Meanderings of a Minister


What Are You Standing on When You Pray?
October 16, 2017, 1:06 pm
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I recently attended our denomination’s state convention.  While there, I took a seminar on prayer.  In the seminar, the speaker asked the question, “What are you standing on when you pray?”  I was intrigued by this question.  I was even more intrigued by the fact that he asked the question while standing on top of a chair in the middle of the room.  The speaker told a story about growing up in an abusive family and about being sexually abused by an older foster brother for years.  He finally reached the end of his ability to deal with the abuse and cried out to God to get him out of the situation.  He promised God what he would become a Christian and live for God his whole life if God would just get him out of the torture and pain.  Through a series of events, he was sent to live with his grandparents, who raised him to love Jesus.

The day that he arrived at his grandparents to live, he decided that he needed to make good on his promise to God.  He knelt and gave his life to Jesus right at the threshold of his grandparents’ house.  Having made that decision, he began to study his Bible, pray and try to learn all he could about this new life he had chosen.

One day, he realized God really did answer prayer.  He had prayed to be delivered and he was delivered.  He had prayed to be saved and he was saved.  The next prayer he prayed, he literally went to the same spot to pray and wrote his previous prayer on a piece of paper and stood on the prayer while asking God for a friend.  He added that, if God wanted to, He could make that friend be a girl.

Shortly after praying that prayer, he was driving home one day and came upon a young man who had skidded off the road and needed help digging his truck out of the snow.  He helped the young man and the young man invited him to go home with him to warm up.  The young man had an ulterior motive.  The young man was also from an abusive family and if his father found out that he had run the truck off the road, he was afraid of the beatings he would endure.  He figured that, if he had a guest with him, the father might not abuse him for fear of being found out.

As they walked into the living room of the young man’s family home, our speaker laid eyes on the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.  She is his wife today and they have been married for many, many years.

The point the man was trying to make was that it took the faith that the first prayer had generated to make him believe the second prayer would be answered.  The faith that was generated by the second prayer had emboldened him to pray the third prayer and believe it to both be the will of God and that it would be done according to the will of God.

The speaker used that example to challenge his audience, of which I was a part, with the question, “What are you standing on when you pray?”  For many of us, we pray about things we are not really sure God will answer or how.  If we are really unsure, we may even call someone and ask them to pray for us because we think that God will listen to their prayers, or our prayers, more than He will listen to my prayers.  When we pray and see God move in response to our prayers, it gives us the confidence to pray more and believe that God will move.  Now, this does not mean simply pray for whatever you desire and God is somehow obligated to deliver like a pizza delivery boy.  Far from it!  But when we pray and get to know God and listen to and get know His voice and understand His will is always contained in His Word and is always to bring Him glory among the nations, we get in tune with His desires and get to see Him move.

When have you prayed in the past and seen God answer?  Use that experience as the foundation of your future prayers.  Stand on those prayers and humble yourself before God, but pray with confidence that you know your Savior’s voice and are following His will, then you can know that you want what He wants and He will do it.  Then stand on that prayer, and that prayer, and that prayer.  Before you know it, you will be higher than the story that you thought was so big it could never be fixed.  And don’t forget it is not just prayer that God answers by the prayers of a righteous man (or woman, boy, or girl).  (James 5:16)

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Ordering Your Private World

Gordon MacDonald has revised and updated his classic book that has taken literally a million people on a journey to get serious about living.  In this revised version, MacDonald has gone even further than his original work because he is no longer just the author, but has repeatedly become the practitioner of his own methods.  Faced with hitting a wall of growth in the Christian life, Gordon MacDonald took his own advice and began to grow again.  He shares with us, once again, how this can be possible for any follower of Jesus Christ.

