American Christians. When public institutions cave to atheist threats, they frequently enrage their constituencies—not out of legal necessity, but merely to end an unpleasant news cycle.

American democracy thrives in an atmosphere of freedom, when all Americans enjoy to the fullest their rights to free speech and free exercise of religion. Democracy thrives when we seek not to censor speech we dislike, but instead to change hearts and minds through debate and dialogue.

Through quirks in the law, and with the help of a complicit media, angry atheists seek to change the terms of the debate, to narrow the marketplace of ideas to exclude religious voices.

They must be opposed. Not silenced, but opposed. Temper tantrums cannot and must not trump the First Amendment.

Jay Sekulow is the chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). He hosts a daily radio show, Jay Sekulow Live! carried on more than 850 stations nationwide, including Sirius/XM. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow. This article originally appeared on Fox News.

Jay Sekulow Featured Opinion Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400
I Thought I Knew How Christians Should Act Toward Hollywood, Until I Read This ...

Twenty years ago, when Jesus’ name was used in a movie, it was usually used as a curse word. Last year, 67 percent of the movies released had at least some pro-Christian, pro-biblical content.

This year, an incredible number of the major movies being released have positive, overtly biblical and often evangelical content. As might be expected, many of these movies have attracted criticism. Sadly, some of the most spiteful, angry and mean-spirited criticism has come from Christians.

Movieguide was built on the premise of exposing the fruitless works of darkness and commending the good. As a result of doing this consistently for many years, we have seen a great growth of the good, the true and the beautiful, and a decrease in the darkness in the movies released. Much of that could be attributed to our detailed economic analysis of the box office, combined with the fact that we see the gospel for what it is: good news.

So we try to present our analysis and criticism in light of the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control), which dictates that we love the people who created the works we’re examining enough to try to be constructive. There are exceptions, but the exceptions are not the rule.

Recently, there’s been a tremendous amount of criticism bashing Darren Aronofsky and the producers of Noah, criticism of Roma Downey and Mark Burnett for Son of God, and even criticism of the producers of Heaven Is for Real.

Recently, I had a chance to talk to one of the top people at Paramount Pictures, whom I’ve known for years, who’s a co-producer of Noah. He had told me about Noah years ago when we met for lunch. He wanted Noah to be very evangelistic, which it is not, and he wanted to tell an Old Testament story in light of the New Testament revelation of God’s grace. I asked him about Darren Aronofsky, and he said Aronofsky was wrestling with forgiveness and mercy because of a crisis in his family.

The producer, one of the brightest, most conservative Christians in Hollywood, noted that the same thing had happened to him. We discussed the fact that Mel Gibson had been bashed so badly for the trumped-up charge of anti-Semitism that he went off the deep end.

There is no doubt that my friend and Aronofsky needed guidance and perhaps even faith formation, but personal, ill-conceived attacks don’t make it easier for him, as a conservative evangelical Christian, to do more movies that touch upon Christian and biblical themes.

With regard to Downey and Burnett, the situation seems even more mean-spirited. One attack article claimed The Passion of the Christ was more biblical, when, in fact, The Passion was based on visions a Catholic nun had over 100 years ago.

Other articles commended the Jesus film, which, for the record, is only 66 percent of the book of Luke and is produced by a good friend of mine who is Jewish and extremely wary of the Christian community, as well as a director who’s known for some very salacious movies. In fact, the star of the Jesus film told me years later he was an atheist. Also, Jesus of Nazareth was funded by a Muslim and directed by a bisexual who chased one of the male stars around his villa.

Thus, of all the 130 Jesus films that have come out, Burnett and Downey’s Son of God is one of the few made by people who constantly say they love Jesus. That doesn’t mean they got everything right. In fact, I sent them a theological analysis months before the movie was locked in editing.

In this regard, however, has any sermon ever gotten everything right? If so, I have yet to hear such a sermon, though I have walked out several times on sermons that have gotten most of their theology wrong.

Many of the mean-spirited articles about Noah have been written by people who admit to having never seen the movie. Others have been written by people who don’t seem to understand some of the Bible’s basic theological concepts or realize the difference between a Christian ontology (a real world with real sin and real pain that needs a real Savior, Jesus Christ) and an anti-Christian, nominalistic ontology (a nonmaterial, great-thought maya world where all is an illusion and there is no need for a savior, such as The Last Temptation of Christ).

Movieguide has been critical of Noah, but also fair. We’d love to see the theology of each movie improved and would love to see the theology of most of these articles improved.

One theologian complained to us that, unlike depicted in Heaven Is for Real, no one has gone to heaven and come back, although I pointed out to him that Paul said he did just that in 2 Corinthians 12:2. Was Paul lying? Where do we get such strange eisegetical views?

Thank God that iron does sharpen iron.

But even so, what enabled a small group of Christians to overthrow the most debauched empire in history, Rome? As Professor Alvin J. Schmidt points out in the book How Christianity Changed the World, one major reason was that people knew the Christians by their love and wanted to convert.

Did the people who criticized Mel Gibson love him? Or those who criticize any of the Christians working behind the scenes in Hollywood?

Most biblical movies and most movies dealing with heaven contain things that you won’t find in the pages of the Bible. To make a really dramatic movie that millions of people will go see requires at least some dramatic artistry. Furthermore, it’s really easy to poke holes in almost any movie, whatever the subject matter.

So, let us commend the good while gently instructing those who might have gone astray so that we may encourage everyone to focus on the Good News of Jesus Christ that enlightens us all.

Ted Baehr is founder and publisher of Movieguide, as well as chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission. Tom Snyder is Movieguide's editor.

This article originally appeared on If you enjoyed this article, like Movieguide on Facebook!

Ted Baehr with Tom Snyder/Movieguide Featured Opinion Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:30:00 -0400
Christian Censorship Rising: Facebook Removes Culture Warrior Todd Starnes' Cliven Bundy Post

Your friendly neighborhood columnist has once again run afoul of Facebook’s elusive community standards. 

This time I was censored for writing something about rancher Cliven Bundy.

I realized I had landed in the Facebook gulag when I tried to post our daily Bible verse. However, I was unable to post anything because Facebook had taken great offense to something I had written.

“We removed something your page posted,” Facebook told me in a rather unpleasant message. “We removed the post below because it doesn’t follow the Facebook Community Standards.”

Now, before you call up the preacher and put me on the church prayer list, let me assure you the posting was neither unseemly nor ungentlemanly.

Nevertheless, it caused great consternation and angst among Facebook’s left-wing censors.

The following is the egregious text:

“Rancher Bundy should’ve told the feds that those were Mexican cows—who came across the border illegally to seek better grazing opportunities. It was an act of love.”

Thousands of you posted comments, and many more shared that message. It’s now gone—blotted out by anonymous redactors.

I reached out to Facebook to find out which part of the message violated their standards. Never heard back. I suspect I should’ve used the term illegal alien cows.

It’s not the first time my postings have been bleeped by the Facebook Purge Police. Heck, I’m a serial offender. I’ve been banished, blocked and censored for writing about Chick-fil-A, God, the Bible, Paula Deen, Cracker Barrel rocking chairs, sweet tea, Jesus, the Gaither Vocal Band, the Gideons, the National Rifle Association and June bugs.

Facebook never told me what was more offensive—the plump, juicy chicken breasts or the June bugs.

For the record, Facebook has the right to censor—it’s their company. And while they may censor conservative and Christian postings, Facebook is quite welcoming and affirming to left-wing diatribes against Republicans, religion and the tea party. I just wish the folks at Facebook were a bit more tolerant—and diverse.

So, there you have it, kind readers. Your friendly neighborhood columnist has become that neighbor—the one who mows his grass at midnight, the one who has a Buick up on blocks in the driveway, the rabble-rouser.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is God Less America.

Todd Starnes Featured Opinion Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -0400
No, Pastor, Jesus Did Not Tell You to Support Homosexuality

Over the years, I’ve heard prophets say God told them all manner of goofy things. (Don’t get me started ... ) But a Vineyard pastor in Michigan may take the prize.

Ken Wilson, 62, told the Detroit Free Press that when he was young, he viewed lesbians, gays and transgenders as “criminals, perverts or homos.” When he planted his church in the 1970s, he refused to allow sexually active gays.

But somewhere along the line, Wilson, pastor of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor in Michigan, had a change of heart. Finally, in 2011, he told the Free Press, he “got a strong nudge from Jesus” to share his new heart on gay issues.

Now he goes down in evangelical history as perhaps the first pastor of a large church to come out of the closest in support of gays. And his timing is certainly ripe for publicity, given the heated debate over gay marriage in Michigan these days.

“It’s about welcoming previously excluded groups,” Wilson told the Free Press. “That’s what it means to be evangelical—to make the good news accessible to those who haven’t had access to it. That’s my task. That’s what a church is supposed to do.”

Of course, the Vineyard movement’s leadership didn’t get a nudge from Jesus to agree with him. Wilson admits the denomination does not support him. Some people in his own church, the paper reports, have stopped sowing into the ministry as Wilson has become more vocal about embracing the LGBT community.

When you read this, you might understand why:

“I take the Bible very seriously,” Wilson told the Free Press. “It’s inspired, it’s God’s word in written form, and I do not dismiss the text and scriptures that speaks this question.

“When the Bible prohibits same-sex sex, what was the historical context for that? There’s no real indication monogamous, gay partnerships were the aim of the biblical texts, but there were some very clearly [sic] examples of exploitative same-sex sexuality, like temple prostitution or slave sex, masters requiring slaves to perform sexual services as part of their ownership of them.

“In the New Testament, there was pederasty, where older men providing mentoring to underage prepubescent males in exchange for sexual services ... The Sodom and Gomorrah story is about gang rape. It’s not about anything like loving monogamous relationships. To apply that to the issue of homosexuality is a gross misuse of scripture.”

I can’t believe I just heard that coming from a Christian pastor’s mouth. This completely ignores the many other Scriptures indicating homosexuality is a sin. Do we need to review them again? Leviticus 18:22 says a man shall not lie with a man as with a woman—that it’s an abomination. And 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 makes it clear that those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those are just a couple.

Listen, I believe we should embrace homosexuals who want to come to church to hear the gospel and break free from the chains of bondage—but we should not embrace the sin with the sinner.

Members of the LGBT community need to feel like church is a safe place to seek God, but they need to know we don’t condone of a homosexual lifestyle any more than we do a fornicating lifestyle, an adulterous lifestyle, a lying lifestyle, a gossiping lifestyle and the like. We can’t compromise the gospel of our salvation or we aren’t preaching the gospel of Christ.

The church needs to stand against sin in any manifestation and minister the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to set the captives free—no matter what they are captive to. Otherwise we become the blind leading the blind, religious people who have compromised with the spirit of the world, walking in deception and wooing otherwise God-fearing believers away from the truth of the gospel.

God forbid Jesus would ever nudge a pastor to do such a thing.

Jennifer LeClaire is news editor at Charisma. She is also the author of several books, including The Making of a Prophet. You can email Jennifer at or visit her website here. You can also join Jennifer on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Jennifer LeClaire Featured Watchman on the Wall Opinion Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:30:00 -0400
After 33 Years on the Run, Texas Church Deacon Arrested for Murder

A 78-year-old church deacon in Texas has been arrested for a Pennsylvania murder after 33 years as a fugitive, authorities said on Tuesday.

Joseph Lewis Miller was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Mineola, Texas, on Monday and faces extradition for the 1981 killing in Harrisburg.

"If he waives extradition, he'll be back in about two weeks. If he fights it, it will take a couple of months," said Marty Pane, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service in Scranton, Pa.

Miller is suspected of murdering Thomas Waller in January 1981, shooting him once in the head. Miller was previously convicted of murder in Harrisburg in 1959 and served 11 years in prison, according to CNN.

Authorities do not know how long he served as a church deacon in Mineola, a town of about 4,500 people about 85 miles east of Dallas.

Miller was living in Mineola under the name Roy Eubanks with his wife of four years, the U.S. Marshals said. A woman who answered the phone at the house late on Tuesday said his wife had left that morning and had not returned.

Pane said U.S. Marshals received a tip about a month ago that identified his alias. A cold-case officer concluded that Roy Eubanks was Joseph Lewis Miller.

Miller is being held in the Wood County Jail. Pane said he had a hearing on Monday at which the charges against him were read but had not had an opportunity to say if he would fight extradition.

Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

David DeKok Featured U.S. News Wed, 23 Apr 2014 11:00:00 -0400
Where Was God in the Middle of Washington Mudslide?

President Barack Obama visited Oso, Wash., Tuesday, where a mudslide left more than three dozen people dead. While the search for bodies has ended, people there are still looking for answers. 

The March 22 landslide covered approximately a mile of state Highway 530, which is now lined with signs with messages like, "Oso strong" and "God bless Oso."

Still, the heartbreaking tragedy has at least one silver lining: It has given area pastors an opportunity to talk to people about Jesus.

Michael Duncan, pastor of Mountain View Baptist Church in nearby Darrington, is one of those spreading the Word. He and his wife share a unique perspective: They missed the mudslide by just two minutes.

"It's hard to talk about this because I don't think I deserve to be the man that was saved by two minutes," Duncan said.

Yet here he is, alive and trying to make the most of it.

"We don't have days left. I had two minutes. That's all I had and there were people died that I knew that didn't have that time. They don't have the rest of the year to get saved. They have that day," Duncan told CBN News.

Amber Skorjanc almost joined the dead when her home slid 600 feet before stopping. 

"I know that God was with us because as it was going I cried out to him and I said, 'Please save us,' " she recalled.

But what about those not saved?  Many wonder where God was for them? 

"Well, God is in the middle of all this," Duncan said. "He's right in the middle of it all."

"The Bible says that God brings the day of disaster as well as the day of blessing, that we don't necessarily charge God with a fault, that he's not wrong in letting these things happen," he continued.

"There's a day appointed for everybody and nobody gets to that day without God's permission," Duncan said. "That appointed day belongs to God. Life and death are in His hands."

It's a theme that's being preached by pastors in Oso, and many are listening and seeking help.

"About 32 have come in here in the past week or so for prayer and to find out more about comfort," Gary Ray, pastor of Oso Chapel, said.

"And so it's been a great opportunity to meet new people and share with them the love and power of Christ."

Statistics show this area of the Pacific Northwest has the least amount of Bible-believing Christians.

"It is a highly un-churched area, perhaps in the top five un-churched areas of the United States," Pastor Ray said. "And so there is a real opportunity now for the church or churches to rise up and show the love of God."

Some are indeed getting closer to God through this ordeal. Pastor Duncan told CBN News about a woman who lost a family member.

