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.

Monty Python, Fake News & Science

A guilty pleasure movie from my time in University is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It is a deeply flawed, perfect movie. It is filled with memorable scenes, each of which are probably more funny and impactful than the movie as a whole. One of the funniest scenes involves the trial of a poor woman, who has been accused of being a witch. You can watch it below.

Monty Python Witch Burning Trial Clip HD

I was thinking about this scene last night and I realized in its absurdity it does a nice job of illustrating some of the problems with fake news in our media today. When we hear something for the first time, whether it is shared on CNN, social media or from a government official, we would be wise to have our radar up, ready to detect the signs that we are being fed an agenda-laden story, rather than just a factual reporting of what has occurred.

Looking online, it isn’t surprising that many professors make use of this scene when they are teaching philosophy, logic and reason. One of the best examples I found was this one. In the “trial” from the film, the accused is brought to a “judge” and they attempt to make arguments about why she is a witch, using their observations, accusations, framing, and their own versions of reason or science. Here are a few examples:

She’s a witch because she looks like one – the lady is dressed with a pointy hat and a fake nose to make her look more like a witch. The accusers are forced to admit that they are the ones who dressed her up like this. This is very common today, where individuals or groups are labeled things like racist, communist, white supremist, socialist or even “literally, worse than Hitler”, even as the story is being told. When officials and journalists use labels like this as they are framing the story, they attempt to slant the bias against those groups, much in the same way the angry mob attempted to paint this lady as a witch.

She turned me into a newt…I got better – Another popular tactic in fake news today is to make a bold accusation that is blatantly false, only to eventually admit the truth, but at a later time and with much less publicity. We’ve seen that over and over again as stories are pushed aggressively and when information comes out showing that the stories are baseless or completely wrong, those who most loudly propagated the stories in the beginning have conveniently moved on and ignore the new information.  Sometimes, this new information would seem to be a bigger story than the original false one, but if it doesn’t fit the narrative, then it is completely ignored.

There are ways of telling if someone is a witch – we burn witches – we burn wood – witches must burn because they’re made out of wood – wood floats – a duck floats – if she weighs the same as a duck, she must be a witch – This long, hilariously reasoned out “logic” doesn’t make any sense, but by emphasizing the things that are true (wood burns and floats, ducks float), the logic flows along. It is all ridiculous, but fake news sometimes does the same thing. They take a story that is obviously false and find a few true items and make those the new story. Fact checkers are notorious for this in their fact checks, or the reverse where they take a true story that they don’t like and emphasize or misinterpret one aspect of it that is less flattering and make that the core of their story or fact check.

We shall use my largest scales – there are no scales that should show a full grown woman weighing the same as a duck, but here we are. They follow some type of “scientific method or process” and in the end they get the result that they want. They can point to the results and outcome as being scientific or even in the most blatant misuse: “Trust the science”, as if science is a book of facts we can refer to with definitive answers on every subject and not a process of learning and discovery. It is possible to find scientific studies and research to support most narratives and if only the results that agree with our perspective are highlighted and those that call anything into question are muted, then we get an outcome that is far from scientific. You end up with officials saying that anyone who disagrees with them is against science, when following the scientific method should always be about pushing the boundaries and bringing conflicting evidence to light so it can be examined and tested along with results that confirm our results. “Who are you, who is so wise in the ways of science.”

“She’s a witch! Burn her” – The mob mentality wins. When you have enough people and sources ganging up and pushing one perspective loudly enough, it is very difficult to go against it. It is a power that should be held with great caution. To condemn and label quickly and spread that condemnation widely is a uniquely modern evil perpetuated by the power of the internet.

We should proceed with great caution as we process the information we receive and even greater caution before we spread it. Now, let’s contrast this tale with the story we find in John 9, after Jesus healed the man born blind. We pick the story up after the healing has happened to see how people discuss it:

8 His neighbors and others who knew him as a blind beggar asked each other, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was, and others said, “No, he just looks like him!” But the beggar kept saying, “Yes, I am the same one!” 10 They asked, “Who healed you? What happened?” 11 He told them, “The man they call Jesus made mud and spread it over my eyes and told me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash yourself.’ So I went and washed, and now I can see!” 12 “Where is he now?” they asked. “I don’t know,” he replied. 13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.” Others said, “But how could an ordinary sinner do such miraculous signs?” So there was a deep division of opinion among them. 17 Then the Pharisees again questioned the man who had been blind and demanded, “What’s your opinion about this man who healed you?” The man replied, “I think he must be a prophet.” 18 The Jewish leaders still refused to believe the man had been blind and could now see, so they called in his parents. 19 They asked them, “Is this your son? Was he born blind? If so, how can he now see?” 20 His parents replied, “We know this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we don’t know how he can see or who healed him. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who had announced that anyone saying Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why they said, “He is old enough. Ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” 25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” 26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?” 27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” 28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.” 30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” 34 “You were born a total sinner!” they answered. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out of the synagogue.

