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A field guide to the meeting troll
I’ve met a few of these scary creatures.

In the Crosshairs of the Discernment Bloggers
Brave post from Tim Challies.

Who is winning the competition between sports and religion?
The biggest obstacle to children attending church is their parents obsession with sport.

The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther
Chris Larson with a great video interview of Steve Lawson about his new biography on Martin Luther.

If he’s not my picture-perfect guy, should we still marry
Scott Croft answers bluntly. And here’s a related post on Living Singly for God.

4 Reasons we must Preach the Pentateuch
I loved this quotation in Danny Hyde’s article: “As one Dutch homiletician, Wilhelm Vischer, memorably stated, “Jesus Christ provides the vowel-points which give a sense to the consonants of the Hebrew text.”

SPAM: Stop Positive Affirming Messages?

Scientists estimate that for every hundred pieces of information that enters our brain, ninety nine end up in our SPAM folder. We remember only one thing out of every hundred. And that’s a good thing. As many autistic people will tell you, if you don’t have a good SPAM filter, you can be overwhelmed with useless data.

The problem is that many of us have SPAM filters that are fantastic at filtering out the positive and letting in only the negative things of life. That’s partly because our education, political, and business culture rewards negativity experts, those who can pick out a single negative in a sea of positives.

We ask our children, “What’s wrong with this picture?” We set class assignments: “Critique this passage/viewpoint.” We mark mistakes with red ink but don’t waste blue ink on the correct answers. We scan our gardens for weeds. We admire debaters and politicians who can puncture holes in their opponents’ arguments. We promote lawyers who can detect a loophole from a hundred miles away. We love journalistic exposes. We are drawn to “watchblogs” and discernment ministries. We honor theologians who can destroy a heretic with devastating put-downs.

Grim one-sided input
All this programs our SPAM filter to scan life for negatives, problems, difficulties, lies, evil, etc. With such a grim input of one-sided data, is it any wonder that our emotions are so messed up? Harvard Professor of Positive Psychology Shawn Achor says:

Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals (The Happiness Advantage, 91).

Achor saw this problem especially clearly when the global tax-accounting firm KPMG commissioned him to help their tax auditors and managers become happier. How had these successful professionals become so miserable?

Many of them had to spend 8 to 14 hours a day scanning tax forms for errors, and as they did, their brains were becoming wired to look for mistakes. This made them very good at their jobs, but they were getting so expert at seeing errors and potential pitfalls that this habit started to spill over into other areas of their lives…undermining their relationships at work and at home. In performance reviews, they noticed only the faults of their team members, never the strengths. When they went home to their families, they noticed only the C’s on their kids’ report cards, never the A’s. When they ate at restaurants, they could only notice that the potatoes were underdone—never that the steak was cooked perfectly (91-92).

You don’t need to be an accountant to have such a SPAM filter!  As we saw previously though, we can retrain our brains and renew our minds. Or, to put it another way, we can re-program our SPAM filter. We can train ourselves to Scan for Positive and AffirmingMessages in every situation.

Positive differences
Although science and scripture agree on the possibility of change through the daily repetition of lots of little positives, they do differ in some significant respects about the details of how to effect this. Shawn Achor proposes more meditation, more gratitude, more active friendships, more gifts, more humor, more funny videos, etc.

As Christians, we’d happily go along with most of these common grace insights. However, we’d differ in the detailed implementation of them. Our meditation would be focused on encouraging portions of Scripture. Our gratitude would be directed first to God. Our most treasured friendships would be found in our local church and built upon our common love for our Savior. Our gifts would be given in the name of Christ and first of all to the cause of Christ. Our humor would be sanctified humor, stripped of anything offensive to God and hurtful to others, etc.

Negative differences
We would also differ in the way we process negative events like suffering and sadness. We want to face these painful experiences head on without denying or diminishing them. In addition to seeing them as opportunities to grow in character, we also want to use them to humble us, to sober us up, to make us examine our lives, to loosen us from this world, to drive us to the promises of God, and to make us long for the world to come.

The Christian SPAM filter is not only scanning for positive and affirming messages. It’s also able to take the worst trojans and viruses and by God’s grace to use even them for personal growth and God’s glory.

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The Gospel and Autism
The Briefing carries a post in recognition of April being Autism Awareness Month. “We don’t think of our daughter fundamentally as “autistic”; rather she is made in God’s image, and is a child of God through Christ—who also has an autistic disorder. We can love her and relate to her and delight in her as she is; accept her abilities and disabilities as part of that, and work to help her to overcome or manage the challenges she faces.”

Also see this fascinating video in which a little girl explains autism creatively.

And Loris Sealy, who suffers with autism (as does her son) is offering a special deal for anyone who purchases her new CD, “Begone Unbelief”, this month.  For every physical copy you buy she is donating $5 to the North Carolina AutismSociety.  CDs are available at and

The Recapturing of Lament as a Christian Practice
Phil Monroe: “Maybe we might avoid some of the re-victimization of abuse survivors if we incorporated more lament practices into congregational worship. Might we be less likely to force acts of forgiveness and premature reconciliation?”

The Poetic Life of the Christian
Barry York: “While I do not suffer from color blindness, I do have a condition that might best be described as “beauty blindness.”  I simply need help from others  to see many of the lovely things all around me that I might miss.”

Jesus in the Lion’s Den? Preaching Christ from Daniel
Matt Smethurst interviews Sidney Greidanus about his new book on Preaching Christ from Daniel.

