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How the church can have a better conversation about the falling fertility rate and society’s changing expectations for mothers.

Last year, the US birthrate experienced its largest single-year drop in nearly 50 years. For years, America’s 2.1 fertility rate made it an outlier to other developed countries. But for the last decade, the number had begun trending downwards, plummeting to last year’s figure of 1.6 children per woman.

These numbers entered the news the same week the New York Times published an essay by columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, “I Became a Mother at 25, and I’m Not Sorry I Didn’t Wait.” Many warmly received and shared the piece, which explores the author’s experience of learning she was pregnant and the many factors that have caused millennial women to delay children including economic concerns, higher education, race, and geography. But for others, it struck a nerve.

One NYT commenter wrote, “There are few things more irresponsible than bringing a child into the world in 2021. I know it's difficult to reject the incredible social and cultural pressure that encourages us to reproduce. The easiest thing to do will always be to have children. But a good rule of thumb is that the easiest option-- the one our current paradigm encourages-- generally causes the most damage and suffering.”

On Twitter, Jill Filipovic wrote, “I would really love to read more essays and op/eds from women (and men, too) who regret having children as early as they did, regret having as many as they did, or regret having children at all. There's not much about motherhood that remains publicly unexplored, but that does.”

Rebecca McLaughlin is the author of Confronting Christianity, named Christianity Today's 2020 Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year, and it's follow-up edition for youth, ...

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Even close relatives like "awe" and "reverence" don’t quite capture the passionate intensity of trembling in the presence of a holy God.

American culture is full of fear. Although our country is profoundly polarized, the fact of fear and its driving and entrenching power unites us. The objects of our fears differ: We may be most afraid of the proliferation of gross injustice or of the government infringing on our personal liberties. We may fear persecution or the loss of the church’s witness through compromising political allegiances. Many of us fear losing our income or, worse, losing a loved one to the pandemic or police brutality. Masks, unmasked people, the coronavirus, vaccines, becoming a hashtag, tornadoes, hurricanes, break-ins, elections—all these things spark fear for different people. We are afraid.

Into this fear, the Lord speaks a word of hope and peace again and again through Scripture: Do not be afraid! In Luke 1:74, Zechariah prophesied that Jesus’ coming meant that God’s people would be able to serve him “without fear.” And yet Scripture also commands and calls us to fear the Lord and casts that fear in a positive light, with Isaiah even calling it the Messiah’s “delight” (11:3). What are we to make of this?

Michael Reeves addresses this question with competence and clarity in his latest book, Rejoice and Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord. Reeves, who teaches at the UK’s Union School of Theology, is perhaps best known for his 2012 volume Delighting in the Trinity, which provides a much-needed introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity in accessible and even playful language. Rejoice and Tremble follows in that vein by reappropriating the wisdom of the historic church, grounded in Scripture, to explain the meaning and value of an oft-misunderstood or neglected ...

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Takeaways and learnings from local church visits

I’m restarting my Sunday Journeys series, talking about different churches I’ve visited and taking away some learnings from each.

Earlier this year, I was at Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis for their missions conference. Despite the numerous health and logistical complications COVID presented through the planning process, the pastors, staff, and congregants at BACC creatively navigated these unique circumstances with precaution and wisdom at the forefront of their concerns.

Here’s a pic of the team praying before one of the services.

I was thankful for the opportunity to join such an incredible team and visit with Greg St. Cyr, the lead pastor of BACC and my former doctoral student at TEDS.

The theme of the conference was “Reaching a Volatile World,” which—well—is pretty much right on time and on target.

I appreciated the time they set aside for a mission’s focus, including the weekend services, but also all weekend long—and ongoing events behind that. We heard from church planting leaders from India and beyond.

A Missions Focus

Bay Area Community Church has been mission-oriented since its start in 1987. This church is enraptured with the good news of the gospel and is eager to share it with others, whether down the street or across the world. Greg St. Cyr’s passion for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ stems from his own missional experiences working with CRU and also as a missionary in Poland for 8 years, mostly during the communist regime and this has undoubtedly only added fuel to the church’s fire for missions.

Bay Area Community Church follows the pattern demonstrated by the apostles in Acts for their own missional scope. Just as the apostles and early ...

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Four takeaways from this week’s release of the State Department’s 2020 IRF report.

The rollout of the US State Department’s most recent report on international religious freedom (IRF) this week was a study in the contrasts between the Trump and Biden administrations.

But there were also continuities.

Here are two of each that stand out to me as a religious freedom scholar and former staffer in the IRF office:

1. Humility

At last year’s rollout, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo boasted, “There is no other nation that cares so deeply about religious freedom” and “We remain the greatest nation in the history of civilization.” Hardly a winsome self-characterization. His only caveat was “America is not a perfect nation,” which is the kind of thing you say when you think you’re pretty close to perfect or don’t want to get into specifics about how you’re not.

