Friday, July 31, 2009

On Turning 47

I was born 47 years ago.

All kinds of significant things happened on July 31st, and I share a birthday with a number of interesting people. Of course over time more a few million people have been born on July 31st, so you'd expect some statistical trends working for you :-)

A lot has changed in the world in those years. For starters, there were about half as many people as there are today. The Soviet empire fell. The computing technology used to put men on the moon is less than what's inside today's disposable greeting cards that play music. There have been at least three rounds of "the end must be soon" thinking in the popular press.

I've changed a lot, too, with more transformation ahead. As my friend Lane says, "I could wish for a different life but not a better one." Even shallow reflection shows God's faithfulness every step along the way. I've been put on a grand adventure, following Jesus Christ.

I have twinges -- some large, some note -- about how I spent some of those years. Looking forward, I don't want to have any big regrets, and redeem the time given me for the glory of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How the Brain Takes in Visual Information

Information designer Tom Wujec talks through three areas of the brain that help us understand words, images, feelings, connections. 6.5 minutes, very cool. This is focused on visual input, rather than hearing. I think fathers and leaders benefit from understanding how the mind works -- because it helps us engage people so they have greater opportunities to actually learn and retain information in useful ways.

By the way, TED talks cover a large range of topics, and are always well done presentations. You can learn a great deal about how to get ideas across quickly and well by studying TED presenters.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How To Encourage Your Pastor

Your pastor is a gift from God.

I didn't say he is perfect. But he is a gift from God.

Not long ago I heard a man in our church say that he was disappointed with our pastor. "But that's ok," he concluded, "Max Lucado is the guy I turn to when I need some pastoring."

I was at first startled, surprised by this, and then I said, "Max Lucado speaks and writes well, and we can all be thankful for his ministry. But when you're hurting, and need a hospital visit, Max Lucado is not your pastor. Max Lucado doesn't know you, but our pastor is praying for you and will sacrifice his plans to be available to help you out. Our pastor is the pastor God has given to shepherd, instruct, and love you."

Every pastor I know needs encouragement. They bear heavy burdens, deal with the most difficult of situations, and are constantly a target of the enemies of God.

Here are some practical tips for encouraging your pastor:

1. Use words of appreciation and gratitude. Say "thank you" and "God bless you!" often. These counterbalance the streams of criticism and frustration that pastors hear so frequently.

2. Provide practical helps. Look for opportunities to help out. Maybe your pastor needs a date night -- offer to babysit or get a gift card at a restaurant for them. Several men I know have a firm rule that when they're with their pastor, the pastor doesn't pay for anything. I know a mechanic who checks over his pastor's car regularly and helps keep it tuned up for him.

3. Pray for their strength, for wisdom, for protection. Pray especially for their marriages and their children. Let them know you are praying for them. I should have listed this first, because prayer is so important.

4. Participate and serve with the gifts and talents you have. It encourages your pastor when he sees you helping out, providing leadership, cheerfully helping others in ministry work.

5. Share with them how God is working in your life. Your pastor will be tremendously encouraged to hear about the work of God.

What will you do today to encourage your pastor? And tomorrow?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Living in Community is Hard

We get fairly confused about community. We have deep longings to be with people, to be loved, to be part of something greater than ourselves. And we simultaneously struggle to be with people, and sometimes give confusing signals:

Of course sometimes we are plainer about not wanting to be with people:

(Here are more amazing "no trespassing" signs if you'd like to see a nice collection.)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote an amazing little book "Life Together" while leading the underground seminary in Germany during WWII. He beautfully dissects the problems of the Christian community and exposes the sin and wrong-headed ideas about community that lead to the signs shown above.

If you haven't read Life Together, get a copy. It's a book worth owning, marking up with your notes, and rereading a few times.

Men, we need to learn to handle ourselves when we're alone, and when we're with people. We need to put Christ at the center of relationships, rather than a bolt-on appendage. We need to allow our Lord to lead us into uncomfortable situations for our good and for the good of His people.

