Friday, February 29, 2008

A Matter of Prayer

A sad, sad story was posted today on the Christianity Today website. You can read it here. It involves a nasty lawsuit over who are the "real" Imperials. It even has a father and son at the center. Pray for The Imperials - all of them.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fantastic Book Review

If you've read, or even heard of, Frank Schaeffer's book Crazy for God, you're aware that the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer's son (Frank, that is) has written a quite unflattering portrait of his parents and their ministry. Francis and Edith are fallen human beings like the rest of us, and certainly growing up with them would provide plenty of illustrations of sinful behavior just like it would with the rest of us.

Os Guinness spent a lot of time with the Schaeffers, including Frank, at L'Abri. He's written a review of Crazy for God that can only be described as fantastic. You can read it here. Guinness is convinced that Frank has been unfair, unkind, and self-serving in his book and wanted to provide a response. If that was his goal, he achieved it spectacularly well. There's nothing wrong with telling stories about people "warts and all" (the Bible does it), but there comes a point where going any further is simply cruel. Frank didn't just step over that line, he broadjumped it according to Guinness.

Please read this, especially if you were shaped by the ministry of Francis Schaeffer. I was, and I don't regret the fifteen minutes or so it took to read the review.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Reflections on Luke 4

My reading in Luke's Gospel has brought me to chapter 4. Obviously I could be reading it a lot quicker, but I'm listening to a sermon series on it as a supplement, too (and I don't necessarily want to listen to as many sermons as it takes to cover three or four chapters every day!).

Luke 4 shows, among other things, what Jesus came to do - obey His Father, proclaim His Father's Word, and heal some of the sick (not all). Several things jumped out at me from this chapter.

First, Jesus Christ perfectly obeyed His Father.
In verses 1-13, we have the account of Satan's temptation of Jesus. The Lord Jesus, unlike Adam, resisted temptation and obeyed His Father. By doing so, Jesus is known as the "Second Adam" or the "Last Adam." Adam was the federal head (or representative) of all mankind - he represented each and every one of us in the garden of Eden. Christ is the federal head (or representative) of His people - He represents each and every person who will ever repent of their sins and trust Him alone for their salvation.

Just as Satan tempted Adam, he also tempted Christ. (By the way, I'm not forgetting about Eve. She was tempted, too, but Adam was the responsible party in God's economy.) The most important difference is the result - Adam disobeyed, failed the test, and was banished from the garden. Jesus, on the other hand, obeyed, passed the test, and restored paradise lost.

This episode points to the fact that Jesus perfectly obeyed His Father for every moment of His life. Perfection is what God demands from us because He is righteous, and none of us - "no not one" - can give it to Him. We fall dreadfully short of God's standard. But here's the good news - the Lord Jesus Christ has obeyed in our place! He has satisfied the Father's demand for perfection and lived the life we can't live - all because of His grace, mercy, and love. Then, when we believe in Christ, that perfect righteousness of His is imputed to us.

Second, Jesus Christ was faithful in attendance at worship.
"And He (Jesus) came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day" (verse 16). Did you catch it? The little phrase "as was His custom" jumped out at me several years ago. The point being made is that Jesus was a regular synagogue attender. He attended worship services on a consistent basis because he was a faithful Jew. He didn't "forsake assembling together" with the people of God. When the Sabbath came, He was there.

Think about that! The synagogues of Jesus' time weren't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. They were full of sinful people, many of whom had the same attitudes and actions that the Lord condemned in the Gospels. I'm certain that none of the synagogues did things exactly the way Jesus knew they should. Their doctrine wasn't perfect. They had misunderstandings about the personality and the role of the Messiah in Israel's history. Not only that, but the synagogue system wasn't commanded in the Old Testament - it developed during the periods when the Jews were exiled away from Israel.

So why did He go every week? Because that's what people who are faithful to God do. They regularly gather together with other believers in order to sing, pray, give, read and obey Scripture, and minister to one another. He went every week because He perfectly obeyed His Father (see verses 1-13).

There's a great lesson in that little phrase "as was His custom." Everything said about the synagogue of Jesus' day applies to the church of today. Why should we go every week? Because God commands it and it's what people faithful to God do. If "as was His custom" was good enough for Christ, it should be good enough for us, too.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Coram Deo Approved

Here are two recommended articles for your perusal.

The first is an interview with Keith and Kristyn Getty called "Singable Doctrine." They wrote "In Christ Alone" with Stuart Townsend, which is one of my favorites. You can read it here.

