Scots don’t do praise

Scots don’t do praise. Of God, yes (a little), but not praise of one another.

Instead, we specialize in pulling people down, thinking the worst of others, and puncturing anyone who achieves anything. We can’t let a compliment pass without balancing it out with a criticism, and woe betide anyone who makes anything of life: “They’re just full of themselves!”

Where did this come from? Well, there’s no question that the cynical “build ‘em up to pull ‘em down” media is partly to blame. The evil envy of rabid and rampant socialism has also eaten away at much goodwill and gratitude towards achievement and achievers. But I’m afraid that a distorted Calvinism has also contributed to this soul-shriveling cynicism.

American Contrast
I didn’t see it so clearly when I was part of it, but with the distance of 5 years in the USA between me and my beloved homeland, it’s painfully easy to recognize and grieve over.

Perhaps it’s especially the contrast of my American sojourn that’s helped me to identify this Scottish ailment and my own contribution to it. Because if there’s one thing I can say about Americans, it’s that they are probably the most optimistic and cheerful people I’ve ever met.

True, this warm openness can sometimes lapse into gullibility: witness Jimmy Swaggert, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Barings, Lehmans, J P Morgan, etc. They wouldn’t have got very far in Scotland, I can assure you. However, there’s something so refreshing about the American desire to think the best, say the best, and do the best to others. The cheerful celebration of success and the willingness to offer encouragement and praise is such a contrast to so much of Scottish life, and yes even of Scottish church life.

Distorted Calvinism
But why did I partly blame a distorted Calvinism for this? Well, the biblical belief in the total depravity of all men and women seems to have been sometimes misapplied to exclude any appreciation of humanity, even of redeemed humanity. “Don’t want to make him/her/them proud, do we!” Praise, encouragement, appreciation, affirmation is somehow thought to be incompatible with a belief in the universal sinfulness of men and women. To praise is to apostatize; to encourage is to backslide; to recognize achievement is to risk the damnation of the achiever.

If someone is praised, get a criticism in quick. If someone does well, remind them and everyone else of their previous failures. If someone gets a promotion, “Well, what goes up, must come down (hopefully).”

There are happy Scottish exceptions of course, but the corrosive effects of this negative spirit are wide and deep, and still plague me too.

Practicing Praise
That’s why I found Sam Crabtree’s Practicing Affirmation so challenging and yet so helpful. I’m amazed that this book has not had much wider “affirmation.” As John Piper says in the foreword, it’s a “one-of-a-kind book.” Do you know any other book that deals with the subject of how to praise others and to do so as a habit of life? No neither do I; and yet, as Sam demonstrates, it’s a topic with lots of Scriptural support and explanation, together with huge consequences for our families, friendships, and fellowships.

And although I think Scots like myself need to practice affirmation far more than Americans, there’s no question that American Christians increasingly need it too.

Worrying trends
I say that because among other worrying recent trends in America, I’m afraid that the celebration of good is weakening and a cynical critical spirit is spreading. I can’t say for sure where this has come from, but the inundation of bad news at home and abroad, the hostile hate-filled political climate, unjust corporate rewards, and our President’s regular planting and cultivating of class and economic envy have all played their heart-chilling, soul-shrinking roles.

So, if you want to learn what affirmation is, how to practice it, and what blessings it will bring to your life, stay tuned to the blog this week as I review Sam’s book. Or better still, buy the book and start praising God for His work in and through you and others. And maybe praise a few people along the way too.

Practicing Affirmation Review (1): Scots don’t do praise
Practicing Affirmation Review (2): 10 ways to praise people
Practicing Affirmation Review (3): Is the “sandwich method” a lot of baloney?
Practicing Affirmation Review (4)Should we praise unbelievers?


Check out

Matthew Henry: His Life and Influence
“Matthew Henry must surely be one of the best and most influential names in Christian history and at the same time one of the least known lives.   Now, at long last, we have been blessed with a good biographical account of this most famous of all Bible Commentators, thanks to the efforts of Allan Harman.” Read John Brand’s review here.

Classical School Reading List
Thanks Justin, you can take the rest of the year off.

Introducing Team Julia
Many of you will have been blessed by Pastor (now Dr.) Mike Pohlman’s stewardship of the Gospel Coalition website when it first started gaining traction. He’s now pastor of Immanuel Bible Church. What many don’t know is that through all these years, his dea wife, Julia, has been fighting stge 4 breast cancer. I’ve learned so much and God and His grace through Mike and Julia’s faith in this valley. And now they’re not just playing defense. They’re going on the attack! Learn how you can help.

From a mother with a heart of a teacher
“If you are a young mother, whatever means of education you emabark upon, public, private, or homeschool, ask yourself what your philsophy of education is.  If your kids aren’t old enough for school yet, start thinking.  Ask yourself what kind of person you want your child to be and ask if their education will accomplish that.”

Preaching to a mixed congregation
Peter Mead reminds us that we preach to two people, two genders, and multiple generations. To help us remember all the bases he suggests that we follow his friend’s example who “puts five representative names on cards and spreads them out on the table as he formulates his message.  Will this connect with him?  Will she feel engaged?  And them?”

How to backslide in nine easy steps
Most of us don’t need nine steps to do it.


Children’s Bible Reading Plan (79)

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, 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.


6 Ways Social Media is Changing our Lives

Despite my pleasantly cathartic rant about Facebook yesterday, Social Media is a large part of our future. Although I doubt a $100bn company with a $1 product is going to be part of that future, it is certainly shaping and directing that future.

Over at the Harvard Business Review, in Putting Facebook in Perspective, Mark Bonchek argues that Social Media is changing our lives along six trajectories. I’ve summarized his post below but I’d highly recommend the whole article.

1. Media: From Audience to Community
“Audiences once passive, anonymous, and isolated are suddenly active, empowered, and connected. You aren’t giving a lecture anymore; you are hosting a dinner party. Your success is determined by how well you connect people together and keep the conversation going.”

2. Individuals: From Consumer to Co-Creator

In commerce, education, government, etc., we are shifting from consumers to co-creators.

3. Brands: From Push to Pull

“In a social age, people don’t like to be pushed. They don’t need brands to tell them what to buy, where to buy, or when to buy. Their social networks do this for them. It’s why the CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi recently declared that ‘Marketing is dead.’”

4. Organizations: From Hierarchies to Networks

“As employees become more empowered and connected, formal hierarchies are giving way to informal networks.”

5. Markets: From Products to Platforms
“Competition is becoming how well you create platforms from which you can (a) bring products to market, (b) grow an ecosystem of partners, and (c) pull key constituencies into orbit.”

6. Leadership: From Control to Empower

“The new leadership challenge is how to design networks, build platforms, and engage communities. It takes a higher level of authenticity, transparency, and purpose, combined with a commitment to excellence, responsiveness, and performance…In the social age, the nature of power shifts from how much you control to how well you empower”

Bonchek says: “As you read each one, ask yourself how well they apply to your organization or work. Your answers will tell you more about where you are in the social revolution than how many likes you have on Facebook or followers on Twitter.”

Read the whole article here.