To achieve a good marriage, God’s plan will give you good directions

One of my wife Terrie’s favorite travel stories took place well before GPS units and smartphones were around. We were visiting New York City with another couple and had rented a car. The ladies were sitting in the back seat and the men in the front, with me driving. We were headed to a meeting and enjoying the iconic landmarks along the way.

When we noticed we were seeing the same landmarks multiple times, it became apparent that we didn’t know the way. Finally, after several pointed hints from the back seat, I pulled in to a gas station to ask for directions.

We two men talked to someone outside pumping gas. The ladies could see from our informant’s gestures that he felt confident as he gave directions, and they could see us nodding as we listened.

We got back in the car, however, and my friend and I asked each other in unison, “What did he say?” As it turned out, the man who gave us directions didn’t know much English. Neither of us wanted to say that we couldn’t understand, so instead, we both nodded along, assuming the other really did understand.

That scenario is a picture of so many couples in our culture. When it comes to marriage, couples often know they are not where they want to be – and nowhere near where they dreamed that marriage would take them. But when they look for help, they get input from sources who give garbled directions and mixed messages.

Our culture is, at best, confused on the meaning and significance of marriage and relationships. It’s amazing to me, for instance, that in the same month our culture praised the late Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who objectified women, we condemned film producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has been accused by more than 90 women of sexual assault or harassment and is being investigated by police in New York, California and Britain.

In reality, the stories of both men are many shades of deplorable and tragic. But to add insult to injury, recall that several months previous the “celebrity story” dominating the news was how ridiculous it was for Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to have lunch alone with a woman other than his wife.

Apparently, objectifying women is OK, taking advantage of them is bad (as long as it’s in real life and not in a movie you pay to watch), but setting personal guidelines to protect the sanctity of your own marriage is also bad.

Hollywood, media and our culture provide conflicting directions. And couples who base their relationship on these sources are sure to become confused. We simply can’t follow a sloppy map and be surprised when it leads us to a different destination than we wanted to go.

At some point, you have to wonder. What was so bad about God’s plan for marriage? God created marriage to be awesome. In the actual words of Genesis, he made it “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

And in the very first wedding ceremony of human history, God gave specific, not-difficult-to-understand directions for marriage: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:18–24). This passage is so significant that Jesus quoted from it and the apostle Paul referenced it. The directions it gives for marriage are simple, and you can remember them with three rhyming words—leave, cleave and weave.

Leave: When a couple begins a marriage, they are establishing a new identity together. And that necessitates  leaving previous problems, identities and hang-ups behind – both physically and emotionally. This doesn’t mean that the bride and groom have lost their personal identities. It simply means they are leaving their previous family units and their identities as separate from each other to create a new home in which they are inseparably joined.

Cleave: God designed marriage to be a relationship where partners cleave to one another – like glue, they are united. To cleave to one another with total acceptance and unconditional love for each another. The world believes that couples who stay married 50, 60 and 70 years must have been perfect for each other – that their success is rooted in the fact that they were two lucky people who found their soul mates and that the rest of us mortals are foolish to insist on cleaving to one another during times of pain or difficulty.

The world is wrong. Marriage, as God designed it, carries a commitment to cleave – to hold onto your spouse. Obviously, there are times when one spouse makes wrong decisions and walks away from an innocent party. But when two people focus on the same person – the Lord Jesus – they also draw close to one another and gain strength to keep their commitment to each other.

Weave: In one sense, becoming “one flesh” refers to physical intimacy. But in a larger sense, this is where the real work of marriage comes in. It is the intertwining of lives that happens over time. Marital intimacy is a gift of God, the physical celebration of oneness and unity. But the weaving of two lives together is more than physical. It takes place through daily decisions to pursue your spouse’s heart, to draw near to each other in acceptance, to entwine your lives around each other.

Every journey needs a map. And when it comes to marriage, the truth is, your source of directions matters. A couple that follows Hollywood’s map should not be surprised when they have a Hollywood-typical marriage – outwardly glamorous, but inwardly hollow.

