Charisma News | Breaking News. Spiritual Perspective. Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:30:11 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Church Rallies Intercessors
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is inviting churches and Christians around the world to observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church IDOP) on the next two Sundays, Nov. 2 and 9.
Don't stand in silence
"Today's greatest untold story is that more than 100 million Christians worldwide face persecution for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," says Rev. Godfrey Yogarajah, Executive Director of the WEA Religious Liberty Commission (RLC). "Daily Christians in Eritrea, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka (and many others) face imprisonment, violence and even death."
"We are calling on Christians everywhere to stand by these persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ by praying for them and assisting them in any way possible, as commanded in Scripture," he continued.
Churches worldwide today set aside the first two Sundays of November to particularly remember and pray for the persecuted Church, through the IDOP. Christians are called to follow the commands of Hebrews 13:3 to 'remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.'
The WEA RLC has prepared a website with resources for pastors and Christian leaders to use in worship services or small groups. It features stories, videos, and devotionals, information on persecution and prayer resources:
"This year's theme 'Don't Stand in Silence' reminds us of the plight of our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffer persecution, simply because they confess Jesus Christ as Lord," says Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the WEA. "Let us unite in prayer for the persecuted Church, in the spirit of oneness that Christ commanded: 'For, if one part suffers, every part suffers'" (1 Cor. 12:26).
Timothy K. Goropevsek Featured World News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:30:00 -0400
What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality

One night I was reading the stories of people who had left the church because they thought God hated them simply because they were attracted to the same sex. I was so overcome with emotion that I put the book down, got alone in another room, fell to my knees and wept. The pain of these men and women for whom Jesus died was palpable and heartbreaking.

Could it be that we have been misinterpreting Scripture when it comes to their salvation? Could it be that there is some new understanding of the Bible that would allow us to affirm committed, same-sex relationships?

If not, does that mean that we tell a 15 year-old girl who identifies as lesbian, "If you want to follow Jesus, you'll have to be celibate for the rest of your life, never enjoying the companionship of a spouse and abstaining from sex for life"? Do we tell her, "If you do want to be married, you'll have to find a way to be attracted to men"? Is that the good news of the gospel?

A spate of books, videos, articles and blogs would tell us that, indeed, that is not the gospel and that the good news of Jesus is that you can follow Him and enjoy a committed, homosexual relationship too. And some of the authors of these books, videos, articles and blogs claim to be committed Christians themselves.

How do we sort this out?

It's really not that difficult. God's Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). It is "living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12-13).

If we will humble ourselves before the Lord, keeping our focus on Jesus and asking the Father to give us His heart for those who identify as LGBT, letting the unequivocal testimony of Scripture guide us, we will find clarity.

So what does the Word of God say about homosexual practice?

Here are five simple truths that will help separate truth from error and biblical revelation from emotion. (For those wanting a more in-depth treatment, please see my newest book, Can You Be Gay and Christian?)

1) The testimony of Scripture remains unchanged: The Bible forbids homosexual practice.

It's clear that the vast majority of those who have changed their views on what the Bible says about homosexuality and now believe in "gay Christianity" have done so based on either their own same-sex desires and attractions or their interaction with "gay Christians" (or with any gay or lesbian person who challenges their assumptions).

In other words, they have not changed their thinking based on study of the Scriptures alone, since no new textual, archeological, sociological, anthropological or philological discoveries have been made in the last 50 years that would cause us to read any of these biblical texts differently.

Put another way, it is not that we have gained some new insights into what the biblical text means based on the study of the Hebrew and Greek texts. Instead, people's interaction with the LGBT community has caused them to understand the biblical text differently. This means that, rather than interpreting their sexuality through the lens of the Scriptures, they are interpreting the Scriptures through the lens of their sexuality. This is a guaranteed path to deception.

The Word of God, which represents His heart and will for His creation, is absolutely clear on the subject, prohibiting all forms of homosexual practice. This is so clear that a number of leading gay and lesbian theologians acknowledge that they can only justify "gay Christianity" by rejecting the full authority of Scripture.

2) The Bible is a heterosexual book.

Gay theologians often make reference to the so-called "clobber passages" in the Scriptures, by which they mean the main verses the church has used to clobber them over the head with the Bible.

They raise two main arguments against the use of these verses.

First, they claim that the verses have been mistranslated, misinterpreted or misused and so, in reality, these Scriptures do not prohibit monogamous, committed, homosexual relationships. Yet they cannot offer any new evidence to back this claim, since none exists.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, they point out that out of more than 31,000 verses in the Bible, there are between six and eight "clobber passages" consisting of a total of less than 25 verses.

How important can it actually be? And why does the church make such a big deal about something that God's Word hardly addresses? Isn't this evidence of homophobic attitudes in the church rather than a careful representation of God's heart as expressed in His Word?

My friend Larry Tomzcak, an author and cultural commentator, offers a helpful illustration that puts the so-called "clobber passages" in a larger context.

Let's say you buy a new cookbook featuring healthy dessert recipes, none of which use sugar. In the introduction to the book, the author explains her reasons for avoiding sugar products, telling you that you will find sumptuous, sweet dessert recipes, but all without sugar. And so, throughout the rest of the book, the word sugar is not found a single time.

Would it be right to conclude that avoiding sugar was not important to the author? To the contrary, it was so important that every single recipe in the book makes no mention of sugar.

It is exactly the same when it comes to the Bible and homosexuality.

There are a few, very strong, very clear, references to homosexual practice—every one of them decidedly negative—and then not a single reference to homosexual practice throughout the rest of the Bible. It is not part of God's "recipe" for humanity.

Throughout the Word, the only relationships that were acceptable in God's sight or considered normal for society were heterosexual relationships, and so homosexual practice was either irrelevant (because it had nothing to do with the God-ordained relationships of marriage and family and society) or, if mentioned, explicitly condemned.

To give just one example out of hundreds, when a gay couple reads the Word and they come to Paul's words in Ephesians 5:22, 25, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. ... Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her," they cannot possibly relate to those words the way a heterosexual couple relates to them, since they do not have a true husband-wife relationship.

Yet those are the only kinds of romantic and sexual relationships that God speaks of, and that is the only kind of marriage He recognizes or blesses: a man and woman coming together in a lifetime commitment before Him.

3) Gender complementarity is of foundational importance.

Despite recent attempts to downplay this truth, male-female complementarity is part of God's foundational design.

As we see in Genesis 1-2, it is out of Adam that God forms Eve, the two of them uniquely complementing each other, to the point that when Adam sees his helper and counterpart, he exclaims, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman [Hebrew 'ishah], because she was taken out of Man ['ish]" (Gen. 2:23).

As Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham notes, "In ecstasy man bursts into poetry on meeting his perfect helpmeet."

And this is what we cannot miss: It is because the woman was taken out of the man that the very next verse says this: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).

Genesis is teaching us that because the woman was taken out of the man, the two are now joined back together as one in marital union, each one uniquely complementing the other. And notice: There's not a word here yet about reproduction or procreation, simply about union (even if procreation is the presupposed outcome).

Only a man and a woman can be joined (rejoined!) together in this way.

A man plus a man or a woman plus a woman cannot possibly share the same union as a man and a woman, since they do not share the essential of fundamental sameness and difference.

To rephrase the famous axiom of John Gray, namely, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Mars + Mars or Venus + Venus cannot ever equal Mars + Venus.

And in the words of a man who lived as a homosexual all his life (he's now past 70) but has recently found the Lord, "Even an atheist can understand the lack of anatomical complementarity and therefore biological purpose in male-to-male or female-to-female sexuality."

4) Jesus knew exactly what was inside people, including their "sexual orientation."

We are told today that biblical authors did not understand sexual orientation and that they had no concept of committed, long-term same-sex relationships. What the biblical authors rejected, we are told, was man-boy relationships, or male prostitution, or homosexual promiscuity.

All these sinful practices were certainly rejected, but biblical authors like Paul were certainly aware of long-term, male-male relationships.

More importantly, Hebrews 4:13 states that "no creature is hidden from [God's] sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." And it is this God who inspired the writers of the Scriptures. Are gay theologians willing to say that the Lord Himself didn't understand modern-day, still-evolving concepts like "sexual orientation"?

And are they willing to say that the Lord Jesus, who literally looked into the hearts and souls of human beings—John 2:25 says that He knew what was in man—didn't understand that certain people were "gay"? We're not talking about the writers of Scripture understanding modern science. We're talking about them—including Jesus Himself—understanding human nature.

To everyone who professes to be a gay Christian, I ask you to get alone with God and ask yourself, "Did God create and design me to be with the same-sex or the opposite sex?"

5) The gospel brings good news to homosexual men and women.

Gay theologians tell us that the traditional gospel message is a "bad tree," bringing forth the bad fruit of depression, apostasy and even suicide among gay men and women.

To the contrary, the message of the gospel brings forgiveness, freedom, hope and deliverance, as countless thousands of ex-gays can attest, by which I mean followers of Jesus who no longer practice homosexuality. Some of them have even become heterosexual, but even those who have not found a change in their sexual desires have found wholeness and satisfaction in the Lord.

In the words of Sam Allberry, a British pastor who is still same-sex attracted but is living a celibate, holy life: "Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behavior here and there. It is saying 'No' to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. To take up a cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit. It is laying down your life for the very reason that your life, it turns out, is not yours at all. It belongs to Jesus. He made it. And through His death he has bought it."

Allberry is frequently asked, "But isn't it harder for someone who is gay?"

His answer is clear: "The gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all. And just as the cost is the same for all of us, so too are the blessings." (For more from Allberry, read Is God Anti-Gay?)

To every reader who is same-sex attracted, I encourage you not to define yourself by your desires but to put all your effort into knowing the Lord and finding intimacy with Him one day at a time, not rewriting the Bible to suit your sexual attractions but casting yourself on God's goodness and mercy. You will find Him to be absolutely trustworthy, totally understanding and more than enough to meet your every need.

Let us, then, not waver in our biblical stance, knowing that is the truth that sets people free (John 8:31-32).  

Michael L. 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.

Watch Michael Brown debate Matthew Vines on what the Bible says about being gay and Christian at

Michael L. Brown Featured In the Line of Fire Opinion Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:00:00 -0400
The Shemitah's Eerie Mystery of the Sevens

The Shemitah is marked by the number seven. It is the seventh year. Its last day, Elul 29, is the final day and climax of the biblical seven-year cycle. Is it possible that the greatest stock-market point crash in history, having taken place on the day of the Shemitah, would bear the fingerprints of the Shemitah­—the mark of seven?

The following is neither central nor essential to the phenomenon of the Shemitah, but it is a fascinating phenomenon in its own right.

  • The Seven-Year Mark: The greatest point crash in stock market history happened on Elul 29—the end of the seventh year and the completion of the seven-year cycle.
  • The Seventh Month: On the evening of the greatest crash began the month of Tishri. Tishri is the seventh month of the sacred calendar. Thus the crash took place on the day that ushers in the most sacred of times in the biblical calendar, the seventh month.
  • Seven Hundred Billion: The crash was triggered by the failure of Congress to pass the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. The bill was a response to the economic implosion of September 2008, an attempt to save the U.S. financial system. The amount chosen for the bailout was $700,000,000,000.
  • Seven Percent—2008: What percentage of Wall Street was wiped out on the last day of the seventh year? Seven percent.
  • Seven Percent—2001: How much of Wall Street was wiped out seven years earlier on the last day of the preceding Shemitah in 2001? Seven percent.
  • Seven-Seven-Seven: How many actual points were wiped out on the last day of the seventh year? Seven hundred seventy-seven (777).

Want to know more about the Shemitah and the astounding connections between this phenomenon and the greatest financial disasters in American history? Check out Jonathan Cahn's new best-seller, The Mystery of the Shemitah to discover God's intentions for the Shemitah year, some of the incredible events from history tied to the Shemitah and what God might be trying to tell is for the Shemitah we're currently in.

Jonathan Cahnwho stunned millions of readers across America and the world with the mysteries revealed in his New York Times best-seller The Harbinger, now uncovers and reveals a new realm of astonishing mysteries so big they lie behind everything from world wars to the rise and fall of nations to economic recession and financial collapse to your future. Discover the never-before-revealed mystery of the towers, the key of cataclysms, the mystery of sevens and much, much more. The Mystery of the Shemitah will amaze, stun, forewarn and prepare you for what lies ahead ... and it may just change your life.

Jonathan Cahn Featured U.S. News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:30:00 -0400
Modern English Version Bible Translation Hits YouVersion

Have you read the Modern English Version (MEV) translation of the Bible yet? If you carry the YouVersion Bible app on your smartphone, you can start reading it today.

Passio, an imprint of Charisma House Book Group, publisher of the Modern English Version, announced the addition of the translation to the YouVersion Bible app this week.

"In this generation, smart phones and tablets are essential conduits to reach more people with the Word of God," says Tessie DeVore, executive vice president of Charisma House. "The incorporation of the MEV into YouVersion's global platform enables more of today's Bible readers, who value biblical truth, to take His Word into any environment and impact their world."

Founded in 2008 by Life, YouVersion has become the world's most popular Bible program for mobile devices, having been downloaded more than 140 million times to date. The user-friendly app is available at no cost for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and many other operating systems.

The MEV is the most modern translation produced in the King James tradition in thirty years. This literal translation maintains the beauty of the past yet provides fresh clarity for a new generation of Bible readers. The MEV also accurately communicates God's Word anew as it capitalizes references of God, maintaining reverence of the Scriptures.

For more information on the Modern English Version, visit Download the YouVersion app at

Althea Thompson Featured U.S. News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 10:00:00 -0400
What Would Jesus Do About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict?

For 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 by 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.

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 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 Bible's first mention of the Samaritans is in 2 Kings 17:22-41, which gives their historic 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, NKJV).

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 southern kingdom 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 over 700 years. They developed their own narrative of the region's history and saw themselves as 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, Samaritans built an alternative temple on their holy mountain of Mount Gerizim—the biblical "Mountain of Blessing" overlooking Shechem.

Meanwhile 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 eager 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 Samaritans. The Gospels 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 led to revival in the village, where Jesus spoke about the fields being white for harvest (John 4:35). 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 neighbor to the man in need.

Thus, Jesus wouldn't 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).

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 reached out to the man with compassion yet still considered him a "foreigner." The Greek word used here is allogenes and it's 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: "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship" (John 4:20). She wanted to know whose narrative was correct.

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 worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth" (vv. 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 truly to become 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 fewer than 1,000 members and mostly are located on Mount 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 today 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 brought their own ethnic mix, whether they were the Romans, Byzantines, Arab-Muslim invaders, the Crusaders or 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 documented that when Jews began returning to 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 Palestinian. The vast majority are Muslim. They not only reject the Bible's teachings but also maintain that Jews have no right or historic connection to the land. Supported by the global Muslim community, they resist by all means the restoration of Israel on the land much as the Samaritans did in the time of Nehemiah and Ezra.

On the other hand, the small Palestinian Christian community shares a common faith in Christ and the Bible with us, yet they've developed their own twist to history and theology. Many Palestinian Christians contest the restoration of a Jewish state, both politically and theologically. In their own 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 God's promises to Israel as having elapsed either by being fulfilled in Jesus or by now falling to Palestinians.

As 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

Jesus' unique approach 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 weren't accepted by most of His fellow Jews. Samaritans were privileged as the only people besides the Jews who experienced His personal touch. 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 evangelicals around the world who show support to Israel but ignore their Arab brothers in the land.

But despite the Samaritans having lived in 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 only 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 also are called to recognize the needs of our Arab brothers and sisters in the land, who often are caught 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.


Jűrgen Bűhler Featured World News Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:30:00 -0400
White House Playing a Dangerous Game with Israel

No matter which party winds up controlling the House and Senate after next Tuesday's elections, we will hear the usual calls for bipartisan cooperation.

Many Democratic candidates are running in hyper-drive trying to distance themselves from President Barack Obama.

One area in which they could find some common ground with Republicans is to oppose the increasingly dangerous penchant of the White House and State Department to attack Israel, a country that is already under greater siege because of failed U.S. behavior in the Middle East.

In the past few months, Israel has withstood the terrorist kidnapping and murder of three teenagers, a rocket barrage from Gaza that triggers seek-shelter sirens for some two million Israelis, an incursion to stop those rocket attacks, the murder of an 8-month old American-Israeli baby who was hurled into the air when a terrorist driver plowed into a crowd at a Jerusalem train stop (as well as a tribute to that terrorist by members of Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party), and now the apparently nationalist shooting of an Orthodox Jewish figure on the streets of the Israeli capital.

And all of that happened as ISIS pursues its bloody quest to build a caliphate, Syria's regime kills hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and forces millions to flee, and Iran spins its centrifuges to build the nuclear bombs it craves, while the West yawns.

The administration's response: it allowed a "senior advisor" to tell The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a "chickens***t" and a coward for not striking Iran and for not pursuing U.S. demands for further negotiations now with Abbas and other Sunni leaders.

More significantly, that advisor also seemed to welcome Iran's nuclear progress, while the U.S. foreign policy apparatus bears down on Israel for building apartments in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

When asked by a reporter, "Is the administration trying to figure out who made those inappropriate and counter-productive comments," a State Department spokesperson, showing disdain for the subject, answered, "There are anonymous sources in all of your stories every single day. If we spent all of our time focused on that effort, we wouldn't be working on diplomacy."

Nearly 24 hours later, her boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, finally called the remarks "disgraceful, unacceptable and damaging," and said they did not reflect his views or those of the White House.

Earlier this year, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon was forced to apologize for calling Kerry "obsessive" and "messianic"--not in a public interview, but in a private conversation. Ya'alon believed Kerry's plan for Israeli territorial concessions to the Palestinians would severely compromise Israel's security.

This past week, the administration refused to set up meetings for Ya'alon with Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden while the minister was in the United States.

If the White House and Foggy Bottom aren't held to account for their practice of benign neglect of the world's most dangerous regimes at the expense of Israel, this nation and all of its allies can expect to pay a much steeper price in chaos and disruption.

A few House and Senate Democrats, along with Republicans, have shown courage in raising questions about blanket U.S. funding of Palestinian and U.N. projects that almost certainly have terrorist connections, and about insisting on guarantees that the Obama team allow Congress to have a say in any nuclear deal with Iran.

They would do well to sound the alarm. It is virtually certain that what is happening in Tehran, Jerusalem, and Washington will move quickly up the priority list on the national agenda--and perhaps soon.

At that time, the question of whether our leaders can discern between friend and adversary could become a matter of life and death for many people.

John Waage/CBN News Featured World News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:00:00 -0400
S. Carolina School Board Delays Implementing Prayer Policy

School Board members are waiting to learn whether or not prayer will be permitted in monthly meetings.

According to various media outlets, the Pickens County School Board voted four to two against proceeding with a new policy it approved last month that would have allowed ministers take turns praying before school board meetings.

School Board officials say the decision not to vote came from their attorney. Trustee Jim Shelton says the board is not rejecting prayer during the meetings, but needs more time to study the issue.

But Shem Durham, pastor of Cannon Mountain Baptist Church in Pickens, took a dim view of the decision to delay the policy, saying the board was failing to uphold a constitutional right.

"Our Constitution gives us the right to pray in Jesus' name," he told The Greenville News.

CBN News Featured U.S. News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:00:00 -0400
Are You Worshipping Idols in Church?

Have you ever asked yourself as a church leader, do I worship something or someone other than God? It's a great question to ask and a great heart check.

I'll stick my neck out and suggest that you do have idols you worship instead of God. At least I do. Once you identify them and root them out, you'll become a better leader.

You're an Idol Factory

I get challenged about my personal and leadership idols every year when I read through the middle part of the book of Isaiah.

Chapter 44, for example, is all about the futility of worshipping idols, which in those days were mostly wood or stone carvings.

So what's an idol today? You don't need wood or stone to create one. An idol is anything that takes our focus and reliance off of God.

John Calvin was dead on when he said, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." Discard one, and you'll simply create another.

8 Idols Church Leaders Still Worship Today:

The list could be much longer than eight because Calvin was right. But here are eight with which I struggle or have seen other leaders struggle. These are in no particular order because, well, any idol is bad enough to be No. 1:

1. Strategy. So I'm a strategy wonk. If you read this blog, you know that. I think many churches fail for lack of a clear, coherent strategy. I wrote in detail about how mission, vision and strategy interrelate here.

But strategy is no substitute for trust. As valuable as strategy is (and it is), no strategy is a substitute for trusting God. Strategy makes an excellent servant and a terrible master.

2. Skill. By all means, get better at what you do. Learn, listen, polish and perfect your skills. Skill alone can get you far, but the church is a supernatural thing.