By contrast, this week current Secretary of State Antony Blinken was self-effacing and specific. Blinken, who is Jewish, lamented that “we’re seeing antisemitism on the rise worldwide, including here in the United States as well as across Europe.” The same goes for anti-Muslim sentiment, which he labeled a “serious problem for the United States as well as in Europe.” Blinken’s modesty and self-awareness add credibility to America’s promotion of tolerance. What should differentiate the US government from authoritarian regimes is not only a higher level of respect for religious freedom but also more honesty about shortcomings and actively addressing them.

2. Co-equal Human Rights

In an article for Christianity Today last November, I argued that American religious freedom advocates can be divided into two basic camps: “First Freedom” and “Article ...

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How to apply the biblical concept of church discipline in a non-profit environment.

Although church discipline is reserved for the shepherds of God's people within the church, what about Christian organizations? Should they, like Christian schools or non-profits, exercise church discipline? The short answer is no. However, we believe there are some principles Christian organizations can extrapolate from the biblical purpose, pattern, and practice of church discipline.

In this article, we want to highlight three overarching principles (and practices) for how Christian organizations can apply the concept of church discipline to create healthy organizational cultural environments.

1. Create covenantal expectations for the organization

Regardless of whether it's Christian or not, every organization should set clear expectations for their employees (or volunteers).[1] This is simply good leadership.

We also believe Christian organizations should go a step further and create a covenantal document. This document should highlight the most critical and vital expectations for those working in the organization and ask each employee to read and sign. [2]

Here are a few things such a document and practice do:

  • It communicates to the employee your seriousness about these expectations
  • It immediately creates accountability
  • It outlines your expectations for their character, conduct, behavior, and work ethic.

In addition to the covenantal expectations, every organization should have a personnel manual or staff handbook that details more expectations of the employee and the organization. The handbook is a living working document providing an overview of policies, procedures, and guidelines. In other words, the handbook offers a framework for protecting both the company's rights and the rights of its employees. [3] The covenantal ...

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Pastors gear up to welcome evangelicals back to the “greater glory” of church life following 14 months of isolation.

On Monday, Ireland emerged from one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, allowing Christians to return to in-person church services for the first time since December. Members of Solid Rock Drogheda couldn’t wait until Sunday and met to worship together as soon as the restrictions lifted.

The church, located in a town north of Dublin, started praying for Ireland and the end of the pandemic on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 when lockdown kept revelers at home. What started as a 24-hour prayer vigil has continued ever since, and the church has used an online booking system to schedule members to pray continuously, according to Nick Park, Solid Rock’s pastor and the executive director of Evangelical Alliance Ireland.

While the church prayed, the Irish government instituted three separate lockdowns. In the 14 months since the pandemic began, the government has permitted worship on only 14 Sundays and only three times in the past six months. As of May 10, churches can hold services—along with weddings and funerals—with a maximum of 50 people in attendance.

This is a long-awaited relief for churchgoers who have spent so much of the pandemic apart. Pastors could leave their homes to conduct an online service or to minister to the sick during the earlier lockdowns, but residents were not permitted to get together socially or for worship, indoors or out.

While many businesses and restaurants are still under phased reopening, the Irish are also finally free to travel between counties and meet up with friends and family, per the latest directives from government officials.

At times Ireland’s restrictions were considered among the toughest in the world. Authorities issued fines and threatened to arrest pastors ...

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Evangelical association names itself as co-defendant to defend religious exemptions.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) jumped into the legal fray over LGBT rights and religious liberties on Wednesday when it filed a motion to join a lawsuit against the US Department of Education (DOE) as a codefendant.

Thirty-three current and former students from 20-plus religiously affiliated colleges filed the suit against the DOE in March to prevent the agency from granting religious exemptions from federal antidiscrimination laws. Eighteen of the schools are CCCU members, including Dordt Univeristy, Lipscomb Univeristy, Messiah Univeristy, Nyack College, and Toccoa Falls College. The schools all have policies prohibiting student sexual activity and statements about Christian sexual ethics.

A newly founded LGBT advocacy group, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), says these policies are discriminatory and create abusive and unsafe conditions for LGBT students. REAP is arguing that the religious exemptions to civil rights and federal education laws should be abolished.

If the exemption to Title IX is eliminated, religious schools with policies deemed discriminatory would not be eligible for federal funds.

CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra said the lawsuit is frivolous and the Christian colleges and universities are clearly eligible for religious exemptions.

“CCCU institutions subscribe to sincerely held biblical beliefs,” she said in a statement, “which include specific religious convictions around human sexuality and gender, and are transparent about their policies and behavior guidelines, which students voluntarily agree to when they choose to attend the institution.”

The CCCU has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion cites multiple US Supreme Court ...

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Latest IRF scorecard grades each member of US Congress, as State Department releases annual report on 200 countries and territories.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf kingdom “remains the only country in the world without a Christian church, though there are more than a million Christians living [there],” he stated yesterday.

Such high-level criticism of the key US ally is a departure from the foreign policy of the Trump administration, though the State Department has listed the oil-rich nation as a Country of Particular Concern on international religious freedom (IRF) since 2004.

Blinken also highlighted recent violations in Iran, Burma, Russia, Nigeria, and China. Positive developments were noted in Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world,” stated Blinken, releasing the 23rd annual International Religious Freedom Report, assessing the records of nearly 200 countries and territories.

