This Mountain Can and Will Be Moved

Heart issues don't have to be immovable mountains. (Flickr)

There is a tremendous shaking, sifting and shifting happening right now across the body of Christ. The heat of the season and the pressure that has come with it is bringing a lot of "dross" to the surface in many hearts.

Last night as I was falling asleep I heard the Lord say that issues of the heart are being brought to the surface in many lives and are overwhelming and looking like mountains. The "issues of the heart" that have come to the surface for many have become so intimidating and so big that many have become "stuck" in the revelation of the wounding, lies, strongholds and struggles that have come to the surface.

I felt the Lord saying these "issues of the heart" have not been brought to the surface to intimidate you, to overwhelm you, or to discourage you, but actually to POSITION YOU for HEALING.

The Lord has REVEALED these things because He wants you HEALED. As you get before Him and share these "issues of the heart" with Him, radical healing and wholeness is going to take place. Perfect love is going to be PERFECTED in you. Shame, fear, struggles, anxieties, worries, crippling strongholds and lies are going to be melted away by His perfect love. 

Don't look at this "heart issue" that has come to the surface as a mountain that cannot be moved. It's about to be melted away. Don't become a victim of this mountain, don't allow yourself to fall into discouragement or condemnation but KNOW that you are moving into greater realms of wholeness and healing. 

The Lord is extending you, He is strengthening you, He is awakening you MORE to the TRUTH of WHO YOU ARE. 

You may feel like these "issues of the heart" are causing a "breaking" and they are, but it is a glorious breaking. A glorious breaking to release you into greater dependence upon Him, greater trust, greater revelation of His love and who you are. You are actually being promoted into new levels of dependence and revelation of His DELIGHT in you and radical LOVE for you. 

He is undoing you with His love and goodness, bringing you into greater freedom. 

In this glorious undoing, not only are things that have entangled you melting away, but He will flow through you more powerfully than ever before.

The breaking process can be painful and uncomfortable but He is carrying you, surrounding you with His love and comfort to BRING YOU TO LIFE. His arms are wrapped around you. You are safe in Him and there is no reason to fear. He is loving you to life!

You are actually moving to a place of greater strength in Him than you have ever been as you embrace this process. Anything hindering you is being broken off. It's time to let go. To free fall into His arms, and see that is the SAFEST place for you to be. To let go of striving, to let go of performance and step into the overwhelming beautiful revelation of His love. 

Embrace to process, fall into His arms and you are moving forward in greater WHOLENESS into a WHOLE NEW WORLD!

Lana Vawser has a heart to encourage the body of Christ and individuals in their walks with Jesus, to have deeper intimacy with Him and to learn to hear His voice. She operates in the prophetic and loves to share the heart of God with others. Lana has written her first book, titled Desperately Deep—Developing Deep Devotion and Dialogue with Jesus, and loves to see others grow in all that God has for them.

Praise & Prayer, January 2016


Prayer/Counseling hotline: 08033673654, 08051614880

Brethren, pray for us (1 Thess. 5:25)
“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between mizpah and shen. He named it EBENEZER, saying, thus far the lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel, 7:12
FRIDAY 1ST Ascribe to the lord glory due to His name for graciously crossing us over to the New Year, Celebrate Him for his goodness in your life (Ps.31:19,21). Ask Him for blessings of rain that causes supernatural ease in all your endeavors in 2016 (Zach.10:1).
SATURDAY 2ND Worship the lord for His great plans for Nigeria as a nation, the Nigerian church and for EMS in the year 2016. Adore Him for blessing us in Christ with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Eph.1:3).
“…Put ye the sickle, because the harvest is come” Mark 4:29
SUNDAY 3RD REV.SIMON YAKO: Appreciate God for His increasing grace upon the life of the EMS director, Rev. Silas Yako and his family through his first year of directing the affairs of this ministry.
  • As he (the director) depend on God for selfless service in 2016, Pray that God should grant Him Excellent mind, increasing wisdom, Sound health and favor for him and his family before God and before men.
REV.GANA SLASH: Thank God for his grace upon his savant and the opportunity to serve in the capacity of the EMS home mission coordinator for the past one year.
  • For more of God’s grace, wisdom favor and strength upon him and his family as they assume a new responsibility of the regional coordinator for the central region.
  • That God should grant them open door for effective ministry among the people in this region.
  • That the Lord should grant his wife, Mrs. Grace Gana, favor for a Job opening and for a good school for their children.

MONDAY 4TH pray that in the year 2016, EMS missionaries will develop strong multiplying discipleship efforts in the mission fields so that there will be a deep impact of the gospel that will enable us sustain what God is doing in our fields.
MRS. GRACE O. ADAKOLÉ: Bless God for His increasing Grace on the Life of Mrs. Adakolé and her family. Through thick and thin, she has committedly served the lord as the secretary to the EMS director from January through December 2015. As she trust God to put in more of her very best of a selfless service in 2016

