A Letter to Myself, Age 23

Tomorrow marks another trip around the sun for me. This time I’ll be twenty-four years old. That’s kind of a cool number: 24 hours in a day, 24 elders before Christ’s throne (Rev. 4:4)—and growing up, Jeff Gordon was my favorite NASCAR driver in his #24 DuPont Chevrolet.

As I thought back on the past year, I realized how much I’ve experienced, how much I’ve learned, and how far I’ve come. I’ll be honest: Age 23 was a tough, trying year. I asked myself questions I never thought I’d ask because I felt things I never thought I’d feel. (Welcome to the real world.)

But I came through the darkness back into the light. I am in a much better state of mind as the meter rolls over once again. And I’d like to think I learned some things along the way.

As a way of recollecting, I decided to write my 23-year-old self a letter. It’s the letter I probably wouldn’t have expected at the time, yet it contains everything I would need to know to get through this rough patch of life.

And instead of journaling it and tucking it away to get musty on a shelf, I am writing it publicly in the hopes that perhaps it will help you, too.

Without further ado, here it is.

Dear Matthew,

Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished so far. You’ve worked so hard to be where you are today, and now you’re starting to enjoy the fruits of your labor after all these years. Having a job and a stable income, with some spending money to boot, is a birthday present all on its own!

For your birthday, I want to give you something more important than money, and that is wisdom. Not just any wisdom, but some lessons I’ve learned that you’ll do well to keep in mind as you go through this next year.

You see, for better or for worse, you’re about to enter what is going to be the darkest time of your life so far. I don’t mean to scare you, but I’m not going to sugar-coat it, either. I know you’d rather have someone tell it to you straight. I know—I do, too.

But you’re not going to go into this blindly. I’m not going to tell you everything that you’re going to experience, but I am going to tell you what I’ve learned after coming out on the other side. This is by no means the ultimate guide to life, but I think it’s the guide you’re going to need for this season that God’s about to allow you to be in.

The first thing you’re going to feel is a sense of helplessness. Even though you’re well-off financially, you’re going to feel that your life—your career, your future—is out of your control. You’re going to feel like someone else—a man, The Man—is running your life. You’re going to feel trapped in a job you don’t want to be in, doing things you don’t want to be doing. And being the independent-minded individual you are, you’re not going to like that feeling. You’re not going to like it at all.

As a result of this helplessness, you’re going to start feeling that God has abandoned you. You’re going to call out to Him—cry out to Him on many an occasion—and you’re not going to hear an answer. It’s going to make you question your life and your faith up to this point. You’re going to start to wonder whether He led you to a stream of water that’s suddenly dried up—and now He’s nowhere to be found.

To quote a Styx song, you are going to feel like a man in the wilderness.

The good news is, there’s hope—both in this life and in the next. You confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and that guarantees you eternal life with him. Just remember that one day, all this pain is going to be washed away, and he will dry every tear from every eye.

“That’s great to know,” you’re going to say, “but I’m still living in my earthly body! I’m dealing with problems in this life, not the afterlife!”

And you’re right. So let me offer you what I’ve learned from the wilderness so that you can survive it, too.

First, the question is not whether God has abandoned you, but whether you have abandoned Him. I’m not going to speculate—you know where you need some work. Start by getting on your knees and rededicating yourself to Him. Do this daily, every morning right when you get out of bed. He wants to be number one in your life, so put Him first—and don’t even have anything else on the list.

Second, understand that life is full of pain and suffering. You don’t need to look very far to see this. It’s a result of The Fall, of sin entering the world and corrupting God’s very good creation. Until Christ returns and sets things right, this is a fact of life.

Along that line, don’t try to find some deep meaning in life except for God. Nothing else will satisfy. It might fill you up for a bit and make you feel good inside, but before long it will leave you feeling empty and depressed—longing for more, for something else. The wisest man in the world said so himself: “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless!”

But that same wisest man also said that to fear God and keep His commandments is the end of all things. In other words, that’s the meaning of life—of every life, including yours. Fear God and keep His commandments. This is the duty of all mankind.

Outside of that—listen to your emotions. If you feel strongly about something in your heart, pay attention to whatever it is. Especially if you feel it in your solar plexus—what one might call your “heart of hearts”.

But be sure to use some logic and reason before you go off and make a decision based on emotions alone. You could make a serious mistake and derail your life—your job, your career, your future—for years to come.

The exception is a “gut feeling”. If you feel something deep in the pit of your stomach, regardless of what it is, follow that instinct. It’s the strangest thing, but you’ve got to do it.

Now, aside from that, you need to strive for optimization in all four aspects of your life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Being sick or out-of-shape in one will start to affect the others, and your whole well-being will deteriorate.

Exercise consistently. You don’t have to work out every day; two or three times a week will do. But be sure to push yourself so you can become stronger. Don’t stagnate—that’s a great way to become mediocre in any aspect of your life. And the neat thing about working out is that it stimulates the other aspects of your life. It’s also a natural stress-reliever!

Do things that mentally stimulate you. Read books—you enjoy doing that anyway, so carve out time to read. But be sure to read books that you enjoy, or that edify you in some way. If you don’t like book, stop reading it! There’s no law that says you have to finish it!

Oh, and keep your German skills sharp. You never know when they may come in handy. In fact, consider working on another language in your spare time. You’ve wanted to pick up some French—maybe even Koine Greek or Ancient Hebrew—so why not start now? There’s no better time than today.

In terms of emotions, one of the most powerful things you can do is to choose to be a glass-half-full person. Yes, you can choose to be positive. The lenses that you wear determine how you perceive the world. And you live in a vibrant, colorful, bountiful world that God has given mankind dominion over! Celebrate that! Celebrate life every day! Celebrate all the possibilities that you have!

Also, surround yourself with positive people as much as possible. That’s not to say that you should cut negative people out of your life completely—sometimes that’s not feasible, and even if it is, it’d be pretty rude to do so. But you have to look out for your own emotional well-being, and if that means spending less time with people who drag you down, then so be it.

On the flip-side, always be an encourager. Listen to those who, like you, are walking through the wilderness. Remember that each of us is fighting our own battle of survival every day. Have mercy and compassion, and show the love of Christ to everyone you encounter.

And I’ve already addressed the spiritual aspect somewhat. Pray every day, read the Bible every day, and obey the Lord’s commands. Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.

In all things, strive for balance. Strike a balance between work and play. Strike a balance between producing and consuming. Strike a balance between order and chaos. (Have one foot firmly planted on the shore of order while you dip your toes into the sea of chaos!)

Take things one day at a time. Live for the day while keeping an eye on the future. Again, strike a balance—between today and tomorrow.

Remember that you have only one life, and that there’s a unique place for you in the grand scheme of things. So, while I don’t advise you to make rash decisions, if you feel like you’re the square peg trying to fit into the round hole—make a change! Do something different! Take a step, even a small one, towards what you think you were made to do.

I’ll wind this long-winded letter up by saying that you’ve always navigated through life by finding out what you don’t like to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. On the cusp of age twenty-four, I still haven’t found that “one thing” I love to do above all else. You may never. And that’s okay. As long as you can find pleasure in your work, your play, and your people, you’re doing pretty well for yourself. In fact, if you can manage that, you’re already a wealthy man!

Oh, one last thing: Never let go of your dreams. They are what drive you when you’re down. I happen to believe that they’re uniquely yours, given to you by God Himself. Keep that boyish gleam in your eye, that roguish smile on your face, and don’t chastise yourself if you catch yourself looking out the window and thinking about what could be. Do what you can to make those dreams reality. Follow them, even if it will take years to get to the end of the trail. It’s better to wonder “What if I hadn’t?” (which you won’t) than to wonder “What if I had?”

