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Mizo Church to Grant Cash for Couples Having More Babies

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wikipedia

For representation purpose only.

A church in Mizoram has announced cash incentives for couples who have more than three babies. The Lunglei Bazar Veng Baptist Church said it will grant Rs 4,000 for the fourth baby, Rs 5000 for the fifth and so on.

The church secretary has confirmed that the church has decided not to fix maximum limit on the number babies per couple. Adding to it, he said, the more babies are born, the more cash reward will be granted.

The new development in the church’s policy has come out to tackle the low birth rate among the dominant Mizo tribe and the predominantly Christian state. According to the recent census, 87 per cent of Mizos are Christians in various denominations, predominantly Presbyterian.

“We encourage more children,” said Lalramleina Pachuau, senior executive member of the Mizoram Synod of Presbyterian Church of India.

“The population of Mizos is dwindling, and we encourage couples to have more children,” he added, according to Indian Express.

He said the low birth rate is adding to the increasing concern of low population of Mizos.

However, Presbyterian Church has decided not to grant any cash incentives, he added.

Church Magazine With Land Scam News Withdrawn

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deccanchronicle

Indian Currents (IC), a 21-year-old national English weekly by Catholic Church has withdrawn its cover story ‘Cardinal Sin’ that revealed the controversial land deals of the Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese and the intervention of the cardinal in the land deal.

The publication investigated the land dealings by their internal team against Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the major archbishop of Syro-Malabar church.

IC is a news magazine from New Delhi, published under the patronage of the Capuchins of Krist Jyoti Province of North India. It gives in-depth analysis of events related to sociopolitical and religious fields.

Dr Suresh Mathew, chief editor, IC, was asked by his provincial house to withdraw the cover story, his editorial and the corresponding article written by Fr Jose Vallikkattu, a missionary priest belonging to the Missionary Society of St Thomas (MST).

“As a priest, I should be obedient. When I received a call and an email from the Provincial House asking me to wait until the internal probe is over, there is nothing I can do but withdraw at the last moment. So I have been forced to withdraw all the articles on Cardinal Alencherry’s land deals that have landed the Archdiocese of Ernakulam – Angamaly in a mess,” Mathew told DC.

Four articles in the magazine, ‘In the name of land, Cardinal Alencherry blocked from clergy meet’, ‘Land deal puts the Church in Mess’, ‘Not a Matter of faith’ and ‘Church in chaos’, allege the cardinal and raise questions on the lack of transparency in the deal.

The cover story of the magazine states that “with the latest land row, however, the church has run itself the risk of losing the trust of its congregations. In fact, a church that was built on the solid foundation of unity is today divided in opinion”.

Thousands in Garo Hills Pray to End Increasing Violence Against Christians

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theshillongtimes

Thousands of Christians from several churches in Meghalaya united in prayer during a protest to spiritually fight against the increasing violence against minorities and anti-Christian movements in North India carried out by the right wing groups.

Led by Catholic priests from the five districts of Garo Hills, a day of protest was held on Jan. 7. The priests asked the participants to continue praying for Christians in the country and against the atrocities on them.

During the sermon at the Sacred Heart Church Shrine in Tura, the priests also reminded the recent assaults on seminarians for holding Christmas Carol activities in Madhya Pradesh.

“Such cases of attacks on Christians are worrying. We need to be cautious and concerned,” said Fr Theodore Sangma, one of the priests at the protest.

“We must all stand together and pray for peace and harmony in our country,” he added, according to Shillong Times.

International Christian Concern (ICC), Washington-based persecution lobby group, has noted at least 23 religiously motivated attacks on believers in India during the Christmas season last year; and as a result of such attacks, several Christians were injured, hospitalized, or jailed.

Persecution Against Christians Mapped: Open Doors 2018 World Watch List

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opendoors

Open Doors has revealed the 50 worst countries to be a Christian in

The latest report on violence against Christians worldwide by Open Doors said 23,793 Christians were physically or mentally abused in India in the last one year alone. It’s a number more than the total abused in all the other countries put together. The Dutch-based Open Doors NGO blamed the Indian government of turning ‘a blind eye to those persecuting Christians’.

The watchdog’s annual report confirmed 3,066 deaths worldwide.

Fourth year in a row, Nigeria once again recorded the most number of deaths. Last year, it accounted for some 2,000 deaths, or two-thirds of last year’s total, a three-fold increase on the previous year’s recorded tally of 695 deaths.

“Even as the killings by (the Islamic militant group) Boko Haram in the northeast declined, those carried out by (Muslim) Peul nomads are rising in the centre of the country,” said the report.

Egypt experienced a sudden spike in persecution last year, with more than 0 people driven from their homes and 128 killed.

Islamist extremists, who have terrorized parts of Turkey and Egypt after fleeing Syria and Iraq, have been responsible for the unprecedented rise in violence and aggression towards Christians there.

For the 17th year in the row, North Korea still ranked as the worse country in the world to be a Christian, with Open Doors reporting its estimated 300,000 Christians faced “certain death” in camps if their faith was found out.

“As the regime becomes more and more isolated, it is becoming increasingly paranoid and pitiless toward anyone suspected of treason against its leader,” Kim Jong-Un, it said.

Afghanistan ranked second-worst for the persecution of Christians. The report said “the clan” to be “the main persecutor, chasing out or killing Christians to maintain the community’s honor.”

In the neighboring Pakistan, witnessed a deadly assault on a church in Quetta last month, was ranked worse in terms of the prevalence of attacks.

The NGO said the “regular attacks on churches (arson, broken windows, sabotaged power lines), the 700 kidnappings per year, rapes or forced marriages for Christian women and the frequency of riots after rumors of blasphemy.”

