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. 

Honored to Be a Father

Of all things in life I’ve had the privilege to be a part of, being a Father and working together with my wife to raise our three children is one of the greatest blessings I can imagine. I’m honored to have the opportunity to be a father. There are few higher honors and no more important calling than to raise up our children in the Lord. The responsibilities of both parents are very important, but the more neglected role in modern society is that of the father.

The National Center for Fathering offers up a powerful infographic that thoroughly describes the epidemic of Fatherlessness by summarizing some of the research in the field. At the time this was produced in 2015, it showed the following data for children without fathers in the home, which unfortunately has most likely increased in the majority of the cases:

  • 20 Million children infected with Fatherlessness in the US alone
  • They are 4X more likely to be raised in poverty
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children don’t have a father in the home
  • They are 10X more likely to abuse chemical substances
  • 80% of the adolescents in psychiatric hospitals come from fatherless homes
  • They are 2X more likely to commit suicide
  • They are 9X more likely to drop out of school
  • They are 11X more likely to have violent behavior
  • They are 20X more likely to face incarceration
  • They are 9X more likely to be raped or sexually abused

Not all fathers are good fathers, but just the absence of a father has a tremendous impact. In a famous 2008 address, then Senator Barak Obama gave a talk on fatherhood at one of the largest churches in Chicago. Here are a few highlights from that speech:

  • “Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation.”
  • “if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”
  • “We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child — it’s the courage to raise one.”
  • “It’s a wonderful thing if you are married and living in a home with your children, but don’t just sit in the house and watch “Sports Center” all weekend long. That’s why so many children are growing up in front of the television. As fathers and parents, we’ve got to spend more time with them, and help them with their homework, and replace the video game or the remote control with a book once in a while.”
  • “That is our ultimate responsibility as fathers and parents. We try. We hope. We do what we can to build our house upon the sturdiest rock. And when the winds come, and the rains fall, and they beat upon that house, we keep faith that our Father will be there to guide us, and watch over us, and protect us, and lead His children through the darkest of storms into light of a better day.”

Whether you agree with his politics or not, at that time in history, he was willing to call on fathers to honor their responsibility to their children, which should be something we can all agree on. The two parent household is the foundation for a stable world and as believers we should do everything we can too support families staying together. We should lead the way by standing up and taking responsibility to be fully engaged in leading our families to walk with the Lord. The local church is vitally important, but faith begins in the home.

As the Bible rightly notes, “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Psalm 127:3-4 They are a blessing and a stewardship. Dads here are some specific commands from Scripture to encourage you in this vitally important role:

  • Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.” Proverbs 14:26 – As parents, living our lives in the fear of the Lord builds a secure framework for our children to flourish in.
  • The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.” Proverbs 20:7 – our children are blessed by our righteous, blameless lives. As we live according to the guidance of Scripture, not only are we blessed, but our children benefit as well.
  • Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” Colossians 3:21 – Fathers, we specifically are given the command not to lead our children to bitterness. How many of the negative outcomes above are impacted by an absent (physically or emotionally) father who embitters their children.
  • These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 – We are to teach our children the truth
  • Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” – Proverbs 13:24 – We show our love to our children by caring about their lives enough to correct them and steer them back on the right path when they veer away.
  • For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” – 1. Thessalonians 2:11-12 – What a beautiful picture of a father’s role, encouraging, comforting and urging towards a life lived for God’s glory.

If you are father, take your calling and responsibility seriously. It is not too late to do the right thing with your kids. Much of what is wrong in modern societies is impacted by the epidemic. In your family, in your life, and in your community, take that seriously and do whatever you can to help families stay together and to call the men in our communities to step up and receive the great honor that it is to be a father.

The Five Most Important People in Your Life

The motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” As a self-help guru and someone who writes and speaks on motivation and success, his emphasis is on surrounding yourself with successful people who will push you onwards and upwards rather than drag you down.

Personally, when I think of motivational speakers, the first thing that comes to mind is Matt Foley, more than the type of success-oriented clap trap that most motivational speakers are pushing. However, I do think there is some validity to this point, but rather than limiting it to people, I think it would be better to say we are the average of the five biggest influences that we allow to dominate our lives.