Lesson1: Living well in community is hard (so get past your whining). Living well in community apart from Christ is impossible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What Color is Your Awareness?

The Navy Seals have a color code system to describe states of awareness.

White means you're in zombie mode. You're on autopilot, not even sure what you're thinking about. You might be walking on the street, but at the moment you don't know where you're walking and you're completely unaware of cars and people around you.

Yellow is somewhat alert. You know you're on a street and you're aware that there are cars going by you. You know you're on the sidewalk.

Red is hyper-alert state. You know the position and direction of every person around you. You're aware of the man who stopped by the streetlight and turned back to look at you. You know the color and model of the three cars that just passed you. You smell the barbecue joint half a block away. You feel the wind shift in your face.

Black? You kill anything that moves.

We agree, I'm sure, that you don't want to be in white or black state of awareness.

We tend to go through much of our daily lives with minimal awareness of what's going on around us.

The sad truth is that we go through much of our daily lives with minimal awareness of what God is doing in us, and around us.

We serve the Lord God who rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves (Colossians 1:13). We have been given life (John 5:21), a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), a renewed mind (Romans 12:2), the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7), and the promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Matthew 28:19-20).

These are tremendous truths! And yet, we're on autopilot much of the time, unaware of the Father who is always at work (John 5:17), our spiritual kinship with the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), and perhaps missing good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

What should we do?

First, repent.

Second, ask the Lord for awareness of His presence, and to see people and situations the way He sees them.

Third, make efforts to be more aware - practice noticing details around you. When you catch yourself in a low state of awareness, take a moment and re-connect with Christ.

Fourth, let us help one another recognize and discern the ways of the Lord.

Our Lord Jesus Christ has called you to much, much more than zombie living! Open your eyes, dear saint, and see the evidence of your Loving Father's hand, all around you.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

No Amount of Churning Produces Godly Wisdom

I came across this curious and somewhat scary factoid yesterday:

In 2009, more data will be generated by individuals than in the entire history of mankind through 2008.
This is describing shareable data -- bits and bytes, books and newspapers and magazines, radio and tv signals. And I suspect they're counting up copies of data. There is value that comes from the multiplicity of data copies, but there is also a lot of noise.

In our world now, this data is superabundant, we're swimming in it. We're still required to sort through it and think about meaningful things and act on it.

Notice that individuals generate data.

It's different with wisdom. Wisdom has different sources. Scan this list of all the passages in the New Testament that describe wisdom.

Here is my take-home summary: The wisdom of God is given, and it's superior in every way to the so-called wisdom of crowds or individuals. Therefore, we must ask for it. We don't generate it as individuals. Wisdom is not data.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Encouraging with Twitter

I have published 642 updates on Twitter now, and wanted to share a few thoughts about this microblogging phenomenon.

Packing your statement or question into 140 characters is a craft. Reminds me of the joy and effort of writing poetry. (I did that seriously in college, even edited a literary review.)

Twitter has connected me to people whom I otherwise doubt I would have encountered, in many countries. Almost every day I'm reminded that God is working in the lives of all kinds of people, in all kinds of places -- He's much bigger than my provincial thinking.

You can use Twitter to the glory of God. You can write tweets (that's what individual posts are called) that speak to people about His power and majesty and faithfulness. You can remind people of truth from Scripture. It's a powerful tool for encouragement! Unexpected side-benefit: you'll be cheered and encouraged, too.

Like other publishing tools, Twitter can amplify your pride, your discouragement, your strengths, your weaknesses. And it can amplify the value or the waste of your time.

I haven't been comfortable putting enough information in tweets that would let people with poor intentions know things about my family or schedule that would put them at risk. People write freely about their travel and kids activities and leaving their wife at home alone. Yikes!

