Thanks Facebook

6 07 2014

There has been a lot of discussion about the study Facebook conducted. They were able to manipulate our moods by managing what we saw in our news feeds. They could cause us to post in either a negative or positive way simply by changing an algorithm.

When we step back, we realize this happens in various ways all the time. Advertisers look for ways to shape our view of a particular product. Magazines airbrush their models to distort our understanding of beauty. Politician try to get us to care about an issue by highlighting a person impacted by a problem rather than just giving us facts and figures.

The reality is we can be manipulated easier than we would like to admit.

Another reality is that content matters. We will tend to feel more aggressive after watching violent content. We will be more sexual after watching sexual content. Are we surprised that we were negative after viewing negative content and positive after viewing positive content?

As Paul was giving his final advice to Timothy, he warned of a struggle that Timothy would face. In 2 Timothy 4:3 he says:
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

I think Paul was on to something. He may not have known about Facebook but he did understand we can be manipulated by our environment. If we are not grounded in truth with a healthy understanding of reality, we could find ourselves being led down a road where we only hear what we want to hear and ignore sound doctrine and ultimately truth.

The Bible paints a very realistic picture of the human condition. We are fallen and separated from God. God provided a way to restore our relationship through Jesus. God is truth and grounds us in reality. God helps us stay balanced. The truth helps us turn Facebook’s experiment into a lesson we learn from.

So thank you Facebook. You have reminded us that we need to be aware of the content we are consuming and just like we should have a balanced food diet we should also have a balanced viewing diet. You also reminded us to be aware of how others want to manipulate us. We need to be grounded in the truth. The Bible helps us have a healthy view of ourselves and a proper view of God.

I think I will go read my Bible and check Facebook later. Will you join me?





Agents of Grace

28 02 2014

Have you ever read something and did a double take. You reread it just to make sure it said what you think it said. That happened to me as I was reading Exodus. In Exodus 24:9-11 we are told about Moses, Aaron and his sons along with the seventy elders going up to see God. Verse 11 is what made me pause, “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders…”

The reason I did a double take is God was the one who invited them up. Why would he raise his hand against them? Here are my thoughts.

At the end of the day God is holy. He also has the true “big picture.” As he saw these men walking up, he would have known that Aaron would soon fail as a leader and make an idol for the Israelites to worship (Exodus 32). Aaron’s sons would choose to disregard the requirements laid out by God for proper worship and would put God in the position of maintaining the holiness of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). You could add to this the number of times the Israelites would complain and talk about how good life was when they were slaves. The seventy elders never seemed to help lead the people in a better direction. Instead they just went along with the crowd.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone you know is bad? Have you ever gone to a function where a person who makes really poor choices is placed at the same table as you? Thanks to the power of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other internet tools we can “raise our hand against them.” We can fire off that perfect poke in the eye. We can bash them and get “likes.” We can even text while we talk with them making sure people know what an idiot they are.

I am thankful God takes a different approach. God extends grace. At the core we see God’s desire to have a relationship with us. His desire will result in inviting guys like Aaron to eat with him. It also meant Jesus would get the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

Technology is allowing us to set our own borders. We can isolate ourselves with “friends” who are just like us. When we argue, we seem to be crueler and sharper in our attacks with those not in our circle. In an ocean of words we feel the only way we can be heard is if we get creatively ugly.

The world is in desperate need of the unique grace offered by God. I say unique because in our own circles we tend to be really good about sending encouraging and uplifting messages. There is never a shortage of inspirational stories or pictures on my Facebook news feed. What if we extended grace outside our circles? What if we did something kind for a person we despise? What if we took Jesus seriously and loved our enemies?

God never condones sin. There are plenty of examples where God steps in and demonstrates justice and holiness. God also extends grace. God does it perfectly. The rest of us do it a little less than perfectly. There will be times when we need to take a stand because something is immoral or harmful. I would offer there are plenty of times we can follow God’s example and extend grace.

Grace changes the world. Grace tears down walls, restores relationships and offers hope. Ultimately it was God’s grace that opened the door for our salvation.