13 Top Resources on Finance
Paul Tautges with another excellent collection of resources.

Some Practical Help for Leading a Prayer Meeting
I would add “Keep it positive.” Too often prayer meetings just become a time of moaning and groaning. Erik told me he starts with a time of prayerful adoration in light of the gospel in order to set the right tone.

Church Power Games

The Tomorrow’s Professor blog has a helpful post on the differences between authority and influence. It’s focused on education, but reading it through “church” eyes can also help us distinguish between two very different kinds of power in the church.

Authority is legitimate power which is vested in leaders within formal organizations and involves a legal right to make decisions which may be supported by sanctions.

Influence represents an ability to affect outcomes and depends on personal characteristics and expertise. Here are seven distinctions between authority and influence:

  • Authority is the static, structural aspect of power in organizations; influence is the dynamic, tactical element.
  • Authority is the formal aspect of power; influence is the informal aspect.
  • Authority refers to the formally sanctioned right to make final decisions; influence is not sanctioned by the organization and is, therefore, not a matter of organizational rights.
  • Authority implies involuntary submission by subordinates; influence implies voluntary submission and does not necessarily entail a superior-subordinate relationship.
  • Authority flows downward, and it is unidirectional; influence is multidirectional and can flow upward, downward, or horizontally.
  • The source of authority is solely structural; the source of influence may be personal characteristics, expertise, or opportunity.
  • Authority is circumscribed, that is, the domain, scope, and legitimacy of the power are specifically and clearly delimited; influence is uncircumscribed, that is, its domain, scope, and legitimacy are typically ambiguous.

Church leaders/officers such as elders and deacons certainly have a degree of God-given authority, but influence is almost always preferable to authority if at all possible.

The post then identifies six forms of power in educational institutions, but the parallels can, again, also be found in churches:

  • Positional power: the power of individuals who have an official position in the institution.
  • Authority of expertise: the power that is vested in someone because of their acknowledged expertise
  • Personal power: individuals who are charismatic or possess verbal skills or certain other characteristics may be able to exercise personal power.
  • Control of rewards: power is likely to be possessed to a significant degree by individuals who have control of rewards, and are inevitably perceived as powerful by those who value such returns.
  • Coercive power: the mirror image of the control of rewards may be coercive power, and rests on the ability to constrain, to block, to interfere, or to punish?
  • Control of resources: control of the distributions of resources gives power over those people who wish to acquire them.

To these I would add:

  • Administrative power: The use (abuse) of procedure and bureaucracy to further a personal agenda.
  • Political power: Decisions are based on considerations unrelated to the particular issue or case.

I could go on, but the list is sadly already way too long. How wonderful it would be if we could simply trust in spiritual power, authority, and influence; and prayerfully pursue God’s glory and the good of souls by the power of the Holy Spirit alone.

Major Counseling Research Opportunity

A Christian family who have seen family members suffer with mental illness, including schizophrenia, have donated a substantial sum of money to Puritan Reformed Seminary to direct research into the complex question of how much does a mental disorder like schizophrenia affect faith, personal responsibility, etc.

I do not have the time nor the expertise to conduct this research myself, but I’m inviting interested and qualified applicants to submit proposals for part or all of this research grant.

The Question

The particular question as framed by the donor is:

Since acute mental illness and schizophrenia affect a person’s ability to reason out his faith day by day, with the result that the fruits of the Spirit are often absent, to what extent is the Church able to bring comfort to the family of the sick person regarding his salvation?

1. The research would begin by examining the premise. In what ways does schizophrenia affect a person’s ability to reason out his faith day by day?

2. The study would need to determine what mental abilities are needed to have faith as the instrument which leads the elect to Christ.

3.  Does the lack of these mental abilities preclude a personal and saving relationship with Christ.

4. Does the person being a baptized member of the covenant community have any bearing on the question?

Although the donor’s last question is coming from a paedo-baptist perspective, it does not rule out credo-baptist researchers who would be sympathetic to exploring this question.

The Process

We envisage a three step process in advancing this project:

1. We invite applicants to submit 2-3 page proposals for the study of this question. This would outline the thesis, the questions to be answered, research methods, estimated budget, etc.

2. We would select one or more of these proposals for further development. Each approved proposal would attract a grant of $3000 to produce a 20-25 page initial findings submission.

3. We would then hope to be in a position to offer up to $30,000 for twelve months work on completing the work and producing:

  • A 100-150 page academic paper containing findings and proposals
  • A popular level book that would help the church minister to believers suffering with schizophrenia and those who care for them.

If you have any other ideas for how to proceed, I’m very open to your suggestions.

For further details, please contact me at

Check out

The Bible vs. Heart
Denis Prager: “I offer the single most politically incorrect statement a modern American — indeed a modern Westerner, period — can make: I first look to the Bible for moral guidance and for wisdom. I say this even though I am not a Christian (I am a Jew, and a non-Orthodox one at that). And I say this even though I attended an Ivy League graduate school (Columbia), where I learned nothing about the Bible there except that it was irrelevant, outdated and frequently immoral.”

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle
Touching and challenging story.

Dr Ben Carson, Creationist
“In the event that you found yourself in Baltimore and required emergency brain surgery, would you, proud secular liberal, let a six-day creationist gay-marriage critic cut open your skull?”

Jesus is on the wrong side of history
This really helps to put current events in historical perspective.

Mission in the Old Testament
Timothy Reymond: “Mission in the Old Testament is a fascinating little book that argues that God’s purpose in his sovereign selection of the nation of Israel was not arbitrary or simply because he preferred Hebrew culture, but strategically missiological.”

The 10/10/10 Rule for Tough Decisions
We should think about our decisions on three different time frames:

  • How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now?
  • How about 10 months from now?
  • How about 10 years from now?