Notre Dame students walk out on VP Pence

Posted by    |    May 22nd, 2017 at 5:49 am

The Greatest Show on Earth is over. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus gave its final performance last night. The circus’s owner says his production could no longer compete with iPhones, the Internet, and video games.

Does it seem that the world is changing faster than ever?

The Roman Catholic Church remains committed to conservative moral values, but students at Notre Dame, its most prominent university, walked out of their own graduation yesterday to protest Vice President Mike Pence.

Texting while driving has become such an epidemic that police officers near Atlanta are dressing as construction workers to spy on passing cars. Authorities in Albany, Georgia have posed as panhandlers at street corners to find violators. Police in Michigan use unmarked vehicles to catch texters.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was right: we cannot step into the same river twice. Much of the change that dominates our lives is a two-edged sword. The Internet has enriched our lives enormously, but it also spawned our pornography epidemic. Air travel has made the world more accessible than ever, but it also speeds the spread of infectious diseases. Nuclear technology can fuel cities or destroy them.

St. Augustine called evil the “shadow side of good.” Wherever we find God at work, we find Satan at work as well. But it will not always be so: “The world is passing away along with its desires,” but “whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

Think about all that changes when we step from earth into heaven. No more cell phones. No more email or Internet or technology. What will remain?

Henri Nouwen offers an answer I had not considered: “Hope and faith will both come to an end when we die. But love will remain. Love is eternal. Love comes from God and returns to God. When we die, we will lose everything that life gave us except love. The love with which we lived our lives is the life of God within us. It is the divine, indestructible core of our being.”

Nouwen is right. In heaven, we will join that “great multitude that no one could number” in worshiping God for eternity (Revelation 7:9). Worship is expressing our love for God to God. So love—our love for our Father and his love for us—will remain forever.

Now we see why loving our Lord and loving our neighbor are the greatest commandments of Scripture (Matthew 22:37–39). The wisest investors spend their money on whatever provides the greatest return.

How wisely will you spend today?

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Daily Briefing: May 22, 2017

Posted by    |    May 22nd, 2017 at 5:32 am

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Scoop: Trump budget to slash entitlements by $1.7 trillion (Axios)

“President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday won’t reform Social Security or Medicare — in line with his campaign promise — but it will make serious cuts to other entitlement programs. A source with direct knowledge tells me the Trump budget will save $1.7 trillion on the mandatory side over the next ten years.
“Where the entitlement cuts are made: From programs including SNAP (food stamps), CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and SSDI (Disability Insurance). The budget proposal will also assume that Trump can sign into law the American Health Care Act — the Obamacare repeal and replace bill that passed the House and is now being considered by the Senate. That bill makes substantial cuts to Medicaid.”

Nick Note: In 1982, Men Without Hats proclaimed we can dance if we want to, and over the weekend, President Trump took them up on their offer. Here is President Trump dancing with Saudi officials at a ceremonial sword dance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Saturday outside the Murabba Palace. And just for good measure, here is Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Ross dancing as well. But it wasn’t all fun and games over the weekend. Yesterday, President Trump summoned the Muslim world to confront “the crisis of Islamic extremism” during his trip to Saudi Arabia.  He noted: “This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations…this is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people, all in the name of religion — people that want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle between good and evil.” It was a strong speech that was coupled with strong remarks from Ivanka Trump earlier in the day. She advocated for the greater inclusion of women in the Saudi Arabian workforce on Sunday as the World Bank announced that Arab countries had contributed $100 million toward a global women’s initiative she has championed. Sound familiar? Mrs. Trump said: “Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging but there’s still a lot of work to be done and freedoms and opportunities to continue to fight for.” Speaking of freedom, Notre Dame graduates exercised their freedom over the weekend by walking out when VP Mike Pence got up to address the graduating class.Watch it here. If we look for the silver lining, at least they peacefully walked out instead of trying to boo him off the stage. When former President Obama went there in 2009, some shouted at him and walked out on him. But nevertheless, this is greatly problematic as students will inevitably face dissenting views for the rest of their lives. Will they continue to walk away from every situation? Speaking of walking away, before he retires, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he’ll talk to former FBI Director James Comey on Monday. He will pursue any records of President Donald Trump’s meetings with the fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. While they talk, President Trump will be spending today with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. They will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and conclude the day with dinner. Tensions could be high, seeing as how Mr. Trump allegedly disclosed classified intel gathered by the Israelis to the Russians without permission. But Mr. Trump will visit with Israeli officials, seeking to strengthen bonds in the region and take one step closer to peace. In the Scriptures, we read that we are to make every effort to make peace – especially since we are called to be peace makers (Ephesians 4:3-6, Matthew 5:9). No word on whether there will be any dancing in Israel.

Pope names five new cardinals in surprise announcement (Catholic Herald)

“Pope Francis has named five new cardinals for Laos, Mali, Sweden, Spain and El Salvador.
“Francis, in his surprise announcement Sunday to faithful in St Peter’s Square, said his selection reflects the universal nature of the Catholic Church. In some of the countries, like Laos and Sweden, Catholics are a minority.
“The churchmen will be formally installed as cardinals in a ceremony at the Vatican on June 28…They are Monsignor Jean Zerbo, archbishop of Bamako, Mali; Monsignor Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, Spain; Monsignor Anders Arborelius, bishop of Stockholm; Monsignor Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun, apostolic vicar of Pakse, Laos; and Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, an auxiliary bishop in San Salvador, El Salvador.”

