Did Elvis Presley attend his birthday party?

Posted by    |    January 18th, 2017 at 6:11 am

A large man with white hair and a white beard visited Graceland last Sunday on the eighty-second birthday of Elvis Presley. Someone posted his photo on the Facebook page “Elvis is Alive.” Now conspiracy theorists claim that the man is Elvis himself.

They believe that Elvis faked his death in 1977 and has been living in seclusion ever since. They claim there were discrepancies with his death certificate, reports of a wax dummy in the original coffin, and several accounts of Presley planning a diversion so he could retire away from the public. Some followers have even formed the First Presleyterian Church of Elvis the Divine. Presleyterians are required to face Las Vegas daily and make a pilgrimage to Graceland at least once in their lives.

If you were talking to Presleyterians today, how would you convince them that they’re wrong? You could cite medical evidence that Presley died on August 16, 1977, but they would claim that such evidence was falsified or misinterpreted. You could debunk every Elvis sighting so far, but they would claim that their hero remains in seclusion. At the end of the day, you’d have a hard time convincing them that they’re wrong. Of course, they’d have an even harder time convincing you that they’re right.

We live in a world of Presleyterian logic today.

Iranian officials unveiled a huge billboard in Tehran commemorating “Captured US Sailors” Day. A year ago, they seized ten American sailors and two US Navy boats they claimed entered their waters illegally. They held the sailors for fifteen hours before releasing them. In their view, this was a triumph for Iranian supremacy over the “Great Satan.” In our view, it was a brazen attempt to embarrass America and our leaders.

The inauguration of Donald Trump is this Friday. His critics point to his approval rating, the lowest of any president-elect in recent history. His supporters see such polls as another example of media bias infecting the public.

Philosopher Antony Flew observed that any valid truth claim must be capable of falsification. If supporters of a position will not accept any evidence contradicting their assertion, they are merely stating an opinion. Claiming Elvis is alive turns out to be like claiming Martians are living in your back yard—if no evidence can dissuade you, you cannot persuade us.

This is how many people view Christianity—a superstitious faith founded on wish fulfillment whose followers refuse to change their beliefs regardless of the evidence. But they’re wrong. According to Paul, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, “our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). The resurrection is the “rope from which we swing,” the historical fact that demonstrates the historicity of our faith.

Here’s the catch: people in the twenty-first century cannot witness a resurrection that occurred in the first century. Therefore, we must be the evidence they seek. We must be so yielded to God’s Spirit that God’s Son can live his resurrected life in us. This and nothing less is Jesus’ intention for your life and mine today.

We must be so yielded to God’s Spirit that God’s Son can live his resurrected life in us.

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John . . . they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). If I ask those you meet today if you have “been with Jesus,” what will they say?

NOTE: I invite you to join the Dallas Baptist University Institute for Global Engagement and the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture for the Leadership Lecture Series featuring Matthew Dowd. Mr. Dowd is a political analyst for ABC News, a political consultant, founder of the ListenTo.Us political community, and co-author of the New York Times best-seller, Applebee’s America: How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community. He will reflect on the 2016 presidential election as well as the current state of American politics. I will then lead a time of discussion with him.

We will meet on Monday, February 6, at 7 PM in Pilgrim Chapel on the DBU campus. Tickets are $5.00 per person. For more information or to register for this event, please visit www.dbu.edu/ige.

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Daily Briefing: January 17, 2017

Posted by    |    January 17th, 2017 at 8:16 am

T O P   N E W S

Transition News

Nick Note: Mr. Trump’s approval numbers are lower than a Russian U-Boat. According to a Gallup poll, more than half of Americans disapprove of Trump at 51 percent, while only 44 percent of Americans approve of him. By comparison, President Obama had an 83 percent approval rating coming into office, Bush had 61 percent, and Clinton had 68 percent. Similar entities with Trump like approval are Congress (19 percent), Jar Jar Binks (29 percent), and Nickelback (39 percent). Not helping those numbers is news concerning his pick for Health and Human Services Secretary. According to CNN, “Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company.” Relative to nominees, of the current list of 21 nominees, 14 must still sit for Senate hearings, and only five of those 14 have finalized their required ethics paperwork. Such bad news continues with more Congressmen choosing to boycott the inauguration. There are now 42 House Democrats who have declared that they will not attend the inauguration on Capitol Hill. Speaking of the inauguration, Mr. Trump will take the oath of office by placing his hand on his childhood Bible that he’s owned for more than 60 years. According to the NY Times, inauguration week could top $200 million, based on the cost of inaugurations past and estimates by officials planning the week’s events. Yet it will be a smaller event than those in the past. For example, Mr. Trump will have the shortest on record trip down Pennsylvania Avenue, expected to clock in at 90 minutes. He will only appear at 3 inauguration balls. Bill Clinton danced the night away at 14. But it should be noted that Bill Clinton did not have a YouTube video of himself playing the accordion like Mr. Trump does. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s approval numbers may be low but the electoral college numbers were high. You may not approve of Mr. Trump but you should be praying for Mr. Trump (1 Timothy 2:1-2). As EM Bounds noted: “Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men is greater still. He will never talk well and with real success to men for God who has not learned well how to talk to God for men.”