Will it be hard? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Likely. We will always get it right? If you are like me, no. However, if we focus on grace and extend it to others then I think we can have the opportunity to truly impact our world.

There is also a blessing that comes back to us. I wanted to write about grace. God is awesome in bringing things together. Where I ended up is different from my initial thoughts. I wanted to remind us that we live by grace. God tweaked my message to focus on offering grace outside our circle of friends. However, I believe as we offer grace the byproduct will be a reminder of the grace given to us. God loves you and me not because of what we do. As we meet with God, he knows how we will blow it next week. However, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t raise his hand against us. Instead, he extends grace and offers us a seat.

Our challenge for this upcoming week is to be an agent of grace. Some of you need to accept God’s grace. All of us need to be intentional about looking beyond our circle of friends and finding a way to show grace. I am going to trust God on this one. Say a prayer and ask God who you need to give grace to.
Warning: God is most likely going to bring up the one person you absolutely do not want to give any grace to. He does that to grow you. Trust me it will be worth it.

What will it look like? It may be going out to lunch with someone you normally would not eat with. It may be saying an encouraging word to someone you normally ignore. It may be asking forgiveness for your part in why a relationship has soured. It will be critical that there be no strings attached. You are simply following Jesus.

My prayer is we will be agents of grace in the weeks to come. It will give God an opportunity to work through us bring hope, peace and reconciliation. If you are like me you are very thankful and humbled by God’s grace. Those we give grace to will hopefully be grateful but no matter what you will have given them a snapshot of God’s heart.

PS. Yes God has prompted me on who I need to extend grace to. I am praying about how to do it well.





God’s restraint –He wanted us more

13 07 2013

My wife is on a diet.  (This is when good husbands insert the comment, “She already looks great and does not need to diet but I will be supportive.”)  One of the keys to success in dieting is self control.  I watch Andreya have self control as she eats her lunch while three…okay four hungry boys eat a much different lunch.

Self control is critical to being successful in life.  I also believe it is vital to grow as a healthy Christian.

There seems to be two primary ways to get self control.  One is by establishing habits.  The other (and the one I want to focus on) is when we want something more than whatever we need self control for.  For example, if you really want an “A” in a class you will not watch TV but instead study.  Andreya wants to be at a healthier weight more than she wants that piece of chocolate cake.  (Sorry honey for reminding you of chocolate.)

Many people will try to have self control but fail.  I believe they fail because they either don’t have good habits or they are more focused on what they are giving up rather than on what they want.  When I keep thinking about how I am not suppose to watch TV, all I want to do is watch TV.  However, when I focus on the fact I want that “A,” I am not thinking of TV but I am focused on my class.

What do I want more?  That simple question seems to be a powerful tool to help me develop self control.

Here is the amazing part.  God never asks us to do something that he has not done.  God wants us to have self control.  What about God?  Has God ever demonstrated self control?

Walk with me through the gospels.  Luke 4:9-12 gives us some insight into the power available to Jesus.  Satan tempts Jesus to jump and see if the angels will do their job and catch him before he hits the ground.  Jesus turns him down by quoting scripture.  Just a little while later in Luke 4:28-30 we see Jesus walk through a crowd of people who wanted to throw him off a cliff.  He walked right through because he had the power to do so.  John 18 is about the arrest of Jesus.  Verse 6 shows the soldiers falling back as he spoke. Later in the chapter, verse 22, we see Jesus getting slapped by one of the officials.

Pause with me right here.  It is safe to say every angel in heaven wanted to pounce on that official.    Imagine all of God’s army at the ready begging to step in and save Jesus.  (There is a similar picture in 2 Kings 6:17.)

Instead of releasing the angels to protect Jesus, God restrained them.

Jesus wanted us more.  He demonstrated self control in the face of humiliation, beatings and ultimately the cross.  It is very humbling.  It is also inspiring and amazing.

If you are like me you will struggle with self control in some area.  Sometimes we will get self control by building good habits.  Other times we may need to pause and ask ourselves what we want more.  In that moment remember what God wanted more.  If you are like me it will put things into perspective.  You will be grateful and it will be easy to pick what you want.





