Saving the Lost Art of Conversation
Dr Shelley Turkle, author of Alone Together, is writing a new book called Reclaiming Conversation.

The conclusion she’s arrived at while researching her new book is not, technically, that we’re not talking to each other. We’re talking all the time, in person as well as in texts, in e-mails, over the phone, on Facebook and Twitter. The world is more talkative now, in many ways, than it’s ever been. The problem, Turkle argues, is that all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than with each other.

She says that real conversations are messy, awkward, dull, boring, and full of pauses – just the kind of communication e-conversations are not where constant showmanship and excitement is the only way to get and sustain attention. She wants us to reclaim the permission to be, when we want and need to be, dull.

She advocates limiting our device usage in “sacred spaces” like the dinner table, the places where phones and their enticements may impede intimacy and interaction. She wants us to look into each other’s eyes as we talk. She wants us to read each other’s movements. She wants us to have conversations that are supremely human.

If Christians lose this art, we lose the ability to witness. But if Christians could reclaim and excel at this in a culture where it’s getting rarer, we have a huge opportunity for doing good to others and advancing the Gospel

Year of the Sinner
There’s been a bit of an outcry over Pope Francis’s reply to the question: “Who are you?” ”I am a sinner,” he said, “This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

That’s not gone down too well with some people who want to believe in Papal perfection. They yearn for a perfect man. Others, like the Huffington Post’s  Rea Martin, wrote:

Sure we all sin to varying degrees and frequencies, depending on our definitions of sin…But while this is true, sort of, a sinner is not who I am, or for that matter, who he is. Or anyone.

In fact identifying ourselves as sinners is unhealthy, and when you think about it, has gotten us absolutely nowhere in the last few millennia or so, except into a lot of trouble.

It’s amazing how desperate people are to resist being identified as a sinner. “I sin, but I’m not a sinner.” I remember an old pastor who visited prisoners on death row, saying: “I met many men there who said, ‘Yes, I committed murder, but I’m not a murderer!” The Bible’s teaching is, “I murder because I’m a murderer. I sin because I’m a sinner.”

Also, as for confessing sin being unhealthy and getting us into a lot of trouble, the wisest man that ever lived said, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).

Why Has Republican Belief in Evolution Declined So Much?
48% of Republicans believe in creation, a 9% increase in the last 4 years. The number of Democrats who believe in creation has declined a little to 27%.

Statisticians are struggling to explain the drop in Republican support for evolution. Some think that scientists are leaving the Republican party due to its perceived anti-science stance.

Another possibility is the rise of “intelligent design” education has helped to swing younger Americans against evolution.

Interestingly, and worryingly, respondents ages 18 to 29 most likely to believe in evolution. Maybe that’s explained by the educational indoctrination that takes a decade or more to fade.

Peter Thiel’s Graph of the Year
Alex Chediak sent me this stunning graph on the cost of a bachelor’s degree versus student loan debt.

Graph1If you want a job rather than a debt, Codeacademy’s Zach Sim says you might want to learn how to code. He goes on:

We’re lying to ourselves about [a four-year] college being the only form of postsecondary education. People who end up at vocational schools and associate degree programs might be making the right educational decisions.

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The Church’s Biggest Problem
You. And me.

The Most Important Leadership Trait You Shun
What sets the best leaders apart? “Their ability to know their limitations, surround themselves with others who fill their gaps, and perhaps most important of all, freely and openly admit to others that they are aware of and comfortable with their shortcomings. These leaders attract and retain the best employees, and inspire them to be vulnerable too.”

Surviving Anxiety
This is an incredible article. If you want to get insight into what it’s like to suffer anxiety and panic attacks have a read of this. And if you suffer from anxiety, you might think you’re the model of calm after reading this.

Psychology: Friend or Foe
I’m really enjoying Chris Bogosh’s new blog about “Informing, transforming, and reforming the Christian’s approach to modern medicine.” Here’s another balanced and biblical article.

Showing Honor
Ray Ortlund identifies four obstacles that may be preventing us from outdoing one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10).

A Good Book Can Rewire Your Brain
“New research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.” And if you need more motivation to get reading, why not try Jon Acuff’s Empty Shelf Challenge.

Let’s raise millions of memorials

“It is the duty of the Lord’s people to keep the memorial of the experience which they have of the Lord’s helping them.” So says the old Scottish preacher Thomas Boston.

He bases this upon 1 Samuel 7, where Israel raised a monument of thankfulness for God’s great and glorious deliverance of them, and called it Ebenezer, “Stone of Help,” saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

The stone, says Boston, “is a grateful acknowledgment of the Lord’s help for the time past, and to raise their confidence in him for the time to come.” You can read this deeply edifying sermon here, or if you’re short of time, have a look at Boston’s outline below.

But whether you read or not, let’s use this day to raise millions of memorials to the Lord’s help in 2013 all over the world.

