Why you need to know about Gracie Gold

Posted by    |    October 18th, 2017 at 5:51 am

You may never have heard of Gracie Gold, but you need to know her story.

Grace Elizabeth Gold is an American figure skater. She began skating at the age of eight, winning a national title and an Olympic bronze medal in 2014. She won another national title in 2016.

The 2018 Winter Olympics are only five months away. At a time when skaters are working feverishly to prepare, Gracie is stepping away from her sport. Her explanation: “I am currently in treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. I will not have adequate training time to prepare and compete at the level that I want to.”

Gracie’s decision is both rare and courageous. As sportswriter Eric Adelson notes, “Depression, anxiety and eating disorders are almost always confronted in private, and in many cases they aren’t even acknowledged or realized by the person facing them.” This is especially true for Olympic athletes: “There is always another practice or sponsorship meeting or fan greeting to do for this once-in-a-lifetime moment. Often the needs of the self are suppressed or ignored.”

The numbers are staggering: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 46 percent of Americans experience at least one mental illness at some point in their lives. The CDC reported in 2011 that antidepressant use in the US had increased nearly 400 percent in the last two decades. Antidepressants are the most frequently used class of medications by Americans ages eighteen to forty-four years.

Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill were known for significant episodes of depression. Celebrities such as Terry Bradshaw, Owen Wilson, J. K. Rowling, and Gwyneth Paltrow have suffered from depression as well. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was treated for depression and alcoholism and went on to serve as chairman of the National Association of Mental Health.

What causes depression? Counselors cite neurotransmitters in the brain, negative thinking patterns, concurrence of other diseases, side effects of medication, genetics, and difficult life events. A major step forward is admitting the disease and seeking help. That’s why Gracie Gold’s story is so courageous and so significant.

If you’re dealing with symptoms such as feelings of sadness or hopelessness, anger or irritability, loss of interest, sleep disturbances, tiredness and lack of energy, reduced appetite, slowed thinking, feelings of worthlessness, or frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, it is vital that you speak with a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. If you’re not struggling with these challenges, it is vital that you support and encourage those who are.

Where is God when depression strikes? “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He invites you to “cast all your anxieties upon him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). He promises that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Remember that “Christ literally walked in our shoes” (Tim Keller) and is walking in yours now (Hebrews 4:15). So, “let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16).

Max Lucado is right: “God never said that the journey would be easy, but he did say that the arrival would be worthwhile.”

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Texas man steals fajitas worth $1.2 million

Posted by    |    October 17th, 2017 at 5:56 am

A man in Brownsville, Texas, has been arrested for felony theft. Authorities say he admitted stealing $1.2 million worth of fajitas over nine years. It wasn’t that he ate that many fajitas—the juvenile justice department employee stole county-funded food deliveries and sold them to his own customers.

I assume this man’s criminal career started with a single delivery. When no one noticed, he escalated his activities. But now he knows that small decisions have huge consequences.

The tragedy in Somalia continues to make news this morning: the death toll now exceeds three hundred, with nearly four hundred wounded. You may have heard of al-Shabab, the terror group blamed for this atrocity. But you probably haven’t heard of Sayyid Qutb, the fundamentalist Egyptian scholar whose theories inspired generations of Sunni radicals, including leaders of al-Qaeda, ISIS, and al-Shabab.

Two experts recently warned the US House of Representatives that a nuclear electromagnetic pulse attack from North Korea could shut down our power grid, indirectly killing up to 90 percent of all Americans. North Korea’s missiles may already be capable of reaching Los Angeles and the western US.

You’ve heard of Karl Marx, whose ideology inspired the communist movement and continues to influence North Korea. But you may not have heard of Friedrich Engels, whose partnership with Marx promoted and popularized his revolutionary ideas.

Actions unseen today can change the world tomorrow.

2 Samuel 17 finds David fleeing Jerusalem and his son Absalom. Two men are sent by a friend of David to warn the king that Absalom’s army is coming to kill him. However, Absalom sends servants to stop these messengers.

The men hide in a well, where an unnamed woman spreads a cover over the well’s mouth and protects them. Then they make their way to David with the warning that saves his life.

If this woman had not protected these men, would David have been killed? Would his son Solomon have been kept from the throne? Would Solomon’s temple and proverbs have existed?

A young boy is sold into slavery by his brothers but rises to rule Egypt and save his family. A fugitive shepherd sees a burning bush and changes the world. An unnamed Roman centurion keeps his soldiers from killing Paul when their ship wrecks at Malta; seven of the apostle’s thirteen letters would not have been written apart from this man’s intervention.

