Facebook & Twitter vs TV & Gaming

On August 1, I wrote a post explaining my decision to give up Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bejeweled, and Television for one month. If you would like to know why, I encourage you to read that post. If you’re interested in some of the things I learned during this technology fast, keep reading.

Lesson #1 Learned: I’m not very good at giving up things

My draw to all things technical was stronger than I imagined. I could start listing excuses for why I caved a little bit, but let me instead cut straight to the results…giving up the video game Bejeweled was easy. Never played a game. Never missed it.

Giving up TV was fairly easy. Since my family didn’t give up the same, I was often in the vicinity of television, but I assure you there’s nothing they watch which interests me.

Giving up Google+ was just my covering an anticipated loophole so I wouldn’t give up Facebook & Twitter for Google+. Now for the cave…I did post a few things remotely via Stumbleupon, but what felt like the bigger cave was not changing my browser homepage, and not closing the Facebook tab when it automatically loaded. I sometimes read what was on that opening news feed. I also took a hiatus from my tech fast during Hurricane Irene. Like I said, it appears I’m not great at giving up things.

Lesson #2 Learned: Facebook & Twitter are a better use of my time than TV and Video games

Quite simply, nobody but me benefits when I play video games. Please understand, I LOVE video games—always have. I find they keep my mind sharp, help with hand-eye coordination, and help me to decompress after a stressful day. For these reasons, I plan to keep playing video games, but in much greater moderation. I concede that playing video games is an anti-social activity and, as such should be limited.

TV is not far behind on my list of “Useless Activities I Enjoy”. This is not a rant about the quality of television shows. I would say this even if I only watched the news and professional sports. No one in my household but me benefits when I watch TV (unless the members of my household want a break from me!).

Facebook and Twitter are in a different category altogether. They are interactive–they truly are social. Within the first 24 hrs of my tech fast a friend from the Kirk sent a message to me challenging me to rethink this. His argument was that my online presence was an encouragement to those who track with me on Facebook and Twitter. To the extent which that is true, I am humbled. My friend’s point lingered with me, but from the other side—I hugely missed reading the online updates of my friends and family.

Lesson #3 Learned: Face time with family, and prayer time with God is the best use of my time

Did I not know that before August 1? Sure I did. But, somehow, the portioning of my time did not accurately reflect my true priorities. Having coffee with Allie on the front porch massively benefits our family. Getting 3 stars on every Angry Birds level does not. Investing 2 hours poolside watching my daughter swim massively benefits our family. Investing 2 hours watching Major League Baseball does not.

I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m now anti-video games or anti-television. I’m not. I’ve simply been reminded of the helpful phrase, “Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1Cor. 6:12).

I’ve also been reminded that Facebook and Twitter are merely social tools. These tools can be used, or they can be ignored. These tools that can be used to tear people down, or they can be used to build people up.

I’m grateful to know that, in some small way, people have found encouragement from my online commentary. The writer of Hebrews exhorts me in this regard: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). I’m eager to do this. And Facebook and Twitter are going to help me.

God, Hurricane Irene, & Anxiety

Hurricane Irene approaches The BahamasI used to watch CNN’s coverage of hurricanes with great curiosity.

As I sit here writing this post, my curiosity remains—but from a much different vantage point. As a resident of The Bahamas, I’m about to experience, first-hand, the impact of a hurricane.

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel. Panic? Terror? Anxiety? Calm?

At the moment, the weather outside is perfect (I can hear the sound of someone cutting their lawn). I plan to run some errands later today, and possibly even tomorrow. But Thursday…I’m told we should stay put—and I plan to!

We’ve procured all of our necessary supplies–ample food, water, gas for our vehicles, and batteries for our lanterns. The hurricane shutters are up and later today our propane tanks will be secured. We’re ready…even if we don’t know for sure what we are up against.

As I’ve interacted with people over the last few days, I’ve noticed two dominant themes have surfaced: God and anxiety.

Many people are praying—praying that the hurricane changes course, praying that the hurricane weakens, praying that the damage will be minimal.

I’ve also noticed an upswing in some people’s anxiety. Part of me gets this. We’re up against something we can’t control. And while experts can accurately predict a general trajectory for the hurricane, they cannot predict what the specific impact/damage will be for each family in the hurricane’s path. It’s conceivable (likely?) that some in Nassau will have no or little damage to property, while others experience substantial devastation. We just don’t know exactly how this is going to play out…and that makes some people very nervous.

I think I’m a little bit nervous. I think I’m a bit nervous, because this is a new experience for me.

I think the reason why I am only a little bit nervous has to do with my faith in God. Now, by that I don’t mean to suggest that nothing bad will happen. I don’t mean to suggest that my faith, or the collective faith of Bahamians guarantees our safety and the preservation of our property.

