Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Shocking Truth About How Americans View the Bible

To commemorate American Bible Society’s 200th anniversary, the organization unveiled The Bible in America, a joint effort with Barna Group providing an in-depth review of its six years of research on behaviors and beliefs about the Bible from American Bible Society’s annual State of the Bible report. While many Americans still value the Bible, the number of skeptics is rising. The current reality is viewed by American Bible Society as an opportunity to develop new strategies for helping people overcome barriers to engagement with the Bible.

“As American Bible Society celebrates its 200th anniversary, we are spending much more time looking ahead than revisiting the past,”said Andrew Hood, director of communications for American Bible Society. “The Bible in America research provides valuable insights into how people are interacting with the Bible—and why they are not.”

Over the past six years, a majority of Americans, an average of 62 percent, have expressed a desire to read the Bible more. The Bible in America points to several other positive trends that showcase Americans’ high regard for the Bible:

  • A two-thirds majority of adults believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know in order to live a meaningful life.
  • Two-thirds of adults hold an orthodox view of the Bible, believing it is the actual or inspired Word of God.
  • Forty-four percent of Americans read the Bible at least once a month.
    On average, eight out of 10 Americans consider the Bible to be sacred literature or a holy book.
  • Most Americans, 64 percent, believe the Bible has more influence on humanity than any other text according to the 2016 State of the Bible data.

In contrast to trends about the Bible’s value, the number of Bible skeptics has increased to 22 percent in 2016, surpassing the number of Bible engaged people (now at 17 percent). Two key markers reveal how skepticism has risen and gained a stronger cultural foothold in America. These include declines in the following:

  • American adults who believe the Bible is sacred literature (86 percent in 2011; 80 percent in 2016).
  • Those who say the Bible is sufficient as a guide for meaningful living (77 percent in 2011; 67 percent in 2016).

Millennials in particular are driving these declines as the age group with the most respondents saying there were no books they considered sacred. Christian millennials, however, are very different than their non-Christian counterparts when it comes to Bible attitudes and behaviors.

  • Christian millennials share similar beliefs and engage the Bible much the same as older generations.
  • 69 percent believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to know to live a meaningful life.
  • 63 percent would describe the Bible as “fact.”
  • Non-Christian millennials are the most likely to be Bible skeptics and engage with the Bible the least.
  • 62 percent have never read the Bible.
  • 30 percent said the Bible is a useful book of moral teachings.

The percentage of American adults as a whole considered Bible friendly has declined (from 45 percent in 2011 to 37 percent in 2016), while the percentage of those identified as Bible neutral has stayed relatively the same (from 25 percent to 24 percent). In addition, the percentage of Americans who said there were no books they considered sacred doubled (from 7 to 14 percent).

“Looking at modern-day America, we see a country moving away—for decades now—from the foundational, biblical values so cherished by those who came before us,” said Roy Peterson, president and CEO of American Bible Society. “As we work together to address the skepticism of our day, now is our time to renew hope in the promises of God’s Word, to open the healing words of Scripture as people are battling extreme violence, poverty and oppression.”

Among other strategies, the ministry is leveraging technology to reach Americans wherever they are by using social media to deliver Scripture. It is also lending support to the development of a Bible-based online game for teens and administering the top-level domain .Bible.

“American Bible Society has a 10-year goal of seeing 100 million people in the U.S. regularly engaging with Scripture,” said Hood. “Our hope is that as more Americans recognize the value of reading the Bible and make time to engage with God’s Word, they will begin to see the transformation it can bring in their lives.”

For more information about The Bible in America (including additional demographic data) and the latest State of the Bible research,visit

Exercise Cuts the Risk for 13 Cancers

Higher levels of leisure-time physical activity are associated with a significantly lower risk of developing a number of cancers, the results of a pooled analysis of data from more than a million Europeans and Americans reveal.