"She is not saved yet. I don't believe she is, but she is inquiring about God now where she wouldn't talk about God at all," the pastor noted.

"She wants to know about eternal things: 'Is my loved one with God in heaven? What happens? What comes next?' And those are the questions that will lead her to a relationship with Christ," he said.

The pain will linger for some time in this majestic area of the country, but a majestic God is making His presence felt during a time of great agony and suffering.

David Brody/CBN News Featured U.S. News Wed, 23 Apr 2014 10:30:00 -0400
Dodgers Pitcher Clayton Kershaw Teams Up With Pastor Tommy Barnett's LA Dream Center

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is recovering from a back injury and cannot pitch in Major League Baseball games right now, but that hasn’t stopped him from pursuing another of his passions—helping people in need.

On Tuesday, Kershaw—who is the reigning Cy Young Award winner as the best pitcher in the National League last year—visited Los Angeles’ Dream Center, where he joined season-ticket holders and Dodgers players’ wives in distributing groceries to 75 families.

For Kershaw, support of the Dream Center’s mission to help homeless families get off the streets of Los Angeles and into transitional housing isn’t a one-day event. It’s part of his greater purpose in life.

The Dodger pitcher and his wife, Ellen, run a nonprofit endeavor called Kershaw’s Challenge, which annually partners with organizations that help children at risk and people who struggle with poverty.

The 2014 Kershaw’s Challenge projects include the Dream Center, located just a few miles from Dodger Stadium and founded by Tommy Barnett and Matthew Barnett; Mercy Street, an urban ministry in Kershaw’s hometown of Dallas; Arise Africa, an outreach to orphans in Zambia; and Cure International, also in Zambia.

“It’s important to Ellen and I to use the platform that God has blessed us with and be able to impact as many lives as we possibly can,” Kershaw told Charisma News. “That means not only serving in Africa, but in the cities we call home. There is so much need right here in Los Angeles, and since we spend the majority of our year here, we wanted to add a local project to Kershaw’s Challenge. This gives us the opportunity to serve hands-on year round.”

Partnering with the Dream Center, Kershaw’s Challenge has zeroed in on helping to provide transitional housing for homeless families. In addition, Dodger wives, including Ellen, will participate in a season-long series of other outreach projects.

The centerpiece of Kershaw’s effort is called Strike Out to Serve. While Kershaw’s Challenge does accept donations, Kershaw leads by example. He is one of the best strike-out pitchers in baseball and a two-time Cy Young Award winner. For each batter he strikes out in a game, he makes a donation to the Kershaw’s Challenge projects. So the better he performs, the more he gives.

“I want every pitch and every batter faced to be about something more than a game,” he says.

The challenge started in 2011. During the off-season, Kershaw and his wife visited Arise Africa’s children’s project in Zambia. Ellen had been there before, but it was Kershaw’s first trip. An HIV-positive orphan named Hope won over their hearts. At the start of the 2011 season, Kershaw pledged $100 per strike out to help build a home for Hope and other orphans in Zambia.

In 2011, Kershaw had his best season ever, leading the league in wins, earned-run average and strike outs—248 of them. Other athletes, including high schoolers, joined in the effort and pledged various amounts to help the orphans of Zambia too.

Kershaw has continued the Strike Out to Serve challenge each year, adding projects in Texas and California. And each off-season, he and his wife return to visit Hope and the orphans of Zambia. The first home is built and a second is in the planning stages. The Kershaws tell their story in their book, Arise: Live Out Your Faith and Dreams On Whatever Field You Find Yourself.

Kershaw opened the 2014 MLB season for the Dodgers beating the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-1 in a game played March 22 in Australia. In that game, he struck out seven batters, getting Kershaw’s Challenge off to a brisk start. However, his back injury has prevented him from playing since.

Last week, Kershaw announced that since he isn't able to strike out batters and thus make donations to the projects, he is tweaking the challenge.

“Kershaw’s Challenge has always been about giving to something bigger than ourselves,” Kershaw wrote in an announcement posted on his website. “We challenge others to use their talents to give back to those in need. One of our main campaigns is Strikeout to Serve. Since I can’t strike anyone out right now, I’ve decided to look to the guys on my team who are making it happen. Every time one of my teammates gets a strikeout, I’ll make a donation to Kershaw's Challenge. Going back to opening day, I’ll give for every strikeout, for every Dodger pitcher.”

To date, Dodger pitchers have struck out 194 opposing batters. What’s more, Kershaw is recovering from his injury and will make his first minor league rehab start on Friday pitching for the Dodgers minor league team in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. He is on course to be back on the mound for the Dodgers at the major league level in early May—at which time Strike Out to Serve will recommence at full force.

Steven Lawson Featured U.S. News Wed, 23 Apr 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Christian Nurse Fired for Sharing Biblical View of Homosexuality With Co-Worker

A Christian nursery nurse has been sacked for gross misconduct from her job in a London children’s nursery after explaining the Bible's teaching on homosexuality in response to a question from her colleague.

Sarah Mbuyi had worked at Newpark Childcare in Highbury, London, since April 2013. She became good friends with a gay colleague, and they had frequent conversations about the meaning of Christianity.   

In January, the colleague initiated another conversation with Mbuyi about Christianity. She said she was unhappy that she couldn't marry her female partner because of the church and said she thought that God condoned homosexuality.

Mbuyi explains, "When I said no, God does not condone the practice of homosexuality but does love you and says you should come to Him as you are, she became emotional and went off to report me to my manager.

"I never ever condemned her or accused her, but when she asked me directly what I believed, I was open about sharing the Bible’s teaching that homosexual sex—not the people—is wrong. It's clear that this offended her and she was determined to get me sacked, simply because I expressed traditional Christian beliefs."

After a one-sided disciplinary hearing in which Mbuyi was falsely accused of starting the discussion on homosexuality, nursery directors dismissed her immediately for gross misconduct.

Mbuyi’s dismissal suggests her employers think that expressing Christian beliefs is a legitimate grounds for dismissal. This is clearly an issue of deep concern for Christians in the workplace across the U.K.

Andrea Williams, CEO of the Christian Legal Centre, which is supporting Mbuyi's case, says, "Sharing biblical truths out of genuine love and concern for colleagues is being outlawed in the workplace by a dominating cultural correctness. There is a culture of fear, which closes down freedom of speech and the manifestation of faith. This culture brands the liberating Good News of the gospel as oppressive and regressive.

"Sarah’s case demonstrates the confusion we’re experiencing in current times. David Cameron has given public recognition of the enormous positive impact that Jesus Christ has had on our nation but he wants to mold Christianity to his political agenda. History shows that Christianity is greater than any political agenda.

"David Cameron has ignored the concerns of the Christian community by driving through same-sex marriage. Any dissent in the public space, in the workplace, to the new prevailing orthodoxy means punishment as Sarah is experiencing.

"This is not a government with a track record of recognizing and respecting Christian faith. It has deliberately and consistently undermined Christians and their freedom to live out their faith in the public square.

"The prime minister has huge influence. If he is serious in his support for Christianity, he will intervene in Sarah’s case and ensure that those who believe in marriage, as defined in the Bible, between one man and one woman, will not lose their jobs but be wholly and properly protected by the law.

"This government has seriously let down the Christian community. Easter statements of sentiment will not suffice. Consistent behavior is what will be believed."

Christian Concern Featured World News Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:30:00 -0400
Why This Protestant Couldn't Stomach 'Heaven Is for Real'

Heaven is not only “for real,” it’s pretty much for everyone in the new movie based on the near-death-experience visions of a precocious preschooler.

The original book Heaven Is for Real was a 2010 sales sensation. Nebraska pastor Todd Burpo detailed his 4-year-old son Colton’s visions of a blue-eyed Jesus in a rainbow-bright afterlife populated with everyone his family ever loved.

The film’s co-producer, Dallas megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes, says he wants the film to prompt people “to explore the death, burial and resurrection of Christ,” especially as the film was released during Holy Week and Easter.

But where the best-selling book tagged every image—however tenuously—to a passage from Scripture, the film jettisons doctrine. Instead, it celebrates an unabashed “God is love” view that goodness in this life gets you, your friends and your family a crown and wings in the next.

This friend-and-family-plan approach rings all the bells of popular attitudes toward heaven. For conservative Christians, however, it’s the theological equivalent of feasting on marshmallow Peeps and calling it Easter.

“I don’t want to impugn the motives of the filmmakers who made this with good intentions as something helpful for the church at large. We just come down on the side that it’s not really that helpful,” says Chris Larson, president of Ligonier Ministries, which publishes and broadcasts traditional Christian teachings from a Reformed Protestant perspective.

“Heaven is a real place, not just a concept, and we know 67 percent of Americans agree with this,” says Larson, drawing on research Ligionier commissioned from LifeWay Research.

“We just wish many people would go to the Bible, rather than the cinema, to find out what heaven is," he says. "The Bible says there’s only one way to salvation—through Jesus.”

Larson has not seen the film, and he admits, “I didn’t read all the entire book. I don’t have a strong enough stomach. When you are describing the Holy Spirit as a kind of blueish image, we have definitely entered into the realm of speculative spirituality. ... Experience does not validate Scripture. Scripture validates experience.”

So he’s not likely to catch the film, in which Colton’s second sister (never born because their mother, Sonja Burpo, miscarried early in pregnancy) grows into a little girl on heavenly turf and his long-dead great-grandfather strolls about in youthful prime, although no one ever knew whether Pop accepted Jesus.

Such a “convenient heaven” is a dangerous thing, says pastor Tim Challies of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, who shredded the book’s theology on his blog. Challies has no plans to see the film, although if his children want to go, he says he’d let them—providing they discussed the film with him.

Todd Burpo, played by Greg Kinnear, does rely on the Bible in several movie scenes. But Challies said in an interview, “There’s a difference between Scripture being used to back up your point and explaining what it actually means.”

But who wants to tell the tough-love church lady, played by Margo Martindale—a film character not in the book—that her soldier son may not be in heaven after all? Who wants to tell mourners that their loved one won’t be coming back to life on earth, like Colton, with verbal snapshots of a nice big God on a nice big throne?

And who doesn’t want to munch on Junior Mints while enjoying the image of a Jesus hunk resembling a Hugo Boss model in a bathrobe? Challies, for one.

Challies says he knows he’s up against a cultural tide that celebrates “the heaven we want, the Jesus we want, not the Jesus we’ve really got who is worthy of worship and won’t allow unholiness in heaven.”

In a 2013 survey, Pew Research found that 74 percent of U.S adults say they believe in a heaven “where people who have led good lives are eternally rewarded.” That jumps to 80 percent for people who say they believe in heaven when the question is without any qualifications.

However, around one in five Americans was skeptical about heaven under any circumstances, Pew found.

While heaven books delight publishers with divine sales numbers, the afterlife actually isn’t a top-of-mind issue for many people. Forty-six percent told a 2011 LifeWay Research survey they never wonder whether they will go to heaven. But it’s unknown whether they are unconcerned because they already feel sure of their ultimate fate one way or another.

It’s a safe bet to go with the upbeat: Most U.S. adults (65 percent) told the 2007 Baylor Religion Survey they are certain they’re heavenbound themselves someday.

They also said they believe heaven will be real for most or all of people who are:

  • Christians (82 percent)
  • Their family members (76 percent)
  • Their personal friends (70 percent)

After that, however, the numbers dive. Far fewer predict heaven for their neighbors (56 percent) or for “average Americans” (53 percent). And merely 36 percent expect  “nonreligious” to climb the stairway to heaven.  

Lisa Miller, in her new book Visions of Heaven: A Journey Through the Afterlife, wrestles with questions across the centuries about the nature of heaven in the world’s many religious traditions.

The idea of heaven has a hold on us, she writes, because “we do not want our love to end.”

Cathy Lynn Grossman/RNS Featured Culture Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:00:00 -0400
Could This 'Exceedingly Dangerous' Book on Gay Christians Lead Believers Into Apostasy?

A new book’s “exceedingly dangerous” assertions that homosexual orientation and gay marriage are consistent with a high view of the Bible is nonsense. So says Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and four of his colleagues in a new e-book.

God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines released this morning, the same day as the official release of Vines’ volume, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, which has garnered significant attention in the days leading up to its release.

Vines, a 24-year-old former Harvard student, weaves his personal biography of growing up as an evangelical Christian and “coming out” as a homosexual to his parents and now former home church. In the process, Vines left Harvard in order to study the Bible’s claims about homosexuality, which later resulted in the publishing of his book.

“Not every book deserves a response, but some books seem to appear at a time and context in which response is absolutely necessary,” Mohler told Southern Seminary News. “The kind of argument that is presented by Matthew Vines, if not confronted, can lead many people to believe that his case is persuasive and that his treatment of the Bible is legitimate. I think that it’s very important that evangelicals be reminded that the church has not misunderstood Scripture for 2,000 years.”

Published by SBTS Press, God and the Gay Christian? is a 100-page critique of Vines, edited by Mohler, who also contributes a chapter. Other contributors are James M. Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology; Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies; Owen Strachan, assistant professor of Christian theology and church history; and Heath Lambert, assistant professor of biblical counseling. Burk, Strachan and Lambert teach primarily for Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary.

Mohler’s chapter provides an overview critique of Vines’ argument, while Hamilton primarily addresses Old Testament claims, Burk deals with New Testament claims, Strachan looks at the church history assertions and Lambert answers the question whether there is such a thing as a “gay Christian.”

Vines’ special contribution to the debate, according to Mohler, is his claim to having a “high view” of Scripture, even while relying upon a “world of very liberal biblical scholarship” as his primary sources.

“Evangelical Christians have enough biblical instinct to trust only someone who comes with a high view of Scripture,” Mohler says. “But this is a warning to us that not all who claim a high view of Scripture actually operate by a high view of Scripture.”

That there are some evangelicals “just trying to get out of this cultural pressure-cooker by finding the most convenient, persuasive off-ramp they can find” is of deep concern to Mohler. Vines’ book “could be for some of those wavering evangelicals the kind of off-ramp for which they’ve been searching. However, it’s a fatally flawed argument. And it will take them into a non-evangelical identity,” he says.

Vines’ argument is “exceedingly dangerous,” Mohler continues, “because if we do not know what the Bible teaches on homosexuality, and if the church has misunderstood that vital issue for two millennia, then what else has the church misunderstood about the gospel? If we can’t trust the Bible to tell us what sin is in order to tell us why Christ’s death was necessary, then we really don’t know what the gospel is. And if you can read the Bible the way Matthew Vines reads it, then biblical theology is impossible. I cannot imagine greater challenges facing the church than these.”