Our culture measures us by our impact on the world today. But history measures us by our impact on the world tomorrow.

Twenty million millennia after we have forgotten today’s headlines, Jesus will still be King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). If you want to leave a legacy that matters, serve the Lord of time and eternity and you will do the works of Jesus in the power of his Spirit (John 14:12).

The poet James Allen Francis noted: “All the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that ever were built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.”

Now it’s our turn, to the glory of God.

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Would you rather read about Tony Romo or Somalia bombing?

Posted by    |    October 16th, 2017 at 6:05 am

My local newspaper is the Dallas Morning News. Its website this morning leads with a story about our school district and speculation that Tony Romo could replace the injured Aaron Rodgers. I scrolled to the bottom of the website but found nothing on the bombings in Somalia’s capital that killed more than three hundred people last Saturday.

The Chicago Tribune is leading with the Cubs’ loss to the Dodgers last night. It mentions the Somalia bombing with a single line in the smallest print on the website. The Los Angeles Times mentions the story near the bottom of its website with a single line.

If this tragedy had occurred in the United States, it would be leading every newspaper in America. The fact that it happened on the coast of East Africa makes it no less heartbreaking for every person who died or was injured and every person who loves them. Including their Father in heaven.

It is human nature to value what we can see over what we cannot see. This is why newspapers give the greatest coverage to news that affects their readers directly. But such a materialistic view of life obscures all that gives life its greatest meaning.

Yesterday, I spent some time sitting before a pond on a cloudy morning. I asked the Lord to speak to me through his creation, and immediately my mind was drawn to the surface of the water. I could see nothing below it. There could be fish or turtles swimming there—the fact that I could not see them made them no less real.

Just then, the sun broke through the clouds momentarily before disappearing again. If I didn’t know better, I might think the clouds were permanent and the sun was temporary, when it’s actually the other way around. The fact that I couldn’t see the sun behind the clouds made it no less real.

Jesus returned from earth to heaven twenty centuries ago. Is he still at work in our world? Consider five biblical facts:

• Jesus is granting salvation to every person who turns to him in faith (Romans 6:23). No one is beyond the reach of grace.
• He is preparing a place for his followers in heaven (John 14:2–3). The Master Carpenter (Mark 6:3) is working right now on your eternal home.
• He is interceding for us at “the right hand of God” (Romans 8:34). Jesus is praying for you at this very moment.
• He is advocating for us before the Father when we sin (1 John 2:1). The next time you sin, remember that your Savior is praying for your forgiveness and restoration.
• He is holding us in his hand (John 10:28–29). All that comes to you must come through him. You are sheltered in his hand right now.

Eternal salvation, an eternal home, divine intercession, advocacy when we sin, and omnipotent protection—none are visible to our senses, but can you think of greater gifts?

“Don’t believe the materialistic lie that your success today is measured by your possessions and popularity.”

Don’t believe the materialistic lie that your success today is measured by your possessions and popularity. What you can’t see is infinitely more significant than what you can see. Henry Scougal noted in 1677: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.”

What—or Who—will be the object of your love today?

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Would you want to be blessed by a robot?

Posted by    |    October 13th, 2017 at 5:57 am

BlessU-2 is a robot installed by a Protestant church in Germany. It is built on the body of an ATM, with plastic fingers that spring open and palms that light as it raises its mechanical hands in blessing.

The robot speaks seven languages in either a male or a female voice. It offers four types of blessings—traditional, companionship, encouragement, and renewal—taken from more than forty Bible verses. Reactions have been mostly positive.

In Japan, a robot named “Pepper” can serve as a Buddhist priest to conduct funerals. A robot in Beijing can have a conversation with you about Buddhism and daily life.

Technology is changing every dimension of human experience, from driverless cars to low-cost virtual reality headsets to earbuds that can translate forty languages instantly. Technological advances in medicine are astounding: bionic arms, artificial vision, and tattoos and tooth-embedded sensors that transmit medical information are all realities. One man who is color-blind can detect color through an antenna grafted onto his skull.

Dan Brown’s new book, Origin, forecasts a coming age he calls “the Technium.” A scientist in his novel claims: “We are becoming a hybrid species—a fusion of biology and technology. The same tools that today live outside our bodies—smartphones, hearing aids, reading glasses, most pharmaceuticals—in fifty years will be incorporated into our bodies to such an extent that we will no longer be able to consider ourselves Homo sapiens.”