  • That the lord should grant her excellent mind, sound health and favored before God and with men.
  • That her husband who has being very supportive would be blessed of God and that his business and ministry will prosper in 2016.
  • That the lord will visit and deliver her sister Susan Joseph who has suffered several spiritual attacks.
TUESDAY 5TH Pray that the holy spirit will produce constant growth and fruitfulness in the life of all our converts made in 2015 and the once that will be made in 2016 as they walk in grace and truth, also pray that as they show commitment to serving God faithful, thy would also experience development in their occupation.
WEDNESDAY 6TH Pray that in 2016 all ECWA office staff, Pastor, and missionaries should have vibrant walk with God, experience personal maturity, good character development, sound health, good financial improvement and discipline, improved self-leadership, great marriages and healthy family lives.
THURSDAY 7TH A good number of prayer houses/churches have been planted in the past years but with one or two challenges especially that of the needs for adequate places of worship. While some stations worship in rented apartments, school classrooms and uncompleted buildings, others still worship under tree sheds.
  • That in the year 2016,EMS stations in Sabon Gida, Sabon Gari, Bagaji, Ang/Kanti(All in Keffi DCC).Ugba, Ogoja, Mbaza, Oju, Obi and Igoli (All in Makurdi DCC). Useni, Karmo and Sardauna (all in Nasarawa DCC) will be granted favor to have habitable church buildings.
  • That God should raise men and women who will give toward mitting the urgent needs for wells in Okore, Sanzaras, and Ungwan Tsakiya. (PANDA DCC).
FRIDAY 8TH Il-health or lack of prompt and adequate medication is one of the striking challenge our missionaries, especially those in rural places are faced with.
  • That the effort to make EMS mobile clinic functionally effective beginning this year will pull through.
  • That God will steer the heart of men and women who are medically inclined to join this ministry as their proficiency will serve greatly in enhancing the growth of the ministry.
  • That the lord will heal Mrs. Rose Sunday Udeh, an EMS missionary’s wife in Makurdi DCC who was spiritually attacked with stroke and epilepsy, and sister Ohuoha Charity in ECWA Awkuzu church, Anambra state.
SATURDAY 9TH A good number of EMS missionaries who gave their time, their minds and energy to a selfless service unto their God retired from active service last year (2016)and as these once are got due for retirement, new, young and vibrant missionaries are being recruited to fill in vacuum.
  • That the Lord renew the strength of the retirees and grant them grace to keep serving Jesus Faithfully.
  • That the new Missionaries that are being recruited and will be diploid to various mission fields will be so equipped with everything, they will be needing (spiritually, financially etc.) for effective and a fruitful ministry with EMS.
“… Go into all the world and Preach the Goodnews…” Mark. 16:15
SUNDAY 10TH MALAWI:-Thank God for the increase in the number of ECWA Malawi Church membership, to an extent some are using mat to sit on the ground. In addition, most of the members are punctual to Prayer meetings and Bible studies.
  • Pray for provision of more chairs in the Church.
  • Pray for the provision of a bus for the ministry in ECWA Malawi.
MONDAY 11TH MALAWI: Mrs. Love let’s (a new member) dedication to the Lord has won the Husband to Christ. He was misled to follow a false prophet, which in the process treated his wife badly. However, he has now decided to follow the true God alongside his wife. Some of the instructions given to him by the so-called Pastor were to bring an egg to the Church and to eat their meals in the cooking pot not plate.
  • That the lord should sustain her husband in his new found faith.
  • That Keegan a teenager, who gave his life to Christ during one of the pastor’s personal evangelism, will be strengthened to keep growing in faith.
  • That Silvia Kadewere, a daughter to the Church's secretary, whom even the Doctors had given up, following her critical illness but is by God’s grace healed, should continue to enjoy sound health to the glory of God.
TUESDAY 12TH CAMEROON: Thank God for about 123 members of the Cameroonian church who were baptized in December 2015.
  • Pray that they will grow in faith.
  • Pray for the evangelism / church planting work that has now started in Yaoundé, Capital city of Cameroon.
WEDNESDAY 13TH CAMEROON: Pray that God would provide mobility for the Cameroonian
EMS Coordinator, as he has to visit distanced missionaries, some as far as a thousand kilometers.
  • Pray for Ngaoundere mission field for God to provide them with a Church land. Also, pray for the forth-coming Evangelistic programme organized in Ngaoundere for souls to be saved.
  • Pray for the new converts in Douala and for the forward coming Evangelistic programme in Douala. Also, pray for the Lord to provide funds for the construction of Douala Church. Right now, they are worshipping in a temporary church on the land.
THURDAY14TH BURKINA FASO: Thank God for healing Pastor Dauda Iliya's wife.
  • Pray for God to provide 50 Bibles, three motorcycles (N160, 000 each), foodstuff (5 bags of rice &gallons of oil) for new converts to celebrate their first Christmas or about NSO, OOO in monetary terms.
  • A land is urgently needed. One has been identified which is already fenced and would cost N20m (Twenty million naira only). Prayer for open an open door toward this urgent need.
FRIDAY 15TH BURKINA FASO: lssaka, a former Moslem gave his life Christ buthe is now facing severe persecution. He has been denied food and driven away from home. The missionary is now faced with the challenge of taking care of him from their very meager resources.
  • Please pray for lssaka to stand firm in face of persecution and for the Lord to provide more resources to take care of lssaka and others like him.
  • Another convert, a woman by name Marietu also gave her life to Christ and was delivered from the bondage to a demonic charm. Now she too is facing severe persecution since she has refused to marry her former Muslim suitor. Presently, she is squatting with another believer. She is a trained tailor and will need a sewing machine in order to fend for herself.
SATURDAY 16TH Pray that EMS will be able to administer the Goodnews in its cross border mission fields and rescue many from the enemy’s grip and for fresh and adequately equip indigenous laborers at these desperate times who will be able to withstand, stand and advance the kingdom God among their people by force.
“…to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the hearts of the contrite one”.Isa.57:15
SUNDAY 17TH One major mission force that opened rural places in the northern Nigeria in the 70s and 80s is the evangelicals, but today’s Pentecostalism and influence of materialistic gospel is weakening their resolve to pursue this noble Kingdome mandate. Pray that the evangelicals will encounter evangelistic revival and reorientation in the year 2016.
MONDAY 18TH Pray that ECWA sons and daughters will maintain their first love for God, have compassion for the lost and be grossly engaged in evangelism and discipleship in 2016.
TUESDAY 19TH Pray that ECWA ministers will be self-motivated towards the vision of ECWA, which is to “wine all nations for Christ”. Also pray that they will walk in understanding with one another and be submissive to authority.
WEDNESDAY 20TH Pray for the supernatural release of money and every material resources that is needed for EMS and ECWA as a whole to fulfil our mandate everywhere.Phil.14:19.
THURSDAY 21ST Pray for the entire ECWA executive as they continue to pilot the affairs of ECWA Around the world, that God will grant them Wisdom, strength, security and journey mercies in all their travels.
FRIDAY 22ND Pray for the immediate family (Wife & children) of ECWA Pastors, Missionaries and other administrative officers working in various capacities, that God should protect them from counter reactions from the kingdom of darkness because of their commitment to kingdom service.
SATURDAY 23RD “How shall they preach except they be sent” was the question Paul asked in Romans 10:15.One of the major mission challenge today is the resources to finance the labor, the laborers who are ready to go full-time, and many who want to volunteer their services for short time mission. In other words, “the laborers are waiting, but the senders are few”.
  • Pray the lord of the harvest to raise capable senders in the church and mission support agencies.
  • Thank God, for those who are already committed to raising support for mission. Ask the lord to increase their capacity, build their income generation system to maturity and sufficiency, and help them to do justice to the laborers on fields.
“I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove savage beast from the land, and the sward will not pass through your country” Lev.26:6.
SUNDAY 24TH List and Pray for the salvation of individuals around you (relatives, friends, and colleagues’ etc.). Pray that they will encounter Jesus and be committed in serving Him in this year. MONDAY 25TH: Pray that God’s light will shine on all British youths, both male and female who have left and many who are planning on leaving to become Jihadist in Syria, Iraq etc. Ask that God’s mercy will save them as the it saved Saul of Tarsus in his misguided zeal (Act 9:1-6).Pray for wisdom for the British Government as they seek to address this evil.
TUESDAY 26TH Pray With the increase in violence and the activities of insurgence around the world, many being rendered homeless, children turned into orphans, women forced into early widowhood, and men decapitated. EMS through its relief project unit under the supervision of Brother Mark Sunday has made it a point of duty to reach out to such that are affected.
  • For more of God’s grace on Bro Mark for effective and efficient outreaches in this 2016
  • For the recently produced documentary, that through it more individuals and cooperate partners will be added to the number of partners promoting the work of this unit
  • For vulnerable young and old people who do not have families to fall back to and who are struggling to live (Math.25:35).
WEDNESDAY 27TH ARGENTINA: Military dictatorship and the failed Falklands / Malvinas war, followed by economic disaster, have led Argentina into spiritual hunger and receptivity to the gospel of Christ. Operation World states that evangelical numbers, under one million in
1980, reached 3.9 million by 2015. However, spiritual openness is also seeing many drawn into Umbanda occultism from Brazil as well as some churches with questionable teachings.
  • That President Mauricio Macri will be able to harness its vast natural resources to revive an economy that has for decades fallen short of its potential.
  • For investments to stream into the country, bringing with it Christians to reach out to the highly educated workforce.
THURSDAY 28TH Pray for all missionaries on transfer, that the Lord will endow them with wisdom and increasing grace as they they begin ministry in their new mission station.
FRIDAY 29TH Pray for Nigerian Press and security, agencies that they may be more dedicated to duty and to also contribute in promoting good governance.
Weapons, vehicles, employee salaries, propaganda videos, international travel – all cost money. IS's methods of financing are difficult to shut down. Terrorists use their control over a territory the size of the UK to develop revenue channels. The oil fields captured in Syria and Iraq fund the group through a black market oil trade flourishing along the porous borders of IS-controlled land. It is believed some traders have even sold oil from terrorists back to Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Because terrorists control an expansive territory, they can levy taxes on the people living there. Some of these taxes are more like extortion. The group is heavily diversified: if one funding source is shut down, they turn to others to generate revenue. A steady flow of money to IS from rich individuals in the Gulf continues, with Qataris the biggest suppliers.
  • For countries to work, together and cut off the ‘fourth front’ cash flow in the war against IS. (Hos.9:9)
  • That the stronghold behind the strength of Boko-haram will be broken in Jesus Name
SUNDAY 31ST Pray Thank God for answered prayers and for His grace upon you to pray with us this month. Pray for more of His grace to be committed to praying with us in February.

Coping with Grief & Loneliness Over the Holidays

Handling grief or loss over the holidays by Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (iStock photo)

"This is my comfort in my affliction, for Your word revives me" (Ps. 119:50, MEV).

Christmas isn't a joyful season for everybody. Grief—whether from loss, loneliness or both—crescendos around this time of year for many, and the deep, emotional pain can seem like almost too much to bear.

Isaiah 53:4 states, "Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." Jesus carries as much of the burden as we let Him. But in addition to falling into our Savior's loving arms, here are five suggestions to ease your personal Christmas blues or empower you to help someone else dealing with grief and loneliness:

1. Be kind to yourself. Billy Graham likens the death of a loved one to major surgery. But that can also be true regarding the death of a relationship, say a divorce. Healing from any medical operation takes time, and so does finding a new way of life after losing someone close. Leave the decorations in the attic this year if you need to. Find another family member to host Christmas dinner. Most importantly, perhaps, allow yourself to cry—or even scream—out to God as you process. David did in Psalm 61:2. Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:1-44). Your tears aren't a sign of faithlessness. They're a natural and necessary response to your loss. Let God heal you (Matthew 11:28).

