Saturday, December 27, 2008

Devotional: One of the most delightful qualities of divine love...

For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. Isaiah 54:10

One of the most delightful qualities of divine love is its abiding character. The pillars of the earth may be moved out of their places, but the kindness and the covenant of our merciful Jehovah never depart from His people. How happy my soul feels in a firm belief of this inspired declaration! The year is almost over, and the years of my life are growing few, but time does not change my Lord. New lamps are taking the place of the old; perpetual change is on all things, but our Lord is the same. Force over turns the hills, but no conceivable power can affect the eternal God. Nothing in the past, the present, or the future can cause Jehovah to be unkind to me.

My soul, rest in the eternal kindness of the Lord, who treats thee as one near of kin. Remember also the everlasting covenant. God is ever mindful of it—see that thou art mindful of it too. In Christ Jesus the glorious God has pledged Himself to thee to be thy God and to hold thee as one of His people. Kindness and covenant-dwell on these words as sure and lasting things which eternity itself shall not take from thee. ...CH Spurgeon
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A. S. Haley: A New Low in ECUSA's Tactics in San Joaquin

Friday, December 26, 2008

In an earlier post, I asked the rhetorical question: "How Low Can the Sun Sink on the Episcopal Church?" The answer is that after having already sunk, the sun can sink on it apparently lower still---especially if one is talking about the Church's legal tactics.

I have covered the Church's previous, questionable tactics in its San Joaquin lawsuit in a series of posts which you can find grouped under that heading on the Guide to This Site page. Although the case is technically "at issue", meaning that Bishop Schofield and the diocesan property entities which he heads have answered the second amended complaint filed by ECUSA and Bishop Lamb, and by their so-called "Diocese of San Joaquin", the plaintiffs apparently do not plan to let matters rest there. For they---the fifteen percent or so who stayed with ECUSA, that is---are not content with laying claim to all of the current Anglican Diocese's property and funds. (But of course, the law always agrees that 15% of a former group are entitled to 100% of the group's property---don't you realize that it is the Episcopal Church that we are talking about?) Now they want to go after funds which the original and true Diocese of San Joaquin (the one that existed before the vote on December 8, 2007 to leave ECUSA) paid out to its attorneys in anticipation of the lawsuit that ECUSA would bring. the rest

Christmas During the Blitz

(h/t Hugh Hewitt)

Israel launches air strikes on Gaza, at least 155 dead

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Saturday, December 27th 2008

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of airstrikes Saturday, killing at least 155 and wounding more than 310 in the single bloodiest day of fighting in recent memory.

Hamas said all of its security installations were hit and responded with several medium-range Grad rockets at Israel, reaching deeper than in the past. One Israeli was killed and at least four people were wounded.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "the operation will last as long as necessary," but it was not clear if it would be coupled with a ground offensive. Asked if Hamas political leaders might be targeted next, military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said, "Any Hamas target is a target." the rest

WSJ: Israeli Attacks on Hamas Kill More Than 100

FOXNews: U.S. Condemns Hamas in Midst of Israeli Strikes

Egypt's Coptic pope bans phone confessions

posted 12/27/08

CAIRO (AFP) — Egypt's Coptic pope has banned the faithful from confessing their sins to priests over the telephone because intelligence agents might be listening in, a newspaper reported on Friday.

"Confessions over the telephone are forbidden, because there is a chance the telephones are monitored and the confessions will reach state security," the independent Al-Masri Al-Yom quoted Pope Shenuda III as saying.

The leader of the Coptic minority also said confessions over the Internet were invalid because they might be read by websurfers.

"A confession over the Internet does not count as a confession, because everybody can look at it and it won't be secret," he said. the rest

Michael Novak: The Complementarity of Man and Woman

Friday, December 26, 2008

Excerpt:
It is worth noting that the fundamental energy of the family, in this vision, is spousal love. This love is not a sentimental feeling or a passionate desire, but a firm commitment to the good of the other. Not “her good” as you wish it were, nor even the good as she wishes it were, but her objective good as identified by reason. Thus, the point of even sex is realistic love. Not mutual self-indulgence, but the growth in adulthood and virtuous living that raising a family entails. (There is no point in getting married if you don’t want to hear the truth about yourself—especially all those truths you don’t really want to hear—from your spouse and your children.) Those who live closely together come to shed their illusions about each other, and to love in each other the better self that each would like to become. This is realistic love.

Full Essay

With Orthodoxy’s Revival in Russia, Religious Media Also Rise

By SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY
December 24, 2008

MOSCOW — By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, there were nearly 600 newspapers and magazines throughout Russia devoted to Orthodox subjects. They were all shut down by the Soviet regime by 1918.

Today, in a country that was officially atheist about two decades ago, there are again hundreds of newspapers, magazines and newsletters covering the world’s largest Orthodox church. There are about 3,500 Russian Orthodox Web sites, and some priests are even blogging.