God changes hearts. You can't. I can't.

You know what's better than a skill set? A surrendered skill set. Having a B-level set of skills that's surrendered is better than an A-level set of skills you're trying to use without God.

3. Size. There is no merit in size. Some leaders think only bigger is better. But idolizing big can be a thin mask for ego. (Your self-worth rises and falls with big.)

Some idolize the romanticism of small. Yet idolizing small can be a thin mask for insecurity. (You love small only because you will never be big.)

There is no magic to size. Focus on getting healthy, and size will take care of itself.

Or to switch metaphors, pull some weeds, till the soil, plant some seeds and trust God to grow things at the pace and to the size He wants.

4. Stats. I love stats too much. I watch attendance, baptisms, givings, group participation and volunteer rates like a hawk and then am disappointed if they don't meet my exaggerated expectations.

I watch my blog and podcast stats too much, and—if I'm not careful—I'll even allow them to dictate my emotions.

Before you gloat a little, ignoring stats can be another idol. Being the slacker-who-doesn't-care/I'm-too-hip-for-that leader can close you off to God as readily as being the leader who rises and falls with the numbers.

Stats tell you things. But they don't measure your worth, nor do they measure God's faithfulness. Watch them. But don't believe they're a barometer on how awesome (or awful) you might be.

5. Alliances. I wish I had a better title for this, but "alliances" simply refers to the group with which we do ministry.

In some cases it's your denomination or a church planting group. Or in my case, as a North Point Strategic Partner, it's North Point Church.

Alliances are often strategic and helpful. They have been for me. But they are not your savior.

It's tempting to think, "If we join X group, our church would take off." No ... it probably wouldn't. Just so you know.

Alliances help. But they will not save. God does that.

6. More. Too many times, I've caught myself worshipping the idol of more. If I had more staff ... more money ... more lights ... more team ... more square footage ... more fill-in-the-blank-with-whatever-your-current-obsession-is, then our church would be awesome.

Nope. God is awesome.

And again, there's nothing wrong with having more. It's just that more will not be your salvation.

Faithfulness is measured in what you do with what you have.

And if you steward what you have well, guess what? Often (not always, but often), you eventually end up with more.

Focus on what you have, not on what you don't have. That's better leadership.

7. Progress. I seem to be far more addicted to progress than God appears to be. Or at least what would define as progress. (I'm quite sure God makes more progress on things than I do.)

I often think I would be the worst biblical character. I would not be good with being in prison for years like Joseph or Paul; or wandering the desert for 40 years like Moses while people complained; or waiting to be king for what must have seemed like an eternity to David.

If every graph is not up and to the right, I get worried.

But God seems to use wilderness seasons in your life and in the life of your church to grow your character.

Besides, if your platform ever outgrows your character, you're doomed anyway (I wrote about that here).

I know God has used seasons when I'm frustrated with progress to grow me.

I am still a reluctant convert to patience and trust. But I am thankful God is patient with me, even when I am not patient with God.

8. Balance. Some of you may be frustrated by now because this appears to be yet another leadership post written by yet another driven leader.

I know. I get that. Those are my demons.

But there is another idol lurking under the guise of work-life balance that's worth identifying.

Often, in the pursuit of a "balanced" life people can lose passion and commitment.

Don't get me wrong: I am all for rest, balance, margin and a life that doesn't drain the life out of you.

But balance can become code for barely working. Balance can become a synonym for not throwing your heart or weight into anything. (I wrote more about the trap of work-life balance here.)

If that's a temptation, just understand that's an idol too.

We have a God who asked us to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength.

Most of the people I know who have accomplished significant things are not balanced people.

They are passionate people.

So be passionate in your work, in your family life, in your rest and in all you do.

When you do, you will glorify God.

Those are eight idols I see and often struggle with in leadership. What do you see?  

In addition to serving as Lead Pastor at Connexus Community Church north of Toronto, Canada, Carey Nieuwhof speaks at conferences and churches throughout North America on leadership, family, parenting and personal renewal.

For the original article, visit

Carey Nieuwhof Featured Culture Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:00:00 -0400
4 Ways Churches Can Make More Room for Millennials

The mass exodus of Millennials (today's 18- to 30-year-olds) from their Christian faith has caused many to wring their hands about the future of the church. Some have answered Millennials' criticisms that the church is irrelevant and boring by trying to be trendy and hip.

However, a new study—Making Space for Millennials, a joint project of Barna Group and the Cornerstone Knowledge Network—reveals that Millennials may be looking for just the opposite.

Apparently, Millennials wish the church would simply be the church.

Here are four key findings from the Barna/CKN research that point to this conclusion:

1. Modularity. Modularity describes the way Millennials assemble their life. When it comes to religion, they pick and choose the spiritual teaching they want to receive, because they were born into a digital world and literally have access to a constant stream of information.

What they don't always have is the wisdom to understand what teaching is trustworthy and what is not. "Millennials are looking to mature Christians to help them curate Truth from all the content that's available to them," says Ed Bahler, CEO of Aspen Group and co-founder of the CKN.

2. Visual clarity. Millennials in the Barna/CKN study expressed an appreciation for clear messaging on where to go once they enter the church and where to find information. They want to be able to answer the questions, "Where am I?" and "What's expected of me?"

Whether a church looks more like a cathedral or a modern megachurch, Millennials appreciate the visual clarity that good signage and clear messaging provides.

3. Respite. Our culture is highly fragmented and frenetic, and there are few places to take a breather and gain much-needed perspective.

"Millennials are leading highly fragmented lives," says David Kinnaman, president of Barna. "In Making Space for Millennials, they expressed a strong desire that churches not compete with this, but rather offer something different and unique." Churches that build in quiet places for personal rest are providing a meaningful respite from Millennials' fast-paced lives.

4. Nature. Churches can help point people to God, regardless of the type of architecture of their facility, by bringing nature into the church. Millennials say that nature is an element that helps them connect with God. And it helps address their need for respite.

To learn more about Millennials and church architecture, download a sample chapter from Making Space for Millennials and purchase the full report on

Marian Liautaud Featured U.S. News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:30:00 -0400
6 Steps to Preserving Religious Freedom in Schools
In fall of 2013 and again this past August,Ward Melville High School officials in East Setauket, NY, rejected student John Raney's application to start a Christian club.  
John Raney was simply a student with a desire to serve his community as an outpouring of his Christian faith.  Seeking to organize his efforts, he submitted an application to form Students United in Faith, a club dedicated to encouraging fellow students and making a difference in their community through food and resource distribution for the underprivileged.
But each time his school said, "no," he wasn't satisfied—and each time Liberty Institute stepped in to confront the school.  Each year, under legal pressure from Liberty Institute, Ward Melville High School accepted John's request, and the faith-based student club continues to serve his school and the community today.
But what does it take to win those victories, especially in cases involving students and school officials? If you've ever wondered what it takes to win a case for people of faith like John Raney—and the members of Students United in Faith—here's what you need to know:
Step 1: An alert and informed community
Having eyes and ears across the country gives us a fighting chance.  Without Catholics for Freedom of Religion, a Long Island organization dedicated to educating people of their religious rights, we may have never represented John Raney.  When the group members heard of this then 16-year-old whose club had been denied acceptance at Ward Melville High School, they connected John with us and we were quickly on the case to help restore students' religious liberty rights in this school.
Step 2: Courage
John Raney has grit. Giving into an oppressive bully would have been understandable considering his young age, but he chose to meet his opposition head on—twice. Part of what contributes to our success is the determination and courage of people who know their rights and fight for them, even when they're in the minority. As long as people of faith continue standing up to those seeking to topple the First Amendment, religious freedom will be secured now and for future generations.
Step 3: Network of experts
Like seeks after like. It's a social principle that is proved in our network of premier volunteer attorneys. Yes, Liberty Institute features some of the most gifted constitutional attorneys in the country, but it's how we position and mobilize our network that truly makes us consistently effective.  That is, the best volunteer attorneys want to work with us because of our standard of excellence, commitment to the First Amendment and desire for justice.
Liberty Institute's expert staff attorneys, Hiram Sasser and Jeremy Dys, worked with our volunteer attorney Todd Harrison—a partner at McDermott Will & Emery—to represent John Raney in his case against Ward Melville High School.  Without this strategic partnership between constitutional and litigation experts, this would not have been possible.
Step 4: Donor support
Our supporters ensure people like John Raney continue receiving the FREE representation they need.  Liberty Institute, as a pro bono non-profit law firm, depends on the generosity of like-minded friends, and we are deeply thankful for each one of them.
Step 5: The right vision
We safeguard religious freedom in America. It's that simple. And without a clear vision, even our best efforts will be inconsequential, or worse, ignoble. Knowing this, we are devoted to our vision to see people of faith living without the fear of religious repression.
Step 6: The grace of God
Religious expression isn't a proposition up for discussion—it's God given.  True, the citizenry of many countries do not enjoy many of the freedoms Americans have, and we are thankful to the Lord for blessing us with the privilege of serving others through him.  Without God's grace, what we do wouldn't be possible.  It's God who enables us to protect the freedoms He has given us, but it's the same God who expects us to serve and worship Him even when our faith and freedoms are being challenged.  Because of His grace, we work to ensure freedom of religious conviction and expression without fear of reprisal.
The True First Step: The law
It's worth mentioning that before the above six steps came the essential "first step":  the Constitution of the United States and the laws, and court precedents that flow from it.  Even in an America where many aspects of the law have been misinterpreted and twisted against freedom, the fact is that the law is predominantly on the side of religious liberty—especially in cases like Students United in Faith.
Liberty Institute Featured U.S. News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
No Special Caste Status for Christians, Indian Minister Says

India should not extend government job and education assistance to the country's poorest Christians, India's social justice minister, Thavar Chand Gehlot, said this month.

For one thing, he said, there are no Christians among India's Dalits, a name given to the country's most impoverished and marginalized citizens, sometimes called "untouchables." For another, extending government benefits to poor Christians would encourage poor Hindu Indians to convert in hopes of qualifying for the programs.

The minister's statements, provided Oct. 10 to the Times of India, drew scoffs from activists who work with Christian Dalits. Advocates for Christian and Muslim Dalits have tried for decades to gain access to the government's job and education set-asides.

"As a Dalit Christian leader, I have to state that the position of the minister is unfortunate," Rev. Kumar Swamy, national secretary of the All India Christian Council, told World Watch Monitor.

"The constitution clearly states that citizens will not be discriminated on the basis of religion," Swamy said. The government's provision of benefits to Hindu Dalits on one hand, and the refusal of them to Christian and Muslim Dalits on the other, he said, is a "violation of a fundamental right equality before the law guaranteed under of the constitution."

As the Indian states of Maharashtra and Haryana were holding elections, the Times of India interviewed Gehlot, a member of the cabinet of new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He took the opportunity to speak out on the decades-old demand to extend "Scheduled Caste" status to the country's Dalit Christians and Muslims, thereby providing them the same access to resources provided to Indian Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists.

Gehlot said the demand, embodied in a 10-year-old lawsuit now sitting before India's Supreme Court, is illogical. Some Hindus, he said, "converted to other religions because untouchability did not exist there. The conversion has solved the problems they faced as Hindus. So, they should not ask for SC status."

Nonsense, say Christian activists.

"Nobody can escape the Indian caste system by converting to other religions. After the conversion, they do not live in vacuum but in a casteist society itself," said Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, executive secretary of the Commission on Dalits within the National Council of Churches in India, in a statement released Oct. 21. The council represents 30 Orthodox and Protestant churches in India.

Gehlot's statement, Philip said, "is meant to fool the citizens of India pretending that casteism does not affect these religions."

"The minister is trying to cover up the fact that casteism in India is a product of Hinduism and it has spread its web to the entire social matrix of India," said Philip, pastor of the Church of South India.

The official census puts the Christian population of India at 2.3 percent, though independent estimates put the number as high as 7 percent, which equates to more than 80 million people. Millions of Christian Dalits keep their faith hidden, to avoid disqualification from Scheduled Caste categorization and the benefits it provides.

"Whether Christians or Muslims do not have caste system is not the issue. The fact is that caste identity till today is a dominant identity in India and results in all forms of discrimination," Rev. Swamy told World Watch Monitor.

Anto Akkara/World Watch Monitor Featured World News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:00:00 -0400
Houston Mayor Drops Bid to Subpoena Pastors' Sermons

Subpoenas issued to five Houston pastors demanding all sermons and correspondence dealing with homosexuality, gender identity and the city's Equal Rights ordinance have been withdrawn, the city's first openly lesbian mayor announced at a Wednesday press conference.

"After much contemplation and discussion, I am directing the city legal department to withdraw the subpoenas issued to the five Houston pastors who delivered the petitions, the anti-HERO petitions, to the city of Houston and who indicated that they were responsible for the overall petition effort," said Mayor Annise Parker in remarks covered by television station KPRC.

My column on the issue sparked a bit of national outrage – well – a lot of national outrage. To be honest it was a full-scale hullabaloo. City Hall was deluged with telephone calls, letters, emails – along with hundreds of Bibles and sermons. More than 50,000 supporters signed a petition.

The only way to stop the bullying is to allow the good people of Houston the right to vote on that nondiscrimination ordinance.

Nevertheless, the mayor still seems hell-bent on defending the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance – a piece of legislation that will in part give grown men who identify as women the right to use the restrooms of their choice.

"It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance from repeal, and it is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged," Parker said. "We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts."

The subpoenas were issued in response to a lawsuit filed related to the so-called bathroom bill. An overwhelming number of religious groups were opposed to a provision of the law that would allow men who identify as women to use the restrooms of their choice.

Critics gathered 50,000 signatures to petition the city to put the issue on the ballot. But the city attorney threw out the petitions – alleging there were not enough legitimate signatures.

Erik Stanley, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, represented the five pastors. He said he was gratified the mayor withdrew the subpoenas.

"She really had no choice but to withdraw the subpoenas," Stanley told me. "She was roundly criticized from the right and the left – from all across the nation."

Stanley said the mayor's actions were a violation of the First Amendment and an abuse of power.

"They were only intended to intimidate and to bully pastors into silence," he said of the subpoenas. "It sent a terrible message to the faith community in Houston and across the country."

Pastor Steve Riggle was one of the ministers who was subpoenaed.

"You don't mess with the pulpits," he told me.

His opinion of the mayor remains unchanged.

"You are not a little dictator to do whatever you want – and that's what we have right now in Houston, Texas," he said. "It's important that everybody keep their eye on what's happening here."

The Family Research Council is hosting a nationally-simulcast rally at Riggle's mega-church on Sunday. Thousands are expected to attend "I Stand Sunday" in person and more than 2,500 churches and home groups have signed up to air the simulcast.

The event includes messages from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Duck Commander Phil Robertson, and yours truly – among others.

"This is what bullies do when people stand up to them," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "They back down."

Perkins told me the response to "I Stand Sunday" has been overwhelming.

"Americans realize this agenda is not simply about equal rights," he said. "It's about elevated sexual behavior above religious freedom. Americans are tired of being bullied by the left."

And let's be honest, folks – that's exactly what's been happening in the Lone Star State. Christians are getting bullied by Houston's mayor and city attorney.

And the only way to stop the bullying is to allow the good people of Houston the right to vote on that nondiscrimination ordinance.

"This is about political intimidation," Perkins said. "And that intimidation continues as long as the citizens are denied the right to vote on this ordinance."

Randy White, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Katy said his congregation is prepared to fight.

"They will stand for any kind of removal of pulpit freedom," he told me. "The pastor, the church, the congregation has got to be able to speak their mind on issues."

White delivered an impassioned sermon about religious liberty that went viral online.

"I will not turn over a jot or a tittle," he announced from the pulpit. He warned that turning over any sermons to the government is the "first step towards totalitarianism."

But he warned that the fight is not over in Houston.

"We haven't won," he said. 'The citizenry of Houston is still denied the right to petition and to vote on this matter," he said.

And quite frankly, I'm not sure Houston's mayor will allow them to vote.

On Tuesday a group of clergy met with Houston's mayor. Afterwards, some of those ministers met with Pastor Riggle. They relayed a portion of the private conversation they had with the mayor.

"She told them, 'I'm not going to let the citizens of Houston vote on my civil rights,'" Riggle said.

Friends -- that is a very chilling statement.

And it's just more that whenever you see the word "nondiscrimination" it usually means religious folks are being discriminated against.

I encourage you and your local church to join us on Sunday to send a message to those who would infringe on religious liberty. We will not be silent. We will not be intimidated. 

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 U.S. News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:00:00 -0400
5 Best Exercises for a Strong Core and Healthy Body

Is your lower back hurting right now? Do you feel sore and stiff when you stand up from sitting for long periods of time?

If so, I would be willing to bet that either you haven't taken enough breaks to walk around and stretch, you haven't maintained good posture or your core is significantly weak. Perhaps all three culprits are to blame.

Today I am going to address the third possibility: a weak core. But before I do, it seems appropriate—since we aren't talking fruit or geology—to define what the fitness industry means when it uses the ubiquitous term, "the core."

Your core muscles are the intrinsic muscles deep within the torso. These muscles attach to the pelvis and spine and include the obliques on the sides of your abdomen, the transverse abdominis in the innermost layer of your abdominal muscles, the muscles of the pelvic floor, and the broadest muscles in your back, known as the latissimus dorsi. (Gotta love Latin!)

Most of the time, your core acts as a stabilizer rather than a prime mover. (During exercises such as bicycle crunches and back extensions that isolate obliques and erector spinae, respectfully, your core is the prime mover.)

In daily life, your core muscles are what help you bend down to tie your shoes, turn to talk to someone in the passenger seat behind you, pick up a package from your front porch, even sit upright as you read this article. Everything from strenuous manual labor that involves twisting, chopping and lifting to easier mundane tasks such as talking on the phone, getting into the bathtub and working at your computer engages the core. If we want to be back pain and injury-free, not to mention comfortable and confident in our clothes, it behooves us to train these muscles on a regular basis.

As I mentioned above, the core generally serves to stabilize our bodies during everyday tasks. Therefore, it makes sense that the best way to train the core muscles is by doing functional exercises that mimic said everyday tasks. Below are five of my favorite exercises that you can easily incorporate into your next workout. And all you need is a pair of dumbbells and your built-in core.

What I love most about these exercises is that they are compound movements, meaning they utilize more than one joint or muscle group and, therefore, burn more calories, build more muscle, provide a full-body workout faster than single-joint isolation exercises do, improve coordination and target your core without you even noticing (that last part isn't a guarantee, I should add).

I recommend starting out by doing one of the following exercises each workout; you can even include them in your warm up. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 repetitions, increasing weight and/or reps as you progress each week.

 1. Lunges with Twist Over Lunging Knee

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, torso upright with arms hanging straight at your sides.
  • Take a slow, controlled lunge forward with one foot. As you lunge, lower your body and allow the lunging knee to bend until your thigh is parallel to the ground.
  • In the lunge position, bend your elbows at ninety degrees and rotate your torso in the direction of your bent knee.
  • If performing walking lunges, push through the heel of the lunging foot to bring the back foot to meet it.

 2. Mountain-Climbers

  • Place your hands on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width. Step out with your feet to assume a plank position.
  • While holding your upper body in place, alternate bringing the right and left knees toward your chest.
  •  Keep your hips down and increase the intensity by performing the movement faster as you feel comfortable.

3. Overhead Walking Lunges with Dumbbells

  • Hold a pair of dumbbells overhead, arms fully extended with biceps by your ears. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Take a slow, controlled lunge forward with one foot. As you lunge, lower your body and allow the lunging knee to bend until your thigh is parallel to the ground. Keep arms strong and locked out overhead. Do not let elbows bend.
  • If performing walking lunges, push through the heel of the lunging foot to bring the back foot to meet it.

4. Renegade Row

  • Place a pair of dumbbells side by side on the floor. Then get into a plank position with hands gripping either dumbbell, feet hip-width apart. Make sure dumbbells are about shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend your right elbow and pull the dumbbell until your elbow passes your torso. Keep the elbow tight and close to your body. Keep abdominals engaged and neck in a neutral position.  Press the left dumbbell into the floor for balance.
  • Lower your arm and repeat on the opposite side.

5. Suitcase Deadlift

  • Hold one dumbbell to the side of your body. Feet are hip-width apart.
  • With shoulders back, chest lifted, and lower back in a natural arch, begin lowering your body by pushing your hips back. Then bend your knees and continue moving your rear back while maintaining the arch in your lower back.
  • The dumbbell should be lowering in a straight path in line with your shoulder blades. When you lose the natural curve in your spine and begin to round your back, stop lowering and reverse the motion.
  • To initiate the lift, use your glute muscles to powerfully thrust your hips forward. Focus on keeping your torso level and not leaning or twisting toward the dumbbell.
  • NOTE: As your flexibility and mobility increases, you can lower the dumbbell more and more until you can touch the floor. At that point, you can try beginning the movement from the floor.

