What My Gingerbread House Taught Me About Social Media

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Our culture has an obsession with pictures. In fact, most of the younger generation has abandoned Facebook for more photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat.  There is no denying that we live in a world that is dominated by photos.

Photos demanding we look better.

Photos demanding we have more stuff.

Photos telling us our homes aren’t enough. Our parenting skills are lacking. Our creativity is wanting.

Photos crying out that we just aren’t enough.

This has led to a culture of perpetual dissatisfaction and restlessness. If we aren’t careful, even those of us who are older can get caught up in this. We see warm family photos on Facebook and we think to ourselves–I wish I had that. We see teens winning awards, homes that should be in a magazine, and the creative projects of our talented friends and we think–if only…

But photos don’t show the whole story. They never show the whole story.

Which I learned in a big way the other night.

One of our daughters planned a family gingerbread house contest. Building gingerbread houses has been part of our Christmas family traditions for years now but this is the first time we had a contest. We took photos of the houses and put them on Facebook and let Facebook viewers choose the winner.

My husband and I were a team and I was excited because he is a master gingerbread house builder! As you may already know, he is a landscape designer so he has a great eye for design. Unfortunately for me, he had also had very little sleep the night before and had been out for a snow/ice event the whole day. The timing was not going to be helping us to clinch a win!

We started out pretty well. He was manning the icing bag and I was holding the graham crackers in place. It was going pretty well until we got to the roof. Just as we carefully placed the last cracker in its designated spot, the whole thing caved in. It was around that time that our grandson started to fuss in his high chair, so I decided to take on baby duty, confidently leaving the building of the house in the hands of my very capable husband.

A few minutes later, I came back to find my husband decorating half of a house!

I found out that he had tried twice more and the house just kept collapsing. Now on a different day– with a little more sleep and without a cute baby grandson begging his attention nearby–my husband would have kept trying. But on this night, he gave up. I handed the baby to him (which is exactly what he wanted!) and told him I’d finish decorating.

Then it was time to take the photos for Facebook. We moved our house to just the right angle and ended up with this–

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What the carefully taken photo didn’t show was this–

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So, we had an adequate house for our contest photo (can’t say it is our best work, by any means) but what no one could see was that it was completely unfinished in the back!

Oh, how this is the same for so much of what we see in our photo-driven world. How much we don’t see!

The model’s desperate battle with anorexia.

The movie star’s drug addiction.

The neighbor-down-the-street’s marriage issues.

The rebellious son’s antics of our picture-perfect church friend.

Social Media is a wonderful tool. It keeps us in touch with each other and we are able to cry and laugh and rejoice with one another. But sometimes the photos we see creep into our soul and give us a deep longing for something more. We start believing that God hasn’t give us enough and there is this illusive “perfect” life waiting for us out there somewhere.

Don’t be fooled! Not only is this untrue, believing this lie can potentially ruin marriages, families, and churches.

Scripture shows us that God is intentionally designing and directing our lives (Proverbs 16:9; Psalm 139:16), and it also shows us that it is God’s will that we be content with the life He has given us (Hebrews 13:5; I Timothy 6:6).

This can be a challenge for us in a world that is a swirling, writhing mass of discontentment.

If this is something you struggle with (like I do!), may I recommend the book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs. It is an old book so it isn’t easy to read, but it is full of profound wisdom in this area of contentment.

I hope that our gingerbread house incident hasn’t only reminded me of the inadequacy of a photo but that it has also reminded you. I hope that we are all encouraged to consider this area of contentment in our lives as we view the world around us–particularly social media. Choosing contentment when everyone else around us is in a constant state of complaining dissatisfaction is truly one way we can really stand out as believers in Jesus Christ.

What Fills You With Passion?

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Thank goodness this election is just about over. I am just so tired of the TV ads, the automated phone calls, and a Facebook wall inundated with politics. Let’s just get this over with!

As Eric and I were talking about this last night, I was sharing with him how interesting it was that people who rarely post anything on Facebook have posted about this election. Some people are posting about it constantly.

I’m not criticizing them for that. Facebook is a great way to get a message out. I think what continues to puzzle me is how few Christians use it to share the Gospel or to point people to the Word of God.

This election really showed me not only how powerful social media is, but it also showed that people are willing to risk their reputation for something they are passionate about. The posts about political candidates –no matter which one –are a risk. People think certain things about someone when they post for or against a candidate. And, honestly, how refreshing to finally see people actually removed of their apathy and willing to stand up for something.

I just wish that some of that passion was poured into getting the Gospel out using this incredible media. I just wish that some of this passion would instead be used to point people to the Word of God for life and light. I just wish that Christians would stop worrying about what people are going to think of them.

After all, this election is soon over. One of these pathetic, unfit candidates is actually going to win the presidency tomorrow. (But I will vote and– in case you are interested– my vote will be a vote against the one who promises to bring everything to this country that God hates.) And then it will be over.

It will all be over and we will have to adjust to whatever is next.

But the beauty of it is, for us Christians, nothing really changes. The Kingdom of God marches on. It has absolutely nothing to do with earthly kingdoms and governments. God can build His Kingdom in a country shrouded in Communism or Socialism, just as much as He can build His Kingdom in a Capitalistic society. He is not limited by a type of government. In fact, perhaps the church is even purified under certain systems of government. God may think it is time shake up the wayward, shallow Church in America. We can’t know that but we should not despair, no matter what happens tomorrow.