2. Adjust your expectations. Anticipate Christmas will be different without your loved one and be proactive about your emotional health. Don't live in fear of your emotions, but take stock of your heart, especially before logging onto Facebook or other social media. Feelings of loneliness have a way of intensifying when you're bombarded by social media posts of your friends apparently having a grand time. Sign off for now if you need to.

If you find yourself in the comforter role this Christmas, keep your words washed in love and extend grace. Whether Uncle John has been gone for seven days, seven months or seven years, your aunt still misses him. Don't wonder (especially aloud) how she can still be sad after all these years. "How are you holding up?" is typically a safe question when talking with someone who has experienced loss. Check out the Sharing Hope in Crisis course from the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team if you're interested in in-depth training for these sensitive situations.

3. Reach out. Sometimes the best way to lift your spirit is by helping someone else. Isolation turns your focus inward. Instead, volunteer with a local church, serve dinner to the homeless or walk your elderly neighbor's dog. Do something to serve. Additionally, if you're aching to have Christmas dinner with others, ask to join a  family member, friend or someone in your church. Remember, it's never a bad idea to offer to bring a dish, supplies or help with cleanup. Alternatively, if you know someone dealing with grief or loneliness, do your part. Give the gift of your time (Galatians 6:2).

4. Say something. Memories linger in your loved ones' absence. Remember the funny stories. Share them. Laugh and cry with your family members and friends as you reminisce. Or don't. If there aren't good memories or it's just too soon, consider finding new traditions and ways to focus forward.  If you're on the outside looking in, don't feel compelled to change the subject if someone mourning brings up good memories about the deceased. Operate cautiously and with sensitivity but above all else be a good listener and don't mind the tears. Memories are precious gifts from God, and they are one of the few ways a loved one's legacy lives on.

5. Cling to the promises of God. Especially when you don't feel like it. Consider John 14:18, which says: "No, I will not abandon you or leave you as orphans in the storm—I will come to you." You might feel forgotten by people, but you aren't forgotten by our heavenly Father. God is here. He sees you grieving. He wants to comfort you. Remind others of that truth. If you aren't familiar with His promises, start by finding peace with God.

Some quotes from Billy Graham on grief:

  • "With Christ as your Savior and constant Companion, you, although alone, need never be lonely."
  • When we grieve over someone who has died in Christ, we are sorrowing not for them but for ourselves. Our grief isn't a sign of weak faith, but of great love."
  • "It is our Lazarus tomb dark and foreboding and drenched with bitter tears, but it is there that we meet our Lord who brings life from death and gladness from the very tomb of bereavement. Christ can give rest in the midst of sorrow."
  • "If there is something we need more than anything else during grief, it is a friend who stands with us, who doesn't leave us. Jesus is that friend."

For the original article, visit



The film is uneven, but Joy knows just who she is. (Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation)
The text at the beginning of Joy, the latest film from director David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook), says it is “inspired by the true stories of daring women . . . one in particular.”
Jennifer Lawrence, Edgar Ramirez, Elisabeth Rohm, Dashca Polanco, Isabella Rossellini, Robert De Niro, and Diane Ladd in 'Joy'
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Jennifer Lawrence, Edgar Ramirez, Elisabeth Rohm, Dashca Polanco, Isabella Rossellini, Robert De Niro, and Diane Ladd in 'Joy'
That “one” is Joy Mangano, played here by Jennifer Lawrence, who is always fun to watch and certainly holds the film together. The character and her story are based on Mangano’s true story of inventing the Magic Mop, hawking it on the still-new QVC, and overcoming difficulty to become a business mogul able to support other inventors and entrepreneurs.
Russell makes weird and frenetic movies that aren’t to everyone’s taste. They lurch around a bit and at times seem more infatuated with style than substance or coherence. That shows up again in Joy, which is narrated by Joy’s grandmother (Diane Ladd) and includes a montage introduction and a couple early black-and-white scenes from a melodrama, shot in soap opera style. Soon we segue into a whirling-dervish madcap romp through Joy’s house, with Joy as the axis, populated by a motley crew of relatives: Joy’s two children and her grandmother Mimi; Joy's ex-husband (Edgar Ramirez), an aspiring singer who still lives in the basement long after the divorce; her mother, Terry (Virginia Madsen), who stays in bed and watches soap operas; her father Rudy (Robert De Niro, another Russell regular), who’s moving back in after his latest split—though he’ll have to share space with his ex-son-in-law, whom he sometimes-cordially hates. (Good thing he swiftly finds a new girlfriend in Trudy, played by Isabella Rossellini.) The family also includes Joy’s half-sister Peggy (Elisabeth Rohm), who manages Rudy’s auto repair shop and is by turns affectionate and undermining toward Joy’s efforts.
Jennifer Lawrence, Edgar Ramirez, Elisabeth Rohm, Dashca Polanco, Isabella Rossellini, Robert De Niro, and Diane Ladd in 'Joy'
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Edgar Ramirez in 'Joy'
As it turns out, she learned that behavior from the family more generally. We come to understand that Joy was a gifted child with big aspirations and an active imagination, an inventor from her youth. But time and circumstance have left her, still young and vibrant, with a lot of mouths to feed and egos to placate. Those egos delight in tearing down her aspirations in the most passive-aggressive manner I can imagine (consider this your trigger warning).
But Joy is scrappy and persistent, and she fights her way onto QVC, still a fledgling network headed by Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper, of course). What follows is ups and downs, excruciating failure and exhilarating success, licensing debacles and mismanagement and tense negotiations. In Lawrence’s portrayal of Joy, she’s a tired, determined woman with a lot of charm and grit and desperation who can still be reduced by those she loves to a puddle of despair. What we’re watching is not the building of an empire, but a woman coming into her own.
That part of the film is cathartic and enjoyable, if unevenly told. Yet it leaves us with a lot of desires. For instance, I want a film about all the personalities around QVC, and around Mangano’s own later business ventures. Futures are hinted at that seem terribly interesting, enough that in this age of film-to-TV, you can’t help wonder if a series is lurking in someone’s mind. (Given how character-driven it is, the film would work splendidly, and probably be received more warmly by both audiences and critics, as an offbeat prestige comedic drama.) I want a coherently-told story; I don’t want the feeling of rushing from scene to scene.
lisabeth Rohm, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro in 'Joy'
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Elisabeth Rohm, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro in 'Joy'
At the film's core is our favorite sort of story as Americans, a good old-fashioned pull-up-your-bootstraps, rags-to-riches tale of rising from humble circumstances through sheer force of will. And to tell you the truth, I was into it. By the end of Joy I felt strangely similar to the end of American Hustle—frustrated by the filmmaking, but enamored of the characters, except I didn’t feel dirty for rooting for the main character. In fact, I felt an affinity to her. I wanted to be like her. That’s the point: she’s a daring woman and meant to be an inspiration, and thankfully, she really is. (The real Joy Mangano, by the way, currently holds more than 100 patents.)
Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence in 'Joy'
Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence in 'Joy'
And so, even though Joy never really seems to figure out what sort of a movie it is, it’s still a lot of fun to watch—mostly because the woman at its center knows exactly who she is.
Caveat Spectator
The film is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, which is exactly what it sounds like: expletives. Otherwise, it’s all family drama.
Alissa Wilkinson is Christianity Today’s chief film critic and an assistant professor of English and humanities at The King’s College in New York City. She is co-author, with Robert Joustra, of How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith, and Politics at the End of the World (Eerdmans, May 2016). She tweets @alissamarie.

Let Christmas Be Complicated

We often overlook the tragic backdrop to Jesus' birth. (Photo: ECWA Archive)

I have always loved the color gray. All my favorite hoodies, sweatpants, and T-shirts are gray. One Christmas shopping trip, my fashion-savvy mother tried to get me to “please, pick some color besides gray—something bright!” As much as I try to branch out, there is something inexplicably comfortable and comforting about the color. I feel at home in it.

Much later, the world itself seemed to turn gray. After six months of struggling with depression and self-hatred in a country that wasn’t my own, I returned home to find my nicely packaged view of how the world works shattered. Gone was the God who did things “for a reason,” the God who, if he called you to a place, would give you a deep contentment, even if circumstances were difficult.

My relationship with God went through a fundamental shift then, and the way I see the world has never been the same. As I struggle off and on with depression, I live through seasons of lighter and darker shades of gray. Instead of rose-colored glasses, I see the world through a dimming and dulling filter.

