VIDEO The Bible Project videos reaching millions with help of YouTube and crowdfunding

By Jeannie Law, Christian Post Reporter

The Bible Project video still, "Exodus" 2019. | TheBibleProject.com


An animated video outreach called The Bible Project has been successfully reaching millions of people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the support of crowdfunding and its promotion on YouTube.

“We want people to experience the Bible as the unified story that leads to Jesus, a big meta-narrative that leads to Jesus,” Mike McDonald, director of Strategic Relationships of The Bible Project, told The Christian Post.

“Why that’s even a thing for us, is that our founders, and people like myself, and many others often just find it difficult to read the Bible. It’s a massive book [with] many different authors, many different times in history, different literary styles. It’s such a complex group of books that it becomes very difficult on how to even approach it,” he said.

The Bible Project was launched in 2014 in Portland, Oregon, and hopes to encourage people to engage with the scriptures.

“At least in our communities, we’re fast approaching a very post-Bible Christianity,” McDonald stressed.

The former pastor said he comes across Christians all the time who do not often open their Bible or are excited about it.

“We wanted to solve that. The biggest reason why people don’t read the Bible is because we don’t understand the context, we don’t know how to approach the books, or the chapters that we’re reading,” he said.

Since its inception, The Bible Project has produced over 130 videos and 200 podcasts, accumulating 125 million views across all media channels in over 200 countries.

The outreach tool was started by longtime friends Timothy Mackie and Jonathan Collins who met at Multnomah Bible College. The pair wanted to help people read through scripture while avoiding common pitfalls of misunderstanding the Bible. Combining Mackie’s doctorate in theology and his deep understanding of the Hebrew Bible with Collins’ ability to simply communicate complex topics and his passion for visual story-telling, they chose to create teaching videos and put them online for free.

The Bible Project was an instant success and with people willing to give for the creation of the videos, they now have more than 100,000 supporters.

“Tim had this idea of doing something called, Bible in five. He wanted to do overview, explanation type videos, of books of the Bible, in five minutes so that everyday people that aren’t going to go to seminary can have enough context and information to go in and actually read the Bible,” McDonald said of his colleagues.

“Jon became so good at communicating that he created two companies in Portland that Microsoft, Apple and Google would all hire when they were launching new, complex ideas. He would help them figure out how to communicate that in 30 or 60 second commercial slots.”

The Bible Project is the “merging of those two people and those two things” he added. “You’ve got this incredible Bible scholar, and this incredible question asker/communicator, and you put them together, and that’s the Bible project.”

The team collectively now create explainer videos on the Bible and hire the best artists from around the world to come and be a part of the project. They’ve even worked with talented illustrators from Pixar to bring some of their projects to life.

“You can just do so much more with animation than you can, with just Tim [teaching] with a whiteboard. There’s just so many crazy, complex ideas when we’re talking about God, or the Holy Spirit. How do you do that in just a live teaching?” McDonald reflected. “So we have the freedom to actually do animation around those complex ideas and help communicate them.”

“It’s not just young, it’s every age group, we have so many folks that are in their mature 60s and 70s that love learning the Bible through our videos, but we also have eight-year-olds that are just as engaged in the video,” the Director of Strategic Relationships revealed.

Reaching the unchurched

The project is in the top 225 of all-time podcasts. Their videos on YouTube are also specifically viewed by people between the ages of 18 to 45, and is particularly strong in males ages 18 to 35.

When asked about their remarkable ability to reach the unchurched, McDonald said it’s really because of how they deliver their content.

“I wish that we came up with some big strategic plan at the very beginning, but to be honest, part of it is the fact that we chose two things. We chose YouTube as our primary platform when we first launched the project and there were a couple of reasons for that,” he explained.

“One, we always wanted it to be free and YouTube allowed us to do that, where it didn’t cost us to upload videos and create channels and all that kind of stuff. Two, we knew that YouTube is still, to this day, and is only growing as the number one media consumption platform in the world, not just here in America, but around the world. More people watch media on YouTube than any other platform,” McDonald added.

In spite of concerns that social media censors the Gospel message, McDonald maintained that YouTube has actually helped them reach millions of people.

The Bible Project has “evidence to the contrary” he said.

“What’s amazing with YouTube is that there’s a YouTube cadence, meaning that if we made our videos slower in the cadence, we would drop off views and people wouldn’t finish them,” he shared. “We know the cadence of the most-watched videos and we keep our videos in line with that media consumer cadence so that our videos get finished at a very high percentage rate and YouTube loves that because they want to keep people on their platform.

