Paradise Fire Burned Most Church Buildings, But ‘the Church Is Still Alive’

California pastor opens up about the most difficult sermon of his career—and the prospects for resurrecting ministry from the ashes.

The wildfire that left Paradise, California, in grim, dusty ruins this week destroyed more than half of about two dozen houses of worship in the town, along with thousands of homes and other structures.

From safer ground in nearby Chico, pastors have worked to coordinate physical and spiritual relief for their now far-flung congregants. They’ve also been tasked with delivering updates on their church buildings, as Paradise residents hope for any indication that their homes, schools, or sanctuaries may have been spared from the worst.

“Though the physical attributes of our earthly Paradise are destroyed, the spirit of Paradise has spread across the country and around the world, as people are moved to volunteer resources to help,” wrote leaders from Paradise Adventist Church, whose building was burned in the Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history.

In the community of around 27,000 people, most congregations lost buildings, including Our Savior Lutheran Church (LCMS), Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA), Paradise Church of Christ, First Assembly of God, Craig Memorial Congregational Church, Paradise Foursquare, New Life Apostolic Church, Paradise Pentecostal Church of God, Community Church of the Brethren, and Hope Christian Church. A Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) meetinghouse and a Center for Spiritual Living were also destroyed.

“Building was burnt down, but cross and rock still standing,” wrote Hope Christian’s lead pastor Stan Freitas. “The church is still alive.”

Freitas and church members had constructed a new worship space just this year, building a tall wooden cross in front of the new structure. This week, he shared a picture of the hand-carved cross, ...

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David Jang’s Christian University Charged in $35 Million Fraud Scheme

Manhattan DA’s case involving the former heads of Newsweek and the Christian Post expands to include Olivet University.

The case against the ex-publisher of the Christian Post and the affiliated Christian Media Corporation has expanded to an alleged $35 million money laundering scheme involving a California-based Bible college.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office on Thursday charged Olivet University with making up a fake accountant to make its financial standing look better than it actually was so it could obtain funding to support day-to-day operations. An indictment filed last month accused Christian Media Corporation and former Newsweek owner IBT Media of similar activity.

The case naming Olivet—founded by controversial Korean pastor David Jang (not to be confused with Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois or Olivet College in Michigan) —brings about a dozen more charges against William C. Anderson, who led the Christian Post from 2010 until last summer, IBT CEO Etienne Uzac, and their companies. They were indicted by the DA on an initial $10 million fraud in October, as CT reported.

Though all have denied the alleged wrongdoing and pled not guilty, the district attorney’s case legally brings together several entities suspected to be working together under the influence of Jang’s network, but have long denied any official or financial connection to one another.

The defendants see the case as, essentially, a victimless crime, since the loans they allegedly obtained through fraudulent means have all been repaid.

“Olivet University denies the charges announced [Thursday] by the District Attorney’s Office and will vigorously defend itself against these unsupported allegations — including the puzzling claim that lenders who have suffered no loss were somehow victimized,” Olivet spokesman ...

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Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again

An interview with Sherry Harney.

Ed: We are living in challenging times. The church’s influence is fading. We are struggling to find answers to hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church, especially as it relates to our witness?

Sherry: There is no question that the influence of culture continues to grow. There are battles being waged for the hearts, minds, and the very lives of people we encounter each day. God’s people need to be ready to face the battles that are raging in our culture and in the spiritual realms. Mere intellectual and human strategies will not lead to victory.

In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the battles we face are not ultimately against flesh, blood, and people. The real battle is spiritual and God has given us armor as well as weapons. There are many ways the church can prepare to stand strong and walk in the love and power of Jesus. Here are some specific ways we can walk in the power and presence of Jesus as we fight spiritual battles:

Put on the armor. Pray the words of Ephesians 6:10-18 daily or weekly. Ask the Spirit of God to protect you as you seek to show the love of Jesus and speak the truth of the gospel.

Take the sword of the Spirit. Open God’s Word daily and fill your heart and mind with the truth. Love the Scriptures, know them, and follow what God teaches.

Pray at all times. You can talk with God with your eyes closed and with your eyes open. Ask for God’s power to be unleashed in your life, through your church, and in their lives of those who are still not aware of God’s love and the grace of the Savior.

Be authentic. The world is looking for people who are transparent, real, and authentic to the core. Show people that when Jesus enters a human heart and ...

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Bulgaria Considers Controversial Restrictions on Church Activity

New amendments could halt training, foreign funding, and missionary outreach by evangelicals.

A controversial new law before the Bulgarian Parliament would keep Protestants and other minority faiths from freely worshiping, teaching, evangelizing, and tithing in the southeastern European nation.

Today’s vote marks the legislature’s second hearing for amendments to Bulgaria’s religious denominations act, which were initially approved October 4.

