Foundational Thinking

Discovering the Secret to a Happy Home

There’s a painting my wife and I stumbled across several years ago that we were immediately drawn to and have been strangely encouraged by.  The name of the painting is “Home Sweet Home” by artist Dianne Dengel.  Sometime you might Google it dto see a picture of what I’m talking about. To describe it to you, it’s a painting of what I have to assume is a small, old farmhouse bedroom with a husband and wife sound asleep in bed, along with their six young children piled in bed with them. The size of the bed doesn’t appear to be much larger than a full width mattress, so, in order for everyone to fit, you see three of the kids burrowed in at the foot of the bed, one with his feet dangling off the bed, while the other three kids are cuddled up closer to mom and dad, either resting literally on top of them, or balancing right up to the edge of the mattress. At first glance one might think the reason everyone is piled up together is because the family is poor and, perhaps, not everyone has their own bedroom.  Clues of the family's poverty in the painting can be seen in the fact that the bed in view is lacking a proper foot board and shows the mattress frame resting on a couple of large bricks.  Instead of a proper curtain over the window, there's an old dangling newspaper helping to block the light.  The old wood stove in the corner of the room has a stove pipe that seems to be leaning, suggesting, a fitting of some kind has come lose closer toward the ceiling. Speaking of the ceiling, or more accurately the roof above it, there’s a clear leak happening somewhere out of frame because there’s a steady dripping of water coming down into the room, and as a kind of comical element to the picture, the father has propped up an umbrella over the bed to divert some of that dripping from falling on top of them.  So, the house is clearly not in the best of shape implying the family isn’t on the wealthiest end of the scale. However, if you study the painting just a little closer, I think you have to rule out that it’s on account of their poverty that the whole family is piled up together, because if there was only one bed in the house, one would have to wonder how the man and his wife have found the needed alone time to produce the six kids they have (if you know what I mean). Another assumption might be that it’s cold in the house and everyone is piled up for warmth, especially with the view of that old wood stove in the corner, and there appears to be an old family quilt they’re all tucked in under.  But, there again, you have to rule it out because the window with the dangling newspaper is clearly open with two morning birds sitting in the window seal and a blooming flower bush in the background.   You also know the kids aren’t overly cold because of the pairs of bare feet dangling over the edges of the bed. So, why are they all piled in together?  Well, I’ll give you two reasons I like to imagine.  The first is on account of that dripping water from the roof.  Clearly it has rained during the night, perhaps during a passing thunderstorm.  If the kids in the painting are anything like mine, all it took was a couple claps of thunder for them to all come running into mom and dad’s room for comfort.  The other theory I have is that it’s simply part of the morning ritual this family enjoys.  As the sun comes up on the old farm, perhaps the kid’s are in the habit of jumping in with their parents to share some early morning snuggles before they get started with their chores. Regardless of what the artist intends for you to imagine with all the details she includes in the painting, one impression I think is clear.  And that is, despite the poor condition the family is in, including the stream of dripping rain penetrating into the room, everyone in the picture has a clear smile on their face as they’ve all fallen back to sleep next to each other and take genuine comfort in one another’s presence.  They are, without a doubt, content to be together and show no dissatisfaction with their poor circumstances. Again, the name of the painting is “Home Sweet Home” by artist Dianne Dengel. Well, as I said, Amy and I really appreciate the painting, perhaps because we’ve lived it.  Sometime we’ll do an episode on our journey as homesteaders, particularly when we first got started, having just built our own house from the ground up and having needed to move in before everything was completely finished. We’ve experienced the bare mattress on the unfinished plywood floor.  We’ve experienced the tacked-up sheets over the curtainless window.  We’ve dealt with the dripping roof, and the pipe fittings that don’t fit as tightly as you originally planned.  The list goes on and on.  We’ve got some stories to tell. And while I can’t claim to you that we’ve kept a smile on our face the whole time, or that the sponge bathing we’ve done in front of a wood stove in the dead of winter when our tank-less water heater couldn’t keep up, is something that we necessarily wish to repeat—(oh, how we’ve got the stories)—Amy and I have discovered something through all the ups and downs that we wish we could pass on to more families.  And what we’ve discovered is this—that true joy and contentment in life is not dependent on one’s circumstances but has everything to do with one’s contentment in Christ—chiefly in the redemption and saving grace we receive through him, but, I would argue, also in the common grace we receive from him in life’s simple blessings that point us to God’s love and care for us. Writing to the Philippian church about the concern they evidently had for the hardships and rough circumstances Paul and his missionary team had endured during their missionary journeys, at one point he writes (this is Philippians 4:11-13):
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
What is the secret?  How can one be content in whatever situation they’re in.   How can a family be at peace and find rest even while their roof is leaking?  Or as the check engine light clicks back on?  Or as the biopsy report comes back with less than desirable results?  Or whatever the issue is?  How do we handle all the ups and downs with an abiding attitude of joy and contentment? Paul tells us the secret is found in Christ himself.  Particularly we know he’s talking about the discovery of redemption in Christ—that is forgiveness and reconciliation to God.  Those who truly discover that spiritual experience, and further come to understand the eternal implications of it, are able to see their circumstances with a much broader lens and, I believe, are able to keep it all in the proper perspective. What is a leaking roof compared to the waterfall of goodness that comes in knowing God for all eternity!? Well, in addition to the discovery of redemption, I believe contentment is also found in better appreciating the examples of the common, everyday grace we receive from Christ in life’s simple blessings that point us to God’s love and care for us.  Whether that’s the love and care shared between a man and his wife, or between a parent and their child, or in the enjoyment of blooming flowers outside the window, or the songs of morning birds, God has blessed us in life with all manner of examples of his grace, intended for our good and ultimately for his glory. I believe one of the big reasons couples, families, individuals appear to be so miserable in life, isn’t on account of not having steak regularly on the menu for dinner, or not having acquired that ideal dream home.  The reason they live their lives in misery is because they don’t appreciate the value and the joy of what’s right in front of them in what God has given them.  And as a result, they undervalue and ultimately neglect what is right in front of them, allowing it to fall apart, in what becomes a vain pursuit to build up whatever preferred lifestyle they’ve chosen to adopt for themselves. A few Proverbs that I believe help paint the picture…
  • Proverbs 15:17 says, “Better a dish of vegetables where there is love than a fattened ox with hatred.”
  • Proverbs 17:1, “Better a dry morsel in quietness than a house full of feasting with strife.”
  • Proverbs 21:19, “Better to live in the desert than with a contentious and ill-tempered wife.”
  • Proverbs 25:24, “Better to live on a corner of the roof than to share a house with a quarrelsome wife.”
Here’s the big question—which is better, to afford expensive foods and the experience of fine dining, or to be loved by others?  Which is better, to have the best and most comfortable living accommodations, or to enjoy a really good relationship with your wife? I’ll tell you, Amy and I are discovering which of those are better investments to make.  It’s not to say it’s a bad thing to set aside money for expensive foods, or to work towards a nicer home, or whatever you equate with having better circumstances, but the warning is to not pursue those “better circumstances” at the neglect of that which God has already given you to enjoy and to devote your real attention to.  The key isn’t to dwell on the things we don’t have but would enjoy if we did, but to enjoy as much as we can the things that we do have for as long as we have them. If you aren’t able to grasp that concept, Dianne Dengel’s painting won’t make any sense to you.  It won’t make any sense that anyone in such poverty could have such smiles on their faces.  But, I tell you, if you can grasp that concept—if you can learn the secret of contentment in any and every circumstance—the vegetables shared in love, the morsel shared in quietness, the desert tent or roof-top shack shared with a happy spouse will be far sweeter than any grander lifestyle you would choose for yourself.

