Steal Away Home – Book Review

Writing about stories out of history can be a challenge. Some authors choose to focus on events that everyone is very familiar with or choose subjects who were the most well known in the time that they lived in. These events and people tend to be fixed in people’s minds as we build a picture from the shadow of our collective memory. Little bits and pieces that we pick up or hear from a variety of sources that impact our understanding of history. Others choose the more obscure events and individuals and start with more of a blank slate for most of their readers. This is easier, but often greatly limits the reach of the work for most writers.

My favorite works of historical fiction are books like this one, which blend the two styles by taking someone who everyone knows and weaving it together with another story that intertwines with the life of that famous person. Charles Spurgeon is one of the most well-known preachers and theologians to ever live and the sheer number of his own writings could fill a reader’s slate for years. What he is less known for are his writings against slavery and his personal struggles with self-doubt and his personal and family’s physical sufferings.

Steal Away Home tells the remarkable story of a slave, Thomas Johnson, who first heard of Mr. Spurgeon when he was forced by his master to throw Mr. Spurgeon’s anti-slavery writings into a raging bonfire, created entirely of Spurgeon’s writings. The authors properly treat the lives of both Mr. Spurgeon and Mr. Johnson with weight and dignity as they recount their remarkable lives both up to the point of their meeting and the friendship they would have until Mr. Spurgeon’s passing.

In the time that we live in currently, where the emphasis is often on what divides us as individuals and groups, this story is a very timely telling of the fellowship Christians can find in Christ, even when they are drawn from such divergent backgrounds. Thomas Johnson, with his own background of personal suffering was able to recognize Charles Spurgeon’s own suffering from the time of their first meeting and see him not as one of the most famous people in the world, but a fellow brother in Christ, who needed ministering too.

This story is beautiful example for all believers as we seek to move forward in the challenging world that we live in. It is important that we open ourselves up to other believers, both for their benefit and our own. Spurgeon was known for his brilliant mind and booming voice in the pulpit, but his ministry as a pastor was also enhanced by his vulnerability and willingness to learn from others. 33 years of Mr. Spurgeon’s life were spent sick or depressed. Mr. Johnson spent the first 28 years of his life, living as a slave and experienced the loss of his dear wife early on in his ministry. Both of these men did not live easy lives, and yet they tell of how the Lord refined them through their suffering.

Especially touching is the story of Mr. Johnson’s testimony. Even though he would be 28 before he was physically freed from bondage, he experienced the release from spiritual bondage at an earlier age through Jesus Christ. The title of the book comes from the name of a hymn that was especially meaningful to Mr. Johnson during his life, both in his time as a slave and afterward and which would become meaningful to Mr. Spurgeon as well through their fellowship with one another. It is a reminder of the life to come, when our suffering and tears will finally come to an end and we will all find peace and rest with Jesus.

This book is the best one I’ve read this year and I highly recommend you read it for yourselves. You can purchase it here. I listened to the audiobook version through my subscription to Scribd. Scribd provides access to thousands of books and audiobooks for a low monthly fee. You should check it out. Below you will find the text for the hymn:

Refrain:

Steal away, steal away,

steal away to Jesus!

Steal away, steal away home,

I ain’t got long to stay here.

1 My Lord, He calls me,

He calls me by the thunder;

The trumpet sounds within my soul;

I ain’t got long to stay here. [Refrain]

2 Green trees are bending,

Poor sinners stand a trembling;

The trumpet sounds within my soul;

I ain’t got long to stay here. [Refrain]

3 My Lord, He calls me,

He calls me by the lightning;

The trumpet sounds within my soul;

I ain’t got long to stay here. [Refrain]

From <https://hymnary.org/text/my_lord_he_calls_me>

Mass Shootings are Evil

Every week, almost every day of the week, evil expresses itself in the form of a mass shooting. A disturbed individual for a variety of confused/warped/demented reasons crosses the line from thinking evil thoughts to acting on those thoughts. Sometimes this ends with them taking their own life and we can only guess about what led them to this destination. Other times, they express themselves directly about the form of evil that we are dealing with. No matter who the person is, nor what the expressed cause or reason is, what we are dealing with is evil.

This year, as of April 8th of 2020, there have been 133 mass shooting incidents in the 98 days we have experienced so far. More than 500 people have been wounded in those shootings, with hundreds more traumatized by the shooters and 167 individuals losing their lives. You might be shocked to learn there are so many, especially when only a few are highlighted in the national media. Unless one of the others occurred in your city or state, you most likely never heard about it. This ongoing tragedy has impacted many and each one of these events has their own distinctions that leave their communities shaking their heads, wondering how it could have been prevented.

Evil is real and this is just one of its ugly expressions in our world. It is an evil that has many victims and leaves behind a trail of carnage that is wider than those who are directly impacted by a shooting.

Some of the victims:

  • Obviously, those who were shot are victims, both those who survive and those who don’t
  • The family members and close friends of the victims are greatly impacted as well. They have to process both their loss and support the survivors as they attempt to recover.
  • The family members of the perpetrator suffer as well. Sometimes they are more directly involved, but other times, they have suffered before the event and will continue to suffer with the weight of their family member’s evil choices.
  • The communities – Sometimes, events like this don’t destroy the communities that they impact, but help bring them together. Other times, the ripple effect goes on for years with a far reach, damaging many outside of the immediate circle of impact. This can damage a town, a school, a church or many other communities touched by this evil.

A shooting is a horrible event that changes the lives of all of the people involved. Unfortunately, how we respond can cause the pain and suffering to increase. In recent years, in addition to the normal questions and coverage of these tragic events, additional damage is sometimes done by the nature of how the information is reported to the public. Back in 1989, I took a Journalism 101 class. The main emphasis of that class was on the ethics and responsibility of journalists. While writing this article, I took the time to look at the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, available here:

It’s quite striking to read through this page of guidelines when thinking about the way many things are reported, but especially events like mass shootings. Some of the comments from that page:

  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it.
  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy (Do Tweets count?)
  • Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
  • Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.
  • Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.
  • Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.
  • Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know.

