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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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My hope is that we in the church can understand wounds of the soul well enough that we move beyond the stigma we have associated with “mental” illness.

“I have a mental illness.”

This statement is at the same time true and misleading, helpful and unhelpful.

It is a statement that evokes feelings of discomfort for those who say it and for those who hear it.

And it is a statement that often raises many questions that are not easy to ask, and sometimes very difficult to answer.

I am a college professor, a clinical psychologist, and I have served as a minister in the church; and “I struggle with mental illness.” As you may have just noticed, I changed the words I used from “have” to “struggle with.”

The reason is that words matter. They matter because they reveal how we understand extremely complex realities like the ones we call “mental illness.”

To say “I have” suggests that I possess something or that something that wasn’t mine is now mine. This is a helpful word to use when we think of many medical conditions that involve an invasion of the body by something foreign. For example, I might say “I have the flu” in which case I mean that my body has been invaded by a virus that wasn’t there and is now there—something I “caught” from someone else.

This is not the case with the conditions we call mental illness. I cannot “catch” them from someone else, and they do not describe a virus or bacteria that has invaded my body.

Rather, mental illnesses are names we give to clusters of symptoms that seem common to people in certain circumstances. Some of those circumstances are linked more to a person’s genetic inheritance and some to their environment and life story; however, most often they involve a combination of multiple factors.

That is why it is much more ...

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Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker are quoting a lot of Scripture on the campaign trail.

Democratic primary candidates have quoted the Bible more than usual on the campaign trail in 2019. Eight of the top 12 candidates brought up Bible passages while talking about economic reform, welfare policy, and LGBT rights.

Senator Elizabeth Warren often speaks about her time teaching fifth grade Sunday school in a Methodist church, and then launches into an explanation of Matthew 25:40. “This is the one where the shepherd is dividing the world into the sheep and the goats,” she said at a CNN townhall. “As we all know, sheep are going to heaven and the goats—they’re not!”

Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, also quotes Scripture regularly. In the first Democratic debate, in July, he referenced Proverbs 14:31: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker.” Searches for the verse on Bible Gateway tripled after Buttigieg’s remarks. On the campaign trail, he has also referenced Matthew 6:5, where Jesus condemns the prayers of hypocrites.

Buttigieg, an Episcopalian, told Religion News Service that connecting to people of faith is an important part of his campaign strategy. That comes with risks, though. Buttigieg received a lot of backlash, for example, when he said “there’s plenty of scriptural basis” to support abortion rights.

Senator Cory Booker faced similar negative reactions from people who said he didn’t understand the Bible when he quoted Micah 6:8—which says the Lord wants people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God—in answer to a question about LGBT rights. Critics said Booker was “twisting Scripture.” Booker’s explanation was that his faith and that verse motivated him to fight against ...

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The burgeoning field of astrobiology and what it tells us about the meaning of life.

Every week that somber gatekeeper of human knowledge and wisdom—the internet—is abuzz with UFO sightings and strange alien encounters, all in an effort to bring the truth that is out there to the rest of us. Although these world-changing images are often more fizzle than flash, they serve as a testament to the fascination people have for the possibility of life that is out of this world.

Popular speculations like these, coupled with pronouncements every few years that scientists have found new evidence of alien life, lead us to believe that we are on the cusp of great discovery.

One of the recent advances making the news and fueling our interest in alien life is the recent discovery of exoplanets in the “Goldilocks,” or habitable, zone. As of this month, out of the 4,118 exoplanets now confirmed, 55 exist in the habitable zone. As new astronomical technology comes online in the next decade, this number is expected to rapidly increase.

As our focus on these extrasolar worlds become sharper, finding life—of any sort—on any one of them becomes more credible with each passing year. As a result, there has been an explosion of interest in a new field of research, astrobiology, the study of alien life and its origins and occurrences in our universe.

But there’s one thing you need to know about astrobiology: it is the only science that has no subject for study. Internet aside, we have no aliens.

This fact hasn’t dissuaded astrobiologists in the least. Instead, what makes astrobiology one of the most interesting fields of study is that it is in some ways a new kind of science—one that links physics with ethics, astronomy with philosophy, and biology with theology in a unique new way. ...

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How an earlier generation of believers stretched the boundaries of faith-based political imagination.

Socialist” has more than double the letters of the average expletive and, for generations now, has packed a corresponding punch in American public life. To hurl the word at someone has been to mark that person not just outside the mainstream but dangerously so. What reasonable person could espouse such a “godless” political philosophy, not to mention one so prone to nightmarish consequences on this side of the veil?

