A New Diet for a New Year

“There’s only bad news or public relations.”

That was the cynical summary of a well-known TV journalist who gave me and my fellow Seminary students a day of media training at the BBC’s Edinburgh HQ many years ago.

There’s only bad news or public relations.

When he challenged us to argue against his assertion, we came up with multiple examples of “good news.”

“What about a factory winning a large order that will increase employment by 300?”

“Just PR for the business. Not for TV news.”

“What about a policeman rescuing a child that fell in a river?”

“Police PR. No media interest there.”

“House sales doubled last month. Surely that’s good news worth reporting?”

“Nope. Just free advertising for realtors and mortgage brokers.”

No matter what “good news” we suggested, he derided all our ideas as cheap promotional gimmicks, not fit for publication or broadcast.

With such a dismissive approach to anything upbeat and positive, is it any wonder that our media serve us up such an unremitting diet of negativity? It’s just so depressing isn’t it?

But in an age of multiplying and diversifying media sources and resources, we don’t need to accept being force-fed such junk food. Instead we can, and should, feed our minds a diet of words, sounds, and images that’s tilted towards what is good and beautiful rather than bad and ugly. As the Apostle Paul put it:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things (Phil. 4:8).

Paul was not arguing for unrealistic isolation from the bad news that inevitably fills a fallen world. No, this is not a warrant for monasteries and convents; but it is a warrant, even a demand, that we choose a deliberate imbalance in favor of what is inspirational and wholesome, instead of the media’s general weighting on the side of what is depressing and gross.

Garbage in, garbage out
As Paul explained, our media diet will not only change the way we think, but the way we feel, speak, and act. Hardly surprising, is it? Just as the quality of the food that we put in our mouths affects our thinking, feeling, and doing, so the kinds of words, sounds, and images we put in our ears and eyes will have the same effect. “Garbage in, garbage out, “as they say.

Like the Philippians many of us are habitual worriers (4:6), our minds always racing from one unresolved anxiety to the next. It doesn’t need to be like this. Paul holds out the prospect of an unimaginable and unsurpassable divine peace (4:7) to garrison our hearts and minds, a peace that will patrol the entrances to our emotions and thoughts. But the way to enjoy that peace-patrol is to change our media diet (4:8).

In other words, if we let what is false, offensive, dishonest, filthy, ugly, and loathsome into our minds, we might as well sign up for a course on how to be hyper-anxious. These interlopers drive peace from the garrison, lower the drawbridge, and invite the armies of worry and instability into our citadel.

Good in, good out
On the other hand, if we starve ourselves of that junk, and replace it with what is true, admirable, right, pure, beautiful, and attractive, peace will stand as a sentinel all around our feelings and thoughts, creating an impregnable castle of calm and tranquility. The peace of God and the God of peace will be with you (4:7,9).

Why not start a new diet for a new year and trim the weight of worry and anxiety from your burdened heart and mind?

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17 Lessons from 17 Books to Learn from in 2013
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10 Things to pray for your wife
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Children’s Bible Reading Plan

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

If you want to start at the beginning, this is the first 12 months of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

And here’s the first 12 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

And here’s an explanation of the plan.

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The Christian Introvert
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5 Strategies for Tacking Tough Conversations
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The Homeschool Diaries
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17 Tips for Better Church Meetings

Although I probably fall too much on the anti-meeting side of things, meetings can be profitable and even edifying, especially if the following guidelines are observed.

1. Be prepared: Get well organized beforehand by having all the relevant documentation, and by getting to the meeting in time to get everything set up for a prompt start.

2. Start with prayer and a short Bible reading: Do not skip this nor skimp on it. But don’t prolong it either with a long chapter, prayer, or mini-sermon. Set the tone of the meeting with a relevant reading and a prayer that asks for wisdom and guidance.