This Code of Ethics is designed because even in areas of journalism, there are lines that should not be crossed. There is the potential of evil in the reporting about events, just as in the evil of the event. In my opinion, when it comes to mass shootings, as the media and perhaps we ourselves talk about those events, we have the potential to contribute our own evil, similar to throwing gasoline on a fire. Here are some of the ways:

  • Making the evil perpetrator, famous. Those who commit these evil acts, should not have their names in the news constantly. No one should think that committing evil like this is a great way to get your name remembered.
  • Using the event to make a political statement. It has become common to look at one of these atrocities and if the parameters fit the narrative that someone wants to sell politically, using it as nothing more than a tool to achieve political means. One of the main reasons so few of the 133 mass shootings this year have been reported is because they don’t fit a popular narrative. Over-reporting a few shootings because they do fit the story someone wants to tell isn’t any more fair to the victims than ignoring the many that don’t because they are outside those parameters. One uses victims, the other invalidates victims.
  • Trying to contribute to racial strife. Related to the point above, some outlets seem determined to examine the race of those involved in every one of these events and immediately either ignore it or begin pushing a specific narrative of racial conflict so that the entire world knows about any incident that fits their aims. If the race of the perpetrator is the one they are looking for, the incident will be blown up to a national story immediately. Just this year, there have been 13 mass shootings where at least 4 people lost their lives, but only 2 of them became national stories and most of the 120 other mass shootings were ignored completely. This more than any other of these problems, should make us realize that there is an attempt by many in the media to manipulate us towards racial strife. Sometimes it seems that they are openly trying to incite a race war.
  • Running many unnecessary details that cause those involved to lose access to privacy. Having to immediately be in the public eye after suffering such a tragedy can be very damaging to those involved.
  • Reporting information that isn’t verified. This probably is compounded by the underreporting of any corrections that are later offered. There are instances of falsely accused individuals and their families suffering from vigilante justice and doxing due to irresponsible reporting.

These are just a few of the unhelpful ways that the public can add to the evil that has already been suffered by the victims of a mass shooting. It is important to remember that from a distance, it is often difficult to understand the intricacies of any situation and the further we get away from a problem, the less likely we are able to contribute anything positively to its resolution.


By contrast, if we want to help not only in crisis situations, but also help prevent this type of evil in our community, we can reach out in very practical ways. Evil will always be on this earth and we don’t reduce its true footprint by changes in laws, policy and talking about other people. The only true power on earth to reduce evil is God alone, for only He can change the hearts of men and women away from evil. If we want to act in our communities to really help, we have to be willing to care enough to cross relational lines and barriers and develop community with real people. Here are some tangible ways:

  • Mental health is a serious problem, we should seek to promote good mental health. If you have experience that could help others, be willing to volunteer to lead or participate in a group. Encourage your church to host groups for both Christians and non-Christians. Be a good advocate for mental health initiatives in your community. We want everyone to know the peace of God and we are agents of that peace. This can mean praying for people, caring for their needs or just listening. Be a good friend. Philippians 4:6-7
  • People lack good community. Practice it yourself by building relationships with others and gathering together. This world can be a very lonely place and we can help others by being catalytic gatherers for good community in whatever contexts we are in. Hebrews 10:25
  • Recognize the hurting people around you and be willing to engage in the difficult task of reaching out to them and showing the love of Christ. Don’t be the one who didn’t act when the Holy Spirit was leading you to reach out. Proverbs 17:17

As long as we live in this world, we will have to deal with the presence of evil, but we don’t have to be a part of it. We don’t need to contribute to it. Instead, we are called to conquer evil, not be conquered by it. Romans 12:21 gives the path:

Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

Romans 12:21 NLT

No Community

This is not a post primarily about Covid, lockdowns and political decisions. It is a post about the impact of those decisions and others on a society. One definition of a society is “The totality of people regarded as forming a community of interdependent individuals.” There are a couple of key words in that definition, interdependent and community. Both of these are logical if you are going to function as a true society. While every individual isn’t interdependent with every other individual, to live in society does mean you have a degree of interdependence on some other people in that society.

The other word is community, and that is probably the more important word for the development of a healthy society. It is also a part of God’s plan for His followers. We were created by God to live in community, hopefully a healthy community in which we are able to practice the New Testament “one another” commands as a part of that community. Through this, we are able to more capably follow Christ by challenging one another and “spurring one another on in love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)

Personally, I can testify of the benefit I have received from having people involved in my life, both through the Church and through my local community, neighborhood or in the Greek oikos. I am more healthy, happier and better able to function as I regularly interact with people. Our society has shifted a great deal of community interaction to the digital realm and I have found this is okay, but not a 100% replacement for in person interaction. It is better for some people than it is for others.

Outside of the Church, healthy society depends on the ability to interact with others without constant conflict or stress. When people have little to no healthy interaction with others in society it tends to push them even further away from mental health. Instead, it is easier to assume the worst of others and society as a whole. This is a topic I addressed in this article. Healthy social interaction is usually tied to our common ground and interests in areas that are non-controversial.

At work and at school, we have “water cooler talk” that people engage in. It is usually focused on things like movies, TV, sports, music and things as mundane as the weather. Having regular interaction about these kind of things, helps us to be able to keep a friendly perspective on life with the people in our lives who are more acquaintances than friends. These are often the people in our lives that we have the least in common with, but we are brought together by the normal rhythms of life. These interactions allow people who might completely disagree about one thing to find common bonds in another area.