“YouTube actually, forwards people, that have never heard of the Bible project to our video, depending on some of their search history. So about 50% of our YouTube views come from YouTube actually pushing our content to them. I think we’re reaching, quite a few unchurched or non-believers through YouTube pushing our content, because of the way that we do it.”

The project is especially helpful because so many people have many questions about the Bible and YouTube is where many in this generation turn for answers.

Another reason they are reaching the 18 to 35-year-old male demographic that the churches often having a hard time reaching, is because “YouTube skews that way,” McDonald noted. “YouTube skews 18 to 35-year-old male, that’s the majority of people that are on YouTube.”

“Over 50% of our views is coming from that group of people,” the director who has led thousands of Christian leaders on more than 200 trips around the world, shared.

“Whether you’re in church or not there, there’s still a massive group of people that are wanting answers and wanting to know what their purpose is on this life. They’re looking for a place to actually engage with their spirituality, whether they are followers of Jesus or not. There’s still this deep-rooted connection to that and because of the way that we do our explainer videos, they just end up being in a place that, whether it’s non believers, or faith-friendly people, or brand new Christians, or people that have walked away from the church, they are still trying to figure out how to engage in their spirituality, they’re finding our videos extremely helpful,” McDonald told CP.

20-year-old youth leader and AdventHealth University student Emma Mantlo says she strongly “supports” the video project and revealed that she’s had professors use the information to help teach students to understand scripture.

“Many professors who taught Bible classes I attended used the Bible Project as a reliable tool to summarize a book or help create an overview of the Bible and how everything comes together as God’s beautiful plan to save humanity,” Mantlo shared.

She added, “I have consistently gone back to this resource to have varying input on all details surrounding different books, words, and themes.”

The non-profit Bible Project operates solely through crowdfunding.

“We didn’t go into this thinking we’re going to make 18 to 20 videos a year,” McDonald acknowledged. “We thought maybe we’d get two out, maybe three. By God’s grace, the crowd caught up very fast, through a few people that helped share it.”

Public Christian figures Pastor Francis Chan and Jefferson Bethke were instrumental in spreading the word early on by sharing the videos with their audiences.

“Now we have just an army of incredible generous patrons that keep the project going. It’s primarily average donations of $20 a month but we have tens of thousands of them, that allow us to keep this project going,” McDonald testified.

“It’s a bit of an affirmation that people are finding it helpful. It’s only growing in that support, which just allows us to continue to make 18 to 20 videos a year, plus translate them into 54 different languages, and get these localized videos out into the world as well.”

The Bible in different languages 

The Bible Project ventured out into the Spanish market just this year and already surpassed 200,000 subscribers on YouTube.

“I don’t think we ever thought this many people would be engaging and finding the videos helpful. There is such a lack of great resources that are free for people around the world. Spanish was the first language we kicked off,” said McDonald.

With over 100 videos already done in Spanish, each video is localized featuring Spanish artists. The Bible Project doesn’t simply do voice-overs for their international video either, they select local people to share the video content in their native tongue.

“We actually re-animate, redraw, through local indigenous folks that are doing the art and are doing all the voiceover. We do full translation. It’s full-on,” McDonald disclosed. “It takes a while but we end up with a product that really feels like it was built for that context and for that people group.”

The Bible Project also has videos in Hungarian, Polish, Cantonese, French, German, Russian, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Mandarin which are all at different stages.

“Some of the newer ones, we’ve only got 15 or 20 videos done, but those are all YouTube channels that people can access right away in their countries and in their context,” he noted.

The goal is to have videos in 54 languages in the next seven years, with each video fully localized.

The Bible Project regularly supports organizations and churches who wish to integrate their videos into sermons and teachings. The crowdfunding has made it possible for McDonald to travel and assist in doing so.

Worship & Creative Pastor Jeffrey Abyad of Capital Life Church, Arlington, Virginia, said his church community joined a YouVersion Bible reading plan for a year that incorporated The Bible Project videos.

“We loved it. The visuals are such an illuminating way to look at scripture, and the theological depth of concepts distilled into such an interesting and easily understandable format have been invaluable,” Abyad admired.

“It has re-energized my hunger for the word in a whole new way. I’m very grateful for the Bible Project — their passion for God’s word and their creativity and dedication to sharing their insightful content with the world free of charge,” he supported.

North Point Ministries Pastor Andy Stanley in Atlanta, and Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, have both been known to use the project in their ministries. Celebration Church has fully integrated The Bible Project into their services. They play a video every Sunday in front of their entire gathering as well as in their kids and youth groups.

Nonprofit organizations such as CruYoung LifeAlpha, Prison Fellowship, and Bible Study Fellowship further integrate the teaching videos.