Unfairness

1 05 2013

I love that the Bible is willing to say what we are thinking. The book of Ecclesiastes does a great job of capturing a common frustration.
Chapter 9 verse11:
“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

This verse is a stinging reality. A great person loses their job while an incompetent person is promoted. A phenomenal singer never gets their big break while a mediocre singer becomes a star. As I was thinking of a third example, it was humbling because many of the struggles I could mention would be painful to others.

Life is not fair. I struggle in those moments and try to figure out what I did wrong. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or there something I should have done differently. Of course, I know I am reading too much into it but sometimes there was something I could have done differently making the waters muddy. It can be very frustrating and can drive me crazy if I let it.

Here is the interesting part. The Bible does not try to answer why these things happen. Instead it just lays out the picture and lets us see reality. Acts 12 captures this. The beginning of the chapter starts with the Apostle James being killed and Peter being arrested with it being clear he would face the same fate. The church prays and Peter is miraculously released from prison. Did the church not pray for James? Were they suppose to do more? Could James have been saved? The Bible is silent. It just tells us that James was killed and Peter was saved.

This is when our faith is stretched to its limits. Those of us who have been around the block can quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The question is, when we are alone and truly honest with ourselves, do we believe it?

I keep coming back to yes.

It is not because things always work out for me. It is because when I look at the world without God, there is harshness and a lack of depth that I reject. When I look to God, I find a depth of love and peace that grounds me and a hope that sustains me. The result of an unfair world is my focus is sharpened, my relationships become deeper and I become stronger. In other words, God and I get the last laugh.

We all know someone who is facing a frustrating and unfair situation. Would you take some time to pray for them? Yes, we should always pray for a miraculous intervention like Peter received. We should also pray for God’s love and peace to shine through and for the person to grow and mature remembering “time and chance” will be overcome by love and eternity.





Life transformation and immediate gratification

10 04 2013

I love the speed at which we can get things today. If I want a book I simply check to see if there is an e-book version and with a click I can be reading it. If I want to know something I go to Google and within seconds I have the answer. I also know that when I have a slow internet connection and something takes longer than 5 seconds I become impatient. If the book is not available on Kindle I am frustrated. Bottom line: I want what I want NOW.

I think I have seen this slipping into my walk with God. If I pray for something, I want my prayer answered…now. If I struggle with something I should be able to overcome it by…this afternoon at the latest.

However, when I step back and see people truly transformed by God very rarely is it immediately. There are dramatic moments but more often than not it is this slow and steady change seen only when we look back and reflect.

Matthew 13:1-13 gives us the inside story on one of Jesus’ parables. He talks about four types of soil and then goes on to explain the meaning of each type to his disciples.

One type is shallow soil that does not have the depth to allow the seed to take a firm root. It shoots up quickly but life happens quicker and soon the plant is scorched and withered. Another type is soil with weeds and refers to the worries and troubles of this life choking out the seed.

As I become more impatient and distracted I fear I am becoming like those two soils and I missing out on what God is trying to do in my life. (Feel free to admit you struggle with the same thing. I just didn’t want to be the one to point it out.)

Those who have been faithfully plugging along continue to grow in depth and maturity. When hard situations happen in their lives, they are able to rise above the circumstances and graces shines through. Meanwhile, those who have not given God time to work get frustrated and give up. Those who don’t slow down to really consider God’s wisdom see their situation get worse as they feel pressure from all the worries of this world.

It makes perfect sense. God typically goes against our expectations and standards. In our time of immediate gratification and multiple distractions it would only make sense that God would move slowly and would encourage us to focus in order to see his transformative work in our lives.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 God tells us “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

If we take that to heart then I need to be a lot more patient and intentional at looking for God. In other words there is probably not an App for this.

I encourage you to take some time and reflect. Look back and see if you can catch God working. Look for distractions you need to remove so you can better focus on the things of God. Then, spend some time thanking God and committing to following God for the long haul. Will there still be amazing moments and dramatic stories of God’s intervention? Absolutely. However, I am truly amazed as I look in the opposite direction the world is going, as I slow down and I take the time to not be distracted. I find a loving, patient God who is quietly transforming lives.