Outsider Observations

For more than 2 decades, our family has lived outside of the United States. Our home is complicated. When we’re overseas, we tend to refer to the US where our extended family lives as our home, but when we’re actually in the US it doesn’t feel like home. Instead we wait for the opportunity to travel back to another home that we will never belong to.

All of that to say that we can confirm the Bible’s teaching that this world is not our home. (Hebrews 13:14-16) When we come back to visit the US, the months and sometimes years of absence make the changes in this country that we love a lot more pronounced. When we’re overseas, the US fades into the background. We continue to be aware of things at some level (and especially since our kids moved here), but we just don’t live in the day to day US drama.

We arrived in the US this time in November after two years abroad. We came back earlier than we originally planned, but in God’s timing we’ve been here for the last 4+ months. Several things have been especially striking during that time as we take note of things that are different than before and from our life abroad. This article will talk about some of the things I’ve noticed the most as an outsider/insider to the American life.

TV/News/Social Media

We’ve not watched news regularly for going on 25 years. I read headlines on the internet and if a story interests me, I like to take the time to read enough to find out what is really going on. In the US, even though I don’t seek out watching the news I sometimes find it on in front of me. This can be when I’m visiting someone’s house and most recently, when I’m working out at the gym.

The same goes for broadcast television. The only time I see the commercials the average TV watcher sees is when I’m in the US. For the last few months, I’ve watched sports broadcasts, a few tv shows and just a bit of news and I have the following observations:

  • Pharmaceutical companies must have an incredible amount of money because they advertise everywhere, especially one very large, very rich company that gained an immense amount of money the last few years. This should tell us that those companies (TV stations, news and entertainment programs and social media/technology companies) are beholden to the people who pay many of their bills. This is especially striking because the US is one of the only countries in the world that allows pharmaceutical companies to advertise. (New Zealand is the other one)
  • The Covid-19 vaccines are pushed constantly via all these platforms. This is just in your face all the time. The advertisements are one thing, but I was very surprised to see newscasters and talk show hosts talking about it and pushing it during their programming. Given what has come out (though not reported) regarding financial connections, I assume the motivation for this is primarily fiscal.
  • Sports has moved away from non-sports related messaging. Sports is usually something that brings people together. My entire life, I remember fans of very different backgrounds experiencing true joy as they come together to root for their favorite team. During my time at the University of Oklahoma, I have many fond memories of playing and watching sports with friends from the dorms and around campus. Sports brought us together. When we were here before in 2020, sports seemed like it was being dominated by political messaging. The sports I watch the most, basketball and football, seemed especially loaded with it. The last few months, I watched some of the NFL playoffs, the Super Bowl and I’m currently watching March Madness, as well as an NBA game every now and then. This may have happened slowly over time, but it’s striking how most of the things that made sports divisive in 2020 seem absent now.
  • The media seem to chase one silly diversion story after another. It is fairly common that a national or international story of some importance comes up and is either ignored by the media and buried within 24 hours in favor of something like: Johnny Depp/Amber Heard, Super Bowl halftime show outrage, Will Smith slaps Chris Rock or anything involving the former president. I feel like the media is constantly saying “Look over there!” to get people from paying attention to more important stories.
  • If a news story fits a narrative that whoever is in charge wants to push, it is immediately pushed with almost identical headlines and talking points on every outlet. Supposed “competitors” all running the same headlines. It’s kind of creepy.
  • Some stories that seem incredibly relevant, get almost no coverage. Here are a few examples:
    • Inner city violence that results in the deaths of many innocents, usually children from a minority background. Maybe this isn’t reported because it isn’t seen as news. Almost any night you can find someone murdered or killed accidentally by gunfire in these types of contexts. The majority of these involve illegal weapons and gang activity. I never see this reported, but these lives matter dearly to those involved, especially when innocent children are caught in the crossfire. One of the people I follow on Twitter tracks children killed in inner city shootings. It’s heart-breaking, but ignored by anything but local media.
    • Increasing, debilitating drug use seems like one of the biggest issues for our nation. The flow of illegal drugs, especially fentanyl is having a devastating impact (over 150 fentanyl overdose deaths as day in 2022).  This doesn’t seem to concern the media or our politicians to any great degree.
    • Mental health of youth – I occasionally see headlines related to this one on the internet, but I’ve yet to see it talked about as a concern by our leaders or as an emphasis on media by talking heads or the main voices out there. We’re coming out of the most difficult period for mental health, especially for youth, in the history of the modern world. Everyone had their lives disrupted from 2020-22, but none more than children/youth. This has had a horrible impact as shown by rising overdose deaths and suicides.
    • Insider trading by politicians. They regularly engage in buying or selling off stocks using information gained by their knowledge and sometimes by their very own policy decisions. Truly insane that this is allowed and not reported on.
  • Most news programs report perspectives, not news. They use inflammatory language to define differing views and the people who share those views or ignore their ideas all together.
  • There is very little debate. Ideas are not challenged or rebutted. Instead the dominate form of argument is labeling those you disagree with, belittling them and labeling their perspectives. I never hear any evidence presented to actually counter perspectives, they are only dismissed or suppressed. The art of reasoned debate is not practiced.

In person observations and interactions with real people:

  • People are tired of all of the Covid conversation. People want to move on, but find it difficult. Reminders come up constantly even though most people are not practicing any different behavior in their regular lives. (Note: my in person interactions have occurred in NM, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri)
  • Some people are bouncing back and doing well with interacting in person with people again, others not so much. Maybe it’s the perfect excuse for our introvert friends, but some people seem to be staying fairly disengaged. In my own circles, there are few of these. Most people seem to be enjoying engaging in face to face social interaction as they did before. This is also reflected in public events. I attended a basketball game and a musical and they seemed the same as they did pre-Covid.
  • People are really pretty nice and kind. There will always be people who engage in bad and even criminal behavior, but most of the people you deal with in person are kind and friendly. A big contrast to what you see on social media, which might lead you to believe most people hate each other.
  • Unfortunately, some people don’t care what is true. They only care about supporting whatever take their tribe has on the issue of the day. There seems to be very little intellectual curiosity to pursue the real story and the truth behind the sound bite. I wrote about this 3 years ago. 😦 People are much more divided by the national conversation that is being pushed by their information stream than actual real disagreements with people in their communities.
  • Many people are very distracted. There are so many entertainment options whether it is streaming media, video games or other leisure activities. Silence is missing from most people’s lives.

Final Thought:

My general impression is that people still know how to get along when they’re together. There are many things that unite people: common interests in things like the arts, sports, church and hobbies. These draw people together and allow them to interact without conflict. The goal of politicians is to make everything about politics, because if everything is about politics then they are more important and they have a reason to meddle politically in every area of our lives. There are trends in our country to make it less safe, less stable, poorer and overall a scarier place to live in. Who wins in that scenario? Not you and me. Probably the people who want us to be dependent on them for everything.

