links to 10 items worth your time

1. Can Israel and Jordan cooperate to save the dying Dead Sea

“… the Jordan River isn’t the only biblical-site-turned-environmental-disaster.”

2. America’s New Religions

“Seduced by scientism, distracted by materialism, insulated, like no humans before us, from the vicissitudes of sickness and the ubiquity of early death, the post-Christian West believes instead in something we have called progress — a gradual ascent of mankind toward reason, peace, and prosperity — as a substitute in many ways for our previous monotheism. We have constructed a capitalist system that turns individual selfishness into a collective asset and showers us with earthly goods; we have leveraged science for our own health and comfort. Our ability to extend this material bonanza to more and more people is how we define progress; and progress is what we call meaning.”

3. How N.T. Wright Stole Christmas

“As it turns out, Wright is no Grinch. He didn’t steal Christmas. What he stole was a false Christmas, a de-contextualized and apolitical Christmas. But we shouldn’t have bought that Christmas in the first place, and should have been embarrassed to display it so proudly on the mantle. Good riddance, and Bah humbug.”

4. Gun-shy About Committing to Church

“Surviving spiritual abuse means I’ve had to learn to balance my wariness (especially if I sense a leader is practicing those familiar old power games) with a commitment to remain vigilant about allowing bitterness to take root in my soul. I don’t try to silence my internal critic during a church service or gathering, as this voice serves an important role in helping me to remember where I’ve been and what I’ve learned. However, I work to listen for the things that harmonize with that critic by seeking to worship God in community, be present with others he’s placed in my path, and serve without feeling the compulsion I once did to say ‘yes’ to every request.”

5. Becoming Poor and Finding Friendship on the Margins

“We assume God’s friendship is enough as we seek to make friends with God’s people: the poor, the suffering, the lonely, and all those who cry out from their hearts for mercy. This is how we live out Christ’s good news on the margins.”

6. Resilient Kids Come From Parents Who Do These 8 Things

“… resilience is a behavior learned through explicit lessons and examples, one that teaches kids how to, among other things, better handle stress, understand that rejection is not a comment on their entire existence, and view setbacks as things that don’t need to sideline them for good.”

7. ‘A Witness That They Were Here’: Los Angeles Honors 1,457 of Its Unclaimed Dead

“They are the forgotten people of Los Angeles — 1,457 people, to be exact. Old, poor, homeless, babies born premature and abandoned. They may have died alone, but they were buried together, in a mass grave, and were honored together this week in an interfaith ceremony that has been an annual ritual in Los Angeles for more than a century.”

8. Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world

“… conceiving of attention as a resource misses the fact that attention is not just useful. It’s more fundamental than that: attention is what joins us with the outside world. ‘Instrumentally’ attending is important, sure. But we also have the capacity to attend in a more ‘exploratory’ way: to be truly open to whatever we find before us, without any particular agenda. …

“So, as well as attention-as-resource, it’s important that we retain a clear sense of attention-as-experience.”

9. Millennials experience work-disrupting anxiety at twice the US average rate

“Nearly one in five US workers are debilitated by anxiety or depression, and the rate only climbs when you zoom in on younger generations.”

10. How Modern Technology is Bringing Ancient Writings to Light

“Powerful imaging tools are enabling researchers to see inside scrolls too fragile to unroll and recover texts too faint to see, making thousands of illegible manuscripts readable again.”

links: this went thru my mind

Christmas & displacement: Christmas for Those Who Feel Left Out

“He came to all who feel out of place in the world to give them a place in his world.”

Health, sleep & technology: Reading On A Screen Before Bed Might Be Killing You

“The best recommendation … would be to avoid use of light-emitting screens before bedtime …”

Kingdom: On the Term ‘Kingdom’

“… the expectation for anything using the word ‘kingdom’ would be a people governed by a king — and what was the biggest hope was that this people would be ruled by God. (And Messiah gets attached over time to God’s end-time rule over his people.) What would Jews have heard when Jesus said ‘kingdom’? That’s a question we must ask. (It would not have meant only God’s rule. It always involves a people ruled by a king.)”

Jesus, nonviolence, peace & violence: The Prince of Peace (parts 1, 2 & 3) [essential reading]

“… in the name of honesty, Christians ought either to quit fighting or quit calling themselves Christians. …”

“The use of force is one thing, the use of violence and especially lethal violence, violence with intent to do serious bodily harm or kill, is another. It is the latter that absolutely nothing in the teachings of Jesus sanctions, and much in his teaching completely rejects. …”

“”The Christian followers of Caesar have thus committed themselves to an absurdity that they can neither resolve nor escape: the proposition that war can be made to serve peace; that you can make friends for love by hating and killing the enemies of love. This has never succeeded, and its failure is never acknowledged, which is a further absurdity. … Jesus called us to self-sacrifice, not to a life of self-protection and self-preservation. If the whole or major rationale for allowing private citizens to carry guns is ‘self-defense’, then it is in order to point out that Jesus called us to give up that modus operandi and embrace another one— self-sacrifice.'”