For more exercises like the ones in this article, check out my book, Perfect Fit!

Diana Anderson-Tyler is the author of Creation House's Fit for Faith: A Christian Woman's Guide to Total Fitness and her latest book, Perfect Fit: Weekly Wisdom and Workouts for Women of Faith and Fitness. Her popular website can be found at dianaandersontyler.comand she is the owner and a coach at CrossFit 925. Diana can be reached on Twitter.

For the original article, visit

Diana Anderson-Tyler Featured Culture Thu, 30 Oct 2014 08:00:00 -0400
20 Contrasts Between the Box Church and the Kingdom-Centered Church

Ever since the fourth century when the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal, the church progressively went from a decentralized "saints movement" to a temple-centered, "clergy-dependent" movement.

We went from focusing on marketplace presence to building elaborate cathedrals with clergy-led rituals. We went from people "being the church" to people "going to church." I call the latter mentality "the box church."

This clergy/laity divide and emphasis with a ritual-centered approach in a building was not only a challenge in the past but also in the present (even though our evangelical rituals now have more pizzazz). Consequently, the leaders of the church held a monopoly upon things sacred—which kept the "holy elite" in power and in wealth. The sad thing is, similar concepts are still prevalent in the church today. 

The following are some of the contrasts between the "box church" and "kingdom-centered" church:  

1. The box church Christians go to church. The kingdom-centered believers are the church. Whenever we say, "We are going to church," it shows we are still trapped within the mindset that the church is primarily a building we go to. 

2. The box church focuses most of their energy into the Sunday experience in a building. The kingdom-centered church equips believers for Monday to Friday. The kingdom-centered church not only has a good Sunday experience but also equips the saints for the work of the ministry related to their primary vocation from Monday to Friday.

3. In the box church, only the professional clergy are ministers. In the kingdom-centered church all believers are equipped to minister for God. 

4. In the box church, only the clergy can understand the Word. The kingdom-centered church equips all believers to interpret and apply the Word. In the box church, people are taught to be dependent upon the "man of God" to feed them the Word. In the kingdom-centered church, the focus is to teach all believers to interpret the Word and feed themselves. 

5. In the box church potential leaders are equipped to preach in a building. The kingdom-centered church equips people to lead in the marketplace. In the box church a small percentage of people with potential are trained to become full-time clergy and preach the Word. In the kingdom-centered church the focus is on equipping one hundred percent of the people to influence culture through their vocation. 

6. In the box church, only Sunday is celebrated and sacred. In the kingdom-centered church every day is celebrated and sacred. In kingdom-centered churches every day is viewed as a sacred opportunity to demonstrate the love, wisdom and power of God in all of life. 

7. In the box church the real mission is Sunday. In the kingdom-centered church the real mission is Monday to Friday. In the box church the people are trained to try to make it to Sunday to get encouraged and filled. In the kingdom-centered church the Sunday service equips the believer to bring the lordship of Christ to every facet of society.

8. In the box church wealth creators are only used for their tithe to support programs in a building. In the kingdom-centered church wealth creators use their business to advance the kingdom in culture. 

9. In the box church the temple is the sanctuary. In the kingdom-centered church the earth is His sanctuary. The Scriptures say that the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof (Ps. 24). Hence, we should experience the activity of God as much in city hall as we do the fellowship hall inside a church building.

10. The box church depends upon a building to function. The kingdom-centered church depends upon believers to function. In the box church ministry is limited or expanded by the capacity of their building. In the kingdom-centered church the ministry is limited or expanded by the capacity of the disciples they are equipping and sending. 

11. In the box church Jesus is only the savior of the sheep. In the kingdom-centered church Jesus is also the King of kings over nations. In the kingdom-centered church saved people view Jesus as the President of all presidents, the CEO of all CEOs and the Judge of all lawyers and judges of the earth (Rev. 19:16). Hence, they speak truth to power as God's representatives. 

12. In the box church the Bible is a book about escaping the earth. In the kingdom-centered church the Bible is about stewarding the earth. The Bible is the most practical book ever written about how to live upon the earth. Hence, the biblical focus is for believers to experience inner transformation so they can transform their surrounding culture (internal transformation without external goals of engagement result in narcissism and passivity).

13. The box church focuses on bringing the community into a building. The kingdom-centered church focuses on sending the saints to serve their city.

14. In the box church the gifts of the Spirit operate on Sunday. In the kingdom-centered church the gifts of the Spirit operate every day. 

15. In the box church our purpose began when we were born again. In the kingdom-centered church our purpose was evident immediately after physical birth. God's purpose for us was in motion even before we were saved since He anoints and sanctifies our God-given natural gifts, talents and past worldly experience to advance His kingdom.

16. In the box church people come to be entertained. In the kingdom-centered church people come to be equipped.  

17. In the box church the lead pastor is called to shepherd a congregation. In the kingdom-centered church the lead pastor is called to shepherd a community. 

18. The box church is mystical. The kingdom-centered church is spiritual. The biblical use of the word "spiritual" does not necessarily mean thinking of spiritual things—but it has to do with having power over your flesh to be a witness of Christ on the earth. Hence, mysticism and biblical spirituality imply two different things; mysticism implies spirituality with no practical application to the earth while true spirituality empowers us to deal with earthly realities.

19. In the box church believers come to escape their problems. In the kingdom-centered church they learn how to become problem solvers 

20. In the box church people passively wait to be caught up into heaven. In the kingdom-centered church, we bring heaven down to the earth. Jesus told us to pray for His kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). He prayed that we would not be taken out of the world (John 17:15). He told us to occupy or engage in business until He comes (Luke 19:13).

Joseph Mattera is overseeing bishop of Resurrection Church and Christ Covenant Coalition in Brooklyn, N.Y. Visit him at

Bishop Joseph Mattera Featured The Pulse Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 07:00:00 -0400
Six Superstitious Myths About the Devil

Americans can't seem to get enough of horror movies. Every October, in time for Halloween, Hollywood releases a creepy new crop of films about masked serial killers, flesh-eating zombies, crazed vampires and demon-possessed children who crawl out of television sets to attack us.

This year's horror fare includes Annabelle (about a red-haired doll possessed by an evil spirit), Devil's Due (about a demonic pregnancy resulting from a voodoo ritual), Ouija (about teenagers who conjure ghosts by playing a board game) and Horns, (about a murder suspect who begins growing horns and taking on other devilish characteristics).

No thanks. The world is scary enough—I don't need a horror movie soundtrack to go with it.

Many horror movies are quite religious (last year's The Conjuring was about a Christian couple who did exorcisms), but Hollywood rarely gets it right when it comes to the devil, demons and the spiritual realm. The result is that many people today have wrong ideas about Satan—and Christians often subscribe to these kooky concepts because we haven't studied God's Word carefully. Here are six of the most common myths about the devil:

Myth No. 1: The devil is everywhere. God is omnipresent, but the devil doesn't have that kind of power or influence. Jesus said He saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening (Luke 10:18)—referring to the moment when our enemy was cast out of the highest heaven. Satan posts his demons in various regions, but the devil is not watching you 24 hours a day. And if you are in Christ, you are hidden in Him (see Col. 3:3) and the devil cannot detect you on his radar.

Myth No. 2: The devil has horns. Hollywood has perpetrated the idea that Satan has horns, a red cape and a pitchfork, but this is based on medieval folklore, not the Bible. In fact, the Bible says the devil is a master of clever disguises, and that he prefers to appear as "an angel of light" (see 2 Cor. 11:14). Without spiritual discernment, most people don't even recognize that the devil is working because he is so cunning and attractive. The devil often shows up in religious meetings, and he even deceives Christians. He also loves to work through charlatans who steal money and live in immorality but know how to quote Scripture.

Myth No. 3: The devil is afraid of crosses, holy water and religious icons. In the typical Hollywood vampire film, Count Dracula is repelled by a crucifix and demons scream in torment when a priest utters a Latin phrase. Don't be fooled. Satan is not afraid of religious people. Satan is quite comfortable hanging around religious buildings as long as the people inside are not preaching the true gospel. That's why Paul the apostle warned us that in the last days people who at one time followed God would fall away from the faith, "paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim. 4:1). Some of the most demonic heresies were hatched in church buildings when Christians turned away from the truth to follow the devil, the father of lies.

Myth No. 4: The devil is to blame for all the evil in the world. A lot of Christians have the idea that the devil caused them to sin. "The devil made me do it!" No, the devil was probably nowhere near. The Book of James says we must own the responsibility of our sin. "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust" (James 1:14). Don't blame the devil for what you did. Take responsibility and repent.

Myth No. 5: The devil is all-powerful. We Christians ascribe to Satan way more power than he actually has. The Bible says in Colossians that when Jesus died on the cross, He disarmed satanic powers and made a public spectacle of them (see Col. 2:15). I love the way The Message translates this verse: "[Jesus] stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets." Satan's authority has been taken from him, and all he can do now is lie, steal, kill and destroy—much like a renegade terrorist army—until the church finishes the job of preaching the gospel to the world. And Satan knows his end is near.

Myth No. 6: The devil lives in hell. Popular artwork often shows the devil running his diabolical operation from a headquarters in the midst of the flames of hell. But that is not a biblical concept. Ephesians 2:2 describes Satan as "the prince of the power of the air" because he runs his show from a remote heavenly location. The good news is that he won't be there for long. Jesus said hell has been prepared for the devil and his angels (see Matt. 25:41), and Rev. 20:10 says after the final judgment, God will throw Satan into the lake of fire and brimstone where he will be "tormented day and night forever and ever." That is the horror movie the devil fears most.

If you are a believer in Christ, you have no reason to fear the devil. We should not be ignorant of Satan's schemes, and you should develop discernment to know where he is working, but you do not have to be afraid of him. If you are strong in faith, aggressive in prayer and filled with the Holy Spirit, you are a threat to Satan's kingdom. The apostle Paul's words in Romans 16:20 remind us of our victory: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."

J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. You can learn more about his ministry, The Mordecai Project, at

J. Lee Grady Featured Culture Thu, 30 Oct 2014 06:00:00 -0400
Elon Musk: Artificial Intelligence Is Like 'Summoning a Demon'

Elon Musk has built a reputation as one of this generation's most visionary inventors and entrepreneurs. But he is now warning that artificial intelligence could grow to become like "summoning the demon."

The founder of the Tesla car company and rocket-maker Space X fears that the technology could someday be more harmful than nuclear weapons.

Musk is so worried that he is investing in AI companies—not to make money—but to keep an eye on the technology in case it gets out of hand.

He elaborated on this theme last week in remarks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AeroAstro Centennial Symposium. Musk, 43, described artificial intelligence as mankind's "biggest existential threat."

"I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that. So we need to be very careful with artificial intelligence," Musk told his audience, according to a report in London's Daily Mail. "I'm increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don't do something very foolish.

"With artificial intelligence we're summoning the demon. You know those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram, and the holy water, and ... he's sure he can control the demon? Doesn't work out."

In August the Canadian-American business magnate and inventor, who was born in South Africa, warned that AI could to do more harm to the human race than nuclear weapons.

Musk, who earned his first fortune as a co-founder of PayPal, has previously claimed that a horrific 'Terminator-like' scenario could be created from research into artificial intelligence.

In March, Musk made an investment in San Francisco-based AI group Vicarious, along with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and actor Ashton Kutcher.

Vicarious' ultimate aim is to build a "computer that thinks like a person ... except it doesn't have to eat or sleep," according to the company's co-founder Scott Phoenix.

In an interview with CNBC, Musk said, "I think there is potentially a dangerous outcome there. There have been movies about this, you know, like Terminator. There are some scary outcomes. And we should try to make sure the outcomes are good, not bad."

Vicarious is currently attempting to build a program that mimics the brain's neocortex. The neocortex is the top layer of the cerebral hemispheres in the brain of mammals. It is about three millimeters thick and has six layers, each involved with various functions. These include sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language in humans.

In October 2013 the company announced it had developed an algorithm that "reliably" solves modern CAPTCHAs—the world's most widely used test of a machine's ability to act human.

CAPTCHAs are used when filling in forms, for example, to make sure it's not being completed by a bot. This prevents people programming computers to buy a bulk load of gig tickets, for example.

As well as Vicarious, Musk was early investor in AI firm DeepMind, which earlier this year was acquired by Google for $678 million.

Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking also has warned that humanity faces an uncertain future as technology learns to think for itself and adapt to its environment.

Earlier this year, the renowned physicist discussed Johnny Depp's latest film, Transcendence, which delves into a world where computers can surpass the abilities of humans.

Hawking said dismissing the film as science fiction could be the "worst mistake in history."

Mark Andrews Featured U.S. News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 15:00:00 -0400
Houston Mayor Withdraws Subpoenas, but Political Intimidation Continues

On Sunday, November 2, Family Research Council (FRC) will host a nationwide, live simulcast event from Grace Community Church in Houston, Texas. Called "I Stand Sunday," the simulcast will reach into over 2,500 churches and home groups nationwide. "I Stand Sunday" will provide churches across the nation the opportunity to stand with the pastors and churches in Houston who have been targeted and harassed by the city's mayor because they publicly challenged her efforts to advance policies that are in direct conflict with biblical morality.

FRC President Tony Perkins will serve as host for the simulcast which will also feature former Governor Mike Huckabee, Duck Dynasty's Phil and Al Robertson, the five Houston pastors who have been targeted by the mayor's subpoenas, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, who serves as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, along with many other national and local Christian leaders.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins made the following comments regarding the mayor's announcement today and Sunday's "I Stand Sunday" simulcast.

"Standing together across the nation, Christians have sent a strong message to Mayor Parker. While we are encouraged by this evidence that the Mayor is responding to pressure and withdrawing her unconstitutional subpoenas, this is about far more than subpoenas. As we have stated since the beginning of this intrusion into the private affairs of Houston churches; this is not about subpoenas, this is not about sermons, it is not even about biblical teaching on sexual immorality, it is about political intimidation and the bullying by Mayor Parker that continues.

"Despite the fact that the citizens of Houston gathered over 50,000 signed petitions in 30 days, which is 30,000 more than required by the city charter, the Mayor has refused to allow the people of Houston to vote on her unfair special rights ordinance that discriminates against religious freedom within the city and endangers citizens by declaring that public bathrooms can no longer be limited on the basis of a person's actual biological sex.

"The citizens of Houston have a right to vote, and Mayor Parker has denied them that right. America must see the totalitarianism that accompanies the redefinition of marriage and human sexuality, which results in citizens being denied their most fundamental rights.

"This Sunday night, thousands of Christians from across the nation will join 'I Stand Sunday' to support the pastors and Christians in Houston, Texas, and their fundamental rights of religious freedom, freedom of speech and the right to petition their government," concluded Perkins

Prior to the simulcast, FRC President Tony Perkins, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Pastor Steve Riggle, Dr. Ronnie Floyd and local church leaders will hold a 4:00 p.m. CT news conference at Grace Community Church where they will offer a preview of the event.

Family Research Council Featured U.S. News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 17:00:00 -0400
Netanyahu Blasts Obama Administration for Cursing Him

JERUSALEM—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he's under fire because he won't compromise the safety of Israel.

"When there is pressure on Israel to give up on its security, the easiest thing is to give up," Arutz Sheva quoted Netanyahu's response at the Knesset.

"As prime minister, I stand for the security of Israel," he continued. "The life of every single citizen and soldier matters to me, and I am not prepared to make compromises that will endanger our country."

"Our interests are not on the minds of those who attack us—or me—personally," he said. "The attack on me comes because I defend the State of Israel and despite all the attacks, I will continue to defend our country and the citizens of Israel."

He added that he respects and values Israel's relations with the United States.

"The strategic alliance between the countries continues and will continue," he said.

Those were his first public remarks after The Atlantic quoted a senior Obama administration official calling Netanyahu a word that starts with "chicken."

The official told The Atlantic the good thing about Netanyahu was that he was afraid to launch wars, but the bad thing was he won't reach an accommodation with the Palestinian Authority or Sunni Arab states. Another White House official called Netanyahu a coward on a nuclear Iran and said he won't launch a preemptive strike.

Israeli Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett called on the Obama administration to "immediately reject these gross comments."

"The prime minister of Israel is not a private person. He is the leader of the Jewish state and the entire Jewish people. Cursing the prime minister and calling him names is an insult not just to him but to the millions of Israeli citizens and Jews across the globe," Bennett wrote.

"The leader of Syria, who slaughtered 150,000 people, was not awarded the name 'chickens---,'" Bennett continued. "Neither was the leader of Saudi Arabia who stones women and homosexuals or the leader of Iran who murders freedom protestors."

"If what appears in the press is true, then it seems that the current U.S. administration is throwing Israel under the bus," Bennett wrote.

"Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East and has been fighting 66 years to survive," he continued.

"Israel is at the forefront of the free world's fight against the Islamic terror of ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran. Instead of attacking Israel and putting it at risk, the world should be strengthening and supporting it."

CBN News Featured World News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Mars Hill Pastor Confesses Sin, Asks for Mercy

In the wake of Mark Driscoll's resignation as lead pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, a campus pastor is opening up to members and former members with a confession that he had bought into a sin-tainted ministry culture there and is seeking their forgiveness.

"I am deeply sorry that so many people have experienced profound hurt over the years at Mars Hill," Steve Tompkins, pastor of Mars Hill Shoreline wrote in a letter posted online this week. "It breaks my heart that many continue to live with deep emotional and spiritual wounds, even long after leaving the church. I also realize that in my role as an elder, including as Lead Pastor at Shoreline, I share responsibility and complicity in some of the ways you have been hurt, disappointed, and sinned against at Mars Hill."

Tompkins has been at Mars Hill for over 12 years, on full-time staff for more than 11, a pastor for 10 years and has served as lead pastor of Mars Hill Shoreline for more than eight years.

Mars Hill has been roiled in controversy since long before Driscoll left under pressure two weeks ago. Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor, was accused of plagiarism, bullying and an unhealthy ego that alienated even his most devoted followers. The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll's resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation.

Concerning Driscoll's leadership, a report from the church's board of overseers said, "We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life and leadership, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry."

However, the overseers noted, "Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership."

Tompkins confessed that he had been a willing participant in a leadership culture that often quashed dissension or even slight complaints with bullying tactics that often attempted to turn accusations back at the accusers. However, he gave no indication of any plans to step down.

In his letter, Tompkins wrote, "if the leadership and ministry culture at Mars Hill has been marked by arrogance (and it has), then I am coming to see how I have been marked by that same arrogance, and how I was blind to it, both in others and in myself. I now see how my own sin of arrogance within our arrogant culture therefore went unrecognized and unchallenged. In saying this, I am in no way blaming my sin on others or on the culture. On the contrary, my sin is my own sin which I freely confess. That is what I am now seeing with painful clarity.

"The same is true with the sin of domineering leadership. In fact, if you mix ministry arrogance together with top-down domineering leadership along with idolatry of church growth and numbers, then inevitably you create a ministry culture where many end up hurt, burned out, feeling used. I see this now, and I see how I helped to build such a culture."

Tompkins concluded in part, "In many ways I feel like I am late to the table, but I am grateful to be here now. ... Brothers and sisters, I humbly ask your forgiveness for my sin in my role as a Mars Hill elder. I am deeply sorry for your suffering, and pray that Jesus will grant emotional, spiritual, and relational healing."

Mark Andrews Featured U.S. News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:00:00 -0400
Jeremy Lin Asks Fans for Intercession, Launches Prayer Group

Pro basketball star Jeremy Lin has never been shy about his Christian faith. Now, just entering his first season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin is asking his fans for intercessory prayer and has started a prayer group for his fans.

"The journey I've been on has had its ups and downs and I appreciate all of your support throughout," Lin wrote on his blog this week. "Some of you have asked how to pray for me so I decided to start a prayer group where I can send out requests for those that want to pray and support!! Please feel free to share with others you think would be interested. So much of what happens is out of our control, but prayer has been a place I have consistently found peace with God. Thanks for being such supportive fans!"

Lin first captured the nation's attention with sensational play in early 2012 that earned the undrafted player out of Harvard a spot in the starting lineup of the New York Knicks.

Lin joined the Lakers in late July after a trade with the Houston Rockets, where he landed after playing in New York. Sports pundits say Lin, who was born in nearby Torrance, California, will help the Lakers tap the city's huge Asian demographic—the largest in the nation. Lin also brings his well-known willingness to live out his Christian faith to his new city and team.

