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News That Illustrates for Sunday, March 23rd - 30th

Pot and Selfies and Facebook, a Dead Man Really Dies, and Science vs. Faith

Pot, Selfies, and Facebook—Welcome to the New Individualism
After analyzing a new Pew survey, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat claims that we're in a new and deeper "age of individualism." In a riff off 1 Corinthians 13, here's how Douthat described our tendency to disconnect from each other: "In the future, it seems, there will be only one "ism"—Individualism—and its rule will never end. As for religion, it shall decline; as for marriage, it shall be postponed; as for ideologies, they shall be rejected; as for patriotism, it shall be abandoned; as for strangers, they shall be distrusted. Only pot, selfies and Facebook will abide—and the greatest of these will probably be Facebook."

PREACHING THEMES; Church, body of Christ; Church; Community; Individualism; Small Groups

Dead Mississippi Man Dies for Real This Time
Walter Williams, a 78-year-old Mississippi man was pronounced dead last month and placed in body bag. But the feisty, I'm-not-dead-yet Mr. Williams kicked his way out of the body bag just before the embalming process. According to a report in Reuters, "Williams, known by the nicknames 'Snowball' or 'Snow' because he was born during a rare Mississippi blizzard, took the experience in stride and told his family to let him go when his time came for good." After Williams' real death, his nephew said, "I think he's gone this time." His daughter, Gracie Williams, said, "He told us, 'It's all up in the Lord's hands. Whatever the Lord says, I'm willing to do it. Y'all just accept it." I'd say that's not a bad way to go.

PREACHING THEMES: Death; Easter; Resurrection

Parents, Wired to Distraction
The Journal of Pediatrics published a new study about how mobile devices are disrupting family relationships. The researchers spent time observing 55 families dining in Boston area fast-food restaurants. Guess who was the biggest culprit of mobile device abuse? Guess who was the most distracted? It wasn't the children or even the teenagers. It was the parents. You probably don't need new research to guess this result: "Adults who were typing and swiping were more fully focused on their screens than those who were making phone calls. The ones paying most attention to their children were, of course, not doing any of those things." And here's another no-brainer: "Children can feel hurt by this lack of attention."

PREACHING ANGLES: Distractions; Family; Parents

New Scientific Discovery Can Remind Us of God's Greatness
Last week, the scientific community (and people who want to pretend that they grasp exotic physics and astroscience) was rocked by the spectacular announcement that waves dating from the beginning of the Big Bang had been observed for the first time, confirming decades of speculation, and offering observable evidence of the universe's earliest seconds. The announcement comes as the new version of the show Cosmos is continuing the old story of religion as being anti-science. But did you know that the man who first articulated the theory of the Big Bang was a Christian? Georges Lemaître was a physicist and Roman Catholic priest living in Belgium in the 1920s, and the first person to hypothesize the expansion of the universe, describing it as "the Cosmic Egg exploding at the moment of the creation." While the relationship of science and faith isn't always easy to navigate, the example of scientists like Lemaître are a reminder that with an open mind, exciting discoveries of nature and our universe can be powerful motivators for faith. "Let there be light," God said. And the light is still rushing in.

PREACHING ANGLES: God, creator; Nature; Science

Man Googles Himself Promptly Surrenders
The Bible calls us "enemies of God." In other words, we're spiritual fugitives even when you don't know it—just like this guy. Christopher Viatafa, a 27-year-old California man, decided to find out what the internet had to say about his existence. So after engaging in what's called "egosurfing," Viatafa discovered he was on a "Northern California Most Wanted" website. According to police, Mr. Viatafa got into an argument in 2013 during a private party and then allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired several rounds into the ground, before he was persuaded to leave. Viatafa may well have thought nothing more of the incident—until he found his name on the website. To his credit, he promptly surrendered to police and now if you Google his name you'll find him listed as a "captured fugitive."

PREACHING ANGLES: Rebellion; Salvation, need for; Sin; Sinful nature

Believing in Hell Deters Crime Better Than Believing in Heaven
A classic question of motivational psychology asks whether fear of punishment or hope of reward is more effective in influencing human behavior. A recent study from the University of Oregon answers the question—and in distinctly theological terms. Azim Shariff of the UO's Culture and Morality Lab commented: "The key finding is that, controlling for each other, a nation's rate of belief in hell predicts lower crime rates, but the nation's rate of belief in heaven predicts higher crime rates, and these are strong effects … At this stage, we can only speculate about mechanisms, but it's possible that people who don't believe in the possibility of punishment in the afterlife feel like they can get away with unethical behavior. There is less of a divine deterrent." Whether or not there are completely healthy emotional and theological underpinnings to our understanding of how the afterlife impacts our choices today, one thing is for certain. Our thoughts about hell and heaven matter today. Thanks to A.J. Swoboda for providing this illustration.

PREACHING ANGLES: Morality, Ethics, Choices, Hell, Heaven

Is Social Media Obsession Just a Search for Personal Meaning?
Is social media obsession just a search for personal meaning? That's the question that Rebecca Newberger Goldstein posits in a recent New York Times essay, titled "What Would Plato Tweet?" While she approaches the issue from a secular perspective, her insight into humanity's recurring questions of whether and how we matter as individuals are right on track. She says, "It's stunning that our culture has, with the dwindling of theism, returned to the answer to the problem of mattering that Socrates and Plato judged woefully inadequate. Perhaps their opposition is even more valid today. How satisfying, in the end, is a culture of social-media obsession? The multireplication so readily available is as short-lived and insubstantial as the many instances of our lives they replicate." Perhaps the right question to ask is what we are reaching for when we reach for our smartphones. Is it really for a message, like, or retweet? Or is it looking for the answer to a deeper question—whether or not we matter as people?

PREACHING ANGLES: Social media, Meaning, Significance

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