Also troubling, according to Mohler, is the fact that Vines’ publisher—Convergent Books—is closely related in organization and leadership to evangelical publisher WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

“What is new is the packaging of the argument and the fact that this is being published—at least to some extent —within evangelicalism by an imprint associated with WaterBrook Multnomah that is targeting itself toward the evangelical community,” he says.

“It’s very distressing that the president of Multnomah, who is also the president of Convergent, is not only defending the publication of this book,” Mohler says, but the publisher also claims Vines believes in the “inerrancy and the divinity and the correctness of Scripture,” according to Baptist Press.

Mohler responds, “That’s a very troubling assessment from someone who has major responsibility in evangelical publishing.”

James A. Smith Featured U.S. News Wed, 23 Apr 2014 07:00:00 -0400
The Most Important Thing Christian Men Don't Know About Single Women—But Should

OK, guys. Here is a little quiz for you. Of these four traits, which do you think a single woman secretly finds most attractive in a guy? Which one comes next? Which is the least attractive by comparison?

  • Buff body
  • Self-confidence
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Wealth

Go ahead. Rank them. I’ll wait.

If you guessed wealth, buff body, self-confidence and thoughtfulness in that order, you are not even close. The real order is the exact opposite. Over the last 10 years, I’ve conducted extensive interviews and anonymous, nationally representative surveys with more than 12,000 men, women and teens. And without fail, I have seen that most single women—everyone from the single-again middle-aged woman to the hot 20-something to the 15-year-old girl who has never had a boyfriend—find thoughtfulness and self-confidence more attractive.

Now, there are many other attractive traits that matter. In fact, a survey I conducted with young women listed 12, and sense of humor ranked No. 1, with thoughtfulness and self-confidence close behind. I only mention the four above to demonstrate how easy it is for single men and women to overlook what each other find appealing.

And I’m not the only one to reveal these same results. In fact, the "2014 State of Dating in America" report by discovered that single women would rather go on a date with someone who is funny as opposed to someone who is attractive.

I know you, as a single man, are probably skeptical that these women are telling the truth. You’ve seen too many women who say they want the nice guy but go for the bad boy. And you value physical attractiveness so highly, so why wouldn’t a woman?

If you can set that skepticism aside and look at why thoughtfulness and self-confidence are appealing to single women, it will change the way you interact with them. Even better, you are setting yourself up to have a much happier relationship.

The Important Truth Hiding in the Data

Here is the vital truth: The attractive, confident woman you are seeking is constantly asking one question inside her head. The surveys I conducted for my books For Men Only and For Young Men Only revealed that up to 90 percent of women question, "Am I loveable? Beautiful? Special?"

No matter how wonderful, gorgeous and unique she is, she probably doubts all these things. And she is subconsciously looking to those around her for clues to answer her deep question.

Now enter the guy with the buff body and the expensive car. Does the fact that he is good-looking or wealthy answer her question?

Not really. Sure, those things are appealing, but they are more superficial. They, by themselves, don’t do much to make her feel special.

Now enter the average guy who meets a girl at a party. He is only average-looking, and nothing indicates that he is well off. But after being introduced by a mutual friend, he walks up to her some time later at the appetizers table and says hi to start a conversation. He offers to hold her glass while she tries to juggle her hors d'oeuvres. They talk and laugh for a while and then get separated when someone pulls him into a different discussion. But before the evening ends, she notices that he is scanning the room for someone. And it turns out to be her.

He walks over and says, “Look, I really enjoyed meeting you. If you’re not seeing someone at the moment, I’d love to get together for coffee or lunch after church sometime.”

Now, let me ask you: What does that approach say to a woman’s secret question? His confident approach to her, his attentiveness, his thoughtfulness all say, “Yes, you are special.”

All too often, the nice guys hang back and don’t confidently approach. So all too often, this is why great women go for the bad boy. The bad boys are much more likely to sidle up to the girl at the party and drawl, with a cheeky grin, “Hey, beautiful.” But just because that stirs something in her, it doesn’t mean that’s what she most wants.

The 4 Things You Should Do Differently

According to ChristianMingle’s recent report, here are the four big things that single women really want from single men:

  • They want a nice guy to directly ask them out. Now, OK, that doesn’t mean hanging a banner from the rooftops saying, “Marie, will you go out on a date with me?” But it does mean being clear: “I enjoyed talking to you and would love to take you out.”
  • They want you to ask them over the phone, not via text. Eighty-five percent of the single women said, essentially, “Ask me out with a phone call, already!” Why? Nearly half of women said texting has made it much more difficult to tell whether something is a date! And ...
  • They want to know it’s a date. I know directness may make you nervous, and it is easier to be ambiguous and try to slide into some time together. But ambiguity does nothing to signal, “You are special.” At some point, you have to make it clear. In ChristianMingle’s report, 66 percent of women said they were sometimes or always confused about the status of this interaction with someone they are interested in—is this a date or not a date?
  • They are fine with simple. It doesn’t have to be big and fancy. Seventy-nine percent of women said a planned one-on-one hangout is a date. The key is to plan it and ask her.

Yes, a direct approach may be more common for bad boys, but a single woman would much rather have a quietly confident approach from a nice guy. She would much rather be pursued by you. That habit will not only be deeply appealing to single women, but also to one day reassure your wife, 20 years into marriage, that you still find her lovable, beautiful and special.

Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher, popular speaker and best-selling author of books such as For Women Only and For Men Only. Her research is regularly featured in media as diverse as Focus on the Family, the Today show and Cosmopolitan magazine. A recent member of the ChristianMingle advisory board, she loves speaking at events for men and women and is passionate about helping singles create great relationships and then healthy marriages. She and her husband, Jeff, live in Atlanta with their two middle-school aged children and two cats who think they are dogs. Find her at

Shaunti Feldhahn Featured Opinion Wed, 23 Apr 2014 06:00:00 -0400
Is Peace Possible? Understanding the Current Middle East Crisis

One of Israel’s greatest Prime Ministers, Golda Meir, once said, “Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.”

Since Israel’s statehood in 1948, Israel has endured repeated wars and attacks.  They have constantly faced the threat of a hostile Arab world that wants it gone.  Thousands of their young soldiers have been killed in this struggle for their survival and thousands more citizens have perished in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings.

The rise to power of radical Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, particularly given their historic ties to Hamas and their hatred of Israel, coupled with continued terrorist activity from Hamas and Hezbollah, and the looming specter of Iran’s nuclear weapons program have created the greatest threat to Israel’s continued existence they have faced since the Yom Kippur war of 1973.

Long-time allies such as Great Britain and the United States have recently shifted position and have taken a more adversarial role toward Israel, pressing for concessions of land for peace.  Keep in mind that all of the concessions made to date have only been met with demands for more, and have resulted not in peace but in continued hostility.

The lessons of the last century should have taught us that appeasement never works, but it appears that our generation is intent on learning that lesson at Israel’s expense.  Truth be told, it is highly unlikely if not impossible that any plan for peace engineered or imposed by man will succeed. 

The only viable plan for peace that WILL succeed is God’s peace plan, and that plan is through the Prince of Peace, Yeshua – Jesus the Messiah.  Only when He is invited in and hearts are changed can Arab and Jew, Israeli and Palestianian live in true peace with one another. 

For more on this fascinating topic, order your FREE BOOK “Is Peace Possible” now – CLICK HERE.   

About “Is Peace Possible”: Author, television host, and Messianic Rabbi Jonathan Bernis provides a fascinating insider’s snapshot into the rapidly changing Middle East conflict, analyzing the brewing undercurrents of impending doom from a historical, biblical, and prophetic perspective.  Using Scripture, Rabbi Bernis illustrates that this conflict is largely spiritual rather than merely political in nature, with God as the only solution that can succeed. 

Order your FREE BOOK “Is Peace Possible” now – CLICK HERE.

Jonathan Bernis, President and CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries Featured Sponsored Content Tue, 15 Apr 2014 17:46:44 -0400
How to Respond to Gays Who Say They Experience God's Power

Christians today are caught in a deep moral dilemma. They want to act with love and compassion toward their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender friends and family, but at the same time, they see how gay activism is changing America, and they don’t know how to respond rightly.

In his new book, Michael L. Brown responds to the paramount question defining our generation: Can you be gay and Christian?

How do we respond to gay people who tell us how much they love the Lord and experience God’s power? How do we answer them when they say that the greatest law is the law of love—and that love requires us to embrace them as they are?

Based on decades of serious academic scholarship, this book intends to answer the question of whether you can truly follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at the same time. Can You Be Gay and Christian? is for all readers who are simply interested in what the Scriptures teach about this very important subject or in how we are to respond to the issue of homosexuality—for ourselves or for those to whom we minister.

“I do not claim to be able to relate in full to the challenges faced by those who identify as gay or lesbian (or, for that matter, bisexual or transgender),” Brown says. “But I can honestly say that I have taken these issues to the Lord in tears, that I have listened carefully to the stories of LGBT people (both those who identify as Christian and those who do not), that I have reviewed the relevant scriptural arguments in depth, and that every word of this book was written with a heart for God and a heart for people.”

Brown compassionately discusses topics such as the Bible’s commandment to love one another, Jesus’ view on homosexuality and how to balance grace and truth. Readers will come away with solid biblical answers and practical guidelines for ministry.

“You are not defined by your attractions, and you are not a slave to your desires,” Brown writes. “You can even live without sex or be single, but you cannot live without Him. And so, rather than focusing on whether you are gay or bi or trans (or something else), why not focus on finding that one glorious, beautiful pearl of great price, that incredible, mind-boggling hidden treasure in the field: Jesus, the Lord and Savior.”

Althea Thompson Featured U.S. News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 08:00:00 -0400
Are Blood Moons Predicting Jesus’ Return?

As many are speculating over last week’s blood moon and its significance, Jim Denison, founder of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, is asking the question, “Will Jesus return in the next 18 months?”

Last week’s lunar eclipse, more commonly known as a “blood moon,” is the first of four to come in the next year, which is called a tetrad. Though they have happened before, this tetrad is noteworthy because each of the four blood moons will happen on a Jewish holiday—two during Passover and two during the Feast of Tabernacles.

The phenomenon has spurred a slew of books, including John Hagee’s best-selling Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change. While some are predicting the blood moons mean war in the Middle East, others predict Christ’s return.

“I have no idea if these events have anything to do with Jesus’ return,” Denison wrote in a column Monday. “But I do know that a ‘blood moon’ was associated with his death. When Peter preached his Pentecost sermon, he cited Joel’s prophecy: ‘the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, that great and magnificent day’ (Acts 2:20). Interestingly, on April 3, AD 33, a Passover lunar eclipse was visible from Jerusalem. As a result, a ‘blood moon’ rose that night over the Holy City.”

He continues, “Whether that event marks the precise date of Jesus’ death or not, we know that he died on Good Friday and was raised on Easter Sunday. What he did is more important than when he did it. And what he did is intended to transform our lives for eternity and for today as well. But here’s the problem: his resurrection can empower us today only if we experience it today. If the risen Christ is a figure of history and a fact of faith but not a Person we encounter daily, we miss his transforming power in our lives.”

Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren recently clarified that he was not making a prediction of Jesus’ return when he posted a photo of last week’s blood moon and then spoke out against those using the phenomenon of the four lunar blood moons in the coming year to predict Jesus’ return.

“The Bible clearly says that NO ONE can figure out the timing of Jesus’ return,” Warren wrote. “It’s a waste of time. If fact, if anyone claims to know the date, you can be certain it WON’T occur on THAT date - because Jesus said ‘NO ONE knows the day nor hour it will happen!’ In fact, Jesus admitted that even HE did not know the date of his return! (Only the Father knows.) It WILL happen someday, regardless of scoffers, but it is a waste of time trying to figure out the date. To attempt to figure out something that even Jesus admitted he didn’t know - is pure arrogance.”

Hagee believes God is using the blood moons to speak, and he has predicted a crisis in the Middle East—specifically relating to Israel.

“There’s a sense in the world that things are changing and God is trying to communicate with us in a supernatural way,” Hagee told CBN News.

“I believe that in these next two years, we’re going to see something dramatic happen in the Middle East involving Israel that will change the course of history in the Middle East and impact the whole world,” he predicted.

NASA predicts that the blood moon will be visible in North America again on Oct. 8, April 4 and Sept. 28, 2015. The organization has said tetrads are not especially rare, and there are eight sets believed to be occurring before 2100.

Gina Meeks Featured U.S. News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Combating the National Day of Prayer, Atheists Launch 'Day of Reason'

Gov. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island has declared May 1 as a "Day of Reason" in his state.

The secular celebration is being held on the same day as the National Day of Prayer.

Atheists and secularists oppose a national day of prayer, saying it's part of a "persistent threat" to the separation of church and state. They think a "Day of Reason" will help them fight back.

The Humanists of Rhode Island and the Secular Coalition for Rhode Island requested the event.

Chafee's proclamation says reason has "proven to offer hope for human survival upon Earth by cultivating intelligent, moral, and ethical interaction among people."

Meanwhile, millions of Christians are expected to participate in the National Day of Prayer.

This year's theme, "One Voice, United in Prayer," emphasizes the need for individuals, both personally and corporately, to place their faith in the "unfailing character of their Creator, who is sovereign over all governments, authorities, and men."

The theme Scripture for this year's event is Romans 15:6: "So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

CBN News Featured U.S. News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:00:00 -0400
Christianity and Genocide?

In the lead-up to Easter, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron committed his government to fighting the persecution of Christians abroad, saying no group is under more pressure for its faith.

Cameron is not alone in making the claim. In February, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith said, "The global persecution of Christians has gone from bad to worse." In November 2012, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "Christianity is the most persecuted religion worldwide." In January 2011, former Lebanese President Amine Gemayal said, "What is happening to Christians is a genocide."

In May, Christian Solidarity International an international human rights organization issued a Genocide Alert for Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Egypt. (See the United Nations definition of genocide here.)

On March 12, the day before Cameron’s announcement, Lord David Alton, of the U.K.’s House of Lords, spoke at a Lenten Vigil dedicated to the suffering church in Syria and the Middle East. During the service, Alton highlighted the systematic killing and outright persecution of Christians, which he said "takes place without hardly a murmur of protest."

"There is a mistaken belief that somehow this has little or nothing to do with us," he said.

Speaking in a town near London, Alton discussed in detail what he said is the "complete denial about the existence of religiously motivated persecution" in hopes of encouraging policymakers, intelligence services and the media to have a more considered understanding of religious radicalization and intolerance.

"Religious illiteracy amongst policy makers in Western nations means that the way we view these conflicts has led to serious mistakes," he said.

