How to Fix a Broken “Chooser” (Part 1)

I know a couple who keep buying bad houses. They house shop exhaustively but the ones they end up choosing turn out to be money pits. Similarly, I know some women who keep making disastrous choices in spouses or boyfriends. And guys who pick the wrong woman . . . every, single, time. And other sweet people who keep taking the wrong job offer. And others who go from one financial crisis to the next. They all have something in common . . .

Their “chooser” is broken.

Or at least it’s broken in one area of their lives. I’m not judging or throwing stones. I’ve had a broken chooser myself. And mine still needs repair and maintenance from time to time.

Having a well-functioning chooser is a pretty important thing for building a good life. We make hundreds of choices each day. Sure, most aren’t all that inconsequential. “Cup or cone?” “Curly fries or regular?” “White sneakers or blue ones?” But in the aggregate each of our lives is really just the product of the past choices we’ve made. As John Maxwell has said:

“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”

John Maxwell

I’m neither a pschologist nor a therapist. But I am a certified life coach (among a half-dozen other hats in my wardrobe) so I have a keen interest in helping people create a better life–a brighter future–by helping them fix their choosers. So if your life stinks, or if in just one area of your life you consistently get bad outcomes, maybe you need to fix your chooser. So here’s the thing. Your choices are largely driven by two things:

  1. What you value.
  2. What you fear.

If those two propositions are true–and I believe if you’ll stay with me you’ll see that they are–then you can start getting better outcomes from your choices simply by making adjustments to what you value and what you’re afraid of. Let’s start with proposition number one.

Exposing Your Hidden Values

When I use the term “values,” I’m not talking about morals or standards. I’m talking about what you literally hold to be valuable. What you view to be important. What you believe, in your heart of hearts, will make you happy. When you face a choice, you, very logically, make that choice based on what you “value” most highly.

Early on in my years of working in the world of marketing communications I discovered something shocking: There is often a big difference between what we claim we value and what we actually value. What we truly value drives how we decide or choose. But here’s the thing . . . what we say we value isn’t always the truth about what we actually value. And often, we’re not even honest with ourselves about what we value.

Twenty-five years ago a major household goods conglomerate commissioned a mountain of research about what women wanted in a laundry detergent. Their research data revealed that an overwhelming majority of women said “environmental friendliness” was “very important” to them. And that they would definitely be inclined to purchase a detergent that was low in phosphates– something that had been shown to have negative impacts on the environment.

Well, they lied. Okay . . . “Lied” is a strong term. But the corporation believed their resarch results and came out with a line of clean, low phosphate detergents. And they didn’t sell. At all. They could hardly give them away.

As it turned out, what the big majority of people who purchased laundry detergent (women, overwhelmingly) truly “valued” was having clothes and sheets that smell nice. And those “clean” laundry detergents didn’t leave their loads smelling like anything at all. When filling out a consumer survey, they wanted to seem virtuous so they said they valued environmental impact, but that wasn’t the true value driving the decision.

The people who make that decision revealed, through their choices, what they really valued. Namely, having clothes that smell good. The true value was fragrance. And that value was revealed when it came time to part with hard-earned money at the store.

Here’s another example from the world of ministry fundraising. If you ask 10,000 Christians if it is “very important” to support evangelism, that is, the proclamation of the Gospel, 10,000 of them will answer “Yes!” “Amen!” “Absolutely!” “Very important!” Then, if you were to subpoena their bank records of those 10,000 Christians guess what you would find in terms of their charitable giving? How many of those 10k believers will have spent a single dollar over the previous year in the cause of delivering the Gospel to lost people? (Spoiler Alert: Less than 10,000. Way, way less.)

Often, our real values don’t exactly align with the values we know we believe we should have. And in most contexts our money-spending “chooser” faithfully reflects our authentic values. But, again, we don’t just make money decisions. We also make job decisions. Relationship decisions. And wide array of other “life” decisions.” Every day.

So, something similar is true for all of us in all areas of decision making. We know what we ought to value. But then there is what we really value. And it is that true value is that drives our decisions. We are ruthlessly logical and consistent. We repeatedly choose in logical harmony with what we really, truly think we want and need.

The problem is that what we we want is often NOT what will really make us happy or produce a good life outcome. Here’s a common example.

Image-Driven Decision Making

I have abundant personal experience with this one. It has always been tempting to place high value on how we are perceived by other people. In other words . . . “image.” Even if we won’t admit it, most of us care deeply about what other people think about us. Men, in general, want to be admired by other men and want to be seen as “winning” in the competition called life. Women, in general, want to be envied by other women. They, too, want to “win.” In both the masculine and feminine contexts “status” is the true value.

