During my 20s, I obsessed over two main goals. One was to lose weight after getting up to 378lbs. I succeeded in getting down to 220. The other was to become a published author, and not just “any” published author. I wanted to be the best. The kind future generations had to write reports about in school.
Just recently, a friend asked me why I had given up on that goal. It’s difficult to explain without sounding like I’ve straight-up failed. It’s understandable to assume I was using the Bible as an excuse, as if to say I couldn’t hack it in the world of publishing. Because he asked a good question.
“What does reading the Bible have to do with you not succeeding as an author? It’s not like you’re doing drugs or committing a crime. Are you saying God doesn’t approve of authors or success?”
He didn’t ask those questions to offend me. I could tell he was genuinely seeking to understand. Truth is, I haven’t given up on that goal. The difference between 34-year-old Rock and 24-year-old Rock is that it’s no longer the priority. It’s still high up there. But once upon a time, nothing else mattered more.
First off, you have to understand that being a Christian is voluntary. Reading the Bible and believing in Christ’s teachings is something we “choose” to do. So as I begin, I’d like you to keep these critical scriptures in mind.
In Matthew 19:16-23. A rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Since he was a boy, the young man has kept the commandments. He didn’t steal. He didn’t commit murder. He honored his mother and father. So what commandment must he do to have eternal life?
In verse 21, Jesus answered, “Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come and follow me.”
Then the young man walked away full of sorrow and disappointment. In verse 23, Jesus told his Disciples, “truly I say, it will be difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It will be easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom.”
In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”
These passages aren’t to dissuade anyone from being successful in anything they set out to do. There are plenty of scriptures encouraging Christians to put forth their best work. Idle hands create poverty, diligent hands create riches. (Prov. 10:4) But what’s in your heart? Why do you want to do it? Who are you trying to please? What should be your number one goal if you call yourself a Christian? Why is this important? Why does any of this matter? YOLO! Right?
I credit my Older Brother with helping me realize my error. I must have been about 28-years old at the time and believe me, it wasn’t easy to hear. For over five years since graduating college, my family knew I was giving it my all to pursue a career in publishing. But it’s not exactly a team activity. Being a writer is a solitary occupation. I was by myself. Weekends, holidays, vacations…most of it all was committed to my craft. I lived, slept, and dreamed about my works. Obsessed over it. I loved it! I believed in it. This link chronicles the two years it took to write my flagship novel “The Pierce Syndicate.” It’s one of my crowning achievements but it came with so much sacrifice. My choosing the work over other things like hanging out with friends, going to social events, parties, and I even broke up with a beloved girlfriend because she was getting in the way.
When you’ve committed so much, come so far, and have the utmost confidence in your abilities…the last thing you want to hear is the equivalent of “it’s all for nothing.” During a phone call with my brother, he talked to me about how he had to quit the band club in college because he realized it was taking away from his purpose to serve God. And I know how passionate he was. Remember Nick Cannon’s “Drumline”? My brother was part of that Band club culture, playing the cymbals and getting down with the best of them.
So when he told me that he had to quit Band because it was getting in the way of serving God…I knew exactly what he was really trying to say and it pissed me off to no end. Because by that point, I had finally picked up the Bible and started reading it. It’s not like you just roll out of bed with a strong faith and understanding of Christ’s teachings. It’s gradual. And I honestly believed I was doing my best to become a true Christian. My best is not his best, or anyone else’s best if you’ve never strayed or dared to venture out in the real world.
So when my Brother implied that I still had my goal of becoming a published author set above my love of serving God. It hurt. God knows I’ve tried so hard, resisted so many temptations, avoided so much vice and avoided paths that were easier knowing it would get me what I wanted sooner than later. I wanted to be a husband. I wanted to be a father. If I lowered my standards, the standards Christ taught us…I know I would be those things. Because these days, sex seems to be a prerequisite to marriage. And unprotected sex is a good way to become a father, regardless of the child support and 18 years of having to deal with a contemptuous woman, the fact is…at least I’d still be a father.
