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Archive for January, 2011

People can – and will – ruin anything.

Many have an aversion to social networking because of the bad behaviors that can be found on-line. It’s important to remember that bad behaviors will be found everywhere, and that the human heart remains the fountain of trouble whether in the 1st or the 21st century. Nonetheless, there are peculiar problems inherent in a digitally-networked environment.

There can be the triumph of trivia. Just as there is meaningless babble in more traditional forms of communication (tabloids, TV, radio, etc), so there is plenty in social networks – multiplied and magnified. The ease with which empty nonsense can be generated and spread means that a tidal wave of triviality can easily overwhelm people. There’s a 24/7 stream of noise, and many are losing the ability to pull back and quietly reflect.

The answer to this is diligent selection and filtering, but still – at times it can be like trying to walk through Manhattan in the midst of a month-long sanitation worker strike. The garbage is everywhere, and you keep having to walk around it!

For Christians seeking to walk in a good conscience (and backsliders not seeking to walk in a good conscience), there is easy access to immorality via digital networks. Pornography is one click away at all times, and it doesn’t try to hide. For those unhappy in their marriages, access to old girlfriends/boyfriends can be one Google or Facebook search away. For the inwardly lonely, other people can seem really enticing behind their on-line avatar and persona, and before you know it, you’re committing adultery in your heart, with your text messages, and then in some motel room. Followers of Christ are not immune to this temptation, and falling into it has never had a lower barrier to entry.

Another downside is the potential time drain of social networks. Fifteen minutes of light browsing can easily turn into two hours of blog-reading, Twitter-exchanges, and Facebook messages that ultimately count for nothing of value, but leave other important tasks undone. Many Christians have defiled consciences about on-line networking, not because of overt sin indulged, but because of a time suck that amounts to addiction.

The addictive allure of social networking can also be manifested by smartphone intrusion. When you can’t even eat dinner with your family without responding to 5 text messages and a couple of Tweets on your iPhone, this creates relational issues. You have now set up a competition between your network and your circle of face-to-face friends and family, and guess who loses? Everybody. We’ve actually now set up some daily screen-free times in our family to deal with this issue, and it’s not just because of the overly-networked kids (ahem!)

Finally, there is digitally documented and magnified stupidity. A ruined reputation can be one posted picture away. Gossip spread on-line can destroy another person’s good name at lightning speed, even if it’s not true. Christians can say something unwise in a chat or a tweet or a blog, and by the time you shake your head awake and try to retract it, Google has immortalized your folly. Social networks are good for the transparently wise, but really bad for the transparently foolish.

The key thing to remember is: social networking is optional. Breathing is not optional, but tweeting is. Lots of involvement in digital social networking won’t be beneficial for everyone, and not everyone will benefit at the same degree of involvement. Jesus makes it clear that repentance and faith are not optional. Walking close to Him daily in a good conscience is not optional. Facebook is optional. A big Twitter network and an active Facebook wall are not passports to heaven, though they may be means to help you and others arrive safely. But they can also be handrails on the path to perdition.

If the minuses overwhelm any pluses for you, pitch it overboard. There are more important things in life than an on-line network. Better to enter heaven without a high Klout (social network influencer measure) score, than compromise your soul to be kind-of-a-big-deal-on-Twitter.

What are your thoughts on the minuses? Feel free to add your insights in the comments!

See Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

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Out of the Comfort Zone

We often talk about getting out of our comfort zone – usually in regard to a specific effort, at a specific time.

I’m living out of my comfort zone. I’m a Dad.

Anybody that knows me knows that I absolutely love hanging out with little kids. From infant to 10 years, I’m totally in the groove. Comfort zone of comfort zones. I’ll scoop up your two-year old and be best friends in 5 minutes flat. But once they’re older….I’m struggling.

It’s not that I periodically feel that I don’t know how to be a father to growing kids. It’s a permanent state of affairs.

Yes, I have 2 that are grown up and out of the house. Yes, I have 2 more teens, and a 9-year old who really wants to be sixteen. And I’m still trying to find a comfort zone here in this stage.

Sometimes, I wish I could just live inside a nice, comfortable bubble where I feel adequate for every challenge. Pipe dream. As I blurted out at one point during this past week’s LeadershipChat (Tuesday nights on Twitter, 8 pm ET:

I guess I’d better get used to this!

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A sincere Christian faces – sometimes daily – a conundrum (def: puzzling and difficult problem). I’ve certainly scratched my head countless times over the reality I’m about to describe.

A tough situation faces us (or someone else). We pray. We pray for what we believe would be good and right. And whatever we had hoped would happen….doesn’t.

