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Do You Really Care about Evangelism? If So, You Need To Do More Than Pray

Fri, 09/03/2018 - 10:03pm

Prayer is the starting point, not the endpoint, of our journey in helping people from darkness to light.

We are likely all familiar with Jonah, who was a prophet of the Lord.

Jonah lived during a time of relative prosperity for the nation of Israel; however, there was, of course, some trouble brought on by a certain city: Nineveh. As the capital of the Assyrian empire, Nineveh and those residing within her walls were known throughout the ancient world for their infatuation with brutality and violence.

Every Israelite from the tall to the small knew that the Ninevites were bad news— and so did Jonah. That’s why when God told him to go to the city to preach a prophetic message, he looked the other way.

Many of us read this story of the legendary man who spent time in the belly of the whale and wonder how he managed to disobey God so blatantly. We pat ourselves on the back whilst enthusiastically reassuring ourselves that we could never manage to behave that badly.

After all, if God called us to go and share his word we’d eagerly go, right?

The Ninevite in the Mirror

If we’re being honest, each of us has our own Ninevites— the sometimes unpleasant, occasionally disagreeable people whom God has called us to witness to. They’re our nosy next-door neighbors, unkind co-workers, and grumpy grocery store clerks.

Like Jonah, we might not feel like loving them or feel like sharing Christ’s message of redemption with them. Nevertheless, scripture is clear: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation…” (Isa. 52:7).

Now, maybe some of us feel that we’re doing what we can right now to share the gospel. Instead of reaching out and trying to connect with our neighbors as we should, we choose ...

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C. J. Mahaney Withdraws from T4G

Wed, 07/03/2018 - 10:02pm

Following Rachael Denhollander’s Sovereign Grace claims, the former SGM president once again says he wants to avoid distracting from the event.

C. J. Mahaney announced today that he will back out of next month’s Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference to keep the controversy over Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) away from the event.

“Given the recent, renewed controversy surrounding Sovereign Grace Churches and me individually, I have decided to withdraw from the 2018 T4G conference,” Mahaney wrote.

Over the past several weeks, Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast whose Larry Nassar testimony went viral, has used her platform to address abuse in the church, particularly years-old allegations of abuse at Covenant Life Church, where Mahaney—the former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM)—had served as senior pastor.

Though the 2012 case against SGM was dismissed in court, Denhollander has repeatedly challenged the church network’s claims, most recently in a 7,800-word statement posted on Facebook last Thursday.

Currently the pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Mahaney has continued to state that he is innocent of the claims made against him and that the ongoing characterizations of Sovereign Grace are untrue.

“I categorically reject the suggestion that I have ever conspired to cover up sexual abuse or other wrong-doing,” he wrote on Wednesday.

Mahaney did not participate in the 2014 T4G conference due to the lawsuits against the ministry at that time, and he opted to once again to step away from the event he has put on for over a decade with fellow Reformed leaders Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan and Albert Mohler.

“This conference exists to serve pastors with the gospel and exalt the Lord Jesus. I want to do all I can to promote that purpose,” his statement said. “Mark, Lig, Al and the other ...

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Hero Making: The Story of One Man Who Invested in Billy Graham, Changing the Course of His Ministry

Tue, 06/03/2018 - 3:50pm

All of us can and should look for people to invest our time, efforts, and energy in.

Many people have been talking about Rev. Billy Graham since his passing on February 21, 2018, and appropriately so. Having attended his funeral and hosted the radio coverage on many networks, I spent much time brushing up on Billy Graham history to share as color commentary during the radio broadcast.

However, what was also helpful was that, in that preparation, I was able to share something at the Exponential Conference in Orlando related to ‘hero-making’.

The Exponential Conference this year was built around the theme of people who have invested their lives in other people and were not themselves the heroes, but made other heroes. Now, let me say first that I think Billy Graham's ministry has largely been defined by pointing to someone other than himself.

In my latest CNN article I explained that Billy Graham is famous largely for trying to make someone else (Jesus) more famous. In other words, his life was largely driven by the ministry of telling people about Jesus instead of talking about himself.

Elner Edman as a ‘hero maker’

However, one of the stories that may surprise many people is the story that I shared during my mainstage session at the Exponential Conference. My colleagues at the Billy Graham Center, Paul Erickson and Bob Schuster, shared with me one example of a hero maker by the name of Elner Edman.

