God Hates Gun Violence

We American Christians have a biblical call to reduce firearm deaths in our land.

Violence enters the human story from nearly the beginning: “While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen. 4:8).

The Genesis narrative notes that violence soon becomes endemic. In a mere two chapters, we read, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Gen. 6:11). And “God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth’ ” (Gen. 6:13).

God hates violence. We see that especially in the prophets.

Ezekiel: “He [God] said to me, ‘Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the people of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually arouse my anger?’ ” (8:17).

Hosea: “Ephraim feeds on the wind; he pursues the east wind all day and multiplies lies and violence” (12:1).

Obadiah: “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever” (v. 10).

If the Bible is to be trusted, violence is cause for divine destruction of the people who practice and countenance it.

Americans might take note. It nearly goes without saying the United States is a violent culture. Yes, places like El Salvador, Honduras, Venezuela, and Jamaica have much higher per capita murder rates. But compare the United States with other high-income countries, and we see this: According to 2010 data from the World Health Organization, gun homicide rates range from 0 (UK) to 3 (Finland) deaths per million. No country comes anywhere close to the US rate of 36.

When ...

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20 Cuban Pastors and Spouses Killed in Plane Crash

Nazarene officials say ‘God is still in control’ after regional leaders die on the way home from Havana retreat.

A group of Cuban church leaders died in a plane crash Friday on the way home from a denominational retreat in Havana.

The ten married couples, co-pastors from Holguín in East Cuba, had spent three days at a Nazarene seminary in the island’s capital. They sang and prayed together on the bus back to Jose Marti International Airport to catch their return flight, Cuba Church of the Nazarene President Leonel López told Nazarene Communications Network (NCN) News.

But they never made it back home. The 20 pastors were among more than 100 people killed when their Boeing 737 airplane crashed shortly after takeoff from Havana around noon on Friday. Just three survivors remain. It’s the deadliest aviation accident in Cuba in three decades.

“In this moment of anguish and pain, we ask for your prayers and help to be able to get through this situation together,” said López.

Among the casualties were the district president, secretary, and treasurer for Nazarene Missions International, NCN News confirmed. The Nazarene victims leave behind eight children between the ages of 8 and 17, and several of the couples also had adult children.

“This has been a difficult time for the Church of the Nazarene, but in these times of difficulties and adversities we know that God is still in control,” said Carlos Saenz, regional director for the Church of the Nazarene Mesoamerica, which dates back more than 70 years in Cuba.

The cause of the crash is still unknown, although the plane was nearly 40 years old and reportedly in poor condition. It had been rented from a Mexican owner and flown by the Mexican airline Global Air.

“We pray to the Lord to fortify the hearts of the families of our fallen brothers ...

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In Shadow of Death, Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews Relapse on Reconciling

The body of Christ is breaking in Israel amid Jerusalem embassy move and Gaza border violence.

Hanna Maher’s wife is nine months pregnant, due any day now, with only four hours of daily electricity. Her two older boys scurry about in the dark, kept ignorant by parents about the dead at the border.

But it is hard to be ignorant in Gaza.

A Norwegian charity estimates 56 percent of children in the Palestinian territory suffer from traumatic nightmares. Suicide, rarely seen culturally, is a growing concern. Maher, an Egyptian-born Baptist pastor, says some at the border see death as the best option.

Two million people are squeezed into a coastal strip roughly the size of Philadelphia. Exit is severely restricted on one side by Israel. The waiting list into Egypt is 40,000 names long.

Unemployment is over 40 percent. Clean drinking water is hard to come by. And on May 14, as tens of thousands massed near a chain link fence demonstrating for their “Right to Return,” Israeli snipers picked off dozens.

“Monday was a hard day. But at least it is quiet now,” Maher said. “It has been bad for years. But conditions now are the worst I have seen.”