3. Agree the agenda: Agree the agenda, the timetable, and the priorities. It’s best not to start with complicated or controversial matters, but its best not to leave them until the end either. Ask if anyone has any major items for “Any other competent business,” or “Customary Questions,” so that sufficient time can be left for such items.

4. Stick to the agenda and timetable: Ask someone to remind you of the time targets you have set. This gives you extra motivation to move the meeting along and also allows you to be more objective when interrupting or shortening discussion. Group short and less important items together and make sure they don’t push out the far more important matters. After 90 minutes, meetings usually start going downhill. Google staff meetings have a large clock on the table!

5. Know the rules of order and keep to them: Every meeting should have an agreed procedure for proposing an item for discussion, discussion, counter-proposals and voting.  Make sure you know the rules, or make them and agree them if there are none – and stick to them consistently.

6. Read the meeting: Try to look out for negative and positive signs in the course of a meeting. Try to interpret the tone of voices, the facial expressions, and the body language. Anticipate potential flash points and personality clashes, and take the heat out of situations before it gets too hot.

7. Listen patiently: Try to listen carefully to everyone that speaks. Try not to lose concentration and miss something important. Don’t switch off when certain people speak. Try not to read documents relating to other business, when someone else is speaking. Rather, ask for time to read before that item is introduced.

8. Involve everyone: Obviously some are going to take more prominent roles than others. However, we should make every effort to involve everyone in the meeting. Sometimes you might sense that someone has something to say, but is hesitant. Encourage them to speak. Ask people for their opinions.  Be aware of the different characters you will run across and devise strategies to make their contributions profitable.

9. Don’t abuse your position: The pastor will usually enjoy a degree of status in the group. He will oftentimes be more educated and more fluent in speech. He will gradually gain a lot of experience in church meetings. Elders will often want to prove their loyalty to the pastor. All this combines to create the potential for a huge abuse of power. If you do abuse your advantages and privileges, some people will detect it right away and you will lose respect.

10. Defuse tension: There will be tense meetings and even hot meetings. Prayer can often be useful to relieve tension and cool temperatures. Humor can also be used in this way, if used sparingly and carefully. Or you can take a short break, or suggest a change of subject and come back to it again at another time, when passions are cooled.

11. Press towards decisions: While allowing sufficient time for discussion, you have to avoid just wandering around in circles. Try to detect when the discussion has run its course and press towards clear decisions.

12. End meetings at the agreed time: Unless the circumstances are exceptional, end the meeting on time. That will build discipline for future meetings, allow office bearers to plan their time, and also prevent late-night decisions that may be regretted.

13.  Submit to decisions: In exceptional matters it may be necessary to register a conscientious dissent to a majority decision. However, that should be really a last resort. If at all possible, submit to the decisions you disagree with by casting yourself upon the Lord, acknowledging your own ignorance and lack of wisdom, and your own pride and need of forgiveness. Try to avoid a confrontational “me versus them” attitude

14. Assign work: Before the meeting ends, make sure that ongoing work is assigned and that everyone understands who is doing what, and when the deadlines are. Pray for the Lord’s blessing on what has been decided and for help with assigned work. As someone once said: “Nothing matters until it gets a budget, a deadline, and an owner.”

15. Ensure minutes are quickly written up and agreed: It is best for someone other than the chairman to be clerking the meetings. Try to get someone who is competent, efficient, and reliable. And try to ensure that minutes are written up promptly and emailed out to everyone for adjustment as soon after the meeting as possible. This mailing could also include the specific tasks assigned to each person.

16. Follow-up with relationship issues: If you have been involved in any significant disagreements with anyone at the meeting, make sure you contact them later or the next day and make sure all is well between you, and that there are no hard feelings. Try to make sure others do the same with each other.

17. Have non-business meetings
Make sure that you sometimes meet without any business to discuss. Have prayer meetings, seminars, training, brain-storming sessions. Such meetings encourage social interaction, keep everyone in the loop, and make people feel valued.