Author: Trumpet Media

Knowing God’s Love is Impossible

At least for us. But for God, nothing is impossible.

Knowing God is maybe the most central thing in the Christian life. Also, possibly the hardest.

The other day I was talking to a student, relatively new to a life of discipleship, who confided just how frustrating it is that he’s taking so much time to grow. He lamented how much he struggles to trust God when others seem to do so with ease.

As I struggled to think of how to encourage him, I remembered one of the most curious prayer requests in all of Scripture, found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which I had just been working through.

Towards the end of chapter three, Paul asks “out of his glorious riches may [God] strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all God’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19).

We’re tempted to glance over this and think, “Okay, great, Paul prays that they understand God’s love. Typical Paul prayer. What’s the big deal?”

I was stopped short, though, when I realized Paul is asking that they be strengthened, that they have “power” to be able to know this love that surpasses all knowledge.

Now perhaps it’s because I’m a grad student who happens to study the doctrine of God, but if I were writing Ephesians, I might have rendered the relationship differently. I might have said that coming to know God takes weakness (and not just because you spend all your time in the library and not …

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The Cautionary Tale of Jerry Falwell Jr.

It’s time to remember the qualifications of biblical leadership.

Something doesn’t smell right in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of Liberty University and its controversial president, Jerry Falwell Jr. According to a September report in Politico:

“Everybody is scared for their life. Everybody walks around in fear,” said a current university employee who agreed to speak for this article only after purchasing a burner phone, fearing that Falwell was monitoring their communications…. “Fear is probably his most powerful weapon,” a former senior university official said.

Politico also reported that many Falwell confidants are concerned that tuition money is going “into university-funded construction and real estate projects that enrich the Falwell family and their friends,” going on to detail a number of examples.

Days later, further glimpses of Falwell’s leadership character emerged when Reuters quoted leaked emails in which he called some students “social misfits,” called the school’s police chief a “half-wit and easy to manipulate,” and said students trying to avoid Liberty parking fees were egg-sucking “dogs.”

There is plenty in the reports for Falwell and defenders to argue with. Many accusations were based on anonymous sources, and allegations of financial misconduct, to the degree there is any, of course must be borne out by impartial investigations and credible evidence.

Still there is an odor in the air. Falwell doesn’t emphasize that he is innocent but that, “In the end, they [his accusers] are going to look like fools.” He believes the entire affair is about power. He told CNN: “I think it’s all a political-based attack by people who wanted to run the school for themselves.” …

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Gleanings: November 2019

US announces new religious freedom initiatives

President Donald Trump called on the world to work harder to end religious persecution. Speaking to the United Nations in September, he promised $25 million additional US aid to protect international religious sites and announced plans for a first-of-its-kind coalition of US businesses to take a proactive role in defending religious freedom. According to Pew Research, 83 percent of the world’s population live in places with “high” or “very high” restrictions on religious liberty. Some of the world’s most populous countries, including China, India, Indonesia, and Russia are among the worst offenders. Trump specifically called out violations in China, Iran, Iraq, and Venezuela.

Switzerland: Evangelicals pray for election

Evangelicals in Switzerland held a nationwide prayer campaign leading up to the country’s late-October parliamentary elections, inspired by a similar effort in Austria earlier this year. In both countries, evangelicals have been concerned about the Syrian refugee crisis, laws that may limit their messages addressing homosexuality, and the rise of right-wing populism. The Swiss Evangelical Alliance asked people to pray the political discussion would focus on the common good. The country has multiple Christian parties, but the campaign did not endorse any specific candidates. Participants were encouraged to choose a minister and member state—called a canton—to pray for during the election season.

Iraq: Christian library reopens after ISIS

A Christian library destroyed by ISIS in 2014 has been restored and reopened with the support of Open Doors and the Syriac Catholic Church. The small public library, with only about …

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Azeris and Armenians Clash over Christian Heritage of Ancient Graves

Smashed headstones challenge image of Muslim-Christian-Jewish coexistence.

The grainy footage is unmistakable. The interpretation isn’t. And the implications could reverberate from Moscow to Tehran to Tel Aviv.

Dozens of men with sledgehammers pound slabs of stone in an otherwise empty mountainous field. Filmed in 2005 by the prelate of northern Iran’s Armenian church, Bishop Nshan Topouzian, the clip purports to show the destruction of khachkars, ornately carved headstones from a Christian graveyard, some dating back to the 6th century.

The site is in Nakhchivan, an enclave of primarily Muslim Azerbaijan geographically separated from the country by primarily Christian Armenia. Iran shares its southern border in the ethnically tangled web of states that make up the Central Asian Caucasus. Russia is to the north, Turkey to the west.

The destruction of more than 2,000 khachkars has been labeled “the greatest cultural genocide of the 21st century” by Simon Maghakyan, an Armenian American activist. He believes the move represents a campaign by the Azerbaijani government to wipe out its Christian heritage.

“The destruction of these khachkars seems to match in scale and tragedy ISIS’ destruction of Palmyra in Syria and the Taliban destruction of the Bamayan statues in Afghanistan,” said Wissam al-Saliby, advocacy officer at the United Nations for the World Evangelical Alliance.

“This issue goes beyond religious freedom. It is the heritage of mankind.”

But Azerbaijan denies Armenians ever lived in Nakhchivan, and cites similar cultural cleansing of Muslim heritage across the border. Centuries of mutual recrimination have resurfaced, as Azerbaijan presents itself internationally as a model of interfaith coexistence.

Other political factors also interfere. …

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Christian Booksellers’ Defiant New Chapter

This year was the end for the last remaining national chain and the longtime trade association, but the industry is still pushing forward with stubborn faith.

