Check out (11/30)

Old Testament
Jesus redeems Psalm 89
Prof Steve Taylor argues that “Christotelicity” helps us understand Psalm 89. I can’t say I fully agree with Prof Taylor’s conclusion, but this is a great example of how to weigh exegetical options. For the record, although I believe that Jesus is the ultimate answer to this Psalm, I think the Psalmist does provide the answer of faith in verse 52, despite everything that providence seems to be telling him.

How do we find Jesus in the Old Testament?

Education’s Economics of Scarcity
Counter-cultural article arguing that the more you create of something (graduates) the less valuable they become. Did you know that China has started canceling any degree programs in which 60% of graduates fail to find a job within two years? Meanwhile, Elaine Chao argues that Education is still the best recession protection.

A conversation about books and reading
Stimulating book-talk between Tony Reinke and Dr Karen Swallow Prior, a Professor of English.

Christian Living Dying
My friend Nellie
Every congregation has a Nellie or two. They are a pastor’s delight. Jared Wilson pens a beautiful tribute to his own Nellie who went to be with the Lord last Friday, aged 95.

Are kids with Down Syndrome on the road to extinction?
90% end their pregnancy when given a Down Syndrome diagnosis.

Why your identity is worth $5000
This infographic tells us that an estimated 9 million Americans’ identities are stolen each year, costing each victim an average of $4,841. It takes 33 hours on average to solve an identity theft case, even though 43% of theft victims know the criminals who steal their information!

Laptop Pickpocket Prank
Here’s a good example of how to get free advertising via a great viral video.

Are we getting nicer?

After the Black Friday debacle, here’s a little tonic to rebuild your faith in human nature.

Despite the gloomy mood, the historical backdrop is stunning progress in human decency over recent centuries. War is declining, and humanity is becoming less violent, less racist and less sexist — and this moral progress has accelerated in recent decades. To put it bluntly, we humans seem to be getting nicer.

So argues Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, and backs it up by appealing to The Better Angels of our Nature, the new book by Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard.

Despite what 9/11, Iraq, and Darfur seem to be telling us, Pinker claims that: “We may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence.” He appeals to the following stats:

  • Despite two world wars, only 3% of humans died from man-made catastrophes in the 20th century. Contrast this with 13% of Native-American skeletons evidencing death by violent trauma, and with the Thirty Year War of the 17th century which reduced Germany’s population by a third.
  • Homicide rates are far lower than previous centuries. For example, Britain’s murder rate has fallen by 90% since the 14th century.
  • One academic study found that modern children’s television programs have 4.8 violent scenes per hour, compared with nursery rhymes with 52.2.
  • Most nations now go to extraordinary lengths to avoid the mass killing of civilians in war.
  • Genocide produces worldwide outrage whereas, Kiristoff says, “European-Americans saw nothing offensive about exterminating Native Americans. One of my heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, later a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was unapologetic: ‘I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely in the case of the tenth.’”
  • Pinker makes the case that this extraordinary moral progress can also be seen in “issues such as civil rights, the role of women, equality for gays, beating of children, and treatment of animals.”

Kirstof concludes:

Granted, the world still faces brutality and cruelty. That’s what I write about the rest of the year! But let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge remarkable progress and give thanks for the human capacity for compassion and moral growth

So, do we join Pinker and Kristof in giving ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back? Well, if even some of the stats are correct, we should rejoice. Any reduction of violence and suffering in the world is most welcome and should be celebrated by all Christians.

Praise God
However, instead of praising ourselves, we should turn the praise heavenwards. Any moral improvement in the world is the result of God’s mercy. If the statistics show an increase in peace, then we trace that not to the human heart but to the heart of God. If violence has decreased it’s because God’s “common grace” has increased. He has mercifully restrained evil by increased education, strong and just governments, technology, media pressure, and, above all, by the wider preaching of the Gospel.

Is it mere coincidence that the statistical decline in violence has coincided with the surge of worldwide missionary activity in the last 150 years? Such preaching not only results in far more Christians in the world, and the corresponding decrease of sin, but also serves to restrain evil even among those hearers who do not believe in Christ.

So, yes, let’s celebrate more reluctant and careful waging of war, more equal treatment of men and women, and less prejudice towards minorities and people with disabilities. But let’s trace the origin of any moral good not to sinful man, but to a loving and longsuffering God.

“Civilized” slaughter
Secondly, the picture is not quite as rosy as Kristoff and Pinker suggest. While in some areas there does appear to be some moral improvement, the slaughter of humanity still continues, albeit in the more sanitized and “civilized” battlefields of operating theaters, where 42 million unborn babies are murdered every year. That includes 3,300 a day in the USA alone, where 50 million babies have been killed since 1972.

Of course Pinker and Kristof would actually point to the availability of abortion as moral progress, as they also do with the increased acceptance of homosexuality. However, all this shows is that moral progress is being measured with a very faulty moral compass. The Apostle Paul explained to his multi-faith, multi-cultural, multi-moral society that unless God had left a small group of believers in that society, they would have been like Sodom and Gommorah (Rom 9:29). In other words, a homosexualized society is only prevented from being reduced to ashes by the continuing presence of Christians.

Pride comes before a fall
Lastly, I’m always very concerned when people start speaking proudly of “new world orders,” of humanity having “turned the corner,” of our “moral growth,” or of our “remarkable progress.” The Bible does warn, and history goes to show, that pride comes before a fall. Eerily similar statements were made by politicians, journalists and academics before both world wars.  More recently, the “peace dividend” everyone spoke optimistically of at the end of the Cold War has also evaporated in Washington, New York, and Pennsylvania, as well as in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan.