For many Americans, the very mention of socialism evokes dystopian visions of totalitarian rule and endless breadlines, whether in the old USSR or in contemporary Venezuela. Certainly such associations lurked behind Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore’s June declaration on Twitter, “I hate socialism. I’ve seen its wreckage up close. It’s based on a faulty view of human nature. Plus, it doesn’t work.” Just last month, Prestonwood Baptist pastor Jack Graham put an even finer point on the matter, tweeting, “No serious Christian can support socialism.”

And yet many serious Christians have, as Vaneesa Cook underscores in her thought-provoking new book, Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left. Cook finds in the past ample evidence that the intersection of Christianity and radicalism in the modern United States has in fact been quite bustling.

The heart of her story lies in the half-century between World War I and the Civil Rights movement, a time when “spiritual socialists,” as she calls them, stretched the boundaries of Christian social and political imagination, even as they helped reorient the American Left away from doctrinaire Marxism. As that latter point suggests, for Cook, as for her characters, socialism is a far more ...

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While most Christian radio stations still wait until after Thanksgiving, Spotify proves that most listeners are busting out their jingle bells earlier than that.

Weary of Christmas tunes freezing out fall celebrations? You’re not just imagining the jingle bells and carols coming earlier each year. According to Spotify plays tracked by EveryNoise, most places started their surge in seasonal listening November 1.

But some countries started the party far earlier. The Philippines, heavily Catholic and among the most devotedly Christian nations on earth, is the first to start playing Christmas music, with a spike on September 1. The country streams classics as well as local favorites like Jose Mari Chan’s “Christmas In Our Hearts.”

By October 28, the festive Philippines had competition from some largely secular but spirited countries: Iceland and the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Finland. Iceland currently leads the world in Christmas listening, with holiday tunes making up more than 8 percent of all streamed music, over triple the global average.

The United States crossed into the Christmas music threshold—playing at least 2 percent Christmas songs—within the past week.

In recent years, many countries make the switch before December (in 2017, 31 countries had passed the Christmas music threshold by then). But South American countries like Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil don’t start their Christmas music in earnest until Christmas Eve of Christmas Day, while little Liechtenstein ends on a high note: In the days leading up to Christmas 70 percent of music streamed in the country is holiday music, triple the global average.

Once the holiday music begins, listeners can expect one song to dominate: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” is the most-streamed Christmas song on the planet. (You have to ...

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The demands of addiction can go beyond typical spiritual and physical help offered by congregations.

Like most US pastors, Robby Gallaty knows someone who has been affected by opioid abuse. But unlike most pastors, Gallaty has personally suffered through addiction.

Twenty years ago this month, Gallaty endured a near-fatal car accident. When he left the hospital, the club-bouncer-turned-church-leader took with him several prescriptions for painkillers.

“My descent into full-scale drug abuse was amazingly rapid,” he writes in his new book, Recovered: How an Accident, Alcohol, and Addiction Led Me to God. “In November of 1999, before the accident, I was selling cars, training for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and thinking about business opportunities. By early the next year, I was looking for faster and better drug connections.”

After stealing $15,000 from his parents to feed his addiction, Gallaty found himself at his lowest point—kicked out of his parents’ home and told not to come back. “It was the hardest three months of their lives, and they’ll tell you that,” he said. “But it was the best thing for me. I knew that I couldn’t fix myself.”

This led Gallaty, now pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, to what he calls a “radical, Paul-like conversion” on November 12, 2002.

Most pastors don’t have the intimate knowledge of addiction Gallaty has, but most say they’ve seen it face to face through people connected to their church and among members of their congregation.

Nashville-based LifeWay Research asked 1,000 Protestant pastors about their personal connections to the opioid epidemic and how their churches are looking to address the issue.

Two-thirds of pastors (66%) say a family member of someone in ...

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The jury said the undercover activists who exposed the organization’s sale of fetal parts could not use journalism as a defense.

Pro-life advocates decried an award of more than $2.2 million to Planned Parenthood in a suit involving undercover investigations that provided evidence the country’s leading abortion provider traded in the sale of baby body parts.

A federal jury in San Francisco issued the penalties last Friday against the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) and, among others, two investigators who secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing their sale of fetal parts, as well as their willingness to manipulate the abortion procedure to preserve organs for sale and use. David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt also clandestinely recorded conversations with officials of fetal tissue procurement businesses that worked with Planned Parenthood.

