7 Reflections On The Scottish Referendum

The people of Scotland have spoken and said, “No thanks!”

Thus ends the latest Scottish rebellion at least for another generation.

And for one of the very few times in my life, the side I supported, albeit with some reluctance, has won an election. Pity I couldn’t actually vote.

And a first, one of my prophecies came true. In A Scottish View on Scottish Independence, I predicted that Scotland would vote “No” by a narrow margin. I thought it would be 5-7%, but it’s turned out to be nearer 10%.

So what does it all mean? A few reflections:

1. This has been a largely peaceful process. The days of Braveheart and Culloden are thankfully long past for Scotland. Ukraine, Iraq, and many other places are not so fortunate, as separatist (and unionist) movements continue to use to military means to advance their cause. There are no tanks or claymores on the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow this morning.

2. This has been a surprising process. Surprising that the passionate Scottish nationalist movement came so close, but even more surprising perhaps was the passion and feeling stirred in the hearts of the Unionists. Many Scots were stunned at how much latent love for being British surfaced in our hearts. Scots who’d never waved a British flag in their lives found themselves wrapped in Union flags and singing “Land of Hope and Glory” and “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves” with all the gusto of the English! We’ve shed surprising tears as we discovered deep strains of patriotism and came to value and treasure our shared and God-given history and heritage.

3. This has been a divisive process. With the whole referendum being about division, in some ways we should have expected polarization. But few expected such extreme polarization. Americans who have got so used to extreme partisan politics might be puzzled that this is a problem. “It’s politics, of course we hate the other side.” But that’s not the norm in the UK. Oh, sure the main party leaders feign hatred of each other, as here. But the general population usually just lets them get on with it, as they get on with their lives. Not this time. Families, neighbors, colleagues, Christians have turned against one another with a rarely seen enmity, that may take years to recover from.

4. This has been a heartbreaking process. The vote is over but hundreds of thousands of Scots are deeply depressed this morning with painful hearts that will take a long time to heal. The stunning 85% electoral participation was exceeded only by the unparalleled emotional investment that will be causing many emotional hangovers this morning. This was no ordinary election that people forget in a day or two; many staked their whole beings and many pounds and hours in this campaign. And today, as I look at photos and film of rain-soaked Scottish flags and Lion Rampants, and at the tear-stained faces of multitudes of heart-broken Yes-Scots, my eyes begin to water too. “Maybe they were right. Maybe we missed a golden opportunity.”

5. This has been an economic process. For all the passion and emotion of these weeks and months, the primary consideration has been money. Judging by most of the arguments, the vote really came down to which side would put a few more pounds in Scottish pockets. Spiritual considerations were ignored or belittled. Saddest of all, perhaps, was that neither side needed to take the church’s views or the Christian vote into account at all – too small, too insignificant. Thus Scotland’s headlong plunge into secularism, even intolerant persecuting secularism, continues apace, though probably slightly slower than if Scotland had voted for Independence.

6. This has been an entertaining process. There have been many moments of high-drama and many barn-storming speeches. Political reputations were made and destroyed. Some politicians rose to the occasion and others collapsed under the glare of TV lights and public scrutiny. Although election results usually disappoint me, I must say I just love watching the human drama play out as men and women strive to sway hearts and minds, as leaders are made and others are broken, as journalists skewer slippery interviewees, and as ordinary people rise up and speak. 

7. This is a continuing process. One of the factors that swung the vote in the last few days was the UK leaders’ panic-induced promises of far greater powers to the Scottish parliament. That may have saved their skins, and the Union, but it’s also guaranteed continued political, constitutional, and economic upheaval for years to come. In his concession statement, the nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, has already called for these promises to be honored.

UPDATE: Let me add an eighth thought. This has been a world-watching moment. Scotland is rarely in the news, but has fairly enjoyed the world’s media spotlight the past week or so, especially as the opinion polls narrowed and the break-up of the United Kingdom seemed imminent. Many European nations looked on with alarm as separatist movements in various European countries recognized the momentum a Scottish “yes” vote would produce. Americans, including the President, weighed in on the eve of the vote, horrified at the potential impact on our “special relationship,” NATO, and world stability. Although I’m no fan of Gordon Brown, I think he was right to say that the UK is a good example to an increasingly divided and unstable world of how different nations and peoples can unite and work together for the common good. But it’s also an example of flexibility in devolving more powers in response to the democratic process.