I know this was a different type of blog than I usually write. I hope you’ve found it interesting. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to comment or send your feedback.

The Joy of Work

With two children graduating from college soon and looking to start their careers I’ve been thinking about work quite a bit lately. Work can be defined in many different ways, but it seems the most common trend recently is to talk about it negatively.  Many of the memes you see are related to escaping work, waiting for the weekend, how little you get paid or how bad your boss and/or co-workers are.

For sure there are awful jobs. Sometimes it is that your tasks seem mind-numbingly boring and sometimes we hate work because of the environment. Work can be hard. It can be draining. Sometimes it can seem to take all the joy out of life. When I think about things like this it seems like the curse of Adam has really come to fruition.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, this is found in Genesis 3:17-19:

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree
    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,
the ground is cursed because of you.
    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.
18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you,
    though you will eat of its grains.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    will you have food to eat
until you return to the ground
    from which you were made.
For you were made from dust,
    and to dust you will return.”

That certainly makes it sound like we are cursed to have to work hard and suffer while doing it. No wonder so many people try to avoid work. Still, the passage is pretty clear. We will work, it will just be hard. It doesn’t say anything about avoiding work. In fact, the Bible has a lot of very negative things to say about the lazy sluggards who don’t take care of their own responsibilities. Things like:

  • The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. (Proverbs 21:25)
  • Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! (Proverbs 6:6)

We have a condemnation of refusing to work and the implication that a sluggard could learn a lot from an ant, who seems to be busy all the time. So I don’t think the idea of completely abandoning work is what we’re called to do, despite it sometimes being hard.

The title of this article is The Joy of Work, but can work be joyful? Is it even supposed to be? I guess that depends on what you define work as. In our modern world, work is usually defined as a job, but I can tell you I’ve sometimes worked much harder at something I volunteered to do than what I’ve been paid to do. That is still work.

I would define work as both more than and less than that which you’re paid to do. We don’t work for money, though we may often be paid for our work. We work to accomplish something. That is where we find joy in work. Solomon describes the joy of work in Ecclesiastes:

  • 5:19 – Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God.
  • 2:9 So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. 10 Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. 11 But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.

This is kind of a mixed message, which is common for Ecclesiastes. We are to find enjoyment in our toil, which is a gift from God. Solomon himself found great pleasure in hard work, but it in the end he pronounced all he worked for meaningless. Why? We’ll come back to that.

First, working to accomplishing something is what you can find joy and pleasure in. Building something, making something, growing something, helping someone. All of these things can give you joy. Working for the good of your family, your community, your friends and for mankind in general can be joyful. If you have a job where you’re doing something like that and at the end of the day you can look back at what you accomplished or who you were able to help, you might already find joy in your work.

But what about other jobs. What if my job doesn’t seem to help anyone? Or perhaps I’m so disconnected from whoever it is who receives the object of what I do down the line, I don’t really feel like my job has any impact on anything except the company I work for’s bottom line? This is where work gets the bad rap that it might at least partially deserve.

God didn’t create us to spend our days in emptiness. That’s true whether we are talking about the laziness of the sluggard or a job that is nothing but empty calories. We are made for meaning. If we get up every day and feel like what we’re doing has no meaning or purpose, we’re on a very depressing path.

Part of the problem is the modern world we live in. Progress was supposed to make life easier. Technological breakthroughs were going to give us more time, not less. The early predictions at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution were that we would soon only need to work 15 hours a week to meet all of our needs. So what happened?

In preparation for writing a book this next year, I’ve been studying the lives of my ancestors, the early settlers of the plains. They worked hard to build what they had. They started with nothing and quite literally carved out a home and existence in the cursed ground. The struggle of Genesis 3 listed above seems to align quite well with their day to day grind, and yet out of this struggle there seems to be joy. They had little of what we would recognize as our material desires and yet the connection between their hard work and what they accomplished was clear. They knew they were working for themselves and by their hard work they would improve their lives.

Now our lives have been what one author describes as ‘mechanized’. Instead of conforming to the rhythm of the sun and the seasons, we are driven by the artificial timeclock that is imposed by our employer and society and we have been seduced into social laziness as well. Our personal connections are now in our phone, not on our porches, pubs and churches.

Mass production disconnected us from the output of our labors. In the past, people worked to produce the objects needed to sustain the bodily existence of oneself and your family. To feed yourself, warm your house and cloth yourself. Now, our work is for the benefit of those far away, completely disconnected from our immediate community. The meaning of work can be difficult to see under these circumstances. We often work for anonymous others or just for the corporation. “Labor has been changed from a cumbersome but inherently meaningful existential task into a disembodied utilitarian necessity.” (Desmet)

The other problem is the rise of the administrative state. People who don’t produce something or help people, but whose job is to push government and organizational policies. Anthropologist David Graeber sites the massive growth in this sector. He describes a common scenario in one of his books as follows:

“Kurt: The German army hires a subcontractor for their IT work. The IT company hires a subcontractor who takes care of the logistics side. The logistics company hires a subcontractor for their personnel management, and I work for that company. Suppose a soldier moves to an office two doors down the hallway. Instead of simply picking his computer up and taking it there, he has to fill out a form. The IT company receives the form, people read it and approve the application, and send it to the logistics company. The logistics company then approves the computer to be moved to the office two doors down the hallway and asks us for staff. My company’s office workers then do their thing, and that’s where I come in. I receive an e-mail: “Come to barrack C at time B.” Usually those barracks are about a hundred to three hundred miles from my house, so I rent a car. I drive the rental car to the barracks, I let the dispatcher know that I have arrived, fill out a form, disconnect the computer, put the computer in a box, seal the box, ask someone from logistics to carry the box to the room five meters further down the hallway, I reopen the box there, fill out another form, reconnect the computer, call the coordinator to let him know how long it took me, have a few people sign off, drive my rental car home, send all the paperwork to the coordinator and get paid. So instead of the soldier being allowed to move his computer five meters further down the hallway, two people have to drive a total of six to ten hours, fill out about fifteen forms and waste more than four hundred euros in tax money.”

This doesn’t make sense at all, but there are now millions of jobs just like this in place around the world. So why do these jobs exist? They grow out of institutional mistrust and an inability to tolerate risk and uncertainty. The need for things to be done in a certain way, creates the need for people who will check to make sure it is done that way. The distance created by the industrialization and globalization of our world, leaves many companies feeling like they need to hire people to control all of these processes.

What we end up with is a world with millions of people working jobs where there only joy is in enforcing rules and telling other people what to do. Perhaps you’ve experienced this in your own work or dealing with a government or institutional position in a structure in your community, like the healthcare system. There is no true joy in this kind of work. I would advise you to do your best to avoid jobs like these. In my opinion it is in the administrative area that so many of the negative workplace memes find their true partner.

