Meanderings of a Minister


12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, Part 4
July 21, 2017, 4:11 pm
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I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways you 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.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

Probably one of the insidious ways that are phones are changing us as Christians is that they are robbing us of our literacy.  When I read that statement in Reinke’s book, I had to stop and think about what he was trying to say.  As I looked at his definitions and examples, I realized he is right.  Our phones are taking the place of most serious reading and thinking.  Because they are a form of amusement, we are encouraged to check our brains at the door and just interact with what is on the screen.  This is one of the reasons that urban legends continue to make the rounds of the various social media platforms.  People read something online and no longer stop to apply the sniff test.

One area that is problematic for Christians is that we are losing our ability to read our Bibles and think deeply about spiritual matters.  In some of our churches, people even laugh and say that they do not read anymore and will wait for the movie to come out.  Men and women alike find that the amount of attention for reading expands only slightly beyond the 140 characters allowed by Twitter.

In addition to a lack of focus on serious Bible study, this slides over into prayer as well.  Many people, myself included, struggle to spend the kind of time the ancients spent in prayer because we simply cannot quiet our minds and souls that long.  Our phones encourage this as we move from image to image and sound to sound.  The constantly updating pixels work together to convince us that anything that requires effort and does not produce an immediate and measurable goal is not worth pursuing.

Another interesting correlation is that this tendency also manifests itself in the way we lack self-control when it involves a deeper and more important commitment.  We impulse buy, impulse eat, impulse attack, impulse post, impulse share, etc., with no thought about whether or not it is appropriate or the best use of our time, money, and effort.  We not only lack self-control, but to suggest someone might want to exercise some self-control seems old-fashioned or even controlling.

While many people might not see this side-effect of our phones as important like some of the other effects covered in other chapters of the book, we would do well not to pass it too quickly because our ability to read widely, think deeply, reason logically, and live self-sacrificingly is the basis of society, innovation, and survival.  If we lose it, we lose much more than we realize.

None of these effects are irreversible and none of them have to lead to destruction or even damage to our lives, but we need to be aware that they can be a tendency so that we remain vigilant to resist the pull of the digital glow.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 3

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways you 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.

Two weeks ago, we looked at the issue of our addiction to distraction.  In addition to this, phones also encourage us to ignore flesh and blood relationships in favor of virtual relationships.  This happens for several reasons, some of which can provide quite the minefield for a follower of Christ.

Last week, we looked at this issue of how our phones are training us to ignore flesh and blood in favor of virtual relationships.  This is shone through many avenues, but we looked at distracted driving, ignoring the safety of others, distractions from personal interaction, rudeness, and other aspects of treating people in the virtual world with more importance and urgency than even God.

The next way Reinke listed as a result of how our phones are changing us in the area of causing us to crave immediate approval.  As we look at social media, we are constantly checking to see if we have more friends, followers, mentions, downloads, likes, and other electronic measures that would indicate that we are worth someone’s time and effort.  We check our phones constantly to get a sense of our importance, value, or worth.  And we are becoming more and more addicted.

One way that this particular aspect of how our phone is changing us that can become actually physically dangerous is how people are having to find more and outlandish ways to get noticed.  Used to be that we could post a picture with our pet and we would get a certain number of likes from friends, pet enthusiasts, and parents.  Now, we have to find ways that are grotesque, outlandish, or just plain weird.  For instance, some girls are trying to make their waists smaller and smaller to make their pictures and videos catch people’s attention so that they might become celebrities.  One particular girl went so far as to have her bottom ribs removed to enable her to have a smaller waist.  Doctors have suggested that this is dangerous for the organs those ribs are supposed to protect, but the girl got her 1 million shares and her fifteen minutes of celebrity.

Another aspect is how we have taken to concept of celebrity and elevated its importance to go far beyond the neurotic actor or actress that has to be the headliner on the marquee.  Now, the average public can compete for this title.  How do they do so?  Not by being self-sacrificing or heroic, but by being noticeable.  Recently, a man went live on Facebook to show himself shooting a crowd of people and then turning the gun on himself.  Viewers were shocked and horrified by the violence; however, they also shared the video hundreds of thousands of times.  He achieved his celebrity and it was mostly not even questioned as to whether or not it was infamous to do so.

