Sunday, April 30, 2006

In praise of NGOs

Former president Bill Clinton praised non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in his April 26th speech before InterAction Annual Forum. InterAction is the American Council for Voluntary International Action. Clinton points to the rise of democracy and the Internet as main factors in the increase in NGOs and their effectiveness.

His speech also mentions Bill and Melinda Gates' work as well as that of Bono. It also relates anecdotes of Russian President Putin and others.

The former president serves as UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery and works to help areas stricken by Hurricane Katrina. His foundation promotes the fairness and opportunity for everyone and works to lower the cost of HIV/AIDS medications and tests in the developing world.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Make disciples!

United Methodist Pastor Steven Manskar proposes a church Disciple-Making system that is Wesleyan in its theology. His blog posting outlines bulding blocks for accomplishing that.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wesley Foundations need revival

Chuck Russell, a former Internet Resource Consultant for United Methodist Communications, says that United Methodists really messed up when they let Wesley Foundations flounder and disappear from college campuses.

In "Aging Clergy: Where are the 30-year-olds", he points out that the number of clergy under 35 has plummeted from about 3,220 in 1985 to a lowly 850 now. He quotes a UMNS article. And he lays a good bit of the cause for that at the doorstep of weak or disappeared Wesley Foundation efforts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

UMC membership growth concerns Bishop

Our Membership is Growing, But... is a blog article by Bishop Lindsey Davis, North Georgia Conference, on the Gateway Church [UMC] site.

'God" vs. "He'

"Is God Transgendered?" is a thought-provoking article examination of the United Methodist trend to encourage gender-neutral expressions of God. The result is sometimes such stilted and unnatural language structures as , "May God add God's blessing to the reading of God's Word". Yet many of the same pastors who use these awkward phrasings have no problem saying, "Our Father who art in Heaven". It seems a bit schizophrenic [the Greek schizo (split, divide) + phrenos (mind) = shattered mind]. And if pastors are confusingly schizophrenic about the use of "His" or "Him" when talking about God, does this negatively affect members of the congregation?

Let's all grant that the Bible was written in a strongly patriarchal society. But let's also never forget that Jesus addressed God as Abba (Father) and that we hold God to be the reason Mary got pregnant. That does seem a tad male-like to me.

One key aspect that seems to go unaddressed in this personal pronoun issue is that churches have less men than women. Why would we want to deliberately structure language in a way that will be a turn-off to at least some men? Are we focusing on the wrong gender in our congregations when we jump on the gender-neutral bandwagon? Will that have a net result of reducing male attendance at United Methodist churches even more?

Personally, I assume that when we treat God as male-like it's more so that we can get a better grasp of the unknowable, coupled with the comfort of tradition. God may well be neither male nor female, in our meager understanding of human gender. I really don't care. God is God. I just cringe at stilted, unnatural phrases in my worship and Sunday School.

Pastors that have some need to avoid using personal pronouns for God have an obligation to those to whom they will speak to deliberately construct and then use more natural phrasings. How about, "May God bless this reading of the Word" for example. What would God think about that phrasing? I'm sure She'd be happy with it.

Of Blogs and Bishops

As more clergy begin to blog, it's including Bishops too. Below are a few examples of Bishops who blog or are quoted in blogs:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Evangelism and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

In "The four-sided swimsuit", seminary student Jeff Slater describes how the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (don't be put off by the scholarly-sounding phrase) fits with evangelism. He declares that it gives evangelism a special place in United Methodism.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fresh church expressions

The Church of England and the Methodist Church have partnered in an effort to encourage fresh expressions of church. The Fresh Expressions organization makes the point that church have moved from the center of our society toward the edges. They say that it's no longer good enough just to related to people where they live. We must serve society as a whole and address networks of people, not just geography.

In making changes, Fresh Expressions says that it's not an "either-or" case; rather, it's a "both-and" one.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Voilent Christian video game

Does the posting's title sound a bit out of whack to you? Well, it's true. As Newsweek reported, Left Behind Games is releasing a videogame with themes that will "grab the audience that didn't mind the gore in 'The Passion of the Christ'", says the company's CEO. Great. Just what Christian youth need -- a high-quality killing game.

Pastor questions "Mysteries of the Bible" accuracy

United Methodist Pastor Steve Heyduck reviews the History Channel's "Mysteries of the Bible" show. His noticing of errors or even making a big deal out of nothing points out the need to give biblical perspectives thoughtful study. Too many people willingly accept every tidbit they hear or see without question.

Make yours a family of prayer

It seems like family prayer used to be more of a tradition that it is now. But you can help correct that situation. The "Pray!" part of the NavPress site offers some good tips. To get you started, there's Family Prayer 101. But don't stop there.

Digest and adopt at least some of the ways to make prayer a natural part of your day. Then top off your reading with " Prayerworks for our family" - a personal tip from someone who tried it for their extended family.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Helping the poor a major Bible issue

The Bible speaks more of poverty, helping the least of us, than it does of any other issue. Read the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, and see what other moral issues are in play as far as God in the form of Jesus sees it.