In earlier seasons of my life I made many decisions driven by image considerations and my need to feel significant in the eyes of others. Insecure me, cared deeply . . . too deeply . . . about how I was perceived by other people. So the value of “image” drove decisions about how to spend my money, what car to drive, where to work, or even who to date.

Dating? Oh yeah. Sadly, in my early single years numerous choices of relationship were driven primarily by what the girl on my arm said about ME. I’m not proud of it, but I would sometimes go after the girl that my friends would be impressed by if I got her to go out with me, rather than courting the girl I was genuinely attracted to in terms of looks and personality. That wasn’t fair to anyone, myself included, but especially the girl.

(Thankfully, by the time I met my bride in the back half of my twenties, I’d grown up enough to stop that nonsense. And yet she was still stunning and funny and in every way the ideal life-companion. But my decision to pursue her was rooted in much higher values than just insecure pride, competitivness, and show-off-ery. She was what my authentic self truly wanted and needed .)

All we broken, fallen humans have one under-appreciated superpower. I’m talking about the power to rationalize. We have the extraordinary ability to convince ourselves that the thing our mis-programmed choosers want is precisely what we should have. We all have a slick inner salesman who is brilliant at crafting a logical case for choosing “the thing”–however destructive or disastrous it may be.

The inner voice whispering, “Hey, you deserve this!” has led to more bad decisions than doing tequila shots.

Again, at some point I grew up spiritually and emotionally enough to realize that my image-driven decisions never produced good outcomes in any area of my life. And becoming a husband and father made making good decisions even more critical. At that point, a boneheaded choice didn’t just affect me. If I “chose poorly” it wasn’t just my life that was impacted. A sweet woman and three adorable, trustling little girls took the hit, too.

And “image” is far from the only low consideration that can inform our values. But it’s a common one. (Safety is another. I’ll deal with it in Part 2 of this post.)

Eventually, I figured out that my values drove my “chooser.” So, let me reveal one of the most powerful things I did to clarify what I should value in order to get consistently better outcomes. I learned to ask a key clarifying question . . .

I was in my mid-30s. My 40th birthday wasn’t exactly imminent, but it was a visible, growing speck on the horizon. At this point in my life, I was starting to get an understanding of the truth I’m trying to convey in this post. Namely, that I consisently made choices based on what I valued, and if I wanted a better life for myself and the people depending on me, I was going to have to “upgrade my values.”

So one day I sat down with a legal pad and a pen and put this question at the top of the page . . .

What Makes Life Good?

Then I paused, prayed, and then with gut-level honesty looked back across the previous few years and searched for moments and seasons of true joy, peace, and sweetness. Then I began to make a list, answering that question. I wrote, “What makes life good is . . .”

  1. Laying on the floor with my kids climbing on me like I’m some sort of interactive jungle gym.
  2. Having peace in our marriage and the abcense of conflict in our home.
  3. Feeling trusted by my sweet bride.
  4. Not having financial pressure.
  5. Bike rides through nice scenery in mild weather.
  6. Having meaningful work to do that accessing my highest skills and talents.
  7. etc.

I filled two entire pages with the things that I knew in my heart produced authentic happiness and joy in me. Then I took a mental step back and studied that list. Here’s what I discovered:

First, only one of the things on the list had anything to do with money. All the others came with the a price tag of $0.

Secondly, NONE of the things that truly, authentically contributed to making my life good involved impressing anyone else, or being envied, or displaying status. Not one.

Thirdly, the one item on the list that did relate to money–“Not having financial pressure”–was a coin with two sides. What I mean is, there are two ways to not have finincial pressure. One is to make more money. The other is to spend less money. I knew the former path–making more–wasn’t always within my control. But reducing our spending so that we are living within our means was entirely something we could control.

What’s more, I’d discovered that, without intentional steps to live within our means, making more money only resulted in more spending. Financial pressure continued no matter how high our household income rose. And guess what tends to result in excessive spending?

Trying to impress other people. There is a gut-punch of truth in the old saying,

We spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.

What that exercise did was give me a roadmap for ungrading what I valued. And it seemed clear to me, that if I replaced any flawed values that were driving poor choices that produced negative outcomes; with valuing things that reliably produced goodness and sweetness in my life, my “chooser” would be repaired.

And I was right. Consciously, prayerfully shifting what I valued shifted my choices. 

Image vs Quality-of-Life

I can say with reasonable confidence that I’ve never once made a good image-driven or status-driven decision. So is there a better alternative to using image and status-enhancement as a goal? I’m glad you asked.

Yes! A far better target is “quality of life.”