The second is a post by Mark Dever on Together For the Gospel's site called "The Bondage of 'Guidance.'" You can read it here.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"The Gospel & Personal Evangelism" - Chapter 4

"How Should We Evangelize?"

In this chapter, Mark Dever examines the question of how we should proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. He says we need to have a balanced approach.

Honesty is the first aspect of a balanced approach. "First, we tell people with honesty that if they repent and believe, they will be saved. But they will need to repent, and it will be costly. We must be accurate in what we say, not holding any important parts back that seem to us awkward or off-putting" (p. 55). Making people aware of their sinful and lost condition might turn some people off, but if we're faithful witnesses we have to do it. Turning from our sins (repentance) won't be easy, but we can't pretend it doesn't exist. If we do, we're manipulating people who desperately need to hear the gospel.

Urgency is the second aspect of a balanced approach. Dever writes that, "we must emphasize the urgency with which people ought to repent and believe if they are to be saved. They must decide now" (p. 57). We don't have "all the time in the world" to ponder the offer of forgiveness and everlasting life. It's not a scare tactic to bring up the fact that we aren't promised another day, or minute for that matter.

Joy is the third aspect of a balanced approach. "The truth of this news of a restored relationship with God brings us great joy. so we should joyfully tell people that if they repent and believe they will be saved. It is all worth it, despite the cost" (p. 59). A sour and dour witness is not attractive. Being "baptized in pickle juice" tends to drive the non-saved away from the gospel and those who proclaim it.

Each of these aspects are important. We need to be honest and not candy-coat the gospel because we think non-believers will respond to it better. Urgency is critical, and, sadly, I've paid it very little attention. We also need to be joyful. This is so important, in fact, that we might need to have classes in church on how to do this (or at least to be reminded).

Dever then gives a number of practical tips on how to evangelize.
1. Pray. Ask God to give you opportunities and for lost people to be saved.
2. Use the Bible. God's Word is a great tool for evangelism. Do a simple study of the Gospel of Mark with a non-believing friend. God uses His Word in incredible ways.
3. Be clear. Use language that anyone can understand. It's easy for us to speak a language - a jargon - that only other Christians understand. But in evangelism, we need to try to do whatever we can to aviod that. If we use the word "justification" for example, we need to define it. Dever points out that being clear will mean that we may offend people - that comes with the territory.
4. Provoke self-reflection. "Defensiveness is natural to the fallen heart, so we want to do our best to help people hear the good news. We want to live and talk in such a way that we provoke people to reflect on themselves, on their own desires and actions" (p. 65). Ask people good questions. Listen to their answers. Put a rock in their shoe.
5. Use the church. Invite people to whom you've been witnessing to a church that clearly proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. More than that, however, is to bring your non-Christian friends into the company of Christians. Let them both see and hear the truth of the gospel.

Overall, this is an excellent chapter because of the helpful suggestions and reminders.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Get Some Sleep!

Over at Big Orange Truck, a plea goes out to all of us (pastors, too) to get a full night's sleep - every night. He thinks it'll do us a world of good physically, mentally, and spiritually. I couldn't agree with him more. Read it here.

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Reflections from Luke 3

Luke 3 deals primarily with the identity of Jesus Christ. He is preceded by John the Baptist (3:2-20). He was baptized and given the Father's verbal blessing (3:21-22). His genealogy proves He is the Son of God and God the Son (3:23-38).

John said that Jesus is "the Lord" (verse 4) and the One who will bring "the salvation of God" (verse 6). He procalimed that Jesus was "mightier" than he was (verse 16) and the One who will "baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (verse 16). In short, Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior.

Jesus was declared to be the Son of God by God the Father in verse 22 - And the Holy Spirit descended on him (Jesus) in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Finally, Jesus is proven to be the Son of God and God the Son by His ancestry - His genealogy. This is Joseph's line, not Mary's (which is recorded in Matthew's Gospel), which explains an objection some have raised (specifically, that it seems that Jesus has two different genealogies).

John's statement and attitude of submission in verse 16 jumped out at me. John said, "I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." John was an extremely important part of God's plan to prepare the way for the Messiah - he played a key role. In fact, Jesus said that there was no one greater than John in His kingdom (Matthew 11:11). With all of that being said, John did not see himself as anything or anyone important. He said he wasn't even worthy to do the most menial task for Jesus - untying His sandals. John realized that he was the messenger and that Christ is the Message. That's a tremendous example of submission and servanthood. John says it another way in John 3:30 - "He must increase, but I must decrease." I need that attitude today and, I suppose, some of you do, too.