In August, Lin opened up about the sins he struggles with. The 25-year-old Lakers guard admitted he is not as humble as some people may think. His remarks came in a question-and-answer session on Facebook during what he called Fan Appreciation Week.

"I'm not humble. Pride is [the] greatest sin I struggle with," Lin wrote. "But I'd say as I get older, go through more experiences in life and face tougher obstacles, I realize that I'm more sinful and need God more than I ever imagined."

Lin said he is now blogging periodically to fill in his fans from his perspective on what's going on in his life and the new NBA season. "Hope you guys enjoy it!"

"From a spiritual standpoint, God has been teaching me and challenging me to rest in His love and grace every day. I have always been a 'go-getter' type of guy who is focused on the next day, the next task or the next goal. God has been reminding me to stop and enjoy the relationship I have with Him daily. In doing so, I will live life with more peace, joy and purpose! 

"Also a verse that I think God has put on my heart for this season is Ephesians 3:20, 'Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.'"

Mark Andrews Featured U.S. News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Muslim Leader Warns Canada It's 'Under Attack'
Raheel Raza, an intercultural and interfaith diversity consultant—and an award-winning Muslim journalist—is offering a strong warning to her Canadians. Raza wrote an open letter to Canadians that starts with these words: Canada is under attack.
"Since 9/11 and perhaps even before that, some of us Muslims have been insisting that Canada is not safe from terrorist attacks and that it's just a matter of time," she writes. "Yesterday we heard the shocking news that a Canadian soldier was run over in Quebec. Some people shrugged this off as the work of a mentally deranged person probably acting alone."
As she sees it, "We can either continue to believe in the handbook titled 'Radicalization for Dummies' and act vague and politically correct on clear indications of where the problem originates from, or we can take immediate action as Canadians. 
"Otherwise rest assured the rabid ideology behind acts of blatant terrorism will only grow," she says. "And when that happens, please don't come looking for 'moderate Muslims' as we have been saying this since a decade and continue to stand on guard for Canada but is anyone listening?"
Raza offers a list of five things Canada needs to do, one of which is to close all mosques for three months to have intense scrutiny on the Imams and their sermons. Do you agree with Raza?
Jennifer LeClaire Featured World News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 12:30:00 -0400
Whom Should Christians Support in the 2016 Presidential Election?

The left-wing National Journal ran a piece on Sunday making the argument that the evangelical choice for 2016 has already narrowed down to a choice between Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The National Journal is right.

Evangelical and pro-family leaders realize that if America is to be reclaimed, conservatives cannot wait to let the field sort itself out as we did in 2008 and 2012. It is close to midnight in America, and we simply do not have time even to think about waiting until 2020. There may be little left of our country to save by then.

It is imperative that social conservatives rally soon around one candidate and throw their energy and resources into his campaign. Given the timeline of modern presidential campaigns, this must happen early in 2015. The vetting needs to happen right after the turn of the year, a decision needs to be made by the spring, and then energy must be harnessed and focused on the efforts of that one candidate.

If the GOP runs another McCain or another Romney, the Democrats will win, the GOP will be toast and America will be close to being devastated beyond repair. It would take decades to undo the damage done to America by another moderate GOP candidate.

The three non-negotiables for a presidential candidate among genuine evangelicals are a firm, unapologetic, unwavering allegiance to religious liberty, the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage. No candidate is worth the support of social conservatives who has even so much as raised a question mark on any one of these issues.

A host of would-be GOP candidates flunk this test, including Scott Walker (who surrendered on marriage in Wisconsin) and Rand Paul (who has suggested government get out of marriage altogether). (Marco Rubio has kneecapped himself by his support for amnesty.)

Christie is out for a host of reasons, and Jeb Bush is out because of amnesty and Common Core.

That leaves, in addition to Cruz and Huckabee, Gov. Rick Perry, former Sen. Rick Santorum, Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Perry could rocket to the top of the list by defying a federal ruling overturning Texas' natural marriage amendment, but that may be a risk not even he is willing to take, and he may be out of office before that opportunity arises. Perry has done more to preserve the sanctity of life and marriage than any other governor in U.S. history, and certainly belongs on the short list.

But, although Gov. Perry has always been and remains my personal favorite, his "oops" moment still lingers from 2012, which makes the smooth and articulate Cruz and Huckabee look preferable to many evangelicals in comparison. Conservatives are tired of crossing their fingers and hoping their candidate doesn't utter cringeworthy gaffes and glitches in debates. We wouldn't have to worry about that with either Cruz or Huckabee.

Sen. Santorum, for whatever reason, simply does not seem able to gain sufficient traction among evangelicals. Gov. Jindal is solid on the issues, but comes across as a little too wonkish. Dr. Carson is immensely likeable but is untested in the searing heat of a political campaign.

So from a pragmatic standpoint, unless Perry can catch fire, we're down to Huckabee and Cruz.

Huckabee is a fierce and vocal opponent of judicial supremacy, especially on the marriage issue, is staunchly pro-life, and has an advantage over Cruz in that he has held executive power as governor of Arkansas. But that is also his Achilles' heel, as he developed a reputation as a big-government Republican who supported tax hikes and was soft on immigration. An additional negative for Huckabee is his continued and inexplicable support for Common Core. A further question for Huckabee is his ability to generate support outside the ring of the evangelical community. Huckabee has never caught fire with the Tea Party, whose enthusiastic support is critical for 2016.

That brings it down to Cruz. His main weakness is that he has never exercised executive power. But he has a wealth of significant political experience, is extremely bright and articulate, is a Tea Party icon, and defeated an establishment Republican with a Rick Perry endorsement to become the junior senator from Texas. In other words, he's got the chops.

Cruz has a biblical and constitutional worldview, is unapologetically conservative, promotes natural marriage in the face of concerted opposition, is an ardent defender of unborn human life, and has proven repeatedly that he's willing to take on the entrenched power brokers in D.C. What's not to like?

Now certainly many evangelicals will have a different assessment, and will have cogent reasons for preferring their guy. We, in essence, must have our own pre-primary primary through vigorous discussion about potential candidates. That process needs to begin NOW so that it can be completed by the spring of 2015. We cannot afford to wait until 2016 to engage in this decisive conversation. Let the debate begin!

Bryan Fischer/AFA Featured Politics Wed, 29 Oct 2014 12:00:00 -0400
Can You Say 'Double Standard'? Christian Worker Loses Key Court Battle

A British Court of Appeal ruled today, Oct. 28, that a Christian worker who lost her job at Heathrow airport after spurious "anti-Islam" complaints were made against her has no employment protection rights.

In the judgment, Lady Justice Arden said "I too have an uneasy feeling that the complex arrangements have the effect that the Appellant has no remedy for discrimination ..."

The case raises vital issues about whether employers can effectively sidestep important employment protections (including non-discrimination and religious freedom regulations) through the use of complex contract arrangements. It also highlights a potential clash between UK and EU understandings of "employment." The case could have implications for thousands of workers in the UK who use employee-controlled companies.

Defending a Christian colleague

Halawi had worked in a duty-free shop at Heathrow's Terminal 3 for 13 years. She defended a Christian colleague who was mocked by Muslim colleagues for wearing a cross. She also spoke with management about the way that some Muslim workers spoke disparagingly about Jesus and was additionally concerned about comments made against Jews and Christians.

A complaint was then made against her, based on a misheard conversation and spurious rumors that Nohad had behaved in an "anti-Islam" manner.

In response, the management company withdrew Halawi's airside security pass, thereby disqualifying her from any further work at the duty-free shop and ending her livelihood.

The case raised important issues about the disparity of treatment of Christian and Muslim workers. Nohad says her substantive complaints were effectively ignored by World Duty Free but that the company acted immediately to end her livelihood when unsubstantiated complaints were made against her. She believes that she lost her role because she spoke up for the freedom of Christians and dared to stand against inappropriate conduct by a group of Muslim employees.

Twenty-two of Halawi's colleagues, some of them Muslims, signed a petition which stated: "We are shocked and saddened by the recent dismissal of our colleague and friend, Nohad, as a result of malicious and unfounded allegations made against her," but the decision was not reversed—leaving Nohad unable to work. 

'Not technically employed'

Halawi claimed unfair dismissal and religious discrimination at an Employment Tribunal in 2012, but it ruled that she had no protection under employment law as she was not "technically employed," despite the fact that she had worked at Heathrow for 13 years. In October 2013 the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld this decision.

She had contacted the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) for support, and it instructed leading human rights barrister, Paul Diamond, to represent her. At the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Diamond argued that in light of her working arrangements, Halawi should be recognized as an employee under European law, and as such should be protected from discrimination.

At the request of the operators of the duty-free shop, Halawi had formed a small company, called Nohad Ltd, of which she was the sole employee. This company contracted services to Caroline South Associates, which in turn contracted to World Duty Free. The arrangement was not uncommon.

On a day to day basis, World Duty Free controlled her working arrangements, including her hours. Once World Duty Free withdrew approval for her airside pass, Nohad was no longer able to work in the shop, effectively terminating her "employment" there.

Diamond argued that the Employment Tribunal should have considered the de facto relationship between Halawi, Caroline South Associates and World Duty Free, recognizing her as an "employee," or a "worker" under European law. He argued that the arrangement was a disguised working practice and that the plain reality was that Nohad was working as a shop worker for World Duty Free and so was entitled to normal employment protection.

'Profound effect upon my life'

Responding to the judgment, Halawi said:

"I am very disappointed by today's result. The case has had a profound effect upon my life. I am determined to continue this battle in order to secure justice for ordinary people like me who often find themselves without a voice. I entered into a working arrangement at the request of my employer only to find myself without any legal protection. My employers were able to dismiss me without any proper disciplinary and employment procedures despite my 13-year unblemished track record. The trigger for the dismissal was their disproportionate response to conversations I had about my Christian faith and their fear of upsetting my Muslim colleagues.

"I am grateful to my legal team at the Christian Legal Centre and look forward to working with them as we take the case further."

Christian Concern Featured World News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:30:00 -0400
These Pastors Are Taking 'Compassionate' Stand on Gay Marriage

Pastors in Tennessee are standing up for marriage. This week the Southern Baptist Convention convenes in Nashville for a three-day conference, called "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage."

Southern Baptist leaders say they want to express their views in a way that's humble and compassionate, but rooted in the belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The Rev. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said gay marriage is a "rejection of God's law."

But Mohler and the Rev. Russell Moore, who heads the denomination's public policy arm, also said they don't believe people can necessarily eliminate same-sex attraction.

Moore added that Southern Baptists do not support "reparative therapy" for gays based on psychological counseling. But he said the denomination believes biblical teaching can help people live chastely while being attracted to people of the same gender.

CBN News Featured U.S. News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 11:00:00 -0400
Sean Hannity Speaks Out on 'Disconcerting' Election
Sean Hannity, the longtime Fox News Channel anchor and strong voice for American conservatives, is used to taking criticism from all comers, but it was his own unhappiness with his flabby self last year that pushed him to take up a new fight—that of "street" martial artist.
"It's a tough, tough workout," the 52-year-old said of his regimen of jiu-jitsu, blade and firearm training. "It's also really great self-defense ... I'm building muscles that I've never had before."
Hannity, whose eponymous weeknight show averages 1.7 million viewers and ranks in the top five of cable news programs, spoke to Reuters about the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, problems the Republican party faces and playing matchmaker to staffers.
Q: You notably started as a small-market radio host. What first turned you on to politics and news?
A: I've absorbed it since I was a kid and delivered newspapers, reading the newspaper. My parents were screaming at me to put the paper down and get out and go deliver them.
I still get the hard papers every day. I have on my lap right now the New York Daily News, the New York Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, although I won't admit that publicly.
Q: Actors fear being type-cast, but you've made your career working a brand of conservative ...
A: I think that ship has sailed. I am a conservative. That's who I am. It's in my DNA. I believe that if we would govern conservatively, meaning limited government, balanced budgets, greater freedom, that people took greater responsibility for their lives, etc. I think society would be better off if we were energy independent, if we secure our borders, free market capitalism in the healthcare system, not a top-down heavy system.
Q: Why have conservatives been unable to make strong gains despite public disapproval of President Barack Obama?
A: I think Republicans have fallen way short. I'm not a registered Republican. I'm a registered conservative. There has been a lack of vision. ... Why when we have more energy, more natural gas than Saudi Arabia, why are we importing those things from countries that hate us? With Ebola and ISIS, why are we not securing our southern border and all of our borders?
My biggest criticism of Republicans is they have the power of the purse and they have been unwilling to use it—some Republicans, I think there are some real good conservatives out there —and Republicans have also lacked a vision in terms of showing people there's another way to do things.
Q: Do you believe they will be able to take control of the Senate in midterm elections?
A: It's actually a hard year to read. My gut is the Republicans will get the six seats.
The thing that's a little bit disconcerting to me is you have states like Georgia, where both the Senate and gubernatorial races are so close. I wouldn't have expected that. ... I don't know if it's an anti-incumbent year, an anti-Obama year, anti-establishment year.
Q: You're also known as an amateur matchmaker. How did it come about setting up staffers on dates?
A: I have an outgoing personality, and I notice that everybody else does not. You can almost tell sometimes that people really like each other but are both afraid to make the first move or say anything. I'm like, "Why don't you guys go out on a date, and I'll send you guys to Ruth's Chris (restaurant). But it has to be a date and you have to hold hands and you have to give her a kiss at the end of the night." I'll do stuff like that to mess around with people.
Q: Do you keep track of your batting average, so to speak?
A: I'm up in the .800 range.
Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman
Eric Kelsey/Reuters Featured Politics Wed, 29 Oct 2014 10:30:00 -0400
School Blames Child for Nation of Islam 'Handout'

A second parent has now come forward acknowledging their child received a Nation of Islam "handout" in a third grade class at Harold McCormick Elementary School in Elizabethton, Tennessee—contradicting claims by the school district that the document was not distributed in the classroom.

I first told you about this story on Monday. Parent Sommer Bauer told me her son's teacher gave him a document that portrayed the presidents on Mount Rushmore as being racists.

School superintendent E.C. Alexander refuted allegations that the Nation of Islam document had been distributed in class. He told me the document was never meant for public distribution and that the child took the sheet of paper from the teacher's work station without her permission.

 "The student (without permission) took the sheet from a 'ton' of discarded teacher's material on that table; then, the student took it home and gave it to the parent," Alexander wrote in an email to educators after my column was published.

Supt. Alexander also posted a statement on the school district's website. He hurled all sorts of allegations my way—words like "misleading" and "totally incorrect" and "sensational."   

Yet, he never got around to telling us what was misleading or totally incorrect or sensational. And we still don't know how that Nation of Islam information found its way into that third-grade classroom.

"Our System has been defamed (possibly permanently)," he bemoaned.

"Now, the thought that we as public educators would deliberately distribute such material is absolutely absurd," he wrote.

He also took great umbrage at my characterization of the Nation of Islam document as a "handout."

"The sheet in question was not a hand-out sheet distributed to students," he wrote on the school district's website. I should point out that he underlined the word "not."

Instead, he referred to it as a "sheet." So for the sake of accuracy, the Nation of Islam "handout" will be known as the Nation of Islam "sheet."

Parents were given a letter on Tuesday stressing that the material contained in the Nation of Islam "sheet" was not distributed to students, was not shown during or after the lesson and was not used as a reference.

There's just one problem with the school district's explanation—a second parent has now come forward corroborating Mrs. Bauer's story.

"Yes, they were handed out and yes the students did look at them and read them," the parent told me.

The parent asked not to be identified to protect her child. She told me she came forward because of how the school is treating Mrs. Bauer's son.

"I don't want this little boy to be looked at as a liar," the parent said. "As of right now that's what all of these adults are making this boy out to be—and that makes me sick to my stomach."

So what happened inside that third grade classroom at Harold McCormick Elementary School?

According to the parent, the children were separated into four groups. Each group was given two "sheets of paper."

"The teacher held up each one and said, 'These do not go home. These are just to use here," the parent told me.

The Nation of Islam "sheet" explained that George Washington hailed from Virginia, a "prime breeder of black people." Of Theodore Roosevelt, it was alleged he called Africans "ape-like." There were also disparaging comments made about Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

The parent told me that the teacher did not teach students from the Nation of Islam "sheet." But she did hand it to the students.

Maybe this was just an innocent mistake. It's possible the teacher may have printed the first thing she Googled without giving it a second glance. It happens. Teachers are busy folks.

But what was not an innocent mistake was a school district trying to portray an 8-year-old boy as the bad guy.

And what is not acceptable is sending out mass emails accusing the child of pilfering a "sheet" from his teacher's work station.

If I didn't know better, I'd say that little boy is the victim of grown-up bullying.

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, 29 Oct 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Beer-Based Worship Services Explore Post-Christian Fix

You probably know some parishioners who get drunk on Saturday night and show up for church with saintly smiles on Sunday morning—but what about those that get drunk at church on Sunday night?

I wasn't shocked when I read about a special event at a Tulsa church that includes beer. More and more churches are meeting in pubs or otherwise sanctioning a glass of suds during fellowships. But East Side Christian Church is taking the concept to a whole new level, opening the door to worship Jesus with hymns and ale in their mouths at the very same time. reports the church organized "Beer and Hymns Sunday" as it kicks off a discussion about the future of the Christian church around the world. In speaking about this stunt, Evan Taylor, outreach pastor at East Side, says, "We like to rattle the cage a little bit."

"Everybody's welcome. No questions are banned. No holds barred," says Michael Riggs, senior pastor at First Christian Church of Downtown Tulsa, which is also participating in a weeklong event during which several area churches are hosting Christian Piatt, who just put out a new book called postChristian. "Just come and respect each other's opinions, and just have a good honest conversation about God while having a few beers at the same time."

Three-Beer Limit, ID Required

Apparently, there's a three-beer limit and IDs will be checked at the door. I guess that's supposed to be a safeguard of some sort but in reality three beers is quite plenty to get more than a buzz. I'm not having the teetotalism debate here, but even Christians who enjoy a beer or glass of wine now and then should be concerned about a bunch of church folk gathering on Sunday night to throw back brewskies in the name of Jesus.

Piatt is at the center of the beer-sipping stunt. I guess post-Christians drink beer in church. Sorry, I don't mean to be sarcastic, but why would any God-loving man or woman want to embrace a post-Christian lifestyle, which is what the title suggests to my mind. In reality, the goal of the book is to fix what's wrong with the church—and God knows there's plenty wrong with the church—but inviting the community to Sunday night worship to get an alcohol-induced buzz is not the answer. It's just not.

"People are more curious than anything," Riggs says. "It's not a big drunk fest. It's just going to a nice time to have a beer and sing some old hymns at the same time."

Call me old fashioned. I just can't wrap my mind around drinking beer and singing old hymns in church. I understand arguments about reaching the culture where they are, but not at the sake of becoming like the world. Jesus said His disciples were "not of the world" (John 17:16) and Paul, speaking by the Holy Spirit, cautioned us not to conform to the pattern of this world but to be renewed transformed by the renewing of our mind (see Rom. 12:2).

Culture Should Bow to Jesus

Why is it so necessary for the church and the gospel to fit into modern-day culture? Modern-day culture should not dictate the messages we preach or the outreaches we arrange. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not obligated to meet the culture where it is—the culture is obligated to bow a knee to Jesus Christ.

That doesn't mean we can't get creative in how we present the gospel or take into consideration cultural understandings. Paul said, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:19-22).

Still, we're not talking about reaching out to the Jews or the Greeks or the Muslims or the Hindus. This beer-sipping stunt is in the heartland of America—and we don't need to include alcohol to be culturally relevant, either. Also keep in mind that Paul also said, "Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). (You could easily substitute wine with beer or hard liquor.) Somehow I don't think Paul invited Greeks and Jews to the temple with a three-glass-of-wine limit to hash out their philosophical differences. The point is, as Paul said, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify" (see 1 Cor. 10:23).

Are beer-based outreaches really edifying in the end? If we compromise the purity and holiness of the Christian faith to win souls, are we really leading them into a true salvation after the bottle of beer is empty? Or are we merely compromising the gospel in the name of soul-winning without fruit that remains?

Jennifer LeClaire is news editor of Charisma. She is also director of Awakening House of Prayer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and author of several books, including The Making of a Prophet and Satan's Deadly Trio: Defeating the Deceptions of Jezebel, Religion and Witchcraft. You can 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, 29 Oct 2014 09:30:00 -0400
Iraqi Christians Paint Grim Picture for Christianity's Future in Muslim Nation

Basima al-Safar retouches a picture of Jesus on an easel outside her house overlooking the flat Nineveh plains, 30 miles north of Mosul.

