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21 Days of Prayer for Life

Next month, hundreds of thousands of people will join the March for Life in Washington, D.C. But what if there were three times that many praying?

(By Eric Metaxas, Breakpoint.) January 22nd is the 43rd anniversary of the worst Supreme Court decision in our nation’s history. With Roe v. Wade, seven robed men gave America some of the most permissive abortion-on-demand laws in the world. Since that time, nearly 60 million unborn children have been killed in the womb.

This month, January, is the month so many American Christians memorialize the unborn—through Sanctity of Life Sunday (this year on January 15) and the March for Life on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on January 27th—I will be there. The day before that, by the way, my colleague John Stonestreet will be speaking at the Anglicans for Life conference, and then after the march at the Evangelicals for Life conference. As you may know, John and I are very passionate about this issue.

Now, if you can get to Washington, please do! But if you can’t, you can still be a part of the most significant cause of our day: the cause for life. How? Well, the Colson Center for Christian Worldview has produced a free, downloadable booklet called: 21 Days of Prayer for Life. It’s updated for 2017, and we want to see millions of Christians appeal together to heaven to end this grave evil.

This full-color booklet was co-written by John Stonestreet and top pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf, and is co-sponsored by the top pro-life groups in America: Students for Life, Focus on the Family, Save the Storks, the March for Life, Life Training Institute, CareNet, and others.

The booklet will guide you through a three-week journey to pray for all of the victims of abortion: the unborn, expectant mothers and fathers in crisis, siblings, grandparents, and yes, even abortion clinic workers. It also includes prayers for pastors, as well as politicians and policy makers.

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Download the 21 Days of Prayer for Life

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Religious Liberty Needs a Fixer Upper

(By Phillip Bethancourt, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission). When it comes to religious liberty, America is in need of a Fixer Upper. The erupting controversy over Chip and Joanna Gaines reveals that religious freedom is as polarizing as ever.

Recently, both Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan published articles highlighting comments on homosexuality made by Jimmy Seibert, the pastor of Antioch Community Church, which Chip and Joanna attend. Seibert and the church he pastors affirm traditional Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality. Shocked that these beloved celebrities would belong to a church with such beliefs, both authors began an inquisition. The articles demanded Chip and Joanna speak out about their beliefs on homosexuality. And this ignited a firestorm. Since Tuesday, the Gainses have been further criticized in articles and on social media while others have criticized both the articles and these attacks.

This particular religious liberty flap is personal to many people, including me. I was born and raised in Texas. I have friends who grew up in Waco who cannot fathom how the show Fixer Upper has turned this quaint central Texas city into a tourist destination. I even know a number of friends who take longer routes to travel across Texas, just so they can visit the Magnolia Market and see the silos.

Even though I would not consider myself an enthusiast for shows like Fixer Upper, I have seen the playbook the left is using to malign this couple before. Those who expect the culture to affirm the redefinition of marriage went after Brendan Eich until it cost him his job as CEO of a major tech company. Chick-fil-A spent months under siege for comments made by its CFO affirming a traditional view of marriage. Hobby Lobby faced years of scrutiny for their refusal to surrender to the sexual revolution by offering abortifacient contraceptives that violated its owner’s consciences. Countless other examples proving the left’s culture war aggression could be offered.

This situation with Fixer Upper reveals several common threads about religious liberty that every Christian must understand.

First, religious liberty controversies often emerge in a battle between religious freedom and sexual freedom. The reason that sexuality is often pitted against religious liberty is that, for many, sexual freedom is itself like a religion.

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Listen to Carmen’s comments on the controversy during Thursday’s podcast of The Reconnect with Carmen. The segment on Chip and Joanna Gaines begins at the 26:30 mark. 

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Evangelical Pastor Theologians Outline Christian Vision of Sexuality

(By John Lomperis, Juicy Ecumenism). It is hard to overstate the degree to which American culture has gone through a very dramatic change in sexual mores in an incredibly short period of time. Around the country, even very evangelical pastors of evangelical congregations have noticed these cultural attitudes seeping in among those they shepherd.

In such a context, it is not enough for the church to simply repeat the Bible’s clear prohibitions of certain sexual thoughts and practices, as indispensable as those are. People in our culture need to hear from the church an overarching “positive, compelling vision of God’s plan for sexuality,” as the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Treat recently put it. Otherwise, we may be engaging in an impossible task of seeking to defend specific details of Christian teaching while unknowingly accepting and arguing within the bounds of a fundamentally non-Christian framework.

Treat was speaking in a recent conference in suburban Chicago called “Beauty, Order, and Mystery: The Christian Vision of Sexuality,” organized by the Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT). As CPT board member Dr. John Yates III explained, this center was founded to reclaim  the practice of “ecclesial theology,” done by pastors within the communal context of the church, as much of the great theological writing of the past was done.