More and more, people are spending less time interacting with other people in any real or meaningful ways. Unless your job is customer service, sales, ministry or social services, you probably spend more time in front of things (including devices) than you do in front of people. So rather than simply asking who are the 5 people who you spend the most time with, it is probably better to ask, what are the five people/things in my life that dominate my time, thoughts and emotions more than anything else. Here is a list of some possible answers for that question:

  • My family – for most of us who live with our family, this will be the #1 influence in our lives. Hopefully, this is a positive influence and you have healthy family relationships, but unfortunately many people find themselves in abusive, unhealthy families. Recognizing how powerful our family relationships are should motivate us to invest heavily in developing healthy or more healthy marriages and interactions with our family members overall. Your mental stability and emotional well-being is heavily intertwined with this area.
  • Work and school relationships – Hopefully, you have a good work environment that encourages you regularly and doesn’t just pay the bills. This is connected to not only your job fulfillment with the tasks you engage with, but also the people you interact with. Many people sacrifice joy by choosing working environments that promise more money or career advancement opportunities, but little day to day joyful interactions. Who we are and what we will become is tied to our working relationships. Don’t choose to live your day to day existence with people who drag you into the abyss.
  • Yourself – We spend time alone, but how do we spend it? Are you afraid of being alone with your own thoughts? Learning to be comfortable with ourselves and to know our own faults and strengths is not a bad thing, but can be a helpful process for understanding what needs to change in our lives. Negative self-talk can also be one of the most destructive influences. The voices in your head are usually your own, telling you an ongoing message, but if that message isn’t grounded in the truth, you will find yourself reinforcing a false sense of self.
  • Community/Church – Finding people in your community who care about the things that you do and that you can work together towards common goals with is good for your personal growth and mental health. A mentor or pastor (someone who is a little bit ahead of where you want to be) can be very helpful in helping you to understand your long term desires and goals. Serving others is good for the soul and pushes our personal growth.
  • God – The greatest positive influence in our life is God. He is our only hope for real progress in our journey to become more like what we were created to be. We spend time with God in prayer and by reading and studying the Bible. In Christ, we can be the best version of ourselves.
  • Entertainment – What we choose to focus on with our free time can also have a powerful impact on our lives. Videos, social media and video games are an easy solution to fill our time. Some people may find themselves more influenced by virtual friends who they’ve never actually met than any real face-to-face interactions. You may even find your language and thought patterns coming to resemble those of your dominant audio/visual input. Our entertainment choices can easily become one of our greatest influences.

There are other choices, but this covers most of the main areas of influence. So, what are your top five influences? Are they positive or negative? Do you want to become like the people and things that dominate your time?

Evaluating Influences from God’s Word

The Bible talks frequently about this subject because God knows the impact of time invested. He knows that we are being discipled by the way we spend our time and the people and information that flows into our lives. Here are a few of the verses that we can use to evaluate whether these are the best disciplers for keeping our lives pointed in the right direction.

  • Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” – 1 Corinthians 15:33 – Just look at the things that Paul wrote to the Corinthian Church in his two long letters found in the New Testament and you can see they were filled with problems. Corinth was a pagan city and much of the church came from a background that was steeped in immorality. This verse points to the truth that even if you have good character, you can be corrupted by the wrong sort of influences. Bad company can even be found in the church. Hanging out with those who are angry, bitter, divisive or gossipy will have an impact on us.
  • Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? – 2 Corinthians 6:14 – This verse is often used to teach the principle that Christians shouldn’t marry unbelievers. That is one application, but it has a wider principle. As followers of Christ, we shouldn’t tie our lives to those who don’t follow Christ. This doesn’t mean we are all supposed to find a cave somewhere and become monks, but it is the picture of binding your life together in a permanent way with someone who does not follow the same guidance (Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Bible). We should be very careful about making unbelievers any of the main influencers in our life.
  • But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. – 1 Corinthians 5:11 – This specifically mentions distancing ourselves from those who claim to be followers of Christ, but live in a way that shows that it is a lie. We’re actually to be more careful with these sort of influences than with unbelievers. We don’t yoke ourselves together with unbelievers, but we don’t even spend any time with people like this.
  • Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. – Proverbs 13:20 – Proverbs is filled with warnings about foolishness and the encouragements to be wise, pursue wisdom and walk with the wise. Wisdom is incredibly valuable, whether we obtain it from our own experiences or by learning from the experiences of others. If we hang out with fools, who refuse to learn from their mistakes, we will suffer harm, whether we make the same mistakes or not.
  • As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. – Proverbs 27:17 – We should want to spend time with people who sharpen us, helping us to grow in our faith and in our lives. Do the majority of the people in your life sharpen you, or leave you dull?
  • Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered,  or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. – Proverbs 22:24-25 – Do you have people in your life who are completely unpredictable, ruled by their passions and you never know when they are going to blow up? Not only is it difficult to be around people like that, but the Bible specifically warns of the danger that we might become like them if we’re not careful.
  • Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 – The best influence is grounded in the Lord, in His Word and in people who are on the same path to follow Him. If we want our life headed in the right direction, the surest way is to make sure the majority of what influences our lives is in line with the wisdom of the God who created everything.