The findings, published online May 16 in JAMA Internal Medicine, indicate that higher levels of physical activity reduced the risk of developing cancer in 13 of the 26 cancers reviewed.

For that group of 13 cancers, the risk reduction ranged from 10% to 42%.

The affected cancers were esophageal adenocarcinoma (hazard ratio [HR], 0.58), liver cancer (HR, 0.73), lung cancer (HR, 0.74), kidney cancer (HR, 0.77), gastric cardia cancer (HR, 0.78), endometrial cancer (HR, 0.79), myeloid leukemia (HR, 0.80), myeloma (HR, 0.83), colon cancer (HR, 0.84), head and neck cancer (HR, 0.85), rectal cancer (HR, 0.87), bladder cancer (HR, 0.87), and breast cancer (HR, 0.90).

The cancers with risk not positively affected by physical activity included those of the prostate and melanoma.

“These findings support promoting activity as a key component of population-wide cancer prevention and control efforts,” say the researchers.

In an accompanying editorial, Marilie D. Gammon, PhD, Gillings School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described the findings as “exciting,” because they “underscore the importance of leisure-time physical activity as a potential risk-reduction strategy to decrease the cancer burden in the United States and abroad.”

She emphasizes the need for further research into the underlying mechanisms for the association between physical activity and cancer and into the critical timing of exposure to exercise, as well as the types and amounts of activity that have the most impact.

Lead researcher Steven C. Moore, PhD, MPH, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, told Medscape Medical News that three mechanisms have been proposed to relate physical activity to lower cancer risk.

The first, he explained, is via sex hormones. Previous studies have shown, for example, that estrogens occur in lower levels in physically active women. “The second hypothesis is related to insulin, which is that active people have lower levels of insulin, and insulin itself maybe a cancer risk factor,” he said.

The third is connected to inflammation, with studies indicating that exercise is linked to lower levels of inflammatory markers, and that inflammation “is a general cancer risk factor.”

Although it appears from the current findings that the relationship between physical activity and cancer risk is strongest for gastroesophageal and hematologic cancers, it was not possible to determine which of the hypotheses most lends itself to explaining the association.

Dr Moore said: “It’s hard to pin it down exactly, because in the ideal study, you would want to have physical activity as well as those inflammatory factors measured and the cancer outcome, and nobody’s done that study.”

The findings nevertheless strengthen recommendations on minimum activity levels, because the message that exercise reduces cancer risk can be added to that for cardiovascular disease.

Dr Moore noted: “In terms of getting people to be active, it depends on the number of communities and the number of constituencies that are invested in pushing it as a public health message.”

For him, the study “at least in part aligns the evidence for cancer with the evidence for heart disease.”

Dr Moore said: “In other words, there’s enough evidence now to suggest that physical activity may be an important part of cancer prevention and control messages, so that it can be pushed within that research community, and not just within that research community but perhaps also that advocacy community.”

For the analysis, the researchers pooled data from 12 prospective cohorts from Europe and the United States that included self-reported physical activity, yielding a total of 1.44 million individuals (median age, 59 years).

Because different measures of physical activity were used across the studies, the team converted activity to metabolic equivalents (METs), with exercise of moderate intensity defined as 3 or more METs. The median activity level was the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity, or the equivalent combination.

Higher activity levels of leisure-time physical activity were associated with younger age, more education, lower body mass index (BMI), and lower likelihood of being a current smoker.

During a median follow-up of 11 years, there were 186,932 incident cases of cancer.

The researchers found that higher levels of physical activity were associated with an increased risk for prostate cancer (hazard ratio [HR], 1.05) and malignant melanoma (HR, 1.27). Further analysis showed that the latter was statistically significant only in US regions where there are higher levels of solar ultraviolet radiation (HR, 1.26).

There were suggestions of associations between increased physical activity and reduced risk for gallbladder cancer, small intestine cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

It was estimated that physical activity was associated with an overall 7% reduction in the risk of developing cancer (HR, 0.93).

