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.

Photo by Edgar Chomba on Pexels.com

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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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!

On Mathoms

This past week I finished J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Hobbit and launched myself full-steam-ahead into The Lord of the Rings. In rereading Tolkien’s works, I was reminded of why hobbits are some of my favorite fictional beings. For one, they all know how to have a good time and throw great parties (as Bilbo did when he turned eleventy-one). For another, they give presents on their birthdays, rather than receive them. And, of course, while their diets may not be very conducive to low cholesterol and slim waistlines, I don’t know too many people who scoff at the idea of a second breakfast every day, or dinner followed by supper a couple hours later.

In reading the Prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, something Tolkien wrote about hobbits struck me. They have a name for something they don’t need but don’t want to get rid of: a mathom.

…for anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.

All my life I’ve been searching for that word, mathom. Formerly, I called mathoms stuff or junk, whether they were my own or someone else’s. The words stuff and junk make the possessions in question sound like they are completely useless. Now I realize that mathoms are neither stuff nor junk; instead, they are things that serve a useful purpose and were once needed, but are needed no more.

In the context of Tolkien’s epic, long before the days of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins the hobbits had needed armor and sword for repelling Orc invasions. As time wore on, the Orcs stopped invading, and the hobbits lived comfortable lives free of danger. They no longer needed their arms, so they kept them as trophies or gave them to a museum called the Mathom-house. It was not that the weapons and shields were useless, but that they were no longer needed by everyday hobbits in everyday life.

When you think about it, many of the things we own are mathoms. We buy things and use them for a while because we really do need them, and then we hold on to them long after they have served their purposes. They’re not useless, but they have become useless to us. Regardless, we still hold on to them for any number of reasons, from sentimentality to the reasoning that we’ll need them again someday.

While I don’t have any formal resolutions for the new year, I aim to do two things this year: One, I will not accumulate any more mathoms, and two, I will start getting rid of the mathoms I already have.

It doesn’t take long for me to start identifying some of my mathoms: shirts and jackets hanging in my closet that I haven’t worn in over a year, a broken guitar amplifier serving primarily as a footstool, books on my shelf I’ll never read again. I identified these in about two minutes.

It’s tough to get rid of some of these things. I believe one of man’s wonts is to not let things go, whether material or otherwise. We humans may not be hoarders, but we’re not easily unattached from things that we own.

Nevertheless, there’s a good feeling when one lets go. Last week alone, I gave the unused shirts and jackets to Mission Arlington (a local charity), the guitar amp to a friend, and sold the books to Half-Price Books. It feels good knowing that some young man in need will have black dress clothes to wear, that my friend will have an electrical project and potentially a great amp, and that someone else might read the books I’ve already enjoyed. No use keeping those things around just to collect dust.

I know firsthand that giving a mathom a new home makes me happier than I would be if I held on to it. I believe that when you have less, you have more. Less matter, more of what matters.

From a biblical perspective, we should all remember the words of Job: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return” (Job 1:21a, ESV). Solomon, the wisest man the world has ever known, reiterates this as he nears the end of his life: “As [a man] came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand” (Ecclesiastes 5:15, ESV).

In the end, we will leave behind the mathoms we’ve held on to for all our lives. Someone else will inherit them, for better or worse. We Westerners tend to accumulate but tend not to let go while we’re living. Though we don’t like to think about it, we should face reality and remember that we’ll have to let our mathoms and everything else go at some point.

I intend to rid myself of as many mathoms as possible this year. It’s not going to be easy in some cases, but I know I’ll be better off for it and be helping other people by giving away what I no longer need. It’s my hope that this inspires you to start identifying mathoms in your own life and find ways to make them mathoms no more.

2018: The Year in Review

Today is the last day of the year, a day I usually spend taking stock of what I did over the duration of the year. 2018 was a year of transition, discovery, and personal development for me: transition, because I finished college and am now living in “the real world” to some extent; discovery, because I’ve realized more about myself and what I want (and most importantly, don’t want) out of life; and personal development, because I’ve learned a lot about a wide variety of things and am starting to make changes in how I live.

I’m not a statistician, but I like statistics. I use them to look back on the year and see how far I’ve come and what I’ve done. Here are some stats to summarize my 2018:

  • Where I started the year: Kansas City, Missouri
  • Where I will end the year: Arlington, Texas
  • Approximately 6,000 miles traveled on trips
  • 29 full days spent away from home
  • 48 books read
  • 360 podcast episodes listened to
  • Approximately 100,000 words written
  • 1 musical instrument built (a fretless bass guitar)
  • 1 vehicle purchased (a Ford F-150)
  • Estimated 949,000 calories consumed (assuming average of 2,600 calories/day)
  • Estimated 3,000 push-ups performed (of different varieties)
  • Estimated 2,000 pull-ups performed
  • Approximately 15 miles hiked
  • 365 days seized

A few weeks ago, I looked back and thought 2018 was a less-than-stellar year, especially in contrast to 2017, which I believe to be the best year of my life thus far. However, looking back now, and in light of these numbers, 2018 was a pretty good year. By good, I mean it was productive, enlightening, and somewhat adventurous.