God loves you and desires for you to find true joy in Him and the world He created. He has communicated with us through His Word a framework for reality and through that influence, we can bind our lives to the Truth to live a life that is filled with fewer regrets and more joy. That is a life that every follower of Christ should want, but we frequently derail ourselves by choosing to become the average of influences that when you look at it in the scope of the greater picture, are below average at best.

Destroy Your Child’s Hope in Just a Few Easy Steps

Children are a treasure, a blessing to every family. That doesn’t mean that having them is always easy. Sometimes, it can be quite a challenge. As they get older, it is natural for parents to wonder if they are doing the right thing. Books, podcasts, articles and daytime talk shows talk frequently about the best way to raise our kids and many a bestseller was made on this interest.

Despite a common desire to succeed in raising these new humans into adults, some studies show that, on a whole, society isn’t doing that great. The last two years of living in the pandemic and the restrictions it brought haven’t helped. A study from the first 6 months of 2021 found that 44% of American HS students struggle with “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.” That is a very sad state of affairs. Having raised 3 teenagers, my wife and I experienced some of the ups and downs common to those years ourselves, but to think that many teens are living in a consistent state of hopelessness is heart-breaking. We all need hope.

What destroys a kids hope? That is a complicated question. We are not raising little robots that are programmed one way or another. Some parents tend towards more freedom, others are more restrictive. There are bad parents out there, who completely ignore their kids, but that isn’t the norm. We’ve lived in a non-US culture for the past 20 years and we’ve seen how other cultures raise their kids. Parenting isn’t easy, but there are certain things society can do if it wants to make it more difficult. Here is my tongue-in-cheek list of a few simple steps to destroy kid’s hope, if our goal is to continue to turn out more hopeless teenagers and young adults.

  1. Destroy their self-image. There are many options for how to do this. We can teach them that they are inherently bad, ugly or wrong for something over which they have no control. This form of destruction could be based on their heritage, sex, social class, race, skin color, physical appearance or any other classification. The important aspect is that it must be something that the child themselves cannot change. If we want to destroy hope in our children, teaching them that they are automatically bad because of who they are is a wonderful way to beat them down into despair. This step is very important, because it makes the child much more susceptible to self-destructive tendencies going forward. It reinforces the desire to do anything to be accepted, regardless of how much damage it might do in the long run.
  2. Destroy a sense of personal responsibility. If we want to destroy our kids, it’s important that we avoid making them personally accountable for their actions and behaviors. They should never suffer consequences for their actions. We should make sure they are catered too, pampered and spoiled. We shouldn’t teach them to work for what they receive. We shouldn’t show them practical ways that they can take personal action to make their lives better or to help the lives of those around them.  Societies and cultures love to teach group responsibility, as it makes the groups easier to control. “We all are responsible for dealing with ‘problem of the day’, but they are very poor at teaching people what they can personally do to address the issue in tangible ways. If we want to destroy our kids, we should always teach them activism, not action.
  3. Destroy their childhood as early as possible. The Bible talks about the innocence of the child as a positive thing, but if we want to destroy our children, it is helpful to move them past that period of innocence as quickly as possible. Give them access to all of the sorted underbelly of the world, exposing them to violence and sexuality as soon as we can. Don’t allow them to have a childhood filled with their imagination, but instead plug them into the entertainment media complex of the internet from the get go. If possible, do it without any filters. Destroying childhood innocence is an excellent way to accelerate the path to hopelessness.
  4. Destroy their sense of personal accomplishment. Rather than rewarding hard work and performance, praise arbitrary elements or statements made by the child. Praise them for complying or identifying with societal trends and reinforce the ability to transform their popularity simply by saying a few magic words about themselves. Discourage dreams of accomplishment and success. Only reward those things that will make them less likely to work for what they want and more likely to expect the things they want to be given to them. This will ensure their eventual disappointment and despair.

