Second Thoughts: Be Yourself (No, Really)

Author: Thomas White | Living Church of God, Editorial Department

“Be honest. Don’t hide who you are. Be genuine. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Be yourself.”

We’ve heard all of that before. Even Mr. Richard Ames’ recent assembly, a powerful message of improving one’s interpersonal communication, addressed the importance of openness and honesty—in essence, being yourself.

But it’s understandable if we think, “Wait a minute, be myself? That’s the last thing I want to be. Doesn’t God say that the heart is deceitful and wicked? Yeah, no, I’m way too aware of the terrible thoughts I’m constantly battling to be myself with anybody. Myself is awful, so to the best of my ability, I’m going to not be it, thanks.”

Actually, though, that perspective has it backwards. When you get down to it, all of the ungodly thoughts we have, words we say, and actions we take are the result of us not being ourselves—and instead, imitating someone truly awful.

Mr. Nathan Weighs In

To explain, I’ll turn to a quote from Mr. Peter Nathan. In the September-October 2019 Living Church News article “A Tale of Two Goats,” he wrote this:

Scripture describes Satan as having deceived the whole world (Revelation 12:9) and as having played a role in mankind’s sin from the very beginning (Genesis 3:1–5). It is on Satan’s head that the ultimate responsibility for sin rests. Jesus Christ, our High Priest, has already paid the penalty of sin for mankind. Satan, as the deceiver of all humanity, is to carry his responsibility for that sin, confessed over his head, from the presence of God.

– Mr. Peter Nathan, “A Tale of Two Goats”, LCN: Sep-Oct 2019

Now, obviously (because sometimes the obvious needs to be made super obvious at the risk of it not being obvious), Mr. Nathan isn’t saying that any of us are off the hook for our sins. I’m responsible for my sin. You’re responsible for your sin. But also, Satan is responsible for all sin—mine, yours, everyone’s. He doesn’t force anyone into anything, but each and every time we sin in any way, we’re hearing his suggestion and replying, “… Yeah, sure, okay. Seems like a good idea.”

Being Yourself is Resisting the Devil

The heart is deceitful and wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) because it’s so willing to listen to Satan’s deceitful and wicked influence, not because it’s conjuring up that influence all by itself. Our original ancestors, for example: It’s not like Adam and Eve were side-eyeing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for months, and when a snake started talking, they thought, “Oh good, now I finally have an excuse.” No—they heard the devil’s suggestion and they took it, just like we do when we sin.

Before Satan shows up, we don’t read anything about Eve or Adam being tempted in the slightest by the forbidden fruit. They knew it was there, they knew God didn’t want them near it, and they were on board with that. Were they just “not themselves” before Satan’s deception? Of course they were themselves—God creates children, not clones. If anything, they were more themselves than they ever would be again in their physical lives, because they weren’t yet affected by Satan’s suggestions.

We’re all affected by those suggestions, but it’s when we refuse them that we’re who God made us to be. When we take those suggestions and thereby sin, we’re not ourselves at all—we’re Satan imitators. He’s the one who wants clones. God, though, wants us to exercise the free will He gave us and be nothing less than ourselves.

Second Thoughts: Sonder and You (and Everyone Else)

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

There’s debate on whether or not it can be called a real word, but if you type “sonder” into Wiktionary, you’ll get this definition:

“The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passed in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.”

After this week’s assembly, I felt oddly compelled to immerse myself in a bit of sonder. Mr. Dexter Wakefield took us on a journey through the demographical statistics of the Church, and we learned, among many other things, that some of our youngest attending members are two years old, that our oldest attending member is one hundred and two years old, and that the Church’s database keeps track of them and everyone in between.

Thanks for Noticing

It’s always nice to know that someone is keeping track of you. We all feel a certain level of peace in the knowledge that we’re accounted for, that we’re considered. That might be why you get a tiny little thrill whenever someone uses your name. I don’t think it’s egotistical—it may be, in some cases, but for many people, the feeling seems more akin to gratitude. “Thank you for saying my name,” the feeling says, too fast to even be processed. “Thank you for acknowledging and keeping track of me.”

Maybe feeling sonder is just acknowledging everyone as worth keeping track of, when we usually only keep track of ourselves and the people closest to us. Most of us don’t feel sonder perpetually. It takes a surprising amount of effort to meaningfully recognize that other people are as multifaceted as we, ourselves, are. It might even be a little scary to do that, because as soon as you do, you have to recognize, in turn, that you don’t really know anyone. Most of the struggles that define someone else’s life are hidden from you. And once you’re aware of that, the excuses you drum up for judging other people seem… well, about as pathetic as they are, really.

