Category Archives: National

Round: Don’t be a part of the blame game

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By Carol Round
Special to Inside The Pew

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”—Galatians 6:2 (NIV).

Anger.  Disbelief.  Grief.  Finger pointing. All responses to the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at a Florida high school. Some reports say it’s the 18thfl-florida-school-shooting-peter-wang-obit-20180215 incident of gunfire at a school campus since the beginning of 2018. Regardless of the numbers, this week’s column is meant to convict our hearts, including mine.

At this writing, 17 were killed in the rampage and another 13 were injured. Questions abound. Responses reported in and by the media, both traditional and socially, call for more gun control, more assistance for the mentally disturbed, and higher levels of school security.

For 30 years, I was a public educator. Beginning my career in 1975, I was naïve enough to believe I could make a difference in all of my students’ lives. Years later, I had a reality check. I couldn’t save everyone; I couldn’t meet every need. Still, I knew I should and could do what I could.

A 19-year-old has confessed to the most recent shooting rampage. News reports paint a picture of a disturbed young man. One of his former teachers said he was a quiet student, a loner. The students familiar with Nikolas Cruz were not surprised by his actions. His attorney has called him a “broken human being.”

Christian author and speaker Elisabeth Elliot said, “We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”

In an article by Sam Harris, written after the Newtown, Conn., shootings, he says, “There’s a way to stop mass shootings, and you won’t like it. That’s right. You’re not going to like it because it’s going to require you to do something personally, as opposed to shouting for the government, or anyone to ‘do something.’”

Harris’ solution? “Notice those around you who seem isolated and engage them.”

He adds, “If every one of us did this we’d have a culture that was deeply committed to ensuring no one was left lonely. And make no mistake, as I’ve written before, loneliness is what causes these shooters to lash out. People with solid connections to other people don’t indiscriminately fire guns at strangers.”

But that requires effort on our part. Notice the strange kid sitting by himself at lunch. Invite him to eat with you. What about the awkward guy at work who doesn’t fit in? Ask him about his weekend.

As parents, we also have a responsibility to teach our children to do the same, to make sure no one feels isolated. As Harris says, “That’s the breeding ground. That’s where the seeds are planted.”

We can all plant seeds—seeds of kindness. We may take for granted our own circle of connections—family, healthy friendships—but we must not assume everyone has that connection.

Don’t be part of the blame game. Be a part of the solution.

Check out www.carolaround.com for more inspiration and information about Carol’s books and speaking ministry.

Photo: Peter Wang, one of 17 victims killed during the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14. According to the Sun-Sentinel, Wang was seen holding door open for others during shooting. (Sun-Sentinel).

Owens: Black pastors feel betrayed by black politicians

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“Our Black politicians did it to us again,” the Rev. William Owens, the president of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP), said passionatelycoalition-of-african-american-pastors during a press conference Feb. 13 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He was referencing what he and 20 other national black leaders felt was the worst representation by the Congressional Black Caucus demonstrated during the televised State of the Union Address.

The tone set by the caucus angered numerous national black leaders, prompting many groups to convene in Washington, D.C. to address what they considered was a severe misrepresentation and a disservice to the achievements of blacks in this country.

Owens joined by over 20 national leaders such as Stephen Broden: Senior Pastor Fair Park Bible Fellowship, President Protect Life and Marriage; Dr. Alveda King (Civil Rights For The UnBorn); Bishop Leon Benjamin (Coalition Of Leaders United); Shirley Husar (CEO Urban Game Changers); the Rev. Dean Nelson (Frederick Douglas Foundation); the Rev. Derek McCoy (Urban Cure); Dr. Randy Short (International Human Rights Association For American Minorities); Dr. Johnny Hunter (Life Education and Resource Network); Jonathan Alexander (Liberty Counsel Action); Suzzanne Monk (Political Pundit from Chicago); Johnny Rice for Congress (D.C.); and Kenneth McClenton (President of Exceptional Conservative Show) joined forces to expressed their disappointment and mismanagement of the People’s power entrusted to the Congressional Black Caucus.

“The disgrace before the global community by the CBC (Congressional Black Caucus) during the State of the Union Address was the worst I have ever witnessed in my life as a black father, educator, civil rights activist, and man of faith. Our elected officials’ demonstration of childish behavior; sulking in their seats, texting, pretending to be disinterested, was distasteful. We did not elect children, we thought we had leaders,” Owens said.