That’s all I’ve got for now. I think this is enough for you to chew on and digest over the coming year. You’re young and you’ve got a big, bright future ahead of you. (Look at all that you’ve accomplished already!) Just don’t let a few black clouds obscure those silver linings.

Stand firm,

Matthew

Don’t Judge People by Their Titles

Back in high school, I was a member of my school’s Christian organization. Every Tuesday at lunch, we met in Gym B to hear a local pastor or church leader give a mini-sermon or devotional. Usually these sessions focused on a topic relevant to high-schoolers, but sometimes we had studies in other areas (such as other religions and apologetics).

I was one of a small handful of guys who volunteered to be “sound guy.” Every other Tuesday, I had the privilege of leaving class ten minutes before lunch to set up the small soundboard, microphones, and dual PA speakers for our little worship band and the speaker du jour. This also meant that I got to meet a lot of the speakers as I was setting up or taking down the equipment.

One Tuesday meeting in my sophomore year drew a larger-than-normal crowd. A prominent religious leader was coming to our humble campus to speak about the Book of Revelation. Everyone was excited. I was excited, not so much because of the gentleman’s prestige, but because I looked forward to hearing what such a studied, esteemed man had to say about one of my favorite books in the Bible to study. And I was running sound that day, so I’d get to meet him—and maybe even discuss Revelation with him a bit!

I remember him being escorted from the front office into the gym by a couple students on the leadership team. He stood around and talked to our group president and some of the other officers as I sound-checked the praise band. Once I finished setting up, I excused myself for a minute so I could introduce myself to our honored guest.

“Hi, my name is Matthew,” I said, extending my hand. “It’s great to meet you!”

He shook my hand and said likewise. I then asked him a question about prophecy being fulfilled in Revelation—something I had heard that linked the popes to the seven kings (cf. Revelation 17), and admittedly I can’t quite remember what the question was.

What I do remember was his answer.

This esteemed leader smirked, scoffed, and used an ad hominem against the man who purported the theory I asked about. “Most of us scholars don’t regard him as reliable because he gets drunk.” And that was that.

I sat through the meeting and listened to his talk on Revelation, elementary as it was, but at that point most of what he said was lost on me. I didn’t feel much respect for him based on the way he’d dismantled my question without even answering it.

I may have asked a dumb question, but he treated it like one. Instead of enlightening my ignorance, he widened the gap between his knowledge and mine. And in doing so, he not only espoused his pride—he lost a potential fan.

Remember, this is a distinguished man in the Baptist denomination. This is a man revered both by Christian academics and by laypeople. And I’m in no way trying to denigrate him wrongly.

But I feel like a got a glimpse into that man’s true soul that day, when I asked him that question. That may be a glimpse that few people have had—I don’t know. But that glimpse told me, despite all his titles and accomplishments, that he was inauthentic.

Imagine my surprise when, last year, evidence emerged stating that this faith leader may have defended sexual abusers in the church. And even this week, more evidence—that he very likely swept sexual abuse claims against a specific pastor under the rug and tried to dumb down the accusations—came to light.

Now, I don’t harbor ill will towards this man for what he said to me that Tuesday in Gym B. Nor do I wish that he be accused of covering up sexual abuse and dragged through the mud as part of the ongoing #MeToo movement. But the sad fact is, judging him by the thirty-second interaction we had, I feel like these accusations fall in line with his character.

This taught me an important life lesson: We should not judge by titles and “reputations,” but by actions and words.

Diplomas and lofty titles look great in an email signature, but what about the soul of the man behind the desk? It’s great that everyone else esteems so-and-so—but does that mean you should, too?

I can give another example, one I can smile and laugh at in retrospect.

I took my first business class in college with a tenured professor—I’ll call her Dr. Brisk. Dr. Brisk not only had her Ph.D, but a long list of managerial jobs at some big-name companies in the Metroplex.

She seemed like a decent lady, fairly approachable after class if I had questions, but something didn’t quite sit right with me about her. I started getting the same feeling of inauthenticity that I got from the faith leader years before.

All went well in Dr. Brisk’s class until the final exam, which she decided would be online since it was the end of the semester, she was busy, we students were busy, et cetera. Admittedly, I did not study as hard for her exam as I did for others, because I had tougher classes to deal with an I already had an A in hers. But study I did, and I sat down at the library computer feeling reasonably confident in my ability to maintain that A.

At the end of the test, I was very surprised to see that I had scored a low B. Being that it was an online test (and perhaps Dr. Brisk did not configure it the way she wanted to), I got to see my answers contrasted against the correct answers. Some I could tell I legitimately missed, but there were others I was sure I answered correctly.

I realized that some of the questions (about 10%) had wrong answers listed as right ones. I knew that because many of the questions came right out of the study guides in the textbook. I took screenshots of the answers in question (no pun intended), attached them to an email, and sent them off to Dr. Brisk.

Imagine my surprise when Dr. Brisk wrote back and asked how I had been able to see the correct answers at the end of the exam. (“Because you set the test up that way, lady!”) I asked if I could have the points for the questions I missed. She said no, because the questions were programmed correctly.

I then sent an email to the head of the department and explained the situation. He wrote me a polite email explaining that the three of us (me, Dr. Brisk, and himself) would have to sit down together to discuss remediation, if any could be done. By this point, she had given out our final grades (my A downgraded to a B), and it would apparently take more effort to reverse that B to an A once the final grade posted.

I could tell from the email chain that neither Dr. Brisk nor her boss wanted to deal with me, a freshman with a cause. And frankly, I didn’t want to deal with them either. I just wanted credit for the erroneous questions so I could have my A.

In the end, I dropped it. Maybe it could have gone somewhere had I stuck to my guns. But no one else in the class complained (did they review their answers?) and this lady had tenure. It felt like it would be me against the network of good ol’ boys (and girls).

To contrast these experiences, I’ve had many great professors with Ph.Ds who genuinely cared about their students and listened to their concerns. I’ve run into the same situation before, where questions aren’t entered correctly in online tests, and the professor promptly fixed them or awarded credit when I brought it up.

I’ve also had the pleasure of knowing some really great pastors and youth leaders, many of whom I met during my time as “sound guy,” and later as group co-president. These men (yes, they are mostly, if not all, men) genuinely cared about the high-schoolers they came to speak to, and it was evident. They answered questions and prayed with students. They came back multiple times to shepherd the flock or water the seeds.

So I don’t have a jaded view of every big-wig with lots of titles, accomplishments, and work experience. I just have the ability to look past that and into their soul to see who they really are.

Jesus taught that we should not judge by appearances, but by right judgment (John 7:24). There are a lot of people these days who, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, strut their sophistication and lord it over other people. They act like nothing can touch them.

Many “plebeians” look up to these people as celebrities (or as celebrities in their respective fields) and place them on pedestals. “He’s my hero!” they might say. “I want to be like him!”

But do you really? Do you want your soul to become like theirs? Do you want to have status and success at the cost of truth and authenticity?

That’s why we all need to start judging rightly. If there’s one thing that the #MeToo movement has shown, it’s that people our society lauds are quickly cast down from grace. If people had rightly judged these wicked men and women years and years ago, we wouldn’t be in this ongoing mess.

And it doesn’t just apply to sexual harassment. Look at things in the business world like Enron and Bernie Madoff. Look at things in the realm of politics like the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s or, more recently, Operation Fast and Furious.

Once you start looking past titles and stop putting people on pedestals, your eyes open. And they open very wide. You start seeing into a person’s true self rather than the façade he wears. You start to see whether she really cares.

And you start to think for yourself by taking a solid step away from the powers of mass media and groupthink.

So, my petition to you, my rallying cry to us all, is this: “Let us judge rightly.” Not by prestige, not by empty words, not by virtue-signaling actions. Let us judge by testing integrity, by examining things said or done in private, and by not idolizing anyone.

And may truth and justice prevail.