Scouting and the Search for Biblical Masculinity

Back in 1908, there was a British cavalry officer by the name of Lieutenant General Robert Baden-Powell who had an idea.  Actually, the idea was born a few years earlier during Powell's service during the Second Boer War in South Africa where he wrote in 1899 a very non-conventional field manual for British Soldiers called "Aids to Scouting" which was filled with inspiring stories, general scouting methods, and even games meant to encourage the development of light reconnaissance skills within the British Army. As a piece of trivia, during his military campaigns in South Africa, Powell had to get creative at a time when his troops were seriously outnumbered.  At one point, calling on the help of 12-to-15 year old boys apart of a volunteer group of young men in training known as the Mafeking Cadet Corp.  These were cadets dressed in khaki uniforms and wide-brimmed hats and were deployed to support troops by delivering messages or supplies, helping in the hospitals, etc.  This freed the actual soldiers to focus on combat.  Powell's scouting book was produced out of his experiences working with the boys of the Mafeking Cadet Corp. The book became a popular field manual not only for the British Army.  It soon caught the attention of young boys in general throughout Britain.  In response to this, Powell wrote a nonmilitary edition with added lessons on good morals and citizenship, in addition to those common scouting skills the military cadets learned.  To test out his new field curriculum, on July 25, 1907, he and a few other instructors took a group of 22 boys on a camping expedition to Brownsea Island in Dorsetshire off the coast of England.  There they spent a fortnight (2 weeks), teaching the boys about camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, boating, lifesaving, patriotism, and chivalry.  By all accounts, this was the first Boy Scout meeting to be held. The following year, in January 1908, Powell's new field guide was published under the name "Scouting for Boys" and troops began springing up all across the British Commonwealth.  A central Boy Scout Office was set up to register the new scouts, to organize it's leadership, to design a uniform, and so forth.  By the end of the same year, there were 60,000 eager boy scouts ready for adventure, which each troop soon undertook with it's own expeditions.
In 1909, the first national Boy Scout meeting was held in London which 10,000 scouts attended, including a group of uniformed girls who called themselves the "Girl Scouts."  Apparently, they wanted to be apart of the action too.  For reasons we'll come back to, Powell decided to keep the new organization exclusive to boys, though he also agreed to launch a separate program dedicated to the girls which received the name the "Girl Guides."  So, dating back to it's original founding, there has been some shared interest in scouting between boys and girls, as well as some discussion on whether to combine or keep to separate the two groups.  Again, I want to come back to this in a bit. Around the same time, an American version of the Boy Scouts came to be, when a Chicago publisher by the name of William Boyce was one time lost in the fog and helped by a unknown scout who helped get him through it.  Boyce was so inspired by the experience, he launched several outdoor youth organizations which developed into the Boy Scouts of America ("BSA").  Popularly of the movement spread in America just as it had in Britain, including among the girls.   So, in 1912, the Girl Scouts of America was also established. There are so many principles we could point to that makes scouting "scouting," especially as it was first presented by Mr. Baden-Powell.  There's a lot of good stuff to think about.  But, one aspect in particular I think is worth mentioning, especially for our modern times, is the emphasis the program was originally designed to give to the training of boys in their transition to becoming men.  For example, in the Preface to the first edition of the Boys Scouts of America Handbook in 1911, the editorial board explains:
"The BOY SCOUTS OF AMERICA is a corporation formed by a group of men who are anxious that the boys of America should come under the influence of [the] movement and be built up in all that goes to make character and good citizenship…      In these pages and throughout our organization we have made it obligatory upon our scouts that they cultivate courage, loyalty, patriotism, brotherliness, self-control, courtesy, kindness to animals, usefulness, cheerfulness, cleanliness, thrift, purity and honor.      No one can doubt that with such training added to his native gifts, the American boy will in the near future, as a man, be an efficient leader in the paths of civilization and peace….      We send out our 'Official Handbook,' therefore, with the earnest wish that many boys may find in it new methods for the proper use of their leisure time and fresh inspiration in their efforts to make their hours of recreation contribute to strong, noble manhood in the days to come."
Or, as it's explained in Baden's Powell's original manual,
"The object of [it's] institution is to complete the sequence of the training from boyhood to manhood, through the progressive grades of Wolf Cub, Scout, and Rover (which, apparently, were the original scouting ranks)"
No wonder the decision was originally made to keep the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as separate organizations.  Foundationally, the Boy Scouts were built with the objective of training boys to be men.   That, obviously looks different than the objective of training girls to be women.  At least, it used to be obvious.   How did the manual say it, "No one can doubt that with such gifts the American boy will in the near future, as a man, be an efficient leader." Unfortunately, though that leadership training and gifting traditionally associated with manhood was once something “no one can doubt,” things have changed over the last 100 years. Today, there seems to be some confusion as to the basic definition and distinction between manhood or womanhood. The biblical complementarian belief that men and women are created equal in value and worth before God, but created differently by design in their roles and responsibilities has been lost in the larger culture.  A modern feminist, egalitarian uniformity, insisting on the virtual equality of men and women (including in their roles and responsibilities), has now become mainstream.  Some even believe gender itself is a social construct that has no place in public discourse.  Other than the biological blue and pink differences between boys and girls (which themselves should be open to transitioning from one to the other if so desired), all of us are just a colorful non-binary spectrum of people.   We are what we want to be.  In my opinion it’s all the result of a increasingly secular society, that no longer answers to God or the authority of Scripture to tell us what we are, or should be. Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts program itself has since abandoned its foundational understanding of the important differences between men and women, despite their continued promise to honorably fulfill their duty before God in their Scout Oath.  In a 2017 statement by Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbauh (Sir-bah), it seems the organizations real loyalty is now to the shifting opinion of a very confused society.
“We and others have recently been challenged by a very complex topic on the issue of gender identity. For more than 100 years, BSA…ultimately deferred to information on an individual’s birth certificate to determine eligibility for, and participation in, [the program]… “After weeks of [conversation], we realized that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient…Starting today, we will accept registration in our scouting programs based on the gender identity provided on an individual’s application.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter how God made you, or his intended design for the biological sexes—if you want to tag along with the guys, the door is open to you.  If you want to state on the application you are a guy, even if you’re a girl, no big deal.  Distinguishing between manhood and womanhood is no longer important to us. Regardless of the direction the BSA and the broader culture has gone, acknowledging the God-given differences between men and women is still important.  Why?  Because God’s good plan for the sexes hasn’t changed.  What is God’s good plan for the sexes?  We’re told a big part of God’s plan for the sexes to is reflect aspects of his nature and character. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. I take that to mean there are certain attributes hardwired into man that makes him a man, and in a woman that makes her a woman, that, when taken complementarily, makes them in God’s image.  I won’t take time to go through all those qualities, but biblically they are there.  And, biblically they haven’t changed.  How do we know that?  Because the nature of God hasn’t changed.  “He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Another part of God’s plan for the sexes, particularly in the context of marriage, is to reflect not only aspects of God’s nature and character but of the complementing nature of the Gospel itself.  Ephesians 5:31, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Before that the text speaks of a man and woman’s different but complementary roles in the home. A man’s primary leadership in the home, and a wife’s instrumental support of her husband, creates a kind of living portrait of how God graciously leads the church, and how the church joyously thrives as an integral part of God’s work in the world. Obviously, the home is where biblical masculinity and biblical femininity are meant to shine brightest.  But, certainly, it can still be reflected in public life too, whether that’s in the church, or at the sports arena, or even on scouting trail. The BSA may have lost its way in the search of what it means to be a man, but that doesn’t mean everyone on the trail has.  In fact, if you’re looking for a Christian scouting organization that still holds to a complementarian view, and which came about as a result of the BSA’s wrongly calibrating their compass on such matters, I can point you to Trail Life USA. According to it’s website,
“Trail Life USA is a Church-Based, Christ-Centered, Boy-Focused mentoring and discipleship journey that speaks to the heart of a boy. Established on timeless values derived from the Bible and set in the context of outdoor adventure, boys from Kindergarten through 12th grade are engaged in a Troop setting by male mentors where they are challenged to grow in character, understand their purpose, serve their community, and develop practical leadership skills to carry out the mission for which they were created.”
I’ve got two of my boys in a local Trail Life Troop here in Arkansas.  Actually, three of my boys are currently participating—one, due to his special needs, is participating in more of an honorary capacity right now, though I was excited to learn Trail Life does have a special track for Special Needs students.  I’ll probably be looking into that eventually.  Soon, though, I’ll have my fourth son enrolled when he turns 5.  As one of the dads, I’m also actively involved.  So, it’s turned into something for all the guys in our family. I like what I read in an article at, reporting on Trail Life’s inception.  One member of the organization was quoted saying, “The Boy Scout may own the trademark of ‘scouting,’ but they don’t own the idea.”  The article goes on, “Here, ‘Trailmen’ replace ‘Boy Scouts;’ instead of a second-grader earning the Wolf badge…he’s a Hawk in Trail Life. The oaths have strong overlap…as do many of the skills, including a focus on survival, first aid, and being a good citizen…‘At our core’ [Trail Life CEO, Mark Hancock explains], ‘we are unapologetically Christian…It is absolutely in our foundation—irretrievable, irreplaceable, irremovable.” So far, I have been more than impressed with the teaching and instruction we’ve received in Trail Life.  Not only are the outdoors skills and fraternal relationships something that I think fosters manliness, but the focus on character building and biblical truth is something that fosters godliness.  That happens to be core distinctive of Trail Life.  The program is “focused on turning boys into godly men.  Our firm conviction is that this can only be done by allowing a boy the opportunity to interact, work with, and be mentored by and with other Christian men.” I could say more about Trail Life USA, and scouting in general.  Suffice it to say, I believe a crucial part of the entire pursuit is a discovery of the person God wants you to be.  For boys, I believe that must necessarily include their becoming God honoring men, which is why we’re apart of the program we’re apart of.  To learn more, I’d point you to where you’ll find more information on their distinctives and values, as well as their various advancement tracks for the boy.  You can also find a directory of the different troops and what local options are close to you.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Spiritual Warfare on the Homestead