The murals she paints tell the story of her people, Christians in Iraq. But with Islamic State militants nearby, she is worried that life in Alqosh and towns like it could soon come to an end.

The Assyrian Christian town of around 6,000 people sits on a hill below the seventh-century Rabban Hormizd Monastery, temporarily closed because of the security situation. Residents of Alqosh fled this summer ahead of Islamic State militants. Around 70 percent of the town's residents have since returned. Still, a sense of unease hangs in the air.

Below the monastery in the boarded up bazaar a lone shopkeeper waits for customers. At the edge of town local Christian fighters staff lookout posts, checking for danger. With Islamic State fighters just 10 miles away, these men and most residents of the town are scared that they may have to flee again.

In August, the Christian town of Qaraqosh, 18 miles east of Mosul, was overrun, along with neighboring villages, home to Iraqi Christian communities for centuries. Islamic State forces came close but never entered Alqosh.

Al-Safar, who has been painting murals of Christian life for 34 years, was born in Alqosh and shares her brightly painted home with her cousin and nephew. Earlier this summer, like many of the town's residents, she fled to Dohuk, a Kurdish city on the north of Iraq.

"When I returned, Alqosh was like a ghost town," she said.

She began decorating her house with religious murals after the death of her mother three years ago. But now she looks at her depictions of biblical figures, potted plants, feasts and angels and wonders if she will ever paint again.

Before 2003, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. These days, about 400,000 remain. In July, Christians fled Mosul in droves after Islamic State militants gave them an ultimatum to convert, pay a tax or be killed.

Mrayma and Athra Mansour, two Christian brothers, are trying to adjust to the new circumstances.

Athra Mansour used to teach the Syriac language to children in neighboring Tel Isqof.

"Tel Isqof is empty now," he explained, sipping a small cup of coffee.

Mrayma Mansour, who used to work as a local disc jockey and has since taken up arms as part of a fledgling Christian militia, said he wants international protection for his people, in the form of a safe zone, weapons and training.

"If this doesn't happen I will get my passport, family and try to go to another country because it won't be safe," he said. Thaer Saeed echoes the frustration. "No one is working here," he said, while playing with his three grandchildren. "I drive a taxi from Baghdad to Alqosh and I can't work because it's too dangerous and there are no customers."

At 4:30, the St. George Church bells chime. A few women and children gather for the service led by Deacon Salim Qoda. Most of the aisles are empty. Prayers are read in the ancient Syriac language, a dialect of Aramaic believed to have been spoken by Jesus.

Wadhah Sabih, another deacon from the town, is proud of the Assyrian history of his town. The people of Alqosh have defended themselves in the face of many would-be invaders throughout the centuries, he said, but now "we are living cautiously; every family is ready to flee."

Back in her home, al-Safar smokes a cigarette and reflects.

"I will paint the Christians as homeless people, emigrating with bags," she said. "I will paint the truth."

Cathy Otten/RNS Featured World News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:00:00 -0400
Southern Baptist Leader Russell Moore Denounces Ex-Gay Therapy

Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore denounced reparative therapy at a conference here, saying the controversial treatment that attempts to change a person's sexual orientation has been "severely counterproductive."

Moore, who serves as president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke Tuesday to a group of journalists covering the group's national conference.

"The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you're going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you're struggling with, I don't think that's a Christian idea," Moore told journalists. "Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone's attractions are going to change."

Moore said evangelicals had an "inadequate view" of what same-sex attraction looks like.

"The Bible doesn't promise us freedom from temptation," Moore said. "The Bible promises us the power of the spirit to walk through temptation."

Moore gave similar remarks to an audience of 1,300 people at the conference. The same morning, the conference featured three speakers who once considered themselves gay or lesbian.

Moore joins a chorus of psychologists and religious leaders who have departed from the once-popular therapy.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association adopted a resolution urging mental health professionals to avoid reparative therapy. Since then, California and New Jersey have passed laws banning conversion therapy for minors, and several other states have considered similar measures.

Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics eliminating reparative therapy and encouraging celibacy instead.

John Paulk, who was once a poster boy for the ex-gay movement, apologized in 2013 for the reparative therapy he used to promote. Earlier this year, Yvette Schneider, who had formerly worked for groups such as the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Exodus International, published a "coming out" interview with GLAAD calling for bans on reparative therapy. In addition, nine former ex-gay leaders have denounced conversion therapy.

"There were utopian ideas about reparative therapy that frankly weren't unique to evangelicalism," Moore said. "That was something that came along in the 1970s and 1980s about the power of psychotherapy to do all sorts of things that we have more nuanced views about now."

Some pastors, like John Piper, a respected Minneapolis preacher and author, still encourage the possibility of change for those who have same-sex attractions.

Exodus International, one of the most prominent ex-gay ministries shut down in 2013. While other ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network still exist, many religious leaders are now encouraging people with same-sex attraction to consider celibacy.

"The idea that one is simply the sum of one's sexual identity is something that is psychologically harmful ultimately," Moore said. "And I think also we have a situation where gay and lesbian people have been treated really, really badly."

Moore said the ERLC is working with parents of those who are gay and lesbian.

"The response is not shunning, putting them out on the street," he said. "The answer is loving your child."

For years, gay evangelicals had three options: leave the faith, ignore their sexuality or try to change. But as groups such as Exodus became unpopular, a growing number of celibate gay Christians have sought to be true to both their sexuality and their faith.

A newer question among some Christians is whether those with same-sex attraction should self-identify as gay.

In his address Monday, traditional marriage advocate Sherif Girgis plugged the website Spiritual Friendship, intended for Catholics and Protestants who identify as gay and celibate. Some Christians are debating whether identifying as gay or having a same-sex orientation is itself unbiblical.

"It's not the way I would articulate it because I think it puts on an appendage to a Christian identity," Moore said. "So I don't see them as enemies who are trying to be destructive; I just don't think it's the best way to approach it."

Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian who rejects the "ex-gay" label and the movement behind it, said Christians should not use "gay" as a descriptive adjective. Moore interviewed Butterfield, whose address at Wheaton College generated protests earlier this year, during Tuesday's conference.

"There is no shame in repentance because it simply proves that God was right all along," Butterfield told Moore.

Another conference speaker and Moody Bible Institute professor Christopher Yuan teaches a more traditional message of celibacy for those who, like him, are attracted to the same sex. He shuns labels, but he believes more younger Christians are self-identifying as gay and celibate.

"I'm kind of label-less," Yuan said before his address. "I think I'm a dying breed, though."

Sarah Pulliam Bailey/RNS Featured U.S. News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 09:00:00 -0400
Is Ebola a Sign of Judgment or a Prophetic Warning?

Estimates of the spread of the Ebola epidemic change daily, but the death toll is already in the thousands, and there are warnings that we may be seeing 10,000 people die a week in the near future. Although at the moment almost all the cases are confined to Africa, there is a real nervousness globally about the epidemic.

Indeed, it's not hard to feel uneasy about a contagious virus for which there is no vaccine and especially one that delivers death in such a nasty way. The unease brings with it some obvious questions: "Is it spreading?" and "Am I safe if l travel?" Yet there are also deeper, more profound questions such as "What does it mean?" and "How should how we react?"

I think there are four possible meanings we can see in the outbreak.

Could it be that this disease is a sign? Already I am hearing murmurings, from those who like to match world events with their own interpretation of biblical passages, that this could be an "End Time" plague, some sort of appalling event preceding the Second Coming of Christ. Certainly, if we read about the nightmarish way in which Ebola kills people it's not hard to be reminded of some parts of the Book of Revelation. Well, I suppose the epidemic might be a sign. But I'd prefer to be cautious.

For one thing, nothing we have seen so far is remotely on the scale of either the Black Death (which killed as many as 50% of the population of Europe in the 14th century) or even the Spanish Influenza outbreak at the end of the First World War, which estimates have suggested may have claimed over 30 million lives. For another, we are specifically told that Christ's return will occur without warning. And, finally, I am troubled by a response to an appalling human calamity that sees it primarily as some marker on "the prophetic timetable." Our reaction to the Ebola tragedy must be heartfelt compassion. If you or I had lost a loved one to Ebola I think we would find little comfort in being told that their loss was an indicator that we are in the last days.

If I am cautious about this disease being a sign I am far more certain that it could be seen as a warning. All the evidence suggests that this is an outbreak that should not have happened. The medical scientists tell us that it started among the poorest of the poor because they had been reduced to eating wild animals that naturally carry the virus. They tell us that it spread because the health services in these African countries were too stretched to be able to identify and contain the infection. So at one level this is a warning that there is a price to pay for global poverty. We have survived HIV/AIDS, we may survive Ebola, but the next new virus may not be curable or containable.

I think too that we can see this epidemic as a reminder. In our complacent world, preoccupied with progress and personal satisfaction, Ebola has walked in like the proverbial ghost at the feast. Modern Western society does not think about death. We distance ourselves from mortality to the point that it is possible to live to sixty and never see a dead body. We frequently shun using the word "death" as if by avoiding the word we can avoid the event. But death remains compulsory for rich and poor alike: there is no opportunity to opt out of it. The Ebola crisis is an unwelcome reminder that death can occur suddenly and without warning to any of us. Therefore, getting right with God while we can is as urgent a matter as it ever was.

Finally, I think we can see this epidemic as an opportunity. We live at a time when religion in general has a poor reputation. That is hardly surprising: there's a lot of bad religion about today. I have no doubt, for example, that the average atheist has found their own particular faith (and it is a faith) greatly strengthened by the appalling things done in the name of God in the Middle East.

Nearer to home, Christianity has been mocked as a weak and ineffectual faith whose followers differ from other people only in that they have less fun. This outbreak presents tremendous opportunities for Christians to stand out by demonstrating that we have two qualities our world respects—even if it lacks them—courage and compassion.

In an age of fear we need to show courage. If you are fearful, I recommend the first six verses of Psalm 91 (NLT)?

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him. 
For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease. 
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection. 
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day. 
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

 We don't just need to stand firm against fear, good though that is; we need to go further and reach out in compassion. The Ebola crisis brings to mind two inspiring parallels in history with regard to leprosy: in the 19th century, Father Damian gave his life to work among lepers in the Philippines; and in the 20th century, the missionary doctor Paul Brand devoted his life to helping reduce the savage effects of this dreadful and poorly understood disease. Ebola is bad news. But if, in it, we can show courage and compassion, then God can turn bad news into good news.

J. John (Revd Canon) lives in Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, in England. He is married to Killy and they have three sons and one daughter-in-law. Evangelist, minister, speaker, social activist and writer, J. John has a remarkable gift for communicating the truth in an engaging, stimulating and practical way. His passion for storytelling enables him to bring the gospel to life in a fresh and contemporary manner.

J. John Featured Opinion Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:00:00 -0400
Yes, the Grapefruit Diet Actually Helps You Lose Weight

The Grapefruit Diet, which is also known as the Hollywood Diet, has been making the rounds since the 1930s. Advocates swear it helps them lose weight, and claim that grapefruit has a fat-burning enzyme.

Most health experts have disagreed, calling the diet a fad, and saying there's no indication grapefruit burns fat. A new study, however, shows that not only does grapefruit help dieters lose weight, it may be as good as prescription drugs in controlling blood sugar levels.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that mice that ate a high-fat diet for three months gained 18 percent less weight when they drank grapefruit juice than a control group that drank water. In addition, the mice in the grapefruit group had improved levels of glucose, insulin and triacylglycerol, a type of fat.

Mice were divided into six groups. One group drank only water, and the other five groups drank grapefruit juice diluted with water at different concentrations with a bit of saccharin to counteract the grapefruit's bitterness. The water of the control group had glucose and saccharin added to match the calorie and saccharin content of the grapefruit groups.

At the end of the study, mice that drank grapefruit juice gained 18 percent less weight than mice in the control group, and their blood glucose levels decreased by 13 to 17 percent.

The scientists also tested a flavonoid in grapefruit called naringin, which experts believe is a key to weight loss. While one group of mice was given naringin, another group was given metformin, a drug often given to Type 2 diabetics to lower glucose levels. Members of the two groups were fed a diet that was either 60 percent fat or 10 percent fat for 100 days.

"The grapefruit juice lowered blood glucose to the same degree as metformin," said co-researcher Joseph Napoli, professor and chair of nutritional sciences and toxicology. "That means a natural fruit drink lowered glucose levels as effectively as a prescription drug."

Naringin's impact on glucose levels was much more apparent on mice given the high-fat diet, but it had little effect on weight. That suggests, researchers say, that another ingredient in grapefruit is responsible. "There are many active compounds in grapefruit juice, and we don't always understand how all those compounds work," said co-researcher Andreas Stahl, associate professor of nutritional sciences and toxicology

The researchers, whose study will be published in the journal PLOS ONE, were skeptical before they began the study and were surprised by its results. "I was surprised by the findings," said Stahl. "We even re-checked the calibration of our glucose sensors, and we got the same results over and over again."

Stahl and co-researcher Napoli ruled out usual reasons for weight loss. Both groups consumed the same amount of food and engaged in the same amount of activity.

"We see all sorts of scams about nutrition," said Napoli. "But these results, based on controlled experiments, warrant further study of the potential health-promoting properties of grapefruit juice."

The Grapefruit diet has several versions, but most are a protein-rich, low-carb plan that calls for grapefruit juice at every meal, and promises quick results—as much as 10 pounds in 12 days. Many Hollywood celebrities, including Kylie Minogue and Brooke Shields, have praised the diet.

For the original article, visit

Sylvia Booth Hubbard/Newsmax Health Featured Marketplace Wed, 29 Oct 2014 07:00:00 -0400
Billy Graham: ‘I Won’t Let You Drown’

On a recent Sunday morning in my father's hometown of Charlotte, N.C., a group of atheists gathered for their first Sunday Assembly, what they are proudly calling a "godless congregation." They plan to meet regularly, one of more than 60 similar Sunday Assembly groups who have organized in cities around the country as well as internationally. At the Charlotte group's inaugural event, they played John Lennon's song "Imagine" as their theme. The lyrics begin with the words, "Imagine there's no heaven ..."

Instead of the peace, harmony and love that Lennon envisioned in his song, what I imagine—in fact, what I know from God's Word—is that a world without heaven, without God, is a nightmare filled with wickedness, torment and eventually eternal punishment. Lennon's dream of utopia is really a vision of hell.

Friends, we are surrounded by people every day who are destined for eternity separated from God. They are living "separated from Christ, ... having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12, ESV). "They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thess. 1:9). We must sound the warning. We must reach them with the hope of heaven, before it's too late.

Think about how little hope there is in our world today. In Iraq, under ISIS, there is not much hope. In West Africa, living under Ebola, people are losing hope. Here in the U.S., under widespread drug and alcohol abuse, depression, chronic unemployment, violent crime and the downward moral spiral, hope seems elusive.

The ultimate hope is to know that our sins are forgiven, that one day we will be in the presence of God for eternity. There is no greater hope regardless of what happens on earth.

When Jesus met the rich young ruler, the man asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18). That is still the question on the lips of millions of human beings. How can anyone face eternity with no hope? Jesus Christ is the only hope—no one else can take away our sins. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6).

This November, we've got a great tool for the nationwide "My Hope 2014 with Billy Graham" evangelistic outreach—a powerful new 30-minute film called Heaven. You'll want to watch this with your friends and invite people to see it, especially those who are unsaved and have no ultimate hope. They'll see gripping, real-life stories of people who desired lasting hope and found it in Jesus Christ, and they will hear a clear and loving presentation of the gospel. As they watch the program, you pray and see what God will do.

Churches and individuals all over America are planning ways to show Heaven during November and beyond. If your church is not participating yet in "My Hope 2014," it's not too late. Go to today and sign up. You can get a free Heaven DVD, whether for your church or yourself, or download it after October 27. In the film, my father asks a pointed question: "Is it right for me to warn you what Jesus taught and what the Bible teaches from cover to cover? Suppose you were a drowning man and I have the gospel lifeboat. I'm not going to let you drown if I can help it!"

The Bible teaches us that "he who wins souls is wise" (Prov. 11:30, NKJV). Jesus talked about the futility of building up treasure on earth, where "moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal." Rather, He said, the wise investment is to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:19–20).

God can use your prayers for a lost person, your invitation to someone to hear the gospel and your financial gift to make an eternal difference. The times today are so difficult—the world is moving so fast that it can be absolutely frightening. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity to invest in the souls of men.

My father will be turning 96 on November 7, and we are thankful to still have him with us. Even though he is weak physically, he is doing reasonably well for someone his age. He is so grateful for all who stand with this ministry in their prayers and support.

Franklin Graham Featured Opinion Wed, 29 Oct 2014 06:00:00 -0400
Pope Francis: Big Bang Theory Doesn't Contradict God's Role in Creation

Scientific theories including the "Big Bang" believed to have brought the universe into being 13.7 billion years ago and the idea that life developed through a process of evolution do not conflict with Catholic teaching, Pope Francis said on Tuesday.

Addressing a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, an independent body housed in the Vatican and financed largely by the Holy See, Francis said scientific explanations for the world did not exclude the role of God in creation.

"The beginning of the world is not the work of chaos that owes its origin to something else, but it derives directly from a supreme principle that creates out of love," he said.

"The 'Big Bang,' that today is considered to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the creative intervention of God; on the contrary it requires it," he said.

"Evolution in nature is not in contrast with the notion of (divine) creation because evolution requires the creation of the beings that evolve," the pope said.

The church once opposed early scientific explanations of the universe that contradicted the account of creation in the Bible, famously condemning the 17th century astronomer Galileo Galilei who showed that the earth revolved around the sun.

However, more recently it has sought to shed its image as an enemy of science, and the pope's comments largely echoed statements from his predecessors.

Pope Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans in 1950, and Pope John Paul II reiterated that in 1996.

In 2011, the former Pope Benedict XVI said scientific theories on the origin and development of the universe and humans, while not in conflict with faith, left many questions unanswered.

Antonio Denti/Reuters Featured World News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 17:00:00 -0400
Hundreds of Bibles Flood Lesbian Mayor Annise Parker's Office

Christians who oppose the Houston mayor's attempt to censor what pastors say about her gay-rights agenda have sent hundreds of Bibles to her office at the request of a prominent conservative commentator.

Mayor Annise Parker, who is open about her lesbianism, acknowledged this week that her office had received Bibles from across the country following a protest campaign launched by former Arkansas Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who is now a news analyst on FOX News.

"I would like to ask every pastor in America, send her your sermons," Huckabee said on his FOX News show on Oct. 20. "Everybody watching the show ought to send her a Bible."

A spokesperson with the mayor's office said that between 500 and 1,000 Bibles had arrived at the mayor's office so far.

Huckabee and other Christian leaders around the country have raised vehement opposition to subpoenas issued by the city that called for the sermons of select Houston-area pastors to be collected and examined as part of the city's defense to a recall lawsuit that seeks to overturn Houston's new gay-rights ordinance.

"She needs to apologize and start respecting all citizens, or at least have the integrity to resign," Huckabee said on his program.

Parker has since instructed the city's legal team to narrow the scope of the subpoenas and had earlier said she did not know about the sermon subpoenas before they were issued, according to an online report by a Houston television station.

"It is not about what someone may have preached. It is about whether in any forum they gave specific instructions how to fill out the petition because that is the crux of the legal case," Parker was quoted as saying on Monday.

Parker said she planned to donate the Bibles she has received to area churches.

"Actually, I think it was a very productive way for folks who disagreed with our legal strategy to express that disagreement, and I'm happy to share the Bibles with those who may want them," Parker said.

Also Tuesday, pastors and other faith leaders from around the country were flocking to Houston to hold a prayer vigil outside the mayor's office.

Along with Bibles being sent to the mayor, pastors in the United States and Canada began flooding Parker's office with texts of their sermons—in effect mocking the city attorney's attempt to vet the sermons of at least five Houston-area pastors who have been outspoken in their criticism of the ordinance, which a majority of Houston residents have been shown to oppose.

Last week, a U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner issued a letter that asked Parker to withdraw the city's subpoenas for 17 different forms of private communications belonging to five pastors as part of a lawsuit in which they are not involved.

In the letter, Commissioner Peter Kirsanow called the requested subpoenas "a blatant attempt to punish these pastors for expressing their religiously-based political views" and "an abuse of government power." The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency concerned with civil rights policies and laws.

"No government entity should be in the business of requiring private citizens to turn over private communications about the issues of the day," the commissioner's letter stated. "Obviously this discovery request would tend to have a chilling effect on political speech, which is the speech subject to the greatest First Amendment protection."