Alton’s talk, titled "Paying a Price for Belief," addressed maltreatment of Christians globally but focused on specifically on North Korea, Pakistan and Syria—places where he said being a Christian requires one to pay the ultimate price for their faith.

"The two greatest fault lines of our times are the fault lines between Christianity and secularism, and Christianity and Islam," he said. "Unless we lay bare the ideology which lies behind radical Islamist thinking—and which too often reduces God to the status of a faction leader or tribal chief —and challenge the conspiracy of silence which surrounds the question of religious persecution, at the hands of radical Islamists and atheists alike, we will sleep-walk into a massive tragedy."

Since 1948 the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights has enshrined the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, but the document "is not worth the paper on which it is written," Alton said. "In country after country, all of this has been ignored. And little wonder that Pope Benedict on his visit to the Holy Land remarked: ‘Churches in the Middle East are threatened in their very existence.’ "

Persecution is not limited to Christians. An Indonesian atheist was fined and jailed for 2 1/2 years after posting the words "God does not exist" and controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad on his Facebook page. Rohinga Muslims live under pressure in Burma, Bahias in Iran, and Tibetan Buddhists in China. However, Alton said, in every country where religious persecution occurs, Christians are in the front line.

This, he said, demands a response from Muslims in the West:

"If, in the face of evil deeds, secularists and Christians need to weigh up their silence and priorities, so do our Muslim brothers. Muslims, who have often settled in our democracies, need to be much braver in breaking the conspiracy of silence and in identifying with those who suffer - among whom are many Muslim victims of visceral hatred motivated by persecution for being the wrong kind of Muslims. Never forget that many of these families came to Europe to escape the intolerance of countries like Pakistan, where a young Muslim girl was shot for wanting an education, and its Catholic minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for preaching co-existence.

"Many of our European Muslims are good, law-abiding people, who want the same things for themselves and for their families as the rest of us. They are not, as some foolishly and wrongly caricature them, an enemy within. But if they remain silent it will increasingly be seen as acquiescence. It will, however, require real courage to speak out against forces which have no respect for difference or diversity, or for life itself."

World Watch Monitor Featured World News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Persecuted Pastor From Iran Hospital Bed: Let's Resurrect Our Dead Faith

American pastor Saeed Abedini, serving an eight-year sentence for his Christian faith in Iran, wrote the following Easter message from his hospital room:

Crucifying the resurrected “self” with Christ and resurrecting our dead faith with Christ

Happy Resurrection Day.

On the Eve of Good Friday and Easter I was praying from my hospital room for my fellow Christians in the world. What the Holy Spirit revealed to me in prayer was that there are many dead faiths in the midst of Christians today. That Christians all over the world are not able to fully reach their spiritual potential that has been given to them as a gift by God so that in reaching that potential, the curtain can be removed and the Glory of God would be revealed.

Some times we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him. We do not realize that unless we pass through the path of death with Christ, we are not able to experience resurrection with Christ.

We want to have a good and successful marriage, career, education and family life (which is also God’s desire and plan for our life). But we forget that in order to experience the Resurrection and Glory of Christ we first have to experience death with Christ and to die to ourselves and selfish desires.

Jesus said to His Disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

This means that we should not do things that we like to do (that God does not want us to do) and to do things that we do not like to do (but God wants us to do) so that He may be glorified.

So in addition to spending our days and night in doing the works of faith as described above, we should also transform our dead faiths into living and active faiths through the resurrection of Christ which is an active and constructive love that is effective.

In conclusion, let us resurrect our Dead faiths to living faiths by first dying to our selfish “resurrected” self and experiencing the cross of Jesus. Then we are able to experience the Glorious resurrection with Christ.

A Glorious life with Christ starts only after a painful death (to self) with Christ.

We will start with Christ.

Pastor Saeed Abedini
Prisoner in the Darkness in Iran, but free for the Kingdom and Light

Please continue to pray for Pastor Saeed as ACLJ continues fighting for his release, and sign the petition for his freedom.

Jordan Sekulow/American Center for Law and Justice Featured World News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:30:00 -0400
Apostasy Rising: First Church of England Clergyman Marries Gay Partner

A Church of England clergyman has become the first to enter a same-sex marriage, going against official guidance, which says clergy need to “model the Church’s teaching in their lives.”

Canon Jeremy Pemberton and his partner, Laurence Cunnington, had the ceremony in a hotel on Saturday.

An evangelical group within the Church of England called for “clear discipline” on the issue, saying anything else would make the Church’s official position look hollow.

In February, the Church of England released guidance saying it would be unacceptable for an ordained person to have a same-sex wedding.

The Church also said it would not ordain someone in a same-sex marriage.

Rod Thomas, from the Reform church group, comments, “There’s no doubt that there is pressure within some parts of the Church for the Church to change its mind on sexuality."

“If there is not clear discipline, then it is the equivalent to saying, ‘We really didn’t mean what we said.’ It will precipitate a crisis,” he says.

In light of his wedding, Canon Pemberton, a divorced father of five, says, “I love this man, and I want to be married to him. That’s what I want. It is the same as anyone who wants to get married.”

The archbishops of Canterbury and York underlined their stance on marriage in a letter published alongside the guidance.

They said that Church bishops “are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.”

Last year the Church of England released a report that recommended that gay unions should be marked by special church services as an act of worship.

The Church claims that such services would not be “blessings” or part of liturgy.

Vicar and blogger Peter Ould comments, “The problem with the recommendations as they stand is that they give priests a carte-blanche to have public services affirming sexual relationships outside of marriage.”

He adds that the report “simply doesn’t know how to handle men and women like myself who, despite not being heterosexual, have made tough choices to fashion our lives in line with the biblical truth.”

The Christian Institute Featured World News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -0400
Atheists Strong-Arm Wrestling Team Over Bible Verse

Hulk Hogan once said, “I fear no man, no beast or evil, brother.”

And the wrestlers at Parkersburg South High School in Parkersburg, W.Va., fear no atheist.

The teenage grapplers are staring down the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a Wisconsin-based atheist group outraged because the team wears T-shirts bearing a Bible verse.

“I can do all things through Him that strengthens me.” That’s the verse emblazoned across the back of the shirt. The motto was also posted on the team’s website. Until now.

“We asked them to take it down,” says Pat Law, the superintendent of the Wood County School District. “We have to follow the law—whatever that law might be. We’re going to be certain that everyone’s rights are being protected."

Law told me the team had been using the motto for at least 10 years without any complaint—until he received the letter from the FFRF. He says the group alleges the shirts violate the separation of church and state.

However, Bill Merriman, an attorney representing one of the wrestlers and his parents, told me the shirts are perfectly legal.

“It’s not part of the official uniform,” Merriman says. “If a student athlete doesn’t want to wear that shirt, they don’t have to. It’s not a requirement. It’s not part of the official uniform.”

Merriman says the shirts were paid for by parents of the wrestlers—and now those moms and dads are ready to pile-drive somebody.

“They don’t understand how somebody can come along after all these years and say you can’t wear that,” he says. “It’s frustrating for the parents because they see a lot of other T-shirts being worn by students that are certainly not religious—but they are offensive. Nobody is saying they can’t wear those shirts.”

That’s a pretty good point.

For now, Supt. Law told me the kids can wear the shirts, provided they belong to the students.

“We do not and cannot infringe upon their freedom of religion—their ability to express that,” he says.

However, the Bible verse has already been scrubbed from the wrestling team’s website.

Merriman says he is ready to file a lawsuit if the school district ultimately decides the shirts violate the law.

“The First Amendment swings both ways,” he told me.

Indeed, it does. But try telling that to a militant atheist.

It’s really no surprise the boys had a Bible verses printed on their T-shirts. As we all learned in Sunday school, the relationship between God and grapplers predates Saturday morning wrestling.

There’s a great wrestling story in the Old Testament. Jacob went toe to toe with an angel. It was an honest-to-goodness, no-holds-barred steel cage match.

Now, I’m no theologian, but I suspect if old Jacob got in the squared circle with an angel, he’d be more than willing to tangle with an atheist.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is God Less America.

Todd Starnes Featured Opinion Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:30:00 -0400
British Prime Minister Accused of Dividing Country With 'Christian' Talk

A group of scientists, academics and prominent writers accused British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday of stoking sectarian divisions through his repeated description of Britain as a "Christian country."

The public figures, including authors Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett, said they respected the Conservative leader's own religious beliefs, which he has addressed in a series of statements.

But they took issue with his characterization of Britain, saying, in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, the country was actually a "plural society" of largely "non-religious" people.

"To constantly claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society," said the 55 members of the group that also included Nobel Prize-winning scientist John Sulston.

"It needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritized by their elected government," the letter added.

The 2011 census showed Christianity was the largest religion in England and Wales but the number of people who described themselves as Christian had fallen from almost 72 percent in 2001 to just over 59 percent, or 33.2 million people.

About 14 million people said they had no religion.

Cameron told an Easter reception this month he was "proud to be a Christian myself and to have my children at a church school."

In an article in the Church Times last week, he described himself as "a member of the Church of England, and, I suspect, a rather classic one: not that regular in attendance, and a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith."

Britain, he added, should be more confident about its status as a Christian country and more evangelical.

Cameron's comments follow a period of tension between the Church of England and the Conservative party, the major partner in Britain's coalition government that faces a parliamentary election next year.

Church leaders have joined forces to criticize welfare reforms and the rising use of free food banks across Britain.

Cameron also angered some Christians—and caused deep splits in the Conservative party—as he drove new legislation through Parliament to allow same-sex marriages in Britain.

A spokeswoman for Cameron said the prime minister's view that Britain should not be afraid to call itself a Christian country did not mean he felt it was wrong to have another faith or no faith.

"He has said on many occasions that he is incredibly proud that Britain is home to many different faith communities, who do so much to make the U.K. a stronger country," she said.

Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Andrew Heavens

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Reuters Featured World News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 11:00:00 -0400
How the Assemblies of God Is Tackling the Millennial Challenge

As the world continues to vie for the attention of the younger generation, the Assemblies of God is one of the few U.S. denominations where young people are flocking. Statistics indicate approximately 40 percent of the Fellowship's more than 3 million adherents are 25 and younger.

"The Assemblies of God has historically done a good job of keeping the focus on the next generation," says Scott Berkey, children's pastor at Victory Worship Center (AG) in Tucson, Ariz., and former national director of the Children's Ministries Agency. "When that comes from the top, it trickles down in different ways and in different capacities all the way to the local church level."

Now more than ever, Berkey says parents are doing their homework before they walk into a church with their families and choosing ones that place special emphasis on children. If the church is doing its job by helping children feel connected, then it's the children who will bring their parents back to the church, says Berkey.

"Today's parents predominantly go where their kids want them to go," Berkey says. "The buying power kids have today is unlike any generation before them, and the same holds true as to where they go to church."

Mark Entzminger, senior director for the AG's children's ministries, says this need for connection is of vital importance to children.

"Kids today want to belong and have a place where they fit in and are welcomed, loved and accepted for who they are," Entzminger says. 

In addition to a nurturing environment, Entzminger says the AG is reaching a hands-on generation and that teaching methods should reflect this whenever possible.

One of the Fellowship's most successful evangelistic outreaches for children, MEGA Sports Camp, gives evidence of this trend. MEGA Sports Camp allows the worlds of sports and faith to collide with positive results. Entzminger says this Vacation Bible School-style outreach typically attracts children who aren't Christians or who come from an unchurched background. The result is often a number of families getting plugged into a local congregation.

When reaching those outside the church, Berkey says it's important to be strategic and create an environment where people want to come and experience why a church is different from other community children's events.

"What separates us from those events is the love of Jesus Christ," Berkey says. "The people in our churches are interacting and sharing the love of Christ with children."

After establishing a foundation built on the love of Christ, children then graduate into local youth ministries. Heath Adamson, national director for AG Youth Ministries, says the Spirit-empowered gospel is what speaks to their hearts.

"We're firm believers that the most relevant thing today truly is the presence and the drawing of the Holy Spirit," Adamson says. "He always communicates in a language everybody understands, and it is His presence that becomes the impetus that crosses those invisible borders that separate generations."

Adamson says this movement of the Spirit was never intended to remain within the four walls of the church. Through the campus ministry of Youth Alive, students are intentionally being equipped to be salt and light in their schools and to identify key moments where they can live out their faith, whether it's in science class or walking down the hall at school.

The goal, Adamson says, is for Youth Alive campus missionaries to not necessarily tell everybody about what they believe but to have the courage to listen to somebody's story and, through the interaction of the Holy Spirit, allow God to open a door for them to share God's story.

The hope of the ministry is that the participating students will make an impact on the lives of those around them regardless of where their paths take them. Students not only make a difference; they become the difference.

Jay Mooney, executive director of COMPACT Family Services in Hot Springs, Ark., knows all too well the importance of being the difference in the lives of children and youth, particularly those in crisis.

Mooney says a child or youth who comes through the door of COMPACT immediately is shown the love of Christ. Mentors model consistent discipline and love.

Love was what greeted a 19-year-old woman from South Carolina who described herself as a scared, broken child when she stood on the doorstep of COMPACT's Highlands Maternity Home.

Molested as a young girl, she suffered from a sexual addiction that left her unmarried and pregnant; however, she says it was the love of God that changed her life.

From day one, Mooney says, caregivers work with troubled children and youth from every angle to influence their lives and heal their wounds by ministering to their whole person—body, soul and spirit.

Such was the case with this young woman, who has ultimately come to experience God's grace and forgiveness.

"It's crazy how God ordered my steps," she says. "Highlands is where God began to turn my life around, and now God is walking me down the road so I can be who He's called me to be."

She is currently enrolled in school and has plans to pursue her credentials to become an AG missionary.

"It was just amazing the love that they had for me," she says. "They loved me past my attitude, and they loved me past my sin. They showed me how Christ sees me."

With this simple yet timeless message, AG children's and youth ministries are successfully reaching out to and impacting a generation marked by constant change and advancement. 

"At the end of the day, love works," Adamson says. "Walking with Christ works."

This article originally appeared in Pentecostal Evangel.

Shannon M. Nass, Pentecostal Evangel Featured U.S. News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:30:00 -0400
This Florida Church Got More Than It Bargained for on Resurrection Sunday

A car crashed into a Fort Myers, Fla., church filled with 200 people attending the Easter Sunday service, injuring at least 18, police said.

Worshipers at the Second Haitian Baptist Church used car jacks on Sunday night to lift the vehicle and pull several people trapped underneath before police arrived, a statement from the Fort Myers police said.