Because it’s done on YouTube and focuses solely on scripture and biblical history, the project allows for multiple denominations to use the video. The Bible Project avoids partnerships with ministries or organizations to avoid mis-associations. The outreach tool encourages everyone to use their videos as long as the content remains free and they use YouTube links.

“If you’re on YouTube, the way that YouTube works is I can put a Beyonce video on my Facebook from YouTube, it doesn’t mean that I know Beyonce or am partnered with Beyonce,” McDonald reasoned. “That’s allowed us to stay very ecumenical in our approach to serve the big C church, whether it’s Pentecostal, Protestant, Catholic, or whatever.”

“The goal is to help people! We’re the Bible project, not the theology project. We’re just talking about what the Bible is saying, in that context for that moment.

“The foundation that we’ll lay down will be extremely helpful for you and your church, and then if you take it a little bit further, that’s up to you as a shepherd, as a pastor, to shepherd your people in that way,” he said.

The video does not subscribe to a particular Bible translation as Mackey is fluent in Hebrew and studies from the word from that translation, then explains it in English.

The ultimate goal for them would be to turn the corner on the Bible Christianity side of things, and really move the needle in people being able to actually read the Bible with confidence, McDonald concluded.

“Jesus taught from the Bible all the time. So if it was important to Him, in His ministry, to teach from texts that were a thousand, 1,500, 2,000 years old, then I think it’s got to be important to us,” he concluded. “At the end of all of this, if we have people go, ‘I love to read the Bible. I get excited about it, It’s crazy, It’s weird, It’s interesting, but I dive into it,’ that would be a huge win.”

Check out The Bible Project on YouTube. For more information visit the website.

https://www.christianpost.com/news/the-bible-project-videos-reaching-millions-with-help-of-youtube-and-crowdfunding.html

 

We Dare Not Ignore the Devil

Article by Jon Bloom

A.W. Tozer once memorably said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Though I agree with C.S. Lewis’s response to this line of thinking — that “how God thinks of us is . . . infinitely more important” than how we think of him — Tozer’s point is still crucial: “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 1). How we think about God determines how we live.

Now, what comes into your mind when you think about Satan and his demons? Certainly, it is not the most important thing about you. And what God thinks about Satan and demons is infinitely more important than what we think of them. But what we think about the demonic realm is certainly not unimportant.

“We must be more willing to be considered fools than to cruelly leave people the victims of enslaving evil.”

What do we think of what God has to say about the existence and activity of devils in Scripture? How seriously do we take what he says — not just in creed but in deed? How much does a conscious awareness of spiritual warfare functionally factor into our daily life? How does it affect how we pray? How does it inform the ways we see our areas of chronic temptation, fears, family dynamics, church conflicts, physical and mental illnesses, inhibited gospel fruitfulness, geopolitical events? What kinds of strategic spiritual action do we take in response to these things?

These are important questions. Because how we think about satanic forces also determines in significant ways how we live.

Are We Ignorant of His Designs?

The New Testament authors wrote with a profound awareness of the cosmic war they were involved in. They determined to “not be outwitted by Satan; for [they were] not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).

“The devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41) factored prominently in Jesus’s life, teaching, and miracles. From his temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry (Matthew 4:1–11) to the events surrounding his crucifixion (John 13:27), Satan and his forces were an ever-present reality. Jesus taught that demons actively enslave people (Luke 13:16), actively seek to gain influence over religious leaders and institutions (John 8:44), and actively oppose and seek to undermine and corrupt gospel work (Luke 8:12). He also taught that Satan understands his massive influence in the world as his “kingdom” (Luke 11:17–18). When Jesus’s closest disciples described his miraculous ministry, they said, “he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38).

When Jesus commissioned his early apostolic leaders, he sent them into a world of unbelievers “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). They understood that they — and all Christians — are involved in a war in which “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

“What comes into your mind when you think about Satan and his demons?”

And they repeatedly warned Christians to “be sober-minded [and] watchful” because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). They did not want us to be ignorant of Satan’s designs.

The question we need to ask ourselves, especially we Christians in the West, is this: Are we ignorant of Satan’s designs?

Test Case

Here’s a test case. How did you emotionally respond to my earlier mention of “physical and mental illnesses” as possibly being caused or exacerbated by demonic beings? Did it provoke some level of cultural embarrassment because the idea sounds so unscientific, even superstitious? Or did it provoke some defensive anger because, especially when it comes to mental illness, you want to emphatically state that no one should assume the affliction is demonic?

