Links to Go (September 7, 2017)

More Americans now say they’re spiritual but not religious

In addition to those who say they are spiritual but not religious, 48% say they are both religious and spiritual, while 6% say they are religious but not spiritual. Another 18% answer both questions negatively, saying they are neither religious nor spiritual. Looked at another way, only 54% of U.S. adults think of themselves as religious – down 11 points since 2012 – while far more (75%) say they are spiritual, a figure that has remained relatively steady in recent years.


DACA Done Right: A Moment We All Can Stand with DREAMers

If you supported DACA, then that support is needed now more than ever in this legislative window of opportunity. If you opposed DACA simply because you did not feel it should happen via Executive Order, then now is your chance to get behind compassionate action. And if you opposed DACA because you truly do not support DREAMers, then I and many others (including President Trump now) encourage you to reconsider.


3 quick ways to improve a “Short Term Missions” trip

  1. Stop calling it a “Short Term Mission Trip”
  2. Put away your wallet.
  3. Think beyond the short term hit and run

Does the Bible Condone Slavery?

Though the reasons a person might be a slave were many and the laws about slavery were somewhat complicated, here are a few things to keep in mind about ancient Israelite slavery:

  1. In the absence of prisons, enslaving captives of war was an alternative to killing them.
  2. Many people became slaves when they found themselves financially bankrupt. Instead of going hungry, people were allowed to sell themselves into slavery (indentured servitude).
  3. The Law of Moses was not recommending, or even condoning slavery, but was ensuring the protection and fair treatment of all people—including slaves.

God did not invent slavery, but He did establish a legal system to help ensure that the poor, the foreigners, the prisoners of war, and the servants would be treated with fairness and mercy.


Are Smart, Educated Women Still Called to the Church Nursery?

First, we need to honor caretaking generally. In a fallen world, even well-intentioned attempts to empower women can lead to the devaluation of caregiving. “Fifty years ago, [some] middle class women stayed home, cared for their families, and were manifestly unequal to their breadwinning husbands,” writes Anne-Marie Slaughter in her book Unfinished Business. “To make them equal, we liberated women to be breadwinners too and fought for equality in the workplace. But along the way, we left caregiving behind, valuing it less and less as a meaningful and important human endeavor.” Today, if a woman shows preference for a traditional caretaking role, her choice is sometimes interpreted as the product of patriarchy, regardless of her personal fulfillment or calling.


Woman catches mechanic taking an apparent joy ride in her limited edition car

“I took my car to the dealership so you could change the oil and change the air conditioner. Why are you driving my car to get food?” Mari Agredano-Quirino can be heard saying to the driver in the video after she stopped him at a fast food drive-through in her car, which she had taken to a dealership earlier in the day for maintenance.


How about some good news?

One of our members, Rosario Gibbs, posted this on her Facebook page. I’m sharing it with her permission:

My church served single mothers through a ministry called LOFT. Every year on Christmas, our church would ask families to sponsor a single mother and her children with Christmas gifts. Two years ago, I was walking the aisles of Walmart, buying items off the gift list we got from one of the single moms and her three children, and as I was looking into the shelves, a Walmart employee stops me and asks, in Spanish, if I’d accept an employee discount card that she had. Me, not fully understanding what she meant, asked if she was offering me her discount card for free, and she said “yes, I am done with my shopping and I don’t need this card, so I asked God to show me the right person and I think it’s you, it’s a 25% discount card.” She said she needed to go with me to the cashier cause she needed to sign to get the discount for me. I said “ok, but I’m not done yet,” and she said she’d wait for me at the cashier. When I was done, I met her at the cashier and she made the discount available to my purchase. I gave her a hug and told her about my church’s ministry and who she was blessing with that act of kindness, she said she knew God would point her to the right person. And I left amazed at God’s mysterious ways and grace.
Last week on Wednesday, a 22 year old male tragically passed away, he was the son of a lady that’s been visiting our church for over a month now, with whom I hadn’t spent much time during church. She was obviously devastated and requested visits and prayers. By Thursday, she was dealing with the unfortunate and painful fact that she didn’t have the money to pay for her son’s funeral, she couldn’t even have access to see his dead son, everything was just too much to deal with. Our church stepped in and helped raise the funds for her. On Sunday, amidst her pain, she was at church and we had a special prayer for her. Yesterday, Monday, some members of my church attended the visitation. I was standing in the room, looking at the young life that was lost, and then looking at the face of that mother, so full of sadness and pain, and I obviously couldn’t contain my tears. After a few words, a prayer and a song from one of our ministers, I left feeling terribly sad, praying for her and her family. As I was driving towards my house, I had her face on my mind and I remembered! She was the lady at Walmart that gave me her employee discount card two years ago!! She was her!
I thought of turning back so that I could ask her if she was that lady, but I didn’t do it. Today, we offered a meal for her family and friends after the burial. At the end of the meal, and after her friends and family left, all the present women from church sat with her and her husband and prayed for them again, when we were done I asked her “are you the lady that gave me the discount card at Walmart? She smiled and nodded, and we hugged. I told her again how she blessed that single mom and her kids, and I said “God blesses,” and she said “I have no doubt about it!”
2 Corinthians 9:8 says “….God is able to make every blessing of yours overflow for you, so that in every situation you will always have all you need for any good work.”
Be sure, we serve an awesome God and His hand is all over our lives! And He definitely works in mysterious ways. Thank you God for your grace and love!

