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One Nation's Struggle to Recognize the Right to Religious Freedom

ThinkstockPhotos-57638056Monika Vorbuchner is a Christian woman from Germany, who, after living for several years in Kazakhstan, decided in 2012 to open Seven Trees—a place to help vulnerable women who have either been abused, imprisoned, or homeless. Sponsored by private donors and with assistance from volunteers, Seven Trees provides counseling, job training, and a new chance in life for vulnerable women. Producing high-quality home décor products, Seven Trees serves as a bright example of a Kazakhstan business with a social impact.

However, on October 10 of this year, Monika and some of her staff decided to clean the garage of Seven Trees. Among the items stored there were some Christian booklets. Minutes after they began cleaning, two men appeared on the street near their property, their heads covered with hoods. Seeing the books from the street, they inquired about them. Suddenly the men produced police badges and forced their way onto the property and into the garage, where they began to inspect the books.

The policemen called for backup, and within moments, seven other police appeared. Monika was taken to the police station, where she was photographed, fingerprinted, and threatened with a criminal case against her. Though the booklets had been reviewed and approved by authorities for publication, the police nonetheless seized them and informed her that they would be burned.
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Good Choices for Thoughtful Adults (and a Few for Kids)

ThinkstockPhotos-78376973Regular readers of mine know that I think movies are an important culture-shaping medium. And Netflix has become an important way of delivering movies and other video content, especially since it brings movies directly into our homes and onto our desktops.

But navigating Netflix can be daunting. It has literally thousands of offerings at any given moment. So from time to time, I will be offering suggestions for movies Christians should consider. I certainly wouldn’t call it a list of movies that Christians “must see.” You can make those decisions for yourself, and I’ll try to give you enough information to make those decisions intelligently. For example, some movies may be too realistically violent (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Nightcrawler”) for sensitive viewers. So use your own judgment as you examine even my list.
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An Interview with K. B. Hoyle

3915085K. B. Hoyle is the award-winning author of The Breeder Cycle and The Gateway Chronicles for teen readers. (You can find reviews of both series on our Youth Reads page, here and here.) I interviewed her by e-mail about her current and future projects.

GRD: Where did the idea for The Breeder Cycle come from?

KBH: The idea came to me late one night after a writing session. I often write late at night because I teach during the day and have young children, but I also suffer from terrible insomnia when I'm writing. It's difficult for me to turn my brain off and fall asleep, even when I'm exhausted. I often, therefore, need to spend a half hour or more perusing social media before bed to get my mind off the story so I can try and fall asleep easier.

I was skimming Facebook at probably 2 in the morning, and I happened upon an article about social developments in the U.K. (or something like that—sounds stimulating, doesn't it?), and something about it just caught my attention.
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Why God Is a Lousy Buddhist

buddhaHave you ever wondered if you’d be happier if only you didn’t care about things so much? I have.

Last year I led discussion groups as a teaching assistant. I felt horribly anxious before class and often felt disappointed in my performance afterward. I also had a hard time giving constructive criticism. The source of all these problems was my desperate desire to be liked. I wanted the students to think I was a great teacher, which, ironically, probably made me a worse teacher than I would have been otherwise.

My experience would seem to demonstrate the Buddhist claim that non-attachment is the way to avoid suffering. If I were less attached to my students’ opinions, I would not have suffered that anxiety.
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Eight Tips on Great Leadership

ThinkstockPhotos-482715532I was recently on a panel of business and ministry leaders in Charlotte, N.C., hosted by the Charlotte Christian Chamber of Commerce. The assignment of the panelists was to answer this question: “What is the best advice you ever got?” Here’s an edited transcript of my answer:

Learn to Tell Stories. Great leaders are great storytellers. Mark 4:34 says that “Jesus did not speak to them except in parables.” The songwriter and novelist Andrew Peterson is fond of saying, “If you want someone to hear the truth, tell them. If you want someone to love the truth, tell them a story.” The Greek philosopher Damon of Athens wrote thousands of years ago, “Give me the songs of a people and I care not who writes its laws.” We are wired to respond to story. Great leaders understand that and carefully pick and tell stories to reinforce their leadership messages.

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Makoto Fujimura Sheds New Light on a Classic Novel

9780830844593I have a confession to make: I have never read Shusako Endo's great 20th-century novel "Silence" (currently being made into a movie by Martin Scorcese). It isn't a case of just not having gotten around to it yet. I've actively avoided it.

The reason is, I've been afraid.

Set in 17th-century Japan and based on real historical figures, "Silence" tells the story of the Portuguese priest Sebastian Rodrigues. After word arrives that Ferreira, a fellow Jesuit who was serving as a missionary to Japan, has apostatized under torture, Rodrigues and two others travel to the country to learn more. But before long they too find themselves betrayed, imprisoned, and tortured. To save other Christians from a cruel fate, Rodrigues is forced to step on a fumi-e, a block on which an image of Jesus is carved.
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'Star Trek Beyond' Concentrates on What's Best about Humanity

b085a577b5df0f246658c439bdecb04114dee719f9a601571552e399d6bd0d24Star Trek Beyond” opens with an away mission as doomed as Captain James T. Kirk's yellow shirt, which—of course—gets ripped in the opening scene. The obligatory Captain-Kirk's-tissue-paper-shirts joke is not only an amusing callback, it’s actually a setup for one of the primary concerns of the film.

This is emblematic of the whole movie, which both lovingly pays tribute to its roots and offers a strong original story. The writing by Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty) and director Justin Lin adds humor, thoughtfulness, and some interesting ideas about human purpose and virtues that make it worth watching, either for a fan of the original Star Trek series or for the average moviegoer.

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Turning Back the Clock Is Not the Answer

usa-flag-on-cracked-brick-wall-100228849This article originally ran at The Stream. Reprinted with permission.

