Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Some interesting things in the news today
Here is an article from the BBC Online about a church in London that is trying out a new system for church attendance: Sunday Service Goes 'On Demand'. The congregation can now attend church services at half-hour intervals - between 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They can "come and go" to church services at whatever time best suits them. I will be interested to see if this becomes a popular alternative to traditional service times.

In an article from the New York Times Online, we are told that a "former marine who was raised by nuns and made a fortune selling pizza has embarked on a plan to build the first town in America to be run according to strict Catholic principles." Read about this new Florida town called Ave Maria at 'Pizza pope' builds a Catholic heaven.

An article from the Star-Gazette.com is about a Connecticut man who is attempting to sell "Holy Hardware" on eBay. The man has found a piece of sheet metal which seems to bear the image of Jesus' face in a blurry oil stain. His "buy it now" price is $10,000. The auction is scheduled to end on March 1. Oh, how I hope no one buys it!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The World Is On Fire

My heart hurts over the strife in the world today.

The Reuters news service published an article by George Esiri which describes the horrific actions of so-called "Christian" youth in Onitsha, Nigeria, who have taken part in religious riots against Muslims that have killed at least 146 people in five days. You can read this story: Bodies burned in open after Nigeria riots kill 146.

After terrorist bombs destroyed a holy Muslim shrine in Iraq yesterday, this morning's news was dire. More than 130 people have died during demonstrations across Iraq, despite calls for peaceful protests from their religious leaders. This story can be found at: sectarian violence kills 130.

Jesus warned us that as the end of times approaches, there would be such strife in the world: "You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come" (Matthew 24:6).

The writer of Hebrews warned us to "make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).

I wish there were a way to blanket the world with peace today. But I know it is not to be. However difficult, we must follow our Lord - with as much peace in our hearts as we can maintain - and pray for the lost, that they may come to know the reality of God's presence in these times, before it is too late.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Strife with Islam key focus of Christian meeting
PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (Associated Press)

Christian leaders opened their most ambitious gathering in nearly a decade on Tuesday, Feb. 14, looking to address the faith's internal rifts and to ease discord with Islam stirred by cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

The World Council of Churches meeting -- its biggest since 1998 -- will seek to clarify new priorities for a membership that covers more than 500 million followers: mainline Protestant denominations, Anglicans and Orthodox churches. The Roman Catholic Church, which counts more than 1 billion faithful, is not a full WCC member, although it cooperates closely in many areas.

The Christian congregations fully outside the WCC fold are likely to be a recurring theme during the 10-day assembly of more than 4,000 clerics, scholars and religious activists.

The stunning growth of Pentecostal and other evangelical-style churches has left many WCC members struggling with shrinking congregations and declining influence in some regions -- particularly in Africa, Latin America and increasingly China. At the same time, the mainstream denominations are watching church attendance fall steadily in Europe and elsewhere.

The WCC's general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia, plans to appeal for more outreach toward Pentecostals, evangelicals and related movements, which some experts believe may account for more than a third of the world's nearly 2.2 billion Christians by 2025. Kobia also is expected to call on important Pentecostal pastors to end their suspicion of the Switzerland-based WCC, which is often seen as a threat to their church's ability to expand and raise money.

"Christianity is undergoing radical changes," said one of the policy documents for the conference. "While Christianity appears to be on the decline in some parts of the world, it has become a dynamic force to others."

Meanwhile, Kobia and others are trying to hold together one of centerpieces of the WCC: the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States. Conservative factions have threatened to formally break ties to protest liberal trends, including the ordination of homosexual priests and toleration of same-sex blessing ceremonies.

The Anglican crisis escalated sharply in 2003 following the election of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. A growing number of churches in the West have split from their dioceses to join traditionalist blocs often led by African and South American bishops, who have threatened to break away from the global communion unless the liberals are marginalized.

Conflicts over blessings for same-sex partnerships also threaten the unity of the Lutheran church, and the issue is set for debate by other Protestant denominations. A document prepared for the conference said it was no longer possible to avoid once "taboo" debates over sexuality.
"Churches and Christians are divided and keep dividing over such issues," it said.

Relations with Islam also has become a focus for the WCC's nearly 350 member churches. Islamic delegates are expected at the conference to help look for new points of contact between the faiths.

But the conference agenda acknowledges that today's global climate is a religious tinderbox. It notes that the Western values that have shaped Christianity "can lead to confrontation and conflict" with others -- a warning that has taken on worldwide proportions with the violent fallout from the caricatures of Mohammad first published in a Danish newspaper.

