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July 2006

July 27, 2006

Thursday July 27, 2006

Humor: A prison inmate in New York is being charged after making bomb and anthrax threats. Sadly, he did so in his own name and with his own prisoner number. CNN reports on a not-so-great criminal mind.

Family: Crystal at Biblical Womanhood has some good thoughts on recapturing the nobility of the home. “Home has lost its noble place in society so much so that people can’t imagine what there is to do there all day long. Any woman who dares consider staying home fulltime is made out to be a unintelligent woman living with half her brain tied behind her back.”

Music: Scott Aniol writes about the future of fundamentalist music in an article guaranteed to be controversial. “The answer is not to replace old pop music with new pop music. The answer is to reclaim the music styles that churches used and loved before they began to replace that music with pop styles.”

Archaeology: Fox has an interesting article about a medieval Psalm book that was dug out of a bog in Ireland.

July 26, 2006

disciplineofgrace.gifTwenty five years after its release, I finally read Jerry Bridges’ classic The Pursuit of Holiness (you can read my review here). I am glad to say that it only took me twelve to read The Discipline of Grace which has recently been republished by NavPress. A former ECPA Gold Medallion Book Award winner, this is a title I’m sure I will read again before another twelve years have elapsed.

July 26, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (or so) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

It is the Christian’s lot to be underappreciated. Whether this is good or bad I don’t know. But I do know that Phillip Way’s site, Pastorway, has to be considered underappreciated. There are few bloggers I’ve encountered that write more consistently and few that write at such length, all the while maintaining such depth. From what I’ve observed, Philip’s efforts in the blogosphere are inextricably connected to his ministry at Maranatha Community Church where he serves as pastor. His daily “Time In The Word” columns (TIME standing for Together for Inspiration, Motivation, and Encouragement) are usually tied directly to a current sermon or sermon series. They are always worth reading. And so I’m glad to nominate Pastorway as this week’s King for a Week.

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

July 26, 2006

Wednesday July 26, 2006

Blog: Two days after I wrote about encouragement, my biggest little sister experiences just such a moment. It’s a great story.

Weird: Someone sent me a link to a new online finger meditation tool. You got it! It’s a mini labyrinth courtesy of Grace Cathedral, a Lutheran church in San Francisco.

Alcohol: The Thirsty Theologian continues his excellent and widely-lined series on alcohol. He is the flavor of the week in the Christian blogosphere! “In this installment, I will bring Scripture to bear on the assertions I have made. To systematically go through every mention of wine or strong drink in Scripture is a long and tedious process. I know, I’ve done it. I won’t bore you with every one of them. The comments to this post will be the place to bring up passages that you believe I have overlooked or avoided. I will attempt to answer objections in a later post.”

Warren: Jollyblogger (wait, didn’t I link him yesterday?) posts a post-mortem on last week’s article criticizing Rick Warren for teaching Jewish people how to evangelize.

July 25, 2006

Over the past few weeks I have noticed a fair bit of discussion in the blogosphere about the subject of influence. Various bloggers have been attempting to define influence and to understand which bloggers are the most influential. This is a surprisingly difficult topic for influence truly is difficult to measure and define.

It is tempting to understand influence in ways that are easily quantifiable. Blogs have long been ranked primarily in two ways: traffic and inbound links. Traffic refers to the quantity of visitors a site receives and a site that receives a great number of visitors is perceived to be more influential than one that receives only a few visitors. Inbound links refer to the number of links to a blog from other blogs. The blog directory BlogStreet says simply, “Influential Blogs are those blogs which are blogrolled by other Top Ranking blogs.” This metric is premised on the understanding that bloggers will link mostly to sites that they consider worthy of attention. By placing a link on their site to another site, they are, in a sense, giving it a vote of approval and admitting influence.