Collectively the leaders called to question what they characterized as “foul demeanor” and demanded either the caucus start “REPRESENTING or GO AWAY.” Also, CAAP launched an online petition “CROSSROAD” that will be hand-delivered to black caucus members’ offices to demonstrate the will of the people. Individuals are encouraged to sign by visiting www.caapusa.org.

In addition, the multifaceted group rolled out its new 2018 Black Agenda to counter the fallout among younger blacks who have lost interest in political engagement in hopes of inspiring civic engagement. To attract a younger demographic, the group is utilizing social media platforms to promote the hashtag #representorgoaway. Many of the speakers at the press conference extensively expounded on what numerous officials don’t want known about the current effectiveness of the caucus.

Owens and others indicated, “What began 46 years ago in March 1971 has morphed into the greatest breach of trust in the black community since Reconstruction. Our precious black children are not on the minds of the Congressional Black Caucus, they care more about the rights of undocumented immigrants and football players who don’t stand for the National Anthem than they do about our families and precious children.”

Various group leaders made strong pleas to the black community to embrace this position with openness and to hear the total message citing, “We, meaning Black Americans, have been sidelined by traitors in Washington.”

Owens also mentioned that last year his media relations office contacted Congressman John Lewis, the Rev. Al Sharpton (who purports himself as a civil rights advocate for the voiceless), and Attorney General Jeff Session pertaining to the documented research conducted by Yale University researchers published in USA Today in 2016. The article detailed racial bias and poor treatment of preschool-age black children, with special emphasis on black boys. CAAP requested several meetings to initiate a national dialogue, but was met with resistance.

“Not one elected official or civil rights leader has responded to date or called for an inquiry. This is a shame. If our children are not protected at this tender age, what kind of future will exist for them when lawmakers don’t care enough to take up the just cause to fight and utilize the power of their office? My office sent copies of the Yale research to many and to this very day, no serving black politician in Washington, black news reporters (and we reached out to many) and sadly, even the black clergy, have responded. This is really tragic,” Owens said.

Unfortunately, this issue is very personal to Owens and his wife, Dr. Deborah Owens, whose then 4-year old son experienced racial discrimination in his preschool. The Owens’s, after documenting many instances which they cited were deeply troubling, immediately removed their son after school officials failed to correct the problems in a timely manner.

Owens said he thought his son’s troubles at his preschool were isolated until he discovered the article published in USA Today in 2016 written by Yale University Researchers citing this was a national problem. He also said it was alarming to read that black teachers were worse than whites.

To date, over 50 online groups have attached their support to this cause. Join the conversation and sign the CROSSROAD petition. Visit www.caapusa.org.

Top: Coalition of African American Pastors logo.

Inside: Members of the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) at a recent press conference.

 

Brownback confirmation comes at crucial time for religious freedom worldwide

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By Grelan Muse Sr.
Inside The Pew

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate confirmed noted human-rights champion Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas on Jan. 25 as the new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Brownback will head the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom that monitors religious freedom abuses throughout the world. He is the first ambassador under the revised Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, the passage of which affirms continued congressional commitment to international religious freedom as a foreign relations priority.

The New York Times reported Jan. 24 that Browback will resign as Kansas’ governor on Jan. 31.

The outgoing governor tweeted hat he looks forward to working hard for the American people and religious freedom around the world.

With roughly 80 percent of the world’s people living in countries with high levels of religious oppression, it is a critical time for international religious freedom. In Burma, Iraq, China, and Nigeria, among other countries, Brownback’s diplomatic experience will be crucial in the months ahead.

“International religious freedom is one of the few, truly non-partisan issues in Washington, both fundamental to our identity as Americans and also essential to our national security,” said 21Wilberforce Senior Fellow Frank Wolf. “In Sam Brownback, we have a leader who not only understands the intricacies of Capitol Hill; he has a heart and the demonstrated passion for the mission of this office.”

While in Congress, Brownback was a Senate leader on international religious freedom, advocating for landmark policy reforms, both domestically and abroad, as well as for prisoners of conscience wrongly incarcerated for their faith. He led the effort to enact the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 which was central to the movement to combat human trafficking. Brownback was actively involved during the Darfur crisis. His travels to that embattled region compelled him to push for a genocide declaration in 2004. He introduced numerous pieces of key human rights legislation, including on North Korea and also Sudan, where he called on the Sudanese government to end slavery, “manufactured” famines, and civilian bombings. Brownback chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Sub-Committee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs and co-chaired the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom post was most recently held by Rabbi David Saperstein. 21Wilberforce President Randel Everett noted, “Ambassador Saperstein’s leadership has been an invaluable asset and he has furthered the cause for religious freedom around the globe.” When Saperstein was asked about Brownback’s support for international religious freedom he responded “It’s an issue he knows, he knows well and cares deeply about.”

