Straight Talk

Straight Talk

Operation Narnia to help needy children
Operation Christmas Child is partnering with the upcoming film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, set for release on December 10. Through this partnership, Narnia fans will be encouraged to participate in the world’s largest Christmas project by packing shoebox gifts that will make a difference in the lives of needy children.

In Narnia, it was always winter and never Christmas until Aslan arrived with hope. In the same way, simple shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items can bring hope to children around the world by reminding them they are loved and not forgotten.

“We’re very excited to participate in the upcoming release of the movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” said Franklin Graham, President of Samaritan’s Purse. “We want children around the world to know the true meaning of Christmas—the birth of Jesus Christ—and the joy and hope that this brings.”

In the third installment of the blockbuster series by renowned Christian author and apologist, C.S. Lewis, Lucy and Edmund Pevensie embark upon an incredible adventure on the Narnian ship, the Dawn Treader, confronting obstacles beyond their imagination. Like the Pevensies, shoebox gifts will make their own incredible journeys to over 100 countries this season. Operation Christmas Child will use whatever means necessary—ships, trucks, buses, trains, airplanes, boats, camels, and even dog sleds—for the gifts to reach the neediest children in the far corners of the earth. For many children, these will be the first gifts they have ever received.

Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, the international relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has hand-delivered shoebox gifts in over 130 countries to more than 77 million children suffering from poverty, disaster, disease, and war.

To learn more about the film and the Christmas project including how to pack an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift, visit or

Lewis and Chesterton for the holidays
C.S. Lewis was one of the intellectual powerhouses of our modern era and considered by many to be the most thought-provoking and influential writer within contemporary Christian culture.

With the stacks of study Bibles available these days, it seems a little surprising that The C.S. Lewis Bible is just now being published. Nevertheless, its time has come and Bible students and fans of Lewis’ work will be pleased. There are over 600 selections from Lewis’ spiritual classics, such as Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, A Grief Observed, The Four Loves, and The Weight of Glory, as well as letters, poetry, and Lewis’ lesser-known works. Each reading, paired alongside relevant passages in the Bible, offers C.S. Lewis’ thoughts to a reader’s daily study of Scripture.

This is the perfect gift for your United Methodist pastor, lay leader, or Sunday school teacher.

Although not nearly as well known as C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton was an equally engaging intellect known for his apologetics, mystery novels, and literary criticism. As a matter of fact, Lewis credits Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man for his Christian vision. Chesterton’s Heretics and Orthodoxy are still considered Christian classics.

Defiant Joy, written by Kevin Belmonte, is a bracing biography of Chesterton’s life. In addition, Belmonte has also compiled a new version of Chesterton’s most memorable quotes.

“People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe,” wrote Chesterton. “There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy.”

Chesterton also observed: “The Church always seems behind the times, when it is really beyond the times; it is waiting till the last fad shall have seen its last summer. It keeps the key of permanent virtue.”

In a different era, Chesterton was a formidable defender of the Christian faith in the face of a tidal wave of modernist sentiment. Chesterton challenged the intellects of his day with civility and humor. He wrote long-form epic poetry, widely-published articles, and lectured on art, politics, and history.

Both Chesterton volumes are highly recommended

A lifegiving Christmas…keeping it real
Rethink Church through United Methodist Communications has produced an advent series called “A Lifegiving Christmas…keepin’ it real,” which encourages participants to keep a well-rounded model of discipleship priority amidst all the holiday distractions. Individuals are encouraged to keep covenant with one another in making and keeping a “wishlist,” while congregations can focus on growing loving communities where hope, peace, and joy prevail. The missional focus can bring local churches into new relationships as they connect with others not only in worship, but also in mission and social activities. The sermon series is available as a free download at

A companion multimedia package ($25) includes the sermon series plus: five videos appropriate for worship, small group discussion, or online viewing; four worship bulletin graphics; five worship slide graphics; an invitation card (for congregants to share with others); door hanger; direct mail; and a 5-part readers’ theatre piece to engage creative talents and keep people focused on the theme. Two graphics options are included for both the invitation card and direct mail. This bundle can be purchased online by going to
—United Methodist Communications

Straight Talk

United Methodist revival in Zimbabwe

By Priscilla Muzerengwa

They come by the thousands, many leaving their homes for nearly a week to gather on an open patch of ground.