Not a comprehensive list, but a depressing list. If a parent, influential adult or a society wanted to destroy a child and teen, these would be very effective paths to follow. If you are a parent, I hope you see these as things to avoid yourself and with the environments that you place your children within.

In contrast to the above categories, here are a few truths that you will find in God’s Word about your children and raising them:

  1. Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. — Psalm 127:3-5
  2. Like all of us, children are “fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:14 – Their self-image is centered in God’s creation of them. They are created in His image. (Genesis)
  3. They are not bad, but they are sinful. (Genesis 8:21) Sin is a problem with a solution. Children should understand that they have a sin problem.
  4. By taking personal responsibility for their sin, they can confess it and receive forgiveness (1 John 2). As parents, we can help children to understand that they are accountable for their sin, and they must take responsibility for it, but the only solution is found in Christ.
  5. Children, like all creation, exists for the glory of God and there is great joy in living for that glory (1. Cor. 10:31 and Jude 1:24-25)
  6. There is honor in working hard in order to succeed, not for our personal glory, but as a testimony to God and for His glory. (Col. 3:23 and Ps. 128:2)

Our kids are under attack today. There are influences that are actively working to destroy their lives and commit them to a lifetime of despair and hopelessness. We should be aware of these influences and we should be investing truth in their lives daily. There is a great stewardship in being a parent. Persevere in that stewardship, take it seriously and with great joy see the beauty of your children walking in Truth as adults. That’s the goal and the antidote to the hopelessness that the world offers.

The Ultimate Status Update

We live in a world that is obsessed with status. Social media begs us to provide a status update. Sometimes it is about our relationships, or our successes and it has even been used to provide social pressure. We can add a banner saying that we stand with ’cause of the day’. We’ve seen status updates as a way to pressure people to get out and vote, or to get vaccinated. People wear their status as a kind of public testimony about ourselves for things that we feel are important to share or which will allow us to identify with a certain group or tribe.

We just finished celebrating Easter, the event that is at the center of our Christian faith. Without Easter, there is no Christianity. Our hope for all things present and in the future is wrapped up in this event. It is what makes us Christians, or ‘little Christs’. Only through identification with Him do we actually find our status truly changed. Some forms of social media have a place to indicate a religious affiliation. We can identify alliance with a human construct through an act as simple as picking from a pull-down list or writing a name in a blank. Some might say ‘Methodist’, others might say ‘Christian’ or something like ‘Believer’ or ‘Christ follower’.

This is not so different than other status updates. It is our testimony to something that we choose to express, but the mere choosing of Christian from a list does not have the power to change our eternal status. Only one thing has that power and that is the story of Easter, the testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The faith that through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross, He bore the weight and shame of our sins and makes us clean in Him. We don’t choose this status for ourselves, we accept the status that He bestows on all who are willing to turn to Him and His free gift of eternal life. That is the ultimate status update, and until you’ve accepted that one, I wouldn’t worry about any of the others.

Why? Because through that one change, only made possible through Jesus, we see so many of our statuses permanently altered. Here are a few examples:

  1. “As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”” – Romans‬ ‭9:25-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬ –
    • We just finished studying the book of Hosea, a difficult story to read on a human level, but a beautiful illustration of God’s Love. Through Christ, we who were not God’s people, are now sons and daughters of the living God.
    • John 1:12 also talks about this – “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
    • Paul writes about it in Ephesians 1:5 – he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
    • 1 John 3:1-2 – 1 “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
  2. Another status that changed – we are accepted by GodRomans 15:7 –Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” – We are accepted and based on that confidence, we can accept one another.
  3. We are now one with Him in the Spirit1 Corinthians 6:17 – “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” This is both an honor and a reminder. We take the Spirit of the Lord with us wherever we go.
  4. You are no longer slaves to sin – Romans 6:6 –  “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin” – We are no longer controlled by the old master, sin, but have been set free. Christ gives us the ability to overcome sin.
  5. One of my favorite passages on this. As a follower of Christ, if you ever doubt your value, read 1 Peter 2:9 – “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Our status has been permanently raised to the highest possible value because of Jesus. No human status update can compare to what it means to be a part of Christ’s Kingdom.
  6. We are a new creation – 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  7. We are his workmanship – Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – In this you see that we have purpose as followers of Christ. A purpose that He prepared for us to walk in. The good we can do is because of this new creation. We are new creations now able to do good works, not for the selfish or vain reasons that humanity chooses to do them, but for the Glory of God.
  8. We are not condemned – Romans 8:1 – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – when you feel low, when you feel that the world has judged you unworthy, we need to remember our status in Christ. Because of Him, we are not condemned.
  9. We are citizens of heaven – Philippians 3:20 – “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” – We live as aliens and strangers in this land, but we have a citizenship that is better/greater than where we live. We have the most privileged status for eternity. Even though we continue on this earth, the rights of a citizen of heaven are already ours.
  10. Getting back to our purpose – We are ambassadors for Christ – 2 Corinthians 5:20 – “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – If you are a follower of God, you are His chosen means to implore those in your lives to be reconciled to God. We are His representatives to the world. We go to a country that does not know Him and call others to come and find peace with God.