Maher went to Gaza in 2011, and married his local Palestinian wife a year later. His congregation is the strip’s only evangelical church, with about 60 regular members. Overall, Gaza’s Christian population is about 1,000, mostly Greek Orthodox; in the last 10 years, it has declined by a third.

Maher provides food aid to about 120 families. His marriage preparation classes are a crash course in how to nurture a family amid poverty.

And he says local Christians are critical of just about everyone.

They did not go to the protests, seen as a Hamas initiative. The Palestinian Authority hasn’t paid salaries in months, trying to pressure Hamas. ...

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One-on-One with Karl Vaters on ‘Small Church Essentials’

Instead of striving for church growth, I encourage churches and pastors to work on increasing their capacity for effective ministry.

Ed: How did you come to write Small Church Essentials?

Karl: Small churches are, by far, the most common expression of the gathered body of Christ. But they are highly undervalued and grossly under-resourced. I know because I’ve been pastoring in small churches for most of my ministry, including the small church I’ve been at for the last 25 years.

Despite the fact that we’re a healthy, vibrant, worshipping, missional church in very populated area, we’ve remained small.

That so-called ‘failure’ caused so much frustration and discouragement that I almost left the pastoral ministry. Then, a friend and counselor encouraged me to find ways of measuring church effectiveness beyond the numbers. That led me to write my first book, The Grasshopper Myth.

As I’ve continued to study, write, speak, and have conversations with thousands of fellow small church pastors, I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how to do effective ministry within a small church context. The lessons from those interactions and my own experiences are the heartbeat of Small Church Essentials.

Ed: Why do you think it is so common for people to equate the size of a church with its level of health? Or as you put it, to filter everything through the “church growth lens.”

Karl: I think it’s based on some understandable, but faulty logic—namely, a healthy church will be fulfilling the Great Commission, which means it will grow numerically. That’s a reasonable theory. But any theory needs to be tested against reality. And when we do that, we discover that there are many churches who are fulfilling their role in the Great Commission without getting bigger for a wide variety of reasons.

Ed: How do you ...

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Trump’s Plan to Defund Planned Parenthood Cheers Pro-Life Advocates

Administration prepares to propose Title X funding cuts for abortion providers.

Pro-life evangelicals are celebrating another move by the Trump administration to cut federal funding for abortion.

According to reports, the White House is expected to announce new regulations prohibiting Planned Parenthood and other entities that make abortion referrals from receiving grant money through Title X, the government’s quarter-billion-dollar family planning program.

Already, Title X funds cannot be used for abortion itself. But Planned Parenthood still receives more than $50 million every year to cover birth control and other services for low-income and uninsured patients. Under the new policy, clinics could not accept the money at all if they perform or recommend abortions.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the proposal “a responsible and commendable step toward our goal of totally separating taxpayer funds from Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry.”

The Title X program—which now supports about 4 million patients and 4,000 providers—dates back to 1970. Previously, President Ronald Reagan had put a similar rule in place to restrict the funds from being used to back abortion. The Trump administration’s restriction, drafted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is currently being reviewed by the White House budget office, NPR reported.

“President Trump has shown decisive leadership, delivering on a key promise to pro-life voters who worked so hard to elect him,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which will host the president at its annual gala in Washington next week.

Trump has moved to restrict federal government funding for abortion ...

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Dorothy Sayers Did Not Want to Be a Prophet

Nevertheless, the saucy British writer made the pious vociferously angry.

Between 1941 and 1944, C. S. Lewis gave a series of BBC radio talks, eventually published as Mere Christianity, that are the stuff of legend. Less well known today is a series of BBC broadcasts during the same era written by Dorothy L. Sayers: a retelling of the gospel message that Lewis himself valued highly.

Ironically, numerous evangelicals who relished Lewis’s BBC work as well-seasoned intellectual food wanted to spew Sayers’s broadcasts out of their mouths. While Lewis was lionized, Sayers received an anonymous postcard calling her a “nasty old sour-puss.” Lewis was elevated to the cover of Time, whereas some in England actually accused Sayers of causing the fall of Singapore during World War II.