So where does our passion lie? Is it in making “America great again”? There is nothing wrong with that but, as believers, our main passion should always be to share the Gospel and to give God glory.

May we not get distracted by side issues. May we not be afraid to shine a light in this dark, dark time. May we be willing to risk our reputations and good name in order that even one may come to saving faith through Jesus Christ alone. And may we be filled with a love and passion for our Savior that is so transforming and pervasive, it can’t help but spill out onto our social media outlets.

 

From the Fringes and Into the Church

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I didn’t think it was any accident that the Saturday evening before my husband was to teach Sunday School on the sin of selfishness, we had the (insert sarcasm here) “wonderful” privilege of watching an Olympic athlete try to defend his indefensible actions.

A swimmer by the name of Ryan Lochte gave Eric a very current and obvious example of this sin that is a constant struggle for most of us. A sin that, without Christ, will eat some alive. Lochte seems to be one of its victims, if his interview was any indication.

This post is not about Lochte. But I have to say just one more thing about this “kid” who was “just out having fun”.

My daughter brought to my attention that Lochte is 32 years old. THIRTY-TWO! In the world that used to be, 32-year-olds were working hard and raising families. They certainly would have never been referred to as a kid. And they certainly wouldn’t have deemed getting drunk and trashing a bathroom with a bunch of buddies entertainment for an evening. And if any 32-year-old would have done such a thing, he would have been ostracized by the public and viewed with disgust.

But not in this world.

In this world, anything goes. Well, anything that doesn’t call for absolute values or hard work. Values have completely flipped.

And perhaps we should expect that in this world. 2 Timothy tells us this in Chapter 3–

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

I truly believe we are in those perilous times. Of course, there have always been men and women who love themselves, who boast, who despise good, and have no self-control. But I believe there are two main ways this day and age is different. And it’s pretty important that we be aware of these differences–

First, these things are no longer on the fringes of most societies but rather have been accepted as mainstream. One only has to take a look around to see this. In fact, some of these are not only accepted, they are even encouraged.  Entertainment and media have changed our entire values system. They have changed how we view sin and what we deem as important. Meanwhile, many of us sat on our sofas with a bag of chips in our hands, our eyes on a screen, and allowed it all to happen, with not even a raised, questioning eyebrow. Shame on us.

Second, these things are creeping into the church. Instead of being a church that is repentant and broken over our sin and finding our victory in Jesus and then working together, unified, to spread the Gospel and grow believers, we have become a church filled with individuals obsessed with finding our personal purposes and getting our own way. We have become obsessed with “experiencing” worship and meeting our carnal needs. It is a church that is much more concerned about personal glory than about God’s glory.

We have a form of godliness but deny its power. Isn’t that such an apt description of the church today?

As true believers–those that are part of the remnant that is left of the true church–we have a grave responsibility in a culture like this one.

It can be overwhelming at times and it is generally no fun. But Christ has prepared us for this in His Word. Matthew 6:24 puts it very succinctly: Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.

Deny himself. As opposed to finding personal purpose.

Take up his cross. As opposed to amassing riches, loving pleasure, and fulfilling dreams.

Follow Christ. As opposed to following self.

There is a most beautiful, unspoken conclusion to this verse. If we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus, we find exactly what we were so desperately longing for. We find our purpose, we find peace, and we find true and lasting joy.

But if we are obsessed with our own lusts, dreams, and purposes, we end up discouraged, depressed, broken, and reaping heaps of horrible consequences on ourselves and those we love. And if we are so unfortunate–we even become the poster child for an entire nation as to what selfishness looks like.

How important that we live the Christian life as Jesus Christ has commanded us. How important that we live pure, holy, and unselfish lives in a culture that is obsessed with self. There is no time to waste and no room for a Christian to focus on self.

Let us battle selfishness tenaciously.

Never giving up and never giving in.

 

The Thing About Wolves

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There are many things that make me shake my head in this world. One of them is movie stars who play parts in ungodly movies (that no Christian should watch much less be a part of) and then point to Jesus when they win an award. Another is athletes who point to God after a good play, when their lifestyle of bedding women, gambling, and other sinful activity is well-known. Musicians do this, too–singing about God with one breath and then singing about adultery or hatred or drinking with the next.

But what really makes me shake my head are the Christians who make these claims: “Oh, so-and-so is a Christian! Did you see them point to Jesus? Did you hear them sing that song about God?”

We do realize, don’t we, that people do things for a variety of reasons? They may be pointing to God to please their grandmother. Or perhaps they have a Christian fan base that will help them achieve their purposes. They could possibly be a tiny baby Christian that has a lot of growing to do. But, either way, they shouldn’t be idolized as someone to follow and be like with their worldly ways and sinful lifestyles.

One thing these famous people do is make it pretty easy to discern if they are a godly role model. With Facebook and Instagram it isn’t hard to see if famous people are living for the Lord or living for themselves. I am not on Instagram much at all, so it was my daughter who told me she goes there to see what kind of life a person lives if they call themselves a Christian. It is very, very telling.

But far more difficult to discern are the wolves. As you already know, I am reading through the Gospels. Something in Matthew 26 and John 13 caught my eye. It’s also recorded in Luke 22 and Mark 14. All four gospels record this incident. Jesus is in the upper room. He is soon going to sacrifice His life for the sins of mankind. And He knows that He will be betrayed by one of the men in that room. And He knows which one. Here is how it is recorded in John 13:21-22 —

When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me.” 22 Then the disciples looked at one another, perplexed about whom He spoke.

