Navigating (and Surviving) the 'Upsidedown'

In an upsidedown culture, positive and enriching behavior is too often ignored or rejected.

Just look at the rise and prevalence of reality TV — an entertainment genre that is many times characterized by a lack of self-control, bizarre behavior and negative commentary.

_Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor._.jpg

While it's encouraging to see more positive options in entertainment, the reality is that much of what's on TV and in theaters is increasingly getting darker. And everything — from our everyday interactions to our politics — has been impacted by the madness.

What's most striking about Proverbs 15 are the parallels between the warnings and guidance Solomon gives and the current state of our entertainment, particularly reality-based television.

Proverbs 15 opens with a proclamation: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."

This is common sense, but many of the TV shows that dominate popular networks thrive off of negative behavior, anger, fighting, booze-infused rage and a plethora of related behaviors.

We reward insane statements and actions in entertainment...and then wonder why they are increasingly manifesting themselves in the real world. The reality is: we're not meant to behave or speak that way.

Don't believe me? Solomon sprinkles in some other related advice that's worth exploring:

A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel. - Proverbs 15:18 (NIV)

The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. - Proverbs 15:28 (NIV)

The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit. - Proverbs 15:4 (NIV)

The lips of the wise spread knowledge, but the hearts of fools are not upright. - Proverbs 15:7

Reading and reflecting on these verses is essential, especially for a culture that is increasingly hostile, divisive, chaotic and disconnected.

People will debate how much impact our entertainment has had on our civility, but the reality is: much of what is being presented is either encouraging, praising — or at least representing — unrestrained behaviors that run in opposition to goodness.

As we encourage people to act foolish and to serve themselves — all for our entertainment's sake — we forget that Solomon offers up a dire warning in Proverbs 15:10: "Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path; the one who hates correction will die."

In the end, wisdom should be our goal — not rage, not unrestrained behavior, not setting our own standards. And wisdom can only come from one place: the Lord. Everything we take in and everything we consume has an impact, not only on us, but on our culture at large.

But even if we argue that we're mature adults who aren't really colored by what we're watching or listening to and that we're merely enjoying ourselves by consuming this content, there's a convicting question worth asking: Should we really take joy from others' poor behaviors?

We can't control what Hollywood chooses to put out there, but we can manage what we're willing to let into our minds and hearts. Just some food for thought.

I'll leave you with this (Proverbs 15:33 - NIV): "Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor."

P.S.: I'm not perfect, I don't always watch what I should — and this is a struggle for me too.

Be sure to also check out my quick devotions and reflections on Proverbs 1Proverbs 2Proverbs 3Proverbs 4Proverbs 5Proverbs 6Proverbs 7Proverbs 8Proverbs 9Proverbs 10Proverbs 11Proverbs 12Proverbs 13 and Proverbs 14And...curious about what all this means? Looking to better understand who God is? Take the next step.

LIFE HACK: How to Save Ourselves (and Our Country)

There's a lot of talk about civility these days, with concerns over our divided and tattered social and political dialogue reaching a fever pitch. The quest to be "right" and to win the argument has led too many of us to look past our ideological opponents' humanity — and it must stop.

Proverbs 13, much like previous chapters, addresses the importance of self-control and, more specifically, of watching what comes out of our mouths. The chapter opens with a powerful theme that continues from Chapter 12: "the fruit" of our lips.

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Verses 2-3 (NIV) should be simultaneously convicting and thought-provoking for us all: 

"From the fruit of their lips people enjoy good things, but the unfaithful have an appetite for violence. Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin."

Somehow, politics and echo-chambers have taken the place of goodness and the quest to pursue, fulfill and progress what is right. Kindness has been thrown out the window in exchange for brashness — and it's a problem on all sides of the political aisle.

Solomon tells us in Proverbs 13:17 that a wise person seeks to bring healing: "A wicked messenger falls into trouble, but a trustworthy envoy brings healing."

So, which are we? The wicked messenger or the trustworthy envoy? Unfortunately, too many of us are prone to be the latter, while ignoring our call to be the former. Some of us even relish in it, but amid an era of dysfunctional politics, we have to watch ourselves more than ever.