Human interaction like this is the foundation of the community part of society. I grew up in a small town and when it came to school events like ball games or community events, people came out of their smaller, defined groups that might have been based on religion or politics to join together to support the activities of the community. In larger cities, you find other community focused activities around civic events, major sports teams, the arts and helping other people. Society is formed and strengthened by the unity that is found in community when people come together for reasons like these.

Regardless of your opinions about the wisdom of some of the measures we have seen over the course of this last year, it is obvious to me that much of what I’m talking about above has been disrupted. Most “community” was cancelled for significant lengths of time. In some places, almost every event is still cancelled or tentative. After a year of preventative measures, people don’t gather like they used to. Casual gatherings are discouraged and in some places, illegal. People are more isolated in society than they have ever been. For the most part, all of the events that would draw us out to enjoy life together haven’t happened.

Even when interactions do happen, they are often awkward. Masks and other distancing measures have made most face to face interactions uncomfortable. Every person you interact with whom you don’t know personally is a potential cringe-worthy moment as people worry about violating each other’s new post-Covid social norms. Professionally, I know that a face to face interaction is preferred, especially when dealing with a difficult topic. We need to be able to see each other’s faces and expressions in order to properly understand what it is that they are trying to communicate. When you can’t see someone’s face, it is very easy to miss the nuances in communication.

None of this is ideal when it comes to forming community that will be the foundation for our society. Instead, we have the perfect breeding ground for suspicion and division. If you never have a stress-free, positive interaction with the acquaintances in your life, where does that leave your community with them? Instead of a personal framework to develop that community on, we have an impersonal environment built on hearsay, snippets of information gained from social media, and our own opinions of the person’s motivations and thinking. If your plan was to divide a society and turn people against each other, you could hardly have come up with a better plan than what we have actually done.

When you add to this the fact that many people are consuming a daily diet of news and social media that for most people is an echo chamber telling them that they are right and anyone who disagrees with them is the worst “ist” of their choice (fascist, racist, terrorist, white supremacist, etc.), you have an environment built for division. It is only natural when people hear all the bad about anyone who has a different opinion from them and have almost no opportunity to have personal interactions with people like that in their community, they will be driven in more extreme directions away from any unifying positions. There are people who haven’t had a single stress-free personal interaction with one of their regular acquaintances in their community in the last year. That will have an impact.

This leaves us feeling like our society is on the brink of permanent division and breaking apart. That once vital local community feels like it will never be there again. We must be honest that this is a real possibility. Things are not going to just go back to normal. You can’t just take people who have been living in solitary confinement and expect them to immediately jump back into society. It is going to take real effort to repair the damage that has been done to our societal psyche. I’ve talked to many Christians and Church leaders who have greatly mourned the missed opportunities of the last year. With so many people hurting, it is only natural that the Church would want to lead the way to reach out to them and provide comfort and hope. Unfortunately, some of the restrictions have led Christians to be unsure of themselves about what they are able to do.

Now is the time to put aside our fear and step up to help lead the way in building our communities back together. Points of division still exist and it seems like politics will continue to try and push communities apart including churches. All believers should not accept this as our ultimate destination. As followers of Jesus, we have a unique opportunity in this difficult, seemingly hopeless time to point to the only place that we really have hope, in Christ. We are divided from society by our faith, but we should not be divided because of these other points of division. Instead, we should be those who cross this great divide just as Christ crossed the divide in order that we might be called “out of the darkness into His glorious light.”

Now is the time to re-enter our communities, purposefully, and lead the way in re-building that which has been being destroyed.

9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 10 “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” 11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

1 Peter 2:9-12 NLT

The “Love” Chapter

I was reading one of the most well-known passages in all of the Bible recently, 1 Corinthians 13, otherwise known as “The Love Chapter”. If you were to pick verses that are most likely to be quoted outside of an explicitly Christian context there are many that are likely to appear. I’m guessing the most frequently used verse would be Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge or you too will be judged“. Even if people don’t know the full verse you will often hear people say, “doesn’t the Bible say you aren’t supposed to judge other people!” After that verse, pull quotes from 1 Corinthians 13 are among those most likely to occur on someone’s wall, in an Instagram post or even in a secular wedding.

Here are a few of the verses most likely to be pulled out of the chapter:

  • 4a – “Love is patient and kind…”
  • 7 – “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
  • 8a – “Love never ends…”
  • 13 – “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

The reason we find these verses quoted is the role that the concept of love plays in our society. Love is a dominate theme in our lives. We sing about it, we read about it and I’ve heard that Hallmark makes a lot of movies about it, among others. People not only quote verses from the Bible almost like clichés about love, there are other societal tropes that recur in the same way. “All we need is love” “Love is blind” “Make love, not war” and so on. My favorite new quote I read in researching for this article was from the late George Burns, “Love is a lot like a backache. It doesn’t show on X-rays, but you know it’s there

What these quotes and the use of these Bible verses in this way have in common, is they are all focused on the most common use of the word love, the romantic version. In society, when we hear about love, this is by far the most frequent usage. Songs about love are about falling in love, being in love or sadly, the end of love. There are other uses for the word love overall, but very few love songs and poems are written about parental love, brotherly love or love between any people who are not interested in wooing one another.

“I love you man”

This pattern has a definite influence on our ability to understand the use of the word love in general usage, but one specific way it has impacted followers of Christ, is that we often associate 1 Corinthians 13 with weddings and the love between a man and wife exclusively. That is an appropriate usage of the passage, especially when we are talking about 2 believers marrying one another, but it is not the original purpose of the passage in the letter in which it was written. Instead, you shouldn’t be surprised that 1 Corinthians 13 comes immediately following chapter 12, but you would do well to remember what chapter 12 (and the rest of the letter for that matter) was talking about as the proper framework for chapter 13.