The disciples didn’t know which one of them it was!

They. Didn’t. Know.

Think about that for a moment. Judas had walked all over Israel with them. He had served and ministered alongside them for three years. He had cast out demons and healed the sick in the name of Christ (Matthew 10:1). The whole time he had put on one amazing act and no one suspected that he may be a wolf.

Wolves are like that.

So what are we to learn from this? That we should never trust anyone?

No, of course not! But we can and should learn that not everyone who says they are a Christian is one. And not everyone who acts like they are a Christian is one. We should never idolize anyone. We should never allow a fallible person to be the foundation of our spiritual growth. Our foundation should be in Jesus. Only in perfect, holy Jesus.

On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!

The other thing I think we can learn from this is to keep our eyes wide open, discerning at all times. Deception is rampant and we can’t afford to rest. 2 Corinthians 11 shows us why–

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

Wolves look like Angels of Light! How important that we remember this!

So what do we do? How do we know?

God’s Word is the answer. It is there that we find the insight and wisdom we need in this age. 2 Timothy 3:13-17 puts it this way–

But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If Judas could fool the men he worked with every day, how easy it must be for those in Christian ministry to fool us today. The only way we can discern–whether it be a famous preacher’s sermon, a popular book written by a famous author, or our own Sunday School teacher’s lesson– is if we read and study the Word of God and know it. And know it well.

Biblical illiteracy is probably the main reason the Church finds herself in such a state of apostasy today. Somewhere along the line our focus changed from the Bible to programs and entertainment. Oh, the tragedy!

But you and I can make sure we keep the focus on the Word. We can’t change the Church but we can make a difference in our own lives and the lives of our families. And by doing this, we may go on to make a positive difference in our local churches and communities.

I don’t know if there will a huge revival before my time on earth is done but I do know that we can make an eternal difference. And that difference starts with the Word of God.

Wolves may abound but they are no match for true disciples of Christ!

 

 

 

Why Don’t We Discern?

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I already know that my title will keep most people from reading this post. People who do discern will figure they don’t need this post and people who don’t discern will ignore it. But I feel compelled to write it, anyway. Because perhaps the Lord will use it to wake someone up. You never know, now, do you?

From the time I was a teenager, I recognized a complete rejection by most modern Christians of discernment. Whether it was regarding entertainment or the preacher they listened to on Sunday mornings, most people did not practice discernment. And this tendency to ignore this command from scripture has grown considerably worse in the recent years.

Why? Why is this command in scripture so soundly ignored by so many solid believers? What is the deal?

First, what does discern mean? According to dictionary.com it is–

to distinguish mentally; recognize as distinct or different; discriminate

In a practical sense, discernment means that we can distinguish between good and evil in our minds. We are willing to take a hard look at every single thing that we allow to enter our minds and consume our thoughts–from the book we read on the beach to the podcast we have downloaded to our favorite TV show to the preacher we listen to on Sunday–with the heart of a Berean (Acts 17:11), viewing all of it through the lens of scripture. It means that we are willing to reject anything that doesn’t line up with what we read in God’s Word.

Second, let’s take a quick look at what the Bible has to say about this (btw, this is just scratching the surface. There are many more verses and passages dedicated to this)–

Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, But a man of understanding walks uprightly. Proverbs 15:21

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, Philippians 1:9

But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:14

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  I John 4:1

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. I Thessalonians 5:21

Okay. Now that we know that we are to discern between good and evil and only hold fast what is good after that process, let’s talk about why so few people are actually doing this. Why are so few Christians unconcerned about their entertainment choices? Why the big disconnect between their Christianity and their entertainment? Why are so few uninterested in discerning the times? Why do so few Christians care so little about what is really going on in the world around us, according to scripture?

I think there are some very good–albeit inexcusable–reasons–

1. Pure Selfishness (and a tad of rebellion). Many just want to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it and nobody is going to tell them they can’t. They are going to listen to whatever radio station they want and no one had better judge them for it. No one. Because that would be judgmental and we know that is the worst sin ever (says the world, by the way–not scripture). They say they aren’t convicted, but we know if there is no conviction, then there is something wrong spiritually.

2. We want to be popular. Peer pressure is a powerful thing and to admit we haven’t seen the latest movie or don’t watch the trendiest show of the day is really, really hard for some of us. We want to be cool and hip (are those even the right words anymore? I am definitely getting old) and so we are willing to make compromises.

3. We hate change. We just want everything to remain the same and so we will stay at a church that is no longer preaching the gospel or has followed after the worldly, modern day church model just because change is so painful (and that is true–change is painful). Or we will keep watching the show that gets continually worse because it’s what we do on Tuesday nights or whenever. We hate change. Did I mention that already??

4. We don’t want to know or think about it. Some just don’t want to think about the hard stuff of life. They want to take everything at face value. If someone says they are a Christian then they surely must be one. If a book is found in a Christian bookstore, then it must belong there. If a show doesn’t have swearing or sex or violence, well, then it must be a good show, right? (wrong–philosophy can be just as dangerous as the other stuff). But it takes work to think. And we, as a culture, have been trained to only want to play.