Alliance Defending Freedom President, CEO, and General Counsel Michael Farris said Brownback’s appointment is a step in the right direction toward defending international religious freedom.

“America must defend and protect religious freedom globally, and Gov. Brownback is unquestionably capable of engaging this vital mission. It’s clear from history that when any nation abuses or suppresses religious freedom, other freedoms are likewise in danger. America needs a strong advocate for the basic human rights and dignity of those who wish to live consistently with their faith without undue government interference. We commend the Trump Administration and the Senate on the confirmation of Gov. Brownback, whose clear passion and understanding of this issue will work for the good of persecuted people of faith around the world.”

Photo: Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has been appointed Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

© 2018 Inside The Pew

Commit to seek your reward in 2018

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By Tonya Whitaker
Inside The Pew

Weeks ago, I began my search for a new home. In the midst of the dreadful task came a message worthy of personal reflection.

I found a home on Zillow that fit my family’s needs – close to work, quiet neighborhood, and in a good school committ-in-2018-proverbsdistrict. I scheduled a tour with the real estate agent who is handling the rental process. After the tour was complete, the agent and I talked a bit more about the owner’s and my desired date for rental.

As we closed our conversation, she asked about my current career. I volunteered that although I currently work as a technical writer, my ultimate goal is to teach English composition at the college or university level. After all, I told her, this was the only reason why, in 2013, I began my pursuit toward a graduate degree in English (I graduated in May 2015).

The agent told me I was a smart woman, but I needed to stay dedicated to my original goal. I thought to myself, “Well, I have been dedicated. I’ve applied for several positions but have been passed up.” I assessed my situation: I diverged from my intended path, allowing setbacks to take control of my centeredness.

She said, “God rewards those who stay committed. “ Furthermore, she noted that the road may not be simple, but, in the end, He knows your heart and desires.

Since our meeting weeks ago, I have replayed her comment over and over again in my head: “God rewards those who stay committed to theirtonya-andris-whitaker-2017 desires.”

Instead of commitment, I had become a wayward soldier. I now shamefully admitted that I have become discouraged because I didn’t immediately secure a lectureship. And, although it is not the blessing God has for me, technical writing provides financial safety. Commitment with God’s assurance, not comfort, will drive away the doubt and mismanagement in my life. Goodness, the first sentence of my master’s thesis acknowledgments was a thank you to Him. How has it become that my reliance on Him during the writing process is no longer needed as I press forward?

As we prepare to enter 2018, what goals have you set for yourself? If it includes work and education goals, remember to keep in prayer, stay focused, and count it all joy. As God used this real estate agent to deliver His message, dedication and commitment are essential. Know that God has our best interests at heart; He promised this to us (Psalm 37:5, KJV). In the end, the victory will be ours, as solemnly presented in 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV): “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Food for thought: Remember your words. Stand stronger behind His.

Photos: Main: “Proverbs 16:3” courtesy of Womanista Wellness, formerly known as Skinny Mom. Secondary: Tonya Whitaker

Tonya Whitaker is managing editor of Inside The Pew.

© 2017 Inside The Pew

 

UT Austin professors discover copy of Jesus’ secret revelations to his brother

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AUSTIN, Texas — The first-known original Greek copy of a heretical Christian writing describing Jesus’ secret teachings to his brother James has been discovered at Oxford University by biblical scholars at The University of Texas at Austin.

To date, only a small number of texts from the Nag Hammadi library — a collection of 13 Coptic Gnostic books discovered in 1945 in Upper Egypt — ut-autin-biblical-scholars-find-jesus-teachingshave been found in Greek, their original language of composition. But earlier this year, UT Austin religious studies scholars Geoffrey Smith and Brent Landau added to the list with their discovery of several fifth- or sixth-century Greek fragments of the First Apocalypse of James, which was thought to have been preserved only in its Coptic translations until now.

“To say that we were excited once we realized what we’d found is an understatement,” said Smith, an assistant professor of religious studies. “We never suspected that Greek fragments of the First Apocalypse of James survived from antiquity. But there they were, right in front of us.”

