Monday, September 30, 2013

Farewell, Farewell! (An Ode to My Smartphone)

Please note that I am not bashing anyone that uses smartphones, nor am I calling for them to be banished from the lives of Christians. That being said...

If you know me, you know that I am a bit of a geek. Video games, technology, computers, hardware and software. You name it, chances are I either know about it or am actively participating in it. When we got our first iPhones I loved it, but hated being locked into it's ecosystem. When we switched to Android, I loved it, immediately customized everything about it, and loved it even more.

Then we got rid of them.


Well, my wife dropped her's in water, where it immediately went berserk and died (it's funnier if you know the whole story, but that's not for here). We needed to get her something fast, still had over a year to go on our contract, and had no insurance, so I went on Craigslist, found a guy selling basic texting phones for cheap, and we got her one of those (an LG Cosmos 2, if you must know).

Her phone.

We came to find out during our discussions at this time that we had both been considering getting rid of our phones and switching to something simpler. What we had recognized was that they were consuming more and more of our lives, and we didn't like that very much.

In particular, one video I saw linked on Facebook really slapped me across the face. I had recognized my own reliance and addiction to my phone growing, but this pretty much sealed the deal for me. Check it out:

That was me. Not always, not every single moment, but more and more I was living through the 4" screen of my Samsung Galaxy. Even when I thought I was "in the moment," I wasn't. I was busy getting the right angle for a picture, or trying to get the video recorded just right. I wasn't there, I was in a phone.

Any question? Phone. Any ding? Phone. Any flashing light? Phone. No matter what was going on, I would check my phone. Even on vacation, with my family there, I looked around and we were all on our phones. It was freaky. I, of course, ignored it 'cause, you know, Candy Crush (or something similar). So I did some research on the kind of phone I would want, went on Ebay, and plopped down $35 for an LG enV3.
Mine's a manly dark blue.

I've done a lot of reading since then about other people who have dumped their phones for similar reasons. It always ends with something along the lines of "this is what I chose to do, make your own path."

I disagree with that kind of statement. Again, I am not advocating for everyone to chunk their smartphones. I do, however, believe that if we are going to be a holy people of God, that we had better ask and answer some of the tough questions about how we use the tools that God allows us to have, and take the steps needed to fix the problems we find.

I suggest starting with the 5 following steps:
1. Track how much time you are on your phone. (meal times? bathroom? commercials? the spare seconds in the drive-thru window?)

2. Watch to see if you (and those around you) are on your phones when you could be talking, thinking, or otherwise building your relationships.

3. Track how much you are thinking about or listening for your phone. (church? work? time with your spouse? time with your children?)

4. Watch to see if you are on your phone when others are near you, but don't "need" you. (children playing, spouse doing a chore, public places such as the park or in line, etc.)

5. Take a look around and watch people in their daily lives. Make a note of when you see someone on their phone, and what else is going on around them. 

Number five may freak you out a little sometimes. Watching the glow of dozens of phones on parent's faces while their kids run and play and say "look Mommy, look!!" is weird and kind of scary. I will also say that I have been that parent, and I hate that I have been.

Anyways, do those five steps, then do what you need to in order to fix it. Do you need to dump the smartphone? Do it. Do you need to leave it at home sometimes? Do it. Do you need to disable the internet on it? Do it. Whatever you need to do in order to be there, and I mean really be there and present with life and those around you, do it.

The emails can wait for later. So can the tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram pics, games, etc. It will all still be there when you are done living life and being with those around you. Christ didn't die so that we could be sucked into the vortex of the endless internet. He died so that we could live, and live abundantly.

He died and rose again so that we could look at the world around us, form a relationship with those we come into contact with, and show His love to everyone around us so that they, too, could know Him.

It's hard to do that if the only glow seen on your face is that of a phone, and not the Son.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

That Great Truth (with pictures!)

Close your eyes just for a moment and picture Christ in your mind. Seriously, go ahead and do it now before reading on.

‘The Lord [God] said to my Lord [Jesus],
“Sit at My right hand,Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”’
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:34-36).

Now close your eyes and do it again, only with the verse above in mind.