When it comes to farming, homesteading, and the goal to "live a quiet life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands" (I Thessalonians 4:11-12), it's possible for a family to develop a false sense of security in their efforts to make progress in that direction.

It may be true a person has become more self-reliant and has learned to function quite fruitfully on their farm with a cozy hedge of separation between them and the outside world—safe from becoming overly dependent on (or influenced by) that outside world.  In their view, they feel they've done a good thing since, with every passing day, the world seems to slide further and further into sin and confusion.  Amy and I share many of those thoughts.

But, honestly, the guarded, self-reliant family out on their little farm is hardly removed from the dangers of a sinful world.  Even if it were completely off-grid and isolated from having any contact with anyone, it would still be in the line of fire.  How is that?  Well because, as Ephesians 6:12 says,

“For [our fight] isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The real battle being fought and, therefore, the place where the real threat to our families exists, isn’t just in the political arenas of Washington or the culture centers of Hollywood, but it’s creeping in the shadows on the front porch of the farmhouse too.  It’s hiding over in the tall grass at the edge of the field, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.  It’s already crossed the no-trespassing sign.  It’s already crossed the fence.  It’s already on the farm.

It’s already creeping in the garden and by the fruit trees, just as it was for Eve in the safe and peaceful confines of Paradise itself.  It’s already following our kids around the property as they’re doing their farm chores—as one feeds the animals, and the other picks the vegetables—just as it was for Cain and Able.

You remember the story.  Cain was making an offering from the fruit of the ground.  Able was making his offering from the firstborn of his flocks.  And, by the way, it’s worth mentioning all of that was in connection to the practice of Family Worship.  What can be more God glorifying than the wholesome practice of intentional family worship together?

But what happened out on the farm east of Eden?  Something went wrong.  For one reason or another, Cain’s offering was rejected, while Abel’s accepted.  And, in that seemingly God-glorifying act of worship together, Cain gets jealous.  He turns in anger against his brother with murderous intent.

To which, God sounds the alarm, right before Cain kills his brother, in Genesis 4:7, saying “…Sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.”

Anybody who lives out on a farm or a homestead, I’m sure, can relate to what it’s like when the chickens start to get picked off by the coyotes.  Or when the snakes slither into the coop and start eating the eggs.  Or when the kids are playing in the woods and that stray dog shows up again.

In the same way, sin is lying in wait.  “Sin is crouching at the door,” ready to pounce.  I Peter 5:8 says,

“Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

It’s the teaching of Scripture that sin and Satan—yes, I believe, in a literal spiritual realm made up of a literal devil and demons who, as Ephesians 6 said, is the real enemy pulling the puppet strings—but, the Bible tells us, both temptation and the tempter are closer than you think.   Like the predator hiding near the coop, a spiritual ambush awaits us.

In the book of Job, Satan is described as one who “wanders around the earth, going back and forth upon it.”  Going back and forth to do what?  Presumably to find people in vulnerable moments—and not just individuals, but entire family units—and to pick them off, virtue by virtue.  And sure enough, in an effort to take down Job, Satan goes after Job’s seemingly happy family out on the farm, with their 10 prosperous kids and all their acreage and all their many animals.

Job’s family and farm, as successful as it was, was anything but immune from spiritual attack.  Folks, the same is true for you and me.  Your homestead may feel far enough out, and self-reliant enough, that you can weather the next economic, political, or health crisis storm.  That may all be true.  But, I can tell you, you’re not far enough out, or self-reliant enough, to prevent  the next lustful thought, or the next outburst of anger, or the next lie your kid tells, or the next wave of depression, or the next bout of pride and self-righteousness you entertain as you think about how well off you are on your farm.  Oh, how the sin of pride is ready to take down an entire countryside of unsuspecting homesteaders!

If you’ve ever read the classic satire known as “The Screwtape Letters,” by C.S. Lewis, you may remember some of the strategies Lewis imagines the Devil uses to attack us.  If you’re unfamiliar, The Screwtape Letters is an imaginary exchange of messages between an older, senior demon named Screwtape whose writing to his younger, inexperienced nephew, Wormwood, about the best ways—the most deceptive tricks to use—in order to tempt man.  In one letter (again, speaking from the devil’s perspective), he writes,

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity And’.—Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion [or fad] with a Christian colouring.”

In other words, one of the ways Satan tries to take down the committed Christian is by confusing their understanding as to what their Christianity really is.  Instead of believing the plain message of the Gospel that our salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, for the glory of God alone, the strategy of the devil us for us to start believing the message of the Gospel plus something else.  It’s salvation, plus the campaign promises of the latest politician.  Or, the Gospel plus going to church.  Or, the Gospel plus a commitment to homeschooling.  Or, it’s the Gospel plus a quiet, self-reliant homesteading lifestyle.

Obviously, we need to look out for all different sins, but pride in one’s self-reliance, as commendable and well-intended as that is, can inadvertently lead a person away pure God-reliance, trusting in “self” above trusting in the Lord.  Folks, that’s the opposite of Christianity.