Xi Jinping Becomes an Unlikely Advocate of Free Trade at Davos (Time)

“The thrust of his speech will be “inclusive globalization,” Chinese officials have revealed, in a none-too-subtle reply to the neo-protectionism advocated by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, whose inauguration takes place in three days.
“Large sections of the Chinese economy are closed off to foreign trade, its leviathan state-owned enterprises (SOEs) enjoy such preferential treatment to render competition meaningless, and intellectual property theft is rife among Chinese firms. Moreover, the landscape for foreign investment is deteriorating, with larger subsidies for SOEs and draconian national-security rules, like last November’s cybersecurity law, throwing up additional barriers for foreign firms. And all the while China demands — and largely gets — unfettered access into other nations’ markets.”

Nick Note: In an ironic twist, the leader of Communist China is speaking on the virtues of a free market. Milton Friedman is turning over as we speak. President Xi Jinping channeled Abraham Lincoln as well in his speech when he said, “Development is of the people, by the people and for the people.” The Chinese government has been at odds with the Trump administration as of the late, going so far as to characterize Mr. Trump as showing “strategic arrogance.” While this conflict is less than ideal, can we take heart in Mr. Trump’s and apparently President Xi’s words concerning a free market? Going back to Friedman, he noted this concerning a free market: “The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.” (Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, James 2:1)

Yemen death toll has reached 10,000, UN says (The Guardian)

“At least 10,000 people have been killed in the war in Yemen, according to the United Nations, which is urging both sides to come together to end nearly two years of conflict.
“The UN’s humanitarian affairs office said the figure, which is a low estimate, was reached using data from health facilities that have kept track of the victims of the war, which has largely been ignored by the international community.
“The figure does not include those recorded by hospitals and health centres as having died, which is likely to be most of the combatants on both sides of the conflict.”

Nick Note: “Is an emergency only an emergency if it affects me and my immediate family?” So asks Francis Chan in his book Forgotten God. This number is staggering and almost paralyzing, in the sense that you can feel so helpless when you read of this ongoing tragedy. You may feel helpless but you must know that you can be helpful (James 5:16). As AJ Gordon noted: “You can do more than pray after you have prayed but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” 

C U L T U R A L   N E W S

Male employees have a really hard time with performance reviews, study finds

“Adobe surveyed 1,500 U.S. office workers and found that most people think performance reviews are a waste of time. About two-thirds of employees and managers think formal reviews are an outdated way of measuring performance.
“Sixty-one percent of millennials would switch jobs if it meant no more reviews, even with the same title and salary. Forty-seven percent of millennials have looked for a new job after a review and 30 percent say they’ve quit basically on the spot.
“Twenty-five percent of men — versus 18 percent of women — have cried after a review from their manager. More men than women looked for another job or quit after receiving a review, too.”

Nick Note: Taking Care of Business? There are a few ways to find out, and one may be through performance reviews. “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise (Proverbs 19:20).”

When The Brain Scrambles Names, It’s Because You Love Them (NPR)

”So she did a survey of 1,700 men and women of different ages, and she found that naming mistakes are very common. Most everyone sometimes mixes up the names of family and friends. Her findings were published in the journal Memory & Cognition.
“It’s not related to a bad memory or to aging, but rather to how the brain categorizes names. It’s like having special folders for family names and friends names stored in the brain. When people used the wrong name, overwhelmingly the name that was used was in the same category, Deffler says. It was in the same folder.
“Moms, especially moms,” Deffler says. “Any mom I talked to says, ‘You know, I’ve definitely done this.’”

Nick Note: Stevie Wonder may have called to tell you that he loves you, but my mom still calls me Ryan, the name of my little brother. I am not bitter, but I am Nick. Nevertheless, love manifests itself in a variety of ways. Some people send flowers, others write songs, and a few write songs about flowers (see Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand). In the Scriptures, we read that love takes on a variety of looks (1 John 3:18). For more on the different looks of love, read my article on the 5 love languages.  

An analysis of 10,000 scientific studies on marijuana concretely supports only three medical benefits (QZ)

“More than half the states in the US now allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as well as at least 16 other countries. Yet of the hundreds of purported medical benefits, only three are concretely supported by scientific evidence: treating chronic pain, nausea after chemotherapy, and symptoms of multiple sclerosis. This is the conclusion of a new 400-page report from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, which analyzed more than 10,000 scientific studies.”