Nick Note: The 1983 Code of Canon Law states: “The Roman Pontiff freely selects men to be promoted as cardinals, who have been ordained at least into the order of the presbyterate [i.e., priest] and are especially outstanding in doctrine, morals, piety, and prudence in action; those who are not yet bishops must receive episcopal consecration.” In the Scriptures, we read that “anyone who aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1).”

After 146 Years, Ringling Brothers Circus Takes Its Final Bow (NY Times)

“The lights went up on the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus on Sunday evening to reveal 14 lions and tigers sitting in a circle, surrounding a man in a sparkling suit. It was a sight too implausible to seem real yet such an iconic piece of Americana that it was impossible to believe the show would not go on.
“After 146 years, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey is closing for good, responding to a prolonged slump in ticket sales that has rendered the business unsustainable, according to its operator, Feld Entertainment. On Sunday, the circus glittered, thundered and awed beneath the booms and klieg lights of Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. That there was no tent over the final show, no striped eaves from which the daring young man on the flying trapeze could hang, felt fitting. The big top was packed up, this time forever.”

Nick Note: In her mediocre hit Circus, Brittney Spears reminded us that there are only two types of people in the world. Unfortunately, both types of people this morning will no longer be able to go to the circus. “For everything, there is a season, a time for every matter under the sun. A time to be born and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).”

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Why A Lot of Americans Don’t Want To Befriend a Transgender Person (The Daily Beast)

“A full 27 percent of American adults on a recent YouGov survey said no. Even fewer—less than 20 percent—said they would be open to dating a transgender person.
“The new YouGov survey found that one in five Americans believe that being transgender is a mental illness. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association replaced the “gender identity disorder” diagnosis with “gender dysphoria” in 2013, in part to “[remove] the connotation that the patient is ‘disordered.’”
“Four percent of Americans had been on a date with a transgender person in the last year.”

Nick Note: There is a pretty significant difference between dating a trans person and befriending a trans person. CS Lewis, in his work The 4 Loves, discusses the revealing power of friendship in helping us better understand our friends. Each friend draws something unique out of us. For example, my brother Ryan draws generosity and sports fanaticism out of me. Will brings out my sense of humor and kindness. When I am around Jon, I am more inquisitive and adventurous. Lewis notes: “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.” Friends have the ability to bring out features of us and shape the character in us. Perhaps this is the reason why Jesus said to love everyone – especially those a little different from you (John 13:34).

Sleep deprivation can cause anxiety and depression—and the problem goes both ways (QZ)

“The majority of evidence suggests the relationship between sleep problems and anxiety and depression is strong and goes both ways.
“This means sleep problems can lead to anxiety and depression, and vice versa. For example, worrying and feeling tense during bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep, but having trouble falling asleep, and in turn not getting enough sleep, can also result in more anxiety.
“Sleep disturbance, particularly insomnia, has been shown to follow anxiety and precede depression in some people, but it is also a common symptom of both disorders.”

Nick Note: “Work is a blessing. God has so arranged the world that work is necessary, and He gives us hands and strength to do it. The enjoyment of leisure would be nothing if we had only leisure. It is the joy of work well done that enables us to enjoy rest, just as it is the experiences of hunger and thirst that make food and drink such pleasures.” Elisabeth Elliot (Mark 2:27)

Sneaky teen texting codes: what they mean, when to worry (USA Today)

“While most of these terms are completely innocent, some child safety experts warn there can be more than meets the eye with texting codes. Some strange texting lingo might double as code for suicidal thoughts, bullying, sex and drugs.
“Bark analyzes some 10-million teen messages per month across 21 different platforms including text, email, Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube. Here’s the most recent list of the top “sneaky” terms that teens use, according to Bark’s data.”

Nick Note: IRL (in real life), I’m not GR8 (great) at a lot things, including TWD (texting while driving) and understanding emojis. But IMHO (in my humble opinion), I don’t text and drive because it is dangerous but I do text, despite the fact that it can be morally dangerous for teens and adults alike. Joseph fled Potiphar’s wife at the sight of her, but in today’s technological world, a text may be just as provocative and worth fleeing (Genesis 39).

Distraction prevents us from seeing beauty (QZ)

“NYU experimental psychologists Denis Pelli and Aenne Brielmann asked 62 people to rate the level of pleasure they received from various stimuli….The participants then repeated the experiment, but this time while being distracted by a task. They were asked to listen to a series of letters, and to press a key whenever a letter was repeated. As the task involved both working memory and attentional control, it was “ideally suited to interfere with Kant’s postulated ‘harmonious interplay’ of sensation and cognition,” wrote the authors. Performing the task did not affect the pleasure of most objects, but the study participants were less likely to see beauty when they were distracted. “We confirm Kant’s claim that only the pleasure associated with feeling beauty requires thought,” the authors added.”