If you read Paul’s letters to Corinth, it is obvious that the local church there dealt with divisions. These included racial divisions, socio-economic divisions, doctrinal divisions and differences of opinion about many things. They were a divided church, just like we sometimes see today. Paul didn’t tell them they were all the same. He didn’t say they all had to be the same. Instead, he highlighted that they were different and that they were better because of those differences. They were complete, as a body with many parts. They had different giftings that made them unique. They were not the same, but they were a part of the same body. Into that context, Paul writes chapter 13, which he says, “I will show you a still more excellent way.” (12:31b)

Chapter 13 is first and foremost a guide for how the church should treat one another. It is Paul’s church handbook for the church of Corinth. Here is how the people who go to that church should behave. Since Paul was just talking about giftings and gifts can be their own divisive part or church or family life, he spends the first 3 verses telling them that all the gifts in the world don’t matter if you don’t follow the standards of love that he is about to lay out. He mentions gifts like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great faith or being a generous giver, but it just as easily could be giftings you might find in your church: speaking, writing, singing, even serving. Without love, these are as annoying as a fire alarm going off in the middle of the night.

Let’s revisit some of our popular verses, but keep in mind, these are how you are to treat the other believers you interact with on a regular basis. Both in your local church and as you chat, comment, or reply to each other online. When you talk to your believing “friends” are you:

  • Patient
  • Kind
  • Not boastful
  • Not arrogant
  • Not rude
  • Not insisting your own way
  • Not irritable
  • Not resentful
  • Rejoicing in the truth, not in wrongdoing
  • Never giving up on them
  • Never losing faith in them
  • Always hopeful for them
  • Enduring with them through all circumstances

This is the picture that Paul gives for the church. We, as followers of Christ, are to follow this “still more excellent way.” Before the grand finale of verse 13, Paul helps put it another way, in case they haven’t gotten his point yet. “11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” Now is the time to grow up! As believers in Christ who have faith in Him, we have “faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.” How we function as churches and how we testify the truth to the world is impacted by our ability to practice what Paul gave us in 1 Corinthians 13. As we are able to not just read these words, but take them and follow through with them, then Jesus’ words to His disciples will ring true of us: 

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:35 (ESV)

Here is the chapter in its entirety. Read through it slowly, thinking of the believers in your life. Be prepared to confess and seek repentance if necessary.

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (ESV)

Friends of God

There are several things that might make the Christian faith unique, but one of the most distinct differences is in the relationship. When you go out into the world and start interacting with people from other faiths, it is difficult to find the kind of intimacy that is described in the New Testament. Personally, I believe that part of the reason for this is that religion is often a product of mankind’s goals and ideals and people creates things that will give them advantages over other people.

Most manmade religions want God distant and inaccessible to their fellow followers. This allows individuals in positions of power to be arbiters of faith between God and other people. This power structure allows an elite few to hold sway over the masses. Much of the criticisms leveled at religions and faiths are about the abuses allowed by these power structures. When people without God observe a religion where a leader has all the authority and often abuses it, we shouldn’t be surprised that they find that distasteful.

These false religions rely on certain assumptions that make it easier to manipulate others. They might say that people can never know if God is pleased with them or the only way they can know is if the leader tells them that they are okay. Some religions intentional keep their holy books unavailable to the masses, so that the average follower is not encouraged to read and understand the teachings for themselves. There are cults that make the spoken word of one individual leader the ultimate authority, which allows that person unlimited ability to abuse their followers. Other religions like to keep everything purposefully vague and impossible to understand, except for perhaps a few “enlightened” ones.

Contrast that with the truths of the Christian Bible, where instead of putting barriers between God and mankind, God chose to remove the barriers. John 1:14 (NLT) says, “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” Paul expands on this in his letter to the Philippian Church:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

PHil 2:5-7 (NIV)

Jesus Christ lived and walked among the human race. He, being in very nature God, lived a human life. He was born a baby, grew up and lived a life among fallen humans and dealt with all of the challenges life in a fallen world brings. He was fully human, with the pain and discomfort that you would expect that to imply. Probably more than what you can imagine now, as the world he came into was actually much more uncomfortable than the one we currently live in. This tells us that as history moved forward, God didn’t make it harder for us to get to know Him, instead He made it easier. He didn’t put additional barriers between us and Him, instead, God made it possible to remove all barriers. Paul talks about this in Romans:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

Romans 5:6-11 (NLT)

In the Old Testament, Abraham is called a friend of God, but now we see that through the sacrifice of Christ’s death, we all can have a wonderful new relationship with God. We all are now able to be friends of God. That is really a staggering idea. God didn’t change. He is still holy. He is still perfect. He is still who He has always been, but now we are able to access Him as our friend. You and me are able to go to the Almighty, Most Powerful, Everlasting Father of the Universe and have intimacy with God.

Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com


This is a picture that does away with all of the incomplete pictures offered by man-made religions. We don’t need a priest, an imam or a guru to stand between us and God. Jesus Christ has made it possible for every person to approach Him as a friend. Right now, you should feel the freedom to talk to God personally and intimately, sharing your cares and concerns and very life with Him, just as you would with any dear friend. In fact, God is a better friend, the one who never breaks confidence, never fails you and never lets you down.

The Bible does make it clear that there are still roles for men and women to play in the Church and the Kingdom of God. God still appoints some to be “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers”. (Eph. 4:11) None of that takes away from the fact that anyone who accepts the message of salvation through Jesus Christ can become a friend of God, regardless of position, education, age or any other factor in their background. If you are a part of God’s Kingdom as His friend, you have all the capability to know God intimately and to see Him for who He really is.

