TRIALS & Scientists confirm Hebrews 12:4-11, that setback can, paradoxically, catapult people to becoming “well-trained” and “mature.”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  The author of Hebrews reminds us,

“In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.” – Hebrews 12:4-11 MSG

And secular researchers increasingly agree.

In the field of sports, these researchers discovered results that indicate the everyone-wins approach may not develop resilient athletes. Ian Leslie of the BBC summarizes (with traditional British spellings):

the sports scientists Dave Collins and Aine MacNamara criticised the approach of most talent development systems in sport, which put an emphasis on maximising support to young athletes and reducing stress. The authors argued that these well-funded and high-tech coaching systems were making life too easy for young athletes, who needed moments of challenge or trauma in order to develop resilience. It’s the rocky road, not the smoothed path, that leads to greatness.

Here is the cited research.

The rocky road to the top: why talent needs trauma. 

Collins D, et al. Sports Med. 2012. Collins D1, MacNamara A. Sports Med. 2012 Nov 1;42(11):907-14. doi: 10.2165/11635140-000000000-00000.


The increasingly well funded and high-tech world of talent development (TD) represents an important investment for most sports. Reflecting traditional concepts of challenge and focus, the vast majority of such systems expend a great deal of effort maximizing support to the young athletes and trying to counter the impact of naturally occurring life stressors. In this article, we suggest that much of this effort is misdirected; that, in fact, talented potential can often benefit from, or even need, a variety of challenges to facilitate eventual adult performance. Our argument is built on evidence that such challenges are more common in athletes who reach the top, together with a critical consideration of the modus operandi and impact of psychological/character-focused interventions such as mental toughness and resilience. In conclusion, we explore some implications for the design and conduct of optimum academies and TD environments.

We tend to under-estimate the power of setbacks.

Ian Leslie of the BBC continues, “… in general we tend to under-estimate the extent to which some kind of disadvantage or setback can, paradoxically, catapult people into higher achievement. Some people can turn the hurt and anger generated by a setback into a fierce will to succeed. By struggling against whatever forces they find pushing them down, they develop anti-gravity powers which lift them higher later on…

High achievers seem to find a way to perform a kind of mental alchemy, turning loss and disappointment into motivation. The flipside of this is that some who grow up with all their material needs met sometimes lack drive and direction as adults. That’s why some experts in talent development worry that children are not even being given the chance to experience setbacks.

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PERSECUTION & Let your enemies “bring out the best in you, not the worst.” Matt. 5:43-46 #TheMessageBible

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”

Matthew 5:43-47 MSG

RELIGION & Restrictions on Religion among the 25 Most Populous Countries, 2007-2013

By , Pew Research, 3/25/15.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids laws establishing religion or impeding the free exercise of religion. But that doesn’t mean governments in the U.S. – whether federal, state or local – do not place any restrictions on religious activity.

Indeed, according to a recent Pew Research Center study – the sixth annual report in a series – the U.S. has moderate levels of both restrictions on religion and social hostilities toward religious groups, ranking somewhere in the middle range of the nearly 200 countries analyzed in the report.

Restrictions on religion worldwide copy

For instance, the U.S. has more extensive restrictions and social hostilities than its northern neighbor, Canada, as well as many other countries in the Americas, according to the 2013 data. But it has a lower level of government restrictions than Mexico as well as some countries in Western Europe, including Italy and Germany.

At the same time, government restrictions on religion in the U.S. are nowhere near as extensive as those of countries such as China, Iran and Burma. Likewise, the U.S. has much lower levels of social hostilities to religion than countries like India, Pakistan and Nigeria…

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GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY & In China, a church-state showdown of biblical proportions

by Robert Marquand, Staff writer, CS Monitor, January 11, 2015.

Christianity is booming in China, propelling it toward becoming the world’s largest Christian nation. But as religion grows, it spurs a government crackdown.


A church member prays at Jiu’en Tang, a Christian church in Wenzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province. Didi Tang/AP

HANGZHOU, CHINA. There’s nothing secret about Chongyi Church, one of the largest in China. Its lighted steeple and giant cross penetrate the night sky of Hangzhou, the capital of coastal Zhejiang Province. Nearly everything at the church is conspicuously open: the front gate, the front door, the sanctuary, the people, the clergy. Chinese or not, you are welcome seven days a week. No layers of security guards or police exist. Walk right in. Join up. People are nice; they give you water, chat. Do you have spiritual needs? Visit their offices, 9 to 5.

