The Generous Soul

Why overcoming the Scrooge in all of us begins with gratitude.

One of my not-so-winsome Christmas traditions involves complaining to family members about the relentlessness of The Christmas Carol. Every year it seems there is another spin-off or remake of Charles Dickens’s classic. While I love the story, I am fatigued by the repetition. Ebenezer comes to his senses every December 25 but then reverts to being all Scrooge-like again in time for the next holiday season. Dickens penned this story 174 years ago—maybe it’s time for a new Christmas classic.

Still, even with my grumbling, I keep reading and watching The Christmas Carol or its variants most years. Some inner force draws me there even as my cortex complains.

Maybe one of the reasons that Scrooge has survived so long is that Dickens speaks to some primordial inner conflict that all of us know, and perhaps this inner conflict is even more ubiquitous than the movies and books and plays that I mutter about each Advent. The conflict between miser and benefactor, between thrift and munificence, is so familiar to each of us and powerful enough to keep us watching and reading Dickens year after year.

One part of us, like the miserly Scrooge, wants to live with fists closed, accumulating possessions even if it hurts others, focusing on our own goals and achievements, protecting ourselves by shutting out relational risk and the pain of the world. But another part, a better part, sees more complexity in the world, recognizes blessings, holds palms up to heaven, and gives time, empathy, and money to others as a reflection of gratitude for all the gifts life offers, including the gift of life itself.

If Scrooge persists in order to remind us of this inner tension, then perhaps I should be more patient, and even grateful, that …

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‘Justice League’ Unites Its Heroes to Save an Erratic, Uneven World

DC’s answer to the MCU wants to show that surrounding darkness can only strengthen heroic light. It only kind of succeeds.

This article contains light spoilers for Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Justice League.

DC’s superhero team-up film Justice League unites Batman, Wonder Woman, and new heroes onscreen. With relative ease, they overcome their different backgrounds and come together to save the world from an evil galactic overlord and his army of flying demons.

And that’s pretty much the story in full.

Justice League’s simple structure and quick pace may please more audiences than the first two installments of this DC film series, the often-maligned Man of Steel (2013) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Both films strove to explore several meta-themes on a popular philosophical level; they sought to bring into the story-worlds themselves the very conversations fans share about superheroes, such as the reasons people reject or embrace Superman or compare him with Jesus Christ. But in place of these grander ideas, Justice League instead presents several fun characters with smaller journeys of their own—though its lightness loses some of the earlier films’ dramatic weight.

Officially, Justice League shares those films’ director, Zack Snyder. Few aspects of Snyder’s hallmark style actually feature in the final product, however. In his previous films, Snyder favored a “tear-down-and-rebuild” approach in which minimalist, struggling protagonists bulk up, confront critics, scream loud, and punch hard in the dark to become heroic in a world that doesn’t always respond favorably to them.

Many critics and fans, however, didn’t respond favorably: While some viewers argued that these stories’ darker worlds present greater moral challenges for their heroes …

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What Is Your Story? (Part 1) [Gospel Life Podcast]

Start each week with this encouragement to show and share the love of Jesus.

What Is Your Story? (Part 1)

Christina Walker, associate director of academic programs for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, talks about her father-in-law’s passion for planting churches and evangelism. What keeps him excited about it year after year? “Pop” shares that first, we should tell a story. What’s our story? Why does Christ matter to us? Who are we praying for, and what opportunities will we pursue? This strategy may not be revolutionary, but it is effective.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

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It’s Official: Evangelicals Appreciate Chick-fil-A the Most

The popular chain scores big for community impact among Christians, Southerners, and millennials.

You could say Chick-fil-A is one of those fast-food restaurants with a cult following. But in this case, the closed-on-Sunday chicken sandwich chain clearly has a church following.

Evangelicals and fellow Christians have the most positive view of the Chick-fil-A brand, according to Morning Consult’s 2017 Community Impact Ratings.

In breakout poll results provided to CT, 62 percent of evangelicals considered Chick-fil-A to have a positive impact on their community, compared to 48 percent of Americans on average.

Despite the 2012 boycotts spurred by Chick-fil-A COO Dan Cathy’s opposition to same-sex marriage, the Christian-owned company outperformed fellow fast food restaurants in the Morning Consult poll. This was particularly true in the South, home to a majority of its 2,200 locations, as well as among millennials.

More than half of adults ages 18–34 and 35–44 rated Chick-fil-A as having a positive impact, while older age brackets were less enthusiastic.

A researcher at The Hartman Group attributed Chick-fil-A’s continued popularity to beliefs that the chain had “higher-quality food, better customer service and happier employees than similar fast-food restaurants.”