“We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue, [and] we’re grateful for our partners.”

He named several entities, but one is glaring in its absence:

The US Congress.

Six years ago, 21Wilberforce, a Christian human rights organization, launched the International Religious Freedom Scorecard to hold America’s lawmakers to account.

“There is much room for improvement,” Lou Ann Sabatier, director of communication, told CT. “It is a long and arduous process for an IRF bill to become a law, and many do not make it out of committee.”

The latest scorecard, released this week and grading the two-year term of the 116th Congress, lists 91 legislative efforts in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Only two became law.

The daughter of ...

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Church discipline does a body good.

In Part 1, the practice of church discipline was grounded in God's character and work as the Good Shepherd and how it informs church discipline. Part 2 considered the ultimate goal of church discipline: to redeem and restore the person to the church body. But when the person continues in rebellion, denial, or other ways that contradict the faith, church discipline offers a way to protect the church while still holding forth the hope of repentance.

The Pattern of Church Discipline

One of the most misunderstood, abused, and even unused passages in the New Testament is Matthew 18:15–20. This passage isn't about confronting people who irritate you, or who don't do what you want, or who may have done or said something that offended you. This passage is about a brother or sister who sins against another. This sin could be of omission or commission. Nevertheless, it is about confronting those who engage in wrongdoing—those who live contrary to our all-perfect and all-holy God.

Suppose there is noticeable, identifiable, and public sin. In this case, a brother or sister is to go to the individual and point out the fault—where their life isn't following Christ. Jesus then says, "If they listen to you, you have won them over." However, if they ignore your rebuke, "take one or two others along," establishing the testimony of two or three witnesses" (18:16).

Again, suppose the person, in persistent sin, doesn't listen to the two or three believer’s admonishment to repent of their sin and thus has a hardened heart. In this case, the small confronting body is to share it with the larger body, the church. If the public acknowledgment of this person's sin doesn't soften ...

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The heart of church discipline is restoration.

As we noted in Part 1, God compares himself to a shepherd and promises to seek the lost, heal the broken, judge between his sheep (Ezekiel 34:10–22). Despite thwarting God's authority as Shepherd and harming other sheep around them (Ezekiel 34:17–22), God earnestly seeks out sheep who've strayed from his flock and desires to restore them to his care (Ezekiel 34:11, 22).

We see the culmination of this promise to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) in Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11–16) and will leave the ninety-nine sheep to bring one lost sheep back into his care (Luke 15:1–7).

We also noted in Part 1 that God appoints leaders over his people and expects them to shepherd his people as he does and under his authority (Ezekiel 34:1–10; 1 Peter 5:2–4). To shepherd the people of God well, leaders need to "judge" between sheep—or in New Testament wording, practice church discipline. Therefore, we want to highlight the New Testament purpose, pattern, and practice of church discipline. For those churches that embrace the purpose, follow the pattern, and implement the practice of church discipline, they will do their bodies good.

Church Discipline: Purposeful and Merciful

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to expel the wicked man (5:12) who had been sleeping with his father's wife (5:1). In this passage, Paul writes, "So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of the Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh…" (5:4,5).

Paul also, in writing to Timothy, alludes to two people he handed over to Satan. Paul shared that he handed Hymenaeus and Alexander ...

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Instructions for publishers.

Dear Publisher,

Each year, Christianity Today honors a set of outstanding books encompassing a variety of subjects and genres. The CT Book Awards, along with our Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year, will be announced in December at christianitytoday.com. They also will be featured prominently in the January/February 2022 issue of CT and promoted in several CT newsletters. (In addition, publishers will have the opportunity to participate in a marketing promotion organized by CT’s marketing team, complete with site banners and paid Facebook promotion.)

Awards Categories:

1. Apologetics/Evangelism

2. Biblical Studies

3. Children and Youth

4. Christian Living/Discipleship

5. The Church/Pastoral Leadership

6. Culture and the Arts

7. Fiction

8. History/Biography

9. Marriage and Family

10. Missions/Global Church

11. Politics and Public Life

12. Spiritual Formation

13. Theology/Ethics

14. The Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year*

*Beautiful Orthodoxy is the core philosophy guiding CT’s ministry. It describes a mission, across all our publications, to proclaim the truth, beauty, and goodness of the gospel in a gracious, non-antagonistic tone. Learn more about our cause of Beautiful Orthodoxy here and here.

Nominations:

To be eligible for nomination, a book must be published between November 1, 2020 and October 31, 2021. We are looking for scholarly and popular-level works, and everything in between. A diverse panel of scholars, pastors, and other informed readers will evaluate the books.

Publishers can nominate as many books as they wish, and each nominee can be submitted in multiple categories. To enter your nominations, you will fill out and submit a nomination form, listing each book you are nominating and the categories for whey they ...

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    Bethel Worship Center Church International Inc.

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    To birth, mature, equip and send out a body of faithful Ambassadors, who are secure in their identity, unified in purpose, effectively reaching a lost generation for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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