Lord, may the Lord Jesus Christ increase and may I decrease. He's mightier than I, and I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals - the One in whom You are well pleased.

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More Tacit Theologies

Tony Woodlief has posted another in his outstanding series "Tacit Theologies" at the WORLD blogsite. You can read it here.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Practical Information

Want a funny read? Who doesn't, especially with all of the steroids, human growth hormone, school shootings, and Presidential primaries in the news? For a fun break, go to Evangelical Outpost and take a gander at Joe Carter's post "How to Get Rid of a Stoner Son." Hilarious!


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Good Reading

God is the God of the second chance, right? Not so fast, according to Dan Phillips. You can read his thought-provoking article here. It's called "The God of the Second Chance - Sometimes".

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Of Priests and Ankle Ropes

Although it may seem hard to believe (sarcasm meter of "full" here), we Christians sometimes believe things that aren't true. Then we proceed to teach them to others, whether it's from the pulpit, in front of a class, or in a Bible study. I know I have.

Case in point: Priests who were to serve in the Holy of Holies (once a year) in the Jewish Temple tied a rope around their ankle. Why would they do that? Because if they died while they were in the presence of God serving Him, they could be dragged out by the other priests (who were forbidden to enter the Holy of Holies). This was done in order to guard and recognize the awesome holiness of God. Nice story. Interesting tidbit. Goosebump-inducing. Makes you look like you know a lot about Jewish culture and customs when you mention it in a Bible study.

One small problem - it's not true. There's little, if any, evidence for it. In fact, no one quite knows where this idea came from or how it got started. I discovered this by accident when I was researching archaeological evidence for the New Testament. This website had this article which gives the details. It's the biblical form of an urban legend (a story that gets passed off as true, but isn't).

We all need to be more careful when pass things like this on to other people. We don't need made-up stories and "facts" to convince ourselves or others of the truth of Christianity. We look foolish when we use false stories or interesting "facts" to make a point (even if it's a good one).

God is a God of truth (Jer. 10:10-11). As His people, we love the truth and speak the truth (Deut. 5:20; Eph. 4:25). By doing so, we imitate Him, make Him visible, and put Him on display. In other words, we glorify Him (1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Pet. 4:10).

So, "be careful out there," as they used to say on "Hill Street Blues."

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Tacit Theologies

Tony Woodlief of WORLD magazine has two excellent and thought-provoking posts on theologies we have (and operate on the basis of) that are unspoken. You can read them here and here.

What are some of your tacit theologies?

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Monday, February 11, 2008

"The Gospel & Personal Evangelism" - Chapter 3

"Who Should Evangelize?"

In chapter three of The Gospel & Personal Evangelism," Mark Dever examines the question of who should evangelize?

At first glance, the answer to that question should be, "Well, every Christian, of course!" That's the right answer, but it is surprising how many people don't think it isn't. Dever says some think that "clergy people" should do all of the evangelizing, after all, they've been trained and that's "their job," so to speak. Others believe that evangelism is beft left to those who have the spiritual gift of evangelism. For still others, evangelism is reserved for raging extroverts, while the introverts are left to watch the "show," so to speak.

Dever points out that even though certain things were true of the apostles (see Romans 1:14-15), they are also true of every believer in Jesus Christ. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) was given to every disciple of Jesus, not just the twelve apostles.

He quotes John Stott as saying, "[This] binding upon every member of the whole church...Every Christian is called to be a witness to Christ in the particular environment in which God has placed him. Further, although the public ministry of the Word is a high office, private witness or personal evangelism has a value which in some respects surpasses even that of preaching, since the message can then be adapted morte personally." (Personal Evangelism, pp. 3-4).

The early members of the New Testament church evangelized constantly (Acts 5:42; 8:25: 13:32; 14:7, 15, 21; 15:35; 16:10; 17:18). It wasn't just the apostles, either. After the persecution in Jerusalem, "Those who had been scattered preached the Word wherever they went" (Acts 8:4). In 1 Peter 3:15-16, all Christians are told to "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in christ may be ashamed of their slander."

We're commanded to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). According to Dever, the most loving thing we can do for one of our neighbors - whether they are a family member, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance - is to share with them the good news of Jesus Christ.

It is God's plan, writes Dever, to make Himself known through His people - Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New. It is our responsibility to make visible the invisible God. Therefore, the lives of individual Christians and the church as a whole should make God (and His gospel) visible to the world. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "Evangelism is pre-eminently dependent upon the quality of the Christian life which is known and enjoyed within the church."