I. The Lord’s Helping of His People

A. How does the Lord help his people

  • By working all for them, without any contribution from them.
  • By assisting his people in working.
  • By appointing means.
  • Sometimes without means.
  • Sometimes by contrary means.

B. Why does he help his people?

1. Because they are in covenant with Him

There is a league offensive and defensive betwixt Christ and His people. They have common friends and common enemies. Hence all the attributes of God are engaged for them and their help.

2. Because of their special relation to Him

Christ is the believer’s head. Hence if the foot be hurt, the head in heaven cries out (Acts 9:4). He who is their maker is their husband, their father, and elder brother; in a word, they are one with him, one spirit. This is the ground of sympathy betwixt Christ and his people and secures their help. ‘For he that touches them touches the apple of his eye.’

3. Because they look to Him and trust in Him for their help

4. Because he brought them into trouble to display His glory and to give them greater experiences of His kindness.

II. The Memorial of the Experiences of His Help

A. What is it to keep up the memorial of the Lord’s helping us?

  • An observing of the events and experiences we meet with in life.
  • A discerning of the Lord’s hand in the help we receive.
  • Laying up these experiences in a book or in a faithful memory.

B. What of these experiences of the Lord’s help should be recorded and kept in memory?

  • Record the timing or seasonableness of them.
  • Record the effects of them upon our spirits.
  • Record their harmony and agreement with God’s promise.
  • Record their agreement with their prayers.
  • Record the place of our experiences.

C. Why should we keep up such a memorial?

  • We owe this to God as an act of obedience.
  • We owe this to ourselves out of self interest.
  • We owe this to others as a witness.

III. Uses

A. To Christians

1. Record your experiences to keep up the memory of them, make you strong, and make you ready to suffer and venture for Christ.

2. Improve your experiences for strengthening your faith and hope for the future.

B. To all – Let God be your helper

  • You have many and strong enemies.
  • He is a present help,
  • He is willing.
  • He is able to help you in all cases and at all times.


10 Good News Stories in 2013
Try to put Philippians 4:8 into practice and end 3013 on a bright note. I’d agree with 9 out of 10. Clue: it’s got something to do with wolves and sheep’s clothing.

It’s the Gospel Truth – So Take it or Leave it
A N Wilson argues that despite Christianity fading in the UK 50% faster than was thought, it still retains the power to transform lives. He concludes:

The paradox is that growing or shrinking numbers do not tell you anything. The Gospel would still be true even if no one believed it. The hopeful thing is that, where it is tried – where it is imperfectly and hesitantly followed – as it was in Northern Ireland during the peace process, as it is in many a Salvation Army hostel this Christmas, as it flickers in countless unseen Christian lives, it works. And its palpable and remarkable power to transform human life takes us to the position of believing that something very wonderful indeed began with the birth of Christ into the world.

5 Higher Education Trends for 2014
The two that intrigued me most were:

Earning College Credit for What You Know: The pressure on colleges to graduate students faster is forcing colleges to advance students based on mastery (competency-based learning) and giving students credit for prior work experience.

Career and Technical Education: After years of being pushed aside to free time for academics, career-focused learning is back. High schools, community colleges, and companies are banding together to help increase the opportunities students have to gain technical skills—often spurred by new state laws, like those in Texas and Georgia, that put a bigger emphasis on career and technical education.

The World braces for Retirement Crisis
“Most countries are not ready to meet what is sure to be one of the defining challenges of the 21st century,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, concluded in a report this fall.

Islam? AIDS? Weapons of mass destruction? Nope. Retirement.

A global retirement crisis is bearing down on workers of all ages. Spawned years before the Great Recession and the financial meltdown in 2008, the crisis was significantly worsened by those twin traumas. It will play out for decades, and its consequences will be far-reaching.

Many people will be forced to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65 – to 70 or even longer. Living standards will fall, and poverty rates will rise for the elderly in wealthy countries that built safety nets for seniors after World War II. In developing countries, people’s rising expectations will be frustrated if governments can’t afford retirement systems to replace the tradition of children caring for aging parents.

UK Politician Urges FIght Against Anti-Christian Persecution
The Labour Party has admitted that politicians should stop feeling a “sense of embarrassment” about discussing God. Douglas Alexander, a senior frontbencher, suggested that public figures have allowed “political correctness” to prevent them talking about faith and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

In a thinly-veiled attack on the Tony Blair era, when Alastair Campbell, the then communications director in Downing Street, said “we don’t do God”, Mr Alexander warned that people should have the courage to speak up for Christians without fear of causing offence…He warns that the mounting persecution of Christians is a “story that goes largely untold”, describing those who have spoken out on the issue, including the Prince of Wales, as lone voices.

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Withdrawing Life Support
Chris Bogosh gives us three factors Christian’s need to consider when it comes to withdrawing life support.