What better map to follow than from the originator of marriage? When you take two people who are committed to one another and are daily drawing nearer to the Lord, there is an ongoing pattern of growth. This isn’t the result of one day, but of habits carried out day after day as together they walk through life and strengthen their relationship.

When it comes to the journey of marriage, none of us has “arrived.” It’s a lifelong journey that includes detours, bumps, mistakes and growth. But when you are following the Lord and his directions for marriage, it really is an awesome journey.

Dr. Paul Chappell is the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church and the president of West Coast Baptist College in Southern California. He is releasing a new book on marriage this fall titled Are We There Yet? Follow him on Twitter @PaulChappell and find him on Facebook.

Our culture is experiencing a hostile takeover. We must stop rejecting God if we ever want it to end

The recent Texas church shooting, the terrorist driving a truck through a crowd in New York City, and the Las Vegas massacre may seem shocking – but to anyone who has been paying attention, they should not.

Our culture is undergoing a hostile takeover. American society used to be governed by Judeo-Christian do-unto-others morals. But we have drifted (been pushed, really) into a hedonistic YOLO (You Only Live Once) cultural morass. The upshot of this is a distinct lack of respect for human life in general, as well as a pervasive, insidious obsession with self.

This is the “me” generation, the “selfie” culture, the “entitlement” mentality. And what is entitlement, except the narcissistic assumption of deserving and demanding what is not earned?

Our cultural crisis is exhibited by egotistic multimillionaires demonstrating on football fields against the police instead of seeking solutions to rampant inner-city violence; coddled young people demanding free birth control and socialized health care; and even the major media ignoring the corruption trial of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

No amount of self-love can fill the God-shaped hole in someone’s heart. We are created and called to love each other, and no self-absorbed spa treatment or Instagram post can supplant our innate yearning for love from God.

Another example of the crisis is the lack of attention the mainstream media are paying to the Clintons’ collusion to sell Russia 20 percent of U.S. uranium.

We’ve replaced our moral imperative to do what’s right with a personal obsession of what’s in it for ME?

But no amount of self-love can fill the God-shaped hole in someone’s heart. We are created and called to love each other, and no self-absorbed spa treatment or Instagram post can supplant our innate yearning for love from God.

The spirit of our time is gradually revealing in our culture a subversive, resolute, and increasing hatred toward God and Christianity, and an irresistible temptation toward evil that betrays man’s innate desire for power: a longing to be God.

The Harvey Weinsteins of the world (and they are myriad, both in Hollywood and out) seek to force others to do their will, much like they envision a capricious God would be, if they believed in such a being.

It is much easier, however, to deny God than to acknowledge him. God, being good, condemns evil-doers. So, like a child throwing a tantrum in a toy store, some people must deny the existence of God and his inherent goodness, and lord their power over weaker people. “I can make you watch me shower.”

Society, still trading in our inherited moral capital, might verbally condemn the behavior. But that’s just lip-service, because we’ve succumbed to the YOLO moral relativism and forgotten our metric for right and wrong.

“I forbid you to see me as a sex object,” screamed the gal in the pink hat! And those who claim they wanted to expose the bully – and they all say that now – confess they were too afraid of retribution. Translation: I like my money and position more than I believe in right and wrong. “Followers” on social media beat morals every day of the week in YOLO land.

When a righteous dad wanted to expose a high-powered elitist climbing in bed with youngsters, the Hollywood leftists and atheists sided with the pedophile over the conservative. Status is more important than virtue in YOLO land.

The growing YOLO culture seeks to silence the stalwart dissent of facts. Feelings are more important than truth in YOLO land.

Threatened by disagreement and privilege, yelling triumphs over logic. The YOLO culture seeks not content of character, but equality of outcome. Hatred is so much easier than forgiveness.

Self-destructive loathing and jealousy stems from the hypocrisy that started in kindergarten, when children are taught: You are an accident of nature, and survival of the fittest is the law of the land. Now, don’t bully.

And so, they distrust the dark abyss of irreligion, even as they embrace it.

Attacks against the only one who preached forgiveness and grace, goodness and love – and any who support him – will increase: He challenges the YOLO worldview taught in public school.