When I suggest that my faith in God helps to allay anxiety, I mean to say that I firmly believe that God has everything under control. My conviction is that He is sovereign. God has measured this out. His design will, no doubt, include much mercy. And, in suffering or in destruction, He has designs to teach and to correct as our loving Heavenly Father.

The passage I turned to this morning for this reminder was Job chapters 38 through 41. I encourage you to read these chapters. God answers Job’s objections to his current predicament and suffering. It is a rebuke to be sure, but I find comfort in the rebuke:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? (38:4)…Have you ever commanded the morning, or shown the dawn its place? (38:12)…Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, and a path for the thunderstorm? (38:25)…Do you send lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’? (38:35)”

God is clearly in control.

Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean we will be spared hardship (Job wasn’t spared hardship!). What it does mean, however, is that whatever happens, there is great purpose behind it.

We’ve done all that we can. Every preparation has been made.

The words of Paul encourage me: “Be anxious for nothing [not even hurricanes!], but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present our requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6,7).

Our hope is in a God who is both sovereign and good.

More Than Words

more than wordsIn my previous post, “Compelled To Talk About Jesus“, I make the case for why followers of Jesus should be motivated to promote the Gospel. Within this post I would like us to consider what the Bible says about how the Gospel should be conveyed.

Most of us, I suspect, when thinking about the promotion of the Christian Gospel, think first about verbal proclamation. Because the Gospel is inherently a message, it logically follows that one of the primary means for advancing the message will be for people to talk to other people about Jesus.

Indeed, verbal proclamation is one of the primary ways we are called to share the Gospel. One of the most compelling calls comes from 1Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

The Greek phrase literally means to “give an apology”—from which we get the term, “apologetics”. No, we’re not being asked to apologize for our faith in Jesus—the phrase in the original language suggests making a reasoned defense in the face of a challenge by another.

I realize that, as I say this, it is quite likely that the prospect of verbally defending your faith terrifies you.

You may be relieved to hear then that the Bible describes other ways in which we can promote the Gospel. My intention is not to diminish the importance of verbal proclamation when I point out that there is more than one way to engage in the work of evangelism.

The first “language of mission” I would like us to look at is the language of prayer.

Prayer is something, presumably, that every Christian already does. And prayer is a meaningful entry point for us into the work of mission. In fact, Jesus commands our participation in this regard. Jesus says to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Mt. 9:37, 38).

Here, Jesus instructs us to pray for more evangelists/missionaries. Pray that God would cause followers of Jesus who are not currently engaged in mission to get onside. Along a similar vein, the apostle Paul calls for us to pray for those who are already actively engaged in verbally proclaiming the Gospel.

Paul implores us, “Be sure to pray that God will make a way for us to spread his message and explain the mystery about Christ, even though I am in jail for doing this. Please pray that I will make the message as clear as possible” (Col. 4:3-4).

Paul specifically asks for prayer believing that prayer is vital to, both, his delivery of the message, and to the effectiveness of the message.

The next language of mission I would like us to consider is the language of giving money.

Jesus has instructed us to go into “all the nations” to baptize and to make disciples (Mt. 28:19). For the great majority of us, however, this is simply not possible. What we might resolve to do instead, however, is to send money to support those missionaries who are able to go and to do the work of proclamation on our behalf.

This is precisely what the ancient church at Philippi did. Paul opens his letter to them by stating, “I always pray for you with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4, 5). In what capacity did the Philippians serve as partners to Paul’s proclamation of the Gospel? We learn in chapter 4 that it was through financial support. This tells me that we should not diminish the important role of cheque-writing when it comes to advancing the Gospel.

And thirdly, there is the language of good deeds.

This mission language is in the spirit of Francis of Assisi, who was reported to have said, “Preach the Gospel at all times—if necessary, use words.” The idea here is that how we act, how we behave, bears powerful witness to Christ. Jesus says as much in His Sermon on the Mount, challenging us: “Let your light shine, so that others will see your good works and will praise your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).

There should be no dichotomy between speaking about Jesus to others and living for Jesus—both, the “talk” and the “walk” are required. The message is what needs to be believed in, but the exemplary lifestyle of the one speaking is what legitimizes the message for the hearer.

In the words the Scottish missionary and Olympic athlete, Eric Liddell, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ.”

Having reflected on these few texts, I hope that you are encouraged in regard to your obligation to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Your witness need not begin with verbal proclamation. There are other meaningful ways to be engaged in the work of mission.

Through your prayers, through your financial gifts, and through your good deeds, you can meaningfully engage in mission.

And yet, it must also be said that without verbal witness the work of evangelism is incomplete. At the end of the day, after all the prayers, after all the good deeds, and all the financed ministries, it is still necessary for people to tell people the message of Jesus Christ.

