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News & Commentary
My Immigration Status: Beloved

In Christ I am more than the ‘crime’ I committed at age 5.

As proud as I am of my Mexican heritage, there is only one place I can call home: the United States. I belong to the wave of immigrants who arrived in the country as children. All that remains from my early years in Mexico are a few blurry memories, drawn together from what my mother has told me.

My mother lost her first husband in a car accident in 1978. After his death, she traveled for the first time to the States to identify his body and take care of the funeral. She was left to fend for my two older siblings, mourning and under-resourced. About seven years later, she met my father, and I was born. When I was 3, he left our family to marry another woman.

Later, my mother’s love for her oldest son compelled her to travel to the States a second time. She hadn’t seen him since he moved to Orange County at age 14. When my brother learned she was going to leave me with my uncle, he insisted she bring me to keep the family together. Twenty-five years later, here I remain.

We moved into an apartment with my two uncles on Minnie Street in Santa Ana, California, once named the toughest city in the country in which to make ends meet. We faced challenging times. My mom hadn’t been allowed to attend school past the second grade, so she worked mostly babysitting jobs. She wanted to give her children what she had missed: an education. Many times I wished my father had been there to help us financially. The child support was scarcely enough to meet our needs. But more than that, I was hungry for the warmth of a loving father who would protect us and ensure my mother didn’t have to play the role of both parents.

A Profound Wound

As I entered junior high school, I excelled in math and dove into volleyball ...

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You Need a More Ordinary Jesus

We are united with a Christ who seems not to have done much of note for most of his life.

I was in youth group when I first heard that God had an extraordinary plan for my life. This plan would include seeing revival, winning converts, helping the poor, and traveling overseas to preach the gospel, dig wells, and serve orphans. I attended youth conferences like Acquire the Fire where I learned what it meant to be an “on-fire-for-God” Christian, and was then sent out to be—in the words of Delirious?—a “history maker.”

The idea that I had an incredible destiny was only reinforced by my own study of Scripture. When I read the Book of Acts for the first time as a senior in high school, I concluded that the lives and habits of the first Christians were the norm. Like Jesus, they healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, opposed corrupt power structures, and preached to the masses. As Christians, our lives should take on the same quality as Jesus’ right?

Right. But could it be that the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus of history, is less extraordinary than the Jesus of Christian conferences and our guilty consciences?

About a year ago, in the CT cover story “Here Come the Radicals,” Matthew Lee Anderson explored “radical” Christianity books from David Platt, Francis Chan, Shane Claiborne, and Kyle Idleman. Radicals, he noted, aim to understand what Jesus really meant in his teachings, what “radical abandonment to Jesus really looks like,” and “what it really means to follow Jesus.” For them, the “real” Christian life is radically abnormal.

Right now we’re in the middle of a backlash, with critics asking if radical Christianity is realistic or even sustainable. Instead of Radical, Greater, Weird, ...

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News: Was Driscoll's Board a Problem?

Outside Insight: Some say it’s the new norm. Others don’t consider it biblical.

As Mark Driscoll leaves Mars Hill Church, one question may continue: Will the Seattle megachurch’s governance help or hurt as it moves forward?

Current and former pastors levied charges against Driscoll this summer, including verbal abuse and lying about manipulating a bestseller list.

Driscoll took an “extended focused break” in August after the Acts 29 church planting network removed him from membership. “We no longer believe [Mars Hill’s board] is able to execute the plan of reconciliation” with critics, wrote president Matt Chandler. Days later, speaker Paul Tripp explained he had resigned from Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) because it was an “inadequate replacement for a biblically functioning internal elder board that is the way God designed his church to be led.”

Mars Hill leadership had comprised 24 elders (mostly church staff and members). In 2007, the structure became the seven-member BOAA: Driscoll, two other executive pastors, and four independent members. Mars Hill explained it was seeking greater objectivity in the board. After Tripp and another independent member (Chicago megachurch pastor James MacDonald) resigned this summer, Mars Hill replaced them with two Seattle businessmen who are members, and created an additional elder board involving seven lead pastors.

A deeper question raised by the Mars Hill saga asks if nondenominational churches can better govern their congregation and disciple their pastors with elders drawn from within the church body, or if they should seek outside expertise.

The external accountability board is increasingly prevalent, said Scott Thumma, a megachurch researcher at Hartford Seminary. ...