MacDonald uses incredibly poignant illustrations for pointing out not only the needs we all face, but also the solutions for meeting those needs.  For instance, he likens the private world, some call it heart, soul, mind, or some other label, to a potential void beneath an otherwise seemingly normal operating life.  Like the sinkholes that occasionally make the news, a person is going along doing their normal life and then wake up to find their whole life has fallen into a hole.  How did it happen?  Who is to blame?  MacDonald suggests neglecting the private world, which he would say involves all of the areas previously listed, is the cause.  With nothing to hold up the outer life, it falls into the hole where the character, life, spiritual life, and heart should have been.

Dealing with everything from confidence to trust to secret desires for recognition and appreciation, MacDonald delves into our private world in such a way as to cause every reader to wonder if he has been looking in the window to their souls.  He encourages not just an introspection, but a circumspection and a humble submission to God’s activity in one’s life.  He suggests have people around us that help us to see what we are truly like.  He further suggests establishing a routine of healthy behaviors so that, when faced with a crisis, we are able to respond like we always have.  Like the child piano player asked to play for the family picnic, there is no reason to panic or think that we need to produce a special performance, but merely that we react as we always have.

This revised and updated version of Ordering Your Private World comes with a small group discussion guide.  The questions are far from trite and require some honesty and thought, but are an excellent resource for getting a group of people together to read the book and study its implications for their lives.  It also provides an excellent framework for accountability in everything from pursuing God’s dream for my life to spiritual disciplines to taking our walk with Jesus more serious each and every day.

For the reader who thinks that this is just another guilt trip book designed to show off our shortcomings, it is far from that.  It is actually an encouragement from someone who has been there and been there and knows God can get us through.

I was provided this book free to write this review, but would have purchased it anyway.  They did not ask me to say anything positive or negative.  Just to review it.  I highly recommend it.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 11

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You”.  The title intrigued me because I have suspected some of this has been going on for years.  In the book, Tony is not anti-phone, but encourages the reader to be mindful of changes that are happening in us because of our use of our cell phones.

So far, we have considered that our phones are encouraging us to become addicted to distraction, have encouraged us to ignore flesh and blood relationships that require effort and risk on our part, and that they have encouraged us to crave immediate approval.  We have also seen that our phones are changing us is that they are robbing us of literacy and causing us to feed on the produced images others want us to see as well as changing us to become what we spend time with online.  Our phones are also making more connected when alone and more alone when we are with others.  They also give us the ability to engage in secret vices with virtually no one near us knowing what we are up to.  Our phones are also encouraging us to lose the context of meaning as well as causing us to become more insecure.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

The next area that Reinke mentions about how our phones are changing us is probably one of the first most people would think of when it comes to this issue.  Our phones are encouraging us to become harsh with one another.  By that, he means that we are quick to shame people.  We are also quick to wade into a discussion with no interest in the actual debate at hand, but only the desire to bludgeon the sender of the message with our need for attention.  We use harsh language.  We use our words to wound and not to bind up.

I teach a class at our local community college on customer service and workplace etiquette.  In this class, we talk about the use of technology to expand the reach of the business or organization and how you interact with others reflects what the other person thinks about your company of organization.  We state it strongly by stating, if your company entrusts you with a company email, they are putting the trust in you that you will represent them well.  They entrust the future of the company with that person, customer, or vendor to you.  How you treat that person will definitely affect what they think of your company.

As Christians, we represent not just a company, not just an organization, but we represent the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  Our phones are encouraging us to be harsh with people.  That causes many, or reinforces the views of many, to think that Christians are harsh, brutal people who want to beat them up and shame them publicly for any sin they have ever committed.  They think that Christians care about no one but themselves and have no time for people who aren’t perfect.

When we are unnecessarily harsh with people, we close them off to any discussions with us that might lead to the change of their eternal address.  Like Jesus said of the Pharisees, “You travel the world to make a disciple, but then you make it impossible for them to come into the Kingdom.”

Instead, we ought to, “Do unto others what we would have them to do us.”  We should, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  When we are harsh with people, we violate both of these precepts taught by Jesus Himself.  When we unleash a verbal barrage meant to embarrass, shame, or bully people online, we are hardly showing forth the character of the One we are supposed to become more like each day.

