Pilgrim’s Progress: How Restlessness Leads Us to Jesus

Exile is part of the Christian experience. But our wandering is not without a destination.

I’ve lived a tumbleweed life: I’ve had 16 addresses, been employed at 10 full-time jobs, eight part-time jobs, and a bushel basketful of freelance gigs. I’ve belonged to 20 churches and visited too many to count as I’ve searched for an ecclesial family that I know will be home only until it’s time to relocate once again.

You might say wandering is in my blood. My Jewish forebears learned many generations ago that being anchored in a community was a luxury reserved for others. We learned to ply a life from the rickety throwaway homes at the ragged edges of other cultures, always aware that at any moment, it might be time to leave or else be killed. Without realizing why, I learned early on to keep a stash of battered moving boxes on hand because you never know when it might be time to use them.

I’m not alone. Every one of us carries a restlessness that runs as deep as the marrow of our born-again bones. Although our consumer culture often tells us the cure is to buy a new mattress, a new car, or a new tube of toothpaste, we know that the experience of exile is common to humankind. No matter where we live, we find ourselves far from home. As author Jen Pollock Michel notes, “Home represents humanity’s most visceral ache—and our oldest desire.”

As believers, this ancient desire is at the heart of our wandering. We are people who live in a state of exile, sent from Eden to make our way through a world shaped by sweat and sorrow. There is hopeful news, however: Exile is not a terminal point or a destination. Rather, it’s meant to transform us into pilgrims.

The experience of exile comes in many forms. Although Americans are a people on the move— 11 percent of …

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The Implications of Meritocracy on the Church: Grace Erased for Incarcerated Individuals

Punishment devoid of grace is not justice, but vengeance.

We gather weekly to worship God, giving honor, praise, and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We declare the goodness of God through prayers, songs, and sermons. We thank God for the unceasing love, mercy, and grace that’s been extended to us, singing hymns of adoration and thanksgiving because nothing—no one, nothing, and no deed—can separate us from the love of Christ.

But, do we really believe this? Do we truly believe that no offense, sin, or crime—regardless of how heinous—can separate us from God’s love?

If we soberly search our hearts, many of us question and doubt this. We wonder, Can a person who has been convicted of mass murder, pedophilia, or human trafficking truly be transformed, redeemed, and reconciled to God? While these are extreme examples, given that most incarcerated people (73%) are serving time for nonviolent offenses, this is still a vital question for the Church to grapple with. We either believe that no one is beyond redemption, or we don’t. There’s no middle ground.

Christianity is predicated upon grace. Orthodoxy affirms that we are Christians because Jesus chose to pursue and save us while we were yet sinners. Jesus didn’t wait until we got our act together; he embodied perfect, sacrificial love while we were yet enemies of God. Subsequently, the amazing grace that reconciled, restored, and redeemed us should be the hallmark of our lives as Christians; particularly patterning our disposition towards others standing in the need of grace.

The Gulf of Grace

However, our criminal justice system reveals that all too often this hasn’t been the case. While the United States constitutes only 5 percent of the world’s population, we have …

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One-on-One with Keith Getty on Congregational Singing in the Global Church

The very act of congregational worship is a symbol of unity

Ed: Where do your ideas come from when you write?

Keith Getty: What a wonderful question. Two things, and both are related to my Irish upbringing. First, my musical childhood was church music, classical music, and whatever influences of Irish “folk” music I imbibed. Second, the young crowd of Presbyterians I grew up with were interested in discussing the Bible and theology and many became pastors. There was a desire in all of us to know Jesus deeply and to help other people know him deeply, and so much of that happens in the songs we sing. When you put these two ingredients in the juicer, out comes modern hymns.

John MacArthur once asked me, “Do you realize what a gift it was to be born Irish? Irish music is the easiest to sing as a group…” I always encourage Irish musicians to embrace our extraordinary musical culture rather than always trying to sound American or British.

Ed: Why are hymns important for society and for the church right now?

Keith:We live in a time when much around us is uncertain, where emotional breakdown and suicide are at record highs, and where family breakdown and confusion have left whole cultures crippled. Even common decency—whether a form of cordial manners to neighbors or the ability to have meaningful discourse on social or political issues with each other in person or online—has all but died. Our political leaders,celebrities, and media are pathetic examples to all of us collectively. In this time, what could be more beautiful than God’s people singing together?

What could be more inviting than the joy of a community singing with joy and love to one another? What could be more radical than song breaking down generational, socioeconomic, and political ideology …

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New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology, Not Music or Preachers

Don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

I used to lead, and now work with, LifeWay Research. Here’s an interesting piece of research they just released. It’s a bit counterintuitive in ways, so it caught my interest and I decided to share the story with you!

Most churchgoers will put up with a change in music style or a different preacher.

But don’t mess with a church’s beliefs or there may be an exodus, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.