What would have made the year better? It’s hard to say. A transitionary year such as this one sets me up for a new year that hopefully provides new and better opportunities for career and travel. I’ve learned from some mistakes and misfires of 2018 and don’t plan to repeat them in 2019. I’ve got a few new hobbies I’m hoping to explore, and some books I plan to write and publish. My brother and I may also (finally) release some music for the world to hear.

Spiritually-speaking, one goal in 2018 was to read through the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation by year’s end. That didn’t quite happen. I’m in the middle of Acts right now and slowly working my way through. I plan to finish the CSB up in the early part of 2019 and then spend the rest of the year doing book or topical studies that I’ve shirked in favor of plowing (ploughing?) through the Bible once per year for the last couple of years. I want to sit and savor God’s Word more than I want to breeze through it.

I won’t be staying up ’til midnight to ring in the new year. Instead, I’ll toast to 2018 with a Boddingtons Pub Ale at dinner, go to bed at my regular time, and enter 2019 feeling well-rested and refreshed.

So long, 2018, and thanks for the memories.

Standing at an overlook in Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas. Photo credit: Drummer Dan.

Weihnachten: The German Word for Christmas

If you can’t visit a German Christmas market in Germany, you can at least look at pictures and sip some Glühwein at home.

As a beginner-level German speaker in high school, some of the first phrases I learned were greetings and salutations, such as “Alles gute zum Geburtstag!” (“Happy birthday!”), “Frohe Erntedankfest!” (“Happy Thanksgiving!”, even though Germans don’t celebrate the same holiday we Americans do), and “Frohe Weihnachten!” (“Merry Christmas!”). The cool thing about German is that if you know a few nouns, it’s pretty easy to figure out the longer compound ones. In the examples above, Geburtstag is a combination of the words “birth” and “day” (as is our English equivalent), and Erntedankfest would translate to something like “thankful celebration of the harvest.”

Weihnachten is a little more interesting. The first part of the word comes from the verb weihen, meaning to consecrate, anoint, or sanctify. The second part of the word is similar to the German word for night, die Nacht. So, using some logic and very rudimentary translation skills, we get a translation of Weihnachten as “sacred night.” Or, maybe, just maybe, “holy night.”

But wait, there’s more. The German prefix Weih- means “votive,” which is defined as “offered or consecrated in fulfillment of a vow.”

So, why is the night sacred or holy? Because something was offered to fulfill a vow. What (or who) was offered?

God promised to send the world that rejected Him a savior so that mankind could be reconciled with Him (Isaiah 53). One night, one holy night in a little Judean town called Bethlehem, that savior came. He was Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14): God incarnated in human flesh, born to a virgin. His name is Jesus.

This is not my attempt to preach or theologize, but merely a small exposition of the meaning behind a German word I learned in tenth grade. May we keep the Christ in Christmas and remember that holy night, the night of the fulfilled vow.

I wish you a merry Christmas und ein frohe Weihnachten.

Ten Things to be Thankful For

We’ve all heard the old saying to “count your blessings.” To many of us, that saying sounds corny and overused, and we go about our merry ways. We start to take things for granted.

Thanksgiving, for me at least, is a time to step back and reflect on those blessings that I take for granted. There are the usual things like family, friends, and food; there are also everyday things that, when I think about them, realize how different my life would be without them. Here are ten.

  1. Books — without them I would not be exposed to the ideas and information of great thinkers before me.
  2. The Internet — without it I would not be able to hunt down information nearly as quickly, or build and maintain relationships with people around the world.
  3. Running (purified) water — without it I might be dead, or at least very thirsty.
  4. Music — without it I would not appreciate art and beauty.
  5. Cars — without one I might not have been able to work through college and graduate debt-free.
  6. The Constitution — without it I would not have the freedoms I have today.
  7. Glasses — without them I could not see, and could never have scored my first (and only) goal in YMCA soccer as a boy.
  8. Education — without it I would not know what I know (and what I do not know), and would not have the job I have now.
  9. Dreams — without them I would not have entertainment while I sleep and burning ambitions for tomorrow.
  10. Salvation through Jesus Christ — without it I would be hopeless and dead in my sins.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18, ESV)

Five Philosophies Followed for Everyday Living

This post is prompted by a question I saw (and answered) on Quora, asking for five philosophies followed for everyday living. On the spur of the moment, I came up with my five, five which I think accurately represent the lens through which I view the world and are unlikely if ever to change.