Nick Note: As it stands right now, marijuana is legal in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado, Washington D.C., Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada for recreational purposes. There are currently 28 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Increasingly, it will be necessary to differentiate between recreational usage and medicinal purposes. Regarding medicinal purposes, in the Scriptures God is described as a good Father that gives good gifts (Matthew 7:7-10) and also the Great Physician. He was so great that he healed blind men in 5 different ways: spit on the eyes, touched them, just healed them, spoke over the eyes, rubbed mud into them (Mark 8:23, Matthew 9:29, Matthew 12:22, Mark 10:51, Luke 18:42, John 9:6). Medicine is not an indicator of weak faith, but a good gift that points to a Great Physician.

Good Samaritan who saved trooper says God put him there (CNN)

“Authorities said Leonard-Penuelas-Escobar, who had been the driver in a rollover crash that claimed the life of his passenger, had opened fire on vehicles. He was on the shoulder of the road, holding the fatally injured woman, when Trooper Andersson pulled up to render aid.
“The suspect opened fire, striking Andersson, 27, once in the shoulder, and then began slamming his head on the pavement, Milstead told reporters on Monday.
“The good Samaritan — who had been driving to California — pulled up, saw what was happening, asked his fiancee to call 911 and grabbed a 9 mm handgun from his vehicle’s console. He told Escobar, 37, to stop, but the order was refused and the beating continued, authorities said.”

Nick Note: “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live (Acts 17:26).”

N E W S   Y O U   C A N   U S E

Elvis in disguise? Conspiracy fans claim the King is ALIVE and visited Graceland on his 82nd birthday

“Conspiracy theorists have long insisted that Elvis Presley is still alive and faked his own death in 1977 to escape the pressures of fame. And now they claim that a new picture taken at the singer’s Graceland home shows he is still living and even visited his old house on his 82nd birthday last week.”

Nick Note: This picture has got me All Shook Up and I am not alone. Many fans still have a Burning Love for the Hound Dog in the Blue Suede Shoes that frequents the Heartbreak Hotel. Just as they are prepared for Elvis, we are to be prepared: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come (Matthew 24:42).”

Huge gator spotted taking stroll in Florida reserve

Nick Note: Huge would be an understatement. Watch this gator stroll for yourself here. This video simulates my response. After all, the Bible does instruct us to flee (2 Timothy 2:22).

Farmer’s Viral Barn Dance Is Exactly The Pick-Me-Up You Need.

Nick Note: Watch the video here. I love how this man finds joy in the ordinary. In the Scriptures, we have been told to rejoice at all times, seeing everything as spiritual (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Romans 12:1-2). Brother Lawrence is a great example of this. Whether he was singing songs in corporate worship or washing dishes, he saw God in it all and rejoiced accordingly. “How happy we would be if we could find the treasure of which the Gospel speaks; all else would be as nothing.” Today, figuratively dance like no one is watching, rejoice in knowing that God is at work in you and around you.

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Congratulations on surviving ‘Blue Monday’

Posted by    |    January 17th, 2017 at 6:01 am

A psychologist named Cliff Arnall christened the third Monday in January as “Blue Monday.” According to him, the weather, debt from the holidays, and broken New Year’s resolutions combined to make yesterday “the most depressing day of the year.” Except that it wasn’t. Psychologists say the formula Arnall used has been “effectively debunked” and tell us that “there is no such thing as the most depressing day of the year.”

Consider some other news that doesn’t say what we might think it says.

Gallup is reporting: “In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT.” If that’s all you read, you might assume that their percentage is escalating. If you measure the number of LGBT people in America by the frequency with which they are portrayed in movies and on television, you might assume that a quarter of the population is LGBT. Unsurprisingly, according to a recent survey, Americans estimate that 23 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian.

Here’s the fact: the LGBT portion of the American population has risen from 3.5 percent to 4.1 percent over the last four years. The percentage equates to ten million of the nation’s 326 million people.

Another example: despite published reports, Christians who regularly attend worship do not divorce at a higher rate than non-Christians. The opposite is true, in fact. And another: despite conventional wisdom, biblical Christianity is not declining in America. What is declining is the number of people who attend theologically liberal denominations. And what is especially declining is the number of nominal Christians. Many no longer consider themselves Christians, joining the ranks of the “nones.”

Paradoxically, the last fact is very good news.

Several years ago, a couple moved from Manhattan to Dallas and joined the church where I was pastor. The husband made the surprising observation that it was easier to be a Christian in New York City than in Dallas. He explained that in Manhattan everyone knows if they are Christian or not. There is no spiritual ambiguity. In Dallas, by contrast, many say they are Christians because they’re not Jewish or Muslim and have a membership in a church somewhere. He noted that “Churchianity” can be a major obstacle to Christianity.

My friend was right.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned that “cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.” He defined our enemy: “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Bonhoeffer calls us to “costly grace” which “is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

When last did it cost you something significant to follow Jesus?