The driver told authorities that at 7:55 p.m. EST, the brakes on her Lexus sedan stopped working as she was driving through a parking lot adjacent to the church, sending the car careening into the building.

"At this point the investigation is being treated as a very unfortunate accident rather than a criminal act," Lt. Victor Medico, a spokesman for the Fort Myers Police, said in a statement.

Medico said no information on the condition of the victims was immediately available. A spokeswoman for Lee Memorial Hospital, where some of the injured were being treated, could not be reached for comment.

The driver was questioned by police and allowed to leave, although "civil traffic violations may be forthcoming," Medico said in an e-mail.

Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; editing by Kevin Gray and G Crosse

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Reuters Featured U.S. News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Boy Scouts Revoke Seattle Church's Charter Over Gay Scout Leader

The Boy Scouts of America has severed ties with a Seattle church that has insisted on allowing a gay man to remain as a troop leader, the youth organization said on Monday.

It is likely the first time the national organization has severed ties with a scout troop since a landmark vote last year allowed gay scouts but kept a ban on gay adult leaders.

The decision to revoke the Rainier Beach United Methodist Church's charter comes as the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) faces pressure from social conservatives over the rule change, as well as from gay rights groups who say it did not go far enough.

"Because the church no longer agrees to the terms of the BSA chartered organization agreement, which includes following BSA policies, it is no longer authorized to offer the Scouting program," said Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith in a statement. "We are saddened by this development."

The BSA last month revoked the membership of Geoffrey McGrath, a gay Scout leader of Troop 98 in Seattle, after he openly stated his sexual orientation in a news interview that discussed his group. The recently formed troop was sponsored by the Rainier Beach church.

The revoked charter prevents the group from the neighborhood in south Seattle from using the BSA's uniforms and logos.

The church plans to offer a replacement program, said McGrath, who became an Eagle Scout in the 1980s.

"Our primary task is to make sure that the youth program at the church continues without missing a beat," McGrath told Reuters. "We'll have to make minor adjustments to avoid copyright infringement."

The Rev. Monica Corsaro of the church told NBC News that the Boy Scouts' action conflicts with her congregation's values of non-discrimination.

The Boy Scouts said they have identified a new charter organization for the church-affiliated troop.

Following its decision to admit gay youth, the BSA has seen religious groups and leaders sever ties and a conservative group say it would form a rival alternative. It has also faced accusations of failing to protect children from sexual abuse by adult volunteers.

The BSA did not immediately say whether it had revoked other charters.

Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Wash.; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Catherine Evans

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Jonathan Kaminsky/Reuters Featured U.S. News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 09:30:00 -0400
Pro-Gay and Pro-Abortion Laura Bush to Address Leaders
Billy Graham says he is praying daily for spiritual awakening in America. Last week, Rush Limbaugh expressed the hope for America is an awakening. I think it's safe to say most serious Christians concur. 
Studying the spiritual history of America, we have seen two major times of spiritual awakening that transformed the cultural landscape. In addition, we have seen times of divine intervention in our nation with the Pentecostal movement, the Catholic charismatic movement, the Jesus movement, and other such times of supernatural visitation.
An awakening or a revival is a season when God's people who have been lulled to sleep are jolted into the reality of the urgency of the hour and the need for Holy Spirit transformation. Some recent experiences illustrate why the time is now:
  • Surveying the literature in a charismatic church lobby, I noticed an upcoming conference where Andy Stanley, Laura Bush and Desmond Tutu are speaking on leadership. Laura Bush and Desmond Tutu are both supporters of abortion and gay marriage, plus retired Archbishop Tutu is pro-Marxist and anti-Israel! 
  • Barna Research did a survey of pastors in America and discovered that while 97 percent agree same-sex marriage is wrong, only 31 percent say they would address the topic. 
  • Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A, now states that it was a business "mistake" to speak up for traditional marriage last year in the face of homosexual opposition. 
  • A major Christian publishing house is considering a book authored by a supporter of homosexuality and gay marriage.
  • Two weeks ago in Texas, 65 leaders committed to attend a luncheon dealing with the issue of the radical gay agenda. In spite of a confirmation call the day before, less than 20 showed up. Food was wasted, and the host senior leader was extremely embarrassed. 
  • Last week in Alabama, about 35 leaders showed up for a free buffet luncheon highlighting the importance of dealing with the assault on one man/one woman marriage. The planned citywide meeting on the same theme the next evening saw not one of the leaders present except the host pastor.
Here's the deal: At a critical time when we need the people of God fully alert, praying and taking Spirit-led action, we simply cannot afford to kick back in our hammocks while the enemy is storming the gates. Hitting the snooze alarm and listening to Lucifer's lullaby is unacceptable today.  
May we rouse ourselves out of our stupor by reminding ourselves of the following very real consequences if same-sex marriage is legalized in our land. We need to review these realities, as every one of us is subjected to an avalanche of pro-gay and pro-gay marriage messages on a daily basis from the news media, political comments, sitcoms, celebrity interviews, music, videos, award presentations, academia, sport shows and the like. Tens of millions are being distracted and deceived by what my friend Matt Barber calls the "intentionally deceptive yet oh-so-sweet-sounding serenade of equality, tolerance and diversity."
And some of us are simply too busy fooling ourselves into thinking that because we have lots of activity, that represents fruitful ministry. It's time to slap ourselves upside the head and reorder our priorities with what God is saying in our generation.
The latest polls reveal that 43 percent of Americans are for gay marriage and 43 percent against. May rehearsing these realities enable us to be informed and intentional in engaging people at every possible opportunity with the facts of homosexual marriage.
The 10 Consequences of Gay Marriage
1. Total distortion of God's purpose for marriage as a picture of Christ's relationship with His church (Eph. 5:31-32).
2. Redefining marriage means redefining our religious liberties so that laws then prevent discrimination against any type of so-called marital relationship—including polygamy, polyamorous relationships and pederasty (gay relationships between adult males and adolescent boys).
3. Our children will suffer great harm and confusion through gay-friendly propaganda in schools plus the removal of the best way to ensure success for children: having both a father and mother.
4. Legalizing gay marriage "softens the soil" and paves the way for other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender models being accepted and celebrated in the culture.
5. Government endorsement of gay marriage legitimizes this lifestyle to mainstream respectability, further eroding the morality of our nation and increasing dangerous, at-risk sexual behavior, contributing to higher rates of STDs and jeopardizing health care and our economy.
6. New laws, policies, initiatives and ordinances will be in enacted to "educate" people and force compliance with the progressive agenda. (Note: If even atheist Bill Maher agrees there is a "gay mafia" now "whacking people" into compliance, we ain't seen nothing yet—in our churches and Christian schools too!) 
7. The youth of America will drift further into the throes of confusion regarding sexual identity and the necessity of marriage. Cohabitation, serial divorce and out-of-wedlock babies … why not?
8. We as a nation will plunge further into the depths of secularism and away from our heritage as a Judeo-Christian nation, with the blessing and protection of almighty God removed. 
9. We will have removed the two foundational "legs" upon which our nation stands: the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage.
10. We will experience the wrath of God in ways we can't even imagine.
Here's the deal: homosexual practice and homosexual marriage is not permissible. It is prohibited without exception throughout the entire Bible. 
If we are going to experience another spiritual awakening, let's read aloud on a regular basis the following description God gave to the Romans, who unfortunately didn't heed the warning and saw their civilization collapse. May it not happen to the United States America.
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness. … Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. ... God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error" (Romans 1:18, 24, 26-27, NIV).
Larry Tomczak is a best-selling author and cultural commentator with more than 41 years of trusted ministry experience. His passion is to bring perspective, analysis and insight from a biblical worldview. He loves awakening people to today’s cultural realities and responses needed for a restored, influential church. Please visit
Larry Tomczak Featured Here's the Deal Opinion Tue, 22 Apr 2014 09:00:00 -0400
Morris Cerullo Shares His Greatest Miracle in Ministry

Pioneering evangelist Morris Cerullo has seen countless signs, wonders, healings and miracles around the world. In an exclusive interview with Charisma editor Marcus Yoars, he reveals the greatest and most impacting moment of his 67 years in ministry.


Marcus Yoars Featured Opinion Tue, 22 Apr 2014 07:00:00 -0400
Bill Gothard Refutes Any Sexual Innuendos in Hugs, Foot Contact With Women

Bill Gothard made quite a name for himself in the home-schooling movement. Now his name is associated with something less honorable.

Gothard, 79, resigned from Basic Life Principles, the organization he founded, after allegations he was sexually harassing women. He has remained silent until now.

“I have withheld this statement in order to honor the request of the Board of Directors to wait until an initial review has taken place,” he wrote in a blog post. “As the review continues, I now want to make this statement.”

Here is Gothard’s statement:

"God has brought me to a place of greater brokenness than at any other time in my life. It is a grief to realize how my pride and insensitivity have affected so many people. I have asked the Lord to reveal the underlying causes and He is doing this.

"For many years I have been building the Institute but losing my first love for the Lord. God warns 'I know thy works, and thy labour . . . Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent. . . ' (Revelation 2:2, 4, 5). I was finding value and affirmation from the accomplishments of the ministry and those involved in it instead of filling this void in my life with God and His love. I have repented in deep sorrow. However, over the years many people have been offended in different ways because of my lack of genuine love.

"I put the Institute and its goals ahead of people and their needs. Standards became more important than relationships. People who didn’t 'measure up' were cut off and those who were not seen as adding value to the ministry were treated as though they were expendable. The more I have listened to people describe their experiences the more grieved and sorrowful I have become.

"My wrong focus produced a further consequence. Families were made to feel that they must 'measure up.' This resulted in some parents putting undue pressure on their sons and daughters in order for the family to be accepted. When there was a lack of love or consistency, sons and daughters saw this as hypocrisy and rejected it. Also, many felt that the expectations where so high that they could never measure up to them. This resulted in a feeling of deep defeat.

"This emphasis on outward appearance was also manifested by bringing selected young people to serve at the Headquarters and causing others to feel rejected and offended by my favoritism. My actions of holding of hands, hugs, and touching of feet or hair with young ladies crossed the boundaries of discretion and were wrong. They demonstrated a double-standard and violated a trust. Because of the claims about me I do want to state that I have never kissed a girl nor have I touched a girl immorally or with sexual intent.

"I have failed to live out some of the very things that I have taught. I am committed to learning from my failures by God’s grace and mercy, and do what I can to help bring about Biblical reconciliation as Jesus commands: 'Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift' (Matthew 5:23-24).

"More than anything I want to make right what I have done wrong and deepen my relationship with the Lord. I trust in God’s undeserved mercy and pray that those whom I have offended would find grace to forgive me. I know that I do not deserve this. I would certainly appreciate your prayers during this time that God would bring healing to those who have been so deeply affected by my actions. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had thus far to be reconciled with individuals and it is my goal to contact as many others as I can, fully hear them, and do whatever I can to bring about Biblical reconciliation.

"My greatest offense has been against God. I have earnestly sought His mercy and forgiveness and have asked Him to allow me to experience more of Him and the power of His resurrection.

"Bill Gothard"

Jennifer LeClaire Featured U.S. News Tue, 22 Apr 2014 06:00:00 -0400
Some Honest Questions for Professing 'Gay Christians'

I have interacted with a number of men and women who identified as gay atheists, and their atheism and their homosexuality were interrelated, since they rejected the God of the Bible because they understood the Scriptures reject homosexual practice. And so, given the choice of rejecting their own identity or rejecting a God whom they understood rejected them, they chose to reject Him.

Today, however, more and more men and women who identify as LGBT are professing to be devoted Christians, believing that the church has wrongly interpreted the Scriptures through the centuries and claiming that committed, monogamous same-sex relationships can be blessed by God.

It is for those of you who identify as both gay and Christian that I’d like to ask some honest questions. You may take them as adversarial, but in reality, I ask these questions in the love of God and the fear of God, being jealous for your well-being in the Lord.

And while it’s easy for some people to throw around the hate word, you will not find a syllable of hate in these words, because there’s not an ounce of hate in my heart.

1. Are you 100 percent sure that your interpretation of Scripture regarding homosexuality is correct?

I’m sure that many of you went through terrible struggles trying to reconcile your sexual and romantic attractions with the Scriptures, and it must have been an incredible relief to you when you heard of a different reading of the Word, one which told you that you could pursue a God-blessed relationship with someone of the same sex.

But are you 100 percent sure before God that your interpretation is correct? Are you willing to risk your soul in giving yourself to something that may truly be displeasing in His sight?

I once heard a gay pastor give a talk about these issues at a local gay and lesbian center, and to my surprise, he was not dogmatic in his presentation, saying that he thought his interpretation was correct, but he was anything but sure and definite. I asked myself: Then how can he doing what he’s doing?

A few years after that, I participated in a forum at a local college together with a lesbian pastor and some others, and again, to my surprise, the lesbian pastor was not dogmatic either, encouraging everyone there to seek the Lord and study the Word for themselves.

Of course, it’s good for us to be humble when approaching God and His Word, and none of us can claim to be right about every single doctrinal issue. But there are some hills that we must be sure enough to die on, and before you enter into a sexual relationship with someone, you had better be 100 percent sure that the union is holy in God's sight and that the marriage is a real marriage.

Paul wrote that whatever is not of faith is sin (Rom. 14:23), and so this is one mistake you really can’t afford to make.

Again I ask: Are you 100 percent sure that God blesses committed, monogamous same-sex relationships? If you say that you are, I can only pray for you. If you admit that you are not, then please, step back and reconsider.

2. Do your beliefs start with certainty about the authority of Scripture, or do they start with certainty about your “sexual orientation”?

From the many stories I have read about professing “gay Christians” (by which I’m referring to those who claim to follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at the same time), a common theme was that they struggled to understand the Word, feeling that the Scriptures were not as clear on these issues as they had once felt. But they were sure about their “sexual orientation,” and that became their primary point of reference. (I put “sexual orientation” in quotes because it is actually a relatively recent concept and one that is subject to different understandings.)

This means that there is a real possibility that you have interpreted the Word in light of your deeply rooted same-sex desires and attractions rather than starting with the Word and letting the Word interpret you. (I get into this in more detail in Can You Be Gay and Christian?)

3. What do you say to those people who are genuinely ex-gay or to those who are still same-sex attracted but have chosen to separate themselves to the Lord unless He changes them?

A close relative of mine was truly and genuinely ex-gay, surrendering his whole life, including his sexuality, to the Lord when he got saved and then discovering to his surprise some years later that he was now attracted to women. (Surely all believers in Jesus must acknowledge that He has the power to do things like this.)