Any difference?

All too often we fall into the trap of picturing Christ as a weak, kind of feminine, suffering Man of Sorrows. Far too often the image we have of Christ is one in need of our sympathy, who will forgive us our sins but has no real power. Many times, our image of Jesus goes something like this:

or this:

Now don't get me wrong. I am not trying to dehumanize Christ. He felt human sorrows and felt human pain and was tempted in every way just as we are.  When Lazarus died Jesus wept even though He would bring him back to life. He truly suffered heading towards and on the cross. Living the human experience was by no means a cakewalk for the Savior of the world.

However, we cannot stop there. Jesus did not stay on the cross. He was not a weak, effeminate wallflower who always spoke softly and gently to every person He came across. He flipped over tables and drove animals out of the temple courtyard, He blasted the religious leaders with words I don't think anyone would call "tolerant." He even shut down His own disciples and spoke in such a way at one point that many quit following Him because they didn't want to give what He said it would require.

He lived a human life, He died a human life, but He did not end there. Christ rose again. He came back in power, and He ascended to Heaven to the right hand of God. Jesus is one with God. Perhaps we would do well to remember that. 

The images above make it easy for us to feel sorry for or want to give our sympathy to Christ. But we don't worship a Christ on the cross. We don't worship a weak-willed man. We worship a risen Savior who rules over everything in the universe.

So instead of getting stuck on picturing Jesus as those images above, maybe we could picture Him closer to how He is now.

Maybe something like this:
or this:

or this:

Instead of going through the mental hoops of figuring out how to give Christ our sympathy, how to feel sorry for Him and feeling bad because of what He had to do in order to save us from our sins, we can realize that He is above all and over all and has more power and glory than we could ever possibly comprehend. Is it terrible the things that Christ suffered? Yes. Is is heartbreaking to think that He had to do so because I could not? Yes. Is that where I end my thoughts and meditations on Christ? Absolutely not.

This is That Great Truth. All things in Heaven, on Earth, and under the Earth have been put under Jesus' control and authority. We live on His Time in His Kingdom in His Age. He is the Christ Victorious. He speaks and Heaven and Earth obey Him. He tolerates the wickedness in this world only so that more may be saved by His blood. 

Furthermore, we live because He lives. We live in the Victory of Christ the Risen Savior. We worship the One True Man who is also the One True God. Let us recognize That Great Truth and live in the Power that only He can provide.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Great God Entertainment

Allow me to be very clear and up-front. These ideas are not my own. I am paraphrasing an essay by A.W. Tozer, because he wrote this in 1955 and it terrifies me to think how much the god of entertainment has grown since then. I am writing this to bring clarity to what he wrote and so more people can consider it than otherwise would. With that said...

A German philosopher many years ago said something like this; the more a man has in his own heart the less he will need from the outside. Excessive need for support from the outside is a sign of the bankruptcy of the inner man.

If this is true (and I believe it is), then the incredible attachment we see to every form of entertainment is evidence that the inner life of modern man is in serious decline. The average man has no central core of moral assurance, no flow from his heart, no inner strength to make it so he does not need repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to keep on living. He has become a parasite on the world, sucking the life from his environment, unable to live without the constant stimulation that modern life affords him.

The philosopher believed that feeling dependent was the basis for all religious worship, and that no matter how strong we may become spiritually, it must begin with a deep need that only God could satisfy. If this need is the basis of normal religion then it is easy to see why the god of Entertainment is worshiped by so many. There are millions who cannot live without amusement. For some of them life without it would be completely unbearable - they look to the relief provided by professional entertainers and other media as much as a drug addict looks forward to their next hit. Without it, they could not face existing in this world.

Now no normal person has a problem with the simple pleasures of life. There is harmless entertainment that relaxes us and refreshes our minds after a hard day. Those kinds of things, used moderately, can even be a blessing to us. But that is one thing. The all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which and by which people live is something completely different.

