Movie Review: I Am Not Ashamed

“I Am Not Ashamed” is the story of Rachel Joy Scott, the first girl shot at Columbine. Rachel’s family believes that she was killed for her faith. When the shooters arrived at the school, Rachel and her friend Richard were eating lunch outside. Richard told Rachel’s family that the boys shot them both from afar, then came closer, grabbed her by the hair and asked her if she still believed in God. Rachel said, “You know I do.” The shooter said, “Go be with Him then” and shot her in the head.
It’s a powerful story and made for a climactic ending for the movie. But what I found even more compelling was the story leading up to that moment. Rachel’s story isn’t just about her death; it’s about the way she chose to live her life.
13What I love about Rachel’s story is that it’s just so honest. The movie is based on Rachel’s private journals, which reveal a very authentic human struggle with how to live life for Christ. Nothing is whitewashed.
In many ways, Rachel was a typical teenager – wanting to fit in, wanting the lead in the school play, wanting to date the popular boy… but she also had a very deep desire to follow Jesus. Her story was about trying to figure out what that looks like for a late 90s American teenager. But you don’t have to be a teenager to identify with it. All of us, no matter what age, are trying to figure that out, with every new situation and every new decision. What does it look like to be a Christian in this world today, in this situation? What would Jesus do?
Rachel’s answer? Love people.
For Rachel, her faith wasn’t just about not partying, not having sex or witnessing to her friends. It was even more than confessing her faith with a gun in her face. It was about loving people where they are, as Jesus would love them.
One of the central relationships in the story is with Rachel’s friend Nate, who she met when he was living on the street. Rachel befriended him, invited him to her youth group, and friends in the group let him move in with their families and helped him find a job. She and Nate became so close that she called him her brother. The film highlighted Rachel’s kindness to a young man with Down’s Syndrome, a girl sitting alone in the cafeteria, a friend with a horrible home life, and several other students who just needed a friend. In fact, that’s the reason she and Richard were eating lunch outside together that day. His parents were getting divorced and he needed to talk.
To me, Rachel’s obvious joy and her love for others is an even louder witness for Jesus than her final words. That’s what’s truly powerful about this movie. That is her legacy. That her story would encourage all of us — when we ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?,” with each new day and each new situation — that our answer would always be love.
The movie comes out in select theaters today (10/21/16). 
Visit the I Am Not Ashamed web site.

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80 Percent of Christians Forced to Flee Iraq Since 2003

By Samuel Smith, The Christian Post. As conflicts in Iraq and Syria have forced millions of residents to flee their homes over the last several years, a leading Christian persecution activist has explained that over 80 percent of Christians have left Iraq in the last 13 years, while nearly half of all Christians have fled Syria since 2010.

Before the United States military went into Iraq in 2003, captured dictator Saddam Hussein, and opened up a power vacuum, Iraq was home to about 1.5 million Christians. But after sectarian violence commenced and the brutal Islamic State terrorist organization rose to power in 2014, fewer than 300,000 remain.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, civil war has ravaged the country over the last five years and the rise of IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) inside the country has compounded problems, thus creating one of the worst refugee crises in the 21st century.

Prior to the mass exodus from Syria over the last five years, Christians comprised about 10 percent of Syria’s population.

In a recent interview with the British news outlet Premier, Lisa Pearce, the CEO of Open Doors U.K. and Ireland, explained that the Christian population in Syria is only half of what it was in 2010. Additionally, she said that only about 17 percent of the Christians who lived in Iraq before the start of the Iraq War remain.

“Since the war began in Syria, about half of the Christians have fled the country,” Pearce, the head of one of the most prominent Christian persecution watchdog groups in the world, said. “In Iraq since 2003, five out of six Christians have left because they have completely given up hope of a future there.”


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Evangelical Anglicans Warn Bishops Of ‘Fundamental Disunity’ If Church Changes Teaching On Gay Relationships

By Harry Farley, Christian Today.

Nearly a hundred evangelical leaders have written to Church of England bishops warning that any change in teaching or practice over same-sex relationships would cause “fundamental disunity”.

The letter was sent to every bishop including the Archbishop of Canterbury on Tuesday as they consider whether to introduce some form of acceptance or blessing for gay couples. It warns the smallest change would “trigger a process of division and fragmentation among faithful Anglicans”.