The ancient narrative describes the secret teachings of Jesus to his brother James, in which Jesus reveals information about the heavenly realm and future events, including James’ inevitable death.

“The text supplements the biblical account of Jesus’ life and ministry by allowing us access to conversations that purportedly took place between Jesus and his brother, James — secret teachings that allowed James to be a good teacher after Jesus’ death,” Smith said.

Such apocryphal writings, Smith said, would have fallen outside the canonical boundaries set by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in his “Easter letter of 367” that defined the 27-book New Testament: “No one may add to them, and nothing may be taken away from them.”jesus-manuscript-smith-landau

With its neat, uniform handwriting and words separated into syllables, the original manuscript was probably a teacher’s model used to help students learn to read and write, Smith and Landau said.

“The scribe has divided most of the text into syllables by using mid-dots. Such divisions are very uncommon in ancient manuscripts, but they do show up frequently in manuscripts that were used in educational contexts,” said Landau, a lecturer in the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies.

The teacher who produced this manuscript must have “had a particular affinity for the text,” Landau said. It does not appear to be a brief excerpt from the text, as was common in school exercises, but rather a complete copy of this forbidden ancient writing.

Smith and Landau announced the discovery at the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting in Boston in November and are working to publish their preliminary findings in the Greco Roman Memoirs series of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri.

Featured photo: A piece of the Coptic translation of the First Apocalypse of James preserved in the Nag Hammadi Library. Rights to published images of the original Greek fragments are owned by the Egypt Exploration Society and currently unavailable for circulation. (Nag Hammed Library, Oxford University).

Inset: Geoffrey Smith, left, and Brent Landau take a closer look at the Greek fragment identified as the First Apocalypse of James. (Courtesy of Geoffrey Smith, UT Austin).

Christian leaders unite to heal racially troubled Charlottesville

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Local pastors and leaders, plan Prayer Walks and a Holy Convocation, to promote racial healing, and repentance, in Charlottesville, Va.

By Bill Bray
Campus Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Local Christian leaders met in Charlottesville on Nov. 29 to finalize plans for a Prayer Walk and Holy Convocation on Dec. 2 in this racially troubled campus community at the University of Virginia.

Calling for a day of “prayer and repentance” on the eve of Advent Sunday, Dec. 2, the event aims to bring healing after rioting here left three dead and 19 injured last August.  The Day of Prayer and Repentance is called “Healing4Charlottesville” and will begin with a Pastor’s Prayer Breakfast at 9:30 a.m. followed by two public events.

The Healing for Charlottesville Day of Prayer Walk will start off at the chapel on the grounds of University and 9 other points around the city’s heather-heyer-memorial-new-downtown mall. Many small groups of walkers will start at various churches and parking lots and gradually merge at the County Office Building.

From that point they will walk the length of the Downtown Mall and gather at the Pavilion for a 90-minute program.

“The Church of Jesus Christ should transcend and transform politics,” says chairman Mark Beliles of the Grace Covenant Church and president of the America Transformation Company, “but on this day, we plan to gather to ask forgiveness of God and one another.”

The Reverends Beliles and Al Edwards – along with about 15 other clergy from white, African American and Korean churches – organized the walk. Pastor Edwards, from the predominately black Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church, also organized the Charlottesville Clergy Collective. It is the leading inter-faith group that includes Jewish and Muslim groups.

Most of the pastors involved in the Day of Prayer were at the deadly riots on the weekend of August 12 that have since made the city of Charlottesville a symbol of racial hatred. At that time, Antifa and Klu Klux Klan extremists rioted over the removal of Confederate war statues in the downtown parks.

Beliles is no rabble rouser and is asking those who participate to “not speak or carry signs that in any way focus blame on anyone but ourselves.

“The majority white churches especially need to do this,” he said, as he outlined plans for inviting visiting speakers to promote reconciliation and repentance.

“We want to end this year with a holy season of peace and love, and that’s what is bringing us together in this way.”

Photo: A memorial to Charlottesville victim, Heather Heyer.

Eat like the pilgrims and Native Americans this Thanksgiving

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Authentic recipes from the Plimoth Plantation’s Thanksgiving meal

GAITHERSBURG, Md. – Sodexo, the leader in Quality of Life services, and the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., bring the firstthe-first-thanksgiving-jennie-august-brownscombe Thanksgiving feast to life as they tell the story of the Pilgrims and the native Wampanoag people.  The meal is made up of authentic recipes from the 1600s and is served to more than 3,000 people during Thanksgiving week at the Plimoth Plantation.