Totes Magotes
I have no idea what this title means but the article makes some good points about the direction of social media and blogs.

4 Godly Disciplines Unique to This Decade
Clint Archer: “There are no new sins, only more diverse and efficient ways of committing them…Here are four godly disciplines to pursue in 2014 that have taken on a unique significance in the last five to ten years.”

Clergy Have 50% Higher rates of Anxiety and Depression
“Several extrinsic demands (job stress, life unpredictability) and intrinsic demands (guilt about not doing enough work, doubting one’s call to ministry) significantly predicted depression and anxiety, as did rewards such as ministry satisfaction and lack of financial stress.”

Is it Wise to Encourage Your Kids to Attend College Straight Out of School?
Read about the brave Dad who encouraged his daughters to drop out of College because spending $25,000 per year so that they could find themselves was not money well spent.

5 Prayers for the Church in 2014
I’d add, “Send Holy Spirit-led Revival.” Or maybe these five prayers would be a revival.

How was it for you?

So, how was 2013 for you?

Pretty bad, if the latest Economist/YouGov poll is to be believed.

  • 69% called 2013 a “bad year” for the world.
  • 15% called it a “very bad year.”
  • 3% called it a “very good year.”
  • 29% said it was a “good year.”
  • 41% called 2013 “a bad or very bad year” for their families.

The pollers and statisticians conclude: “There are almost no issues where a majority of Americans have seen improvement…Put simply most Americans are happy to see 2013 go.”

The only consolation is that people are happier this year than they were last year. Wow! We were even more depressed a year ago? Is that possible?

Some interesting (though somewhat predictable) variations in the stats:

  • Young adults are more positive with 75% saying this year has been a good year for their families, and 50% think it was a good year for the world.
  • Less than 50% of those who earn $40,000 a year said this was a good year for their families, compared with 72% of those earning $100,000 plus.
  • Although all groups are more negative than positive when assessing the state of the world, only 13% of Republicans say 2013 has been a good year for the world.

In other words, if you’re over 30, Republican, and earning less than $40,000, you’re probably on Prozac.

Christians too?
Seriously though, I hope these statistics don’t accurately represent the Christian population. If so, it’s a disgrace and a shame upon us. Sure, this year has been challenging – morally, politically, culturally, and economically. We don’t need to look far for discouragements and downers: gay marriage victories, Miley Cyrus, the Obamacare debacle, Miley Cyrus, un- and under-employment, Miley Cyrus, Boston bombings, Washington overspending, etc. Oh, did I mention Miley Cyrus?

But is that it? All of it? There’s nothing to balance it or even counter balance it? Of course there is. We just need to work harder to find it, think about it, appreciate it, and talk about it. Somehow, it’s much easier to default to the negative rather than the positive.

Search for Inspiration
Why don’t we follow Peggy Noonan’s example, who, recognizing the gloomy political scene, asked “some smart, accomplished people: What was the best thing that happened this year, some breakthrough, some joy, some encouraging sign.”

Many of those asked found joy in the personal and the close to home: Chris Christie’s daughter admitted to Notre Dame, Mike Huckabee rejoiced in being a grandfather, Matt Drudge discovered prayer(!).

Others found joy even in the political rubble:

  • Two possible 2014 government shutdowns prevented.
  • Some basic bi-partisanship beginning to emerge.
  • Progress degrading Syria’s chemical weapons and Iran’s nuclear capability without having to go to war.
  • A record-high Dow.
  • Pakistan didn’t fail.
  • China and Japan didn’t go to war.
  • The euro didn’t unravel
  • Jordan didn’t collapse under the weight of refugees
  • The U.S. didn’t default.

We can also celebrate the technological advances in multiple fields or look ahead to 10 Amazing Science and Technology Innovations in 2014. 

Theological and Spiritual Joys
The Christian will take all of that – the blessings of providence in our personal lives; national and international progress; scientific advances, etc. – but will also add multiple more theological and spiritual reasons for gratitude in 2013 and hope in 2014. For example:

  • We love and are loved by the one true and living God.
  • God is our perfect Father.
  • We know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
  • The Holy Spirit is sanctifying and empowering us.
  • Our sins are forgiven.
  • We are justified and adopted into God’s world-wide and heaven-wide family.
  • We have all the promises of God.
  • Everything is working together for our good.
  • God is our guard and guide.
  • God lives in our hearts.
  • Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven and will welcome us there.

All these things are true regardless of Obamacare, Miley Cyrus, or shrinking paychecks. Another year of life, another year of grace, another year of preservation and perseverance, and so on.

So, let’s fight for joy, let’s live a counter-cultural, hope-filled, light-giving life in the midst of a dark and darkening world.

This is a day of great opportunity to demonstrate the difference that faith in Christ makes to our lives, and even to our sufferings and sorrows. Shine, Christian, shine!