Yates noted that these rapid cultural changes are provoking church people to ask questions “about sexuality and sexual identity we wouldn’t have thought of a decade ago.” But he quickly added that being forced to ask such questions was actually “not a bad thing for the church,” as it “forces us to look at underlying questions,” such as “what it means to be human,” as we face “an age of anthropological heresy.”

Rev. Dr. Todd Wilson, a CPT co-founder, shared that when he began pastoring the suburban Chicago congregation hosting this conference, its neighbors referred to it as “the gay-hating church” in town, which “made it very hard for folk in the community to hear the gospel” from them. And then within the congregation, he saw younger members who were leading Bible studies and seemed like good candidates to be elders, except that they had an “affirming position” on homosexuality. He admitted that while he came into ministry thinking a priority was “needing to move people past the hard-edged fundamentalism,” Millennial churchgoers do not need too much pushing to feel compassionate—“they’re all about that already!”

This cultural “sea change” is of course not limited to homosexuality. The conference noted “alarmingly high rates” of premarital sex, adultery, pornography use, sexual abuse, and sexual dysfunction within marriage. “Millennials are awash in porn,” Wilson observed.

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Top 7 Nations With Worst Record of Christian Persecution: Report

(By Stoyan Zaimov, The Christian Post). A global charity that investigates the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities has issued a new report that reveals believers are facing a rising level of intolerance and such severe oppression, particularly under seven nations of concern, that “it can scarcely get worse.”

Persecution watchdog group Aid to the Church in Need released its 2016 “Religious Freedom in the World” report on Thursday, highlighting the growing cases of intolerance around the world, particularly between the time period of June 2014 and June 2016 — coinciding with the rise of the Islamic State terror group.

The report included case by case studies of a number of different countries around the world, and the religious discrimination people of faith face. Some of the most extreme forms of oppression were experienced by people in Iraq and Syria, including Christians and Yazidis, who have been targeted in an ongoing genocide campaign by IS.

One Yazidi boy trained for jihad in Syria shared the chilling words his radical instructors told to him: “You have to kill kuffars [unbelievers] even if they are your fathers and brothers, because they belong to the wrong religion and they don’t worship God.”

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Read the Religious Freedom Report 2016.

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Defectors Say Most North Korean Christians Don’t Survive Religious Persecution

(By Jardine Malado, The Christian Times.) North Korean defectors have stated that most Christians who are caught practicing religion do not survive the punishments carried out by the Communist regime.

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) has identified 65,282 cases of religious persecution through its interviews with defectors who came to South Korea after 2007, UPI reported.

More than 99 percent of the 11,730 defectors interviewed by NKDB have attested that there is no religious freedom in North Korea. Ninety-eight percent have confirmed that there are no publicly accessible religious establishments outside of Pyongyang.

(Photos by Uri Tours — uritours.com — CC BY-SA 2.0). According to Wikipedia, Chilgol Church is one of the two Protestant churches in North Korea and is located on Kwangbok Street, Kwangbok in west Pyongyang. It is dedicated to Kang Pan-sok, who was a Presbyterian deaconess and the mother of Kim Il-sung.

The testimonies corroborate the September report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which stated that the four churches in the nation’s capital are only meant as showcases for foreign tourists.

The South Korean non-profit organization noted that 1,040 North Koreans in 1,247 cases were victims of state-sanctioned human rights abuses.

Only 1.2 percent were reported to have engaged in secret religious activities. More than 10 percent of the religious practitioners identified as Buddhist. The others were either Roman Catholics of Protestants.

The testimonies of the defectors indicated that less than 23 percent of victims of religious persecution survive their punishment. Roughly 18 percent of those who were apprehended have died under the hands of the state while 80 percent are missing.

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Read the report from Christian Solidarity Worldwide — Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Korea

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J. Jon Bruno: Bishop gone bad?

California Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno intends to sell off the property of a congregation he once championed. Parishioners and clergy are crying foul.

(By Sophia Lee, World Magazine.)  Most people have never heard of J. Jon Bruno, but his saga shows what is tearing apart what once was America’s most influential denomination—The Episcopal Church (TEC)—and creating such bitterness among former and some current members. It’s also a classic man-bites-dog story: Why would a bishop destroy a church and sell its building to a developer who plans to tear it down and build two dozen luxury town homes on the spot?