These are the thoughts that come tumbling out of my heart and head this morning. Whether we are rejoicing or mourning this morning, surely this prayer for the revival of religion in Scotland is something all Christians can unite around.


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New Book: The Happy Christian

Happy Christian

As you can imagine, I’m rather happy to introduce my new book to you today!

I wrote The Happy Christian mainly because there don’t seem to be many of them around today. There’s a serious joy deficit dragging down God’s people and undermining our message of good news for the world.

The book is partly a critique of unbiblical versions of happiness; but it’s mainly a positive presentation of the Christian life in an increasingly negative culture.

I identify the causes and consequences of this widespread and demoralizing plague of negativity, and I propose ten biblical and practical methods to re-balance our attitude, outlook, words, and actions in a way that will lift the spirits of Christians, compel attention for the Christian faith, draw people to Jesus, and make the church a beacon of hope in a world of despair.

Although I make frequent reference to the current fascinating surge of scientific research into happiness, the book’s analysis and prescription is built upon biblical truth, truth that honestly faces the realities of sin and suffering, but that also transforms even these negatives into positives.

Once again, I’m very grateful to Joel Miller and the wonderful team at Thomas Nelson for all their help in getting the book to this stage. It won’t be available until February 2015, but as pre-publication copies are beginning to circulate, I thought it was time to make it official.


Christ Shares His Happiness With Us

Yesterday we looked at the seven kinds of happiness God has left for us to enjoy in the world:

  • Nature happiness: Enjoying the creation
  • Social happiness: Enjoying friends and family
  • Vocational happiness: Enjoying our jobs
  • Physical happiness: Enjoying health and strength
  • Intellectual happiness: Enjoying study and learning
  • Humor happiness: Enjoying jokes and funny stories.
  • Spiritual happiness: Enjoying God through His Word and Spirit

And I left you with a question: Which of these happinesses did Jesus experience and enjoy?

My answer: All of them! And He’s the only one who experienced them all in perfect proportion and place.

Perhaps the one we might choke on a bit is the idea of Jesus having a sense of humor, laughing with friends and family, etc.

This really all comes down to one question: Was humor part of perfect pre-fall humanity?

If not, then not only did Jesus not experience it, neither should we. Humor is a consequence of sin, part of the post-fall world, and therefore should be shunned and avoided.

But if it was part of perfect pre-fall humanity, then there’s no reason why Jesus would not enjoy or even tell a funny story, especially in his childhood and youth. We’re on fairly safe ground there. I do question whether that would continue as he aged and matured. As He grew in knowledge of His work, as He entered upon public ministry, and especially as His sufferings increased exponentially throughout the following three years, He would increasingly become “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The Gospels reveal him to be a deeply serious man, and no wonder.

Christ’s Supreme Joy
Having said that, there’s no question that Christ’s supreme joy among the seven was spiritual joy: His delight in His Father’s will, His Father’s Word, and His father’s presence. Without totally excluding the other six kinds of happiness, that’s the joy that He was especially speaking of when He prayed to His Father: “These things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).

But what specifically was the source of His happiness at that time? When we come across a happy person, a person who’s smiling, we ask them, “What’s so funny?” or “Why are you so happy?” and they’ll tell you about something that had just happened or that they’d just heard or thought about. So what was there in the run up to John 17:13 that made Jesus so happy that he spoke of “my joy”? There were multiple ingredients:

  • The joy of God’s presence – communing with God in prayer (v. 1)
  • The joy of God’s sovereignty (2)
  • The joy of God’s salvation (v. 2, 8 )
  • The joy of knowing God (v. 3)
  • The joy of glorifying God on the earth (v. 4)
  • The joy of doing God’s work (v. 4; John 4:32)
  • The joy of God’s heavenly glory (v. 5)
  • The joy of communicating God’s Word (v. 6, 8, 13, 14)
  • The joy of God being obeyed (v. 6)
  • The joy of God’s election (9, 10)
  • The joy of God’s preservation (11, 12)
  • The joy of a returning to God with the ransom price (13)

This is a multi-dimensional, super-abundant, over-flowing spiritual happiness that Jesus identified in Himself, and was enjoying so much that He looked at His disciples and prayed, “Father, give them this too. Transfer my joy to them. Share my happiness with them.”