For China, it is a stunning feeling. Most of the society exists behind closed doors and is tough, driven, material, hierarchical. The country values wealth, power, and secrecy – not to mention that both government and schools officially, at least, promote atheism.

Yet Chongyi looks and feels like any evangelical megachurch in Seattle or San Jose. There are big screens, speakers blaring upbeat music, coffee bars. The choir is a huge swaying wash of white and red robes. Chongyi seats 5,000 people and holds multiple services on Sunday.

“Some Sundays we are full,” says Zhou Lianmei, the pastor’s wife. “We also have 1,600 volunteers.”

While Christianity is waning in many parts of the world, in China it is growing rapidly – despite state strictures. The rise in evangelical Protestantism in particular, driven both by people’s spiritual yearnings and individual human needs in a collective society, is taking place in nearly every part of the nation.

Western visitors used to seeing empty sanctuaries in the United States or Europe can be dumbfounded by the Sunday gatherings held in convention center-size buildings where people line up for blocks to get in – one service after another. In Wenzhou, not far from Hangzhou, an estimated 1.2 million Protestants now exist in a city of 9 million people alone. (It is called “China’s Jerusalem.”) By one estimate, China will become the world’s largest Christian nation, at its current rate of growth, by 2030…

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PERSECUTION & A Good Measure? Thoughts on Analyzing the Persecuted Church

by KAREN ELLIS, Reformed African American Network, 11/16/14

Last week, a colleague asked for my thoughts on a recent study on how the persecution of Christians relates to church growth. The study compared the data of two unrelated studies from two separate and well-respected research organizations, Pew Research and Operation World, formed into a third study by an independent researcher.

The study asked, “Is there a correlation between the persecution of Christians and church growth?” The question is a fair one, as it’s commonly accepted that a correlation exists. The study concluded that “there is no strong correlation between the two.” That is, according to this study, there’s no perceptible evidence today that churches grow any more quickly under persecution than in places where there is religious freedom.

The conclusion that there is no strong correlation between persecution and church growth challenges centuries of Christian thought. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” has been a rallying cry for centuries , originally penned in A.D. 197 by the early church father Tertullian. Tertullian wrote in response to the church’s struggles at a specific time in its history, as false charges and deleterious actions were leveled against the Christians by the state government. In Chapter 50 of “The Apology of Tertullian for the Christians,” he writes:

“But pursue your course, excellent governors, and you will be more popular with the multitude if you sacrifice the Christians to their wishes. Crucify, torture, condemn, crush us. For the proof of our innocence is found in your injustice. It is on this account that God suffers us to suffer this. […] Yet no cruelty of yours, though each were to exceed the last in its exquisite refinement, profits you in the least, but forms rather an attraction to our sect. We spring up in greater numbers as often as we are mown down by you: the blood of the Christians is a ‘source of new life’ (in other translations, ‘a seed’).”

The narrative that a region under persecution is experiencing rapid growth is often based on anecdotal (or oral) reports, which can be time-consuming to gather and quantify. We place a measure of trust in anecdotal evidence due to both biblical accounts and historical documents that report the early church grew rapidly under persecution (Acts 8). These provide us with a model established by the early church that most Christians accept as historical fact, but does a model necessarily constitute a pattern? Due to the nature of the church itself, it’s difficult to tell.

I was curious to see how the original researchers defined the word “church” in the phrase, “church growth,” so I purchased the expanded research to find some definition. While the study gave definition to how persecution was measured, the word “church” remained undefined. Unfortunately, no links to original data were provided in the report.

That being said, is it possible to accurately measure a subjective spiritual phenomenon—such as the correlation of the growth of the church under persecution—with an objective diagnostic tool? In studying the persecuted church, quantitative studies have their limitations, and qualitative data (such as narrative reports) becomes valuable.

That Which is Unseen

This particular study doesn’t seem to account for the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church. The latter is far more elusive than the former, hidden from census takers. Statistical data rests on a measure of certainty with regard to indisputable facts; so while we may be able to make some general measurements, ultimately we cannot know with numeric exactitude how the Spirit of God is moving in churches, regions, cultures and individual hearts.

This reality makes it both difficult and risky to make declarative statements as to how persecution may or may not be affecting the church. The visible church is static and numerable; the invisible church is a fluid organism – both in regions where there is freedom, and in those where there is none. While measuring church growth may be a helpful tool for church planters, drawing sharp conclusions beyond basic patterns presents us with far more muddy waters to navigate…

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