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Free Resource from The Reconnect: How to Use The Shack Movie to Talk With Others

As a book, The Shack has sold more than 20 million copies. That’s a huge number. It also claims to be Christian and has been sold as such. That, it turns out, is a controversial claim.

The ShackThe Shack is back, now as a movie. As with all novels, it is essential that we recognize fiction is fiction. But this particular fiction claims to tell us the truth about God, and we need to figure out what to do with that.

Christians need to prepare to engage in conversations with the millions of people who will see The Shack and be prepared to walk with them from Mack’s experience with God in the movie into their own.

We need Christians who are equipped to engage with people whose view of God, themselves, their relationships and their world are going to be radically transformed by this movie. Are you ready?

Be ready to enter into these conversations equipped with truth and grace, with this free resource How to use The Shack to talk with others.

Click here to get your copy of How to use The Shack to talk with others. 

 

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Where is Carmen? On The Radio

“Where’s Carmen?” is a question that I’ve been hearing with increasing frequency from friends in all branches of the Presbyterian family.  The answer is: On the radio!  Every weekday from 3-4 p.m. Eastern time, streaming on the internet and available 24-7 via podcast at ReconnectWithCarmen.com.

Every day on The Reconnect we reconnect the eternal with the everyday, equipping listeners to serve as effective Ambassadors of the Kingdom of God in the kingdoms of this world. So many of our conversations are marked by giving people a piece of our mind when what they really need is the peace of the mind of Christ. So, we help listeners cultivate the mind of Christ on the matters of the day and then communicate in ways that honor Jesus.

For example, “fake news” is a term that entered our lexicon in 2016. Intentionally false stories with click-bait headlines were shared millions of times in the run up to the U.S. Presidential election. Some people are trying to stop the spread of fake news whilst others fan the flame and expand the meaning as if anything with which we disagree is now fake news. What is the Christian worldview on that? How does a Christian address and deal with the issue of fake news in our post-truth culture?

We declare that Truth, along with goodness and beauty, are the three transcendental virtues defined by God. People may debate what is virtuous but without an immovable eternal standard (God), morality devolves to the least common denominator. In that devolution truth is suppressed and goodness is perverted and beauty is distorted. In the midst of that reality those who follow Jesus, who is the way and the truth and the life, are challenged to shine like stars, holding out the Word of Truth as living demonstrations of the Gospel.

That kind of witness needs constant encouragement and that’s what we do every day on The Reconnect.

We encourage listeners to live in the freedom real truth provides and take God back into every conversation, representing God’s eternal perspective in the matters of the day.

To share more with you about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, join me on one of our upcoming Ask Carmen conference calls:

April 3 at 11:30 am Eastern, 10:30 Central, 9:30 Mtn, 8:30 Pacific

April 6 at 6 pm Eastern, 5 Central, 4 Mtn, 3 Pacific

April 10 at 12:30 pm Eastern, 11:30 Central, 10:30 Mtn, 9:30 Pacific

April 13 at 6 pm Eastern, 5 Central, 4 Mtn, 3 Pacific

RSVP for one of the above days and times by calling 1-800-368-0110, emailing jlee@layman.org or by visiting http://tinyurl.com/CarmenCall

On the day of the call, at the appointed time, you will join by calling 319-527-2829 and entering Passcode 763026.

I look forward to talking with you and fielding your questions!

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Love That Endures Forever; What We All Need This Valentine’s Day

(Blog originally posted 2/12/16. Updated on 2/14/17). Life is fleeting but love endures forever. By tomorrow, Valentine’s Day will be over. The roses and chocolates and cards will be history, but we will still need to know that we are loved. 

My husband sat on the steps and held out a ring. It was large and worn and engraved with a date from 1966. He keeps it in a drawer and puts it on from time to time. His uncle Paul made it and it belonged to his dad. We talked and then he said, “This ring is going to be around even when I’m not.” Yes dear, you’re right.

Life is fleeting but love endures. Even when in human relationships there has been disappointment and heartbreak and neglect, somehow love endures. Even when the relationship was not all that you had hoped or would have wanted, somehow love endures. We are not always patient and we are not always kind, but love endures.

Today is Valentine’s Day and I’m holding out hope that the focus will be less on the fleeting emotion of cards, candies, roses and hearts and more focused on the love that endures forever.

1 John 4:7-16 says “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows GodAnyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Knowing someone by the fruit of their life, by what is produced through their thoughts, words and deeds, is an oft repeated biblical refrain. In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus affirms that “by their fruits you shall know them” and in Galatians 5 we learn that the first fruit the Holy Spirit produces in a believer’s is love.