Fifteen minutes before the store opens, the staff of the Greatest Gift and Scripture Supply gathers to pray. They open the small box they keep at the front of the store for customers to leave prayer requests. Some days there are 10. Some days, 15. Today the box is empty.

“We’ll just pray for all the unspoken prayers,” says Heather Trost, owner of the Pueblo, Colorado, bookstore. The staff close their eyes. Some of them are wearing buttons that say, May I pray for you? For a moment, the store is quiet.

Trost has an unspoken prayer. Today, she’d like to sell more Bibles.

It’s been a hard year for the Greatest Gift. Running a Christian bookstore can seem like a business of hard years. It’s no secret the whole industry is struggling.

In the last two decades, more than 5,200 evangelical bookstores have gone out of business. Trost knows how easily one hard year—a tough Christmas season, an economic downturn, a personal health issue—can be the last.

The Greatest Gift started in 1949, part of a boom of new commercial activity after World War II. The evangelical book industry flourished in the 1950s, organized by a new group called the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) to serve the growing number of Americans who identified with the Christianity of Billy Graham.

There were about 300 evangelical retail stores in 1950. That grew to about 700 in 1965, about 1,850 in 1975, then more than 3,000 in 1985. By the mid-1990s, there were more than 7,000 such bookstores across the country, and Christian retail was a $3 billion business.

In the midst of those successes, though, there were hints of darker days to come. Walmart and Sam’s Club started selling evangelical books like Left Behind, …

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The Necessary Partnership of Truth and Charity

How the concept of the ‘via media’ might help us restore civil discourse.

My close friend, Nathan, is one of my favorite people on earth. He and I have intractable and substantial theological disagreements, but we love and enjoy each other. We discuss ideas and occasionally collaborate on projects. We both wonder, though: If we had met now, as opposed to as college students in the late ’90s, would we even have become friends? The cultural pressure to sort ourselves into ideologically pure and homogenous cliques is strong—much stronger now than it was 20 years ago when we met—and it’s eroding our ability as a society to seek common ground and common friendship.

There is a growing cultural assumption that the world is neatly divided between good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. This unimaginative calcification forces many of our cultural and theological conversations into a stalemate—every event produces thousands of takes that are boringly predictable. The lines are drawn clearly and brightly and there’s nothing left to do but shout at each other.

As we see this intense polarization in politics and theology—and in the heightened and heated rhetoric that social media inspires—some public figures sound renewed public calls for moderation. Others denounce “moderation” as a strategy of the privileged that ultimately protects the status quo. In her Washington Post piece earlier this year pointedly titled “Centrism and Moderation? No Thanks,” historian April Holm rejects the idea that attempts at moderation are virtuous. “The logic of calls to prioritize civility in public exchanges and of the insistence on seeing moral equivalence on both sides of every debate . . . are available only to those who are not, themselves, …

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Was Christ Tempted in Every Way?

Making sense of Jesus’ humanity in light of fleshly temptations.

According to the writer to the Hebrews, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Heb. 4:15). The implications of this statement for Christian theology down through the centuries have been profound. Even today, many a sermon begins by reassuring the congregation that Jesus knows what it is like to undergo temptations as we do because he was like us in every way, sin excepted.

But how are we understand this claim? The Gospels only record temptations that are hard for many of us to relate to: an appeal for Jesus to jump off a building, for instance, or a prayer to avoid the cross. Seemingly absent are the more pedestrian temptations Christians undergo daily, temptations toward cheating, overindulgence, pride, corrupt sexuality, and the like. How should the assurance from Hebrews be of help to Christians today?

The Jesus of the New Testament Gospels was certainly a human being. Human beings are tempted. So he was tempted. That much is like us. Yet Christ is not merely human as we are. For the traditional Christian claim is that he is God incarnate. As Charles Wesley’s Christmas carol puts it, “veiled in flesh the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate Deity!”

But here is the rub: Scripture also says God cannot be tempted. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). So we have a dilemma. On the one hand, Jesus is like us in every way, being tempted as we are yet without sin. On the other hand, God is incapable of being tempted. Yet Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. …

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Where Laziness Doesn’t Belong in the Story of Poverty

Privilege leads us to take credit for our own hard work, but God sees the injustice of oppression.

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With the United States …

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Why We Still Prophesy Hope

Bearing witness to our past and present reveals a relentless love in the face of evil.

In The New York Times1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones writes, “Black Americans have been, and continue to be, foundational to the idea of American freedom.” On the 400th anniversary of Africans arriving to this land as slaves, she makes the case that “It is we who have been the perfecters of this democracy,” that black Americans have pushed toward the country’s ideals in spite of their circumstances.

I’ve heard it said that history is a “dangerous” memory. It never lets us go until we attest to the wounds and commit to healing. It presses upon us that piercing but powerful word: love, love, love.

Still, it is hard to see how society might change, how such healing might finally come about. Rarely does the one who injures another have the moral imagination to do right unless forced to. Even spiritual awakening, religious education, and visionary declarations have often bore bad fruit. Plenty of promises of peace and freedom only brought on further oppression.

Even if we don’t have all the answers now, we must bear witness. And we must prophesy hope.

The black church in America offers a rich legacy of faith that—like the crucifixion itself—exists at the intersection of chaos and pain and love. Its stories shine through to our present day and remind us that history without hope is indeed a history without help.

The Chaos of Darkness

What greater tribute could be paid to religious faith in general and to their [slaves] religious faith in particular than this: It taught a people how to ride high to life, to look squarely in the face of those facts that argue most dramatically against all hope and to use those facts as raw material out of which they fashioned …

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