Poisoning Our People’s Minds

Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to hear preacher’s rail against raunchy movies, television and music.  It doesn’t take a lot of research to know that there are some serious dangers there, especially for impressionable young people.  I’m convinced, however, that most of our congregations are at much greater risk of poisoning their souls with something entirely different, and for the most part, we haven’t stood against it, but encouraged it.

Many Christians seem to be possessed with some very weird and very powerful political demons over the last several years.  In the rare times when I do go on Facebook and look at what people are posting, I’m shocked and dismayed at the things they are willing to say.  The faithful as a rock, salt-of-the-earth Christians are transformed into vulgar, unhinged from reality political warriors in a battle they will never win.

1 Timothy 6:4 teach us that some teaching leads to ”envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, ”  Paul was dealing with resentment towards the upper class (vs. 1).  In our day, a spirit of envious resentment (that the left holds all the levers of cultural and political power) is leading to a constant spirit of combativeness (strife) which in turn is causing people to constantly level mean spirited accusations at others (railings) and float boogey-man political theories about their opponents they cannot possibly know to be true (evil surmisings.)    

I think it’s time we recognized that something is causing them to have “corrupt minds” (5) and start speaking against it, here are what I think are the main culprits:

The partisan commentariat

Many of our people spend a huge portion of their day listening to or watching some kind of political commentary.  Almost all of the “news” has devolved into talking heads telling us exactly what to think and telling us how bad the other side is.  Corporations have figured out they can make billions of dollars (Fox News alone make 13 billion a year in annual revenue) by keeping us angry enough to keep tuning in.  Podcasters and talk radio shows are raking in millions capturing our daily angry attention so they can shill mushroom coffee and waffle makers. 

These people only make money if you pay attention and the way they keep you paying attention to what for centuries most people thought was boring and mundane is by keeping you angry and afraid.  Whatever the news of the day is, you can be sure it includes nefarious bad guys, world-is-coming-to-an-end conflict and a healthy dose of injustice because that particular recipe is the crack cocaine that keeps us coming back and keeps them collecting their advertisement checks.  Thirty years on this crack has side effects and we are seeing those side effects play out in the form of two nearly equal parties of people who share no common ground and who generally seem to hate each other.   The scary thing is that their is no Mason-Dixon Line in this civil war – the enemy is your neighbor, the lady who makes your coffee at the local Starbucks, or the dentist you’ve been avoiding for ten years.

Just as crack addicts have to keep upping their doses to get the high they are after – the political commentariat has to keep ratcheting up the doom and gloom urgency and sometimes that has led us to… 

 Conspiracy theories

The dictionary defines “surmise” as “to suppose that something is true without having evidence to confirm it.”  So “evil surmisings” are assuming bad things about other people that we can’t possibly know are true.  I can’t tell you how many otherwise good people I know who honestly believe, with zero verifiable evidence, that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of a pizza joint in Georgetown, that the Newtown shootings were staged to further gun control legislation, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, or that some mysterious figure who goes by Q is working within the Trump administration to bring down the “deep state.”

As soon as one of these things is proven false, they just move onto the next conspiracy and there is always some enterprising huckster willing to manufacture the next one either for profit or his ten minutes of fame.  People believe things like this with zero evidence because they want them to be true.  They want them to be true so that they can justify their growing addiction to increasingly hyperbolic, urgent and partisan views of their fellow Americans.  

Speaking of addictions,  social media has thrown gas on this fire with their…

Infinity pool algorithms

Just like Fox News and your favorite talk radio show host, Facebook and Twitter make money by exchanging your attention for advertising dollars.  The difference between the social media companies and the other guys though, is that they have tons of data about you – your specific interests, your likes and dislikes and the kind of political stories that keep you engaged.

So they use an extremely sophisticated algorithm to provide you an endless timeline of political stories with one goal – keep you on Facebook as long as possible.  It is there ability to do this, and the value this provides to advertisers, that has Facebook worth twice as much as Exxon Mobile.   Exxon is sitting on the worlds oil supply and it’s only half as valuable as Facebook’s resource: your attention.

To keep your attention – they keep showing you what you want to hear – and as you get more and more of it, it has to get more and more potent to feed your addiction.

Conclusion

Of course, not all of this is bad.  If it was all bad and untrue, no one would fall for it.  Without social media, no one would read this.  Without talk radio, we’d get 100% of our news through the filter of a heavily left-leaning mainstream media.  Morphine can let hospice patients die in peace, it can also send masses of people into downward spirals of addiction.