Although BMI reduced the association for several cancers, 10 of the inverse associations remained significant after adjustment. Smoking modified the association only for lung cancer.

Editorialist Dr Gammon told Medscape Medical News that the pooled analysis has strengthened the evidence for an association between physical activity and some of the rarer cancers. “It’s really nice to be able to put it all together, because each of the individual studies were underpowered,” she said.

She believes that the intensity and duration of physical activity needed to lower cancer risk is likely to be tumor specific. “For instance, it was so much easier for us to figure out that physical activity was related to colon cancer, but it was much, much harder to do it with breast, and I’m thinking it’s possible that it could be related to dose and intensity.”

She added: “I think we’re going to need to do more individual type studies to try to really nail that down better, but right now, I would say the best evidence is what the CDC is recommending.”

Dr Gammon concluded that it is “really hopeful” to have the possibility of “such a good strategy to be able to reduce the risk of developing cancers, because some of the cancers on that list are very rare and very deadly.”

The study was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the National Institutes of Health. The work reflected in the editorial was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health. The authorsand editorialists have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

JAMA Intern Med. Published online May 16, 2016.

With Denomination on the Edge of Apostasy, Methodist Pastor Makes Big LGBT Push

You remember Frank Schaefer, the Methodist pastor whose ministerial credentials were yanked in 2013 after he presided over his son’s gay wedding.

Now he’s back with a vengeance, even as the Methodist church continues to debate over same-sex marriage. In May, 15 United Methodist clergy candidates came out as “lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer” members of the New York Conference.

“While I understand that I risk my standing in The United Methodist Church with this public step, I do so following the way of Jesus,” said Lea Matthews, director of ministry operations at St. Paul and St. Andrew, who will be commissioned as a deacon in June. “I do not walk this path alone. I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, made up of my fellow signers, our brave allies in this conference and my church family at SPSA, who offer prayerful support. I sign in solidarity with those on the letter, and acknowledge that there are many others across the denomination who are not as fortunate as we are here in the New York Annual Conference.”

In an open letter released May 3, two boards of ordained ministry challenged others to allow many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people to answer “their call into ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church.” Rev. Charles A. Parker for Baltimore-Washington and the Rev. William B. Pfohl for the New York Conference jointly signed the letter.

The next nine days will see the Methodists make some vital decisions about where the denomination goes from here on hot-button issues. Schaefer is fueling the fire with a new documentary called An Act of Love. Here’s part of this story:

“At the beginning of his career, Schaefer had no intention of getting involved in the controversy over gay marriage in the church. However, several years into Frank’s ministry at a small church in Pennsylvania, his eldest son, Tim, began to quietly struggle with his sexual orientation. Amid fear of rejection from his church and his family, Tim became withdrawn and teetered on the verge of suicide.

“Once the Schaefers assured their son that they accepted and loved him regardless of his sexual orientation, a new fear arose—what would Frank’s congregation in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, think? Tim never felt comfortable in Lebanon, so he moved to Boston for college in an effort to live in a more progressive area. It was in Boston where he met his future husband. After college, they were married in a private service in Massachusetts, where Frank officiated. The Schaefers knew that having Frank officiate Tim’s wedding was a risk to his career, but they figured, since it was a private family affair, that it wouldn’t ruffle any feathers.”

Although Schaefer was defrocked, he started a six-month speaking tour in churches and landed on several national TV shows. An Act of Love follows Schaefer and his family on that journey to change the Methodist church’s long stand for traditional marriage from the inside out. It’s called propaganda, folks, that’s working to destroy the third-largest denomination in the United States.

If we’re going to condone the practice of homosexuality, what’s stopping us from allowing pastors to commit adultery without rebuke? Why not let drunken revilers lead kids church? Why not give greedy thieves and extortioners the responsibility for church finances? The point is, practicing homosexuality is not the only sin the Bible calls out in this verse, as so many gay rights activists like to stress. So why does the sinful practice of homosexuality, then, get special protection?

