Living With Hope and Certainty!

A lot of people today have the understanding that it really does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere in what it is you say you believe. Of course this plays well until we come to the place in life when we are genuinely facing our own possible death. Then what we believe immediately comes into sharper focus and becomes seriously important.

What you believe should shape the lifestyle you live. But what you believe – sincere or not – will seriously shape your “life after death.” So, it is important to review your foundational beliefs and understandings. And, may I be so bold as to suggest, check them again what the Christian faith and the Bible sets forth as truth. Even if you are not a Christian you might still take a look at what the Bible teaches about death and life after death. Just to give yourself a context and something to bounce your own beliefs off of at such an important time. 

I just read Alex Trebek’s autobiography “The Answer Is… Reflections on my life.” He is the host of the long-running game show “Jeopardy.” The back of the dust jacket reads: “I believe in the will to live. I believe in the power of positivity. I believe in optimism. I believe in hope.” Caught my interest and so I took the time to read what is an amazing story and a well written book. 

In the last few pages of the book, the author writes of his current battle with terminal cancer. He writes…

“But when death happens, it happens. Why should I be afraid of it? Now, if it involves physical suffering, I might be afraid of that. But, according to my doctor, that’s what hospice is for.

They want to make it as easy as it can possibly be for you to transition into whatever future you happen to believe in. Am I a believer? Well, I believe we are all part of the Great Soul — what some call God. We are God, and God is us. We are one with our maker. How do I know this? It’s not that I know it. It’s that I feel it … I feel it in my gut.

But do I pray to a specific God? Do I anticipate a particular version of the afterlife? No, I do not. For all I know I’ll wind up coming back in another life as a knitter during the French Revolution sitting there like Madame Defarge watching the executions. However, lately I’ve been thinking more and more about that old line they used in the military: “No one’s an atheist in a foxhole.” If ever there was an opportunity to believe in God — a god — this might be a good one. Trebek, now that you’re on the verge. What have you got to lose?”

“The Answer Is…” page 284

Like the author I believe in the will to live. I believe in the power of positivity. I believe in optimism. I believe in hope. But my hope is anchored in my Christian faith. It is based on the words of Jesus who is God in human flesh. It is based on His death and the resulting forgiveness of my sins. And on His resurrection proving He is who He says He is and giving us the hope – really the deep knowledge – that there is life after death. A life in Heaven with Him where we will experience the fullness of His life and actually be all He created us to be. I certainly don’t believe in the “Great Soul” and that “we are God and God is us.” 

Paul an apostle in the Church wrote (1 Corinthians 15) that because Christ has been raised from the dead we can live with hope now in this life. But “if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (15:19). Why? Because our hope is also anchored in the historical fact that Christ was raised from the dead and is alive. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” (15:20a). So, we not only live with hope now but we live with the hope and knowledge of life after death. 

We don’t have to guess what this might be like. The Bible and our Saviour Jesus is very clear what life after death is like – both for the true believer and for the non-believer. It is not based on living according to what you “sincerely believe.” It is based on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and having a personal relationship with Him now in this life – day-by-day. Our hope is founded upon the sure and certain fact that Jesus is God and that He died for our sins and was raised again from the dead and is alive today. That we can have a personal relationship with Him as our Lord and Saviour and thus live life with hope and die knowing (not a gut feeling) that He will welcome us into Heaven where there is a place reserved and ready for us as His children. 

A Time to Refocus and Reprioritize – Part Two

Continuing on from yesterday…

You might not be obsessed with your phone (or with money or things or whatever). But if you’re like most of us, you’re coming dangerously close to idolizing yourself. Disguised and subverted in our reverence for technology is this sense that it empowers us to do anything we want to do. Yep, those commercials for the latest phone, app, tablet, or laptop might as well promise superpowers.

Approximately 80 percent of what people do on social media pertains to themselves. This is why I say we might have an issue (problem) with idolizing ourselves. Think about the whole notion of selfies for a minute, a phenomenon that still fascinates and repulses me in equal measure, like some roadside accident on the information superhighway. I don’t think the word selfie even exited a decade ago. Yet in 2013, the Oxford dictionary crowned it as their “word of the year.” Seemingly out of nowhere, selfies have become an obsession for so many.

Pamela Rutledge said on PsychologyToday.com, “Selfies frequently trigger perceptions of self-indulgence to attention-seeking social dependence that raises the damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t spectrum of either narcissism or very low self esteem.” It’s not unusual for selfies to fill the vast majority of most teens’ Instagram albums. This may be ‘normal,’ but it’s certainly not healthy.

This story makes me unbelievably sad:

Danny Bowman [a British teenager] says he became so obsessed with trying to capture just the “right” selfie that he ended up shooting about 200 pictures a day trying desperately to get a perfect representation of himself. And when Bowman failed to take what he perceived to be the perfect selfie, he attempted suicide with an overdose of drugs. Prior to his suicide attempt, Bowman says, he estimated he spent about ten hours every day taking selfies.”