Acknowledge the Battle

God keeps track of everyone, and that’s so easy to say, but hard to completely wrap your brain around. “I’d better be nice, because God wants me to be nice,” you might think when you’re tempted to not be nice. And that’s true, but it’s deeper than that, isn’t it? You might be better off thinking, “I’d better be nice, because God wants this person in front of me to experience kindness.” He’s keeping track of you, yes, absolutely, but he’s keeping just as much track of everyone you interact with, and He knows how much they need your empathy.

“Be kind,” goes an oft-quoted saying of dubious origin, “because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” In all of His dealings with each and every one of us, God always, always acknowledges the battle. He’s never unaware of the struggles we each have every day, as we fight past the monsters in our own minds. We might not be able to know what the people around us are fighting, as He does, but if we want to be like Him, we should strive to treat other people like they’re fighting something painful, going through something hard—because most of the people around us probably are.

So, say peoples’ names when you talk to them. If someone looks sad, ask if they’re okay—and be prepared to listen if they’re not. Smile when you (even accidentally) make eye contact with someone you know. Even a little sonder might go a long way.

Second Thoughts: Presumption, Assumption, and…Reputation?

Author: William Williams | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

Have you ever been in a situation where you knew something you planned to do wouldn’t “look right,” but since you believed you weren’t going to “do anything wrong,” you went ahead with it anyway?

Perhaps the “Mike Pence” rule just seemed inconvenient that one time—especially if the circumstances really didn’t seem like the kind where anything truly compromising could happen. Maybe there wouldn’t be time for anything to happen. Maybe you and the people you planned to be with have good reputations, and people just know you better than to think you’d misbehave in some particular way or another. And maybe people should “mind their own business”—especially when such situations don’t always involve spending time with members of the opposite sex, but could simply be the kind of happenstance that maaaybe would look like you were doing something inappropriate on the Sabbath—when you weren’t—or juuust might seem like you were staying out late drinking and partying—which you don’t!

Of course, life is full of decisions, and not all decisions or actions can be helped regarding how others perceive them. If we worried about how our every single action might be perceived, we would certainly wastea lot of time. But we also know that God cares about how our behavior affects others, so it isn’t always worry but consideration. And when it comes to something that could seriously affect your reputation—or cause others to stumble—the matter deserves consideration.

The Appearance of Evil

“Reputation and the Appearance of Evil” was in fact Dr. Scott Winnail’s most recent Living Education address, and an especially vital topic for Christians today. Analyzing situations where individuals knew their decisions might give others “the wrong idea” was a chief part of his lecture. However, far from simply mowing down the assembled students with a list of “do’s” and “don’ts”, Dr. Winnail instead engaged in a give-and-take session about why people might inadvertently put their reputations at risk and how to avoid the appearance of evil—and he reminded them of the oft-repeated quote by Warren Buffett that a good reputation can take decades to develop, but be destroyed in five minutes.

Dr. Scott gave several examples of situations that can potentially tarnish one’s reputation, and what stood out most importantly to me was the absence of condemnation. Leaving behind most discussion of when people do fall into sin when they “skirt the edge of the cliff,” his focus was mainly on how to maintain a good reputation and make sure that pure motivations go hand in hand with—and even promote—pure perceptions.

Assume or Presume?

Throughout the discussion, a singular thought crossed my mind: presumptions lead to assumptions! We all know (or should know) that assume is a dirty word, but what about presume? If assuming is jumping to a conclusion when we don’t have all the facts (the very thing we don’t want people to do regarding our actions) presuming is assuming ahead of time how a certain thing will or should turn out (or how people will or should respond to those same actions!). And if, as Henry “the Fonz” Winkler was famous for saying, “Assumptions are the termites of relationships,” then presumptions are the overlooked food source that attracts them!

Dr. Scott suggested some questions his listeners should ask themselves before taking certain actions, including, “Why do I want to do this?,” “What are the possible outcomes?,” “How will my actions be perceived?,” and “Could someone imitate me and thereby fall into condemnation?”

In every case, here’s one bit of handy reasoning to add: “Don’t presume too much about how others will perceive your actions!” I’ve been told many times that “You can’t control what other people think,” but here’s a secret: you can, to a certain degree, by your own choice to “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15).