These are just 10 of the things that changed the moment you accepted Christ. These are not temporary status updates that will fade in a week, a month or a year. In Christ, our status is eternally secure. When we celebrate Easter, we celebrate the greatest event in the history of the world. We have a new status in Him that can never be taken away and that status comes with a joyful responsibility to now live as we are.

Remember the things you have read from God’s Word. If you are uncertain of your status, there is no shame in admitting it. In a Christian meeting, way back in time around 1984, a youth leader asked a group of us what we wanted to see God do at the upcoming revival meetings and I said I wanted to become a Christian. That leader didn’t put me off or tell me to wait for Sunday Church or to wait for the upcoming revival meetings. That night was the day of my salvation and as he shared with me and we prayed together, my status was permanently changed for all eternity. I was no longer lost, but now found. No longer condemned, but forgiven. No longer a child of darkness, but an ambassador for the light of Christ. That opportunity is available to everyone. If you don’t know your status, today is the day you can make it right.

The Truth and Beauty by Andrew Klavan – Book Review

Artists and creatives have sometimes (frequently? always?) made for strange bedfellows with the church. The artistic vision of the creative tends to push against the rigid nonconformity of religious tradition, creating a divide that often remains permanent. Artists that find themselves ostracized from other followers of their faith have been known to retreat from faith communities all together. This is unfortunate and when it happens it leaves the Body of Christ without vital parts of the whole. We are like a body made up with many practical elements, but without that which makes us truly human.

I’m very grateful for Andrew Klavan for writing this book and for Zondervan for publishing it. There are many, many books written about theology, doctrine and the tenants of the Christian faith, but very few of them in all of history seek to deepen our understanding of Christ by examining the arts and attempting to express the power that art holds to help us understand the essential Truth of the Gospel and the man, the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

The author, a lifelong secular Jew, who became a Christian late in life, has worked professionally as a writer of books and screenplays for most of his adult life. He has written thrillers, mysteries, detective stories and horror novels with a great deal of success, both before and after becoming a Christian. You can read the story of his conversion in his autobiography, The Great Good Thing, which I also recommend.

This book, Truth and Beauty: How the Lives and Works of England’s Greatest Poets Point the Way to a Deeper Understanding of the Words of Jesus, is actually a much greater endeavor than it’s very lengthy title. While the middle of the book does an excellent job of doing exactly what the title says, the beginning chapters and the later chapters explore the greater ideals of what is truth, the struggle of the modern world with that truth and the vision of how all of God’s Truth are expressed perfectly in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The book begins with a journey of the author to get to know Jesus, who he fully believes in and has placed his trust in, but whose teachings he sometimes struggled to understand. To him teachings like the Sermon on the Mount came across like, “Blessed are you when your life is awful, because in heaven, trust me, it’s gonna be great.” He didn’t doubt the Truth that his only hope for eternal life was faith in Jesus. He fully believed that the Gospels provided an accurate account of the life and teachings of Jesus, but he doubted our own ability as fallen humans to actually live out these truths on this earth in a way that actually meant anything while we are here. This struggle is probably more common than many of us would like to admit.