This statement will be a controversial statement in some church circles but (and this is my “I don’t care face”) . . . God wants you to have a good life.

Not an easy life. Not a perecution-free life. Not a trouble-free life. A good life. It was no less a reliable source than Jesus who said that He’d come that we might have abundant zoe life. (John 10:10) He also invited us all to come to Him if we’re worn out or weighed down because with Him we’d find rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28) He called himself the “Good Shepherd” and the 23rd psalm gives us a great picture of what being under the protection of a good shepherd looks like.

That means the believer can and should remove “image” and striving for “status” from the values that drive our decisions. A good replacement for them is: “quality of life.” And “quality of life” values are rooted in your personal “what makes life good” list.

The believer is back in the Garden. Jesus opened the way back to the Tree of Life. So, the life of the Christian should be filled with meaning and purpose and peace and provision and upward progress. Of course, that progress will require periodic spiritual fights and battles against the the King’s enemy as he or she takes new ground.

Replacing “image” with “quality of life” as a driver for decisions can and does still result in having nice things and nice experiences (when such things are truly affordable.) But the decision to acquire those things and have those expeiriences is a better, higher decision and therefore invariably produces a better outcome. Buying things you can’t afford leads to stress and misery.

That’s the opposite of “quality of life.”

The same is true of other decisions rooted in the wrong values. They produce heartache and stress and regret. So, how does one go about evaluating the values that lay beneath our decisions?

Joy and Gratitude: Your Guides to Upgrading Your Values

What brings you deep, authentic joy? What is going on in the moments in which you feel a wave of gratitude wash over you? When do feel “in the zone” or in a state of “flow.” Being mindful and aware of where you are and what you’re experiencing in those moments, and then comparing the answers to what seems to be driving your choices, is a related way of determining whether you must might be valuing the wrong things.

Going through life desperate to be envied is a very low way to live. And it’s a prescription for making a stream of bad choices with unhappy outcomes.

Upgrading your values will have a HUGE impact on the quality of your decisions. But low, flawed values isn’t the only thing causing a lot of “choosers” to be broken. In Part 2 of this post, we’ll explore another common issue . . .

Fear: The Other Factor

Coming soon!

Letting Go of the Stick of Fear

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (1 John 4:18, NIV).

Notice this phrase from the verse above: “… because fear has to do with punishment.” 

Pastors and parents raising children have something in common: Both are responsible for training a group of people.

Parents instinctively use fear as a training tool for very small children. Curious little ones must be taught to avoid fascinating open flames, beckoning electrical outlets, and the strange but friendly-looking dog on the other side of the busy street. As children get older, most parents continue to utilize the tool of fear to encourage good choices, but only because we want the best for our kids. We love them and want them to live great lives and become happy, productive adults. 

Similarly, pastors love their flocks. They, too, want to see those under their care making good choices, doing all the “oughts” and avoiding all the “ought nots.” So many present God as harsh and hard to please. They keep the sword of negative consequences dangling over the heads of the congregation.

Frankly, this is precisely why many well-meaning pastors resist the full implications of New Covenant grace. In spite of all that the Gospel of Grace reveals about rest and ceasing from our works, many continue to present the fear-sprinkled gospel of, “Do good. Get good. Do bad. Get bad.” They are terrified of letting go of the stick of “fear” to keep people doing “the right thing.”  

The great Scottish theologian Alexander MacLaren understood this tendency to portray God as angry in order to instill fear. Thus, he wrote:

“The love which casts out fear is not the result of a person’s willpower to put away hatred and indifference. It is not about choosing to position oneself toward God and His mercy. The love which casts out fear does so because we have no part to play in it except to open our eyes and see that God has no anger—but rather is perfect, and absolute, and infinite Love.”  

Alexander MacLaren

Pray this: “Father, Your extraordinary grace and unfathomable love are transforming me into the person I always wanted to be, but could never become under the “stick of fear.” It is Your kindness that leads me to repentance. Your perfect love has driven out my fear.”

Two Kinds of Shame

The first observable evidence of mankind’s Fall was the presence of shame. It manifested in the first couple’s fear-soaked shrinking from the presence of God. The sound of His footfalls had only the previous day filled their hearts with joy and caused them to come running to meet them in glad anticipation. Now His footsteps filled them with dread.

Father God had not changed. But they had.

I was afraid.” 

“Because I was naked.”

“And I hid myself.” 

Shame had wrapped its filthy tentacles around their souls. So, the first couple hastily contrived some Man-conceived, Man-crafted way to cover that shame. Religion was born. And over the subsequent millennia the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve would devise ever more clever and sophisticated ways to try to cover that shame. But “cover” was the best they could do. 