Nick Note: You are so beautiful, to me, can’t you see? Of course you can’t see because you are looking at your phone an average 76 times a day. Beauty never demands attention; it compels it. This is why the Psalmist, upon gazing at the beauty of the Lord, declared that he wished to spend all the days of his life in the court of the Lord, from which the Lord shines forth in perfect beauty(Psalm 27:4, 50:2). In a world that is increasingly skeptical of claims of Christ, they are quite receptive to the beauty that points to Christ. As those who pray that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (where perfect beauty shines), how can you create beauty in your circle or sphere that speaks (directly or indirectly) about the goodness of the Lord?

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Over 60 and Dancing at W.N.B.A. Center Court

Nick Note: Watch it here. In the Scriptures, we read that we “don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young (1 Timothy 4:2).” But equally significant is the truth that we can’t let anyone count us out because we are more senior in age (Psalm 92:14, Titus 2:1-6, Psalm 37:25).

China’s ‘Baby Foodie’ Xiaoman is an Internet Star

Nick Note: Watch it here. Could the rise in watching people perform mundane tasks in China be a result of pervasive loneliness? Monikers for unmarried people in China include: “single dog,” a “bare branch,” a “leftover man” or a “leftover woman.”  In 2016, there were 33.59 million more men than women in China, according to figures from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics that were issued in January, and 48.78 percent of China’s 1.38 billion people are female, compared with a global average of 49.55 percent. In the Scriptures, we read that it is not good to be alone (Genesis 2:18). He who finds a wife finds a good gift and the person who finds community experiences rich life (Proverbs 18:22, 27:17, Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25).

Celine Dion’s Heart-Wrenching Performance of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ at 2017 Billboard Music Awards: Watch

Nick Note: Watch it here. We all have been entrusted with talents and gifts. Regardless of your age, how are you using your gifts today? Are you burying them in the ground or investing them in the world (Matthew 25:14-30)?

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Daily Briefing: May 19, 2017

Posted by    |    May 19th, 2017 at 6:33 am

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Melania Trump scheduled to address U.S. military families during trip abroad (Politico)

“The Trumps will leave Washington on Friday for a trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Rome, Brussels and Sicily. And while Melania Trump will accompany her husband at some events, the White House said the first lady will also participate in many of her own, including attending spousal programs at the NATO and G-7 summits in Brussels and Sicily, respectively, and speaking to U.S. military personnel and families in Italy.”

Nick Note: Toby Keith, known for songs such as Beer For My Horses and Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue, is scheduled to perform in the Saudi capital this weekend in an event that coincides with President Trump’s first overseas visit. Mr. Trump, who is known for being a homebody and hasconsidered shortening this first overseas trip, now has a little more of home there with him. Speaking of home, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz is going home. The Republican leading the House committee responsible for conducting oversight and investigations of the White House plans to step down from Congress at the end of June. “I’ve slept on a cot in my office largely to save money for the Chaffetz family, but also to remind myself that my service there was temporary,” Mr. Chaffetz wrote. “We feel my time in congress has been well spent, but it now seems the right time to turn the page.” Speaking of turning the page, have you seen the newest front page of Time? On the new cover of Time magazine, the White House is depicted in the midst of a makeover — the iconic spires of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow replicated on the roof of the White House, as it turns red. The Russian collusion allegations and the Comey situation continue to be in the news – though there is no new news. Yesterday, President Trump flatly denied asking ex-FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and described Democratic talk of possible impeachment as “totally ridiculous.” However, what is new is renegotiations concerning NAFTA. The Trump administration, in a two-page letter to Congress, stated how they “intend to initiate negotiations with Canada and Mexico regarding modernization” of the agreement, which was ratified in 1993, to reduce barriers to trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. In his book When Cultures Collide: Leading Across Cultures, Richard Lewis highlights the complexities and stark differences when dealing with people from other cultures. There is a great need to be culturally aware and sensitive. Whether that concerns Canadians or Saudi Arabians, we each have our own characteristics. For example, former president Bush made a funny face behind a reporter at the Texas Rangers baseball game the other night (see here). Everyone around the world might not think that was funny. However,  Stephen Covey put it well: seek first to understand, then to be understood. When Paul went to different areas to share the good news, he was willing to endure great things and abstain from many things in order to share the greatest thing – Jesus (1 Corinthians 8:13, 9:12). Toby Keith often wondered “Who’s Your Daddy?,” but Paul went to great lengths to make sure you knew about a loving Heavenly Father (Romans 9:1-4).

Sweden Drops Investigation of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks Founder (NY Times)

“Prosecutors in Sweden said on Friday that they would drop their investigation into Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London five years ago after the authorities in Stockholm opened a preliminary rape inquiry against him.
“In Britain, he still faces an arrest warrant for failing to appear in court, and the London police said on Friday that they would arrest him if he tried to leave the embassy. Moreover, the Justice Department in Washington was reconsidering last month whether to charge Mr. Assange for his role in the disclosure of highly classified information.”

Nick Note: Was this right? Just? “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers (Proverbs 21:15).”

One Killed, 22 Injured After Car Hits Pedestrians in Times Square (CNN)

“An 18-year-old woman was killed and 22 were injured when a car plowed through a crowded sidewalk in Times Square around midday Thursday, the New York Police Department said.
“The driver, Richard Rojas, a 26-year-old U.S. citizen who served in the Navy, was apprehended by police and civilians after he crashed into a stanchion, NYPD Assistant Chief of Manhattan South William Aubry said. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said police weren’t treating the incident as an act of terrorism.
“Mr. Rojas, who has two previous arrests for drunken driving, was driving a 2009 Honda Accord south on 7th Avenue when he made a quick U-turn at 42nd Street, Chief Aubry said.”

