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Cultural Commentary

Church bell rings in Iraq for first time in two years

via APNote from Jim: I am grateful to Nick Pitts, our Director of Cultural Engagement, for writing today's Cultural Commentary. You can subscribe to his Daily Briefing, an overview of the news with biblical insights, by clicking here.

A church bell rang for the first time in two years as Iraqi Kurdish forces continued their push toward Mosul. Located in Bartella, this primarily Christian town is nine miles from the ISIS stronghold. Kurdish forces secured around thirty-eight square miles and "a significant stretch" of the highway as they sought to retake the city from ISIS. The night was longer than expected, but the joyful ringing of the bell in the morning was sweeter than anticipated.

Around thirty thousand Iraqi security force personnel, assisted by US-led coalition air strikes, launched the long-awaited offensive to retake Mosul over a week ago. But tragically, these great gains accompanied heartbreaking losses.
UN reports indicate that ISIS fighters killed fifteen civilians and threw their bodies into a river to spread terror and send a signal. A Middle Eastern news service noted, "ISIS terrorist gangs executed nine of its members for fleeing the battle against the security forces in Mosul, by throwing them in trenches containing a burning oil." In 2003, Iraq boasted an estimated 1.3 million Christians. Now, leaders put that number at fewer than four hundred thousand.
Despite their dwindling numbers and dire circumstances, the bell in Bartella rang. For those who have ears to hear, the ringing of the bell sounds like Jesus in Matthew 10:28: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." Jesus never promised his followers a comfortable life, but he did assure them he would provide comfort in this life (2 Corinthians 1:2–4).
The situation in Iraq provides perspective when considering the difficulties in the American context. Our circumstances are different, but our mission is the same: his kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Christians take part in a global movement that seeks to make peace in the chaos and bring hope to the downcast. Peace never comes idly; rather it requires hard work against the status quo. Hope is not found in a political candidate but a resurrected King. Christians are more than a voting bloc; we are people who deeply believe that God is good regardless of what is happening and Jesus is Lord regardless of who is elected.
The vehicle for this global movement is the church. This body of believers remind each other of the good news of Jesus. His love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14), his grace equips us (2 Corinthians 12:9), and his promises sustain us (Psalm 54:4). We are more than a Sunday morning gathering. We are his hands and feet throughout the week as we meet needs and serve others.
The church bell rings in Bartella because of the loving sacrifices many made for their community. G. K. Chesterton wrote, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him."
Chesterton understood that love is a far greater motivating factor than hate. Love launched a thousand ships, made an innocent man fall silent before a tribunal, and raised a dead man to life. Without love, bells clang noisily like gongs (1 Corinthians 13:1). Bells are welcomed, but gongs are avoided.
Today, let freedom ring. The enemy may be near, they may be strong, but they will not be victorious. If it is a work of love, it cannot fail (2 Corinthians 2:13-15, 1 Corinthians 15:58).

Nick Note: Today, I am honored to be in New York to participate in the Movement Day Global Cities conference. Movement Day is catalyzing leadership teams from the world's largest cities to serve their cities more effectively by advancing high-level, city-changing collaborative partnerships. For updates throughout the week, check out my videos on our Facebook page.

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Activists Use Free Speech to Disrupt Free Speech Rally

Credit: anzebizjan via FotoliaNote from Jim: I am grateful to Nick Pitts, our Director of Cultural Engagement, for writing today’s Cultural Commentary. You can subscribe to his Daily Briefing, an overview of the news with biblical insights, by clicking here.

Activists at the University of Toronto disrupted a free speech rally led by a professor who refuses to address students with gender-neutral pronouns. In essence, activists exercised their free speech and in turn ended a free speech rally. The University Student Union wrote, “Tuesday’s rally was marred by bigotry and violence, and the Campus Police refused to intervene when they knew of and saw trans folks being assaulted.”