Sayers’s BBC broadcasts, in fact, incited one of the biggest religious controversies in England since Henry VIII broke with Rome. Prophetically challenging the signs of her times, Sayers made the pious vociferously angry. Perhaps this reflects the kind of prophet she was: the kind who never wanted to become one in the first place.

Though a lifelong Anglican, Sayers had little interest in promoting a religious agenda. During her college years, she requested cigarettes more than spiritual advice from her parents, and she reviled student invitations to join the Christian Social Union. As she told a correspondent later in life, “I never, so help me God, wanted to get entangled in religious apologetics, or to bear witness for Christ, or to proclaim my faith to the world, or anything of that kind.” Nevertheless, she received a call that changed thousands of lives, including her own.

Transformed by Zeal

Born 125 years ago this month, Sayers had a privileged childhood. The adored only child of a ...

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Is Not a Ministry Guide

The infamous pyramid was never an accurate description of how people act, let alone a guide to discipleship.

You may have been told once or twice: “People can’t hear the gospel if they’re hungry.” I’ve read it dozens of times in statements from pastors in the United States. But where, exactly, does the idea come from?

Many pastors depend on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to decide how churches should minister—even though it’s been debunked.

The hierarchy of needs is a theory of human motivation, proposed in 1943 by psychologist Abraham Maslow, that says human beings have layers of needs: physiological, safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, in that order. When people start to feel a certain need—say, the need for satisfaction in their jobs—it is because the lower layers of needs have been satisfied. Maslow put physiological needs at the bottom of his hierarchy, indicating that needs like air, water, food, sex, sleep, shelter, and clothing must be met before any other felt needs can arise and be addressed.

I learned about pastors’ dependence on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs while analyzing data collected by the Seed Company, on behalf of Barna Group. On a survey, senior pastors had written individual responses to explain their churches’ teaching about providing for physical and spiritual needs.

About one in six of the senior pastors, unprompted and in his or her own words, referred either specifically to Maslow’s hierarchy or to its main idea, that physical needs must be met before people experience spiritual needs.

People tend to say less than they could when answering free-response survey questions like this one. So if asked more specifically whether they agree that Maslow’s hierarchy is reliable, pastors, I expect, would be even more favorable ...

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Re-thinking My Savior Complex

My hardest lesson as a social worker? God wants me to be close to the brokenhearted as much as he wants me to save them.

Twenty-four years old, conscious of my lack of preparedness and certain I would choke on my words, I stood on a dusty country road with a heroin addict whom I had come to know and root for. I was advising him to surrender his parental rights before I asked the judge to terminate them.

Caseworker jargon tumbled nervously out of my mouth, but my stilted words did not matter—he knew what I was saying. We had prepared for it. He and I had always called this scenario What Could Go Wrong.

By the time his child was brought into foster care, my client had experienced more than 10 years of severe opioid addiction. The reunification prognosis was poor. “There is nothing more terrifying than a sober life,” the man once told me. “I guess I don’t really know what a sober life feels like. Maybe that’s the scariest part.”

Scarier than losing his son.

Present in Suffering

Nationwide, there are more than 420,000 children in foster care. More than half of those children are in the foster care system for longer than a year. As a social worker, I’ve seen the faces of these statistics. Though I got into the profession to help people, I’ve learned that being present in suffering—comforting others with the same comfort we receive from God—is just as much my God-given calling.

My client was 34, with pinprick pupils and sunken cheeks. He collapsed at my feet in despair and was crying, “Oh, my son.”

His sweet seven-year-old son was a lover of all things nature and “boy.” To him, all of earth’s creatures, from bright baby frogs to mundane grasshoppers, were worthy of a water-bottle aquarium stuffed with sticks and grass.

Earlier, I had visited this child in the ...

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Interview: Will the ‘First Testament’ Grab Your Attention?

Scholar John Goldingay wants readers to rediscover the original feel of the Old Testament in his new translation.

