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 9
September 18, 2017, 1:06 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.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

Another way that our phones are changing us is in the way that our phones encourage us to lose context crucial to meaning.  People post information on social media at an alarming rate.  It is amazing that there is just over 7.5 billion people in the world.  2.5 billion of these have social media accounts.  That is 1/3 of the earth’s population.  On just Facebook alone, there are 2.4 million status updates every minute.  That is 144 million an hour. 3.5 billion per day, and 1.3 trillion per year.  Yes, trillion.  And that is only Facebook!  Twitter sees 6000 tweets per second.  That is 360 thousand per minute, 21.6 million per hour, 518 million per day, nearly 190 billion per year.  Add the rest of the social media platforms, and there is a deluge of information like no other time in history.

What does this deluge of information produce in the hearts and minds of consumers?  First, it contributes to a desensitizing of our hearts.  We talked about this in a previous article, but it causes us to lose our ability to empathize because we simply don’t have the time.  We have to move on to the next article, post, tweet, snap chat, or pin.

Additionally, sense most of what we read on social media is not mentally nutritional, it affects our desire for deeper, more complex, or mentally stretching information.  When given the choice between reading about what celebrities of our day look like now and reading about the newest technology for more efficient delivery of clean drinking water to East Africa, most consumers follow the stars.  While this is not an absolute statement, the statistics show us that this is the behavioral choice for most in this situation.

A corollary to this is the fact that most information is accept at face value with no thought of context, truthfulness, or even applicability.  When the consumer consumes hours of product commercials, kid videos, cat videos, or other such input, there is no thought as to if this is a true representation of a product, life, or pet behavior.  There is also no thought as to how God might call one to act to help in a situation.  For instance, you read a post about girls being sold into sexual slavery right here in Liberal, Kansas.  You read the article, shake your head for a moment and then move on to the next post about the football team, weather, or something else unrelated.  Rather than contemplating what God might be saying about the establishment of a new ministry, or your personal involvement in a new issue, we move on without feeling what we should.

News outlets realize this and capitalize on it for their own profitability.  For instance, a story is run with some unverified aspects of the story because we have to get the information out there.  In years gone by, there would have been people on the ground.  They would have been verifying facts, getting names, dates, and other pertinent data before presenting the story.  If there were facts that we errant, they would have come back at a later date and apologized for the mistake.  Now, the information is broadcast immediately because it has to be.  There is no checking of facts, or very little.  When there is a mistake, there is no mention or it is blamed on some other issue.  Combine this with the hapless consumer and you have a dangerous situation that teaches us to either not trust or not care.

The only counterbalance I know to this effect is to follow Proverbs 1 and seek for wisdom and treasure wisdom and choose to be selective on what and when we read.  We need to pray and ask God for discernment and wisdom and submit our ways to Him.



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 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”.



How Is Your Phone Changing You? Part 5

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.  These are examples of how our phones are changing us.

Another way that our phones are changing us might not seem so obvious on the surface.  Oh, the effect will be apparent, but the deleterious aspects might not be.  Our phones are tempting us to become those who feed on the produced.  What does that mean?  I am glad you asked.

Our nation has created a class of person that other generations and other nations have not known.  We have people that are famous for nothing other than being famous.  We no longer have heroes that are actually heroic, but we have celebrities that are celebrities because of their celebrity.  In order for them to remain famous, they must remain the spotlight, in the news, or trending on social media.  How do they accomplish this?  Through produced moments in the sun.  Whether it is a contrived celebration or a made-up catastrophe, the only way for them to remain famous is the remain in the social conscious.  Not only do they benefit from this, but those who pay for endorsement deals with them must have this constant social conscious or their investments do not pay off for them.

What does that have to do with you and I?  First, we have been fed these produced moments so regularly that we find we must have them to continue to be the rabid fans of our favorite celebrities.  We find ourselves checking their social media, searching google for the latest news of their exploits or going to the latest gossip sights hoping for a glimpse into their lives.  We feel like we actually know them, but don’t realize they are feeding us the produced parts of their lives.  That is one of the reasons that we feel such shock when one of our celebrities takes his or her life or gets arrested for a heinous crime.

Additionally, we find ourselves wanting badly in their company.  No, not the way people used to stalk celebrities by hanging around outside their house hoping for an autograph, but we actually want to be in their number.  With social media, we can be.  We can get a million people to like a video of us making a sandwich and we are celebrities for an instant.  We can begin to produce our own lives and cause people to approve, which we talked about in a previous article.

Another byproduct of this effect is that many of us are not actually living in the moments we find ourselves because we are so busy trying to produce moments for others or trying to capture the moment, but paradoxically ignore the moment with our capturing.  Instead of watching our children perform in their school musical, we are busy staring at our phones to make sure they are in frame, the app is working properly, the recording is working, the lighting is right, we have zoomed into the right distance, etc.  Instead of enjoying the performance, we are distracted from the moment we are so busy producing for others.

If we are not careful, this obsession with produced moments actually can lead us to attempt to take God’s place as the Creator and Sustainer of our world and our lives.  God spoke and created everything.  Those things tell us about what He made, but it also tells us about Him.  He is creative, personal, enjoys variety, etc.  When we begin to obsess over the produced moments of our lives, we are subtly telling God what He created was fine for then, but we will take it from there.  For some, this might even mean that we are telling God that He has not done well enough for us so we have to attempt to generate more through our productions.  Ultimately, this can lead us to the point that we no longer appreciate our lives or what God has done for us.

So, the next time you are out with your children, will you be WITH your children, or will you be leveraging your time with your children for the benefit of others who are just as stuck on produced moments as you are in producing them?



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.