Now, before any qualification, let’s take a moment to assess our emotional reactions. If we feel some embarrassment, why? If we feel some defensive anger, why? What’s fueling our responses? How much are they fueled by an accurate biblical understanding of demonic involvement, and how much are they fueled by our personal experiences and/or our culture’s naturalistic assumptions about everything?

It’s important that we query our responses and not accept them too easily. They might expose an unbiblical imbalance or blind spot. Every era has its spiritual blind spots, and demonic forces will, by all means, capitalize on them. The first century had its blind spots, and we have ours. We are naïve to think they don’t significantly affect us. That’s why the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament writers to instruct Christians of all eras to be sober-minded and watchful, and not be ignorant of satanic schemes.

No, certainly not all physical and mental illness is caused or exacerbated by demonic beings. The Bible doesn’t teach this, nor have the vast majority of Christians throughout history believed this. This is why at Desiring God, along with many resources on spiritual warfare, we also have many resources on mental illness, disease, and disability.

Cost of Supernaturalism

But Western evangelicals in general are not in danger of an overapplication of demonization. We are far more in danger of under-application — of a functional, unbiblical naturalism. This is partly due to cultural blind-spot assumptions. But increasingly, it is also a result of the growing cultural cost of supernaturalism.

“Every era has its spiritual blind spots, and demonic forces will, by all means, capitalize on them.”

We live in post-Enlightenment cultures that consider the biblical, supernatural worldview to be a foolish religious hangover from the Dark Ages. The very idea of a demon-haunted world is ridiculed. But not only is it considered foolish; it is quickly being considered abusive to insinuate that a person might be afflicted by a demon. From a naturalistic perspective, such an assertion only heaps shame on someone already suffering — all because people like us aren’t willing to let go of an archaic worldview whose time is long past.

This packs an emotional punch, often landing on our spiritual solar plexus. Suddenly, the issue is binary: either demons exist and the denial of them (explicitly or functionally) is cruel, or demons don’t exist and the diagnosis of them is cruel. None of us wants to be cruel; we want to help, not harm, the afflicted. But one side of the binary is cruel. One might accurately call it demonic.

Stand Firm

For Western Christians, this means if we want to seriously engage in the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and see many people “turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18), we must be willing to endure the cultural shaming (perhaps eventually worse) that will come from taking demons seriously. We must be more willing to be considered fools than cruelly leave people the victims of enslaving evil.

How we think about satanic forces, and how seriously we take God’s instruction to us about them, determines how we live. The more aligned we are with the Bible’s view of reality, the more faithfully we will follow Jesus, the more spiritually helpful we will be to people, and the more damage we will wreak on the domain of darkness. But we also will bear the reproach Jesus endured (Hebrews 13:13).

The Bible is a robustly supernatural book. The spiritual war between God and his angels and the devil and his angels, and human beings on both sides of the conflict, fills its pages from cover to cover. And here’s the way it instructs us to live:

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10–13)

Let’s take this seriously. Let’s not leave people captives to demonic schemes. And let’s stand firm in the assault.

VIDEO Kanye West Brings Sunday Service to Houston Jail: ‘This Is a Mission, Not a Show’

kanyejailsundayservice1

 

HANNAH BLEAU 16 Nov 2019

Rap superstar and fashion mogul Kanye West brought his famous Sunday Service to inmates in a Houston, Texas, jail this week, describing the effort as a “mission, not a show.”

The Jesus Is King artist appeared at the Harris County Jail this week with his choir and performed for inmates. The visit came ahead of West’s expected appearance at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church, slated for Sunday.

“On this date, @kanyewest visits @HCSOTexas jail system. ‘This is a mission, not a show’- Kanye,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez tweeted. “@kanyewest visited us today. I know he has a busy weekend in H-Town surrounding his visit to @lakewoodchurch, so appreciate him and his choir spending time with us. #HouNews.”

Jason Spencer, Public Affairs Director for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, posted a series of photos, showing inmates praying, demonstratively moved by the moment.

Kanye West is expected to attend Lakewood’s 11 a.m. service on Sunday and hold his Sunday Service performance at the church at 7 p.m., local media reports.

The Grammy-winner and staunch supporter of President Donald Trump brought his Sunday Service to Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, earlier this month, where 1,000 attendees dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ, according to Crossroads Church Pastor Curvine Brewington, who detailed what he witnessed in an Instagram post.

