America, home of the mega-church movement, has dozens of churches that draw crowds in the 10s of thousands on any given weekend, but the biggest megachurch of all drew an unprecedented 16,000 people to a single service last Saturday night as Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church held its first service in its new facility, the former Compaq Center, once home to the Houston Rockets. The arena had been remodeled, including adding 5 more stories to make room for the large expected crowds. Lakewood Church averages 30,000 worshippers over its weekend services, making it the largest church in America.
Lakewood Church was started in 1959 in an abandoned feed story by Joel Osteen's father, John, whom Joel succeeded on his death in 1999.
The renovations took 15 months & $75 million to complete.
Joel Osteen has come under criticism by some discernment ministries as a televangelist associated with the Word Faith Movement.
If authenticated, 2 scraps of an ancient biblical manuscript of the book of Leviticus recently discovered may be a significant addition to the manuscript collection including the Dead Sea Scrolls that date back 1900-2200 years and authenticate the accurate historical transmission of the Old Testament text.
Some scholars believe that the Judean Desert is nearly devoid of ancient manuscript remains, while others believe that much more is still buried and/or hidden in the hostile terrain full of hidden caves & buried ruins.
The last signifcant mansucript fragment finds were in 1965. The Dead Sea Scrolls appeared beginning in 1947. In total, more than 1000 ancient texts & fragments of texts have been discovered from that same area covering the time period of at least as early as 200 BC through the beginning of the second century.
Chanann Eshel, an archaeologist at Bar Illan University in Tel Aviv, Israel, explained, "No more scrolls have been found in the Judean Desert since 1965. This encourages scholars to believe that if they bother to excavate, survey, & climb they will find things in the Judean Desert. The common knowledge has been that there is nothing left to find there."
The two small pieces are on animal skin & are in Hebrew. They are from "refuge" caves in Nachal Arugot near the Dead Sea, where Jews hid from the Romans in the second century during the Second Jewish Revolt.
A Bedouin who possessed the fragments had been offered up to $20,000 on the black market for the fragments & came to Prof. Eshel to have them evaluated first. Eshell was dismayed that the fragments could end up in the hands of a privatge collector, with no chain of evidence for authentication purproses. After nearly a year, he was able to purchase the fragments from the Bedouin for $3,000 provided by the University. They were immediately handed over to the Isareli Antiquities Authority for authentication studies.
According to Eshel, "Scholars do not buy antiquities. I did it because I could not see it fall apart."
NBC has given a mid-season replacement slot in the 2005-2006 program lineup to a new drama series called The Book of Daniel, starring Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall) as a prescription pill addicted Episcopal priest who interacts with visions of a contemporary Jesus seen only by him. Quinn's character, Rev. Daniel Webster, is supervised by a female bishop played by Ellen Burstyn. Various members of his family struggle through problems with embezzlement, murder, drug addiction, & sexual escapades.
Jesus is played by Garret Dillahunt, a reltatively little-known actor best known for his continuing role in HBO's Deadwood. He's the one who murdered Wild Bill Hickok.
NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly announced, "This challenging new series is our first announced drama for mid-season as we continue to seek different, out-of-the-box projects." Reilly acknowledged that the network's interest in The Book of Daniel was inspired in part by the success of the Left Behind novel series & Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ.
An English music setter for a Christian publishing company is suing the company at the British Department of Trade & Industry employment tribunal, arguing that he was unfairly discriminated against when Kevin Mayhew Publishers fired him after he was convicted of sexually abusing a 4 year old girl. The firm specializes in hymn books & religious music and is in Buxhall, Suffolk.
Geoffrey Moore (65) avoided a jail term in May after admitting to 5 offenses of indcency with the girl and 1 of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. He received from the court a 3 year community rehabilitiation order, was added to the sex offender's register for 5 years, & was banned from working with children for life. The day after the May hearing, Moore was terminated by his employer.
Moore is demanding back pay & reinstatement to his job as a music setter.
Company founder & president Keven Mayhew (62) commented, "It beggars belief that he has the cheek to try and claim compensation after what he did to this little girl." Mayhew had retained Moore in his job when he was first charged, although he said Moore had agreed to resign if he was convicted & sent to jail.
Michelle Elliot, director of the children's charity Kidscape, which specializes in protecting children from sexual abuse, said: "If abusing a four-year-old girl is not grounds for dismissal, I do not know what is."
Hogen Fu-kun-aga (60), a former leader of the Ho-no-Hana Sampogyo religious group has been sentenced to 12 years in prison after his conviction for fraud in a Kyodo, Japan court. Fu-kun-aga, whose real name is Teruyoshi Fu-kun-aga, purported to be able to diagnose & treat diseases by examining the soles of clients' feet and "listening to the voice of heaven."
Although Fu-kun-aga argued through his defense team that his actions were protected because they were expressions of his religious beliefs, prosecutors successfully argued to the court that he & his cohorts ran a financial scam that preyed on vulnerable people, persuading them to ruin themselves financially to support the readings, diagnoses, & treatments.
In addition to Fu-kun-aga, 14 other faith group members were indicted, 12 have been found guilty in district court, & 2 have appealed their convictions.