5. Some aren’t saved at all. J.C. Ryle puts it this way on his expository comments on Matthew 25–

At present, we must all be aware, the vast majority of professing Christians care nothing at all about it. They have no sense of sin. They have no love towards Christ. They know nothing of being born again. Repentance, and faith, and grace, and holiness, are mere words and names to them. They are subjects which they either dislike, or about which they feel no concern. But all this state of things shall one day come to an end. Knowledge, conviction, the value of the soul, the need of a Savior, shall all burst on men’s minds one day like a flash of lightning. But alas! it will be too late. It will be too late to be buying oil, when the Lord returns. The mistakes that are not found out until that day are irretrievable. Are we ever mocked and persecuted and thought foolish because of our religion? Let us bear it patiently, and pray for those who persecute us. They know not what they are doing. They will certainly alter their minds one day. We may yet hear them confessing, that we were wise and they were foolish. The whole world shall one day acknowledge, that the saints of God made a wise choice.*

Do you find yourself not discerning because of one of the reasons above? Most everyone who chooses not to discern falls into one of these categories. Look–this is not a blanket judgment on anyone. I recognize that — just as some Christians struggle with anger or lying and fight it all their lives– so do some Christians struggle in this area of discernment. But recognizing that not practicing it is not only sin but also a big detriment to our spiritual walks should push us to change this. Being aware is always the first step to making a change. Let me finish this post by giving five wonderful benefits that come when we choose to discern–

1. Our hearts don’t become hardened to sin, but instead we stay softened and sensitive to the will of God in our big life decisions, as well as in small, everyday decisions.

2. We love what God loves and hates what He hates, which leads us into a deeper walk with our loving heavenly Father.

3. Our hunger for scripture grows as we turn away from sin and false teachers.

4. We experience true peace and joy that results from a life of obedience, instead of the fake stuff conjured up by the “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14)

5. We remove ourselves from the slippery slope that leads into deep and abiding sin.

I hope this has encouraged at least one of you to turn off the TV or to switch the radio station or to starting thinking about leaving your worldly church. If even one of you changes something, I will know that God has used it for His purposes and His glory.

Search the scriptures for yourself. Get in the Word and be changed. For it is there–and only there–that true change is wrought. Turn away from your personal experiences and turn to the Word of God. I will leave you with Hebrews 4:11-13–

Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

 

 

*Ryle, J.C. . Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: The Four Volume Set. Kindle Edition.

 

Reclaiming Our Brains

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The other day I was standing at the check-out line in our local grocery store and– out of habit– pulled my phone from my pocket to see what I was missing in the virtual world as I waited in line. At one point, I glanced at my daughter, and she, too, was staring down at the smartphone in her hand, checking on the things going on in her virtual world.

And that’s when it hit me–what are we doing?

Why do we feel so compelled to pull out our phones when even the smallest bit of unfilled time presents itself? Are we afraid of thinking? Are we afraid of standing around looking awkward?

I just can’t believe we are here–that this is the world we live in. A world where–

A child plays with an iPad in the car as they travel the short distance to school.

Grandparents pull out their phones to check their email at dinner.

Parents scroll through Facebook as they wait in the check-out line.

Where people view the news through 2 minute sound bites and you-tube videos at any time and any place they desire.

If we are older than thirty-five, we remember a world where all that we are experiencing now was a big, “pie-in-the-sky” dream. We watched shows like the the Jetsons, but never in our wildest imagination did we believe it would happen in our lifetimes.

But then, ever so subtly, life changed. Drastically. And, one day, we could see the person we loved on the other side of the world as we talked in real-time. And we could pull up any song, any sports clip, any movie on miniature screens before our eyes in our homes and on the bus and in the mall. Any information we needed about a medical condition, any bit of trivia, any sports fact, any scientific theory could be found within seconds on the internet. The only thing that stopped us was if we were out of cell phone range.

And that is when life changed forever.

And some of the changes are good ones. How nice to find out that the strange pain in our elbow isn’t anything to be worried about. Or to locate that actor that we just know we’ve seen on another movie somewhere before.

But with these conveniences come some pretty serious consequences, as well. Being able to communicate instantly with those you love and having access to any information at our fingertips at any time does come with a price.

Here are a few of the costs that come to mind–

Our Relationships

You’d think smartphones and iPads would help our relationships–and I guess they probably do help long-distance relationships. I have a daughter living in another state and it is such a wonderful blessing to see her while we talk via Facetime. But I am not sure the smartphone is quite as beneficial for the relationships we have with our spouses and our kids and our friends who we live and work with everyday.

I have two daughters that have worked as waitresses. They tell me it was not at all unusual for a family of four to be sitting in the restaurant, all of them staring at their phones as they wait for their dinner. Another common thing was to see a preschooler occupied by an iPad during dinner so mommy and daddy could talk. The saddest thing is that these families probably don’t even understand just how very tragic this is because this is the only world they know.

The TV really started the whole thing by dominating our dinnertime. If you drive by houses during the dinner hour in the winter time and glance in the windows, you will see that almost every home has that familiar blue light on within. So many people have stopped talking to each other during this precious time together and have replaced it with screens talking to them.

Have you ever been talking to someone and have them pull out their phone while you are talking to them? Have you done this? I have done this. I am ashamed to admit but I have. What is wrong with me? Why would I make my phone a priority over my family? If even just for a moment? I never want my family or friends to think my phone is more important to me than they are, but sometimes we can give that message if we aren’t careful.