His answer was to go to the Bible, specifically the teachings of Jesus. He even taught himself Greek to be able to try and understand what Jesus was saying as clearly as possible. If you’ve ever tried to learn any language, much less learning a new language in your 60’s you can appreciate his commitment to the task. He wanted to understand what he believed, a very honest pursuit. He describes it this way:

“Fiercely, constantly, I want to know how to become the man God made me to be, how to do the works he created me to do. I trust him with the big questions of eternity. I trust him with the end of days. I trust him with the last judgement…he must have made me with a purpose. No? He must have given me this moment on the planet with a thought in mind. I want to know what it looks like to live that out to the fullest. Not just in some general sense. I didn’t need God to die on a cross to tell me to be nice or charitable or faithful to my wife….But I want to know second by second how Logos instructed me to understand myself so I can have ‘joy to the full’ and ‘life more abundantly’ just as he promised.”

Isn’t that the struggle for many of us? We want purpose and meaning and we want our life to matter in some kind of eternal way. This book is about that and much more. Finding that meaning, that truth, but also finding it not just in the pages of Scripture, but seeing it reflected in art and nature and in the words that some artists put together to reflect the Truth of God’s creation.

Mr. Klavan believes that Christian truth and faith are the foundation of all of Western culture and civilization. So, when we look at the arts produced, we can find both the affirmation of those truths, but also the struggle to rebel against them. The specific focus on looking at the works of the Romantic era poets is chosen not just for the works themselves, but also because of the age that they were written in. The author expresses it this way:

“The Romantics set aside all religious precepts and traditions in order to see things anew. And in an age that was much like ours—an age of unbelief—these genius poets, in works of spectacular depth and beauty, in ways that were often unintentional—either accidentally or guided by a hand they could not perceive—blazed a literary trail back from the ruins of the old faith—from the smoking shambles left by human superstition, corruption, and violence—toward the original vision that Christ delivered not only in the Sermon on the Mount but in all the works and words of that invisible biography that hovers in the creedal silence between his miraculous birth and his suffering death.”

There is a struggle here. A struggle of unbelief. It is the struggle of man trying to define reality or redefine it in his own image, rather than the true reality of God’s creation. Truth is necessary. Truth is foundational. The author states:

“Without some sort of standard of perception, some kind of received Gospel truth, there can be no truth at all that goes unquestioned. no truth we hold self-evident, no axioms of morality, no way to determine what is objectively right and wrong.”

If we throw this aside then we can be led to all kinds of dead end roads. Whether it be the ideas of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud or others, without Gospel truth, there are many paths to lose our way on.

“We sense these uncertainties are deceptions in themselves. They contradict what we know, what we see, what we experience. They even contradict their own logic, because if there is no truth, then how can it be true that there is no truth?…We need God to give us ground to stand on, and not just God, but our God, the Christian God, who will confirm the good values the generations of the West have discerned and learned to live by over time. But we can’t just choose belief if we don’t, in fact, believe. We need God truly, not just as a useful stopgap against chaos or oppression….When we cry out to the universe, ‘What is truth? Who’s there?’ we need to be able to hear the voice of some essential reality respond to us: I AM.”

For such a short book, the author addresses many societal trends and issues. In addition to the help he finds in poetry, he draws upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein to illustrate principles of mankind’s battle against ultimate truth, whether it be from the arts, science or other aspects of culture. In examining the French revolution (a period of history with many similarities to our present day), we find attitudes that could have been reflected in modern ‘cancel culture’. The author describes it this way:

“France was to be fundamentally transformed into a crystal city of immaculate goodness, justice falling on the thirsty multitudes like rain. Every inequality would vanish. The past would be reviled and the statues of the old heroes would be torn down….Religion would fall. Reason would rule. And of course anyone who wasn’t willing to be reasonable would be reasonably slaughtered….The only thing standing in the way of human perfection, after all, is humanity….Terror is nothing but prompt, severe, inflexible justice…Evil is not evil when we do it, in other words, because our cause is just so very good.”

This is the righteousness of human reason. It was a situation where “the oppressed of France had become the oppressors in their turn.” Ultimately, in the aftermath of the tyranny of this time and season, there was a time when many, including some of these Romantics, began seeking the truth that society was trying to abandon. This is the “paradox of virtue: a society must be virtuous to be free, but it must be free before it can be virtuous because virtue is not virtue unless it is freely chosen….It is culture-tradition-that creates a people worthy of freedom, when it grooms them, in freedom to freely choose the good.”

In the author’s viewpoint, there is ultimate truth and it is that truth that art sometimes brushes up against. The alignment of the truth we are able to create with the truth of God’s creation is where we find beauty. The title of the book comes from Keats famous poem, Ode to a Grecian Urn:

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all

Ye know of earth, and all ye need to know.”