My Education: American Public, Private, and Homeschooling Compared

I consider myself fortunate to be one of the few people in America, and perhaps in the world, to have attended the three major kinds of schools: public school, private school, and homeschool.

It all started around at age four, when my parents enrolled me in preschool at our church. I remember looking at all the books on the classroom bookshelf. They fascinated me. Some of them had words, which I couldn’t read!

Mom picked me up from preschool one day, and I remember making this statement to her: “Mom, I want to learn how to read.”

So, Mom started teaching me how to read when I was four years old. Evidently I made great progress, even though I don’t remember all the details. Instead of enrolling me in kindergarten, she started teaching me first-grade material at home. That meant I started “real school” one year before my friends did. And so my educational journey began.

In this article, I’m chronicling my educational experiences in American schools. This is subjective, and by no means comprehensive. I know others have had far different experiences from my own. Yet I try to be objective in my analysis of the pros and cons for each.

I didn’t include any pictures today, because a) I didn’t have any relevant ones on-hand to use, and b) I couldn’t find any good, fair-use ones instead. Also, I think they would distract from the gist of the article, which is to, well, educate. It’s not that pictures aren’t important, but they’re just not always relevant. I’m not going to add photos just for the sake of adding photos.

Now, let me educate you a bit about American education.

Homeschooling

I really enjoyed being homeschooled. Even as a young boy, it taught me how to think for myself and depend on only myself for getting work done.

A typical homeschooling day involved Mom going over the previous day’s assignments with me, then teaching me a bit, and then giving me new assignments for the current day. I would then hit the books, solve math problems, write essays, or do whatever I needed to do that day.

Often, I would learn what I needed to learn and get my schoolwork done by noon. I had all afternoon free to do other things: read other books, build LEGOs, or play video games (moderated by Mom, of course). And yet I learned at the same rate as my peers who spent all day in public elementary school. Many times, I learned faster.

In other words, homeschooling allowed Mom to tailor the curriculum and teaching/learning styles to best fit me.

Homeschooling allowed me to learn about things and do projects that my peers in public school didn’t. For example, equipped with a World Book Encyclopedia CD-ROM (this was before Wikipedia was in vogue), I would research ancient Greece and Rome. I would take care of a bonsai tree as part of a report on Japanese culture. And I would start learning Spanish thanks to Rosetta Stone (also on CD-ROM). As part of religious education, I read the Bible cover-to-cover and studied the tenets of other belief systems. I did all these things and more before I was twelve years old.

Another beauty of homeschooling was the flexibility. When my grandfather passed away in May 2008, my mom, brother, and I spent most of the summer living with my grandmother. We had to help her get acclimated to living alone. Homeschooling got put on hold for a bit, but I could continue learning over the summer. (There’s not much else to do in Wichita Falls, TX, when it’s over 100º F outside.) I read Around the World in Eighty Days for the first time, and my first book on how computers worked. (And now I’ve written my own book on computers to help the average Joe and Jane!)

One downside of homeschooling can be the lack of socialization. Some groups of homeschoolers come together every week so their kids can play and learn together, so that helps. Still, homeschooled children get much less socialization than their public-school peers do.

Depending on how you look at it, this could be either good or bad. In my case, because I wasn’t around other kids as much, I learned to think for myself, and I became pretty resistant to peer pressure. Yet that also meant that I was, and probably still am, a social anomaly because I was raised and educated outside of the “normal” social sphere. But hey, I’ll take being unique and authentic over conforming to social norms any day.

Another downside to homeschooling is that parents who homeschool may not have the technical expertise required to teach high-school subjects. For example, my mom could teach me pre-algebra and basic science just fine, but there was no way she would be able to teach me pre-calculus or physics.

Some homeschool groups mitigate this by having a parent, who is an expert in a specific area, teach multiple kids in a class. An example might be a homeschool father, who is an engineer by trade, teaching a calculus class for homeschool kids.

I took homeschool math classes at my local community college. (As an eighth-grader, I felt really sophisticated when I told my friends I took geometry in college!) That helped me tremendously because I had hit a wall trying to learn algebra on my own, and Mom couldn’t help me over the hurdles. It also got me around some more homeschoolers and into a classroom setting, better preparing me to transition into…

Public School

Mom homeschooled me and my brother until we finished our eighth- and sixth-grade years, respectively. At that point, our parents decided that we needed more socialization with our peers and teachers more equipped to teach us advanced concepts.

So, we wrapped up schooling at home, each got a diploma for graduating into this next phase of life, and prepared ourselves for the transition.

I remember meeting with the high-school counselor as I prepared to integrate into public high school. He helped me enroll in the classes I needed to take; he also signed me up for a math competency test so I could take advanced geometry instead of algebra (since I’d already taken algebra in my homeschool years).

I also, at Mom’s urging, tried out for the jazz band. I played guitar, had played for a little over a year, and didn’t think I was anywhere near good enough to play in a jazz band. Yet I got the sheet music and started learning etudes so I could try out.

On the last day of school, the summer before my freshman year, Mom drove me up to the school to try out. I walked into the empty band hall with my guitar case in one hand and my cheap Marshall amplifier in the other. I plugged in, got out my music, and played it for the jazz band director.

To my surprise, I passed the audition! Turns out, they didn’t have a guitar player at all, so I made the first (highest) band. And I played in jazz band all four years of high school.

So, I began high school by taking advanced classes, playing in the jazz band, and navigating a school of over 3,000 people. (Everything’s bigger in Texas!) Thankfully, I had a few friends at the school, and I made new friends, so I socialized quickly and found my place.

Public high school gave me opportunities that I would not have had anywhere else. For instance, my friends and I built a website for the 2013 National History Day competition and got to compete nationally in Washington, D.C.! I was also co-president of the school’s Christian organization for a year and a member of the National Honor Society service group.

I also got to explore other interests, such as computer science and German. I found that I was a decent programmer, while learning German awakened an interest in the language—and all languages—that I would never have had if I stuck with Rosetta Stone Spanish at home! I doubt I would ever have learned to program on my own, and I likely never would have thought to learn German on my own, either. (I had the choice of Spanish, French, German, or Latin. I opted for German because I am 1/8th German—my great-great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Wittenberg.)

I took mostly advanced classes (called Advanced Placement, or AP) in high school, which helped prepare me for the rigors of college. They also allowed me greater freedom of study than the “regular” classes would have. In that respect, public school wasn’t too different from home school—just a different environment.

Of course, there were several things I didn’t like about public school. For one, when I did have to take a “regular” class, I was usually bored. The teachers had to teach well below my learning capacity. This was because the material had to be easy enough for the other students to learn and pass the class.

This is part of the fallacious idea in many American public schools that kids just need to pass tests and move up to the next grade and out of the school system. The blame often rests on the teacher’s shoulders if the student isn’t being successful in her class. It’s a shame that it is that way, but it’s true.

Another thing I didn’t like about the public school system was standardized testing. Every spring, we had to take a test mandated by the state of Texas so someone in the Texas Education Agency could plot us out as data points on a chart.

The tests were easy, sure, but annoying. And, unfortunately, teachers had to teach their students not what was important to learn, but what their students needed to know in order to pass the test and make them, the teachers, look good. I didn’t have to deal with this so much in AP classes, but I did experience it a bit. That’s just another way the public school system is messed up.

And finally, I hated the lack of respect that students showed teachers, and the disdain for learning in general. Most kids came to school, did the bare minimum, and left. They had so much more potential, but they were in an environment where all they had to do was get a C to pass and then move on.

Not all kids were like this, and not all were disrespectful, but many were. Again, this wasn’t the case in AP classes very often, but it definitely was in the “regular” classes. And that was one reason I tried to stay in all the AP classes, because I didn’t want to be drug down with that crowd.

That’s not to mention the fights, threats, graffiti, bullying, drug use, and more that went on every day. Thankfully, I stayed away from most of that, but it was in the environment. No wonder people have noticed correlations between how high schools and prisons are constructed.

