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My life looks better on the Internet than in real life
Seth Getz wants social media to create community not replace it: “Community—the rich kind, the transforming kind, the valuable and difficult kind— doesn’t happen in partial truths and well-edited photo collections on Instagram. Community happens when we hear each other’s actual voices, when we enter one another’s actual homes, with actual messes, around actual tables telling stories that ramble on beyond 140 pithy characters.”

Remembering David Kuo
Time’s Joe Klein with a beautiful tribute to David Kuo, a Christian who was engaged in politics at the highest levels: “How do I tell you about David? He was the sweetest of God’s creatures, and among the wisest, too. He was a man of faith, rather than of religion. He called himself a Follower of Jesus. Many of his friends had ministries, but David’s church truly had no walls.

Gingrich warns of secular tyranny
Maybe the most sensible thing Newt Gingrich has said for a long time: “The great danger is that you’re going to see a real drive to outlaw and limit Christianity,” Gingrich said at a National Review breakfast briefing. “It’s okay to be Christian as long as you’re not really Christian. It’s a very serious problem.”

All we want is the freedom to coexist
Another article on the alarming loss of religious liberties. I’m amazed at how blase and complacent most Christians are about this.

What does it take to write well?
Great writing about writing from one of my favorite writers.

The Practical University
This is where Seminaries will be going too: “universities will end up effectively telling students: “Take the following online courses over the summer or over a certain period, and then, when you’re done, you will come to campus and that’s when our job will begin.” If Nelson is right, then universities in the future will spend much less time transmitting technical knowledge and much more time transmitting practical knowledge.”

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 year of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

Jason Henry, a missionary in Mongolia, has very kindly collated and produced the second year of morning and evening readings in Word and pdf.

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

Here’s an explanation of the plan.

And here are the daily Bible Studies gathered into individual Bible books. Further explanation of that here.

Old Testament

New Testament

May God bless you and your children as you study the Word of life.

Bad news sells better than good news

The good news about bad news is that there is not nearly as much of it as you might think. The bad news about good news is that good news doesn’t tend to sell. Dr. Bradley Wright explains this paradox in Upside: Surprising Good News about the State of our World

The media sells negative worldviews. It’s not that reporters, writers, and editors are pessimistic people; rather, they have a strong incentive to tell us about the fearful, scary, and dangerous happenings in our world. The media is a business, and it succeeds by attracting viewers and readers. With hundreds of television channels and even more online news sources, how can they do this? One way is to offer something that is truly frightening. If watching a story can save us from some imminent danger, then maybe we’ll stop channel surfing long enough to watch it. If reading a report can protect us from a health scare, maybe we’ll pick the magazine off the rack. Sensationalism and fear sells—this is a fact of life that won’t change anytime soon (36).

Wright proceeds to highlight how this also motivates the media to find bad news even in the good news:

If life expectancy decreases, people are dying younger. If it increases, it strains the social security system. An unpreventable disease harms people; a preventable disease means disparities in access to medical treatment. High birthrates cause overcrowding; low birthrates cause school closings and lowered future tax revenues (38).

Many activist and advocacy groups like Greenpeace also have a vested interest in selecting and emphasizing the negative. If the world is not getting worse, who’s going to volunteer or donate to make it better?

But in many ways our world is getting better.

  • People living in the middle class in the U.S. live better than 99.4% of all human beings who have ever existed
  • Americans are healthier and live longer than ever before
  • Literacy rates are up and crime is down
  • Family income is up and the cost of living is down
  • Air and water quality is up and deforestation is slowing down (201, 204-5).

But what about the rest of the world? It’s a basket case, isn’t it? Not at all.

 The United Nation’s Human Development Index is based on three measures: life expectancy, education, and income….The United Nations has collected data on 115 countries from 1990 to 2007, and would you like to guess how many of them had improved over this time period? If you guessed 109, you are absolutely right (207-8)

Wright assembles hundreds of facts and statistics to support his persuasive thesis that although there are still a few significant areas where things are getting worse rather than better, that’s the exception rather than the rule, and concludes:

Two thousand years ago, a book whose core was euaggelion—good news—began to be widely read. We of all people should be able to recognize and celebrate and express gratitude wherever we find it. For all good news is God’s good news, and to ignore it, hide it, minimize it, or distort it is neither mentally healthy nor spiritually sound.

Buy Upside and start to implement Philippians 4:8.

Hear Alistair Begg in Lansing Tonight

If you’re free tonight or tomorrow and you’re within driving distance of Lansing, why don’t you go along to the Magnify Conference to hear Alistair Begg preaching in Kevin DeYoung’s church. Hoping to get there myself.

Conference Details
$20 Individuals
$10 Additional Family Members
$5 Pastors Breakfast
$5 Pastor’s Wives Breakfast
Due to space limitations, the breakfast is open to pastors and their wives only.

Friday 7pm – 9:00 pm Plenary I
Saturday 8:00 – 9:00 am Pastors Breakfast Seminar (RSVP only)
Saturday 9:15 – 10:45 am Plenary II
Saturday 11am – Noon Q & A
Saturday 1:30 – 3:00 pm Plenary III

Event Website and Registration

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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.