Over the past month, leaders from all faith groups in the former communist country have condemned the proposed additions, which prevent minority religions from offering clergy training, restrict worship services to designated sites, and place new regulations on international missionaries and giving.

“Should the law pass, existing theological seminaries are at risk of shutting down, evangelical church pastors may no longer be able to conduct worship services, and the acceptance and use of donations will be subject to government approval and limitations,” stated the World Evangelical Alliance, which has joined with the Bulgarian Evangelical Alliance to oppose the legislation.

About 2,000 Christians gathered at the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, on Sunday to pray and protest against the proposed amendments, The Baptist Standard reported, and they have continued smaller demonstrations in hopes that the law will be rejected.

Evangelical Protestants make up less than 1 percent of the population in Bulgaria, where about 85 percent of citizens consider themselves Eastern Orthodox and about 10 percent are Muslim. Because of their small size, Protestants—along with Catholics, Jews, and others—fail to meet the threshold for certain government recognition under the draft law, which legislators say is meant to protect against foreign threats but religious ...

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Why ‘Passing on the Faith’ Fails Our Kids

Young adults often leave the church after high school. The problem lies close to home.

The familiar reports are loud and clear. We hear it on Facebook, in our Twitter feed, and through the mainstream news. The reports confirm, at least in part, what we have known for some time: Youth ministry practices are not consistently supporting faith beyond high school graduation.

For those of us who have worked with young people for decades, this news is difficult to swallow because we see God working powerfully in the lives of teenagers. Why is there such a deep divide between our increased effort, devotion, and resources, and numbers of young people leaving the church behind?

As Andy Root and Kenda Creasy Dean argue in The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, we have spent so long “justifying our ministries for their sociological, educational, or therapeutic usefulness.” In response, a movement is underway that more intentionally reflects theologically on youth ministry practices. The movement brings with it some key theological questions: What is the relationship between a young person and the community of faith? How have we understood this relationship in youth ministry practices, and how should we? And finally, how might our beliefs be shaping, maybe even causing, the worrisome reports about our youth?

People use a variety of phrases to describe their desire to invite the next generation into the Christian faith. Most commonly, church leaders and parents use the language of “passing on the faith.” I hear it everywhere. During worship gatherings, pastors pray for young people to be secure in the faith passed to them. Church leaders hire consultants to find ways to increase their effectiveness at passing the faith, and parents give time and money to ensure a son or daughter owns the faith they ...

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When Your Identity Is Wrapped Up into Your Ministry

What does it look like for followers of Christ to live and work with a healthy sense of ambition?

My identity has too often been tied to the successes or failures of the ministries that I lead—and too frequently in unhealthy ways.

It’s easy to find yourself counting heads at church on a Sunday or eyeing up the funds that were raised on any given week, wishing that more was accomplished. I remember times when I mistakenly thought, If I can just get over 200 people this week, then I’ll finally be at peace. Evaluating our leadership capacities can take some ugly turns when done numerically based on factors that are, quite frankly, completely outside of our control.

I’m a highly driven person; quite honestly, it’s that drivenness that has in part helped me be a successful church planter and revitalizer for many years. What’s unhealthy is not the ambition itself, but the ways I let longings for success overtake my heart and mind. Ambitious people become demoralized not when we dream big, set goals, or vision cast but when the realization of these things we fantasize about become essential to our happiness and well-being.

At issue here are some fundamental questions that Christians everywhere—not just in the church—have to answer: What does it look like for followers of Christ to live and work with a healthy sense of ambition? Furthermore, how should we approach failure in light of that?

God wants YOU

Let me start by saying this: It is possible to be ambitious and driven while also being an enthusiastic Christ follower at the same time. The two are not mutually exclusive.

God has given each of us gifts. Some of us are gifted with patient spirits, others of us can’t help but forge ahead. Some of us are good at managing large staffs of people, others of us are content to follow ...

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Presbyterian Hostages Freed in Cameroon, But Conflict Carries On

With students safely returned, the church continues to pray for peace.

Kidnappers released this week the last of more than 80 hostages taken from a Presbyterian school in Cameroon amid an escalating crisis in the Central African country’s English-speaking regions.

Just over a week after being captured at gunpoint, the principal, dorm warden, and two remaining students were freed Monday, while the rest of the victims, students ages 11–17, were let go last week, Reuters reported.

The Presbyterian-run boarding school in the region’s capital, Bamenda, has been forced to shut down since the captors threatened further attacks.

The incident represents the latest of at least four school abductions over the past two months, and about a dozen over the past year, as unrest over disparities between Cameroon’s English-speaking North-West and South-West regions and the nation’s French-speaking majority turns increasingly violent. Another 11 boys had been taken from the same school the week before.

And the kidnappings, as heart-wrenching as they are, represent just a small portion of the violence that has left the Anglophone region on the brink of civil war.

An estimated 400 civilians have died in the dispute, including an American missionary caught in the crossfire last month, just weeks after moving to Cameroon. More than a quarter-million people have fled their homes and villages, and many who remain are desperate for security and resources.