The passage in I John goes on to say that “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”valentine john 3 16

That sounds a lot like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life.”  That is really God’s valentine to each of us.

Continuing in I John, we read, “11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

As Christians we are supposed to be living demonstrations of God’s character in all the fullness of its beauty and truth. God is love, but God is also holy and God is Great and God is Good. God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  When we re-present God to others we do so by speaking the truth in love, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help us God.  The challenge is always to present God’s character, not some caricature of my own imagining.   Why? Because life is fleeting and love endures forever.

People need to know God, not me. People need to know the name of Jesus, not my name.  My life is fleeting, His love endures forever.

The I John passage concludes, “13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

 Where does your love abide this Valentine’s day? In the fleeting nature of this life or in the God who is love and in whom love endures forever?

The lover of your soul has sent you a valentine. His name is Jesus. All He wants in return is your heart. Valentine’s day is a good day to give it to Him. You can trust Him to hold it in love, forever.

 

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Seven Words to Watch and Reclaim in 2017

Words and images can be intentionally co-opted by those seeking to advance particular ideological agendas— without evening know it. If we don’t know what a boy is then groups like the Boy Scouts and leagues for boys and girls sports lose all meaning.  Consider the way in which the image of the rainbow has now communicates capitulation to and celebration of a sexual revolution that runs totally afoul the original bow set in the sky by God in Genesis 9.

So in 2017, here is a new call: be watchful about how words and images transform before our very eyes and take on new meaning.

In a time when many groups are defending culturally distinctive ideas and words, Christians need to reclaim a few of our own.  Here’s my list of misunderstood and misused words to be reclaimed in 2017 …

Read more on The Reconnect blog

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Surveying Our 2016 Walk with Christ and Charting a Course for Spiritual Growth in 2017

Think of this as an exercise in taking a year-end inventory of your life and cultivating the spiritual soil for an abundant harvest in the year ahead.

Taking stock of your spiritual life

Get out your 2016 calendar, your journal, your Bible and your check register. Slowly, soberly look through them and take stock.

Bible

  • Make an inventory of the books of the Bible you read through in 2016. How much of the Bible did you read? Did you start the year with a reading plan? Did you follow it? Did you finish it? If not, when do you stop and why?
  • Take stock of the Bible studies you attended, participated in or did individually in 2016. What did God teach you? How did God conform you more fully to His will through the examination and apprehension of His Word in your life?
  • Look through your sermon notes. What did you learn from the proclamation of the Word in the past year?

Calendar

  • Count up the number of days you spent intentionally alone in Sabbath with the Lord.
  • Count up the Sundays you were in worship.
  • Count up the holidays you actually set aside as holy unto the Lord.
  • Count up the investments of time, talent and resources you made advancing God’s Kingdom purposes through mission work or Christian service.
  • Count up the divine appointments you kept along the way as you walked day by day, moment by moment, with the Lord your God.

Check register

  • Do an honest accounting of your financial giving to the Church and to explicitly Christian ministries.

Reflect

Read Galatians 5:22-25:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

  • Do an honest fruit inspection. Where is there evidence of each fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life?
  • Was the 2016 harvest of righteousness greater than 2015? 2014?
  • Can you see evidence of growth in grace and production of righteousness in your life? Where is pruning needed that greater growth might occur in the year ahead?

Journal

  • Write it all down in your journal as an accounting before the Lord for 2016. Spend time praying about the “return” God received over the past year from His investment in you.
  • What verse or story from Scripture was really your life verse in 2016? Now, turning the page, consider what verse you desire to live into in 2017?

Spiritual planning for abundance in 2017

Get a 2017 calendar, a blank journal, a new check register, your Bible and a pen with indelible ink.

Write your life verse, the verse you desire to whole-heartedly live into in 2017, on the front page of your journal and on the blank space that appears before the numbered days of each month on the calendar.

As you make plans for the year ahead, consider your plan for monthly, weekly and daily exercises in discipleship. Make a Bible reading plan. Plan for real Sabbath time. Plan for authentic worship. Plan for genuine times of retreat and holy-days (times that are set apart as holy unto the Lord). This is not vacation or recreation; this is Sabbath rest with the Lord your God. Plan for real Christian fellowship with believers who will sharpen you and hold you to account. Plan when and where you will invest yourself in Christian service and pray that the Lord will make you aware of the divine appointments He has already set.