Items on the menu include native turkey with giblet gravy, traditional stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, steamed white turnip, Harvard beats, green beans and cranberry relish. Dessert is comprised of apple pie, pumpkin pie and Indian pudding.

According to Sodexo, the food served has been carefully researched and recreated to make it as authentic as possible. The chefs use local, seasonal ingredients just as the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people

would have in the 17th century.

The Plimoth Plantation’s Indian pudding recipe brings a sense of history to the Thanksgiving table.

INDIAN PUDDING – Serves 10-12 people

6 cups — Whole Milk

1 Cup — Molasses

6 Tbsp — Granulated Sugar

6 oz — Butter

½ tsp — Ground Ginger

¼ tsp — Salt

½ tsp — Ground Cinnamon

¼ tsp — Ground Nutmeg

1 Cup — Cornmeal

Combine all ingredients except Cornmeal in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil and whisk cornmeal in slowly to avoid lumps.

Turn Heat to low and cook until thick – Pudding will continue to thicken as it cools.

Serve warm with a little heavy cream poured over it, or vanilla ice cream.  Or serve cold with whipped cream.

Sodexo Sports & Leisure also provides food services at the Plimoth Plantation and full array of catering services for private events.

 

Featured image: “The First Thanksgiving” by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, 1914

 

Texas AG files brief urging the Supreme Court to protect prayer at public meetings

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Special to Inside The Pew

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a coalition of 22 states are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the practice of lawmaker-led prayer at public meetings. The case, Lund vs. Rowan County, focuses upon a North Carolina county’s practice of opening its meeting with prayer offered by its commissioners.  The coalition’s friend-of-the-court brief supports the county.

The coalition filed a brief Nov. 16 asking the Supreme Court to hear arguments and reaffirm the constitutionality of the practice. Such a decision would clear confusion among the lower courts. The states argue that lawmaker-led prayer is woven into the fabric of American society. The practice also is fully consistent with the Constitution and our nation’s long tradition of non-coercive expressions of faith in the public sector.

“Lawmaker-led prayer has existed across the country for more than a century,” Attorney General Paxton said. “Opening legislative meetings in prayer has [sic] consistently involved lawmakers themselves exercising their own religious liberty.”

The brief further cites examples across the nation of states, counties and municipalities that open meetings with a government official’s prayer. It argues many governing bodies cannot afford to hire a full-time chaplain or recruit volunteer clergy.

West Virginia led the amicus brief in support of free expression of faith. States joining West Virginia and Texas were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin, along with the Governor of Kentucky.

 

 

Wooding: ‘Persecution has finally come to America’

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International journalist’s comments came after the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TX (ANS – Nov. 6, 2017) – While ANS Founder, Dan Wooding, was speaking on Nov. 5 at a Southern California church about persecution around the world on the occasion of the 2017 International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, a rifle-wielding shooter burst into the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people – including children.

Wooding, 76, had been sharing with the congregation at Hosanna Christian Fellowship in Bellflower, Calif., about persecution that has been taking place in countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Nigeria, and North Korea, when the alleged gunman, who has been identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, according to law enforcement officials, went on a shooting spree and was later found dead in his vehicle.

“When I heard the news, I knew that persecution has finally come to America,” he said. “For so long, terrible atrocities against believers have beendan-wooding-hosanna-christian-fellowship taking place in different parts of the world, but now it is here, and I wonder if we are ready to deal with it.”

Law enforcement officials have said the alleged shooter was formerly a member of the United States Air Force who was court-martialed with a dishonorable discharge for assaulting his wife and child, according to an Air Force spokeswoman, and who had a domestic dispute with his in-laws who at times have attended the church in Sutherland Springs.

Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains are in Sutherland Springs, Texas, following the horrifying and deadly shooting rampage during a Sunday morning service at First Baptist Church.

“The evil at work in this tragedy is incomprehensible,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. “It’s impossible to understand what could drive a young man to do something so inhumanly cruel. While we don’t have all the answers, we will do everything we can to comfort the grieving and give peace to those in despair as we bring the hope of Jesus.”

Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, shared, “My heart is heavy for the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas, who have lost more than 20 of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, parents, and friends today in this senseless act of brutality. My prayers are with this community and church.”

Even as the shooting developed in Texas on Sunday, Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains remained deployed in New York City following last week’s terror attack which killed eight people on a bike path. Both efforts follow closely on the heels of the group’s ministry in Las Vegas following the concert attack, which killed 58 people.