Were we wrong to pray? Is God deaf, or uncaring? Is my faith defective? Are the promises of the Bible null and void?

With these questions, we batter ourselves, we question God, we sink into angst and unbelief. Why? Because we didn’t see a result that we wanted to see, in the way we wanted to see it, in the timeframe we thought was best.

We wanted it fixed. And it wasn’t. This can sometimes drive you to drink (note: not endorsing the particular label shown here. It just had a convenient name!)

And there, of course, is the problem. “I need this affliction removed in this manner now – or at least by next week.” Holding God hostage to our puny expectations is not really faith – it’s presumption.

A friends dies tragically. A marriage breaks apart irreconcilably. A child is born with severe handicaps. A business goes under, a job is lost. We lose our wallet. We don’t say, “God is good!” only because something good has happened to us (the way we prayed for it!), then turn around and question whether God is indeed good when something contrary happens. God hasn’t changed – not since yesterday, not since you were born, not for eternity.

Shall we take good from the Lord, and not trouble? Is He really that fickle and inconstant that His very identity changes according to how we perceive today’s struggles??

Mature, well-grounded faith believes firmly that God is who He is – good and just and loving and all-powerful – despite any present circumstances. Mature faith doesn’t look around at the mess we’re in and say, “what does this teach me about God?” No, we look to God as He has revealed Himself, in His timeless and unchanging perfection, and then we look around and say, “God knows what He is doing and He will do what is wisest and best.”

Mature faith looks at the promises of God that indicate a total healing of every ill, a wiping away of every tear, a full and unfettered access to His presence for all eternity, and claims that it will be so – even if there are thorns and hardships along the pathway now, and perplexities that are ugly and seem, for all the world, contrary to all goodness.

Immature faith demands, my will be done – or else You’re not real!” “Unless I understand it, Your existence is in doubt!”

Mature faith grieves over the emptiness of this life, with its sin and evil, yet rejoices in the fullness of Christ, and the prospect of eventually shedding all these graveclothes to share that fullness.

On TV, you can see an Extreme Makeover happen in a week. God takes an entire lifetime. And, yes, there is a tearing down, and a leveling, and a rather messy process of re-building.

We may not see the short-term purpose for the circumstances around us. We may not have our prayers answered the way we wanted them. But we show ourselves to be sons and daughters of God by looking beyond our wants and our feelings and our understanding, and resting in Him. Praying sincerely, with child-like submission, “Your will be done (even if I don’t understand it!)”

If you are Christ’s, the tapestry is being woven. It may look ugly on your side of the cloth, but God sees the beauty of the finished product on the other side. Redemption will be complete. Just don’t try to figure out what is way above your pay grade. You’ll torture yourself daily, and dishonor the One who is worthy to be trusted in the midst of things we can’t understand.

We’re on an incomprehensible path to the inevitable. Embrace both realities. Therein, you will grow in faith.

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Whenever a new technology breaks onto the scene, there is a human tendency toward one of two knee-jerk reactions – naïve acceptance, or fear-driven rejection.

It’s never that simple. God calls His people to wisdom and discernment – regarding the potential danger of any given thing, AND the potential opportunity it might represent.

Digital social networks are enabling something quite amazing in our time – breaking down barriers of time, geography, circumstance, and ideology, and allowing people to communicate with one another directly. There is a huge plus side to all this.

The Apostle Paul had to send hand-written letters over long journeys by human messengers. Our church can interact real-time with its overseas missionaries via video Skype. When I was in college, I wrote letters home via the U.S. Postal Service. Now, I can communicate with my Marine son, wherever he is deployed, via text message and other digital means.

There’s one highly overused word for this. Awesome! (don’t like that word? OK, just swap in Fabulous).

God is a fabulously talented Creator. As a race, we daily unpeel the onion of this world to find more and more embedded genius, and though many attribute these marvels to an impersonal evolutionary process, we understand that all genius is God’s genius. And when very smart people reflect the image of God by creating new digital means of connecting and communicating, this is a gift to us from our Creator, even if the people-creators don’t acknowledge their role as God’s instruments.

Facebook has enabled me to re-connect with dear Christian brothers and sisters from the past – and not merely for the sake of idle connection, but for ministry and fellowship along the rocky path of life.

Interacting with a wide variety of people on Twitter has opened up dozens of new friendships, collaborative business partnerships, and even one rescue of a badly-injured biker lost in the woods.

Using my iPhone, I can now upload pictures on-line and videos to YouTube with hardly a thought, which has energized whole new areas of creativity and self-expression. I can publish musings on one of my blogs and touch others that I didn’t even know were reading it.