The study of Protestant churchgoers found most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul. But more than half say they would strongly consider leaving if the church’s beliefs changed.

Pastors often worry about changing church music and setting off a “worship war,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. But few say they would leave over music.

Churchgoers are much more concerned about their church’s beliefs.

“Mess with the music and people may grumble,” he said. “Mess with theology and they’re out the door.”

Churchgoers stay put

LifeWay Research surveyed 1,010 Protestant churchgoers—those who attend services at least once a month—to see how strongly they are tied to their local congregations.

Researchers found most churchgoers stay put.

Thirty-five percent have been at their church between 10 and 24 years. Twenty-seven percent have been there for 25 years or more. Twenty-one percent have been there less than five years, while 17 percent have been at the same church for between five and nine years.

Lutherans (52 percent), Methodists (40 percent) and Baptists (31 percent) are most likely to have been at their church for 25 years or more. Fewer nondenominational (11 percent) or Assemblies …

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Four Ways to Put Preferences in Their Proper Place, Part 2

Giving up your preferences and reminding your congregation to do the same is not an easy road, but it is worth it for the sake of the gospel.

Third, exegete the culture.

If you are going to take the steps to walk through what it looks like to engage a culture wisely, then you need to exegete the culture. Exegeting a culture helps keep your preferences at bay. You need to step back and consider, “What is the culture we’re trying to engage, and how can we engage it?”

Think about the context of your church and what expressions of biblical practices will most appropriately engage your cultural context. For example, how would the people you are trying to reach in your community best engage in worship that is both filled with Spirit and truth? This is not always going to be comfortable, because the contextualized preferences are not always going to align with what your preferences are. That’s okay because Scripture reminds us to sacrifice for others and to hold onto our vision.

Of course, some will object to this, but generally not if they’ve been on a mission trip. They have probably already seen what such applications look like.

Exegeting your culture means loving and learning about the community around you, deferring your preferences to see others come to Christ and be changed by the power of the gospel.

Finally, be a model for preference deferral.

It can be a lot easier to tell everybody else to defer their preferences rather than giving up your own. But to lead well, we need to lead by example. We must be willing to sacrifice our favorite worship style or style of dress so that our churches will be most effective for the gospel. Instead of asking yourself, “What do I prefer?” ask yourself “What’s on mission?”

Too often, pastors create churches with their own style preferences. Instead, root yourself in Scripture. …

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Four Ways to Put Preferences in Their Proper Place, Part 1

If we are really considering others as more significant than ourselves, then we will not insist on our own preferences.

Everyone has their own personal preferences.

I am an 80’s guy. In fact, I like 80’s music so much so that a worship leader at a church I planted in Tennessee called me “80’s Ed.” But some people prefer music from the 90’s, or music that has just been released, or music from the 18th century. It can be tricky to balance all of those varying preferences in a church. There’s no way to please everybody when you have someone in your church who only likes to sing hymns seated next to somebody who never wants to crack open a hymnal.

But the church was never meant to cater to people’s personal preferences. We are not there as consumers of a product; instead, we are there as participators in the body of Christ. We shouldn’t demand our church to do things a certain way. Instead, we should look for ways we can let go of our favorites and sacrificially love the church.

So how do you keep preferences from becoming central to your congregation? I want to share four tips for curbing preferences. I’ll share two today and two tomorrow.

First, keep compelling your people with Scripture.

Scripture lays out the basis for our congretational life together. Too many people believe that their preferences come from Scripture, but this is often not the case.

Take music. There are no musical notes in the Bible. The closest possibility to a musical notation is the word “selah” in the Old Testament, but we don’t know what that means. As such, there is no musical preference in the Bible. Furthemore, there is no direction about what clothes you should wear in the Bible. And, there is no direction about how long a church service should be.

Now, there are things commanded in the Bible, …

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Four Ways to Put Preferences in Their Proper Place, Part 1

If we are really considering others as more significant than ourselves, then we will not insist on our own preferences.

Everyone has their own personal preferences.

I am an 80’s guy. In fact, I like 80’s music so much so that a worship leader at a church I planted in Tennessee called me “80’s Ed.” But some people prefer music from the 90’s, or music that has just been released, or music from the 18th century. It can be tricky to balance all of those varying preferences in a church. There’s no way to please everybody when you have someone in your church who only likes to sing hymns seated next to somebody who never wants to crack open a hymnal.

But the church was never meant to cater to people’s personal preferences. We are not there as consumers of a product; instead, we are there as participators in the body of Christ. We shouldn’t demand our church to do things a certain way. Instead, we should look for ways we can let go of our favorites and sacrificially love the church.

So how do you keep preferences from becoming central to your congregation? I want to share four tips for curbing preferences. I’ll share two today and two tomorrow.

First, keep compelling your people with Scripture.

Scripture lays out the basis for our congretational life together. Too many people believe that their preferences come from Scripture, but this is often not the case.