The Russian Orthodox media, like the church itself, have not always fallen into step with the Kremlin line. The Moscow Patriarchate, its official newspaper and most Orthodox media have addressed the war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia as a tragic misunderstanding between two countries that share an Orthodox Christian heritage. the rest image

Friday, December 26, 2008

Devotional: The day-star will arise in their hearts...

A Christian may for many days together see neither sun nor star, neither light in God's countenance, nor light in his own heart, though even at that time God darts some beams through those clouds upon the soul; the soul again by a spirit of faith sees some light through those thickest clouds, enough to keep it from utter despair, though not to settle it in peace. In this dark condition, if they do as Paul and his company did, cast an anchor even in the dark night of temptation, and pray still for day, God will appear, and all shall clear up, we shall see light without and light within; the day-star will arise in their hearts.
...Richard Sibbe image

Grace Episcopal leader steps down as trial approaches

December 26, 2008
MARK BARNA
THE GAZETTE

If ever a church needed a strong leader, it was Grace & St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.
The congregation had been exiled from its home in the majestic stone structure on North Tejon Street, after a conservative faction that broke away from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado remained in the building.

On Oct. 5, 2007, the diocese tapped the Rev. Michael O'Donnell to be priest in charge of a church that had no permanent home. His Episcopalian flock found a temporary place to hold services, first at Shove Chapel on the Colorado College campus, and then at First Christian Church downtown.Everything seemed to be going fine, and then, without warning, O'Donnell resigned in October.

There's nothing sinister going on. O'Donnell told me he wants to try something else, though he's not sure what that might be.

But he also said he wanted to leave before the start of the Feb. 10 trial over who owns the $7 million North Tejon Street church property: the Episcopal Church, or the breakaway group led by the Rev. Donald Armstrong, which then affiliated with the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America. the rest

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

by Matthew Parris
From The Times
December 27, 2008

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. the rest

Episcopal bishop visits Pentagon, 9/11 memorial

By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

ARLINGTON, Va. — Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori paid her first visit to the Pentagon on Tuesday, leading services with fellow Episcopalians and praying at the new memorial for those killed there in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"It's powerful," she said of the memorial to 184 people who died when terrorists flew an airliner into the west side of the Pentagon. "It's a remarkable design that speaks about new life in the midst of death."

Jefferts Schori, who was an oceanographer before she pursued ordained ministry, particularly admired the trees and the running water that are part of the memorial's design. Maple trees are planted amid memorial stainless-steel benches that are inscribed with the names of each of the victims. the rest

ENS: Presiding Bishop visits military chaplaincies in Washington, D.C.

Sermon

Congregation feels ‘God’s presence’ in a humble setting

Again, an undercroft becomes the sanctuary as church professes faith amid hardship
By Jay Tokasz
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
December 25, 2008

The people of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church have been in this situation before.

They had only enough money in 1921 to build a foundation for a new stone church on Main Street, so they put up a temporary roof and began worshipping in the basement.

They scrimped and saved and stayed downstairs for seven years, before finally moving into a beautiful English Gothic sanctuary designed by a noted Buffalo architect.

But necessity again has forced worship into the humble confines of what parishioners affectionately call the undercroft. the rest

Chinese Government Launches Attacks Against Christians During Christmas Season

CHINA, Dec. 25 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Chinese government targeted Christians in Anhui province, Henan province and Xinjiang Autonomous Region between December 21 and December 24. On Christmas Eve in Henan province, nine Christian women were arrested during a nativity play and are still being held by police. In Anhui province on December 22, officials arrested 19 students and two house church leaders and threatened to demolish their house church building. On December 21 in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a house church was forbidden to gather and the pastor threatened with arrest. the rest

Greatest gift for Iraqi Christians -- returning home

Hundreds of families are returning from exile. Security has improved and worshipers at Christmas services hope for peace. But violence is never far away.
By Kimi Yoshino and Ali Hameed
December 26, 2008

Reporting from Baghdad -- Three years ago, a note appeared at Lita Kaseer's door. It contained a bullet and a one-word message: "Leave."Kaseer fled, along with hundreds of other Christian families in the Dora neighborhood in southwest Baghdad, once a vibrant Christian community.

This year, she returned home from Syria, and on Thursday, attended Christmas Mass with her husband and 7-month-old son.

"It's always better to come home," said her husband, Khalid Kamil, 34. "In any other place, you are a stranger. . . . This is not the way our life should be."

Hundreds of Christians gathered to celebrate Christmas in Baghdad, most acknowledging that improved security conditions have allowed them to move more freely throughout the city after returning from years-long exiles in Syria, Egypt, Jordan or Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. the rest

Franklin Graham: What's the Fuss About?