(My parents and other Baby Boomers will tell you that it was not always that way. If you misbehaved in class or bombed a math test, you either had to deal with the wrath of the principal, the wrath of your father, or both. Rarely was it the teacher’s fault—it was your fault. And, when disciplining misbehavior, both typically had paddles.)

If I sat and thought long enough, I could come up with a dozen more things I liked and disliked about public school, and American public education in general. But these are the main things that come to mind, and they’re enough for the purposes of this article.

And that leads into the typical alternative to public school, which is…

Private School

I’ll admit, I don’t have nearly as much experience in private school as I do in public school or in being homeschooled. However, I’ll discuss what I experienced during my limited time there, things I liked, and things I disliked (mostly disliked). Some details come from friends who spent their entire youths in private schools.

Mom enrolled me in some private school classes from second grade through fourth grade, and again in eighth grade. She intended these classes to supplement my homeschool education. I took extracurricular subjects like music, physical education (PE), art, and writing. I also took science and history classes there for a couple years.

What did I like about private school? Well, classes were small, because the school had fewer students than a public school does. That allowed teachers more time to work with students one-on-one—never a bad thing, in my opinion.

I enjoyed my art and music classes. I got exposed early to some of the great artists and composers throughout history, and developed an appreciation for art in general. (How many second-graders learn that Tchaikovsky wrote The Nutcracker or that Van Gogh painted The Starry Night?) I also improved my art skills, though sadly I’ve let them go to the wayside since then!

What did I not like about private school? Mainly the strictness and uniformity. Uniforms, haircut regulations, and so on. Being that it was a Christian prep school, it was very legalistic. Some kids may not mind that, but I did. I liked to wear my hair longer and thicker, and got reprimanded for it a couple times—but I didn’t care. Then again, I don’t care much for legalism, period.

The legalism didn’t prevent bad behavior, either. The boys, who were supposed to be “model young men,” were just as bad as—or worse than—boys in public school. Because it was a smaller school, I was more privy to their antics than I was in high school, where I could choose to associate with a more even-keeled group of guys. One memorable instance involved someone writing nasty words on the bathroom wall, day after day, with their filth… and that’s all I’ll say about that.

Lastly, because the private school was so small, it offered limited extracurricular opportunities or advanced classes. It had no band or orchestra. I could not have studied German in private school, and I don’t think I could have studied computer science, either. Demand was not high enough, and no teachers on staff could teach these subjects.

In Retrospect

Looking back on my life, I’m blessed and thankful that I received the education I did. I’m grateful to live in the United States, specifically in the great state of Texas, where parents still have the freedom to decide how their children receive education.

None of these three types of schooling are inherently better than the others. They’re just different. Where one is lacking, another compensates. There is no perfect, or even best, option.

I would not change anything about my education journey. I’m thankful I started out in homeschooling because I learned to be self-reliant, to prioritize, and to work dutifully. I was responsible for my own success, Not the state, not the school, not my friends—just me. Put simply, I learned how to be autodidactic. I learned how to teach myself.

I’m also grateful I got to attend public high school. It afforded me many great opportunities I would not have had if I kept being homeschooled. And, it helped me better prepare for college by taking college-level classes in a high-school environment. I also learned how to help others learn, and effective ways to teach material by tutoring friends.

Private school was all right, and I can see its benefits since it can provide a more focused, higher-caliber, classical-oriented education. I wouldn’t want to go back, though. I can (and have, and did) provide myself a classical education on my own.

How will I educate my future kids? I’m not sure yet. Who knows what the future landscape of education will look like?

What I do know is, I will ensure my kids understand that it’s their responsibility to learn, not the teacher’s responsibility to make them learn. If they attend public school, I will be very involved in school events, as well as ensure that they learn outside the classroom. If they are homeschooled, I will ensure they are learning the things they need to know to prepare them for life in the “real world,” and also spend enough time with other kids so they become well-rounded and sociable.

I almost certainly will not send them to a private school, however. Those are overrated!

Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I’d like to hear your thoughts, and different perspectives are always good. Thanks for reading!


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1548894625.jpg

What if I told you that you could quickly and easily learn how your computer or smartphone works?

What if I told you that troubleshooting your technology can be easy and painless?

Well, now I’m telling you! My book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in everyday English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to.

It teaches you about the basic components without getting too technical, so you can become more computer-literate.

It walks you through simple steps to fixing common computer problems, so you can get back to using your computer instead of struggling with it.

It explains how to easily solve issues such as sluggish performance and virus infections, so you can keep your computer running smoothly—instead of running out to buy a new one.

And… it includes over 30 full-color pictures, so you can actually see what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent a great majority of my life solving computer problems (and I’m only in my twenties!), and I studied IT in college partly for this reason. I’ve helped kids, seniors, and everyone in between… and now I want to help you.

This book contains all the “secrets” I use to solve computer problems… secrets that everyone can use, including you.

Imagine feeling confident that you can solve your own tech problems without calling your tech-savvy friend, child, or grandchild. Imagine quickly feeling at home with software or apps you’ve never used before.

With How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, you will!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on Amazon in all regions for Kindle and in paperback. Why not pick up a copy today and start becoming comfortable with computers?

P.S. If you opt for the paperback version, you can also get the Kindle version for only $0.99 more and read wherever you go on your smartphone, tablet, or Kindle e-reader. Also, be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book.

In the Wake of Three Shootings

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

My heart sank on Saturday when I saw reports of another mass murder—this time in El Paso. My heart sinks every time I hear of a shooting, but this one hit close to home. After all, Texas is my home.

Then I woke up Sunday morning to learn of another mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. Once again, my heart sank.

And this comes hot on the heels of another mass murder in Gilroy, California last weekend.

It’s enough to make one stop and ask a question: What’s going on here?

I’ll tell you what makes me sad and then mad about these shootings. First and foremost, people die. In most cases, they’re defenseless and shot senselessly. Many times, children die. Lives are cut short.

Second, the mainstream media immediately politicizes (polarizes) the narrative and jumps to conclusions. Forget just mourning with the victims and letting people internalize what happened, much less waiting for reports from the front lines. Everything has to fit the preconceived narrative, whether that’s liberal, conservative, or something else. The philosophy is, “If it doesn’t fit the narrative, don’t report it.” Or worse.

Third, the talking heads who immediately start calling for gun bans, gun control, and gun whatever.

You might be wondering, “Why do calls for gun control make you mad, Matthew? Isn’t that a sensible thing to do?”

No, it’s not, because it’s ignoring so many other factors.

I once saw an analysis of four countries’ gun laws and gun violence statistics: Japan, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United States. Here is the essence of that analysis:

  • Japan: Low gun availability, very low gun violence.
  • Mexico: Low gun availability, very high gun violence.
  • The U.S.: High gun availability, very high gun violence.
  • Switzerland: High gun availability, very low gun violence.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

People like to point to gun ownership as the cause of these mass murders. They then demand “gun control” to prevent future mass murders. But that’s like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Switzerland, until recently, had very free gun laws. Every citizen is required to serve in the military, issued a firearm, and then allowed to keep that firearm upon honorable discharge. Consequently, most Swiss households owned guns.

Yet you don’t hear about mass shootings in Switzerland. Ever.

Contrast that to Mexico, the complete opposite. Mexico has strict gun control laws that should prevent even the cartels from owning them, and yet people get shot and killed every day, even in touristy places like Cancún.

Within the United States, one need only look at Chicago, a city with strict gun control laws, to see how well gun control is working out. Chicago banned handguns from 1982 to 2010—at which time the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the ban unconstitutional. During that period, 59% of all murders in the city were committed with handguns. From 2003 to 2010, that figure jumped to 71%.

Gun control worked pretty well for the Windy City, then, huh?

