Social Media is the New Street Corner

Jesus longest recorded teaching is called the Sermon on the Mount. There he teaches his followers how to live the life God desires for them. The material is found in the Gospel according to Matthew chapters five, six and seven.

Within this body of teaching Jesus addresses a topic that is as applicable today as it was in his time. Matthew chapter six starts with Jesus saying, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Jesus is very clear in his words; you probably do not need a commentary or preacher to explain them. He warns his followers not to make their life a public spectacle of our own righteous behavior. In fact, showy goodness has no reward from God. Sure, it might impress friends and convince people of your genuine kindness, but it will not have any impact on eternity.

To drive the point home, Jesus gives us three examples of this type of behavior. First, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others.” (Matthew 6:2) Second, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” (Matthew 6:5) Finally, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.” (Matthew 6:16)

Each one of these examples that Jesus addresses are not hypothetical. The so-called religious people of his day practiced these regularly as s sign of their devotion to God. In every case Jesus reminds us that God is not getting the glory, rather the person doing the action is getting the praise.

I go to these words again and again in 2018. I believe social media is the new street corner. This is the place where people announce their good deeds with trumpet blasts to be seen by them. Let me ask you a couple of questions. What would happen if the next time you went to do some good deed you put your cell phone away? What would happen if you did not post any pictures on social media of your children’s selfless behavior? What would the result be if no one ever knew about anything you did for God? Jesus answers all those questions by saying “your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

I know you are proud of the good deeds that you or someone you love is doing. I know you want to let your family and friends see the things they are missing. I know you want to post it on social media as a place to receive a pat on the back. Go ahead and post it, just know that the reward you receive in the form of praise will not be from God.

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Scribbles Notes and Random Thoughts

Over the last six years, I have frequently found a piece of paper and scribbled an idea into the blank space. Sometimes the ideas come while I am driving in the silence of my car, other times they happen during a conversation, and often they come to me during worship. I scribble down a line or a phrase and then put it in my pile of papers to process. Those words will then get written or typed into a notebook. Then they become the fodder for this blog and my sermon series.

Recently I was flipping through the pages and noticed some patterns. Several of the topics come up again and again in my thinking. Here are the three biggest concerns of my life and ministry as seen in my notebook.

1. How people become spiritually mature. What is it going to take to get you to grow in your faith? I want to help people to become more like Jesus in the ways they think, feel and act. Sometimes I teach from a passage in the Bible and other times through practical steps learned from life experience. I long for everyone to become fully mature believers no matter where you are on your journey with God now. My question for today is, “What are you doing this day and this week to develop a life fully committed to God?”

2. How we view and relate to people who call themselves believers. This one takes several pages to cover completely in my notebook. What should we say to new believers? What do we do about people we don’t like or agree with who come into our lives? Some of the latest thoughts have been focused on false or fake believers. The Bible repeatedly refers to false teachers, false apostles, and Christians who are only after self-interests. One of the most significant issues every follower of Jesus is going to face is how they relate to the other followers of Jesus. How might God be pushing you to grow in your love and understanding of those who also call on his name?

3. What it means to be the Church body. As a Church leader, I am always hoping to learn and grow in my knowledge of this thing that I lead. I want to know the best practices and the worst habits. I want to know how to engage the world while remaining faithful to Jesus. The people who follow me should know my hopes and dreams for God’s people. There is so much to learn about being the body of Christ, and I want the Church I lead to be fully equipped to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our community. What are you learning about the Church lately that is worth repeating for the benefit of everyone?

At this moment I have pages of scribbled notes and incomplete thoughts. One day all of them will probably make their way onto this blog or into a sermon. I did find it fascinating that I can write an idea and then go back a year and find a similar idea already written down. I guess the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct, “There is nothing new under the sun.” My ministry is repeating the same basic ideas until we all reach unity in the faith, which should take a lifetime.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best posts I have read lately. I hope you enjoy.

5 Reasons We Need to Pray For Our Teachers

Don’t Become Weary in Doing Good

Context Matters: Your Body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit

If We Can Worship Anywhere, Why Go To Church?

IDES helping with hurricane recovery on two fronts – International Disaster Emergency Services is an organization in our brotherhood of Churches who specialize in disaster relief. I highly recommend you use them if you are interested in helping in times like these.

Mirror, mirror – A thought worth pondering

Gloom (and doom)

Stop Doing the Same Things

The old saying does something like this, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting a different result.”

Even with that definition and understanding I still see people doing the same actions repeatedly. Either they repeat their own actions, or they do what everyone else is doing. Very few people who I encounter seem interested in results.