John Keats

The end of the book is focused not only on this idea of the true beauty of God’s creation, but also the fulfillment of God’s truth in Christ. The author wants to show us how we know “our beauty is really beauty and our truth is really truth.” In the works of Samuel Coleridge he finds the idea that Christ is the model and perfection of all that humanity can know of Truth. He is “a true melding of flesh and spirit, life and Logos, man and God. The more we experience the world through Christ, the more we become like Christ and know the world truly. This is what Paul was describing when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

This book is not for everyone. The path the author takes to come to his conclusions may be troubling to some of my Christian friends. He is a different person, with a vastly different background before coming to Christ than most of us. His perspective is that of an artist, but where he lands is a place that all believers should find comforting. It is a Biblical perspective that aligns with the truth of Scripture and is centered on the Gospel and Jesus Christ. Our only hope is in Jesus, it is not in our own ideals or creations, but it is possible for us to create something such as a work of art that ties into the eternal truths of God in a way that helps us understand those truths.

That is what Christian artists seek to do. One might say that could be their spiritual acts of worship. There is value in this and Christian leaders should understand that value. They should appreciate it and cultivate it in the same way we relish in a good sermon or a hymn or worship song that helps us to praise and honor our creator and His son. I encourage every Christian leader to read this book. We need more Christian artists to create great art that taps into the eternal, immortal truth of all that God has made true and we need Godly men and women who can see and understand those truths and the way they impact everything.

The author ends by coming back to his discussion of the law, but this time in the light of Christ. We desire to create a perfect system of law, but the perfect system of law only works if those under it freely choose to follow those laws. “‘Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,’ says Jesus. I have seen this again and again. I’ve known one or two murderers, quite a few thieves, too many adulterers, and more liars than honest men. Each in his degree was a slave and miserable. Only the person who chooses virtue and authenticity can be slowly shaped into a soul unchained. He’s the one who can let go of what the world calls good and follow Christ into the Logos life, to be the flesh made Word, to live a life like the Scriptures, figurative-a life that expresses the truth underlying the two great commandments that, in turn, underlie all the others: love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

No one can live this life on their own. No one can freely choose the good every time on their own. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t about us inflicting change on the world, but rather “He wants us to do these things not to change the world but to know the world and by knowing the world to change ourselves to be more in accordance with him.” Late he writes, “to love as God loves, to behave toward the world as God does, to shine on the good and evil alike gives us eyes to see with, ears to hear. You begin to lose your life-your opinions, your fake and precious virtue-your identity, as Keats said-and so you find your life, your true life, the perfected identity God made in you from the start.

“It is not that Christ is who we should be. It is that he became what we are trying to become. The Sermon on the Mount is a map of that experience…This is the greater system with which our broken system lives.”

I’ve shared with you a few of my favorite quotes of this book, but I highly recommend you read it for yourselves. This is a book that comes at the truth of God’s Word and the life of Christ from a different angle and I believe that if you read it for yourself you will not only grow in your understanding of Him, but it will assist you as you go out into this ever changing world and attempt to be salt and light to a people who may have wandered far from ultimate truth, but who can be shown a way back, even if the path is quite different from the one you took yourself.

The 5 Most Important Things I Learned in University

Way back in the Fall of 1989, I began my career in college at the University of Oklahoma. Like many graduating high school students, college seemed like the next step in life. During my senior year, I was encouraged to consider various possible futures and to attempt to plot a path towards one of those futures, through a degree program at a university. In the last 5 years, my wife and I have had the privilege of helping our two oldest children navigate this process and we’re currently working with our youngest to help him make his own decisions for the summer of 2023.

Making these decisions is a lot more complicated than when I went about it, more than 30 years ago. The amount of information that is available to prospective students is staggering. When I decided that I wanted to study journalism with a path to potentially becoming a sports journalist (since you don’t see my name on ESPN, you can probably guess how that panned out) it was difficult to find any information about potential schools to apply to. I chose to send my ACT test scores to 4 schools, 2 in my state and 2 out of state and ultimately ended up applying to only one college.

Today, many people apply to dozens of universities and it is possible to learn more about a university on the other side of the world from your computer than I could by a short visit to the campus made my senior year. The costs have exploded as well and even though it seems like going to college is the normal thing for almost any academically oriented high school student to pursue, these rising costs should give anyone pause before making a final decision. Especially when there are many valuable career options open to those who never attend a traditional university.

