Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Missiology of an Atheist

Here is an interesting article: As An Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.

"Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

"It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

"Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good." [...]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mercy and grace in our time of need

Here is an interesting article in the New York Times: Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches. Apparently the downturn in the economy means church attendance is taking a turn for the better.

The study by David Beckworth at Texas State University (cited in the article) is available here: Praying for a Recession: The Business Cycle and Protestant Religiosity in the United States.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

1 Peter 4:12-19

One of Peter’s primary purposes in his letter is to help his readers navigate the tension that comes from being both “in Christ” and “in culture.”

Culture is constantly writing what psychologists call social scripts: scripts telling us how to think and feel and act in any conceivable situation. The problem is that some of these social scripts do not honor God. What do we do when Christ calls us to live holy lives as aliens and strangers in this world, but culture continually says, “Stick to the script”?

As sinful and destructive social scripts intensify and dominate our culture, the danger is that we would look at culture, despair, and lose our joy. Peter’s text is instructive for us. In 1 Peter 4:12-19, we learn that suffering should not rob us of our joy. Furthermore, Peter tells us how we can find the strength to go on day after day by finding our joy in Christ, not in culture.

Click here to view the sermon notes.

HIV/AIDS in Africa

I read two good articles today about the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. I will post a link to the first and the full text of the second. Please take a moment to pray to our heavenly Father on behalf of our neighbors in Africa, and consider what part you can play as an individual and we can play as a community in doing something to help.

Article #1: Bono Joins Starbucks to Help AIDS Victims: Sale of selected drinks benefits fund, by Andrea James

Article #2: Thank You, Mr. President: On World AIDS Day, Pastor Rick Warren recognizes President Bush's "underrated and misunderstood" AIDS-fighting efforts, by Emily Belz

Full Text of Article #2: WASHINGTON—With the media spotlight on his successor and his Cabinet appointments, President Bush quietly received the first International Medal of PEACE for his fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria. Before a small audience of several hundred at the Saddleback Civil Forum on Global Health at the Newseum, Pastor Rick Warren presented the medal to the president on Monday, World AIDS Day.

Since its inception five years ago, The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has treated more than 2.1 million people living with the virus around the world, which exceeded the administration’s goal. Prior to the president’s HIV/AIDS program, only 50,000 people were receiving antiretroviral treatment for AIDS.

"It's the most underrated and misunderstood program of this administration," said Warren, who referred to PEPFAR as a "BHAG" (big, hairy, audacious goal).

Foes and friends alike of President Bush showered praise on him for PEPFAR, which promotes antiretroviral treatments administered through local clinics and churches around the world, mainly in Africa. Former President Clinton sent his commendation in a letter, while others did so by video, including President-elect Barack Obama, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, and rock star Bono, an outspoken activist in the fight against AIDS.

"You are a hero, sir," the leader of the band U2 said in his message to the president.

But the president, in a sit-down conversation with Warren, deflected any credit for the program.

"I don't deserve an award," he said. "The people who made this policy work deserve an award."

First lady Laura Bush and Warren’s wife, Kay, joined the conversation, too, since both have been involved in global programs fighting AIDS. Dr. Mark Dybul, the White House coordinator for global AIDS programs, also received recognition.

With expenditures totaling $18.8 billion over the past five years, PEPFAR is the largest program focused on a single health pandemic, which has drawn criticism from some quarters for such use of taxpayer money. In Monday’s discussions, President Bush, who disclosed that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made him promise to focus on Africa when she first joined his administration, said the investment is worthwhile not just for the lives it saves, but also for national security interests. In an ideological battle, he said, America's enemies recruit wherever hopelessness is found.

Obama in his video message to the president reiterated his promise to continue the program under his administration. Congress has already passed an additional $48 billion for programs fighting AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

PEPFAR employs an unorthodox approach for a government program, with an emphasis on working through local infrastructure in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, which claims the lives of 8,000 people around the world every day. World leaders have said that "millions of lives" have been saved through the program thus far.

"Rather than be paternalistic about our help, we expect you to be a partner in achieving our goals," President Bush said in reference to African leaders. "We trust you. ... It's not all that profound to align authority and responsibility."

Warren advocated the role of the local church in not only health initiatives, but also in education and healing for spiritual ills, which he said were also "pandemic."

"We won't be able to eradicate anything without churches," he said.

Government programs can only accomplish so much, Warren added, making reference to a one-legged stool approach to development.

"Government is justice," President Bush agreed. "Love comes from a higher calling ... God."

The president’s unwillingness to deviate from his own agenda in general has earned him harsh criticism on many fronts, but when it comes to Africa, one of his advisers has said his stubbornness is his strong suit. Michael Gerson, who was a speechwriter and policy adviser to the president until 2006, wrote a column recently in The Washington Post titled "The Decency of George W. Bush." He described a meeting in 2005 where senior White House staff members were against a new initiative to fight malaria in Africa.

"In the crucial policy meeting,” wrote Gerson, “one person supported it: the president of the United States, shutting off debate with a moral certitude that others have criticized."

The moral call to fight pandemics in Africa continues despite whatever economic climate the country is in, the president said.

"People get compassion fatigue," said Warren in an interview after the presentation. "Hollywood has moved on. Hollywood is having babies now. We say as the church, 'We're here to stay.' This isn't the flavor of the day."

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