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News That Illustrates: March 5, 2012

What People Gave Up for Lent
Here's a fun way to set up a sermon on so many topics—even if your church doesn't make a big deal about Lent. For the past four years, Stephen Smith has been tracking Twitter to take a snapshot of what people say they're giving up for Lent. It's a fascinating glimpse into American spirituality. Here's the top ten list (in order) of things Americans say they gave up for Lent: Twitter, Chocolate, Swearing, Alcohol, Soda, Facebook, Fast food, Sex, Sweets, and Meat. The top 100 list also included some interesting items to give up for Lent: School, You, Religion, Stuff, Breathing, Starbucks, Porn, Sarcasm, Men, Being Mean, Being Nice, and Lent.

PREACHING ANGLES: Lent; Self-denial; Spirituality

Black Pastors Take Heat over Same-sex Marriage
Here's a more serious article about black pastors in Maryland who are taking heat for their stance on same-sex marriage. Specifically, they don't view the issue as a civil rights matter. As a result, these pastors have been labeled bigots. The article primarily focuses on the voice of one pastor named Nathaniel Thomas. Thomas writes movingly of loving and welcoming gay men. "We're all sinners," he says. "Christ never turned anyone away." But on the other hand, Thomas also says, "But love doesn't mean you go along to get along." The article also quotes Thomas saying, "We do have a flat tire in our community when it comes to marriage and men in the household. But do we flatten the other three tires to move forward, or do we work on fixing the flat tire? Do we … justify another change in our social structure?"

PREACHING ANGLES: Compassion; Courage; Homosexuality

Political Squabbles and the Role of Satan
This article in the Washington Post focused on a political candidate (it was the Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum if you want to mention his name) who mentioned the "S" word—Satan. It came up in a speech he made a few years ago in which he said, "This is not a political war at all. This is not a cultural war. This is a spiritual war." And then he called Satan "the Father of lies." Pundits on both the left and the right have been having a field day mocking that quote. But the article raised an interesting question: "Is the idea of Satan now so unacceptable in our public discourse as to be dismissed whole cloth?" The article also noted that belief in Satan "sounds pre-modern to many ears, but it is not an outlier [belief] today." For instance, "A 2007 Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans believe in the Devil."

PREACHING ANGLES: Devil; Satan; Spiritual Warfare

Did Jeremy Lin Come from Nowhere?
Here's another great preachable angle on the Jeremy Lin story. To most people (sports analysts included) Jeremy Lin, the point guard for the NBA New York Knicks, arose mysteriously from nowhere. He just "happened" to become a star. But this article reminds us that Lin's rise didn't start with his 25-point explosion at Madison Square Garden on February 4th. Instead, the article notes, "It began with lonely 9 a.m. workouts in downtown Oakland in the fall of 2010; with shooting drills last summer on a backyard court … and with muscle-building sessions at a Menlo Park fitness center." The parallels between Lin's teachable spirit and his daily discipline provide some great angles to preach on spiritual growth.

PREACHING ANGLES: Commitment; Disciplines; Spiritual Disciplines; Teachability

Euphemism of the Year Award
Here's the best euphemism so far for 2012—"family balancing." According to this article in the British newspaper the Telegraph, that phrase refers to the practice of "parents trying to control the sex of their children." Some people might call it killing a baby girl because you want to try again for a baby boy. In some cultures—such as India or China—"women can come under intense pressure to produce a male" so "the lengths some parents go to have a son can be extreme." But the practice has also come under scrutiny in Great Britain—where the article states, "Couples find themselves in the situation of having a succession of boys and are disappointed to discover that their unborn child is not going to be the girl they hoped for but another boy." The solution? Try "family balancing."

PREACHING ANGLES: Abortion; Confession; Rationalization; Sin

Does Money Really Lead to Happiness?
According to research reported in The Economist, a poll based on 19,000 adults in 24 countries "contradicts what we thought we knew about income and happiness." Specifically, more money doesn't equal more happiness. According to the study, the study shows "the highest levels of self-reported happiness not in rich countries, as one would expect, but in poor and middle-income ones." For instance, the five "happiest" countries are Indonesia, India, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia. The United States came in sixth place. The article does point to some flaws in the poll (for instance, it relies on "self-reported happiness"), but the article's concluding punch line is definitely preachable: "Perceived happiness depends on a whole lot more than material welfare."

PREACHABLE ANGLES: Contentment; Joy; Money; Wealth

Always Give 100 Percent at Work
Finally, here's a humorous quote from the folks at the Freakonomics blog. They spotted a guy with an interesting t-shirt that read: "Always give 100% at Work: 12% on Monday; 23% on Tuesday; 40% on Wednesday; 20% on Thursday; 5% on Friday." Not exactly what the Bible has in mind when we're told "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart."

PREACHING ANGLE: Jobs; Service; Work; Zeal

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