So where is joy to be found in our labors? In some fields, as I mentioned earlier, it is natural. If you are in helping profession where you work directly with the people you’re assisting or if you are in production and are fortunate enough that you get to see the results of what you’ve produced and the joy it brings to the consumers/recipients, then you have the opportunity to experience the joy of work directly. Teachers, nurses, doctors, plumbers, electricians, builders and many other jobs keep you grounded in where your work is meaningful.

But what if you find yourself in another job? One where it is difficult to know what impact you’re having. I would encourage you to learn more about what you’re doing and its connection to the big picture of helping society. You need to know that your labors are not in vain. It’s possible that what you’re doing is incredibly significant and helps thousands of people, but unless you take the time to find out that connection you may have a great difficulty finding joy in your work.

Now back to the sluggard. Some people think that there is great joy to be found in not working. They believe that if it were possible to get paid to do nothing but indulge ourselves that would be the most desirable outcome. Promises are often made, especially by politicians that they will enable some of the people in our society to receive everything they need without working.

Everyone enjoys a break for a time, but to live like this indefinitely is a very sad life. I don’t mean to live without a job, but I mean to live without work or a purpose. To go through life only living for ourselves and pleasure is where you come back to Solomon’s statement, “Everything is meaningless”. We were made for more than that. Our lives are worth more than momentary pleasure. If you want that path, then you have my pity.

Whether you work for money or other reasons, you need to find your purpose. You were made for meaning and to live a life of no meaning is a sad path indeed. Choose work that fulfills a purpose. That adds value, not takes away. That gives life instead of taking it. That is the true path to finding joy in our work.

Some helpful resources:

Cancer, Sin & Death

Everyone I know has seen their lives touched by cancer. It’s a powerful destructive force and perhaps the worst news you can receive from your health care professional. This last year our family has heard this news far too often. All of us are still grieving the loss of loved ones to cancer’s appetite.

To understand anything about cancer and the way it impacts the body is to recognize what a perversion it is to the natural order. Our bodies are miraculous. They are designed to work in a glorious symphony with overlapping systems supporting each other. Many of these systems would fail if they were not calibrated to work perfectly with the rest of the body. The miracle of life, is indeed a miracle and it’s impossible to believe that it could have been generated from random chance.

Life and our bodies are the result of intricate, precision design and we can see the results of this as our bodies grow, develop and heal. Of course, there are exceptions to this and maybe we’ve experienced that ourselves. Sometimes, our bodies don’t work in the way they’re designed.

This is what cancer is. It’s a corruption of the body’s created order. It takes what should be a normal process of the body (cell growth) and uses it to destroy and kill. I try to be careful about using terms like hate too frequently, but I hate cancer. I hate what it does. I hate the way it has affected the people I love. I would guess that if you’ve been impacted the same way as I have you probably feel as I do.

Recently, as we were caring for a loved one who was struggling in their fight against cancer, I couldn’t help but think how similar it is to another destructive force in our lives. That is the force of sin. Like cancer, sin is a corruption of God’s design for creation and the natural order.

We are made with certain desires and inclinations. This is a part of our design in much the same way as our physical design. Some of these are common to all people and others are unique to us as individuals, but for all of these God has given us a framework in which to function.

Some people try to paint the Bible and God’s laws as a long list of ‘thou shalt not’s’, but you are better off if you look at them as God’s plan for you to function as you were created to be. Some of God’s Word provides us with a guide for healthy living, but in other sections it lays out clear markers that we’re not to cross. Breaking these barriers is called sin.

Sin is when we take God’s best plan for us and cast it aside to follow our own desires on a destructive path. God knows us. He knows who we should be. He knows what’s best for us, but still we turn to sin. This is to our own dismay.

Sin may provide a short term pleasure and fulfillment, but it ends up cracking the foundations that God has laid for our lives.

Whenever Non-Christians hear Christians talk about sin, there are usually many accusations that come. Christians are accused of judging others. Of thinking they are better than you. Of being self-righteous hypocrites. Of putting themselves in the place of God. But when I look at people lost in sin, I feel nothing but grief and sadness.

The pain and suffering that a life of sin brings can be just as destructive as cancer in its own way. When someone you love makes one bad choice after another it’s a tragedy. Who hasn’t looked at the life of a loved one and wished you could take control and protect them from a choice that will bring harm to them and others. I imagine this is how God feels for all of us from time to time.

God describes his own grief over the sins of people in many places in the Bible, but I was recently reading in the book of Isaiah and found a very vivid description. In Isaiah 5, we find a list of woes for those who have chosen a different path, apart from God. Read this passage and hear the grief of God as He mourns for disobedient children:

18 Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit,
  and wickedness as with cart ropes,
19 to those who say, “Let God hurry;
    let him hasten his work
   so we may see it.
The plan of the Holy One of Israel—
   let it approach, let it come into view,
  so we may know it.”
20 Woe to those who call evil good
    and good evil,
who put darkness for light
    and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
    and sweet for bitter.
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
    and clever in their own sight.

Isaiah 5:18-21

Woes can be seen as a form of judgement, but when I read this passage, I hear a grieving Father, suffering as He watches His children suffer. Sin is the destructive force that takes that which is good and right and pure and corrupts it into a trap that is difficult to escape.

We should fear sin in the same way that we fear cancer. As cancer destroys the body, so sin destroys the soul. The death of a physical body on this earth is a great tragedy, but eternal damnation apart from God is a much greater one. Cancer has no real cure. There are many treatments, but few guarantees. Once we’ve heard those horrible words, “you have cancer,” we face an uncertain future.

Fortunately, sin does have a solution. In God’s created order, He made a way out of sin. This isn’t a magic cure, but rather a solution based on Christ, God’s Holy Son. Sin could never touch Him. It has no impact on Him. He lived a sinless life and died a perfect death. Now we can be free of death through the power of Christ and His holy sacrifice.

Later in Isaiah, the prophet writes in chapter 7, verse 14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Immanuel means God with us. God came down and lived in the land of sin and cancer and death, but it could not claim Him. Now, we have the possibility of a life forever with God through the sacrifice of His son.

Cancer is an awful, evil thing, but there are worse things than physical death. If you are alive today and do not know Jesus Christ, you face a fate far worse than cancer. Turn to Him, repent of your sins and believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life and then died on a cross for our sins. By putting your faith and trust in Him, you can live a life free of the threat of spiritual death. That is something you can guarantee today, right now. That is something worth celebrating, not grieving.

Five of the Biggest Lies You’re Being Told RIGHT NOW!

If you hold to a Christian, Biblical point of view that should be the framework for the way you view reality. We believe that God is the creator of the universe and the Bible is His life manual for His followers. We should not expect the world to hold to similar values and to view the world in the same way. Unfortunately, many followers of Jesus today find themselves immersed in a constant flow of information that shoves a different view down your throat.

I started thinking about this topic over a month ago, when I realized how little some of the things that are valued in Scripture are valued in the books, movies, videos and articles you’ll find around you. When I was growing up in church, it was common to repeat the refrain, “Be in the world, but not of the world.” This was usually offered with little explanation. There isn’t a direct passage that equates to this statement, but it usually is tied back to the writings of John and the teachings of Jesus:

In John 17:14 Jesus says, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.”