As it becomes more and more costly to be an adherent of Christianity, with stories of the persecution of bakers, florists, teachers, and T-shirt makers splashing across newspapers every day, the truth gathers defenders.

Though meant to intimidate us, these stories do the opposite. They galvanize Christians to stand firm in the light of understanding, and the peace that surpasses it.

The people who still trade in the Judeo-Christian ethic of “love one another” and “life has value” are not called simply to defend their position, but to fight for it, before the overwhelming tide of YOLO selfishness inundates us with the intolerance and bigotry integral to the religion of self.

The YOLO culture divides people against the each other.

To survive and prosper as a nation, we must reaffirm our Judeo-Christian heritage, indivisible, under God. Because if you only live once, it’s survival of the fittest, and it’s all about you, then laws are meaningless.

A recovering international fashion model who adores shoes, Sam Sorbo produced the film “Let There Be Light,” opening October 27th.

Kari Jobe: Jesus is ‘the answer’ to healing the nation

Kari Jobe had a dream.

Jobe, a Christian worship leader, was on tour with other worship artists last year when she had a dream about healing the nation.

“Jesus really is the answer,” she said. “I know people say that a lot, but it really is the truth. And the simplicity of the cross. Sometimes people try to make it so complex or that it’s about these rules and regulations, but it’s not. It’s about a relationship with Jesus.”

The singer-songwriter known for “Forever” and “I Am Not Alone” has been singing on a yearlong tour, leading worship in cities across the United States.

Jobe talked with Fox News about her song “Heal Our Land” before stepping onstage at the Playstation Theater in the heart of Times Square.

“I had this dream on the tour that it was raining inside this church,” she said.

“It was just like a pure water all over the floor of this church that was just like washing the floor, but it was like pure and clean. It wasn’t murky and dirty like you would imagine,” she said.

“When I woke up, it just felt prophetic,” Jobe said, adding the dream felt very intentional from the Lord and it was only confirmed after she discussed it with other worship leaders at the time.

“It just felt like God was trying to say, as a reminder, that he wants to come back for a pure and spotless bride,” she said referring to Jesus’ relationship with the church in the New Testament. “It’s his heart to come back for us, but we’re not there yet.”

Jobe wrote the worship song with her friend, singer-songwriter Brooke Ligertwood.

“I told her I wanted to write something that has to do with the church, the bride of Christ getting back to where we need to be. You know, like, what’s going on in the world around us – what could we be praying, what could the church be singing that would really help.”

The song’s bridge is based on the scripture from 2 Chronicles 7:14, a verse that has been invoked by many Christian leaders for national prayer gatherings and other revival events.

The verse reads, “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Jobe said, “The rest of the song is really just a prayer for the church to be singing, to have a pure heart, to be unified, not to be divided, not be against anything but only for what God wants us to be doing,” she said.

She said the response has been really powerful.

“I feel like when we go into it every night, people just sing it at the top of their lungs,” the worship leader said. “I think it’s just one of those songs that people just connect to because there are so many unknowns right now, and so much fear people are dealing with, and with what’s going on in our nation.”

Ultimately, Jobe believes our land can only be healed by God and she hopes to continue to bring more people into a deeper relationship with Christ through her music and through the rest of The Garden Tour, which ends in December.

“What’s really special is this tour has been almost like we’re bringing buckets of water to people, and just helping them feel refreshed, and feel like, ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t have to do this by myself, but God is for me,’ and that they’re being reminded of the power of faith and the power of prayer,” she said.

“That God is moved by faith. So a song like ‘Heal Our Land,’ and declaring these things of God we pray, we humble ourselves, we seek your face. God said that if we would do that, He would heal our land, and I think they’re experiencing that on these nights of worship.”

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for FoxNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

Meeting Mother Teresa: I’ll never forget what I saw in her face

Paul Murray

Editor’s note: The following column is excerpted from “I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta—A Secret Revealed” by Paul Murray.

I had my first glimpse of Mother Teresa more than thirty years ago. The place where we met was an unexpected place: not in the streets of Calcutta among the poorest of the poor, not in a hospice for the dying, or in an orphanage for small children, but in a normal-sized university classroom in Rome.