But even as the world has turned gray, it has also become more complex. It is in some ways too simple to say that I’ve gone from seeing the world as “black and white” to seeing it as gray. Of course, as a Christian, I affirm that some things are black and white; there is both real evil and real good in the world. But beyond that, evil and good can become so entangled in this time-between-times that it can be difficult to see where one ends and the other begins. Seeing the world through the lens of Scripture demands we recognize this shades-of-gray complexity of our world.

The human minds craves simplicity. We tend to simplify otherwise complex situations so that solutions are clear to us. Whether it’s terrorist attacks in Paris or protests against racism on college campuses, we find comfort knowing what the response ought to be, not to mention why it happened in the first place. We simply need more air strikes and more surveillance. We need to stop accepting refugees. We need less war, not more. We need to stop coddling students with political correctness.

I see this simplification happen on a personal level too, with well-intended attempts to explain or answer our suffering. Think of the clichés: God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Everything happens for a reason. It was just her time. Behind these sentiments, we find the good desire to affirm that God loves us and has our best interests at heart. But too often such simplifications—of individual suffering or suffering on a larger scale—belie our need to control the narrative. If we can oversimplify the situation, then we can understand it and protect ourselves. But in a world tainted by sin, circumstances are rarely that straightforward, as we learn from Scripture itself.

Many have recently invoked Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in their flight to Egypt as “Middle Eastern refugees,” in parallel to present-day refugees. And yet, their story—even in the pages of the New Testament—isn’t an isolated account of a happy-ending journey. What about the other babies and families of Matthew 2, those left behind to suffer the consequences of King Herod’s lust for power? What’s the reason for that? It is easy to see why this part of the story is often left out of our Advent retellings. In the midst of the joy and hope surrounding Jesus’ birth, we find the insertion of one of the most brutal acts depicted in the New Testament.

This detail doesn’t get included as a casual aside. Matthew tells us twice that Herod is fulfilling prophecy. First, Jesus’ family flees to Egypt, having been warned of the danger. This fulfills Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” Second—and even more striking—is the “fulfillment” of the words of Jeremiah:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
And she refused to be comforted,
Because they were no more.

Imagine one of those Jewish mothers of Bethlehem. Her one-year-old son, having made it through those first few critical months of life, has been taken by her own king, his life snuffed out in the offhand chance that he might pose a threat. And she was powerless to stop it. She did not have the benefit of the warning that Joseph received. Perhaps she didn’t have the means to flee even if she had been warned. Now imagine had she been told that her suffering and loss fulfilled a prophecy, that it’s part and parcel of the sending of God’s Anointed One, part of God’s “plan.” It rings a bit hollow, doesn’t it?

The questions abound: What about Herod? Ultimately, his acts fulfill the prophecies. Or do they? Just because this is the way it happened, is this the way it had to happen? Could God have fulfilled the prophecies in another way? Let’s put it even more strongly: Did God want those babies to die? Is Matthew implying he did? Like any time we try to grapple with the hows and whys of God’s plan, these are tough questions. There aren’t easy answers. And perhaps that is precisely the point.

Too often we read Scripture expecting nice, neat packages. I suspect this is why some Christians struggle with the Old Testament, where it’s harder to grasp the “whys” behind the tough stories. But Scripture mirrors the complexity of the human situation it is meant to address. And Scripture often whispers, even when we would prefer that it shout.

This Advent and Christmas, I am challenging myself to pay attention to the silences of Scripture—the places where Scripture invites us to ask questions, to wrestle with the text, to wrestle with God, as Jacob did. In the shades of gray, I can listen for the Spirit to whisper in the details I might otherwise overlook.

John Calvin spoke of Scripture as “spectacles” that teach us to see God and the world rightly. As we allow Scripture to shape our vision, we may find that we no longer need the easy answers, the clichéd responses, the knee-jerk reactions. We may find ourselves able to sit and be silent.

Once upon a time, not far from Bethlehem, another prophecy was fulfilled: a strong empire executed a lowly criminal, with the religious leaders cheering them along the way. Many in that time thought they could see the distinctions between black and white. It took a resurrection to open their eyes. We too live in a time when “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.” Let us pray for eyes to see the world in all its complexity…until that time when “we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Mandy Rodgers-Gates is a Th.D. candidate at Duke Divinity School and a Wheaton College graduate. She wrote one of the winning posts in Her.meneutics' writing contest this summer.

North Korea Sentences Canadian Megachurch Pastor to Life in Prison

by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra Toronto pastor who made hundreds of humanitarian trips dodges death penalty. (Pastor Hyeon-Soo Lim | Light Korean Presbyterian Church)

North Korea has sentenced the pastor of one of Canada's largest churches to life in prison.

Hyeon-Soo Lim, leader of 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in suburban Toronto, has been held by North Korea since January, and allegedly confessed in August to conspiring against the government of Kim Jong-Un.

KCNAAccording to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), state prosecutors argued for the death penalty against Lim in Wednesday’s 90-minute trial at the nation's supreme court, reports The New York Times. The defense begged for mercy, pointing to Lim as a fellow Korean and his alleged confession. Lim’s lawyers asked for a life sentence "so that he can witness for himself the reality of the nation of the Sun as it grows in power and prosperity," reports Reuters.

The government accused Lim of “trying to use religion to destroy the North Korean system,” among other charges, reports CBC News.

KCNA posted photos of the trial.

The Canadian foreign affairs department called the sentence “unduly harsh” in light of Lim's "age and fragile health."

Lim's megachurch has asked Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to advocate on the imprisoned pastor's behalf.


[Originally published on August 3 at 11:50 a.m., entitled “North Korea Reveals Why It Captured Canadian Megachurch Pastor | After hundreds of humanitarian trips, Toronto pastor has been detained since January.”]

After being detained since January, the pastor of one of Canada's largest churches has allegedly confessed to a “subversive plot” to overthrow the North Korean government and to set up a new “religious state,” reports The New York Times.

Hyeon-Soo Lim, leader of 3,000-member Light Korean Presbyterian Church in suburban Toronto, spoke both at a press conference and later at a church service, according to reports by the Hermit Kingdom's state news agency.

"The worst crime I committed was to rashly defame and insult the highest dignity and the system of the republic," Lim told a Pyongyang congregation, apparently reading from a script.

Detaining Christian foreigners is somewhat of a North Korean tradition, but accusing them of planning to set up a theocracy is new, AsiaNews said.

Lim has been held by the North Korean government since January, when the 60-year-old was scheduled to spend a few days there on humanitarian work. His church has worked in North Korea for almost 20 years, and Lim has made hundreds of trips to oversee a nursing home and orphanage there, said church spokesperson Lisa Pak.

"That's the most that we know, that the press conference happened and he admitted, I use that word very lightly, to some charges," Pak told Reuters.

The church released a statement after Lim’s confession:

The family and church are eager to have Mr. Lim home after close to 7 months in detention in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There are no comments regarding the charges and allegations made against Mr. Lim except that the humanitarian aid projects that Mr. Lim has both initiated and supported in the DPRK have been for the betterment of the people. It is this tremendous love for the people of the DPRK that motivated Mr. Lim to travel to the nation over 100 times. He remains a compassionate and generous man and we hope to see him home soon. We are grateful for all those who share in our concerns and ask for your continued prayers and support.

Lim was born in South Korea, and immigrated to Canada with his family in 1986, where he helped to grow his church from five families to more than 3,000 people.

“You can imagine that, being ethnically Korean, there is a personal investment in the people of Korea,” Pak told the Toronto Star when he was first detained. She told CNN it was unlikely that Lim was proselytizing while he was there.

"He knows the language, he knows the nature of the government, so we don't see that as a legitimate reason that he would be detained," she said. "We don't believe that's the way he would have behaved. He's very wise about that."

The Canadian government has severed consular ties with North Korea, but Sweden has an embassy in Pyongyang and does some diplomatic work for Canada. Reuters reported in March that the Swedish ambassador was pressing for a meeting with an unidentified Canadian citizen detained there.

"We continue to advocate for consular access and for a resolution in his case," stated Canada’s Foreign Affairs department.

Lim follows a spate of Western missionaries who have been arrested in North Korea, which has spent the last 13 years topping Open Doors’ World Watch List as the worst place for Christians to live. An estimated 70,000 Christians are held in prison camps there.

In November, the North Korean government released American missionary Kenneth Bae after two years in captivity. Also in 2014, North Korea detained American Jeffrey Fowles for leaving behind a Bible, and arrested and released Australian missionary John Short, 75, for spreading Bible tracts near a Buddhist temple in Pyongyang.