Evangelicals were more likely than the average American to see several top quick-service restaurants as having a positive impact on their communities, including KFC, Starbucks, and McDonald’s.

And despite some evangelicals’ outcry over Target’s transgender-friendly bathroom policy last year, most evangelicals overall see the store as having a positive impact (60%)—almost as many as for Chick-fil-A (62%).

Unlike the other brands ranked, Chick-fil-A’s explicitly appeals to believers by invoking God …

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Today’s Church Needs the ‘Timeless Spirit’ of Pietism

Why a centuries-old reform movement might hold the key to transforming our world, one renewed heart at a time.

Given reports of declining religious affiliation and rising social tension, it’s no surprise that 2017 has offered up a catalog of books charting the future of the Western church. How can we not only survive this cultural moment but thrive as well?

In the spring, Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option tackled the question by channeling the wisdom of Saint Benedict, who established monastic life in the wake of Rome’s collapse. Evangelicals’ response was mixed, in part because Dreher’s vision carries high-church and magisterial assumptions that many evangelicals do not share.

Enter The Pietist Option, a new book by Christopher Gehrz (a historian) and Mark Pattie III (a pastor). Like Dreher, Gehrz and Pattie look to the past to figure out how to navigate the present. But unlike The Benedict Option, The Pietist Optionwill feel very familiar to evangelicals, even those who have never heard of Pietism before.

We often use the term pietism as linguistic shorthand for any inward-focused spirituality that is anti-rational or holier-than-thou. Gehrz and Pattie argue that historic Pietism is better understood as a set of instincts about the Christian life: that true knowledge of God cannot come apart from relationship with him; that the church has a divine call to pursue unity; that Christianity is both simpler and more demanding than we realize; and that the Resurrection calls us to hope.

First emerging as a reform movement within the Lutheran Church of the late 1600s, Pietism quickly spread to other churches, eventually influencing the Puritan, Baptist, Methodist, and Brethren traditions. Despite its reach, Pietism doesn’t leave a clear structural trail. “Suspicious of faith becoming too institutional …

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Top 10 Misquoted Lines from C.S. Lewis

Our love of Lewis’s words doesn’t mean we always get them right.

C. S. Lewis, described by some as the “patron saint of American evangelicals,” is a very quotable writer, and evangelical Christians love to invoke him in sermons, social media posts, and casual conversation. However, you cannot always believe what you read. Expressions credited to him on social media and elsewhere aren’t always actually found in his writings. Over the last several years, William O’Flaherty has collected a growing list (over 70 at last count) of quotations attributed to Lewis that will be the focus of an upcoming book, The Misquotable C.S. Lewis, to be published by Wipf and Stock in mid-2018. While uncovering the questionable quotations, he discovered not all of them are the same type of misquote. While most are sayings falsely attributed to Lewis, a few are very close to what he actually said but are worded incorrectly and some are simply removed from their context, leading to misunderstanding.

These are O’Flaherty’s ten most common Lewis misquotes:

10. "Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars—let go to move forward.”

This is one of those motivational quotations that encourages a person to keep going despite his or her circumstances. Presently it is not known who created it. A variation is referenced in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible. That version reads, “Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” In the book, it is credited to “Author Unknown.” Having Lewis’s name associated with this expression likely makes it more noticeable. After all, if someone as great as Lewis said it, then you might be more likely …

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The Jesusy Movement

Sure, all kinds of Christians love Jesus. But he’s especially central in evangelical piety.

Some years ago Francis Quinn, then Roman Catholic bishop of Sacramento, and I were talking about evangelicals who were converting to Catholicism. I was a Presbyterian minister at the time, serving a small church in Sacramento. I can’t remember the occasion of our conversation, but I do remember one his remarks. He said that when evangelicals move into Catholicism, “I hope they bring Jesus with them. We Catholics need more Jesus.”

Catholics certainly don’t ignore Jesus—he hangs crucified at the front of most of their churches, after all. And they believe it is his very body and blood that they receive in every Mass. But as the good bishop noted, Jesus isn’t necessarily at the center of most Catholic daily piety. For many Catholics, that place would be occupied by the Virgin Mary or perhaps one or more of the saints. Other Catholics are enamored with the magisterium or the church’s tradition. But it would be hard to argue that the Catholic faith is “Jesusy.”

That term was coined by writer Anne Lamott soon after her conversion. In a period of dark despondency, one night she lay in bed, when “I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner. … The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there—and of course, there wasn’t. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that is was Jesus.”