Experience and Scripture

I’ve been reminded again about the struggles between Scripture and our experience. Today we see a tension between two major schools of thought: one which interprets Scripture based on human experience, and one which interprets human experience through the lens of Scripture. There are many variations on these themes, but that’s the basic tension.

I remember experiencing this tension when I was in school at Abilene Christian University. At that time, there were approximately 150 students from Thailand who were studying at ACU. They were almost all, if not all, Buddhists. Many were good people, morally sound and ethically strict. They cared about the poor and the suffering. They were fun people; I came to form some very special friendships.

For many of us, our relationships with these students presented a minor challenge to our theology. Were we willing to say that these wonderful people were lost without Jesus Christ? Many of them seemed to show more of the fruit of the Spirit than a lot of the Christians. Could we say that they needed something more than the faith they had?

This challenge has played out many times in many ways throughout the world. Many Christians have responded to this challenge by embracing some form of universalism or religious relativism. The result has been a church that de-emphasizes evangelism. Most of our people would rather build a house or dig a water well than talk to someone about Jesus.

The same struggle comes up in discussions about gender roles. It’s the rare person who begins with the Bible and works out to decide that traditional views need to be challenged. Most look at talented women they know, examine changing views in society about men and women, and then find a way to make Scripture line up with their experience.

Homosexuality and gender identity also bring this tension to a head. When gays and transgender people were mocked and ridiculed, it was easy for the church to reject them. As society has changed, the church is facing new realities. More LGBQT people want to participate fully in church without changing their lifestyle. They are loving, caring, spiritual people. How does the church say to them that there is only heterosexuality or celibacy?

So we face the struggle again and again. To value experience over Scripture is to be applauded by society, celebrated as open-minded and accepting. In his wonderful article “Why Pushing Right is Harder than Pushing Left,” Andrew Wilson explores these ideas and says:

So the things that make me and my church stand out are now the areas where we’re conservative: a high view of the gathered church, biblical authority, an orthodox view of hell, Reformed soteriology, complementarianism, and things like that. And for some reason, pushing right on these things doesn’t feel anything like as exhilarating as pushing left on the other things. It doesn’t draw the same whoops from the crowd, nor the same admiration for being courageous. (In fact, when I get called courageous at all, it’s usually for pushing left on something that most people approve of, even though this requires much less real courage than pushing right. It may just be me, but I think it requires far more bravery to say the things Al Mohler says than the things Brian McLaren says, even though the latter is far more likely to be admired for his courage.)

For now, I’m firmly in the camp of interpreting experience in the light of Scripture. It won’t get me a lot of applause nor acclaim as a forward-thinking champion of the downtrodden. But it will help me sleep at night. And feel at peace with my God.

Faith: The Engine of God’s Creative Redemption (Summer Blog Tour)

Guest post by Steven Hovater

Over the past couple of months this blog has been hosting a series of posts by guest bloggers as we again participate in our annual Summer Blog Tour. I hope you follow along, check out each author’s personal blog, and find ways to unshackle your faith. You can download previous blog tours here.