1 John 2:15

If there is no difference between us and the world, then we are most likely conforming to the standards of the world, rather than the Bible. This article will look at just a few of the messages that are being pushed that are contrary to specific scriptures. This isn’t a comprehensive list and I may write a part two in the future, but these are one’s that I’ve found especially destructive when I think about them from both the perspective of how they relate to Biblical Truth and the negative impact they have on mental health.

  1. Children are a burden, not a blessing – Almost every meme I’ve seen related to parenting reinforces this idea. You’ve seen them. Children are something you have to endure. They take away your freedom. They cost a ton of money. They are loud and annoying. We can’t wait until they are in bed/gone/with the grandparents/grown up. All of these are variations on the theme that having and raising children is not a good thing. Stop for a minute and think. When is the last time you saw raising kids portrayed in a way where those in the midst of the busy, hard years were joyful about their kids. It’s very rare.

    This doesn’t mean that raising kids isn’t hard. It can be difficult. It can require a lot of energy, both mental and physical. Any Christian parent should go into parenting with the perspective that they can only succeed in raising these kids with the help of the Lord. We aren’t sufficient to perfectly parent in the way that God designed our kids to need. We need the help of Him and of a vibrant Church community. That’s essential.

    In contrast to this perspective, the Bible is very clear that children are a blessing. People in the Bible are blessed with children. They are a sign of a good thing from God. Psalm 127:3 specifically refers to them as a “gift from the Lord.” People pray for children and are excited when God answers those prayers. This perspective is also highly impacted by the second lie in our list. . .
  2. Raising kids is not an important job/endeavor – One of the main reasons children are seen as a burden is because the raising of kids is seen as if it has secondary importance. Having to stay home with the kids is like a prison sentence. Summer break can’t be over soon enough. Stay at home moms or dads are seen as setting aside what is really important (their careers) to settle for doing something less significant.

    I’ve been surprised to interact with people who have this viewpoint. For my wife and I, raising our kids is perhaps our greatest area of ministry. My wife being involved in a career which allowed her to be there with the kids whenever they were home is not a sacrifice, but an investment in eternity. Planning family time and vacations that celebrate our family and allow for meaningful time together is well worth whatever it costs. It’s common to talk about problems like Climate Change and make statements like, “the future of the planet is at stake”, but with parenting, the future of everything is at stake. We are wise to make raising kids a priority and to not get distracted or diverted from this pivotal activity.

    The Bible affirms that we are not just to have children, but we are to actually do something with the kids we have. We should train them (Proverbs 22:6). We should discipline them (Proverbs 29:17, 13:24). We shouldn’t provoke them, but bring them up with instruction and discipline (Ephesians 6:4). We shall spend time with them, not hosting a class for them, but teaching them as we go, involving them in our daily lives (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). When we invest in our kids, we touch eternity and the future.
  3. Marriage is a prison – marriage is rarely portrayed as a positive union. Most portrayals focus on what is given up to be in a marriage. The loss of freedom. The loss of intimate relationships with the guys/girls. Giving up any hope of ever having fun again. Single life is shown to be a never ending party. Married people are always jealous of their single friends. People are encouraged to delay marriage as long as possible or to avoid it all together.

    This is a stark contrast to what is often found in the world. Marriages that are based on Christian love persevere and grow in that love as time goes on. People experience the joy of lifelong companionship and of having someone in your life who understands you like no other. Single life is lonely and unhappy for many (not all) and it is difficult for single people to continue to grow in the Lord unless they are intentional about inviting others into their life. In Christian marriage, you have a refining fire living in your house. Two sinful, imperfect people who are committed to growing together. They are forced to deal with issues as God uses your spouse to refine you over time.

    Once again, the Bible speaks of finding a spouse as finding a good thing (Proverbs 18:22). We are blessed through the gift of a spouse who loves God and structures their life around His Word. As we are both transformed more into the likeness of Christ over time, we not only benefit others, but we become a living example of the relationship between Christ and His Church, which is referred to in the Bible as His bride.
  4. It doesn’t matter what you do with your body – This lie has many different expressions. One is substance abuse. You can eat, drink, smoke or use any substance and it doesn’t matter. That is the lie that we’re told. We are given license to abuse the beautiful creation of God that is our physical personhood in all manner of ways. Another examples of this lie is as it relates to sex and pornography. We are told that our sexual life is separate from who we are. The world would tell  you that you can have sex with whoever you want, and it won’t impact you negatively. We are told pornography isn’t harmful or is okay in certain contexts.

    All of this denies not only the physical damage that is done to our bodies, but also the mental damage as we fill our lives with experiences that don’t just disappear from  our minds when they’re over. These ideals are pushed on younger and younger people, doing severe damage to them as they are learning to understand the world.

    The Bible tells us that our body is a temple (1 Corinthians 6:19). This doesn’t mean that we should worship our bodies. Rather it means that our bodies are yet another vessel for worshiping God. He created us. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We are given the guidance to do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). All of this holds out our body as something as significant and not just something to be used and abused. It also holds to the view that the person is body, soul and spirit and each part of that is connected. Don’t damage who you really are by throwing away your health and physical well-being. All of this impacts our self-image.
  5. You are what others think of you – This is very dangerous and is heavily amplified by our ‘like’ culture on social media. The goal of this lie is to tie up our whole identity in the approval of others. Thus, our value can constantly change from one moment to the next as our popularity soars or dives. Who we are is also seen as fluid and people are often encouraged to change who they are (or who they say they are) for the sake of gaining approval of others.

    The Bible contradicts this with incredibly high view of who we are. This links to another article that catalogs some of the wonderful things the Bible says about you. The greatest boost to your identity and self-consciousness is understanding both our own limitations and failings and how that doesn’t change what God says about who we are. Celebrate your identity in Christ!

Don’t get sucked into the lies the world is telling you. I can testify for myself. I love my marriage, I’m blessed by my kids and I want to live my life, my whole life for Him. It’s right. It’s true. I pray you find that out for yourself and rest in the comfort of God’s truth.

Is There Right & Wrong?

Is there such a thing as right and wrong? There are different ways to look at this question. One is to ask: Are there moral absolutes? Things that regardless of the circumstances, there is only one answer that is the right one, based on moral grounds.