Christian mothers can work from home, on their own schedule, due to the productivity enabled by digital networks. This will be the future of work for many – as it is for me.

Connection, conversation, collaboration – the walls have come down and people can share freely. Even those who have been let down by horrible service can have an outsized voice, as many corporations have found out to their chagrin (hello, United Airlines!). You can’t get away with much anymore, because every person with a phone can be a reporter. This reflects something of the character of God, who brings deeds of darkness out into the light. I rejoice every time business or political hypocrisy is brought to the surface via digital means. Social networks, as they currently stand, are a bulwark of freedom.

And believers can gather around any number of virtual campfires, find and fellowship with one another, and create new opportunities for grace and learning and ministry. There’s a lot to like when disciples network!

See Part 1 of this series (the above is part 2)

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Surrounded

Many times in the past, I’ve been encouraged by Psalm 125:2, which I came across again this morning:

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people, from this time forth and forever.

What does it look like to be surrounded by God?

  • We’re surrounded by His provision, caring for us when we have no-one and nothing else to turn to.
  • We’re surrounded by His presence, loving and unchanging, invisible but very real.
  • We’re surrounded by His people, who extend His care through human hands and feet and eyes and lips.
  • We’re surrounded by His purpose, which is being worked out in our lives even when the circumstances seem senseless.

Unbelief says abandoned. Faith says surrounded. And the prior verse says this: Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. Fear tells us we’re going to be toppled. God tells us to look at mountains.

Since we’re surrounded, we may as well lay aside the anxiety and rest a bit, don’t you think?

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(I’ve thought long and hard about how Christians fit into the digital networking world, and have been navigating those waters myself for years now. It’s a rapidly evolving area and “the rules” seem to be written on the fly, but there are certain core principles that should guide a follower of Christ in all interactions, including social networking. This brief series is a humble attempt to sketch out a high-level view of the landscape, with one foot planted on eternal truth, and the other trying to keep pace with the fast-moving world of networked communications. -Steve Woodruff)

Digital networks are a given. We now have a breathtaking ability to communicate globally, with very few barriers; and, barring some unforeseen disaster, we’re not going back to the analog days.

As with all areas of progress through the centuries, this is a two-sided coin. There is a great blessing in digitally-fueled networked communications, and there is potential danger. Christians should never be naïve about areas of technological progress, painting them in shades of only black and white, good and evil. The black, the white, and all the grey in between stem from the human heart – the way we use the tools and platforms around us.

Social networks have been a cause of grief to many, leading to broken marriages, defiled hearts, and the ticking away of time frittered away in trivialities. However, the ability to easily connect and share over networks has led to richer fellowship, one-to-one ministry, and unparalleled opportunities for godly self-expression.

A budding Christian artist can find an audience via blogs and YouTube. Brothers and sisters in Christ can renew long-neglected bonds and share life together via platforms like Facebook. Unbelievers can gain a far more holistic and “human” view of believers as they share life via Twitter.

It’s an easy cop-out to blame TV, movies, or the Internet for any ascendancy of sin. And while there may be areas of blame we can assign to these vehicles as far as societal corruption, we have only ourselves to blame when we participate in darkness.

And we have only ourselves to blame if we ignore the opportunity to serve Christ through all of the means He has given us.

So, we have a choice. Eschew all progress and move in with the Amish. Or learn to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt, and redeem these powerful networks with the power of God’s grace and truth.

This series of posts (this is part 1, or the Intro, I guess!) is written for all those in the latter camp, who, like me, are on a not-so-risk-free journey to live in this present world, without being conformed to it. We might wish to return to Little House on the Prairie, when life was (purportedly) simpler. But God has put us here, now.

So let’s figure it out. Together. What issues would you like to be sure we cover? (add your Comments)

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No Limits

Reading this morning in Charles Spurgeon’s matchless devotional book, Morning and Evening, I came across his thoughts on the phrase, “mighty to save.”

God = mighty. Heard it a thousand times. Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.

Almighty.

I go through life looking through the lens of limits. Circumstances, disappointments, failures, frailties – all of it ingrains in us the word “can’t” – we quickly, and thoroughly, learn that we live in a cage of limitations.

We are nowhere close to almighty. Not even anywhere near mighty.

Lord God Almighty.

There is not a single obstacle that can withstand almighty power. Every “can’t” is swept aside like chaff before a zephyr. Every impossibility that rears up before my eyes, taunting my weakness, mocking my limitless limitations, is a liar.

God is all-mighty.

Help me, O Lord, to see, not with myopic and nearsighted eyes, but with the clarity of faith. To look away from the obstacle, to look away from myself, and to see the God who has never known the constraint of any limits.

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