Other ex-gays have told me in detail about how God changed their desires, either through extensive discipleship or through a dramatic encounter with the Lord or through counseling and prayer, and I have no reason to doubt their stories. In fact, I find it to be the height of intolerance to doubt them or, worse still, to mock them.

I also have met many others who say that their same-sex attractions have lessened but not changed dramatically or who tell me that those attractions remain the same as before but that they love the Lord, they know that homosexual practice is sin, and they are living overflowing lives in Jesus, totally content to be single.

As a heterosexual man, happily married for more than 38 years, I certainly don’t understand the challenges you face, but these friends I have just mentioned certainly do. What do you say to them? And what do you say to heterosexual Christians who, through no choice of their own, have remained single their entire lives and yet have served God faithfully and lived holy lives?

4. If you were convinced that God opposed all forms of homosexual practice, would you follow Him anyway?

In my book, I quote the words of a pastor in England who remains same-sex attracted but who renounces those attractions and lives a celibate life. He said that Jesus requires the same thing from all of us—namely, everything—and that He Himself is enough for us. This man's witness speaks volumes to all of us.

Would you reject the One who died for you if you came to the conclusion that He did not approve of same-sex relationships? Would your homosexuality come first and Jesus come second?

I know these are terribly weighty issues, and I don’t write things lightly. In fact, as God Himself knows, it is love that compels me to write, and I do so with pain in my heart.

Will you take these things prayerfully before the Lord? We are praying and interceding for you!

Michael Brown is author of Can You Be Gay and Christian? Responding With Love and Truth to Questions About Homosexuality and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or at @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.

Michael Brown Featured In the Line of Fire Opinion Mon, 21 Apr 2014 08:00:00 -0400
What Would Jesus Do About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

For many decades, evangelical support for Israel seemed rock solid. Today, however, many younger Christians in Western churches are hesitant to give Israel the same unconditional support their parents did. Stories of Palestinian suffering, rather than the struggles and triumphs of Israel, have attracted the sympathy of young evangelicals.

They appear to be motivated more by the cause of social justice for the “oppressed” Palestinians than the prophecy-driven backing of the restored Jewish state. Many Christian youngsters have sided with the Palestinians as the perceived underdog. And in any case, Jesus in the Gospels seems to have very little to say about the current situation.

So for a generation known to read far less in the Old Testament than previous generations, this supposed New Testament “silence” makes a big difference in how they view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Today, they simply ask: What would Jesus do?

That is, would Jesus affirm the national calling of Israel according to the promises made to the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets? Would He affirm Israel’s right to live in the land? Or would He rather side with the Palestinians as a weak and suppressed minority?

A strong guide for answering these questions is to look at how Jesus dealt with the most prominent indigenous minority living in Israel during his time. As we shall see, there are many striking parallels between the Samaritan people in the days of Jesus and the Palestinians of today. So, who were the Samaritans, and how did Jesus treat them?

A Replaced People
The first time the Bible mentions the Samaritans is in 2 Kings 17:22-41, which gives their historical background. The passage recounts how the northern kingdom of Israel was “carried away from their own land” (v. 23) and taken into exile in 722 B.C. by Assyria, whose King Sargon II followed a common practice of conquering empires in those days. He replaced the dislodged Israelites with people from other regions of his empire. Thus, he took people “from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities” (v. 24).

These new implants, thereafter called the Samaritans, began intermingling with some of the Israelite remnant left in the land and quickly adopted some of their religious practices. Besides their own gods and traditions, they also worshipped and “feared” the God of Israel.

Then in 586-582 B.C., a second uprooting occurred when the southern kingdom of Judah also was forced into exile by the Babylonian Empire. This gave even more room for the Samaritan people to expand and solidify their presence in the land of Israel.

Resisting the Restoration

Some 70 years later, the Jewish people started to return to the land and rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. Yet the Samaritan communities were among the strongest opponents of this Jewish restoration. They resisted it religiously and politically (Ezra 4; Neh. 4:1-3). Nevertheless, Jerusalem and the temple were restored, and the Jews re-established their presence again in their promised homeland because the Lord was with them (Hag. 1:13).

Still, the Samaritans continued to oppose the Jewish return and to develop their own rival culture and national identity. Over time, they even cultivated their own form of pseudo-Judaism. The prophets and other writings of the Tanakh were rejected, and only the five books of Moses were considered binding. For this reason, the Samaritans rejected the idea of a promised Messiah from the lineage of David who would restore the kingdom for Israel. Rather, they expected a messiah figure who would be “a prophet like Moses,” as the book of Deuteronomy foretold, ushering in a moral and spiritual revival but not a national restoration.

Tense Relationship

By the time Jesus came along, the Samaritans had lived in the land for more than 700 years. They developed their own narrative of the region’s history and considered themselves the true Israel and rightful heirs of the land, claiming descent from Ephraim and Manasseh. The temple in Jerusalem was considered an apostate shrine and its worship blasphemous to God. During the time of Alexander the Great, the Samaritans built an alternative temple on their holy mountain of Mt. Gerizim—the biblical “Mountain of Blessing” overlooking Shechem.

Meantime, the Jews did not recognize the Samaritans as part of their people and would not allow them to enter the temple in Jerusalem. Yet when Jesus was a child, around 6-9 A.D., Samaritans reportedly forced their way into the temple during Passover and desecrated it by throwing bones into the sanctuary. Indeed, for centuries it was a relationship characterised by tension and disdain. Jewish writings from 200 B.C. called Samaritans “the foolish people.”

Thus, during the time of Jesus, both Jews and Samaritans refused to mingle (John 4:9). Jewish pilgrims who were on their way to worship in Jerusalem were harassed (Luke 9:51-55). The Jewish historian Josephus reports that in 52 A.D., Samaritans even massacred a group of Jews making pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For Jews, the name Samaritan became a curse word (John 8:48). Even the disciples of Jesus were not fond of the Samaritans and were anxious to call down fire on their heads (Luke 9:54).

Jesus Crosses the Border

Amid this hostile, complex relationship, Jesus sets a refreshingly different tone toward the Samaritan populace. The Gospels surprisingly record that Jesus healed them (Luke 17:15-16) and reached out to them individually and as a community (John 4). In fact, Jesus rarely shared such deep thoughts on worship, his own Messianic identity and the Spirit of God as He did with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The encounter eventually led to revival in the entire village, and it was there that Jesus spoke about the fields being white for harvest (John 4:35ff).

Then there is the legendary parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Surely, it was offensive to Jewish listeners when Jesus described the Samaritan and not the Jewish priests as being the true neighbour to the man in need.

Thus, Jesus would not allow Himself to be drawn into the negative stereotypes of His time. When His disciples wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village for not allowing their master to pass, Jesus rebuked them harshly, saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56).

So Jesus did not consider the Samaritans as enemies, but reached out to them with compassion and love. He healed them, ministered to them, used them as examples to His Jewish brethren and even envisioned them as part of the harvest.

Jesus and the Samaritan Narrative

Still, while Jesus may have displayed an unusually kind attitude toward the Samaritans, He did not buy into their version of history. When Jesus healed the 10 lepers, the only one who returned to thank him was a Samaritan, to which Jesus replied, “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:18).

Jesus had reached out to the man with compassion and healing yet still considered him a “foreigner.” The Greek word used here is allogenes, and it is used in the Septuagint translation to mean the “stranger” who dwelt within the land. This person would have many rights and privileges but would still be excluded from the covenant promises and privileges of Israel. It was the same Greek word used in the inscription around the temple courts, allowing access only to Jews but not to allogenes—foreigners.

So Jesus reached out to the Samaritan people but also maintained a clear distinction between them and the Jews. He once instructed His disciples not to “enter a city of the Samaritans” (Matt. 10:5), but to focus rather on “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v. 6).

Finally, when Jesus ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well, she confronted Him with her people’s own narrative, saying, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship” (John 4:20).

In other words, she wanted to know whose narrative was correct. And Jesus answered, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-23).

Jesus portends that a new era in salvation history was soon coming when the place of worship would become secondary and each believer would become a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus did not conclude that Jewish tradition would become irrelevant. On the contrary, He strongly challenged the Samaritan belief system, saying, “You worship what you do not know.” At the same time, He identified Himself with Jewish tradition in a manner rarely found in the Gospels, saying, “We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.”

In a way, Jesus underscores with the Samaritan woman what He also stated to the healed leper—that they were foreigners to the covenants of God with Israel. The only way for them to become truly part of the household of God would be through the covenants and revelation given to the Jewish nation.

Note that Jesus did not say salvation is received by becoming Jewish, but rather that the woman should reconsider her theological and personal attitude toward the Jews. Decades later, the apostle Paul would make the same point: “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:1-2; see also Rom. 9:4-5).

Jesus thus affirms to the Samaritan woman the ancient Abrahamic calling of Israel, that through them “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). This covenant relationship with Abraham’s natural descendants remains even if they reject Jesus as their Messiah (Rom. 11:28).

The Samaritans of Our Day

There is still a small Samaritan community living in Israel today. They number less than a thousand members and are mostly located on Mt. Gerizim, near modern-day Nablus. However, their numbers are too small for them to play a significant role in current affairs. Instead, the community that more closely mirrors the dynamic between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Jesus is that of the Palestinians.

When the Jews were exiled by the Romans under Titus in 70 A.D. and later under Hadrian in 120 A.D., other people groups moved in. Each successive conqueror seizing control of this major crossroads of the world brought their own ethnic mix, whether they were the Romans, Byzantines, Arab-Muslim invaders, the Crusaders, the Mameluks or the Ottoman Turks. The result is an indigenous people with a broad amalgam of ethnic backgrounds. Some Palestinian Christians today may claim to be descendants of the first Messianic Jewish community in Israel, but this would be difficult to prove after all the turbulent history in the region.

Scholars have also documented that when Jews started to return and cultivate the land of Israel in the 1800s, many Arabs from neighbouring countries also came to find work created by the Zionist movement.

Most of these people today would call themselves Palestinians. The vast majority of these Palestinians are Muslims. They not only reject the teachings of the Bible but also maintain that Jews have no right or historic connection to the land. Supported by the global ummah (body of Muslim believers), they resist by all means the restoration of Israel on the land much like the Samaritans in the times of Nehemiah and Ezra.

On the other hand, the small Palestinian Christian community shares in many ways a common faith in Christ and the Bible that we do, yet they have developed their own unique twist to history and theology. Many of the Palestinians Christians contest the restoration of a Jewish state, both politically and theologically. In their own nationalized version of replacement theology, they not only see the Jewish people as being replaced by the church but Jesus as a Palestinian—one of the true custodians of the Holy Land. They see the promises of God to Israel to have elapsed either by being fulfilled in Jesus or by now falling to the Palestinian people.

Like in biblical times, both sides rarely mingle, and the tense relationship has drawn even more blood than in the times of Nehemiah, Ezra and Jesus.

A Call for Today

The unique approach of Jesus to the Samaritans can help us face the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today. Jesus demonstrated a heart of compassion toward the Samaritans, who were not accepted by most of His fellow Jews. Under His ministry, the Samaritans were privileged as the only people besides the Jews who experienced the personal touch of the Messiah. After His resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples to consider the Samaritans as the very first non-Jews to receive the gospel. Philip, Peter and John did just that and brought a powerful revival to them.

Likewise, the church today is called to show similar compassion in reaching out to the Palestinian people, and in particular the believers among them. They often feel forgotten by many evangelicals around the world who show support to Israel but ignore their Arab brothers living in the land.

But we also learn from Jesus that despite the fact that Samaritans had lived in the land of Israel for hundreds of years, Jesus still considered them “foreigners,” even though such a notion surely offended them. Jesus did not deny their right to live in the land, but He also affirmed the unique covenant promises enjoyed by Israel, including the land promise.

Paul notes that Jesus “has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Rom. 15:8). He was sent by God to “remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to Abraham” (Luke 1:72-73), not to forget or forfeit that covenant.

So Christ, in His time of earthly ministry, set a remarkable example for us on how to reach out to the Palestinians—and the Christians especially—without compromising the divine calling of His own people.

This might be a challenging balancing act for today, as the harsh realities on the ground are often more complex than they appear. For Palestinian Christians to look into the eyes of young Israeli soldiers and call them “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Rom. 11:28) is far more difficult than for Christians from abroad to do. For many Jewish believers, it is equally difficult to accept as their brothers and sisters those Palestinian Christians who question their biblical right to the land and even voice support for Israel’s worst enemies.

In the end, the church in the nations is called to pray and care for both sides. We are called to uphold God’s promises to Israel and support a nation that after 2,000 years has returned to the land of its fathers and remains surrounded by implacable foes bent on its destruction. We are also called to recognize the needs of our Arab brothers and sisters in the land, who are often caught in between their longtime Muslim neighbors and the new Jewish reality.

That means we are called to be peacemakers without compromising truth. May the Lord help us in pursuing these worthy aims.

Jürgen Bühler is the executive director for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Jürgen Bühler Featured Opinion Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:30:00 -0400
WATCH: Stephen Colbert Argues Jesus Is Son of God With Bible Critic

Since Stephen Colbert was named as David Letterman's successor on The Late Show, a video of an interview he conducted with well-known Bible critic Bart Ehrman has been getting a lot of attention.

In the following clip from an April 2009 Colbert Report episode that aired on Maundy Thursday, Colbert, an outspoken Catholic, argues that the Bible is real and presents the divinity of Christ in a way that leaves Ehrman speechless.

Watch the video below.

Gina Meeks Featured Culture Mon, 21 Apr 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Is Rick Warren Buying Into the 4 Blood Moons Prophecies?

Pastor Rick Warren recently clarified that he was not making a prediction of Jesus’ return when he posted a photo Tuesday of last week’s blood moon.

“I just took this photo of a blood-red moon from my backyard at 1 am (Pacific Standard Time) after the total eclipse we had tonight on the first night of Passover,” the lead pastor at Saddleback Church wrote in the post in question. “One day, ‘The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. Acts 2:20.”

On Wednesday he wrote on his Facebook page: “Friends, when I recently posted a Bible verse with a picture of Monday night's blood I was NOT making a prediction about the timing of Jesus’ return. It would be foolish to do that. The color of the moon just reminded me of Acts 2:20.”

Warren spoke out against those using the phenomenon of the four lunar blood moons in the coming year to predict Jesus’ return.