The scientist predicts: “As we move into an undefined tomorrow, we will transform ourselves into something greater than we can yet imagine, with powers beyond our wildest dreams.”

We’ve been here before.

The eugenics movement in the United States focused on eliminating “undesirable” traits in the population. Thirty states codified laws that resulted in the forced sterilization of over 64,000 people. Such efforts began with the disabled but spread to include people whose only “crime” was poverty. Only after the horrors of Nazi eugenic experiments came to light were such efforts discredited.

Improving our health is a noble calling in partnership with the Great Physician. Improving our species is not. Jesus healed “every disease and every affliction among the people” (Matthew 4:23), but he did nothing to change our biological identity.

You may not want to use technology to become more than human today. But you’ll be tempted to “be like God” in other ways (Genesis 3:5). Every temptation is a variation on this theme—be your own God by stealing, lying, lusting, hating, or whatever you are tempted to do.

Thomas a Kempis: “Let this be thy whole Endeavour, this thy prayer, this thy desire, that thou mayest be stripped of all selfishness, and with entire simplicity follow Jesus only.” Towers of Babel are built whenever we seek to “make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4) rather than making God’s name great.

Whose name are you seeking to exalt today?

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Couple married 75 years die together in fire

Posted by    |    October 12th, 2017 at 5:56 am

Charles and Sara Rippey met in grade school in Wisconsin and were together ever since. They attended the University of Wisconsin and married in 1942 before Charles served in the US Army during World War II.

The couple celebrated their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary last year. Charles was one hundred years old; Sara was ninety-eight and had suffered a stroke. They lived together in their home in Napa, California.

This week, they died together.

After wildfires ravaged their community, one of their sons discovered their bodies. Charles fought through the intense heat and smoke and almost made it to his wife’s side. His son found their remains near each other.

“My father certainly wouldn’t have left her,” he told reporters. Only metal and porcelain survive in the charred remains of their home—coffee cups on a low sill, a porcelain tea set, and two metal chairs side-by-side.

The Rippeys are making headlines because their lifelong commitment to each other strikes a chord in our souls. We sense somehow that what they had is what we want. We know that there is more to life than what a fire can consume.

Richard Simmons III is founder and executive director of The Center for Executive Leadership. In The True Measure of a Man, he notes that we have shifted from a production economy to a consumer economy. As a result, we measure ourselves not by what we do but by what we own. Our work is a means to our wealth.

And in a culture driven by social media and instant celebrity, we measure ourselves by how others measure us. Simmons quotes professor Christopher Lasch, who observed that people “would rather be envied for their material success than respected for their character.”

Marcus Aurelius noted that “the true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues.” What “objects” should we pursue?

Remember Paul’s answer: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). Paul the Pharisee knew about God. Paul the Jesus-follower knew God.

How intimately do you know God today?

According to Jesus, there are only two priorities that matter: loving God and loving others (Matthew 22:37, 39). When we understand how deeply and passionately we are loved by our Father, we are freed from the need to justify our lives and impress our culture. We are freed to love the One who loves us and to love everyone he loves.

And we find a life purpose no fire can destroy.

In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is fired from his job and takes his own life. His older son explains why: “He had the wrong dreams. All, all, wrong.” His younger son protests, “Don’t say that!” The older son answers, “He never knew who he was.”

Do you know who you are? More importantly, do you know whose you are?

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What a Nobel Prize winning economist can teach us about evangelism

Posted by    |    October 11th, 2017 at 1:03 pm

That people are going to act like people shouldn’t be an earth-shattering revelation for any of us. We don’t have to look far for bountiful evidence of the fact that, despite our best efforts and intentions, we are often going to act in ways that are both irrational and counter to our greater good. Richard Thaler, however, has spent the vast majority of his career attempting to get economists to understand that very basic principle and was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his efforts.

Why was building a career on such an obvious premise worthy of that lofty award? For most of the twentieth century, economists worked under the basic belief that people would generally act in rational ways when it came to the decisions they made regarding money. While it all sounded good in theory, Thaler gradually came to see that it wasn’t how people actually lived. This revelation put him at the forefront of the study of behavioral economics, a growing movement that looks at the irrational ways people spend their hard-earned resources and seeks to find patterns to develop a model that accounts for those faults.