Our church people have an addiction problem.  It’s not causing them to stumble around the streets and dangerously drive drunk, it’s causing them to grumble around the house, view half their neighbors with suspicion bordering on hate, make increasingly ignorant pronouncements in the public square and run over the testimony of their churches.  It’s past time we started talking about it.

Something Uplifting to watch on Amazon

I don’t watch a lot of TV and I’m not a big consumer of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney Plus. But the other day, I was surprised to learn that Amazon Prime has several great Christian biographical documentaries to watch free if you are a prime member:

It looks like there may be several more on there too, but these are the ones I’ve watched some of. Check them out if you are looking for something educational and uplifting to watch.

On reading lots of books

Recently a friend and co-laborer were discussing books and he told me I should get on goodreads. I had a goodreads account from years ago, and so I spent a few minutes on Saturday updating my “shelves”, as I marked off the books I’ve read (goodreads is tied to my amazon account so this makes it very easy to do) I saw the total number just go up and up.

When you add up my goodreads books and the books in my Audible library, in the last ten years I have read at least 300 books. This doesn’t even seem possible. It didn’t seem like I was reading this much. But as I counted them up, I’ve read A LOT of books.

So that leads me to ask two questions: How on earth did I read that much and what in the world did I read?

How did I read that much?

I do almost all of my reading in the little pockets of the day when I have a second. When I ride with my family, my wife does almost all the driving and I read a bit. When we go to a swim meet and there is down time, I read a bit. When I’m stuck in line at a store, I read a bit. I’ve done almost all my reading on kindle and have my kindle always with me. I don’t browse Facebook and Twitter, I read whatever book I’m reading.

Audible has been a huge part of this too. When I go for runs, I listen to books. When I have to sweep a floor or fold laundry, I listen to books. On my daily ten minute commute to the office and back, I listen to books.

Of course, reading is a part of sermon prep. Every week I am reading concurrent chapters in three or four different commentaries.

Before I go to sleep at night, I read for a few minutes (I don’t watch a lot of TV). When we go on vacation, I always set aside time to read.

So how did I read 300 books in the last ten years? In five to ten minute packets, whenever I had a spare minute or could do some work mindlessly.

What did I read?

These are the types of books I read:

I think the key here is (with the exception of commentaries) I just follow my interests. Right now I’m on an old fantasy novel kick, so I’m reading the Narnia books to my kids at night before they go to bed and listening to The Hobbit as I drive back and forth to my office in the morning. We are building a habit forming exercise app for a client, so I’m reading Hooked by Nir Eyal (a book about building habit forming apps), I’m preaching on family issues on Sunday Night, so I’m reading lots of books about childrearing and marriage by Christian authors.

Next month I may be curious about the life of John Knox, or the Scotch Irish settlement of Appalachia, or better managing my calendar, so I might spend time reading books about that stuff. Do this kind of reading for long enough, and you’ll look back and say “Oh, wow, I read over thirty books this year and over 300 in the last nine years.” It happens faster than you think.

Quickie- When you run out of things to say

Quickie: When you run out of things to say

I’ve just finished reading Douglas Wilson’s Ploductivity: A Practical Theology of Work & Wealth (on a bit of a Doug Wilson kick) and my favorite quote from the book is actually in the appendix. Speaking about his extraordinary output as a writer, Wilson said he learned this lesson from his dad:

He said “Whenever you run out of things to say, go on to the next verse.” If you know how to extract the sense of the text, and there is always another text waiting, the end result is there is always something edifying to say.

The truth of that quote (and the amazing Bible that makes it true) is the only reason I haven’t lost my mind trying to this of something to say for 30 minutes 3 times a week for the last nine years.

Get Rich Slowly: Compound Interest and Skill Development

Albert Einstein is credited with saying:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.”

Warren Buffet took that quote to heart, and over sixty years has turned a small investment into billions.

But I want to suggest a different kind of compound interest that earns a different kind of wealth: I want you to think about the compound interest of skills and learning.

Nearly twenty years ago, when I was in college, I took a job at a teen program for the Boys and Girls Club in inner city Knoxville, TN. Being a nerd, they eventually had me observing the computer lab there. One middle school aged girl came to the computer lab every day, she had the roughest background you can imagine (abusive parents, foster-system pinball, etc.) and the computer lab was her refuge. She would sit in there and type code into notepad and somehow turn that code into really cool looking websites.

