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  FROM THE APOSTLES DESK
FROM THE APOSTLES DESK
THE WHITE'S ITINERARY

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How Tewahedo Orthodox theology led congregations to become an oasis of forest conservation.

In church, Getnet Alemayehu’s father liked to sit beneath a tree, one he had planted himself. In its shade the man would pray, worship, give thanks, and ponder the works of God.

Getnet grew up watching his father care for the tree in the small town of Hamusit, Ethiopia. It lies at the foot of the mountains adorning the centuries-old skyline of Gondar, a region known as the origin of the winds that amass as hurricanes and then batter the Atlantic coast in North America. Getnet—Ethiopians go by their given name—has always felt close to nature. Although he currently works in Bahir Dar, the picturesque and significantly larger capital of the Amhara state, his face lights up when he talks about his small hometown.

In particular, Getnet remembers growing up in church where, like many children in rural Orthodox Christian areas, he learned basic reading and writing. A sizeable number of children begin at a tender age the nearly two decades of spiritual education they must complete before becoming priests. Even the most liberal families with a tilt to modern education send their children to Sunday church schools that inculcate the creed of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Churches are open every day and some nights. This strong tradition of passing on Christian heritage is one reason some foreign scholars have designated Ethiopia as “the last fortress of Christianity.”

Getnet’s childhood congregation, St. Michael’s Church, sits atop the hills looking down on the town of Hamusit, five kilometers away from his home. He fondly remembers the dawns as he hurried up the hills to attend Kidasse, the nearly three-hour daily service believed to have originated with the holy apostles nearly 2,000 ...

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How I became convinced Christianity is more than ethnicity.

As modern society careens to alarming levels of racial polarization, one has to wonder if the ethnic designations on many of our church signs bear any complicity.

Korean Presbyterian. German Lutheran. Chinese Baptist. The monikers exist to identify the minority—to make distinctions where there is a difference. And immigrant churches are certainly different.

But just as cultures blend, our ecclesiastical identities can as well. I know this because I’ve lived it.

When my family left Malaysia for Canada, we probably didn’t know much more about our new home other than that the cold was going to be extremely challenging since we only knew the equator. But thankfully, being an immigrant family from Kuala Lumpur in the Great White North is not as dramatic of a culture shock as it may be for those from other nations.

As members of the Commonwealth, Malaysians completely understand, and appreciate, Canada’s British-ness. I was only six when we first arrived, so much of my rapid assimilation into North American speech styles and patterns of behavior was heavily indebted to popular culture—including drinking deeply and delightedly from the torrent of available television channels compared to the three or four we had in Malaysia.

So it came as a surprise when I met Canadians who deliberately chose not to own TV sets at all, out of their Christian convictions.

Presbyterianism, to which my Chinese-Malaysian mother as well as my Korean father belonged, was readily found in our new home of London—a city between Lake Erie and Lake Huron, a few hours east of Detroit—so it was natural for our first church experiences to be tethered to a familiar tradition. We attended a neighborhood Presbyterian church, ...

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As many of us learned of Jarrid Wilson’s suicide, I’m reminded that pastors (and Christians) are not immune, and being honest about that is good for all of us.

A pastor died by suicide.

That’s a sentence that might cause us to look twice.

We don’t expect pastors to take their own lives. They help people with their lives.

They talk about new life. They don’t end their own.

And yet another tragedy happened. Yet another well-known pastor—Jarrid Wilson—died by suicide.

Every suicide shocks us, but when a well-known pastor (or any Christian public figure) takes his or her own life, it causes questions to arise.

Perhaps it should. Perhaps in some ways it brings us back to the reality of who pastors are and what they do. Perhaps the tragedy is compounded even more by the fact that so many of us are hearing about it on World Suicide Prevention Day.

World Suicide Prevention Day

When I woke up this morning, I hadn't actually planned to write an article on suicide. I debated it, but decided simply to tweet later in the day about this important day.

But then I read about my friend Jarrid, a pastor and mental health advocate. So instead, I want to share some thoughts that, I hope, might be of some encouragement to pastors and church leaders.

Let me first say that many people have written many helpful things about suicide today, and they're worthy of our reading and our attention. Some of them are by Christian leaders, and I often look to Rick and Kay Warren for what they might share. (See their comments here.)

I’ve written about the church and suicide before as well.

But there are countless resources out there written from outside the Christian community as well.

Regrettably, one of the realities of the evangelical community is our hesitancy to look outside of our community for help. But truth be told—and I can attest from this very reality in my own extended ...

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Before his death, he tweeted, “Loving Jesus doesn’t always cure suicidal thoughts.”

Jarrid Wilson, a California church leader, author, and mental health advocate, died by suicide Monday evening at age 30.

Wilson, known as a passionate preacher, most recently was an associate pastor at megachurch Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. A co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Anthem of Hope, Wilson was open about his own depression, often posting on his social media accounts about his battles with the mental illness.

“At a time like this, there are just no words,” said Harvest senior pastor Greg Laurie.

“Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people. We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not,” Laurie said.

“At the end of the day, pastors are just people who need to reach out to God for his help and strength, each and every day,” he added.