The evangelist who once prayed at inauguration offers his take of Obama-Warren inauguration controversy.
Interview by Sarah Pulliam
12/23/2008

President-elect Barack Obama chose California megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the January 20 inauguration, igniting fury from same-sex marriage advocates and progressives.

Obama and Warren both defended their decisions to reach across the aisle, even though the future president and megachurch pastor. Evangelist Franklin Graham was in the hot seat once after he prayed in Jesus' name at President Bush's inauguration in 2001. He spoke with Christianity Today about his reaction to Obama's decision and his advice for Warren. the rest

Peggy Noonan: A Year for the Books

Mother Teresa's secret, and other revelations from 2008.
December 26, 2008

Excerpt:
None of these books were more important in the end than a modest and unheralded book called "Mother Teresa's Secret Fire" by Joseph Langford, a priest of her Missionaries of Charity and her close friend of many years. You wouldn't think there's much new to say here, but there is. Everyone knows that as a young nun in Calcutta, Mother Teresa, then Sister Teresa, left her convent, with only five rupees in her pocket, in order to work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of the city. But what made her do this?

On Sept. 10, 1946, on a train to Darjeeling, on her way to a spiritual retreat, she had, as Father Langford puts it, "an overwhelming experience of God." This is known. But its nature? It was not "some dry command to 'work for the poor,'" he says, but something else, something more monumental. What? For many years, she didn't like to speak of what happened, or interpret it. So the deepest meaning of her message remained largely unknown. Says Father Langford "What was deepest in her . . . is still a mystery even to her most ardent admirers. But it was not her wish that this secret remain forever unknown."

In this book, based on her letters, writings and conversations, he tells of how she came to serve "the least, the last, and the lost," not as a female Albert Schweitzer but as "a mystic with sleeves rolled up." Father Langford tells the story of her encounter on the train, of what was said, of what she heard, and of the things he learned from her including, most centrally, this: You must find your own Calcutta. You don't have to go to India. Calcutta is all around you. the rest

Book: Amazon.com

30 Donor Alert Ministries of 2008

List here

Religious tunes banned by school

Public interest law firm fight what it calls 'anti-Christmas virus'
December 24, 20087
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

A public interest law firm has launched a new attack on what it calls an "anti-Christmas virus" evidenced by a school district that banned even traditional Christmas tunes.

According to the Thomas More Law Center, the public interest firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., its lawyers have filed a brief in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in a case challenging a New Jersey district's ban on the melodies.

"As so often is the case," the firm said in its announcement, "a complaint from one parent resulted in the district's policy that banned the playing of all Christmas music, including simple instrumentals without words." the rest image

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!





Settling down for a long winter's nap!
Merry Christmas from the Dagues!
Raymond, Pat, Ryan, Kevin and Herschel
(photos by Raymond Dague)

Christmas Message from Bishop David Bena

My Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Anglican District of Virginia,

Since, to quote song writer Meredith Wilson, "It's beginning to look a lot Like Christmas," it must be time for the Bishop's Christmas Letter.

Soon we'll all be in our churches, singing Christmas Carols and once again welcoming the Bambino Jesus into our hearts. My wish for you is that this will be a truly joy filled, peaceful time in the Lord. It's now been two years since Martyn Minns invited me to serve you as the ADV Contact Bishop. As I have visited parish after parish, I have gotten to know you and your personality: Christ-centered, mission oriented, compassionate, welcoming, fun people. You reflect the beauty of following Jesus in the traditional Anglican way - you are sacramental, bible believing people, filled with the Holy Spirit. It is, indeed, a joy to serve you as a bishop.

News that the Judge has ruled that we can retain our properties has brought a sense of peace throughout all ADV churches this Christmas. Our leaders had been following the "Bishop's Protocol for Departing Congregations" when negotiations broke off and we found our clergy and lay leaders being sued. Now, two years and millions of dollars in legal fees later, the Judge has ruled that we did follow Virginia law in departing the Diocese of Virginia with our properties and that the law
(57-9) is constitutional. Now what?

While the Episcopal Church and even the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia may choose to appeal the judge's ruling, my impression is that the judge's ruling is very well put together, reflects the constitutional "free exercise of religion" for us, and will be very difficult to overturn. So I hope we don't have to spend countless more dollars defending ourselves if an appeal is filed. Isn't there a better way? A more Christ-centered, Gospel way?

Two years ago, before the lawsuit was filed, representatives of both the Anglican District of Virginia and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia were able to sit together at a table, and pray and talk in a respectful way. Can't we return to that spirit of reconciliation? Can't all three sides lay down their "legal weapons of mass destruction" and save millions of dollars in legal costs - money that can be used for Christian mission? For instance, are there Diocesan mission projects to which the District might contribute? Are there District mission projects to which the Diocese might contribute? Can't we all just let the judge's ruling be the judge's ruling and now spend some time together talking about reconciliation and mission?