James said that we bless God and curse our fellow man with the same tongue and this should not be so…even online.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 10
September 26, 2017, 4:40 pm
Filed under: Articles, Book Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You”.  The title intrigued me because I have suspected some of this has been going on for years.  In the book, Tony is not anti-phone, but encourages the reader to be mindful of changes that are happening in us because of our use of our cell phones.

So far, we have considered that our phones are encouraging us to become addicted to distraction, have encouraged us to ignore flesh and blood relationships that require effort and risk on our part, and that they have encouraged us to crave immediate approval.  We have also seen that our phones are changing us is that they are robbing us of literacy and causing us to feed on the produced images others want us to see as well as changing us to become what we spend time with online.  Our phones are also making more connected when alone and more alone when we are with others.  They also give us the ability to engage in secret vices with virtually no one near us knowing what we are up to.  Additionally, our phones are encouraging us to lose the context of meaning.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

One of the ways that our phone is changing us is that it is making us more and more insecure.  Most people have been in a group and found that the group had information that you did not have.  They have an inside joke, a shared story, a memory, a set of nicknames, anything that indicates there are some who are in and some who are out.  Most people have felt the sting of being out at some point in their life.  Our phones are amplifying this insecurity many of us face and have felt.

Before you roll your eyes and think that this is only a minor issue, we need to not only think about how this makes us feel, but why this would be dangerous.  First, our phones are becoming slave masters to us because we fear missing out on the latest news, score, game, event, outcome, or even gossip.  Yes, I did say gossip.  Believers in Jesus Christ are not immune to the allure of gossip.  This is one of the reasons we cannot stand to be without our phones.  Something might happen and we would miss it.

Now, again, this might not seem like that big of a deal to you, but it is actually a root cause of some of the other ways our phones are changing us.  For some, this means that they take their phone to bed with them so that they can check their phone in the middle of the night.  Some even will awaken several times a night and will respond to texts, emails and other notifications.  This means that they are awakened several times a night and are not getting the deep sleep needed to rewire their brains, renew their bodies, and revive their spirits.  This is dangerous.

This insecurity of being left out also encourages us to base our worth on our connectedness instead of the fact that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), we are loved and valued by Jesus, we are children of God and He has started a work in us that He will continue and complete.  In other words, we are submitting ourselves to the idol of contemporary history over timeless truths.

Another way that insecurity over being left out of recent history is destructive is that it means that are often missing out on what is going on in our current history for the sake of what is going on someone else’s current history.  This means that we are not living the life God has given us, but are, in some cases, attempting to live someone else’s vacation, time with their kids, or trips.  We covered this in an earlier installment, but it can a subtle way of envy or jealousy or can even generate pride in our lives as we compare others to our experiences.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to take our security from knowing that we are loved by Him.  We need to know that our standing before God and others is based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross and not whether or not we saw the latest cat video or viral post.  We need to learn contentment with the life God has given us to live and the blessings He has put in our lives.  Our phones can work against this by making us feel like our value comes from being up on the latest information.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 8

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You”.  The title intrigued me because I have suspected some of this has been going on for years.  In the book, Tony is not anti-phone, but encourages the reader to be mindful of changes that are happening in us because of our use of our cell phones.

So far, we have considered that our phones are encouraging us to become addicted to distraction, have encouraged us to ignore flesh and blood relationships that require effort and risk on our part, and that they have encouraged us to crave immediate approval.  We have also seen that our phones are changing us is that they are robbing us of literacy and causing us to feed on the produced images others want us to see as well as changing us to become what we spend time with online.  Our phones are also making more connected when alone and more alone when we are with others.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

Yet another way in which our phones are changing us may seem like nothing new.  Our phones, tablets, and ubiquitous internet access give us the ability to engage in secret vices with virtually no accountability.  Before you brain automatically jumps to pornography as the only application of this statement, the issue is much more than pornography.