The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl R. Trueman – Book Review

Dr. Carl Trueman’s book, which was released late last year, arrives at a particularly relevant time with the culture wars raging more every day. When Christians look around and see some of the trends in society, there is definitely a temptation to feel discouraged. In fact, I often hear Christians lamenting the state of society and expressing deep concern over the world they find themselves in.

This book is one of the most thorough examinations of the changes we see in society and the contributing factors that helped define our modern world. The subtitle of the book is “Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.” This hints at where the clues will be found as he searches back through history. The modern sexual revolution and especially the movement towards the current expression of transgenderism and LGBQT rights didn’t just happen in the last 60 years, but have their roots in many different influences.

“Every historical phenomenon is the result of a wide variety of factors that can vary from the technological to the political to the philosophical”

The author begins with an examination of philosophy and how some of the thoughts and ideology expressed by Philip Rieff, Charles Taylor and Alasdair MacIntyre contributed to the ideal of selfhood and social imagery, which are so common in our society today. This includes the disturbing trend we see today that moral truth is more of an expression of emotional preference than anything else. Some of these ideas were very influential in varying fields.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, we see a shift of focus to the inner life of the individual. He cites specific examples from literature of authors who saw society as oppressive and especially societal Christian norms such as lifelong, monogamous marriage. The viewpoints of men like Nietzsche and Marx were built on this and they, along with Charles Darwin, dismissed any significance that human life could have, especially in the spiritual domain. Nietzsche and Marx especially were influential in the modern view of history as oppression and victims as the true heroes of the world’s story.

From there, the author looks at the rise of the modern psychological study movement and specifically the work of Freud and Jung. This movement legitimized the pursuit of sexual desires in whatever form they might occur. Some Marxist thinkers, such as Reich and Marcuse would make use of this in their own political movements. All of this comes together to support the sexual revolution of the last 60 years. The prominence of which is expressed in a number of troubling ways, including the role of eroticism and pornography in addition to the push towards sexual freedom in lifestyle practice.

While this book is not an easy read for someone who doesn’t already have a background in the fields discussed, it is an important work for helping modern pastors, ministers and Christians understand more about the world they live in and the influences that shaped it. As a teaser to entice you to want to read the book, here are a few pull quotes to help you see some of the insights.

In a world in which the self is constructed psychologically and in which the therapeutic is the ethical ideal, we should therefore expect the notion of good and bad, to change accordingly…In such a context, freedom of speech becomes not so much part of the solution as part of the problem. Liberal democracies have long assumed that the free exchange of ideas in society is a means of preventing totalitarianism and promoting the common good. In the world of psychological man, however, it serves rather to give legal protection to (verbal) assaults on the person.

Thus, speech seen as violence will become the norm and society will start to restrict free speech more and more in order to defend individual freedom, especially sexual freedom. Individuals have the freedom to define “hate speech” according to their own definition of selfhood and tolerance in general is seen as more of a tool of an oppressive society, so censorship is seen as a greater moral good. The author gives examples of conflicts over free speech on university campuses where the students express their thinking in the following way:

…enemies are those who ‘devalue our experiences’. This is the language of subjective emotions, expressive individualism, and the therapeutic ideal that society has been cultivating. It also renders reason irrelevant until people are attuned to the proper emotions

If you have ever looked at some of these conflicts and found them to be incredulous, you are probably operating from a completely different worldview from the students making the complaints. In their reality, emotions trump reason.

For transgenderism to be coherent, the society in which it occurs needs to place a decisive priority on the psychological over the physical in determining identity. For it to be coherent also involves a correlative downplaying of external authority, whether that of the person’s biology or of traditional expectations.

Removing gender and traditional viewpoints and societal norms is a necessary step in accomplishing their goals and is a non-negotiable element in achieving the future that is desired by this movement.

…traditionalists only maintain their beliefs about sex and sexual mores on the grounds of irrational bigotry. In short, they are either stupid or immoral or both. In such a world, the idea that religious freedom is a social good is not simply increasingly implausible, it is also increasingly distasteful, disturbing, and undesirable.

Thus, Christians and especially Christians who hold to a Biblical worldview and practice evangelism, are the greatest enemies of the modern movement. They are the group, more than any other, that represents the opposite of their desired outcome. Thus, they will be attacked and assaulted more and more for those stances. The author sees this as the likely outcome in the near future and encourages the Christians reading to be ready.

So, what should Christians do in light of the information that is covered here? Dr. Trueman brings hope by pointing to the similarities of the 2nd century, when a fledgling Church had none of the advantages we are used to relying on and was openly hated and attacked by many in the places where it was found. This Church laid the foundation for a movement that would change the world and the author believes that the modern Church has the same options before them.

…she did it by what means? By existing as a close-knit, doctrinally bounded community that required her members to act consistently with their faith and to be good citizens of the earthly city as far as good citizenship was compatible with faithfulness to Christ

Followers of Jesus who faithfully held to His teachings and called on others to do the same did change the world in a time when all earthly momentum was against them. I for one find hope in this declaration and even though much of this book might point to very little to be encouraged about in the modern society, it is this absence of power that might cause us to turn to Him who holds the true power to make a difference. Dr. Trueman’s book is available here, and you can also read or listen to it as a member of Scribd, which is how I obtained it.

Living in a Broken World

Broken…damaged…shattered…crushed

These are vivid words used to describe things that are not as they should be. Whether it is a relationship, a life or the world we live in, people often look around and find themselves feeling overwhelmed by the “wrongness” of it all. The last year has only added to this feeling. I’ve read several articles about how the world is “broken”. Instead of pinpointing one specific problem that is behind it all, instead there is an overall sense that things are so wrong they can’t easily be made right. This problem is bigger than bad circumstances that we find ourselves in, bigger than any one solution and beyond the scope of any leader to fix.