Another way to consider this question is to look at questions, such as moral dilemmas and consider if there is a right thing to do and a wrong thing to do. I took an Ethics class in graduate school and the professor loved to throw out scenarios that would lead the class to arguing over where you draw the line in an ethical dilemma. It’s possible to come up with some pretty challenging situations. Most of these would never occur in real life, but they can be fun to argue about. Here are a few examples:

  • Life boat – the ship is sinking and there are lines of people boarding lifeboats. Some have families with young children, some have elderly people, and others have healthy young singles. Would you line up as so to help one of the groups that need it the most, or stick with the healthy young people, who might have the best chance of survival?
  • Hit & Run – you’re an excellent driver, but while driving home in the rain, a man in all dark clothes wanders in front of your car and you hit him. When you get out to check on him, you find he is dead and stinks of alcohol and seems as if he might be homeless. Do you turn yourself in, report it anonymously or leave him there without saying anything?
  • You buy several clothing items on sale at your favorite store. When you get home, you realize one of the items is not on the receipt. Do you go back to the store and pay for it or just let it go?

The interesting thing is most people would agree what is the “right” thing to do in these circumstances. These answers would be the same in a variety of cultures. People know they are supposed to help others. They know it’s wrong to leave the man’s body by the side of the road and they know they should pay for the clothes that weren’t on the receipt. The discussion comes when people are trying to justify not doing what they know to be right.

So, are there universal truths? Things that are always right and others that are always wrong? There are, but there is also an erosion of this taking place. Definitions are changing and what is publicly heralded as morally wrong seems to be dynamic. I’ve read a lot about this movement the last few years. Two of the most influential books I’ve read are The Other Worldview by Peter Jones and The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl R. Trueman. Both those books are very helpful on this topic, as well as providing a wider viewpoint on cultural/societal changes and their history.

Today, I want to talk about the conscience. That internal sense of what is the right thing to do. It’s an important foundational element of society and having met people from around the world, I can honestly say that you want to live in a society that acknowledges this and supports the development and reinforcement of a moral compass. In the world today, those who live in societies without a moral compass are constantly trying to flee to places where it is present.

To illustrate this, let’s look at another ethical dilemma. In this one, we have an elderly woman. She is waiting beside a busy street. She is obviously quite feeble. In the ethical dilemma, you can ignore her or help her across the street. Most people know that the “right” thing to do is to help her, but in their personal lives, they might find it justifiable to ignore her for one reason or another. But what if we introduce a third option. What if a person came along and did neither, but instead pushed the old woman into traffic, in front of a speeding bus, killing her instantly.

What is your reaction to that? I can tell you that if it is anything other than viewing this is an absolutely wrong, unacceptable choice, you would be defined by society as abnormal, or even sociopathic. It isn’t normal to see a person in need and to lash out at them to cause them harm. Someone who would do something like that goes into the same category as the person who would torture puppies and kittens. We all know that there is something wrong with that person. The same way we know that pushing the lady into the street is absolutely wrong.

Taking a life, especially an innocent life, is common ground for a moral compass to find purchase. Those who hold to the sanctity of human life, will find a desire to defend life where it is found.

But when does life cease to have value? Is there a time when it’s okay to push life in front of a bus? Where do you draw the line?

  • Do pre-meditated cold blooded murderers deserve to have their lives ended? Some people believe that is an appropriate use of the death penalty. Others might argue that it is wrong to kill them, thinking instead we should offer them the opportunity to reform themselves and repent of their wrongdoings. It is fair to say that there are people living in the world today who would gladly push a person like this in front of the bus.
  • In the scenario above, the woman is elderly. But what if she was not only aged, but also very ill. What if she wanted to end her life, rather than face the suffering of several years of dealing with terminal cancer or another ailment. In several countries today, such a person’s life could be ended in full cooperation with the state.
  • What if the sick person is not elderly. What if they could be cured, but they don’t wish to be. The person doesn’t wish to go on. They don’t wish to fight. In Canada today, this person is able to exercise their end-of-life rights, with the help of a medical professional and that person can essentially, push the person that wants to die in front of a bus. Their life has been deemed unworthy of continuing by themselves and the state.
  • What if it is an elderly sick person who wants to live. A person who is determined to fight with all their will to stay on this earth as long as possible, but they live in a country that looks at the person’s age and the expense of the treatment and determines the cost isn’t worth it. The state or the state healthcare system can determine to shorten their life, if they determine the cost is too high.
  • What if the person is an illegal immigrant. Someone who broke the law to be in the country they are living in. Perhaps they fled economic destitution, maybe they are fleeing religious persecution. If we knew that returning them to their country of origin would cause them to be executed, is it justified because of the circumstances? What if they face starvation? Maybe the risk to their life is only 30%, maybe 20%. At what point is it okay to push them into the street?
  • What if it’s a baby, a new life. What if the parents don’t want the baby. The baby is seen as a burden. Something that might derail their career. Something that might cause them to have to change their plans. In many places in the world, the greatest determiner of whether or not the baby is thrown in front of the bus, is if the parents want it. Different places draw the line in different places on this issue, but in 7 US states and 2 countries (N. Korea and China), an unwanted child can be killed up until the moment of birth.

These are just a few examples of where the world is contracting it’s moral norms, eroding the edges of right and wrong. Maybe you think all of these lives have value. Maybe you draw a line in a different spot than others do and have found yourself engaged in an argument over where to draw those lines. My point in this post is that the lines are moving. They are not where they were a generation ago. In some cases, they are not where they were 10 years ago. There are people out there who because of their worldview, make it their business to blur and move the lines of what is defined as right and wrong in this world. (This idea is developed well in the books mentioned above)

What can we do?

  • Know what you believe. Don’t be satisfied with a poorly formed worldview. You should have the self-respect and respect for others to refine your beliefs. Then, when they are challenged, you will know what you stand for.
  •  Know the foundation for your beliefs and strive to understand it. What informs your belief? Popular opinion? The perspectives of those you respect and trust? The Bible? If your beliefs are based on things that constantly change depending on which way the wind is blowing, they probably aren’t really your beliefs.
  • Teach others a strong moral foundation (Especially our children). If the next generation is not taught, other things will be caught.
  • Pray to the Lord of all for His help in this struggle and His mercy as we and others we care about face the possible consequences of this path.

I believe there is such a thing as ultimate right and wrong. I believe that the Bible helps us understand it and that God has created us with a general sense of what those things are. But I also believe that sense can be deadened or corrupted over time. There are cultures in the world where it is normal to abuse women and children. There are places where rape is accepted and tolerated. There are places where it is honorable to cheat, lie and steal against someone who is outside of your tribe. There are many places where we can find this corruption of right and wrong, and it is one more horrible thing in this world that leaves us longing for a better place.

Christians who live in societies that were built on a Christian influence might not know what they have until it’s gone. But believe me, those who suffer in areas where the reforming work of Christ was never present, know full well what it is to live without moral standards. It is a path of great sorrow.

What sorrow for those who say
 that evil is good and good is evil,
that dark is light and light is dark,    
that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.

Isaiah 5:20 NLT

The Possibilities of a Life – Book Review

Most of the books I review and recommend are widely available. Many of them are bestsellers. Today, I’m going to review a book that you will need to work to get. It’s not on Kindle. It’s not on Nook. In fact, it isn’t available in an eBook version at all. If you want to read a copy of this book, you’re going to have to go out of your way for it.