Back a few years ago, everyone was shocked when the Ashley Madison became a household name for nefarious reasons.  Ashley Madison was a website people could register with, and pay a fee to, that would allow them to be listed as a married person available for an affair.  Tens of millions of people, including Christian businessmen and women, Christian leaders, and even pastors, registered for the site.  Many people registered, paid the fee, and then had second thoughts about what they had done.  They deleted their accounts, but the company never deleted them from their servers.  In 2015, a group of hackers broke into the databases and released the names to the general public.  A website was created that allowed people to go and check to see if their spouse had been a part.  Many families were destroyed because the portability of access to the internet provided a false sense of secrecy that emboldened people, Christians, to engage in secret vices.

And it is not only sexual issues that are vices that are enabled and encouraged by our phones.  Online shopping, escapism, and many more opportunities exist as well.  For instance, the husband that is trying to hide spending from his wife no longer has to wait until she is out of the house to order his next model airplane or computer game.  He has access to do so when no one is around because the computer is in his pocket.  Nowhere is this seen more prevalently than when it comes to online gaming.  A person downloads a “free” game only to find that there are in-game purchases required to continue playing the game.  Some people simply click to buy without thinking about the true cost.

We could also add some of the previous topics to this list of secret vices.  What about the middle-aged woman who is bored with her marriage and life and escapes into Facebook to secretly engage in coveting her neighbor?  What about the teenagers that can listen to music with objectionable lyrics without their parents’ knowledge because the connection to that music no longer has to be purchased and stored in a CD (or cassette) rack to be perused by a concerned mother or father?  And what about the young man or lady that is questioning their sexuality or religion and accesses information contrary to scripture and their parents’ instruction because it is always just there?

How does a young man keep his way pure?  This was a question posed by Psalm 119:9. By keeping their way according to the Word of God.  So, when one delves into the secrecy their phones affords them, they ought to begin with the reality that God sees all, knows all, and is everywhere all at the same time.  We ought to punctuate our time online with the same phrase with which we often end our prayers.  “In Jesus’ Name” Additionally, we need to think about why we do what we do where we do it online.  And we need to submit our plans, ways, and clicks to God’s Lordship in our lives.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 7

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You”.  The title intrigued me because I have suspected some of this has been going on for years.  In the book, Tony is not anti-phone, but encourages the reader to be mindful of changes that are happening in us because of our use of our cell phones.

So far, we have considered that our phones are encouraging us to become addicted to distraction, have encouraged us to ignore flesh and blood relationships that require effort and risk on our part, and that they have encouraged us to crave immediate approval.  We have also seen that our phones are changing us is that they are robbing us of literacy and causing us to feed on the produced images others want us to see as well as changing us to become what we spend time with online.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

Our phones are also changing us in a way that many did not see coming.  With social media, many of us are more connected than ever before.  We have hundreds or thousands of “friends” to whom we are connected constantly.  We can look at their pictures, read their status, play games with them online.  You would think that this would mean that people would never have a chance to feel disconnected or lonely, but actually it is quite the opposite.

Recent studies have shown that the average online user actually feels lonelier than those who are not as engaged online.  How can this be?  Related to earlier articles, one of the ways that people feel lonely is that we disconnect ourselves from what is going on around us for the sake of making sure we are connected to our phones and social media accounts.  We can be in a crowd of people, but mentally (and technologically), we are alone because it is just us and our phone.  Instead of feeling the presence of people around us, we are in a virtual world that is based upon our online activity.  If people have not liked the video we posted, the quote we posted, or the picture of our lasagna, we can feel alone, rejected, isolated, and frustrated.  We can feel as though no one in the world likes or loves us even though we are in a room full of people waiting for us to engage with them.

There is a flipside to this equation that is also troubling.  Not only can we feel alone in a crowd, but we can feel crowded when we are alone.  The human brain was wired to take in incredible amounts of information, but due to the fall in the Garden of Eden, our brains do not process and store that information as efficiently as they were originally designed to do.  This means that we need down time to rethink, reprocess, and restore images and information accumulated through our busy lives.  Combine that fact with the amount of information we take in each day compared to previous generations and we need time like no one else ever has in the past.  Sadly, we do not get this time because we cannot disconnect enough to do this critical process.