Almost weekly I have a conversation with someone who tells me how tired they are right now. Usually, that is followed by an explanation of how busy they have been lately. The end result of their actions is exhaustion. Here is where it gets interesting to me. Even though their life is draining every ounce of energy out of them, they do nothing to change it. Then somewhere in the not so distant future, they will be tired again because they have been so busy. And on and on it goes, week after week and month after month. I always want to ask them directly, “How long are you going to run on this treadmill before you realize it is leading nowhere?”

It gets worse, we then look out our window and watch our neighbor, co-workers, and the people we admire also running on the treadmill. We guess that must be the best way to live and we repeat the same pattern. Somehow, we never notice their marriages falling apart, children who are far from God, and their emotional wreckage.

People all around us, and quite possibly that person is you, are exhausted, burnt out, struggling in their marriage, fighting with their kids, feeling lonely, and living with a host of other issues. Yet, no one seems to adjust their behavior.

If you want a better life, a life more like Jesus, then you are going to have to stop doing the same old things. If you are not happy with your spiritual life, emotional health or family dynamics then the solution is not found in repeating the same weekly routines over and over again.

The life of faith calls us to a different type of thinking and action. Paul told the Church in Rome that they needed a renewing of their mind that would lead to different action. Only then would they see a different result.

Before you spend this day mindlessly doing the same things would you take a few minutes and ask, “Is this getting the results I desire in my life?” Before you plan another weekend would you ask, “Will my actions these few days get the results I desire?” Before you start next week would you ask yourself, “Why I am I doing the same things every week?”

I believe that Jesus life looked nothing like the culture of his time. Quite possibly God is calling your life to look more like his than anyone else.

Three Additional Ways God Might Be Trying to Teach You

Life is a series of lessons God is using to teach us for us to be more like Jesus. Every day we have the opportunity to learn something new or be reminded of an old truth. Quite often we miss what he is showing us simply because we are not looking for an education. We all know of how God can use Bible reading, the study of scripture and daily quiet time to grow us. Lately, I am noticing three non-traditional ways God has been using to teach me, and he might be using the same methods in your life.

1. Exposure to a new perspective. Some days a new person is thrust into my life who views everything differently. These people come to Church, we encounter in the community, or they might show up in our reading. Their life experience and ours are not similar, and it gives them a unique perspective we have not contemplated. When these people and their views come to us, we have the choice to push them away or learn from them. Maybe that new coworker from another part of the country or the world is there to teach us something. Maybe that neighbor with a different political bent is God’s way of stretching our thinking. Is it possible that God is using a different vantage point to challenge each one of us?

2. Repeated messages. Sometimes it seems that God wants me to hear him, so he sends repeated messengers. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a book, a passage of scripture and had a conversation that all seemed to be connected. There have been times that even things as unchristian as a TV show and a movie have appeared linked to my Bible reading. I think it is worth taking note of anything that had been repeated three or more times in recent memory. It is highly likely that God is communicating, and he wants to make sure you are listening.

3. Situations I want to avoid. As an introvert, I know this is true for me. When I see a crowd of people I do not know; my natural inclination is to run and hide. I am beginning to see these situations as opportunities to push myself to be more like Jesus in unnatural ways. You might not be an introvert, and so maybe the opposite is true for you. You need to leave the crowd and spend time quietly alone in reflection. Whenever we are put in positions that are uncomfortable, perhaps those are the moments God is trying to enlarge our faith.

I know of a guy who keeps a journal every evening. His plan is simple, at the end of every day he wants to write down at least one thing that God has taught him that day. There are nights when he writes down several thoughts, but he never goes a day without noticing something. I want to suggest that every day God is not only working in your life but on it. He is putting you into situations and giving you experiences that will make you more like Jesus in every way. Perhaps you have just not taken note of them before this day.

Today is another day in which you can make it your goal to simply “get through it.” It could also be a day where you grow in your faith as God instructs you.

Focus on the Big Picture

We live in a culture of quick fixes and short answers. Tweets were 140 characters but are now a whopping 280. Books and articles are reduced to quotes. News consists of 30 second sound bites no matter how much they are taken out of context. Everything needs to be concise and able to share. You can even post a Bible verse to encapsulate your spiritual walk.

Unfortunately, the scriptures give little attention to timely quotes and momentary lessons. The books of the Bible are extended tales and usually, take a long view of life. The immediate situation is always laid in the context of a bigger story.