Yes, our relationships are strained and stressed if we keep screens on 24/7. Communication and good discussion is limited. There is no denying it.

Our Concentration Capacity

We struggle so much to stay focused now that we are constantly being pulled in different directions by all this technology. We are becoming so used to a soundbite world since so much of our information now comes to us via two minute videos or 500-word blog posts. Twitter has trained us to think in even shorter sentences. I don’t really get Twitter, so I am not really familiar with it–except to know that there is a word limit on your tweets!

All of this is why pastors have shortened their sermons. It’s why we have such a difficult time reading a whole book or working at a hobby of great detail for any length of time. We have trained our brains to think in soundbites.

Dominate Our Attention

We have, quite freely and willingly, given hours and hours of  our own lives and also the lives of our children to these devices. Probably more than we can count.

Instead of playing outside, children sit in front of a screen. Instead of talking with mommy or daddy on the way to school or the store, children stare at a screen.

Instead of talking to the waitress or cashier, our eyes are on our phones. Instead of doing a puzzle, crocheting, wood-working, or playing a family game, we sit around watching TV or playing games on a screen. At the very least, we are wasting so much precious time.

Of course, it isn’t wrong to do these things in moderation. But many of us left moderation behind a long time ago.

 

There are more costs. These are just three. But perhaps we should spend a little time considering how we can reclaim our brains back from our smartphones. How can we learn to concentrate again? How can we focus on our family members instead of picking up our phone when a text dings or a notification comes in? I have a few ideas. Some have really helped me. Others I haven’t tried yet, but plan to. If you have some to add, please comment below. Please share with us how you reclaimed your brain.

Here are a few ideas–

  1. Do not have your phone in your pocket or laying on the table in front of you when you have your devotions, eat dinner with your family, or are talking with someone about something serious. And while you are at it, turn the TV off, too. Family dinnertime is so precious and we let the world invade that precious time when we allow the TV and our smartphones as part of it.
  2. Turn off notifications. This one really helped me. Instead of being notified about a new e-mail or facebook comment and let it interrupt me at any time, I determine when I will check my apps.
  3. Refuse to pull your phone from your purse or pocket while waiting in line or sitting on a bench at the mall or while waiting for an appointment. Instead, observe the world around you and take it all in. We have such a vibrant, interesting world with no two people the same. Look at those people. Some of them surely need the Lord. Start a conversation and plant some seeds for the sake of the Gospel.
  4. Read a book. A real book. Or a book on your Kindle. Whichever you choose, make sure you have no access to the internet or the opportunity for communication anywhere close by.
  5. Remember that no one needs you that badly. We panic when we don’t have our phones with us now. I can understand why those under 30 feel that way, as they’ve never known any other life, but I don’t really understand it for us older people. Why would we panic? I used to travel 12 hours to college in the snow with no phone (!!) My parents didn’t know if I was dead or alive until I would get around to calling them sometime after I arrived. And this is how we lived. We had no other options. Some of you can remember those days. Now we feel like if we don’t have instant access to our world in our pocket, we will miss a terrible emergency or something. I guess that’s possible. But it’s pretty unlikely.
  6. Put all smartphones in a basket before bed and leave them there for the night. If you have no home phone, then turn the volume up on just one of them and put it on a dresser far away from the side of the bed. This is a rule we would put in place if we had to go back and raise our kids. This whole new world of advanced technology hit us quite unawares and there are many things we would handle differently. This is most definitely one of them.
  7. Last, but certainly not least, ask the Lord for help. If your smartphone use or iPad use is out of control, then ask the Lord to show you how to get it under control. Search the scriptures for some helpful verses. Colossians 3:17 can get you started. We know that God cares for us–about every struggle and every burden. (I Peter 5:7) That’s the kind of God we serve.

I hope this helps. You may be rolling your eyes, wondering why I would even bother to write such a post. You may not have a smart phone or you may have one that you don’t feel tied to. However, I assure you that I have seen enough families not talking to each other in restaurants and I’ve seen enough people of all ages staring at their phones any time and any place (even in church–where some are using it to read their Bible app and some say they are and aren’t) to know that this is a real problem for a lot of people. If you are one of them, then I want you to know there is hope and freedom to be found from this modern addiction. We know God wants us to live lives that glorify Him and we can best do that when our eyes are looking upwards and outwards and not down at our smartphone.

 

Fury and Tears

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It’s football time around here. Even though our favorite team lost their final hope of seeing a playoff game a few weeks ago, we will still turn on the playoff games to watch. Well, let me rephrase that–my husband will turn on the playoff games to watch. I don’t mind football and so I will sometimes watch with him. The other night he was downstairs and around 11:20pm he came bounding up the stairs and rushed over to the TV in our room. Turning it on, he explained that it was a very close game that could go either way. Being that this was the end of 2016 Superbowl hopes for either the Steelers or the Bengals, it was more important than most games. Little did we know that it was going to get way more interesting.

With just a few seconds on the clock, one of the Steelers took a hard illegal hit. While he lay sprawled on the ground, The Bengals players made their opinions known to the refs. Some were polite and some were not so polite. The fans were disgraceful in their dismay and disappointment as their team had really just given the game away. You could see tempers flaring and, for a second, those watching wondered if there would be some kind of brawl between the two teams on the field. Finally, the injured player hobbled over to the side of the field and the refs officially announced that it was an illegal hit and the Steelers, tailing the Bengals by just a point or two, received a 15 yard advantage. The refs gave the Bengals a second penalty due to a personal foul and the Steelers received another 15 yards, bringing them into very comfortable field goal range.