When we contrast self-centredness with what God requires — selfless surrender — the difference is striking. Jesus didn’t say, “To be My disciples, you must promote yourself.” He says just the opposite. Jesus boldly proclaims, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24 emphasis added).

Our culture says show yourself. Jesus says deny yourself.

If people looked at your Facebook page, your Instagram pictures, to your most recent tweets, what will they see? Look over what you’ve posted, pinned, and tweeted in the past week or so and be as objective as you can. Do you see a humble, other-focused, Christ-centered disciple? Or do you see someone other than who Christ as called you to be?

So, to be honest, if you are checking multiple times a day to see what people are saying about you, let’s call that what it is: idolatry. If your identity comes more from who follows you, who Likes you, what they say and what they think about you rather than who God says you are, it’s time to refocus and reprioritize.

Of you might be a person who compulsively checks emails. Any time you see one come in, you just have to know what it says — immediately. Or maybe any time your phone buzzes, beeps, or dings, it draws you by some seemingly unstoppable force. If so, pause to consider: Are you drawn to the things of God in the same way? Or has the magnetic force of your phone become a stronger force in your life than the promised present of God?

Most young people know that their obsession is distracting them from God. Let me ask you to be honest. Do you think more about what God says in His Word or what people say on your feed? How much time do you think about God versus what to say online? Work hard to tell the truth. No matter how tempting it is to ignore Him, if God is trying to get your attention, don’t  shake Him off.

Have you made a good thing into a supreme thing, even above God?

David asks this question and then, inspired by God, he answered it:  “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psalm 245:3-4 NIV 1984). This imagery of lifting our souls to an idol strikes me. Are we trading our worship of the Trinity for something more along the lines of 5G LTE?

Is it possible that our soul, the part of us that no one sees but God, is secretly elevating our online presence above His eternal presence? Are we constantly pursuing something evasive? A black hole of empty promises? Are we believing that more of something other than God will fulfill us, satisfy us, and bring meaning to our lives? Is it possible that we’ve lifted our soul to an online idol? If we have, our soul still longs for more.

God is a jealous God. He wants to be first, above all else in our hearts and lives. So be honest about social media, or any other area of your life that you have put above God. It’s time to tear the idols down. 

And it is a time to refocus and reprioritize in your life right now. A time to take a deep, honest look at who you present yourself to be and then who you really are. Contrast those two pictures with whom Jesus calls you to be. Yup! Tine to make some changes and adjustments. 

A Time to Refocus and Reprioritize – Part One

I spent some serious time in the summer months refocusing and reprioritizing. My life is lived most days in the fast lane. There is always much to accomplish and many things demanding my attention. And so with all the demands on my time and energy I find it helpful to occasionally take some time to see how my soul is doing and make whatever changes are needed to get back into a healthy place where my soul can prosper once again (3 John 2).

So my question today is: Are we placing too much value on something that’s not that important? Are we bowing down and worshiping something besides God? Some examples: Ministry; Social media; Entertainment; Work; Success. Have we fallen into a new dimension of sin? Are our souls being seduced by all the pressures of the face-paced world that we live in?

Jesus asked the question: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). We can adjust the question to today’s culture: what good is it to get more followers, more Likes, more comments, more Pinterest pins, and yet forfeit our soul?

Is anything worth more than having a growing passion for our loving Heavenly Father? I don’t think so.

And neither does God, who clearly doesn’t pull any punches. With ultimate directness He says, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:3-5a)

That’s pretty straightforward.

“You shall gave no other gods before Me.”

God wants to be first in our lives. Second place is not acceptable. It’s not sinful for God to be jealous in this way because for Him, this is a holy jealousy, a righteous longing for our whole heart.

Why is it wrong to put other people or things before God? First, we need to realize that God is holy, eternal, omnipotent, and sovereign. He’s … well … God, and we most definitely are not. Because He is God, He must be first. We need to understand that we are not a body with a soul. We are a soul with a body. Our bodies will die, but our souls will live forever. Our souls were created by God to be in intimate relationship with Him. Our souls are created to know God, love Him, worship Him, and do life with Him. That’s why we must guard the affections of our soul and put Him first.

Our souls can be seduced. We can be distracted. The pollution of this world can poison the purity of God’s presence, making it harder to find Him and be in relationship with Him. That’s why so many have to search so hard for Him when in a time of need. That is why we try to meet our need for God with other things. But money, or things, or friends, or Likes, or followers, or whatever we think will make us happy never does make us happy. Our news feeds can be full, but our hearts and souls empty. Anytime we allow our souls to be consumed with anything other than God, we will never be satisfied.

Never. 

So. I take time probably twice a year (summer and Christmas) to have a look at what place God has in my life. Is He still first? What is my primary focus? Is He receiving quality time every day or just the leftovers after a day when the world has been my primary focus. Or ministry has been my focus? Do I allow social media, text messages, and emails to have my instant attention even when it causes me to neglect my soul and spend less quality and focused time with the Lord? What is the condition of my soul? 