In the Old Testament we find two key Hebrew words for shame—but these words communicate two very different concepts. The word bosheth connotes the guilt and dishonor we experience when our sin is exposed. Daniel used this word when he said, “”Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us, open shame . . .“[1] It is bosheth, in part, that drove Adam and Eve to flee the presence of God. And every person alive has felt its sting.

There is another Hebrew word for a very different type of pain—one that is also usually translated “shame” or “ashamed” in our English Bibles. It is kalam and it speaks of being hurt, rejected, insulted, disgraced, defiled or humiliated—sometimes in public and particularly by someone close to you. To understand the concept of kalam, all you have to do is read Numbers 12:14—a verse that contains this Hebrew term.

And the LORD said unto Moses, If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed seven days . . . ?

Numbers 12:14

This is kalam—a man spitting in his own daughter’s face. Imagine a lovely Israelite girl being brought before the elders of her tribe for some perceived violation of community standards. It’s all a misunderstanding. She has done nothing wrong. But with the entire village watching, her angry and embarrased father does not rise to her defense. He does not step between her and the pointing fingers. Instead he walks up to her and spits in her face. Her face flushes red and tears fill her eyes.

What she feels in that moment is kalam.

We know the shame of the other type—bosheth—well. It’s that sense of uncleanness we feel when we sin—when we violate God’s immutable laws—resulting in damage to ourselves or others. It’s close companion is our English word guilt.

But we all are far, far too familiar with that second type of shame, as well. We are intimately acquainted with that humiliating sense of defilement and worthlessness we feel when others use or abuse us. Every wife who has felt the fist of a drunken husband knows this shame. So does every victim of rape. Every violated little boy or girl knows it, too. Every girl ever pressured by a parent or a boyfriend to abort the growing new life within them. Every man who has endured the sucker-punch of learning from a friend about his wife’s infidelity has felt it. 

This was your fault, the enemy whispers. You provoked this. You deserved this. You’re not worth any more than this. 

And to the post-Edenic soul . . . to the heart that has not been to Calvary to make the great exchange and seen the price God was willing to pay to reclaim it . . . these lies seem to carry the sickening ring of truth. 

Put simply, we feel the first shame when we hurt someone else. We feel the second when someone hurts us. And the very history of the human race since the fall is little more than these two forms of shame dancing across the ravaged souls of men and women. Abusing and being abused. Defiling and being defiled. 

Hurt people hurting people.  

All of this Jesus carried with Him to the cross. All of it.

With this awful truth in mind, look with fresh eyes at the word of Hebrews 12:2:  “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

When Jesus looked ahead to the cross, He didn’t see pain. He saw unspeakable shame. Our shame—both bosheth and kalam—being heaped upon Himself in almost infinite measure. Only looking beyond that shame to the joy of being “the firstborn of many brethren” could propel Him forward in obedience into that filth.   

Oh, what shame–kalam and bosheth–Jesus bore on that Good Friday. Over and over they spit in His face during that mockery of a trial. He was stripped naked and hung like a billboard just outside one of Jerusalem’s busy gates. And in the unseen realm the blood-guiltiness of every sinner was laid upon His pristine conscience.  

One of the great wonders of the cross is that Jesus did more than bear our sin. He bore the first great consequence of sin . . our shame.  No matter what we’ve done or what has been done to us, we are invited to come to the cross and leave our shame there. At the cross our consciences are sprinkled clean. Our defilements are washed away.

In one of the most astonishing of exchanges ever proposed, we are invited to trade our shame . . . all of it . . . for His glory. No wonder Revelation shows us Jeus enthroned in that glory declaring:

“Behold, I make all things new.”


New Podcast Episode is Up!

It’s been a while since I did an interview edition of the podcast and I’m so happy about this one. It’s a conversation with Sarah and Isabell Bowling about their new book, The Road to Wholeness: Healing from Trauma. It’s a potentially heavy subject, but we keep things light and positive yet redemptive.

Give it a listen when you’re on the treadmill or doing your commute thing. The New and Better Podcast is available on all the major podcast platforms. The podcasts home page is here.

Gratitude

You bet we’re flying the flag today. And feeling deep gratitude for so many things about this nation, it’s people, and its journey through history.

And as I think, with gratitude, about those who in the past were willing to put themselves in harms way to protect it or advance its vital interests, I can’t help but wonder if there will be many willing to do that in the days ahead.

Especially since both extremes of the political spectrum seem determined to convince our youngest generations that it’s not worth defending.

One end contends it never was. The other end, that it is now too far gone. I think both are very wrong.