Here, the news is being spread by a firsthand witness, the actual man who was healed. He is telling the truth and he has all the evidence on his side. After all, people who have known him his whole life all testify that he was always blind. Here the truth is shared by the man, other people in the community and his parents, but still the religious leaders refused to hear the truth.  Because what was being shared was damaging and disrupting to their worldview, they refused to accept it.

This is the problem with fake news. For most people, they process information through the lens of their worldview. Whatever reinforces their current beliefs is processed without question or discernment. Information received that goes against what we consider to be true is tossed aside like fake news. The angry mob from Monty Python and the religious leaders in John both had their filters up ready to only believe that which gained them the outcome that they desired. In the average week, how often are you guilty of doing the same?

There is ultimate Truth and we can know it, but the information we process from the media and online is perpetually biased in a way that can be confusing, demoralizing and very manipulative. As the world moves more to the Metaverse, I would encourage you to stay and become ever more grounded in the reality of the Truth that can be known. This is the Truth of the man born blind. “I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

Live in your community, stay grounded in God’s Word and refuse to participate in the echo chambers of fake news from both sides. I think you’ll find your life turning more towards the joy of true living, rather than the anger and outrage that the world so frequently demands of us. There is no joy in the angry mob.

McDonalds, Benevolent Dictators and World Peace

Last week many different things happened, but with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine another one of humankind’s great theories came to an end. The theory was on it’s last breath already, with the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, but with this current conflict, it will have difficult finding any future evangelists. What theory am I talking about?  An interesting observation by a fairly brilliant human (Thomas Friedman) made in 1996, noted a correlation between the presence of McDonalds in a country and world peace. Stated simply:

‘Countries with McDonald’s within their borders do not go to war with other countries with McDonalds within their borders.’

Milton Friedman

Born out of the idealistic pre-9/11 90’s, the logic behind this theory is that once a country gets to the place where companies like McDonalds and Starbucks start to open up branches it demonstrated a level of economic stability in the country and commitment to the global marketplace where those making decisions would do everything to avoid armed conflict and the economic devastation that follows after it. So, while you might have countries like Russia, the United States, Germany and China funding conflict in other countries, they would do everything to keep it from happening within their own borders.

Put more simply, this could be seen as a belief that free trade could save the world. Whether a person was a pure capitalist or a one world government socialist, you could find both tribes putting some hope in the desire of humans to pursue their own prosperity and that of their country as a powerful force that would keep the atrocities of large scale global conflicts from ever happening again. While one country might risk this kind of conflict, the thinking was that surely multiple countries would not head in this direction with each other.

This theory was tested many times in the past 2 decades. Multiple times between Pakistan and India, the Russian aggression against Georgia in 2008 and other tensions around the world before war broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, but it is difficult to compare those to what we’ve seen over the last month or so. Russia, against dire economic warnings slowly built up a huge force on the Ukrainian border and ultimately invaded, a conflict which continues as I write this with possible far-ranging consequences outside of the borders of those two countries. All Christians should answer the call to regular prayer for the many innocents suffering and who will continue to suffer whenever armed conflicts occur.

The flaw that existed with this supposed peace theory (which was really nothing more than observing a short trend) was it didn’t acknowledge that we live in a world where sometimes people’s approaches to their own and their country’s best interests are far from rational. We also find that the same kind of poor decision-making and short term thinking that marks disastrous decisions that we see in our own lives and the lives of those close to us can also be present in the decisions of global leaders.

The fear of the modern world has been focused on hateful or irrational men with power, whether they were the leaders of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or unstable leaders such as in N. Korea. The assumption being that the population of the world would move towards a kind of common ground, understanding each other better as time went on and it was only those who are isolated and on the fringe (lunatic fringe) who might be the real threats.

When I was studying the forms of government both in high school and in Political Science 101 it was common to discuss the positives and negatives of various forms of government. I remember one teacher saying that the best form of government to live under was the benevolent dictator, but it was also very risky, because even if the person in charge acted perfectly on behalf of all of their citizens, there was no guarantee that the next dictator who succeeded them would do the same.