The kicker easily made that field goal and, after one last-ditch attempt by the Bengals, the Steelers were able to run off the field in triumphant victory. I might add that they ran off the field very quickly, as they really weren’t sure what the home team fans would do to them in their distress and anger over losing a game.

As they panned the field, one camera settled in on a Bengals fan–a woman fully decked out in Bengals attire. Her face gave evidence of her distress at the loss. Tears ran down her face as she stood there in disbelief. Her significant other stood by her side, trying to comfort her. And then the camera moved on to something else.

After it was all over, I really had to think about those few minutes of that game.

I thought about the wretched sinfulness that we battle every day and the wicked, wicked world we live in that yield nary a tear or even a bit of fury from most of us.

Instead our emotions are driven by things like football games.

Men act like overgrown boys as they huff and puff and stomp and yell and get in the faces of the refs, their anger and self-interest taking priority. Fans boo, call names, and cry. And this is all over a game.

A GAME.

Have we stopped recently to think about how ludicrous this is?

I heard later on that social media was very unkind to the crying woman on the camera. (In a world that seems to be so concerned about judging others, it would seem that social media is by far the cruelest, harshest judge in the world.) But I am not going to criticize her. After all, we all do what she did, don’t we? She just happened to have the great misfortune of a national TV camera settling in on her face so that the whole country could see her distress. Don’t we all get upset and cry over things that are totally and completely insignificant in the scope of eternity? Things that have no eternal value whatsoever? That’s the nature of being human.

But I think the thing that really made me stop and think is the fact that so often we Christians often do the same thing. Oh, we may not have cried at the loss of a football game recently, but I know that most things that make me furious or make me cry have nothing to do with the things in life that really matter. Instead they are usually just an outpouring of the deep selfishness that lies within me–the strong desire to have things my way.

This week I was reading in John 2 (verses 13-17) and I came to the section where Jesus throws the money changers out of the Temple. His anger in this chapter was justifiable. He was truly angry because people were not treating God and His Holy Temple with the respect and awe it deserved.

And I wonder–how many of us spend even a second thinking about the world that has entered our churches? How many of us even care? Do we care if the preacher has stopped using the Bible as he preaches? Do we care if the Worship Songs we sing sound more like love songs from the radio than worship to a Holy God? What about the entertainment being brought into the church in the forms of movies, music, and games?

Do we cry over this? Do we get angry? Do we even notice?

And so we find ourselves in this crazy mixed-up world where it’s okay to get angry and cry over childish games, but if we do the same over the great sacrilege we see in our churches, the wicked darkness of the world, or even our own sinfulness, we will be called narrow-minded and mentally disturbed. And we will be judged and we will be ostracized.

What is wrong with this picture?

But I guess we should be getting used to it by now. After all, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

 

One Lone Voice

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One of my daughters decided to comment on someone’s outspoken support of Friday’s Supreme Court decision on one of her social media accounts. She was polite and kind and truthful, using God’s Word as her guide.

What she got was–

HATE.

Malicious, hostile, cruel hate.

I find it so extremely interesting that the cry is to love, love, love. But somehow that love does not extend to those who disagree. No matter how lovingly and gently you state your disagreement.

I want to unequivocally state here that I am not against people who support gay marriage. I know and care deeply about several people who live gay lifestyles. I do not have to agree with you to love you.

Somehow we have grown just a bit confused about what love really is.

Love and tolerance are the words of the day, but those two words that are thrown about by this group are not extended to Christians who simply want to practice their faith. In my mind, the vicious attacks made upon Jesus Christ and His followers are a great confirmation that we are on the right path. Few others are maligned the way we are these days.

The coming trials and persecution are going to give us many opportunities. We are going to be able to share Christ’s love and the Gospel with those who are confused and hurting. And we will be used by God in a mighty way if the Gospel is lived out in our lives like never before.

But are we brave enough for this daunting task before us?

Since the Bible Challenge began in January, I have been writing about what we are reading on Thursdays. But on Saturday I read something in my Bible reading that is so fitting— so pertinent— so applicable— to what we are going to face soon in this nation as true believers that I just had to write about it today.

In I Kings 22, we read of a man named Micaiah. As a little background, we read first of Ahab and Jehoshaphat discussing whether or not to join forces against the King of Syria. To confirm their decision, they decide to ask the prophets of the land. All 400 men– four hundred men who claim to be men of God– tell Ahab that he will experience victory. There is not even one voice of dissension.

But there is one man by the name of Micaiah, who has not been asked. Ahab even states that he hates to ask this man of God anything because he always gives him an answer he doesn’t like! (I Kings 22:8) But with Jehoshaphat’s encouragement, Micaiah is brought before the two kings.

Micaiah chooses to speak truth, rather than tickle the Kings’ ears, even though he is going against the message of the 400 men who call themselves men of God. The truth of the matter is that Ahab will not return home from that battle alive. Micaiah bravely shares this bad news with the King. He is the one lone voice of truth.

In reaction to this unpleasant news, the King throws Micaiah into prison.

A few days later, Ahab is killed in battle.