Total fines for restitution & prison sentences range in the millions of yen & multiple decades.
Presiding Judge Tsutomu Aoyagi commented, "It's artful and vicious to swindle such a large sum of money," adding that Fu-kun-aga "incited anxiety by telling [clients] shocking things." He concluded, that his acts were "nothing but fraud, & it went far beyond an acceptable level of freedom of religion."
At its General Synod meeting in York, the Church of England took the first step toward a 4 year process to allow female bishops. The Church of England (COE) is the original church from which the international Anglican Communion developed. It was formed when England's King Henry VIII and the Archbishop of Canterbury broke with the Roman Catholic church in the 16th century. Today there are Anglican churches in 160 countries with a total membership of more than 77 million. The United States church is called the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA).
The Synod voted to approve the process to conform all legal instruments of the COE to allow female bishops. Among the 4 bishops who voted (other clerics & lay representatives voted as well), 41 voted for the motion with 6 voting against it. Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler, who brought the motion to the voting bodies, explained, "In no way can it be claimed that in seeking at this time to test the mind of the Church of England we act hastily or preciptately."
Although the motion was approved overwhelmingly, and the COE has permitted female priests since the 1980s & had female priests serving since 1994, there is some conservative dissent from within and many other churches in the international communion are against the move.
Anglican churches in New Zealand, Canada, & the United States already have female bishops. In addition, Canadian Anglicans have church-approved blessing ceremonies for same sex unions & the ECUSA has consecrated an openly homosexual bishop in New Hampshire. These actions have caused many Anglican churches form other nations to draw away from close association & even threaten to break the international communion. Churches in Africa, South America, & Asia tend to be much more conservative than those in the UK & North America.
Within the ECUSA, some conservative congregations have withdrawn from official oversight & come under the leadership of more conservative African churches. The Anglican Communion has yet to determine whether the splintered hierarchy will be officially sanctioned.
Mega-actor Tom Cruise has been dissed by the Paris City Hall, which Tuesday pledged "never to welcome the actor Tom Cruise" because of his association with & promotion of the Church of Scientology. The City Hall called Cruise a "spokesman for Scientology & self-declared militant for this organization."
Although Cruise proposed marriage to his current lady friend, Katie Holmes, in Paris, & Marseille once made him an honorary citizen, many in France consider the Church of Scientology to be a dangerous, destructive cult.
A new digital music store is now available catering specifically to "family-friendly" Christian & inspirational music fans. SongTouch.com, offers 18,000 titles from gospel to rock. The titles are available for 99 cents per download or by subscription. Articles, video clips, and other informaiton about inspirational music & musicians is also available.
During the last 10 years, Christian music CDs numbers have increased by 10% to nearly 50 million units even as the general music industry has stagnated. CD sales of "praise & worship" music have doubled in the last 5 years, reaching 20 million units sold.
SongTouch is produced by Howard Rachinski's Touch, Inc., which also spawned Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), the world's largest licensing program allowing 200,000 churches internationally (140,000 in the US) to copy & distribute inspirational & religious music to their congretations, largely through worship services & music concerts.
David Dickinson, vice president of operations for SongTouch, says the primary demographics for the new service is 13-16 year olds, college age, & 28-36 year olds. According to recent surveys, more than 80% of Christian teens have engaged in some kind of music piracy or illegal copying or downloading. Just 10% of Christian teens polled believed illegal downloading or copying was morally wrong, not quite half again as many as the 6% of "non-born-agains" who thought it was morally wrong.
Some music, including particular songs, performance recordings, & enhanced items will be available only through SongTouch.
A burned Quran found on the steps of a Virginia mosque came from a Muslim who didn't know how to properly dispose of his worn copy of Islam's Scripture. The Quran, found on the steps of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg, charred and placed in a plastic bag with other burned Arabic books.
While police said they were investigating whether it was a hate crime, some Islamic groups jumped to the conclusion that it must have been a hate crime, indicative of anti-Muslim bias in America. Laila Al-Qatami, spokesperson for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington DC, said shortly after the find, "Let's face it, books, don't burn themselves & end up outside a mosque. It's a willful act."
Last week a Muslim Virginia Tech student contacted local police and said he had left the Quran at the local mosque because it had been burned in a fire & he didn't know how to dispose of it respectfully himself. The note of explanation the student had left with the bag evidentally blew away.
According to research conducted by the Church of England (COE) and its Commission on Urban Life & Faith, 50% of 13-15 year olds in England & Wales believe in God & there is strong faith among them that prayer gave them a greater "sense of purpose." 75% of those who pray daily said they had a clear sense of purpose, while only 48% of those who never prayed expressed a sense of purpose.
Nevertheless, the research also showed that 25% have considered suicide & nearly 20% expressed a racial intolerance, stating that "too many black people" live in Britain.
The Commission report calls on the government to "explore a spiritual dimension" in its plans for children, to promote anti-rascist programs in schools & youth clubs, & to conduct a similar survey every 10 years.
The Rev. Lady Richardson of Calow, chair of the Commission, noted, "We can learn a valuable lesson from this report, one which could protect our children & help them to flourish."
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26