If we are honest, this could be applied to any functional form of government. Monarchies, Democracies, Republics and Socialist states might all function well for a season with the right leaders in charge, in a way that is not much different than our fictitious benevolent dictatorship. As Christians, we should pray for good governance. We should vote for those who seem to be the closest to a good, benevolent leader, but we should be careful to never put our ultimate hope in any human government to bring lasting peace and prosperity on this earth.

God’s Word doesn’t promise us peace in this world, instead it promises another kind of peace:

“Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.””

‭‭John‬ ‭16:31-33‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This was one of the last promises of Jesus to His followers before He would soon be betrayed and handed over to be crucified. Jesus told them they would be scattered, that they would abandon Him and that they would have tribulation and yet He says they will “have peace.” Why do they have peace? Because He has overcome the world. This was the message He gave prior to crucifixion. His followers, after hearing these words would see their dear friend and teacher tortured and killed unjustly. In that context, they were to have peace and to take heart.

These are relevant words for all of Christ’ followers. In this world, we will have trouble and tribulation. We will sometimes be scattered and sometimes we will be alone. In spite of all these things, even today with all the things we see around us, we should have peace and take heart. Not because the world is getting better. Not because some economic theory has promised us world peace and not even because some of us might have a chance to live under the rule of some mostly benevolent leader. Instead, our hope is in the one fact that was true when the words were spoken and are still true today, Jesus “has overcome the world.”

Because of this, we place our hope in eternity, not within the boundaries of our time on this earth. We long for an end to all suffering and we desire for peace and love for one another with our fellow travelers on this earth, but we remember with certainty that even when those things are not possible, we have something better promised to us on the other side of eternity. That is not a theory of man, but a fact of God.

The Solution for Racial Discord and Human Bias

Human beings are biased. We can’t help it. There are several things that contribute to this. Our upbringing and the information that we are taught by our environment contributes to our bias. Some cultures are based on class systems and unfortunately, it is normal in those cultures to teach people to judge others based on the classes they fall into. You may come from a culture like that. Some of you may experience bias and prejudice regularly in your daily life. People might judge you based on the country you are from or the color of your skin. Bias is but one way that sin manifests itself in the world today.

Fortunately, it is an attribute of God that He is not biased. God is the perfect impartial judge. All humanity stands before Him without fear that He will judge us unjustly. Instead, our only fear is that He will judge us fairly if we are outside of the salvation of Jesus Christ. We all stand equally in need of Jesus. When we face judgment, it will not matter how much money we had, where we were born or how many followers we had on social media when we die. The only thing that will matter will be our status in Christ.

When we look at the Bible, we see both the impartiality of God in His judgment and the life we are called to live, free of bias. This is summed up in what is referred to as the royal law of Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Christ, God has called us to live as representatives of His character on the earth. One of the ways that we demonstrate that is in how we refuse to show bias in the way we conduct our church and the way we live our personal lives. 

In the Old Testament, impartiality was a foundational part of the system of justice. Judges were given commands to avoid impartiality, based on their roles as representatives of God’s Justice. In Deuteronomy 10:17 God’s justice is proclaimed, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.”

God had charged the judges in Deuteronomy 1:16-17 – “And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the cases between your brothers, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the alien who is with him. 17 You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. And the case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.’”

God acknowledged the limits of man’s judgment, but rather than acting in a partial manner, if they were unable to avoid bias, they were to bring the situation to God, the ultimate impartial judge. From the beginning, God took the responsibility of acting without bias as important for His people, and especially of His appointed leaders. 

In the NT, the greatest division and potential for bias was between Jews and Gentiles. God was determined to not have this divide His Church and we have the famous story in Acts 10 where Peter was given a vision right before his Gentile visitors came. God made it clear that Peter, as one of the leaders of the early church, should not hesitate to go to the “unclean” house of Cornelius. In verse 28, Peter declares to Cornelius, “And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”

His whole life Peter had been taught that to enter the house of a Gentile was to defile himself, but God gave Peter a revelation that he could not deny in order to correct that thinking. After hearing how God had revealed Himself to Cornelius, Peter proclaims in 10:34-35:

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Is there a divide like this in our cultures today? A cultural, political, or ideological divide that has separated people for as long as you can remember? That is the kind of divide that Peter was dealing with, and God was removing the option of judging people based on the greatest categorical divide that existed at that time. They were one church. There were no Jewish churches and Gentile churches, there was only the church.