For past thoughts along these lines, see these blog posts:

Here. Here. And Here.

Apple Hoped for Lightning . . . Got a Lightning Bug . . . or Maybe a Stink Bug

Wherein I weigh in on the infamous new Apple ad. One that generated an (internet) firestorm of negative opinion-ification. In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the ad.

A lot of people have voiced strong, negative reactions to Apple’s new ad for the iPad Pro. Some, like this guy, see it as Apple accidentally (or perhaps brazenly) revealing it’s inherent evilness. But I don’t think that’s it at all. Yes, I’ve frequently muttered to my wife that Apple seems to hate its customers. And many of its baffling product development decisions seem to validate that view. But . . .

As a longtime advertising and marketing professional, it’s quite easy for me to imagine how this concept first emerged. What’s harder to fathom is how this ad got green-lit, produced (at great cost), and released. Let me explain.

I’m reminded of the old quote, usually attributed to Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word, and the ALMOST-right word is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” In this case, it’s an ALMOST-right metaphor.

The assignment for the agency creatives was clearly to highlight how THIN the new iPad Pro is . . . along with illustrating the many creative tools contained within that “thinness.”

Thus emerged the concept of putting a bunch of other items: musical instruments, paints, game consoles, and 3D representations of emojis . . . in a giant smasher press.

When all of those things are smashed flat . . . then the press opens up and . . .

We see a shiny new, wafer-thin iPad Pro.

What the creatives didn’t factor in was the visceral human reaction of distress of seeing a lot of beloved and familiar objects crushed to smithereens. Punctuating the generalized horror of it all was a closeup of that 3D smiley face emoji’s eyes bugging out when the smasher began to descend upon it. Thus the backlash.

But what if . . . What if instead of a press crushing stuff . . . it was some sort of suction machine that, through the magic of CGI, sucked all of those items into a slim, trim iPad screen.

It would have illustrated the same selling point, without traumitizing people with the sight of beloved objects being pulverized.

In other words, it was ALMOST the right metaphor. And thus a very expensive mistake.

Not Ashamed

Last words are important words. When in Acts 20, Paul summoned the elders of the church in Ephesus, he assumed it was the last time he would ever have a chance to impart instruction, doctrine, and encouragement to them. So please note what he said to them in closing:

And so now, I entrust you into God’s hands and THE MESSAGE OF HIS GRACE, which is ALL THAT YOU NEED TO BECOME STRONG. ALL OF GOD’S BLESSINGS are imparted THROUGH THE MESSAGE OF HIS GRACE, which he provides as the spiritual inheritance given to all of his holy ones.

Acts 20:32 TPT

This, friend, is why I’m always hammering away about Grace versus the Law. The Tree of Life versus that other tree. Resting in Jesus’ finished work versus striving to earn, merit, and qualify. The New Covenant versus the old.

It’s everything. It’s the key. It’s the good news . . . the Gospel . . . and I am not ashamed of it.

Hopes . . . Up

I’ve been thinking about hope a lot the last few days. My sense is that we undervalue the power and role of hope in bringing miracles to pass. Among the big three, “faith” and “love” get all the attention.

But the Bible has a lot to say about hope.

–Romans 5:5 says, “Hope does not disappoint.”

–Psalms 34:5 says to God, “Those who hope in You will never be put to shame.”

–Romans 4:18 tells us: “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations . . .”

Want a biblical picture of hope? In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, He says the father saw his wayward son headed home when the boy was still far off.

That means he was sitting on the porch, scanning the horizon.

At rest. But expectant.

My sense is that many Christians, in attempt to protect their hearts from disappointment, have stopped hoping. Stopped expecting much.

I suppose it’s true that if you keep your expectations low, you suffer fewer disappointments. But I can’t believe that that is the way we’re called to live our lives in God.

As for me and my house, we’ll get our hopes up and keep them there. If we experience disappointment, we’ll trust God with the mystery.

Why was Jesus so angered by the money changers and merchants in the Temple courtyard that He fashioned a whip and flipped over tables?

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NOTE: The following is a chapter from my Kindle e-book titled “Jesus Said What Now? The Most Mysterious Sayings and Doings of Jesus—Decoded.

Hey friend, a big piece of a biblical puzzle is about to fall into place for you. Ready?

The “Jesus” revealed in the Gospels is generally gentle and kind … kind to strangers, kind to children, patient with sinners, the teller of stories about birds and flowers and lost sheep and prodigal sons. That’s the Jesus we see so consistently throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Which means most of us don’t know what to do with the angry, violent Jesus of Mark 11. You know, the Jesus who fashioned a whip out of leather straps and went on a table-flipping rampage through the outer court of the Temple around the time of Passover. What was that about? Well, there is an answer to that question that may surprise you. And it’s not what most of us have been taught. Or at least there is a big missing piece of the puzzle.