View this post on Instagram

Tonight, @candacebrewington & I got to experience Kanye West’s Sunday Service at @bethany_church in Baton Rouge. If you’ve ever doubted the legitimacy or spiritual impact of this #sundayservice project, simply look at this incredible shot taken by @the.smitan during the altar call. YES, I said ALTAR CALL. 😲 Tonight, worship was lifted, the name of Christ was exalted, the Word of God was preached, a multitude prayed together, the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, and an opportunity to respond was given. In a crowd of 6,000 people from all walks of life, all ages, and all races, i witnessed over 1,000 people respond to The Gospel by raising their hands to accept Jesus as their Lord & Savior! 😱🙌🏾 Say what you want, & think what you want…. But trust me when I tell you – The Spirit of the Living God was indeed present. I danced, wept, stood in awe of God’s redemptive work, & can honestly say that tonight I witnessed a new wave of REVIVAL first hand. #Jesusisking • Isaiah 43:19 “Behold I do a NEW thing. • 1 Corinthians 1:27 “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. • #excited #inspired 📸 @the.smitan

A post shared by Curvine Brewington (@curvinemusic) on

West’s commitment to Christianity prompted the American Bible Society (ABS) to hand out 1,000 free Bibles to those interested in Christianity, launching an initiative called “Bibles for Kanye Fans.”

https://www.breitbart.com/entertainment/2019/11/16/watch-kanye-west-brings-sunday-service-to-houston-jail-this-is-a-mission-not-a-show/


Related

https://www.breitbart.com/entertainment/2019/11/16/free-tickets-to-kanye-west-performance-at-joel-osteens-church-scalped-for-hundreds-of-dollars/

Love Is the Overflow of Joy in God

WHY I LOVE THE APOSTLE PAUL

Nov 8, 2019 by John Piper
Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

More clearly than any other writer in the Bible, the apostle Paul opened up the truth to me that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him. It was thrilling to discover that glorifying God and satisfying my soul are not at odds. I have told the story of that discovery elsewhere.

But there is a second chapter to the story that makes my thankfulness to Paul all the sweeter. I owe to him, more than to anyone else, another crucial, life-changing discovery. If the first discovery was how to resolve the tension between the desire to glorify God and the desire to be happy, the second discovery was how to resolve the tension between the desire to be happy in God and the desire to love other people.

Another Unresolved Tension

Can you really love people if, in the very act of doing them good, you are seeking the fullness of your own joy? After all, it was Paul himself who said, “Love . . . does not seek its own” (1 Corinthians 13:4–5 NASB). And in another place, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24). And again, “We . . . have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). So how can you claim to love people if, in the very act of loving them, you are seeking your own joy?

“On the other side of self-denial — even death — is everlasting joy in the presence of God.”

This question felt just as urgent as the first one about how to glorify God while seeking my own joy. Jesus had said that “the great and first” commandment is to love God (Matthew 22:38). But he also said that the commandment to love our neighbor “is like it” (Matthew 22:39). So the question of how to love people out of a heart that could not stop wanting to be happy — indeed, a heart that dare not stop wanting to be happy, lest God be dishonored by my failing to be happy in him — that question was just as urgent as any.

So how does the pursuit of joy in God relate to love for other people? Paul showed me that genuine, Spirit-awakened joy in God does not hinder love for people but in fact overflows with love for people. It has a built-in impulse to expand. Joy in God grows as it’s extended into the lives of other people so they can share in it.

Paul Points the Way

Paul gives us the most explicit illustration of this in the New Testament. It’s found in 2 Corinthians 8:1–2, where Paul is seeking to motivate love in the Corinthians by pointing to the Macedonian Christians and the amazing way they had shown love.

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. . . . I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. (2 Corinthians 8:1–28)

Note carefully that the “abundance of joy” in the hearts of the Macedonians was not owing to comfortable circumstances. They were in “extreme poverty” and “a severe test of affliction.” “Their abundance of joy” was owing to “the grace of God” that had been “given” (2 Corinthians 8:1). Their sins were forgiven. The wrath of God had been replaced with the divine smile of everlasting favor. Guilt was gone. Hell was closed. Heaven was open. The Spirit was indwelling. Hope had exploded in their hearts. All of this because of Christ, when they deserved none of it. The grace of God had been given (2 Corinthians 8:1).

This “abundance of joy” became a fountain of love for people. It could not be clearer: “Their abundance of joy . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity” (2 Corinthians 8:2). This was love. He called it that in verse 8: “. . . that your love also is genuine.” So Paul’s definition of genuine, God-exalting love would be this: Love is the overflow of joy in God that meets the needs of others.