“The Bible clearly says that NO ONE can figure out the timing of Jesus’ return,” Warren wrote. “It’s a waste of time. If fact, if anyone claims to know the date, you can be certain it WON’T occur on THAT date - because Jesus said ‘NO ONE knows the day nor hour it will happen!’ In fact, Jesus admitted that even HE did not know the date of his return! (Only the Father knows.) It WILL happen someday, regardless of scoffers, but it is a waste of time trying to figure out the date. To attempt to figure out something that even Jesus admitted he didn’t know - is pure arrogance.”

He then pointed to Matthew 24:36-37 and 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 to support his claims.

“If you are looking for a specific sign to happen before Jesus returns,” Warren added, “here it is from Jesus himself: ‘This Gospel of my Kingdom (Good News) MUST FIRST be preached throughout the ENTIRE WORLD, as a testimony to EVERY NATION so EVERYONE hears it, and THEN FINALLY, the end will come.’ Matthew 24:14.”

He continued by quoting Acts 1:6-8, Matthew 24:14 and Acts 1:5-6.

NASA predicts that the blood moon will be visible in North America again on Oct. 8, April 4 and Sept. 28, 2015.

Gina Meeks Featured U.S. News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 14:00:00 -0400
Boy Keeps Singing Gospel Song Until Kidnapper Finally Lets Him Go

A 9-year-old boy might have saved his own life by singing a gospel song.

Willie Myrick was kidnapped from his Atlanta driveway earlier this month by an unknown man. According to police, the kidnapper dropped him off unharmed after driving him around for hours.

Myrick says he continued to sing the gospel song "Every Praise" by Hezekiah Walker until the kidnapper grew tired of cursing and telling him to shut up. He eventually threw Myrick out of the vehicle.

Inspired by the boy's story, Grammy Award-winning artist Walker visited Myrick at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church last week.

Watch the video below and find out more about this remarkable story.

Featured U.S. News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400
'It's a Miracle,' FBI Agent Says About a Teen's Survival in the Wheel Well of a Jetliner

A teenage boy who ran away from home survived a five-hour flight in the freezing wheel well of a jetliner that reached 38,000 feet as it traveled from California to Hawaii, the FBI said.

The 16-year-old, from Santa Clara, Calif., quickly lost consciousness as temperatures in the compartment sank as low as minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (62 degrees Celsius below zero), said FBI special agent Tom Simon.

About an hour after the plane landed on Sunday morning, the boy regained consciousness and emerged onto the tarmac at the airport in Maui, where he was spotted by ground crew.

"It's just an apparent miracle. ... There was no appearance of any special gear of any sort," said Simon.

The stowaway told FBI officials that he had run away from home, climbed a fence at the airport in San Jose, Calif., crossed the tarmac and crawled into the wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45.

"His story checked out," and no federal charges were filed, said Simon, of the FBI's Honolulu office.

The boy was turned over to local child protection officials, and a medical examination showed he appeared to have been unharmed by the ordeal.

The flying time from San Jose to Hawaii was more than five hours.

"Our primary concern now is for the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived," Hawaiian Airlines said in a statement.

Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Robert Birsel

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Reuters Featured U.S. News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:30:00 -0400
Could Communist China Really Become the ‘World’s Most Christian Nation' Within 15 Years?

For all the talk about underground churches in China, a megachurch in the communist nation sat 5,000 on Easter Sunday. The $11 million building holds more than twice the capacity of Westminster Abbey in London.

"It is a wonderful thing to be a follower of Jesus Christ. It gives us great confidence," Jin Hongxin, a 40-year-old visitor who was admiring the 206-foot golden cross above Liushi church's altar in the lead up to Holy Week, told The Telegraph. "If everyone in China believed in Jesus then we would have no more need for police stations. There would be no more bad people and therefore no more crime.”

Indeed. The Telegraph story then goes on to toss out some facts and figures. Yes, the People’s Republic of China is officially an atheist nation. But it seems more and more of its 1.3 billion citizens are seeking some form of spirituality—and the gospel is right there to answer that hunger.

That led the Telegraph’s Tom Phillips to point out a conclusion that some are coming to: The stage is set for China to become the largest Christian nation on the globe.

"By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule, told the Telegraph. "It is going to be less than a generation. Not many people are prepared for this dramatic change."

Could this be true? And if so, what does that say about the United States of America? Is China gaining Christ at a time when America is losing its religion? Sound off in the comment box below.

Jennifer LeClaire Featured World News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -0400
Ray Comfort's Alternative 'Noah' Movie Gets 1 Million YouTube Views in 23 Days

Ray Comfort's 30-minute Noah—And the Last Days, produced to coincide with Hollywood's controversial Noah, reached 1 million YouTube views in 23 days, this week won a Telly Award and is being aired on 14 major TV networks.

Comfort says, "When I saw that Hollywood had originally listed their version as fantasy, I felt compelled to produce something that would show that the story of Noah is an historical fact, despite what the mockers believe. So we placed it for free viewing on [YouTube] and the reaction has been extremely positive."

Comfort adds that he is encouraged that it has reached 1 million views, by the Telly award and for positive reviews posted on his Facebook page.

"Brilliant stuff. This movie can change the world," Stony Kalango wrote.

"Such an awesome film! A recommended watch!! Thank you Ray for always making the BEST films," said Mike Moore.

"Just now watched it; absolutely fantastic. Loved every minute of it! If I wasn't already in the Family of God this would have got me there!" wrote Melanie S.

Jen Thompson Featured Culture Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:30:00 -0400
'Mega Salaries Are Evil,' Caused by 'Cursed Hunger for Gold,' Says Vatican Preacher

The Vatican's official preacher, at a Good Friday service attended by Pope Francis, said huge salaries and the world financial crisis were modern evils caused by the "cursed hunger for gold."

The pope presided at a "Passion of the Lord" service in St. Peter's Basilica, the first of two papal events on the day Christians around the world commemorate Jesus' death by crucifixion.

The long service is one of the few times during the year that the pope listens while someone else preaches.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, whose title is "preacher of pontifical household," weaved his sermon around the character of Judas Iscariot, who the Bible says betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

"Behind every evil in our society is money, or at least in part," Cantalamessa said at the solemn service that included chanting by priests recounting the last hours of Jesus' life.

"The financial crisis that the world has gone through and that this country [Italy] is still going through—is it not in large part due to the cursed hunger for gold?" he said.

"Is it not also a scandal that some people earn salaries and collect pensions that are sometimes 100 times higher than those of the people who work for them and that they raise their voices to object when a proposal is put forward to reduce their salary for the sake of greater social justice?" he said.

Francis, who has made caring for the poor a central theme of his pontificate, said in December that huge salaries and bonuses were symptoms of an economy based on greed and inequality.

In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's government has put a 240,000 euro ($332,100) cap on salaries at state companies.

Later on Friday, the second of four packed days of papal activities culminating on Easter Sunday, Francis was due to lead a candlelight "Way of the Cross" procession around the ruins of Rome's Colosseum.

On Saturday, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholic celebrates an Easter Eve service in St. Peter's Basilica and on Sunday he delivers his twice yearly "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) blessing and message.

On Sunday, Francis will canonize Pope John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 to 2005, and Pope John XXIII, who was pontiff from 1958 to 1963 and called the Second Vatican Council, a landmark meeting that modernized the Church.

Hundreds of thousands of people are due to come to Rome for the canonizations, the first time two popes are be made saints at the same time and the first canonization of a pope since 1954.

($1 = 0.7228 Euros)

Editing by Robin Pomeroy

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Philip Pullella/Reuters Featured World News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 11:00:00 -0400
Texas Seizes Ranch of Polygamous False Prophet

The sprawling Yearning for Zion Ranch in west Texas, where polygamist leader Warren Jeffs sexually assaulted young girls and justified it by claiming he was the "prophet of God," is now the property of the state of Texas.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which raided the El Dorado, Texas, ranch in April of 2008, said in a statement released on Thursday that the walled compound has been entered by law enforcement officers and "the residents have agreed to vacate the property."

Jeffs was convicted of sexual assault in 2011.

The statement noted that the state on Jan. 6 secured a forfeiture judgment from the 51st Judicial District Court. Efforts to seize the property were initiated in 2012 by the Attorney General's Office.

"Law enforcement personnel are working with the occupants of the ranch to take all reasonable actions to assist with their departure of the property, to preserve the property, and to successfully execute the court order," the DPS said.

The DPS didn't say how many people were still living on the 1,700-acre compound with a gleaming white temple building in the center, located about 200 miles west of Austin. At one point, Jeffs held sway over some 700 followers on the ranch, where he and other leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, took young girls to be their "spiritual brides."

There are similar FLDS communities in Utah and Arizona.

Jeffs, 58, is serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in the Texas prison system. He was convicted of sexual assault relating to what his sect called "celestial marriages" to two underage girls at the religious compound.

Flora Jessop, who was raised in the FLDS and later fled from the controversial denomination and has become an advocate for children in the cult, said Texas deserves the property for having the courage to do the right thing.

"For being the first ones to step up and put these men in prison for the crimes they have committed against the children," Jessop told Reuters. "We have yet to have Utah and Arizona step up and do that same thing."

In the raid, officials seized thousands of documents indicating widespread sexual abuse of children at the ranch, which Jeffs opened in 2003. Several dozen children who were placed in foster homes following the raid were eventually ordered to be released to their parents, but the documents led to the prosecution of Jeffs and several other FLDS men.

The state has not said what it plans to do with the property.

Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Andrea Ricci

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Jim Forsyth/Reuters Featured U.S. News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 10:30:00 -0400
Surrounded by Reality of Death in Damascus, Christians Briefly Ignore War on Resurrection Day

The sound of battles echoes from the outskirts of the capital as Christians in Damascus celebrated the Easter weekend, briefly ignoring the conflict for the yearly ritual.

At the gates of Saint George Syrian Orthodox Church—just a few minutes walk from a school where a mortar attack killed several children and injured dozens earlier this week—incense was burning as several uniformed and armed men stood patrol before Good Friday evening services. They joked with each other and did not check ID cards or handbags as people entered.

Inside the ancient city walls of the Old City where the church is located, the cobbled streets bustled with evening shoppers and diners, a rare sight reminiscent of pre-war Damascus.

However, a traditional procession that usually sees hundreds of worshippers follow an effigy of Jesus on the cross accompanied by drums and a church band was cancelled.

Christians, many belonging to ancient denominations found only in Syria, form about 10 percent of the country's population. Most fear the rising power of Islamist groups within the rebel movement fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, although many are also wary of the authorities.

Only a small percentage of Christians have taken up arms on either side of a civil war that broadly pits minorities, in particular Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, against the Sunni Muslim majority.

Two Armenian Syrian women chatted with others in the courtyard of the church. Asked if they felt optimistic about the events in Syria, they launched into a short debate.

"No, I don't feel good at all. I'm sad and I'm here to join Christ in his pain," said Rula Khoury.

Khoury's friend, Tamar Barashelian, disagreed.

"No, we can't just be sad and stay at home all the time and get depressed. I overcome my sadness and force myself to go out and continue with life," she said.

Like other Syrians, many Christians have been displaced, seen their sons killed in fighting or been forced to flee mandatory military service in Assad's army.

Many support the government, which says it is protecting the country from foreign-backed Sunni Muslim militants who will persecute non-Sunni minorities, including Christians.

The pastor's wife, among a group of women expressing pro-Assad views, said: "I can forgive any Syrian who shed Syrian blood. But I won't forgive the Arab countries that conspired to kill us."

Another woman said: "The Syrian Army is always victorious."

There are also Christians who oppose the authorities but they generally keep a low profile, especially in Damascus where government surveillance is common. Syria's exiled opposition includes a few prominent Christians, while others identify with a small grassroots movement called the Third Current which condemns violence by both sides.

Churchgoers on Good Friday were relaxed despite the occasional sound of government shelling, now so routine in Damascus that hardly anyone flinches at the sound of blasts in rebel-held districts surrounding the city.

Inside the church, the congregants prayed in Syriac, an ancient Semitic language spoken in the pre-Islamic Levant and closely related to the old Aramaic probably spoken by Jesus.

An Engagement

In the interior courtyard, the church scout group marching band mingled. One young couple, recently engaged, leaned on the courtyard wall and accepted congratulations.

"I was blown away when I heard. Rami and Juliette? Who knew you were an item? Congratulations my dears," one young man told the couple before he shook their hands and kissed them.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in the civil war, a third of them civilians. Millions have fled the country.

The conflict has been broadly stalemated for months, with the government generally dominant in Damascus, the main central cities and western, coastal regions of Syria, while the rebels hold wide swathes of the north and east. Hardline Islamists have become more prominent among the rebels, alienating many who once supported the call for greater democracy.

Later in the evening, the mood on the road out of the Old City returned to its usual tenseness, and additional shelling could be heard. Traffic was jammed as usual at several checkpoints, where nervous armed men vet each car for bombs.

Passengers inside an idle minivan waited their turn in silence to show ID and be searched, their faces solemn and tired, their windows rolled down in the warm breeze.

A popular folk song played on their radio. Its chorus repeated the words: "Beautiful is my country. Beautiful is my country."

The identity of the correspondent has been withheld for security reasons; Editing by Oliver Holmes and Peter Graff

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Reuters Featured World News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Hollywood Making Multiplied Millions Off 'God' Movies

Hollywood has embraced God in a big—and lucrative—way.

The movie Heaven Is for Real, which depicts the story of a young boy who claims to have visited heaven during a near-death experience, is the fourth faith-based film this year to stir moviegoing audiences with impressive box-office numbers.

Made for $12 million, the film, which stars Greg Kinnear, collected $21.5 million over the Easter weekend in U.S. and Canadian theaters, finishing third at the box office behind bigger budget films Captain America: The Winter Soldier from Walt Disney and Rio 2 from Fox.

Two other Christian-based films also cracked the top 10. Noah, from Viacom's Paramount Pictures, stars Russell Crowe as the biblical figure and was ninth. It has generated more than $93 million at domestic theaters since opening in March, according to the site Box Office Mojo.

God's Not Dead, about a religious freshman college student who debates his professor over the existence of God, was 10th and has totaled $48 million over five weeks, despite playing in only about half the numbers of theaters of Hollywood's larger films.

Fox's Son of God, an adaptation of producer Mark Burnett's 10-hour TV mini series The Bible, generated more than $59 million in domestic ticket sales after opening earlier this year.

"This audience has long felt left out by Hollywood and it certainly looks like this isn't the case anymore," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior market analyst of box office tracking firm Rentrak, in an email. "The numbers will encourage studios to make more of these types of films."

Studios have been searching for more faith-based films since Mel Gibson's 2004 The Passion of the Christ, which tallied $611.9 million in worldwide ticket sales and was made on a modest $30 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo.