And perhaps even more amazingly, this is a prayer Jesus is still praying for His people. Every Christian’s every smile, joy, and pleasure, is an answer to this prayer. Every Christian who is dejected and depressed is being prayed for in this way by their great High Priest.

As Arthur Pink wrote: “The Savior would not only have His people safe in eternity, but He desires them to be happy here and now.”


New Student Tip #12: Memorizing

Although schools and colleges have moved away from the imbalanced emphasis on memorizing and regurgitating huge chunks of information, with a much greater focus on demonstrating understanding, many subjects still require an ability to memorize, especially for tests and exams.

Unfortunately, few students are taught how to memorize, usually resulting in lots of inefficient and ineffective trial-and-error methods. Some of the following tips are based on research and some on my own experience of learning and teaching.

1. Go to lectures

One of the benefits of being present at lectures is that the material not only goes in the eye-gate but also in the ear-gate. Reading the material is good, but hearing the material is even better. It would be really easy for many teachers just to pass out their notes and say “Go read!” But educators have found that most students understand and retain knowledge better when it is heard as well as read. There’s something about the physical presence and audible voice of a teacher that make the information stick better than just reading.

2. Take notes

Sharing notes seems to be a highly efficient method of study. However, taking your own notes has been demonstrated to lay the information down better in the brain. In fact, writing them by hand rather than typing them on a laptop activates even more regions of the brain and fosters better recall.

3. Single-task

Yes, believe it or not, you will learn more and better by focusing on the lecture alone. This study examined the impact of multi-tasking with digital technologies while attempting to learn from real-time classroom lectures in a university setting.

Participants who did not use any technologies in the lectures outperformed students who used some form of technology. Consistent with the cognitive bottleneck theory of attention (Welford, 1967) and contrary to popular beliefs, attempting to attend to lectures and engage digital technologies for off-task activities can have a detrimental impact on learning.”

4. Outline

You cannot memorize globs of undifferentiated data. Your brain will rebel or explode. If you want to love your brain and your brain to love you, you need to organize and outline your lecture notes and any notes on assigned reading. I’ve written more about the how of note-taking here. When outlining, make a huge effort to make your structure and content as logical as possible. Your brain finds it far easier to remember the logical than the illogical!

5. Summarize and simplify

You will remember more if you write it in your own words, if you reduce the number of words, and if you use simple words. That’s why, when you are putting your notes in outline form, you should do the intense mental labor of summarizing as much as possible and simplifying as much as possible. You can’t remember everything, and you’ll forget everything if you try. Better to memorize less but memorize it well. You’ll be amazed at how much a well-memorized summary outline will trigger memory of the material not in your summary.

6. Color your notes

Given a choice between memorizing simply black text on white paper compared to color-highlighted text, the brain will choose the latter any day. A well-highlighted page looks more like a picture to the brain, something like a map, which leaves a deeper and longer impression on the mind.

7. Use mnemonics

A mnemonic is a strategy or technique to improve memory. It translates information into a form that the brain finds easier to remember. If that’s still double dutch to you, here are a few samples to get you started. Using mnemonics  can be tough work at first, but the brain is like a muscle in some ways, the more you push it, the stronger it gets. The mental “lifting” that you used to find impossible gradually gets easier with practice and of course the ability transfers to other subjects too.

8. Little and often

Short and frequent is better than long and rare. It is better to study your four or five subjects every day for shorter times than to study one subject each day for the full day. By the time you go back to what you studied four or five days previously, most of what you learned will have gone.

When I ask struggling Hebrew students about their study habits, they will usually say, “Well, I study 2-3 hours every day. The first thing I tell them to do is to shorten their study time. Once they’ve started breathing again, I explain the strategy using the following diagram:

Study-habits 1

7-8am: Study the subject first thing in the morning for 45-60 minutes maximum. As soon as you end that period, your mind immediately starts losing data at a frighteningly rapid rate. Imagine where this graph ends up by the end of the day (feel familiar?)