Satan wants us to put our faith in our 20 acres, and our new sustainable hoop houses, and our food pantries, and our well-stocked gun safes rather than a complete, 100% faith in God as our Provider and Protector.

Obviously, that’s not to say we don’t need to be about those other things—like the offerings of worship Cain and Able were participating in, they can be glorifying to God, but the moment we selfishly treat any one of them apart from a basic conviction that God alone is our Savior, we’ve become idolaters and all the fruits of our labor become an offense to God.

Again, our struggle is not against flesh and blood, ultimately speaking.  That is, it’s not against invading armies, or tyrannical governments, or lurking pandemics, or the potential of famines and food shortages.  The battle is in your own heart.  It’s in your spouses’ heart.  It’s in your kids’ hearts.  It’s already on the farm.

So, “be sober minded.  Be watchful.”  Know how to spot the prowling sins that threaten you, and take up arms against that.

I’m a Second Amendment guy like most other conservatives, but, listen, more important to me than the concealed carry under my belt, which is a part of getting dressed in the morning, and which I have had to use on some of those predators attacking my chickens, the more important thing I’ve got to remember to put on is the full armor of God that Ephesians 6 also talks about and all the spiritual preparation one must make in order to do something about the devil attacking my family.

If you know the passage, you know that armor is made up of virtue as a primary defense.  And lest we think all the Christian can do is hold a defensive posture and wait for the attack, the armor includes a sword by which we can even hunt down the enemy and regain any surrendered ground.  That sword, of course, is God’s Word.

Well, there’s a battle happening.  And, yes part of that battle is happening in the public arena in areas of government and culture, but it’s also happening out on the farm as well to a far greater degree than you probably realize.  Don’t be blind to it, but take up arms!

A Way to Navigate the Rat Race

I know for so many people out there, work can sometimes feel a lot like a gerbil wheel, or a rat race, in which you wake up every morning and do the same recurring thing over and over and over again with no real sense of accomplishment or progress.  And for years that's done without a second thought until one day—10, 20, 30 years down the line—you wake up one morning and finally realize that all you’ve been doing this entire time is run around  in circles and, in so many ways, you're still in the same spot that you were when you first got started.

The Goal of the Rat Race
That's not to say there's no sense of purpose to it all.  If you stop to think about it, even the most monotonous of rat races do have a purpose.  What purpose is that?   I think the universal goal of the rat race is two-fold:  First, it’s to find the cheese.   That can represent a financial goal, a career advancement goal, a life achievement goal, or any other.  Whatever the incentive is, a person is usually racing to find that.  Second, assuming they’ve found the cheese they were after, the goal of the rat race is usually to find the nearest exit, whether you want to call that “retirement” or “achieving  a certain set of circumstances,” or something else, in order to use whatever remaining time there is in life to enjoy, to share with family, or to generously give to those less fortunate some of the cheese you worked so hard to get.

The Big Trap of the Rat Race
Unfortunately, despite having a general sense of purpose in their work, many lack a real sense of progress.  While they can smell and nearly taste the cheese that they're after, and can envision what the exit to the rat race will look like when they reach it, they never seem to be able to find either.  There are even some poor rats in the maze who never reach their goals and die before they’ve ever had a chance to live.

The fact of the matter is, especially in the modern world, work and career can become a lot like a rat race maze with its own labyrinth of wrong turns, dead ends, setbacks, and pitfalls.  It can be easy to get lost or stuck behind the cubicle walls and go years without making any headway, or discovering what the next step—or the next several steps—needs to be.

Well, if that describes you and you feel stuck in the maze of your work, I want to give you 3 helpful ways you might try navigating the daily twists and turns that all seem to look alike.  And, for what it’s worth, these are all principals I’ve adopted over the years that I think have made a real difference in my situation.

#1.  Learn from the older, wiser rats.
The first principal I think would serve you as you try to find your way through the maze is to learn as much as you can from the older, wiser rats who have been in the race a lot longer than you have.  If there’s one problem that’s common to every new generation, it’s the pride they have in thinking they know more than the generation that came before them.

Folks, if you really want to avoid the wrong turns, dead ends, setbacks, and pitfalls of a maze, how better to do so that than to get advanced warning from those who’ve already discovered where they are and can tell you what turns not to take?  Or, assuming there are any secret doors, shortcuts, or fast tracks in the maze, how better to find those then with the help of those who’ve already found them.

My first piece of advice to anyone wanting to make real progress in the rat race is to humble themselves and to find a respected mentor, or a few mentors, who either by their own success or failures can teach you what you need to know.  Ideally, you want to find someone who can direct you from both angles.  You want to find someone who is willing to reveal their own mistakes on the one hand, but who can also show how they’ve succeeded on the other hand, with the proof of actual cheese in hand, and a clear path of breadcrumbs leading to the exit.

Find a mentor, and humbly and sincerely learn from them.  If it’s not a direct relationship with a boss, or a parent, or a grandparent, or a friend, or a pastor, or some other professional, find an author who has written on whatever the subject is and read everything they can about it.

The key is to receive good counsel, that’s the first thing.

#2.  Help younger, inexperienced rats.
The second principal I’d recommend you get in the habit of applying is to be about helping the younger, inexperienced rats around you navigate the maze in the same way you’re wanting to be helped yourself.  It’s the golden rule.  “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” 

It’s not a dog-eat-dog world.  At least, it doesn’t need to be.  You should want others to succeed just as much as you want to succeed; and what better way to see them succeed then to help them succeed?

Have you made any mistakes in your career?  Have you discovered any important tips that have really helped you succeed?  Take the time to pass that knowledge down to the next generation, assuming they’re willing to learn.  Again, that’s always the challenge.  For learning to happen, someone has to be willing to teach and someone has to be willing to learn.  But, assuming you have that combination, it’s a wonderful thing to foster mentorships.

So, find someone eager to learn, and teach them.  Find someone not as far along as you are, and show them the tricks of the trade.  Show them the best ways to make the bosses happy, or the clients or customers happy.  When they mess up, encourage them with stories of how you’ve messed up a whole lot worse and what the best path is to make things right.  If they do a good job at something, let them know it so they’ll know to do it again.  On that note, if they mess up, assume first the burden is on you to do a better job teaching them.  If they do well, assume first that they succeeded in spite of your imperfections as a teacher and praise them.

The goal is to help them progress in work, though it’s worth mentioning that in helping them progress you’re also helping yourself progress as well.  How so?  Well, as any good teacher knows, in the process of teaching and in the process of preparing to teach, a teacher always learns more and solidifies what they know whenever they find ways of articulating it to others.

As a pastor especially I know I’ve discovered when you’re in the habit of giving advice to others, assuming your advice is good advice, your actually reminding yourself of things you’ve learned every time you share them and you keep yourself on the right path.  That goes a long way to helping you get to where you’re going.

#3.  Get an elevated perspective.
The third thing I’d say you’ve got to do to navigate the proverbial rat race is to get an elevated perspective as early as possible.  If you’ve ever been in a real maze before, whether that’s a corn maze in the farmer’s field or a hall of mirrors at the county fair, it always helps to get a glimpse from above, or to have a pre-charted map of where everything is.

If you can get a big-picture view of where you’re trying to get in life, you exponentially increase your chances of getting there.  If you don’t know where you’re trying to get.  If you haven’t defined for yourself what the “cheese” is, or what the “exit” looks like, the chances are pretty good you’re going to waste a lot of time going in circles and retracing your steps a few dozen times.

Imagine if you could pause for a moment and find something to climb onto to poke your head above the maze wall to see where you are.  Or, imagine finding a piece of paper on the floor with the following direction:  “Go straight for 20 steps—then turn left—then right—then right again—then straight—then left—and so forth.”  No doubt, that would completely change the game.