Righteousness, as Proverbs 13:6 proclaims, "guards the person of integrity." Unfortunately, this same verse tells us that "wickedness overthrows the sinner." We need discernment in an era in which discernment and self-control are increasingly treated like disfavored relics of days past. 

In the end, Solomon's advice is sound. Social chaos is, in many ways, rooted in human pride. And, "where there is strife, there is pride" (Proverbs 13:10).

To help stem the tide of chaos, we can ask ourselves some key questions:

  • What are we contributing to the chaos?
  • Are we part of the solution?
  • Are we associating with people of good intent?
  • Rather than respond harshly, are we thinking through the end results of our comments?

In the end, we're called to embrace the gospel, not a political party or ideology. And who we associate with — and what we tolerate as "normal" — matters. I'll leave you with Proverbs 13:20: "Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm."

Be sure to also check out my quick devotions and reflections on Proverbs 1Proverbs 2Proverbs 3Proverbs 4Proverbs 5Proverbs 6Proverbs 7Proverbs 8Proverbs 9Proverbs 10Proverbs 11 and Proverbs 12And...curious about what all this means? Looking to better understand who God is? Take the next step.

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Nothing New Under the Sun

As the old adage goes: "There's nothing new under the sun." This proclamation is, in fact, based on scripture. Ecclesiastes 1:9 reads: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun."

There are two things worth noting here: The Bible is stunningly timeless — and human nature hasn't really changed. Don't believe me? Just consider that the things Solomon wrote about in Proverbs 11 are still totally and utterly applicable today, nearly 3,000 years later.

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From mistruths and pride to unfaithfulness, gossiping and the mistreatment of others, humans are still dealing with our fallen nature. 

Luckily, we have an excellent guide from which to operate (i.e. the Bible).

Proverbs 11 is, in fact, one of the most sweeping chapters in terms of the moral scope of what's covered. Solomon opens with a discussion about truth, pride and integrity. Verses 1-3 read:

"The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity."

The message is simple: keep our eyes on the prize, follow God's path and keep ourselves in check. Wealth and goodness are also addressed, with the text proclaiming that money is of no worth "in the day of wrath" and that "righteousness" is what really matters.

Want more inspiration? Listen to my chat with Christine Caine below:

And Solomon doesn't stop there. He also notes the importance of generosity. Verse 25 reads:

"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."

Beyond that, Solomon reminds us of the importance of watching what comes out of our mouths — an important lesson that I need from time to time.

He writes that anyone who "derides their neighbor has no sense" and that "the one who has understanding holds their tongue." Gossip, too, is frowned upon. Some of us are probably reading this with some guilt, but it's never too late to be better.

The struggle is real, but let's remember: Solomon wrote these words nearly three millennia ago. People were just as messed up, disconnected and dysfunctional back then as they are now. Our circumstances have changed, but our nature is the same. 

Truth. Goodness. Kindness. Generosity. Humility. These are values to aspire to. How are you measuring up? Personally, I know I've got some work to do.

Be sure to also check out my quick devotions and reflections on Proverbs 1Proverbs 2Proverbs 3Proverbs 4Proverbs 5Proverbs 6Proverbs 7Proverbs 8Proverbs 9 and Proverbs 10And...curious about what all this means? Looking to better understand who God is? Take the next step.

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The Quest for Wisdom: Finding Truth Is Simple — but Are You Embracing It?

The definitions of wisdom range from "good sense" to the "ability to discern inner qualities and relationships" — to "a wise attitude, belief, or course of action."

All of us aspire to have wisdom, but a central question remains: what is the source of our beliefs and how do those perspectives impact our attitudes and actions?

Proverbs 9 makes it clear that God is the ultimate source of truth and wisdom and that He, alone, is the baseline for wisdom and knowledge.

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Sadly, culture sings a totally different tune, though, and many of us are so distracted by what we're taking in and by our own emotional whims that we totally forget or ignore this reality. Wisdom becomes a fluid concept rather than a bedrock — and we end up lost.

But that's not how it's supposed to work. Proverbs 9:1-6 frames "wisdom" in a truly fascinating and easy-to-discern way. In the text, Solomon encourages people to leave their own simple ways and to, instead, seek God's holy wisdom:

"'Let all who are simple come to my house!' To those who have no sense she says, 'Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.'"