I was blown away by this. Up until that point, I thought website making and coding was for super-geniuses. This girl was obviously not a super-genius, but she had figured out it. So I started trying to learn how to make websites.

I started buying books with titles like Build Your Own Website the Right Way Using HTML and CSS and Teach Yourself Javasctipt in 24 Hours It didn’t take. Everything I learned left me even more confused than I was.

But I kept on. After college I got a MacBook, and it came with an iPod nano. I was introduced to this early on to podcasts and the first podcast that really took my interest was called Boagworld, it was a podcast about web development.

I kept going, reading and listening. Spending a lot of time at Barnes and Noble reading coding books I couldn’t afford. Trying and failing to learn web development.

Eventually, I got pretty good at HTML and CSS, but actual programming baffled me. I kept trying to learn it. Kept buying books. Taking online courses. Every vacation I took for years included hours sitting in front of my laptop going through one online course or another.

After about ten years of this, I started to figure it out. I started making actual applications. I eventually started hiring people and that led to a whole new expensive journey. (In which I had to learn about hiring, billing, project management, etc.)

Fast forward to today and I have work I can do anywhere I want that pays extremely well. I co-own a business that could very likely be worth millions someday and (more importantly) puts bread on my table today (and six other people’s) today.

My point is this, I have valuable skills no one can take away from me. I didn’t go to college for this stuff. I didn’t go into a cave like Iron Man and come out with these skills. I learned them very slowly, 15 minute to 20 minutes a day, for fifteen years. I learned them while going to college for something totally different, while rocking my babies to sleep, while being a Christian school teacher, a camp director, a children’s pastor and a pastor. I learned them while learning other things.

15 minutes isn’t that much time. It’s half the time it takes to watch one sitcom. It’s 1/8 the time it takes to watch a football game. Anyone can find fifteen minutes. If you invest that fifteen minutes over a long period of time, it will bring compound interest.

This isn’t a post about programming. It’s a post about acquiring valuable skills. You could replace programming with woodworking or carpentry or small engine repair. You could replace programming with mastering an instrument (or several). You could replace it with writing.

If you are ten, by the time you are twenty-five you could be really good at something if you invest fifteen minutes a day. If you are twenty, by the time you are thirty-five you could be really good at something with fifteen minutes a day. It doesn’t stop there – I know people in their nineties still learning new skills.

You (yes you) can learn to play violin, build houses, draw really well or cook gourmet meals, it’s just going to take awhile.

Forget about the get rich quick schemes and focus on getting good slow. Give more than fifteen minutes if you can and and it will go a lot faster. Over time, it will compound into valuable skills.

On being a pastor-businessman

For nearly ten years, I served as a “full time” pastor. By which I mean our church paid my full salary and was the source of 90% of my families income. This year, that has changed. I still take a small salary from the church ($1,000 a month) and still live in a house owned by our church, but the little software business I started years ago has succeeded to the point where I no longer need the church to support me.

I still consider myself a pastor first, and pastoral duties still take priority. I haven’t really stopped doing anything I was doing before. I just now have two hats to wear, the pastor hat and the businessman hat.

There are numerous reasons why I feel like God is in this:

  1. It is going to enable our church to raise money for a new auditorium, which it desperately needs.
  2. It has relieved all of the financial pressure my family was feeling. (Things like “how am I going to help my kids with college” or “how will we afford vacation this year” are no longer a concern.)
  3. My business has put me in a place where I can minister and be a witness to a completely new class of people. I can’t be a businessman tucked away in the bushel of my church office.
  4. My business has enabled me to give and help people financially that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

Most significantly, the main project my business is working on is a tool to help preachers write sermons. It is a client project, so I can’t say much about it, other than as a pastor I think it’s going to do immeasurable good, not just in making the task of writing sermons easier, but in shaping the kinds of sermons that preachers are writing. I truly believe it’s an important project, and truly believe I’ve been providentially prepared to work on the project. The fact that my business is being paid very well to do it is icing on the cake.

On a personal level, it’s been kind of an odd switch. It’s given me a bit of confidence I didn’t have previously and removed a lot of timidity. It shouldn’t be this way, but most pastors I know (myself included) struggle with insecurity and have a bit of an inferiority complex. I’m not saying being COO of a software company is the answer to that (Jesus is) but being “successful” in the eyes of the world (even though “successful” was never the goal) certainly takes part of that away.