Another particularly dangerous area where this aspect is hurting individuals and families, even within the church, is that people are turning more and more to online friends for comfort.  You might not think that is such a big deal, but what does this do to developing fellowship in the local church?  How does it affect families?  Couples?  How many times have we heard the story of the man that comes home and tells his wife that he met someone online and is leaving her to be with this online person with whom he has been having an online affair?

Additionally, anything that we turn to for comfort that did not live a perfect life, die, and conquer death for us is not worthy of our worship.  Turning to someone or something for comfort is a form of worshipping that someone or something.  That something does not live forever and does not stand at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.  Simply put, to give anyone or anything God’s place in our hearts, schedules, or lives is not wise because they will not meet the need we are looking for them to fill.  Only God can do that.

When we look for constant approval, we are focused on ourselves, our wants, our needs, and our demands for attention.  This necessarily means that we are not living otherworldly lives.  We are focused on here and now and ignore eternity and the needs of others.  This is not how we are commanded to live as believers.

Our phones are changing us into attention-addicts who, like children, constantly say to the virtual world, “Hey!  Look at me!”  In the meantime, they are yelling the same and relationship is lost in the ensuing contest for attention.  This is not good and we better be careful.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 2

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways you 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.

Last week, we looked at the issue of our addiction to distraction.  In addition to this, phones also encourage us to ignore flesh and blood relationships in favor of virtual relationships.  This happens for several reasons, some of which can provide quite the minefield for a follower of Christ.

The first way that our phones encourage us to ignore flesh and blood relationships is the way that our phones encourage us to ignore laws against distracted driving.  No matter how many ad campaigns we see, stories of tragedy we hear, or laws that are passed against it, our addiction to distraction carries over to us while we are steering a multiple thousand-pound missile through the streets and highways of our land oblivious to our surroundings for “just a quick check”.  As believers in Jesus Christ, we are expected to obey the government, but our phones trump the law and God’s Word without us even realizing it.  Romans 13 tells us to obey the government, but we find ourselves checking Facebook, responding to a text or email, or even playing a game while driving despite the laws against such behavior.  I say, “we” because I also am guilty.

Another part of ignoring flesh and blood relationships is the way many people engage in viral anger in ways they never would if the person they were addressing were standing in front of them instead of checking a message many hours later.  We know that Jesus told us to do unto others as we would have them to unto us, but we cannot seem to pass up the opportunity to go off on someone who is not standing in front of us.  We are more critical, use harsher language, care less about potential hurt, and the list goes on and on.  James said that cursing and blessing ought not come out of the same mouth, perhaps we should apply that keyboards as well.

Still yet another area that indicates we might be tempted to ignore flesh and blood relationships can be seen by the fact that many of us even screen calls so that we do not have to have an unrehearsed conversation with someone in which we might reveal more of ourselves than we do when we can type, delete, edit, or dress up our virtual posts.  Someone calls and you can choose not to call them back.  James tells us not to neglect doing good for someone in need, but we can filter out the needs because we are hiding behind our keyboards and phones and pretend that the virtual need being expressed is not the same thing as seeing it before it.  If we don’t want to deal with it, we just pretend we didn’t see the post, receive the email, read the text, or get the phone call.  That is plainly ignoring the flesh and blood people in our midst.  It would seem that Jesus told us if we did not do it to the least of these, we did not do it to Him.

Finally, another area that indicates that we are ignoring flesh and blood relationships is the way that we lack opportunity to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.  Sure, we can read their rants, cries for attention, and silly emoji posts, but that is hardly the same thing as putting an arm around them, looking them in the eye, and praying with them.  We are being trained to no longer value this type of interaction because it is messy, unscripted, and belies a potential for embarrassment over an inability to understand or empathize.  When our relationships are little more than pixels of information, we miss an opportunity to connect on a personal or spiritual level.