The book of James deals with a different kind of bias in James 2:1-7:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

So in James, the issue he was writing about was preferential treatment based on wealth. This is a very common bias in society. People all around the world will treat someone as having more value and their opinion as being more important based on how much money they have. We see the wealthy and the famous released from the laws and rules that are applied to the masses. In a world where people are always looking to get ahead and earn more money, we shouldn’t be surprised by this, but we should be surprised when we find this practiced in the church. 

God defines worth and value differently and in God’s economy, He is the one who knows the condition of a heart. The church is able to judge within the church impartially based on obedience to the commands of God, not according to any material status. If we put more worth in someone based on where they work, how much they earn, or even how much they give to the church, we are in violation of the clear teaching of Scripture, which includes this passage. We are honored by our richness in the faith, not by our richness in wealth or possessions. 

In James 2:1, he writes, “show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” We could simplify this down to one statement:

Partiality and bias (including any form of racism) is incompatible with faith in Christ

As followers of Christ, as I mentioned earlier, we are Christ’ representatives on this earth and through our faith in Christ, we are able to show the world something different than the standards by which they live. In the world, it is common to judge others based only on superficial standards. Wealth, as mentioned here, is but one of those aspects. As believers, we care about who the person is. Every human is a marvelous creation of God and they are more than the sum of what we see. This is one more way that the Gospel is transformational.

The gospel is a great leveler, available with absolute equality to everyone who believes in the Savior. As Paul said in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This is the standard for the children of God. 

Biblical partiality is defined by Paul in Philippians 2:3 – “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves”. We are to be biased towards showing favor towards others, rather than ourselves, but it is evil to divide people up and value them differently based on characteristics like wealth and position.

In verse 8, James talks about the royal law of Scripture – to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In verse 10 he writes, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” These statements are the ultimate slap in the face to those who believe they will get into heaven by having more on the good side of their scale than on the bad. The readers of James’ letter would have been mostly Jews. They would have the same temptation of the Pharisees, legalism. Legalists can justify bias and prejudice. They can find a way to make it seem right to value one group above another, but James was providing the antidote for that. To treat someone as you would want to be treated, pushes them towards empathy and understanding. Two things that bias always avoids. 

The emphasis on guilt coming from breaking a single point of the law is to remind us that our only hope for salvation is in Jesus, not in our ability to follow the rules or keep the law. This is another reason that we show no partiality in Christ. We all stand condemned for our sin, regardless of the kind of sin or the amount of sin. We all stand in need of God’s mercy. We are fellow prisoners, condemned to death, who are only made free because Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. Now we have the means to share this good news with others, who are in the same state that we once held. 

James ends this section with a beautiful passage, “12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Earlier, he mentioned the royal law. Here, James refers to the law of liberty. That is the law to which I’ve referred multiple times to before, the law that provides no judgment, only mercy because of the salvation we find through Jesus Christ.

To say it another way, James could have said, “live and act as a true believer who has been saved by God’s grace and who will be judged on the basis of Christ’ imputed righteousness.” The law of liberty, or freedom, is that we are now free from the judgment that we deserve because of the perfect life of Christ, which provides a perfect, fully acceptable payment that satisfies justice and provides us only with mercy, rather than condemnation. 

Our ability to treat one another impartially and without bias, is not tied up in our own human ability, but rather a proper perspective on reality that sees us as equally deserving to be judged for our own sinfulness. Equally deserving of eternal separation from our God in heaven, but only by His grace are we able to have any other alternative outcome. 

One commentary wrote this about the law of liberty: “The gospel is the law of liberty because it frees those who place their faith in Jesus Christ from the bondage, judgment, and punishment of sin and brings them ultimately to eternal freedom and glory. It liberates us sinners from falsehood and deception and from the curses of death and hell. Even more marvelously, it frees us to obey and serve God, to live faithfully and righteously according to His Word and by the power of His indwelling Spirit. And it frees us to follow our Lord willingly out of love rather than reluctantly out of fear. In every sense, it is the “royal law” of God (v.8), the divine and wondrous law of liberty.”

James ends with a warning about showing mercy to others. We, who have known the great mercy of Christ, must not act with an absence of mercy. We are now agents of the mercy that we have been shown. When we act in mercy, refusing to show bias or partiality, we testify to the truth of the great salvation that we have received. We fulfill our role as ministers in this biased world of God’s grace, love and mercy.