American missionary Robert Park deliberately got himself arrested and spent six weeks in a North Korean prison in 2010, saying his goal was “to proclaim Christ’s love and forgiveness” to Kim Jong Il and to call for the release of political prisoners. "My hope was, through sacrifice, that maybe there would be repentance and people could come together to address issues in North Korea," Park told CT in an exclusive interview.

South Korean Baptist missionary Kim Jong-Uk is still imprisoned after after receiving a life sentence in June for allegedly working with underground churches.

Go to Christianity Today for the original article.


Writing a Letter of Forgiveness

An adapted excerpt from Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges by Lori Deschene (Bigstuck Photo)

All my romantic relationships have ended quickly and painfully. I often compared the new men in my life to the old ones. From my former boyfriends’ mistakes, I always found a reason to walk away from the current one. I even occasionally returned to old boyfriends in hopes that things would change, but they never did. Over time, the anger of past injustices reappeared many times, and I couldn’t overcome it.

A few years ago, I decided to make a change for myself. I stopped communication with all my exes to rid the poison I thought they brought to my life. At first it was liberating, but soon the old feelings of regret and pain came back. I couldn’t stop being a victim and feeling hurt for what was done to me. I finally understood that the only way to be truly free from anger was through forgiveness.

This year, I started writing letters to each of the men whom I’d loved and then hated for so long. I told them my feelings, good and bad, and apologized for the part I played in ending each relationship. Lastly, I forgave them for the mistakes they made- the mistakes that haunted me for years. I sealed each letter with a wish for their happiness and a kiss. I have never felt more content and free than when I placed those letters in the mail. It gave me the resolution that I needed, to say what my heart felt in its entirety and let go.

As I finished sending the last letter, I knew that my heart was ready to love without the burden of past misfortune. I can finally give myself completely to love without excuses or being a victim.

Reflections from Sara O.

I met my ex-boyfriend while we were both in recovery for alcoholism. We dated for a few months until he relapsed. There were always two voices in the back of my head: one telling me this relationship wasn’t healthy and I needed to walk away, and the other telling me to stick it out. That second voice told me I could lead by example, that if he could see how I was improving my life by being sober, he would do the same.

I kept holding on tighter, afraid he would leave and that I wasn’t good enough. When he did leave, abruptly, I was devastated. I expected him to fill that void that was still inside me, despite all the work I was doing on myself. My codependency flared up in all sorts of unhealthy ways: stalking Facebook, obsessing over what I could have said or done to make him stay, resting all my self-worth on his opinion of me. I was against feeling anger toward him because I felt I deserved to be treated this way.

With time, a network of support, and my higher power, I went back to the basics of my program: one day at a time. Each day was a struggle, redirecting my thoughts from negative/obsessive to reflective/self-loving. Eventually, I acknowledged and felt my anger and could let him go. When I find myself wanting to check on him or obsess, I redirect my thinking to my progress and what I could do with this experience to help others. I choose not to hold on to the negativity of that relationship but the self-awareness and love I’ve cultivated thus far in myself.

Today, I thank him for leaving. What I’ve learned by feeling and releasing my anger and choosing to forgive is that people come in and out of our lives every day, and they all teach us something about ourselves. If we’re open-minded, we can reap the benefits and in turn, help others.


  • On a separate piece of paper, write a letter of forgiveness to someone toward whom you’ve felt bitter and angry (to send or to burn as an act of release).

For reflection:

  • What are some things you’ve wanted to tell this person about their actions and how they affected you?
  • What’s prevented you from sharing these things in the past?
  • If you’d like to maintain a relationship with this person, what, if anything, do you need from them to do that?

How did it go?

  • Was this a cathartic experience for you? Did you decide to send or burn the letter?

Reflections from Stephanie Hauck. From Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges. Copyright © 2015 by Lori Deschene. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers.


Healthy Dating Practices for the New Year

This is what it means to date with intentionality and maturity (photo © Glow of Love by Angela D. Coleman)
There are plenty of unhealthy ways to date, so I've compiled 10 healthy dating practices that I believe cut to the core of what it means to date with intentionality and maturity.
1. Date with intention.
This is going to be for the best of both parties involved. Dating isn't a game, and the last thing you want to do is get in a relationship with someone when your intentions are anything but pure. If you're just looking for fun, I'd recommend you be open and honest about your intentions with anyone you meet or connect with. It's only fair to them and their emotions.
2. Make sure your first date is in a public place.
You just never know who you're going to meet. I'd recommend your first date be in a public place in front of lots of people and I'd even recommend you let your friends know where you will be in case something were to happen. You never know who the person you've chatted with on the phone might act in person, and the last thing you want to happen is end up in a private place with someone whose motives are anything but respectful.
3. Try to learn as much as you can before meeting them.
Yes, the beauty of social media. If they have public profiles, then make sure to do your due diligence and research as much as you can about the person. It only makes sense to do a little Facebook stalking to see whom you're meeting with. Come on, we've all done it. While someone's online profiles might not always match up with how they act in person, it's always a good idea to see how someone presents themselves online and it may give you the opportunity to end a date before it even starts. Better to be safe than sorry.
4. Value the input of your friends and family.
Your friends and family play a valuable role in your dating life, and it's always good to get their opinions when it comes to the person you are dating. Mind you, they might always give the best advice but it's always good to get wisdom from the people who are looking out for your best interest.
5. Continue to stay social with your friends and family.
Don't be that person who gets a relationship and then disappears from the face of the planet. We all know that person. Yes, I know you want to spend time with your new babe, but it's also healthy to continue carving out time for your friends and family members.
6. Have a "define the relationship" every few dates to see how things are going. 
Nobody likes dating in the dark. I don't mean literally, but emotionally. Not knowing where your relationship stands can be extremely stressful, so I suggest that you and your new girl/guy take time every few weeks to discuss where each other is at with things.
This will give you both clarity, keep the relationship healthy, and keep the relationship from ever going further than it needs to.
7. Be open and honest from the very beginning.
Relationships thrive on transparency. Letting people know about you from the very beginning is quite possibly the best thing you can do for your relationship. Everyone's made mistakes, and I'd encourage you to share about the big pieces of your life that have made you who you are today. Don't keep things hidden in fear of rejection. Be open.
8. Don't play with someone's emotions.
If it's not working, then end it. Some relationships are kind of like the TV show American Idol—they go on way longer than they actually should. Seriously though, don't keep a relationship going just for the heck of it. The best thing you can do is be transparent about how you're feeling. If things aren't working out, then end it with care. Ending the relationship as soon as you realize it's not working out will show you care about the person more than dragging it along. Trust me.
9. Don't have important conversations via text or email.
We've all been there. Auto-correct and text interpretation can be a relationship's worst nightmare. Save the important conversations for an actual conversation, not a banter of back and forth emojis and broken English. Plus, waiting to talk in person will give you time to really think about what you want to say instead of texting out of pure emotion.
10. Don't settle.
Simple. Don't settle for a mediocre relationship. You deserve to be with someone who supports you, encourages you, cares for you and loves you for who you are. Don't settle for mediocre when you could have extraordinary.
Jarrid Wilson is a husband to Juli, dad to Finch, pastor, author, blogger and founder of Cause Roast. He's helping people live a better story. For the original article, visit For the original article, visit
For the original article, visit

Rick Warren: Sexual Purity Begins With a Commitment

Sexual purity is far more complex than simply abstaining from having sex and may be rooted in your mind, your heart and your soul. (ECWA Archive)

"How shall a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word" (Psalm 119:9, MEV).

Is it possible in the 21st century to live a sexually pure life—to refrain from sex before marriage and stay sexually faithful during marriage?

Yes! But it has to start with a commitment.

The Bible says, "How can [anyone] stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word" (Psalm 119:9 NIV). To be sexually pure in the 21st century (or any other century for that matter), you'll need a standard to live by. You can either build your standard by yourself or choose God's standard. You must decide whether God knows more about your life than you do.

God says several things in His Word that aren't popular—particularly when it comes to sex. Why does He say those things? He knows more about sex than you do. He also understands the implications far better than you do. You have to decide: "God, when I don't understand it, when I don't like it, and when it's not popular, I'm going to do what your Word says regardless of what I think or what my friends think."

Until you're willing to make that kind of commitment, you may as well close up your Bible and go back to bed. Without that commitment, you're not ready to be pure in an impure world. You can only be pure by following God's standard.

God thought up sex. It was his idea, but he did put a few parameters around it. His standard has never changed. It's very clear regardless of opinion polls or anything else.