If we’re going to let our pastors engage in homosexuality at will, condone it and have the audacity to declare that it doesn’t contradict God’s will, what’s preventing us from throwing the Ten Commandments out of the window? Why bother to have natural laws against crime, either? What’s the point? The point is we all have to answer to God.

Too many Christians are lovers of themselves instead of lovers of the truth. A strong delusion is sweeping over the land—a tsunami of perversion is rising—and some in the church are falling into its trap. Our response is clear: Continue to speak the truth in love, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, and refuse to compromise with an anti-Christ agenda. Always keep in mind, a little leaven leavens the whole lump (Gal. 5:9).

The urgency that’s in my heart is painful at this point. People who started out loving God with all their hearts, all their minds, all their souls and all their strength are giving into seducing spirits. Practicing sinners, in clear defiance of God’s Word, are leading churches in the name of Jesus. We need to pray. We need to make intercession like never before. Lives depend on it. Christians are falling away at a rapid clip. We can’t just stand by and point fingers of disdain and watch. Join me in crying out that a wave of repentance will sweep the church—and the nation. Just pray.

Jennifer LeClaire


4 Steps to Giving a Death Blow to Your Nagging Sins

“Here are four strategies for maintaining vigilance in the fight.”

The Bible portrays sin as a powerful, ever-vigilant enemy. Sin deceives (Genesis 3:13), desires (Genesis 4:7), destroys (Genesis 6:7). Even forgiven sin within the Christian is powerfully active, waging war (Romans 7:23), lusting (Galatians 5:17), enticing (James 1:14), entangling (Hebrews 12:1).

Many Christians struggle with “nagging sins”—those entrenched, persistent, difficult-to-dislodge sins that continually entangle us in our efforts to follow Christ. Sometimes we struggle for decades, with bouts of backsliding and despair recurring. Most godly Christians, who have made true progress in their pursuit of holiness, can sing with feeling “prone to wander, Lord I feel it,” or share the lament of Augustine: “I have learned to love you too late!”

The gospel gives us hope that all sin, even nagging sins, can be both forgiven and subdued. But because sin has such persistence and power, we must be vigilant in our struggle against it. As John Owen puts it, “If sin be subtle, watchful, strong and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish … can we expect a comfortable event?”

Here are four strategies for maintaining vigilance in the fight, drawn from John Owen, and particularly in relation to a nagging, persistent sin—that kind that keeps on tripping us up and entangling us in its grip.

1. Hate it.

We are accustomed to using the gospel to relieve the guilt of our sin. But sometimes—especially in the case of persistent, nagging sins—we should use the gospel first to aggravate our guilt. John Owen puts this challenge quite vividly:

Bring thy lust to the gospel, not for relief, but for further conviction of its guilt. Look on him whom thou hast pierced, and be in bitterness. Say to thy soul, “What have I done? What love, what mercy, what blood, what grace, have I despised and trampled on! … Have I obtained a view of God’s fatherly countenance that I might behold his face and provoke him to his face?”

If we do not feel the magnitude of our sin, if we are not gripped by its stench and grossness, if we pass over it lightly with glib affirmations of grace—we will probably never get around to the serious vigilance required for killing it. Truly subduing it requires properly grieving it.

This is particularly so with nagging sins. Nagging sins are those we are most likely to become numb to, and therefore we have to work extra hard to continually re-sensitize our consciences to them in light of the gospel, saying things like:

• This impatience is part of what Christ had to bear on the cross.

• This worldly ambition would lead me to hell, but for the grace of God.

• This lingering resentment grieves the Holy Spirit within me.

Often this means really slowing down and really examining our hearts. In a lesser-known passage in his Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, reflecting on the distinction between enjoyment and contemplation, observes that “the surest means of disarming an anger or a lust (is) to turn your attention from the girl or the insult and start examining the passion itself.” Defeating nagging sins often requires this uncomfortable, honest reflection and acknowledgement on what the sin is doing within us.