My time at the University of Oklahoma was very important to me. I did learn a thing or two in the classroom and some of my professors were very helpful in training me in valuable thinking and writing skills, which I continue to use even to this day (maybe even more now that writing is a part of my daily schedule). I have several good, enduring friendships that were forged there and I appreciate the experiences during my time, but there is something surprising when I think about the most important things I learned while I was in university. The thing is, the most valuable lessons from that period of my life didn’t have to do with anything that the school provided, but instead were related to the people I met and the experiences we had together, both learning from each other and other people. The ironic thing is, I could have learned these things without ever being in a university setting.

Like many important things in life, the people we choose to spend time with impacts our life as much as anything. Surrounding yourself with some people can have them acting like an anchor, always pulling you down or even leaving damage that takes years to undo, if at all. The Bible even talks about this in 1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Don’t fool yourselves. Bad friends will destroy you.” (CEV)

The contrast of this is what I experienced for most of my time in college. I met good friends, including older, more mature people who could serve as mentors in my life, and those relationships led me to build my life around principles of Truth, which continue to serve me well every day of my life. I graduated from OU with a BA in English Literature and a minor in History, but more importantly, I finished my time there having laid many essential bricks in the foundation of my life. Here are 5 of the most important ones:

  1. Spend time in God’s Word every day. At the very beginning of University, I met upper classmen who took this seriously. They were able to talk about what they learned from the Bible that day, not just what they heard in a sermon on Sunday. The Bible is the main means by which God communicates Truth to His followers. If we want to have access to the wisdom of the one true God of the universe, the best thing we can do is to follow the words of the Joshua and “meditate on it day and night.” (Joshua 1:8) It helps build the lens through which we can properly see the world. This biblical worldview will help guide us away from the unnecessary suffering brought about by our own foolish choices.
  2. Invest in the eternal, not in the temporary. At a spring break conference in Colorado Springs, a speaker challenged us that only 2 things that we interact with in this world last forever, God’s Truth and human souls. We live our lives on this earth surrounded by many, many things that won’t matter in a day, in a year, or in a few years, but people aren’t one of them. God made us all for eternity and when we realize that every person we interact with is another eternal traveler, created in the image of God, that can’t help but change our perspective. I can’t say I’ve always interacted with everyone I meet in this way, but looking at the world in this way is something that I have kept as a goal from that time on. “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:53:ESV)
  3. How to continue to get along with people you disagree with. Over my 4 years at OU, I had 6 different roommates. (if you don’t count the Pakistani Muslim I lived with for less than a week while his housing was being shuffled around) I lived with people older than me, younger than me, and about the same age and there were a wide range of personality types across that spectrum. When you live with someone, you don’t always get along and you often disagree, but learning to work through those difficulties and remain friends even when that happens is an essential life skill. I can honestly say I have fond memories of my times living with every one of my roommates (okay, maybe not the first one, randomly assigned by OU Housing, but wherever you are Brian, I hope you finally got it together). “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11:ESV)
  4. Having a good Church and community of faith is more important to your life than where you ultimately get a job. This is one of those that is hard to believe unless you’ve lived it out or seen it lived out. It is often tempting to make your life and career decisions based on where you can make the most money or see the greatest personal success, but I’m telling you right now that if you move away from the spiritual and emotional support that a healthy church provides, you will suffer far more than if you end up in a job that you don’t like. This decision will impact you personally, but also your family and your marriage. Don’t neglect this one. “Let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:25:NLT)
  5. What you learn is not as important as who you become. We are all made for meaning, for purpose. We aren’t designed to live a life centered on ourselves and only our own personal benefit. Whatever our path, we are more than just our knowledge and the things we have learned. We are all living human souls, who exist for eternity and we should make decisions today that will lead to the place we want to go and the person we want to be. Be who God created you to be, a wondrous child of the King of all creation, living for His Glory as we move towards sanctification. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9:ESV)

I graduated from University in 1993, almost 30 years ago and somewhere I have a diploma that testifies to that fact. That qualifies me for some things. Maybe someone would hire me because of that degree. Maybe I would have respect from some people because of the work it represents. But it is not representative of the most important things I learned in those four years. Instead, the things above and many other things are much more important. They “qualify” me to be a better friend, husband, father, and member of whatever community I happen to be a part of. Instead of human wisdom, they help represent Christ in me, the hope of glory.