There, they will raise their hands above their heads, waving and clapping, singing songs of praise and dancing before the Lord. Many will stay up all night in praise and prayer, climbing nearby mountains for private conversations with God during breaks.
And the faithful, such as Emily Makunike, will be revived.

“I am blessed to be at this revival,” she said. “The spirit of the Lord is among us, the sermons are powerful, provoking the evil spirits, uplifting the weary, and urging people to live a victorious life in Christ Jesus.”

Those who want to understand why the United Methodist Church in Africa is growing need only attend one of these five-day women’s revivals held throughout Zimbabwe in August.

This year, more than 25,000 worshipped God at one of four revivals held Wednesdays through Sundays.

“The women’s revival is a major event in the Zimbabwe church’s calendar. Everyone looks forward to these revivals,” said the Rev. Sophrina Sign, connectional ministries director. “A lot of miracles take place, the sick are healed, and demons are cast out. The revivals are a climax of a spiritual journey for the church and are also a time for spiritual renewal.”

Prayer, prayer, and more prayer
The spiritual preparation begins early.

As soon as the names of the preachers for the revivals are announced, teams of intercessors begin fasting once a week, asking for the power of God to be manifested at the gatherings.

“First, we pray for purification of ourselves that our prayers may be acceptable before Christ. When we fast, our major focus is on deliverance, healing, and winning of souls to Christ,” said intercessor Babra Marumba.

The intercessors come to the campsite three days early “to declare the authority of the Lord over the whole ground. For the whole week they are on a dry fast, asking for God’s intervention. They only start to eat Saturday morning as they celebrate the success of the revival with the others,” said Engeline Tsakatsa, women’s evangelism chairperson.

During the revivals, messages of inspiration and exhortation are preached. Spiritual demons are exorcized. After each sermon, the evangelist leads people into a time of self-examination and dedication to Christ. Intercessors offer counseling.

“We tell them you are telling to God, not to the counselor, so people empty out everything with their focus on Jesus,” Marumba said.

The fruits are many
The theme of this year’s revivals was “A Future With Hope.”

That’s what Emma Chinyamudzori said she has now after attending a revival last year.

“I went to the revival in search for God’s favor that I may have a baby. The week before for the revival I started fasting, and I continued throughout the revival. At the revival I was always in prayer. When people go out for break, I will remain behind and cry to the Lord,” she said.

Before the end of the revival, the Rev. Tsitsi Madziyire proclaimed to the congregation that there are lots of miracles available from God, and invited women to come forward who wanted to have their wombs opened.

“Many women rushed to the pulpit, and I was one of the first to throw themselves to the pulpit. I prayed with so much faith that I am here to grab my miracle,” she said. “A month later, my doctor confirmed that I was one month pregnant. My baby is now two-and-a-half months old.”

Priscilla Muzerengwa is a United Methodist communicator for the Zimbabwe East Annual (regional) Conference. This story was distributed by United Methodist News Service.

Straight Talk

The altar of everything

By Liza Kittle

“The altar of everything” reverberated through my thinking as I attended the Women’s Division board meeting in April 2010. The initial gathering was held at the Tillman Chapel, located on the ground floor of the Church Center for the United Nations, a 12-story building owned and operated by the Division and positioned directly across the street from the United Nations.

The marble altar was a beautiful display of over 70 Bibles lined in rows with stones placed between each one. The Bibles, each one in a different language, were gifts by member states to the Church Center at its 1965 dedication. What a wonderful display on the altar of God—a true visual representation of the Great Commission where Jesus says, “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 24:19).