I believe that these are both unsatisfying measures of influence. And yes, I understand that in saying this, I am indicating that a tool like Truthlaidbear is mostly useless. I have long observed that traffic and influence are not always related. It seems clear that it is not only quality or influence that draws readership, but controversy. Blogs that dwell on controversy (and in the Christian sector “controversy” is, unfortunately, often synonymous with “discernment”) tend to attract a lot of readers but I am not convinced that these sites hold influence proportional to their readership. Inbound links should be a measure of influence, but links are often tossed about with little thought, thus reducing their meaning and effectiveness in determining influence. Yet, because they are easy to measure, they continue to be the most common measures.

Adrian Warnock recently proposed several measures of influence. He proposed the following: The number of people who read your site or your “hit rate;” The number of people who read more than one page and then become regular readers; Your ability to send your readers to other websites and/or to cause them to want to buy certain products; The number of people who link to you in a blogroll; How many comments you get; How many other bloggers link to specific posts you write and interact with them; WHO reads your blog – if the leaders of your field pop by and then take your ideas to influence others, you have a bigger direct influence than someone who is read only by “novices;” How much of an impact positively or negatively you have on your readers.” These metrics are generally not easily-quantifiable and are thus, in some ways at least, less satisfying. However, I believe they are also quite useful. I’ll discuss each one very briefly.

The number of people who read more than one page and then become regular readers. I’m not entirely sure what Adrian means by this, but I assume he is discussing the number of pages per visit—how many pages the average visitor reads when he visits a site. This is a reasonable measure of influence, but can be easily upset by the way a blog is constructed. For example, some bloggers prefer to post the complete text of many articles on the main page of the site. A visitor to this site can read several day’s worth of articles without visiting a second page. On the other hand, some bloggers prefer to post only excerpts of each article on the main page. Such blogs will have a much higher number of pages read per visitor, and yet this has nothing to do with influence. Either way, this is very difficult to quantify.

Your ability to send your readers to other websites and/or to cause them to want to buy certain products. Or, put more succinctly, your ability to convince a reader to take a particular action. I consider this an important measure of influence and in many applications the most important measure. After all, for a blog based around politics or selling goods, this is the only measure that really matters.

How many comments you get. This metric is, at least to some extent, a byproduct of the number of visitors a site receives. Yet it is also an indication of the level of interest generated by a site’s posts. However, it can be influenced by the themes and contents of a particular site. When it comes to blogging, controversy generates buzz and excitement. I have often lamented the fact that an article describing some great work of God is likely to receive a lot less attention than an article expressing anger or disgust about another person. Controversy sells.

How many other bloggers link to specific posts you write and interact with them. This is an important measure of influence within the blogosphere and even beyond the blogosphere. After all, a person who chooses to discuss an article written by another blogger is admitting that the other person has some level of influence over him.

Who reads your blog – if the leaders of your field pop by and then take your ideas to influence others, you have a bigger direct influence than someone who is read only by “novices.” In other words, a site is influential if it influences other influencers.

How much of an impact positively or negatively you have on your readers. This one is nearly impossible to quantify, but is intriguing as a somewhat abstract idea. There are certain blogs that almost always leave me encouraged and satisfied while there are others that leave me beaten down and discouraged, even after only a short visit. Perhaps we can extrapolate long-term impact from these short-term experiences.

I think something needs to be added because different blogs have different emphases. For example, a site that directs people to other resources has a different, less-direct influence than one that is based primarily around teaching or exposition. Mitch Ratcliffe, who has done a good bit of thinking on this topic writes, “When looking at influence, we have to dig very deeply into narrow spectrums of network relationships.” He goes on to “contend that there are layers of influence based on different interests among writers, *but* the existing relationships we have with the writer (or podcaster or…) do carry over into areas where they are not necessarily “expert” or consistently writing about. Understanding how those marginal relationships can be amplified is important to seeing into the flow of influence.” In other words, bloggers are not influential within a void, but are influential within a particular area. That area may be as wide as the blogosphere or a sector of the blogosphere, or as narrow as only a small portion of it.