A culture that confuses fact with opinion and insists on tolerance over truth is no friend to biblical discipleship. Christians in America who stand publicly for basic biblical morality are more likely to face rejection than at any time in my lifetime. But our challenge is our opportunity. You and I have the privilege of joining the apostles in obeying God rather than men (Acts 5:29) and, if opposed, “rejoicing that [we] were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (v. 41).

When last did it cost you something significant to follow Jesus?

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Daily Briefing: January 16, 2017

Posted by    |    January 16th, 2017 at 7:40 am

T O P   N E W S

Trump promises ‘insurance for everybody’ (Politico)

“Trump said that his plan is “very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon.” He didn’t give specifics but did say that the plan would provide a “much simplified [and] much less expensive” form of coverage to Americans currently covered through the Affordable Care Act.
“He also believes that his health plan will get support from Democrats. “I won’t tell you how, but we will get approval,” Trump said.”

Nick Note: Mike Allen makes an important distinction this morning, in that insurance for everybody likely means universal access not universal coverage. Speaking of coverage, Mr. Trump made waves with the press over the weekend by speculating that he is considering moving the press briefing room to accommodate more people. The press has historically been very protective of their position in the West Wing, enduring less than ideal accommodations in order to be close to the power center. Proximity to power is big in Washington, which makes this next bit of news pretty big. Thus far, there are over 20 Congressmen not attending the inauguration on Friday. These Congressmen, most notably John Lewis, are taking a stand. But is this a stand worth taking? In every generation, God calls us to take a stand that will ripple past that generation (Ephesians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 16:13). Faithful actions never die though the faithful do (1 Corinthians 15:58). We might never know the extent of our stand, but we are to stand nonetheless. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Study: 8 people have same wealth as world’s poorest half (USA Today)

“The report, An economy for the 99%, was released as global leaders and the business elite traveled to Davos, Switzerland, for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, a conference partly aimed at eliminating extreme income inequality. The study found that the richest eight people on the planet have net wealth of $426 billion — equivalent to what’s held by the bottom half of the world’s population.
“That means the eight men who have as much wealth as the world’s poorest half — 3.6 billion people — are Bill Gates ($75 billion, source of wealth Microsoft); Amancio Ortega ($67 billion, Zara); Warren Buffett ($60.8 billion, Berkshire Hathaway); Carlos Slim Helu ($50 billion, Telecom); Jeff Bezos ($45.2 billion, Amazon);  Mark Zuckerberg($44.6 billion, Facebook); Larry Ellison ($43.6 billion, Oracle); and Michael Bloomberg($40 billion, Bloomberg LP).”

Nick Note: We have the books of Luke and Acts because of a wealthy person (Luke 1:3). The church at Philippi, which was the first church in Europe, owes its start to a wealthy person (Acts 16:14). Wealth in and of itself is not a problem. The Notorious BIG may have been right that with that more money there are more problems. But in the Scriptures, the love of money is the problem and faithful stewardship is the solution – regardless of how much money you have (1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Corinthians 4:2).

Controversial megachurch Bishop Eddie Long dies at 63 (USA Today)

“I am confident through my belief in God that my husband is now resting in a better place,” said Long’s wife, Vanessa. “Although his transition leaves a void for those of us who loved him dearly, we can celebrate and be happy for him, knowing he’s at peace.”
“Long was born May 12, 1953, in Huntersville, N.C. In 1987, he became the pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church which, at the time, had around 300 members. The church’s current membership now totals more than 25,000.”

Nick Note: “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” Ernest Hemingway (Psalm 116:15)

C U L T U R A L   N E W S

In US, More Adults Identifying as LGBT (Gallup)

“The portion of American adults identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) increased to 4.1% in 2016 from 3.5% in 2012. These figures, drawn from the largest representative sample of LGBT Americans collected in the U.S., imply that more than an estimated 10 million adults now identify as LGBT in the U.S. today, approximately 1.75 million more compared with 2012.”

Nick Note: Increasingly, more Americans are identifying as LGBT. In the Biblical narrative, we read that this is a former way of life (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). However, God’s love for us is not contingent upon our obedience to him. God loves LGBT people just as much as he loves heterosexual people. God loves us as we are, but his love never leaves us that way (v. 11). If you know someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction, I highly recommend Living Hope.

Ringling Bros. Circus to Close After 146 Years (WSJ)

“The show will close forever in May, the owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus said. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal-rights groups all contributed to the show’s demise, company executives said.”

Nick Note: There is a season for everything and unfortunately we are living in such an entertainment saturated season that the circus no longer holds the same appeal that it did in previous years (Ecclesiastes 3:1-7).