What looks like a duck…

As always, the best lessons are the ones we apply to ourselves, and thus I turn the lens around: Justifying something based on what people should think is a presumption. Thinking people will always know my future actions are honest based on my current reputation is a presumption. And stating that people should “mind their own business” is a naïve presumption at best—and a rejection of Philippians 2:29 and Romans 14:13 at worst. (Not to mention the fact that saying it out loud can easily become an example of just exactly what I’m talking about when someone takes it the wrong way and thinks, “Whoa, what a jerk that guy is.” If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…)

With that, I can conclude:

  • I’m not the arbiter of what others should think—so I should think out my own actions before committing to them, as Dr. Winnail stressed.
  • I’m not the paragon of virtue I’d like to think of myself as—and I can’t place the burden of exonerating me on others, who have daily struggles and distractions all their own to think about.
  • And I’m not by any means the one who gets to decide where others should be on the path to their conversion, such that I can blame them for “minding” my business—especially when my business breathes the same air God gave everyone else to swim around in.

Or so I should presume.

Second Thoughts: Paid in Character

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

 “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect [mature] and complete, lacking nothing.” – James 1:2-4

We can memorize the verses. We can recite them to ourselves. We can thank God as we look back and recognize how past struggles and losses have benefitted our spiritual growth. But whatever we do, whatever we know, it’s still really, really hard to make ourselves feel truly okay with the fact that as long as we’re human, we’re vulnerable—we can, and will, be hurt.

Mr. Gaylyn Bonjour gave the most recent Living Education assembly, and one of the many biblical truths he addressed was that in order for us to develop the spiritual fruit of longsuffering, we have to suffer for a long time. That, in a nutshell, is what James is saying up there: We can’t achieve holy, righteous character without suffering.

Paid in Character

Dr. Jordan Peterson has talked about how when we work, we’re essentially “sacrificing the present for the future.” We might not feel like working at present, but we know that if we work, we’ll get paid, and if we keep working and keep getting paid, the future will be better, because we’ll be able to buy… you know, food, among other things. Work usually feels pretty tolerable, because we know it’s for something, we know it’s building a better future. As the modern proverb goes, “Ya’ don’t work, ya’ don’t eat.”

Suffering also works that way, in a sense. When we go through a difficult time, or suffer from a loss, God is actually paying us for it in the character He’s growing in us through it. Our hurt and our struggles are “sacrificing the present for the future,” because the character we’re building allows us to show compassion, our struggles make it possible for us to develop empathy. If we don’t work, we don’t eat, and if we don’t suffer, we don’t love.

Saving for a Sunny Day

Now, people sometimes corrupt that truth by saying, “We can only achieve righteous character through suffering,” and that’s on a level of sheer bogus akin to “You should feel guilty if your life is currently pleasant.” Nonsense—if we were paid for our work, but never stopped working long enough to do anything with what we were paid, our work would be pointless, right? Likewise, God knows that if we only suffer, the character we build during all those trials isn’t really going to benefit anybody, because we’ll be too busy dealing with the trials to share it.

So He sends good times our way, too, and during those times, when life actually seems to be going pretty well, He does something extraordinary—He pays us for spending our paycheck. The catch, though, is that we have to spend it on someone other than ourselves. If we use the character we’ve been building through our trials to help others make it through trials of their own, we, in turn, build even more character—and help them to build it, too.

We shouldn’t go looking for new and exciting ways to suffer so that we can build more character—James says that we fall into various trials, not jump into them. But as we struggle, as we go through times of hurt and continue making deposits into our character account, we can be encouraged by the knowledge that we’re sacrificing a tiny, forgettable present for an eternal, beautiful future. 

Second Thoughts: Our Philip

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

For the most recent Living Education assembly, we watched a video about Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, and if you’ve been a part of the Church of God for any significant amount of time, you’ve heard his name.

He’s been talked about in sermons, sermonettes, publications, telecasts—he can seem more familiar than certain contributors to the Bible.

Because Someone Guided You

In Acts 8, when Philip asks the Ethiopian if he understands the scripture he’s reading, his candid reply is, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” That one sentence reveals that even if God is calling us, we can’t come to a deep understanding of His truth just by reading the Bible. We need help. We need teachers, like the Ethiopian needed Philip.

I’m sure that’s not a surprise to you. Everyone in the Church can think of someone who served as their mentor in the things of God. We’ll always feel a deep connection to those people—God used them to either shape our lives or change our lives. Whoever comes to your mind as the person who taught you how to obey God, that person is your Philip, and you’ll never forget your Philip.

But you don’t just have one Philip. Actually, there’s a Philip you and I share—one that every single member of God’s modern Church shares, in fact. In an attempt to make that resonate a little more profoundly, let’s quickly play a game I just made up, which I’m going to go ahead and call…

Six Degrees of Mr. Armstrong

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong

It’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, but hopefully a little more meaningful. Ready? I’ll go first.