Like almost everyone else in the world, at that time, I had heard stories about her great goodness and love for the poor. But nothing could have prepared me for the impact she made on me at that first encounter.

She spoke for just over thirty minutes, beginning her talk with a prayer and ending with a prayer.

Together with my fellow students, I had listened, over the months, to many words being spoken in that particular classroom. But I had never realized that words of such simplicity and candour could so deeply penetrate the mind and heart.

It is almost impossible to describe the quality of Mother Teresa’s voice. Her words, when she spoke, were not the expression of thoughts merely, or even of convictions, but somehow the expression of her entire being.

She spoke slowly, her voice grave for the most part, and yet never mournful.  Once or twice she repeated a sentence or two from the New Testament, but her first words were about hunger: “Jesus has made the hunger of the poor His hunger and their thirst His thirst. He is that close to us. Will we turn away?”

Then she quoted from the First Letter of St John: “How can you say you love God whom you cannot see if you do not love your neighbour whom you can see?”

She spoke, for a few moments, of the extent of suffering in the world and of the great hardship which the poor have to endure. But she went on, at once, to say that perhaps the greatest hunger in the world, the most terrible anguish, was not physical poverty or deprivation. It was the anguish of not being wanted, of being forgotten or rejected, of having no one.

Three years later, on June 10, 1977, I met Mother Teresa again, in Cambridge, England, and this time I was able to speak with her for a few moments alone.

What struck me at once was something which has been remarked on many times over the years by those fortunate enough to meet Mother Teresa, and that is the radiant joy which shone in her face, a joy which, from moment to moment, seemed to illumine her every expression.

At the time I wondered if I had ever, in my whole life, met anyone so radiant.

Excerpted from “I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta—A Secret Revealed” by Paul Murray. Used by permission of Paraclete Press.

Copyright © 2008 by Paul Murray.

Mother Teresa’s words copyright © 2008 by Missionaries of Charity.

Paul Murray, O.P., is an Irish Dominican, a poet, and a professor in Rome at the University of St. Thomas, the “Angelicum.” He is the author of several books that have been published in Ireland, England and the United States including In the Grip of Light: The Dark and Bright Journey of Christian Contemplation and Scars: Essays, Poems and Meditations on Affliction; and four collections of poetry. He lives in Rome and is well known as a speaker throughout the United States.

I was an unwed teen and had to tell my pastor father. What happened next was an incredible shock

Pregnant and unwed teenager Maddi Runkles was the subject of countless news reports earlier this year after the administration at her private Christian high school refused to allow her to walk in its graduation ceremonies in order to “teach a lesson regarding her immorality.”

While I understand the school’s desire to teach their students lessons about the consequences of sin, I also think the events in Maddi’s life could have provided students with a lesson about grace — the grace that caused Jesus to tell a woman living in sin “neither do I condemn you — go and sin no more.”

I know something about this. You see, once upon a time, I was Maddi Runkles. I also became pregnant outside of marriage while barely out of my teen years.

Rebelliousness had set in and I skated in sin believing the big lie that there were more pleasures to be found in this world than in God.

Driven by fear I hid my pregnancy for five months, and I knew that the shame and guilt I carried would only amplify — plus usher in condemnation once others learned my secret. Was I up for this?

Like Maddi Runkles I was raised in a Christian home where we upheld Christian principles and embraced Biblical values. In fact my father was a pastor — and this further enhanced my anxiety as I struggled to tell my parents about my pregnancy. It weighed heavily on me, especially in knowing that another decision – a secret one to not have my baby could rid me of being shamed by others.

The day I finally mustered up the strength and courage and confided in my father, something extraordinary happened;

My father’s shoulders sagged and he hung his head. Momentarily we sat in silence, me holding my breath awaiting his reaction while wearing the weight of his certain disappointment and possible anger. Then there was the indescribable and overwhelming feeling of shame that washed over me in waves.

My father finally raised his head and looked at me with tears in his eyes. “Honey,” he said, “I am so disappointed.  I am.”

Now it was my turn to hang my head.