The Possibilities of a Life: The Autobiography of Max Barnett is only available from the Student Work Development Foundation, a ministry that exists, like many things, because of the work of Max Barnett and the many who’ve partnered with him over decades of ministry. So, why did I read and choose to review a book that is so difficult to track down. Because I personally benefitted from Max’s commitment to the Lord through his desire to invest in the lives of thousands of University students, just like me.

I love to read Christian biographies. Humans are frail creatures of dust and it is our nature to falter and fall. Many followers of Christ do not “endure to the end.” When we read some of the great Christian biographies, we get to read the encouraging stories of those saints who persevered. What a blessing for them and us to read about their lives and how in spite of all of the challenges, they were able to stay faithful.

Max is still with us. He continues to do more in his “retirement” years than many do in full time ministry. It would be worth your time to look him up, or to listen to one of his talks on Discipleshiplibrary.com. What you will find is a man who does not have a strong speaking voice, who might not have the most impressive appearance, but who has echoed a message to all who will hear over more than 50 years of ministry. The same message of our Lord and Savior, “Go and make disciples.”

I count myself as one of those disciples. I benefitted from the ministry of Max and others during my time at the University of Oklahoma, as did my wife. Max’s life goal is “To know, love, and glorify God and be used of Him to raise up qualified laborers in significant numbers as fast as possible. To help fulfill the Great Commission and lead my family to do the same.”

This book recounts the work of the Lord to allow Max to fulfill that goal. It starts by recounting his humble beginnings in Texas, his training and early ministry at Texas A&M and in Ft. Worth and continues through his 37 years serving at my alma mater, The University of Oklahoma. It is a story of faithfulness. The faithfulness of the Lord and the faithfulness of Max to his calling.

His career documents the process of starting over, again and again, to invest in a new group of students. Max spent only about 4+ years with each of us, but the impact was eternal and spans far beyond those short years. This book can only highlight a few of the many stories of lives impacted by and for the Gospel.

I appreciate that he included a section on his retirement years, from 2004 to present. Max left behind his ministry at OU at the age of 68 and was immediately sought out to train others, provide wisdom to other ministries and to continue to serve the Lord in a variety of roles, some of which are still ongoing.

I would encourage you, to pick up this book. In reading it, you will be challenged in your own walk with the Lord. You will see the blessing of what Eugene Peterson calls, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.” We could all benefit from learning from Max’s example. Follow him, as he has followed Christ. It is journey with many possibilities.

I’ll end with something from one of the Appendixes on the value of memorizing Scripture. One of the first things I learned from Max, and an important part of his ongoing walk with the Lord.

The Value of Memorizing Scripture
(Treasuring the Word of God)

“I began to memorize Bible verses while a university student and have continued to do so. I have often said, “I would not trade those verses locked into my mind for 10 million dollars.” My life has been so enriched as I have memorized verses, primarily choosing those God used to speak to me in my Quiet Time. I have reviewed, meditated, and prayed over those great truths from God through the years and have sought to live them out in my life.”

In the book, Max provides these verses to get you started, which forms the acronym: GLORIFY THE LORD, beginning with the first verse he led me and thousands of students like me to memorize.

Glorify the Lord1 Corinthians 10:31
Love Matthew 22:36-39  
ObedienceJohn 14:21
RejoicePhilippians 4:4
IntercessionColossians 4:12
FaithHebrews 11:6  
Youth  1. Timothy 4:12
Thanksgiving1 Thessalonians 5:18
HindrancesMark 4:19  
Edification  Ephesians 4:29
Lordship of ChristLuke 9:23
OthersPhilippians 2:3-4
RebukeProverbs 28:23
DedicationRomans 12:1-2

Reality vs. Pseudo-Reality

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about reality in the last six months. If you’ve read my first novel, After It’s Over, you might have a hint to why that is.

Growing up, I enjoyed reading fiction. What started with mostly comic books and choose your own adventure books when I was in grade school grew into a fairly diverse range of fantasy, mystery, science fiction and horror books throughout middle school and high school.

The last 30 years, since I graduated from OU, I’ve still read some fiction, but I’ve spent more time reading and listening to non-fiction. There is still a lot of variety in my reading. I don’t just read books related to my field, but love to read across a wide range of topics and subjects.

When writing fiction, the writer is able to shape reality. In a sense, the writer plays god with the lives of the people and world that they live in. Some writers take this to the extreme, creating worlds that are not bound by any of the laws of our universe. That is an exciting, but dangerous path. We know our universe, we live in it and for the most part, common sense gives us a joint understanding of its nature.

When an author starts creating their own universe that plays by different rules, they have to be very conscious to be consistent with what they have created, otherwise the reader will find it confusing and be distracted from whatever story is being told. One of the best essays I’ve ever read on this idea was written by the prominent science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. It was written way back in 1978 and is entitled, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.”

In that essay, there are several interesting quotes, which might seem even more relevant today. He writes, “today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups — and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into the heads of the reader, the viewer, the listener. Sometimes when I watch my eleven-year-old daughter watch TV, I wonder what she is being taught.”

He goes on to write, “What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind.”

His point being that we are surrounded by people who are trying to tell us what is real. They are trying to define reality for us in much the same way that a fiction writer does for their readers. We use the word in this way, but I think it is better to use the author’s wording, “pseudo-realities”.

Today, when you look at your devices and consume content, make no mistake, you are being fed a consistent stream of pseudo-realities. These may be mixed in with the truth, but they may also be completely incompatible with the truth.

So, what is reality? What is truth? I’ve talked about truth before on this blog, and the Bible has a lot to say about truth. I’ll look at that in a moment, but you may be surprised that this secular author actually came up with a fairly good definition of reality:

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

There is a strong emphasis today on defining our own realities, as if a person can believe their way to living on a path that isn’t aligned with the truth. But believing something is true isn’t enough to make it true. There is Truth. There is Reality.

When I was studying to be a counselor, we learned a lot about cognitive behavioral therapy. It is system of therapy based on the idea that false beliefs or cognitive distortions and their associated behaviors are what bring destructive patterns into people’s lives and that by helping them to overcome or change those distortions, you can lead them towards better mental health.

I found this form of therapy very compatible with Christian truth. As a Christian, I believe God created the world based on certain natural laws and He created people to function in certain ways and to crave and desire certain things.

Because of this, I believe all truth is God’s truth. Not all truth is found in the Bible, but the truth we find in the world, whether it be through scientific investigation or simple observation, exists because it was created by God.

Your life and mine are better when we live and walk in the truth. As we build our life around the truth and align our lives with the way the world is, we will not have to suffer the mental incongruity that often leads to unnecessary depression and other psychological dysfunction.

The Bible talks about this in both the Old and New Testaments:

Teach me Your way, O Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.