Nick Note: Click here to see the stunning cover of this morning’s New York Post. Rojas tested positive for PCP and told police that God made him do it. He cannot be talking about the God of the Bible, who calls us to be sober minded, consider others as more important than ourselves, and take responsibility for our actions (1 Peter 1:13, 5:8-9, Philippians 2:3-9, 1 Corinthians 13:11)

Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell’s death ruled a suicide (USA Today)

“The Medical Examiner has completed the autopsy on 52-year-old Chris Cornell, the Soundgarden musician who died last night in Detroit,” the agency’s statement read.  “The cause of death has been determined as suicide by hanging. A full autopsy report has not yet been completed. There is no additional information at this time.”
“Spokesman Brian Bumbery told the Associated Press that Cornell was found in his hotel room at the MGM Grand Detroit following a tour date at Detroit’s Fox Theatre with the reunited Soundgarden, the band he’d fronted for over 30 years.”

Nick Note: So tragic. Soundgarden came out of Seattle, which at the time also produced both Nirvana and Pearl Jam. However, what distinguished Soundgarden from those two legendary bands was the vocals of Chris Cornell. His range was without peer on the grunge music scene, sliding between four octaves with ease. But now, we will be limited to YouTube clips and old CDs. Research indicates that two-thirds of those who complete suicide are depressed at the time of their deaths. Only 50 percent of people diagnosed with major depression receive any kind of treatment. The suicide rate continues to rise. Concerning suicide, David went so far as to say that “my bones are troubled (Psalm 6:2-3).” His parents left him (Psalm 27:10), worry and shame felt heavy upon him (Psalm 32:3-4), but his eyes never veered from his sufficient help (Psalm 121). As the hands and feet of Jesus, if you are suffering, or know someone who is suffering, click here for help.

Roger Ailes, Former Fox News Chief, Dies at 77 (WSJ)

“Roger Ailes, who combined political savvy with television showmanship to build the Fox News Channel into a conservative media juggernaut, but whose fabled career ended abruptly last year amid a sexual-harassment scandal, died Thursday. He was 77 years old.
“I am profoundly sad and heartbroken to report that my husband, Roger Ailes, passed away this morning surrounded by his beautiful family,” Mr. Ailes’s wife Elizabeth said in a statement Thursday. Besides his wife, Mr. Ailes is survived by his son Zachary, brother Robert, and sister Jean.”

Nick Note: Bill O’Reilly wrote an exclusive op-ed for USA Today concerning Ailes. In it, he noted how Ailes helped shape the “modern conservative movement.” He went on to say: “He did both good and bad in his life and in that, he has something in common with every human being.” Todd Starnes wrote: “Roger Ailes is the original gun-toting, Bible-clinging, son-of-an-Evangelical-Protestant.” Ailes, when interviewed by Zev Chafets for the biographical work Roger Ailes: Off Camera noted: “I’ve been kicked out of every (expletive) church I’ve ever belonged to.” Bill O’Reilly is right; we all have done both good and bad (Romans 3:23, Isaiah 59:1-2). And when we breath our last, we will all echo like Habakkuk, “In wrath, remember your mercy (Habakkuk 3:2).”

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To Raise Better Kids, Say No (NY Times)

“Despite the temptation for parents to say yes to their children’s wishes, research shows there’s an insidious side to chasing after the newest thing others have. It fosters a sense of deficiency that can never be fully satisfied.First they want the doll, then all of the accessories — and of course the four-story Barbie mansion.
“It turns out that saying no pays off far beyond avoiding raising spoiled kids. When we always yield to our children’s wants, we rob them of the opportunity to find solutions by adapting what they already have. Kids who learn from denial realize at an early age that they won’t always have the perfect tool for every job. They might not know something, have something, or be something. But that’s not the end of pursuing goals — it’s the beginning of activating their resourcefulness to find another way.”

Nick Note: Taylor Swift Should’ve Said No, the Rolling Stones got No Expectations, and Jesus’ first miracle almost didn’t happen because he said no. When his mother approached him about how the wedding feast ran out of wine, Jesus respectfully replied with a no. As Josh Harris notes, the right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing. Sometimes, no is the most holy reply you can give (John 2:1-11).

Record Few Americans Believe Bible Is Literal Word of God (Gallup)

“Fewer than one in four Americans (24%) now believe the Bible is “the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word,” similar to the 26% who view it as “a book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.” This is the first time in Gallup’s four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism. Meanwhile, about half of Americans — a proportion largely unchanged over the years — fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally.”

Nick Note: Our conceptions of the Bible do not change the veracity of the Bible.“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).”