Joe Carter has also discussed influence recently and has determined that the most influential bloggers may be those who link most to others. “John Schroeder makes the intriguing claim that linking is a form of blogging servant leadership. ‘He’s absolutely right about everyone wanting to be a Chief (agenda-setting thinker blogs are one example) and no one wanting to be an Indian (i.e., value-adding linker blogs). While most bloggers tend to be both, I’m becoming more convinced that the truly influential bloggers will be those who spend the majority of their time on linking-style activities. Justin Taylor is a prime example. I work on a university/seminary campus and hardly a day goes by that I don’t hear some version of ‘I heard on Justin Taylor’s blog…’ He’s the kind of servant leader we could use more of in the blogosphere.” Without belittling Justin’s blog (one of my favorites) or Justin (a friend and I guy I want to grow up to be just like, even though we’re about the same age), I disagree with this claim. I do think link blogs like Justin’s hold some type of influence, but surely the greater influence is in the hands of those who write the material these blogs link to! Justin is clearly influential, but I am not convinced that this is a product of the number of other sites he links to.

So how do we measure influence? Truthfully, I don’t know that we can. There are clearly a few blogs in each sector that every other person knows or seeks to emulate. There is not a political blogger in the world who does not know of Instapundit. There is not a Christian blogger who does not know of Evangelical Outpost. These bloggers have somehow become influential and I would like to think they have done so simply by posting large quantities of good information and by dedicating themselves to the task of blogging. I do know that several companies are attempting to create a tool that will analyze the blogosphere and quantify the influence of each blog. I am eager to understand their methodology and to see the results of their efforts. I hope that, within the Christian blogosphere especially, we can have bloggers who do not seek to be influential, but who seek to serve others and to serve the Creator through this task. If He gives influence, may these men and women use it to honor and glorify Him.

As an aside, I noticed that Matt Galloway, who has also invested effort in understanding the blogosphere, has imagined a “Blog Influential trend tool.” “What would a Blog Influential trend tool like? It would have to have a way to set the base to be known Influentials within the area of interest - instead of a doomed to fail attempt at the whole blogosphere.” In other words, a person wishing to understand a particular sector of the blogosphere, but it technological, religious or political, would need to map the trends at only a handful of the most influential blogs. I suspect that Galloway is correct, and that whatever tools are created in the coming months and years, will use this type of methodology to map trends within the blogosphere.

July 25, 2006

Tuesday July 25, 2006

Theology: Justin Taylor has compiled a list of an excellent series written by Thabiti Anyabwile (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either and no, my spell checker doesn’t recognize it) entitled “Things I Learned While at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.”

Church: Meanwhile, in another corner of the blogosphere, Jollyblogger is compiling links dealing with the feminization of the church. And, as a bonus, he is offering some of his own comments.

Bible: Rick has been reading the works of F.F. Bruce and has posted a brief meditation on Paul, Apostle of Privilege. “I don’t know if a comparison to even someone like John F. Kennedy does justice to the elite status Paul was born into and spent his entire life in.”

Weird: My sister-in-law and I have been attempting to coin a word to describe the orange residue that accumulates on the fingers of a person eating cheesies (or cheese doodles as I believe you know them in the States). Would anyone like to suggest a possible term? If you nail it with the perfect word I’ll send you a book or something (complete with some cheesy fingerprints).

July 24, 2006

Early this morning I finally finished my slow and thoughtful reading of Jerry Bridges’ The Discipline of Grace. I rarely dwell so long on a single book, but because of the sheer quantity and quality of Bible-based teaching within this book, I felt compelled to read it slowly and meditatively. It was well worth the effort and the time spent.