Consider that whatever else you “do” in 2017 your real calling is a moment-by-moment, obedient, faithful walk in the Spirit that leads to a life worthy of bearing the name of Christ into the world. Consider setting a goal for 2017 of living into and up to Ephesians 4:1-3 and II Thessalonians 1:11-12.

Expect of yourself to actively and intentionally:

  • Seek to have the mind of Christ in all things
  • Seek to manifest the spirit of Christ in all situations
  • Seek to demonstrate the manner of Christ in every moment
  • Seek to advance the Kingdom of Christ in all that you say and do – and in the way you do it In order to do that, you’re going to need a plan.

Cultivate the mind of Christ.

Cultivate the manner of Christ: become a person of prayer and humble service

Cultivate the spirit of Christ

Hone your witness to Christ

Colossians 3:17 reads:

“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.”

At the end of each day, take stock.

At the end of each week, take stock.

At the end of each month, take stock.

At the end of each quarter write up a report to the Lord.

Give Him an accounting for the return on His investment in you.

At the end of next year, the harvest of righteousness will be abundant!

Related article:

Making Goals for 2017: Reading Scripture, Theology Mix

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Hope Has a Name, and It’s Not ‘Barack’

During an interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, First Lady Michelle Obama unmasked our national political problem.

Oprah asked, “Your husband’s administration, everything, was all about hope. Do you think that this administration achieved that?”

Here is the response:

Yes, I do. Because we feel the difference now. Now, we’re feeling what not having hope feels like. Hope is necessary. It’s a necessary concept. Barack didn’t just talk about hope because he thought it was a nice slogan to get votes. He and I and so many believe, that what else do you have if you don’t have hope? What do you give your kids if you can’t give them hope? Our children respond to crises the way they see us respond. It’s like the toddler that bumps his head on the table, and they look up at you to figure out whether it hurts, if you’re like, “Oh my god,” they’re crying. If you’re like, “You know what? Babe it’s okay,” it’s okay.

What do we do if we don’t have hope? The answer is simple and it’s about the source.

The First Lady is right in recognizing hope is essential. But hope is much more than a political concept. In fact, it’s not a concept at all. Hope is a person. The problem Mrs. Obama seems to miss is the president is not the embodiment of our hope — nor the person in which we find our hope.

But politicians are tapping into something real: an electorate desperately looking for something or someone in which to hope. Over the years, campaigns have learned hopelessness is a powerful sentiment that, if harnessed, results in votes. Both parties do it — just with different language. It would be disingenuous to deny hope is woven into the very fabric of the Trump campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again.”

But hope will not be found, produced nor insured in or through the White House, no matter who happens to be the president.

Hope is a person, but Hope is not the President. Hope has a name, but it isn’t Barack or Donald. Hope is found in no one and nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness.

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Giving What’s Real this Christmas

It’s our responsibility as Christians to give what’s real this Christmas.

The human memory is a mysterious thing. We can feel like a distant moment “happened only yesterday” but can’t remember what we ate for lunch. Or we can be certain we are recalling an event exactly as it happened, only to be find that our recollection is in conflict with another person who was there.

We depend on eyewitness testimony in our justice system, but it is notoriously unreliable. We romanticize the past. Or exaggerate it. And a recent study shows just how malleable our memories can be. A study out of the University of Warwick in the UK even “demonstrated that about half of individuals will come to believe a fictional event occurred if they are told about that event and then repeatedly imagine it happening.”  On the devious side, the pliability of our minds is the basis of brainwashing.

In short: our memories are poor. We are forgetful beings. We can easily replace truth with lies if we are not vigilant.

During Christmas, there is a lot of fiction thrown into the mix with the historical fact of Jesus’ birth. We get caught up in the “magic” of the season, the imagined characters of film and fantasy, the pageantry and spirit of the Christmas season. Even those of us who are professing Christians can celebrate the entire season without consciously and intentionally sifting what is true from what is not.

God is aware of our human weakness and forgetfulness. God gives us His Word to help us remember what is True and weed out fact from fiction.

We need to be reminded of the truth because we are easily distracted by many things. So we must remember, reconnect with and repeat, what is real this Christmas:

The real story of a real couple named Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were unable to conceive a child and long past their childbearing years. Yet, God opened her womb, so that John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Messiah.

The real story of a real woman named Mary, who was visited by a real angel. The true story of the only real virgin birth in all history.

The real story of a real man named Joseph, who went through with the marriage to his betrothed, even though she was pregnant and claiming to have known no man. The real story of a man who followed God even when he knew public humiliation and questioning would be sure to follow him his entire life.