Incarnation and Imitation

The incarnation revealed what is possible when a human moves in God’s will, and by God’s power. In Jesus, God acted, but also demonstrated what human action in the name of God looks like. “For I have set you an example, “Jesus says, “that you also should do as I have done to you”. Yes, this line’s context (John 13:15) is somewhat particular to his servant gesture of foot-washing, but the following discourse makes clear that this practice is barely the tip of the iceberg. Everything Jesus does and says is a demonstration of God’s work and will in the world, and the disciples are being invited to share in that way of being in the world. The point of the incarnation is to say, “This is what happens when divine action/being meets human action/being.”

Moments later, Jesus expresses to his disciples that they have perceived God’s will as revealed through Jesus’s words and actions, and have even had their status before God changed because of it: “The servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15). Jesus is revealing God’s will and work, and then inviting them to join into that same will and work, becoming fruitful by honoring his command to “love one another as I have loved you.” God is at work among humanity in the human form of Jesus, so that humanity might be able to learn how to work on behalf of God in the world.

What’s Faith Got to Do with It?

This is all well and good as a bunch of theological talk, but is still missing a critical piece: faith. This all occurs in its context in a crisis moment, and the disciples will forget their loyalty to Jesus before we can scarcely turn the page on the conversation. However, before their abandonment, we get a preview of what will come to pass after the resurrection. It is yet to be tested by the crucible, but we get a taste of the faith that will be solidified when the disciples witness his defeat of death. In John 16:30 we read the climatic confession, “we believe that you came from God”. That curiously-worded affirmation of faith is more central to John’s gospel than is easily recognized.

“We believe that you came from God” sounds like a basic thing to affirm about Jesus, but for John’s gospel it is the critical point. Everything up until chapter 12 has been constructed to demonstrate that Jesus is in fact the one sent from God. It’s a theme hiding in plain sight, captured in language like being “from God” or “from heaven”, or in Jesus’s talk about being “sent”. The fascinating turn of the fourth gospel is that it takes this basic affirmation of Jesus’s origin and uses it to launch the mission of the disciples. Just as the father sent Jesus, so Jesus sends his disciples (20:21), and when they are doing the will of God, they have access to the same divine power that Jesus put on display. What’s the connection between what Jesus did and what the sent disciples will do? Their faith.

In coming to believe that Jesus is from God, the disciples also come to believe his invitation to share in his divinely originating power and mission. They too become “from God” because now they are “from Jesus”. John tipped his hand early on that this was God’s work in Jesus: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) In the wake of the resurrection, the disciples can truly become brothers of Jesus, sharing the same Father and God (20:17).

The Victory of Faith

There’s an old church song, “Faith is the Victory” which draws its language from 1 John 5:4-5, “…this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” The song implies that the victory is one that we, Christ’s disciples win over our enemies. However, the greater truth is that it is Jesus who becomes victorious over his enemies because of our faith. See, we may not have noticed the connection between this text (1 John 5) and John 16:33, where Jesus says to his disciples: “Take courage; I have conquered the world!”. Notice how the announcement is peculiarly located—Jesus proclaims his victory before the events of either the cross or the empty tomb. What has happened at this point that evokes this claim? It is the confession of faith from the disciples—this constitutes Jesus’s victory over the world!

Now that they believe—or perhaps better, now that they are coming to believe—Jesus has won a foothold in the world. God’s work will continue. The gospel embodied in him will be embodied in his disciples who now participate in his mission. Jesus, the Sent One, will become the sender, and the faith of his disciples will become a gateway for the power of God to work goodness in the world.

Our faith is much more powerful than we know. It is not just a vehicle for our comfort or empowerment. It is a vehicle for divine action. It is the connection point at which God’s people become partners by God’s Spirit, agents of God’s creative agenda in the world. Faith is the engine translating God’s will into human action and the restoration of God’s creation.
It is easy to underestimate our faith. I often perceive mine to be quite a weak thing—apparently much smaller than even a mustard seed. But in the hands of Jesus, even our broken faith creates enormous possibilities, and becomes a tool in God’s mission.