The signatories include major church leaders as well as heads of Anglican networks and some of the Church’s largest theological colleges. Any shift in teaching that sex should only be within marriage between one man and one woman would “cause a break not only with the majority of the Anglican Communion, but with the consistent mind of the worldwide Church down many centuries,” they warn.

“Responses would vary, but the consequences for the life and mission of the Church will be far-reaching, both nationally and globally.”

Beneath the question of same-sex relationships were deeper “tectonic issues” including the authority of the Bible, the Church’s “apostolic inheritance” and how it relates to wider culture, the letter said.

“Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice – such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman – would represent a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine,” the letter read.


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5 Ways Persecution in Iran Has Backfired

By David Yeghnazer, The Gospel Coalition.

The Bible is full of stories reminding us that, whatever the opposition, God is always victorious.

It’s the story of Joseph before Potiphar’s wife, of Moses before Pharaoh, of Daniel before the lions, of Esther before King Ahasuerus, of Peter and John before the Council. Supremely, it’s the story of the Lord Jesus, who was crucified and rose for our salvation.

It’s also the story of the Iranian church in my lifetime. When I was a child, persecution threatened to wipe it out. Instead, the church in Iran has become the fastest-growing evangelical church in the world today—and it’s affecting the region for Christ.

Scripture is clear that God often uses his people’s suffering to advance his kingdom. In his providence, the Islamic regime’s strategies to stamp out the Persian-speaking church in Iran have backfired—resulting in further church growth. Here are five examples.

1. Banning the Bible has backfired.

In addition to banning the printing of the Bible in Persian, closing down the Bible society, and burning Bibles, Iranian government officials have warned citizens against reading the Bible. Apparently, this warning has caused many Iranians, already disillusioned with their government, to become all the more eager to obtain a copy of the Bible. And many have put their faith in Christ after finding and reading one.

A few years ago, a government official waved one of the New Testaments printed by our ministry (Elam) on national television and warned the population to avoid it. Demand for the New Testament soared as a result. Many who receive a copy through our street evangelism efforts say they’ve been searching for a copy. Some say they’ve been searching for years.

2. Closing church buildings has backfired.

The Iranian government’s closure of churches over the past few years has forced Christians of Muslim background to meet in underground house churches.


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Evangelical Campus Ministry (InterVarsityUSA) Decides Employees Should Hold Evangelical Beliefs on Marriage

By Ed Stetzer, The Exchange.

InterVarsity is an Evangelical Christian organization, and people who work at InterVarsity are, not surprisingly, expected to hold evangelical beliefs.

Or, you could state it as Elisabeth Dias of TIME Magazine did:

One of the largest evangelical organizations on college campuses nationwide has told its 1,300 staff members that will be fired if they personally support gay marriage or otherwise disagree with its newly detailed positions on sexuality starting on Nov. 11.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA says that it will start a process for “involuntary terminations” for any staffer who comes forward to disagree with its positions on human sexuality, which holds that any sexual activity outside of a husband and wife is immoral.

In other words, InterVarsity now has the same policy of most evangelical churches.

Furthermore, InferVarsity provided a statement explaining:

The Time article buries the most relevant info, which is that this was a four-year process that was telegraphed and communicated to staff. No one was caught flat-footed or surprised. Recognizing that some staff felt this was theologically contested ground, we opened up a time of 18 months for them to research and discern their convictions on this issue, as well as learn about our convictions. The goal was to clarify our position while also providing ample time for those whose convictions differed to seek out better-fitting ministry opportunities.
Parts of this process were hard and painful, but it was not abrupt, or a shock.

So, why is this news? Well, the Internet is abuzz with outrage and now stories are hitting the mainstream media.

But why is it news that Evangelicals think their ministry staff should hold mainstream evangelical beliefs?

It’s becuase there is a new orthodoxy, and the old one just won’t do for many.

The New Orthdoxy

The new orthodoxy says that you have to bend your beliefs to fit it.

But InterVarsity has a different view—the mainsteam evangelical view. And, such views do cost you today.

And, ultimately, every organization with the beliefs of old orthodoxy will face a moment like this.


Related link: InterVarsity’s Fidelity to Orthodoxy Deserves our Appreciation

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United Methodist Association Forms to Push for Tough Line on Gays

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Religion News Service.

Undoing the election of the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church will be a primary goal when 1,500 Methodist evangelicals gather this week in Chicago to found a new renewal group, according to organizers.