His wife, Julianne Wilson, posted a photo tribute of her husband on Instagram. The photo slideshow shows him fishing “in his happy place.” She described her husband as “loving, giving, kind-hearted, encouraging, handsome, hilarious.”

“No more pain, my jerry, no more struggle. You are made complete and you are finally free,” she wrote in the caption.

“Suicide doesn’t get the last word. I won’t let it. You always said “Hope Gets the last word. Jesus does,” she added.

News of Wilson’s passing followed a series of tweets the young pastor posted throughout the day Monday that dealt with suicide, including a post encouraging followers to remember that even though loving Jesus doesn’t cure illnesses such as depression, PTSD or anxiety, Jesus does ...

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Maybe my story and honesty will help you avoid making the same mistakes.

About 25 years ago the folks at Leadership Network invited a group of “Young Leaders” to a gathering in Glen Eyrie, Colorado. The goal was that we would learn from each other, and Leadership Network would gather these lessons and share them with the church at large.

The motivation was pure, but the initial results were disastrous. They had done this same kind of gathering with older leaders and pastors and found it very fruitful. The gathering of younger leaders seemed to get stuck because most of us were arrogant, self-interested, and not quick to listen to others (we were young).

It became clear that this group was not going to humbly share from a place of transparency and generosity.

Near the end of the first day, the primary facilitator from Leadership Network tossed out the agenda and decided to ask us one surprising question: Would you be willing to share a big mistake or mess-up in your ministry?

For the next three hours, leader after leader shared honest stories of failed plans, flubbed efforts, and personal mistakes along the way. We laughed until tears flowed. The pretense and self-aggrandizement melted away.

We became friends. As a matter of fact, three of the leaders I met at that gathering remain my friends to this day.

As stories were shared, we began to learn from each other’s failings and struggles. We started to trust each other. We got past the insecure facades and saw people who were trying to serve Jesus and his church.

In that same spirit, let me share one of my biggest shortcomings in my 30 years of ministry. It is a pattern I have identified in the past year, and when I look backward, I can see that I have made the same mistake over and over again. Maybe my story and honesty will help you ...

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VeggieTales is back, with an emphasis on the New Testament and biblical story.

Many evangelical children of the 1990s, raised on the catchy songs of Larry the Cucumber and the thoughtful lessons of Bob the Tomato, are now raising children of their own. In October, that new generation will have a fresh slew of VeggieTales adventures as the animated series returns through a partnership between Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), Big Ideas Content Group, and NBCUniversal.

But the show’s original fans aren’t the only ones who have grown up—so has Phil Vischer, VeggieTales creator and creative lead on the new series. Vischer says he is leaning on spiritual maturity and lessons learned from the past to take the 18-episode series deeper.

When TBN and NBCUniversal approached Vischer to be involved with the new show, he told them he wanted to make it “like it was in the old days,” with short, spiritually-focused Bible stories. (Fans’ reaction to the more recent Netflix rendition of the show, VeggieTales in the House, was tepid.)

Vischer, who this week is also publishing his first children’s Bible, The Laugh and Learn Bible for Kids, spoke with CT recently about what’s new in the VeggieTales reboot.

Biblical truth is relevant across generations and across cultures. But will this new series address anything that is going to be specifically relevant to this generation?

We haven’t explained to kids how they’re part of a bigger story. The gospel has been turned so often into just tips for a better marriage, or tips to get through college without becoming an atheist. So kids are running to the Avengers, they’re running to Harry Potter, they’re running to Star Wars. They want to be a part of a big story, and we’ve lost the ability to excite them ...

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The two faiths have endured similar legal backlash—underscoring the importance of advocating for religious freedom for all.

Religious freedom for Muslims in America has become a significant issue in recent years, as Asma Uddin details in her book When Islam Is Not a Religion. We have seen campaigns in various communities to block the construction of mosques, and spikes in vandalism and harassment against Muslims. (Read CT’s interview with Uddin here.)

The campaigns rest on claims that American Muslims incubate terrorism or plan to impose Sharia law, and that globally “Islam hates us,” as President Trump has said. Evangelical Christians help lead these campaigns. Anti-mosque rallies have featured sermons by pastors and hymn singing by demonstrators. Polls show white evangelicals “are more likely than any other Christian group to have low respect for Muslims,” reports Fuller Seminary professor Matthew Kaemingk.

I have written on religious liberty and advocated it in courts and legislatures for 25 years. The majority of my cases have involved Christian individuals or organizations. I want to explain why evangelical Christians have a stake in protecting the religious freedom of Muslims.

Above all, Christians should affirm everyone’s religious freedom as an aspect of human dignity: Every soul must be free to seek and respond to God. To affirm that, you do not have to say that all beliefs are true. You simply affirm that true faith can come only from God convicting the heart, not from government pressure. And the prerogative to judge souls belongs to God, not government.

Religious freedom for everyone rests also in the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must treat others as we would wish to be treated. Jesus’s moral call is to identify with the neighbor.

In this instance, the Golden ...

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    Abounding Love Ministries
    7076 Hooper Road
    Baton Rouge, Louisiana  70811
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