Originally, the chapel had a plain wooden cross hung discreetly to one side, no doubt signifying that although open to all peoples, this was a space consecrated to the glory of God in the name of Jesus Christ. An article commemorating the forty year anniversary of the Center stated the building “has stood as a witness to Christian support for efforts in international diplomacy….”

Over the years, the Tillman chapel has taken on a different look and witness. Now, hanging over the altar, the wooden cross has been joined by large banners with the symbols of four world religions—Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Shintoism. The chapel is the site for ecumenical and multi-faith events, interfaith marriages, and has even been used for “dialogue” with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Sadly, this sacred altar has become “the altar of everything” under the auspices of the Women’s Division. From celebrating feminist liberation theology at the UN Commission on the Status of Women to worshiping social justice causes during UN meetings, the worship space at the Tillman Chapel is used as an altar for every religion, cause, and theology imaginable—all in the name of tolerance and diversity.

While respect for religious freedom and cultural diversity is essential, the promotion of multiple theologies is detrimental to the Christian witness. As the renowned Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says, “Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of a pretended tolerance. All religions, plain and simple, cannot be true, are not in concert, and do not all point to God. Every religion at its core claims exclusivity and all-inclusive philosophies can only come at the cost of truth.”

If the Christian church embraces other religious faiths and is meek in its proclamation of Christian truth, the mission mandate of Jesus to take the Gospel into the whole world is disregarded.

United Methodism continues to compromise its theology and mission in the name of pluralism and tolerance. Recently, a multi-faith program of study was approved at Claremont University, an official United Methodist seminary, where a program to train rabbis and imams will be added. Emory University, another United Methodist institution, hosted a multi-faith conference last month on the pursuit of happiness from different faith perspectives with the Dalai Lama as a keynote speaker. He also serves as a Presidential Distinguished Professor at Emory.

The Word of God and the Great Commission remains unchanged. While the display of Bibles in different languages on the altar at the Tillman Chapel was an impressive sight, the fact remains that out of 6,909 spoken languages in the world; only 451 have a complete Bible.

In October 2010, the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization took place in Cape Town, South Africa. Over 4000 Christian leaders from 200 countries gathered for a week of prayer, repentance, study, and dialogue as they discerned the church’s next phase of evangelistic outreach.

Strategies and methods may have changed, but the passion for the Great Commission should not. Evangelizing “unreached people groups,” planting strong churches, and training indigenous missionaries have been extremely successful mission models. But billions of lost and broken souls continue to search for meaning, healing, and purpose in life that only a relationship with Jesus can provide. Christians continue to be persecuted and martyred all over the world. Billions have no access to the Gospel. The sacredness of the altar of God and the proclamation of biblical truth are more important today than ever before.

Liza Kittle is the President of the Renew Network (, P.O. Box 16055, Augusta, GA 30919; telephone: 706-364-0166.

Straight Talk

Deciding what to teach (and what not to)

By Duffy Robbins

The marquee sign out in front of the Unitarian Church made me smile. It read, “Bible Study tonight. Bring scissors.” I envisioned a group of earnest Unitarians sitting around a comfortable room discussing which passages of the Bible should be cut out of the holy text so that God’s words might be a little easier to digest.

Of course, most of us would never presume to put scissors to page in an effort to whittle the Bible down to a more manageable message. But, in truth, we may be more guilty than we realize.

Somewhere around my tenth year in youth ministry, I came to the troubling realization that I was giving my youth group a Bible that was missing whole sections of divine revelation. It was an accidental discovery that happened when I went back over three years of my teaching in youth group. I discovered (a) that we devoted almost six times as much study to the New Testament as we did to the Old Testament; (b) that we spent more time studying topics than we spent studying texts; (c) that I was teaching on some of the same topics over and over again; and (d) that our teaching curriculum was more a reflection of my training and biases than it was a reflection of the whole counsel of God.

The vast majority of youth ministers are convinced that Bible study should be a main component of their youth program. But the confusion often voiced by both youth ministry volunteers and professionals revolves around two questions: “What do I teach?” and “How do I teach it?” We will continue over the next several months in this column to address question number two. But for the next few issues of Good News, let’s focus primarily on question number one.