"There's only one answer to Houston's shameful problem: Withdraw the subpoenas. We agree with the commissioner that Houston should do just that immediately," Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said last week.

"Even though the pastors are not parties in this lawsuit, the subpoenas still demand from them 17 different categories of information, including their speeches and their private communications with church members. The city must respect the First Amendment and abandon its attempt to strong-arm into silence those who disagree with the city's actions."

Mark Andrews Featured U.S. News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 15:00:00 -0400
'Exodus' Star Christian Bale Labels Moses 'Barbaric' and Schizo

Actor Christian Bale may have shot himself in the foot—along with dampening public enthusiasm for the upcoming film in which he stars, Exodus: Gods and Kings­—by saying that he considers Moses "barbaric" and "likely schizophrenic."

Bale, who gained plaudits for his portrayal of Batman in three films, made the comments in front of a group of international reporters last month at the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles.

"I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life," Bale said about Moses.

Bloggers and others, many of whom had been cautiously enthusiastic about the movie, have been digesting them ever since, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

"It's accurate to portray Moses as an imperfect hero, so Christians won't take issue with that," said Christian writer Brian Godawa. "But to be so extreme as to call him one of the most barbaric people in history—that sounds like he's going out of his way to distance himself from the very people you'd think he wants to appeal to. It tells me that he's worried about Hollywood peer approval while looking down on the public, because he certainly doesn't want to be associated with the religious or the far right."

Godawa plans to elaborate further on plans to weigh in on Bale's comments at his blog, though the Reporter said he's still crafting his response.

"Judging from commentary at Christian websites, the faithful are optimistic that Fox's Exodus: Gods and Kings will be a bit more reverent than was Paramount's Noah. Though [Bale's] quote has thrown some water on that notion," according to the Reporter's account.

In early October, Faith Driven Consumer released the first wave of results from an extensive new national survey—conducted by partner research  firm American Insights—detailing what Exodus needs to do to be successful with both its core Faith Driven Consumer (17% of U.S. adult population) and broader Christian (77% of U.S. adult population) audiences. That research can be seen here.

Mark Andrews Featured Culture Tue, 28 Oct 2014 14:00:00 -0400
Why Won't the Gay Theologians Debate?

Almost 20 years ago, I was speaking with an older Jewish couple who seemed very close to putting their faith in Jesus as Messiah, but they were not 100 percent sure.

I said to them, "Later this week I'm debating an Orthodox rabbi. Why not come to the debate to hear both sides of the issue, and then you can make an informed decision?"

Thankfully, they came to the event, they listened with open hearts and minds, and by God's grace, they came to faith.

More recently, I was invited to speak on a college campus about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, representing the Israeli side.

I requested instead that a debate be scheduled with a qualified Muslim or Palestinian representative so that the audience could hear both sides. When no one came forward, I requested that after the lecture there be an open microphone Q &A so the audience could challenge what I presented.

Why do I do this? It's because the truth has nothing to fear, and I am quite ready for my beliefs and viewpoints to be challenged.

If you believe you are on the side of truth, you need not be insecure.

Then why are "gay Christian" activists and theologians so unwilling to debate the issues publicly? Why do they consistently refuse public dialogue, especially when those who want to dialogue with them are committed to doing so with civility and grace?

Bear in mind that they are writing books, preaching messages, using social media and holding conferences, all with the goal of actively challenging the views of conservative followers of Jesus, seeking to overturn the Word and 2,000 years of consistent church tradition. Yet at the same time, when openly invited to debate their controversial new viewpoints, they grow silent. Why?

For many months now, my friend and colleague Dr. James White has invited Matthew Vines to debate him, since Matthew had become the poster boy for gay Christianity despite his lack of theological training. Matthew's serious research and winsome personality caused his talks to go viral, and since he has targeted conservative churches for his activism, it seemed only right for Dr. White to propose a formal, moderated debate with him.

In fact, Dr. White offered to pay his own way and attend a forthcoming "gay Christian" equipping conference in which he would debate Matthew or a qualified professor for the learning benefit of their attendees, but even that invitation was refused.

Back in June, I was able to do a 45-minute radio debate with Matthew on national Christian radio (with webcast as well), but that was only because Matthew didn't realize he would be debating me when he accepted the invitation. (You can watch the debate here, in which not one single verse supporting homosexual practice was offered by Matthew; for a synopsis of my viewpoints, which also express my heart, go here. On an interpersonal level, Matthew never responded to a single communication I sent him over the months.)

Dr. White and I have suggested to Matthew that he and New Testament scholar James Brownson debate Dr. White and me, since Matthew relies heavily on Prof. Brownson in his book. (Prof. Brownson is a respected scholar and also heterosexual.)

Finally, after months of non-communication, Matthew recently interacted with Dr. White, explaining why he refused to debate him and why he had no intention of engaging me. He wrote:

"I am happy to do dialogues, debates, etc., with anyone when I feel that the event is likely to be constructive, respectful, and relationship-building. I did a 'debate' with Michael Brown this summer that was largely a waste of time, because Brown is not interested in listening to and learning from LGBT people, only pontificating about them."

Come again, Matthew?

I've spent much of the last 10 years listening to LGBT people, amassing a large library of books simply to hear their perspective, taking every personal opportunity I have to sit with those who identify as LGBT—especially professing "gay Christians"—and specifically asking them to tell me their stories, yet I have no desire to listen?

According to Matthew, unless I'm willing to listen and learn from LGBT people, which must mean come to agree with them, he's not willing to debate. And we're supposed to take this seriously?

Matthew and his team are on the offensive, thinking somehow that they will be able to change the positions of committed followers of Jesus (trust me on this; it's not going to happen on any substantive level), yet they won't debate unless someone basically says, "You're making great points, and I'm learning a lot from you."

Who ever heard of prerequisites like this for debate?

I read Matthew's book carefully, including every endnote, praying for greater sensitivity of heart as I read, just as I have often prayed with tears of love when interceding for the well-being of those who identify as LGBT, but that's not enough. You're simply not allowed to reject their arguments as baseless. If you do, there will be no debate.

Matthew continued, explaining, "I see James White in the same vein as Michael Brown. He has shown no desire whatever to learn from or listen to LGBT people. He simply wants to preach condemnation to people he hasn't even bothered to get to know. There are far, far better interlocutors, and far more respectful conversations I am happy to have. That isn't one of them."

This too is remarkable. Dr. White has debated or dialogued with atheists, agnostics, Mormon apologists and Muslim leaders, including debates with Muslim apologists right in their mosques.

You don't get into a mosque to debate without being respectful and gracious, yet that's not good enough for Matthew or, apparently, Prof. Brownson as well.

Ironically, on numerous occasions I have told local "gay Christians" that I'd love to sit down with them and hear their stories, also telling them I'd be glad to have a meal together just to get to know them better. In the vast majority of cases (including all instances where I've offered to do this with a group of people), my invitation has been declined or ignored, yet I'm the one unwilling to build relationships.

Prof. Robert Gagnon, the foremost authority on the Bible and homosexuality, would be delighted to debate Prof. Brownson or any qualified gay theologian, yet he too is studiously avoided, despite his sterling academic background and his gentle demeanor. Why?

Dr. White ended his dialogue with Matthew by stating, "I stand ready to work with Matthew Vines to arrange a meaningful, constructive, respectful debate—but one that does not begin with my capitulation as the prior condition of the debate taking place!"

Precisely so, leading again to the question: Why are gay theologians and their allies so unwilling to debate the relevant issues, especially when they are so aggressive in arguing against our position? Why have Dr. White and I debated top scholars and religious leaders (from Jewish to Muslim, from atheist to Catholic, even debating each other), yet these gay activists are so reluctant to debate?

Why not put the issues on the table in full-length, moderated, civil debate?

Why not model in public how to have serious differences without personal acrimony?

What do these activists and theologians have to hide?

This is not a macho challenge to engage in verbal fisticuffs. It is an open invitation to examine critically important issues in a way that the entire body can observe.

Why not do it?

Michael Brown is the 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 Tue, 28 Oct 2014 13:52:20 -0400
Why Dolly Parton Won't 'Pass Judgment' on Gay Fans

In a candid interview with Billboard magazine, country-music legend Dolly Parton offers some blunt observations on why the self-described Christian embraces the LGBT crowd that is a big part of her fan base.

Billboard asked to what she attributed her large gay following. Parton's response: "They know that I completely love and accept them, as I do all people. I've struggled enough in my life to be appreciated and understood. I've had to go against all kinds of people through the years just to be myself. I think everybody should be allowed to be who they are, and to love who they love. I don't think we should be judgmental. Lord, I've got enough problems of my own to pass judgment on somebody else."

The magazine also asked, "Dollywood [her Tennessee theme park] attracts lots of church groups, but it has also become a draw for the LGBT community. What does that say about you?"

"It's a place for entertainment, a place for all families, period. It's for all that. But as far as the Christians, if people want to pass judgment, they're already sinning. The sin of judging is just as bad as any other sin they might say somebody else is committing. I try to love everybody."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Parton's arrival in Nashville after growing up poor as the fourth of 12 siblings who shared a one-room cabin.

The day after her high school graduation, Parton left her east Tennessee home for Music City, where she shepherded her career from singing on The Porter Wagoner Show, a syndicated music-variety series that aired from 1960 to 1981, to winning seven Grammys and scoring 25 No. 1 songs on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart—a record for a female artist.

Billboard's interviewer observed: "In person, the legendary entertainer possesses a down-home, self-effacing charm–disarming for someone who helms an empire that includes the Pigeon Forge, Tenn.-based Dollywood theme park, which annually hosts nearly 2.5 million visitors, and a valuable publishing catalog of such songs as 'Jolene' and 'I Will Always Love You,' which she took to No. 1 long before Whitney Houston.

"In 2014 alone, Parton's 42nd studio album, Blue Smoke, debuted at No. 2 on Top Country Albums and No. 6 on the Billboard 200–marking her highest-charting solo album on the latter list–and wrapped a successful world tour that included performing for 170,000 people at the United Kingdom's Glastonbury Festival."

Mark Andrews Featured Culture Tue, 28 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
The Law That Radicalized Pakistani Muslims

In a trial and appellate process not befitting any judicial system, Aasia Noreen ("Asia Bibi"), a Pakistani Christian woman, was sentenced to death for expressing her faith in Jesus Christ.

Her accusers perceived her statement that she believed in Jesus and not in the prophet Muhammad to be insulting to the prophet. Sentencing Asia to death is a gross miscarriage of justice and blatantly disregards international treaties to which Pakistan has acceded.

In addition to the inherent injustice in convicting a woman for expressing her faith, Pakistan's blasphemy laws are a hypocritical blot on the Pakistani justice system. First, the blasphemy statute—which requires the death penalty for violators—under which Asia Bibi was charged has been widely condemned by the international community as being unjust and a tool for the majority Muslims to use to persecute non-Muslims.

Second, during Asia Bibi's trial, her testimony that she had not disrespected the prophet was not given due weight by the court. Third, the two eye-witnesses who testified against Asia were never cross-examined. Fourth, their unscrutinized testimony was given more weight than Asia's testimony. After a flawed trial that lacked effective legal representation, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death in November 2010.

Asia Bibi appealed her sentence and conviction, but her appeal was unduly delayed multiple times over a period of four years. After her long wait for her appeal to be heard, the Lahore High Court upheld Asia Bibi's conviction and sentence on October 16, 2014. The appeals process at the Supreme Court of Pakistan could take up to five more years, further jeopardizing her right to due process. Her life and freedom depends on the country's court of last resort.

In addition to Asia Bibi, Pakistan has at least sixteen people on death row and twenty serving life sentences for violating the blasphemy laws. In addition to the statutes that prohibit blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad (carrying death sentence) and desecration of the Quran (carrying life imprisonment), many others have been convicted under other statutes relating to religion that carry prison terms from one year to ten years.

Not only are these laws a severe restriction of religious liberty and freedom of expression, but they have provoked Muslim extremists to take the law in their own hands and kill the alleged blasphemers and attack minority communities, vandalize their properties, and destroying their homes.

Many men and women have become targets for vigilante attacks. At least, 117 people have been killed due to violence resulting from blasphemy laws. Violent mobs of Muslims have attacked entire communities of Christians after false allegations of blasphemy against individual Christians.

Pakistan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) without reservation to articles 18 and 19 of the ICCPR that protect freedoms of religion and speech, respectively. Additionally, Pakistan had voted in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet, long delays in the appeals process, convictions carrying death sentences and life imprisonment, and numerous murders of alleged blasphemers show that Pakistan has not lived up to its international commitments.

More alarming is the fact that Pakistan has not lived up to its own laws that exist to protect citizens, whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. Pakistan's own citizens are suffering due to the government's inability to adequately perform its duties. Most of the perpetrators who have either killed people accused of blasphemy or took part in attacking Christian communities, destroying scores of Christian homes, have not been brought to justice.

To see the original story on the ACLJ website, click here.

Shaheryar Gill/ACLJ Featured World News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 12:00:00 -0400
Christians Around the World Mourn Ex-KKK Turned Evangelist

People across the world are remembering evangelist Rev. Johnny Lee Clary, a former imperial wizard of the Klu Klux Klan who experienced a radical conversion to Christianity.

Clary, 55, died of a heart attack Oct. 21.

CBN spoke to the evangelist in 2011 about his journey to becoming a Christian after years of hating blacks and other minority groups. Watch his story below.

He said he felt compelled to give his life to the Lord after reading Luke 15, the story of the prodigal son.

"I finally got on my knees and said, 'God, my life is screwed up.God, I'm in a mess. I need Your help," he recalled. "I felt like a new person, brand new creation. I felt like I had had a weight lifted off my shoulders."

In becoming a Christian, Clary learned how to love and live in unity with all people. He became an elder in the Church of God in Christ, a predominantly African-American denomination.

Clary is survived by his wife, Melissa (Edwards) Clary of Baton Rouge, his brother Larry of Colorado, brother Terry, sister Sandy and a daughter Savannah all from Oklahoma.

He passed away in his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

A funeral service is being held today, Oct. 28 at Family Worship Center, 8919 Ministry Ave., Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The service begins at 11 a.m. CDT.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made online to Operation Colorblind, the organization founded by Clary promoting racial reconciliation.Or send a donation to:

Operation Colorblind P.O. Box 83535 Baton Rouge, LA 70884

CBN News Featured U.S. News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 11:30:00 -0400
Biblical Milestone: MEV App Goes Live

Monday, Oct. 27, was a historic milestone for the Modern English Version of the Bible. It went live today on the YouVersion Bible App.

That means any of the 156 million people who have downloaded the app can read the MEV on their tablet, smart phone or desktop computer. It is one of 1,037 Bible translations in 731 languages on the popular Bible app.

When we decided to release this word-for-word update of the King James Version, we knew the MEV must be available digitally. That's a process that was completed today. If you have YouVersion, I encourage you to check out the MEV. It's listed alphabetically in the list of English translations.

If you haven't downloaded it, I urge you to do so. According to the Washington Times, 66,000 people are using the Bible app every second.

This amazing app was the brainchild of Bobby Gruenewald of in Edmond, Oklahoma. He had the idea while standing in a TSA line while he was traveling in 2006. He thought, "Why not have the Bible available to everyone everywhere digitally?"

At first it was available only as a website. A couple of years later when Apple introduced apps it became an app. is a multi-campus church that is one of America's biggest churches. For Easter this year, its combined attendance was slightly less than 100,000. As one of its many outreaches, has underwritten the development of the Bible app. It has never charged for it. The goal is to get the word of God into the hands of as many people as possible.

I had lunch with Bobby and visited his offices earlier this month when I was in Oklahoma City. We met previously, but I wanted to see this amazing organization and wanted to learn more about this hugely successful app. The atmosphere in the office was fun and creative. The staff seemed committed to the mission. Bobby and founding pastor Craig Groeschel come across as down to earth and humble. They simply want to serve and advance the kingdom of God.

Bobby shared with me some pretty incredible statistics that I'm sure you'll find mind-blowing. Within any average second, this is happening in YouVersion:

  • 1 person installs the app
  • 110 additional people open the app
  • 200 people have changed the chapter they were on
  • 49 people start listening to audio
  • 11 people create a highlight
  • 3 people create a bookmark
  • 3 people share a passage on social media
  • An additional 100,000 already had it open, but opened it seconds

As of early October, YouVersion had been downloaded over 156 million times.

To get more information, visit the YouVersion press page for the latest up-to-the-minute stats.

We recently reported in Charisma that Bible engagement is down in America, especially among the Millennial generation. While 88 percent of the population has a Bible in the home, only about 19 percent are fully engaged with the Bible as a part of their lives. About the same number are actively "unengaged," apparently believing the Bible is just another book that has no importance in their lives—a percentage that continues to grow.

The publishing of God's Word in modern English is our small part to try to reverse this trend. We know many others are also trying to do the same. But we hope that the MEV will speak to a new generation in a language they can relate to, with the preciseness of a word-for-word translation from the original languages and the majesty of the King James Version which so many Bible readers love.

Let us know in the comments if you have downloaded the YouVersion app or have tried out the MEV.

Steve Strang is the founding editor and publisher of Charisma. Follow him on Twitter @sstrang or Facebook (stephenestrang).

Steve Strang Featured Opinion Tue, 28 Oct 2014 11:00:00 -0400
After Strong Demands, Pastors Hold Prayer Vigil Outside Houston Mayor's Office

A group of Christian pastors and leaders will stand in solidarity with Houston pastors and send a clear message that the faith community will not be bullied or intimidated into surrendering their religious freedoms and rights.

The clergy will then conduct an afternoon prayer vigil outside of the office of Houston City Attorney David Feldman at 2 p.m.

Christian pastors and national leaders to travel to Houston on Tuesday to hold a news conference calling for Mayor Parker to withdraw subpoenas to local pastors.The City of Houston has demanded pastors turn over all their speeches, presentations and other materials related to their comments on the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).

The Christian Defense Coalition, the National Clergy Council and the League for the Defense of Pastors were scheduled to hold a news conference today, Oct. 28, at 10 a.m.

After the news conference, the Christian leaders planned to go to Mayor Parker's office in hopes of securing a face-to-face meeting to share their concerns.

The faith leaders will also discuss launching a national campaign to address Houston's troubling crushing of the First Amendment and religious freedom should Houston fail to withdraw the subpoenas.

Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, states:

"Regardless of what the mayor's and city's intentions are or were, this is an egregious violation of a fundamental human right and constitutionally protected freedom.  History proves violations like this must be challenged early and relentlessly."Church leaders of all denominations are organizing to support our colleagues in Houston.  We will not rest until justice is preserved and protected."

Rev. Patrick Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition, adds:

"Mayor Parker, it is troubling that your city has moved forward with such invasive actions which trample religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.  This appears to be an attempt by your administration to intimidate and silence pastors, churches and community leaders who disagree with you on HERO.

"It is our hope that Houston would foster policies that would create an atmosphere of tolerance and openness in the public square and embrace the principles of free speech and the First Amendment.

"It is important for you to understand that pastors and churches all across America are standing in solidarity with the 'Houston Five,' as we fully understand this is not just an attack on five local pastors but an attack on every church and pulpit in America.

"In light of that, if the City of Houston continues to more forward with these subpoenas, potential fines and imprisonment for these pastors who refuse to comply, we will give a national call inviting thousands of Christians to come to Houston and stand for religious freedom, the First Amendment and free speech."

Rev. Keith Tucci, President of the League for the Defense of Christian Pastors, shares:

"The intolerance and misuse of power will not be treated as a inconvenience but a violation to worship God freely."

Christian Defense Coalition Featured U.S. News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 10:30:00 -0400
Ebola-Free, Texas Nurse Set to Leave Emory University Hospital
A Texas nurse who contracted Ebola in the United States will be released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Tuesday after being found free of the virus, the hospital said.
Amber Vinson was one of two nurses at a Dallas hospital who had treated Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian visiting Texas who died of Ebola on Oct. 8 and was the first patient diagnosed with the virus in the United States.
She was admitted to Emory's hospital for treatment on Oct. 15. The other nurse, Nina Pham, also was declared virus-free last week and left the Maryland hospital where she had been treated.
Vinson was due to make a statement at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
The Ebola outbreak has killed nearly 5,000 people since March, the vast majority in West Africa, and cases in the United States have caused alarm with states such as New York and New Jersey ignoring federal advice by introducing their own strict controls.
The U.S. military started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.
Australia on Monday became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries.
The measures, along with decisions by some U.S. states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been assailed by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.
The top U.S. health official in charge of dealing with Washington's response to Ebola—Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into "pariahs."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in an interview on NBC's "Today" show, defended his state's Ebola policy on Tuesday. 
"Asking them to quarantine at home for 21 days unless they're symptomatic I don't think is draconian," Christie said.
On CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Tuesday new guidelines issued by the CDC set up restrictions for each person that correlate to the degree of exposure to Ebola.
He was referring to revamped federal guidelines for doctors and nurses returning from treating Ebola patients in West Africa that stopped well short of controversial mandatory quarantines being imposed by some U.S. states.
These called for isolation of people at the highest risk for Ebola infection, but would allow most medical workers returning from the three countries at the center of the epidemic to monitor themselves daily and have a health official check in on them, without being isolated.
Writing by Howard Goller; editing by Bernadette Baum
Colleen Jenkins and Doina Chiacu/Reuters Featured U.S. News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Kevin DeYoung: Defending Christian Faith as Important as Preaching It

A respected Christian author and pastor says believers "need a theology of defending themselves in the courts," pointing to the example of the Apostle Paul in the Bible.