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What the Church Should Look Like

That's what I'd like to help us think about in this blog.

Welcome to “Just Marinating”!

The concept of this name comes from John 15:5, “abide in Christ.” In this context, to marinate means to think about, to meditate on, to dwell on. In this blog, I want to help us think about and meditate on the amazing gospel of grace and leadership in life and the church.

For some reason, God has placed me in positions of leadership at every level of my life. I was a team captain on each of my middle school, high school, college, and NFL football teams.

I never wanted to be a lead pastor, yet God has seen fit to gift me, and sovereignly place me, as founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church—a multi-ethic, multi-generational, mission-shaped, loving community. In just four short years, we have grown in spiritual maturity and influence, and have experienced exponential numerical growth.

I want God to use Transformation Church to influence the church in America towards becoming more Gospel-centered and multi-ethnic.

The world should look at the church and say, “Wow! So that’s what love, reconciliation, and unity look like? I want in!”

If you’re looking for expert advice, I’m not your guy. But if you’re looking for a practitioner who is in the struggle with you, who doubts at times, and who desires to learn and grow in every facet of life, I think we can help each other.

My family and friends call me “D. Gray,” “Dewey,” or “Pastor Derwin.” I’ve been married to my best friend, Vicki, for twenty-two years. Vicki has loved me into being the man that I am, and the man that I am becoming. I couldn’t imagine life without her.

I have two beautiful children; my daughter ...

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Interview: How Boko Haram's Murders and Kidnappings Are Changing Nigeria's Churches

Leading Nigerian evangelical says Christians won’t abandon the North.

In recent weeks, Boko Haram, the Sunni terrorist group in northern Nigeria, has doubled down in its ongoing killing spree, taking the lives of Christians by the hundreds and also declaring an Islamic caliphate in the region, local church leaders report.

In April, the group’s kidnapping of 276 girls, mostly Christians, from a school in Chibok drew global outrage. But 219 of those girls are still missing as are hundreds of other abducted children. The group has killed at least 2,000 Nigerians in the first six months of this year, according to Nigerian officials. In total, 650,000 people fled northern Nigeria to escape violence. Some 1,600 Nigerian Christians have died at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups, according to the Jubilee Campaign.

This week, at the six-month anniversary of the Chibok kidnappings, rallies have been held in Nigeria, the U.S., and other nations to press Nigeria's government to do more to rescue the kidnapped girls and suppress Boko Haram.

A leading Nigerian evangelical, Samuel Kunhiyop, author of African Christian Ethics,serves as general secretary of Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), a 5-million-member denomination in Nigeria. ECWA has been doing frontline evangelism in Nigeria since 1954. In recent years, this group has planted hundreds of congregations in Muslim areas of Nigeria. Kunhiyop spoke with Timothy C. Morgan, CT's senior editor for global journalism.

Is Nigeria as bad as we read in news headlines?

It’s even worse. Hundreds of churches have been destroyed, over 50 in Kano alone. One church and ministry has been built seven times and destroyed seven times. Another has been built three times and destroyed three times. Pastors have been murdered in their ...

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Interview: Nancy Writebol: Ebola Is a Spiritual Battle

The missionary nurse who survived the deadly virus says medicine alone won't cure West Africa.

Since the Ebola outbreak began this spring, nearly 10,000 instances of the virus have been recorded—and that number could grow to 1.4 million, says the Centers for Disease Control. (The World Health Organization offers a much more conservative estimate of 151,000.) The threat barely registered on Americans’ radar until SIM nurse Nancy Writebol and Samaritan’s Purse doctor Kent Brantly were both diagnosed in July. This week, the first person diagnosed with Ebola inside the United States died, and five U.S. airports announced they are instating screening procedures for travelers arriving from West Africa.

Writebol, who has previous experience working in Ecuador and Zambia, moved to Liberia with her husband, David, in 2013. Nearly a month into treating infected patients, Writebol learned she herself had contracted Ebola. After she and Brantly failed to improve in West Africa, they were flown back to the United States, where they both were treated with the experimental and controversial ZMapp antibodies. Both recovered fully.

Writebol and David, currently based in North Carolina, spoke with CT editorial resident Morgan Lee about treating Ebola, where God went during her illness, and her thoughts about those who protested her return to the States.

What is a Liberian hospital like during an epidemic?