Joy for the Sake of Love

This is more profound than what first meets the eye. Paul is not saying, “True happiness requires love for people.” That’s true. An unloving person will not be happy in the long run. But this is an oversimplification that misses the crucial point. The point is not that in order to have the truest pleasure we must love people. Rather, the point is that when joy in God overflows into the lives of others in the form of generosity, that overflow of joy is love. Or to say it another way: we do not merely seek to love in order to be happy, but we seek to be happy in God in order to love. It was “their abundance of joy” that overflowed in love (2 Corinthians 8:2).

This thought seemed so radical to me that I wanted to check myself by testing it with the rest of Scripture. Is it true that my joy is that closely connected with my love for people? What I found was a stream of biblical commands to:

To me this was amazing. We are not dealing here with something marginal or clever. This really is soul piercing and radically life changing: the pursuit of authentic love for people includes the pursuit of joy, because joy in God is an essential component of authentic love. This is vastly different from saying, “Let’s all be loving because it will make us happy.” This is saying, “Let’s all seek to be so full of joy in God that it overflows in sacrificial love to other people.”

Love That Survives All Sorrow

That word sacrificial might sound paradoxical. If we are overflowing in joy to others, and our joy is expanding by drawing others into it, then why talk of sacrifice? The reason is that the path of greatest joy in this life is often the path of great suffering. In the age to come, after Jesus returns, all pain will be gone. But not yet. In this life, love will often demand suffering. It may, in fact, demand that we lay down our lives. But Paul sets the pace for us when he says, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Colossians 1:24). “In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:4). “We rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3).

There are reasons for this strange and wonderful kind of joy that survives and even thrives in affliction. One reason is that Jesus taught us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The overflow to others is enriching to us. Another reason is that even though “some of you they will put to death,” in the end “not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:1618). Jesus had said, “Everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). The world thinks we die. But Jesus takes us so immediately into his care that there is no break in life. A third reason is the promise, “your reward is great in heaven” (Matthew 5:12). Finally, the greatest act of love that was ever performed was sustained by joy in God: “[Look] to Jesus, . . . who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

“We do not merely seek to love in order to be happy, but we seek to be happy in God in order to love.”

This is why, during my 33 years as a pastor, the signature text we came back to again and again was 2 Corinthians 6:10: “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Always. Rejoicing at the same time as sorrowing. Not just sequentially. Simultaneously. Loving others does not have to wait till sorrow passes, because joy does not wait.

And during those 33 years, the signature song that the pastoral staff would sing again and again was “It Is Well with My Soul”:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Genuine love makes many sacrifices for the beloved. There is much pain and many sorrows. But in Christ there is no ultimate sacrifice. To be sure, Jesus calls for self-denial. But his argument for self-denial is “whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). On the other side of self-denial — even death — is everlasting joy in the presence of God.

Love Is Not Begrudging

I have never met people who are offended because the sacrifices we make for their good bring us joy. In fact, merely dutiful “love” — or worse, begrudging “love” — does not make people feel loved. It makes them feel like a burden. I am sure, therefore, that Paul would agree with the writer to the Hebrews when he tells his hearers to let the leaders keep watch over them “with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). Begrudging ministry is of no advantage to the people. Or to put it positively, finding joy in caring for people is a great advantage to them. It is love.

This is surely why Paul said to the Corinthians, “I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all” (2 Corinthians 2:3). Yes! If you come to me and want me to experience joy — that is, if you want to love me — come with joy. And the best joy of all is joy in God. Bring me that. Overflow on me with that. I will feel loved. And you will be glad.

So Paul has done it again. He not only showed me how my pursuit of God’s glory and my pursuit of happiness fit together, but he also showed me how that unquenchable desire for happiness fits together with loving people. Genuine, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, sacrificial love for people is the overflow of joy in God that expands by meeting the needs of others. How can I not love the man who, after the Lord Jesus, showed me, more clearly than anyone else, the beauty of such a way of life?

Story and Gospel: Why Jesus Spoke in Parables

By Alex Aili -October 28, 2019

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matt. 13:3-9)

Jesus spoke this parable from a boat while a large crowd listened on shore. These original hearers would have been astonished at the ending, for the abundance that the good soil produced–thirty-fold, sixty-fold and a hundredfold–was unheard of.

In a word, it’s unnatural. It’s fantastical.

What that tells us is that the sower, despite seeing all these other seeds fail, considers the act of sowing worth it, for from scarcity comes abundance (much like the parable of the mustard seed; Matt. 13:31-32).

It’s easy to approach this parable as if it were something to be “exegeted,” as if its only purpose is to offer a theological principle. But it’s not like an egg that must be cracked before we get to what we really want.

It’s not a fanciful story containing a hidden truth. It is truth because it does something. It forces a response.