10 Tips for Creating Content in Dry or Difficult Industries

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We should all be familiar with the value of high-quality content when it comes to digital marketing – from increased link magnetism and more social shares, to improved brand awareness and higher conversions (and much more). But for many online business owners, their industry often proves to be a major stumbling block when it comes to adopting content marketing. From so-called ‘boring’ industries such as accountancy and finance, to what link-builders may refer to as ‘difficult’ industries such as pharmaceuticals and gambling, content creation can be hard work if the subject matter is a perhaps dry, or difficult to produce without it seeming inherently spammy.

In my experience however, content is just as crucial in these industries (if not more so), and if you can find a way to do it well, it can be way more valuable than other forms of inbound marketing often used as alternatives for those working in these more difficult industries. In this post, we’ll take a look at how you can approach content development for industries such as software, finance, gambling and pharmaceuticals, and how you can use this content to build powerful links for your brand, as well as improving customer engagement, retention, awareness, perception and conversions.

Content development is hard work. 

Chances are you’re already familiar of what we mean when we talk about ‘content marketing’, but on the off-chance you’re not, I would recommend Rand’s excellent MOZ Academy video on how content marketing can help your business. Feel free to take a few minutes to watch it if you need to – go ahead, I’ll wait…

All caught up? Excellent. So, we know that content marketing has the potential to offer a range of benefits to your business, but it’s not as easy as just deciding you’re going to ‘do’ content, and then effortlessly producing something everyone want to read. Fundamentally, content development ishard. Even if you work in a relatively entertaining industry full of potential ideas, you need to consider what’s already been produced, what your audience wants to see, where you can get reliable information from, how your audience will engage with the content – and that’s before you even begin looking into producing something that’s high quality in terms of design or experience (or what format you should use).

Now I’m not trying to make things worse, but evidence suggests that most readers will only read 60% of your posts (which is a mildly depressing statistic to include in an article I’m in the middle of writing). With so much content out there, you need to produce something truly exceptional to really get noticed, and even then most people may not bother reading the whole thing.

So it would seem the odds are somewhat stacked against you – there’s more content available than ever, people would appear to have shorter attention spans, there’s a variety of different channels your audience might use (making distribution harder), there’s a barrier to entry in terms of design (or development, video production, etc.) and you will likely need to commit at least a reasonable budget to a content marketing campaign to make it successful. Oh, and then there’s the potential difficulty in measuring whether or not a piece of content is ‘successful’, particularly if you have to communicate ROI to management, colleagues or stakeholders. Sure, you can measure the number of inbound links, or the number of social shares, or metrics like time on site, bounce rates, pages per view, conversions, etc. but what about the intangible benefits? How do you measure brand awareness? Thought leadership? Consumer perception? Trust? Yeah, try telling your manager you spent £3,000 on a piece of content and you may or may not have achieved a greater level of trust and awareness from your customers.

I think I’ve probably made my point there – it’s not an easy business. Which is why you see so much bad content out there, as brands are actively trying to gain the benefits of content marketing, without fully committing to what’s required to produce something exceptional. And this is in industries where there should be a wealth of relatively exciting content ideas, imagine going through all of these barriers whilst trying to produce something focussed on the intricacies of pension auto-enrolment. Even typing it is boring, let alone talking about it.

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Ten tips for creating content in dry or difficult industries

So, creating content is tough. Creating content is dry or difficult industries is really tough. Luckily, through years of experience (and some quick research to make sure there’s nothing obvious I’ve forgotten about), I’ve picked up a few tips for making your life a little easier when it comes to content creation in ‘boring’ industries, as well as those that might be tougher to build links to:

1. Solve a problem, behelpful

Even if you are talking about something that might objectively be considering boring, such as the aforementioned auto-enrolment (it’s a UK pensions thing, it’s not in the least bit interesting for those of us who aren’t accountants), people will still be looking for the information when they need to. If you can solve a problem for your target audience then they will find it interesting, even if the rest of the world wonders what you’re talking about.

Let’s say you write a really useful article on how to reduce errors when doing manual data entry – to those looking in, that would seem incredibly dull. But if I’m regularly doing data entry and I’m concerned about accuracy and error rates then to me, your content would be pretty damn interesting.

2. Know your audience

Processed with VSCO with c4 preset

The more familiar you are with your target audience, the easier you’ll find it to create targeted content that is specific; helping them solve a problem or removing a pain point. The best way to do this is with buyer personas, which will help in more ways than just content creation (particularly in relation to other forms of marketing). If you need help creating buyer personas, I would recommend this post from Hubspot.

3. Cut back on the terminology and marketing speak

I have to remind myself to do this one, particularly in industries where I have a lot of experience. When you’re creating content that utilises your own expertise (or that of your team), it can be tempting to write in a way that might sound very impressive to investors, but isn’t all that helpful when you’re trying to inform, educate or entertain. Instead, write in the way you speak normally, and make it as easy as possible for your readers to utilise or understand the quality content you’re giving them.

4. Try and make complicated subject accessible

This follows on naturally from tip number 3, and can result in really popular content when it’s done well. Just writing in a normal speaking voice can make content accessible, but also using simple to understand analogies or metaphors can work wonders in helping explain complex information.

An excellent example is Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time, which explains phenomenally complicated theories and models from the world of physics using humour, uncomplicated English and a series of clever and easy-to-understand analogies. Just because something is technical or complicated doesn’t mean it can’t be made more accessible.

5. Use humour

This is applicable both to industries that are a little dry and those that may be tougher to link to. Whether you’re creating serious content or not, there’s nothing wrong with taking a light-hearted approach – I’m not suggesting you try and be funny throughout, but using a lighter tone can help lift certain kinds of content and can help with engaging your readers.

Many gambling firms utilise this approach extremely well, particularly in relation to newsjacking and current events. Brands that do it well often find their content is shared heavily via social media, which can often lead to natural links. Considering how hard it can be convincing sites to like to sites related to gambling, this is a serious result – all achieved by utilising a humorous tone successfully.