11am: Re-study the same material again, although this time it should only take you 20-30 minutes. Notice that the knowledge level is higher than the the first period (and reached faster), and that the data loss rate has a shallower gradient (it takes longer to forget what you’ve learned).

4pm: Re-study same material again, this time for 10-15 minutes. Knowledge peak is even higher and gradient of loss even shallower. (In between these study times, you can be studying other subjects using the same method.)

9pm: Just before bed, review the material one more time for about 5-10 mins. Note peak and gradient (appealing, isn’t it!).  Compare where you are now with where you would be if you only studied the subject for one long period. Where would that red line be?

And if you want to seal it for good, do a quick 5-minute review first thing the next morning before studying new material. That will really set the mental concrete.

9. Test yourself

It’s easy to think we’ve memorized something…until we get into the exam room and it’s gone. That’s why you should test your recall beforehand, perhaps using flashcards or getting someone to test you. Forcing yourself to recall something itself improves your memory of it. Speaking answers out loud also secures the data better in your mind.

10. Feed and rest your brain

This Wall Street Journal article cited evidence showing that students who ate a regular balanced diet that included fruit and veg did better than those who ate a high-fat, low-carb diet that was heavy on meat, eggs, cheese, and cream. The brain requires a constant supply of energy and “has only a limited backup battery.”

The same piece also recommended that students don’t wake up earlier than usual to study as this could interfere with the rapid-eye-movement sleep that aids memory. All-nighters impair memory and reasoning for up to 4 days.

Previous Tips

New Student Tip #1: Dropbox
New Student Tip #2: Wunderlist
New Student Tip #3: Evernote
New Student Tip #4: Diigo
New Student Tip #5: Lastpass
New Student Tip #6: Calendar
New Student Tip #7: Feedly
New Student Tip #8: Covenant Eyes
New Student Tip #9: The Why of Note-taking
New Student Tip #10: The How Of Note-taking
New Student Tip #11: Time Management

Books

Thriving at College by Alex Chediak (for students)
Preparing Your Teens For College by Alex Chediak (for parents of students)
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7 Kinds of Happiness

Although this world can be a sad place, in God’s mercy there are still many different kinds of happiness in the world.

Nature happiness: This is the kind of joy that can be derived from the creation, the happiness we experience through our physical senses when we encounter God’s creation. Mountains, rivers, lakes, trees, flowers, animals, seasons, weather, food, etc., – all of them and much more can put smiles in our heart and on our face.

Social happiness: We find so much wonderful pleasure in our family and our friends. Relationships of different kinds and degrees are so integral to a happy life.

Vocational happiness: Although our jobs can often frustrate us, we also experience much job satisfaction and even exhilaration when things go well.

Physical happiness: The joy we have in being fit, strong, and healthy, able to do what we want to do. It’s especially intense and special to those who have their health and comfort restored after sickness or surgery.

Intellectual happiness: The pleasure that comes from understanding something – analyzing it, explaining it, improving it, remembering it, using it. We master a subject or solve a problem and enjoy a kind of mental ecstasy.

Humor happiness: God created humanity with a sense of humor – it’s not the result of the fall. Sure, it’s often hard to separate humor from sin today because jokes and funny stories are often so vulgar, crude, and demeaning of others. However, there is still such a thing as holy and healthy humor.

These six joys can all be experienced both by the Christian and the non-Christian. Isn’t it amazing how much happiness, and how many different happinesses, God has left for His creatures in this fallen and sin-cursed world. “Good unto all men is the Lord, Over all his works, his tender mercies are” (Psalm 145:9).

Having said that, a Christian should be able to derive even more happiness from these six sources by connecting them with God’s grace and God’s providential activity in their lives.

Also, there is a joy that only the Christian can experience, a joy that at times contains more pleasure and delight than the other six put together, and that’s spiritual happiness. This joy often fills and even floods a believer’s heart as he/she reads the Bible, learns about God and His grace, and communes with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is indeed joy unspeakable and full of glory.

But let me leave you with a question: Which of these happinesses did Jesus experience and enjoy?