I do not know whether anyone has ever succeeded in not enjoying praise. And, if he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help but being distraught at losing it. Those who are in love with applause have their spirits starved not only when they are blamed off-hand, but even when they fail to be constantly praised.” —John Chrysostom
Two government agents were assigned the case of “Dread Pirate Roberts.” This “pirate” was the anonymous operator of “the Silk Road,” a website that sold illegal drugs by using the virtual currency Bitcoin. The agents caught their man, but not before becoming criminals themselves. They allegedly sold the information about their investigation and blackmailed the “pirate,” transferring big bucks to their own bank accounts. Their story demonstrates how thin the line is between good and evil.
Each year Lake Superior State University in the US publishes a list of words they believe should be banished because they’re so annoying. Topping their list in 2013 was selfie, a term that received more nominations than any other. Other contenders included twerking, hashtag, and twittersphere. This list of words is a reminder that language is always changing and can persuade, impress, or annoy us.
Augustine’s Confessions traces his journey through misspent youth, false religion, and finally to Jesus. As a man with much to confess, Augustine was sometimes tempted to be defensive. A translation of one of his prayers says: “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.”
Recently I had the privilege of speaking at a summer camp for boys, aged 9 to 12. During that week, the Holy Spirit moved and twelve campers received Jesus as their Savior. On the last night, one 9-year-old boy—who had received salvation during the camp—approached me and said, “You changed my life!” I smiled and replied, “I’m so happy, but God is the One who truly changed your life!” I knew it was God who had done the work in the precious boy’s heart.
Alfred Nobel invented the detonator in 1863 and the blasting cap 2 years later. Then, in 1867 he invented dynamite—something he hoped would revolutionize the mining and construction industries. It certainly did that, but dynamite also became the basis of munitions for a century, with variations of it used in wars even today. Nobel would likely be saddened to know that something he intended for good has been used to cause great destruction.
The Germans have a word for it: schadenfreude. It means to take joy in another’s misery. We can sometimes feel schadenfreude when someone else slips up. A politician we don’t admire stumbles over his words. A famous person who has great wealth suddenly goes bankrupt. Part of us feels sad, but we might also secretly enjoy the turn of events.
The story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s gold statue always puzzled me. How was it possible for a king to erect a statue and then demand that everyone bow down to it? (Daniel 3:1,5). The whole story seemed silly. And that was before the Veggie Tales video version, which substituted the statue with a chocolate bunny. Have you heard the “Bunny Song”? “The bunny, the bunny, yeah, I love the bunny. I gave everything that I had for the bunny!”
Five years ago, in a burst of renovating energy, my husband and I decided to install tile flooring in our kitchen. Cold to the feet on winter mornings, hard on the joints year round, but easy to clean, tile was our choice again when we moved a year ago. Enduring the heavy traffic through our house, its strength has proven unyielding—even to the point of being ruthless when anything breakable happens to fall on it.
An article published in Fortune magazine addressed the values of some young adults—attitudes which pervade much of today’s culture, including the church. “On the Fast Track to the Good Life” noted that many young adults view success as being at the top of a major corporation, believe in themselves and their abilities and lack humility, view any relationship that slows their ascent up the corporate ladder as an anchor preventing their success, don’t value loyalty, and believe little can be learned from previous generations.
As Timothy McVeigh faced execution for a terrorist act that killed 168 people, he released as his last statement the oft-quoted poem Invictus. It says in part, “I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul,” and concludes with these lines:
I once had a boss who wielded the ultimate power in our organization. It was his goal to make sure we never forgot who was in charge. Though he was successful in gaining an iron grip within our office, the net result was that this man was very lonely. How different it could have been if he had humbled himself and formed friendly relationships with his employees!
This week I bought $30 worth of toilet paper in order to qualify for a mail-in rebate. The rebate form told me to address my envelope to “Road to Glory.” Really? I hadn’t slain a dragon or won a championship. I had merely purchased TP. So I laughed at the ridiculous title as I wrote it on the envelope.
This is the last snack I’m going to eat today, you tell yourself. Then 5 minutes later you’re looking for another one! Michael Moss, in his book Salt Sugar Fat, reveals how food companies study ways to “help” people crave junk food. Some of the food industry’s biggest names hire “crave consultants” to determine people’s “bliss points”—the conditions when food companies can optimize consumers’ cravings. One popular company spends $30 million a year to determine the bliss points of consumers.
I once wrote a book based on a collection of letters that François Fénelon (a French pastor from the 17th century) wrote to a younger friend who was serving in the morally corrupt court of King Louis XIV. Fénelon’s fatherly posture and his call for unflinching devotion to God captured me. Words like this are standard Fénelon fare: “Becoming a follower of God is hard because it requires that we submit ourselves fully to a God who is other than us. We must let go of our insistence that we know best what we need. We must let go of our demands that God act when and how we demand.”