There is so much to learn from this biblical account, in light of what we are facing in America today. Here are a few of the lessons that came to mind–

1. We need to speak truth, no matter how many people disagree with us. Our truth does not come from visions and supernatural messages anymore but from the Word of God–the inspired and inerrant Book that God has protected throughout the ages. It doesn’t matter if the whole world disagrees with us– we still speak the truth as it is presented in the Bible.

2. We speak truth, knowing full well to do so could be at our own peril. Micaiah landed in prison because he chose to spoke the truth. Are we prepared to lose our freedoms, our reputations, our jobs, our comforts, our wealth, our friends, and our families? We are moving into a strange new land. It is not the land of our grandparents. And to follow Christ is going to mean sacrifice. Are we ready for this? Even as I write this, I realize that to do this will require the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in my life, giving me the courage and grace I need. Because when I think about this in my own strength, I tremble. Will I be strong enough to bear what’s coming?

3. We cannot alter our message to please the hearers. Micaiah could have tried to soften the blow and just hedged around, but he did not. While he wasn’t mean or unkind, he was forthright. If you recall, our ultimate example, Jesus, was very much the same way.

4. The majority does not represent God. The 400 men who told Ahab to expect victory were very obviously wrong. The majority can be– and often is– wrong! I am not sure what it is about peer pressure, but humans have this strange “herd” mentality where they just believe they need to follow the crowd. But the crowd is rarely right. Micaiah stood against the crowd. And so should we.

5. So-called revelations are not trust-worthy. These 400 prophets claimed to have special revelation from God. But they were lying. Just because someone says that God gave them a message doesn’t mean He did! These men were either lying to please the King or had been given a false message from demonic sources. Whatever it was, they were not trustworthy and we should take a lesson from this. With so many running around saying they have heard a special message from God–and particularly if it goes against God’s Word–we can know that they have not had a message from God. It may have come from their own selfish thoughts or from a demonic spirit but it certainly did not come from God.

6. The consequences of sin are real and Jesus is the only way, no matter what we choose to believe.  Ahab chose to believe that the majority was telling the truth but he was still dead by end of the day. Have you ever heard someone say that “whatever you believe is true for you?” I do not understand how a logical, thinking person could be brainwashed into believing such garbage, but most of our young people today do believe this. (This fact gives great proof to the brainwashings of our public education system and higher institutes of learning, in my opinion.) Truth is truth. It cannot be swayed or changed or twisted. And it certainly isn’t going to bow the knee to my whims and desires. Ahab was set to die and his choice to not believe Micaiah’s message would not change the outcome. And so we, too, are going to pay a very real price for our sin unless we come to the Savior. We can choose to believe this or choose not to believe this but, in the end, it doesn’t change the truth.

Fellow believers, we live in a frightening time. While many of our brothers and sisters in other lands have faced persecution and hard times for following Christ, we have lived in our comfortable homes, freely worshipping and sharing our faith. But the storm that was off in the distance for such a long time has now settled in upon us. Oh, it may not affect you directly…today. And you will be able to fool yourself for a few more months, or if we are fortunate, a few more years. But I encourage you to get in the Word of God and to grow your knowledge of His great strength and help in the time of trials. I encourage you to deepen your relationship with God and to grow a strong prayer life. Prepare to be the one lone voice in your churches, your families, your work places.

Because it’s coming.

It’s just a matter of time now.

 

Look at Me

indexThink about your last Facebook post. Or Tweet. Or Instagram Photo.

What was it about? Who was it about? What was the intention of the post?

Chances are, for 99%+ of us, it was about ourselves. Most likely, it was a post designed to make ourselves look good and impress everyone and to say, “Look at me!”

In fact, the word “selfie”, a relatively new concept, is now familiar to us all. We are that into ourselves.

Of course, there are a good many of us who simply want to share the happenings in our lives with our true friends and families. We may be excited about our new hair cut or a new job. Or we may just love  the cool shot we got while we stood with the flaming sunset in the background and want to share it.

So how do we know if someone is posting because they are self-centered?

That’s not the issue here. It doesn’t really matter if we know the difference about anyone else. That is between God and them.

It’s much more important that we examine our own online posts and behavior. Why are we posting what we are posting?

Is it for attention? Or praise? Or our own personal glory? Am I trying to make my life look better than it is?

And, with so many of us trying so hard to portray a perfect and enviable life, many of us inevitably feel the emotion of envy welling up inside us as we scan through newsfeeds of “perfect” families and vacations.

Naturally, people are sharing the best of their lives online. If someone’s perception of my life is based solely on my Facebook page, it looks pretty darn perfect. And, really, I have been blessed with a great family and have enjoyed some pretty wonderful events in my life. And I am excited to share them with the people who are really my friends (like in real life, as well as on Facebook). But if someone doesn’t really know me, they may think that I have the perfect life.

The thing is: I don’t.

And nobody else does, either. Sure, some of us have tougher lives than others at certain times. But life throws all of us curve balls. None of us are exempt.

We need to enjoy the fun photos of our family, friends, and classmates for what they are — a snapshot of the good in their lives. Let’s be happy for them– for they have struggles with their relationships and health and finances, just like you.

But I guess one of my saddest observations about the online world is that, while we are often saying “Look at me!” we are rarely saying “Look at God!”