Well, you’ve got to do the same thing in life.  You’ve got to pause.  You’ve got to orient yourself and figure out where you are and where you want to get.  If you really want to help yourself, get a pen and paper and start scribbling it all down.  Write down your goals.  Write down what steps need to happen to get there.  Write down what obstacles are in the way preventing you from getting there.  Write down if you see any realistic path to get around those obstacles.  And then, take it one step at a time.

If you’re still not sure where you trying to get, may I suggest you first figure out where God wants you to get, and for those answers the Bible is a great place to look.  What does God want you to accomplish with your life.  Have you ever thought about that?  What relationships, what projects, what life’s work were you created to give your life to?  If you can figure that out, and the steps you should be taking to accomplish that, you’re already half of the way there.

Hopefully something I’ve said here is helpful.  If you feel lost in the trenches of our work, and it just seems like your going in circles with every passing week, month, and year that goes by, remember what I’ve said: Find someone who can point you in the right direction.  Take the time to point others in the right direction as best as you understand it.  And get a glimpse, as early as possible, of the big picture purpose and goals for your life.  All those things, in my opinion, will help you navigate the rat race.

Why Farmers Often Have Large Families

Have you ever noticed some of the big differences between urban & rural communities?  I’ll tell you, I’ve noticed a few. For example, all you need to do is look at a political map during an election cycle to see that, by and large, it's the cities and your more metropolitan areas that tend to lean liberal, while it’s those in more agricultural places that tend to lean conservative.  Or, the fact that city life is typically known for its more "fast-paced," "on-the-go" approach, while life in the country is known for its "slower-paced" and "its-a-good-thing-to-put-down-roots" perspective. There are several trends that differentiate city and country life.  Some time, I may circle back and explore further some of those interesting aspects, but one of the things I thought I'd address in this post is the trend of varying family sizes between urban and rural groups. It may be less the case today than it's been in the past, at least in the U.S. (here I’m writing this while we’re all still waiting for the results to come back from our latest 2020 census; so I'm not 100% sure what the numbers show currently), but, traditionally speaking, farmers and those in the rural community have had more members per household than those in the city, on average. Obviously, this point is based on statistics and doesn't reflect every family situation.  Not everyone in the country has a large family, just as it's true that not everyone who lives in the city has a small family.  But, proportionally and historically, the stereotype has been true. There was a report put out several years ago by the United Nations that was tracking these numbers, not just in the United States, but around the world.  The report stated:
"Agrarian societies have typically been characterized by high fertility…Broadly speaking, urban residence is associated with [lower fertility] and smaller [household sizes]… A recent United Nations report lists more than 100 countries and territories for which distributions of households by size were available…A recent summary of [the] data shows that for the developing countries, most of which have not reached high levels of urbanization, average household size is approximately 5.2 persons, compared with an over-all average of 3.5 persons for the more developed countries, most of which are highly urban.  Broadly speaking, then, average household size in the less urbanized countries tends to be approximately 50 per cent greater than in the more urbanized countries."

"Patterns of Urban and Rural Population Growth" United Nations Report, 1980

It’s important to clarify, which the report does, that what constitutes a "family" obviously differs from culture to culture, and that "household size" doesn't necessarily reflect "family size." But, "broadly speaking," it's evident agrarian societies have larger families.
The reasons why that trend rings true is somewhat complicated.  The report I looked at was around 185 pages long and touched on a lot of different factors.  I won’t bore you trying to unpack all of them.  Suffice it to say, a full explanation to the trends can’t be boiled down to a convenient formula. But, for the sake of this post, I will give you three factors I think are worth mentioning:

1.  The Rate of Reproduction in Rural Communities

The first, and maybe most obvious, reason why rural families tend to be larger than urban families is because rural couples evidently spend more time in the bedroom making babies. That may sound like an oversimplified reason, but, hey, if Occam’s Razor is true, and if the simplest explanation is likely the correct one, where there are more babies being born, perhaps, there is more reproduction happening.  I’m going to assume you’ve all heard the “birds and the bees” talk and already know that babies don’t come from storks.   They come from God’s good gift of sex.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  It’s simply the nature of God’s design.  And, evidently, it’s true in more ways than one that those in the country are more in tune with “nature” than those in the city. I understand things like contraception and abortion are also factors.  We’ll come back to those in a little bit.  But if you just think about the day-to-day logistics and patterns of farmers v. corporate executives, for example, which do you think spends more time at home with their wives?  Whether it’s net hours at home during the day or net hours during certain seasons out of the year, while both are hardworking, the nature of the farmer’s work gives him more flexible opportunities at home than the executive has, who is stuck at his desk at the office for more hours, weeks, and months out of the year than he’s able to spend with his own wife. I think that’s one reason newly married soldiers and public servants in the Old Testament were instructed to take a year-long sabbatical at home with their wives before reporting to their duties either on the battlefield or in the city.  Because, once they’d commuted off to work, there would no longer be a chance to see their wives for any meaningful time for the foreseeable future.  You see that in Deuteronomy 24:5.  It’s hard to have children when the husband is rarely home. I saw an article by Fox Business that reported that farmers do in fact stay a lot “busier” on the farm and at the farmhouse than those in other professions, according to a British survey. Out of the pool of 2,000 men and women surveyed, farmers reported having the most active marriages, followed by architects, followed by hairdressers.   Take that for what it’s worth.  I won’t read too much into the runners-up on the list, except to wonder how many of those architects and hairdressers ran their studios out of their home.  To quote the article:
“The lifestyle factors of our jobs such as flexibility of working hours and the environment…have an impact on all our lives [including] our sex lives.”

Stephanie Pagones, Oct. 9, 2019 “People working in this profession have the most sex” Fox Business

The point I’m trying to make is, there is a likely correlation between having time to make babies and babies being born.  Those in the rural community—farmers especially—are afforded such time.

2. The Benefit of Children in Rural Communities

A second reason why rural families tend to be larger than urban families, historically speaking, is because of the practical benefit children provide to those rural families. My wife sometimes gets stopped at the grocery store as she has our 5 kids in tow, and people often say, “I just don’t know how you do it.  We stopped at 2 kids, because 2 were enough to drive us crazy.  How do you manage 5?!” We know families with 7 or 8 kids, so to us 5 doesn’t even seem like a lot, but the questions still come.  Obviously, the produce isle at the Grocery Store isn’t the best place to explain the logistics of how large families work, so my wife usually just smiles and places the bananas in her cart.  But, if she had the time to sit down with the frantic mother of 2 who is ready to pull her hair out, what my wife would say to her is, “You know what, I don’t know how you do it without the helping hand of older siblings keeping an eye and an extra set of hands on the little ones freeing you to focus on what’s on the shopping list!” The truth of the matter is, in many ways, larger families are easier to manage than smaller families, especially smaller families that still have young children, because of the help older siblings provide in larger families, not just keeping an eye on the younger children but in all aspects of family life. Whether it’s mowing the yard, taking out the trash, or building that shed, a capable young man helping dad (or a few capable brothers tag teaming to help dad) makes all the difference.  Or having a capable young woman helping mom (or a few capable sisters tag teaming to help mom) prepare dinner, dusting the shelves, or lending a hand at the grocery store, again, makes all the difference. So has it been for generation after generation on the farm.  If you can imagine the benefit older siblings can offer while grocery shopping, just imagine the benefit they provide in managing the garden, or the barn, or the market.  In many ways, farm life is easier with a larger family.  On a farm, an extra child isn’t just another mouth to feed.  He or she is another set of hands to help mom and dad produce an even greater bounty for the family to enjoy. I admit, in less productive contexts, when an impoverished family has more kids than they’re able to take care of (requiring the taxpayer and the welfare state to fit the bill), yes, children can sometimes be viewed as a drain.  But, in productive contexts, the opposite is true.  Rather than being a drain, children become an asset.  Rather than being consumers depleting society’s resources, children become contributors helping to supply them. It also used to be true on farms, when households were multi-generational (you know, when grandma and grandpa lived on the property?), that the more kids you had the more stable your retirement.  Why?  Because there were more hands on deck to share the task of caring for grandma and grandpa.  It didn’t fall on the shoulders of one or two children, but care taking could be spread out over what eventually becomes multiple branches of extended families. So, having more kids provided a practical benefit, both short term and long term, to the families that had them.