At the inaugural meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association on Friday (Oct. 7), charter members will outline their expectations for a soon-to-be-appointed denominational commission to discuss the conflict over sexuality.

The United Methodist Church is hoping to prevent a schism in the wake of Bishop Karen Oliveto’s July election to lead the denomination’s Western Jurisdiction, which covers 11 states from Arizona to Alaska.

In Chicago, the WCA plans to send a pre-emptive message about what Methodist evangelicals in the United States, Africa and Asia will need to see in any proposal from the commission.

“A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and their understandings of Scripture, or that allows for varieties of beliefs and practices within the global communion of the church, isn’t acceptable to most evangelicals,” said Jeff Greenway, lead pastor of Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church in Ohio and a member of the WCA’s board of directors.

Activists want the commission to reaffirm the church’s ban on ordained leadership by “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Formal statements are already in the works.

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Visit the web site of the Wesleyan Covenant Association

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Movie Review of Voiceless: How Is God Asking You to Respond?


Voiceless comes out Oct 7 in select theaters.

Reviewed by Kathy Larson.

Voiceless is the story of Jesse Dean, a young war veteran who moves to Philadelphia to start an inner city outreach program at his wife’s home church and feels compelled to protest an abortion clinic across the street from the church. The movie is beautifully shot and well-acted, which makes it a major step up from a lot of Christian movies. Cinematographer Joseph Hennigan deserves a lot of credit for the quality of this film; it really looks beautiful.

The story was an interesting take on the topic of abortion. It’s not from the perspective of a woman struggling with the decision or a woman who has had an abortion, or a woman working in a clinic, or a woman at all. It’s through the perspective of a man who didn’t start out intending to be an activist, but became one. It was very clear that the message of the film was pro-life, and even pro-activist. It definitely felt like the film was telling us to go out there and protest. But what I greatly appreciated about the film is that it didn’t vilify the manager of the abortion clinic. Her character showed us that those on the other side of the issue are just trying to do what they think is right, too. There was a moment where she shared her viewpoint, her heart: “What I wanted is to provide a safe place for women to get the care that they deserve.”

In that same conversation, the manager of the clinic asks Jesse, “What makes someone decide to be a protester, or whatever you call yourself? To take it to that level?” Jesse answered, “I just feel compelled to do it.” And that’s where I think this film makes you think. Makes you wonder. Makes you ask yourself that same question. Do I feel compelled? If so, why? If not, why not?

Many of us would call ourselves pro-life, but it would never occur to us to protest an abortion clinic. After all, we live in a democracy. Abortion is legal. Not everyone believes the same way we do about abortion. This is a land of religious freedom and a woman’s right to choose. So, let them choose what is right for them and me what is right for me. That’s America.

This film says that’s not enough. This film encourages protesting, or as the manager says, “taking it to that level.” What do you think? Is God calling you to do more? If He is calling you to do more, what does that “more” look like? How do we live as believers in a pluralistic society? Is protesting an abortion clinic the best way to share the gospel with our community or is there some other way God is calling us to respond?

It’s a very, very brief moment, but when Jesse gets arrested for his protests, one of the other characters in the film, a member of the church who is passionate about evangelism, but is worried this isn’t the best way to do it says, “We’re supposed to be saving souls, not pushing them away.” The film kind of seems to dismiss his question, but I think it is a really valid one. Does taking part in the ‘culture wars’ in this way actually end up pushing people away from the gospel? How do we weigh that against the precious lives of the children it may save? How do we live as believers in an increasingly secular culture? What ‘battles’ do we choose to ‘fight’ and why and how?

These are very complicated, multi-layered questions to ask ourselves, and something that can’t be easily answered by just watching a movie. I would strongly encourage all of our congregations to use this film and others like it as a discussion starter for your congregations. Don’t just watch the movie and dismiss it because you’re not “the activist type.” Or on the other side, use it as a way to pressure other people to become more of an activist. Use it to stretch your own way of thinking and to ask yourself the hard questions, to discuss in your churches and families and small groups, to ask yourselves how God is calling you to respond.

Kathy Larson is the director of Christian Education and Creative Arts at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C.

Watch the tailer:

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Evangelicals’ Favorite Heresies Revisited by Researchers

By Caleb Lindgren, Christianity Today.