Who taught me the truth of God? That would be my mom, in the most fundamental sense. Okay, so, who taught her? Her dad, my grandpa. Who taught him? Well, originally, Mr. Garner Ted Armstrong, who my grandpa heard preaching the Gospel on the radio when my mom was a tiny kid. And who taught Garner Ted Armstrong the things of God? His parents—one of whom was, of course, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. So, between me and Mr. Armstrong, there are really only four degrees of separation.

Your turn.

Maybe you didn’t grow up in the Church. Maybe you’re here because you saw a telecast, or read a magazine article, or befriended a Church member. But whoever introduced you to the truth of God, the right way of reading His word, I can almost guarantee you that there aren’t more than six degrees of separation between you and Mr. Armstrong—because many were his students.

So yeah—people still talk about him, and will continue to talk about him, because you never forget your Philip. And however any of us came into God’s Church, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong is our Philip by no more than six degrees.

Second Thoughts: Of Lizzie and Noah

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

One of my oldest friends is outside of God’s Church and extremely “liberal.”

Let’s call her Lizzie instead of her real name, because though she’ll probably never read this, I don’t want to embarrass her if she does. Sometimes I’ve caught myself thinking, “Wow, Lizzie and I have been friends for years, and we’ve talked quite a bit about religion and spirituality, but I’ve never once gotten her interested in the Church at all. Am I doing something wrong? Am I representing the truth badly?

Have you ever asked yourself questions like that?

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Mr. Rod McNair gave this week’s fascinating assembly, and he shared a multitude of statistics and numbers concerning the Living Church of God’s membership, worldwide impact, growth rate, and more. But the first number was zero, because that, as Mr. McNair said, is the number of people that were called into God’s truth during Noah’s one hundred years of preaching it while building the ark.

It definitely wasn’t that Noah was a bad example of God’s way—it just wasn’t the time for the people around him to be called. And I’ll bet that during those one hundred years, the foundation was laid for some very interesting conversations Noah will be having in the Great White Throne Judgment with those who refused to set foot aboard the ark.

In the individual ministries we each lead with our personal examples, we should continually question whether we are, in fact, being the best example we could be, but we can’t measure that by “number of booklets I’ve talked people into reading.”

The question is…

Do We Wear It Well?

If we’re putting on the whole armor of God, do we make it look awkward and restrictive? When we raise the sword of God as we tell our unconverted friends what His word says, do we make that sword look heavy, burdensome, and unwieldy? Or do we make it clear that it is honorable and a privilege to wield this sword, to wear this armor?

Several years ago, Lizzie and I had a debate over whether homosexuality should be considered a sin. Did I successfully convince her to adopt God’s point of view? Not even close, and she didn’t convince me of anything, either. But at the end of the conversation, I remember her saying, “I can’t believe how civil and friendly this discussion was. Thank you for presenting your points with kindness and respect.” I sincerely thanked her for doing the same, and we’re friends to this day.

Now, as you’re well aware, not everyone out in the world handles disagreement as gracefully as Lizzie. But that’s not our problem. We’re responsible for whether or not we handle it gracefully. We can’t compromise on the truth, but if we’re making the truth look like something only unfriendly, disagreeable people believe in, aren’t we doing it a disservice?

If our Lizzies, whoever they are, can’t stand to talk about moral principles with us at all, it might be time to change our approach. But if we can talk about such subjects with them, even if they never read a single article in Tomorrow’s World magazine, we don’t need to get discouraged—Noah wouldn’t have gotten Lizzie to step on the ark.

Someday, in the Millennium or Great White Throne Judgment, I’m really looking forward to having a more groundbreaking conversation with Lizzie. And I’m grateful to God that in this life, He’s laid a foundation for it.

3 steps to writing an outstanding autobiography that will help boost your application

You have been considering applying to LivingEd-Charlotte and you find yourself scanning through the list of requirements to complete your application.

Basic info? Check. Official transcripts? Check. Recommendations? Easy. Autobiographical essay? Wait…what? Oh no, not an essay!

The very name Autobiographical Essay has sort of a daunting effect. But don’t let it scare you, and certainly don’t let it be the reason you decide not to finish your application! Writing an essay may not be your favorite activity, but if you apply these three basic principles to your writing, you’ll find this task is a cinch! Also, you’ll have all the ingredients to please the admissions panel.

The following tips are written to aid students who are applying to our LivingEd-Charlotte program. All applicants are required to submit an autobiographical essay as part of their application.