Nagging sins can survive our annoyance and mild dislike. Only hatred will fuel the needed effort.

2. Starve it.

In one of my favorite films, a man is diagnosed with schizophrenia and told that several of his lifelong friends are actually not real. He genuinely misses talking to them, but knows he must stamp out all delusions in order to move toward health. So he simply chooses to ignore them, calling it a “diet of the mind”—and as he does, they gradually recede in their influence over him. Even at the end of his life, he still sees the delusions, but they have lost their destructive power over him.

There is a similar principle at work in our struggle against sin—the more we indulge in it, the more of a grip it gains over us (even while we understand that grip less and less). But, as with any addiction or animal, the less we feed it, the weaker it becomes. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Choose not to acknowledge your sinful desires—starve them of your affections and your attention, and they grow weaker.

One of the most important principles involved in this starvation process is to act quickly: Don’t let sin get even the smallest step. Don’t say, “I will give in this much, but not that much.” That never works. As John Owen puts it: “Dost thou find thy corruption to begin to entangle thy thoughts? Rise up with all thy strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at.”

3. Corner it.

Sin, like any other enemy, thrives among its allies (unhappiness, exhaustion and discouragement are some that come to mind). To wage effective war against sin, therefore, we must deprive it of the opportunities and occasions it makes use of. John Owen is helpful once again:

Consider what ways, what companies, what opportunities, what studies, what businesses, what conditions, have at any time given, or do usually give, advantages to your distempers, and set yourself heedfully against them all. Men will do this with respect unto their bodily infirmities and distempers. The seasons, the diet, the air that have proved offensive shall be avoided. Are the things of the soul of less importance? Know that he that dares to dally with occasions of sin will dare to sin. He that will venture upon temptations unto wickedness will venture upon wickedness.

This means we need to study the particular triggers of sin in our lives. It could be a geographical location (like a bar if you’re a recovering alcoholic), but I find it’s more commonly emotions and unhealthy habits that we need to avoid. Lust is greatly weakened when it cannot appeal to fatigue, emotional need, loneliness and shame. It’s more difficult to succumb to envy when you’re soaking your heart in your heavenly inheritance. Sinful anger often melts away when you are spending time with exceptionally kind, forgiving people.

In short, an effective fight against a nagging sin will often involve thoughtful consideration to your sleep, exercise, diet, emotional life and relationships.

4. Overwhelm it.

In the gospel, God has given us the resources that we need to deal with nagging sins. Let me just mention three: patience, pardon and power. The gospel means that God has “perfect patience” (1 Timothy 1:16) for us even amidst our struggles with nagging sins. To truly kill a nagging sin, we need to know that God has not given up on us. Even when we have lost patience with ourselves, he is still there, like the Prodigal’s loving father, calling us back to obedience and joy.

The gospel also means that God pardons our nagging sins. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Only when we see our nagging sins through the gospel—as right now, before it is subdued, already forgiven in God’s sight—will we make true progress against them. As William Romaine wisely wrote, “no sin can be crucified either in heart or life unless it first be pardoned in conscience. … If it be not mortified in its guilt, it cannot be subdued in its power.”

Finally, the gospel means that God provides us with power, that we might overcome nagging sins (2 Timothy 1:7). His Spirit gives us strength beyond ourselves with which to fight, and his all-satisfying presence gives us the promise of a superior, lasting joy. However strong our nagging sins may feel, it is truly possible in Christ to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). As John Owen counsels us:

Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror. Yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.
Gavin Ortlund

Gavin Ortlund (@gavinortlund) is a husband, father, associate pastor at Sierra Madre Congregational Church, and PhD candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Memory as Ministry in the Age of Alzheimer’s

Biblical ministry is not limited to the ordained ministry. Based on the “priesthood of believers,” all Christians are called to minister.