The Case Against Overly Perky Salespeople (Bloomberg)

“The cheerful approach, the theory goes, drives sales by creating a pleasant environment. Relaxed shoppers spend more, research has found, and they’re more likely to return if they’ve had a pleasant experience. Plus, happy employees tend to stick around longer, driving down turnover costs.
“But perennial perkiness also risks irritating customers and emotionally exhausting employees.
In the study, shoppers at a large retail store in Canada got one of two different types of receipts—one with a smiley-face sticker and one with a geometric-shape sticker. (In a separate experiment, one group of shoppers was given smiley-face stickers and the other no stickers, as a control.) Afterward, they took a survey that asked them to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, three statements: “The cashiers were friendly,” “I would recommend this store to my friends and family,” and “Overall, I was very satisfied with my experience at this store.”

Nick Note: Just as salespeople can be overly perky, Christians have been known to be just as perky. I call it the Ned Flanders effect. Though we have been called to rejoice, such rejoicing looks different when going through difficult times. By faking it until you make it, you rob yourself of lessons that God wants to teach you and others the chance to minister to you (2 Corinthians 12:9-12, 1 Corinthians 12:26). As Ian Morgan Cron notes in his phenomenal book Chasing Francis: “You’ll never be able to speak into their souls unless you speak the truth about your own wounds. You need to tell them what Jesus has come to mean to you in the midst of your disappointments and losses. All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.”

Ford redesigns its best-selling F-150 pickup for 2018 (USA Today)

“Ford is updating the look of its F-150 pickups — featuring a redesigned grille — just a little more than two years after launching an all-new version of its top-selling model.
“The refresh is evidence that the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker is committed to continuing to invest heavily to keep its F-Series trucks the most popular in America.”

Nick Note: For the past 34 years, the Ford F-series has been the most popular line of vehicles in America. Research indicates that if you drive a truck, you voted Republican. Whereas if you drive a Subaru, you probably voted Democrat. Nevertheless, Ford continues to ride the F-series to victory, not taking past victories for granted – as should the Christian. “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).”

Research: Performing a Ritual Before a Stressful Task Improves Performance (Harvard Business Review)

“Our findings suggest that performing a ritual before entering a stressful situation can reduce feelings of anxiety and improve performance. We encourage readers to adopt pre-performance rituals during stressful situations in their own lives, perhaps before giving a presentation at work, taking an exam, or having a difficult conversation. We recommend that individuals prepare a small but meaningful ritual, something deliberate and short that can be completed easily before entering the stressful situation.”

Nick Note: Anxiety weighs down the heart (Proverbs 12:25). A ritual is defined as a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions. An example includes prayer. In prayer, we communicate with a God who says not to be anxious about anything (Philippians 4:6-7). Just as he commands us not to be anxious, he also commands us to cast our cares upon him, knowing that he will sustain us (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7).

N E W S   Y O U   C A N   U S E

Student Transforms College Rejection Letter Into Viral Work Of Art

Nick Note: Rejection is the other side of the opportunity coin. “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again (Proverbs 24:16).”

Langur monkeys grieve over fake monkey – Spy in the Wild

Nick Note: Watch the video here. It is fascinating to see how these monkeys visibly grieve over the loss of this robotic monkey that they have no connection to. The monkeys remind us of the value of community and the significance of being empathetic to one another during times of loss (1 Corinthians 12:26, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 3:8, Romans 12:15).

Desperate to escape domestic abuse, this mother-of-four built her own house by watching Youtube

Nick Note: Here is a video of the story from a local news outlet.  This mother’s determination is apparent, her love for family is inspiring, and her example is worthy of emulation. Don’t put off tomorrow what can be done today. With God all things are possible but apart from him nothing is (Philippians 4:13, John 15:5).

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What do MLK Day and NFL playoffs have in common?

Posted by    |    January 16th, 2017 at 5:55 am

What do Martin Luther King Jr. Day, National Religious Freedom Day, and the NFL playoffs have in common?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. The third Monday in January is set aside each year to honor his remarkable legacy and transformative achievements. There will be parades today in cities across the country as Americans mark our civil rights progress and commit ourselves to continuing the journey until our nation’s claim that “all men are created equal” becomes true for all.

Today is also the annual National Religious Freedom Day. On January 16, 1786, Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted. Each year on this day, our nation proclaims Religious Freedom Day with an annual statement from the president of the United States.

As religious freedom scholar Frederick Clarkson notes, “Religious freedom is the source of all the other freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the First Amendment.” Without this right to believe as we wish free from governmental coercion, free speech and a free press would be neither possible nor relevant. As Dr. King himself noted, civil freedom stands on religious freedom.

However, if you live in one of the eight cities whose teams competed in the NFL playoffs over the weekend, you may be thinking more about the game than either of today’s national observances. Here in Dallas, we’re still grieving our loss to the Packers and wishing Aaron Rodgers would just retire. Why is the entire city in mourning over a game that only forty-six athletes were eligible to experience firsthand?

Western culture since the ancient Greeks has focused on the individual. Socrates taught us that the key to wisdom is to “know thyself.” The self-made existentialistic hero is our model.