Elner was the brother of V. Raymond Edman, a past president of Wheaton College. Elner and Herman Fischer, who was on the Wheaton Board of Trustees at the time, were on vacation golfing in Florida. There, they met Graham, who was then a student at the Florida Bible Institute, a then-unaccredited Bible college (today, it is Trinity College in the Tampa Area).

They listened to Billy preach, but ...

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Congrats, Billy: Stats Show Your Evangelical Movement Is Still Going Strong

Sat, 03/03/2018 - 12:46am

Born-again believers have kept the faith over four decades, while most religious switching has been between mainline Protestants and the “nones.”

Editor’s note: In 2014, CT reported how a massive survey by the Pew Research Center found that American evangelicals were weathering the “rise of the nones” much better than other Christian groups. Today, as Billy Graham’s funeral takes place, an analysis of social science data shows the movement the 99-year-old evangelist embodied remains surprisingly strong.

The religious landscape is a volatile one, with nearly 1 in 5 Americans switching their religious tradition from 2010 to 2014.

We’ve previously examined how Protestants and Catholics changed churches, as well as which segment of the religiously unaffiliated returned to church most, during that four-year window examined by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES).

However, what happens when the time period under study is expanded, from four years to more than four decades? Are evangelicals managing to hold on to their share of the US population? Have those with no religion made significant gains? And what is causing the shifts?

The General Social Survey (GSS) has tracked religious affiliation biannually, beginning in 1972. It provides an unmatched summation of a generation of religious movement. The visualization below, which displays the distribution of seven major religious traditions, tells a compelling story.

For smaller groups, the movement is relatively minor. Since the early 1980s, the Jewish share dropped by about a single point; black Protestants stayed relatively stable; and those with “other faith” remained about 6 percent of the US population.

Similarly, evangelicals and Catholics have almost the same proportions of the population as they had back in 1972. While evangelicals saw a surge in the early 1990s, that ...

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The 6 Songs Billy Graham Picked for His Funeral

Fri, 02/03/2018 - 6:46pm

The evangelist planned his own ceremony. Experts analyze the music he chose.

As Billy Graham is laid to rest in North Carolina today, the 2,000 invited funeral attendees will listen to—or sing together—six songs. Graham, who planned his own funeral, was the one who chose them.

In this, he seems to have taken the path of his longtime music director Cliff Barrows.

“I want a lot of music,” Barrows instructed Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) choir director Tom Bledsoe before he died in 2016. “And I want the people to sing.”

Graham’s six picks:

  1. “Until Then” (Stuart Hamblen, 1958), performed by musical artist Linda McCrary-Fisher
  2. “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” (Edward Perronet, 1779), congregational singing led by Tom Bledsoe
  3. “Above All” (Lenny LeBlanc and Paul Baloche, 1999), performed by musical artist Michael W. Smith
  4. “Because He Lives” (Bill and Gloria Gaither, 1970), performed by Gaither Vocal Band
  5. “To God Be the Glory” (Fanny Crosby/William Howard Doane, 1875), congregational singing led by Tom Bledsoe
  6. Amazing Grace, bagpipe escort led by Pipe Major William Boetticher

CT asked several worship and hymnody experts what they thought of Graham’s choices:

John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of worship, theology, and congregational and ministry studies at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary:

Each of these songs echoes central themes in Graham's ministry: All glory be to Jesus, whose death and resurrection set us free from sin. There is also a steady focus here on life with Jesus in heaven, a hallmark of evangelical piety, a strong emphasis on one's own individual and personal affirmation of faith, and a warmth of affection. ...

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Billy Graham’s Funeral Today Will Be His ‘Last Crusade’

Fri, 02/03/2018 - 3:46pm

Dispatches from the evangelist’s memorial service, which he planned years before his death last week at 99.

After spending his life traveling the world to rally millions for Christ, Billy Graham returns today to his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, to be laid to rest in a ceremony deemed his final crusade.

More than 2,000 guests—including 200 members of Graham’s family, Christian leaders from 50 countries, and dignitaries such as President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence—will gather at noon Friday for the funeral. Graham himself planned out the ceremony more than a decade ago, hoping that even his death could continue to point people to the gospel.

This last crusade will take place in front of the Billy Graham Library in a towering, 28,000-square-foot white tent meant to evoke the “canvas cathedral” where the evangelist held one of his first crusades in 1949 in Los Angeles.

Christianity Today will be reporting from today’s funeral, and this post will continue to be updated with dispatches from the event.