Cameroon’s churches, whose cry for peace has intensified over the past few months, have suffered in the separatist conflict, with four church buildings taken over by military forces and at least 50 Christian-run primary schools, secondary schools, and hospitals affected, according to Gustav Ebai, information and communication secretary ...

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When Christian Practices Hurt Other People

Baptism, prayer, and Communion can all go “wayward,” says Lauren Winner. Should we blame the sinful practitioners or the practices themselves?

Guns don’t kill people,” goes one popular slogan. “People kill people.” In other words, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a gun. It’s an object, just like a butter knife or brass knuckles. The object itself isn’t the problem, but rather the self-centered, broken, and vile sinners who find relief or satisfaction in putting it to wicked uses.

This saying carries commonsensical force, but it isn’t always true to experience. A gun can discharge accidentally, without its handler having evil intent or a fidgety trigger finger. Guns, after all, are designed to go off, not to thwart the will of their owners. And the bullets they fire are crafted to wound or damage their target. So while guns, on one level, are inanimate objects that aren’t inherently violent, they have certain properties and tendencies that make eruptions of violence more likely.

In her book, The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin, Duke Divinity School’s Lauren Winner makes a similar point regarding treasured Christian practices like baptism, prayer, and the Eucharist. Like guns, there is nothing inherently wrong or “sinful” about them—in fact, they are designed to work against the sinful and broken patterns of the world. But as Winner argues, these practices can malfunction in characteristic and predictable ways, leaving trails of oppression and destruction in their wake.

Damaged Gifts

Winner uses historical examples to support her claim: In the Middle Ages, she notes, a high view of the Eucharist gave added potency to accusations of desecration by Jews, prompting waves of anti-Semitic violence. In the 19th century, slave owners corrupted the ...

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Kurt Kaiser Passes Away, But His Music Will Pass It On

From Word Music to Baylor University, Christian composer leaves a legacy of hundreds of songs.

Composer Kurt Kaiser, whose popular songs “Pass it On” and “Oh How He Loves You and Me” became staples at Christian camp sing-alongs and youth revivals, died Monday.

The 83-year-old musician wrote more than 300 copyrighted tunes, released more than a dozen albums of his own, and accompanied the late George Beverley Shea on piano during Billy Graham’s crusades.

Kaiser passed away in Waco, Texas, the city where he’d lived for 59 years and helped launch Word Music and Dayspring Baptist Church.

“For more than five decades, Kurt Kaiser enriched the world with a Christian message of hope as a pioneer of modern church music,” said Baylor University president Linda A. Livingstone in a tribute this week.

At Word Music, Kaiser had an ear for signing hit artists, moving up from director of artists to vice president. During his career, he went on to work with dozens of popular singers, ranging from Mahalia Jackson to Wayne Newton.

Kaiser and fellow Word pioneer Ralph Carmichael—known as the father of contemporary Christian music—brought a pop sensibility to worship music for the sake of evangelism.

Together, they “convinced evangelicals and fundamentalists that Christian pop music could draw youth to outreach events and revivals,” including through their 1969 musical “Tell It Like It Is,” which sold half a million copies worldwide, wrote researcher Wen Reagan, now a music and worship professor at Samford University.

Reagan quoted Kaiser as saying, “Kids have been inundated with the same kinds of [rock music], and nowadays it's everywhere. I just think it's a very sensible way to reach kids. I can't imagine any evangelist who's interested ...

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Reaching Out to Non-Believers this Holiday Season

Relationships are a significant means through which people can be reached with the gospel.

Going to church, believe it or not, can be a controversial topic around the holiday season. Some of us go consistently each week, some of us used to go, and some of us have vowed to never walk through the halls of a church again.

Everyone comes from different families, cultures, and backgrounds and thus we all have different stories in this regard.

Recently, I was having a conversation with my Uber driver about her experience in church. As we spoke, she shared that at one point she had been attending pretty frequently but has since found herself less engaged. During the course of our time together, as a pastor of course, I couldn’t help but suggest that she might reconsider her decision.

You see, we all know people like my Uber driver across many spectrums. Many have a complex relationship with churchgoing over the course of their individual lifetimes. Some are believers who have gone; others are believers who’ve stopped going altogether.

Others still actually aren’t believers at all, but perhaps people who are trying church out for the first time—in fact, chances are, there are people like that sitting next to you in service more Sundays than not.

Around the holiday times each year, followers of Christ have the opportunity to enter into spiritual conversations with family members and friends. Many of those conversations will likely end up at the very least touching on the subject of church in some way, shape, or form.

According to Scott McConnell, the executive director of LifeWay Research, that despite our many assumptions, the reality is that “many would welcome going to a Christmas service with someone they know.”

A study performed by LifeWay Research shows that across the country, Americans ...

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