The account of Jesus “cleansing the Temple” is recorded in all four gospels. You can’t say that about many of the events in Jesus’ ministry. So, it must be pretty important. Let’s examine Mark’s account of the incident—which occurred in the opening days of the Passover week—verse by verse.

First a little context. Jesus has just had His “Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem where He fulfilled prophecy by entering the city gates on the back of a donkey and throngs of people hailed Him as the Messiah. Then:

And Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple area; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.

(Mark 11:11 NASB)

Okay, this is very interesting. It’s late in the day. Jesus walks into the Temple complex. Mark said He was “looking around at everything.” And then Jesus heads back out of the city to spend the night in Bethany. Got it? Then He returns the next morning with the disciples. So let’s pick up the story in verse 15:

So they came to Jerusalem. Then Jesus went into the temple and began to drive out those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry wares through the temple. Then He taught, saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

(NKJV)

Okay, let’s establish a little more context here. According to the book of John, Jesus attended the Passover festival observances in all three years of His ministry. And Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make it clear that this particular Passover is His final one—the one that will lead to His arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

So, if this is His third Passover in Jerusalem since launching his ministry, why not get upset about the money changers on any of those previous visits to the Temple? Or any of the other times He’d visited the Temple during the great feasts and festivals? We’re about to find out! The key to solving the mystery is in what Jesus Himself said in explanation of His violent actions.

But first, you need to understand the role of merchants and money changers at the Temple during the major feasts.

For centuries, Jews had been scattered across the Near East and around the vast Mediterranean Sea. Many Jewish pilgrims traveled hundreds of miles to attend the spring and fall festivals. And it was impractical to try to bring animals for sacrifice and offering on those long journeys. You try dragging some sheep, goats, or birds to Jerusalem from Spain, North Africa, or Persia using First Century modes of travel. Not really an option. So Temple officials arranged for festival pilgrims to be able to purchase animals once they arrived. Thus, the merchants selling doves, goats, and other items near the Temple Mount. But there was another issue.

Citizens of the vast Roman Empire carried Roman coins. And as Jesus pointed out to a group of questioners one day, Roman coins carried an engraved image of the Roman Emperor, who was worshipped by Gentiles as a demigod throughout the empire. The Jewish leaders of that day had determined that it was a violation of the Second Commandment (no graven images) to use Roman coins to buy animals to be sacrificed in the heart of the Temple complex. So, they created a solution for this problem as well. They allowed currency exchange booths to be set up near the animal vendors so people could make their animal purchases in shekels. This is how both merchants (animal sellers) and money changers became a part of the Temple Mount scene whenever there was a major observance like Passover. Are you tracking?

Secondly, you need to understand the layout of Herod’s Temple.

The Temple Jesus knew and visited frequently contained four separate “courts” … arranged from outermost to innermost. Entering the Temple’s outermost gate put you in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place on the holy hill where Gentiles could set foot. One step closer to the holy heart of the Temple complex was the Court of the Women, where ceremonially clean Jewish women were allowed to gather. This is as close as any Jewish woman was allowed to get to the Holy of Holies where God’s presence was said to dwell. One layer deeper into the complex brought you to the Court of Israel (also called the Court of Men). Here, ceremonially clean Jewish men could stand just outside an even deeper level—the Court of Priests where the Levites carried out their sacred duties.

Here’s the relevant question: Why have a “Court of the Gentiles” at a Jewish Temple? They built one because throughout the Old Testament period and throughout God’s dealings with Israel, God had made it clear that He wanted to bless and reach the Gentiles through His relationship with Israel.

From the very beginning, when God told Abram that He was going to make him a great nation, He mentioned that through his seed “all the nations of the earth would be blessed.” Note that term “the nations.” Almost every time you see it in the Bible, it’s referring to the Gentile peoples throughout the earth. Through numerous directives, prophecies, and psalms, God made it clear that part of Israel’s role in the earth was to be a light to the Gentiles. THAT’S why there was a “Court of the Gentiles” on the Temple Mount. God wanted “God-fearing” Gentiles to be able to draw near to pray … as a small down payment on the day the Messiah would come and make a way for both Jews and Gentiles to have direct access to His presence. Until that day, the Court of the Gentiles would serve as the one place on earth a Gentile could get close to the Presence of God and pray. BUT …

By Jesus’ day, something had changed.