(If you would like to walk through a study of the “Sent” theme in John, consider the following texts in their context: 1:12-13, 3:2, 3:13, 3:17, 3:31-34, 4:34, 5:23-24, 5:36-38, 6:33, 6:46, 6:57, 7:27-29, 8:14-16, 8:23-26, 8:42, 9:4, 9:29-33, 10:36, 11:27, 12:44-45, 13:3, 14:24, 15:21, 16:27-30, 17:8, 18:36-37, 19:9, 20:21. This list is not exhaustive, and perhaps the better approach is to simply take a highlighter to a fresh copy of the gospel and mark each time the theme shows up. I assure you, you will not have to travel long between occurrences! I would love to say that the theme is plainly stated in literally every chapter of John, but alas, chapter 2 only yields 2:9, which I hold to be playful language on the theme—but I’ll let you decide for yourself.)


Steven Hovater: Four kids. One wife. Seventeen hobbies. A coach’s whistle. Lots of thoughts about God and food. The spiritual gift of volume. Blogs at stevenhovater.com, and preaches in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Links To Go (September 1, 2017)

Christians, Our Love of Politics Is Killing Christianity

Christians, we’ve got to stop loving politics. It’s bringing us more division, warping the message of Christianity we are trying to embody and is distracting us from going to heaven and taking others with us. We cannot continue our love affair with both Jesus and politics. We must choose one. For the sake of the souls of those around us, I hope we choose Jesus.


Love Isn’t the Only Thing That Matters, But It Matters Most

Isn’t it interesting how we get things backwards so often? We tend to care more about a brother’s view on worship than we do his view on war. We care more about what he believes about God than about how he treats the poor, the immigrant, and the widow. We all prioritize things. The question is, do we have the same priorities as God?


How to lead when you’re not in charge

Even when we have authority and official positions of leadership, inspiring leaders do not need to leverage their authority. “Not so with you” leaders learn that there are ways to cultivate influence and build trust. Jesus tells us this is the way to lead—by example and for the right reasons.


Most Americans – especially Millennials – say libraries can help them find reliable, trustworthy information

A large majority of Millennials (87%) say the library helps them find information that is trustworthy and reliable, compared with 74% of Baby Boomers (ages 52 to 70) who say the same. More than eight-in-ten Millennials (85%) credit libraries with helping them learn new things, compared with 72% of Boomers. And just under two-thirds (63%) of Millennials say the library helps them get information that assists with decisions they have to make, compared with 55% of Boomers.


Multilevel-marketing companies like LuLaRoe are forcing people into debt and psychological crisis

But according to a report that studied the business models of 350 MLMs, published on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, 99% of people who join multilevel-marketing companies lose money. Depending on how you look at it, it’s either a brilliant business model or a predatory practice—or a little bit of both.


MMA Star Derrick Lewis Saves Man With Confederate Flag In Hurricane Harvey

In an interview with MMA Junkie, Lewis revealed that one of the families that he rescued included a father who deeply wanted to save his confederate flag. “I picked up one guy and his family, his wife ― he just kept apologizing to me, because all he really had was his clothes, and he wanted to take his confederate flag,” Lewis said. “He wanted to take that with him, and he just apologized and said, ‘Man, I’ll sit in the back of your truck, man. I don’t want to have my flag inside of your truck like this.’ I said, ‘Man, I’m not worried about that.'”


Mexican bakers make pan dulce for hundreds of Harvey victims after becoming trapped by floods

“By the time the owner managed to get to them, they had made so much bread that we took the loaves to loads of emergency centres across the city for people affected by the floods.
“We didn’t count exactly how many loaves they made, but they used 4,400 pounds [1,996kg] of flour.”


Jet Ski-riding heroes reunite with Houston grandparents they rescued from flood zone

“We had to get out of there so I called Chick-fil-A, now that sounds kind of funny,” J.C. Spencer said in an interview on “Good Morning America” Wednesday. “I ordered two grilled chicken burritos with extra egg and a boat. And can you believe that one of the managers of Chick-fil-A, she sent her husband to pick us up and we are so grateful.”