Preaching, sin & spiritual sickness: Pope Francis: the Fifteen ‘Diseases’ of the Curia [essential reading]

“Francis invites his collaborators to examine their conscience to confess their ‘sins’ in today’s speech. He mentions vainglory and feeling essential, as well as ‘spiritual Alzheimer’s’ and hoarding money and power. The Pope also speaks of closed circles and worldly profit, as well as the ‘terrorism of gossip.'”

5 book & Bible suggestions as Christmas gifts

As you make your Christmas gift purchases, why not consider a book or a Bible? Following are five books I would highly recommend.

For children & parents

Sharing God’s Love: The Jesus Creed for Children by Scot McKnight & Laura McKnight Barringer

  • Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but my kids will receive copies of this book to read to/with my grandkids.

For anyone interested in their life with God

Life Work: Confessions of an Everyday Disciple by Randy Harris

  • Honest. Thoughtful. Insightful. Stimulating. Challenging. Reflective. Relevant. Practical. Real. This is Randy Harris. And he’s at the top of his game with this book. I don’t say this about many books, but I’ll say it about this one: would that every Christian would read this book.

For Bible students

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener

  • Your understanding of what’s going on in Scripture will take several leaps forward if you grasp something of what the original audience of Scripture was dealing with at the time. This book will help you do just that and since it’s arranged like a commentary rather than a textbook, you can instantly turn to the passage on which you’re seeking cultural, historical, and contextual insights. Though written by a scholar, it is not written in scholarese; it is quite readable.

For preachers (and teachers)

Rewiring Your Preaching: How the Brain Processes Sermons by Richard H. Cox

  • The author is a psychologist, physician, and preacher. Fascinating.

For those who enjoy the unique

The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition

  • For my personal Bible reading project in 2015 I had originally intended to focus on the New Testament. That is, until I saw this book. Now I plan to focus on the Old Testament exclusively next year and this is the Bible I’ll use in that effort.

links: this went thru my mind

 

Adultery: The United States of Adultery

[This is an interactive map. Houston is #2 in the country, beat out only by three-time winner Washington D.C.]

Birth of Jesus & Christmas: * Baby Jesus Meek and Mild, Overthrew an Empire – Wild!; * Is There A Dragon In Your Nativity Set?

* “May your Christmas be a time when you ponder the summons of a subversive kingdom. May you choose to peacefully follow the baby in the manger to the cross and through resurrection, proclaiming with the angels that a new era has begun; an era when the people of God can undo the works of oppressive ’empires.’ Merry Christmas.”

* “Every nativity set needs a red dragon. If you don’t remember that part of the story, you might want to read chapter 12 of Revelation.”

China, Christianity & persecution: China’s Hardship-Hardened Church

“Vibrant amid persecution, it seeks faithfulness over freedom.”

Contribution, generosity, giving, possessions, sacrifice, stewardship & wealth: The Scary Truth About Christian Giving

“Over the past 40 years, self-identified evangelicals have given between 2 and 3 percent of their incomes to churches and Christian organizations. Stewardship is a crucial part of the Christian life, and according to these figures, it is sadly lacking.”

Criticism, hatred & humility: Haters

“Never criticize what God is blessing.”

Firearms & guns: Gun Country

“They bring families together and they tear them apart. They kill innocent people and protect them. The United States continues to love and revile its hundreds of millions of firearms. Here is a look at that complicated  relationship, told through the personal stories of Americans.”

Insurance & the uninsured: Mapping Uninsured Americans

“Census data released Dec. 17 show where the uninsured live.”

Love & truth: 3 John: When Love is Abused

“He abused his power; he abused the love entrusted to him.”

Poor & poverty: In the War on Poverty, a Dogged Adversary [required reading]

“Without the panoply of government benefits — like food stamps, subsidized school lunches and the earned-income tax credit, which provides extra money to household heads earning low wages — the nation’s poverty rate last year would have reached almost 31 percent, up from 25 percent in 1967, according to the research at Columbia.”

Warfare: The Great War’s Ominous Echoes

“… the era just before World War I, with its gas lighting and its horse-drawn carriages, seems very far-off, it is similar to ours — often unsettlingly so — in many ways.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Bibles: Countries That Are Bad for Christians Are Good for Distributing Bibles

“Where did demand for Scripture surge last year? Try Syria, Iraq, and Laos, for starters.”