The Pharisees’ power and influence had risen. And the Pharisees considered it defiling to even have to be in close proximity to a Gentile. They were considered lower than dogs. Several of Jesus’ parables aimed at the Pharisees reference this revulsion. In the eyes of the Pharisees, the presence of Gentile pray-ers on God’s holy hill was as offensive as having pigs or dogs roaming around on the Temple Mount. Having to walk past Gentiles to get to the Court of Men was just too much.

So, at some recent point, the Pharisees had successfully lobbied to have the currency exchange booths and sacrificial animal sellers moved farther up the hill to the Court of the Gentiles, effectively crowding the Gentiles out of their designated space. It’s possible they had even been banned from setting foot in the Temple complex altogether.

Adding to this violation of God’s designated design, the money changers and the sellers apparently were corrupt and cheating the pilgrims. The former were offering sketchy exchange rates. The latter were overcharging the poor for the doves the law required them to purchase if they could not afford a lamb or a goat.

Armed with all that architectural and cultural context, let’s return to Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ table-flipping spree. There is a detail in verse 11 that I’ve never heard anyone mention when preaching or teaching on this passage. Let’s look at it again:

And Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple area; AND AFTER LOOKING AROUND AT EVERYTHING, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.

(Mark 11:11 NASB, emphasis added)

Jesus’ actions when He returned the next day were not some impulsive, emotional, spur-of-the-moment reaction. Jesus was not suddenly triggered by what He saw there and just … snapped. No, Jesus had inspected the Temple complex the previous evening and, because it was late in the day, with the merchants and money changers likely packing up before sunset, Jesus left and returned to Mary and Martha’s place in Bethany.

What Jesus did the next morning was calculated and fully authorized by His heavenly Father. Remember, Jesus once said that I only do those things that I see my heavenly Father doing. John’s account adds the detail that Jesus took the time, probably that night, to fashion and weave together a multi-thonged whip out of leather strips. That was no quick process. Cutting and weaving a cat of nine tails out of leather gives a man time to think. And pray. And plan.

That next morning, He walked back into the Temple complex, whip in hand, and proceeded to do what we’ve all read and heard about many times. But why? My socialist friends love this passage because Jesus seems to be making an anti-capitalist statement by attacking both merchants and bankers. But is that the real takeaway here?

The answer lies in Jesus’ statement of explanation. After arriving at the Court of the Gentiles and again finding it NOT filled with God-fearing Gentiles seeking to pray as close as possible to the Presence of God, but rather finding it filled with corrupt merchants overcharging the poor and predatory money converters, Jesus drove them all out of the square and then, when challenged about it by the authorities, asked this question:

“Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL NATIONS?’ But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

(Mark 11:17, NKJV emphasis added)

Jesus basically asked them if they’d read Isaiah 56:6–7, which in the NIV says:

“And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

(emphasis added)

Of course, the leaders and Pharisees had read it. They just didn’t like it. But Jesus knew what they did not. Namely, that He was only days away from laying Himself down on a cross to make it possible for people of every nation, tribe, color, and tongue to have direct access to His heavenly Father. That He was about to endure unspeakable suffering to provide that access. And that as He would cry out from the cross, “It is Finished,” the thick veil that symbolically separated all humans (except the High Priest) from the Presence of their Father Creator would be torn completely in half.

What’s the takeaway for you and me here?

Well, first, Jesus’ intensity at this moment shouldn’t be a surprise. He knew what we now know. That the “God who so loved the world” always intended to include the Gentiles in His plan of redemption. And excluding them from access for the sake of accommodating swindlers and hucksters was deeply, deeply offensive. The Pharisees and the religious leaders running the Temple were guilty of losing sight of the plot of why He had created the Jewish people. And in both action and words, Jesus delivered an indictment that said so in unmistakable terms.

So, let’s keep God’s white-hot love for lost mankind always in mind. God loves people. And in the form of God the Son became one of us to seek and save that which was lost. He’s passionate about that. Let’s share His passion.

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Sorry, the Total Eclipse Isn’t Going to Move Across 7 U.S. Towns Called Ninevah

Like me, you’ve probably encountered many instances and “shares” of a claim that the path of the upcoming total solar eclispse that will be visible in part of the United States will pass across seven U.S. towns called “Ninevah.”

A poster to the Chinese spyware app TikTok with the account name @BryceJustChillen chillingly pointed out that the path of the total eclipse would cross seven towns in the U.S. named Ninevah. And “seven” is a biblically important number. And Ninevah calls us back to Jonah being sent by God to tell them to repent or face destruction. And Jonah points us to Jesus telling His disciples that the last days would be like the days of Jonah. etc, etc.