Yesterday I read about the importance of disciplining myself to make choices that glorify God. Bridges says that “the practice of putting off sinful attitudes and actions and putting on Christlike character involves a constant series of choices. We choose in every situation which direction we will go. It is through these choices that we develop Christlike habits of living.” I was intrigued by this. I soon thought back to a time a couple of years ago when I discovered, much to my surprise, that I excelled in the not-too-spiritual gift of discouragement. I realized, through God’s work in my heart, that I was often being a discouragement to other people. I tended towards the pessimistic and sarcastic and seldom sought to bring encouragement. And so I put some effort into cultivating a spirit of encouragement. I initially found this to be a difficult task. One would not think it difficult to be an encourager, but I found that it truly was difficult to reverse course. I would be encouraging for a short time but would soon slip back into old patterns. I continued to be a discourager.

One day it occurred to me that I was going to have to discipline myself to encourage others. And so I took the strange and seemingly-artificial step of calendaring time to encourage others. It sounds strange, I know, but I opened up my Outlook calendar and created a 5-minute appointment recurring every three days. The appointment simply said “Encourage!” And so, every third day, while I was hard at work, a little reminder would flash up on my screen. “Encourage!,” it said. And I would. I would take the opportunity to quickly phone a friend or dash off an email to someone I felt was in need of encouragement. This felt very artificial. I felt like a fraud as I, with a heart of discouragement, attempted to be an encouragement to others. But as time went on, it began to become quite natural. I soon found that I no longer felt the same spirit of discouragement within me. Encouragement slowly became more natural. What had begun as a discipline that felt artificial, soon became a habit that felt natural.

There was a lesson in there for me. I agree with Bridges who often says “discipline without direction is drudgery.” Had I disciplined myself to be encouraging without first being convicted by the Spirit of my sin, and I had I attempted to be an encourager without first setting a direction that honored God, I doubt that He would have blessed my efforts. But I believe that He did bless them. I can still be as discouraging as anyone I know, but I also think that discouragement is no longer as quick to arise as it was before. More and more I find that I tend towards encouragement rather that discouragement. After a couple of months I was able to remove the recurring appointment from my Outlook calendar, for encouragement began to come naturally.

Bridges writes, “Habits are developed by repetition, and it is in the arena of moral choices that we develop spiritual habit patterns.” I believe this was proven true in my experience. “It is through righteous actions that we develop holy character. Holiness of character, then, is developed one choice at a time as we choose to act righteously in each and every situation and circumstance we encounter during the day.” I think there are some who feel that discipline brings about holiness. These are men and women who are unbelievably disciplined. They get out of bed at the same time each day, spent 22 minutes praying and 17 minutes reading the Bible. They feel that this discipline leads them closer to God. But I disagree. It is not discipline or commitment or conviction that makes us holy. Rather, “we become more holy by obedience to the Word of God, by choosing to obey His will as revealed in the Scriptures in all the various circumstances of our lives.” Conviction, commitment and discipline are necessary to making the right choices, but true spiritual growth can come only when we choose to obey God’s commandments, one at a time.

Discipline, commitment, conviction and Godly habits are closely related. It is important that we are disciplined, but only after we have been convicted and have set a direction towards godliness. At this time discipline and commitment can be used by God to work in us His holiness. Discipline is but a means to a much higher, more Christ-like end. It is a cruel master but a wonderful servant.

July 24, 2006

Monday July 24, 2006

Law: The Harris brothers are discussing Abraham Cherrix, a young man with Hodgkin’s Disease who wants to attempt natrual treatment but is being forced by the courts to undergo chemotherapy.

Theology: BPNews has an article about Dr. Sam Waldron and his contention that the New Perspective on Paul corrupts the heart of the gospel. “The ‘New Perspective’ on the apostle Paul’s teaching about salvation has far more in common with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church than it does with historic evangelical belief…”

Blog: Leslie Wiggins, who is one of the reviewers at Discerning Reader, has just begun her own blog which she is calling Lux Venit.

Books: Ligonier Ministries has just announced Reformation Trust Publishing, a new publishing imprint which will publish books by R.C. Sproul as well as “the best of today’s contemporary authors and theologians.”