Here’s another piece of data: There are approximately 393 million guns owned by civilians in the United States alone. That’s 1.2 guns for every American citizen.

If guns were the problem, we’d sure as heck know it by now. We’d be seeing shootings on an even more massive scale.

These facts are not intended to diminish gun violence in any way. Gun violence is tragic. Any loss of life is tragic. There’s no argument there.

But realize that guns are just a means to an end. Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City using fertilizer. Terrorists on 9/11 used airplanes. The Boston Marathon bombers used a pressure cooker.

My point is this: Guns are not the problem. Guns never were the problem.

So, what is?

Mental health or instability? Radicalization? Social isolation?

Race-baiting politicians? Brainwashing? Mind control?

The “Deep State” or the “New World Order”?

Far-fetched, you say? Maybe not entirely. But you have to ask yourself these things and do some digging. Rarely does the “official story” match up with all the facts.

Frankly, I don’t know the answer to why. I wish I did. And until I do, or at least think I do, I’m going to keep looking.

But even if I did, the sad fact is that most people will not think beyond what appears to be the immediate solution: ban guns.

Banning alcohol worked so well in the 1920s that they had to pass the 21st Amendment to overturn the 18th.

What makes anyone think that guns would be any different?

And, I hate to say this, but mass murders make me more in favor of the 2nd Amendment than I was before. I want to have a gun on my person if a bad guy starts shooting at me.

And in the current state of our nation, being shot at has become less and less far-fetched of an idea.

I hope this short article has prompted you to think. Ask yourself these questions. Does it really make sense, what these political talking heads are demanding?

Or are they just pushing a narrative?

Pray for the victims of these attacks and their families, pray for our nation, and pray for our world. May God bless our leaders with wisdom and discernment as they grapple with these tough issues. May our nation get to the root causes of these issues so that innocent people can safely go about their lives without fear of being shot.

And may Truth prevail.


Sources and further reading

Guns in Other Countries — Gun Facts: http://www.gunfacts.info/gun-control-myths/guns-in-other-countries/

Estimating Global Civilian-Held Firearms Numbers — Small Arms Survey: http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/T-Briefing-Papers/SAS-BP-Civilian-Firearms-Numbers.pdf

Gun Control — Just Facts: https://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp

They Won the Wage Battle… But They Lost the Work War

The red fist of socialism.

The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.

Margaret Thatcher

Today, FoxNews reported that Bernie Sanders finally gave in to his campaign staffers’ clamoring for a $15 minimum wage. A victory for the common man, right?

Actually, quite the opposite.

Because of the hiked minimum wage, Sanders’s campaign cut its staffers hours. That means they’re not making any more than they did before. That means they’re not going to be nearly as effective in their work to get Sanders nominated.

And I think this could mean doom for Sanders’s campaign, and for the socialist movement in general.

Talk about feeling the burn. (Or is it Bern?)

To be fair to the staffers, they didn’t say anything about maintaining a 40-hour workweek. I guess they assumed that would be the case.

It’s basic supply and demand. There is no demand to justify staffers being paid $15 an hour. Therefore, when an outside entity violates the natural balance by placing a price floor on minimum wage, the supply is forced to decrease.

After all, Sanders’s campaign would go belly-up if it was forced to keep all its staffers, well, on staff at $15 an hour for 40 hours each week. They’d have to solicit more donations, probably from rich people (the same ones they hate and want to tax to death), in order to stay alive.

In this case, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Socialism just got schooled.

We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.

Adolf Hitler

I’m shooting from the hip here. I don’t get political on this site very often. Yet I don’t see this as politics.

I see socialism and the “gimme” mentality as a great evil that imperils not only the U.S., but the world. I see it as a broader global, social issue that could (and likely will) inevitably lead to totalitarian regimes that mimic Venezuela at best and Stalin’s Soviet Union at worst.

Here are some cold, hard facts to be learned from Sanders and his staffers:

  1. Some jobs just aren’t worth $15/hour.
  2. If the minimum wage is increased, employers will be forced to reduce the workforce or working hours in order to keep profits in the black.
  3. Get ready for computers and robots to replace minimum-wage workers—because they work minimum-wage jobs for free. And they don’t complain or form unions, either.

And here’s three more tough truths for good measure:

  1. Life is hard, and you aren’t owed anything. In fact, life is downright cruel. And you shouldn’t trust anyone, especially not the government, to take care of you. You’re fortunate to wake up and live in one of the best times in history in the greatest country on the earth. You have a relatively comfortable life because of people who worked hard thousands of years before you to bring humanity to its current state. You have opportunities people halfway around the world could only dream of.
  2. Instead of clamoring for a higher minimum wage, get out there and learn some skills that will make you more money. The more value you provide to others, the more money you will receive as a result. Anyone can flip burgers or solicit. Not everyone can sell homes, repair faulty wiring, or manage investments. Very few can win Oscars, perform to 10,000 people, or start world-changing companies. The more value you provide to others, the more money you will receive as a result.
  3. Socialism does not work. It runs counter to human nature that God created in all of us. It discourages innovation and hard work by punishing the high achievers. It encourages complacency because those at the bottom aren’t compensated according to the value they provide. There is no incentive for them to work harder if big government is always taking care of them. (If you want evidence of socialism not working, I need only point to Venezuela.)

Socialism states that you owe me something simply because I exist. Capitalism, by contrast, results in a sort of reality-forced altruism: I may not want to help you, I may dislike you, but if I don’t give you a product or service you want, I will starve. Voluntary exchange is more moral than forced redistribution.

Ben Shapiro

You may say that selfishness is wrong, but at the end of the day, we’re all selfish. Even the most selfless things we do, we do because we want something out of them—whether because we want the feeling of well-being that comes from doing them, because we want to avoid the guilt we’ll feel if we don’t do them, or because we want to look good in our peers’ eyes. Socialism violates this natural human behavior of operating selfishly.

Once people understand very basic economics and human behavior… socialism will become a footnote of history.

And now, I’ll step down from my soapbox. For now.

But first, I’ll leave you with a haunting quote.

The goal of socialism is communism.

Vladimir Lenin

Want to Expand Your Comfort Zone? Hop on a Motorcycle

Though you don’t necessarily have to do this. Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

Just over a month ago, I did something I’d been wanting to do for a long time: I signed up for a motorcycle training course.

Now, why motorcycling? I don’t know that I can really give a good answer, other than it’s just something that I wanted to do. A skill I wanted to learn. An item on my bucket list. (Actually, my life list.)

So I showed up early at my alma mater’s parking lot on Saturday morning a couple weeks ago, ready to learn. There were six of us taking the course, ranging from no experience on motorcycles (me and a few others) to many years of experience but no Texas license endorsement.

The first component of the course was in the classroom: We went through a PowerPoint presentation that reiterated much of the content we learned from an online training course we had to take prior to the “real deal.” We dissected and discussed some risky street scenarios and “what-ifs” before breaking for lunch and getting on the bikes for real, hands-on training.

Most of us started out like babies learning to crawl. We hesitantly straddled the 125cc machines, turned the ignition on, checked for neutral, and hit the engine start switch. I know those of us who hadn’t ridden before either felt a surge of adrenaline or a surge of fear when the engines throttled to life beneath us for the first time.

We progressed from crawling to walking: We learned how to slowly let out the clutch and apply throttle to move forward. We learned how to stop. We learned how to turn and shift gears and slow down without braking.

By Sunday, we were making U-turns, weaving in and out of cones, swerving to avoid obstacles, and zipping around at 20 mph on straightaways in the parking lot. It was the most fun I’d had in a long time, better than Six Flags or Disney World.

Then came the skills evaluation, the two-wheel equivalent of a final Drivers Ed test. This test determined whether we would pass the course and be eligible for our M endorsements—or have to take the course again in order to legally ride a motorcycle.