6. Go the extra mile with your content

Go the extra mile

When you’re creating content in a difficult industry, you need to work that little bit harder to encourage people to link to you. If your business is in one of those industries that people just aren’t all that confident about linking to, then you need to overcome that by really pushing to make your content exceptional.

If you’ve got some research, opt for an infographic over a blog post, or better yet make it interactive. A great approach can be to take your main piece of content and utilise individual stats to create new assets, each aimed at a different platform or group of sites. This is something referred to as divisible content, and can be an excellent way to get the most out of what you’ve got.

Of course this is easier said than done, and it may be that you need to commit additional resources or budget to get something that really stands out, but it can be well worth it in the long run.

7. Keep things concise and easy to read

This is a long post, because there’s a lot to cover, but where possible I’m trying to be concise (which isn’t easy, as I can be pretty verbose at times), but at least this is a fairly interesting topic. If you’re writing on something that’s dry or technical, then spend some time trying to edit your copy for brevity, or consider turning statistics or similar data into visuals.

Similarly, you should think about breaking up your copy into easy to manage sections, that are both easier to read and easier on the eye. Imagine this article was one long chunk of text with no paragraphing or section headers – you’d be far less likely to read it all. This is particularly true in the modern age, where a lot of people will access content via a mobile device. Those reading on a phone or laptop will be even less likely to read huge chunks of text.

8. Mix up your mediums

I talk to a lot of people about content marketing, and I’m regularly surprised that people struggle to think of mediums other than articles and infographics when it comes to producing their own content. There are numerous different formats you could utilise, and it can be effective to mix-up your mediums, rather than always producing the same thing. It can really help with dry content too – that long and slightly stale blog post might come to life as a video, or reformatted as an interview.

So you could opt for a blog post, an infographic, an infographic with GIF animations, an interactive infographic or useful tool, a video, an animation, a whitepaper, an ebook, a podcast, an interview (filmed or typed), a slideshow, a Q&A or webinar – there really are a plethora of options open to you.

Rather than simply changing format for the sake of it however, I would recommend putting some real thought into which format best suits the content you’re producing, and how your audience typically interacts with content, or the platforms they regularly engage with. This kind of analysis can lead you to the most effective format, which in turn improves your content.

9. Make your content as easy to share as possible

Make your content as easy to share as possible

I’ve already touched on the importance of knowing your audience and how you can go about understanding what drives them, but it’s worth repeating that getting an idea of how your audience engages with content – and in particular which platforms they tend to utilise – can make a huge difference to its success.

Making your content easy to share is good advice for anyone producing content in any industry, but understanding the platforms most popular among your audience will allow you to pick formats that are easy to engage with via these platforms. So for example, if you know your target market regularly engages with content on YouTube, then you’d be best served producing your content as a video, making it as easy as possible for your visitors to find your content, engage with it, and share it. Similarly, if you know your audience is far more likely to share via LinkedIn, you can ensure your content is suitable for that platform, and make sure it’s easy and intuitive to share via this platform on your landing page.

10. Utilise interviews and external expertise or research

Interviewing an external expert can be a fantastic way of creating content, as it not only makes the subject matter more compelling, but it’s an extremely useful marketing exercise. You can almost guarantee whoever you interviewed will share the content (as well as potentially linking to it), opening your site up to a new potential audience. Not only this, but it’s likely that whoever you interview will bring new information or opinion to your piece, making it far more engaging.

Bonus tip: Leverage popular culture and entertainment

Regardless of your industry, you can almost always find a way to leverage popular culture and entertainment to create something that people will want to link to. It won’t necessarily be useful to your audience, help you build trust or aid you in positioning yourself as a thought leader, but it can be hugely useful for link-building and improve overall brand awareness.

Let’s say you work in an area of finance, but you want to leverage popular culture to create a piece of viral content. It’s possible to create something that remains relevant to your industry while still incorporating entertainment, you just need to find a way to put a financial spin on something popular. Take a brand such a Star Wars, Game of Thrones or something similar, and figure out how much it would cost to build the Death Star (an idea we actually ran with for a client last year), or the economics of Westeros. With a little bit of thought about how elements from your industry may apply to a fictional universe or equivalent, you can come up with a range of ideas that will be entertaining and interesting enough to build links with, while still remaining relevant to your own business.

Who’s already doing this well?

So we’ve covered a ton of stuff already, but I always think it’s useful to see some real-life examples of the concepts we’ve been talking about. It’s far easier to understand some of this advice if we can see it in practice, and as we’ve already discussed, doing content development well in certain industries is no easy task, so these examples deserve to be shared.

1. Will It Blend?

Okay, you’ve almost certainly seen this example already – but then again that’s kind of the point. Blenders aren’t exactly the most interesting area to create content in, but Blendtec have managed to create an ongoing content series that receives a phenomenal amount of links and social shares, with each video receiving millions of views.

In this content series, they use their blenders to blend everything from Apple Watches to skeletons, each video attempting to answer the question ‘will it blend’. It not only does a great job of showcasing their products, but it appeals to their target audience and a wider audience (including press, bloggers and others), creating an enviable level of brand awareness.

2. Olympic Sport or Not?

The Olympics has a rich and varied history, and previous iterations have seen some really random inclusions (tug of war anyone?). Taking advantage of their own sporting heritage and the huge interest in the 2016 Olympics worldwide, Ladbrokes produced the Olympic Sport or Not interactive quiz.

It’s engaging, hugely shareable and relevant to the brand niche – it’s also extremely well produced, making it very likely to be linked to despite the industry the brand operates in. They could have produced a fairly standard blog post, but instead Ladbrokes went the extra mile and produced something truly exceptional, not to mention timely.

3. The Story of a Support Ticket

Zendesk is cloud-based customer support and engagement software, which is incredibly useful to those who use it, but perhaps isn’t all that exciting when it comes to content marketing. With their Journey of a Support Ticket video however, they have created a truly engaging and brilliantly produced piece of content, that allows them to showcase the benefits and features of their software without being in the least bit dull.