In the last five years alone, Hollywood has made 26 movies that the site classifies as "Christian" films, including three based on The Chronicles of Narnia fantasy novels by C.S. Lewis that literary academics say adopted several Christian themes.

"There's a core audience and they're very interested in seeing films with a faith-based center," said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribute for Sony Pictures Entertainment, whose TriStar Pictures unit distributed Heaven Is for Real.

"The one main ingredient most have is that they are somewhat inspirational in nature," said Bruer. "People feel like they get something out of it."

Not all get great reviews. Heaven Is for Real got a positive "fresh" rating from only 31 of 59 reviewers, according to the site Rotten Tomatoes.

But some of the films can have a built-in marketing vehicle, according to David A. R. White, whose company Pure Flix produced the film God's Not Dead.

White told Entertainment Weekly that Pure Flix waged an aggressive grass-roots campaign that included screening the film for 8,000 pastors prior to its opening.

"We have a lot of relationships to the gatekeepers who can rally their people to go to the movie theater," White told the magazine. He added of the American audience, "160 million plus people call themselves Christians. They go to church once a month, at least. That's a lot of people."

© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Ronald Grover and Chris Michaud/Reuters Featured Culture Mon, 21 Apr 2014 09:30:00 -0400
James Dobson Beats Obamacare Mandates, at Least for Now

Even as Hobby Lobby awaits what could be a landmark Supreme Court ruling for religious freedom, Christian radio broadcaster James Dobson is reporting a win against Obamacare.

Dobson won a temporary injunction against the Affordable Care Act that prevents the federal government from forcing his ministry, Family Talk, to provide abortion-inducing drugs as part of its insurance coverage.

“In America, we don’t try to separate what people do from what they believe," says Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kevin Theriot. "Faith-based organizations should be free to operate according to the faith they teach and live out every day.

“If the government can fine Christian ministries out of existence because they want to uphold their faith, there is no limit to what other freedoms it can take away. The court was right to block enforcement of this unconstitutional mandate against Family Talk.”

Is this a good sign for Hobby Lobby and other Christian employers that are challenging Obamacare?

Jennifer LeClaire Featured U.S. News Mon, 21 Apr 2014 09:00:00 -0400
Liberals Announce Plan to ‘Purge’ Christians

They were always deadly serious about criminalizing Christianity and killing free speech, but now the American left has stopped pretending otherwise.

In a recent column titled, "Here's Why LGBT Supporters Are Called Homofascists," I wrote that “progressive,” “Christian-hating fascists”—but I repeat myself—are “hell-bent on criminalizing Christianity and pushing to the fringes anyone who publicly acknowledges natural human sexuality and the age-old, immutable institution of legitimate marriage as created by God.”

I was referring specifically to the left’s well-organized and highly disturbing character assassination of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich for his private support of natural marriage. I was also addressing the larger goal of the American left to completely shut down free speech and freedom of religion and to severely punish anyone who maintains both biblically and biologically correct views on human sexuality.

I closed with this: “They smell blood in the water. I’ve often said that these folks want those who speak biblical truth about human sexuality and legitimate marriage either 1) dead, 2) imprisoned or, if they can have neither of these, 3) marginalized to the point where they can’t even support their families.

“Check No. 3 off the list. I guess they’re working backwards.”

The very next day, and as if right on cue, lefty rag Slate magazine vomited evidence of my claims. It could not have been better scripted if I’d written it myself.

In an article titled, "Purge the Bigots," Slate writer William Saletan penned these chilling words: “Some of my colleagues are celebrating. They call Eich a bigot who got what he deserved. I agree. But let’s not stop here. If we’re serious about enforcing the new standard, thousands of other employees who donated to the same anti-gay ballot measure must be punished.

“More than 35,000 people gave money to the campaign for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that declared, ‘Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.' Why do these bigots still have jobs? Let’s go get them.”

Now, to be fair, Saletan later claimed that his article was intended as satire to illustrate the hypocrisy of his own “progressive” movement. Many, if not most, of his readers seemed to miss the joke, and the article’s comments section quickly filled with people agreeing that it was, indeed, time to “purge the bigots” (read: Christians).

Fox News observed that the piece “may or may not be tongue-in-cheek.” Satire is traditionally somewhat clever, witty and fairly easy to recognize as such. Mr. Saletan’s piece was none of these things. Nevertheless, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute notes, “The problem with Saletan’s satirical piece is that, unlike Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal,’ Saletan’s is not outrageous enough. It should be outrageous enough for a satire, but unfortunately, homosexual activists and their allies are tyrannical enough to do just what he’s proposing."

“I know there are many progressives who think such a proposal is defensible,” she observes. “In fact, eight years ago, a colleague at Deerfield High School told me that she is so sure conservative beliefs about homosexuality are wrong that they shouldn’t be allowed to be spoken in public schools—even if kids are studying homosexuality-affirming resources. And she was not speaking satirically.”

So here we have Mr. Saletan playing the role of today’s Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi propaganda minister, in an effort, albeit a clumsy one, to underscore how utterly out of control his own “progressive” movement has become and, in the spirit of argumentum ad absurdum, to gently coax his fellow bohemians from madness.

Slate was apparently in on the fun too, pretending, for a day, to be “Nationalsozialistischen Briefe,” Goebbels’ parallel publication, in an equally awkward attempt to use the power of metaphor as a scrub brush to wash away the stench of totalitarianism from an American left bathed in it.

But as you read the article, a frightening reality quickly rises to the surface. It’s neither funny nor untrue. None of it. The cultural Marxist American left is 100 percent serious about purging Christians from society.

They’re as serious as Joseph Stalin’s heart attack.

Continues Saletan: “To organize the next stage of the purge, I’ve compiled the financial data into three tables.” (He actually does this.) He then lists details from, and linked to, the Proposition 8 hit list reportedly leaked by the Obama IRS and meticulously assembled and published by the Los Angeles Times.

This was all by design. It’s what led to Brendan Eich’s career beheading. But Eich was just the opening act. The list provides the exact names, employers, places of residence and dollar amounts of every single person in America who donated even a dime to the Golden State’s campaign to protect natural marriage. (I realize it’s hopelessly symbolic, but as matter of principle, I will not link to the list.)

This is a level of voter intimidation and journalistic terrorism on the part of the Obama administration and the Times that is unprecedented in American history.

Joking or not, Herr Saletan then gave the rainbow shirts their jackbooted marching orders: “If we’re serious about taking down corporate officers who supported Proposition 8, and boycotting employers who promote them, we’d better get cracking on the rest of the list. Otherwise, perhaps we should put down the pitchforks.”

You do understand this, right? Obama, the Los Angeles Times and America’s larger “progressive” movement are dead serious about purging Christians and other traditionalists from both the workplace and society at large. It’s coming. Mozilla was just the opening salvo.

In the very same way Eich’s forced resignation was deliberately calculated to terrorize any American who might resist the left’s sexual anarchist agenda and support some future, legally executed pro-family ballot initiative, the clear purpose behind releasing the Prop 8 donor list was to instill terror in the hearts of Christians and other traditionalists who support natural marriage, family and human sexuality. It was a not-so-subtle shot over the bow.

It was also a call to arms.

It’s fight-or-flight time, America.

I’ve made my choice.

What about you?

I say that if we once crushed fascism from without, we can surely crush it from within.

Matt Barber (@jmattbarber on Twitter) is an author, columnist, cultural analyst and an attorney concentrating in constitutional law. Having retired as an undefeated heavyweight professional boxer, Matt has taken his fight from the ring to the culture wars.

Matt Barber Featured Clarion Call Opinion Mon, 21 Apr 2014 07:00:00 -0400
Do You Agree With What T.D. Jakes Says About 'Heaven Is for Real'?

Bishop T.D. Jakes, a producer of the new movie Heaven is for Real, said fascination with the story of Colton Burpo, a 4-year-old boy who claims to have glimpsed heaven after a near-death experience, reflects a “growing wonder” in the afterlife that spans religious backgrounds. The Dallas megachurch leader answered emailed questions about the film, which opened in theaters on Wednesday.

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

The book on which the film is based was a best-seller and is again. Why do you think it has prompted so much interest?

People are attracted to the simplicity of Colton’s story. The vivid detail and the certainty of his experience are the most compelling elements. I also believe that there is a growing wonder about life after death in our culture. The notion of heaven captures people’s imagination regardless of their religious predisposition. The need to find purpose in life is often driving that curiosity. Believing in the hereafter provides an anchor for the soul, and a resting place for one’s faith.

I also think that people relate to a father wrestling with unbelief, and struggling to find meaning in his son’s experience.

Your previous movies have had predominantly black casts. Is there a reason you’re branching out?

I have always said that I want to make the type of movies that I want to see. I recognized early on that there is a vast movie-going audience that wants to see films on Saturday night or on a Sunday afternoon with their families and not be embarrassed. That task is larger than any one race or people group. To think of that objective in terms of race is to be far too narrow in one’s definition. Building an exceptional body of work was always the objective.

My casts to date have reflected the story that was being told and from a perspective that is not often represented in American cinema. There are still far too few scripted roles for actors of color. In the faith space, actors of color are rarer still. I am delighted that Heaven Is for Real will reach a larger audience and provide additional opportunities to speak to people that don’t look like me or think like me. Jesus said to go into all of the world, to preach the gospel. He didn’t send me just to the black world.

Do you think Heaven Is for Real will answer people’s questions, or prompt them to ask more?

I think that the role of the moviemaker is to prompt people to ask questions, to leave the theaters with perhaps just as many questions as answers so that they may continue to explore and to seek answers to life’s mysteries. You can’t solve the world’s problems in 90 minutes. What you can do is set the context, provide the ammunition and hope that people carry the task forward, especially now as this movie comes out Easter weekend. We want people to explore the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

Adelle M. Banks/RNS Featured Culture Mon, 21 Apr 2014 06:00:00 -0400
The Danger of Presumptuous Prophets

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

Many of you have heard the story of Henry Stanley, the ambitious American reporter who went to the Dark Continent in search of Dr. David Livingstone, an 19th-century missionary who explored sub-Saharan Africa.

When Stanley finally tracked down the famed evangelist, his first words when approaching the only other white man in Ujiji, Africa, were, as the story goes, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” The white man’s identity may have seemed like a no-brainer to the young journalist, but if he had been a prophet, Stanley’s presumption would have landed him in a heap of trouble. That’s because presumption is on God’s blacklist.

What does it literally mean to presume? And what exactly is presumption? Webster defines presume as “to form an opinion from little or no evidence” and “to take as true or as fact without actual proof.” Presumptuous is defined as “to overstep due bounds” and “to take liberties.” Those definitions outline some critical prophetic dos and don’ts.

First off, there is no room for personal opinion in the prophetic. Our “proof” must come from the Holy Spirit, not our own spirits or some other spirit. As mouthpieces for God, others take our words and insights very seriously, and we cannot abuse the grace people perceive on our lives.

We must not fall into the trap of filtering prophetic utterances through our own biases and in doing so deceive the hearers. What would cause the prophet to think anyone wants his opinion, anyway? (We’ll get to that in a minute.) The function of the prophet is to reveal the mind and will of God, not the mind and will of the prophet.

Second, prophets must recognize boundaries and not take the liberty of overstepping their prophetic authority. Yes, where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty, but not the liberty to speak outside our God-given spiritual jurisdiction.

That jurisdiction begins in the local church and expands as the prophet matures. Even the president of the United States, with all his authority, would be presumptuous to issue a decree over another nation. His words would fall to the ground because he would be overstepping his bounds.

Doubtless, God hates presumption—and He has good reason. There are several variations of the Greek word presume. Typically, the word portrays insolence (insultingly contemptuous speech or conduct), pride, arrogance or audacity (bold or arrogant disregard for normal restraints). Considering that the Lord includes a proud look and a false witness among the seven abominations, presumption is not something to be taken lightly.

In fact, while the Bible only mentions the words presume, presumed, presumptuous and presumptuously 11 times, it almost always leads to death. Indeed, there are few things worse than a presumptuous prophet. Deuteronomy 18:20 declares, “The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die” (NKJV).

Mercy! Of course, we are living in a time of grace and even the most presumptuous prophet probably won’t be struck dead for this sin. But we must ask ourselves: What is happening inside of us, in our spirits, when we presume? Selah.

If you think God likes presumption any better in the New Testament than the Old Testament, then think again—or ask the apostle Peter, who was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost when he revealed that those who walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise government (authority) are presumptuous, self-willed and slanderous (2 Pet. 2:9-10).

After pointing out that these presumptuous ones love to indulge in evil pleasures, revel in deceitfulness, possess an insatiable lust, lure people into sin and train themselves to be greedy, among other sinful qualities, Peter finally connects them with Balaam, the presumptuous prophet.

You remember Balaam. King Balak sent messengers to him with a sinister request and rewards of divination in their hands. Balak offered to pay Balaam to curse the Israelites. Wicked story short, Balaam initially refused to pronounce the curse but eventually helped King Balak defile the Israelites by giving him a strategy involving sexual sin (Num. 31:16). Balaam wound up committing treason (fighting against the Israelites), and his end was death. Listen to how the apostle Peter refers to Balaam’s presumption:

“They have wandered off the right road and followed the footsteps of Balaam son of Beor, who loved to earn money by doing wrong. But Balaam was stopped from his mad course when his donkey rebuked him with a human voice. These people [Which people? Presumptuous people!] are as useless as dried-up springs or as mist blown away by the wind. They are doomed to blackest darkness” (2 Pet. 2:15-17, NLT).

Remember our friends, young Stanley and Dr. Livingstone? Livingstone’s fascinating books sold in huge numbers all over the world as he pursued his dream to open the continent to make a way for other missionaries to preach the gospel. Stanley, on the other hand, was notorious for changing the facts to suit his purposes—or even making them up—in his books.

Stanley even lied about his heritage. He fought for the South in the American Civil War and then committed treason (like Balaam) and served the North when captured. He later helped the king of Belgium fulfill his greedy purposes (like Balaam) in Africa. Like Balaam, Stanley’s greed and pride caused him to compromise his professional ethics. Stanley eventually became a mass murderer.

It seems the fate of the presumptuous is ultimately the same throughout history. Thank God we have a Savior. We can repent of such sinful works. We need to pray like David. In Psalm 19:13 he cried, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then I shall be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression” (KJV). 

You can download a sample chapter of Jennifer's new book, The Making of a Prophet, by clicking here.

Jennifer LeClaire is news editor at Charisma. She is also the author of several books, including The Making of a Prophet

You can email Jennifer at or visit her website here. You can also join Jennifer on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Jennifer LeClaire Featured Opinion Sat, 19 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400