“And you have made poor choices which now have consequences,” he continued.

“It won’t be easy — and there will be struggles and a hard path ahead of you. But I love you —- and now I figure I have been given more to love.”

Wait, what?! My mouth was agape. Before I could respond my father got up from his chair and reached over and wrapped me in his arms and simply held me.

It was just what I needed and not anything I expected.

Tears ran down my face, “I am so sorry, dad.  I am so sorry!  Will you forgive me?”

“Of course.”

What I encountered was something I had never fully grasped before though I had been taught for years.

Grace.

I didn’t get what I deserved, but I certainly fully received what I had been taught.

Grace swept over me and unleashed its power connecting both with my head and and my heart.

The only way I can describe it is that grace is the gift of a big exhale. — Holding one’s breath and waiting for what most certainly should come to receiving a “get free pass” that one would absolutely not expect.

That grace moment propelled my life in a new direction.

I confessed my sins, I cleaned up my act, and I charted a new course fanned by the winds of grace and truth spoken in love.

My father was right, I did choose a hard path and there were struggles ahead, but when I look into my son’s beautiful eyes, I am so glad I made the right choice, after I made a wrong one.

Through the years, and because of grace, I have served many unwed teen moms and even incarcerated moms teaching them the lessons I have learned regarding truth and grace while spoken in love.

Here is one of my mottos, which that I have shared weekly with the incarcerated moms: A leopard cannot change its spots, but I assure you that a caterpillar can turn into a butterfly.

Grace has the power to change one within which unleashes the feeling of freedom and propels one in a positive direction. Not the opposite.

In our film, “Because of Grácia,” one of the characters, Bobbi Ryan, faces a test similar to the one that Maddi Runkles and I and millions of other young women have faced.

We also tell the story of another young woman, Gracia, who makes better choices.

In both cases, God is glorified in the end because grace and mercy triumph over death and destruction — and while our paths may be easier when we make the right choices, God is there to gently restore when we stray.

Publicly shaming Maddi Runkles and not allowing her to walk in her graduation ceremonies will not change anyone else for the better, just as having allowed her to participate in graduation ceremonies would not have likely prompted young girls to get pregnant.

Shame didn’t teach me. Grace did. And I didn’t learn grace by hearing about it, but by being the recipient of it.

Maddi’s life may be far more difficult than her classmates who will wait and do things in God’s proper time and order. But letting them walk together could have been a God-honoring moment that communicated grace, not license to sin and a reminder that grace doesn’t glorify sin, it simply covers it and glorifies God.

Angel Holscher Hatfield is executive producer of “Because of Gracia,” which releases in theaters nationwide on September 15, 2017.

How Natasha Owens used music to find God after father’s tragic death

Natasha Owens’ life changed in 60 seconds.

The singer’s father was cleaning his gun in 2010 when he missed a safety step and accidentally shot himself in the chest and died one minute later. The gun he had been using belonged to his brother who was murdered seven years prior.

Owens went into complete shock upon hearing the news of her father’s death.

“It was like I had punched the pause button to my life and I couldn’t quite get going again,” Owens told Fox News. “I went through shock and after the shock wore off, I downspiraled into a deep depression where I couldn’t get out of beds most days.”

The Texas native said she was “so angry at God” and questioned why He had taken her father’s life. So when her pastor asked her to be the church’s music minister, she practically scoffed at the offer.

“I was already going down a suicidal road,” she recalled. “It took years to dig myself out of the hole.”

Finally, on one hot Texas summer day, Owens was looking at her two sons and thought to herself, “You can’t die for looking back at what you lost, you have to live for what you have left.

“I remember smiling for the first time that day,” she told us. “I promised God that day that I would go wherever He wanted me to go and do whatever He needed me to do.”

It was then that Owens decided to pursue a career in music. She released her first album “I Made it Through” in 2013.

“The true mission of life, I feel, the purpose, or the reason why we’re made, is to help people along the way,” she said of her decision to make music.

She was inspired to release her second album, “We Will Rise” in 2017,” after realizing “when you make it through, that’s survival. But when you rise above, it then you thrive.”