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J. Jon Bruno, the sixth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Bruno is the sixth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Some call him a compassionate champion of social justice. Others see him as a cunning bully. Many Episcopal hierarchs around the United States have similarly bifurcated reputations now that about 400 churches have broken from the theologically liberal denomination and affiliated with the theologically conservative American Anglican Council. But former Bruno supporters wonder how they could have been so blinded by the gleam of the bishop’s golden chasuble on that day in 2013 when he blessed a newborn flock that he would soon abandon.

BRUNO, WHO TURNS 70 on Nov. 17, is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound former professional football player with a bear-grip handshake. People describe him as charismatic, fearless, passionate—and shrewd. He grew up in a Roman Catholic tailor’s family in Los Angeles and first felt a pull into priesthood as a 12-year-old. But when he discovered Catholic priests had to make a vow of celibacy, sports seemed a better fit.

Bruno went to Cal State Los Angeles on a football scholarship and later joined the Denver Broncos, but an elbow injury forced him to retire early. In 1968 he joined the Burbank Police Department and within 14 months shot and killed a 28-year-old drug dealer and suspected kidnapper who fired a pistol first at police officers. The shooting was ruled justifiable, but mental replays of the scene tormented Bruno until an Episcopal priest assigned him penance and pronounced absolution. The terrible dreams stopped.

Bruno first visited a TEC church by following a cute girl whom he later married. The marriage didn’t last, but his denominational affiliation did. In a 2006 interview, Bruno said he switched from Catholic to Episcopalian because TEC “not only puts their faith out there but puts it into action to relieve people’s suffering and anxiety.”

After four years in the police force, during which he witnessed the devastating effects of street life on youth and families, Bruno felt a call to priesthood again. He gained his Master of Divinity degree at Virginia Theological Seminary in 1977 and ordination in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in 1978. In 1985 he became rector of St. Athanasius Episcopal Church in Echo Park, then a gang-ridden, crime-blighted neighborhood. Bruno took a congregation divided between older conservatives and young gays and reshaped it into a multiethnic parish with food distribution programs, laundry for the homeless, gang diversion efforts, and an AIDS health clinic.

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Evangelicals Are Clarifying Marriage as a Core Belief

For Evangelicals, same-sex marriage is not an “agree to disagree” issue.

(By Ed Stetzer, The Exchange). Marriage, as Jesus defines it in Matthew 19—where a man leaves his father and mother and joins with his wife in covenant marriage—is a core evangelical belief.

It might not seem that way these days, when we hear of a few people making news by changing their views on sexuality and marriage, but we are in a season of one evangelical organization after another feeling the need to make clear their position on marriage.

That’s the bigger story than the celebrity of the moment.

Evangelical organizations across the spectrum are making clear where they stand on marriage. For some, particularly conservative Evangelicals, this view was already evident, but perhaps this is most difficult in the progressive wing of Evangelicals.

Organizations like Fuller Seminary, InterVarsity, the Vineyard, and World Vision are all known for their progressive views on gender, race, and social justice.

These organizations were seen as progressive—until recently.

They’ve recently made it clear what they believe on marriage, and some people are disappointed.

Disappointment

I imagine that if you’ve dedicated your life to making same-sex marriage an issue on which good, Bible-believing Christians can just “agree to disagree,” this must be deeply disappointing. And for many LGBT people who just want to live their lives as they believe God made them, I understand this can be hurtful. I know those emotions are real and deeply felt.

While those feelings are real, it is also the case that this is real: Evangelicals consider biblical marriage a core issue.

Now, Evangelicals are not the only ones to think this, but they are currently in the spotlight on this discussion. For a few years, some wondered if Evangelicals would move on same-sex marriage, or at least not make it the dividing line. For example, when one Vineyard megachurch pastor wrote a book affirming same-sex relationships, the question was, “Will the Vineyard make this an ‘agree to disagree’ issue?”

That pastor is no longer with the Vineyard, explaining he could not “enforce” the policies when the Vineyard said what they always believed—marriage is a core Evangelical belief.

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Related article: What’s Really Going on with Evangelicals and Same-Sex Marriage

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Int’l Day of Prayer 2016: Most Dangerous Places for Christians Revealed

(By Stoyan Zaimov, The Christian Post.) Persecution watchdog group Open Doors is preparing for International Day of Prayer on Sunday, examining the struggles of Christians in the world’s most dangerous areas, and has warned that the global Church is still too self-centered and needs to reach out to help its brothers and sisters.

Open Doors President David Curry told The Christian Post in a phone interview that while statistics for the number of Christians killed around the world specifically for their faith in 2016 are not yet available, the factors that made 2015 the deadliest in history with over 7,000 Christian deaths have not been eradicated.

“The factors that led to the dramatic rise of Christians being attacked and martyred and harassed, all those factors are still in place. You still have rouge nations like Eritrea, North Korea, Sudan and others, who are not concerned about international justice laws, and are persecuting Christians within their government,” Curry said.