When Living Life Becomes Secondary to Showcasing It (The Weekly Standard)

“The average millennial dedicates one hour of every week to selfies. (Taking them, editing them, retaking them.) In 2015, the social scientists at Luster Premium White, a teeth-whitening brand, calculated that at their current selfie rate, your average millennial will take up to 25,700 selfies in a lifetime. Considering that the average lifespan is only around 27,375 days, that amounts to taking nearly one selfie per day, no small feat when subtracting all the years that people are too young or too old to operate a camera phone. 74 percent of all images shared on Snapchat are selfies, 1,000 selfies are posted to Instagram every 10 seconds, and more people died taking selfies in 2015 than they did from shark attacks.
“So many selfie moments, however, seem not to be true moments, but rather artificial constructs: Putting a moment in quotation marks, while insisting, just a little too loudly, that we’re having one. Too many moments in which living your life becomes secondary to showcasing it.”

Nick Note: Virgil illustratively put it well: “Death twitches my ear; ‘Live,’ he says… ‘I’m coming.’” Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus: “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:15-16)…”

The Everyday Habits that Reveal our Personalities (BBC)

“The researchers, Benjamin Chapman at the University of Rochester and Lewis Goldberg at the Oregon Research Institute, profiled nearly 800 people in Oregon…
“As well as wallowing more in hot tubs, extraverts apparently spent more time planning parties, drinking in bars, discussing ways to make money, talking on the phone while driving, decorating, and trying to get a tan (though not all at once). Greater conscientiousness, in contrast, was distinguished by the avoidance of various activities, including such innocuous pastimes as reading (which Chapman and Goldberg speculated may be seen by the highly conscientious as a leisure-time luxury), swearing and chewing on a pencil.
“Previous studies had shown that the highly conscientious are more likely to wear a watch, comb their hair and polish their shoes; that extraverts have more tattoos, that introverts use more concrete language; agreeable folk get fewer speeding tickets and eat more sweet foods.”

Nick Note: Ralph Waldo Emerson famously noted that you sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny. W.H. Auden noted: “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition. A modern stoic knows that the surest way to discipline passion is to discipline time: decide what you want or ought to do during the day, then always do it at exactly the same moment every day, and passion will give you no trouble.” In the Scriptures, we read that discipline and habits can be positive traits (Proverbs 12:1, 1 Corinthians 9:27).

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Lucky Charms cannot find the magic in natural ingredients — so it’s going full-on sugar bomb (WaPo)

“Americans are eating less cereal, but executives at General Mills are hoping they’ve found a way to revive sales: By offering customers a chance to win one of 10,000 boxes filled with nothing but Lucky Charms marshmallows.”

Nick Note: Growing up, my brother and I would watch Recess and Doug while we ate cereal in front of the TV. I preferred Lucky Charms. I left the marshmallows until the very end. After enduring the less than desirable grain pieces, I gazed at soggy marshmallows and was reminded that good comes to those who wait (Psalm 145:15-16).

Playful puppy gets so riled up by tickles, he falls asleep

Nick Note: Watch it here. If you do not smile while watching this video, please contact your cardiologist (Psalm 126:2).

Dude realizes he’s on live TV, so he busts out cringe-y dance moves

Nick Note: Watch it here. The things people will do when they realize they are on television. What would you do different if you realized that you were being watched by God (2 Chronicles 16:9)?

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My position on President Trump

Posted by    |    May 19th, 2017 at 6:09 am

During a press conference yesterday, President Trump was asked if he had urged then-FBI Director James Comey to slow or stop an investigation into Michael Flynn. His response: “No. No. Next question.” This morning’s CNN claims that “in those four words, Trump staked the viability of his presidency.”

Today’s news is dominated by the growing conflict in Washington. How are Christians responding? On the eve of the 2016 election, Christians were divided into seven camps:

1.    For Donald Trump because they believed he was the right person to be president.
2.    For Mr. Trump because of his party’s positions on the Supreme Court, abortion, tax reform, and other issues.
3.    For Mr. Trump because they opposed Hillary Clinton.
4.    For Hillary Clinton because they believed she was the right person to be president.
5.    For Mrs. Clinton because of her party’s positions on cultural and moral issues.
6.    For Mrs. Clinton because they opposed Donald Trump.
7.    For another candidate or not voting.

On the 118th day of the Trump administration, it seems to me that most Christians are still where they were when Mr. Trump was elected. As a result, we find ourselves divided over partisan politics and the issues they raise. Meanwhile, political turmoil in Washington is escalating with no end in sight.

Since our ministry engages cultural issues, we will need to address controversial political subjects even more frequently in the coming days. Therefore, it seems appropriate for me to state clearly my position regarding our seven options: none of the above.

The Denison Forum on Truth and Culture is called to fuel a movement of culture-changing Christians by engaging cultural issues with biblical truth. As a result, three principles motivate our work:

One: We focus on Kingdom issues.

We exist to help people know Christ and make him known. Our ultimate enemy is spiritual, so the ultimate answer to our challenges is spiritual (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore, we address cultural issues as a means of addressing the underlying spiritual issues of our day.

Two: We serve the Lord through his church.

The church is the body of Christ in the world today (1 Corinthians 12:27). As C. S. Lewis observed, “The whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts—we are his fingers and muscles, the cells of his body.” Therefore, we are called to help the church change the world.

Three: Our mission transcends politics.

In engaging cultural issues, there are times when we must address partisan topics and political leaders. When we do so, we sometimes frustrate readers who want us to be more supportive or more critical of the leader in question. We have received a few such letters since Mr. Trump’s election. We received similar letters when Mr. Obama was president and when Mr. Bush was president before him.