In many of the hospitals, there was no protective gear, and nurses were working without gloves and masks. We [SIM] had the advantage of being partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, which had flown in everything we needed to protect our healthcare workers. But still there was fear of being in an isolation unit and working with people. It took time before nurses could see that, yes, they could be protected ...

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News: Facing ISIS, Middle Eastern Evangelicals Exchange Strategies

Christians meet with Sunni Islam's top leader, test other responses to extremists.

Fawzi Khalil recalls what he saw on a recent visit to Dohuk, Iraq. Refugees slept on streets and under bridges, fleeing the wrath of ISIS.

“It is very hard to coordinate with Muslims,” said the Egyptian pastor back at his Cairo church. “Everyone here is against everyone else.”

Khalil is the director of relief ministries at Kasr el-Dobara, the largest Protestant church in the Middle East. Since the fall of Mosul and the eviction of its historic Christian community, the Egyptian megachurch has distributed over 2,500 mattresses to both Iraqi Muslims and Christians. More than $300,000 has been raised—primarily from Egyptian Christians—to provide 2,200 families with medicine, a portable stove, and an emergency food package. The church sends a delegation to Iraq every two weeks.

“God is allowing ISIS to expose Islam,” said Khalil’s fellow pastor, Atef Samy. “They are its true face, showing what Islam is like whenever it comes to power.”

But the savagery of ISIS, which has overwhelmed Kurdistan with more than 850,000 refugees, has prompted other Middle Eastern Christians to embrace their Muslim neighbors. This theme was heard often from members of the Fellowship of Middle Eastern Evangelical Churches (FMEEC), who met in Cairo last month for a conference on the dwindling Christian presence in the region.

“We must be a voice for Islam,” said Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. “We must not allow the West to see ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, or others like them as the face of Islam.”

Others were more reflective of the diversity among both Muslims and non-Muslims.

“If you ...

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Antiheroes and Saints

Where do we get the inclination to emulate or praise our protagonists?

I teach a class on cultural criticism, and each student leads a twenty-minute discussion on an article of his or her choosing from the recent press. On Monday, a student brought in Emily Nussbaum's article on “the female bad fan.”

The bad fan is the “loyal viewer, often a guy, who views antiheroes as heroes”—who sees Walter White or Frank Underwood as the guy to be emulated, who “shrugs off any notion of moral complexity” and roots for Walt's wife Skyler or any of Frank's adversaries to be eliminated.

There's a parallel, Nussbaum says, in shows like The Mindy Project:

The topic came up during my conversation at The New Yorker Festival with Mindy Kaling, the creator and star of “The Mindy Project.” As we talked, Kaling made a strong case for one way in which her series has been misunderstood: her idea for Mindy Lahiri, she said, wasn’t a spunky role model like Mary Tyler Moore. She also wasn’t trying to create a flawed comic protagonist with a voice-of-reason quality, in the tradition of Liz Lemon and Leslie Knope. Instead, she was going for the Michael Scott, the Larry David, the Kenny Powers—truly screwed-up bigots and basket cases who were, nonetheless, the rowdy centers of their respective shows.

The Mindy Project—and other shows like Girls and Veep and Inside Amy Schumer and more—present (presumably mostly female) viewers with protagonists not really meant to be emulated; they're just characters, and they're funny to watch partly because they're messed up.

You're meant to love Mindy, the way you love your friends because they're your friends, not because you want to be them. You're also ...

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Chasing the Christian Movie Audience

The new art and science of reaching the fifth quadrant.

The discussion started in earnest around the time Disney released The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, back in 2005.

Author C.S. Lewis maintained throughout his life that the Narnia books weren't religious allegories but merely contained religious symbolism—and those were certainly hard to miss in the film.

Many also noted the presence of Walden Media (owned by Christian conservative Philip Anschutz) among the film's backers. After Anschutz said he thought Walden Media projects should carry moral messages, a few critics described the Narnia films as propaganda, meant to saturate Hollywood with a conservative agenda.

But with the success of the film ($739 million worldwide box office from a budget of $180 million), the industry wondered if faith-based movies might become an established trend.

Director Mel Gibson had blindsided everyone the year before (2004) when The Passion of the Christ returned a staggering $611 million from a $30 million budget. It was quite a feat for a release far outside the usual summer blockbuster window, and seemed to pave the way for movies about religion, rather than just those containing Christian elements.