The real story of real shepherds who, while watching real sheep on a real night, near a real town called Bethlehem, suddenly heard a real heavenly choir of real angels singing, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The real story of when they left their posts to worship the God of the Universe who came as a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

The real story of a real Roman named Herod, a man who really did have all the male children in the town of Bethlehem murdered with the hope of killing of the one real baby Messiah he viewed as an existential threat.

The real story of the wise men, who followed a star to offer the baby gold and frankincense and myrrh. And the real story of being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, allowing Mary, Joseph and Jesus to really escape as real political refugees to Egypt.

And Bethlehem is a real place, where real people lived over 2,000 years ago and real people still live today.  Real prophecies were really fulfilled there on the night a real baby was born on a day we now call Christmas.

Does it all seem unreal, as if it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away?  I pray we do not fall for the sneaky, crawling lie of making the real story of Christmas just another episode in a holiday season that also includes Frosty, the Nutcracker, Santa, Rudolph, Elf, and the like.

The greatest threat to Christmas is not that people say “Happy Holidays” or write “Xmas” or try to edit out the Luke monologue in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It is the Christian who lives and celebrates the season as if the birth of our Savior is one more “magical” fanciful story set beside all the other joyful fiction of the season.

The reality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is something the eyewitnesses did not want people to forget. The Apostle Peter says in 2 Peter 1:12-15 as his own death approached, “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.  I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”  Here we see the role each of us plays in the lives of others: we are responsible to stir up reminders of the truth – to help one another remember what is really real and truly true.

Our calendars say we are in 2016 AD—Anno Domini—the year of our Lord. That does not mean that 2016 years now cascade like dominoes into the next. No! It is a marker in time that declares that 2016 years ago the world changed forever because of a historically verified fact: the birth of Jesus. So, the question is, what will you do with it this fact of history?

Remembering is not confined to an act of the mind.  Yes, we remember the reality of the virgin birth and the reality of the star and the reality of the angels and the reality of the shepherds and the reality of the wise men, but to re-member is more than that. Jesus must also be born in our hearts and we, reborn into a living hope in Him.  The fact of the matter is that Christmas is not Christmas without Good Friday and Easter. So, as you remember the Christ who came at Christmas, remember the fullness of His history changing story.

Visit The Reconnect web site to hear more from Carmen

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Don’t Miss Your Home Field Advantage: Thinking About Christmas Differently

Christmas is the time of year Christians have the home field advantage. Arguably the biggest global holiday of the year centers around the birth of one person: Jesus Christ.

Jesus may be now be sharing the stage with a whole cast of characters from Santa Claus to Frosty to the Nutcracker but He is still the main attraction.

A “home field” advantage assumes conditions of the environment are beneficial to the home team. It is more than a state of mind. For example, this Sunday, the Green Bay Packers enjoyed the benefit of facing the Houston Texans at home at Lambeau Field. But that’s not all. It was snowing. A lot. The visitors from perennially warm Houston are not used to playing in the Frozen Tundra. This is the power of a home field advantage.

And we have an even more powerful one this season.

But how often do we miss it entirely? We turn inward with stress and busyness or sucked into the commercialism and sentimentalism of “secularized” Christmas trimmings. This is the one time of the year when “Christ” literally shows up on our televisions, our secular music radio stations, and even in our schools and offices. So what are you going to do about it?

Here’s what I am not talking about: correcting people when they say “Happy Holidays” or losing your mind when a certain coffee shop chain decides to use plain, red cups for the season. Those are distractions.

Home field advantage means we, as Christians, claim the holiness of the holiday at every turn. We have the chance to exude the message of Joy to the World, the Prince of Peace, and share the only gift ever given that has literally changed the world.

Yes, he’s making a list and he’s checking it twice, but not to see who’s been naughty or nice – God lavishes grace upon us.

And yes, He sees you when you’re sleeping and He knows when you’re awake but God’s omniscience is not ‘why’ we’re good when no one else is looking! It’s a comfort and a counsel and a companion.

Yes, Santa Claus is coming to town but the Savior of the World upstages Santa. Christians, claim your home field advantage this Christmas – the lesser gods of culture may win a few squeals and take credit for presents under the tree, but only we can explain the presence of the living God wrapped in human flesh delivered as the One to deliver all of us.

Here is some homework: How can you, your church or your family make a plan to utilize all the benefits of the season’s home field advantage?

For more from Carmen visit The Reconnect.