The jury agreed with Planned Parenthood that the defendants were guilty of fraud, trespassing, illegal recording, racketeering and breach of contract, according to The San Francisco Examiner. It awarded Planned Parenthood $870,000 in punitive damages, about $470,000 in compensatory damages and—under a federal anti-racketeering law—triple compensatory damages of more than $1.4 million, The Examiner reported. The total was $2.28 million.

“Regardless of what any court decides, the videos of Planned Parenthood speak for themselves,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments for Baptist Press. “They reveal an organization whose profit structure is built on violence against women and their unborn children.

“Whatever questions some may have about the legality of the recordings, we should not forget what the recordings revealed: The cruelty, dishonesty and lawlessness of Planned ...

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For couples, finding sanctuary with each other and together with God can be a source of survival in high-stress ministry environments.

Ecclesiastes 4:9: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?"

Clergy mental health has emerged as an important topic in recent months and has ignited valuable conversation about what pastors can do to attend to their own emotional and spiritual well-being. While important, an exclusively individualistic emphasis can miss perhaps one of the most important resources for mental health available to ministry professionals: the marital relationship.

For couples, finding sanctuary with each other and together with God can be a source of survival in high-stress ministry environments.

Marriage can serve as a refuge and a place of safety from the stressors of high visibility, congregational conflict, professional isolation, and compassion fatigue. McMinn and colleagues, in their review of research on pastor’s health and coping, found that exemplar pastors identified their marital relationship as an essential part of their spiritual and psychological health.

The researchers proposed that marriage is an especially important refuge for those in ministry because of the difficulties of finding confidential, close friendship and peer relationships where honest and vulnerable feelings, fears, and doubts can be shared.

For couples and families called to full-time ministry, the marital relationship can be a protected and sacred space of connection, trust, and sharing of burdens.

A recent survey of pastors’ spouses found that while most report a high level of marital satisfaction, nearly half indicate ...

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The effectiveness of our theological instruction depends ultimately on the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

I have been a professor in the theology department at Whitworth University for the past sixteen years. Most of my students think I am a good teacher. I know that because they tell me so and because they write sweet things in their course evaluations. But with every year that passes, I become more acutely aware of my weaknesses and more in touch with the ways I fail them.

Anyone who claims to have mastered the art of teaching the Christian faith is a fool. No one possesses the necessary knowledge, wisdom, eloquence, or imagination. Anyone who doesn’t find it strange that he or she should be the one to stand in front of a group of people and talk about God is either deluded or hasn’t thought very deeply about what is happening. My guess is that many teachers recognize this. We know we’re not up to the challenge, and so we wonder, “Okay, well now what?”

We’ve been given an impossible task. We want students to know God—not merely to know about God, but to know God personally. We want them to engage with Scripture, doctrine, art, history, philosophy, and plenty of other things, but knowledge of those things is not our ultimate goal—or at least it shouldn’t be. In the midst of all this, we hope our classrooms become places where students encounter the living God—places where they become contemporaneous with Christ, to use Søren Kierkegaard’s way of speaking.

According to Kierkegaard, the goal of theological study is not merely to understand but “to exist in what one understands,” and that kind of knowledge is not something teachers can engineer in their students, nor can students realize it on their own. It depends ultimately on God himself.

But if ...

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Some evangelical supporters consider the shift away from Christian charities a betrayal.

Chick-fil-A has announced plans to end charitable giving to Christian organizations—including the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA)—amid concern over LGBT backlash as the popular Christian-owned business expands beyond the US.

The strategic shift has disappointed evangelicals who admired the chain’s stance and leaders at Salvation Army, who say its outreach supports members of the LGBT population facing homelessness and poverty.

“There’s no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are,” Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told the site Bisnow on Monday. “There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message.”

Chick-fil-A—the country’s third largest fast-food chain, behind McDonald’s and Starbucks—has been blocked from opening new locations in the San Antonio and Buffalo airports this year over criticism for donating to organizations with a traditional Christian view of sexuality. Previously, it has faced resistance for the same reason from politicians in Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago.

Internationally, a shopping center in Reading, England, announced eight days into Chick-fil-A’s lease on a new location that the lease would not be renewed when it expired. The mall cited a desire to “offer an inclusive space where everyone is welcome.”

An unnamed Chick-fil-A executive told Biznow the chain was “taking it on the chin” in media reports about LGBT protests and could not ignore the threat to its growth.

Several years ago, the restaurant chain stopped giving to some organizations ...

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