But there’s something in us that knows it’s not really so. We were made by God for community with him and with each other. Every image of the church in the New Testament is collective—a body with many members (1 Corinthians 12:27), a vine with many branches (John 15:1–11). There are no solos in the Book of Revelation.

We all need to be part of a community that transcends us.

We all need to be part of a community that transcends us. That’s why we know instinctually that civil rights are human rights and that injustice against one is injustice against all. That’s why we affirm the freedom to know God and make him known to our fellow travelers on this journey to eternity. That’s why we want our team to win so that our city wins.

Unity is so vital for God’s people that Jesus is praying right now that we “may all be one” so that “the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). In AD 107, on the way to his martyrdom, St. Ignatius encouraged his fellow Christians to answer our Lord’s prayer: “In your harmony of mind and heart the song you sing is Jesus Christ. Every one of you should form a choir, so that, in harmony of sound through harmony of hearts, and in unity taking the note from God, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father.”

Let us sing with one voice heaven’s song of redemption and inclusion, forgiveness and grace. Let us sing it so loudly and courageously that, as Dr. King so famously said, “All God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

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History repeats itself in U2’s upcoming “The Joshua Tree” tour

Posted by    |    January 13th, 2017 at 1:59 pm

It’s not easy being one of the world’s most popular bands for more than forty years, but U2 has accomplished just that since their formation in 1976, and they’ve largely done so without relying on the kind of retread nostalgia that many groups cling to in an attempt at continued relevance. That’s why the recent decision to take their 1987 album The Joshua Tree on tour across America and Europe caught many by surprise. It’s a pleasant surprise, no doubt, as the group will perform such iconic songs as “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “With or Without You” in their original musical context. Still, the choice to plan for the future by looking to the past is a break with the band’s traditional approach. But, as guitarist The Edge, told Rolling Stone‘s Andy Greene, that original context had a lot to do with the decision.

Their next album was all but complete when the recent US election happened and left the band with the distinct impression that “suddenly the world changed. We just went, ‘Hold on a second—we’ve got to give ourselves a moment to think about this record and about how it relates to what’s going on in the world.’” That’s where The Joshua Tree comes in. The guitarist would go on to describe how that 1987 album was originally written during “a period when there was a lot of unrest . . . It feels like we’re right back there in a way . . . It just felt like ‘Wow, these songs have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn’t have three years ago, four years ago.’”

There’s an old cliché that history repeats itself. While there is, perhaps, some truth to that statement, the fact remains that such repetition is usually just humanity finding new ways to make the same mistakes. Mark Twain was closer to reality when he quipped, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

One of Scripture’s primary purposes is to give an account of all the ways that people have messed up in the past so that we might, ideally, learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. We don’t have to look very hard to find examples within its pages of just about every sin that has plagued humanity since Eden. Joshua and Judges alone provide fertile ground for seeing this pattern play out. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that Judges ends with the author recording that “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). Is there a more fitting way to describe our culture today?

Cultural unrest comes, in large part, when everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. If God is not our king, we should expect nothing else. After all, why shouldn’t people do what they perceive to be right if the only other voices in the conversation are those of other fallen people? Granted, political leaders and others with influence can fill that role for a time, but the truth is that we were created to serve only one Lord and nothing can take his place.

A key part of being a Christian is recognizing that God alone is king. Unfortunately, our lives don’t always support that reality. We may claim that God is the one in charge, but our actions often tell a different story to the world around us. One of our primary purposes as Christians is to live out our nature as light to the world and as a city on a hill so that they might better understand the kind of existence for which God created them (Matthew 5:13–16). That’s an awesome responsibility and one we cannot afford to take lightly.

So, when people look at you today, will they see someone going through life doing what is right in your own eyes or in God’s? How you answer that question will largely determine the degree to which you can make a positive impact for the kingdom. Israel found out the hard way where the wrong answer leads. Will you?

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Daily Briefing: January 13, 2017

Posted by    |    January 13th, 2017 at 8:03 am

T O P   N E W S

Obama Surprises Joe Biden With Presidential Medal of Freedom (NY Times)

“For the first time, Mr. Obama awarded the medal with distinction, an added level of veneration that previous presidents had reserved for recipients like Pope John Paul II and Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state.
“To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully,” Mr. Obama said during the televised ceremony, as Mr. Biden wiped tears from his eyes and dabbed at his nose with a handkerchief.”

Nick Note: Watch the surprise here. The President and VP have a sweet friendship that has been increasingly chronicled as this administration comes to a close. This is partially evidenced through the memes depicting the two. Look at 11 such memes here. Their friendship stands in stark contrast to DC context out of which it lives and moves. We are so interested in their friendship because we so want their friendship (as the kids say, #goals). Today, we are more connected than we have ever been because of technology, yet we find ourselves so disconnected and isolated. To get a friend, you have to be a friend. And friends honor one another and try to outdo each other in good deeds (Romans 13:7).