Sex is far more than physical. It's a spiritual act with physical, social, legal, and emotional consequences. If sex were just physical, it'd be like a handshake. It wouldn't matter who you had sex with. But sex is more than physical.

The Bible makes it clear that sex is exclusively reserved for a husband and a wife who are committed to one another in a marriage. Anything outside of that, like sex before marriage and sex outside of marriage, will have profound consequences on your emotions and your spiritual life, and it may even physically harm you.

God's standards are in your best interest. If you want to live by them — and avoid all the negative consequences that come from living outside of them — it starts with a commitment.

Talk It Over
  • Why do you think it's important to make a commitment to God's standard for sexual purity before you get into a situation where you are tempted?
  • What are things in our world that make it even harder to turn away from sexual temptation?
  • What are some of the consequences of sexual sin?

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit


Hallmark Christmas Movies: ‘Guilty Pleasure’ No More

It starts with a girl. She’s white, with immaculately curled hair. She is shy/clumsy/uptight, but deep down, she wants to open a bakery/be an artist/follow her dreams.

Then there’s the boy. He’s also white, with perfect teeth and hair like a businessman from the ‘80s. He works too much/doesn’t care about the holidays/needs help raising his kids because his wife recently died.

Maybe the roles are reversed; it doesn’t really matter. The lighthearted conflict between them goes on for 45 minutes to an hour, until they kiss at the end. Cue the music, fade to the credits, and then it starts all over again.

This is the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas spectacular, a nonstop lineup of variations on the romantic holiday movie formula. In 2015 alone, Hallmark has released 17 new Christmas-specific movies, adding to their expansive back catalog of made-for-TV films. This year was my first time sitting down to watch their feel-good movie marathon, but the plotlines were familiar to me as an evangelical girl who grew up longing for a safe, happy, magical world where it felt like Christmas every day.

While mainstream culture scorns the romance as lowbrow and naively idealistic, it remains a hugely profitable enterprise thanks to its loyal readers and viewers. Last year, from Halloween to Christmas, Hallmark was the No. 1 channel for women age 25-54, and a single one of their holiday films, Christmas Under Wraps, attracted 5.8 million viewers. (That’s double the viewership of most Real Housewives shows.)

Once-niche “nerd” entertainment gained popular esteem as it proved itself lucrative (think Marvel movies, Star Trek reboots, and the like), but Hallmark Channel-style romance continues to elicit a degree of derision. No one is more acutely aware of the reputation of these sentimental and seasonal romances than the women who adore them. When I asked a few fans why they tuned in, the answers came in sheepish sentiments: I know they are predictable but… they are calming background noise… I just like happy endings… Christmas is a hard time of year, and they make me feel good… I’m probably too idealistic, but they are just so full of warmth….

These caveats offer some protection from judgment and let others know that they are aware of the criticisms of the genre. But perhaps loving the Hallmark Channel at Christmastime isn’t something to apologize for. More broadly, it may be time a shift in our language when we talk about loving something that we know isn’t perfect.

My friend (and Christ and Pop Culture founder) Richard Clark once told me he doesn’t believe in guilty pleasures. Watch what you want to watch, he said. If you truly feel guilty about watching something, maybe you should turn it off. As I read what fans told me about these pleasant movies, chock-full of bland actors and hopeful messages, I realized there is nothing to feel guilty about. They contain nothing morally wrong or hurtful or violent or exploitative. And yet, people (mostly women), still do.

Perhaps our desire for elite taste beyond the Hallmark Channel fare comes out of a sense of pop culture classism. While exploring the enormous popularity of Celine Dion, music writer Carl Wilson presented a theory from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wherein taste becomes a way “to set ourselves apart from those whose social ranking is beneath us, and to take aim at the social status we feel we deserve.” We see this play out culturally in our sneers directed at Celine, romantic movies, or even the incredibly popular Adele. Anything deemed so accessible by women—women from a wide variety of classes, in particular—automatically becomes an issue of bad taste for those who consider themselves more refined.

This gendered and class-based judgment should distress us as Christians, as people called to break down cultural distinctions and barriers, not create or uphold them (especially when we happen to be on the “winning” or “artistically savvy” side). No one, as far as I can tell, regards the romance genre as a bastion of artistic innovation or importance. But as another music critic, Joel Heng Hartse writes, “What is taste, after all, other than love?” So many people love these movies and find them as hopeful as they are improbable. Perhaps the enormous popularity of romantic holiday movies serves as a reminder of our desire see happy endings played out before us, at least every now and again.

To be honest, the few movies I watched as research for this essay felt only mildly pleasant. I chuckled a little bit. Immersed in a world of few problems and many beautiful people, I felt happy enough when they got together in the end. I will probably watch one or two a year (any more than that and it does start to feel a bit like a money-making cash enterprise, the movies subsisting to sell advertising spots). As the writer and Countdown to Christmas fan Addie Zierman told me:

There's also a little tiny part of me that finds it sort of nice—this idea that somehow during Christmastime people start to see things better. Truer. They let go of old hurts. They forgive their parents. The go home after being away too long. They make peace with their past. Things are made right in the end.

Those desires—to see and experience forgiveness, homecoming, peace, redemption—all stem from deep spiritual needs. And wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t judge people for seeking out those kinds of stories, if instead we strove to find the commonalities of desire that transcend gender, race, and class? Now that would be a Christmas miracle, indeed.

D. L. Mayfield’s writing has appeared in various publications such as CT, McSweeney's, and Image Journal, among others. Her favorite romantic comedy is “The Decoy Bride” starring the magnificent David Tennant. Her book of essays titled Assimilate Or Go Home: Notes From a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith will be out from HarperOne in August 2016. Find her at or on Twitter.


Five Errors to Drop from Your Christmas Sermon

If you want to help people see Christmas with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.(Abraham Bloemaert / Wikimedia Commons.The adoration of the Magi)

Pastors, preachers, and Bible teachers: Have you thought about your Christmas sermon or lesson yet? If you want to help people celebrate Christmas this year (and every year) in keeping with established facts—not later legends, traditions, or popular imaginations—start by avoiding these common mistakes.

1. Don’t add details that aren’t in the text.

This might seem obvious but bears repeating because it happens so often. The massive annual proliferation of Christmas cards, nativity scenes, and TV specials perpetuates these added details and gives the impression that they are facts.

The infancy narratives in the Gospels lack many of the details that have been fabricated in subsequent centuries. For example, they don’t tell us about the nature of the stable (cave, open-air, wood, etc.); whether there even was a stable; whether or not there were animals nearby; or the number of wise men. These magoi (not kings and not necessarily three in number) almost certainly didn’t arrive on the night of the birth as most manger scenes depict. And a star wouldn’t have been suspended right above the roofline. With no mention of a stable, the manger could have been in the open air, in an animal pen near the house, in a small cave, or in the area of a house used for animals.

The texts don’t mention Mary and/or Joseph riding on a donkey. It is equally plausible—if not more so—that they walked the entire way from Nazareth to Bethlehem (70–80 miles; at least 3 days of steady walking). The idea of Mary riding a donkey stems from a second-century apocryphal work (Protoevangelium of James, chap. 17). Actually, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable for a pregnant teenager in antiquity with an active lifestyle to walk such a journey.

Despite what we see in some Christmas pageants, there is no mention of an innkeeper (whether mean and coldhearted or regretful for the lack of space available); Luke simply mentions that there was no room in the kataluma (Luke 2:7). The kataluma was not a formal professional inn with an innkeeper but could point to either a public covered shelter (as in the Greek translation of Ex. 4:24) or to the guest room in a personal home (as in Luke 22:11).

It is important for us to stick with established facts when preaching and teaching. There is, of course, nothing wrong with the use of historical imagination. But it is important to maintain a clear distinction between what we actually know happened and imaginative reconstructions of how events might have taken place. Christianity is rooted in historical fact. This is as true for Jesus’ birth as it is true for the crucifixion and resurrection.

2. Don’t supply spiritual explanations for cultural practices to make them sound biblical.

We love to find—or even invent—spiritual reasons for various cultural practices related to Christmas. For example, we give gifts to one other to remind ourselves of God’s great gift of Jesus to the world or of the gifts of the wise men to Jesus. That may sound nice, but is it biblical? Or do we really give gifts because that’s what our parents did and what everyone else we know does (except the Jehovah’s Witnesses, diehard secularists, and some religious purists)? What kind of parent would you be if you didn’t give your child a Christmas present (or, in many cases, a whole roomful of them)? Or, just imagine, if you didn’t celebrate Christmas at all (like the Puritans)? Very little is intrinsically spiritual or biblical about these kinds of expectations. They’re almost entirely cultural. That doesn’t make them necessarily wrong, but we shouldn’t invent biblical rationales to justify them.