Kevin DeYoung made the comments on The Gospel Coalition website, showing that Paul believed that preaching the gospel and defending it from attack are equally important.

DeYoung said, "we must not assume that defending ourselves—strenuously and sometimes even defiantly—before the governing authorities is inconsistent with being a follower of Jesus" or goes against spreading the gospel.

Gospel cause

Considering passages in Acts where Paul defends the gospel and his ministry, DeYoung said the Apostle was a "cultural apologist" as well as a missionary and pastor.

"In these chapters we repeatedly find the word (or some variation of the word) apologia as Paul makes his apology or defense," DeYoung commented.

He added that while Paul "understood that to quietly accept injustice could have been simpler and perhaps even personally satisfying", in his case, and in cases today, "an unwillingness to defend himself would not have served the cause of the gospel."

Hope not hate

DeYoung, pastor of a church in Michigan and popular Christian author, commented that Paul used his defence as an opportunity to preach about Jesus Christ.

"Time after time, when put on trial, Paul found a way to talk about the resurrection of Christ, about faith and repentance, and about the Messianic identity of Jesus.

"We can be quick to say 'Let's stop all this fighting, all this controversy, all this culture war stuff, and get on with the work of evangelism' as if Paul's defense was not also evangelism!

"More than ever, we must be ready for someone to ask us a reason for the hope that we have – even if they mistakenly believe our hope to be hate."


DeYoung concluded: "For Paul, defending the faith was just as important as preaching the faith because he did not see the two as different tasks."

"Paul was willing for his life to be cut short if the work of the gospel could go on.

"But so long as the gospel itself was maligned, misrepresented, and unfairly marginalized, he wasn't about to submit himself to slander or surrender a single civic right," he said.


The Christian Institute Featured World News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 09:30:00 -0400
Britain's Spiritual Leader Concerned Over Xenophobia

 The Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, said on Monday he had seen evidence of a rising tide of xenophobic sentiment within British communities and was worried by the tone of the country's political debate over immigration.

Immigration sits at the top of the British political agenda seven months before a national election amid rising support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose calls to curb migration have pushed Prime Minister David Cameron and other party leaders to harden their stances on the issue.

Justin Welby, head of the 80 million-strong Anglican faith, said he was concerned about growing intolerance, citing evidence gathered through his network of 9,000 clergy across the country.

"What we're seeing is an upsurge in minor racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, anti-foreigner, xenophobic ... not major things—just comments being made ... which are, for people who come from those backgrounds, seriously uncomfortable, really quite frightening," he said.

The archbishop, who was appointed in 2012, said that Britain must not lose sight of the role immigration had played in the country's history, and that he found some of the language used by politicians worrying.

"The language we use must reflect the value of the human being, and not treat immigration as just a deep menace that is somehow going to overwhelm a country that has coped with many waves of immigration and has usually done so with enormous success," he told reporters at a lunch in Parliament.

The defense minister in Cameron's government said on Monday he had been careless to talk of towns being "swamped" by immigrants after political rivals accused him and the ruling Conservatives of using irresponsible language to get re-elected next year.

Britain has seen waves of large-scale immigration in the last century, such as when workers from other Commonwealth countries helped address a labor shortage after World War II. More recently, the 2004 expansion of the European Union, taking in East European countries, triggered an influx of economic migrants.

Welby, 58, said that immigration policy needed to balance the needs of the poorest in Britain against the need to be generous and hospitable to migrants.

Editing by Ralph Boulton

William James/Reuters Featured World News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:30:00 -0400
School's Nation of Islam Handout Paints Founding Fathers as Racists

The mother of an 8-year-old wants to know why a Tennessee school teacher gave her child a handout from the Nation of Islam that portrayed the presidents on Mount Rushmore as being racists.

Sommer Bauer tells me her son was given the Nation of Islam handout at Harold McCormick Elementary School in Elizabethton. The handout asked, "What does it take to be on Mount Rushmore?"

The handout then explains that George Washington hailed from Virginia, a "prime breeder of black people." Of Theodore Roosevelt, it was alleged he called Africans "ape-like." There were also disparaging remarks made of Thomas Jefferson (he enslaved 200 Africans) and Abraham Lincoln.

She said her jaw dropped when she followed the link to a website that was listed on the handout. Imagine her surprise when up popped the Nation of Islam home page.

The Nation of Islam believes there is no God but Allah. They also aren't all that keen on white folks or Jewish folks. 

"It raised a number of red flags," she said. "They are basically saying our Founding Fathers are racists."

Sommer told me she reached out to the teacher for an explanation—hoping it was an honest mistake.

"At first, she did not recall which paper it was," she said. "Later in the day, she found the paper and told me she didn't like what it said—and said she must have printed it by mistake."

The teacher also told Sommer that her son was not supposed to take the Nation of Islam handout home. It was supposed to stay in the classroom. That bit of news caused her great alarm.

"I was caught off guard," she told me. "I reassured my son that he needed to feel safe enough to bring anything that the school gave him home to me. Ultimately, while his teachers do care for him, his mother and his father have his absolute number one best interests at heart. He knows he needs to bring everything home to me," she said.

Sommer then reached out to the principal to find out how Nation of Islam material ended up in her son's third grade classroom. She said the principal was cordial—and promised to investigate. She's still waiting for answers.

Superintendent E.C. Alexander sounded genuinely horrified when I read him the contents of the handout.

"My goodness, that we would promote bigoted or racist points of view—merciful heavens," he said. "I can assure you that is not the case."

The school's version of events is somewhat different.

Alexander told me the handout was never meant for public distribution. He said the child took the handout from the teacher's work station without her permission. He said the teacher had been preparing for a presentation on Mount Rushmore and had discarded the controversial handout.

"It was not an authorized handout," Alexander said.

Julie West is the president of Parents For Truth in Education, a Tennessee-based group that is opposed to Common Core.

At this point there is no indication the Nation of Islam assignment was connected to Common Core. However, West said she is alarmed by whatever happened at Harold McCormick Elementary School.

"The fact that students were cautioned against allowing their parents to see anything is deeply troubling," West told me. "The only reasonable explanation is they don't want parents to know what it is their children are learning."

I certainly don't mean to be an apologist for the school—but what if it was just an honest-to-goodness mistake?

"Whatever the reason it came into the classroom, it's not okay," she said. "These are not advanced high school students. This is third grade. They should be learning the basics of our country."

So what's the bottom line?

"We had a teacher who apparently never looked at something, never read something, before it was distributed to a class of third graders," West said. "In addition, she warned the students not to take it home."

That does seem a bit odd.

I've interviewed Sommer at least a half dozen times. Her story has remained consistent. The teacher gave Sommer two explanations for what happened in the classroom. The superintendent gave me a third.

I find it hard to believe an 8-year-old boy would steal a handout from a teacher's desk, bring it home and then concoct an elaborate tale to cover up the crime.

But let's suspend reality for just a moment and say the little boy did take that handout. Regardless, there's no disputing the fact that it was on the teacher's desk.

And I do believe the good people of Elizabethton deserve to know how and why a handout from the Nation of Islam ended up on school property.

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 U.S. News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 09:00:00 -0400
Has Shia LaBeouf Really Found God?

After four years of young manhood, graduated from High School and working in a strip coal mine, life had beaten and bruised me up pretty good. The long 12-hour work shift at night was becoming monotonous and leading me to unhealthy habits. My physical frame seemed sickly—barely a 30-inch waist and 150 pounds.

When I walked into the small Pentecostal church, heads turned and eyes wide open, the faithful stared—even gawked. In a small town, I must have been a little bit notorious. My behavior was well known, especially to the few teenagers who sit in the first three rows, not because they wanted to but to prove to their parents the sincerity of their faith.

I took a seat at midpoint in the pews. I wasn't a believer. I was visiting. I had never been to a church where the order of service included standing, singing, lifting hands, everyone praying simultaneously—out loud. There was the southern gospel singing, the handful of choir members, and a fiery sermon with a very long appeal for "sinners" to come forward.

I enjoyed it and found it interesting, but I didn't respond. Nor did I respond at the Sunday night service, just before I went to work. When I came back for Wednesday night service, the pastor knew that I was serious.

When Pastor Taylor gave the altar call that night, he was determined. After several minutes with bowed heads and closed eyes, he gave up attempting to draw me to the altar—he left the pulpit and came to me. He sat down beside me and asked, "Brother, don't you want to be saved?"

My response didn't cause him to flinch, "Yes, but, if I am going to do this, I am not (expletive) with it."

I stood up and walked to the altar with him, knelt down, for him to lead me in a prayer of salvation. I confessed, "Jesus is Lord." I was saved.

Unfortunately, I didn't know the rules and traditions to mimic. I failed to cry, which caused the "faithful" to question the sincerity of my experience. They seemed disappointed.

A few weeks later, I visited a county fair with some old friends, where a fight broke out and I got into the middle of it. When the skirmish was over, I looked over to see some of my new friends from the church. Without hesitation, I smiled and waved at them. Their look of disappointment was obvious.

By the time that I returned to the next service, I discovered that "Christians" love to gossip. They were already "interceding" for me because I had "backslidden."

When I read the headline that the notorious actor Shia LaBeouf had become a "Christian man," I was thrilled—and a bit concerned. Especially when I read the interview filled with passionate expletives, I knew that the "faithful" would have a hard time computing that testimony.

In the movie, Fury, with fellow actor, Brad Pitt, who grew up in a Christian family and attended a Pentecostal church, Shia plays a man of faith and this experience had a dramatic effect upon him, causing him to confess, "I found God doing Fury. I became a Christian man." Shia goes on to say, "Brad was really instrumental in guiding my head through this."

Interestingly, even though Brad Pitt has said that he has moved away from his faith, he helped guide Shia to understand what he had experienced in a "very real way."

Here's my challenge: What are we going to do with men whom we reach?

How are we going to respond to them when they don't immediately adopt our rules and traditions, and when their unsanctified language is filled with expletives?

Not long ago, I spoke at a conference for men and used some pretty crass language to describe the stupidity of men gawking at women when they walk by them. I did so to mock the men who are so juvenile that they would look upon women in such a way.

Interestingly, after the close of the service, several men accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, others recommitted their lives to follow Him, and still more dedicated themselves to living as authentic men, refraining from impure lifestyles. Several men told me that my use of that language actually helped them see the stupidity of their sophomoric behavior.

It was only a few days later that I received a couple of phone calls from a couple of pastors who were offended by my language and went so far as to question my faith because of it. My heart is truly not to offend, but to convey the truth when speaking to men. I have committed to use more tactful and appropriate language to convey my point.

When Saul, the murderous zealot had his miraculous conversion, the faithful questioned the validity of it. "How could God save someone so disgusting as Saul, or Shia, or Neil?" they reasonably ask.

We often marvel at the grace that is afforded us, and question the grace afforded others at the same time. LaBeouf has said, " I'm trying to find a way to have some control over my actions, my behavior, my ideas, my thoughts, my path in life. But it's very new for me."

After a violent man becomes a believer, it is very important that he has someone to help navigate the course of his next few steps.

Following his commitment to Christ, Saul tried to join the disciples in Jerusalem, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

If we're going to reach men we must get over our fear of them. In my experience of leading men to reach men, I've noticed a hesitancy and timidity that paralyzes them from taking bold action. We must step up and come along side these guys taking the risk and help them navigate the next few steps.

Barnabas stepped up and took Saul with him to the apostles. In the course of time Saul becomes the Apostle Paul, persecuted, often stoned, beaten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned—yet, also the key player in bringing the Gospel to the gentiles and writing the letters that bring such revelation to our faith.

We're living in serious times that are causing men to question everything about modern society. Culture is being reprogrammed and manhood is being redefined. This is causing men to have an identity crisis.

LaBeouf was quoted as saying, "I've been going through an existential crisis. If you look at my behavior, it's been motivated by a certain discourse. Metamodernism has influenced a lot of my action in the public in this last year and a half—the idea of diametrically opposed ideas happening all at once: the irony and the sincerity, birth and death, the immediacy and the obsolescence."

In this statement, Shia is defining metamodernism as his personal suffrage of looking for something as a man. It's him looking around the rubble of crisis—societal, environmental, financial, even existential crisis. In playing a man of faith in the movie, Shia experiences a very real truth—namely, Christ.

I believe that the Holy Spirit is speaking to the heart of men. Now is the time for us to strategically position ourselves with wisdom and without prejudice to be the voice of authentic manhood, guiding men to the reality of Christ and helping them navigate their course.

My prayer for Shia, is simple, "Holy Spirit, bring alongside Shia a man of encouragement to help him navigate this challenging course. Strengthen his faith. Amen."

My prayer for myself after seeing the story about Shia, "Holy Spirit, don't let me call any man impure or unclean whom you have saved" (Read Acts 10:28).

Neil Kennedy, author of several books, including FivestarMan: The Five Passions of Authentic Manhood, Centurion Principle, Mother's Guide to Raising a FivestarMan; God's Currency; and Speaking the Father's Blessing; authored articles for scholarly journals; and multiple magazines, publishes The Daily Champion for men; and is founder of FivestarMan, an international movement of men.

For the original article, visit

Neil Kennedy/FivestarMan Featured Culture Tue, 28 Oct 2014 07:00:00 -0400
4 Keys to Combat Overeating God's Way

I heard a statement recently that made me think, "Our five senses are the voice of our bodies." That led me to a question: Do people develop habits of eating too much because eating is the only way they give their bodies a "voice"?

How intentional are you every day about doing pleasant things to engage all of your senses?

  • Sight
  • Smell
  • Hearing (Sound)
  • Touch

I left "taste" off of the list because many of us don't have a problem stimulating that one. When they feel tense or restless and don't know what to do about it, many people eat as a default.

But I believe that when you learn to engage your other senses daily, then food can resume a normal focus in your life. After all, you are giving your body other ways to express its voice.

Recently, I was intentional about engaging my five senses as I cut the lawn. I enjoyed the smell of cut grass and pine needles, the feel of the sun on my skin, the occasional breeze on my face. I beheld the beauty of the blue sky and fluffy white clouds. The constant sound of the lawnmower buzz was soothing.

By being more intentional about enjoying the sensory experience as it was happening, I added more "life" to my day.

So the next time you are tempted to eat when you aren't hungry, think of it as your body's desire to express its voice. You can relieve that tension by engaging one or more of your five senses.

Here are some things to do besides eating:


  • Go to a park and enjoy natural wonders
  • View a photo album
  • Go people watching at a mall, park or airport
  • View historical houses in your city
  • View Kaleidoscope videos on YouTube
  • View nature videos on YouTube
  • Get a coloring book and crayons and color in the pictures
  • Draw or paint something colorful


  • Do your laundry and sniff the clean clothes
  • Sniff some essential oils or lotions
  • Smell some aromatherapy bath salts
  • Go outside and smell the air
  • Wash your hair and enjoy the smell of the shampoo


  • Listen to praise music
  • Listen to oldies on the radio
  • Listen to classical music
  • Listen to silence
  • Listen to white, pink or brown noise (actually I like to listen to oscillating Brown noise while I work because it sounds like ocean waves)


  • Spin around in an office chair
  • Take a bath or soak your feet
  • Use a foam roller or foot roller
  • Stretch
  • Sew, crochet or knit
  • Put together a puzzle
  • Use a resistance band
  • Rub something soft
  • Rock on a ball or in a chair
  • Lotion your body
  • Give yourself a manicure or pedicure
  • Swing at a park
  • Dance

1 Corinthians 6:20 says, "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your bod and in your spirit, which are God's." Many Christians treat life as an "out of body" experience. However, I believe one way that you can glorify God is to praise Him through the abilities you have in your five senses.

God gave them to you. Enjoy all of them intentionally today. What are some ways you use your senses for enjoyment?

P.S. One of the most important things you'll need to do to overcome eating issues is to renew your mind. That's why one of the bonuses in the Take Back Your Temple eBook is "Prayers and Promises to Take Back Your Temple." In this special bonus, you get over a dozen scriptures and prayers specifically related to God's promises for health and strength so you can gain physical, emotional and spiritual victory every day.

Once 240 pounds and a size 22, Kimberly Taylor can testify of God's healing power to end binge eating. She is an author and the creator of the Christian weight loss website Visit today for inspirational health and weight-loss tips.

For the original article, visit

Kimberly Taylor, C.W.C. Featured Culture Tue, 28 Oct 2014 08:00:00 -0400
Same-Sex Counseling Labeled 'Cruel, Inhuman, Degrading' Torture

Representatives of an American campaign group are to attend a meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva next month and argue that helping people address unwanted same-sex attraction amounts to "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" and even "torture."

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is based in California where there is already a ban on offering "sexual orientation change efforts" to minors (read more).

Dr. Mike Davidson (pictured), Director of Core Issues Trust which seeks to reflect "God's heart in sexual and relational brokenness" said:

"This is a stark reminder of the determination of a certain lobby, driven by a radical ideological agenda, to close down options for those facing unwanted same-sex attraction. There is similar pressure here in the UK. It needs to be exposed and resisted, chiefly for the sake of those who want help.

"Science and experience demonstrate that help with unwanted same-sex attraction can be effective and is far from harmful."

Please pray for Mike as he attends a meeting of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency on Tuesday (October 28th) and seeks to present the truth about unwanted same-sex attraction.

Christian Concern Featured World News Tue, 28 Oct 2014 06:00:00 -0400
Despite Ebola Outbreak, 83-Year-Old Morris Cerullo Heads to Africa

Amidst what is considered the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history, evangelist Morris Cerullo is embarking this month on an 11-day trip to the heart of the outbreak—the continent of Africa.

This 83-year-old president of World Evangelism has been traveling to the undeveloped nations of the world for 68 years. This 11-day trip to Africa will include training meetings in Accra, Ghana; Abidjan, Ivory Coast; Lagos, Nigeria; Kigali, Rwanda; Bujumbura, Burundi; Nakuru, Kenya; and Juba, South Sudan.

During this trip, the indefatigable octogenarian will also be meeting with political leaders of these nations to discuss economic aid, food, and medicine for the countries hit hardest by this outbreak. Over the past six decades, Morris Cerullo has met with numerous heads of state who have requested prayer, spiritual counsel, and mentorship. Known for his "hands-on" approach to ministry, and aware of the dangers facing him by travelling to ground zero of the Ebola outbreak, Morris states, "These people need to know that we love them."

World Evangelism is known for its humanitarian support and has provided aid to Ethiopia, medical assistance in East Africa, and helped build multiple orphanages in Mexico. Most recently, Morris and his wife, Theresa Cerullo, partnered with Tommy and Matthew Barnett to build a new floor of the Los Angeles Dream Center, which houses 200 women who have come off the streets of Los Angeles, out of drugs, human trafficking and prostitution. The floor is called Mama Theresa's Place in honor of Theresa Cerullo.

Mark Andrews Featured World News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Gay Marriage Now Officially Allowed in Most States
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Saturday the U.S. government will recognize same-sex marriages in six more states, bringing to 32 the number of states where couples in gay unions qualify for federal benefits.
Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, North Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming were added to the list on Saturday, a week after Holder made a similar announcement concerning seven other states.
The move comes after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of cases that sought to overturn bans on same-sex marriages. In addition to the 32 states, gay marriages are recognized in the District of Columbia.
The Justice Department's stand on the unions means the couples qualify for benefits administered by the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal entities.
"We are acting as quickly as possible with agencies throughout the government to ensure that same-sex couples in these states receive the fullest array of benefits allowable under federal law," Holder said.
Bill Trott/Reuters Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 17:00:00 -0400
Methodist Pastor Who Led Same-Sex Wedding Reinstated

A U.S. pastor who was defrocked after officiating his son's same-sex wedding ceremony and later reinstated, can keep his ordination, a Methodist judicial council has ruled.