So many of us claim to be Christians and yet so few of our posts and tweets have anything to do with God. He is supposedly our reason for living and, yet, we never talk about Him in the most public place available to us.

Why is that?

My guess is that many of us just don’t want to be labeled “one of those” in this day and age where spirituality is very cool but true Christianity is definitely not. Others of us just don’t want the hassle of the unkind or questioning comments from unsaved friends and family that are sure to follow any post about our faith. And some of us are just that self-centered we don’t even think of posting about anything –or anyone– other than ourselves.

It is such a constant battle to keep God number one in all areas of our lives– even our online world. For me, too. I’m not pointing my finger at any of you, because I am too busy thinking about my own life in this area.

I can’t help but wonder what the Facebook pages of former godly men and women would have looked like, if this online world had been available to them?

Would Apostle Paul have plastered shots of himself as he traveled?

Or would Jonathan Edwards have posted family pictures?

Would A.W. Tozer’s page been filled with sports trivia?

Or Susannah Wesley’s page covered with photos of her grandchildren?

Of course, none of these things are innately wrong to post in any way. My question is — if we are so willing to post about our travels and families and hobbies — why are we so unwilling to post about our God?

And, look, I’m not talking about hypocrisy here. That’s a whole other subject, is it not? If we are going to put quotes and Bible verses and Christian song lyrics on Facebook, it won’t sit very well with those who know us, if we aren’t living the matching lifestyle.

Ah, so much to think about in this online world– a world completely unknown to us not that long ago. It brings up all kinds of questions and dilemmas and quandaries. But it also provides us a wonderful opportunity to stay in touch with long-lost friends and far-flung family. This is a tremendous blessing former generations did not enjoy. But, as with all blessings, there are some pitfalls, too. In this world, as in all areas of our lives, let’s desire to live out the words of scripture–

I Corinthians 10:31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

 

 

 

Candy Crush Madness

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It all started with an innocent question asked by a friend.

“Do you play Candy Crush?”

I don’t like to waste a lot of time playing iPad games, but I do enjoy a half hour in the evening to wind down and I was in need of something new and fresh. I thought I’d check into it.

At first, I sailed through the levels, enjoying the challenge of moving the little candies into rows of three. It reminded me of the original Bejeweled game, which I loved and no longer exists (to my knowledge). And so, about a week ago, Candy Crush became my game of choice.

As I moved up in levels, it became increasingly harder to pass. And if you failed so many times, a message would pop up, telling you that you would have to wait for so many minutes before playing again.

But, lo and behold, this could be avoided by paying for extra lives. Or extra treats to help beat the levels. Only $.99.

Now, I like to play games but I’ll be darned if I am paying anything to beat a level. That seems almost dumber than gambling. At least in gambling there is a slight chance to come away with more than what you put in. Apparently there are plenty of people who do pay, however. A website claims that Candy Crush makers rake in almost a million per day from people who pay to play.

So, if I wasn’t going to pay, how was I going to beat this thing? Well, at first I figured out that if I changed the date on my iPad, I could continue playing. It would fool the game into thinking that my “Life” stash was full again. Great. Now I could just play.

But, alas, I got to a very, very difficult  level. I just kept playing and playing the same board, all the while telling myself how utterly ridiculous I was to waste time on this. But, finally, I passed that level and then went onto the next level. I passed that one after only a few tries.

And then I got to one that truly appeared impossible.

I kept playing and playing and the screen, offering the little treats for only $.99 became more and more appealing. Just once wouldn’t hurt, right?

Failed again.

Surely, I can get this. I continued to waste time trying to beat a level that I am still not sure it was even possible to beat without paying anything.

And then I realized something.

I had been fully sucked in. And I decided to escape while I still could. (How in the world would I explain Candy Crush charges to my husband??)

And, so I exited the game, deleted it from my iPad, and chose to move on with a more productive use of my time.

But my time spent on that game showed me one thing.

It showed me just how we get sucked in to sinful habits.

You see, at first it doesn’t cost much. There is a great deal of satisfaction and no payment–

~One cocktail or beer relaxes us and helps with our conversation skills.

~A few minutes looking or listening or thinking about something ungodly doesn’t seem to hurt a thing and gratifies something fleshly inside of us.

~A few minutes at a gaming table is all great fun.

~An evening spent playing video games is a fun evening with friends.

~Eating a pastry that is loaded with calories just melts in your mouth.

That first taste doesn’t cost us anything and the rewards are great. But, if we aren’t careful–if we aren’t self-controlled–we can get caught up in the rewards and we need more and more to yield the same feelings of satisfaction. That is what addiction is and it can happen with almost anything.

I think it is clear that there isn’t any sin in having a drink or a delicious pastry. There is no sin in spending the evening playing video games (if it is a video game that is not dishonoring to God in any way). But if we become compelled to have more and more, we will get caught in a web that becomes almost  impossible to escape from.

Self-Control. A highly under-rated character trait that has almost disappeared from our world. I can tell you that it is one that I struggle with daily.

But if we don’t cultivate self-control in our lives–if we aren’t even aware of the battle– we will, at the very least, end up wasting our time on unimportant, trivial things, or, at the worst, end up destroying our family, our health, or our very lives.

And, so it is good-bye to Candy Crush for me. It is so not worth it. Glad I found out before I wasted too many of the few precious hours that make up my life.  Now…to apply that same philosophy to a few other areas of my life that need some work!