If you were an advertiser, what is the number one factor you would use to get people to buy your product? The answer, of course, is fear and insecurity. Think about that for a moment. A company that wants to make a profit does so by making you feel unsure about yourself. Don’t believe it?

Think about the smoking or beer advertisements of the 80’s. The vast majority seemed to suggest that people who smoke or drink a particular brand would be strong and sexy, living easy lives whose chief concern is having fun. Male models would hook up with female models, and CLEARLY the reason they were doing so was because of cold beer and tobacco in a paper wrapping.

Or you could consider my absolute LEAST favorite line in advertising history. The commercial starts off by highlighting some really interesting features that their new car has. These positive messages are followed up by this little gem. “It’s not more than you need; just more than you’re used to.” WHAT? You’re telling me that all the other cars ever invented can’t meet my real NEEDS? This is sheer idiocy, of course… if there were NEEDS that cars aren’t addressing but could, they would have been solved long ago. Why buy a car if there are still NEEDS that it doesn’t meet? This commercial is basically playing into your fear that your car isn’t good enough, or that you’ll be missing out if you don’t have these wonderful features.

It’s true with the many commercials that espouse, “uniqueness,” too. They tell you that you are becoming just like everyone else in the wide world, another ant in a giant army of boring people… unless you buy a VW Bug, of course!

Everyone struggles with this in different areas. For myself, I have a nasty fear of being inconsequential, or seen as dumb and irrelevant. So, what do I do? I study theology and politics. I practice public speaking. I copy the patterns of important figures of the past. I even cultivate an attitude and lifestyle designed to highlight my intelligence and consequence to others. I want to MATTER, and my fears that I won’t influence everything I do. If you ever want to see me sweat, try cleaning my room… my deep fears that people will think of me as a dumb child when they see how messy I am come to the forefront in no time flat.

Where am I going with this? It seems to me that the great antidote to these struggles, the only way to resist the constant attempts our world makes to influence our behavior… is to be secure. To not be afraid. To be content.

That answer is fairly obvious. How do we actually GET contentment, though? Not surprisingly for a Ben Blog, the answer is found in the Bible.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
-Philippians 4:4-7

Do you see it? The Bible here presents two wonderful antidotes to the problems of fear and insecurity. First, knowing God gives an outlet for our frustrations. We can pray to him, presenting our requests with the knowledge that he hears and knows what is best for us. Second, God’s peace will GUARD our hearts and minds. What do you think he’s guarding us from? Why, being anxious.

Our world presents a continuous assault on our self-confidence, a perpetual drive to scare us into buying bigger, better, and more impressive. We spend millions on self-help books, tighter clothing, and huge cars with low gas mileage, all because we’re afraid that if we don’t we’ll be less important. In God’s eyes, though, nothing could BE less important.

If there’s a fear we ought to have, it’s being inconsequential and useless to GOD. If He can’t use us to glorify himself and further his kingdom, we have a real problem. That should motivate us to seek HIS definition of riches… the riches of a humble heart, a loving attitude, and a willingness to serve. Those are the things that will bring about the kind of relevance and joy that we all seek.

Hopefully I’ve given you something to chew on. It’s an area I struggle with, too… but as long as I’m following God, I intend to keep struggling. Relevance in His eyes is worth it.


Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

A stern yet benevolent organizer who often knows best, your wits are keenly fixed on aiding efforts you deem worthy.

"Now at this last we must take a hard road, a road unforseen. There lies our hope, if hope it be. To walk into peril to Mordor."

Heh... I love these things.
I was eating with a certain lovely Asian today (that would be Samantha, for all you pessimistic conspiracy theorists out there), and had an interesting thought. It seems to me that a large part of my discomfort with “the world” is the sheer thoughtlessness of it all. People today have lost the ability to reflect, to meditate, to turn things over and over in their minds until they have a complete understanding of a concept. This, I feel is extremely negative when trying to accomplish anything of value. (note: part of the reason I realized this is because Samantha suprises me at least once per conversation with amazingly deep thoughts. Chat with her about political philosophy or theology and you'll see what I mean)

Take, for instance, the current political election. How many people do you know that can discuss the positives and negatives of an issue from BOTH sides of the aisle? How many can make it through a discussion of politics without referring to the other side as “stupid” or “lying”, or to their own as “common sense”? The problem is that very few of these people truly understand the issues at stake, or the deep-seated political philosophies that support them. Nor do they take the time to find out. Rather, they spout the latest sound bite, confident that only idiots have the capacity to disagree.

Consider basic conversation. How many people struggle through complex ideas, or display a willingness to question themselves? You never see it. Instead, you see groups of like-minded people talking about things they already agree upon, or at the very least have a common interest in. Food, shopping, weather, the stupidity of men, the changeability of women… nobody ever GETS anywhere. Do you come away from conversations without having learned anything new, the same as when you entered into them? You probably ought to seek out some fresh venues.

This idea is especially important, I think, for a) how we conduct our selves in everyday life and b) our spiritual lives. Allow me to explain.

When you speak, do people listen? Why or why not? The most amazing thing about our inability to say anything new or thoughtful is that people tend to RESPECT that quality. I suppose it is easier to stay safe on our own private islands, refusing to challenge convention. We go along with the crowd, agreeing that yes, it’s a nice day, yes, the food needs more soy sauce, and yes, that teacher assigns too much homework. We never ante up the courage to ask about a person’s emotional struggles, or bother to find out the core causes of a friend’s eccentric tendencies. But have you noticed the POWER that people who display that courage have? They quickly gain respect (even if it’s the grudging respect of enemies), and are able to more effectively facilitate growth in a group. Perhaps most importantly, they help others discuss and learn and think in new ways. Don’t you want to be that kind of person?

It’s true in our spiritual lives, as well. We are content to “attend” bible studies and church services, nodding our heads obediently when a group “facilitator” (we rarely have true leaders anymore) helps us to discuss “what we think” about a passage. To be frank, who CARES what you think? God didn’t intend for us to gently intertwine our preconceptions with nice thoughts from the Bible. He wants us to fight with it, to struggle, to challenge… in short, to MEDITATE on the powerful truths he communicates through his Word. Too often we accept without challenge, and agree without recognizing the radical changes our agreement ought to have on our lives.

Friends, there is joy in thoughtfulness. When you meditate on life, on philosophies, on values, on spirituality, on God’s words -on LIFE, for crying out loud- you find that your confidence increases, your passion increases, people listen more (even if they also disagree more), and you actually learn more. “I don’t know” starts to find its way out of your vocabulary (sorry, Amanda… I know it’s just a habit!).

Those of you who know me well recognize that I tend to go back and forth. At times, I allow verbosity to overcome thoughtfulness. I work hard, though, to make sure that the things I teach aren’t just conventionally accepted phrases, but rather are the outflow of serious study and meditation on a particular subject. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we practiced this with increasing regularity?

“The weight of words backed by thought should crush our tendency towards volumes of words backed by general acceptance.”