3.  The Conservative Values of the Rural Community

A third and final reason I’ll share for why rural families tend to be larger than urban families is because of the old-fashioned values that were, and I think still are, held by so many in the rural community. When I look at the census data for urban v. rural households, there are a few interesting things that jump out to me: One is the increasing median age of those getting married in the city.  That is to say, those in urban areas are putting off marriage much later than those in the country do.  And, naturally, what happens as a result is the the window of time and fertility for women to have children is shortened, resulting in less children being born.  That makes sense. Closely related to that, I think, is the increasing number of women in the workforce now splitting their attention between work and home.  More and more families in the city are choosing not to have children so as to not allow children to interfere with their work.  Granted, the number of stay-at-home moms is close to the same in both the city and the country, except for that prime childbearing age of 20 to 35.   In other words, during that natural window of fertility, there are less women participating in the work force in rural areas.  No doubt, that affects the number of children being born. Not only that, but I mentioned earlier that contraception and abortion are also likely factors.  The degree to which access to these kinds of things are available is more concentrated in the city than it is in the country.  But, far more relevant than access to such things is the difference in overall attitude toward them. There is a fundamental difference in worldview, by and large, as relates to children and family between the two environments.  On the one hand, in the cities, there is a widely more liberal, progressive, feminist attitude that tends to place a stigma on having too many children, or on having children at inopportune times—referring to them as “unwanted pregnancies.”  As a result, there exists a societal push to prevent or outright abort, as the case may be, children from being born. On the other hand, in the rural culture, there is a widely more conservative, fundamental, faith-driven attitude that tends to embrace the gift of children in whatever time and quantity God chooses to give them.  Not only that, but the entire idea of aborting a pregnancy is understood to be murder for most conservatives—which I wholeheartedly agree with—while the idea of preventing a pregnancy by contraception is just as “contrary to nature” to many other conservatives. Such fundamental differences in worldview, understandably, has a huge effect on the size of families. Therefore, while we can all learn a lot by the number of red and blue ballots cast on election day between cities and the country, you know what?  We can also learn a lot by the number of red (or pink) and blue sippy cups that are sitting at a family’s dinner table. Again, to be clear, I’m just speaking in generalities.  Not all conservatives live in the country and not all liberals live in the city.  In the same way, not all conservatives have large families and not all liberals discourage having large families.  In fact, I know many God-fearing conservative evangelicals who don’t have any children, either because of circumstance or choice.  I also know many liberal feminist atheists out there who absolutely adore kids and who have more place settings at their table with kids eating at them than I have at my own.  So we have to be careful we don’t overgeneralize.  But, the census data does tell a story, just as the red and blue political map tells a story. If there’s a takeaway I’m trying to convey, I guess it’s to appreciate the longstanding tradition and values of the rural community in general in their giving attention to things like the priority of marriage, to the value and contribution of children, and to a fundamental belief in a biblical worldview that bears witness, in my opinion, against so much of the “social progress” (which I hesitate to call progress) happening in the secular world. I’ll end with a quote by Voddie Baucham:
“The size of our families has become a matter of income and convenience.  Our attitude toward children is, ‘A boy for me and a girl for you, then praise the Lord, we’re finally through!’  I am amazed at the number of people I meet who live in two-thousand-square-foot homes with two cars parked outside and argue that they can only ‘afford’ to have one or two children.  Amazing!  Our forebears successfully raised houses full of children in homes that we would now consider meager at best, but we can’t afford it.”

Voddie Baucham “Family Drive Faith”

Folks, children are a blessing from the Lord, not a burden.  As the psalmist says, "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!" (Psalms 127:4-5 )[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

CS Lewis on Being Gracious when Socialists Take Power

I try not to be very political online.  That’s the honest truth, and it's not because I don't have an opinion on the subject, but because I don't find online debating (which usually is the result of sharing your views with the world) particularly fruitful or constructive in most cases. Personally, I like to reserve those discussions for in-person conversations with folks who I can interact with in real-time, and who can hear my tone and I can share my heart with on an issue, and vice versa.  Yet, I know many people online who I don't necessarily have opportunity to meet up with in person who I'm seeing react to the current political landscape, and our country’s continuing shift in a more liberal direction, with expressions of sincere concern. As a conservative evangelical, I share their sentiments.  I’m also unnerved by the proposed agenda of those on the political left, and even more unnerved by the proposed agenda of those on the far political left.  It's not a direction I want the country to go in, especially not for the future of my children. What I want to do in this post is to offer a word not just to counter potential discouragement with encouragement, but a word to try and help counter your anxiety with action.  Rather than us ringing our hands at all the "what ifs" of an increasingly socialist America, what can we be doing practically on an individual level, or on a family level, in the event our country does move further in a socialist and secular direction? Obviously, when it comes to the future, none of us ultimately know how things will turn out.  Even so, the past can sometimes be a good indicator of the future, especially as a society tries to repeat things that have already been tried before.  The example I'm thinking of is the time when conservatives in Britain and the great Winston Churchill, nearing the end of World War II, lost their country’s general election to Clement Attlee and the liberal, socialist-leaning, Labor Party. You may remember from 9th grade history class that in the wake of World War II, Europe was completely shell-shocked.  Its economy was hurting; its infrastructure battered; its supply chain interrupted; and its population ready to move on.
Exactly what nations like Britain would be rebuilt into was the pressing question.  As it turned out, a socialist vision of a national welfare state in which the Government would lead the charge in all aspects of the nation's recovery ended up being a very attractive option for voters.  The Labor Party campaigned on the promise of providing better controls on food rationing, and the offer of state-funded programs and services including healthcare, childcare, education, housing, unemployment and disability benefits, supplemental retirement pensions, etc.  Basically, their campaign promise was for government to  take care of its citizens literally from "the cradle to the grave." All the while, Winston Churchill and the conservatives ran on more of a "for King and country" platform.  Churchhill’s attitude was: "I know we’re struggling right now and our country is tired, but we’ve got to button up this war.  We’ve got to keep pushing back against the overreach of bloodthirsty dictators. We've stopped Hitler's Nazi Germany.  To some degree, we've kept Stalin and the Soviet Union in check with the Grand Alliance.  Let’s now hammer the remaining nails in Japan's Imperial coffin."(*Not An Actual Quote) As I’ve already mentioned, the British people were tired of all the waring, so Attlee's Labor Party took power and started implementing everything it had promised.  By the time it was all said and done, a lot of Britain’s were helped by the new social programs. The only problem with all of the Labor party’s new government programs was they had to be paid for somehow—that took the form of increased taxes.  But, of course, if the private sector and a free market haven't been allowed to do its thing, which at the time they hadn’t, the people could hardly be expected to have the money needed to pay those taxes.  So, back and forth the political pendulum swung. Not long after the Labor Party opened the door to their welfare state, Winston Churchill was elected again to a second term advocating for a more “traditional and free” Britain, as opposed to a socialist and dependent Britain. The point is, the Labor Party’s socialist dream wasn't all a bed of roses.  In fact, for many of Britain's citizens, the government's controls on things like the rationing of food is something that got old quickly, especially since the war was over.  Rationing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in peacetime. Interestingly enough, one of those British citizens who grew weary of the rationing was none other than C.S. Lewis, one of the great Christian writers and apologists of the 20th century. Just to get it out on the table, Lewis was also the kind of guy who tried to stay out of politics.  In fact, the story is told when Churchill was elected for a second term in 1951, he was invited by the Office of the Prime Minister to receive honors, but he declined the invitation, explaining:
“I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour will be highly agreeable…[However] there are…knaves who say, and fools who believe, that my religious writings are all covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there. I am sure the Prime Minister will understand my reason, and that my gratitude is and will be none the less cordial."