Not only does this video do a great job of telling the story of their software (and likely increasing conversions and brand awareness), but it gives the brand a unique and highly shareable piece of content they can use to engage with potential customers through different platforms, as well as attracting high quality links.

4. Sit or Squat

sit or squat

Toilet paper isn’t exactly the most exciting of products, and you might imagine it’s a very difficult industry to create really engaging content in. Charmin have managed to create something truly unique however with Sit or Squat; a tool that allows users to find clean public restrooms online.

It’s unique, highly shareable, encourages interaction and engagement and is relevant to both the brand’s niche and their target audience – everything a strong piece of content should be.

5. Understanding APR

Finance is one of those industries that can be difficult to build links to, particularly if the brand is in the consumer lending niche. As a result, high-quality and useful content becomes even more important, as companies in this area try to position themselves as responsible, credible and experts in their field. Vivus does a great job of doing this with their What is APR series, where they go out onto the streets of the UK and talk to real people about their level of understanding around financial terms often used to bamboozle the public into paying higher levels of interest.

Their content is not only hugely useful, but it’s a real eye-opener, and the research gathered by the brand has been utilised to create a range of content formats, from well-produced videos to detailed blog posts.

E-commerce can be a tough industry to create really high quality content, as it often comes across as too promotional to be truly engaging, making sharing and link-building tougher. To overcome this, John Lewis began creating exceptional television advertisements each Christmas, also making them available on their website and via video-sharing platforms such as YouTube.

Fast forward to 2015/16, and the John Lewis Christmas ads are the subject of a huge amount of anticipation and press coverage, as people have come to genuinely love and look forward to a new iteration of their brilliant adverts each year. Yes it requires a large time and budget commitment, but it shows how truly exceptional content can bring with it unparalleled marketing benefits, both offline and online.

7. Did You Get Married?

Tax software definitely isn’t what we’d call an exciting product, and connecting with a wider audience must be a tough job when you’re talking about tax deductable expenses and the like. Turbo Tax’s Did You Get Married video manages to appeal to a much wider demographic however, receiving a huge amount of shares and links, as well as ensuring a much higher level of brand awareness.

Intuit (who make the software) have a strong track record of creating great content around their products, steering away from highly techincal information – although of course this is available to those who want it – and instead focusing on the wider interests and issues of their target audience.

8. The Future of Language

Running a translation company doesn’t make it too easy to come up with original ideas – of course there’s always the classic travel content, but the industry is overstocked with this kind of content in any format you can imagine. To overcome this, Translate By Humans produced the brilliant The Future of Language infographic, which pulls in (and visualises) existing research and provides a unique analysis of the data to produce an answer to a very difficult question – what language will we be speaking in 100 years time?

I love content that tries to answer a difficult or controversial question, particularly if that answer draws upon varied and reliable data that already exists. By doing this, Translate By Humans produced something completely unique, that goes in a different direction than all of the other brands in their industry. Not only is the content engaging and interesting, but it’s unpredictable, helping to set them apart from the competition.

9. Jacamo

RELAXATION DAY-min

We’ve already discussed the difficulty of creating content for an e-commerce site, and this issue is magnified in certain niches, particularly if it’s overstocked with content of a certain type.

UK retail brand Jacamo specialises in men’s clothes for big or tall individuals, and rather than opt for the classic ‘clothing to fit your body type’ content, they made the effort to understand their target audience, and produced a piece of content aimed specifically at their own interests and motivations. Tying the concept in with an annual event (in this case ‘relaxation day’), they produced the wonderfully illustrated 9 ways your other half can relax while you watch the football, demonstrating how audience analysis and a bit of lateral thinking can produce popular and unique content.

Conclusion

Content marketing is hugely important when it comes to connecting with your audience, engaging them, building brand awareness and trust, improving conversions, encouraging social shares and building links. But it’s hard – in fact it can be really hard, particularly if you’re in a dry or difficult niche.

But with a bit of commitment and a reasonable budget, it really is possible to create truly unique content regardless of industry, and take advantage of the one of the most useful and beneficial forms of digital marketing available to you. Don’t be put off by your limitations – whether you’re a small business with a tiny marketing budget or a large, multinational corporation, you can create something useful to your audience if you’re willing to put in the effort to create something exceptional.

50 Cool Logo Designs to Get your Creative Juices Flowing

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A logo design sets an impact for the business it represents. If a company is compared to a book, its logo is the cover judged by others. It is a design made for instant recognition of a business, label, brand, group, or name to promote trust, loyalty, and respect. A fantastic logo design shows what the business is all about in a minimalist, rudimentary approach.

An awesome logo symbolizes the central principles of the company. The style needs to be impressive and memorable. When someone sees the logo, it should trigger two things: instant association with the brand and a feeling stimulated in relation to the brand.

A logo, particularly for a company, is ubiquitous. It should be present in the packaging of the products, in each piece of marketing material, and in every company property (employee’s uniform, memo pad, company vehicles, etc.).

A logo is critical as it facilitates the development of the brand’s identity. It must capture the interest of the people in a manner that will be instantly associated with the company. Often, the business logo is the first thing someone remembers about the brand. Think smartphone: you’re probably picturing Apple’s bitten apple logo. Think fast-food: it’s likely the golden arches of McDonald’s pop into your head. Think sports brand: almost certainly, Nike’s swoosh comes to mind.

That is the power of a great logo.

Clever and Cool Logos

A well-designed logo is a nice piece of art. The colors or color combinations are perfect, the typography is relevant, the overall feel fits the brand, and the effects work well. It should be everything it needs to be.

Even so, a clever and cool logo design takes its job to the next level. Rather than just creating something interesting, a logo designer should look into the design process with smart thinking and a mindset clever enough to see things differently than “ordinary” people.