Like all Hollywood trends, religious movies have had their booms and busts. The high point came with films like The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur (1959), and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and films based on similar aesthetics, like Cleopatra (1963).

More recently—aside from the odd historical one-off, like 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ—Hollywood has been content to occasionally merely repackage Christianity, rather than film Bible stories. A good example was The Matrix films, borrowing heavily from both ...

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Toward Viral: What Exponential Growth Might Look Like: The Summit Church

Exponential growth requires sacrificial planting, and The Summit Church shows that.

The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham has been planting churches in both North America and Internationally since the beginning. Over the years they have planted 23 churches in North America and 47 churches internationally. They have recently made an intentional shift in strategy to be a sending church. This means they will train a planter and send him out with 20+ people to plant a new church in a new city.

Their strategy is to plant multiplying churches by raising lead planters, training them, and sending them out with a team of people from our church. They identify potential church planters and putting them in a leadership development pipeline. At the end of that, most will go through a 9-month residency where they remain on staff while being trained to plant, refining their vision, raising money, building a team, and developing a strategy before they're sent out.

The Summit Church has a different strategy for their International plants. Most of their International church plants are among unreached people groups. The strategy is to send out missionaries from the church that will live and work among these people with the goal of sharing the gospel, making disciples that make disciples. They try to find and train indigenous leaders to plant indigenous, self-replicating churches. The pastors identify potential International church planting leaders about a year from when they're ready to go to the field and take them through a yearlong training process, and then in most cases they send them out in teams that operate like small house churches.

Financially, The Summit Church devotes 16.2% of our budget is dedicated to missions. For their North American plants The Summit provides a residency and 3 years of financial ...

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Interview: How Culture Shapes Scientists' Thinking About God's Planet

Former Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich challenges the notion that religion and science inhabit separate spheres.

Owen Gingerich grew up in a Mennonite home on the plains of Kansas, and he retains much of the plainspoken and humble demeanor of his upbringing. He has spent nearly his entire academic career at Harvard University, first as a student and then as professor of astronomy and the history of science. Now retired, he recently published God’s Planet, which examines the scientific discoveries of Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, and astronomer Fred Hoyle. The book uses these lives to consider areas of overlap between science, philosophy, and religion that are often overlooked in scientific accounts of the world. CT senior writer Tim Stafford spoke with Gingerich about his view on the relationship of religion and science.

God’s Planet uses storytelling to focus on personalities. Why did you take this approach in a science book?

God’s Planet came out of a series of lectures I gave at Gordon College. I don’t know how the inspiration struck, that I could center it around three quite different people who had transformative ideas that took people a long time to wrap their heads around. My first chapter asks the question, “Was Copernicus right?” that the earth goes around the sun, rather than the sun going around the earth. Today, everybody would say, of course he was right. Yet it took 150 years for a majority of educated people to accept that the earth moves through space. Why? There is a question there about how scientific ideas work with a whole structure of other ideas.

I have been doing a lot of work on Darwin for another book, The Divine Handiwork. Even today you have in America only a fair majority of people who accept his theory of evolution. How is that?

And finally, to bring in a ...

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School Prayer Doesn’t Need a Comeback

Why this prayer-loving, evangelical mom won’t be joining the movement.

It was a mistake to read about Janine Turner’s push to bring prayer “back” to school so early in the morning.

During those first few quiet moments—just before I rouse my middle-schooler for early morning band, then my daughter for her grade-school patrol duties, then my youngest for the nightmare that is waking up for second grade every single day—the last thing I want to read is anyone suggesting 15 minutes more of anything during the school day. Even if it is prayer. Especially if it’s prayer, actually.

Then came my next mistake of the day: reading what Facebook commenters had to say about the article. “It’s about time we put God back in school.” “No coincidence: schools got violent when we took God out of them!” Likes all around. These self-proclaiming Christian people were apparently totally comfortable with the idea that we are powerful enough to remove God from the world he created. Fine with this blasphemy that we can take God out of schools, just like we can take Christ out of Christmas.

This conception of God, though, is not one that I can get behind. I object to any mission to bring prayer “back” to school because I can’t support the faulty theology—downright heresyof implying God is only around to hear our prayers when the building sanctions his presence.

Prayer never left schools. And God never did either. To suggest otherwise should make us shudder. And yet, that’s what campaigns full of good God-fearing folks seem to be saying.