I believe strongly that God is calling more Christians into political service than are answering his call. However, our ministry exists to serve people across the political spectrum. Therefore, we seek to advance God’s Kingdom rather than political agendas.

As events in Washington unfold over coming days and weeks, “speaking the truth in love” remains our mission (Ephesians 4:15). It is a privilege to share this mission with you each day, to the glory of God.

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Daily Briefing: May 18, 2017

Posted by    |    May 18th, 2017 at 6:23 am

T O P   N E W S


Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Named Special Counsel for Russia Probe (WSJ)

“Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement he was naming a special counsel due to the inquiry’s “unique circumstances.” The public interest, he said, “requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”
“The naming of Mr. Mueller, who served under presidents of both parties and is widely respected, could make it harder for partisans on either side of the aisle to question the results of the Russia investigation. With few limits on his mandate, Mr. Mueller could conduct a free-ranging, open-ended investigation with no deadline for completion.”

Nick Note: It’s Mueller Time. Here are 7 things to know about Robert Mueller. Here is everything you need to know about a special counsel. And here is something that has not been received well – the appointment of David Clarke to assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security.Clarke, the Milwaukee County Sheriff, made the announcement during a Wisconsin radio interview on Wednesday afternoon. He said he will be an assistant secretary at DHS’ Office of Partnership and Engagement, which coordinates outreach to state, local and tribal officials and law enforcement. His announcement was not received well and Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s joke did not land well. House Majority Leader McCarthy remarked a year ago during a meeting of top Republican leaders — including House Speaker Paul Ryan — that Mr. Trump was paid by Russian President Putin. This was obviously a joke by the tenor and tone of the tape, but the way certain outlets reacted to it provided evidence to Mr. Trump’s claim earlier in the day at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation. “You will find that things happen to you that you do not deserve and that are not always warranted. But you have to put your head down and fight, fight, fight. Never, ever, ever give up….Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” the president said. “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.” While Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy may disagree with Mr. Trump’s historic claim, the point is not lost. As of the late, Mr. Trump has been under the microscope and has been scrutinized greatly. However, when his exercise philosophy and ice cream proclivities are put on the same level as his meeting today with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to discuss funding for the peace implementation and the escalation of the Venezuelan drug war, something is off. No one is perfect but everyone can be given grace (Romans 3:23, Psalm 14, Romans 8:38-39). When everything is breaking news, we are the ones that begin to break.

Immigration arrests soar under Trump; sharpest spike seen for noncriminals (WaPo)

“Federal immigration agents are arresting more than 400 immigrants a day, a sharp leap from last year that reflects one of President Trump’s most far-reaching campaign promises.
“In Trump’s first 100 days in office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 41,318 immigrants, up 37.6 percent over the same period last year, the agency said Wednesday. Almost 3 out of 4 of those arrested have criminal records, including gang members and fugitives wanted for murder. But the biggest increase by far is among immigrants with no criminal records.”

Nick Note: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:17).”

Latest statistics: seminarians down in the USA and the world, priests worldwide in decline, catastrophic decline in women religious

“The summary notes that “In 2015 there is decline in the number of priests from the previous year, thus reversing the upward trend that characterized the years from 2000 to 2014.” To be exact, there were 415,656 priests in 2015, compared to 415,792 in 2014. (Looking into reports from previous years we find that there were 405,178 priests in 2000 — when the upward trend began again — 406,411 in 2005, 408,024 in 2007, 412,236 in 2010, and 414,313 in 2012.) “Tellingly the decline from 2014 to 2015, while slight, is attributed to the decrease in the number of priests in Europe (less 2,502) outweighing the increases in the rest of the world (up by 2,366). Although the Vatican report does not mention it, it is no secret that very large numbers of European and North American clergy are in the age range of late 70’s to 90’s, which explains why the official statistics for priests in Europe and North America have little to do with the actual (and much reduced) number of priests available for, or capable of, pastoral duties on the ground.”

Nick Note: Martin Luther had a high view of learning the biblical languages (which is often done in seminary). He wrote, “Let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined… If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall . . . lose the gospel.” As a graduate of a seminary, I am appreciative of seminary but know that seminary is not for everyone nor is it a prerequisite for ministry. As Luther championed so ardently during the reformation, we are a priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:5-9).

Baylor football players raped women as ‘bonding experience’, lawsuit alleges (The Guardian)

“The latest lawsuit against Baylor University alleges that its football players took part in gang rapes as a team-bonding experience for new recruits. The suit was filed in federal court in Waco by a plaintiff identified as Jane Doe, who was part of a campus sports team.
“It states that in 2012 the woman went to a party hosted by unidentified Baylor football players at an off-campus apartment complex, and believes she was drugged. Then she was allegedly taken somewhere in a vehicle and raped by between four and eight players. She said she remembers hearing a cry: “Grab her phone! Delete my numbers and texts!”
“The lawsuit claims that such parties sometimes featured dog fights and sexual assaults that were recorded.”

Nick Note: This is absolutely tragic if true. In the United States, you are innocent until proven guilty. But in the biblical narrative, we read that Christians are held to a higher standard. “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:12).”