For the next few days, she says, “I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in.”

A week later, she found herself in church crying uncontrollably at the singing of hymns. She left …

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Leadership Priorities: Five Thoughts on How We Can Lead Better

Leadership, at its most basic level, involves the leading of people.

Being a leader is tiring. When I was pastoring in Buffalo in the early 90s, I was responsible for EVERYTHING. You name it, I did it:

Make the bulletins. Check.

Visit the hospitals and sick. Check.

Preach the message. Check.

Lead worship. Check. (I am still apologizing to Jack Hayford for my rendition of Majesty.)

Looking back, I am reminded that effective leadership is not in all the responsibilities or tasks we have, but rather in how well we develop the processes needed to accomplish them with excellence. We often lose sight of the fact that leadership, at its most basic level, involves the leading of people.

This means that we need to develop priorities in our leadership aimed at being efficient and effective with our time and energy.

I want to outline five ways that pastors, ministry leaders, and Christians as a whole can start to think through their leadership priorities.

1. Assemble a high quality team and empower them to excel.

Quality seeks quality.

The first step in leadership priorities is making sure that you have a quality team and that they know that you believe in them. Too often, leaders let their insecurity push them to surround themselves with less talent, concerned only that their star is the brightest. Leadership priorities begin with constructing a team that is talented, skilled, creative, and that buys into the vision of the organization.

As Sydney Finkelstein notes in his new book Superbosses, “If you look around the room and you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

2. Delegation is critical to success and healthy for your team.

Having talented and capable people on your team means that you can then trust delegating responsibility and authority. At its core, delegation …

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Community Arts, Visual Artistry, and the Christian Faith

Leah Samuelson is Associate Lecturer of Art at Wheaton College.

Community Arts, Visual Artistry, and the Christian Faith

In this episode of Theology for Life, Lynn and Ed talk with Leah Samuelson about community art—what it means and how it benefits the community and those participating. How are relationships built while doing art? Samuelson shares that when you work shoulder-to-shoulder and solve small problems together, the application to broader life is incredible. You accomplish something together that matters to those who participate, which is a stepping stone to deep friendships.

Why should Christians be engaged in community art? There are, according to Samuelson, certain things that you can do in art that you can’t otherwise that help you in relationships.

When did we lose our passion for the arts, and how do we get it back? Samuelson explains that we may never have truly lost our passion, but that it’s ebbed and flowed throughout the centuries.

How do the arts bring out the biblical texts? Visual arts mix the material and the spiritual. We look at the the stories in the Bible through new eyes when we look at what others have created.

Samuelson discusses the mosaic that was recently created for the lobby of the Billy Graham Center to help us understand the important role of art in our theology.

Leah Samuelson is Associate Lecturer of Art at Wheaton College. Trained in high-end commercial mural painting with a Chicago-based studio and also in poorer centers of urban areas with the Philadelphia-based arts-intervention and education group BuildaBridge, Samuelson now focuses on transformational pedagogy, socially engaged art curriculum development, and strategies of institutional collaboration through the arts. Projects currently in development use traditional byzantine …

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The Dead White Man Who Could Fix Our Race Problem: Oswald Chambers

As a black woman wrestling with racism in America, I lean on a Scottish theologian’s four key insights.

Oswald Chambers didn’t know Lecrae and John Piper. Or your church leader or mine. He didn’t know about tensions today between white evangelicals and black evangelicals. Or between Democrats and Republicans, left and right. Even if he did, he’d still say the same thing:

“If your life is producing a whine, instead of the wine, then ruthlessly kick it out.”

That’s classic Oswald Chambers—more direct than diplomatic. More practical than politically on-point. The 20th-century Scottish evangelist and theologian known for the best-selling devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, writes with raw clarity and common sense wisdom that, according to biographer David McCasland, “makes you feel like he’s reading your mail.”

What, then, would Chambers say to believers on the 100th anniversary of his death this month about the never-settled, twisty knot of race in America—the whole mess of it, from church politics to racial infights, alt-right marchers to kneeling football players, Confederate statues to immigrant bans, from red states and blue states to MAGA and Twitter trolls, ad infinitum?

Chambers wouldn’t be surprised by any of it. “Over and over again in the history of the world,” he observed during the crisis of World War I, “man has made life into chaos.” In America, that’s surely true regarding race—this genetically irrelevant concept that has gripped the nation’s psyche from its slave-holding beginnings. If a nation and its churches can have an original sin, the scandal of racism—with its plundering of black lives (and also red, yellow, and brown)—qualifies among the world’s absolute worst.

Into this cauldron …

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