The abuse of something harmless is the essence of sin. The way that amusement has taken over such a huge portion of people's lives is a real, immediate threat to the souls of modern man. It has been built into a multibillion-dollar racket with more influence on people's minds and character than any other educational influence on earth. And the most terrifying thing is that its power is almost exclusively evil, rotting the inner life, crowding out the long eternal thoughts which would otherwise fill the souls of people, if only the people were willing to entertain them. The entire thing has grown into a veritable religion that holds its followers with a strange fascination. It has become a religion, incidentally, that is dangerous to speak against.

For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was - a device for wasting time, a place safe from a conscience trying to change us, a scheme to pull our attention away from moral accountability. Because she stood against it, the church was constantly abused by the world around her. But lately she has become tired of the abuse and given up the struggle.

She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and do what she can with his powers. So today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is quickly crowding out the serious things of God. So many churches today are little more than peddlers of shoddy products by fifth-rate "producers" with the approval of evangelical leaders who will will quote a Bible verse to defend their wrong-doings. What's worse, hardly anyone dares to raise their voice against it.

The great god Entertainment amuses his devotees mainly by telling them useless stories. The love of stories, a characteristic of children, has taken hold of the minds of the diminished saints to the extent that many make a good living simply by telling these useless and pointless stories and calling it religious speech! What is natural and beautiful in children can become shocking when it continues into adulthood, and even more so when it attempts to pass for true religion in worship.

Is it not frightening, and a wonder that, in a time when mature saints are needed so badly, that the professed followers of the Lord are giving themselves up to religious amusements, or entertainment in general? Why are so many begging for religious toys and spiritual childhood? This is a time when a lost world needs true, mature, strong people of God more than ever.

"Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our shame...The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned! For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim" (Lamentations 5:1, 16-17).

Let this not be the end of our story. Let us change and be right with the One True God, and set aside that which pulls us away from Him.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Give Up or Give Up.

No one likes giving up. We see it as weakness. As something bad. As something shameful or regretful. YouTube is filled with videos encouraging people to keep going, keep trying, keep straining. I like these videos. It is one small part of the internet where something good is happening.

But that's not the path we're going down today.

Instead, I want to encourage you to give up.

Give up.

I know that goes counter to everything we hear today. Everything we are taught from the time we understand language is filled with the call to not give up. We are constantly told to never give up, never give in, never quit trying and striving for what we want.

But Jesus tells us the opposite.

In Luke 9:23-25 Jesus says this:
“Any of you who want to be my follower must stop thinking about yourself and what you want. You must be willing to carry the cross that is given to you every day for following me. Any of you who try to save the life you have will lose it. But you who give up your life for me will save it. It is worth nothing for you to have the whole world if you yourself are destroyed or lost. (ERV)

In other words, give up.

Give up trying to help yourself and save yourself. Give up trying to make yourself happy. Give up your search for the perfect mate, perfect job, perfect house, perfect life. Give up.

Because you will never, ever achieve it by yourself.

You can't. You can't do it on your own. If you try, then you will fail. Badly. You will reach the end of your life, wondering what it has all been for, and die.

But that's not where this story has to end.

God wants us to give up trying to make ourselves happy so that He can make us better than happy. God wants us to have joy. To be content. To be fulfilled. To have life. Real Life.

If our goal is to make ourselves happy, we will find mist and shadows. We'll be excited at times, maybe even happy on occasion, but it won't last. It will come and go and, like any addict, we will find ourselves looking for our next fix before the current one even wears off.

If our goal is to become God's, however, there will be something much more permanent. Truth.

The truth of joy knowing we are loved by a God more than we could ever know. The truth of contentment knowing that this world is not all there is, but that we are headed somewhere greater. The truth of fulfillment, knowing that we have lived a life following the only thing that could ever make it worthwhile.

So we have two choices. We can give up on trying to make ourselves happy and filled, or we can give up on becoming joyful, content, fulfilled people of God. Those two are mutually exclusive choices, and ones that can be difficult to manage.

God wants us to be His. He wants us to be happy. But not in the way that we usually use the word. God wants us to be happy that we are His and following Him. He wants us to be excited because we have given up everything to be with Him in Heaven forever. He wants us to be at peace because we know who we are and whose we are, no matter the situation we find ourselves in.

So give up.

It's the only way you'll make it.