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A cool logo designed cleverly will make anyone smile or think of the brilliance of both the concept and the delivery of the design. This logo is multifaceted with a few layers of different meanings that can strike others in waves. A number of these symbolisms are amazingly obvious while others are perfectly “hidden”, it’ll take a long time to uncover them and their meanings.

To help you design a clever and cool logo that will rival the greats, here are 50 amazing logo designs that will jumpstart your creativity.

CodeCamp by Jeroen van Eerden

CodeCamp by Jeroen van Eerden

Groupy by Yossi Belkin

Groupy by Yossi Belkin

R by Kakha Kakhadzen

R by Kakha Kakhadzen

Flash Dash by Ben Stafford

Flash Dash by Ben Stafford

Arca Records by Jonas

Arca Records by Jonas

The Brooklyn Honey Co. by Brandon Nickerson

The Brooklyn Honey Co. by Brandon Nickerson

Idibri by Jon McClure

Idibri by Jon McClure

Penny Lane Pet Co. by Kyle Anthony Miller

Penny Lane Pet Co. by Kyle Anthony Miller

Stagg by Mike Bruner

Stagg by Mike Bruner

Plane Fetch by Nikita Lebedev

Plane Fetch by Nikita Lebedev

Sherpa Bird by J Fletcher Design

Print

SnapEat by Luke Davies

SnapEat by Luke Davies

PowerShift Labs by Clark Orr

PowerShift Labs by Clark Orr

LA by Simon Walker

LA by Simon Walker

Fenderhawk by Stevan Rodic

Fenderhawk by Stevan Rodic

Fuel Industries by Steve Wolf

Fuel Industries by Steve Wolf

Chop Shop by Roydon Misseldine

Chop Shop by Roydon Misseldine

Roulette by Andrew Footit

Roulette by Andrew Footit

Delight Street by Sergey Shapiro

Delight Street by Sergey Shapiro

Zoetic Press by Steve Wolf

Zoetic Press by Steve Wolf

K & S by Jay Fletcher

K & S by Jay Fletcher

Pigeon by Tim Boelaars

Pigeon by Tim Boelaars

Queen Burger by Lange & Lange

Queen Burger by Lange & Lange

Black Fuel by Jennet Liaw

Black Fuel by Jennet Liaw

Bright North by Paulius Kairevicius

Bright North by Paulius Kairevicius

Preaching a Text that Doesn’t Excite You

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Consecutive expository preaching is going to lead a pastor to texts he’s not excited about. Whether it’s the purity laws of Leviticus or the prophecies of Daniel, the pastor is faced with a choice . . . to preach or not to preach?

Bryan Chapell, J. D. Greear, and Mike McKinley offer practical help on how to answer that question along with encouragement for how to get excited about texts you don’t initially understand.

Listen to their conversation here, or watch a video.

Related:

Will #MeToo Cause Hollywood to Rethink its Views on Sex?

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The entertainment industry has been rocked by the coming-to-light of systemic sexual misconduct, with the list of accused sexual harassers growing longer by the day: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, Charlie Rose, James Franco, Aziz Ansari, and doubtless many more to come.

The illumination of these dark realities in Hollywood (among many other industries and cultural spheres, including the church), has led to a much-needed #MeToo conversation about cycles of abuse and cultures of misogyny and harassment. It has been a good and necessary thing, as the unveiling of hidden sin always is.

At this year’s Golden Globes ceremony, Hollywood stars wore black to mark the #MeToo moment, and several speeches called out discrimination and abuse. Many in attendance donned pins that read “Time’s Up,” referencing a new campaign launched this month to combat systemic sexual harassment in the workplace.

The “Time’s Up” name fits a larger narrative that suggests a reckoning has arrived and a new day has come. Indeed, a jarring October cover of Variety—Hollywood’s most important trade publication—featured Weinstein’s face with the headline “Game Over.”

“The conversation in Hollywood is pointing to a major shift,” Brent Lang and Elizabeth Wagmeister wrote in the Variety article. “The hope in the industry is that the alleged abhorrent behavior by Weinstein and the other perpetrators will trigger some genuine soul-searching across the entertainment business and beyond.”

But in what sense is the “game” of a sexualized Hollywood culture really over? And how wide-ranging will the “major shift” be?

Because while it is certainly a good thing that systemic harassment and predatory sexual behavior are being called out and exposed, the reality is Hollywood has always been one of the chief purveyors of sex as commodity and sexualized bodies as cheap goods for widespread consumption.

While it is certainly a good thing that systemic harassment and predatory sexual behavior are being called out and exposed, the reality is Hollywood has always been one of the chief purveyors of sex as commodity.

If it’s true that “you reap what you sow,” as one of Weinstein’s victims told Variety, then the entertainment industry at large must seriously consider how its prevailing views of sex have sown the seeds of the present sordid scandals.

Sex on Screen as Consumer Commodity

Hollywood has had a libertine approach to sex for most of its history. In the earliest days of the film industry, producers realized that sex on screen sells. Censors tried to rein in the sexual content of Hollywood’s output during the Production Code era in the 1930s–1950s, but especially since the 1960s the sexualization of Hollywood’s output has led to one taboo after another being broken.

The liberalizing of Hollywood’s approach to sex and nudity in the 1960s–’70s coincided, unsurprisingly, with the rapid growth of pornography production, which has since ballooned into a $15 billion industry in the United States. While the porn industry is overt in its positioning of sexand the sexualized, dehumanized bodies of its actorsas consumer commodities, the approach of Hollywood in its films and TV shows is not vastly different.

The prevalence of sex and sexualized (often naked) bodies in today’s films and TV shows (including Golden Globe nominee Game of Thrones) is just one way Hollywood reveals its understanding of sex as a lust-driven consumer commodity. The very idea of sexual acts and sexualized bodies on a screen, for the gaze of the masses, presents sex in consumer terms—inviting third-party observers into a sexual intimacy that doesn’t belong to them but which feels like their prerogative to consume.