Latest to Disagree With Donald Trump: His Cabinet Nominees (WSJ)

“In their first week of grilling before congressional panels, Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees broke with him on almost every major policy that has put Mr. Trump outside Republican orthodoxy, particularly in the area of national security.
“The break with Mr. Trump was on display perhaps most prominently this week during the three-hour confirmation hearing Thursday for Gen. Mattis. The defense secretary nominee classified Russia as the principal threat to the U.S. and expressed little hope that Washington would develop a substantive partnership with Moscow, as Mr. Trump has suggested.”

Nick Note: Here are 10 key moments from yesterday’s hearings. Do you want to surround yourself with people who echo your opinion? In 2008, President Obama’s cabinet was continually likened to Lincoln’s Team of Rivals. The cabinet supports the President, but also provides expert opinion in their particular field that may result in a disagreement or seven. They may disagree but that does not equate to lack of support. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).”

Millennials are falling behind their boomer parents (AP)

“With a median household income of $40,581, millennials earn 20 percent less than boomers did at the same stage of life, despite being better educated,according to a new analysis of Federal Reserve data by the advocacy group Young Invincibles.
“The analysis also hints at the issues of culture and identity that divided many voters, showing that white millennials — who still earn much more than their blacks and Latino peers — have seen their incomes plummet the most relative to boomers.”

Nick Note: The economy was the top issue among millennial voters during the 2016 election. They voted for the Republican candidate at a much higher rate than in previous elections. Yes, there were some millennials that abhorred the prospect of a Trump presidency (see my op-ed in Dallas Morning News), but like the rest of the populace, they ended voting for him once they got to the polls. But why so for millennials? Because we millennials are highly concerned and concentrated upon our own felt needs. We often have an inability to see the bigger picture because it does not immediately concern us. This is why we switch jobs so often, say we got the feels, and have more debt than Starbucks has coffee. Yes, we walk into a less than desired job market, where the prospects are bleak and the hours are long, but our discontent with it must be exceeded by our desire to improve it. And this can only come through hard work (Colossians 3:23). Like those who have come before us, we must do the Hustle.

Rams hire Sean McVay, making him youngest head coach in NFL history (CNN)

“At 30 years old, Sean McVay becomes the youngest head coach in NFL history. He replaces Jeff Fisher, who was fired last month. The Rams finished the season 4-12.
“This is a great day as we welcome Sean McVay as our new head coach,” Rams owner Stanley Kroenke said in a press release. “The accomplishments and success that he has had in less than a decade in our league are impressive.”

Nick Note: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12).”

C U L T U R A L   N E W S

Why Men Have More Body Image Issues Than Ever (Time)

“If you think about the changes over the last 30 to 45 years in how men are depicted in Hollywood, cartoons, magazines and action toys, you’ll see that men’s bodies [today] appear much more muscular,” says Dr. Harrison Pope, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts. These unrealistic media images have contributed to low body image satisfaction among men—usually just considered a problem for women. “A study last year found that American men are just as likely as women to feel unsatisfied with their physiques, while another study found adolescent boys who are dissatisfied with their body shape may be more likely than girls to self-criticize and feel distress. Studies have even shown that men feel worse about their bodies after playing video games with ripped characters.”

Nick Note: Mark Twain found that the worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself. We are acutely aware of flaws, intimately acquainted with our weaknesses. As Dr. Denison often notes, we are not who we think we are, nor are we who you think we are, but rather we are who we think you think we are. Unfortunately, this comparative mentality robs of us of life and brings exhaustion. In the Scriptures, we read that regardless of what we think of ourselves, God has the last word. He loves us, delights in us, and dotes over us. Our thoughts about ourselves do not change who we are – the beloved (Song of Solomon 4:7, Romans 5;8, Zephaniah 3:17, Ephesians 2:4-5, 1 Peter 5:6-7, Psalm 137, Psalm 86:15).

3 Tips For Surviving Extreme Public Embarrassment

“When we fail publicly, the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus, the mentalizing areas of the brain, are activated. These are the areas involved with formulating the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, allowing us to mentalize how an experience might feel for someone else. These areas also give us the ability to reflect on our lives and daydream.
“Our capacity to understand and conceptualize how others perceive us helps us identify when our own social image is threatened, and to avoid those threats. Interesting to note in this study is that the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus areas of the brain showed a marked increase in activity when participants publicly failed, but less so for those who experienced public achievement. It would suggest we care more about what people think of our failures than what they think of our success.”