So, our phones are helping us to be or become addicted to distraction.  They also might be encouraging us to ignore flesh and blood relationships.  We would be wise to be aware and fight the temptations this might provide.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 1

I recently came across a book by Tony Reinke entitled, “12 Ways you 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.

The first way that our phone is changing us is that we are all becoming addicted to distractions.  If you have a smart phone, think about this.  When you get a notification sound that something has happened in your digital world, how long do you take to check it out?  For most of us, we have become programmed like Pavlov’s dog.  The bell goes off and we expect a treat, so we drop what we are doing and check our phone.  We can be in the middle of a movie, asleep, having a meaningful conversation with a loved one, or even using the restroom and we will disengage from our immediate surroundings to check what has just happened in our virtual world.

With the advent of people using their phones and tablets for electronic versions of their Bibles, this addiction to distraction is even causing us to disconnect from worship.  We may be in the middle of a worship song and our phone vibrates and we turn our attention from focusing on the infinite God of the universe to find out that 8 people liked our post on Facebook, or that our friend will meet us at the restaurant after church.  We can be sitting under the careful instruction of God’s Word and get distracted because our Amazon order has shipped, the weather is going to be cooler tomorrow, or we have two new emails.  We are addicted.  This distraction is taking its toll on marriages, families, employers, classrooms, and even Bible study groups.

So, we are addicted.  Say that with me.  We are addicted.  You might be thinking, “Okay.  I am addicted, but what can I do about it?”  I am glad that you asked.  Part of breaking any addiction is admitting that we need help.  Who do we seek help from?  First, we confess our sin to God.  Did you read that right?  Did I just call our addiction to technology a sin?  Well, if it is where we go to feel important, valued, or included, then yes, that is a sin because it is an idol.

Having confessed to God the sin of turning to something or someone other than Him for our comfort, belonging, or value, our next step is to begin to establish a plan of discipline to deal with our addiction.  We have to be so affected by our addiction that it drives us to change.  The only way change will happen is for us to become desperate for change and take action that will lead to change.  What are some steps we can take to begin to deal with our addiction?

When with family members, friends, at work, or in worship, we should put our phones in airplane mode so that the notifications can’t distract us.  Some phones have a “do not disturb” setting.  We could set that setting when going into a situation that deserves our full attention.  Even as you have read that statement, you might have begun to sweat a little bit because of all of the notifications you could miss during that time.  Don’t worry.  That is just a sign of withdrawal.  We could leave our phone in our vehicle while at work or in class or worship.  This is a more radical solution, but can be helpful.  There may be many other ways to deal with turning off the distractions.  Be creative, but be purposeful.

Finally, to deal with our addiction, we can turn to others who can help us by holding us accountable for making the changes we say we want to make.  Sit with someone at church that will check to make sure you aren’t on your phone dealing with distractions.  Give your phone to someone before going into work, starting your prayer time, or going into class.  Turn your phone off and have someone periodically check with you to see that the phone is turned off.

You might not think that this issue of addition to distraction is that big a deal, but what if God were talking to you and you missed it because you were busy checking a notification that someone posted another recipe or cat video?  You would walk away and quote Jacob from Genesis 28:16, “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’” Sobering thought.



On The Road Again

As I write this article, I have been home for a couple of days and am preparing to leave on a mission trip to Haiti.  I have been to Tennessee for a week, Children’s Camp in Salina for a week, Phoenix for our denominational convention for a week, and now I will be heading to Haiti for eight days.  I have been amazed to consider what God has taught me at each stage in this journey.  While I am certain that my travels are of no consequence, I hope that the lessons I am learning will be.

First, I took a week’s vacation prior to a very busy Summer.  I am grateful to my church family for allowing us the time off prior to a very busy season of ministry.  Vacations are kind of hard for me because I like to be active for the Kingdom and vacations seem not to be this way.  Having said that, I know that this vacation was necessary prior to so much time away from my family.  Psalm 85:6 says, “Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?”  This time of vacation was a very necessary time of recharging both for me and for my family.  God helped me to understand that part of revival is getting still and allowing Him to work and move while you rest.