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Carmen’s Family Advent Countdown

What you will need for great family fun (and significant learning) during Advent:

  1. A Quarter
  2. Several varieties of grapes (or grape flavored items)
  3. Smiley sticker
  4. A little “surprise” in a brown paper bag (it would be great if were full of gummy fish!)
  5. A birthday candle
  6. Bell
  7. “Goldfish” fish-shaped crackers
  8. Watch “weather on the 8’s” on the weather channel or go to weather.com and put in your zip code
  9. Piece of a map (or you could do this devo in the car using your Nav system)
  10. Sand dollar (the bigger the better)
  11. Make homemade valentines out of Christmas paper or old Christmas cards
  12. Place cards with each person’s name on them around a table set with one extra chair (that place card should read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”)
  13. Packet of salt or salt shaker
  14. Sand (this is a great day to go to the beach!)
  15. Flowers (silk)
  16. Raisins
  17. Seeds
  18. A wrapped gift
  19. A candy cane
  20. Crumpled foil
  21. Mustard seed
  22. Dove (a dove ornament will do)
  23. Small scrap of wool
  24. Blue marble (and a globe if you’ve got one)
  25. Picture of your child as a baby and their birth announcement (if you have one).

Family Advent Countdown:

November 30 – Day of preparation! Advent is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Today is a day of preparation for Advent – today is a good day to collect the “things” you will need for the first week of Advent. Today is also a good day to get out your Advent Calendar and hang it somewhere that everyone can see. Pick up an Advent Devotional booklet as a means of supplementing your own preparation for the coming of the Christ child. Talk with your child about what it means to be prepared for the arrival of a guest or a new baby. What are the all the things you would need to do to get ready? (If you’re having guests this Christmas season, this is a good opportunity to plan for who is going to do what in your family to prepare for their arrival.)

December 1 – A quarter! That equals 25 cents. But 25 also stands for the number of days till Christmas, when God gave us His best present. Jesus told about one woman’s gift and the way she gave it. Read: Mark 12:41-44. (This is a great opportunity to teach your kids how to use the bible. Teach them how to find the Book title in the table of Contents, turn to the beginning of that book, then find the chapter and finally the verses. Even if they can’t read yet, they can find the numbers.)

Talk about what your family is going to “give” this Christmas (not what everyone is hoping to “get”). This is a good time to clean out “old” toys and to talk about giving gifts that don’t “cost” anything: singing carols at a nursing home, sending Christmas cards to military service men, making cookies for the fire-fighters, giving hugs to everyone who comes to church.

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Find a printable version here: Carmen’s Family Advent Countdown

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What now for Christians in America? Reconciliation

Fifty percent of the American population woke up today in a nation where they don’t feel they belong.  Some are fearful for their and their children’s future.  There is a great need for reconciliation, a restoration of the United nature of these American states. That is an opportunity for Christians today. As we walk as Christ’s ambassadors in a post-election world, we must be walking in prayer. Prayer for President-elect Donald Trump, prayer for Hillary Clinton and her supporters and prayer for all those who must now somehow work together to govern this divided country.

Step up to the responsibility of the ministry of reconciliation.

Christians know the reality of reconciliation. Once at enmity with God, Christians are now reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ. There is no greater division than that which has already been bridged. We then turn to be ministers of that reconciling influence in the world.

Reconciliation requires leaving the safety and security of our communities of comfort and intentionally engaging with people who are the world differently. If every person you know or read on social media thinks and votes the same way you do, then it is time to widen your circle. If you think this is some kumbaya exercise, you could not be more wrong. Reconciliation is the very heart of the gospel.

The New York Times/CBS conducted a poll before the election and found 8 in 10 voters feel repulsed by the election, and feel the toxicity threatens the ability of (winner) to govern

People are feeling disenfranchised and need a place to belong. They also need hope, reconciliation and a restoration of joy. Who does that sound like? It sounds like The Church at its best.

This includes what is happening inside family of Christ. Four out of five white evangelicals voted for Trump, while evangelicals of color largely preferred Clinton. Does this difference define us? Or does the gospel. Let grace abound in how we interact and treat each other.  Let our reconciliation to each other be a witness to the outside world. This could be the greatest call to the Church today. The world is looking for peace today— will they find it in the people who are called to be ambassadors for the Prince of Peace?

Let’s make our homes and churches THE place to find peace, hope and community. And let us lean into our calling as ministers of reconciliation.

Separate your Voter ID from your Christian identity.

A takeaway from this entire cycle has been the Christian has no “home” in a political party today. That is not a bad thing because our calling has never been political influence or power.  Christians live in the freedom of Christ under every variety of government, more often as an oppressed minority than as the power brokers. This election has exposed a need for Christians in America to recenter their identity on Christ, alone.

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