Christian faith: * Seven Lies About About Christianity Which Christians Believe; * The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel: Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer

* “Here are the most common stereotypes that Christians have about Christianity that are wrong …”

* “I used to think that their error was so blatantly obvious that they could just be ignored. I was wrong. They are massively growing in popularity in the evangelical world and are seen as credible and helpful. Before I’m inundated with questioning emails I want to share why I distrust these two and think you should as well. So, don’t shoot me — at least not yet.”

Church decline: 7 Suggestions NOT To Do When the Church is in Decline

“The hardest lesson a church needs to learn in a period of decline, however, is not what they should do…but what they shouldn’t.”

Church leadership, church life, ministry & shepherding: Seven Ways Pastoring Has Changed in Thirty Years [required reading]

“… in thirty years pastoring has changed in ways we likely would have never predicted or imagined.”

Climate change, ecology, environment, global warming & pollution: Panel Says Global Warming Carries Risk of Deep Changes

“‘The reality is that the climate is changing,’ said James W. C. White, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who headed the committee on abrupt impacts of climate change. ‘It’s going to continue to happen, and it’s going to be part of everyday life for centuries to come — perhaps longer than that.'”

Consumerism, culture & Christmas: * The ‘War on Christmas’: On Ethnocentrism and Blasphemy; * Do Not Judge the Christmas Shopper

* “The worry about this trend, among some Christians, is that Christ–the Reason for the Season–is being removed from Christmas and the American consciousness. This is taken to be a sign of the increasing secularization of America and indicative of moral and spiritual decline. But this is nonsense.”

* “… while I think we need to push back–hard–on consumerism in our culture, we need to be very careful in judging the motives of any given shopper.”

Hatred & violence: The Science of Hatred

“What makes humans capable of horrific violence? Why do we deny atrocities in the face of overwhelming evidence?”

Justice, money, poor & poverty: * What Dave Ramsey Gets Wrong About Poverty by Rachel Held Evans [essential reading]; * Speaking of the Poor — It’s Not Their Fault!; * This Is Why Poor People’s Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense [essential reading]; * My Journey Through Food Stamps

* “… while Ramsey may be a fine source of information on how to eliminate debt, his views on poverty are neither informed nor biblical. … People are poor for a lot of reasons, and choice is certainly a factor, but categorically blaming poverty on lack of faith or lack of initiative is not only uninformed, it’s unbiblical.”

* “For Christians, the issues of poverty should have nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Poverty is a justice issue! The prophet Isaiah implores the people of God saying, ‘Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’ (Isa 1:17) Part of doing right and seeking justice for the poor, is speaking correctly about the struggles and obstacles they face.”

* “…  often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.”

* “…  I did what everyone else on food stamps does — I made the food stretch each month and found other ways to keep us eating.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Christmas, culture & devotion: The Real War on Christmas

“The so-called war on Christmas rages on. … When Jesus is primarily just ‘the reason for the season,’ he’s just like that box of Christmas ornaments I keep in my attic. When the season starts, I pull him out, dust him off, and display him loudly and proudly. While the season progresses, I attend to him daily. But when the season is over, I can pack him back up and put him away someplace removed from my daily life. He goes from the middle of my life to the margin of my life relatively quickly.”

Communication: 5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication

“We are all guilty or some of these at times.”

Early Christianity: Social Description of Early Christians/Christianity

“… although this will hardly be news to anyone familiar with scholarly work of the last several decades, I thought it perhaps helpful to point to this work for others.  Essentially, a continuing line of studies has shown from various types of evidence that early Christian circles were comprised of people of a variety of social levels.  To be sure, we have indications that some were very poor and some were slaves.  So, the old stereotype was not totally wrong, just a stereotype, and so wrong.”

Marriage: Marriage Isn’t for You [essential reading]

“Having been married only a year and a half, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me. Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.”

Money, oppression & payday loans: I Applied For An Online Payday Loan. Here’s What Happened Next

“Payday lenders made about $49 billion in high-interest loans last year. More than a third of those loans were made online. I wondered what happens when you apply for such a loan, so I decided to find out.”

Parenting: Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children [essential reading]

“I am moved to write this by watching young children pay no attention to their parents’ requests, with no consequences. Parents tell a child two or three times to sit or stop and come or go, and after the third disobedience, they laughingly bribe the child. This may or may not get the behavior desired.”

Rest: Are There Any Christians Who Take a Day of Rest Anymore? [required reading]

“There is perhaps no single thing that could better help us recover Jesus’ lordship in our frantic, power-hungry world than to allow him to be Lord of our rest as well as our work. The challenge is disarmingly simple: one day a week, not to do anything that we know to be work.”

Short-term missions: Doing Short-Term Missions Well (parts 1 & 2)

“… how can we do STM in a way that provides a worthwhile blessing to those we serve without creating a problem?”