Psalm 86:11

I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

3 John 1:4

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Ephesians 4:25

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32

Over the course of the last year, I started writing fiction stories of my own. They are fiction and they are not what would usually be called Christian Fiction. Instead, my goal in writing these stories is to tell stories that ring with truth throughout them. Stories that align with truth even as they venture into areas that are too fantastical to be reality. It’s an interesting line to walk along.

Today, there are any number of escapes from reality. We can entertain ourselves with ideas that go in any direction we so desire. My encouragement to you today is not to venture too far from the truth. We are created to live in reality, not in some man-made pseudo-reality. Put down your device and look around that the world God created. Read the Bible. Spend time in real conversations with people face to face. Speak truth to one another. These are the kind of things that will keep you grounded in the truth. It is a better way.

You Represent the Middle, and You’re Not Alone

Extremes sell. Conflict sells. Division creates interest.

When I studied English Literature at the University of Oklahoma, we learned a lot about the movements of a story. The story arc creates a good story, by not neglecting some essential elements:

  • Rising and Falling – The story isn’t stagnant, especially as it relates to the central characters. They start off high and go low, or vice versa. They can have several ups and downs, but it isn’t flat. Something needs to happen. What?
  • A Crisis/Climax – The crisis forces the character to make a critical choice, leading to the height of the action, when things can go either way, the climax. We need to care about the characters, otherwise our investment will be minimal.

Late last year, I started writing my first novel. It caused me to remember some of these important lessons. I wanted to communicate truth through fiction, but it needed to be interesting. The story needs to have a plot with the elements listed above. When my novel is released next week, I hope my readers will find that I was successful enough to make the story enjoyable.

Sometimes it can feel like we are living inside of a story. Every day, a new plot twist is pushed in front of us. Things like:

  • “The bad guy/gal did this!”
  • “The crazy celebrity did this!”
  • “These people are trying to do this to you, but we’re trying to stop them!”
  • “We were just barely able to prevent those evil people on the other side from ‘latest evil plot’!”
  • “These people are ‘evil label of choice’ and there are many of them!”

All of these things, make it seem is if we are living in a reality dominated by these extreme characters. Because the extremes are loudest, and most vocal, they get the most attention. This is very useful if you want to raise the ratings of your media station, get more visitors for your website, or need a strawman to attack to promote your policies.

Here’s the thing. I don’t personally know any of the people they are usually talking about. No matter if it is the right-wing or the left-wing perspective, when they start talking to the real crazies out there, the people who are actually a threat to society and their communities, those aren’t us. Chances are they aren’t anybody you know.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have people you know who repost that stuff, even the things you completely disagree with. But those people you actually know, even the ones who post the most radical things you disagree with online, are basically normal people who aren’t a threat to anyone. In a real video game, we would all be NPCs.

That’s because the vast majority of us are a part of the middle. We don’t want to march over to our neighbor’s house and start telling them what they can or cannot do or take away anything from them. What we don’t want is for someone to do that to us. We fear the radical fringe that has been portrayed to us. Those crazy people are the ones that someone wants us to keep in mind, not that neighbor who, just like you, just wants to be left alone.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who think they have a right to dictate to you how to live. There are, but there aren’t very many of them and most of them live in Washington, arguing with each other. But we vastly out number them, and it isn’t even close. They have no chance against the numbers of reasonable, rational people that make up the vast majority of those we ever interact with.

The last 2 years have been hard on what we might call ‘neighborliness’. Chances are you did disagree with several of your neighbors over one of the issues that were pushed in your face 24/7. You may have said things you wouldn’t normally say. You might have burned some bridges. The wounds might still need time to heal.

But I’m writing for you to remember that those people are not your enemy. The people you go to work, school and church with are not your enemies. Someone wanted you to look at them that way, because if you do, we are all easier to control.

The reason they do that is because, as I said above, there are multitudes of us and only a few of them.

Stop playing their game. The people in your community probably don’t hate you, or anyone. Not really. Remember what real community is all about:

Jesus said, “The second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no greater commandment than these.” Mark 12:31

Now go and do likewise, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be okay.

Just in Time

A King’s call rings out
Many are called, only one is chosen
Just a girl, an immigrant, a refugee
Chosen to be special, chosen to be queen

Hatred grows for a people
A command is given, a time chosen
Just a man, sitting at the gate
Watching, listening, acting

Weeping is heard across the land
A people without power, without influence
Just a girl, become a queen, but condemned
A fate for one, the fate of all

A law stands immovable
To enter unbidden, could be the end
Courage gathered, Prayers lifted
Just a moment, a second, on which all depends

A scepter of grace extended
The plot thickens, a petition made
Just a meal, with an instant, and a plea
The truth unveiled, the hatred revealed

A furious king stands in silence
No mercy for evil, it hangs alone
A people with a chance, with a hope
Just a day, with the king, on their side

Salvation comes just in time
A simple plan, perfected by His hand
Just a girl, a refugee, who became a queen
Ready for her moment, to serve the King

Children of the Light

We live in a dark world. We may hear other words used to describe it: lost, broken, evil, etc, but probably one of the most common ways to view the world is in terms of darkness and light. We see examples of this no matter where you look. 

If you look at popular films, tv shows and books, you see this theme. There are bad guys and heroes. Usually, the heroes are associated with the light and the bad guys are associated with darkness. They show a connection in different ways, reinforcing the idea that darkness is bad and the light is good. 

Photo by Lucas Ianiak on Pexels.com

In the old days, you might watch a cowboy film, and they would use the black hat to symbolize who the bad guy was. When you saw a man wearing a black hat, you knew he was going to be the bad guy. Another example would be in Star Wars, you have Darth Vader. He used the dark side of the force. In the films, the dark side of the force was very bad, even turning good people to bad, if they weren’t careful. I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about these things, but I think we can agree that these kinds of examples are very common, and not just in entertainment.

I can remember an example years ago in Turkey that one of the political parties used. The main party in Turkey is the ‘light’ party and they use a light bulb as their party symbol. One of their opponents tried to use this against them with an ad that used two pictures, one of a lightbulb all lit up with a white background and the other with turned off in a dark background. The ad said, “Today light, tomorrow darkness.” They wanted to imply that voting for that party would ultimately lead the country to a bad place. It was a clever ad, but in the end it didn’t make a difference. 

This is just a general principle. Darkness is considered to be associated with evil or something bad. The Bible uses this meaning as well. When you read through the Bible, you will find many different examples of the use of light and darkness. John used it as much as any author, but there are examples in both the Old and New Testaments. Today, we are going to look at a few of those example, 1 John 1:5-10:

5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

There are several points I want to highlight from this passage, but I’ll start with the big one, which should be obvious to all of us. God is very different than we are. We are human. Me, you, all of us. There is nothing bad in God. There is no darkness in God. While Jesus was on this earth, even though he was fully human, he did not sin. He did nothing wrong. This is because he was also fully God. 

We aren’t like that. We are all sinners. These verses explain it very clearly. If you say you have no sin, you’re lying. That is the truth. While living in this world, I’m a sinner, and so are you.