In odd ways Twitter makes me self-conscious. I notice that I get concerned about the image I'm projecting. If I'm feeling down and discouraged, I don't tweet about it, but turn it around and focus on encouraging others. So it's good to remember that looking at others' tweets does not necessarily tell me the truth about them. In fact, I've become aware that some people run multiple Twitter accounts and express themselves through different personas. Twitter, blogs, emails -- all are limited means of expressions for relational understanding of one another.

I do plan to continue using Twitter, humbling hoping to use it always for the glory of our Lord and Master.

You can follow me at

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Resources for Origins of Life, and Evolution

There are some excellent resources available if you're interested in exploring the topics of the origin of life and evolution. I'm putting this short list of recommended jumping-off points because there is a lot of drivel available on the Internet, poorly done and difficult to certify.

Perry Marshall has a number of fine articles at CosmicFingerprints. He has some helpful applications of information theory that will be helpful if you want to have conversations with athiests. See particularly his discussion of "the athiests riddle."

My friend Kevin Nelstead, a geologist and all-around solid guy, writes The GeoChristian blog. If you are looking for a careful, thoughtful analysis of old-earth vs. young earth perspectives, with authority on the geology, start here.

Hugh Ross has several books available about the universe and creation. I found his book "Why the Universe Is the Way It Is" quite helpful for the astronomy perspective. (In fairness, I also think he gets a little preachy when he doesn't need to be.) The book "The Privileged Planet" by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards covers much of the same material, without being explicitly Christian.

The young earth creation views are well-described at Answers in Genesis. There is also a useful compilation of perspectives and sources at Wikipedia.

Please note: I hold an old-earth creation view (though the biological evidence is that human beings are very new on the planet), but do not break fellowship with Christians who hold other views on these issues. Our dialogue should bring us together, rather than separate us -- because the most critical facts we do agree on are (a) There is a Creator and (b) Jesus is our means of redemption.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Reaching Manly Men

"Jesus was not a Breck girl." -- Steve Farrar

I once heard Steve Farrar comment about the popular paintings of Jesus, with soft flowing hair that would have fit right into a Breck shampoo advertisment, and soft skin and soft eyes. This image doesn't square with the Gospel accounts. Seriously, how threatened were the Pharisees by Jesus? How soft were a carpenter's hands? Can you picture the muscle on Jesus' legs, considering how much we walked?

Yes, there are great scenes of relational tenderness in the Gospels. But Jesus was tough as well as tender.

Jesus attracted manly men to follow him. Fisherman weren't physical lightweights, and nearly all his disciples would have known how to handle themselves in a rough crowd. Following Jesus gave them plenty of physical exercise, and they were put in many uncomfortable situations.

So Jesus perfectly exhibits toughness and tenderness, boldness and gentleness (thus the name of this blog).

Here in the US, at least, churches are attracting many more women than men. Check your local prayer meeting -- how many Bible-carrying men are there?

I think there are two avenues that will help more men into the Kingdom.

First, we need to expand our language about community and calling. Let's add some emphasis to our speech that speaks to mission, protecting the weak, saving others, not letting our brothers and fathers and sons down, guarding against attack, teamwork, taking courageous steps.

Men respond to powerful purposes. We're wired for it. It's why military stories and rescues and adventures appeal to us. My grandparents had stacks of old Reader's Digest magazine at their house. I would spend hours looking through them. I liked the cartoons, and I devoured every"drama in real life" story.

Second, we need to help men benefit from the power of association. My observation is that if/when Satan can get a man alone, he's got about a 50-60% greater chance of destroying him. We're much more likely to do what is right when we know we're part of a band of brothers. Consider Joash, who "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years of Jehoida the priest," (2 Chron 24:1-2) and then later turns away from God after Jehoida dies (see 2 Chron 24:17-22).

The health of men's souls can hang on associated with good men. "Iron sharpens iron, as one man sharpens another." Men have enormous potential; other men sharpen us and challenge us; women give us polish.

What are your thoughts about helping more manly men into God's kingdom?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Practices for Wise Thinking -- Part 2

We're continuing our series on practices that promote wise thinking. (See introduction and Part 1.)