Next was Children’s Camp.  At camp, I had the wonderful privilege to pray with many children.  Some to surrender their lives to Christ as Lord and Savior.  I got the chance to love on kids by listening to their stories, watching them conquer fears, and celebrating with them as they shared their gifts and talents in worship of the King.  In the New Living Translation of the Bible, Ephesians 2:10 reads, “For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  As I reflected on this verse throughout the week, I realized that part of my struggles is that I never feel adequate.  I never feel like I measure up to people’s expectations.  I always feel like I am trying to earn my place at the table with the spiritual giants.  Meditation on this verse helped me to hear God’s voice as He encouraged me to be who He created me to be.  If I live for Him and He lives through me, then I am enough because He sees me as His child.

At our convention, I was blessed to be able to listen to various preachers as they preached through the entire book of Philippians.  One of the messages that really stood out to me, the young preacher said, “The only way for Philippians 1:21 to be true is if Jesus is Who I am living for.  If I am living for anything else, then death takes away what I am living for.  If I am living for Jesus, death brings me to the One I have been living for.”  This really challenged me to ask the question, “What am I living for?”  If I am living for men’s applause, then death with take that from me.  If I am living for family, death will take that from me.  If I am living for fame, power, promotion, retirement, graduation, independence, etc., then death will take those things from me.  If I am living for Jesus and for God’s glory, then death brings that to me.

As I prepare to head off to Haiti, I am also mindful of the scripture that says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9)  The last three years, I have either had to leave Haiti early to return for urgent ministry needs, or I have been prevented from flying due to weather, problems with the plane, etc.  So, I am planning to go to Haiti.  I have packed.  I have bought my ticket.  I have prepared.  I am planning to go.  But whether or not I go is up to God.  It is His mission to which we go, so it is His will and His plan for whether I get there or not.  Now, if I could just learn this in all areas of life.

So, God uses everyday events to teach us eternal lessons.  This is what Jesus did with parables and how He taught His disciples.  What is He teaching you?



Joy Check Up
May 26, 2017, 2:57 pm
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In 1 John, John wrote to his readers and hearers about how to have joy in the Christian walk.  They were struggling and had forgotten the “good” part of the good news.  They had lost their joy for a number of reasons.  As you read through this list, you might stop and ask if you have lost your joy in serving Jesus for a similar reason.

In 1 John 1:4, John said, “These things we write, so that our joy maybe made complete.”  What was causing his hearers and readers to need their joy to be made complete?  I am glad you asked.

(1 John 1:5-7) First, his readers were struggling with the effects of sin in their lives.  Some struggled with living in sin as a normal way of life.  They may have figured that they were saved and had been forgiven of their sins (which is true), so it did not matter how they lived (which is not true).  As they sinned, the Holy Spirit would not leave them alone, but convicted them of sin to draw them back to God so that they felt no peace or joy.

(1 John 1:8) Others struggled with fearing that they might sin in the future and God might deny them entrance into His presence or His Kingdom.  They thought that they had to be perfect in order to earn God’s forgiveness and love.  Because they lived with this fear each day, there was no joy or peace in their lives because they could never really truly know that they are accepted and included in God’s family.

(1 John 1:10) Still yet others struggled with believing the sin of their past was forgiven.  Every time they looked in the mirror, they remembered the words they had spoken in anger, the money they stole, the promise they had broken or the life they had taken.  Since they remembered it, they figured God did as well and that they would never be free from the guilt and shame that caused them to want to crawl under the table and hide.

In the middle of all of this incredible amount of tension, weight and pressure, John dropped a truth that we often quote, but seldom actually stop and listen to.  What is that truth?