Related links

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Sacrifical giving needed

"The rich prefer to send token amounts to the poor in [such] a way that the lives of the pleasure-seeking rich are minimally disturbed," says Nepali journalist Kamala Sarup in her American Chronicle article," End of war to protect peace".

Have you seen such behavior? Is it close to home? Do you practice sacrificial giving? Is talking about this uncomfortable? Is this behavior by the rich what Jesus meant by "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me"? (See Matthew 25:40)

John the Baptist cave may be a complex

The Discovery Channel online has in interesting April 15th article about Biblical archeology, specifically Suba cave thought to be that used by John the Baptist. It seems that there's a corridor to a second chamber.

New site reviews health news

The new web site, Health News Review has a team of 20 revieweres from Universities and clinics across the U.S. Their goal is to help improve accuracy, balance and completeness of health news.

The reviewed articles get prominently displayed stars (0-5). The latest 5-star one is "'Closed-Heart' a less invasive alternative".

Friday, April 14, 2006

Is America becoming a Theocracy?

In his latest book, American Theocracy, a political analyst asserts that harmfully influential religion is one of three major perils that America faces this century. The Republican party has morphed into "the first religious party in U.S. history," author Kevin Phillips states, and it is pushing an "American Disenlightenment" that rejects the traditional separation of church and state as well as ignoring science, whether scientific research or teaching. He also puts American extreme religious conservatives on the same level as radical Muslims.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Are you vived?

Pastor Dan Gates says we can't get revived if we never got "vived" to begin with . Many churches seem to pay less attention to instilling the Holy Spirit than in preaching a weak "see-through" gospel, he says. We are less focused on how many people are saved and instead are more focused on how many people join the church and donate.

So ... is your church more active in and worry more about seeking donations or in saving souls? When a church's future looks bleak, does it continue to serve others or just serve themselves? What's the spiritual health of your congregation? What can you do to improve that healthy and get the congregation to adopt more healthy behaviors?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tis the season: Matzah ... Holy week

The Religion & Ethics part of the PBS web site has a story on Passover Matzah. A video is also available online.

The site also has an extract of In the company of Christ: A pilgrimage through Holy Week.

Evolution on speed?

Some researchers aren't happy with the current view of evolution. They picture it as being faster than many think and capable of genetic changes being even faster. One case they cite is the ability of adult humans to digest cow milk. It appears that the sudden increase in people who had the gene needed to do that mushroomed in the last 50 centuries -- a lot faster than traditional Darwinists would have predicted.

Academic radicals and futurists try to make a case for human intervention to speed up desired genetic changes. That's a scary thought unless morals and ethics are the guiding light in any such decisions. Could we leave such decisions up to companies who might profit from genetic changes or from causing the changes to happen? Whose morals do we use? Who gets to decide and for whom?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Care for creation, care for poor

Recently-retired climate and weather physicist John Houghton links stewardship of God's creation with care for the poor. He says that a conservative estimate suggests that there will be as many as 150 million environmental refugees by the year 2050. Houghton says that most of the people likely to be disadvantaged because of climate change live in poorer countries.

Christ of the Deep

Italian swimmer and diver Duilo Merchant wanted a symbol to inspire those who loved and explored the sea. The result was a statue of Christ, with arms outstretched and gazing updward. Originally casted in 1954, a total of three 4,000 pound bronze statues have been made from that mold and placed underwater. The first casting stands beneath the waters of the Mediterranean Sea; the third one rests on the ocean floor at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Florida.

The statue in Florida is known as Christ of the Deep and is one of the most-photographed dive sites in the world. It's also a popular site for underwater marriages. Some divers view Christ's posture as one of praise and prayer; others see it as Christ inviting lovers of the sea to come to him.

Monday, April 03, 2006

About the Bible text for this week...

The Text This Week site is a multi-faith online resource that is related to the lectionary Bible passages for each week of the year. Here are a few useful links:

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Praying for the sick no help, possible harm?

The April 2006 American Heart Journal reports the results of a study of the effects of intercessory prayer on 1,800 heart bypass patients. The results of the controlled study, in which three different groups of patients examined, indicates that the effect of prayer is at best neutral.

The disturbing and discouraging finding was that those patients who knew people were praying for them fared less well than those who had no clue. Researchers think that some of that group of patients may have "worried themselves sick" that a lot of people praying for them meant they were worse off than they'd thought.

Religious jargon may repel

Justification ... introit ... Gloria Patri ... eschatology, and more (ad nauseum?). These are all terms used within the church, but does everyone in the congregation understand them? You'd be suprised at how many terms go sailing over the heads of even many regular members of your congregation.

If your Sunday bulletin lists "Introit", for example, does the minister actually enter the Sanctuary at that time? How many in your congregation know the definition of "Introit"? Would "Call to worship" be more approriate in the modern world, much clearer to all, and actually better fit what happens at that time in your worship service? Consider communicating more clearly, more simply, more understandably in all that you do. That includes the Sunday Worship Bulletin.

Effective communication is a two-way process that includes complete understanding by those whom you intend to receive the message. Sermon Spice has a cute 1-minute video on avoiding jargon.