Cultural and racial issues are one area of the broken world that was especially prominent during the last year. Various activist groups expressed dissatisfaction and outrage at injustice that they saw both generally and illustrated in a few specific situations. People wanted things to change, to be better and to see an end to what was wrong, but it was difficult to find a clear, tangible solution that would fix what was broken in society. People saw injustices repeated over and over again and their frustration led to a variety of actions, some more helpful than others. Some of the more extreme responses created more brokenness and division, even between groups that agreed that something needed to change.

Political divisions created their own brokenness, often dividing families, communities and even churches. Political figures offered solutions to the things they saw that were wrong with this world, but these solutions were lacking. Some of them failed to address the real problems, some helped some people while hurting others, and some solutions were empty promises that the leader had no intention of fulfilling. All of this was augmented by a divisive media that seemed to celebrate the brokenness for their own ratings. The reporting was often intentionally inflammatory and it was fairly easy to find stories and reports that would blame the brokenness of the world on those who you personally don’t agree with.

All of this brokenness can lead us to a loss of hope. When we look around and see cracks everywhere, it is difficult to know where to start to make things better. Most solutions can seem like you are putting a band aid on a gushing wound or duct tape on a building that is falling down around you. When you see a broken world what does it mean and where do we turn for hope?

The Bible speaks clearly about the brokenness of our world. Instead of expecting to find a world that is whole, from the time of the Fall of man into sin, the world has been broken and continues to be broken. It describes the world as fallen, sinful and given over to the “flesh”. Here is some fleshing out of what that means in Galatians 5:

19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar.

Galatians 5:19-21a (CSB)

The results of sin lead to the brokenness of the world we see around us. Sometimes what we see is not the result of one sin, but of generations of sin and sin patterns that pile brokenness upon brokenness. This is described in 2 Timothy 3:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.

2 Timothy 3:1-5a (ESV)

Sin is the problem. Sin is what leaves us in a broken world. Sin is what destroys marriages, relationships, families and societies. When we see brokenness all around us, we are seeing what God promised as people followed the path of living for themselves without God. A broken world is the natural state of the world without God.

God’s solutions for this brokenness is not better governance, better programs, more money, money better spent or better ideas. Instead, God offered only one hope for all of mankind and that is complete life transformation through salvation in Jesus Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (ESV)

You may be wondering about what difference can that really make in a society or in a nation? You might be surprised to learn that it can make a greater difference than any of the human solutions mentioned above or promised by politicians today. In fact, a sociologist named Robert Woodberry spent a great deal of time studying the impact of Protestant Missions on communities around the world. He was able to study “empirical, long term, statistically significant evidence that Christianity increased the general well-being of surrounding populations.”

While it is a popular theme to blame Christians for things like racism, division and hate crimes, the evidence Woodberry found showed that “When people selflessly live out the gospel, both through evangelization and through practical application, it changes cultures for the better.”

If you are interested in reading more, you can find a summary of his study here and the full study is available for download here.

As Christians, we should realize that when we look at the brokenness that exists in the world today, there is only one true answer for what ails it, and we have access to that solution. You can be a part of healing brokenness around you, but you have to be willing to go to those who need to know the love of Christ and share the hope of His salvation with this broken world. You and your ideas and opinions are not the answer. Jesus is the answer. What are you waiting for?

Strife in the Family

In the country, not far from where you grew up, there was a very troubled family. This family had a mom and a dad, a brother and a sister. The sister was just a little over a year older than the brother and from the day they were both able to walk, they had been at odds with each other. What made them unique was that everyone agreed that in every area other than when it came to each other, they were model children. They were helpful to their parents and anyone else they came in contact with, even looking for ways to help without being asked. As long as they were separate from one another, you would have never guessed that there was a problem of any kind.

The parents had tried everything to get them to work out their differences, but no matter what, if the sister had one opinion, the brother must have the opposite, and vice versa. Even when it came to simple things like what to eat or wear, if one of them expressed an opinion, the other would be sure to disagree.

These disagreements weren’t just a polite contradiction. Every conflict was full out war. The siblings not only didn’t agree, but they basically demanded compliance with their opinion. There were few rational arguments between them, instead their conflicts were marked by yelling, name calling and often physical altercations as well. From the time they were just a few years old, on into their teenage years, every battle didn’t end until they were physically separated from one another.

Soon, the parents developed an elaborate household system that was designed to keep them permanently separated. They divided the house into zones and each sibling was assigned times that they could be in each zone. During the few times the brother and sister were together, the parents forbid them from speaking to one another. But they still sometimes found ways to be in conflict, even if it was just from a glance in the wrong direction.

After a brief experiment with school that ended with the parents getting called in every day, the brother and sister were home schooled and only allowed to go out into the community on alternate days. As you can imagine, it wasn’t just the parents who tried to solve this problem, but family members, school counselors and medical professionals were brought in to talk to them as well. Most of them had the same experience, whenever they were by themselves, they seemed perfectly rational, calm and compliant with the desires of the person trying to help, but as soon as they were together again, the ruckus started.

Finally, the parents had reached their limit. Even though the children were only 15 and 14 respectively, they knew they couldn’t continue to live in the same house, one of the children would have to go someplace else. But how would they choose? Despite all the trouble, the parents loved these siblings and they really were good kids as long as they could be kept apart. It seemed that the only answer was permanent separation.

They talked to the daughter first, her being the oldest, and she calmly made her case for why her brother had to go. In her mind, he was the problem. She was right and he was the one who insisted on living a lie and holding to positions that couldn’t possibly be true. He was so unreasonable, surely her parents could tell that the obvious solution was to find another place for her brother. Having him in the house was like having an agent of chaos, who just wanted to tear all reason and truth apart. There would never be peace in the house as long as someone who refused to acknowledge the truth was living there.