When you see others taking the easier route and accomplishing what you want, it hurts. When you see them celebrated for doing what you’ve avoided, it hurts. And despite all that, seeing the wicked prosper, I still chose the paths that were most difficult…knowing, believing, I was doing what was good in God’s eyes to the best of my abilities.
So yeah…when my brother made his implications, I blew up on him. It’s like…“Damn! What else am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to be completely miserable in order to serve God?”
God should come first in our lives as Christians. But what the freak does that mean? How was I not putting him first? Yes, my desire to become a published author was my number one goal in life. But was that really so bad? …In the end, I think my brother meant well. I think he was right. lol…but I think it was too soon in my Christian journey to hear it. As I continued to read the Bible, I believe I would have come to the same conclusion on my own.
Allow me to explain.
Before I picked up the Bible and read it cover to cover, the reason why I aspired to be one of the greatest Writers of my generation…Had a lot to do with anger, resentment, and vanity. To me, getting revenge was a strong motivator. So many had doubted me. So many looked down on me and saw me as nothing special. The kind of revenge I pursued was the form of success. In college, I was enamored with the idea of being remembered like the romantics of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and Alexandre Dumas. I felt my stories, my characters were ten times better than what they were coming up with in Hollywood. I was determined to show the world something new, determined to rip apart the notion that everything that can be created, has already been created.
When they started calling Lena Dunham the voice of my generation, it burned me up to no end.
It was fierce. My eyes, fixed….From the age of 23-28, that’s all I cared about in life. Even in the shower, I’d be thinking about the upcoming chapter so when I hit the keyboard, the words flowed. And my inkwell ran deep. I was addicted. Writing was more than just getting words down on paper, it’s an escape from this rotten, messed up world, to another.
When my co-workers claimed to be “writers too,” it was disappointing because I didn’t see them on my level. I wish they were as committed and obsessed over their craft as I was. There’s a comfort in surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals. When you asked them when’s the last time they wrote, they would say, weeks, months ago, or whenever they had time. That’s how I knew I was different. I didn’t just write “whenever I had time”…I MADE TIME.
Aside from the desire to get revenge and prove myself, I also believed that for me and my degree, it was the fastest way to get money, pay off college debt, and lay down the financial foundation by which I could start a family…essentially becoming a six-figure “high-value male”.
My dad would ask me about settling down and getting married and I told him to give me a decade. If I hadn’t accomplished my goal by the age of 33, I wouldn’t abandon it completely, but push it to the backseat.
But…as steady as that train was running…the Truth derailed it from the tracks.
Part of being an author means doing a lot of research on subject matters. From historical events to behavioral patterns and biographies about everything from killers, to dictators, mob bosses and monarchs. We’re talking about triumphs, tragedies, and disasters. In writing a proper protagonist and antagonist, you have to put yourself in the character’s shoes. You have to ask, why? Why is this character going down this path? What are they trying to accomplish? What’s their motivation?
A lot changed in our culture from 2009-2014 (my age of 23-28). In particular, the rise of Social Justice and Political Correctness.
I really do believe art should imitate life. However, around this time, it appeared as if art was trying to dictate life. Especially with popular shows like “Glee,” “Big Bang Theory,” and “Modern Family.”
Throughout the 2010s, Hollywood began lecturing the rest of the world about how life should be, instead of how life truly was. Yeah, one could argue that this is what Hollywood’s always done. Movies and characters have inspired generations…But I dare say, I don’t remember people taking them so seriously.
Meaning, the family unit still had a greater influence over their children than Hollywood did in most communities…at least when the father was in the house…Then with the advent of social media and the internet, celebrities were granted a larger platform to influence the masses.
Thus, we’ve become stuck in a perennial high school mentality where every day, the cool kids (celebrities) determine what’s acceptable. That’s power. That’s influence. And if you don’t agree or conform to the popular opinion, then you are the creep, the freak, the intolerant, the bigot, the racist, the misogynist, the problem.