To what avail? What are we communicating with our laments over godless classrooms and demands for established prayer times? We insinuate we have the power to take and put ...

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8 Books for Parents Who Need to Know They're Not Alone

For moms, dads, single parents, and married ones.

When I was working on Small Talk:Learning From My Children About What Matters Most, my husband asked, "What's the one-minute takeaway from this book?" Without thinking too much about it, I said, "You are not alone." I later elaborated on that thought in the introduction to the book:

This book is a series of reflections from my past few years of parenting, beginning when I was pregnant with Marilee and moving in rough chronological order through my children's young lives. It is not a how-to guide. It is not filled with advice. It is, I hope, a word of encouragement that good things can emerge out of the hard but ordinary everyday moments. It is, I hope, a reminder that on those days when you wonder if there is any meaning in the dishes and disputes and diapers, you are not alone. It is also, I suppose, an exhortation to pay attention--to the words and thoughts and actions of these little ones we so easily overlook.

This conversation about the purpose of my book led me to thinking about other books that have offered encouragement to me as a parent, not because I've learned new strategies for handling my child with a temper tantrum, but because these writers have someone reached out through time and space into my world with a message of hope.

1. Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. It's the memoir of a young pregnant mother who discovers her unborn baby has Down syndrome. As it happens, I first read this book two years before our own daughter was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, and this book served as a lifeline for me as I struggled to let go of thinking I could control my own life. Beck's narrative served as a welcome gift yet again after Penny was born.

2. Found by Micha ...

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Strategy Matters: The Importance of Strategic Thinking in the Church (Part 2)

Strategy matters, even when it comes to something like sermon prep.

Sermon Prep Strategy

Not only are we seeing churches take their groups seriously, in regard to strategy, we are also seeing new and intriguing trends in respect to sermon preparation. In my mind this is a particularly unique, and helpful, phenomenon.

In an era where too much emphasis is placed on the super-pastor, it seems to me that moving sermon prep from a solo effort, to a team enterprise can have some helpful results. It would seem that a number of churches who are being blessed with growth are seeing the same things.

Friendship Community Church - Mt. Juliet, TN

Like many of the fastest growing and largest churches, Friendship Community Church (#56 on the Fastest Growing list) has moved from a classic sermon preparation process (a single pastor preparing the message on their own) to a team process that includes more elements than just a the spoken message.

According to their pastor, Todd Stevens, he typically prepares the majority of the content for the message each week, but the sermon calendar planning, and the creative planning is done in concert with others from the church’s leadership. Stevens describes their process in this way, “We have a group of 6-8 people that meet about 6-8 weeks in advance of the series and we’ll talk through the creative ideas.”

Additionally, these creative meetings will lead to tactile giveaways connected with the series as a means of helping the congregation remember the series. During a recent series entitled, “I Quit” they distributed notepads with the series logo on it, and encouraged the congregation to write down things that they were going to quit doing. These were then attached to a big board in the church to attest to God’s ...

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Identical Twin Sisters Growing Up Thousands of Miles Apart

A new PBS film premieres tonight and raises questions about family, fate, and culture.

Twin Sisters, a short documentary film about twin sisters raised on different sides of the globe, premiers tonight on PBS at 10:00pm EST. (Click here for a preview.) This film tells a simple story of twin girls abandoned in China and adopted by two very different families—one from Sacramento, California, the other from Fresvik, Norway, a town of 243 people. We learn the history of how the two sets of adoptive parents accidentally met each other in the orphanage with their new babies (I won’t give it away, but the way they met is nothing short of miraculous and well worth watching), then how they finally confirmed through DNA testing that they had adopted identical twins. We watch those girls grow up in two very different cultures with very different parents. And then we watch the sisters together, struggling through language and cultural barriers, and yet connected through a deep bond of love.

The film raises many questions it doesn’t try to answer, beginning with the adoption industry and then with the benefits and limitations of growing up in Norway versus the United States. Alexandra, growing up on a fjord with few shops and little outside entertainment, raises a pet mouse and makes her own fun. Mia, living in suburban America, participates in beauty pageants, plays soccer, and practices her violin. This film not only demonstrates the connection between these two girls but also contrasts their cultures. As a parent with children who could probably relate more to Mia, I was nevertheless drawn to Alexandra’s life—the beauty of her surroundings, the simplicity of her activities, the fullness of her days without hustle and bustle and activity all the time.

And then there are the ethical ...

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