For months I have been asking “how did this happen?” It seems like such a dream. When I answered the call to preach, I voluntarily walked away from so many dreams, and never expected them to return. All I can say is “Jesus led me all the way” and whether I’m blessed or whether I’m going through trials, He is always good and always worth following.

Book Review: Future Men by Douglas Wilson

In general, I’m a pretty big believer in eating the meat and spitting out the bones. There were two times in this book I nearly asphyxiated on some rather large bones I didn’t see coming:

First, Wilson espouses a form of covenant theology that seems to assume children will be in the faith by default. As a dispensational Baptist, I take umbrage to this. He doesn’t take this so far as to say children are automatically saved and don’t need to accept Christ, but I think he blurs important lines.

Second, in one chapter Wilson suggests that it is a father’s duty to teach his sons to drink and smoke responsibly. As a strong teetotaler, I found that a bit offensive (although not surprising.). It’s not a theme of the book, just know it’s coming.

With those two bones dug out and in open view, here is my summary of the book: it’s the best book on parenting I’ve ever read.. (And I’ve read many of them.) With the two exceptions already noted, this book felt extremely biblical and was unbelievably challenging.

For nearly twenty years, I’ve read at least one non-fiction book a month, very, very few have caused me to do anything. But Future Men isn’t the kind of book you can just read as a believing dad and then put on a shelf somewhere and forget about, it’s the kind of book that demands action.

Since reading this book I’ve taken a renewed interest and involvement in my children’s homeschooling, started discussing proverbs with my children every day at lunch and dinner, started reading the Narnia books to my son, and taken up taekwondo with my son. I’ve also really been burdened to teach more on parenting to my congregation, and started emphasizing parenting more in my Sunday Evening messages.

None of this is to brag, it’s just to say that if you read this book, be prepared to make some changes. It will change the way you think about boys, and change the way you think about parenting.

Two reasons why we have so few Christian Leaders

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had more dedicated Christians living out their faith in places of prominence? I’m not talking about Washington here, I’m talking locally:

  • Leaders who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
  • Dentists who attend church and prayer meeting.
  • Lawyers who read their Bible every day.
  • Public school teachers who are also Sunday school teachers.
  • Local newspaper editors who love their local church.

These leaders would be salt in our communities – slowing the decay of society and they would be light – shining a path to Jesus. They would do far more good for the cause of Christ than every nationally televised election has every done.

Rather than retreating from society, these leaders would be living as Christians in the heart of society. They would be Daniel Nebuchadnezzar’s court. They would be Nicodemus in the Sanhedrin.

So why do we have so few of them? Let me suggest two possibilities:

1. Bible believing churches have created an anti-intellectual (and thus anti-leader) environment.

Imagine a college educated, reasonable, well dressed man comes into your typical baptist church. As he partakes in the singing he’s looking around at the church members. They seem to be sincere.

But then the preaching starts.

If the pastor doesn’t study and prepare, how long will it take before this local leader figures that out? How many rants about the preacher’s pet peeves will this man endure? If the preacher is in the habit of throwing red meat to the dogs (i.e. bashing people outside of the room for the people in the room’s enjoyment) how much of that would a leader type take?

Unfortunately, what I just described is all too common in the typical baptist church.

Lee Robberson used to say “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” I think we need to realize that ignorance in the pulpit begets ignorance in the pew. If we want to have leaders in our church, we have to have pastors who are living as leaders.

If we glory in our ignorance, if we refuse to improve and seek excellence in worship, we are going to drive away people whose life is defined by the pursuit of excellence.

A second reason why I think we are failing to see Christian leaders in our local community is…

2. Bible believing parents haven’t taken up the responsibility of raising tomorrow’s leaders.

When the Babylonians came into Israel they found some young people there who were without blemish, well favored, understanding science, cunning in all knowledge, etc.. In other words, they found some young people with leadership potential they could take to be future leaders in their empire. What they didn’t count on was the religious fervor of these young men – which led eventually to them being thrown into the fiery furnace and the lions’s den.

Christian parents need to take up the mission of raising tomorrow’s Daniels and Esthers. We need to pour our life into our kids so that they can be salt and light in places of prominence in our community. We don’t just need pastors and missionaries, we need doctors and lawyers, police chiefs and local business owners, city councilmen and public school principals. We need to deliberately raise Christian leaders.

Which means two things:

First, we need to raise our kids to be leaders. We need to teach them wisdom and work ethic, we need to demand they apply themselves in school and make sure they have a decent Christian education. We need to make sure they have manners and know how to interact with other people. None of these things just happen – they take purposeful parenting.