For example, most people are “loss averse” to some extent. That means we experience “more pain from loss than pleasure from gains” and often miss out on opportunities to better our situation. As a result, people would often rather have a decreased chance of immediate loss than an increased chance of long-term gain. It’s why most basketball coaches, when down by two points with time running out, will go for a two-point shot to tie rather than a three to win. Statistics show that the latter option actually gives the team a greater chance at victory since overtime games are generally a fifty-fifty proposition, but most coaches would rather lose in overtime than in regulation, even though it doesn’t make any difference on the final ledger

Another good example is the way that most people have a strong propensity to maintain the status quo, even if doing so limits or hurts them. This understanding prompted the government to pass a law about ten years ago that encouraged companies to make enrolling in a retirement savings plan the default option in a worker’s contract. People can still opt out of the program, but having participation as the status quo increased annual savings by an estimated 7.6 billion dollars between 2006 and 2011.

While all of this is interesting, what’s most pertinent for us today is how Thaler has shown that understanding the ways people are prone to act irrationally and adjusting our approach accordingly can yield impressive results.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul describes how he purposefully tailored his approach to sharing the gospel to better fit the needs of the lost around him, concluding with the statement that “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19–23). To do that, however, we must first understand those we’re trying to help. More specifically, we need to know how they see God.

Are they apathetic about the idea of Christianity? Have they had some personal experience that has fundamentally shifted how they view the Lord? Does belief in Christ or of God in any form simply seem unreasonable because of a different set of beliefs they hold dear?

While some explanations are more reasonable than others, at the heart of the matter we serve a God who welcomes our questions and doubts while standing ready to help us understand why it is perfectly reasonable to believe in him. Understanding the impediments that prevent others from coming to that same conclusion is the first step in allowing God to use us to help them move beyond those barriers to genuine faith.

Fallen people are going to act like fallen people, often in ways that are relatively easy to predict. That’s good news because it means that what has worked in economics can work just as well in evangelism.

Jesus knew the hearts and minds of those around him, and the Holy Spirit stands ready to help us to do the same. Will you let him?

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American churches turned into beer halls

Posted by    |    October 11th, 2017 at 5:48 am

“ON THE EIGHTH DAY MAN CREATED BEER.” So claims the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a brewery housed in a former church building. This is just one of many bars and breweries opening in former churches across America.

When churches close, their buildings can be difficult to repurpose. Large stained glass windows and cavernous sanctuaries are hard to make into condominiums, and historic landmark protections can impede renovation. So developers are turning them into beer halls.

In Europe, the trend is even more disturbing: churches are being turned into Islamic mosques. In Dublin, Ireland, the largest central mosque is located in a former Presbyterian church. Numerous churches in Cyprus, England, France, and Germany are now mosques.

We can lament the post-Christian nature of Western civilization, or we can be agents of transformation while there is still time. On our decision rests the future of our culture.

I am reading the Book of Ezekiel in my personal Bible study and find it as relevant as if it were written last week. Through his prophet, the Lord warned the people of Jerusalem that “they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes” (Ezekiel 5:6). As a result, he would withdraw his presence (v. 11) and bring his judgment (v. 12).

God exposed their idolatry (valuing anything or anyone more than God) and warned that they would face his wrath (Ezekiel 6). He saw the sins being committed even in their houses of worship (Ezekiel 8) and the deceit of their leaders (Ezekiel 11:1–13), prophets (Ezekiel 13), and elders (Ezekiel 14:1–11). He knew the murder (Ezekiel 22:1–5), extortion (v. 7), and sexual sins (vv. 10–11) they were committing.

As a result, the Lord warned, “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4).

In the face of such impending judgment, God called Ezekiel to be a “watchman” for his people (Ezekiel 3:17a) with this charge: “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (v. 17b). Ezekiel was sent to them as an example of godliness and a spokesman for God.

However, Ezekiel’s ministry was 2,600 years ago. Why is his book in our Bible today?

Neither human nor divine nature changes. The sins God judged in ancient Jerusalem he still judges today. If the Holy City could fall because of the sinfulness of her people, no city is safe.

If you’re certain that your nation’s future is secure, you need to read Ezekiel.

The good news is that God is ready to forgive anyone who repents and seeks him. He will do this “for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways” (Ezekiel 20:44).

He is calling us to share his truth and grace as his watchmen for this day. He will give us the words to say and the courage to say them. He anoints all he appoints.

In the midst of wildfires that have swept across Northern California and killed at least seventeen people, one survivor told the New York Times: “Our phones were off and our neighbor was relentless in trying to wake us up. . . . She was knocking and ringing our doorbell, and because of her, we got out with our two young children.”

Whose door will you knock on today?

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