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Cremation vs Burial: Does it matter?

Credit: Robert Hoetink via FotoliaWhat would you like your loved ones to do with your body after you die? The question is perhaps a bit more morbid than many of us would like to spend too much time contemplating. For most Americans, though, the traditional solution to dealing with the dead has been simple: bury them, whether in a family plot or some other location.

That trend has been changing for several decades, however, and last year marked the first time that more people were cremated than buried in the US. While there are a number of factors behind the change—such as the drastically lower costs for cremation, environmental concerns, and general shifts in the nature of our society—it seems unlikely that the trajectory will change significantly any time soon.

I must admit that when I first read about this shift towards cremation, my initial reaction was "that's interesting" and little more (spoiler alert: that's pretty much how I still feel about it). A brief look into the topic, however, revealed that a rather large and vocal contingent of people feel very strongly in favor of traditional burial. Some even believe that a cremated person can't go to heaven, which, if true, would obviously be problematic. Consequently, whatever your views on cremation vs. burial, it's a topic that must be approached with the awareness that many favor one side quite strongly. To speak flippantly on the subject, in one direction or the other, would potentially place a stumbling block in the life of another believer (1 Corinthians 8:9).

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United Methodist Church elects its first LGBT Bishop

Credit: Alexander P Kapp via Creative CommonsAt its quadrennial General Conference in May, the United Methodist Church decided not to rule on the issue of full inclusion for openly practicing LGBT members. By instead opting to create a committee that would spend the next two years looking into the subject, it achieved the rare goal of uniting most of its membership. Unfortunately, that unity was founded upon mutual disappointment in the lack of a decision rather than any sense of agreement on what that decision should be. In the wake of that indecisiveness, two US jurisdictions nominated three openly practicing LGBT candidates for election as bishops. Rev. Karen Oliveto, one of the three, was selected by the California-Nevada group last Saturday and became the first such bishop in the denomination's history.

The reaction has been predictably divided. Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of the denomination's self-described "orthodox" and "evangelical" movement, Good News, stated that "If the Western Jurisdiction wanted to push the church to the brink of schism, they could not have found a more certain way of doing so." On the other end of the ideological spectrum, Matt Berryman, the executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, celebrated Oliveto's election as "an historic moment in the movement of [LGBTQ] persons for spiritual and civil equality, both in the church and the public square."

For her part, Oliveto, who has been married to partner Robin Ridenour for two years, simply hopes that her selection can help the committee better understand the need to rule on the subject while also opening the door for other LGBT individuals to feel like they have a place in God's kingdom. As she noted, "I think my election has helped the church realize that no child of God should be left behind."

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Mystery philanthropist hides $100 bills

A pile of $100 dollar billsFor the last few years, citizens of Salem, Oregon have benefited from the anonymous blessings of a mystery philanthropist. He or she has made a habit of hiding $100 bills in stores, markets, fairs, and festivals for others to find. Capi Lynn of the Statesman Journal nicknamed the generous individual Benny in honor of Benjamin Franklin, the man who graces the cover of the bill, and reports that he or she has hidden more than $50,000 worth of $100 bills around the city since May of 2013—and that's just the amount that's been reported.

As Lynn describes, Benny folds the bills and places them "in everything from breakfast cereals to frozen entrees, and from mouse traps to feminine hygiene products." For many, it's taken weeks to find the bill hidden in an otherwise normal item. But no matter how long it takes the lucky recipient to discover the gift, it always seems to come at the right time. Lynn has heard countless stories of people who've been able to pay their rent or electricity bills, buy medicine for themselves or a family member, and a number of other blessings upon finding the $100. One homeless couple was even able to experience the joy of having a roof over their heads for a few nights thanks to Benny's anonymous generosity.

For many, however, finding a Benny bill serves primarily as motivation to pay it forward. More than half of those who've made their stories public donated the bill to their favorite non-profit, gave it to someone in need, or kept it as a reminder and donated their own money instead. As a result, Benny has touched more lives with his generosity than he's likely to ever know because his actions have inspired others to be more generous in their own lives as well.

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How Your Mission Trip is Actually Keeping You from Sharing the Gospel

An old man sits and begs on Friedrich-Strasse in Berlin, Germany, 23 June 2016.Today over two million Americans go on short-term mission trips. Out of the two million, sixty-five percent of those participants are traveling internationally for missions. Over a million people every year go outside the US to serve another people group in the name of Christ. The short-term-mission movement began in the 1960s and grew dramatically through the 1980s and 1990s, but was the growth a good thing?

Oftentimes, short-term mission trips are free of distractions of home. A brief pause is put on life—obligations and responsibilities are put on hold, and all that is required of you is intense focus on the mission.

Being on mission in our own homes and communities, or even at our own cubicles, proves to be more of a challenge. We can pause our lives for missions overseas for a week, but we tend to pause missions at home for our lives on a daily basis.

Christ did not pause His mission on earth for his daily life. His daily life was his mission. We could make our lives and our mission interchangeable terms, too. Matthew 28:19 says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The word go, in the Greek, literally translates ‘as you are going.’ The Great Commission to share the gospel should be woven into our current and daily “going,” not only set aside for a trip with a church group.

Where are you going?

How to help kids get through hard times

Credit: Christin Lola via Fotolia"Why are some people able to become happy, well-adjusted adults even after growing up with violence or neglect?" Lucy Maddox recently addressed that question in her article for Mosaic, and the results shed light on a very important lesson for all of us. The answer partly involves the idea of resilience. Extensive research and case studies done from the Hawaiian Islands to orphanages in Romania reveal that, while early trauma and difficulties can have a formative impact on the long-term outlook of a child's life, that impact doesn't have to be negative. If those experiences create a sense of resiliency in the child, they can be overcome.

However, resilience, as the researchers use the term, is not something the child is born with as much as something that is developed over time, and often with the help of others. You see, the studies demonstrate that one of the most important factors in determining whether or not children would be able to cope with their difficult circumstances is the presence of a close relationship with someone that loved them, cared for them, and whom they could depend upon in a time of need.

As a child from one of the original studies, now sixty with seven children and fifteen grandchildren, said, the most important thing is that "there's somebody they know cares about them. Just one person, it can make all the difference." So while a child's ability to cope with difficult times and grow from the experiences is complex beyond our current understanding, the simple knowledge that one is loved can go a long way.

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