Marketplace ministry, social justice and charitable work are examples of such ministries. But have you heard of a ministry called “memory?”

It appears that there is a legitimate ministry that can be called “remembering.” In this age of great concern about the increasing number of people being afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, which profoundly affects memory, I consider this a sobering revelation.

The Bible speaks much about God and man in relation to memory and remembrance. God remembers His covenant (Ex. 6:5). He does not remember our forgiven sins (Is. 43:25), but remembers righteous individuals—both men and women. Noah, Abraham and Hannah are examples.

We are told not to forget God’s dealings with us, but to remember them, and to pass on the memory to a new generation (Deut. 11:19). Israel was instructed not to forget that they were slaves in Egypt (Deut. 16: 12), and to remember the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8). The psalmist instructs us not to forget “all His benefits” (Ps. 34:2).

Memory is at the heart of Christian theology. The undisputed instruction of Jesus on the night in which He was betrayed was to “do this in remembrance of me.” The ordinances of the most independent faith groups are built on remembrance! Noticeably, theologian Henri Nouwen defined ministry as being a living reminder of Jesus.

Memory is a matter of great interest and special concern to Saint Paul. He tells us to remember Jesus (2 Tim. 2: 8). He instructs further: Remember the poor (Gal. 2:10); “Remember my chains,” (Col. 4:18). The author of Hebrews adds: “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3). “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you” (Heb. 13:7).

In Paul’s writings, the ministry of memory is strongly related to prayer. “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith” (1 Thess. 1:3). “I constantly remember you in my prayers” (2 Tim. 1:3). “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Phil. 1:3). “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:16). “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philem. 1:4).

What a powerful ministry! Anyone with the ability to remember can do this ministry. There are no geographical limitations! Words may not even be needed for this ministry. Believers of all nations, tribes and tongues can engage in this ministry of memory and remembrance, a ministry in which we connect our memory of each other to God.

The ministry of memory is not only about those who are living. Certainly, the leaders we are expected to remember according to Hebrews 13:7 are not all alive. Some have finished their course and have gone to be with the Lord. They don’t need our prayers, only our grateful memory.

As a person raised in a pastor’s home in South India, I remember people outside my family who have touched my life in profound ways. Some of them are alive, others have finished their race. A Hindu woman was forced to give up her eyes to follow Jesus. A retired teacher found time to teach me English hymns. Church members shared their modest means with their pastor’s kid. Preachers let me carry their Bibles. Classmates left an imprint on my life. The list is long.

A young cancer patient I visited three decades ago is also on my list. I was a chaplain at the City of Faith Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, then. The patient was a born-again Christian who had no family members to visit her. Her mother and grandmother had died from the same disease, her father was dead, and she had no siblings. She lived alone and kept her sickness a secret as long as she could, due to fear. According to the doctors, the prognosis was not good because by the time she came to the hospital, the disease had progressed significantly.

One day she asked me during a pastoral visit, “I have no family left. I don’t know how long I will live. Can I ask you for a favor?” Thinking that she would ask for some practical help, I said, “Of course, what can I do for you?” She asked, “Would you remember me once I am gone?” Moved by her unexpected request, I said, “Certainly. I will remember you.” She thanked me.

I have seen many answers to prayers. I have witnessed both instant and gradual healings, but this was not the case with the young cancer patient. She passed away the following night.

There are times when all you can give others is your prayers and your memory! Sometimes God answers the prayers immediately. Other times, the answers come slowly. In some cases, the answer is not what one expects. In any case, we must pray, and we must remember.

The threat of Alzheimer’s disease reminds us that memory is a gift. How wonderful it would be if all of us could use this gift as a means of ministry!

Thomson K. Mathew, D.Min., Ed.D., is professor of pastoral care and dean of the College of Theology and Ministry at Oral Roberts University, Tulsa, Oklahoma.