A number of us in the ADV have been praying about how to reach out to the leaders of the Diocese of Virginia, to hold out an olive branch, but we don't know how. Perhaps in this peaceful season of Christmas, we'll find a way. Now that the court case has been settled, maybe we can all reach a peaceful settlement with each other in the Lord. Would you pray with me about that?

The angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all." May it be so for the Anglicans of Virginia.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,
David John Bena,
Contact Bishop, Anglican District of Virginia

Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas Sermon 2008

Modern 'David' defeats New York 'Goliath'

Empire State ordered to leave Christian man's Bible message alone
December 23, 2008
By Alyssa Farah
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

A New York man has won a battle with the New York Department of Transportation over a trailer he parked on his private property along a public highway that was targeted because of its Christian message.

Daniel Burritt installed a tractor-trailer for his company, Acts II Construction Inc., on private business property along U.S. Route 11 in 2007.

In May he got a letter from the New York State Department of Transportation stating that his trailer violated a state law and constituted a "public nuisance." The NYDOT said a permit had to be obtained or the trailer would be forcibly removed and legal action would follow, even though the agency does not require permits for commercial messages being displayed. the rest

Sacred texts: Vatican embraces iTunes prayer book

VATICAN CITY (AP) - The Vatican is endorsing new technology that brings the book of daily prayers used by priests straight onto iPhones.

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications is embracing the iBreviary, an iTunes application created by a technologically savvy Italian priest, the Rev. Paolo Padrini, and an Italian Web designer.

The application includes the Breviary prayer book—in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Latin and, in the near future, Portuguese and German. Another section includes the prayers of the daily Mass, and a third contains various other prayers. the rest image

For first time, Christmas official holiday in Iraq

Thursday, December 25, 2008
By JIM HEINTZ

Iraq's Christians, a scant minority in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, quietly celebrated Christmas on Thursday with a present from the government, which declared it an official holiday for the first time.

But security worries overshadowed the day for many, particularly in the north where thousands of Christians have fled to escape religious attacks. the rest

Spending Christmas

by Joseph Bottum
12/20/1999

What fades in memory is not the fact, but the feeling. I can call up every detail of those Christmases of my childhood. A cold sparrow peering out across the lawn from under the snow-covered lilac hedge, while I sat at the window, waiting for my parents to wake. My father cocking his head to the side to concentrate on cutting out the sections of a grapefruit for breakfast. The heft of the Swiss Army knife from Uncle Howard, smuggled in the pocket of my dress pants to church. The steam rising while we washed the endless Christmas dishes, until the fog formed into little rivulets that raced each other down the kitchen window panes. The ink-and-paper new-book smell of Kipling's Jungle Books, read with a flashlight under the blankets after my mother had come in to shut off the lights and whisper one last Merry Christmas.

I can call up every detail -- except the emotion, the overwhelming waves that beat upon my sisters and me down the long stream of days in the Christmas season. To dwell on those memories is more to remember that I did have a certain feeling than to recapture just how that feeling really felt. They come faded like last year's pine needles that fall from the box of Christmas ornaments when you bring it down from the linen closet. Why should I remember the long-needled ponderosa tree we had when I was 6? The heavy-scented balsam tree, bending under the weight of the ornaments, when I was 8? The Douglas firs, the Black Hills pines, the juniper? The scalloped holly sprigs set on the sideboard and mantel, with a stern warning every year not to eat the berries? The silly-looking plastic mistletoe my mother would hang, giggling with my father over some joke they wouldn't explain to the children?
the rest image

Episcopal property dispute may head to Va. Supreme Court

By Gregg MacDonald
Fairfax County Times
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23 2008

A long-awaited property- settlement decision in Fairfax Circuit Court apparently will not be the end of a two-year-long conflict between a minority group of conservative congregations in the Episcopal Church that broke away from the church to join the Anglican District of Virginia.

On Dec. 19, Fairfax Judge Randy Bellows upheld the long-debated Division Statute, which was the backbone of the Anglican Church's case.

The break-away congregations include several from Fairfax and Loudoun counties. They decided to break off from the Episcopal Church after determining that church leadership was not following a proper reading of Scripture, particularly on the issue of homosexuality. the rest

Pilgrims Flock to Bethlehem for Christmas

By Robert Berger
Bethlehem
25 December 2008

The faithful have flocked to the West Bank town of Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas.

A fragrant cloud of incense filled the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, as Palestinian Christians celebrated Christmas Mass. A few meters away, thousands of pilgrims from around the world visited the ancient grotto believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

Adam Heyney came from the western U.S. state of Utah.

"It's amazing, it's always been a dream to come out here, you see all the stuff on TV, you read it in books, but it becomes reality. Just to be there in that spot was just an incredible experience," Heyney said. the rest

Calm brings record tourism to Bethlehem

Bah, humbug: Scientists warn Christmas lights harm the planet

By Graham Readfearn
December 24, 2008

SCIENTISTS have warned that Christmas lights are bad for the planet due to huge electricity waste and urged people to get energy efficient festive bulbs.