Among religious leaders who have spoken out in response to yesterday’s shooting, are Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), who has been working for four decades to build bridges of understanding between Christians and Jews, and who called the deadly attack on a church near San Antonio on Sunday “terror” that seeks to undo decades of growing interfaith goodwill and return religions to past centuries of conflict.

“Terror that penetrates into a house of prayer is particularly evil and cruel, and seeks to undo decades of bridge building by and between people of faith,” Eckstein said. “Sadly, there are people who want to turn us back toward old circles of hatred.”

Eckstein added that The Fellowship was “shocked and sickened by this evil act, and our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their loved ones.”

“Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims should join together in condemning such attacks and work together to prevent further violence,” he said.

Dr. Ronnie Floyd, president of the National Day of Prayer said: “When attacks of hate and terror happen in our places of worship, they shake us to the core. We must beg God for His mighty hand of protection on our nation and the world. May God be with the victims of this shooting. Only God is our refuge in these times of trouble.”

Dr. Floyd is the senior pastor of Cross Church and president of the National Day of Prayer, which each year mobilizes millions of Americans to unified public prayer for the United States of America. He’s the immediate past president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Dallas, said: “Today’s horrific church shooting is every pastor’s worst nightmare and is proof of the reality of evil. Although the Bible never diminishes the pain of evil, it does promise that one day when Christ returns, evil will be defeated forever. Until that time, we pray that the members of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, will experience the promise of Psalm 34:18: The Lord is close to the broken-hearted.’”

Feature image: Mourners participate in a candlelight vigil held for the victims of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (Darren Abate/The Associated Press). Left photo, Dan Wooding speaking at Hosanna Christian Fellowship in Bellflower, Calif. (ASSIST News).

Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. You may follow Michael on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelIrelandMediaMissionary.com, and on Twitter at @Michael_ASSIST. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael  

A Matter of Faith: Understanding the paradox of freedom

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By Carol Round
Special to Inside The Pew

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” – Galatians 5:1 (NIV).

To most Americans, the word freedom connotes images of the American flag. We associate July 4 with the freedoms we’ve been granted by the U.S. american-flag-and-christConstitution. We celebrate our country’s independence with fireworks and parades.

According to dictionary.com, freedom means “the state of being free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint.”

Physical freedom is denied those locked behind prison walls. But those who have discovered a relationship with Jesus while in prison will tell you they are; indeed, now free, in spite of the iron bars they peer through each day.

Found throughout the Bible, the word, “freedom,” is familiar to those who’ve read God’s Holy Word. John 8:32 says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

In an article by Roger Olson, he writes, “Unfortunately, two very different ideas of freedom get confused in many people’s minds. The biblical idea of freedom is different from, but easily confused with, the cultural value of the same name. And neither one is the same as “free will.” It can be confusing to the average Christian who wants to know what “real freedom” is. Is it having choices? Is it lack of coercion and constraint? Is it being able to do whatever you want? In what sense does Christ set us free, and how is that different from what Madison Avenue and Hollywood promise?

“At the very heart of the Christian gospel is the strange truth,” he continues, “that real freedom is found only in giving up everything secular culture touts as freedom. The gospel, it turns out, requires a distinction between the enjoyment of true freedom and the mere possession of ‘free will.’ Not that free will or independence from tyranny is a bad thing; they’re just not true freedom. True freedom, the gospel tells us, is trusting obedience, the obedience of faith. That’s not exactly the image one finds portrayed in popular culture.”

So, what does true freedom mean for those who choose to follow Christ? According to St. Augustine, true freedom is not choice or lack of constraint, but being what you are meant to be.

For too many years of my adult life, I was a slave—a slave to other’s opinions, a slave to the false image I portrayed as someone who had her life together, a slave to the identities I slipped into because of cultural demands. I wasn’t experiencing true freedom. I wasn’t completely free until I embraced the woman God has created me to be.

“Humans were created in the image of God. True freedom, then,” writes Olson, “is not found in moving away from that image but only in living it out. The closer we conform to the true image of God, Jesus Christ, the freer we become. The farther we drift from it, the more our freedom shrinks.”

Only Christ can set us free.

Photos courtesy of Carol Round and Anglican Pastor

Need a speaker or workshop leader? Carol Round is an author, a columnist, and a speaker. To learn more about Carol and her ministry, visit  her website or connect on Facebook or Twitter.