  1. “Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord your God.” — The prophet Micah, inspired by God (Micah 6:8)
  2. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” — Jesus (Luke 10:27)
  3. “The high concept [of travel] is, ‘What is the most excellent thing I can do today?’, but it must sometimes yield to realities like time and distance, weather and traffic, or even just getting to work on time. Because sometimes work is the most excellent thing I can do today, and I can only try to embellish the work with some recreation and exploration.” — Neil Peart (I apply this to more than just travel; every day I ask myself this question.)
  4. “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” — Theodore Roosevelt
  5. “Time is the universal equalizer. Rich or poor, famous or nameless, we are all given the same allowance of twenty-four hours per day that we are forced to spend. How we spend that allowance is up to us.” — Me, inspired by Arthur Bennett’s excellent How to Live on 24 Hours a Day

Nice: A Four-Letter Word

man giving jacket to woman
This isn’t a nice guy; this is a gentleman. Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

There are so many words in the English language, so many of which that could be used in place of the word that’s the subject of this post. All of them are more descriptive and have a more positive sound. Consider these examples:

“That was very kind of him.”

“It’s a pleasant day outside.”

“Those are some good-looking shoes!”

Instead, we English-speakers, at least in the United States, tend to use a catch-all word that comes with some negative connotations: nice. Now, consider these examples:

Nice job, Mark; that foul cost us the game.”

“She’s a nice girl, but…”

And the quintessential quote from absent-minded mothers: “Play nice, kids!”

“Nice” seems so duplicitous! It’s probably just me, but I’ve never liked the way the word sounded, with that hiss at the end that some extend. Some people use it like it’s filler when they don’t have anything else to say or don’t care about what someone is telling them. “Oh, that’s nice.”

After reading books like No More Mr. Nice Guy by Robert Glover and its Christian counterpart No More Christian Nice Guy by Paul Coughlin, my dislike for all things “nice” has only increased. Think about what’s implied when two women are talking and one says, “I think Joe is such a nice guy.” When you think of Joe in this context, what comes to mind? Is he an emotionally strong man who is comfortable in his skin and knows what he wants in life? Or is he a man who, bless him, holds the door for a beautiful woman but doesn’t have the nerve to ask her out because he doesn’t think he’s capable (or worthy) of dating her? Ladies, be honest: would you date a man you or your girlfriends called “nice?”

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Is this a nice (ignorant) guy? Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There’s another thing I learned about the word “nice” from reading these books. Our modern four-letter word comes from the Latin nescire (“not know”) and nescius (“ignorant”) To be “nice” was to be an idiot, to put it plainly. The Latin found its way into Old French and eventually came to its current form in Middle English, where it simply meant “stupid.” Do you understand why I don’t like the word now?

I know not everyone uses the word this way, but I can’t help but bristle when someone tells me I’m “nice” or calls me a “nice guy.” I suspect their intentions are good, but sometimes I’ll ask them why they say that, or even tell them plainly, “I’d rather you call me good or kind than nice.” That goes for everyone: call me kind, but please don’t call me nice. In a way, I think it’s like Christ telling the church of Laodicea that he would rather them be hot or cold than lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-22, and yes I know I’m taking it out of context a bit). Let me be hot or cold, but not lukewarm. Let me be good or bad, but not nice.

I’ve all but banished the word from my vocabulary. In addition to the reasons above, I find that not using the word requires me to think of more descriptive, appropriate adjectives to describe things that would ordinarily be “nice.” Instead of talking about my “nice” lunch catching up with a friend, I’ll use a word like “great,” “fantastic,” or even “superb.” More generally, I’ve found that taking a moment to use a better word does more to further a conversation with others. It wasn’t just a “nice” burger I had, but a “juicy” one, and it wasn’t just a “nice” conversation that we had, but an “edifying” one. Those words create more vivid mental pictures (you’re picturing a burger dripping with flavor, aren’t you?) and elicit more interesting responses: “Juicy? Wow, I’ll have to try that sometime!”

To put a biblical spin on this, the Book of Proverbs wisely notes that “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23 ESV) and “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Prov. 25:11 ESV). Apples of gold in a setting of silver—what imagery! Why throw out a boring, banal word like “nice” when you have so many other impressive words at your disposal?

Bringing it back home, I don’t want to give people reasons to call me nice. I want to give people reasons to call me good, kind, responsible, helpful, faithful, truthful, and wise. I believe that men who exhibit these characteristics won’t be called “nice” by anyone; they will be called other names, both good and bad, but they will wear those names as badges of honor, hard-fought in the battle of life. May it be so in my life.