CSIRO researchers said householders should know that each bulb turned on in the name of Christmas will increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr Glenn Platt, who leads research on energy demand, said Australia got 80 per cent of its electricity by burning coal which pumps harmful emissions into the atmosphere. the rest image

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All my heart this night rejoices!

All my heart this night rejoices,As I hear,
Far and near,
Sweetest angel voices;
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing,
Till the air,
Ev'rywhere,
Now their joy is ringing.

Come, then, let us hasten yonder;
Here let all,
Great and small,
Kneel in awe and wonder,
Love Him Who with love is yearning;
Hail the star
That from far
Bright with hope is burning.

Blessèd Savior, let me find Thee!
Keep Thou me
Close to Thee,
Cast me not behind Thee!
Life of life, my heart Thou stillest,
Calm I rest
On Thy breast,
All this void Thou fillest.

Ye who pine in weary sadness,
Weep no more,
For the door
Now is found of gladness.
Cling to Him, for He will guide you
Where no cross,
Pain or loss
Can betide you.
...Paul Gerhardt

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Putting St. Joseph Back in Christmas

2008-12-23
James Martin, S.J.

Here's a story about St. Joseph, the hidden man of Christmas, on Slate.com. What does his story have to say to modern-day believers? Plenty. For this story I interviewed both Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at Notre Dame, and Pheme Perkins professor of New Testament at Boston College.

--Perkins and Cunningham both see Joseph as a central figure in the Nativity story, one who can speak to contemporary men and women. The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that he is a "righteous man" who does what God asks of him. After discovering Mary's pregnancy, Joseph thinks of "quietly" ending their marriage plans, so as not to "disgrace" her. But an angel reassures him in a dream. "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife," says the angel, who explains the unusual circumstances of the birth. Joseph's "righteousness" enables him to listen to God and carry out his difficult task.

His personality shines through wordlessly. "Here is a model of someone who represents all the virtues in the Hebrew Bible," says Perkins. "He is asked to do something shocking, but because he's righteous, he follows God's guidance. And it's no fun--not only to deal with that, but with the rest of the story--the flight into Egypt, too."
the rest image

CANA Missionary Bishop Martyn Minns’ Christmas message

Good News of Great Joy for All People!

We need some good news. A worldwide financial collapse is happening before our eyes and in many of our neighborhoods. Armed conflicts around the globe seem to be never ending. Oppressive governments continue to retain power.

Religious strife is on the increase. Poverty and disease continue to take their unrelenting toll of the most vulnerable. In many ways the world is not much different from that night of nights when the shepherds watched their flocks in the fields around Bethlehem . They needed some good news too!

The word from the angel was clear and simple: I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people! So . . . what on earth was this good news of great joy for all people?

First and foremost, the good news declared that the Creator of the universe had heard their cries and was about to intervene into their world and change the course of human history for good. This intervention had been long anticipated by the prophets but it was not to be a quick fix. The salvation of the world was now assured but it would take time - lots of it. God would bring healing and hope where there had been only brokenness and despair. God could have done all this by sheer force; but instead of following the pathway of power, God chose to work through one of the most vulnerable members of his creation - a newborn baby. It is a unique strategy that God continues to follow.

God also chose to make the good news very personal. Our salvation is not mechanical or automatic. It depends first on God’s grace and second on the response of each person to this amazing gift. And the great joy that the angel spoke about was the promise of this abundant life. We are no longer stuck in patterns of alienation and brokenness, but now we can begin to dream of a new world with new possibilities where freedom reigns and where the ravages of sin no longer hold us in their grip.

The world is still in need of this good news. God is still in the redemption business. During this Christmas season it is good to remember that God chose to bring the promise of healing and hope through one of the most vulnerable of institutions - the church! We have no armies to command or weapons to deploy. We are merely a people whose claim to fame is the one we follow - Jesus of Nazareth. But we know that through this solitary life the world was and is changed for good - one life at a time. And it is by His Spirit that we offer this promise of a new way of living until that day when heaven and nature will sing, “Joy to the world, The Lord is come!”. . . that's good news!

Your brother in Christ,
+Martyn
The Rt. Rev'd Martyn Minns
Missionary Bishop of CANA
(via email)

Pope's remarks on sexuality 'will widen Anglican rift'

The Pope's "clear" statement on the importance of heterosexual lifestyles will widen the rift with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the issue of homosexuality, senior Anglican conservatives predicted.
By Andrew Pierce
23 Dec 2008

To the fury of homosexual groups the Pontiff said that the defence of heterosexual relationships was as important to humanity as preventing the destruction of rainforests.

In a Christmas address to prelates in the Vatican the Pope, known as God's rottweiler because of his hardline views, said that the Roman Catholic Church had a duty to "protect man from the destruction of himself". He urged respect for the "nature of the human being as man and woman".