I just finished preaching on the book of Ruth and found this truth portrayed to me once again. The story covers at least a dozen years in the first chapter. The rest of the story takes another three months to find some sense of completion, then the story turns and gives us a picture of conception and birth that take another nine months. Finally, the story ends not with one family, but a genealogy of four generations. The final words of the story are hundreds of years in the making.

This is not the only story to highlight this thinking in the Old Testament. Joseph in the book of Genesis must endure slavery, lies, prison and be forgotten before he achieves anything years later. Job is a man who gains, loses, wrestles, and regains over a lifetime. Moses will spend forty years in Egypt, another 40 as a shepherd and then 40 years as a leader. Then the story really doesn’t reach a climax as Moses dies outside of the promised land. Jeremiah watches his countryman go off into exile. God promises to bless them in just a mere 70 years.

God’s word continually reminds us that our story cannot be reduced to a few moments or words. The scenes we see being played out are part of a much bigger story that God himself is writing.

I think we need to be reminded of this every single day. The temptation is to focus on what happened this day and ride the emotional wave of success and defeat as each day closes. The story of your life is much more complicated than one day in 2018. You are part of an intricate story that God has been writing since before you were born and will continue sharing after you are gone. Ruth in the Old Testament did not know the great king David, but her story of faithfulness and commitment will impact generations of unseen people.

Today, no matter how bad things seem, your life is part of a grand story. You need to trust that the author is creating a bigger narrative than just today.

Be Careful with Sports

TJ was a guy I admired. He seemed to be smart, funny and didn’t adhere to anything traditional. He was a little older than me and came from a completely different background, and I listened to him for a unique perspective on the world. One day over a conversation at lunch he was asked about sports, and he said something that caught my attention, “All sports are designed to feed the human ego and nothing more.” He was the very first person in my life that I can remember who questioned the endless sports activities we have here in America.

Through the years I have repeated all or part of what he said to numerous individuals hoping to get their perspective on the sports in which we participate. Usually, the conversation is greeted with surprise and often with heated tones. It was often stated like, “How dare you question this?” Which made me even more concerned over our undying devotion to something we label as a game.

There is always a list of the positive effects of sports in the life of those who participate of which I agree.

1. They promote physical fitness. Every parent is quick to point out that it is better for their kid to be on the field or court than sitting on the couch at home playing video games or watching TV.

2. They are fun activities. All the sports I know about were designed to bring joy to the player. They should result in smiles and pleasant memories.

3. They provide fellowship. You can call it teamwork or whatever label you like. The fundamental component is the interaction with other human beings. Obviously, not all sports are designed for teams, but many contain an element of intrapersonal connection.

These seem to be the primary three reasons most people promote sports, and I can see the values in each of these. But this is where I want to put up a boundary and begin to wave a warning flag, especially to people who call themselves believers. At some point, we can move beyond the foundational goodness of these events and cross into a dark new territory. Here are a few areas where we need to be careful in both our lives and in the hearts of our children.

1. When sports are where we find meaning and self-worth. It is easy to think that if you are bigger, faster or stronger than other people, then you are somehow special. Soon your identity can become wrapped up in your activity. We can think, I have value and worth because I am good at something. My questions are, “What happens when they get hurt? What happens when they meet someone who is bigger, faster or stronger? What happens when they get older and no longer can play?” Finding your sense of self-worth in sports is a dangerous recipe for disappointment.

2. When sports fill us with pride. If you win a few games, it is easy to begin to see yourself as superior to other people. My friend TJ was partially correct in his assessment. Sports are inherently designed to promote one person or team as better than another. Soon that can translate into an inflated ego, and a whole world of terrible actions can follow. The bible is clear that pride proceeds destruction (Prov. 16:18) and a Christian attitude is humility.

3. When sports become our master. This one creeps up on us suddenly. We see all the positive benefits, and so we can throw ourselves into athletics without thinking. Soon your life can be dominated by it. Every evening’s agenda is designed around practices and games. Weekend schedules are prioritized according to the games we are playing. Let me ask you this one huge question, “When a new activity comes up as a possibility is your first thought, ‘What would Jesus want me to do?’ or is it, ‘Will the sports schedule allow it to happen?’” The answer to that question will reveal a great deal about your priorities.

I know as you read this you might think I am an angry old person who hates these kids and all their athletics programs. In fact, the opposite is true. I have four boys who enjoy sports, and I am a fan at most of their games. I have also spent a lifetime watching the effects it is having on our parents and our young people. I want to spend today issuing a warning; please, please be careful with sports.