That’s why we must ask: “how would the crowd have responded to this parable?” How would they have responded to the ridiculousness of the abundant crop?

What did it make them do?

Well, that is where things get interesting. As D.A. Carson points out, Jesus used parables to simultaneously conceal and reveal the truth.

Parables, like the parable of the sower, draw out the faithful and harden the rest. This is precisely why Jesus quoted Isaiah:

“‘Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

Like Isaiah, Jesus was pronouncing judgment on those who refused to believe him. They didn’t recognize their Messiah, even when the Old Testament spoke of him (Luke 24:25-27).

Perhaps they were willing to settle for an Earthly Messiah. Maybe they didn’t consider a transcendent home worth the wait or struggle. A hundredfold crop, after all, may be too good to be true.

With that being said, we live in a time far removed from this pivotal moment in salvation history. The new covenant has arrived (Jer. 31:31-34), we know there is a resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:12-14), and the Holy Spirit is among us all (John 16:7-8). We, as Christians, are to proclaim the Gospel everywhere based on this fact (Matt. 28:19-20).

So how do we respond to this parable today?

What sort of soil do we think we are?

Do we think the Gospel is too good to be true?

Do we have ears to hear? Or do we just assume so?

As Isaiah and Jesus demonstrate, there are three types of hearers. You can be a mere hearer (13:19), but that doesn’t necessitate understanding (13:20-23), and you may understand and receive the Gospel, even with joy (13:20), but that doesn’t neccessiate fruit (13:23; compare with Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10).

By definition, hearing is a passive sense. We receive what’s given. As the parable demonstrates, all we can “do” is trust the objectivity of Providence. Only then can we produce the bountiful fruit. The Biblical canon agrees (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 37; John 6:28-29; 1 Cor. 3:6; Gal. 3:1-3; Eph. 2:4-9; Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23-24).

The parables of Jesus release us from our subjective trappings because we are brought into a narrative that’s “other”. Like a mirror, we are invited to see ourselves in those under judgment, or not.

We may just coddle ourselves back into the thorns. We may be the ones who gave up on Christianity long ago, thinking that the Gospel is too good to be true–much like the original audience would have thought of the hundredfold crop.

If we think we can make our lives work without trusting Christ to bring us growth, then we are building a shelter of cardboard against the oncoming storm.

Or are we more like the thorny and rocky soils, who are “certain” that we’re the good soil?

Do we have ears to hear?

Alex Aili is a story-dweller who tends to wander off the beaten trail in search of the right word…and the better view. In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, he writes fiction and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Targeting Redemptive Creativity. Strong coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods make him happy. He resides in northern MN with his wife and three sons.

VIDEO Florida sheriff defends ‘In God We Trust’ decal on patrol cars after atheists complain

 

By Caleb Parke

 

An atheist group has complained about new decals on a Florida county’s patrol cars that feature an American flag and the phrase “In God We Trust.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) argues the new “patriotic” decal, suggested by a local military veteran, is “frightening and politically dubious” in a letter to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, but Sheriff Wayne Ivey isn’t backing down.

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”They have a better chance of me waking up thin tomorrow morning than they do of me taking that motto off our cars!” Ivey told Fox News. “I personally believe that our country is at a tipping point, and if we, as strong patriotic Americans, don’t stand for the principals of our great nation, we are going to lose the America we all know and love!”

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey told Fox News he's not backing down after a group of atheists urged him to remove "In God We Trust" from the vehicles.

Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey told Fox News he’s not backing down after a group of atheists urged him to remove “In God We Trust” from the vehicles. (Brevard County Sheriff’s Office)

“I can assure you that the proud men and women of our agency are forever unwavering in our support of the constitution and the principles of our amazing country,” the sheriff added.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of FFRF, said the new decals were “inappropriate and exclusionary,” calling the national and Sunshine State motto “controversial” in a statement.

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“Spending taxpayer time placing religious messages on patrol cars is beyond the scope of secular government,” Gaylor wrote. “Further, in a time when citizens nationwide are increasingly distrustful of law enforcement officers’ actions, it is frightening and politically dubious for the local police department to announce to citizens that officers rely on the judgment of a deity rather than on the judgment of the law.”

To “protect the conscience of all citizens,” FFRF is asking the sheriff’s department to remove “In God We Trust” from all office property, not just the vehicles.

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“Law enforcement officers take an oath to protect and serve all citizens,” David Williamson, director of Central Florida Freethought Community, FFRF’s chapter in Florida, added. “Displaying a preference for religion so clearly right on county property is a betrayal of that oath.”