He told CP that radical caliphates looking to spread their territory, such as the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria or Boko Haram in Africa, are still active and one of the main drivers of persecution.

While North Korea remains the most dangerous country for Christians, according to the Open Doors World Watch List, Curry noted that the northern parts of Nigeria, a country where Christians have faced attacks both from Boko Haram and radical Fulani herdsmen, is the area that his organization is most concerned about.

“They (Christians) have been caught in a crossfire — more Christians were killed last year in Nigeria than anywhere else for their faith, short of North Korea,” he said.

 

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The Falls Church Anglican – A Story of Gospel Awakening

(By J.B. Simmons, The Gospel Coalition.) Stories about losing rarely reach the front page, but our counter-cultural faith is different. We believe to live is Christ and to die is gain. Daily news of victories—in sports, in politics—obscures this truth. That’s why we need more stories of gaining through loss. Such stories are bound to continue for the faithful in today’s America. The Falls Church Anglican has lived through such a story.

In 2012, this historic church in Northern Virginia took a stand for their faith and lost everything to the Episcopal Church. After crushing defeats in the courts, the church moved out of the property George Washington had graced centuries before. They walked away from their colonial building and history. They left the soaring sanctuary they built, one that had hosted hundreds (if not thousands) of weddings and baptisms. They left the prayer books, the sound equipment, and the $2.8 million in cash that members had donated to church accounts specifically designated not to go to the Episcopal Church.

Everything exterior about the church had to change—the worship space, the offices, the website, even the name. Now there was the The Falls Church Episcopal at the historic property, and The Falls Church Anglican without a place to call its own.

But the church didn’t fade. They’d simply been pruned of material things. They were ready to grow and thrive as never before, planting new churches and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. God had long prepared The Falls Church Anglican for this journey.

Renewal and Conflict

Why is he preaching about Jesus so much?

That was the question on many long-timers’ minds in 1979. It wasn’t that those at The Falls Church didn’t care about faith, but focusing too much on Jesus could make people uncomfortable. The Episcopal Church was supposed to be comfortable. And The Falls Church, in particular, was a stately place with dignified members. It was uncouth to be fired up for Christ.

None of these concerns altered the focus of John Yates, the new rector in 1979. He had a vision for gospel renewal.

This was far from easy, but the focus on Jesus brought change. The congregation doubled in size, then doubled again. By 1984, just five years after Yates had arrived, an article in Christianity Today praised the emerging vitality of The Falls Church, while offering a fateful warning that “changes are taking place that could alter the course of the entire denomination.”

And so they did. As the Episcopal Church moved away from orthodox faith in the following decades, tensions simmered and eventually boiled over. In December 2006, 90 percent of The Falls Church voted to leave the Episcopal denomination.

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The Painful Liberation of Qaraqosh, Iraq’s Christian Heartland

ISIS forced the Christians of the Nineveh plain around Mosul to flee. Now they are returning, but in the key town of Qaraqosh, the fighting rages on.

(By Florian Neuhof, The Daily Beast.) The church’s interior has been blackened by fire, and the altar has been vandalized. ISIS graffiti has been smeared on the walls, and songbooks lie burned on the ground. But the two priests, undeterred, make their way through the nave of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, climbing the narrow stairway to the mezzanine where the organ has been smashed, and emerge on the flat rooftop next to the belfry.

Here, the tolling of the bell of Iraq’s largest church once summoned 3,000 people to prayer on Sundays. Now the belfry is disfigured by cannon fire and the bell itself is gone, snatched from its chain.

Without hesitation, the priests climb on top of the arched roof running along the spine of the building. They are followed by a handful of men in military fatigues. A makeshift cross—two pieces of plywood strung together with copper wire—quickly follows, and the men begin feverishly to pile up stones to create a simple foundation.

Shots ring out nearby, and mortar rounds crash down a few hundred feet from the church, but within minutes the cross holds firm. Ecstatic, Father Majid and Father Amar burst into song, and the hallelujah rings out in Aramaic, the ancient language that links Iraq’s Christians to the genesis of their faith.

“I’m very happy now that we are able to return to our church,” says Father Amar after climbing back down from the roof, visibly shaken by emotion.

For over two years the Christians of Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, had been deprived of their place of worship. After ISIS stormed into Mosul in June 2014, the militants quickly turned their sights on the surrounding towns and villages, home to the majority of Iraq’s Christians. By August, they had taken Qaraqosh, forcing its 50,000 inhabitants to abandon the town.

But Father Amar’s joy at returning to his native Qaraqosh is tinged with sorrow about the destruction that surrounds him.

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