Examples abound. What does the decoration of an evergreen tree have to do with Jesus’ coming to earth to rescue God’s creation? We may tell ourselves it’s a symbol of everlasting life because it’s evergreen but is that really the reason to set up a Christmas tree each year? Similarly, we may point to candles as a symbol of Jesus being the light of the world, holly as a symbol of the crown of thorns that was placed upon Jesus’ head, the color red as a symbol of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, the yule log as a symbol of the cross, mistletoe as a symbol of reconciliation, and bells as a symbol for ringing out the good news. Even if some of these associations and symbols are ancient, they don’t explain why we should necessarily incorporate them in our Christmas celebrations today. If we’re honest, we have to admit that we celebrate Christmas the way we do primarily because of our own cultural traditions, even though there’s little real connection between these traditions and the biblical accounts of Jesus’ actual coming to this earth as a baby.

The danger of infusing spiritual rationales into cultural practices is also seen in some of the Christmas songs we sing at church during the month of December. The most flagrant violation might be “O Christmas Tree.” You have to search hard through the stanzas of this hymn to find anything related to Jesus. We should be uncomfortable singing this carol in a gathered group of Christians because it’s basically a song paying homage to a tree. Just because the song has been culturally or traditionally associated with Christmas doesn’t mean we should incorporate it into our Christian Christmas celebrations.

The main danger here is that we present cultural practices as if they carry biblical weight or authority. Obscuring the line between cultural practice and biblical teaching is not only unhelpful and confusing, but also potentially harmful to our faith. When we no longer distinguish what’s biblical from what’s cultural, we run the risk of accepting and propagating syncretistic, hodgepodge ideas that have no biblical basis. Our faith is no longer based in truth but, at least in part, on myths and legends.

There is no need, of course, to abandon all these cultural practices in our family celebrations. We should simply maintain and communicate a clear distinction between the aspects of our Christmas celebration that are inherited from the culture and those that are clearly grounded in Scripture.

3. Don’t be embarrassed by the Jewishness of passages related to Jesus’ coming.

The first chapter of Luke includes two lengthy hymns that have traditionally been called the Magnificat (Mary’s song in Luke 1:46–56) and the Benedictus (Zechariah’s song in Luke 1:67–79). The titles come from the first word of these hymns in Latin. These passages—or at least parts of them—are at times neglected because they are rather lengthy and express Jewish hopes in God’s salvation without a clear indication of what that salvation would look like. This deliverance, as we know it in retrospect, comes in the form of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the expansion of the gospel beyond Israel to the Gentiles, and Jesus’ return at the end of time.

The Magnificat celebrates how God, through Mary’s child, will restore and help Israel while opposing her enemies and oppressors. The Benedictus describes John the Baptist’s role in relation to Jesus, the main figure in the fulfillment of God’s plan to restore Israel. The hymn praises God’s actions of visiting and redeeming his people by raising up the Davidic Messiah to deliver his people, all in fulfillment of his promises to Abraham and to his people through the Old Testament prophets. This deliverance will enable God’s people to serve God without fear and in righteousness forever.

Perhaps these hymns are at times neglected in our Christmas sermons because they’re not “Christian” enough. This neglect, however, comes at a serious loss. Both hymns describe the salvation that will result from Jesus’ coming to earth. During his first coming, he decisively dealt with his people’s sin, thus fulfilling passages such as Micah 7:18–20. We’re still waiting for his second coming, when he will set things right in every way—politically, economically, socially, and spiritually—once and for all. We are still waiting for the full and final fulfillment of the declarations made in the Magnificat and Benedictus. Both hymns are also powerful examples of how to praise God by focusing both on his attributes—his power, holiness, and mercy—and his actions in fulfilling his ancient promises to his people in and through the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

The Christian faith is rooted inextricably and inexorably in the Jewish faith. This is why even Luke, a Gentile, presents Jesus’ coming in terms of Old Testament fulfillment (Luke 1:1). Like Matthew, who wrote his Gospel primarily to Jews, Luke presents Jesus’ coming in a thoroughly Jewish cast. If we fail to see our Christian faith rooted in God’s dealings with his people Israel long ago, it will likely remain shallow and leave us with a truncated gospel and canon, not to mention an inadequate understanding of who Jesus is and why he came.

4. Don’t be swayed by dubious challenges to the biblical witness to Jesus’ birth.

Both birth narratives in Scripture are replete with manifestations of supernatural events surrounding the Virgin Birth: angelic appearances, dreams, visions, prophecies made regarding Jesus, Elizabeth conceiving past the age of childbearing, Zechariah losing his speech, the circumstances surrounding the naming of both John and Jesus, the relationship between the two births, and so on. Matthew, for example, goes out of his way to make clear that Mary was Jesus’ mother, but that Joseph was not his real father. After a long string of references to men “fathering” a son, Matthew concludes his genealogy with reference to “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16, italics added), indicating that Joseph was not Jesus’ real father. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb.

So let’s not be intimidated by critical objections to the Virgin Birth or other supernatural aspects of the Christmas story. When you read about authors such as Reza Aslan claiming that stories about Jesus’ birth and childhood are “conspicuously absent” from the earliest New Testament writings—such as Paul’s letters and Mark’s Gospel—and that the early Christians filled in the gaps to align Jesus’s life with various Old Testament prophecies, including those related to his birth, don’t be alarmed. According to Aslan, the early Christians concocted the myth of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem in order “to get Jesus’s parents to Bethlehem so he could be born in the same city as David.” Others, such as Andrew Lincoln, deny the historicity of the Virgin Birth on similar grounds. We can’t respond in detail here, though we’ve done so elsewhere. In short, these kinds of arguments reflect misguided attempts to drain the biblical birth narratives of their transcendent elements by using critical reasoning in order to reinterpret supernatural occurrences and to rewrite the narratives in purely naturalistic terms.

On the one hand, as already mentioned, let’s be careful ourselves not to add extraneous details—though driven by tradition, not critical reasoning. Let’s be adamant in defending the reliability of the biblical witness to the supernatural nature of Jesus’ birth, which was unlike any other in human history. The Bible is unequivocal, and careful historical research certainly allows for the fact that it took a miracle—in fact, a whole string of miracles—to save us. That is nothing to be embarrassed or intimidated about.

5. Don’t get bogged down in trivia and miss the true significance of Jesus’ birth.

Scholars continue to debate questions such as the year of Jesus’s birth, and whether or not Jesus was born on December 25. They debate the historicity of Quirinius’s census, the year of Herod the Great’s death, the phenomena surrounding Jesus’ birth—the star of Bethlehem—and a host of related chronological and other issues. They also debate the possible pagan origins of Christmas, such as whether it provided a functional substitute for the Roman Saturnalia, and, as mentioned, the emergence of various other traditions associated with our celebration of Christmas. All of these are interesting questions worth exploring, but don’t dwell unduly on such peripheral issues. Instead, focus on the central message of Jesus’ first coming, on the biblical story of the Incarnation.

Who was Jesus, and why did he come? John’s Gospel roots Jesus’ origins in eternity past, as the Word who was in the beginning with God and was himself the agent of creation. According to John, in Jesus, God visited the world he had made, but his own did not receive him (1:11). How tragic! How inexcusable! That Word, John tells us, became flesh in Jesus, or, as John puts it, “pitched his tent” among us (1:14). In his three and a half years of ministry, Jesus trained the twelve disciples and others to carry on his mission, to take the gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth. Then, he died for us on the cross to pay for our sins and to reconcile us to God. Our broken relationship with God was mended. Those who trust in him enjoy deep spiritual fulfillment and continual connection with him already in the here and now and will do so for all eternity.

That’s worth celebrating, at Christmas and throughout the year, in joyful song and in a life dedicated to the glory of God in the highest of which the angels sang that starry night over two millennia ago.

Andreas Köstenberger is Senior Research Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Alex Stewart is Academic Dean and Assistant Professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Tyndale Theological Seminary in Badhoevedorp, The Netherlands. They co-authored The First Days of Jesus: The Story of the Incarnation (Crossway, 2015).