“When I pulled up to the parking lot, I thought that it was so fitting to that all the satellites and trucks were here. It would have been exactly what he wanted, that the Word would go out and people would hear the name of Jesus today,” said Bible teacher Beth Moore, one of dozens of influential Christian leaders gathered under the funeral tent.

The ceremony comes over a week after Graham’s death at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, last Wednesday at age 99, and follows multiple days of public memorials in both Charlotte and Washington, where Graham became the fourth American in history to lay in honor in the US Capitol.

The funeral participants—a mix of family members and ministry partners—reflect Graham’s booming legacy.

His eldest son, Franklin ...

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Preparing for Rev. Billy Graham’s Memorial Service, and Reflecting on His Love for Our Hurting World

Wed, 28/02/2018 - 3:13pm

Truly effective evangelism is a matter of friendship, mentorship, and unconditional love.

Nearly a week after Rev. Billy Graham’s death, so many around our world are still mourning. Closed-casket viewings will take place in Graham’s childhood home on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library where the Billy Graham Association is expecting long lines and many visitors. These public viewings will be followed by a funeral service this Friday in Washington, D.C.

Before the invitation-only service, though, Rev. Graham’s body will lie in repose in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s important to note that this privilege is regularly given to U.S. presidents, members of Congress, Supreme Court judges, and elite military personnel; rarely, though, are citizens outside these particular realms of public service given such an honor.

Looking at the size and scale of these proceedings, it becomes clear that Rev. Billy Graham wasn’t just beloved by some small ground of fundamentalist followers. You don’t have to be a Bible-thumper, church-goer, or even call yourself a Christian to love and respect this man.

Former President George H.W. Bush, reflecting on Graham’s legacy, said:

His [Graham’s] faith in Christ and his totally honest evangelical spirit inspired people across the country and around the world. I think Billy touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man.

President Bush is right. Rev. Graham was a man who appealed to all people—believers and unbelievers—because of his exemplary character. There is much that we, the church, can learn from his leadership and legacy of outreach even today in our 21st century context.

Cultural Trends

Newsflash: we live in a broken world. The realities of human ...

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‘Queen Esther Inspired Me to Speak Up,’ Says Nassar Victim

Wed, 28/02/2018 - 3:13pm

A biblical role model prompted Larissa Boyce to stand against her abuser. Her church supports her story.

Two decades before the public learned of Larry Nassar’s abuse against several hundred gymnasts, 16-year-old Larissa Boyce made the first attempt to report him. Her coach at Michigan State University (MSU), who was also a friend of Nassar, quashed her claims. The unsympathetic coach interrogated Boyce, leading her to think she misunderstood proper medical treatment for her back injury.

“I told somebody. I told an adult,” Boyce said. “I told Michigan State University back in 1997. Instead of being protected, I was humiliated. I was in trouble and brainwashed into believing I was the problem.”

Boyce said Nassar’s abuse began after the first two treatment visits, once her parents stopped coming with her, and lasted four years. During the appointment following her effort to report him, she received harsher abuse than before. “I didn’t know what to do. I was in shock,” Boyce said.

She sat in her car after the visit, crumpled up her checkout sheet, threw it in the back of the car, and asked herself, “What the heck just happened?” As a teen, Boyce learned to ignore it, cope, and eventually suppress what happened during those visits, since she had been told that it was okay.

Once Rachael Denhollander spoke out against Nassar in 2016, Boyce was still conditioned to defend him. She thought Denhollander was mistaken. Encouraged to contact lawyers but unable to evoke most details of her “treatments,” Boyce resolved to return to her gymnastics training arena, Jenison Fieldhouse at MSU. She walked around trying to remember specifics, which flooded back into her mind after seeing her former coach’s office.

That visit was the turning point for Boyce to go public ...

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Preaching Redemption Amidst Racism: Remembering Billy Graham

Tue, 27/02/2018 - 3:13pm

Carl Ellis, Jr. reflects on the impact of Rev. Billy Graham on race relations and culture today.

When I was a young campus minister working with Tom Skinner Associates, I had the honor of meeting Dr. William Franklin Graham twice. I remember him as an approachable man, not given to living out the greatness of his own press. I actively participated in his evangelistic crusades whenever they were in or near my city, and I would do so again today without hesitation.