The 41-year-old hopes her music will help others who are going through times of grief.

“Christianity and God [are] at the core and center of not only my life, but my family’s life,” she said. “I’m a Christian. I put that in every one of my songs. It’s our job to love, it’s not our job as Christians to judge.”

Faith & Fame is a regular column exploring how a strong belief system helps some performers navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.

You can find Sasha Savitsky on Twitter @SashaFB.

DNA discovery identifies living descendants of Biblical Canaanites

DNA research is shining new light on the Biblical Canaanite civilization, which existed thousands of years ago in the Middle East.

The ancient civilization, which created the first alphabet and is mentioned frequently in the Bible, has long fascinated historians. LiveScience reportsthat, because the Canaanites kept their records on papyrus, rather than clay, relatively little is known about them.

Now, however, scientists have found a genetic ‘trail’ back to the Canaanites’ ancient world.

EXPERTS HUNT FOR BIBLICAL TABERNACLE THAT HOUSED THE ARK OF THE COVENANT

By sequencing the genomes of five Canaanites that lived 4,000 years ago with genomes from 99 people living in modern day Lebanon, researchers identified a strong genetic link to the mysterious civilization.

The results surprised the scientists, whose work was supported by U.K. biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust.

“In light of the enormously complex history of this region in the last few millennia, it was quite surprising that over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites,” said Chris Tyler-Smith, senior group leader at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in a statement.

EXPERTS UNCOVER EVIDENCE OF ANCIENT JERUSALEM’S DESTRUCTION BY THE BABYLONIANS

In addition to the ancient Canaanite DNA, the analysis of genomes from the modern day Lebanese people also showed a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have come from conquests by Assyrians, Persians or Macedonians, according to the experts.

The researchers also discovered that the ancient Canaanites were a mixture of local people, who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period, and eastern migrants who arrived about 5,000 years ago. “Using ancient DNA we show for the first time who were (genetically) the ancient Canaanites, how they were related to other ancient populations and what was their fate,” explained Marc Haber, a genetic data expert at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in an email to Fox News. “Our work shows the power of genetics in filling gaps in human history when the historical records are absent or scarce.”

ARCHAEOLOGISTS UNEARTH 2,700-YEAR OLD RESERVOIR IN ISRAEL

Haber added that the results complement Biblical accounts of the Canaanites. While the Israelites are commanded to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, Judges 1 describes the survival of a number of Canaanite communities.

Canaanites once lived in what we now recognize as Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The remains of the five ancient Canaanites studied as part of the DNA research were recovered in the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon.

The research was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics on July 27.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Top Trump Cabinet officials take part in weekly Bible study class

Key members of President Trump’s Cabinet take part in weekly Bible study classes, according to a report by the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Regular attendees at the sessions include Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

CBN’S DAVID BRODY ON THE FAITH OF DONALD TRUMP

Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also attend when their schedule permits.

The sessions are led by Ralph Drollinger, a former NBA basketball player who turned to the ministry full-time after his injury-shortened career.

MEDIA RIDICULE PHOTO OF EVANGELICALS PRAYING OVER TRUMP

“It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life,” Drollinger told CBN of his pupils. “They are so teachable; they’re so noble; they’re so learned.”

Trump himself has a standing invitation to attend the sessions and receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching every week.

Drollinger believes that his Bible study is the first to be held for Cabinet members in at least 100 years.

“These are godly individuals that God has risen to a position of prominence in our culture,” he said. “I just praise God for them.”

Why I am bullish on Christianity (yes, you read that correctly)

NOW PLAYINGFilm documents author’s journey from atheist to pastor

When atheists claim there is no evidence for Christianity, I disagree.

When liberal theologians assert there are many paths to heaven, I object.

When young people say God isn’t relevant in the 21st century, I beg to differ.

When analysts predict the decline of the evangelical church, I roll my eyes.

Are my positions popular? Maybe not, but they flow out of convictions that have only grown stronger in the midst of the evolving religious landscape in America.