University of Toronto professor Jordan Petersen angered several people after releasing a presentation entitled, “Professor against political correctness.” In it, he condemned a new bill that could potentially punish individuals who “misgender” others.


In other free speech news, people are, shockingly, arguing on Facebook—or rather over Facebook policy. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 2016 election has ignited an intense internal debate about whether certain political posts should be removed for potentially violating the site’s rules regarding hate speech. Releasing a statement last week, Facebook said, “In the weeks ahead, we’re going to begin allowing more items that people find newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest—even if they might otherwise violate our standards.” No word on whether they will be doing anything regarding the persistent Farmville invitations and Candy Crush requests.

A Gallup poll showed that 69 percent of college students said they would be in favor of prohibiting “intentionally offensive” speech on campus. 41 percent of Americans thirty-five and under think “the First Amendment is dangerous.”

George Washington noted, "If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." French writer Alexis de Tocqueville said, "Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom."

This freedom makes America great according to de Tocqueville: “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” By eliminating free speech, the government “compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

For better or for worse, the ability to speak freely can enlighten us so that our footsteps may move toward a more perfect union. However, free speech may also mar the silence, proving Proverbs 10:19 true: when words abound, transgressions are inevitable.

In Christ, we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). We have great freedom but an even greater responsibility – especially in our conversations. Just because you have the freedom to do something does not mean it is beneficial to do it. I have the right to eat seven donuts this morning. However, the only people who stand to benefit from this decision are my local tailor and the donut shop.

Self-control is the true measure of freedom. For the Christian, God has provided for your every need (Philippians 4:19). As such, you can live a life that seeks to bless rather than take. Instead of using your freedom to take validation from others in conversations, you are free to give grace and lovingly speak truth. The goal is not to win an argument but to love a person.

You don’t have to save the world; someone has already done that. His name is Jesus.

Our call is not to save the world, but to be a light in the world and a fragrant aroma throughout it (Matthew 5:13; 2 Corinthians 2:14–15). As John Milton noted, “Let her [truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

The resurrection is a reminder that appearances can be deceiving. Our loving responses have a resurrected resolve that never returns void – though we may appear to lose in the moment.

We walk by faith, speak truth in love, and generously extend grace—even on Facebook.

Nick Note: This week, I am honored to be in New York to participate in the Movement Day Global Cities conference. Movement Day is catalyzing leadership teams from the world's largest cities to serve their cities more effectively by advancing high-level, city-changing collaborative partnerships.  This initiative was launched in 2010 by Dr. Pier, founder and CEO of The New York City Leadership Center. For updates throughout the week, check out my videos on our Facebook page.

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Students Surprise Teachers and Video Goes Viral

Credit: anzebizjan via FotoliaNote from Jim: I am grateful to Nick Pitts, our Director of Cultural Engagement, for writing today’s Cultural Commentary. You can subscribe to his Daily Briefing, an overview of the news with biblical insights, by clicking here.