1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

You might be tempted to think, “Wait!  What?  That seems too easy!”  It could not be simpler, but it is not easy at all.  This verse is written to believers.  We are told that we need to confess our sins.  What does confess mean?  It means that we need to first agree with God about our sins.  What does God think of our sins?  They are foul, horrible, evil, and in stark opposition and an offense to His holiness and goodness.  They are so foul that they cost the life of His Only Begotten Son.  So, we must agree with Him about our sins and the evil that produces them in us.

We must also agree with Him about the need to turn away from those sins and to trust in God for His forgiveness and grace.  Notice the parts.  First, turn away from the sins.  There is no such thing as confessing sins with any semblance of an intention to continue in them.  Next, we trust in God for His forgiveness.  And then we must trust in God’s grace to carry us through.

So, how is your joy right now?  Is there something that you need to confess to God?  You don’t need to go to a priest or pastor, just talk to God and agree with Him about your sin, turn away from your sin, trust your life to God’s direction and agree with God that His grace is sufficient for your forgiveness and deliverance.  That is way to joy.  At least in the first part of 1 John.



“Is This Really What Jesus Told You Guys to Be Doing?”
May 19, 2017, 2:55 pm
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This is the question that Matt Casper asked Jim Henderson in the book, Jim and Casper Go To Church.  Casper is an atheist and was traveling to visit churches with Jim Henderson, a retired pastor.  The purpose of their visits was to get the reaction of the atheist to what the churches were doing.  At the end of their visits, and prior to writing the book, Casper asked Jim this very question, “Is This Really What Jesus Told You Guys to Be Doing?”  While I certainly do not agree with many of the ideas contained in the book, this question has not left me.

For many of us today, we have gotten to the point that church is somewhere we go to pay someone (or many someones) to do something to us.  It is basically seen by many as simply another service we seek (no pun intended).  We look at our weekend errands and see things like:  1.  Go grocery shopping.  2.  Drop off the dry cleaning.  3.  Get the computer worked on.  4.  Wash the car.  5.  Go to church.  But isn’t the Christian life supposed to be much more than just being able to check a block off of a list of duties?  If it is, then what are we supposed to be doing?  Isn’t it good enough to just go to church and give our money?  Isn’t it enough to endure a sermon that is longer than I would prefer (and even without complaining!)?  Isn’t it enough to say I was there?  I mean, many people don’t go to church at all!  I have to be better than them, right?

While some people might be able to get away with looking at Christianity like this, I simply am not able.  When I think about what God sacrificed to make salvation available to me, I can’t help but thinking there must be more than just Sunday services.  What about living a life that shows how grateful I am to Him for doing so?  Like Paul in Romans 7, I think, “Wretched man that I am!  Who can set me free from the body of this death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Romans 7:24-25a)  What about learning to live free of the entanglements of sin?  What about developing in intimacy with Him?  What about seeing Him transform all areas of my life right down to the thoughts and intentions of my heart?

As important as even these thoughts are, there has to be even more, right?  I mean, doesn’t God want me to make a difference in His world so that others can know Him as well?  Yes, I need to give to support His work, but what about telling my story to people so they can hear about life with Him?  What about taking actions to correct wrong?  What about alleviating suffering, meeting needs and lifting people up?  What about letting my light shine before men so that they give glory to God (Matthew 5:16)?  What about making an actual difference (James 2:14-16)?

With all of this in mind, I am challenged to think about the summer that is already upon us.  For many of us, this is a time of turmoil and uncertainty as we step away from the routine of school, work and civic activity, but this does not mean that we should shut our hearts down or put our hearts on hold from God.  This can be a time when we have additional time to invest in God’s activity in our world.  This can be a time that we spend with friends at cookouts and ball games and can provide an excellent opportunity to get to know them and their struggles and do something to help.  This can be a time that we can involve ourselves in ministry more than normal.  It can be a time when we spend more time in prayer, bible study and devotion to God.  Why not take the time, this summer, to make a list of ways you would like to grow in your relationship with Christ and begin now to take steps towards that growth.  Who knows?  You just might find yourself where you would like to be.  And if you are looking for a place to plug in and serve, just ask.  There is plenty of ministry for everyone!