When it came time to talk to the boy, the conversation was very similar, but he pointed to his sister’s harsh, uncaring nature. She was a cruel person, who had always hated him. He suspected that she had a natural bias against little brothers that made her target him for unfair treatment. It only made sense that because she was the oldest and the source of the problem that she must be the one to go. There would never be peace in the house as long as someone so heartless was living there.

In the end, the parents couldn’t choose. They decided that the dad would take his daughter away and the son would stay with his mom. That way at least each child would have one parent. They would arrange for the other parent to be able to visit occassionally, but the strife between the children had finally ended their home.

Both of the children didn’t like this plan. They couldn’t understand how their parents didn’t see clearly that the other one was obviously the problem. But both of them, unwilling to compromise even a bit, wouldn’t agree to change in order to save their family. Instead, the story ends with a family divided, perhaps forever.


Unfortunately, this kind of division is becoming more and more common in families, communities, churches and workplaces. As a society, we are “birthing” children who are unwilling to come to any type of middle ground where mutual understanding might be found. We are modeling division and all discourse is becoming charged with a severe dislike and disrespect for anyone who does not agree with our opinions. Instead of engaging and talking through ideas, we are obsessed with labeling our opponents with sub-human categories that demean them personally while “destroying” their arguments. We make everyone the “Other”, an enemy that we cannot empathize with.

Just like the two siblings, the path we are on is one that none of us will enjoy in the end. We are headed to a place of desolation. A “broken” place that cannot be repaired by any government or leader. The reality is there is little hope for us to turn away from this path on our own. Just as all of our efforts to save ourselves end in failure, the only real hope for true reconciliation is in Christ.

When we read a human story like the one above, we want a solution. We don’t mind the conflict and the drama if in the end we know everything will work out. But we are fooling ourselves if we think that any human leader has a path out of this. Only Christ can put hostility to death. The way forward is up to each of us. Will we turn away from human solutions and start putting our hope in God-sized answers or will we continue to live daily immersed in strife and enmity?

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The Truth Will Set You Free

“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32 ESV

This is one of the most well know verses in the Bible. It has been quoted by Pastors, Politicians and other orators whenever they believed it would serve the purposes of their speech. Many times, it is quoted completely out of context and sometimes it is used overtly as a weapon to advance a particular agenda. The integrity of the usage is tied up in the “truth” the individual is proclaiming will set you free. We live in a world where truth is under fire. Some are attempting to redefine truth at the atomic level. Long standing accepted norms are being deconstructed and the personal interpretation of reality is encouraged. Individuals are blessed to create their own truth and sometimes it seems that the only true sin in the modern world is to declare absolute truth that claims something else is false.

Last May, I talked about this verse in the context of integrity. You might say, I used this verse for my own purposes in that article. That article was centered on our own usage of truth. I wanted to emphasize the importance of Christians considering the truth of information before they passed it along to a public audience. This is a great challenge in this world today and fact checking the fact checkers can take a great deal of time with the expansion of severe bias into most information sources. Today I want to talk about something that is more central to the main idea of this verse, the freeing nature of truth.

Freedom is something that is often taken for granted by those who live in it. When you experience freedom every day, it is easy not to think of it. The opposites of freedom are words like: captivity, bondage, slavery and subjection.  Most of us would never define our lives by words like those. While there are and have been places where it was common for people to live under those circumstances, few of us have experienced something like that first hand. The fight against human slavery even unites people from diverse backgrounds in our modern world.

Even though it is not the equivalent of physical bondage or slavery, the absence of truth in people’s lives has its own way of holding people in a state of captivity. This year especially seems to have emphasized the difficulty people have as they try to understand what information they could trust regarding politics and current events. Polarized viewpoints are often presented with extreme bias as undeniable truth. On both the news and social media, people are able to find perspectives that perfectly align and reinforce their own opinions and can share them in their own echo chambers. Differing viewpoints are attacked and treated harshly and most people seem to rush to find “evidence” that supports their own side rather than an honest inquiry into the truth behind the issue.

All of this tends to build a cage that is difficult to escape. We become more and more dependent on untrustworthy advocates of “truth” that are more motivated by their own profits or political agenda than they are by any journalistic integrity that once existed. As followers of Christ, this is a definite problem. We were made for truth. Our hearts and minds hunger for it. We want to stand up to injustice. We desire to be on the cause of righteousness. Truth is truly freeing when we experience it. Many of the founders and most significant contributors to our scientific understanding of the world we live in were driven by this hunger to know the truth. We should all care about the truth, but where can we be sure to find it?

Let’s return to the beginning to expand the context of this verse, this time with John 8:31-32 in the Amplified version:

31 So Jesus was saying to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word [continually obeying My teachings and living in accordance with them, then] you are truly My disciples. 32 And you will know the truth [regarding salvation], and the truth will set you free [from the penalty of sin].”

Jesus teaching to the disciples was about freedom in 2 main areas:

  1. Freedom from sin and the penalty of sin through salvation in Christ
  2. Freedom through Godly living found in knowing and following the teachings of Christ (the Bible)

The core of our search for truth must start there and that must be the foundation of truth in our lives. The devil is a liar and this world is the devil’s playground. We will find few guarantees of truth in the things we experience in this world. On the other hand God is truth and He has conveyed truth to us through His word. As we immerse ourselves in that truth, we experience freedom in our daily life. When our thoughts are centered on uncertain truth through reading the news and social media, we tend towards being bound to those things in our thinking. Our minds will keep coming back to the lies and half-truths we find there and they will consume our mental and emotional energy. This is how we become slaves to the world.

On the contrast, when we center our lives on truth, we experience the freedom to carry out the commands of Christ in the context we find ourselves in. Interacting with people in person and online, regardless of their political viewpoints, becomes about who they are as a creation of God, rather than what “tribes” they align themselves with in the culture wars. When a crisis comes before us, we can concern ourselves with the tragedy of the human impact rather than the take of our political alliance. Truth is found in God’s perspective on the world. We see real people, real needs and know the real solution (Christ).