On Monday, more than 7,000 students join a march in Peshawar, Pakistan, to protest the cartoons and hurled stones at a Christian school.

"What does it mean to be in dialogue when the communities concerned are in conflict?" the WCC document asks the delegates.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New research explores teenage views of the supernatural
Barna Group cites prevalence in mass media

(Ventura, CA) – If the spiritual world is elusive and controversial, one certainty is the prevalence of the supernatural dimension in mass media. Supernatural beings, stories, and themes have invaded America’s entertainment choices – from movies, to television programs, to books, and video games.

The nation’s most media-drenched consumers are well aware of these portrayals of the supernatural: more than four out five teenagers say they have witnessed supernatural themes in media during the last three months. This insight comes from a new report issued by The Barna Group that examines teens’ media exposure to the supernatural world, as well as a variety of other aspects of teens’ experiences and perceptions of the immaterial realm, including their participation in psychic and witchcraft activities, their beliefs, and their influencers.

The report, called Ministry to Mosaics: Teens and the Supernatural, is based upon three nationwide studies conducted among more than 4,000 teens by The Barna Group. The new resource – available only through the company’s website (www.barna.org) – is designed to help youth workers, pastors, and parents understand and respond to the spiritual needs of America’s youth when it comes to this significant ministry subject.

Teens and the Supernatural includes an analysis of teen beliefs on the supernatural dimension. For instance, although three-quarters believe in the existence of an immaterial, spiritual world, there is little agreement about the shape of that arena: almost half think there are good and evil powers in the supernatural world; one-fifth says there is no such thing as good versus evil; one out of 10 offered some other opinion on the matter; and one-quarter said they have no idea.

Teens’ ideas about the supernatural are soft and unpredictable, as reflected in these highlights from the report:

· Most teens embraced the biblical position on life after death: “every person has a soul that will live forever, either God’s presence or absence” (82%). However, a smaller proportion (61%) believes Heaven is a real place or paradise where people go when they die.

· Most teenagers – 71% – embrace the orthodox Christian view of God (the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the world). A slight majority (58%) say that Satan is a real spiritual being and the enemy of God.

· Teens have mixed perspectives on other supernatural beings, such as angels, ghosts, demons, witches and vampires. When pressed on the matter, large proportions of teens say they are not very certain of their views on these subjects – even among the 89% who believe in the existence of angels.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Southern Baptist conservatives attack each other

By Rachel Zoll
After purging liberals from their ranks, Southern Baptist conservatives who won control of their denomination are taking aim at each other.

The Rev. Wade Burleson, a Baptist leader from Oklahoma, says fellow conservatives who crusaded to elect only leaders who believe the Bible is literally true are carrying their campaign too far, targeting Southern Baptists who disagree with them on other issues.

These leaders, he wrote on his blog, are "following the same battle plan conservatives used to defeat liberalism," and have started a "war" for the future of the SBC.

Mr. Burleson's postings may have cost him a leadership role in the denomination. Trustees of the Southern Baptist international missionary agency took the first step this month toward ousting him from their board, accusing him of "broken trust" for writing about a meeting on his Web site.

The seemingly minor conflict has broader significance. Southern Baptists are trying to reverse several years of stagnation in membership growth, partly through an ad campaign called "Caring People" that is meant to soften their image. Complaints of hardball church politics would undermine that effort.

"Conservatives who loved the battles of decades past have fallen victim to a crusading mentality of bloodthirst," Mr. Burleson wrote on http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com. "Since all the liberals are gone, conservative crusaders are now killing fellow conservatives."

Mr. Burleson first rankled the board over an obscure policy change: Trustees of the International Mission Board voted in November to bar future missionaries from using a "private prayer language," or speaking in tongues in private. Previously, missionaries were discouraged from speaking in tongues publicly, but their private prayer was not monitored.

The practice is common among millions of charismatics and Pentecostals, whose spirited brand of Christianity is spreading rapidly throughout countries where Southern Baptist missionaries work, and in the United States. Many conservative Protestants, however, reject the practice.

Mr. Burleson opposed the ban on speaking in tongues privately. He viewed the move as a dangerous effort to vet conservatives for purity, and said so on his blog.

"Sadly, the Southern Baptist Convention is now moving toward a time when everyone must look the same, talk the same, act the same, believe the same on the nonessentials of the faith, or else you will be removed as 'not one of us,'?" he wrote in a Dec. 10 entry.

About a month later, trustees voted him out. Delegates to the annual Southern Baptist gathering in June will decide whether to approve his removal from the board, which guides the work of more than 5,000 missionaries worldwide.