Many people use their phones as alarm clocks.  To do so, the average person leaves their sounds and notifications active throughout the night and their phone within reach.  What this means is that, even asleep, we are not able to process things like we should because our phones constantly beckon us from the deeper sleep cycle needed.

Once awake, many people go straight to their cell phone to turn off the alarm that woke them up.  While there, they check email, social media, etc.  The time needed to process and plan their day is short-circuited by whatever flickers across the pixels on their screen.  This is not an isolated incident and there are very few boundaries this does not cross.

Even as believers, we find ourselves truly desirous of a deep and meaningful prayer life and Bible Study routine, but we get in the middle of our prayer and our phone beeps and we put God on hold (pun intended) to find out that we could save 14% or more on car insurance.  We try to read our Bibles only to find that our phone beckons us to a friend’s latest rave about the local Chinese restaurant.

So, our phones are encouraging us to be alone in a crowd and crowded when we are alone.  It does not have to be this way.  With a little discipline, and recognizing the problem, we can combat this by turning off our ringers or phones when spending time with God, family, or crowds we need to get to know.  It sounds simple, but our prayer needs to be, “Lord, I don’t want to miss out on the life You have given me to live because I am so busy trying to create my own online.”



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 6

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You”.  The title intrigued me because I have suspected some of this has been going on for years.  In the book, Tony is not anti-phone, but encourages the reader to be mindful of changes that are happening in us because of our use of our cell phones.

So far, we have considered that our phones are encouraging us to become addicted to distraction, have encouraged us to ignore flesh and blood relationships that require effort and risk on our part, and that they have encouraged us to crave immediate approval.  We have also seen that our phones are changing us is that they are robbing us of literacy and causing us to feed on the produced images others want us to see.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

Another way that our phones are changing us is very related to last week’s issue.  Reinke says it this way, “We Become Like What We ‘Like’”.  Many of us remember Middle School.  We remember trying to fit in.  We remember trying to decide if we would be a jock, nerd, preppie (Hey!  I’m old!), or some other subset of Middle School culture.  How did we make these decisions and which group did we choose?  We usually made these decisions based upon their perceived benefits to us.  If we saw a pretty girl (or handsome dude) that was a part of a subset, then we chased that particular one.  If our friends suddenly joined another subset, then we would decide if we wanted to be friends with them any longer.  If we did, we joined, or tried to join, that one.  Our phones encourage this as well.  That effect can be positive or negative, but it is an effect and it is changing us.

The Bible addresses this on a personal level when Paul said, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NASB95) Many of us realize this and that has some to do with why we choose the friends we choose and the places we visit, etc.  But have we stopped to think that electronic company corrupts good morals as well?  For instance, if a friend is always posted pictures of family time, we begin to feel dissatisfied with our own family time and take actions to change to align our reality with the images we have ‘liked’.  Conversely, if a friend posts pictures of their new girlfriend and the fabulous life together, all of sudden we find ourselves critical of our spouses and more demanding because our reality does not measure up to what we are seeing in social media.  The direction of the influence is not the main issue, but the fact that we are influenced is the issue.

The average reader could easily stop and see through a perceived subterfuge here.  They might be tempted to say, “But isn’t Reinke attempting to influence people through his book?”  While they are correct in assuming that the author is aiming at serious thought and potential changes in the behavior of the reader, consider that the average person doesn’t read that much anymore (see earlier article on losing literacy).  Consider also that a picture truly is worth a thousand words and it does not take one long to realize this might have potentially powerful effects.

Reinke quotes an old adage that is becoming more and more the situation in which we find ourselves.  “We are not who we think we are; we are not even who others think we are; we are who we THINK others think we are.”  While other chapters have hit upon the temptation to be inauthentic in how we present ourselves, the effect is not only on us as we present ourselves, but how we consume what others produce (last week’s article) and then how that changes the way we think.  We become like what we “like”.