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Helpful tips:

  • Don’t start or end your day on social media or by reading the news. Start it by reading, studying or meditating on the truth. End your day with loved ones or reading a good book, preferably non-fiction.
  • When you do go on social media, don’t have an agenda or fall into the trap of picking a fight with someone who is looking for one. If you see an inflammatory post and don’t have the time to thoroughly research it for yourself, just hide it from your feed and move on.
  • If you have issues you care about passionately, make it a goal to learn as much as you can from people as close to the source as possible. Don’t rely on lazy reporting from understaffed news agencies with their own agenda, posts on social media, and especially memes. I recommend local news sources. Learn to get to know God’s perspective on these issues. God is just and the Bible has a lot to say about many issues.
  • Remember that the foundational truth is that there are no human solutions for the greatest problem you or anyone else has to deal with, standing condemned before God for their own sins and unrighteousness. The essential truth that everyone needs to hear is that Jesus is the only solution for this problem, and until a person puts their hope and trust in Him and receives His salvation, all other truths and problems are of little importance.

If you want to know more about what it means to know God and His truth, I wrote a whole book about it, which is available here.

Being “Friends” on Social Media

Friendship has always had different levels of meaning. My wife has made fun of me throughout our marriage for defining many different friends as a “good friend” or one of my “best friends”. Part of this comes from my more extroverted personality. She, like most good introverts, treats terms like these as precious and rarely bestows them on a few choice people. Today, the term has less meaning than ever. The decisions by various social media platforms to use the term “friend” has likely contributed to this. Facebook is the most well-known playground for this type of being a friend.

Friend in this context can now mean any of the following: friend, family member, acquaintance, business associate, people who go to the same church/school/group that I go to, people I think I met once, friends of friends that seem interesting, people who like the same things I like, and even pets that are cute/interesting. That is a pretty diverse list and I’m sure I missed something. If all of these people are now our friends, what does it even mean to be a friend? (Proverbs 12:26) Here are a few principles I want to share that I hope will help you better assess what it means to be a friend on social media and how we should treat one another.

  1. Friends don’t discuss in public what is better talked about in private or not spoken of at all. On social media, it is easy to have both public and private discussions. This is a big change from the way community was structured in previous times. Private discussions have always been possible, but in the past, few people had access to a broad public forum to talk about things. Social media has provided a platform for people to bring things into the public discussion which would never have been possible in the past. If something only concerns us personally, we can make the choice about when to publicly discuss it on our own, but if it involves our family, friends or others in our community, we have no right to discuss private issues in a public forum without their permission. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them about it privately, you definitely shouldn’t discuss it publicly. (Romans 12:10)
  2. Friends are not responsible for changing their friends minds about everything. There is an issue that I’m sure you are right on. You have the whole truth and are an evangelist for this position. That doesn’t mean you personally have to beat your friends over the head with this position until you have battered them into submission. This is not only a good way to lose a friend, but human nature has shown us that it is not an effective way to change people’s mind. These kind of assaults tend to cause people to respond in kind, put their armor on or walk away. Friendly discussions about issues are great, but when someone indicates that they have a different perspective, the weight of convincing them otherwise is not your responsibility as a friend. (Proverbs 19:20)
  3. Friends don’t attack friends personally when talking about an issue. A public forum is the perfect place to share ideas and to have a give and take about the content of the ideas. This is a tradition that dates back throughout all of human discourse. Offering counterpoints and noting the flaws with ideas is not a problem, but this should never degenerate into personal attacks. Personal attacks and name calling not only demonstrate that you don’t really consider the person a friend, but they often also show that you don’t have an intelligent response to offer. Friends should conduct their conversations on posts in a way that the person you are engaging with will never question your friendship. (Proverbs 18:24)
  4. Friends don’t talk about other friends behind their back. An oldy, but a goody. Gossip spreads even faster in the digital age and a true friend does not engage in gossip in either a public or private forum. If you hear something about a friend that is concerning, you can pray for them, talk to them about it directly, or choose to ignore it. You are not free to run to other friends and start talking about it or even share it as a prayer request with other friends without the person’s permission. (Proverbs 16:28, 17:9)
  5. Friends see their friends as more than their position on one issue. People are complex and to label and write people off for one issue that you disagree with them on is not true friendship. We used to live in a world where most people’s views and opinions were held in private. That is no longer true for many. Social media has given people the opportunity to express these things without restraint. If you choose to call someone friend and they express an opinion that you disagree with, you should practice empathy first and give them the benefit of the doubt. Think about what would lead them or even yourself to hold a similar view. Value their friendship by making sure they are fully heard. If necessary, engage them in loving, honest debate to learn more and share your difference of opinion in a way that doesn’t belittle or demean them. (Proverbs 27:9)
  6. When your friend has a legitimate problem, online is not the answer. Some problems are very real and very serious and require you to stand up and try to help in whatever way possible. This is difficult to do well from a distance, online or in a public forum. It requires personal connection. If you care enough to call someone your friend, care enough to engage with them personally either face to face in person, or on a video call. Pray for them above all else. God solves problems, man is incapable of solving. (Ecclesiastes 4:10, Proverbs 27:5-6)
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I may add to this list later, but I think this is enough for now. Maybe after looking at this list, you realize that you have many online friends who are not really your friends. They are people you don’t care enough about to treat them in the way a real friend should. If that is the case, you are probably better off removing them from your friends’ list altogether. It is also possible that in reading through this list, you have realized that you have been a really bad friend to someone who could probably use a good friend. Going to them, apologizing and moving forward is a great way to deepen a friendship. A true friend will forgive you as they should. (Colossians 3:13)