C.S. Lewis, Dec. 14, 1951 “Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy,” p. 147

So, Lewis wasn't a political guy, and he didn't want to be known as a political guy.  He was a theologian, and his loyalties were first and foremost to the Lord and his kingdom, as appreciative to Churchill and the conservative party as he was.  With that said, Lewis did sometimes reference politics in his letters back and forth with his fan base in America.  On several occasions he mentioned the rationing happening in Britain. It was the pattern of many generous Americans to send gift packages across the pond to the people of Britain that included items and products that were simply too expensive to buy, or were outright unavailable to buy, in Britain’s socialist economy.  Being a world renown author, C.S. Lewis was blessed to have several American fans who would regularly send him such care packages. In a thank you letter to a Ms. Vera Matthews, Lewis once explained some of the things he found most helpful to receive in the mail:
“It is difficult to find any words in which to acknowledge your continued kindness…In sending to those behind Mr. Attlee's Iron Curtain, you can never go wrong with meat, tea, and soap - soap for washing clothes that is; why it should be so I can't imagine, but [bathroom] soap is never as scarce as the other kind."

C.S. Lewis, November 24, 1947 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 812

In a letter he wrote to a Mr. Warfield Firor, Lewis expressed:
"I am completely at a loss when it comes to thanking you for your last parcel…A ham such as you sent lifts me up into our millionaire class.  Such a thing couldn't be got on this side unless one was very deep in the Black Market…And as for the cheese, I found I'd almost forgotten what real cheese tastes like." "I and all my friends are very deeply grateful; you have given an amount of pleasure which you, in your happier country, cannot realize."

C.S. Lewis, October 1, 1947 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 806

Not long after that, in a second letter to Mr. Firor, Lewis wrote:
"[When I thanked] you for your grand present of the ham, that letter was written before tasting it; and now having done so, I feel that common decency demands further and heartier thanks." "The fate of the ham was this: we have a small informal literary club which meets…every Thursday for beer and talk, and - in happier times - for dinner.  And last night, having your ham to dine off, we had a meal which eight members attended…the college kitchen supplied soup, fish and a savoury: and we had a delightful evening.  This by English standards is a banquet rarely met with, and all agreed that they hadn't eaten such a dinner for five years or more."

C.S. Lewis, March 12, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 838

At the end of his March 12 letter, Lewis included a list of those who attended the rare dinner party, and I was tickled to see included another famous author we've all heard of who enjoyed Mr. Firor's ham and cheese gift, namely J.R.R. Tolkein. Then there was the generous gifts of a Mr. Edward Allen.  Lewis thanked him writing,
"Thank you very heartily for not one, but two parcels: one containing stationary, and the other, which is so heavy I can hardly lift it, containing food.  The latter I have not yet opened, but we are licking our lips in anticipation of investigating it later in the day."

C.S. Lewis, March 29, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 846

Here's another one:
"As I contemplate the label of your splendid parcel of 10th April - 'Crisco, beef, ham, and so forth,' six lines of it, I fall, at least in mind, into the sin of Gluttony!..."

C.S. Lewis, May 3, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 852

Just one more:
"Once more I have to send you my inadequate, but very sincere thanks, not only for the 'tuxedo,' but for the impending food parcel…The extent to which your folk have come to our rescue is amazing, and moving; I knew in a general way of course that very large quantities of gift food, clothing etc. were coming into Britain, but I was none the less surprised to read in a recent debate in the House of Lords that every household in the kingdom benefits by American aid…and has done so for the past two years.  You may well be proud of yourselves."

C.S. Lewis, May 29, 1948 The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis., p. 854

The point of all these letters, and the point I'm trying to get across in quoting them, is the example of generosity that was extended to those affected by hard times (including hard times arguably complicated by a socialist  government), by those less affected by it.  For struggling Britain's in 1945 and thereabouts, that was the generosity of free and loving Americans  who were more safely and stably positioned on the other side of the Atlantic to offer assistance. Fast-forward to modern times—now America itself appears to be going down a more socialist road, and the question on a lot of people's minds is what can we expect (and not just 'expect,' but what can we 'do') in anticipation of walking in Europe’s footsteps? I'll tell you, one of the things we can do is plan to be generous! In other words, don’t expect the government to care for people.  Let the Church and let everyday Good Samaritans help care for people.  It's not the job of Uncle Sam to meet everybody's needs.  If a person can't care for themselves, let the Body of Christ step up and do what the Body of Christ is uniquely commissioned to do.  Whether that's feeding the hungry, or teaching kids to read, or giving somebody work, or keeping an eye on an elderly neighbor – whatever the need  – before expecting government to meet that need, consider how you can meet the need yourself. Obviously, it makes it difficult to meet others needs when you yourself are apart of the group who has the needs.  But assuming you're fortunate enough to be removed from a certain hardship, or assuming it's in your ability to remove yourself from a certain hardship, be a Ms. Matthews”, or a “Mr. Firor”, or a “Mr. Edwards” in your sphere of influence and be about sending care packages to others. My advice to all those reading this, regardless of what direction our country goes in, is to create an ocean of separation between you and dependency on the welfare state.  Instead of relying on government to provide your healthcare, your child care, your education, your housing, your income in seasons of unemployment or retirement, determine to meet as many of those needs yourself, or with the help of your family, your friends, or your church first. If socialism is in our future, as many on the left desire it to be, one of the best practical things you can do is to create a hedge of independence, as much as you're able, from that welfare system.  The less you are dependent on government the more you're in a position to help others who have no other choice but to depend on government. Can socialism help people?  Sure it can!  Just understand it can also make people dependent, and in making people dependent, people are left miserable.   Can you in your greater independence help everybody?  Of course not!  But, those you do help will truly be helped.  Not by giving them hand-outs, but by giving them a hand up.  Or, in the words of Winston Churchill
“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings.  The inherent virtue of Socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

Winston Churchill, Oct. 22, 1945 Speech Delivered to the House of Commons

As much as it depends on you, learn to live independently, and in your independence, learn to live generously.  I'll end with the following quote by C.S. Lewis, again writing to one of his generous American friends.  This one is dated sometime after the Labor Party lost their own reelection bid bringing Churchill and the conservatives back to power.  Lewis writes to his friend,
"I’m afraid it would be sheer dishonesty to pretend that we now have any kitchen needs; this [conservative] government has done a magnificent job in getting us on our feet again, and a few weeks back, we solemnly burnt our Ration Books. Everything is now ‘off ration,’ and though at first of course, prices went up with a rush, they are now dropping. But cheer up, if our friends the Socialists get back into power, you will be able to exercise your unfailing kindness once more by supplying us, not with little luxuries, but with the necessities of life!"