What I am trying to say, however, is that you need not start there. Begin with prayer. Look for opportunities to support others already engaged in the work. Build a foundation for dialogue with your kindness and loving deeds.

We need to speak the message–yes–but, let’s also remember that we need more than words.

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“The Languages Of Mission”, based on a variety of biblical texts, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, August 7, 2011.

Compelled To Talk About Jesus

Popular comic, Jim Gaffigan, suggests that if you ever want to make people feel awkward at a dinner party, start talking about Jesus. To be honest, I can’t say that I disagree with that statement. And yet, I also know what it is like to feel compelled to talk about Jesus regardless of the context.

In our day, at least in North America, Christians are often made to feel like they are doing something highly inappropriate when they bring up the subject of God in public conversation. We’re sometimes excused of being “pushy” or “arrogant” for bringing the subject up and for suggesting that the God we worship should be worshipped by everyone. I’m not telling you something you haven’t already observed when I say that our society actively discourages the promotion of one religious faith over another.

Why then, do Christians still insist on talking about the God of the Bible? If so unpopular, why do some Christians feel nonetheless compelled to talk about Jesus?

I certainly can’t speak for every Christian. I imagine that the reasons for talking to others about God are varied. I also gather that the manner in which we talk about God to others also varies. I don’t doubt that Jesus is sometimes proclaimed through a tone that wreaks of arrogance and condescension. While I hope that never describes me, I concede that there have likely been times when I have shared the Good News of Christ in a less than ideal manner.

The most common reason, I suspect, for talking about Jesus comes from a genuine concern for other people. Those who have come to experience the profound joy and satisfaction that comes from a relationship with Jesus naturally want to share that experience with those they care about.

Would you be surprised to hear me say that the wellbeing of others is not the primary impetus for evangelism (sharing the Good News) that we find in the Bible?

I am grateful for the ministry of John Dickson, who rightly points to a different impetus for talking about God to others. One of the Scriptural examples that Dickson cites is Psalm 96, where we read: “Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim His salvation day after day. Declare His glory among the nations, (and) His marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Ps. 96:2,3).

There’s the call to get the word out—to everyone and to every place. What’s the reason? The subsequent verse offers the answer: “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; He is to be feared above all gods” (Ps. 96:4).

Quite simply, our logic for mission is that God is great. God is so glorious, so wise, so holy, so powerful, so loving, so abounding in mercy, that God’s people cannot remain silent.

John Dickson shares a story about Joe Louis, the world famous boxer, that comes from the early 1930s. At a time when Joe Louis wasn’t yet a recognizable face, he was riding a bus through downtown Detroit. While on the bus a group of young men began to taunt and verbally abuse Joe Louis. The young men were trying to bait him into a physical confrontation, but Joe Louis just ignored them. The abuse soon escalated to a point where one of the young men struck Joe Louis. Even then, a restrained Joe Louis did not retaliate, but simply got off at the next stop.

Now put yourself on that bus, just a few seats away from Joe Louis. From the vantage point of knowing who Joe Louis is, how do you respond as this confrontation unfolds?

One response might be to stand up and shout, “You guys are crazy! This guy could really hurt you! For your own wellbeing, stop this nonsense immediately!”

While that response might make some sense, I want to propose that a better response would be stand up and declare to the young men that they should be showing utmost respect to the finest boxer in the world.

You see, these young men were in the presence of greatness, but they did not realize it.

I genuinely care about the wellbeing of others, but something more compelling motivates me to talk about Jesus—His greatness.

This is how many Christians view this world—and this is what compels me to talk to others about Jesus—we live every minute in the presence of God’s greatness, but not everyone realizes this. Until I’m convinced otherwise I will continue to seek to sensitively and sensibly talk about Jesus with others. Sorry Jim Gaffigan.

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“The Logic Of Mission”, based on Isaiah 43:10-13, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, July 31, 2011.

Preferring Church Over Jesus

The letter to the Church in Ephesus, recorded in Revelation 2:1-7, captures my attention in that it describes a gathering of people who appear to care more about their church activities than they do about their relationship with Jesus.

The letter begins well. We are pleased to read that the Lord Jesus Christ perceives that many good things are happening at the Church in Ephesus. The commendation given to them by Christ is quite an impressive one.

I know your deeds”, Jesus tells them (Rev. 2:2).

This appears to be a busy congregation. This is not a congregation that merely gathers for an hour on Sunday morning and then scatters—the Ephesian Christians are accomplishing things. They are like a congregation in our day that has a vibrant Sunday School and a variety a mid-week programs. I suspect that the Ephesians are attentive to the needs of the poor and the disenfranchised.

Jesus goes on to commend them, “I know . . . your toil”.