Take music. There are no musical notes in the Bible. The closest possibility to a musical notation is the word “selah” in the Old Testament, but we don’t know what that means. As such, there is no musical preference in the Bible. Furthemore, there is no direction about what clothes you should wear in the Bible. And, there is no direction about how long a church service should be.

Now, there are things commanded in the Bible, …

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A Great and Terrible Nation

Understanding our history, and how that might frame our Fourth of July prayers.

Many Christians want to believe that America is a Christian nation, and for the best of reasons. Many of the early founders were devout Christians. Much of America’s history has been shaped by Protestant and evangelical values. God has indeed blessed the nation with extraordinary natural resources and bold and courageous people. It has been and continues to be a land of opportunity, which is why so many across the world want to come here. And its Declaration of Independence and Constitution are grounded in the ideal of liberty as espoused by no other nation in history.

It is no wonder, then, that many feel America has been chosen by God. It’s not surprising that many Christians join the words God and country, and that others think of the Bill of Rights as divinely inspired—“nearly as important as the Resurrection,” as one patriot put it to me recently. One might infer idolatry here, and to be sure, some Christians go too far in this direction. But let us be charitable and assume that my friend, in hyperbolic fashion, was suggesting that something about the American experiment is a miracle.

But by no means is America a Christian nation. It is certainly not in any formal sense. That is, there is nothing in our Constitution that makes that assertion. Zambia has declared itself a Christian nation, as have Denmark and Costa Rica and a few others. But we have not.

It is often said that our founding leaders were mostly Christians and they shaped the nation to that end, if not formally. This is patently untrue. While some were devout Christians, others were deists (like George Washington), and some were hostile to orthodox Christianity (like Thomas Jefferson). To be sure, they crafted our founding documents …

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Brazil’s Soccer Stars Love Jesus. But They Can’t Thank Him for World Cup Wins.

What a team ban on religious celebrations reveals about evangelicals in South America’s biggest country.

In Brazil, the country of international football, the relationship between religion and the soccer ball is an old one. Brazilian athletes have long played with crucifixes, medals of saints, or wrist tapes honoring the deities of the local Candomblé cult.

But in recent years, explicit evangelical expressions of faith in Christ have dominated the South American nation’s sporting scene.

Perhaps not surprising in a country where nearly 25 percent of the population is Protestant, Brazil’s national team prays before and after games and celebrates goals by displaying T-shirts with Christian messages. At least six athletes on the current national team playing in this summer’s World Cup have declared themselves to be evangelical, including Fernandinho, Thiago Silva, Alisson, Douglas Costa, Willian, and the team’s star, Neymar.

But unlike previous international tournaments, the team has been banned from celebrating any of its on-field successes through religious expression.

Just before the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) banned the team from religiously themed celebrations, claiming that the practice could divert focus on competition and constrain athletes who practice other beliefs or are agnostic. The measure, announced in June, is in line with guidelines from FIFA itself, which controls the world of football and which, since the 2006 World Cup, has been restricting religious demonstrations on the field.

Religious celebrations have long been part of Brazilian soccer. After winning the 1994 World Cup, Cláudio Taffarel and Jorginho attributed part of their victory to divine action. An image of Taffarel in ecstasy, kneeling on the field in front of Roberto Baggio, an Italian …

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12 Podcasts for Your Summer Listening List

A dozen women weigh in with their favorite podcasts on practicing the Sabbath, the science of pianos, and other topics worth talking about this summer.

Maybe you’ve missed it, but Christianity Today produces a podcast. I’m the co-host of Quick to Listen, a weekly current-events program that pushes back against the breathless and instant opinions that often flatten the complexity of our world. By contrast, our show elevates the voices of those who have spent years studying and living through some of the most intractable problems of our time.

A recent favorite of mine? Our discussion of the persistent violence against the Nigerian church. In “Nigerian Christians Are Exhausted From the Terror. Will They Fight Back?” my co-host Mark Galli and I explored the conflict with local Christian leader Gideon Para-Mallam and heard firsthand the joy and pain of leading the church in the midst of bloodshed. He lit up our tiny recording studio with his passion, and his animated analysis reminded me why podcasts are such a powerful form of learning.

As a podcast creator and fan, I’m convinced that one of the medium’s gifts is the diversity of perspectives, topics, and genres. With that in mind, I asked a dozen women to write about their favorite program, preferably one off the mainstream track. If you’re on the prowl for a new podcast, look no further. Here are 12 recommendations that will entertain you (and your children), spark your faith, and engage your brain.

Each entry lists the podcast program followed by a featured episode. Happy listening!

1. Communicator Academy: “Dealing with Ministry Envy

With nearly 20 books and more than two decades of speaking, podcasting, and entrepreneurial experience between them, Kathi Lipp and Michele Cushatt share their collective expertise on industry “dos and don’ts” and build up …

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