I’ll be honest: Even with practice, I freeze up with practical tests. Maybe it’s because the crazy lady who rode with me on my first driving test got on my nerves so much that I hit a curb and failed.

“It’s okay, Baker. You’ve got this. You’re the man.”

Yet I still went wide in both the sharp right turn and the U-turn. I lost the friction zone of the clutch when coming out of a corner and barely kept the momentum going through to the end. And I was half-certain that I failed.

But, I passed. And that was a confidence-builder. I can now legally ride a motorcycle in Texas, the United States, and (as a matter of fact) Canada, France, and Germany as well.

Does that mean I’m a proficient motorcyclist, though?

Heck no. I need to get my own bike and keep practicing what I’ve learned.

And I need to keep learning. In fact, I have a couple books on my shelf for this purpose: Proficient Motorcycling and More Proficient Motorcycling, both by David Hough, and both incredibly informative on more advanced riding techniques and maneuvers.

It’s my opinion that people should always be moving forward. You certainly don’t want to be moving backward. And if you’re standing still, well, unfortunately you’re likely to be left behind by those who are moving forward.

Moving forward means that you’re constantly stepping out of, and thus expanding, your comfort zone.

In his fascinating book 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson argues that the optimal place to be in life is with one foot placed firmly in order, and one tentatively placed in chaos. In other words, there needs to be a balance—or in Johnny Cash’s words, you have to “walk the line.”

Too much order and you’re going nowhere. Your life is stagnant and slowly becomes boring. You can’t grow as a person.

Too much chaos and your life spirals out of control. You have no tether. You don’t know what to expect around the corner and you live in a constant state of duress from fear or uncertainty.

But, if you can toe the line between order and chaos, Peterson argues, you can live optimally. You can expand your horizons (and your comfort zone) without feeling distress (the negative stress). Instead, you might feel eustress (the positive stress), and that’s what helps you grow.

If, for the first exercise, my motorcycle instructor had told us to hop on the bikes, fire ’em up, and accelerate to a speed of 20 mph in second gear, that would have distressed most of us because we had no experience. We would have been completely submerged in chaos. We might have quit the course then and there out of intimidation, or (worse) tried to follow his directions and hurt ourselves.

Yet if we were still just practicing rocking the bikes backward and forward by the end of the weekend, we would have been completely immersed in order. There’s nothing exciting about that!

So, if you want to expand your comfort zone and become a better, stronger, more well-rounded human being, start by dipping your toe into a little bit of chaos.

Do something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet. Take an art class. Learn to dance. Learn how to use a computer (I have a book that helps with that!).

Fall down, mess up, and get back up again. Eventually, your paintings will improve. You won’t step on your partner’s toes. You’ll know more about computers than your friends and maybe even your tech-savvy grandkids.

Or, you can always hop on a motorcycle. Because on a motorcycle, there is no gear for reverse. You can only move forward.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 1548894625.jpg

What if I told you that you could quickly and easily learn how your computer or smartphone works?

What if I told you that troubleshooting your technology can be easy and painless?

Well, now I’m telling you! My book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t explains, in everyday English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to.

It teaches you about the basic components without getting too technical, so you can become more computer-literate.

It walks you through simple steps to fixing common computer problems, so you can get back to using your computer instead of struggling with it.

It explains how to easily solve issues such as sluggish performance and virus infections, so you can keep your computer running smoothly—instead of running out to buy a new one.

And… it includes over 30 full-color pictures, so you can actually see what I’m talking about.

I’ve spent a great majority of my life solving computer problems (and I’m only in my twenties!), and I studied IT in college partly for this reason. I’ve helped kids, seniors, and everyone in between… and now I want to help you.

This book contains all the “secrets” I use to solve computer problems… secrets that everyone can use, including you.

Imagine feeling confident that you can solve your own tech problems without calling your tech-savvy friend, child, or grandchild. Imagine quickly feeling at home with software or apps you’ve never used before.

With How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, you will!

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on Amazon in all regions for Kindle and in paperback. Why not pick up a copy today and start becoming comfortable with computers?

P.S. If you opt for the paperback version, you can also get the Kindle version for only $0.99 more and read wherever you go on your smartphone, tablet, or Kindle e-reader. Also, be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book.

Sgt. Carl Burton “Bubba” George: MIA, POW

Growing up, Memorial Day didn’t mean a whole lot more to me than a day off from school, as I’m sure is the case with many American kids. Even though I respected the sacrifices made by all men and women who served in the armed forces, I didn’t even know what the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day was. However, all that changed for me in high school, when they found my long-lost Uncle Bubba.

I knew growing up that my grandmother’s brother, my great uncle, was named Bubba, served in the Army, and went missing in action in Korea, never to be seen again. Beyond that I knew little else about him, except that my grandmother loved and looked up to him.

Imagine my surprise one day when Mom announced, “They identified Bubba’s remains!” My great aunt Marcella, Bubba’s younger sister, had sent a DNA sample to the Army that could potentially help with identifying remains of American soldiers that the North Korean government turned over to the United States. Two years later, the Army came back with a match: They found Bubba.

The Army flew his remains to San Antonio, where he would be buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. On a Saturday in March, my family drove down from DFW for the funeral with full military honors and, I have to say, it left a big impression on my fifteen-year-old mind.

Here was a man, dead for over fifty years, lost and forgotten about in some North Korean prison camp for who knows how long, reduced to unidentifiable remains, now found, identified, and remembered. The Army that he served honored his service by transporting his casket on a horse-drawn hearse, playing “Taps”, and then sending him off for the last time with a twenty-one gun salute.

They folded the flag that was draped on his casket and gave it to my great aunt Marcella. I remember the soldier kneeling before my great aunt with the flag in his hands, talking so softly to her that I could not hear his words, and her and my grandmother tearing up. This was the closure they didn’t get back in the fifties, when someone from the Army, perhaps a chaplain, drove up to their small house near Bowie, Texas and tried to softly break the news that their beloved son and brother Bubba would not be coming back home.

Well, now he was finally home, and what a homecoming it was.

Now, whenever I think of Memorial Day, I think of my Uncle Bubba, a bright, hard-working young man with a great future ahead of him, who chose to serve his country in a war he probably didn’t know much about. I don’t know what he went through in that North Korean prison camp. I don’t know how he died, or how long he suffered before the Lord finally took him home. But I do know that Memorial Day is for men like him.

So, today, as you enjoy a day off from work, maybe fire up the barbecue or do some shopping, stop for a moment and think about the men and women who died while serving the United States of America. Their sacrifices preserve our liberty. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Thank God for all the patriots who spill their own blood while shedding the blood of tyrants.


If you want to read more about my great uncle, please see the following links:

Stop Just Reading The Bible

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.

Psalm 119:11, English Standard Version

For the past three years, I’d held to a “year through the Bible” approach to my personal Bible time. I’d wake up and get my three or four chapters in, faithfully, day after day. For a couple years, I kept a notebook at my side and wrote down questions that I had about what I read.

Last year, I started the Bible marathon again. I made it through the Old Testament well enough, but by the time I made it to Acts I was losing steam. I had a sort of Bible burnout.

It’s not that I didn’t want to keep reading God’s Word. I realized the problem was that, deep inside, I wanted and needed to slow down. Just like traveling, you can blaze from place to place and see a lot of things, but you really won’t appreciate what you see unless you stop in one place for a few days and take it all in.

I started the year by camping out in Ecclesiastes and letting Solomon’s profound, divinely-inspired wisdom soak in. I supplemented daily chapter and section readings with a devotional called 31 Days to Happiness by Dr. David Jeremiah that Amazon Kindle coincidentally recommended to me.

I will note that, while the devotional is good, it is no replacement for reading Ecclesiastes yourself, just like any devotional is no replacement for reading the Bible yourself. And as a side note, if anyone tries to put words into God’s mouth (ahem, Sarah Young, ahem, ahem), be on your guard. Of course, we Christians should always be on guard anyway (1 Cor. 16:13).