As homosexual groups condemned the Pope, his remarks drew applause from conservative Anglican groups in Britain. They welcomed the "clarity" of the Pope's thinking which they contrasted with Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. the rest

Pastor to the President

December 22, 2008
Mark Silk

Once upon a time, presidents tended to choose their own pastors, or reasonable facsimiles thereof, to give the invocation at their inaugurations. The idea was: Here's the guy who presides over my religious life, the guy I go to for spiritual counsel, and so I'm going to honor him by letting him say the prayer over this latest ceremonial occasion of my life. Thus, John F. Kennedy gave the nod to Boston's Cardinal Richard Cushing in 1961 and, in 1981, Ronald Reagan tapped Bel Air Presbyterian pastor Donn Moomaw. From time to time, the invoking cleric would be chosen for symbolic reasons, as when Dwight Eisenhower selected Orthodox Archbishop Michael in 1957 and Reagan, in 1985, chose the president of Georgetown University, Father Joseph A. O'Hare S.J.

But over the past two decades, it appears that a new office has emerged--that of Pastor to the President. This emergence is a bit obscured by the fact that the only actual holder of that office has been Billy Graham. Graham gave the invocations at the inauguration of George H.W. Bush and both Clinton inaugurals, and was slated to do the same at George W. Bush's 2001 affair, but because of illness had to cede the job to his son Franklin. It is, I think, in this context that Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren needs to be seen. As has been widely noted, Warren bids fair to become the closest thing to Billy Graham that the country has today. At the moment, he's way more controversial than the now sainted Graham, but in his younger days, Billy was plenty controversial himself. the rest

Obama Refuses to Buckle Under Pressure From Gay Activists

Albert Mohler: The High Cost of Being (and Staying) Cool -- Rick Warren in a Whirlwind

Pope condemns homosexual behaviour

by Jennifer Gold
Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Saving mankind from homosexual and transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction, said Pope Benedict on Monday.

In an end-of-year address to Vatican officials, the Pope said the Catholic Church “should also protect man from the destruction of himself”.

A “sort of ecology of man is needed”, he said.

The Catholic Church strongly opposes homosexual relationships and same-sex unions. the rest

Albert Mohler: Can a Christian Deny the Virgin Birth?

December 23, 2008

Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth? This question would perplex the vast majority of Christians throughout the centuries, but modern denials of biblical truth make the question tragically significant. Of all biblical doctrines, the doctrine of Christ's virginal conception has often been the specific target of modern denial and attack.

Attacks upon the virgin birth emerged in the aftermath of the Enlightenment, with some theologians attempting to harmonize the anti-supernaturalism of the modern mind with the church's teaching about Christ. The great quest of liberal theology has been to invent a Jesus who is stripped of all supernatural power, deity, and authority. the rest image

Churches in USA more diverse, informal than a decade ago

By Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA TODAY
posted December 23, 2008

Worship services may still be the USA's most segregated hour, but fewer congregations are now completely white, finds a study comparing churches, synagogues and mosques last year with a decade ago.

The National Congregations Study says 14% of primarily white congregations reported no minorities in their midst last year, compared with 20% in 1998.

Such steep change in a short period is noteworthy because "religious traditions and organizations are widely considered to be remarkably resistant to change," says sociology professor Mark Chaves of Duke University School of Divinity, the lead researcher. "There's movement in the right direction." the rest

Monday, December 22, 2008

Devotional: By His first coming...

By his first coming our Lord raised us up only in soul; by his second coming he will raise us up in body, too. As we now serve God with both-the body and the soul-so then in both shall we enjoy perfect happiness with God. At his first coming he gave us the faith that enables us to believe in him. At his second coming he will endow us with the capacity to see him, not as the wicked will see him on the day of judgment-for on that day of judgment the good and the bad alike will all see him in the likeness in which he bore his sufferings for us and in which he rose and ascended into heaven-but we shall see him as those who are pure of heart will be able to see him. For the Lord says: Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. That is to say, we shall see his godhead too, that excellence and that beauty which now the angels see. For we shall be like the angels of God in heaven. Yet if we love him now and long for him and scorn all worldly pleasures and honors, then surely we shall see him confidently in the likeness in which he will judge the living and the dead. And we shall have the happiness of seeing him in that likeness in which he will show himself only to the good whom he will take with himself from judgment into the kingdom. ...Aelred of Rievaulx

Humanist Parents Seek Communion Outside Church

By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 21, 2008

BOSTON -- They are not religious, so they don't go to church. But they are searching for values and rituals with which to raise their children, as well as a community of like-minded people to offer support.
Dozens of parents came together on a recent Saturday to participate in a seminar on humanist parenting and to meet others interested in organizing a kind of nonreligious congregation, complete with regular family activities and ceremonies for births and deaths.