The very idea of sexual acts and sexualized bodies on a screen, for the gaze of the masses, presents sex in consumer terms—inviting third-party observers into a sexual intimacy that doesn’t belong to them but which feels like their prerogative to consume.

Nudity and depictions of sex aside, the dominant narrative and thematic positioning of sex in Hollywood narratives is that lust and sexual desire are not to be denied if there is consent. Anything goes if it feels true. Love is love. And while “consent as the only boundary” feels fair and freeing in Hollywood’s eyes, the reality is it only exacerbates the pornified culture that sadly sexualizes every person and every relational possibility.

Woeful Sexual Ethics of Two Recent Films

Consider two acclaimed 2017 films nominated for Golden Globes and will likely be nominated for Academy Awards: The Shape of Water and Call Me By Your Name. Both are well made and critically acclaimed, and both embody Hollywood’s libertine sexual ethics.

Guillermo del Toro won the Best Director Golden Globe for The Shape of Water, a Cold War-era sci-fi drama that has its charms but unfortunately pushes the “love is love” conception of sex in disturbing, perverse directions. The film’s heroine, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), is a mute janitor who befriends an amphibious beast (think Creature from the Black Lagoon) held captive in a secret government laboratory. But Elisa and the non-human creature soon become more than friends, and their romance is sexually consummated in an explicit scene of brazen, no-shame interspecies sex.

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name has received immense praise and many awards in recent months. Like last year’s Oscar Best Picture winner Moonlight, the film is an artfully made, coming-of-age gay romance. It stars Timothée Chalamet as a 17-year-old boy who embarks on a summer romance with a 24-year-old man (Armie Hammer) in 1980s Italy. Though consensual, the man-boy sexual relationship has raised ethical concerns from both conservative and liberal media alike, with one outlet saying the film “seeks to mainstream pederasty . . . in a warm and fuzzy way.”

What’s especially sad about these films is that they would have been much more interesting had they explored the complexities of human connection and desire through the lens of sacrifice and restraint. Both films see themselves as radical, but they actually take the easy way out by perpetuating the “give in to your urges!” ethos of our over-sexualized, under-humanized age. Isn’t there more to human identity and connection than unrestrained sexuality? These filmsamong many others in Hollywood—would be more interesting if their characters accepted boundaries and limits and explored love through the lens of sacrificial compassion more than carnal inhibition.

Both films see themselves as radical, but they actually take the easy way out by perpetuating the ‘give in to your urges!’ ethos of our over-sexualized, under-humanized age.

This year’s excellent indie film Columbus provides one refreshing example of how this can be done. The film explores a friendship between a man (John Cho) and a woman (Haley Lu Richardson) that is intimate and humanizing but not sexualized. Far from prudish, the film is daring in how it respects its characters’ dignity—not by denying their physicality and sexuality, but by exploring their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual depths with tenderness and subtlety.

Playing with Fire

The irony of the Golden Globes ceremony is that even as sexual exploitation was roundly denounced on stage and a supposed new dawn of Hollywood’s moral conscience was heralded, films like The Shape of Water and Call Me By Your Nameand their respective depictions of bestiality and pederasty—were celebrated. Some presenters still wore revealing dresses with plunging necklines and see-through fabrics. There were advertisements for the latest installment in the Fifty Shades erotic romance franchise. The prevailing ethos of Hollywood was further perpetuated: sex is a commodity and a free-for-all beyond the sole boundary of consent.

But God did not create sex to be a free-for-all, and to the extent that individuals and societies reject this notion and insist on sexual freedom, we will be reaping many more Weinsteins (and worse) for years to come.

In his excellent book Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel, Ray Ortlund says, “Sex is like fire. In the fireplace, it keeps us warm. Outside the fireplace, it burns the house down.”

Sex is like fire. In the fireplace, it keeps us warm. Outside the fireplace, it burns the house down.

Sex can be life-giving and pleasurable when it’s in its proper place: the fireplace of marriage. But when it’s not in its proper place, it is destructive. Every time.

For decades Hollywood has proliferated narratives and images of sex outside of the fireplace, and it’s no surprise that there are subsequent wildfires everywhere. In workplaces, in homes, on movie sets, and even in our own churches, we are getting burned because we’ve grown accustomed to the fire outside of the fireplace.

It’s not all Hollywood’s fault, of course. Christians have been too silent and complicit in areas where we too have played with the fire of sexuality outside the fireplace of God’s design. It’s easy to decry extremes like bestiality and pederasty, but what about the “outside the fireplace” sex that seem more innocuous, like sex between cohabiting couples or the occasional porn-watching in the privacy of one’s bedroom? And what about our permissive attitudes toward the sexual misconduct of our political and religious leaders? Too often Christians have been quick to blame the other side but slow to reckon with our own bad behavior.  

Hollywood may not be able to muster the moral clarity and restraint it needs to truly institute a “major shift” away from the sex-as-commodity approach—the very approach that has given rise to #MeToo cultures of abuse. But if Hollywood can’t, Christians must.

Hollywood may not be able to muster the moral clarity and restraint it needs to truly institute a ‘major shift’ away from the sex-as-commodity approach—the very approach that has given rise to #MeToo cultures of abuse. But if Hollywood can’t, Christians must.

We must be clear and consistent that God’s design for sex is good and that anything outside of his design leads to harm. We must resist the matches, gasoline, and kindling that come at us from every mediated direction. We must recognize that playing with fire outside the fireplace may be pleasurable, but it always leaves us with scars.  

Church as Trauma Center

There are burn victims everywhere, bearing the scars of #MeToo abuse, sexual guilt, identity confusion, and more. How should the church respond?

We should be sober about the real threats of playing with fire, careful to not be reckless pyros who make the problem worse. This means we should exercise a lot more discernment in the media we consume. As an avid moviegoer, these are words of caution I especially need to hear.