Practice #2: Distinguish Correlation and Causation

A sleight of hand used to deceive people is to present correlation of two facts as causation.

Let's look at some definitions:

Correlation: A causal, complementary, parallel, or reciprocal relationship, especially a structural, functional, or qualitative correspondence between two comparable entities: a correlation between drug abuse and crime.

Causation: The act or process of causing.

Let's examine a clear example first. Here are two facts, indisputable:

a) In the last three months, I have more gray hairs.

b) Gasoline prices have increased $0.62 in the last three months.

It would be ridiculous to conclude that increasing gas prices lead to more gray hairs, or more gray hairs on my pitiful head cause the price of gas to rise. Why?

Because acts (a) and (b) are correlations, but there is no causation here (in either direction). There is no reason to connect the natural process of my graying hair with the swings in gas prices.

This one is easy to see, right? Can you think of other equally ridiculous correlations?

Let's look at another example.

Two more facts:

a) In the past three months I have been doing pushups and situps almost daily.

b) I can do more pushups and situps now than I could four months ago.

Again, simple right. (b) is a result of (a) -- (a) caused (b); this is not just a correlation, there is a strong relationship in one direction between the two facts.

Review the possible connections below. Are these correlations or causations? What would you conclude?

We spend more on educating children in Washington, D.C. than anywhere else in the US. Children in Washington, D.C. have lower standardized test scores than most other states.

Atmospheric CO2 levels are higher now than in the recent past. Average global temperature levels are higher now than in the recent past.

There is three times more safety equipment installed in cars now than in cars 20 years ago. Deaths in car accidents have declined slightly.

In all three cases, you need more information in order to discern whether there is correlation or causation between these things.

You will often be presented with facts as examples of causation. Men, be instantly suspicious! Causation is less frequent and more difficult to prove than most people initially expect. Correlations are rampant, causation infrequent.

Why are causations difficult to discern? Because the real world is full of complex, interlocking systems with multiple feedback loops of differing strengths. (I hope to cover some of this in a future post.)

It's a huge step forward if you can recognize when you're being asked to believe a causation (a causes b) without sufficient evidence. Help your children learn this as well, through simple examples.

Think wisely!

Please comment, and let's sharpen one another.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Question

I’m sure my friend and mentor didn’t understand the explosive power of the bomb he dropped on me.

His simple question transformed the way I have thought about sin, temptation, and the Christian life.

I met weekly with my friend for encouragement and mutual accountability in agreed-upon areas of weakness. For three weeks running I had to confess failings in one particular area. “I hate that I’m saying it,” I said quietly, “but… I did it again.”

“Here comes the lecture,” I thought, knowing I deserved it.

My friend paused, then asked me this simple, profound, and powerful question:
“That’s not consistent with Christ in you, is it?”

In that moment God catalyzed something wonderful in my mind. Following Jesus is not about making my heart and mind better through external “righteousness.” Following Jesus means my thinking, acting, and living should flow out of the glorious reality that I am a new creature in Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The reality of this new creation is the primary source of all wisdom, godliness, and righteous living (see Galatians 6:15).

Use this question to help frame your decisions. When you’re faced with a choice, you can ask “Lord, what’s most consistent with Christ in me?”

Use this question to resist besetting sins. When you are tempted, it helps enormously to ask “Is this consistent with Christ in me?”

Use this question when you are fearful, or weak, to remind yourself of the character of Christ in you. “Is this consistent with Christ in me?”

Let us be grateful people, confident in “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

Happy 4th of July!

This is the day I reread both The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Practices for Wise Thinking -- Part I

Yesterday I defined wise thinking and outlined the reasons why it is all-too rare.

Today I'd like to start outlining practices for wise thinking. I can't go into enormous depth here, but want to inspire you into further investigation.

Principle #1: Ask Questions about Information Presented to You

When you hear a story, read a blog post or magazine article, or watch something on a newscast, learn to ask questions about the information presented to you.