Nick Note: I highly recommend Brennan Manning’s book Abba’s Child. In it, he writes on the power of shame and fear in our lives. He notes: “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”

Christians in India increasingly under attack, study shows (The Guardian)

“The world’s second most populous country has risen to No 15 on the 2017 World Watch List, up from 31 four years ago. The list, compiled by Open Doors, is headed by North Korea for the 16th year in a row.
“Iraq and Syria slipped down the table, mainly because so many Christians have fled from Islamic State, the main source of persecution and violence. The Christian population of Aleppo has fallen from 400,000 before the Syrian civil war to fewer than 60,000 now, Open Doors estimated.”

Nick Note: This is tragic, yet not unexpected. As noted yesterday, God does not guarantee us a comfortable life but does promise to provide comfort in this life (2 Corinthians 2:2-4). Such comfort is a blessing when the trials and persecution happen (1 Peter 4:12, 2 Timothy 3:12). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “Whenever Christ call us, his call leads us to death.”

Spending more on coffee than investing? You’re not alone

“More than 45% of 18 to 23-year-olds have spent more on coffee than investing in their retirement, and 35% of 24 to 35-year-olds have done the same, according to a survey from microinvesting app Acorns, an app which links credit cards to the app and invests spare change.
“Over 50% of millennials said they don’t feel “savvy” when it comes to investing. That could be because, over half of the older millennials (24-35) said they didn’t receive enough training about how to manage finances in school, while 42% of younger Millennials agreed.
And as millennials age, the lack of preparedness is starting to weigh heavily on their minds, with 41% of older Millennials (24-35) worried that they won’t financially be able to retire until after 65.”

Nick Note: “Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land (Ecclesiastes 11:2).”

Netflix is even more popular than porn in hotel rooms (QZ)

“Just 1% of occupied hotel rooms around the world order video rentals on an average day, and adult programming accounts for 90% of those profits, Variety reported, citing research from Enseo, a firm that sells in-room entertainment technology to hotels. But, at hotels that offer Netflix on room TVs, 40% of rooms stream the service on a typical day, Enseo found. That’s 40 times the number of rooms that rent video at all.
“Sixteen percent of US hotels surveyed by the American Hotel & Lodging Association offered video-on-demand services in 2016, down from 30% in 2012, according to data provided by travel-research firm STR.”

Nick Note: Are people not looking at pornographic material or not looking at pornographic material on the hotel television? Hollywood makes 400 movies a year; the porn industry produces 11,000. One in five rented movies is pornographic. Every second, 28,258 users are watching pornography on the Internet. Every minute, $184,538.49 is being spent on pornography on the Internet. Oswald Chambers defines sin as a legitimate desire taken to an illegitimate place. In human experience, there is a legitimate and good desire to be known deeply and loved wholly. After all, in the garden God said it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). However, porn gives the allusion of intimacy but leaves the victim still lonely. Pornography is bad fruit from the rotten tree of false intimacy.  And sex trafficking forces innocent victims to eat that fruit.

New Chargers logo: Electric, or shockingly bad?

“The San Diego Chargers are moving up the coast to Los Angeles next season, but it looks like the lightning bolt that’s been on players’ helmets since 1960 isn’t going with them.
“Team Chairman Dean Spanos announced the move on Thursday and unveiled the team’s new logo: the letters “LA” in white on a dark blue background.”

Nick Note: If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the Chargers are making the Tampa Bay Lightning and the LA Dodgers blush. Joining the Chargers in the imitation department is Instagram. “Instagram, imitating Snapchat, announced that Instagram Stories, a feature it launched in August 2016, has accumulated 150 million daily active users. That’s exactly how many users Snapchat had as of June 2016.” It took Snapchat four years to get to this number; it took Instagram four months. Will the Chargers be able to have that type success? Just as the new Chargers logo allegedly imitates others, and Instagram imitates Snapchat, we have been called to imitate Christ. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).”

N E W S   Y O U   C A N   U S E

The Bush Sisters Wrote the Obama Girls A Letter (Time)

“Enjoy college. As most of the world knows, we did.”

Nick Note: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13).”

Stranger Helps Pregnant Mom Calm Fussy Baby on Southwest Airlines Flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta

“The man, who was a passenger on a flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta, offered to help soothe a crying baby when he noticed the child’s pregnant mom was traveling alone.”

Nick Note: Instead of a glare at her, he offers to help her. From what I hear, raising children can be hard (especially if your baby’s name was Joseph Nicholas Pitts). The demands are continuous and the opportunities to help are abundant. The Scriptures are clear: “If anyone sees his brother (or sister) in need, yet closes his (or her) heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him (1 John 3:17)?”

Woman Dancing Outside Of A Waffle House Has Diners Laughing Uncontrollably

Nick Note: Watch the video here. My favorite line: “Whatever she got I want it!” We have been commanded to rejoice (Psalm 118:24, Philippians 4:4). Like the rest of God’s commands, these are not optional pieces of advice. This weekend, may you be reminded of who God is and what he has done and may that cause you to dance in your own Waffle House parking lot.

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