Post Scriptum: This post is written unashamedly from my male perspective, and though I write about “nice” guys, I want to be clear that the same applies to “nice” girls, too. Ladies, don’t be nice, either! For reference, there is a No More Christian Nice Girl for you, as well.

On Reading

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Not me, but certainly where I’d like to be.

One of my earliest childhood memories is from when I was four years old, attending preschool at a local Baptist church. When Mom came to pick me up that day, I made a statement to her that I truly believe changed my life.

“Mommy, I want to learn to read.”

With that, instead of going to Kindergarten the next year with my friends, Mom started homeschooling me with first-grade curriculum, and I of course learned to read. That desire to read has never gone away—although I would say that advanced English classes in high school, where I was required to read certain books, did stifle it for a bit, but that’s beside the point.

What made me want to read? In preschool, we had a wooden bookshelf with many picture books propped up on it. I remember four-year-old me picking up a book and opening to a page with a picture of the Dallas skyline and some text below it, which of course I couldn’t comprehend—but I wanted to comprehend. Whether that desire to read came from genetics or from Dad singing me the ABCs while he changed my diapers, ultimately I believe it came from God.

I still enjoy reading. After a period during high school and part of college when I read only the books I had to, I again picked up the books I wanted to read. I enjoy all kinds of books now: fiction and non-fiction, old and new, secular and Christian (can a book be “Christian?”). I read because reading makes me think: I learn new information and glimpse new perspectives, compare and contrast the new with what I already know, and evaluate the insights. The “evaluating the insights” part is one reason this website exists.

I also read because it is a relaxer, a de-stressor. Sometimes, it’s an escape, a way to get my mind off a rough day. It slows me down yet keeps my mind engaged.

abstract blur book book pages
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sadly, many people don’t read much anymore, or at least they don’t read books. We live in a world of constant information to the point of overload, where sound bytes and quick clips snag our attention for a few minutes at the most before we move on to something else. Video and images have all but supplanted the written word for information transmission, and certainly for entertainment. After a long day at work or school looking at a screen, folks come home and—guess what?—spend their evenings looking at a screen.

I’m not saying that it’s bad to unwind by watching YouTube or checking Facebook. In fact, I think learning how to do something by watching someone else demonstrate on YouTube is great! I also think keeping up with friends can be important, too. What I am saying is that it’s, for the most part, not mentally engaging. You’re being spoon-fed information instead of feeding yourself. Reading allows you to take information in at your own pace, stop, and interpret it how you will. In other words, you’re actually using your head, and I believe God gave us minds so we can use them by thinking critically.

Even for leisure, reading is hard to beat. A good novel will transport you into settings in a way that a screen still can’t do, indirectly conveying information and emotion using all five of your senses. (Think about it, a screen uses only two: sight and sound.) Instead of merely sitting as an audience to a character, you are there with the character, knowing what’s going through his or her mind and experiencing the environment.

There are many other good reasons to read: science says it’s healthy, and your budget probably says it’s cheaper than Netflix or cable (think of your local library or Half Price Books). You can do the research, or the math, if you don’t believe me.

Some people think reading is boring. I think they just haven’t found something they’ve wanted to read. The sad fact is, a lot of people think of reading as work, and for good reason, since kids in school are often tasked with reading books that they don’t find interesting, and college students are burdened with reading laborious, inscrutable textbooks. I get that because I’ve been there, too. The key is to find something you’re interested in, acquire a book about it (check the library!), and just start reading.

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Libraries are cool. Look at all those books! Photo by Tamás Mészáros on Pexels.com

Some people might be hesitant to start a book because they don’t think they’ll finish it. There’s a way around this, too: start reading short books and then work up to longer ones. Lists of short but edifying reads are a Google search away, and there’s nothing like finishing a short book to make you feel accomplished, especially if you don’t read very much. I highly recommend using the site Reading Length to determine about how long it would take you to finish a book.

Finally, if you want to read but don’t think you have time in the day to do so, I’m willing to bet you do but just don’t realize it. I read a book while I eat my lunch at work, and again in the evenings while “airing out” post-shower. Chart out your typical day and determine where you could “cut the fat” to squeeze in some reading. Like me, you could take a book to work and read during your lunch break. You could read while waiting for a bus, train, or airplane. You could read when you wake up, after dinner, or before bed. It’s those brief moments that add up to large chunks of time.

But, let us remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. —Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

Read and enjoy, the key word being “enjoy.” Use the gift of reading that God has given you, but don’t wear yourself out from studying. And, most importantly, use the gift to glorify God by reading the words of the Good Shepherd.