Second, (and far more importantly) we need to raise our kids to be Christians. We need to disciple the fire out of our kids and bring them in church life. We need to pour the Bible into them at every opportunity and we need to be sure that we are not living as hypocrites before them.

None of this will be easy. It’s going to take time and effort. It’s upstream paddling. But it’s necessary. It may be what God uses to bring about revival in our land, or at the very least keep Rome from burning for one more generation.

Why carrying a $1,000 iPad around is a good idea.

I have before me a sheet of glass, metal and silicon which cost me nearly $1,000.   As I purchased it, I had all kinds of doubts running through my mind:

  • Is this a bit much?
  • Do I really need this?
  • Could I not make do with something less expensive?
  • I already have a MacBook Pro, and an old iPad, what good will this thing do?

Due to its very high price and seemingly minor difference between other tools, this iPad felt like the most extravagant and ridiculous thing I had ever purchased.  But having used it now in my particular craft(s), all of those doubts now feel distant.


Benjamin Franklin wrote that the best investment a man can make is in the tools of his trade.  


I am a writer, a thinker, a man whose life is chained to a calendar but who also needs to read constantly.  My work involves study, brainstorming, recording audio, and preparing to present what I’ve learned over and over (and over) again.  


Many a man has mowed a lawn with a push mower.  A lucky few own their own riding mowers and fewer still have consumer zero turn mowers, but a professional doesn’t think twice about spending a king’s ransom on an X-mark or Bad Boy because as good as those other mowers are, he would quickly feel their limits and lose time and money every day.  In much the same way, I could (and many have) do all of this with a stack of notebooks and pens, my iPhone, or even with a cheaper iPad, but those tools would be inferior to this one in ways that would cost me minutes and frustration every day. 

You could cut grass with scissors, or with the rusty old mechanical push mower I remember from my grandfather’s shed, but I’m not begrudging you if you, as someone who makes his living cutting grass, owns one or several fifteen thousand dollar zero turn mowers.  I imagine I could do my job of writing with a stick and a soft patch of dirt somewhere, but as someone who does this stuff to keep food on his table, I ask for understanding about the thousand dollar slab of glass I’m carrying around.

I carry with me a nearly infinite number of notebooks and (through my Apple Pencil) a nearly infinite variety of pens, markers and brushes.  I carry with me a vast library of books including dozens and dozens of commentaries.  I carry with me the sermon manuscripts for nearly every sermon I have ever preached.  I carry with me the means to type more manuscripts should I feel inspired.  I carry with me…you get the idea.  I can take all of this with me wherever I go and have it always at the ready, and, because I also use a Mac, when I do open my computer to do other work, all of that information is magically in sync.  

So to sum it all up: I used to think iPad Pros were the height of pointless extravagance, I now think they should become standard equipment for anyone who reads, writes, thinks or communicates for a living.

Writing Again

I have decided to start writing again. By which I mean I’ve decided to resume a certain kind of writing.

I’m doing this again for two basic reasons:

  • First, because I believe the positions I’ve come to are true and good and beautiful, and
  • Second, because I believe that things that are true and good and beautiful should not be placed under a bushel, but raised up on a candlestick.

It was a wise man who once said, “don’t just do something – stand there.” I have been “doing” my beliefs about ministry, faith, family, business and politics for a long time now and I’ve just decided I better start standing here.

And “here”, in most cases, is the uncomfortable middle. It’s an uncomfortable position because the people to both my right and left on any issue like to imagine that to take one step away from their radical spot is to step onto a slippery slope, greased with crisco and laden with banana peels that leads right into a bottomless abyss. When these people see me standing here on level ground (where a man eating ditch is supposed to be) with the that stupid grin on my face, and they realize I’ve been here for quite some time, it makes for uncomfortable conversations with their sheeple. Sorry in advance for any uncomfortable conversations.

Actually, the uncomfortable middle isn’t really that uncomfortable. There is rest here. There is sanity here. There is peace here. The middle is actually pretty awesome, it’s just kind of lonely. So maybe this blog will inspire you to come join me.

In some circles, expressing a contrary opinion is a dangerous game. It could lead to getting fired, getting booted from your church, or, at the very least, not being invited to preach at the big fancy conference next year. Well, I own my own business, have a pretty solid and supporting core in my church (who has been hearing this stuff for nearly ten years) and no one was inviting me to preach at that big fancy conference anyways…so what do I have to lose?