The FFRF and Williamson successfully defended the act of atheists giving invocations before county commissioner meetings in Brevard County. However, First Liberty Institute argues that not only is FFRF wrong here, but the group has “no basis in law, nor tradition.”

With the backing of the Supreme Court, First Liberty counsel, Keisha Russell, told Ivey to reject FFRF’s request, adding the motto “should be honored and celebrated as an expression of what it means to be American.”

 

“It is absurd to think that a Florida sheriff would be acting ‘inappropriately’ for posting the official mottos of both the United States and the State of Florida,” Jeremy Dys, First Liberty special counsel for litigation and communications, told Fox News. “This attempt to scold a public servant for acknowledging one of the most cherished traditions of our country is shameful.”

Let History Guide Us on Veterans Day

 

by ROBERT WILKIE

The Ripon Forum  Volume 53, No. 5   Veterans Day 2019

 

 

President Lincoln captured the essence of Veterans Day decades before America invented it.

During the Civil War, in summertime, Lincoln lived in a small cottage a few miles north of the White House. From there, he commuted back and forth to his strenuous job of trying to keep the nation from splintering in two.

That commute put him in daily contact with Union soldiers who were being taken to hospitals in the north of the city. A report from those days saw Lincoln riding alongside the wounded “for a considerable distance, conversing freely with the men.”

Lincoln knew as well as anyone who ever lived that those who wear the uniform are among the most important ways we have of protecting and defending those sacred ideas written into our founding documents. In 1864, he made that clear in a speech to the 189th New York Volunteers, in which he thanked them for supporting his government:

“To you who render the hardest work in its support should be given the greatest credit.”

More than 150 years later, we continue to celebrate those who love the country so much they would risk all to defend it. Many of our families tell the story of service to this great country.

My great-grandfather left a small-town law practice to join the Army in World War I, while my wife’s grandfather found himself marching up the Champs-Elysees in Paris into the Meuse-Argonne offensive at the age of 18.

My military record is modest compared to my ancestors. But it was my father’s two combat tours in Vietnam that left the indelible mark on my career. In 1969, he left us in full health, 6 feet 2 inches tall and 240 pounds, and already a veteran of fourteen months of ground combat. On February 1, 1970, he was gravely wounded in the invasion of Cambodia, and after a year of recuperating away from home, he returned to us at 120 pounds.

It was my father’s two combat tours in Vietnam that left the indelible mark on my career.

That experience is why I was so honored to be asked to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, to follow in the traditions of Lincoln and ensuring that America takes care of the men and women who carry our liberty on their shoulders. There is much we can do, and much we are doing.

We successfully implemented the MISSION Act, which gives Veterans permanent health care choices outside VA. But we’ve worked hard to improve VA, too.

We’re seeing more patients than ever before, and VA care now compares favorably to the private sector on both wait times and quality of care, and in many cases is superior.

Veterans have noticed. In a recent Veterans of Foreign Wars survey, almost three quarters of respondents reported improvements at their local VA, and more than 90 percent said they would recommend VA to others. Trust in VA has jumped to 87.7 percent, and we’re pushing to do even better.

We’re also working diligently within the Trump administration and with partners around the nation to prevent Veteran suicide. This is my top clinical priority, because every Veteran should have a chance to survive and thrive as civilians in the country they fought to defend.

We will get there not just through the efforts of VA, but with the help of families and friends and communities across this country.

The price of freedom is never free. That is the lesson today’s Veterans continue to teach us.

On November 11, when I speak at Arlington National Cemetery, I’ll be thinking about the Veterans we serve today, and how they so nobly served us. They are part of the legacy of the 41 million Americans who have worn our military uniforms to keep us safe and free.

In addition to Lincoln, I’ll be thinking of two other great men from history. One is President Eisenhower, who was embarrassed to have inherited a yacht when he assumed the Oval Office. He wanted to scrap it until his wife, Mamie, said he should keep it and only invite soldiers on board.

When he went down to the Washington Navy Yard pier to see a group of Veterans who were assembled on its deck, many of them were missing limbs or had been terribly disfigured in Korea. He gave them one final order. Eisenhower told them never to put their uniforms away, and that they would always be on duty, and that they live to show their fellow citizens that the price of freedom is never free.

That is the lesson today’s Veterans continue to teach us.

And in return, we will recall a second great figure from history, Gen. Matthew Ridgway, who on the night before the liberation of Europe during World War II couldn’t sleep, and instead listened for the promise that God made to Joshua:

“I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

On Veterans Day, we recognize those men and women whom we cannot fail nor forsake.

Robert L. Wilkie (@SecWilkie) is Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and a Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve.  He previously served as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel Readiness.

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