In the history of the world, humankind has an atrocious record when it comes to issues like bias and racism. The transformational power of Christ was able to breakdown the greatest cultural, societal and ethnic divides of the 1st century and create a movement defined by their love for one another, in spite of these differences. If we want to find a solution to the problems we face today, the most important step is for us first to realize that it is only the power of God, who is fully without bias, that has any hope of seeing real progress and humankind’s greatest need will always be for Him.

This very simple discussion was mostly focused on human bias and how only God provides true hope for overcoming the sinful bias of man. For a more lengthy discussion on racial discord and overcoming it, I recommend the resources available at Just Thinking, such as this one, the Gospel and George Floyd.

Would You Rent a Friend?

Did you know you can rent a friend now? A few months ago, I came across this website, Rentafriend.com. No matter where you are in the world, they are building a database of people who are willing to rent themselves out to you as a “friend”. As I checked the website today and they had 621,585 friends available for rent worldwide. In addition to events that you might hire a friend for such as fun outings, activities and even dates for things like proms and weddings, they are encouraging “Virtual Friend Services” in order to comply with local Covid restrictions you might have in your area. So, you can pay people to hang out with you online and in person.

For these services, you can pay $10/hr or more, depending on the friend and the desired activity. The website does note that many of the friends will negotiate and some will waive their fees for some activities. In looking through the website and the different uses that they highlight, it is easy to see the appeal. Some of the things suggested are:

  • Moving to a new town and need a local to show you around and introduce you to people
  • Looking for someone with a unique talent or skill they could teach you such as learning or practicing a new language or learning to cook
  • Don’t hire a personal trainer, hire a friend to workout with you and help motivate you
  • And of course, the plot of many a B movie, you need a date for a wedding, dinner party, etc. and don’t have anyone to go with

The site discourages romantic friendships, stating that it is only meant for plutonic friendships. I’m sure this is to help avoid it being accused of being a pseudo escort service. When I first heard about the site, my first response was to dismiss it as a joke. It does kind of sound like the plot of a movie, but when you look at the site and browse through some of the profiles, you find people from all walks of life, looking to connect with other people. The growth of the site over time as well as competing sites which have emerged demonstrate the market for this kind of thing. The use of the word friend here may be similar to the way it is used in the online world, meaning it has a very broad definition.

There is no data on what might be called true friendships that have developed as a result of connections made through sites like these, but it seems like the very nature of the relationship would be a barrier towards a true lasting friendship. After all, you are basically paying for someone to stand in as a friend for a limited time. What this demand definitely does point to is the need for community. God has created us to desire community with other people. I know introverts would argue that point, but the vast majority of introverts I have known personally do want community of some sort, it is just usually on a more limited basis than our extrovert friends and might look somewhat different.

From the beginning, God’s plan was for us to be together, not alone.(Gen 2:18) Jesus’ plans for His Church was not to send them off by themselves, but in both the teachings of Jesus and His followers “together” is emphasized. Here are but a few examples:

  • Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16b)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
  • Serve one another (John 13)
  • Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16)
  • Be honest with one another (Colossians 3:9)

In the book of Hebrews, the author writes that they should “not giving up meeting together.” In the book of Psalms the author writes, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” This is a small collection of just a few of the many verses that encourage and describe the community of God’s people. But what about friendship? We were made for community, but what about friendship?

Friendships are sometimes marked by power dynamics. Rentafriend.com spells that out and makes it a formal transaction. You are paying for an agreed for service, not much differently than when you hire someone to fix your plumbing or bake you a cake. Real friendships also can be marked by this kind of relational give and take. Similar to the story of the prodigal son, you can see people who have money and influence and they will find no shortage of friends as long as that continues, but when that dries up, many of these friends disappear. While there is no formal rental agreement in these situations, some people chose friendships solely for what they can get out of it. Have you ever had that “friend” who you only hear from when they need something from you? Unfortunately, this is fairly common.

Other people choose friendships for an emotional “payment”. They aren’t looking for a financial gain, but they choose to surround themselves with people who will make them feel good about themselves. You can see this in real life and social media. The contrast of this is we avoid those who consistently make withdrawals from our emotional bank account.

None of this is what God created us to crave. We desire something greater than this and it is the absence of true friendship and community that spawns the need for people to seek other escapes or to be willing to rent a placeholder for an actual friend. None of us want to Rent-a-friend. We want a real friend, but not one who is only there for the wrong reasons, but instead someone who will really care about us in the manner in which the Bible describes community and friendship.