That is to say, ‘I recognize the effort required in your deeds.’ The Greek word for toil implies a loss of strength; or a weariness that results from the work. Apparently, the kind of deeds being carried out in the Church at Ephesus required significant energy. The work being done was not a nominal work. These were the kind of people who could be counted on to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty.

Jesus commends them further, “I know . . . your perseverance”, He tells them.

The work of the church in Ephesus was not a short-term venture. This congregation is seeing their work through to conclusion. There don’t appear to be any ‘quitters’ in the Church at Ephesus. Evidently, the people who had signed up to do particular tasks were staying with their tasks.

If the commendation of the Church at Ephesus stopped here I would be sufficiently impressed, and yet, Jesus goes on: “I know . . . that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false” (Rev. 2:2).

That the congregation in Ephesus is unwilling to “endure evil men” points to their integrity. This is a morally upright group of people. We also learn that they are a discerning group of people. The Church at Ephesus had the ability to identify imposters—people who presented themselves as apostles, but were not.

And then, after all of that—after saying all of those positive things about the Christians in Ephesus, we read what no church ever wants to hear from our Lord:

BUT

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (2:4).

The Lord Jesus Christ perceives many good things about the Church at Ephesus, but He also perceives that there is something fundamentally lacking with them—the people have forgotten that which is most vital: a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.

We can be sure that this is no little shortcoming based on the language employed by Christ. The element of loving Christ is so critical that the diminished expression of this love causes Christ to say that He has something “against” the congregation at Ephesus.

This is severe. If someone approaches you and says, ‘I have something against you’—that’s serious. So when Christ tells the congregation in Ephesus that He has something “against” them, my attention is sufficiently arrested. My attention is arrested, in part, because of the severity of the statement, but it is also arrested because I suspect these words apply to more congregations than we could probably number.

And, I suspect there are at least occasions when these words of our Lord apply to you and to me . . . “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

The notion that you have diminished your love for Christ need not cause you to altogether despair. It brings me great relief to see that Jesus follows His severe words with an obtainable prescription. Though Christ be against us when our love departs, He prescribes for us a course that will return us to a right relationship with Him.

Christ prescribes for the people of Ephesus, and He prescribes for all who have wandered from the love of Christ, “Remember” . . . “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first” (2:5).

What is implied in this prescription is the notion that our love had a distinct character when we began with Christ. I know mine did. I remember how I felt when I first comprehended that Christ died for me on the cross and that, in Him, I had found forgiveness for all my sins. I remember how inflamed my love for Christ was at the thought that He had become my Saviour, my Lord, and my friend.

Now, remember that each for yourselves. Did you have such a day? Was there a time when your love for Christ was such that you longed to pray to Him; a time when the prospect of gathering with His people on Sunday morning excited your very soul?

If there was such a time, remember it. Bring to mind those thoughts that overflowed into loving devotion.

If there was such a time when loving Christ was your first priority, if there was a time when Christ was the most important thing about you, it will also be helpful to ask yourself: “What has happened? Why is Christ less than that now?”

I agree with Charles Spurgeon, who asserts that our love grows cold when we neglect communion with Christ (not talking about the Lord’s Supper). Spurgeon is referring specifically to our dealings with Christ in prayer and our dealings with Christ as we read the Scriptures. Spurgeon goes on to say, ‘We shall never love Christ much (unless) we live near Him.’

Jesus’ call to “repent” (a word which means “to turn around”) then, is a call to us who are far off, to come near again. It is a call to us who have grown cold in our prayers, to return to fervent prayer. The call to repent is to us who have regarded the words of Scripture as bitter, to once again reckon them to be “sweeter than honey” (Ps. 119:103).

This is the prescription of Jesus Christ to all those who have left their first love.

And lest anyone think that a return to Christ is unnecessary, He finishes His message to the Ephesians with strong words of persuasion, “I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent . . . (but) to him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God” (2:5, 7).

In other words, this is a matter of life and death. The punishment threatened here is corporate—the removal of the “lampstand” signifies the removal of light and life from the local congregation.

What is your local congregation like? Does your congregation run excellent programs? Does it serve the poor? Do your people exert themselves for the Gospel? Is your congregation marked by moral integrity? But, of course, the Church in Ephesus was marked by such things.

It appears that we are not going to be judged according to how busy we are. It appears that we are not going to be evaluated according to whether we accomplish the items listed in our mission statement.

The most critical point is whether or not Jesus Christ is our first love.

Jesus doesn’t simply want us to love Him a lot. He wants us to love Him first.

I’m challenged by that. But I want that—for myself, for my family, for my congregation, and for you.

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“Recovering First Love”, based on Revelation 2:1-7, was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk on Sunday, June 26, 2011.