Teachers’ significance is only exceeded by their patience. Holding one of the most important jobs in our communities today, teachers see potential, put up with antics, and relentlessly seek to bring out the best in every student. We may never know their full value, nor will we ever adequately express our appreciation for teachers. Nevertheless, they continue to work diligently in the present, yet not always seeing the fruit of their labor. However, the people at SoulPancake have sought to change this.
SoulPancake invited five teachers together to share their struggles and difficulties. Little did they know that instead of only sharing struggles, former students surprised their teachers by reading letters describing the impact their teachers made in their lives. The video has since gone viral, joining the likes of the color of a dress, Ken Bone, and the keyboard cat.
Side note: the dress is blue.
The classroom is where curiosity meets knowledge. But lurking in the shadows is discouragement. The teacher is the caring curator who leads students on the journey to truth. Unfortunately, myself included, some of us weren’t the most willing participants. I surprised my teachers when I actually turned in my homework on time and didn’t talk for the entire class time.
Incidents such as this, among other things, can often bring discouragement. But what sets apart the teacher is their ability to get the best even when we give them the worst. The Cubs may have won the pennant, but day in and day out teachers win small victories for our future.
I am forever indebted to Mrs. Hall, Dr. Speck, and Dr. Welty. I almost failed kindergarten, but Mrs. Hall’s careful attention to me and care for me changed me. Dr. Speck’s demand for excellence made me want to be better even if my grade couldn’t get any higher. And Dr. Welty’s love for the Scriptures saturated his lectures on Western philosophy and forever changed the way I look for signposts of eternity in the everyday. Despite discouragement, they refused to settle.
But discouragement is not limited to teachers. It can be found at work and in the home, knowing no bounds. Discouragement can greet you first thing in the morning and be the last words you hear at night as you replay the day. All of us are intimately acquainted with our weaknesses. So when we experience discouragement, it only confirms what we think to be true. We are our own worst enemy (James 4:1).
The enemy uses discouragement as a farmer works with a plow. But instead of breaking the ground to sow seed, he attempts to break our spirit with seeds of doubt. As a dear friend once said, “Satan shouts and God whispers.”
But God’s whisper is the same voice that created something from nothing and brought life from death. His volume is not proportional to his power. Right now, God the Son is at the right hand of the Father interceding on your behalf (Hebrews 7:25). God the Spirit is at work inside of you petitioning the Father with groans deeper than words (Romans 8:26). He has called you the apple of his eye (Psalm 17:8). His love for you and belief in you is not dependent upon your obedience to him (2 Timothy 2:13). As those who have been called to follow him, our words should echo his.
We live in interesting days drenched in discouragement. Our culture may be running away from God, but our words should lovingly remind our neighbors that God is not giving up on them. Kindness, not judgment, is what leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). Words of encouragement are seeds of life that produce plants of hope. These plants remind us that things are not as bad as we think.
Today, what would it look like if 113,000 people from 203 countries decided to be voices of encouragement? America would be brighter, the world better, but the dress would still be blue.

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McDonald's gives 100-year-old woman free food for life

Imaginechina via AP ImagesNadine Baum turned one hundred last week and was honored with a surprise party at her local McDonald's restaurant. Their present to her: free food for life. "I don't know what I did to deserve all this," she said. "I count my blessings every day."

Nadine is on to something.

Every morning brings new reasons to be discouraged by today's culture. Since our society decided decades ago that truth is subjective and morality is no one's business but ours, we've seen Western culture continue to spiral downward.

Abortion is now celebrated; children and the mentally ill are being euthanized; racial conflict is rising; sexually-transmitted diseases continue to spread. Churches and Christian schools that defend biblical marriage are worried about their tax-exempt status; transgender bathrooms are just the latest battle in the sexual revolution.

It's tempting to withdraw from our broken culture into a siege mentality that assumes the worst. What do we do when facing enemies who appear stronger and more numerous than we are?

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How Christians should respond to the presidential debate

Credit: Mark Ralston via ApThe candidates began and ended last night's presidential debate without shaking hands. The ninety minutes in between were filled with argument, name-calling, and vitriol. Donald Trump refused to say if he will accept the vote if he loses, a statement that is leading this morning's news. Hillary Clinton called him a "puppet" of Russia, while he called her a "nasty woman."

In eighteen days I will vote in my eleventh presidential election over four decades. I have never seen a campaign season as bitter as this one has been. Nor have I seen Christians as divided over an election as we seem to be today.

I receive emails regularly from believers who liken Donald Trump to Winston Churchill and characterize him as the war leader we need today. I also receive emails from believers who are convinced that no Christian could vote for Mr. Trump. Many evangelicals are convinced that electing Hillary Clinton would end America as we know it. Others believe that she would advance our status as leader of the free world.

Here's what I know for sure: on November 9 the election will be over, but our witness—for good or for bad—will endure.

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