C U L T U R A L   N E W S

Are Men With Beards More Desirable? (NY Times)

“Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia decided to explore male facial hair to determine what role, if any, beards play in sexual attractiveness, masculinity and short- and long-term relationships.
“The answers, which were published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, varied depending on what the woman was looking for. Overall, the women said the sexiest men were those sporting heavy stubble, followed by short stubble. Men with full beards and clean-shaven men were rated the lowest on the overall sexiness scale.
“But when it came to choosing a long-term partner, a guy with whom a woman could have babies or settle in for the duration, the more facial hair the better.”

Nick Note: Anyone can grow a beard; I choose to grow whiskers. Am I bitter? Yes. Am I beardless? Since I was born. Nevertheless, beards may be more desirable, but we know from Scripture that beauty is fading – beards included (Proverbs 31:30). Our God reigns in Zion, shining forth in perfect beauty (Psalm 50:2). His beauty captivated the psalmist to want to sit and gaze at him all the days of his life (Psalm 27:4). We can’t be God, but we can be godly (1 Timothy 4:8, 2 Peter 3:11).

Companies need workers — but people keep getting high (WaPo)

“Job applicants are testing positive for marijuana, cocaine, amphetamine and heroin at the highest rate in 12 years, according to a new report from Quest Diagnostics, a clinical lab that follows national employment trends. An analysis of about 10 million workplace drug screens from across the country in 2016 found positive results from urine samples increased from 4 percent in 2015 to 4.2 percent in 2016. The most significant increase was in positive tests for marijuana, said Barry Sample, the scientist who wrote the report. Positive tests for the drug reached 2 percent last year, compared with 1.6 percent in 2012.”

Nick Note: Tom Petty is right in that I don’t know how it feels. Personally, I have never been turned down for a job “because I got high, because I got high, because I got high.” But many millennials have. 20 percent of millennialssmoke weed regularly. 68 percent of millennials say marijuana should be legal.In the Scriptures, we are forbidden to be intoxicated (Habakkuk 2:15, Galatians 5:21). A sign that the Spirit is at work in our life is through the manifestation of self-control (1 Peter 5:8).

The End of Forgetting (The Atlantic)

“While these apps and websites let us glimpse the past, other technologies could place us more squarely inside it. But although psychologists believe nostalgia is crucial for finding meaning in life and for combatting loneliness, we don’t yet know whether too much of it will have negative, even dystopian, effects.
“In a tantalizing example of how VR might be personalized in the future, Sarah Rothberg, an NYU researcher who specializes in virtual reality, has re-created her old house in “Memory Place: My House,” an Oculus Rift experience cum traveling art exhibit.
“After months of poring over old footage and photos, Rothberg was skeptical that the resulting experience would dislodge additional memories, but when she put on the Oculus Rift headset and walked across the virtual house’s parquet-floored hallway, something felt off: In the real house, a floorboard had been loose and rose at one end, though she had not thought about that fact in many years.”

Nick Note: Yesterday, you and The Beatles troubles may have seemed so far away, but due to technological advances, they will not be far away for long. If your troubles bring a sense of guilt and a feeling of shame, take heart. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).” “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more (Isaiah 43:25).”

N E W S   Y O U   C A N   U S E

‘THIS IS CRAZY’: Austin man sues date for texting during movie (Statesman)

“Brandon Vezmar, 37, of Austin filed the claim Thursday against his date. He is asking for $17.31, which was the price of the movie ticket to a 3D showing of “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” he told the American-Statesman Tuesday. The 35-year-old woman, reached by phone Tuesday, said she didn’t know about the claim against her. She asked that her name not be used. “Oh my God,” she said. “This is crazy.”

Nick Note: This guy was either an awful date or that was an awful movie. For what it’s worth, I saw the movie and enjoyed it. But what can we learn from this? As Christians, we should try to avoid the courts and also not let bitterness take root (1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Ephesians 4:31-32).

Rattlesnake bites Florida man who tries to kiss it (USA Today)

“A friend of the victim said that he had been drinking while handling the seemingly calm snake. But when he moved toward the reptile as if to kiss it, the snake bit him.”

Nick Note: No word on whether Sixpence None The Richer’s 1990s hit Kiss Me was playing in the background. Moral of the story: don’t drink and kiss (1 Peter 1:13).

Shopper wrestles deer to ground after it finds its way into a Walmart

“Shoppers in Wadena, Minnesota, were in for a surprise on Tuesday evening when a deer suddenly got the urge to do some shopping and wandered into a Walmart location.”

Nick Note: See it here. I’ve been to Walmart and seen people acting like animals, but never actually seen an animal…until now. To a certain degree, this is reminiscent of Paul’s adventures in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

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How should Christians respond to political turmoil?

Posted by    |    May 18th, 2017 at 6:02 am

Yesterday, the stock market suffered its biggest one-day loss in eight months, a decline Reuters attributes to continued turmoil in Washington. We should not expect this turmoil to die down any time soon.

The Justice Department has appointed Robert J. Mueller, a former FBI director, as special counsel to oversee its investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This after the Senate Intelligence Committee asked former FBI Director James Comey to testify during a public hearing.