But defensive discernment is only half the solution; the church must also be a sort of trauma center for the burn victims of the sexual revolution. We’re called to avoid the wildfire, yes; but we’re not called to avoid those it burns. Rather, we’re called to love and serve them even in their brokenness (here is one great example). We’re called to invite them to embrace Christ with us, to heal and hope alongside us—all of us—who bear the scars of sexual sin.

When Pastoring Gets in the Way

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When I planted my church, I just wanted to preach and let other people take care of the flock. I knew the vision better than anyone else, and the doctrine better than anyone else, so I knew I couldn’t let others lead from the front.

I needed to evangelize; they needed to do the counseling and discipling. My job was to lead the mission. Besides, if I slowed down to counsel, we’d lose sight of the mission.

I’ve heard a version of this story many times. It contains numerous problems, not the least of which is the frequency of “I.” However, it does put a finger on the pulse of a tension we often feel in ministry: the tension between missional activity and pastoral responsibility.

Missional and Pastoral?

In pastoral ministry it seems there is no end to the breadth of missional opportunity: social injustice, faith and work, cultural engagement, mercy ministry, evangelism, and apologetics.

And yet, there’s also a limitless depth of pastoral needs: grief and loss, miscarriage and infertility, community and conflict, gender confusion, sexual sin, greed and financial disaster, and everyday idolatry.

As I talk with church planters, I often hear comments like, “God called me to preach, not pastor.” Or, “Counseling isn’t my gift.”

I get it. Counseling is time-consuming and difficult. Some of the problems people face are complex, and can feel overwleming.

Yet the Bible doesn’t allow us to specialize in mission. Elders are called to shepherd, not just preach. Counseling may not be your gift, but it is your responsibility.

As elders, we’re called to shepherd, not just preach. Counseling may not be your gift, but it is your responsibility.

Even the apostle Paul, himself a great church planter, prioritized counseling. His letters are charged with gospel-centered counsel that springs from an intimate knowledge of people’s everyday lives.

Paul often opened and closed his letters by greeting people he knew. Even in his most theologically dense letter, Romans, Paul ends by greeting 27 people by name, often including a specific word of counsel.

For instance, Apelles must have struggled with approval, since Paul writes: “Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ” (Rom. 16:10). Aren’t all of those named approved in Christ? Yes, but evidently Apelles had a particular need to hear it.

Paul also affirms others for working hard and risking their lives. Rufus is reminded that he is “chosen in the Lord” (Rom. 16:13). Perhaps Rufus struggled with assurance?

In turn, Paul’s counsel is often to counsel (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:12–17). Peter, James, and the writer of Hebrews didn’t just counsel their churches; they counseled their people to counsel each other!

We Are Not Professionals

Church planting has become an industry. Just google it. When I did this about five years ago, “church planting” got 897,000 results. Today, I got 3,630,000. “Best practices” dominate church-planting conversations. Conferences promise things like “breaking through the 0 barrier” and the possibilities of reaching “Level 5.” We value the entrepreneurial index and measure rounds of funding. Consider this common string of questions:

  • What are you running?
  • Are your groups multiplying?
  • When are you going to plant next?
  • How are you reproducing leaders?

Multiplication quickly becomes the chief interest. Meanwhile, the difficulties of discipleship in our congregations are overlooked. We’re quick to talk mission and slow to talk sanctification.

We’re quick to talk mission and slow to talk sanctification.

If we’re not careful, “church planter” will simply become another religious profession in an increasingly professionalized church.

We may build congregations and hold conferences; but if we do not pastor the flock of God, we neglect the most critical aspect of our role.

Counseling Immortals

I love the mission of God. It’s awe-inspiring to participate in the grand redemptive plan of Father, Son, and Spirit. But I want to be in equal awe of what that plan is ultimately meant to create: the church of Jesus Christ.

I want to know people’s names, faces, and the stories behind them. I want the reverence C. S. Lewis had for people when he wrote that we live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, and that even the dullest person I meet may one day be someone I’m tempted to worship.

Why? Because there are no ordinary people. We’ve never spoken with a mere mortal. We’re called to love and pastor the very images of God.

Slow Down to Speed Up

I recently spoke with a new believer who shared the difficulty of reconciling broken relationships from his past. Now that he was a Christian, he wanted to mend the relationship with his distant daughter and estranged ex-wife.

Tears surfaced in his eyes. He knew the gospel, had resolve to reconcile, but didn’t know where to begin. Guilt hung on him like an oversized jacket. He had only learned the gospel forward, from conversion on. But he also needed to learn it backward.

He needed to see how God, in the gospel, had dealt with his past failures and sins. In order to reconcile the broken relationships of his past, he needed a deep understanding of the freedom he had been given in Christ (Gal. 5:1).

Any pastor knows this work requires time. It takes more than one conversation. In a superficial estimation, this kind of counseling slows the mission down. In reality, though, it reflects the heart of God.

In a superficial estimation, this kind of counseling slows the mission down. In reality, it reflects the heart of God.

In order to plant healthy missional churches, we must grow in both gospel breadth and gospel depth. We must train our people to think the gospel down into issues of their heart and back into the struggles of their past. 

Perhaps we need a greater focus on pastoral ministry in our church-planting residencies. Maybe we should include counseling training as part of church-planting assessments.

Slowing down to pastor will enrich our sermons with pastoral application, which can only come from spending time with struggling sheep. The best application is mined not from homiletical brainstorming but from pastoral counseling.

Counseling on mission is critical. If we do not counsel while we are on mission, we may plant churches that multiply, but we won’t be multiplying health.


Related:

3 Explanations of Religious Freedom

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Series intro: There’s a scene in the sitcom The Office in which Oscar, an accountant, attempts to explain a budget surplus to his boss, Michael Scott. “Why don’t you explain this to me like I’m an 8-year-old,” Michael says. When Oscar explains it in a simpler manner, his boss remains perplexed. “Why don’t you explain this to me like I’m 5,” Michael says.