The video containing this stunning revelation was accompanied by this caption:

Wake up sheeple #lastdays #endtimes #jonah #bible #prophecy #bibleprophecy #solareclipse #2024 #eclipse #wakeup #jesusiscoming #judgment #fypシ #fyp #foryou #foryoupageofficiall #viralvideo #blowthisupforme #tribulation #christian #jesuschrist

Please note the hashtags #viralvideo and #blowthisupforme. This is a plea for attention. And @BryceJustChillen got it. Christian TikTok users repeated it and amplified it uncritically. It quickly seeped out of the cesspool that is TikTok and oozed out on to other social media sites.

There are few more effective ways to get a lot of attention online than to provide exhuasted and understandably freaked-out Christians an exotic reason to believe “the end is nigh.” And this did the trick.

When I encountered it, more than six decades of hard-won experience with eschatalogical prognasticators made me instantly skeptical. And as it turns out, as usual, my skepticism was justified. (By the way, what have we come to when you can’t trust an account called “BryceJustChillen” for sound analysis of current events from a biblical, prophetic perspective.)

Before I show you my work . . . first, a brief refresher course on total eclipses of the sun. They happen every year, often twice in a year, sometimes multiple times per year, but any single eclipse will only be visible from certain vantage points on the planet.

Fun Fact: In 1935 there were five total eclipses of the sun. That surely had to portend something, right? Let me take a shot at it. That year the Detroit Tigers defeated the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. The Tigers had been to the world series four times previously but lost each time. But in the year of five eclipses? . . . On their fifth appearance, they won? Coincidence? I don’t think so.

{The above, by the way, is an example of how easy it is to cherry-pick events and suggest some sort of causal link to other events. Before I close, I’ll give you a couple of other examples.}

As an eclipse seems to move across the face of the planet, it creates a 115-mile wide arc of what is called “the path of totality.” If you happen to be standing in this swath, you see, for a few minutes anyway, the sun completely obscured by the moon. If you are outside of this arc but in the same general part of the hemisphere, you see a “partial eclipse.” The farther outside of the path of totality you are, the smaller the “bite” the moon seems take out of the sun.

Now, back to the exhilarating (or terrifying, depending upon the disposition of your soul and/or your views on the Great Tribulation) claim by @BryceJustChillen, et. al., that the upcoming eclipse’s path of totality would cover seven “places” called Ninevah.

Here’s the thing. Not . . . exactly.

According to the website GeoTargit.com there are indeed seven “places” in the United States called Ninevah but, as the map below reveals, only two of them lie inside the path of totality. (The Ninevahs are the red dots.) A couple of them are pretty far outside of it.

Notice that I keep putting the term “place” in scare quotes. It’s because several of these seven aren’t towns. Take Ninevah, Texas for example. You won’t find a Wikipedia entry for it becuase it hasn’t been a town with a post office since 1966.

The Handbook of Texas, a publication of the Texas State Historical Society tells us:

 In 1914 Nineveh had a population of fifty, a cotton gin, and a general store. By 1925 the population had grown to a high of 150, and it was reported at that level through the mid-1940s. In 1950 the town reported eighty residents and four businesses. The post office was discontinued in December 1966 . . .

https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/nineveh-tx

There is no existing town called Ninevah in Missouri either. That’s why the “seven Ninevahs” narrative talks about “places” not towns.

I work with data for a living. So I know that any 115-mile wide swath painted across the lower 48 would cover thousand upon thousands of cities, towns and “place names.” So I used the aforementioned site, geotargit.com, to perform a little experiment.

One of my favorite little Texas towns is a place in the Hill Country named Utopia. It’s the setting of a wonderful faith-based novel and movie: Seven Days in Utopia. So I searched to see how many places called Utopia are in or near the path of totality. The answer is five!

“Five” is the biblical number of grace. So, this clearly indicates, utilizing the logic of “seven ninevahs” that the eclipse portends that the United States is on the verge of becoming, by the grace of God, a utopia

Continuing my experiment, I searched Geotargit for the place-name “Orange.” I discovered at least 14 places in the U.S. with the name “Orange” that lie on or near the path of totality.

And 14 is double “7” which clearly indicates that Donald Trump (“Orange Man”) will win a second term in the upcoming election (and probably usher in a Utopia.)

Look . . . Much of this has been in fun. But it’s true that, as I’ve written repeatedly in my posts about critical thinking and cognitive biases, the easiest lie to believe is the one you need to be true. The one you hope is true. And if you start with flawed premises, it’s inevitable that you will reach logical conclusions that are false.

Yes, God gave astronomical events as “signs in the heavens.” (Genesis 1:14) But what those signs are signfiying is rarely clear until after the fact.