Contradictions were mounting. Confusion set in. History taught me a lot of things, but there’s too many opinions about “why” this was happening. Even when I came up with my own theories, it just wasn’t enough. My own prejudice and limited perception had the possibly of leading me astray. I came to conclusions, but couldn’t ignore the possibility that I may be wrong. Where do I turn to for the truth?
Honestly, it was just by chance that I clicked on History Channel’s miniseries of “The Bible”…and I confess, slightly ironic that it was a Hollywood production that renewed my interest in the Bible.
At 27, I wasn’t religious at all. I had refused to pick up the Bible due to the animosity I had for religion stemming from my childhood. But despite my reluctance, I still had the bare minimum of a Christian foundation rooted in me.
When I started watching “The Bible,” it made me smile. In my own stupidity and rebelliousness, I had forgotten that the Bible is more than just one big rule book of “do’s and don’ts”…it’s also a history book full of some pretty amazing stories. And so…I picked up the Bible to read for myself what’s true. To attain a greater understanding of the “why”.
When I first picked up the Bible, I confess, I wasn’t doing it in an attempt to draw close to God. I simply loved history and if I believed in God, I had to believe that what I was reading was the truth. And just like that…as I mentioned in another point, the world suddenly started to make sense.
And one of the first things that really caused me to re-evaluate my priorities was the account of King Solomon.
King Solomon, son of David, ruled the unified kingdom of Israel. Solomon was one of the wisest men who ever lived, a gift given to him by God because he simply asked for it.
In 1st Kings 3:6-15, God offered to give Solomon anything. Can you imagine? That’s like winning a lottery ticket in which you can cash it in for anything you ever wanted. And do you know what Solomon asked for? In verse 7-9, King Solomon said:
“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”
I remember the first time I read that, at the age of 28…it had such a profound effect on me that I literally started to cry. If God appeared to you and offered to give you anything, what would you have asked for? Money? Fame? Glory? Beauty? The love of others? The power over others?
King Solomon asked for the wisdom to lead God’s people. He didn’t use his wish to serve himself. It was for the betterment of others. Yet, here I was, committing my life to the pursuit of gaining favor from others, that they may glorify me for my talent and creation.
Reading the Bible put me to necessary shame. I acknowledged I had the wrong goals for the wrong reasons. My older brother was right. God was not number one in my life. And when you read about Jesus and everything he went through, the excruciating details of his death for all of us…what kind of man would I be to believe all of that happened and yet still live my life without honor.
This was perhaps the biggest change in me as I read the Bible to completion. As a man, my goal, my purpose is the basis for my existence. Without it, what’s the point of being alive?
The Book of Ecclesiastes provides a wealth of insight on that question. In it, King Solomon writes about the vanities of life, the foolish pursuits, the futility of self-indulgences, and even the frustration that comes from attaining greater knowledge. He teaches that the only fulfilled life is one in service and recognition of God. Every other kind of life is pointless.
So, how does one live a life in service of God? Jesus Christ gave the great commission in Matthew 28 when he told his followers in verse 19 to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
This doesn’t mean we all have to quit our day jobs and live a monkish life like the apostles of old. Each of us has our own talents, our own spiritual gifts, put in unique situations by which we can spread the gospels, even if it’s just by being the light by which others can see how you’re living by Christ’s standards.
“Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all things will be added onto you.” (Matthew 6: 33)
Then, of course, there’s one of the greatest blessings of living by Christ’s standards. FREEDOM! As men, we are constantly bombarded with pressure and expectations about what we’re supposed to strive for, or how we’re supposed to live. The world is constantly telling us to “step up,” to never be content, to always strive for new challenges, climb that corporate ladder, get more money, experience more things, travel the world, have fun! But why? For what? Yes, there’s the pleasure and enjoyment…but is that better than fulfillment? Not to mention, what’s fun to you, may not be what’s fun for me.
When I was 31, I finally landed a literary agent for my novel “The Slave Quarters” to represent me to publishers. But by this time, I had read the entire bible and was strong in my Christian beliefs. When the agent came back with suggestions on changing my character or major plot lines…I finally made a conscientious decision. I could have made those changes and gotten my works published in bookstores across America. lol…but I no longer cared about that.
