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What does it mean to be an American?

via PexelsWhat does it mean to be an American? We've heard a lot over the past several months about making America great again or about how America is already great as is, but what does that really mean? What defines us as a nation? From the very start, we have been a people defined more by a quest for individual freedom than the commitment to something bigger than ourselves, and it seems like that might be catching up to us.

The Puritans who first colonized the New World, for example, came mostly in pursuit of religious freedom. However, their understanding of that principle was more the freedom to practice their faith as they wanted than the kind of liberty that we hold so dear today. In truth, the Puritans were often even more dogmatic and legalistic about their faith than the Anglican church they fled. And while there were some who sought true liberty of conscience when it came to the practice of faith, most of the colonies continued to have official churches that persecuted dissenters even in the years following the Revolutionary War. It wasn't until the Bill of Rights was enacted in 1791 that the freedom of religion we possess today became a recognized part of our national identity.

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Give me your attention please

via Pexels

Andrew Sullivan wrote a recent feature article for New York Magazine entitled "I Used to Be a Human Being." Since he was a pioneer of the blogging industry, people quickly clamored to retweet and share his article shortly after it was posted. They were interested to read how one of the progenitors of the industry would describe his struggle with internet overload.

If you aren't familiar with Sullivan, he began as a writer for various magazines and news outlets before moving to the blogosphere. At this point, the blogosphere was still in its nascent stages, and he quickly became one of its most important voices. All you need to know about him can be summed up in New York Times opinion columnist Ross Douthat's estimation that he might be the "most influential political writer of his generation." Douthat wrote a piece about him in 2013 entitled "The Influence of Andrew Sullivan" that helps elucidate his impact on a variety of our society's most prominent issues.

So when Sullivan penned this most recent piece, people were curious to see what he had to say. He retired from blogging just last year, a peculiar and exceptional act in and of itself, and had spent the intervening time unplugged and away from social media, the internet, and technology. His article traces the lines of his struggle in remarkable and candid ways. Here is one selection where he describes the stress he felt in the midst of being a distinguished and sought-after blogger:

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Hurricane Matthew and the moral storms of our day

Ramon Espinosa via APNearly two million people are fleeing in Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas as Hurricane Matthew approaches. The storm has already devastated Haiti and eastern Cuba and is expected to strengthen over the next day. However, officials in South Florida are worried that residents have become complacent after eleven years of near misses. Weather authorities know what everyone should: the best way to respond to a hurricane is to flee its path.

This fact applies to more than hurricanes.

A new study involving more than a million women found a significant correlation between birth control pills and depression. The risk is especially elevated with teenagers: women between the ages of fifteen and nineteen who took oral contraceptives were 80 percent more likely to become depressed.

While some teenagers take the pill for medical reasons, 86 percent do so for birth control. If these women chose to abstain from premarital sex, they would avoid the pill's depressive side effects.

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'Fifty Shades Darker'--why is pornography so wrong?

BAFTA/REX/Shutterstock via APThe trailer for "Fifty Shades Darker" is showing in theaters. USA Today calls it "sexier and more dangerous than the original." The original movie showed at least twenty full minutes of sexual explicit scenes. Time reports that it led more women into pornography. The sequel is apparently even more explicit.

Why is this such bad news? The answer is simple: pornography is more dangerous than our society knows.

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Eight-year-old accepted to university thanks to viral video

Wikimedia CommonsJordin Phipps is a third-grader in Garland, Texas. She recently recorded a video of a mantra she learned in school: "I will start my day in a positive way! I will be respectful with the words that I say! I will pay attention and I will do my best and I will study hard for every test!"

Her mother shared the video with her alma mater, the University of North Texas. The university has now announced that it is giving Jordin the President's Award for Excellence in Leadership. It comes with a $10,000 scholarship and guarantees her admission to the college's class of 2030.

When we do the right thing, life often repays the favor—even in the hardest challenges we face.

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Man accidentally marries his granddaughter

via PexelsA sixty-eight-year-old man in Florida and his twenty-four-year-old wife were looking through his photo albums three months after they got married. To her shock, she recognized one of her husband's children from his first marriage. That child was her estranged father, who expelled her from their house when she became pregnant as a teenager.

Her new husband was equally shocked. He explained that his first wife left him many years earlier, taking their children and moving to an undisclosed location. He was never able to find them. He eventually remarried but was divorced again. Years later, he met his current wife through a dating agency.

Though they were surprised to learn they are related, the couple vows to stay together. The wife explains: "Every couple is different and special in their own ways."

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10 words that changed the world

Credit: Markus Spiske via PexelsCompare our culture today with where we were just ten years ago. Same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. Those who object to the LGBTQ agenda on religious grounds are considered homophobic, slanderous, and dangerous. An organized movement to legalize polygamy is gaining momentum. Euthanasia is legal in more states than ever before. Pornography is even more rampant, with virtual-reality headsets the new frontier of this addictive, destructive plague. Sex trafficking is escalating. We are in the grip of the worst illegal drug epidemic in our history.