I’ve seen the surveys. I’m aware of the rise of the so-called “nones,” who profess no religious affiliation. And frankly, that doesn’t trouble me very much. Rather than claiming to be Christians, as many have done in years past, now these people are now willing to be more honest. Today it’s socially acceptable — in many places even desirable — to be a skeptic. “Atheist” is no longer considered such a derogatory term.

The truth is that America was never as much of a “Christian nation” as some historians wish it were. There was a veneer of faith over the land. “Respectable” people went to church. Now they don’t pretend anymore. That’s okay.

I was a scoffer once myself, before spiritual skepticism became trendy.  As a law-trained journalist at the Chicago Tribune, I didn’t have any patience for mythology, superstition, or make-believe. “Just give me the facts” was my motto.

My wife was agnostic. Then one day, through the influence of a friend and a church, she met Jesus. The first word to come into my mind: divorce. As portrayed in The Case for Christ, the forthcoming movie based on our story, I set out to disprove her beliefs and rescue her from the cult of Christianity.

Oops. After nearly two years, the scales tipped. Having encountered the persuasive evidence for Christianity, I concluded it would have required more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a believer.

I ended up taking a 60 percent pay cut to leave my journalism career and become a pastor. For 30 years now, I’ve watched the world from the vantage point of a pulpit. What’s the view from there?

More and more people growing weary of our materialistic and celebrity-saturated culture and instead finding exhilaration in Jesus. The proliferation of ministries that help the hurting, feed the hungry, and replace despair with hope. Addicts rescued. Broken families put back together. Racial reconciliation. Selflessness displacing self-interest. While some churches are closing, many of those with a relevant and biblically faithful message aren’t just growing — they’re burgeoning.

In short, I’m bullish on Christianity. We’re entering a golden era of Christian “apologetics,” where scholars are sharing compelling arguments and evidence for the faith.

At the same time, our shrinking world has exposed more people to the stark differences between the world’s religions, and that is destroying the once-popular notion that they all teach basically the same thing or have similar grounding in truth.

I see throngs of young people electrified by their faith. Give me a hundred of them versus ten thousand with a cultural Christianity that doesn’t revolutionize their character or values.

Let me share a little secret. In our increasingly chaotic world, the Christian message of truth and grace continues to resonate among people who are tired of the shifting sands of post-modern relativism.

No doubt about it: count me among those who are optimistic about the future of the church in America.

Lee Strobel is author of the best-seller The Case for Christ, which releases as a motion picture on April 7.

Jamie Lynn Spears: ‘God put me in my place’ after daughter’s accident

NOW PLAYINGJamie Lynn Spears Says Tabloid Scrutiny Was ‘So Petty’

Jamie Lynn Spears says her daughter’s accident has inspired her to work harder on her music career.

The singer turned 26 on Tuesday and celebrated with a lengthy Instagram post that included a photo of a Psalm.

“I’m not one to preach, and I’m no priest, but God’s timing is no coincidence,” she wrote alongside the image. “I hate seeing, much less, reading someone’s long post, but here I go: Music, and my career [has] always been a big passion in my life, as well as to create a future that my family could be proud of. I have been working on my music for almost a decade now, and I have had many great successes as an artist/writer, but I was always wondering, how long I would have to WAIT for my big break? Wow, did God put me in my place…”

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Spears then went into detail about her emotions after her 8-year-old daughter was unconscious for several days in February following an accident when an all-terrain vehicle she was driving fell into a pond in Louisiana. Maddie Spears was submerged in the vehicle and trapped by her seatbelt until rescuers were able to free her.

“Time doesn’t matter, and seems to blur together when you’re waiting for your daughter to wake up, and a day could be a week, and you wouldn’t notice, because you’re fighting for what you love. For obvious reasons, I put everything with my work life on hold, till I knew my little girl was more [than OK].”

She said the scary incident opened her eyes.

“Now, more [than] ever, I realize how important it is to only put your time into things that matter, and I can’t wait to get back to my music. Now, that my baby girl is better- I can’t wait to make her proud. She is my everything. I want to thank you all for your patience, and prayers as we worked through this hard time.”

She concluded by telling her fans, “Music to come… 26 is gonna be a good year.”