C.S. Lewis, Sept. 25, 1954 “Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy,” p. 509

The takeaway is “be ready, faithful Christian.”  “Be ready, Good Samaritan.”  No doubt, America's political pendulum will continue to swing back and forth, and a socialist, progressive agenda will eventually be pushed to the forefront.  When that happens, prepare to be generous.  Show the government they don’t have to tax you and your neighbors more to care for the welfare of others.  You’re capable of helping people just fine on your own.  Just be sure you do so.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

What I Learned About Small Business from a Ferengi Bartender

When I was a kid, one of my favorite shows on TV was “Star Trek.”

It didn’t matter what series it was, I loved them all—The Next Generation—Deep Space Nine—Voyager—I even enjoyed the old Original Series from the 1960s with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest.

Until I went off to College and found slightly more important things to occupy my time, I was a big fan.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I wasn’t just a fan, I was an all-out Trekkie with the whole VHS movie collection, action figures, board games, and tech manuals.  Yes, I was that kid who studied how transporters theoretically worked.

On a few occasions, my mom was gracious enough to drive me and some of my friends to a few Conventions whenever they came to Little Rock.  I had the chance to meet William Shatner (Captain Kirk), Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troy), Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar), and probably a few others.  I tell you, I was a total geek!

Since childhood, I’ve become a lot more cynical of shows like Star Trek, Star Wars, and other science fiction genres.  That’s probably due to several different reasons.  One of the things that started bothering me as I grew up (including as a Christian), is all the secular ethics and humanist ideology that’s woven into the Star Trek franchise.  I won’t go into all of that, but there’s plenty to take issue with.  For the most part, though, I have good memories from watching the show, if for no other reason than it was an entertaining story.  It was also a thought-provoking story that challenged me to think.

For example, one of the things that got me thinking was the show’s apparent critique of ideas like capitalism and free enterprise, in which wealth and progress are the right of private owners to pursue at their own risk and their own reward.  In the Star Trek universe, that’s all considered obsolete to the morally-superior, socially-evolved “Federation” that’s achieved a post-scarcity world in which you can replicate whatever you need, making the need for money no longer an issue.  In the words of Captain Picard,

“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives.  We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

That statement reflects the view of most of, if not all, the protagonist Star Fleet heroes.

In contrast to that, however, are societies not yet as evolved.  There are alien races that still have a long way to go to reach the Federation’s progressive standard, such as the ultra-capitalist “Ferengi.”  The Ferengi are the big eared, big nosed caricature (much like the Dwarves of Middle Earth) that represent the classic Jewish, money-loving, wealth-building stereotype.

If you’ve ever watched Star Trek, you know the Ferengi are the ones depicted as constantly chasing after the Almighty Dollar, or the Almighty bar of gold pressed latinum.  They’re also often depicted as disparaging of women and ruled by an antiquated list of 285 commandments, or “Rules of Acquisition,” directing them in how to achieve the goal of their greed and self-interest.  Again, that’s an apparent parody of Judaism with its own 613 Commands of the Torah, and the Bible’s alleged views of racial elitism and male chauvinism.

I find it interesting how the show’s creators evidently saw a cross-over between capitalism and Judeo-Christian beliefs, but I also think their caricature is totally unfair.  Granted, if a caricature is meant to be an exaggeration of how things are in their extreme, I admit, there is a danger for the capitalist business owner, or the Bible touting disciple, to become like the Ferengi.

But listen, like the Pharisees of the Bible or the Tycoons on Wall Street, while we want to be careful not to become radical versions, I think there’s plenty to admire in the fundamentals that such groups live by.  Even in the loathed Ferengi, I personally have found a lot to admire.  You’ve got to peel back plenty of layers and discard all the ways they get it wrong, but foundationally, I think I’m actually a Ferengi at heart.  What do I mean by that?

Well, for starters, I’m on board with the idea of personal responsibility, taking risk, and making a living for yourself in the universe. I don’t buy in to the socialist thinking of the Federation that places the expectation on the whole society to put food on my table.  No, I place the expectation on my own shoulders to put food on my table.  Sure, there’s got to be some mutual dependence on society, but that can’t be a total dependence on society.  Personal responsibility is a good thing.

With that in mind, I actually have more respect for characters like Quark, who is the Ferengi Bartender on the Deep Space Nine series, who manages his own accounts and serves real food to his customers, than I have respect for all the lemmings in matching uniforms who are stuck eating artificial food and must rely on Chief O’Brian to keep the replicator going.

I can appreciate Quark’s entrepreneurial, self-reliant spirit.

I also happen to have a lot of respect for the Ferengi idea that husbands and fathers are naturally positioned to provide for their families in the workplace, and that wives and mothers are naturally positioned to manage the home.

Again, using the Quark character as an example, I that it’s great that he’s committed to supporting his mother back home with the proceeds he makes from his bar.  That happens to be one of the sub-plots of the show.  Quark loves his “Moogie,” as he calls his mom, and would rather he work than her, so that she is free to focus on the home.

Obviously, I’m against the extreme of such thinking in which women are denied the right to work altogether and are viewed simply as men’s servants both in the kitchen and the bedroom.  I’m also opposed to the belief that men have no responsibility on the domestic side of life in caring for the kids, or in keeping up with general house chores.

But, offering no apology, I am a complementarian in regard to my belief that men and women are different, and are gifted in different ways, and are responsible to different degrees.  That’s not to say our ladies shouldn’t be working, but it is to say I think our guys should be putting on “the pants,” rolling up their sleeves, and getting to work all the more as the primary bread winner for their families.  Whether that’s working for someone else, or being self-employed, I think young men especially need to hear the call to turn off their star ship video games, come out from their parent’s basements, and strike out in life and start making a living.

The other thing I’ll say about my respect for Ferengi characters like Quark is their commitment to a set of established “values.”  If you watch the show, you’ll hear Quark constantly quoting his memorized Rules of Acquisition as a way of guiding all of his business decisions.  The way he runs his bar is anything but careless. Rather, every strip of latinum is managed, and every business opportunity is approached, by a prescribed set up principals.  Again, he’s always quoting these things.  Here are some of my favorite:

  • #3—“Never pay more for an acquisition than you have to.”
  • #8—“Small print leads to large risk. ”
  • #19—“Satisfaction is not guaranteed. ”
  • #57—“Good customers are as rare as latinum—treasure them. ”
  • #141—“Only fools pay retail. ”
  • #194—“It's always good business to know about new customers before they walk in the door. ”
  • #214—“Never begin a negotiation on an empty stomach. ”
  • #218—“Always know what you're buying. ”

In my opinion, all of that is good business advice. Now, to be fair (and any real Star Trek fan will be quick to point out), there are plenty of other Rules of Acquisition that I didn’t list that are totally inappropriate and anything but good advice.  But, hopefully, you see the point I’m trying to make.  Making decisions is a lot easier when you have something guiding you.

I think every business owner would do well to have a list of Core Values that governs it.  Rather than just operating aimlessly in whatever industry, it’s a good thing to have some direction.  Personally, I think the Bible provides a wonderful set of values to live by. Just be sure you’re following those as God intended, and not some radical version of it.

As someone who’s started his own small business with the homestead, I am trying to be “a good Ferengi” in how I take responsibility for our work, how my wife and I complement each other in that work, and how we try to honor our own guiding principles in Scripture.

In that way, I tip my hat to Quark, the bartender on Star Trek.  And if visiting his bar, I’d order a  non-replicated sandwich and commend him for his efforts as a small business owner.  I’d then give him the Gospel and share with him the good news that a more rewarding Master to serve isn’t latinum, but the Lord, and a more rewarding motive to live by isn’t greed, but to be gracious to others.  Perhaps, in time, assuming he was willing to get rid of his gambling table and put more clothes on his Dabo girls, I might even offer to make him a homestead partner.

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