So let’s accept the blessings of peace with grateful hearts. Let’s trace every life spared and all moral growth to the goodness of God, not man. And let’s beware of placing too much confidence in humanity’s progress; that’s very thin ice. Far safer to believe the Bible’s graphic and rather gruesome description of the human heart (Romans 3:9-20).  And believing that unchanging truth, rather than ephemeral statistics, let’s keep speaking and publishing and broadcasting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and look to God to change the world, one regenerated heart at a time.

Check out (11/29)

27 Productivity Killers
Just in case you want to feel very guilty today.

5 signs your leadership is dying
Pastor Jared Wilson challenges us to keep pastoral leadership alive and kicking.

Old Testament
Jeremiah: A type of Christ who speaks for God
Jim Hamilton’s post should help you preach more Christ-centered sermons from Jeremiah.

X marks the spot: Preaching chiasms
Christopher Ash helps us avoid chiasm-mania

Christians and alcohol
Tim Challies thinks through the thorny issue of Christian freedom and alcohol.

Why men are in trouble
For the first time in history, women are better educated, more ambitious and arguably more successful than men.

How to use Google Search more effectively
Only 25% of students know how to perform a well-executed search on Google. It’s probably even lower for profs. This infographic comes to the rescue with numerous “tips and tricks for students conducting online research.” And while we’re on the subject of Google….

Six-minute history of Google Search

A Counseling Challenge for 2012

When I read some books on counseling, I’m left thinking that the authors have an extremely narrow and shallow view of their work. They often fail to get much beyond sin: finding it, confronting it, convicting of it, and forsaking it.

However a full-orbed theology of pastoral counseling goes much wider and deeper than that. I can think of at least 12 different kinds of counseling situations I’ve been involved in, and each of them requires significantly different pastoral skills.

Have a look through the following list and ask yourself if you have the pastoral resources to counsel people in each of these varied situations. How would you prepare for such situations? What would you be listening for? What questions can you anticipate being asked? What questions would you ask? What verses/truths/stories might be applicable? What biblical principles would you communicate and how? Who else might you involve? How would you pray? What books or sermons would you recommend?

1. Sinning: Margaret has fallen into sin and a family member asks you to speak to them. (I start with sin because everybody else does! But let’s not stop there).

2. Seeking: Frank is attending church for the first time and although he has many questions, he seems to be earnestly seeking the Lord. How would you help him find what/who he is seeking?

3. Sickness: 35-year-old William, a father of three, has been diagnosed with cancer and is facing surgery and chemo-therapy with no guarantees of success.

4. Sorrowing: Joe and Amy have just been bereaved of their unconverted son in an auto accident.

5. Sadness: Janet, a Christian mother of four young children, has emailed to say that she thinks she is suffering with depression.

6. Social: One of your elders has phoned to let you know that following months of bad-tempered arguing, his unmarried teenage daughter has announced she is pregnant, has left the home, and has started living with her boyfriend.

7. Suffering: A number of the previous situations involve suffering, but I’m using this category specifically for the pain of persecution for Christ’s sake.

8. Strengthening: Although counseling is usually associated with problems, why not also consider how you will counsel people in your congregation to grow and mature in spiritual gifts and graces, and in conformity to and communion with Christ. This is more about spiritual formation than problem-solving.

9. Steering: What principles of guidance will you provide to Paul about choosing a calling, and Sally about beginning a relationship.

10. Significance: Alice contacts you to say that her teenage son is really struggling with the meaning of life. He feels empty and hopeless and wonders what is the point of living.

11. Settling: Karen asks you to act as a peacemaker and help settle a series of disputes and arguments between her and her husband.

12. Satan: Mike phones you in deep distress because he fears falling into sin in the face of sustained and ferocious Satanic temptations.

I’m sure there are other categories as well (raising disabled children, unemployment, and loneliness spring to mind), but I hope that this sampling will encourage you to develop a much wider repertoire of pastoral skills and abilities. In fact, here’s a challenge: why not pick one category a month over the next year and really build up your knowledge and skills in each of these demanding situations.

And this challenge need not be restricted to pastors. All Christians are called upon to help people in these circumstances from time to time.  Why don’t you also focus on each of these areas, maybe one a month, and listen to one sermon or read one book on each subject over the coming year.

And while we’re at it, if anyone can recommend resources for us in each of these areas, please leave your suggestions in the comments, or email/Facebook/Twitter me, and if there are sufficient responses, I’ll collate them, organize them, and post them.

Check out (11/28)

Old Testament
The Old Testament, Holy War, and Christian Morality
Although I disagree with the “hyperbole” defense in #4 there is still some helpful material here for understanding this difficult subject.

Five Love Languages of Leviticus
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert turn to Leviticus to show how Christians must love with our possessions, by our words, in our actions, by our judgments, and with our attitudes.

Escaping Pornography
Mike Doyle reviews two books that offer hope for those ensnared by porn.

The Five Must-Read books for Bloggers in 2011
Not all of this will “crossover” to Christian blogging, but much of it will.

Ten Tips for Reading Scripture in Public
Perhaps the most neglected area in pastoral ministry.

A Word for a new pastor and congregation
NB: The video at the end of the post is not related to this subject. I’d highly recommend that Christian bloggers pay the little bit extra to make sure that their pages are not used for inappropriate advertisement and videos.

The Great Tech War of 2012
The impending shootout between Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

The Apostle John’s view of Technology