The world, like accounting, can be complicated. Sometimes it helps to have concepts or ideas explained to us like we’re a child—not because we’re dumb or simple-minded, but because we may need a basic understanding of the whole before we can understand how it all fits together.

Or at least that’s how I approach my work. As the current affairs editor, my role at TGC is primarily to be an explanatory journalist and to “make complicated things clear, quickly.” Because I often write about topics I’m unfamiliar with, I start by trying to understand an issue “like I’m an 8-year-old” (or at least a high-school student). Once I have a basic framework of understanding I add in details from my research until I feel I understand it enough to explain it in a way that “makes complicated things clear.” I then take out as many details as possible so that it can be explained “quickly.”

In this series, I’ll apply this technique in a more structured manner. The hope is that by providing three levels of explanation—each saying essentially the same thing, though increasing in complexity—you and I can both gain a better understanding of a concept, idea, or issue.


Each year, the President of the United States declares January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to observe this day through appropriate events and activities that commemorate religious freedom.

In honor of the commemoration, here are three explanations about what religious freedom means in America.

1. Basic Explanation

Religious freedom is a right, given by God and guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, that allows individual people or groups to practice a religion—or to practice no religion at all—both in private and also in public with a minimal amount of interference from the local, state, or federal government. The Constitution and other federal and state law protect this right to determine both what we believe and, in a more limited sense, how we act on those beliefs.

2. Intermediate Explanation

Religious freedom is rooted in the idea that the government should not, without a compelling reason, be able to violate a person’s conscience. The conscience, as Andy Naselli and J. D. Crowley explain, is “your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong.” During the founding period when the Bill of Rights was written, the term “conscience” was often used as synonymous with “religion.” Thus, the concept of freedom of religious and freedom of conscience have often been used somewhat interchangeably.

The legal basis for the right to religious freedom (and the right of conscience) is the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .” This clause is extended to state and local states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

However, the courts haven’t always interpreted the clause in a way that protected religious freedom. So a federal law known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was passed in 1993 to prevent other federal laws from substantially burdening a person’s free exercise of religion.

3. Advanced Explanation

Religious freedom is a legal right that flows from the moral right to conscience. It is rooted in the idea, as Melissa Moschella explains, “that as human beings we have a grave obligation to seek the truth, and to follow the truth as we understand it.” As Moschella adds,

Conscience rights go to the core of what it is to be a human person: the capacity to act based not only on desires or instincts, but on judgments about what is good and bad, right and wrong—and the moral responsibility that is inseparable from that capacity. To force a person to act contrary to conscience is to force him to violate his moral integrity. It is an assault on the person at his core, much worse than any merely physical harm.

For Christians, acting against one’s conscience is not only a violation of moral integrity by an act of sin. As the apostle Paul says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).” R. C. Sproul expands on that verse by saying:

If we do something that we think is sin, even if we are misinformed, we are guilty of sin. We are guilty of doing something we believe to be wrong. We act against our consciences. That is a very important principle. Luther was correct in saying, “It is neither right nor safe to act against conscience.”

A primary reason Christians consider religious freedom so important is because we do not believe the state should have the authority to force us to engage in sinful actions.

The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment was adopted to protect our conscience from government intrusion. But until the early to mid-20th century, the clause applied only at the federal level. From about 1920 to the late 1940s, the courts began to adopt and apply the doctrine of selective incorporation, which makes selected provisions of the Bill of Rights applicable to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1940, the Supreme Court invoked this doctrine in the case of Cantwell v. Connecticut, ruling that the Free Exercise Clause is enforceable against state and local governments.

Because the Free Exercise of Religion Clause protects religiously motivated conduct as well as belief, the most important modern issue for the courts, as James L. Oberstar says, “has been whether the protection only runs against laws that target religion itself for restriction, or, more broadly, whether the clause sometimes requires an exemption from a generally applicable law.”

Legal scholar Eugene Volokh identifies four periods in modern American history that relate to religious freedom exemptions:

Pre 1960s — Statute-by-statute exemptions: Prior to the early 1960s, exemption for religious objections were only allowed if the statute provided an explicit exemption.

1963 to 1990 — Sherbert/Yoder era of Free Exercise Clause law: In the 1963 case Sherbert v. Verner the Court expressly adopted the constitutional exemption model, under which sincere religious objectors had a presumptive constitutional right to an exemption because of the Free Exercise clause. This decision was reaffirmed in the 1972 case, Wisconsin v. Yoder. During this period that Court used what it called “strict scrutiny” when the law imposed a “substantial burden” on people’s religious beliefs. Under this strict scrutiny, religious objectors were to be given an exemption, unless denying the exemption was the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest. But during this period, as Volokh notes, “The government usually won, and religious objectors won only rarely.”

1990-1993 — Return to statute-by-statute exemptions: In Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court returned to the statute-by-statute exemption regime, and rejected the constitutional exemption regime.

1993-Present — Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) era: In 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which gave religious objectors a statutory presumptive entitlement to exemption from generally applicable laws subject to strict scrutiny. (To pass strict scrutiny, the legislature must have passed the law to further a “compelling governmental interest,” and must have narrowly tailored the law to achieve that interest.)

According to the text of the law, the purposes of the RFRA are:

1. to restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963) and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972) and to guarantee its application in all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened; and

2. to provide a claim or defense to persons whose religious exercise is substantially burdened by government.

RFRA was intended to apply to all branches of government, and both to federal and state law. But in 1997 in the case of City of Boerne v. Flores, the Supreme Court ruled the RFRA exceeded federal power when applied to state laws. In response to this ruling, some individual states passed state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that apply to state governments and local municipalities. This is the reason many of the most hotly disputed religious liberty issues are now at the state and local level rather than at the federal level.

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