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How well does the average American understand basic Christian doctrine? For that matter, how about the average evangelical?

Perhaps not all that differently. And perhaps it matters how the questions are asked.

Reprising their ground-breaking study from two years ago, LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries released an update today on the state of American theology in 2016. Researchers surveyed 3,000 adults to measure their agreement with a set of 47 statements about Christian theology—everything from the divinity of Christ to the nature of salvation to the importance of regular church attendance.

About two-thirds of Americans said that God accepts the worship of Christians, Jews, and Muslims (64%); around the same number agreed strongly or somewhat that there is one true God (69%), that he is perfect (65%), and that he still answers prayers (66%).

Of the 3,000 respondents, LifeWay identified 586 as evangelicals by belief: those who strongly agreed that the Bible is the highest authority for Christian belief; that personal evangelism is very important; that Jesus’ death on the cross was the only way to cancel the penalty of sin; and that trusting in Jesus is the only way to eternal salvation.

In the previous study, evangelicals identified themselves. The results revealed that they had a surprising level of confusion surrounding core Christian doctrine, including whether Jesus was fully divine, whether the Holy Spirit was a force or a personal being, and whether salvation depends on God or humans making the first move.

But this year’s study showed similar results, indicating that not only are those who self-identify as evangelical confused about the basic tenets of their faith, but so are those who fit the National Association of Evangelicals’s definition of evangelicals based on their stated beliefs.


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The State of the Church 2016

The Barna Group.

The Christian church has been a cornerstone of American life for centuries, but much has changed in the last 30 years. Americans are attending church less, and more people are experiencing and practicing their faith outside of its four walls. Millennials in particular are coming of age at a time of great skepticism and cynicism toward institutions—particularly the church. Add to this the broader secularizing trend in American culture, and a growing antagonism toward faith claims, and these are uncertain times for the U.S. church. Based on a large pool of data collected over the course of this year, Barna conducted an analysis on the state of the church, looking closely at affiliation, attendance and practice to determine the overall health of Christ’s Body in America.

Most Americans Identify as Christian

Debates continue to rage over whether the United States is a “Christian” nation. Some believe the Constitution gives special treatment or preference to Christianity, but others make their claims based on sheer numbers—and they have a point: Most people in this country identify as Christian. Almost three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they are a Christian, while only one-fifth (20%) claim no faith at all (that includes atheists and agnostics). A fraction (6%) identify with faiths like Islam, Buddhism, Judaism or Hinduism, and 1 percent are unsure. Not only do most Americans identify as Christian, but a similar percentage (73%) also agree that religious faith is very important in their life (52% strongly agree + 21% somewhat agree).

Attending Church Is a Good Indicator of Faith Practice

Even though a majority of Americans identify as Christian and say religious faith is very important in their life, these huge proportions belie the much smaller number of Americans who regularly practice their faith. When a variable like church attendance is added to the mix, a majority becomes the minority. When a self-identified Christian attends a religious service at least once a month and says their faith is very important in their life, Barna considers that person a “practicing Christian.” After applying this triangulation of affiliation, self-identification and practice, the numbers drop to around one in three U.S. adults (31%) who fall under this classification. Barna researchers argue this represents a more accurate picture of Christian faith in America, one that reflects the reality of a secularizing nation.



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How Can The Church Thrive In A Non-Christian World?

If our churches have to be a little more uncomfortable to us insiders in order to reach even one lost soul for Christ, that’s a sacrifice we should all be willing to make.

By Ed Stetzer, The Exchange.

73011As we all know, it’s election season. This isn’t ever a rosy time for America, filled with rainbows and warm hugs. But if the political season of 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that the United States is culturally confused. Competing narratives vie for attention, as we’re trying to figure out just who we are as a country. There was a time in our history when it seemed like everyone was a Christian. Now, depending on where in America you live, it can seem like no one is a Christian.

Are we losing our Christian heritage? Were we ever a Christian nation to begin with? And how should churches respond to all of this?

However you read our country’s history, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we have reached a cultural tipping point. Our society no longer assumes the gospel, which means the Church often stands at odds with the rest of society. That may make us uncomfortable and frightened. We like being in the majority.

But the gospel is always clearer in an age when it is not culturally assumed. The Early Church thrived in the midst of a hostile non-Christian world—not because they were more numerous or more powerful, but because they were both .


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