We want friends who are:

  • Loyal and ready to help in time of need (Proverbs 17:17)
  • Who stick closer than a brother/sister (Proverbs 18:24)
  • Who are willing to sacrifice for the sake of our friendship (John 15:13-15)
  • Who are reliable (Proverbs 20:6)
  • Who give good advice (Proverbs 12:26)
  • Who will love us with a pure heart and gracious speech (Proverbs 22:11)
  • Who will tell us what we need to hear (Proverbs 27:5-6)

Solomon writes:

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NLT)

The answer to our friend problem starts with us. Don’t be satisfied with being alone. Pursue deep relationships. Join a church where God is worshipped in community, not just for an hour on Sunday morning. Be a part of a Bible Study or small group where they challenge you to grow and care enough to want to know more about what is going on in your life than just “I’m fine” or “We’re okay”. Real community and friendships are built by sharing life. Don’t eat alone. Invite people to go along with you on trips or when you have things to do. Invite people over to your house to play games or for even a night of good conversation. Welcome the new people in your neighborhood, church or community. God created us to need each other and to desire this kind of community. Life is better together.

The Amazing Life of George Liele, One of the First Modern Missionaries

In the history of missions, there are many names worth highlighting. Great biographies have been written about men like Hudson Taylor and Adoniram Judson. In my own tradition, we honor the name Lottie Moon by naming our offering for International Missions after her. Their lives are inspiring stories of sacrifice so that the name of God might be glorified and the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in fulfillment of God’s call for His followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19-20) One astounding story that you might not have heard involves God’s transformative action in creating beauty from the ashes in the life of a slave, George Liele.

Born a slave on a Virginia plantation in 1750, George didn’t remember much of his childhood, except for being moved from place to place before finally being owned by a Baptist deacon in Georgia. His father was a follower of God, whom George recalled hearing about, “my father was the only black person who knew the Lord in a spiritual way in that country.” In 1773, at the age of 23, George accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior while attending church with his owner, Henry Sharp. George felt a passion to share the Gospel amongst his fellow slaves and began preaching among them wherever he could find opportunity, both across Georgia and into South Carolina.

Mr. Sharp recognized the spiritual value of George’s preaching and gave him freedom to travel around in order to exercise his gifts and calling to the Lord. On May 20th, 1775, just 2 years after his conversion and baptism, he was ordained to the Gospel ministry by Mr. Sharp’s pastor, the Rev. Matthew Moore, the same man who had baptized George earlier upon his salvation. Mr. Liele was the first ordained Baptist black pastor in Georgia. He was seen not only as a pastor, but a missionary to his own people in Georgia and S. Carolina. In Silver Bluff, South Carolina, Mr. Liele would found the first African Baptist Church, which is still in existence today. He would go on to plant several churches in both Georgia and South Carolina, among the slave population.

Like many slaves, George Liele would side with the British in the revolutionary war. Mr. Sharp also sided with the British, finally freeing George in 1778. Unfortunately, Mr. Sharp was killed in the war later that year and his heirs wanted to re-enslave George, along with his family. He was thrown in jail, but was released when he presented papers signed by Mr. Sharp, which had freed him. As the war came to an end, Mr. Liele was forced to flee with his family. He would choose to become an indentured servant in order to pay for him and his family’s passage by boat to Jamaica.

George arrived in Jamaica in January of 1783, and worked hard to quickly repay his debt and earn his freedom for a second time. He soon was able to secure permission to preach the Gospel to the slaves on the island. So, working to support himself, much in the same way the apostle Paul did as a tentmaker, George began his Gospel ministry as a missionary to the slaves of Jamaica. This was a full 10 years before William Carey would be sent out from England to India and almost 30 years before Adoniram Judson would be “bound for Burma.”

In his first 8 years of preaching the Gospel there, Mr. Liele would baptize over 500 people, all the while supporting his family by farming and transporting goods with his wagon and team. Since his ministry was among the slaves, they never had money to support him, instead it was often George who gave financially to them, in addition to the spiritual blessings he brought their way. Mr. Liele organized them into congregations based on a church covenant he adapted to the local context.

George’s ministry was not always welcomed by the slave owners. Around 1802, he was charged with preaching sedition and was thrown into prison, his family not permitted to see him. He was tried for the charges, but no evidence could be brought against him and he was acquitted. In 1805, a law was passed, forbidding all preaching to slaves. Though not always enforced, the law essentially gave permission for slave owners to strike out and persecute the missionaries whenever they desired. Instances of murder, sexual abuse, imprisonment and other brutality were commonly reported in the missionary accounts of the day until 1834 when slavery was abolished.