"It's exciting to know that we could be meeting people who we might perhaps raise children with," said Tony Proctor, 39, who owns a wealth management company and attended the seminar at Harvard University with his wife, Andrea, 35, a stay-at-home mother. the rest

Liberal and Conservative Anglicans Fall Out - and Apart?

By Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Dec 22 (IPS) - On the brink of a split in the global Anglican Communion that no one is eager to enlarge on, the Province of the Southern Cone of South America has become a temporary refuge for conservative bishops from the United States who refuse to countenance the liberal positions taken by the Church in their country.

The crisis began when gay bishops and same-sex unions, including clergy, were accepted in Anglican (or Episcopal) provinces in Canada and the United States. Conservatives who disapproved of these developments fell out with their church communities and sought pastoral oversight from South American provinces, further away geographically but theologically more compatible.

"Nobody (in the Anglican Communion) wants to say let's get a divorce, but when a relationship isn't working, someone has to decide whether or not they stay together, and no one here wants to make the decision," Gregory Venables, the primate (presiding bishop) of the Province of the Southern Cone, which includes the dioceses of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, told IPS.

In 2007, Venables took on pastoral responsibility for the conservative bishops of four dioceses that left the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA). "We had certain links, and after talking with (the Archbishop of) Canterbury, we decided to offer them emergency oversight until there is a more solid structure to contain them," he said. the rest

Lambeth Palace humiliated as Nazir-Ali speaks the truth

By: Damian Thompson
Dec 22, 2008

It's not often that the Indy breaks a religious affairs story, but today it informed us that the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, has been the subject of a "scatological attack" by a Lambeth Palace aide who has since been sacked.

The story could hardly have broken at a more embarrassing time for the Archbishop of Canterbury. It goes without saying that Dr Williams deplores the incident, but the awkward fact is that Dr Nazir-Ali is intensely disliked by members of the Archbishop's entourage. So it doesn't look good.

The tension between Canterbury and Rochester is unlikely to be eased after tonight's Radio 3 interview with Dr Nazir-Ali who, once again, has spoken eloquently and straightforwardy in defence of Christianity, just as he did in The Sunday Telegraph at the weekend. No waffle here about an "unprincipled God". the rest

Unholy slur on outspoken bishop costs Church staff member job

A Meditation for Late in Advent

By Raymond Dague

We are often unprepared, or at least I am. As I look out my window before the dawn light has hardly begun, I can make out the tall climbing rosebush which I neglected to wrap in burlap this fall. Somehow I just never got to it, and now an unexpectedly early bitter cold winter wind buffets the canes, and may kill the tall growth of the last two seasons when I was diligent in covering them.

Christmas preparation is bit like this. We are upon it; the things I need to do are as yet undone, and I must hurry. Sure, presents are to be bought and wrapped, cards addressed, and cookies baked. But these pale in significance with the preparation of the heart for the reflection on God who enfleshed Himself for us, and came to give us a life for all time with Him.

When one does woodworking, it is the setup and preparation which makes the actual execution of the project good and meaningful. Painting or varnishing the wood is the easy part. It is the careful surface preparation which makes it come out smoothly in the end. So it is with our spiritual life with God. To enter into God’s presence is preceded by a careful time of preparing for Him. Isn’t that why the great feasts of the church have an Advent or a Lent before those days? If we shorten the preparation, we do not fully appreciate the day itself.

As Christmas comes, to prepare the soul is the most important thing. And when death like a cold winter wind comes, and touches our lives, be it with the death of another, or our own impending death, there is often a sense that one is unprepared. As great and important as this event is, to prepare for is just as valuable, and even more so.

Oh Lord, may I prepare for You in the right and perfect way, just like Mary who sat at Your feet to hear Your teaching, and not as Martha who was distracted by the physical preparations of the day. Martha prepared for Jesus’ dinner; Mary prepared for His death and resurrection. Prepare my heart for Christmas, oh Lord, in a way which best serves You.
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Devotional: To celebrate Advent...

To celebrate Advent means to bring to life within ourselves the hidden Presence of God. It takes place to the extent that we travel the path of conversion and change our cast of mind by turning from the visible to the invisible. As we travel this path, we learn to see the miracle of grace; we learn that there can be no more luminous source of joy for human beings and the world than the grace that has appeared in Christ. The world is not a futile confusion of drudgery and pain, for all the distress the world contains is supported in the arms of merciful love; it is caught up in the forgiving and saving graciousness of our God. ...Benedict XVI

UK: Church attendance 'to fall by 90%'

Jamie Doward
The Observer
Sunday 21 December 2008

In one of the most holy weeks in the Christian calendar, a report says that in just over a generation the number of people attending Church of England Sunday services will fall to less than a tenth of what they are now.

Christian Research, the statistical arm of the Bible Society, claimed that by 2050 Sunday attendance will fall below 88,000, compared with just under a million now.