Many people struggle with Bible reading and engagement in general, but this is particularly true with the first part of the Bible. We know that those who do read tend to spend more time in the New Testament. But there is no good way to understand Jesus without understanding what came before him—the stories, songs, and promises that shaped everything he said and did. Old Testament scholar John Goldingay wants readers to rediscover the original feel of these passages in his new translation, The First Testament. Glenn Paauw, senior director of content at the Institute for Bible Reading, spoke with Goldingay about how certain ways of rendering the Bible can usher us back into the Bible’s own world.

First, the inevitable question: Why does the world need another Bible translation?

I suppose the reason we make new Bible translations is the same reason we write new commentaries: It’s not necessarily that something brand new is being said, but more that you get to learn from someone else’s interaction with the text. Every translation is a collection of the compromises that someone is choosing to make. Translations must also change over time, as cultures change. Every so often we need to hear a fresh presentation of what the Bible is saying.

Most popular Bible translations have been done by committee. What is the value of having an individual do a Bible translation instead?

Of course, a committee approach is going to avoid the idiosyncrasies of an individual translation, and it provides some corporate safeguarding from the kind of mistakes an individual person might make. But when I worked on The First Testament, I was able to pursue my particular goals and work them through the entire thing. This was a rare opportunity. ...

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Compelled to Share: Do You Have a Urgency to See Others Know the Love of Jesus?

I couldn’t not share of this great love I had just encountered because I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else feeling like I had.

“That’s why Scripture exclaims, ‘A sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!’ But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: “Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to.” – Romans 10:15-17 (MSG)

It was a weekend in the middle of September, when the cornfields were nearing harvest but the weather was still warm and a fresh breeze was strongly blowing. To anyone else, it was a normal day in rural Illinois, but to me, it was so much more.

This weekend is when I went on a retreat hosted by a local church and experienced a personal encounter with the love of Jesus for the first time. I received Jesus’ love and forgiveness into my heart and life, forever changing my life’s trajectory both in this life and beyond.

I remember thinking to myself, How is it that I don’t remember anyone telling me of this great love of God before? I’d grown up in the church, but couldn’t recall ever really hearing of it—perhaps it was because of the veil over my heart and mind as scripture speaks of, or perhaps because I hadn’t really connected the dots on a personal level.

Maybe like me, you have heard someone close to you tell you that he or she doesn’t have to say “I love you” because you know that he or she does. It’s considered to be understood. It’s a given.

But as much as we may know our friends and family love us, we still need to hear it. Similarly, ...

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Jimmy Carter at Liberty Is 2018’s Most Surprising Yet Hopeful Commencement Speaker

How the president on the other side of the Moral Majority ended up invited to its unofficial headquarters.

Former President Jimmy Carter has accepted an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. Many will view this announcement as surprising, some even as disappointing for one reason or another. I view it as hopeful.

Carter is a progressive evangelical; the Falwell family and Liberty University identify with fundamentalist evangelicalism. Politically, Carter is generally liberal while the Falwells are conservative. Historically, Carter and Liberty’s late founder Jerry Falwell Sr. had differed sharply and personally on multiple issues—most notably civil rights and American defense of Israel.

So why, in this current era of adversarial politics in the state and even in the church, are the two contrasting forces coming together?

It is less surprising that Carter is willing to accept the invitation than that Liberty chose to offer it in the first place. While the former president can be unflinching on what he views as absolute moral principles (such as his opposition to racism), his career-long natural instinct has been to bring people together as much as possible (like when he met with former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1978 at Camp David).

To work cooperatively with a broad range of evangelicals in achieving common evangelistic and social justice goals would not normally be difficult for Carter.

By contrast, fundamentalists, almost by definition, are more or less separatists. But Jerry Falwell Sr. modified that separatist mentality by entering the political arena as the founder of the Morality Majority, which set out to influence the conservative social agenda.

Gradually his college and his successor, son Jerry Falwell Jr., came ...

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