Developing a Curriculum: First Steps. It’s not that most of us as youthworkers ever intentionally decide to cut away vast portions of God’s Word. We believe in the Word. We want our students to embrace the Word. But, what we don’t do is give enough thought to how we will intentionally work to make sure our students are systematically exposed to the Word.

When I became aware that our youth group was missing out on whole food groups of God’s feast, I decided to get together with my volunteers and student leaders to talk with them about the situation. We invited our pastor and members of the youth committee to join us in the discussion. We came away with a list of topics and texts that we felt students should be exposed to prior to their high school graduation. We decided to teach on these topics and texts over a three-year Sunday school cycle. Obviously, each local youth ministry is going to have different topics they want to emphasize, and different needs they feel they want to address. But this may be a good model to start with.

We also made up a similar plan with some of the same topics for Wednesday night Bible study. That meant that students who came to our Wednesday night Bible study might hear some topics more than once, but we didn’t see much danger with that. We intentionally covered some topics (sex and dating) more than once in a three year period, using different curricula, and perhaps, coming at it from a different angle. We felt some topics needed to be repeated.

You will want to develop your own plan, of course. We broke the topics into three broad categories, just for the sake of balancing our own thinking: Bible – book studies, biographical studies of key biblical characters, these studies tended to focus on biblical texts; Life – these were more lifestyle issues, a more topical way of addressing how to apply what we had heard and studied in the Word; Body – the core issues here were related to “being the Body of Christ,” living out Kingdom values as a Christian community, locally and globally.
Obviously, kingdom truth is not so neatly separated into these three boxes. But, again, it helped us think strategically about what we wanted to address. Were you to develop a curriculum like this, you would probably want to get input from a wide range of sources: the students, parents, co-workers (paid or volunteer), and a sampling of church leaders. It wouldn’t be necessary to cover every topic suggested from these input groups, but it would certainly be wise to let people know they’re being heard.

The advantage of this kind of long-range approach to topic planning is that it helps us to avoid two common mistakes in teaching: (1) teaching on our pet topics over and over again, or (2) teaching on some topic just because we have some cool new media resource or curriculum. But, more than that, it opens up enough teaching territory that students can explore a wider, vaster landscape of God’s truth.

Duffy Robbins is Chairman of the Department of Youth Ministry at Eastern College in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and a long-time columnist for Good News.

Straight Talk

Breaking with denomination, Foundry UM Church votes to perform same-sex marriages

Members of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington D.C. voted 367 to 8 on Sept. 26 to allow same-gender marriages to be performed in its building. Foundry is among many congregations in Washington that have been discussing same-sex marriages since the city passed the Marriage Equality Act last March.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s rulebook, says it is a chargeable offense for a clergyperson to conduct a holy union or marriage for gays and lesbians. Following Foundry’s vote, Washington Area Bishop John R. Schol released a statement to clergy and lay leaders in the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference. “In the midst of these difficult matters of the church,” he wrote, “I will do all I can to be fair and compassionate as I work to maintain the unity and witness of the church.” But as a bishop, he noted, he is responsible for upholding church law and “will process and follow through with any complaint or charge against a United Methodist clergyperson of the Baltimore-Washington Conference who performs a same gender wedding or holy union.”

Earlier this year, Dumbarton United Methodist Church, a Reconciling Congregation in Georgetown, publicly proclaimed its offer to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The United Methodist Church has dealt with the issue of homosexuality for 10 General Conferences (1972-2008). Each time, the denomination has affirmed the “sacred worth” of all persons while at the same time upholding that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Delegates to the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh expanded Paragraph 2702 of the Book of Discipline to include “conducting ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions, and performing same-sex wedding ceremonies” to the list of chargeable offenses that could evoke a disciplinary trial for a United Methodist clergyperson. Delegates voted overwhelmingly 756-159 (83 percent) to not allow homosexual unions or marriages.

From combined dispatches, including UM News Service.