1.) Be Focused

The first element the panel is looking for is how completely you answered the prompt. There are four content elements that need to be included. Be sure to carefully answer each issue. Since there is a length requirement of 3-5 double-spaced pages it is necessary to get to the point and not become too wordy. The panel is looking for complete answers with relevant detail – enough to give some context, not too much to hold interest.

2.) Be Professional

These days, many students fall into the trap of casual writing. Writing about yourself means writing the way you speak, right?  Nope. It means presenting who you are in an academic context. So, use a clear, easy-to-follow format, full sentences, proper grammar, and suitable vocabulary. Certainly your personality can, and should, come through when you write an essay about yourself, but it’s good to always keep in mind your audience which in this case is the admissions panel for a 9-month educational program. Sure, the panel wants to get a better sense of who you are by the time they finish reading your essay, so let them be left with a sense of your skillful attention to your use of words. 

Quick Tip: Read, read, and re-read through your essay before you submit! Small, unchecked errors show a lack of consideration for detail on the part of the writer. You want to be sure that it is you who catches all the little spelling and grammar errors in your writing, not the guy reviewing your completed application.

3.) Be Real

In other words, be honest about who you are. While you want to present a polished essay, it’s okay to allow your personality to come through in your writing! Remember, the panel wants to get to know YOU! They want to learn what you are about, what some of your goals are, who you look up to, and why you want to come to Charlotte to spend nine months with a bunch of young people to learn about God’s way. While this is not the place to get super personal, you can certainly allow your own charm and unique characteristics to be evident in how you present yourself.

So that’s it! Be focused, professional, and real! If you think about these principles as you prepare your autobiography, you’ll be that much closer to stepping on-campus as an official member of the LivingEd-Charlotte family. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get writing!

Ready to begin your application? Begin Here!

Second Thoughts: Relax Your Brain, but Keep It On

Author: Thomas White | Editorial Department, Living Church of God

Have you read a good book lately? In our latest Assembly, Dr. Douglas Winnail challenged the Living Education students to read. Read non-fiction. Read fiction. Just read good books.

But here’s a thought.

Even though we’re a small group of people who basically believe in the same fundamental truths and principles, we all probably have a slightly different idea of what constitutes a good book when it comes to fiction.

Uncertain answers

There are a lot of questions and no certain answers. Is it sinful to watch fiction of any kind? What about reading fiction? What if there are space aliens in the book we’re reading? What if there’s magic in it? What if a character fornicates or is a homosexual? What if a character is divorced, or says a bad word, or goes bowling on the Sabbath? Is the book evil if anybody kills anyone in it? Is a story fundamentally against God’s beautiful design of the universe if it contains a talking animal?

I’ll admit that I don’t know the answers. I mean, I have my ideas, my opinions, and so do you—but we could both be wrong, right? When it comes to this subject, we’re all learning. We all want to think like God, but we all have a long way to go. So, we’re not always sure.

Relaxed, yet ON

A few things, however, we can be certain of, and two of them go hand in hand—we all need to relax our brains sometimes, and we can never allow ourselves to turn our brains off. Let me put it this way: We all genuinely enjoy the company and conversation of at least one person outside the Church, right? Someone who doesn’t believe as we do. Maybe your dad is such a person for you, or your mom, or your brother or sister. If you’re close to this person, your brain is relaxed when you’re talking casually to them. You’re not obsessively analyzing everything this person is saying as they’re saying it, you’re just listening and enjoying.

But when this person you appreciate and enjoy says something like, “You know, gay couples should really just be allowed to live their lives as they want to,” something goes off in your brain, doesn’t it? Nope, says your brain. Not right. Not good. I disagree. Your overall opinion of this person’s mind doesn’t change, because you know there’s a lot of genuine value there, but you mentally slap a “’ Fraid not!” label on that particular part of their discourse and you move right along.

If our brains don’t do that when we’re relaxed—if, instead, we respond, even internally, with something like, “Say, that’s true! Gay couples really should be entitled to their lifestyle choices!”—then our brains aren’t just relaxed, they’re off. And when a brain is off, it’s just useless.

Low-power versus sleep mode

Like anything else, you can’t constantly run a brain at full blast—not if you want it to last, anyway—so we shouldn’t be afraid to relax it for a little bit. But while our brains are in low-power mode, we still have to resist the temptation to turn them off and stay alert to whatever Satan’s trying to slip in. When it comes to godly and ungodly fiction, there’s a lot that’s unclear, and a lot we don’t know, but I think we can all agree that just like anything else, fiction should never be consumed thoughtlessly.

Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t have it all right, or to read something that doesn’t either—but while you’re reading a good book, keep your brain on.