As the chapter moves on, Solomon makes the roots and realities of wisdom even clearer. In verse 10 he writes, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."

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Wisdom, Solomon writes, allows peoples' days "to be many," with rewards flowing from it. In the end, it's a simple concept: the best way to live is God's way; the best morals to follow flow from God. Good choices yield the best possible life; bad choices can usher in chaos. 

Where does your wisdom flow from?

Be sure to also check out my quick devotions and reflections on Proverbs 1Proverbs 2Proverbs 3Proverbs 4Proverbs 5Proverbs 6Proverbs 7 and Proverbs 8And...curious about what all this means? Looking to better understand who God is? Take the next step.

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Visit Pure Flix for access to thousands of faith and family friendly movies and TV shows. You can get a free, one-month trial here.

No, You Absolutely Shouldn't 'Follow Your Heart'

There's a lot of talk today about "following your heart." The generally spouted mantras are "be true to yourself" and "be who you want to be," but there's an important reality that these feel-good slogans fail to take into account: we must first be who God wants us to be.

Proverbs 4 implores believers not to merely "follow" their hearts, but to guard them. Verses 23-24 (NIV) read:

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips."

Those words "above all else" are fascinating, as they seem to indicate that it's of the utmost importance that we each keep careful watch over our own hearts and minds, while also exercising self-control over what we say and do.

In many ways, this call is the opposite of merely "following" one's heart. We're called to start with God, then move forward from there. 

_Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips._.jpg

The latter piece about keeping corrupt talk from our lips is convicting as well, especially in an era that encourages divisive social media chatter and debate — elements that turn dark when we don't monitor ourselves before we tweet and Facebook.

So, how do we guard our hearts? As we've explored in the first three chapters of Proverbs, it all boils down to a reliance on God to discern His wisdom. Proverbs 4:5 encourages people to "get wisdom" and to "get understanding." And verse 6 further expands on this:

"Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you."

In the end, it's not about following our own whims; it's about discovering God's heart and asking Him to guide our paths. If we trust only in ourselves, we're on shaky ground. 

I'll leave you with Proverbs 4:26, which encourages us to think carefully about what we're doing in our lives:

"Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways."

Start with the Bible, prayer and a reliance on God; everything else will come together.

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Be sure to also check out my quick devotions and reflections on Proverbs 1, Proverbs 2 and Proverbs 3.

And...curious about what all this means? Looking to better understand who God is? Take the next step.

Humility Matters

Humility matters. But don’t just take my word for it. The Bible gives us quite a bit to chew on when it comes to pride, humility and the like:

 “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” -James 4:6

 “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of  you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” -Micah 6:8

 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one n in love.” -Ephesians 4:2

And there’s plenty more.  I know this is an area I still need work in. Join me?

 

What Is True 'Freedom?'

What is "freedom?" 

We love to throw the word around, but what does it actually mean in its purest, most unadulterated form?

It's the ability to make choices without "absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint."

It's the ability to live without being controlled by someone — or something.

But freedom goes far beyond that. It's the opportunity to wake up each day and make decisions about one's own destiny. 

From the small decisions to the large, freedom offers us the chance to pave our own way.

In America, freedom is most typically associated with rights. The right to pursue happiness, the right to enjoy liberty. And these ideals are immeasurably important.

In America we can:

- Voice our political perspectives

- Worship God in the way we see fit

- Speak our minds

- Seek to fulfill our dreams, whatever they might be

I'm eternally grateful for these freedoms, among many others, and I too often forget to thank God for allowing me to live in a nation that so profoundly affords me the opportunity to make choices, both big and small.

There are too many places in the world where these rights don't exist — where people cannot express their beliefs and are harassed, beaten and killed for doing so. 

That is tragic and horrific. 

I praise God for America and the blessings given to us on a daily basis — rights too many of us forget to be thankful for. Our normal ability to decide for ourselves is an unattainable fairy tale for so many across the globe.

So, back to that question: what is freedom? As I've stated, it has much to do with rights (at least in the modern context), though my focus here, again, is "true freedom," the purest form. 

