By Melissa Wuske
Sermons Are Central
What attracts people to a particular church? A Gallup poll says the leading answer isn’t dynamic leaders, children’s programing, or good music. The highest responses, at about 75 percent each, were “sermons that teach about Scripture” and “sermons that help connect religion to own life.”
“In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare: the focused, balanced, deep,” said Matt Woodley, editor of Preaching Today. “Deep preaching is our best chance to change lives.”
While only half of Protestants choose a church based on “dynamic religious leaders who are interesting and inspiring,” leaders are clearly a key part of preparing a good sermon. According to LifeWay Research, how far in advance ministers select passages or topics for their sermons varies: the leading responses at 22 percent each were “2-5 months in advance” and “the week before.”
Timothy Keller, author and minister at Redeemer Presbyterian, sums up who is truly responsible for a sermon: “A good sermon is mainly the responsibility of the preacher, but a great one is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit.”
Rise in Government Restrictions on Religion
Last April, Xu Rongzhang, a Taiwanese minister, was detained by law enforcement in China for taking part in an “illegal religious activity”—leading a group of believers in singing “Jesus Loves Me.” The incident is one in a growing trend of arrests for religious activity in China.
Such situations echo Pew Research’s findings that government religious restriction is on the rise. In 2015, the most recent year studied, a quarter of countries had high or very high government restrictions on religion. That number rose for the first time in three years. According to the research, 105 governments engaged in “widespread harassment” of religious groups in 2015, compared to 85 governments in 2014.
Genetics and Monogamy
Oldfield mice have a rare
behavior: males are monoga-mous and take part in caring for their children. In the vast majority of mammal species, males mate with as many females as possible. Researchers at Harvard University wondered what made the mice different. The researchers crossbred the oldfield mice with their closest relative species, deer mice, who don’t demonstrate the same behaviors. The second-generation offspring had varied parenting behaviors, unlike the two original species. Scientists were able, using these variations, to identify a dozen pieces of DNA linked to parenting. These genetic sequences and the behaviors they cause could lead to insights into the variety of human behaviors related to monogamy and paternity.
Former Home Now in the Smithsonian
Isabell Meggett Lucas, age 86, recently had the chance to visit her childhood home. Lucas’s home, once located in South Carolina, is now part of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s an example of the former slave cabins where families like Lucas’s lived in the post-Civil War and Jim Crow South.
The cabin was built in 1851 and was last occupied in 1981. Lucas lived there until she was 19. Seeing the house in an exhibit designed to capture an era was a deeply personal experience. “It’s my home. We all lived there together and we were happy,” she said. She also remembers life as a farm laborer: “We had to work so hard. I hated it. I hated all farm work, but I didn’t have a choice.”
She hopes her home helps people understand a piece of the past: “People can look at that house and the pictures around it and know that everything didn’t come easy back then,” she said.
Melissa Wuske is a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband, Shawn, live and minister in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Find her work online (melissaannewuske.com).