They are also asking for memos prepared by Comey detailing his conversations with the White House and Justice Department about the FBI’s Russia investigations. Democrats are escalating their criticisms of his administration while Republicans are divided.

The president’s supporters blame the media and other groups they believe are aligned against his reform agenda. His critics see recent events as further evidence of his alleged shortcomings. We should not be surprised that a nation as polarized as ours would be polarized over these events.

This is a time for Christians to stand apart from the crowd.

As followers of the One who is the Truth (John 14:6), we are commanded to “speak the truth to one another” (Zechariah 8:16). As followers of the One who is love (1 John 4:8), we are commanded to do so “in love” (Ephesians 4:15). As followers of the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16), we are commanded to respect those in authority (Romans 13:1) while serving our highest authority (Acts 4:19–20).

A second-century letter from an unknown author to a person named Diognetus describes how early Christians distinguished themselves from their culture:

“Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language, or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life. . . . With regard to dress, food, and manner of life in general, they follow the customs of whatever city they happen to be living in, whether it is Greek or foreign.

“And yet there is something extraordinary about their lives. They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. They play their full role as citizens, but labor under all the disabilities of aliens. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. Like others, they marry and have children, but they do not [kill] them. They share their meals, but not their wives. They live in the flesh, but they are not governed by the desires of the flesh. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven. Obedient to the law, they yet live on a level that transcends the law. . . .

“To speak in general terms, we may say that the Christian is to the world what the soul is to the body. As the soul is present in every part of the body, while remaining distinct from it, so Christians are found in all the cities of the world, but cannot be identified with the world.”

As political turmoil continues, let’s be people whose reasoned, truthful, and gracious speech sets us apart. What matters most is not what others think of us or even of the president. What matters most is what they think of Jesus.

And the world judges Christ by Christians.

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Our word is our witness

Posted by    |    May 17th, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Have you ever loaned money to someone and thought to yourself, that’s the last I’ll ever see of that? Most of us have experienced that, but banks and other businesses can’t afford it. Fortunately, a new study offers a bit of help for them and for us (though whether we take that help or continue giving out gifts in the guise of loans is a different matter). The results are not, however, necessarily good news for us as Christians.

Economists Oded Netzer, Alain Lemaire, and Michal Herzenstein took a look at the language used on lending sites like Prosper to see if they could pick up on any clues as to whether or not a person would repay the loan for which they asked. Unfortunately, they found that mentioning God, promise, will pay, thank you, and hospital were among the clearest signs that the person receiving the loan would not repay it.

Some of those keywords are understandable—people with hospital bills to pay or loved ones in need of assistance are, perhaps, more likely to be desperate enough to lie or borrow amounts beyond what they can afford than others. Still, what does it say that people who invoked the name of God in their initial request were 2.2 times less likely to repay it? As New York Magazine‘s Seth Stephens-Davidowitz notes, “You might think—or at least hope—that a polite, openly religious person who gives his word would be among the most likely to pay back a loan.”

Unfortunately, part of the explanation is likely that many Christians are equally prone to default on a loan as non-believers. Jesus was clear that keeping our word is a crucial part of our witness to the lost around us (Matthew 5:37). While extenuating circumstances do occur on occasion, there were apparently enough people speaking about God in their loan applications who failed to follow Christ’s command to make the name of God one of the phrases most associated with default.

That said, it also seems likely that another key part of the issue is that the culture, even the lost, understand that believers should be among those most likely to keep their word. There’s no way to know if those who invoked God’s name in their applications are truly his disciples or if they simply did so because they thought it would help their cause. It’s good news, from a certain perspective, that people still think highly enough of us to believe that pretending to follow God will make them appear more trustworthy. That reality makes it all the more important, however, that we meet those expectations in our interactions with others.

As Christians, our witness is becoming increasingly fragile. It used to be that people would see believers who consistently acted in ways that ran counter to God’s will as the outliers. Today, the reverse is often true. While many people may truly believe that acting religious will make them appear more trustworthy, and it will to some, the reality is that more people each day simply expect us to be, at best, the same as everyone else when it comes to our morality and dependability.

It wasn’t that way during the time of Christ. The early church was so thoroughly influenced by the Holy Sprit’s daily presence in their lives that people recognized their faith simply by being around them. That’s why the religious leaders understood that Peter and John had been with Jesus after seeing their courage and listening to them speak (Acts 4:13). It’s why the believers at Antioch were the first to be called Christians by the pagan world around them because of the way they lived according to Christ’s example (Acts 11:26). And it’s why the faith grew as the masses witnessed the depth of the early believers’ commitment to Lord in the face of persecution across the first three centuries of its existence.

We are called to live in such a way that our relationship with Christ will so thoroughly define our lives that the lost around us cannot help but take notice. But while there is grace for the inevitable times that we will fail, we should never underestimate the power of unrepentant lapses to undermine all that the Lord wants to build through us. We live in a world that expects us to fall short of Christ’s example, and our history has often given them every right to do so. Yet that also means that every time we do live as the Lord commands, which includes being men and women of our word, it will stand out all that much more.

In a sense, it’s easier to be a culture-changing Christian when even the smallest acts of devotion to the Lord’s example make us stand apart from the expectations of the culture around us. That’s a blessing, but far too few of us see it that way and live accordingly. Will you?

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