George would die in 1828, never seeing physical freedom brought to many who he led to spiritual freedom, but accounts point that his efforts, either directly or indirectly led to a count of 8000 Baptists in Jamaica in 1814 and 20,000 numbered in 1832. In addition to the work on the island, many of George’s converts would go on to plant churches not only in Jamaica, but back in Georgia and as far away as Nova Scotia and Sierra Leone.

He preached the Gospel to a people in bondage, much as we see many of the preachers in the NT, as well as Jesus. George offered up an eternal hope of freedom, regardless of physical bondage, similar to what we find in 1 Peter 2:

16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.18 Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 

Mr. George Liele is definitely a name worth remembering as a fervent example of someone who did not let the difficulties that he faced impact his efforts for the growth and establishment of the Kingdom of God. During his lifetime, the majority of those to whom he proclaimed his message of freedom and salvation would continue to suffer under the bondage of slavery, but through his efforts and the power of the Gospel, they would find a freedom that is greater than any bonds of this earth.

For those looking to learn more about this incredible man, there are many resources available, some of which I used for this article. I also recommend the book, Ten Who Changed the World, which discusses George Liele as well as some of the others mentioned in this article. Finally, you can listen to the voices of pastors and missionaries today, who speak kindly of the influence of George Liele in these videos.

Dominion by Tom Holland – Book Review

The name Tom Holland is fairly well known in the world right now, unfortunately, most people know the name because of its connection to the actor who plays Spiderman, and not the academic who is a world class historian and writer. Both are from England, but it is the later who is author of Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. I have read several books that attempt to write a history of Christianity, including some written as academic works. This book is quite different in that it was written from a secular perspective, but with a kind of respect for the movement of Christianity that is often found lacking in mainstream academic culture. The author points to his own drift from a Christian upbringing and the dismissal of Christianity’s influence as persistent in his studies.

“Assumptions that I had grown up with – about how a society should properly be organised, and the principles that it should uphold – were not bred of classical antiquity, still less of ‘human nature’, but very distinctively of that civilisation’s Christian past. So profound has been the impact of Christianity on the development of Western civilisation that it has come to be hidden from view. It is the incomplete revolutions which are remembered; the fate of those which triumph is to be taken for granted. The ambition of Dominion is to trace the course of what one Christian, writing in the third century ad, termed ‘the flood-tide of Christ’: how the belief that the Son of the one God of the Jews had been tortured to death on a cross came to be so enduringly and widely held that today most of us in the West are dulled to just how scandalous it originally was. This book explores what it was that made Christianity so subversive and disruptive; how completely it came to saturate the mindset of Latin Christendom; and why, in a West that is often doubtful of religion’s claims, so many of its instincts remain – for good and ill – thoroughly Christian. It is – to coin a phrase – the greatest story ever told.”

In the modern western world, it is common to dismiss the Church and to look down upon religious people for their conservative beliefs. The new terminology that is often used is to talk about being on the right side of history. Those who do not go along with progressive thought are condemned as being stuck in the past and held in contempt for failing to wake up and get with the program. This book presents a compelling case that without the influence of Christianity, the entire framework from which arguments about human rights are made wouldn’t exist. As stated in the quote above, declines in the prominence of Christianity in many western nations has actually allowed this influence to become hidden and unknown. What Mr. Holland has done in this work is to systematically walk the readers through a pre-Christian world, the events of the founding of the religion and key points of societal shift that occurred over the last 2000 years. He is not a champion for the Church, or any specific branch of Christian faith, but rather a defender of the powerful formative influence of the teachings of Jesus and the practices of His followers as they lived out those teachings.

A few such examples are as follows:

  • Women’s rights in marriage and in the community. “The insistence of scripture that a man and a woman, whenever they took to the marital bed, were joined as Christ and his Church were joined, becoming one flesh, gave to both a rare dignity. If the wife was instructed to submit to her husband, then so equally was the husband instructed to be faithful to his wife. Here, by the standards of the age into which Christianity had been born, was an obligation that demanded an almost heroic degree of self-denial.” Double standards were the norm in pre-Christian society and it continued in the world into which Christ came and into which the Church grew, but the Church was called to a radically different view of the woman’s role in the marriage and in the world. Even the very idea that sex should be consensual didn’t exist on any widespread basis before Christianity. Marriage, as envisioned in the New Testament, was a great protection for women.
  • Similarly to women’s rights, the idea that human beings inherently had rights because they were human was a Christian invention. This is a foundational principle for what is considered good law, justice and governance today. None of this existed prior to the Christian religion. This included the right to practice religion freely. “We are fortunate to enjoy the rare happiness of living in a republic where every person’s liberty to judge for himself is respected, everyone is permitted to worship God according to his own mind, and nothing is thought dearer or sweeter than freedom.” Human life was cheap in the ancient world and Christianity, more than any other influence, has acted to add value to human life and individual liberty.
  • Scientific progress was driven by a Christian viewpoint that the world was real, unlike the eastern view that much was an illusion. The rational pursuit to understand God’s creation was a driving force behind much discovery. This idea is addressed here, but is not fully developed.
  • Slavery was the norm in the ancient world, the Biblical world and the NT teachings didn’t abolish slavery, but taught a different way for its followers. Slaves were not to be treated differently. Teaching about this and other human rights led Christians to lead the way to eventually eliminate slavery from their cultures. It still exists in societies that do not hold to this Christian heritage. “To target it (slavery) for abolition was to endow society itself with the character of a pilgrim, bound upon a continuous journey, away from sinfulness towards the light. It was to cast slavery as a burden, long borne by fallen humanity, but which, by the grace of God, might one day loose from its shoulders, and fall from off its back, and begin to tumble.” Christian abolitionists like Benjamin and Sarah Lay and William Wilberforce were willing to stand against the tide of the world to see this changed.
  • Protestant and Catholic missions were not driven by the profits of colonization, but rather by the call of the Gospel and the Great Commission. They brought not only the Good News, but also the same culture-transforming views of liberty, human and women’s rights that helped transform the societies they encounter. For a more complete documentation of this, I recommend Robert Woodberry’s excellent paper, The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy.
  • Generally, Christianity brought not just the hope of Christ to a world in need, but a hope for a better tomorrow. A belief that history would allow for progress in areas like justice and peace was a uniquely Christian idea. Christians believed in eternal life, but they also believed in the ability of people to be transformed on this earth by the power of God working in them. “Repeatedly, though . . . it was Christianity that . . . provided the colonized and the enslaved with the surest voice. The paradox was profound. No other conquerors, carving out empires for themselves, had done so as the servants of a man tortured to death on the orders of a colonial official. No other conquerors . . . had installed . . . an emblem of power so deeply ambivalent as to render problematic the very notion of power.”

These are but just a few examples found in this sweeping history. There are other books that are more thorough, offering a more complete coverage of Christian history, such as Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. I’m partial to Rodney Stark’s works on the subject, such as The Rise of Christianity and The Triumph of Christianity, which I believe Christian readers will find overall more satisfying. What Holland offers that makes Dominion special is the specific connections to Christianity’s influence on the modern world, from a more secular perspective. As our world attempts to pretend that it is possible to hold to morality without a belief in God, this is a very significant reminder.

Recently, I read another article that talked about how the TV show Ted Lasso was presenting a main character who had all the markings of an evangelical Christian in his character and behavior, but without any connection to the Christian faith. The author, Mike Frost, suggests that this sitcom seems to suggest, “we can have all the things Jesus taught without having to bother with Jesus himself.” This is also the message that Mr. Holland seems to be addressing as well. He is explaining to the world, every so carefully, that these many things that they find virtuous, did not exist without Christianity.

Another author, Mark Sayers, talks about the desire of society to create a “Kingdom without the King.” He said in an interview, “Post-Christianity is ultimately the project of the West to move beyond Christianity whilst feasting on its fruit. Thus, it constantly offers us options and off ramps, in which we seemingly can have what we enjoy about faith, but without the sacrifices and commitments.” This is a common dream, to have all the benefits of a Christian morality while at the same time not having to be answerable to a Christian God.

Mr. Holland ends his book with an open question that relates to this, “If secular humanism derives not from reason or from science, but from the distinctive course of Christianity’s evolution—a course that, in the opinion of growing numbers in Europe and America, has left God dead—then how are its values anything more than the shadow of a corpse? What are the foundations of its morality, if not a myth?”

This question doesn’t point to the inability of an individual to hold to a high standard of morality without God. We have all seen examples of that over time, but instead it is the question of whether or not whole societies will be able to continue to hold onto morality and values even as they abandon everything that brought that morality into existence. That is a question that we don’t know the answer to yet, but if we hold to the truth of the Bible’s teaching, we are likely to find ourselves expecting a very negative outcome.