The Bible speaks deeply and profoundly on this topic.

2 Corinthians 3:17 tells us, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." And John 8:36 reads, "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." 

It doesn't end there, either. The Scriptures are filled with explanations of what freedom really means. 

Galatians 5:1 adds, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

It's clear that God created us for freedom, but that freedom can only be attained in its truest and purest form through Jesus. That might seem confusing; that might appear odd to someone outside the Christian faith.

But it's truth. Freedom isn't free. We were bought at a price. 

And as we celebrate Independence Day today and reflect on our nation's history and on the liberty we all enjoy, we must also remember that true freedom runs much deeper — and it can be attained not by tradition or ritual, but by simple belief: an understanding that Jesus, who was sinless, is God's son who came to Earth, died for our sins and offered redemption. 

Why not accept this free gift and let it transform you? So many of us are hurting, wondering what life really means, looking for something deeper. You'll find that meaning — that purpose — in Jesus.

Think deeper. Pray harder. Be thankful. Find out what it means to accept Jesus here.

Waking Up: What Matters Most Isn't What We Think

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." -Proverbs 3:5-6

Resolutions weren't really my thing at the start of this year; instead, it has been all about realizations — and over the past 12 months I've come into one key understanding that will forever change my perspective.

Without a doubt, 2016 was a year filled with a plethora of lessons, experiences and learning curves. Above all else, I finally came to understand how to "let go and led God." Okay, okay: I know, the sentiment sounds corny, but there's something much deeper there than mere cliche. 

If I'm being honest and transparent, I must admit something: Over my 18 years (I started at age 15) working on media, my motivations have sometimes been a bit off; at moments, I've allowed the quest for notoriety, pride, the desire for money and other sentiments to sometimes take over as the primary drivers of my professional quests and decision-making.

And when those motivations take the lead, it's easy to find ourselves a bit off course. Luckily, I've always believed in the projects and companies I've been a part of, but I guess what I'm saying is that in 2016 I came to the realization that it's what God's wants that really matters.

It's easy to obsess about Twitter followers, social media chatter, book sales and other markers of success and prominence — and having a healthy business view on these things is great and beneficial. But it's when we pour ourselves so deeply into these efforts that we miss out on what's important — on God's calling for our lives — that we've got a problem. 

Just think: when we die, none of that stuff matters. None of it.

Instead, what matters is: Did we accept Christ? Did we acknowledge God the way he wanted us to? What have we done to help others? How have we loved those in our lives? And the list goes on. I guess my point is this: All too often, what we come to value in life and what we allow to drive us is totally and utterly out of sync with what really and truly matters.

And trust me: I'm not lecturing here. I, too, still struggle to live it out despite getting a little bit of clarity on it all these past 12 months. 

During my years at TheBlaze, I became obsessed with readership numbers, rankings, etc. I wanted to bring attention to my own name and push hard on the stories that I felt would advance my personal "brand." Some of those qualities were wonderful, though there was something I was missing. I was constantly chasing success, but my motivation wasn't always to serve God or, more importantly, to act in a way I felt Him leading me.

That all changed in 2016. I published my first book (I never thought in a million years that I'd write my first book about the end times), willingly left my position as faith and culture editor of TheBlaze and took a short-term contract with Deseret News before landing at Faithwire.com this past fall.

Instead of playing it safe of just acting on my own whims, I tried to choose what I felt God wanted. Am I still working hard? Absolutely (I still obsess over readership stats and pour myself into whatever I do). 

But things are a bit different now. I'm seeking God more, asking Him where he wants me and acting on His plan and not merely my own. And it's pretty freeing. I'm realizing more and more that things that might feel like failures or disappointments in the moment might have a greater purpose later on that I can't see in the immediate.

I think, in the end, 2016 brought me an entirely new perspective: notoriety and fame don't matter; what matters is how we live, whether we live for God, what we do with our lives and how we impact our world. I'm no longer depressed when things don't go my way, and I'm no longer aimlessly pushing toward opportunities without seeking guidance. 

As a Christian I always knew this was the case, but I simply got distracted. That's my 2017 realization.