Here are some questions you should be asking:

What is the quality and reputation and authority of this source?
What could be missing from this presentation (e.g., facts, alternative perspectives)?
Does the tone of the presentation tell me anything?
What part of the content are facts? What are inferences or presuppositions or speculation?
Who stands to benefit if I believe this information as it is presented?
What goals and objectives does the source have?
If I agree with what I've read, could it be because it fits my preconceived ideas?
If I disagree with what I've read, could it be because it fits my preconceived ideas?
Is the style of presentation affecting my understanding of the truth?
What other context information would be helpful to discern the truth?
Are there logic problems in the story?

You might ask other questions. (Comment if you have suggestions.) The point is to begin to think critically about what has been presented to you.

There are two benefits for you:

1) You'll be less likely to succumb to the hazards of swallowing whole untruths and lies.

2) You'll be sharpening your skill at discernment.

One more thing: don't be surprised if people resent your questioning and become defensive. The enemies of wise thinking don't want you to be discerning. Some people mistake your intent for truth to be an attack on them personally.

Please comment and let's sharpen one another.

More tomorrow!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Thinking Wisely

I've written a number of times on this blog that Christians should be the best thinkers on the planet. I remain committed to this view.

It doesn't take a genius to look around and realize that wise thinking is, well, rarer than it should be.

Let's first define wise thinking.

It's clear thinking based on a strong base of information. It's humble (we have limited perspective, unconscious biases, and are hampered by sin). Wise thinking is always consistent with a biblical worldview. Wise thinking is a lifelong craft. Wise thinking recognizes the problem within the problem, and comes up with solutions. Wise thinking builds people up and helps whole communities. Wise thinking leads to answers and actions which, under the authority of the Holy Spirit, honor our Lord.

Let me speak into your chest, men. Our failure to think wisely is killing our families and communities. It's not enough to rely upon a few "smart" people to think for you. God has called you to a larger, more noble calling than this!

So why don't we observe more wise thinking, especially in the Church?

First, it's hard work. It's easier not to think. It's easier to be apathetic. It's easier to seek out numbing entertainment. It's easier to make excuses (which are really lies we tell ourselves) such as "it's too complicated for anyone to understand."

Second, too few people have received decent training in how to think clearly and constructively (which can be done apart from a biblical worldview, but perhaps not wisely). Your enemies and those who want to have power and influence over you are not likely to help you learn to think clearly -- to be discerning about their schemes.

I do fault our education systems in part. But men, you and I are being held accountable for training our families and leading our wives. We can't develop wise thinkers by relying solely upon educating institutions.

Third, we're satisfied too easily with our status quo. We decide that we're good enough and don't need to push it. We tend to overrate our abilities. We're proud and stubborn and unwilling to learn.

Please understand, I'm preaching to myself as much as anyone, guys. I have a long way to go myself.

Tomorrow I'll start outlining some principles and practices for wise thinking. For today, will you join me in recommitting to the work required? Your children will thank you!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Back from Hiatus -- and New Commitments

Thanks for your patience while I took a blogging hiatus!

While taking this break I finished a few projects and made big progress on some others:

Completed my systematic theology study (Grudem's book, Systematic Theology)
Launched 400,000 Bible teacher initiative and lined up more promoters and helpers
Set up "Inner Bible Teacher" coaching curriculum for Bible teachers for July/August
Made plans for teaching this fall (1/2 Corinthians)
Got started on new version of Teach the Bible to Change Lives
Making more progress with Twitter (follow me at glenn_brooke)
Outlined curriculum for leadership development

I've also been thinking and praying about how I have done blogging, and plan to make some changes.

I will work harder to produce more original content posts, even if that means I'm posting less frequently. I'm still going to point you towards interesting content as I find it, adding my comments -- but will probably collect these up rather than posting individually.

My prayer remains that our Lord will continue to direct people to this blog in order to encourage and build them up.