Little Girl’s ‘Dear Daddy’ Video has gone viral

Here's a cautionary tale about a dad's own behavior


The video uses a few graphic words and there is a brief shot of a teenage boy trying to reach into a young woman's pants. It's PG-13 but worth including because this is the REAL LIFE that YOUR girls are dealing with every day in the community where you live.

This video was created by PSA from Care Norway and it painfully depicts how vulnerable our girls are all over the world. This Norwegian branch of charity Care International video has gone viral in Scandinavia — and you'll see why if you watch it. It should move every father to step up and do the right thing of protecting their daughters and educating their sons to treat others as they would like to be treated (God fearing).

The five-minute video is a powerful and disturbing story, narrated from the point of view of an unborn baby girl, as a "Dear Daddy" video. The video narrates the girl's lifetime of abuse, opening with:

"I will be born a girl, which means that by the time I'm 14, the boys in my class will have called me a wh*re, a b*tch, a c*nt, and many other things. It's just for fun of course . . . something boys do. So you won't worry and I understand that. Perhaps you did the same when you were young, trying to impress some of the other boys."

The idea behind this video is to warn fathers-to-be that their own behavior may effectively condone harmful actions in others. Father's need to discourage sexist language and bad jokes about women in their own home as that could have dangerous repercussions down the road.

The Swedish version of the ad was directed by Jakob Ström through Tangrystan Productions, for Norwegian agency Schjaerven.

Love: God’s Most Important Requirement For the Year 2016

Can love create a necessary and sufficient condition resulting into having the kingdom of God (as our inheritance)? (Photo | EMS OF ECWA Widows Seminar)

The idea of cause and effect is very important to all of us.  We want to know if the action of X has brought about what happens to Y.  In this case, we want to know if the action is a necessary cause for what happens to Y.  If it is not, could it be a contributory cause?  We may also want to know if it is a sufficient cause or not, because something can be necessary and not be sufficient to create the condition for something to happen.  For an example, if your car is not of the electric type, you must have gasoline in it before it can start.  Gasoline is very much necessary but by itself is not sufficient for your car to start.  Other things must contribute to that condition. We need something that is both necessary and sufficient to bring about something.  For a student to graduate with a bachelor degree in sociology, one necessary thing he or she has to do is to declare for a major in that discipline.  However, declaring a major does not create a sufficient condition for graduation.  Something can be necessary but may not be sufficient to get us what we want.  Just one academic core requirement not fulfilled by student can prevent that student from graduating, even if he exceeds the total number of credit hours for graduation.  Love for all people is the most powerful requirement that God wants us to fulfill in the year 2016.

Christianity has many requirements for its adherents, including the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments.  While these requirements are necessary, they cannot qualify us for the inheritance of God’s kingdom. Our good works cannot give us eternal life.  Faith without work is empty or nothing.  Thus our good deeds may be necessary but not sufficient.  Love satisfies both conditions (necessary and sufficient).   Logic explains a necessary cause as a condition that must be present if a particular effect is to occur.  This is different from the explanation for a sufficient condition, that is, one thing by itself bringing about an effect.  This is what love is to the kingdom of God.  Love conquers it all!  No amount of “good” works or religious activities will make us inherit the kingdom of God.  We are discussing the relationship between two things in which one is claimed to affect the other.  The issue here is about the relationship between having love and inheriting the kingdom of God. 

The question is asked, “Can love create a necessary and sufficient condition resulting into having the kingdom of God (as our inheritance)?  Most people will definitely say, “Yes.”   John 3:16, a most quoted Bible verse in evangelism, answers the question in the affirmative as Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  Love is the answer.

A few people’s encounters with Jesus explain how important love is to the kingdom of God.  Without it, there is no Christian life.  No eternal life.  No kingdom.  He who knows no love does not know God because God is love.  In other words, to know God is to love.  At the birth of Jesus Christ angels celebrated with the world as they sang, “Glory be to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (St. Luke 2:14).  It is God’s love that we are celebrating at Christmas.  It is sad for anyone who doesn’t have it.  Human beings must make every effort to find the truth.  When they find it, they find the truth, Jesus the prince of peace.  A Bible teacher in his imaginative power told the story in a different way:

Once upon a time God said that the world must know the truth about his love.  So, from His throne He cast the Truth down into the world.  Upon landing, the Truth scattered into uncountable fragments.  God asked human beings to search for the pieces and fragments. 

Jesus came and claimed to be the Truth, the Way and the Life and that no one comes to the Father except through him.  His body was broken and his blood shed for us that we ay find the truth of God’s love. Jesus brings to us love, peace, and joy.  That love gives life and it is required that we love as Christ loves us.  The mistake, in fact, an error of reasoning that is common today is to believe that one can have joy without having love and peace.  One cannot have joy until one has love and what follows is peace.  So, to have joy, we must have God, the Giver of love and peace.  Who brings down that peace?  Jesus, who said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives” (St. John 14:27).    You must have seen some people around   you who would like to have joy but without love, and of course, without peace.  They are so screwed up as to believe that they can steal someone’s joy or peace and make it their own in order to have joy.  They believe that what they have stolen can give them joy.  The one who steals from the other has no love and peace that should have come from Jesus the prince of peace.  Jesus said, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (St. Luke 12:15).  God’s love gives peace and He asks us for that love.

Prophet Micah proclaimed what God wanted, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (6:8).  Acting justly, showing acts of mercy and walking humbly with God means nothing if one does not love God.  In fact, it is the love of God that makes one have mercy and walk humbly with God.  Today many people engage with works of mercy but in some cases self is at the center; ungodly motives are involved.  God called Moses, “my humble servant,” because all that Moses did as a leader for Israel did not arise from ulterior motives.  They were all for God and His kingdom.  God asks that we show love in the year 2016.  If we are truly God’s people, loving becomes a lifestyle.  We love not because of anything but because God loves us first and to whom much is given much is expected.

The Ten Commandments are reduced to one Law.  This is the Law of love and life that has been God’s standard for communities.  The laws were written originally on two slates.  The commandments are in two parts.  The first part deals with our relationship with God and the second deals with our relationship with one another.  It is love and not laws that make the relationship positive.  It is a covenant of love.  Covenant relationship between husband and wife cannot work if there is no love.  Man’s inhumanity to man that has been on the increase today is as a result of not having love.  Political injustice, war, terrorism, violence, torture, ethnic cleansing, women and children trafficking, rape, jealousy, armed robbery, and the likes, come upon us as a result of the absence of love in our human society.  The African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) has captured the truth of love being the binding agent for God and human beings.  The motto says, “God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, the Holy Spirit our Comforter, humankind our family.”  God created humankind as a family.  This religious motto brings the divine community to bear upon the human community and all is made possible by love.

Conclusion:  What does God ask of us in the year 2016? It is Christian Love for all people.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (St. John 13:34).  The greatest commandment for 2016 for all human beings is this:  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than this” (St. Mark 12:30-31).  Show your love for God in the year 2016 and thereafter.  May God give you the spirit and the power to show your love for Him all the days of your life and you will find goodness and mercy pursuing you all the time.

Have a blessed Christmas and a happy new year!

Rev. Dr. Daniel Adebayo Iselaiye has been educator for most of his adult life. Some of his religious activities include sporadic teaching/preaching engagements at several Colleges and Universities across the U.S.. He is now associate professor of religion and philosophy; and  the Chairman of ECWA USA DCC. You can reach him via email


Signs of a Good Father

You know you're a good father when your children enjoy spending time with you. (photo ©

Carrying a sixty pound backpack in Colorado’s rocky wilderness is hard. If you are used to breathing air at sea level, the high altitude makes it even more physically grueling. When our guides stopped and surveyed the land with a puzzled look, my heart sank. Something was wrong. We should have come to a creek which would confirm we were on the right track. But it wasn’t there. We had taken a wrong turn. Eventually we backtracked and found the correct path and the creek.

As fathers we can sometimes feel lost. We can have self-doubt about how we are doing as dads. While we will never be perfect this side of heaven, if you practice the following 10 things consistently you’ll know you are on the right track to being a good father. You will know you are setting the example your children need.

  1. When you help your kids with their schoolwork.
  2. When you take an interest in their hobbies.
  3. When you show affection to your wife in front of them.
  4. When you advocate that they speak to you and each other respectfully.
  5. When you just enjoy being with your children and they with you.
  6. When your son or daughter comes running to you when they get hurt.
  7. When your calendar is full of things to do with your children.
  8. When you calmly and gently discipline your children without yelling or screaming.
  9. When you tuck your children into bed at night and tell them: “I love you”.
  10. When you know their friends by first name.

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