It's easy to be discouraged by the direction of our culture. But the good news is that the good news is still good news. Jesus can still change any heart that is given to him. His Spirit can still transform marriages and families and communities. All that God has ever done, he can still do.

The key to culture-changing Christianity is simple and yet profound. It is captured in ten words, an invitation extended to Jesus to Galilean fishermen twenty centuries ago and to you and me today. If we understand and accept his invitation, he will change our lives forever. And changed people change people.

Let's hear Jesus' call across time and eternity to our hearts and culture today.

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Kim Kardashian robbed at gunpoint in Paris

Credit: APKanye West was performing last night in Queens when an assistant pulled him aside. He then bolted from the stage, citing a "family emergency." Some disappointed fans were suspicious that the drama was a publicity stunt.

Now we know what the "family emergency" was: five gunmen tied up his wife, Kim Kardashian, in her Paris hotel room. They locked her in the bathroom, then stole a jewelry box containing valuables worth about $6.7 million and a ring worth about $4.4 million. Their crime is dominating headlines this morning.

Family emergencies seldom stay in the family. What happens in private usually becomes public.

Donald Trump's personal tax returns are now part of the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton has apologized repeatedly for her handling of private email.

David Petraeus spoke last Friday at the World Affairs Council of Dallas. A four-star general, he earned a Ph.D. from Princeton and eventually became director of the CIA, but resigned because of an extramarital affair that involved private mishandling of classified documents.

Gary Hart was a US Senator and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 before an extramarital affair derailed his campaign. It was the same story for John Edwards in 2008. We're all familiar with Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Tragically, Christian ministers are not exempt, as Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, and Ted Haggard demonstrated. One of the reasons Billy Graham has been so popular for so long is that his personal character matches his public reputation.

Scripture consistently calls us to choose integrity:

•    "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out" (Proverbs 10:9).
•    "Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways" (Proverbs 28:6).
•    "The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!" (Proverbs 20:7).

Warren Buffett advised, "In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you." Conversely, choosing integrity reinforces integrity. Rick Warren: "Integrity is built by defeating the temptation to be dishonest; humility grows when we refuse to be prideful; and endurance develops every time you reject the temptation to give up."

Dwight Moody claimed that "character is what you are in the dark." Is there an area of your life where the dark isn't aligned with the light?

We build integrity by staying close to our Lord. The Holy Spirit wants to make us like Jesus (Romans 8:29). He will mold us into people he can use and bless. But we must ask him to do so.

Begin today by submitting your day to the Spirit. Ask him to control your mind and life. Then stay close to him all through the day. When you face temptations, ask for his strength. If you fail, ask for his forgiveness and cleansing grace. Ask the Lord to give you the character of Christ, and he will.

It is estimated that $70 million in counterfeit money is in circulation today. How do bank tellers tell the difference? Banks give them so much time with the real thing that they can spot a fake the moment they see or touch it.

How much time will you spend with the real Lord today?

Note: I invite you to read my article on Shimon Peres and Israel, published in The Blaze.

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'Black Moon' Friday: Has the apocalypse begun?

Laurie Gouley via PexelsIs today the "End of Days"?

Some say it is. We are witnessing a "Black Moon," which is the second of two new moons in a single month. The phenomenon occurs roughly every thirty-two months, so it's not all that unusual. However, the first day of September brought a "ring of fire" solar eclipse, with the moon aligned with the sun in such a way that the sun appears as a glowing ring around the moon.

Do these events herald the end of the world? Jesus told us that "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light" before he returns (Matthew 24:29). However, in the same verse he also told us that "the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken." Neither has occurred yet.

When thinking about the Second Coming, it's best to focus on preparing rather than predicting. Some good news in today's news makes that point.

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The line between judgment and accountability

Credit: loreanto via fotaliaWhere's the line between judgment and accountability? Jesus is clear that we are to be wary of the first (Matthew 7:1–5) but Paul calls us to seek out and practice the second (Galatians 6:1–5). The problem, though, is that a fundamental part of accountability is recognizing when people are acting outside of God's will, and then holding them to a higher standard. That can sound an awful lot like judgment, and many interpret it as such. After all, few people take great pleasure in having others point out their faults, even if they would otherwise be blind to them.

There is a natural tendency in most of us to view our criticisms of others as holding them accountable while we see their critiques as judgment. This contrast in how we perceive negative comments is further complicated by the fact that we often can't fully know what has motivated someone to point out our faults, and a person's motivation is the key difference in forming the line between judgment and accountability.

When Jesus told us not to judge in Matthew 7, it was in the context of ignoring our own sins in order to point out the faults of someone else. The motivation behind such an action is selfish and meant to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. By contrast, the accountability of which Paul writes in Galatians 6 is about helping others grow in their walk with the Lord. The focus is on building our fellow believers up so that the community of faith and all those in it might more effectively expand the kingdom.

Do you see the distinction between those two concepts? The act of rendering a criticism may look the same in either case, but the reason behind it makes all the difference.

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