Dever sums up this excellent chapter by saying, "God calls all Christians to share the good news."

Don't think this isn't an issue in the church today - it is. There has been a strain of "let the professionals do it" in many congregations for years, which hampers successful evangelism. But also, as the consumer mentality spreads in the culture of the church, the "let the professionals do it" mentality becomes even stronger. We hire people to do all kinds of different things today, why not hire people who know the Bible and theology, play music, visit, and evangelize, too? Dever has supplied a strong argument against this kind of faulty thinking.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Wounds of a Friend, Part 2

Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Ministries responds to Greg Gilbert's post on worship music. You can read it here. Excellent thoughts from Bob.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

The Wounds of a Friend

This is a hard word from Greg Gilbert, but it's a needed one. His post is called "Against Music*" and it's excellent.

"I think the entire evangelical world ought to put a moratorium on any kind of instrumental music, and just chant psalms in their worship services - for the next ten years."

That's his opening salvo, or should I say, paragraph. Some of us are far too dependant upon certain music or a certain type of music in order to "really worship God." It's crucial that we keep central in our minds the fact that we use music as a tool to better worship God, we don't worship music.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Union Update

Union University, a Southern Baptist university in Tennessee, was hit hard by a tornado yesterday. You can read the story here.

Please keep them in your prayers.

"Can I Get a Witness?" from Luke 2

Luke 2 contains some of the most memorable sections in all of the Bible. The birth narrative of Jesus is familiar even to those who know very little of the content of the Bible. In my reading of this chapter, two themes jumped out at me.

First, a number of different people (or creatures) gave testimony to confirm the identity of Jesus Christ.

1. Angels (verses 10-11). They said to the shepherds, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

2. Shepherds (verses 17-18,20). After the shepherd saw Jesus, they "spread the word concerning" what they had seen and whom they had met.

3. Mary - "But Mary treasured up all these things in her heart" (verse 19).

4. Simeon (verses 28-32). The Holy Spirit had promised him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. When he saw Jesus at the temple with His parents, he saw the Messiah.

5. Anna the prophetess (verses 36-38).

6. Jesus Himself (verse 49). When Joseph and Mary found Him in the temple, He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in My Father's house?"

Second, what, or who, did all these witnesses reveal Jesus Christ to be?

First, He is revealed to be the Savior.
The angels proclaimed it best when they said, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you" (verse 11). He is God's "salvation" according to Simeon in verses 30 and 31. Anna says He is "the redemption of Jerusalem" in verse 38.

Next, He is revealed to be the Lord.
Once again, the angels announce to the shepherds that the newborn Jesus is "the Lord" in verse 11.

Finally, He is revealed to be the Son.
Jesus said that He "had to be in my Father's house" (verse 49). Of course, the Father He's speaking of is God the Father, whose "house" was the temple in Jerusalem.

The Gospel of Luke (and all of the Bible for that matter) points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. That's especially true in the Gospels. Whatever else we may find there, and however interesting it may be, it's all about Him ultimately.

Jesus is Savior, Lord, and Son of the Father. He was then and He is now! Praise God!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Bowl Thoughts

The Super Bowl was great!

We watched it with about 14 other people - not at our house, which isn't big enough - and enjoyed it tremendously.

Here are some random thoughts:

It was a great game.
Super Bowl's aren't usually that "super", meaning that the games are most often duds. This one wasn't. In fact, Super Bowl XLII was one of the best football games I've ever seen. The best game I've ever seen was a high school playoff game between two teams from eastern Washington state playing 8-man football - Odessa and St. John-Endicott. The final score was 92-68! Honestly. Believe it or not, the score was 8-8 at halftime.

The commercials were average.
Some of them I loved, some were interesting, one was hideously awful, and most were somewhere in the middle. The Doritos ad was excellent (a man sets a mousetrap and a giant, human-sized, mouse comes through the wall and attacks him) as were several others.

The pregame recitation of the Declaration of Independence was moving.
Fox Sports put together a montage of past and present NFL players who, when they were all pu together, recited the Declaration. Awesome!

It was satifying to see the Patriots lose.
The Patriots were fined by the league at the beginning of the season for spying on another team using a video camera. They, and all other teams, were specifically warned not to do this (they had received evidence of it being done the previous year. In short, they cheated. The Patriots paid $750,000 in fines from the NFL and lost a draft pick. This will hurt their legacy and will them as a team.