So far in July, the U. S. State Department issued warnings to Americans traveling to Laos, Venezuela, South Sudan, Mali, Iraq and Bangladesh. We expect that the State Department would do this sort of thing to keep American citizens safe.

What we don’t expect is other countries issuing warnings about travel to the United States. Yet in light of the shootings of African Americans by police and the resulting protests and attacks on police, Bahrain, the Bahamas and the United Arab Emirates did exactly that. Be careful, they’re telling their citizens, avoid large crowds, “exercise extreme caution in . . . interactions with the police.” America is a dangerous place.

What’s the matter with us? John Stonestreet said it well in a recent BreakPoint broadcast: “These horrible events are not creating unrest; rather they are revealing it. Our society is weak in its middle -- at the ‘social glue’ level of local communities and civil society.”
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If Unprotesting Coexistence with Industrialized Murder Is the Symptom, What Is Our Disease?

ThinkstockPhotos-77734668“When we shrink from the sight of something, when we shroud it in euphemism, that is usually a sign of inner conflict, of unsettled hearts, a sign that something has gone wrong in our moral reasoning.”

* * *

The above is an astute observation, all the more impressive for describing in 50 words or less the chief reason we're still letting abortion flourish 40-plus years after Roe v. Wade: There's something terribly wrong with our moral reasoning.

But it came from a book titled “Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.”
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'Genius' Paints an Unusual, Moving Portrait of a Quiet Man

genius-berlin-film-festivalWhen you hear the word "genius," what comes to mind? Perhaps an Einstein or a Beethoven, with wild eyes and wild hair, living in a constant fever of creative energy. With such an image, in general, comes a host of other images -- of someone who insists on living with unbounded freedom, free of restraints or burdens, able to act and create just as he or she sees fit. And with that are bound up a whole bundle of slightly less savory ideas: neglected families, overburdened friends, unpaid debts, unmet obligations . . . all the fallout from unlimited freedom that winds up making others less free.

Is this how it has to be? One movie, based on a true story, suggests otherwise.
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A Sermon in Response to Recent Events

[A note from John Stonestreet: I was privileged last Sunday, July 10, to hear Canon Williams deliver this outstanding sermon in response to the horrific events of last week. I have asked and received permission from Canon Williams to reprint the following excerpts.]

It’s been a breathtaking, deeply disturbing, tragic, and sorrowful week for our nation. No sooner had we finished our annual celebration of Independence Day than we began to awaken daily to a barrage of assaults on life and liberty in our own age. . . .

My home state of Iowa made national news because freedom of religious speech for Christians has come under a frontal assault by the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which has added public worship services to their list of “public accommodations” included in their governmental anti-discrimination law.

[Then we saw] the grievous tragedies of the sniper murders of five Dallas police officers and wounding of seven others -- depriving wives and families of their husbands, fathers and providers -- by a deeply disturbed, angry, and deranged man; coupled with the controversial shootings of two black men by police in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, threatening to further enflame the already volatile climate between African-American and law enforcement communities.
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A Speech to the Western Conservative Summit

This speech was delivered July 3, 2016.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s an honor to be back for a third time to the Western Conservative Summit. I’m calling my brief remarks today “The Political Illusion: Choosing Christianity Over Ideology.”

Let me begin by noting that the Western CONSERVATIVE Summit operates under the authority of Colorado CHRISTIAN University. That’s an authority we should take seriously. We move into dangerous territory when we allow any political ideology, even conservatism, to have authority over our Christian worldview. We should never forget that what we conservatives are conserving is a Christian understanding of the world, a Christian worldview.
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Finding the Spot Where We Belong

photo-40[Editor's Note: This article first ran at The Key Ministry website as "The Church (and the Floor) That Hold Up Max."]

Something happened at church. Or perhaps what you need to know is, what didn’t happen.

I pulled up to the church and Max bounced out of the car swinging his favorite vacuum. Several people were unsuspectingly milling around by the front door, exchanging greetings. “Watch out for the people!” I yelled behind Max as I watched his 8-pound Oreck swing like a ten ton wrecking ball. I fully expected to see the crowd part like the Red Sea, people diving into the bushes head first as Max and his vacuum bolted toward them. But instead, they extended their arms for a handshake, or a pat on his back.

Every time I walk through the doors of our church I remember the years we lived in isolation, and the five years of staying home on Sunday mornings when we could not find our place. Autism held us hostage. But it is not a bitter memory; it is the soil from which God grew a victory. When I cross that threshold now with Max, it feels like holy ground.
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Christian Responses from around the Web

We are gathering a few of the many Christian responses to the terrorist attack in Orlando that has so far claimed the lives of 50 people. We will be adding links throughout the week, so please check back.

Russell Moore
"After Orlando, Can We Still Weep Together?"
RussellMoore.com


"We woke up Sunday morning to news of the worst mass shooting in American history, as a terrorist murdered and injured over a hundred people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. In the aftermath, we’ve seen some of the best aspects of America: people lining up, for example, to give blood for the victims. We’ve also seen some of the worst—as the aftermath turned into an excuse for social media wars over everything from gun control to presidential politics. What I wonder is whether the country still has the capacity to grieve, together, in moments of national crisis."
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How to Fight the Spirit of the Age

ID-100130371“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark.” Kate DiCamillo, “The Tale of Despereaux

You could write another angry update and post it like a swinging sword, hoping to nick the ear (or better) of your Facebook frenemies. Or, you could do something that helps.

You could record a video of yourself in your car, eloquently ranting about the damage that some damnable government or business policy does. Or you could help build something.

You can grumble and moan, echoing the angry orators on TV and radio, and follow them in their campaign of impotent, self-satisfied rage. Or you could engage in the cleverest act of treason against the Spirit of the Age.
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