Although several of Dr. Graham's early Southern crusades were racially segregated, he came to see segregation as inconsistent with the gospel. In the early 1950s, he began refusing to speak in some segregated auditoriums. Before the start of the 1953 Chattanooga Crusade, he personally took down the ropes intended to enforce segregation, telling two of the ushers, "Either these ropes stay down or you can go on and have the revival without me." [1]

Yet after that, he acquiesced to preaching in segregated venues in Asheville, North Carolina, and Dallas, Texas. At times, Rev. Graham made statements that seemed to reveal a lack of awareness of the connection between segregation and sin. At other times, he forcefully condemned White racism. By the mid-1950s, he courageously and consistently defied Jim Crow laws by insisting that all crusades be conducted on a non-segregated basis.

At the 1957 New York Crusade, Graham welcomed Thomas Kilgore and Gardner Taylor (both African American Pastors) onto the crusade's executive committee, [2] and openly called for "anti-segregation legislation." [3] He also had Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. join him in the pulpit at the crusade.

Later, Dr. King praised Dr. Graham for his commitment to non-segregation:

I am deeply grateful to you for the stand which you have taken in the area of race relations. You have ...

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What to Give Up for Lent 2018? Consider Twitter’s Top 100 Ideas

Tue, 27/02/2018 - 3:13pm

(UPDATED) On the first VaLENTine's Day since WWII, it appears chocolate and alcohol will be absent from many dates.

Once again, you can follow in real time what Twitter users say they are giving up for Lent, which this year begins on Wednesday, February 14.

Last year, food items were three times as popular to abstain from as technology items or personal habits, according to 73,334 tweets analyzed by OpenBible.info’s Stephen Smith during the week of Ash Wednesday 2017. Alcohol ranked No. 1 for the first time since his project began in 2009.

This year, the creator of the Twitter Lent Tracker “expected relationship-related tweets to run higher than usual” because Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day. (Also, Easter coincides with April Fools’ Day.)

“Social networking topped the [2018] list, followed by Twitter, alcohol, chocolate, and swearing,” wrote Smith in his final analysis, based on 29,609 tweets (excluding retweets). “It was a fairly typical year, with the top 5 the same as last year (though in a different order) except for swearing, which came in at No. 6 last year, behind chips.”

Here is how the top 6 ideas of 2018 have trended over time:

Smith was most curious last year about how high Donald Trump would rank among perennial favorites such as social networking, alcohol, and chocolate. The President ended up finishing No. 22 in 2017, up from No. 82 in 2016. In 2018, he finished No. 67.

Meanwhile, LifeWay Research offered a chance to compare Twitter’s serious vs. sarcastic sharers last year via its study on what Americans who observe the Lenten season before Easter say they actually give up.

Of note: 3 in 10 Americans with evangelical beliefs (28%) say they observe Lent; of these, 42 percent typically fast from a favorite food or beverage while 71 percent typically attend ...

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Sovereign Grace Disputes Rachael Denhollander’s Remarks

Tue, 27/02/2018 - 3:13pm

As former gymnast advocates for victims in the church, SGC calls her take on its past scandal “not true.”

Comments by Larry Nassar accuser Rachael Denhollander in a Christianity Today interview have revived debate over a dismissed abuse lawsuit against Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) dating back to 2012.

Last week, Denhollander referred to the SGM saga as “one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse” and “one of the most well-documented cases of institutional cover-up I have ever seen.”

The 33-year-old said her former church’s stance toward victims and involvement in restoring former SGM president C. J. Mahaney led her family to leave the congregation.

Sovereign Grace Churches (SGC) issued a statement dated February 2 calling her characterizations untrue, citing the 2014 dismissal of a civil case against SGM. (In a separate case, a former youth leader with SGM had been convicted of abuse.)

SGC executive director Mark Prater said, in part:

We thank God for Rachael’s courage in confronting Nassar and commend her invaluable work on behalf of other abuse victims. Like so many, we were impressed by her faithful witness to Christ in such difficult circumstances.

At the same time, it needs to be said that she is mistaken in her accusations made against Sovereign Grace Churches and C. J. Mahaney. The Christianity Today article publicly mischaracterizes Sovereign Grace and C. J. based on accusations of which Rachael had no involvement and which are not true and have never been true.

It’s extremely difficult to respond to false accusations without appearing unsympathetic to victims of abuse. It is our sincere hope that this brief statement has done both by speaking truthfully, respectfully, and in a way that honors God.

Denhollander, whose gospel-infused testimony ...

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