After camping out with Solomon for a couple months, I felt that I should start memorizing some Scripture. When I was in junior high, I learned at a church retreat that young Israelite boys, particularly those preparing for the priesthood, would memorize whole books of the Bible. I figured that if a thirteen-year-old kid from two-thousand-plus years ago could memorize whole books, I could at least memorize some verses and psalms.

Last week, I memorized all of Psalm 1, which makes two psalms I know by heart (the other being Psalm 23, which seems perpetually burned into my memory from childhood). In doing so, I reflected on what I felt were the benefits of memorizing a passage of Scripture, and I concluded three things.

1. Memorizing Scripture is not hard. Like any task, breaking it into manageable chunks makes it easier and more fulfilling. For Psalm 1, I focused on one or two verses a day, reading them from my Bible in the morning, reciting them aloud or in my head throughout the day as best I could, and referencing my Blue Letter Bible app as needed for a refresher. I felt very accomplished when I concluded the day by thinking, “I now know one more verse by heart than I did when I woke up this morning.”

2. The momentum builds. Once you start memorizing Scripture, it gets easier to memorize more. I find that this is especially true with passages such as Psalms and Proverbs. You’ll find that, in many cases, each verse ties into the next, and so you’re not just memorizing words, but whole, coherent thoughts. Getting the ball rolling can be difficult, but once it’s rolling, it’ll keep going.

3. You gain a deeper understanding of the passage. It’s one thing to read verses on a page, like you’d read words in a novel. It’s another to slow down and dissect them for meaning, like you might a classic text. It’s a completely different thing to commit them to memory, because then your mind starts to sift them and process them and your understanding and appreciation of them will increase.

Let’s take Psalm 1:3 for instance.

He [the righteous man] is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:3, English Standard Version

Pause for a moment and think about that imagery. A tree planted by streams of water might initially conjure up an image of an idyllic, sylvan scene: a tree in a grassy forest by a riverbank. When you consider that the psalmists lived in the Middle East, where water is often a luxury and there is plenty of desert and wilderness to go around, that mental picture might change to one of a Joshua Tree with little other life around (at least for someone like me who’s never been to the Holy Land!).

Let that last sentence sink in: “In all that he does, he prospers.” Isn’t that something you want to commit to memory and meditate on as you go about your day? It might be something you want to think about when life gives you lemons, a Biblical truth you can cling to when the chips are down. It might be something you can turn back to praise when things go well: “Lord, thank you that you have allowed me to succeed in my work!”

To continue this example, let’s take a quick look at the following verse.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Psalm 1:4, English Standard Version
This is some sorghum chaff. If it weren’t piled high like this, imagine how easy it would be for a strong wind to blow it away. Photo by sarangib on Pixabay.

Here we see the contrast. In the previous verse, the psalmist talks about the vitality of a righteous man (or woman) and compares him to another living thing, a tree. In this verse, the psalmist compares wicked people to the remnants of harvesting grain: useless and left behind. Note also that the wind doesn’t just blow them away, it drives them away. They are not wafted along in the breeze but are gusted out of existence.

I don’t think there’s anything really profound in what I just wrote above, but these are things that I would have (and actually have) overlooked in daily Bible readings. Even though I believe every Christian should read through the whole Bible (it is God’s Word, all of it!), I also believe every Christian should slow down and smell the roses that God has planted along the way.

As for memorization, I believe there are two things it will do to your spiritual life. Firstly, it will draw you closer to God (James 4:8) as you put a larger focus on His Word. Secondly, it will aid you in times of need. I know there have been times when a verse that I memorized a long time ago pops into the forefront of my mind and sustains me through a time of distress or guides me in making a critical decision. I don’t know that God would bring them to mind if I hadn’t read and remembered them.

If you’d like to start memorizing more Scripture, the best thing to do is to just start today. Start with the Psalms, because they’re poetic and are fairly easy to recite. Start with Psalm 1, even. Do one verse a day until you’ve memorized a whole passage or chapter. Write your verse on a sticky note or notecard or even create a reminder in your phone so you can work on it throughout the day.

And just think: If you memorize one verse a day, you’ll have memorized three-hundred-sixty-five verses in a year. If you memorize one passage a week, you’ll have memorized fifty-two passages in a year. The best part is, you’ll have drawn closer to God and hidden His Word in your heart in the process.

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.

The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

Psalm 37:30-31, English Standard Version

Don’t Let Them Steal Your Joy

We all probably know at least one person who has a glass-half-empty perspective. Some of us may even know someone who always think the glass is completely empty. These people are often tough to be around because they can be more depressing than Eeyore!

If you deal with people like this on a frequent basis, no matter who they are and what your relationship with them is, it is taxing in many ways. I believe that a person’s overall health can be quantized to four components that make up a greater whole: physical health, mental health, emotional health, and spiritual health. Being around negative people, or being negative yourself, adversely affects all four.

I’ve noticed the effects of other people’s negativity on my own health. Instead of getting out of bed ready to carpe diem, I find myself dreading the day because I have to deal with that person. Or, an otherwise great day is upended by that person’s comment. At the end of a day dealing with that person, I feel emotionally drained or on-edge (emotional health), am unable to get my mind off of what they said or did (mental health), can feel physically weak from the stress (physical health), and often don’t feel much like talking to God (spiritual health).

I’ve decided that, to the best of my ability, there will be no more of this.

While I can’t be “master of my feelings” (can anyone?), I can make an active choice every day to be joyful. And I can choose to remain joyful even when people around me are walking around with rain clouds hanging over their heads. Even when life taxes me to the limit, I will choose joy.

I will always associate the phrase “choose joy” with a girl I went to high school with named Taylor. I didn’t know her very well, and I only spoke to her a handful of times, but I thought she was a happy person. I remember that she smiled and laughed a lot.

Taylor battled cancer throughout high school before eventually succumbing to it not long after graduating. Through it all, she kept smiling and laughing. She could have become a very pessimistic individual (and I’m sure she felt that way many times), but ultimately she chose joy instead. Now she is experiencing the eternal joy of our Lord, free from the pain and anguish of our limited time on the earth.

In Nehemiah 8, the scribe Ezra is reading the Mosaic Law (the Torah) to the Israelites in Jerusalem, the first time it has been read in years after it was lost during the Game of Thrones-style drama between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. (Read all about it in I and II Kings.) The Israelites at this time had never heard the Law read to them before, even though the Law was, to them, what the Bible is to Christians today.

Think of what it would be like for your great-great-grandchildren to only have knowledge of Jesus Christ through word of mouth because the Bible had been lost to the sands of time. Then imagine that, one day, someone uncovers a pristine copy of the Bible, calls everyone into a great assembly, and begins reading it aloud. That’s approximately what’s happening in Nehemiah 8.

The people begin weeping as they hear the words of the Law (8:9), and that’s when Nehemiah, the governor, steps in and makes what I think is a profound statement. He commands the people to stop crying, to go eat good food and drink good wine, and to rejoice, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10).

Think about that. The joy of the Lord is our strength. God is joyful, and He takes pleasure in His creation, which includes us lowly humans. Even despite our screwups, He loves us so much that He sent His own son, Jesus, to pay the price once and for all that we would each have to pay for our screwups (John 3:16, Galatians 3:13-14). All we have to do is believe in Jesus and follow him.

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And if we accept that truth, that God is joyful, we will be strengthened by it in all four aspects of our health. We will renew our strength and “mount up with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31, physical health). We will not be conformed to the world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2, mental health). We will cast our anxieties on Him instead of bearing the burden ourselves (1 Peter 5:7). And we will

It’s very easy to get mired into the drama of everyday life, to be like a ship blown about by the waves of circumstance. Life might really be pitiful for you right now. Just remember that there is a God whose joy is your strength, who walks with you and guides you even when you “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). And ultimately, we will be filled with the Holy Spirit (John 14:16) and equipped to endure the spiritual warfare that we all face (Ephesians 6:10-20).