Paul writes about the same thing in Romans. In Romans 3:23, he writes: “23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” then later in 6:23, “23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

These are very important verses that affirm universal truths. We are all sinners. Because of that sin, we all deserve to die. This translation uses the term wages. A wage is given for something you’ve done. We all deserve to be paid in death for our sins, but praise God, the verse doesn’t stop there. After that Paul tells that there is eternal life in Christ Jesus. This is the greatest news for all of mankind. But it is important to remember, even after we receive that free gift, we continue to live in a dark world.

1 John 1:7 explains a path for us, as followers of Jesus. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” Every Christian should want to follow this path. As long as we continue to live in this dark world, if we follow the path that Christ lays out for us, we will experience daily the presence of Christ and the fellowship of others who are also on that path. 

My main question of the day is “How do we walk in the light?” Fortunately, the Bible doesn’t just leave us hanging, but it provides a great deal of help for us to understand how it is possible. The greatest help is God’s Word.

Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

After giving your lives to Christ, you have the Holy Spirit with you and generally the greatest and most common way that God continues to lead us is through His Word, the Bible. How does He lead us? Actually if you read the entirety of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, it provides many details about this. Today, we won’t look at it together, but I would suggest you set aside time this week to read the entire chapter. You will be encouraged.

Paul writes about this topic in the book of Ephesians as well, which we also read earlier. Chapter 5 verses 8-14.

8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,

    and arise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

This passage uses a few helpful descriptive terms to put a picture in our heads of what it means to walk in the light. He first challenges us to walk as children of the light. Children come from their parents and they continue to represent their parents even as they go out in the world. We are to walk as products and representatives of the saving light of Christ.

Paul also talks about fruit. The fruit of light and the unfruitful works of darkness. That is another helpful picture. Apples grow on apple trees, bananas grow on banana trees. The kind of tree or vine determines the fruit. We bear fruit according to our connection to either light or darkness. Paul also talks about exposing the unfruitful works of darkness.

That is a fitting picture. Our sins, hate the light and love the darkness. They love secrecy. They are afraid of the light.

You know this. Every person knows the sins of others. They look at their friends and neighbors and the people around them and can easily find what they are doing wrong. Isn’t that true? But when it comes to our own sins and mistakes, we want to keep them in the darkness.

If you keep your life in the light, you face little risk and little concern of having what you’ve done exposed. But if you walk in darkness, then you will always fear the light. Our sins and the things we’ve done that are wrong always want to stay secret, to avoid being exposed. Wherever you look, you can see the same kinds of things. Someone is doing something wrong and they are trying to keep it covered up. They want to keep it in the dark.

Christians are called to live a very different life than that. As Christians, we should have no fear of the light. If you live your life according to the teachings of God’s Word, you have no fear of man, because we stay in the light. Practically, how do we stay in the light?

Actually, if we’re honest with ourselves, we usually know the answer to that question. Did you know that every bad decision you’ve ever made has one thing in common? It’s you, you were there for every one of those bad decisions. Sometimes you might have thought, “I didn’t have any other choice”, but that probably isn’t true. It may have seemed that way in the moment, but before that moment, many others came before.

When I was trained to be a counselor, we saw people who had addictions. Addictions to drugs, alcohol and other life destroying things. Addicted people slowly give away all of their freedom. I’ll give you an example. There is a man, he’s an alcoholic. He might say, “On the way home from work, I went to the market. I went to the aisle where the liquor was and bought some. I took it home and brought it out when no one was there. I poured it in the glass in front of me, and counselor, I just wasn’t strong enough, I had to drink it.”

Now that might not be a lie. In that moment, maybe he didn’t have enough strength, but how did he come to that moment? Step by step. This is the way we bring ourselves into the darkness. 

We make a choice. That choice may not seem too bad, but it isn’t really good either. But that choice is a small little step turning away from the light. Turning away from God. We continue to make similar choices, step by step. None of them very big, none of which seem to be very significant, but in the end, we reap the fruits of darkness. 

Think about your past. When you look back, do you see those kinds of steps, small little steps that led you away from God? Maybe when you look at them you think, “If only I had made a different choice!”

To walk in the light is to avoid those steps toward the darkness. It is a holy way, but this holiness is not dependent on us. In our own strength, we have no capability to obtain holiness. That can only come from God. I remember hearing some verses that I found surprising not long after becoming a Christian:

  • Be Holy” – this command is found throughout Scripture in both the old and new testaments.
  • Matthew 5:48 – You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Do you know yourself? I know my heart. I know my thoughts. When I first read those verses, I always thought the same thing. “Holy, me?” “Perfect, me?” If you know yourself and are honest with yourself, these are logical questions. I can be holy in the moment, maybe even for a few days, for the whole day, but every moment and every day is impossible.

Paul writes about this struggle in Romans 7:14-20:

 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

Verse 15 is a good summary of Paul’s point – For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Paul understood our situation very well. We live in this dark, fallen world and we are sinners. That is reality. To say I’m not a sinner has no benefit. To say this world is good and people are naturally good has no benefit. We have the same problem that Paul is describing here, but we are to be holy. We are to be perfect.

How can this be?

To get the answer, we’ll go back to the apostle John, but this time we will look at the Gospel of John, chapter 1. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And verse 9 – 9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

This is the source of our hope. It is not based on our own strength. Jesus came. He was God and man and He lived on this earth. While living in this dark and fallen world, He was still holy. He was perfect. He was without sin. 

Jesus showed us a way. He made a holy way for mankind. We can learn that way by looking at His life and His teachings.

Our first question was how do we walk in the light?

The answer is to look to Jesus. His way never departs from the light. It never enters the darkness. When we go with Jesus, we always stay in the light.

This is the way, but while we are in this world, we are still weak. We still “do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate”

We can know the true way to live, but still have difficulty staying on that path. So what can we do?

We need each other. God is enough and it is in His strength that we find the answer and He will help us, but He didn’t stop there. He gave us His Church. Christ designed the church to provide help for one another. We can get the help we need for living in this dark world and sometimes we can receive the correction we need as we start to stray. With God and with His Church we can stay on the path of the light.

By doing this, that is how we live as children of light. This way is much better for us. By staying in the light, we can make better decisions. We can live with fewer regrets. We can live a more meaningful life. Everyone should want this and with the help of the Lord it is possible. 

As you look ahead in the future, you can choose to walk in the light. The first step is to give your life to Jesus. If you don’t know Him, you don’t know the light. Today is the perfect day to give your life to Him.

If you are a follower of Christ, think about your future. What kind of future do you want? Do you want a future in the light or in the darkness? What’s past is finished. Maybe you have many regrets about the past, but from this moment on, you can choose a better path.

Choose to walk in the light. Choose to be children of the light. It is a much better life. God knows what is good for us, far better than we can ever know. Do you trust Him? You need to trust Him. He is much more trustworthy than ourselves.