Sports teaches life lessons.
Sports reveal character as much as they build it. Eli Manning may have developed character, confidence, and skill he didn't have before the fourth quarter of Sunday's game. Bill Belichick revealed his lack of character when he left the field before the game was over, thereby showing disrespect for his opponents and a lack of class in general.

Experts don't know as much as they think or as much as we think. How many of them picked the Giants? Very, very few. It's that way in the rest of life, too.

The saying is true - "It's not over until it's over." The game isn't over until the clock gets to 0:00. Don't count yourself or anybody else out. We don't know what may happen.

Another saying is true, too - "They don't play the game on paper." That means that "on paper" (when you look at all of the statistics), the Patriots hsould have won in a rout. But they didn't and that's why we play the game. Remember David and Goliath? A perfect example of the point.

Being together with people is important and meaningful.
We were the only Christians at our "party," so it wasn't Christian fellowship we were enjoying. Nonetheless, it was good to be together with others and share a meaningful time and experience. Usually I don't like watching games with a group of people, but the Super Bowl is an exception.

Just some thoughts about the Super Bowl.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

"The Gospel & Personal Evangelism" - Chapter 2

This chapter in Mark Dever's book is called "What is the Gospel?"

The gospel, according to Dever, is "good news." That's the basic meaning of the word euangelian in Greek. We, as Christians, have good news to proclaim to the world.

After the opening section of the chapter, Dever focuses his attention on what the gospel is not.

1. The good news is not simply that we are okay.
"Some people seem to think that Christianity is fundamentally a religious therapy session, where we sit around trying to help each other feel good about ourselves," writes Dever. He comments that Christianity actually deals realistically with human nature (which is fallen, sinful, and totally depraved). No, we are not OK! We are sinful and are in need of a Savior.

2. The good news is not simply that God is love.
Yes, "God is love," as the Bible says in 1 John 4:8. However, we cannot emphasize God's love at the expense of all of His other attributes. Dever makes the point that we immediately have a problem when we say this or think about it - we don't understand love very well at all.

3. The good news is not simply that Jesus wants to be our friend.
It may also be stated that "Jesus wants to be our example," writes Dever. According to Dever, "The Christian gospel is not a matter of mere self-help or even of a great example or a relationship to be cultivated." Jesus came to live a life of perfect obedience in our place, to die for our sins as our substitute, and to rise again from the dead on the third day. The Lord Jesus is the "friend who is closer than a brother," but He's much more than that and that isn't the gospel, anyway.

4. The good news is not that we should live rightly.
Of course, we should live rightly - there are way too many verses and passages in the Bible for it to even be questioned. But exhortations to obey God are not good news to non-believers or believers. We live rightly, and in a manner pleasing to the Lord, because we have already believed the good news, not as a substitute.

According to Dever, the right response to the gospel - the authentic gospel - is repentance and belief. In Acts 20:21, Paul says, "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus."

Dever ends the chapter by proclaiming the gospel in a minute or less: "The good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ's sacrifice and that God's wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God."

Overall, this was a good chapter, but I would have added several more ideas that are not the gospel.
~ The good news is not believing in Christ. Putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ is our response to the gospel, but it isn't the gospel.
~ The good news is not a call to follow Jesus. Following Jesus and being His disciple is our response to the gospel, not the gospel itself.
~ The good news is not "come to Jesus and He'll fix your problems." Yours and my problems might get fixed, but that can't be confused with the gospel. This man-centered "gospel" presents Jesus as "the cure for whatever ails you." Are you lonely? Believe in Christ and He'll be your friend. Do you lack purpose and meaning in your life? Come to Jesus and He'll give you purpose and meaning. Do you want success in life? Put your faith in Christ and He'll bless you with success. The fact is that the Lord Jesus doesn't always "fix" our problems. Sometimes He gives us more of them (in order to sanctify us), sometimes He fixes them (but in His own way), and He always gives us Himself.

The core of the good news - the gospel - is the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is an announcement of what actually happened in time, space, and history. It's not anything else.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

We Have Some Work To Do

A huge portion of the American public:

1. Has read two books in the last year - Harry Potter and The DaVinci Code.
2. Uses only two websites - Google and Facebook.
3. Visits only a few blog posts a day.
4. Watches only two or three TV shows, including the Super Bowl.
5. Eats only at McDonalds.
6.Watches only incredibly snarky or juvenile videos on YouTube.

Seth Godin reported this on his blog. I don't know where the information comes from, but it's interesting. If it's true, then we have a lot of work to do as followers of Jesus Christ.

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