The church had punished Reverend Frank Schaefer last year by defrocking him when he refused to say he would never perform another gay ceremony. But an appeals panel reversed the decision, and the judicial council on Saturday upheld the appellate ruling, the church said on Monday.

The decision by the church's highest judicial body was on technical, legal grounds and did not discuss the issue of gay marriage. The nine-member council ruled that it found "no errors in the application of the church law and judicial decisions."

Schaefer, former pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was charged under United Methodist Church law for having officiated at the same sex-marriage ceremony of his son in 2007.

An appeals panel in June said it upheld the church's decision to suspend Schaefer last year for 30 days. But it reversed the defrocking, saying that was punishing Schaefer for what he might do in the future instead of what he had done in the past.

Schaefer, who is now a minister in Santa Barbara, California, was not immediately available for comment.

Schaefer said after a hearing before the council last week that he had no regrets.

"I did what I did based on my heart and my conscience," Schaefer said.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Susan Heavey)

Mary Wisniewsk/Reuters Featured Culture Mon, 27 Oct 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Sadie Robertson Shares Heart on 'Sexy' Rumba Dance

Sadie Robertson of the Duck Dynasty clan revealed in an interview that pressure from her dance partner to perform a sexy rumba on Dancing With the Stars caused her a great deal of stress, but she is pleased with the outcome.

"I guess you all could tell that last week was pretty hard for me," Robertson said in an interview for "It was really stressful, and I wasn't getting the dance down, and Mark [Ballas] had been telling me all week, 'You're not going to get good scores because you're not doing a sexy rumba and that's what they want to see.'"

Although the two butted heads, 17-year-old Robertson, a strong Christian, held her ground:

"I was like, that's OK, because I would rather get a bad score from the judges than know in my heart that I did something that I'm not comfortable with. So, when we went out there and we did it, after the dance, I was so nervous because I just knew I was going to get ripped to shreds by the judges."

But that's not what happened. Robertson said she was pleasantly surprised to receive a score of 35 out of 40 from the judges. She said she was able to reach an accommodation with dance partner Mark Ballas by wearing a modest costume and keeping sexy moves out of the dance routine.

"So when they were so respectful of the dance and they loved it and appreciated me standing up for what I believed in, I just kind of felt like God blessed me with the judges liking the dance," Robertson told "It just paid off to do the right thing, and it just made me really emotional to finally get the hardest dance so far, in my opinion, out of the way and just be done with it. It felt really good."

Robertson also told the interviewer that she is making a conscious effort to come out from behind the shadow of her famous family.

"For my whole life I've kind of been shadowing what my family says," Robertson said. "They'll say something about my faith, and I agree. But now, it's time for me to say, 'This is who I am as well.' I'm not hiding behind my family anymore. I'm sharing my faith by myself, which has helped me to be more bold and more confident saying things. It's the same God; it's the same faith. It's just my opportunity to share it in my words. And I have enjoyed it. It's been good for me and I've grown a lot from it."

Mark Andrews Featured Culture Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:00:00 -0400
Greg Laurie Calls out Devastating Impact of Immorality

The United States is being devastated by the wildfires of immorality, pastor, conference speaker and award-winning author Greg Laurie writes in a World Net Daily column. "[H]omes are being devastated. Families are being devastated. And unless we take precautions, we could be the next victims of the fires of lust, passion and immorality."

Many Christians have a false sense of security—thinking that a particular sin cannot touch them. But that very presumption is a display of pride that can set someone up for a fall.

Samson was one of those who thought he was immune from temptation.

"In the Old Testament, we read that he killed a thousand of Israel's enemies, the Philistines, with the jawbone of a donkey. In Samson's mind, what was one woman going to do to him?" writes Laurie, who is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, and Harvest Orange County in Irvine, California. "But Delilah (whose name, by the way, means 'delicate') began to break down Samson's resolve and resistance until finally he confessed to her what the secret of his supernatural strength was. If only he could have come to his senses and realized that he was falling into a trap."

Just as lust devastated Samson, it is ruining lives today—and even ending lives through the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, Laurie writes. And it is destroying thousands of marriages through pornography and/or adultery.

"In our increasingly value-free society that will not allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in the classroom but will freely hand out condoms, the only way we will infuse values back into society is through the home," Laurie writes.

Adultery and immorality are breaking up marriages and families. Certainly, sexual temptation has been with us for a very long time. "But I think we would all have to agree that our times of sexual looseness and permissiveness are unprecedented in human history. Historians would have to look back at this civilization and culture as one that was absolutely obsessed with sex," he continues.

Certainly, Hollywood is contributing to the problem with a constant bombardment of sex.

"God has warned us in the Scriptures for our own good," Laurie writes. "And please know this: There is no such thing as a quick fling. When you cross the line of protection God has placed around you, you do so at your own peril. And the repercussions of it can go on for months, years and even a lifetime."

Mark Andrews Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 14:00:00 -0400
Prophetic Prayer Meetings in Ferguson See Deliverance

Civil-rights activist Dr. Alveda King has just come off the road after a whirlwind week of meetings with community leaders across the country as part of a new campaign called Restore the Dream 2014.

King joined the initiative at the invitation of Niger Innis of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) for the new effort to engage the black community to improve its quality of life, job opportunities and economic security, education, Christian witness and voting.

The campaign kicked off Oct. 20 at the MLK Mountaintop Memorial in Washington, D.C., and then traveled for five days after that, engaging with community leaders and picking up support along the way.

"An unlikely coalition of conservatives and liberals is coming together in a way that only God can orchestrate," said King, niece of the late civil-rights icon the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "What a team God has provided. And special thanks to all of our constant prayer partners; we wouldn't want to try to do this without your help! God bless everyone!"

After the official launch of the campaign with a news conference in Washington, Restore the Dream 2014 leaders and supporters traveled next to New York for a media blitz. Following that was a powerful voter-education/prayer meeting in North Carolina with Dr. Johnny Hunter, Pastor P.L. Wooden, Bishop E.W. Jackson and others.

The campaign than traveled to Ferguson, Missouri, the site of many weeks of racial unrest since the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer on Aug. 9. The group participated in a "Tent Meeting" with The Ferguson Response headed up by JT (Jonathan Tremaine) Thomas and other Christian leaders.

"We arrived on Day 19 of the meetings, where the testimonies of healings, deliverances and salvation from the 21-day-long Tent Meeting were overflowing throughout the Ferguson community," King reported.

The following day found the group with Dr. A. Wayne Jones and other spiritual leaders of the AAHMO Embassy Collaborative for a prayerful briefing regarding the state of Ferguson. Also in Ferguson on Saturday, Jonathan Thomas hosted a panel that included King's friend Lynne Jackson, the great-granddaughter of the historical liberator Dred Scott.

"We departed their company for hopeful conversations with local officials including the mayor, police chief and a feisty state legislator," King said.

"On the tour, we experienced many prophetic prayer meetings where we prayed with men, women and children from various spiritual, ethnic, political and socio-economic backgrounds."

King called the event "an incredible tour bringing a message of faith, hope, love and unity to a hurting world." She promised more news about the campaign to follow.

Mark Andrews Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 13:00:00 -0400
ISIS Zeros in on Heartland of America

The Islamic State has engaged in a reign of terror across the Middle East, raping, pillaging and beheading its way to a new caliphate.

Now a growing number of U.S. citizens are leaving America to join the brutal ISIS army. These recruits are being radicalized on U.S. soil and they may eventually return home.

It's hard to imagine America's heartland as a breeding ground for terrorism. Yet when news emerged that two U.S. citizens had been killed in Syria fighting alongside ISIS, the path led back to of all places Minnesota.

The two men were part of a growing number of young Muslims from Minneapolis and St. Paul who have answered the call of jihad ("holy" war). At least a dozen young Muslims from the Twin Cities area have left their homes to travel to the Middle East and join ISIS. Some of them worshipped at the al-Farooq Mosque in a quiet suburb of Minneapolis. An Egyptian-American man allegedly recruited young Somali Muslims from the mosque and helped send them to Syria.

Mosque officials say they banned Amir Meshal earlier this year when they learned he was preaching jihad. The suspected terror recruiter remains at large. "There is an organization that makes this happen," former sheriff Bob Fletcher told CBN News. "But usually there is one principal person that I call "The Guide" that can take this person in this ideological state and guide them to Syria or wherever it might be."

Fletcher is the former sheriff of Ramsey County, which includes the city of St. Paul. He now works with Somali leaders to battle radicalism in their Twin Cities community that's seen dozens of young men travel overseas in recent years to join terrorist groups.

"They need to procure travel documents; they need to raise money, usually somewhere in the area of $4000-$5000 to help facilitate all the travel that takes place and plus, they want to have money," Fletcher explained.

"And they need to make sure someone is purchasing the tickets—that requires a credit card of some sort. And they need a driver and a facilitator to get them to the airport because they need to make sure they get on the plane versus not getting on the plane," he said.

The recent deadly attacks against Canadian soldiers and the Canadian parliament by ISIS sympathizers were another reminder of the chaos that just a handful of terrorists can cause on Western soil.

It's estimated that as many as 3,000 Western passport holders from places like Britain, France, Germany and the United States are fighting for the Islamic State.

FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Eric Holder both said recently that 12 Americans are fighting alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Other Obama administration officials have said that at least 100 U.S. citizens overall have traveled to Syria to join terror groups.

According to Rep. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., up to 40 of those American jihadists have already come home.

"It is also believed that some 40 of those who left this country to join up with ISIS have now returned to our country. Those 40 are under FBI attention and surveillance. So they are known and they are being tracked by the FBI," Bishop reportedly said. One suspected American jihadist the FBI is tracking starred in a recent propaganda video entitled "Flames of War," in which he executed British troops.

"We're here in the 17th division military base, just outside of al-Raqqa," the American jihadist says in the video. "And we're here with the soldiers of Bashar. You can see them now digging their own graves in the very place where they were stationed." A major concern is that ISIS recruits will return to the United States and carry out attacks here.

Fletcher says ISIS sympathizers on U.S. soil who have never traveled overseas but were self-radicalized at home may be the more immediate threat.

"I think it is a far greater concern that people that are here and radicalized [and] that haven't gone back might strike out against America. And the numbers of people that are here and haven't gone back that ideologically feel the same is significantly large," Fletcher said.

Erick Stakelbeck/CBN News Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:00:00 -0400
Christian School 'Downgraded' for Refusing Interfaith Worship Leader

A Christian school has been told by inspectors that it will be downgraded because it didn't invite a representative from another faith group, such as an imam, to lead school assemblies.

The independent school in the Home Counties was told that it breached new rules which require the promotion "British values". The policy was introduced in the wake of the "Trojan Horse" schools scandal in Birmingham.

Along with a number of other cases involving schools with a religious ethos, this latest case has prompted criticisms that the rules are having unintended consequences.

It is understood that Ofsted inspectors informed the head of the small Christian school that it would be downgraded from "good" to "adequate" for failing to "actively promote" harmony between different groups. This is because the school had not invited in representatives from other religions to lead collective worship.

They further warned that unless the school could demonstrate it is meeting the new requirements, there would be a further inspection that could result in the school being closed.

According to a government paper that explains the guidelines, even taking children on trips to different places of worship would not be enough to meet the requirements.

Anglican, Roman Catholic and Jewish schools have all been challenged by Ofsted since the new guidelines came into effect earlier this year. This has led to criticism of the guidelines themselves for having an unforeseen negative impact, particularly on faith schools.

'Deep irony'

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: "We want to see the problem of Islamic extremism in schools dealt with. But these guidelines haven't been worded carefully enough which means schools such as this one are being unreasonably chastised for reflecting their Christian ethos.

"This case goes way beyond teaching children about other religions. The inspectors seem to require that collective worship be led by leaders of other religions. This is an assault on the integrity of the Christian identity of the school and a challenge to freedom of belief.

"There is a deep irony here that Christianity—the faith which gave rise to so many treasured British values such as individual freedoms, tolerance and respect for others—is being portrayed as 'un-British'. The guidelines must be revised to tackle the real problem without penalizing others."

Christian Concern Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 11:30:00 -0400
School Forces Children to Participate in Ashtanga Yoga
The Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) is forcing children to participate in yoga classes. The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is fighting back.
The PJI filed a brief this week in support of a case that seeks to bar the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) from pushing students into this unbiblical activity. The class, which is funded by an outside organization, teaches Ashtanga yoga which promotes the Yogic belief system of eight limbs—or eight goals—which bring unity with God.
EUSD claimed that the practice of yoga is constitutionally permissible because their practice of yoga has been "stripped" of all of the religious trappings. However, many of the practices taught by yoga teachers at the schools urge children to perform distinctly religious acts, such as praying to the sun. Since the Supreme Court has excluded teacher-led prayers from the public school classroom, the brief calls on the court to treat other religious practices, like Yoga, the same way.
"By all means, Pacific Justice Institute is here to protect the religious rights of individuals and families," said Brad Dacus, President of PJI. "This school district has essentially adopted a state religion and is forcing it upon our young children by requiring this class to be taken. These actions violate the fundamental right of parents to raise their children according to their beliefs, and they disregard the Constitution that this nation was founded upon."
A San Diego County Superior Court judge ruled that the class was religious in nature, but was still permissible at an elementary school. The plaintiffs, who are parents of children from the school district, are appealing this court's decision to California's Fourth District Court of Appeal.
The author of the brief, PJI's Southern California office staff attorney, Michael Peffer, said, "The secular world has worked hard pushing Christianity from public schools. In supporting this lawsuit, PJI is saying, 'we are not going to stand by and watch purportedly secular schools engage children in religious practices of any nature.'"
Pacific Justice Institute Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 11:00:00 -0400
Why Are TV Stations Advertising Viagra to Children?

The newest Viagra commercial is inappropriate for obvious reasons, especially when aired as early as it has been recently when children are still awake and likely watching television.

It features a sexy blond with a sultry voice in a sheer gown lying on a bed, which many families find offensive and embarrassing. To make matters worse, the ad clearly states erectile dysfunction instead of the abbreviation ED to explain the reason for advertising this product. Our organization has received numerous complaints from concerned parents. 1MM could not ignore this issue.

This particular commercial has aired during programs that families watch together. For example, this advertisement aired during the baseball playoffs around 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT. There have also been reports that it has aired even earlier in the day. When this type of commercial airs too early in the evening; family viewing time is ruined. Can you imagine what goes through the mind of a child, tween or teen when they see this ad? A parent never expects to have a discussion about erectile dysfunction while sitting at home enjoying family time. Viagra (Pfizer) needs to know it is not alright when commercials with mature content air when children are likely watching. The timing for airing this advertisement is in extremely poor taste. If Pfizer finds it necessary to air these ads, then they should be cleaned up or saved for later in the evening.

Send an email letter to Viagra (Pfizer) and insist they pull their current "ED" commercial off the air immediately, or at least move any future airings to later in the evening.

Click on this to Take Action!

Monica Cole/One Million Moms Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:30:00 -0400
Religion Expert Exposes Real Danger of Halloween

With Halloween just days away, children—and some parents, too—are eagerly anticipating donning costumes and asking for a 'treat' from neighbors as the price for not having a 'trick' played on them. Meanwhile, decorations designed to terrify—from skulls and witches to life-sized graveyards and giant insects—have turned homes across America into virtual haunted houses.

It's all just harmless fun. Or, is it?

Religion and culture expert Dr. Alex McFarland says that while many see Halloween as a chance to dress up and get goodies, there is real danger involved.

"Many of the common activities and themes associated with Halloween provide opportunities for harmless fun and togetherness," McFarland said. "At this time of year, churches often capitalize on the spiritual openness of people, on children's capacity for imagination and on the enthusiasm that Halloween generates. But parents need to know that beneath the costumes and make believe are spiritual realities that should be taken seriously."

As an example, McFarland points to the prevalence of witchcraft and the occult during the Halloween season. Indeed Wicca, which is the prominent religion of witchcraft, views Halloween, or 'Samhain,' as a high holy day, and a day for communicating with the dead.

"Halloween in America has become a celebration of darkness and of the supernatural as it relates to darkness," McFarland continued. "This is compounded by the fact that people long for spiritual experiences, spiritual fulfillment and a place to 'fit in'—all of which are promised by witchcraft and other occult activities. While it used to be that witchcraft was widely viewed as evil, today there is growing mainstream acceptance of it. Much of our media and culture in recent years has centered on themes of witchcraft, vampirism, communication with the dead and paranormal phenomenon in general—for example, the 'Twilight' books and films; Katy Perry's 'Dark Horse' performance at the Grammys, which had the feel of a satanic ritual; Nicki Minaj's 'Roman Holiday' performance; and more. Halloween annually fans this cultural trend."

McFarland adds that because the supernatural is real and not simply a figment of the imagination, playing with the supernatural should not be taken lightly.

"One must use caution and exercise discernment when seeking spiritual reality, meaning and truth," he said. "The Bible clearly speaks out against occult practices and all forms of witchcraft. Today, many dismiss the Bible as outdated or marginally relevant at best, but it contains clear and emphatic prohibitions against occult involvement, in both the Old and New Testaments. This is not because God wants to take away our fun but because He loves us and wants us to be protected from evil spiritual entities whose desires are to deceive and destroy. Could it actually be that there is tangible danger in opening oneself up to certain types of spiritual experiences by participating in a supposedly innocuous celebration of a day devoted to death, darkness and witchcraft? According to the Bible, yes."

Deborah Hamilton Featured Culture Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:00:00 -0400
Pentecostal Pastors Win Victory in Same-Sex Marriage Mandate

Husband-and-wife Pentecostal ministers who own a wedding chapel in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, refused to marry same-sex couples after a recent court ruling, and the American Civil Liberties Union says that's OK — as long as the chapel only operates as a religious establishment.

The couple's conservative attorneys insist that Donald and Evelyn Knapp's Hitching Post wedding chapel remains a for-profit business, and they should be able to turn gay couples away.

In fact, they already have, including twice in the last week.

The dispute is the latest front in an ongoing debate over whether for-profit wedding businesses must cater to same-sex couples in accordance with local anti-discrimination laws. In recent days, that fight just got more confusing.

On Oct. 23, the ACLU of Idaho unexpectedly sided with the Knapps. Leo Morales, the group's interim executive director, said he won't pursue legal action because the Hitching Post only provides religious services and is exempted from the local ordinance.

Morales said the ACLU would reconsider its stance if the chapel were to offer secular services, such as providing flowers or cakes, or holding nonreligious ceremonies.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative group representing the couple in a lawsuit against the city, said the Hitching Post is not a nonprofit religious organization like a church, but rather is a religious for-profit limited liability company like a Bible publisher.

Greg Scott, an ADF spokesman, said police in Coeur d'Alene called the couple on Thursday to investigate a possible violation of the city's 2013 anti-discrimination ordinance.

City police received a call from a married individual in Massachusetts complaining that she wanted to have a ceremony at the Hitching Post but was refused, according to a police report. Police called the owners as part of their standard procedure, said Keith Erickson, a city spokesperson.

"As a religious organization, they are exempt from our anti-discrimination law. They are for-profit." Erikcson said. "We're asking them to dismiss this federal lawsuit. It has no merit because the ordinance doesn't apply to them."

City officials deny that the couple have been threatened with legal action. "We have never threatened to jail them, or take legal action of any kind," Erickson told the Coeur d'Alene Press.

But confusion has rested on whether or not the chapel operates as a for-profit or non-profit operation.

"If they are operating as a legitimate not-for-profit religious corporation then they are exempt from the ordinance like any other church or religious association," City Attorney Mike Gridley wrote to the ADF earlier this month.

Calls placed to the city attorney's office were forwarded to a voicemail, saying that the office is receiving an influx of calls related to the lawsuit and calls would not be returned.

Scott said the couple fully expects to face legal action for their stance against same-sex marriage, which became legal in Idaho earlier this month.

As more states allow same-sex marriage, tensions between religious institutions and nondiscrimination laws will likely continue to arise. From florists to bakers, several courts have ruled that businesses that provide a service to the public must be provided to all, including same-sex couples.

ACLU staff compared the case to chapels in Nevada, which are now required to perform same-sex marriages because they do not provide just religious services.

At least one Las Vegas chapel owner has said she will continue to decline to officiate at same-sex weddings. She plans to either hire ministers to perform same-sex marriages at the chapel, fight the issue in court or close her business down.

According to the ADF's lawsuit against the city, for each day the Knapps decline to perform the ceremony, the couple could face a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. "Thus, if the Knapps decline a same-sex wedding ceremony for just one week, they risk going to jail for over three years and being fined $7,000," the lawsuit states.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey/RNS Featured U.S. News Mon, 27 Oct 2014 09:30:00 -0400