An Intolerant Spirit
Just two years earlier, a leading Baptist conservative had warned about the very infighting that Mr. Burleson is describing. The Rev. Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Executive Committee, said conservatives must realize they have won the battle with liberals over biblical inerrancy and should stop fighting.

"I am concerned now that we have affirmed by vigorous endeavor that Southern Baptists are people of the Book, that we will develop a censorious, exclusivistic, intolerant spirit," he said in a speech to the denomination's annual meeting. "If this occurs, we will be the poorer for it."

Asked recently to comment on Mr. Burleson's accusations, Mr. Chapman said in a phone interview that the convention was in transition.

"It is not uncommon for some who are accustomed to being in a crusade to have difficulty deciding when that period of time has concluded," he said.

The Rev. Bill Leonard, dean of Wake Forest Divinity School in North Carolina and a critic of the conservative takeover, said the Southern Baptists are burdened by competing goals: attracting new members, while creating strict boundaries between the convention and other Christians that end up making them appear "mean."

"The Southern Baptist leadership is so ideologically driven that it's almost impossible for them not to continually draw lines and narrow the boundaries," he said. "In the early stages, this was publicly evident with the moderates and liberals. Now, when the convention meets annually in June, you wonder who they're going to throw out this year. There's always somebody."

Mr. Burleson said he has received hundreds of e-mail messages and letters from around the world in response to his blog postings and that "99 percent of them are very positive." He said he was "deeply hurt" by the trustees' actions, but, as a matter of conscience, will continue to warn about what he sees as a dangerous trend throughout the 16.4 million-member denomination.

"If the crusaders sheath their sword, I promise, I will sheath mine. I do not want to fight my fellow conservatives," Mr. Burleson wrote on his Web log. "However, the stakes of this war are too great to roll over without a fight. This war is about the future of our convention."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Worldwide Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

The 2006 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is being celebrated by nearly all Christian traditions around the world, January 18-25. The ecumenical movement will reflect on this year’s theme: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20).

A week prior to the prayer movement, Pope Benedict XVI committed to dialogue with other churches during a meeting with the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which included a delegation of Presbyterian and Congregational church leaders, at the Vatican."Dear friends, I pray that our meeting will itself bear fruit in a renewed commitment to work for the unity of all Christians," Benedict XVI said. "The way before us calls for wisdom, humility, patient study and exchange."

Also this week, Christian anti-poverty strategists from nearly a dozen countries have gathered in New York and Washington, D.C., for the first-ever international “Micah Challenge” facilitators consultation.

Micah Challenge is a network of global Christian organizations such as the World Evangelical Alliance and the Micah Network that works to promote the United Nation’s eight-point Millennium Development Goals to halve poverty by 2015 and to deepen a faith-based engagement with the poor.

The event will end on Saturday, January 21, with prayer and reflection.

With so many Christians around the world praying for unity and ministry to the poor, I feel like this beat-up old world has just been bathed in warmth and light. May it last far beyond this one week.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What style of worship will insure church growth?
By Tom Gray, Westmoore, N.C.

I think this question can most easily be answered when we realize that our Sunday morning worship service is only a part of the worship that God requires of us. One hour a week spent in the same room with a bunch of other believers, many of whom we don't really know and can't even relate to, is not much more than a meeting, much less an opportunity for true worship.

We need to look at our "worship" service as an integral part of our weekly schedule, but not the whole enchilada. When the "Church", (body of believers) spends the rest of the week being worshipful, the music style, order of worship, etc., becomes secondary to why we are gathered together in the first place.

So.....the possible answer then becomes a question, how do we worship God during the rest of the week? Do we take Jesus to work with us? Do we treat our family members as we wish to be treated? The big question is this; do we leave Jesus at church on Sunday morning, or is He our daily companion? Do we pray with our family members on a regular basis, or just when we need God's intervention? Do we awake and dedicate the day to God, or do we keep our worship lives and secular lives segregated? Do we look for divine appointments while we are at work and play? Think about it. Does God see a separation between our secular and religious existence?

Worship is whenever we are being faithful, whenever we are involved in God-sized tasks, whenever we are seeking His face. When we allow something to dictate our choices other than God, we are being unfaithful; whether that something is anger, money, fame, or even doing good things. Anybody can do something good. Even the most hardened individuals are capable at some time or other of doing something good. Only those redeemed by the blood of Christ are capable of joining God in doing God-sized things. Only those that know Him are capable of seeking His face. Only those that know Him can be faithful.

We (the redeemed) worship God, either in excellence or poorly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.