The controversial forecast, based on a "snapshot" census of church attendances, has been seized upon by secular groups as proof that the established church is in decline. But the Church of England has rejected the figures, saying they were incomplete and ignored new ways of worshipping outside the church network.

According to Dr Peter Brierley, former executive director of Christian Research, by 2030 just under 419,000 people will attend an Anglican Sunday service. By 2040 the number will be down to 217,200, falling to 153,800 five years later. By 2050, if the trend prediction is correct, only 87,800 will be attending. the rest

Jerusalem Row-charges filed

Jerusalem row–charges filed
By George Conger
December 21, 2008

The saga of the battling bishops of Jerusalem opened a new chapter on Dec 13, with new accusations of misconduct exchanged between the former Bishop, the Rt. Rev Riah Abu al-Assal and the current Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani.

Last week The Church of England Newspaper reported that an altercation between Bishop al-Assal’s wife and staffers at the diocesan headquarters prompted police intervention. Mrs. al-Assal charged that she had been assaulted and distributed photographs purporting to document her injuries. The diocese hotly denied the assault allegations, and claimed it had been Mrs. al-Assal who had instigated the violence.

Following publication of news of the melee in the church press, on Dec 13 the diocese and Bishop Riah issued further statements. The former bishop reported that his wife was under doctors’ care as a result of the fracas. “I am sorry to inform you that she was advised to consult with a psychiatrist because of the trauma she is going through these days,” he said. the rest

UK: Sacking over senior bishop insult

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff has been sacked for insulting the Bishop of Rochester in an official document.

The worker wrote the obscenity next to the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali's comments on a vicar's job inquiry.

Forty three Church of England Bishops and Downing Street were sent the document earlier in the year.

The Church of England has confirmed that a member of staff had been dismissed over the issue. the rest

Added: What did the aide say about the Bishop ...?

Anglican Community Pushes For Church Property

Dec 21, 2008

On Friday a Fairfax County Judge in Virginia ruled to let nearly a dozen conservative congregations, which broke away from the Episcopal Church, keep their properties.

Now some local religious leaders say they'd like to see the same thing happen here.

"We really just want the status quo to exist which is leave us alone, let us follow Christ as we have been doing and do that in the building that we're in right now," said Anglican priest, Father Carlos Raines.

Last December the Diocese of San Joaquin split from the Episcopal Church over the issue of homosexuality. the rest

Most Britons do not believe in the nativity, survey shows

Most Britons do not believe the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, a study has found.
By Ben Leach
20 Dec 2008

Young people were particularly doubtful about the nativity, with 78 per cent of 16-24-year-olds saying they were not convinced of its historical reliability.

Overall, 70 per cent were sceptical of the baby's birth in a manger to a virgin mother, according to the poll of 1,000 people by the British Marketing Research Bureau.

Almost a quarter of those questioned who described themselves as Christians admitted they did not believe certain aspects of the Bible's teaching about Jesus. the rest image

Pope praises Galileo's astronomy

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Pope Benedict XVI has paid tribute to 17th-Century astronomer Galileo Galilei, whose scientific theories once drew the wrath of the Catholic Church.

The Pope was speaking at events marking the 400th anniversary of Galileo's earliest observations with a telescope.

He said an understanding of the laws of nature could stimulate appreciation of God's work.

In 1992, Pope John Paul said the church's denunciation of Galileo's work had been a tragic error. the rest image

Anglicans versus Episcopalians in America

Damian Thompson
Dec 21, 2008

You may think that, in the United States, Episcopalians are Anglicans and vice versa. Think again, says Jordan Hylden in this eye-opening article in First Things.

In America, "Episcopalian" is coming to mean the official, gay-friendly Church that not only ordained Gene Robinson as bishop but - increasingly - thinks he is a very good thing. Its liturgy is mostly groovy Catholic-lite, its theology achingly liberal, and if Rowan Williams hadn't ended up as Archbishop of Canterbury (a job he badly wanted) then I suspect he'd feel pretty much at home there. He is, after all, essentially a supporter of a form of gay marriage, though only when the microphones are turned off. the rest

‘I even enjoyed wearing the habit’

Meryl Streep, who plays a nun in the new film Doubt, speaks to Gabrielle Donnelly
19 December 2008

When Meryl Streep was researching the role of Sister Aloysius, the protagonist of John Patrick Shanley's film Doubt, a drama set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1963, one of the first things she did was to take herself to meet some real-life nuns who had been teaching at the time.

The experience, she tells me when we meet for tea in Beverly Hills, was something of an eye-opener.

"They were in their 80s and 90s, of course, and most of them sharp as a tack," she says now, smiling admiringly at the thought of the women she met. "The responsibility they had had at that time was just incredible. There was one nun who single-handedly ran the New York City parochial school system, which at the time had 70,000 kids in Brooklyn alone, and it was all her responsibility. the rest image