Joy is strength, and joy is vitality. The Lord’s joy is even more so. And I’ve decided that I’m not going to let anyone take my joy away from me. I’m not going to let the Sally Sobstorys of the world bring me down to their level, because if I do, they win, and it gives them license to keep acting that way.

If I lose my joy, it will be on my own terms, not someone else’s. The Lord’s joy will be mine and will give me strength in all aspects.

Choose joy because, even though life is full of pain and hardship, we serve a risen Savior and have hope for an eternity spent with Him in true joy. Choose joy because so many people aren’t joyful in this world, and someone out there needs your joy to give them hope as they struggle. Choose joy because you’re alive and you can start working to make things better today, for yourself and for others.

As for me, I will choose joy. And I won’t let you steal it from me.


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Also, if you’ve ever thought that computers are too difficult for you to understand, or you’ve ever been frustrated when faced with a technical issue (we’ve all been!), check out my new book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

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It explains, in simple English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections. When computer woes happen, you’ll never have to worry again.

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on all Amazon sites for Kindle and in paperback. You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!

Reading is Dangerous

“What’s so dangerous about sitting down and reading a book?” you ask. “That’s probably one of the safest things you can do!”

Well, that depends on what you’re reading.

And no, I don’t mean that thrillers are somehow more dangerous to read than romance novels are. In fact, both those genres are relatively innocuous and predictable. Barring all plot twists, the hero will somehow prevail at the end, and the guy will get the girl (or vice versa).

Some books are inherently dangerous, though. You read them and run the risk of your whole worldview being thrown on its ear. Some are as startling as a splash of cold water in your face. Others feel more like a punch to the gut. And still others will slowly tug on your heartstrings until the tension is unbearable.

This past week, I started reading a classic called Propaganda by Edward Bernays. In it, Bernays breaks down how a very few select people can determine how the majority thinks. He uses the fashion industry as an example.

Business offers graphic examples of the effect that may be produced upon the public by interested groups, such as textile manufacturers losing their markets. This problem arose, not long ago, when the velvet manufacturers were facing ruin because their product had long been out of fashion. Analysis showed that it was impossible to revive a velvet fashion within America. Anatomical hunt for the vital spot! Paris! Obviously! But yes and no. Paris is the home of fashion. Lyons is the home of silk. The attack had to be made at the source. It was determined to substitute purpose for chance and to utilize the regular sources for fashion distribution and to influence the public from these sources. A velvet fashion service, openly supported by the manufacturers, was organized. Its first function was to establish contact with the Lyons manufactories and the Paris couturiers to discover what they were doing, to encourage them to act on behalf of velvet, and to help in the proper exploitation of their wares. An intelligent Parisian was enlisted in the work. He visited Lanvin and Worth, Agnes and Patou, and others and induced them to use velvet in their gowns and hats. It was he who arranged for the distinguished Countess This or Duchess That to wear the hat or the gown. And as for the presentation of the idea to the public, the American buyer or the American woman of fashion was simply shown the velvet creations in the atelier of the dressmaker or the milliner. She bought the velvet because she liked it and because it was in fashion. 
      The editors of the American magazines and fashion reporters of the American newspapers, likewise subjected to the actual (although created) circumstance, reflected it in their news, which, in turn, subjected the buyer and the consumer here to the same influences. The result was that what was at first a trickle of velvet became a flood. A demand was slowly, but deliberately, created in Paris and America. A big department store, aiming to be a style leader, advertised velvet gowns and hats on the authority of the French couturiers, and quoted original cables received from them. The echo of the new style note was heard from hundreds of department stores throughout the country which wanted to be style leaders too. Bulletins followed despatches. The mail followed the cables. And the American woman traveler appeared before the ship news photographers in velvet gown and hat. 
      The created circumstances had their effect. “Fickle fashion has veered to velvet,” was one newspaper comment. And the industry in the United States again kept thousands busy. 

Edward Bernays, Propaganda

Most would agree that this is a fairly harmless example. The scary realization is that people can (and have, and do) use these same tactics to manipulate public opinion in more serious areas such as politics, economics, and religion.

This begs the question: Are your opinions really your own? If not, who has dictated them to you?

This is what I call a “red pill” book.

If you’ve ever seen the movie The Matrix, you’ll recall that there is a scene in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) is offered a choice between two pills by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Morpheus holds a red pill and a blue pill out to Neo. If Neo takes the red pill, he will be whisked away to the real reality and see things for what they actually are (and they aren’t that great). If he takes the blue pill, he will go back to “ordinary” life inside The Matrix, the computer simulation he lives within, where ignorance is bliss.

(Side note: The concept of The Matrix originates in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which you can read in his work The Republic. You owe it to yourself to at least brush up on the Allegory of the Cave.)

We have access to so much information, now more than ever before, thanks to the Internet. More and more books are published every year. And yet, so much of what’s online and in bookstores is merely meant to coddle us, reinforce our beliefs, or—at worst—blatantly deceive us.

The worst part is that most people continue to buy into this. They don’t bother to ask the “what if…” or “why…” questions. They don’t actively seek out information that could change the way they think. Ignorance truly is bliss.

When I was visiting the University of Texas at Austin campus during a high-school trip, I saw a striking inscription on the main building: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

The quote comes from John 8:32, when Jesus is talking to Jews who have believed in him. (Though as you read the full chapter, it will become clear how much the Jews actually “believe.”) In the broader context, Jesus says that people are either enslaved to sin or freed by the Son (John 8:34-36).

While the last thing I want to do is take Christ’s words—or any Bible passage—out of context, I took those words quoted on that building to mean that all truth sets us free. We are freed from the shackles of sin by Christ; we are also freed from the fetters of falsehood by truth.

Or, to put it another way: Christ is truth, and anything that is true is allied with him. All else is falsehood.

Paul has an interesting admonition in Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8, English Standard Version (emphasis added)

Paul tells the Philippians that they should think about, among other things, whatever is true. How do we know what is true?

Pilate asked Jesus a similar question: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). While it’s impossible to know whether he was being honest or sarcastic, it’s ironic that he asks this while putting Truth on trial.

Do we put truth on trial? We should. I believe we owe it to ourselves and certainly to God to do so.

We should honestly and objectively examine what we hold to be true lest we spend our days living a lie.

We’re blessed to live in an era where information abounds. Truth is out there, and I believe it’s even easier to find now than it ever was before, even despite the misinformation and disinformation (propaganda?) that pervades these days.

It’s not politically correct to question. Many times it’s not even “socially acceptable.” But it is necessary.

So read dangerously. Read the Bible. Read guys like Plato and Bernays. Read about science, economics, and history. Read things that will challenge what you hold to be true. Think about these truth claims and test them for veracity.

God gave you a mind for thinking; use it! Don’t let others think for you. Don’t let long-held beliefs and assumptions hold you captive if they aren’t valid. Take the red pill.

Seek the truth, and the truth shall set you free. Seek the Truth, and He shall set you free.


Find Propaganda by Edward Bernays here on Amazon or free to read online here.


Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, consider following my site so you can be notified whenever I write something new.

Also, if you’ve ever thought that computers are too difficult for you to understand, or you’ve ever been frustrated when faced with a technical issue (we’ve all been!), check out my new book How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t.

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It explains, in simple English, how your computer operates and what you can do when it’s not operating the way you want it to. It also teaches you how to solve many existing issues, including sluggish performance and virus infections. When computer woes happen, you’ll never have to worry again.

How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t is available on all Amazon sites for Kindle and in paperback. You can read more about it here on my website, including an excerpt. Be sure to sign up for my email list to receive free bonus content to supplement the book!