Hahaha! I know that sounds stupid. But the thing was…as my Agent and Editors were working on that book, I had just started a new project. And I realized that my agent and editors, their voices were in my head as I created. I kept thinking “would my agent approve of this” as I wrote my characters and their dialogue. As an artist, this was a horrible, rotten feeling. So I let them go.
It was an amazing feeling of freedom and liberation. Thanks to other blessings from God and hard work, I don’t need to rely on a publishing career to provide for a future family. To the day I die, I will always be a writer. And maybe I will see my books on the bookshelves…but it’s no longer my everything. Even with these essays and stories I publish here on my website, I write and publish them because I love it. If I only get but five readers, instead of the thousands I used to dream about…I’ll still be grateful and content.
Because the thing is, you can’t serve two masters. Whether I become famous or not doesn’t matter. Doing what’s good in God’s eyes is ten times more important because the benefits far outweigh the benefits this world could ever provide. Not to mention, the honor and love I have for God who’s not only a Heavenly Father, but the most Dependable Friend I could Ever Have.
“But, Rock. Let me ask you. Do you think you’ve become a Christian because it’s easy to deal with the fact that you haven’t succeeded as a published author? Like, you’re just using religion as an excuse to fail in your goal. To cope with wasting five years of your life.”
Those are good questions. I can’t say being a Christian is the reason why I’ve failed, because there are many great Christian authors. CS Louis is constantly being hailed as one of the greatest Christian authors of the century.
To be honest, whether I’m a failure or not really doesn’t bother me so much. It would bother me if the people I cared about see me as a failure…in which case, I’d probably stop caring about their opinion if I couldn’t get them to understand.
Also, it’s not like I’ve stopped writing. I’m still producing some banging novels. The main difference between now and then is that I’m writing more essays to spread the truth about the Gospels. For instance, I’ve been working on these “10 Points of How the Bible Changed My Life” since May 2020 and today’s date as I’m typing these words is Sept 13th 2020. However, since Jan 2020, I’ve also been developing the treatment and characters for my next fantasy novel that I plan to start writing this November.
The priorities don’t just apply to my career…but also my choice in women. The Bible has blessed me with the wisdom to seek out the right qualities in a mate. I’ve gone through it in detail with this essay about the Top 3 Things that Cause me to Lose Interest in Women Who Claim to be Christian…because I’ll only marry a Christian. Having suffered through divorce as a child, I never want to put my children through that. Thus, it’s my fervent belief that the only reason why Christians get divorced is because one or both of the spouses stopped putting God first in their lives…they put other priorities before God.
I’ll end the essay with one of my favorite parables. Jesus’s parable of the Sower in Matthew 13.
In it, Jesus Christ describes a farmer sowing seeds that fell on different types of ground. Seeds that “fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”
When his Apostles asked Jesus to explain what the parable meant, Jesus explained in verse 18:
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
I endeavor to be the seed that’s sown on good soil. What about you?
Such an inspiring and truthful post. Thank you so much for blessing us with your story.
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Thank-you. When I was trying to be published, one of the Big Five was interested in a book, but wanted me to make an impossible change. I knew that person simply wouldn’t act in that way.
Now – free to publish online – on nobody else’s terms, , I’m writing about a character who gives everything away – and trying to make sure they stay believable..
We just lost a holiday – UK new lockdown – and had a great idea for what to do with the refund.
One Hollywood depiction of Christ (and his disciples, for the most part, including Mary Magdalene) that I really enjoyed watching is the 2018 film ‘Mary Magdalene’. Before watching it, I wrongly thought the producers couldn’t have resisted including a cheap shot (e.g. The Last Temptation of Christ) at the Jesus figure.
The first scene with Jesus (well-played by Joaquin Phoenix) has him urging his will-be followers—and all of humanity, really—to let go of their physical world material ties, etcetera, with an emphatic voice and facial expression that authentically reveal the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Mary Magdalene is also well-played, by Rooney Mara (Joaquin’s fiancé and mother of their infant son, River).