What Makes Us Tick (Part 2)

In last week’s column we focused on our brain—the stunningly efficient processor in our heads. Today we want to focus on what programs this living computer since the program determines the final outcome.

Education in and of itself is not what programs our mental computers. Instead, it is our values: our virtues, principles, convictions, ideals, motives, morals, ethics or character that we hold dear that instruct our brains.

“The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values.” Dean W.R. Inge. The problem is that education models often pride themselves in being “value-free,” provoking C.S. Lewis to write, “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.” Value-free education produces heads full of knowledge but hearts empty of virtues such as integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness.

How Can We Discover Our Values?
Try the fear test. What are you afraid of? Think about it. Our fears point to what we value. Most people fear crippling injury, serious mental or bodily illness, or premature death. Obviously, we value our total health and life.

Canela Boys Stay With Their Age Group for Life

Canela Boys Stay With Their Age Group for Life

The Canelas fear fights and divisions among themselves. The strongest condemnation is not for stealing or lying but for someone who hits another. The Canelas obviously value their community-based culture of family, friends, belonging and togetherness.

Things I Fear
I fear suffering a major moral lapse in the areas of money, sex, or power. My fears point to values like continued good fellowship with God, being held in high regard by my family and colleagues, and having an effective ministry as a speaker and writer.

I also fear poverty which leads to not being able to travel to be with people I love, not being able to buy the things or services for myself or to help others, all within reason, of course. This fear indicates I value mobility, being able to choose where to live, live in relative comfort, having the ability to help others in need, and having an valuable Kingdom ministry.

I fear losing all my computer data, fifty years of diaries, personal history, and photos. I very much value being able to leave a legacy to our descendants of what God has done in and through Jo and me and our family.

Try this exercise yourself. List the things you fear, then ask why you fear them and list your values. Now check these values against the Bible. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the book of Proverbs for some clearly stated biblical principles, ethics and ideals.

We may find that our values need some upgrading, from being narcissistic, and materialistic to being more God-centered. Reading the Bible will grow those values in our lives. Our biblically sound values will program our brain to make decisions that lead to a God-pleasing life.

More Advantages to Knowing What We Value
Modeling biblically sound values and talking about them to our children and grandchildren will influence them to develop these values too. Our influence and example will live long after we are gone.

  • Having a set of clear values and strong convictions will help us make decisions quickly and wisely.
  • Only strong convictions growing from clear values can withstand strong temptations.
  • When our values are clear we can influence other people and reach into their lives to give them the help they need.
  • As we live in accord with our values, our self-respect grows, and others are drawn closer to us.

God has given us a great computer processor, which we need to keep healthy and protected. Our chief responsibility, however, is to make sure we run the right programs. We can only do that when we know and develop values that line up with what God’s Word calls wisdom.

Soaking our minds in the Word of God by reading and pondering it regularly, is therefore, the best way to develop the clear values and strong convictions that program our fabulous, God-given brain. Our well-programmed brains will move us to live God-pleasing lives.


How to Make Yourself Look Good Now but Feel Bad Later

I must be getting old, I thought, as I slowed down my brisk pace to enjoy the shade of an enormous mango tree, I can’t remember being this tired the last time I did this trip.

It was the second day of slogging through sand, splashing across creeks, and plodding up and down rocky slopes on my way from the Canela village into the nearest town. I used to be able to walk sixty kilometres in two days without feeling this wiped out.

Jack and Jo in ceremonial paint and feather costume a month earlier.

I heard a dog bark nearby and thought, Probably from a small bush farm. Hmm, I wonder . . . I followed a well-worn path that led from the mango tree to some palm thatch farm buildings. Two teenage boys were drinking cafe com leite and invited me to have a mug. I happily sat down to enjoy a drink and a chat. After conversion for a while I asked, “Do you have a horse or mule I could borrow or rent from you for one day? I’m on my way into Barra do Corda and the last 15 kilometres are always the longest.”

“Sorry, we don’t. But we are also going into Barra, and we’re catching a ride with our uncle the last ten kilometres. He’s loading up a truckload of sand just five kilometres down the road, and will be leaving for town in an hour or so. Wait a bit here while we eat and get our stuff, and we’ll walk together.”

Great news!

“Thanks” I said, “but I’ll start walking now. You’re half my age, and I might slow you down if we walk together. I’ll see you down the road.”

Canela Village in 1990

As I tramped along, I thanked God for cutting a good two hours of walking off this 60 kilometre trip. My brief rest, and the coffee had done me good and I lengthened my stride. After a while I came to a 30 metre stretch of road with a long mud puddle along one side and damp ground along the other. Hmm, I thought, here’s a chance to impress those boys with my walking ability.

With that I switched into a leaping mode, lengthening my stride from 70 cm to well over a metre long. Reaching the dry area I turned around to look at my footprints. Oh yeah! Impressive! I said to myself, panting to get my breath back after my strenuous leaps, and walked on at a more sedate pace.

When I reached the truck, I rested in the shade as a half dozen teenage boys shoveled sand onto the dump truck. My two friends from up the road arrived just about the time it was full and we all climbed on. As the truck rumbled along they introduced me to the others. “I thought we’d catch up to him,” one of them said, “but even though we walked our fastest we couldn’t catch up. Then we came to a damp part in the road and saw why. You wouldn’t believe the huge strides he takes – twice as long as ours. No wonder he got here before us!”

Yes! I was looking good! As I smiled modestly at the admiring group, a small voice in my head said, Now would be a good time to tell them about your trick. I ignored it. I was enjoying their praise. Hey, it’s not often that I get praise for my physical prowess. I’ll take it any time, even when it’s not deserved. Besides, who cares? It’s just a little thing.

That night, however, my conscience replayed the incident, this time accompanied by Jesus’ words from Luke 16:10 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities” (LB).

Oh boy! I had been seriously dishonest in a little thing. It was past. I couldn’t undo it. I would never be able to track down all those boys who had given me admiring looks and explain it was all a trick. I had made reputation more important than character. I should have focused on improving my character: who I really am, and let God deal with my reputation: what people think of me.

This lesson has stayed with me for life. Decades later, for instance, when I was a missions leader and public speaker, I remember being addressed or introduced frequently as Dr. Popjes. Oh, that sounds good in the ears of a high-school dropout! But Luke 16:10 is keeping me from being tempted to let that slide!

It would be great for my reputation, but bad for my character; make me look good at the time but feel bad later.

Canela village 2012, Google satellite image

By the way, if you have Google Earth on your computer, you can see the Canela village and some of the path I walked on 40 years ago. Search for Barra do Corda, Maranhao, Brazil, and scroll south about 60 kilometres to the Canela village site. Or go to these coordinates: W 45 degrees, 08’ 51.36” and S 6 degrees, 04’ 49.44”. You need to be at an eye level of 8-10 kilometres to see the village clearly. (I used to encourage myself by the fact that the walk from the Canela village to Barra do Corda is about the same distance as what Jesus walked from Jericho to Galilee.)