We live in soul-scorching times. The mad pace of life and ministry, the number of demands on our time and energy, and the overwhelming torrent of information coming at us 24-7 have left us all ragged, wrung-out, and emptied. This isn’t the life we wanted, so we need to get off the roller coaster, right?

More next time…

What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

Expect, Endure, Embrace – Part Two

We have been chatting about what should happen when we are persecuted. To start with we should EXPECT to be persecuted when we are living life as followers of Jesus and speaking up for what is right and true. 

Then we saw that Scripture tells us that we must ENDURE the persecution and respond only in love as Jesus did. 

I would make a personal comment here: I have found that if I am earthly-minded and self-centered, I will always feel the sting of critical people. But if I’m walking close to God and my life is His, then by faith I can rise above the smaller-minded criticisms.

If you are facing persecution — or should I say when you face persecution — turn to God. EXPECT persecution. ENDURE persecution. By His power, even EMBRACE it, as Peter advices. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed …Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Peter 4:12-13, 16). Don’t be shocked when persecution comes. Take it another step: EMBRACE it. Rejoice that in some small ways you are counted worthy to suffer with and for the One who suffered for you.

When someone says something cruel about you because of your faith, don’t be ashamed. Instead, thank God that you belong to Jesus. Praise God that He’s chosen you. Never react with some defensive or hateful rebuttal. As you’re led and enabled by the Spirit, either respond in love or realize that you don’t always have to respond. Ultimately God is your Defender. And you live for Him.

Yes, it’s really tough when other people shoot at you. Believe me, I understand. All of us want to be liked by others. When you read a hundred positive comments about something you did and one negative one, which do you focus on most? If you’re like me, it often takes only one negative voice to drown out all the positive ones.

Becoming obsessed with what people think about you is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about you. But the opposite is true as well. If you’re living for Jesus in this selfie-centered world, you know a higher truth: becoming obsessed with what God thinks about you is the quickest way to forget what people think about you.

By faith, rise above the criticism. When persecution comes, EXPECT it. ENDURE it with the One who endured it for you. And by His power, EMBRACE it, thanking God that He is with you.

And that’s the truth. 

Expect, Endure, Embrace – Part One

As a believer and follower of Jesus you should expect persecution from others. That you should expect persecution probably isn’t something you want to hear, but it is something you need to hear. Paul told his younger disciple Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 emphasis added). Did you see the first word I emphasized? Everyone. No matter who you are, how old you are, or how much you care about others, if you stand up for Jesus, someone will try to shoot you down. Everyone who wants to live a godly life will eventually be persecuted. Don’t be shocked by this. Don’t be discouraged by it. Don’t be overwhelmed by it.

EXPECT it.

Some of your friends may not like what you say on Facebook. They may talk behind your back. They may not invite you to some wild party they’re having. Or you might even be overlooked for a promotion because you follow Jesus. None of these things surprise God. And they shouldn’t surprise you. In fact, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15:18-20a emphasis added) This is why I try never to worry when people shoot at me online for my faith. I actually worry when they don’t.

Not only should you EXPECT people to occasionally (or often) push back on your faith, but also when they do, you should ENDURE it. Paul said, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it” (1 Corinthians 4:12 emphasis added). Our example is Jesus on the cross. When the creation mocked the Creator, He didn’t whine, gripe, or retaliate. Instead, He prayed for those who mocked and beat Him. Jesus ENDURED it. He rose above it.

When you’re praying for others who are persecuting you, it’s also wise to pray for yourself. If someone attacks, ask God to help you know how — or if — you should respond. Just because they shoot your way doesn’t mean you have to answer. There are times you should answer and other times when you should ignore it. Either way, be careful not to react out of emotion; respond only in love.

While ENDURING persecution, you might reply with a thoughtful or encouraging comment. But remember that social media isn’t a good place for long explanations. Just like a serious theological debate can’t happen in 140 characters or less, it’s hard to solve difficult problems in social media or email. Don’t feel pressured to respond. God can take care of Himself; He doesn’t need you to defend Him every time some online heckler rattles your cage.

When critics flail at you, you aren’t under any obligation to answer. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I responded to someone hurling bombs my way on social media. I often respond to people who have legitimate questions about the church or something I posted (blogs, articles, teachings). But I won’t debate with people who simply want to pick a fight online. Pray and ask God if He wants you to respond.

I also encourage you to ask God to help you know when to listen and when to dismiss invalid criticism. If someone has a valid point and they’re trying to help you, you should listen. Scripture confirms, “If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.

If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;  but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding” (Proverbs 13:31-32 NLT, emphasis added). But when strangers (or angry people) take cheap shots. You can often disregard what they’re saying and move on. Don’t let that poison seep into your heart.

Some people tend to be naturally critical and negative, but I choose not to let their foul disposition ruin a good day. It’s also helpful to remember that sometimes people are simply hurting. Rather than taking their negative comments personally, I try to let them remind me to pray (in private) that they will experience God’s healing. Peter describes how Jesus modeled this for us: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23 ESV). In the middle of His pain, Jesus din’t fight back. Instead He allowed God to be His defender and submitted Himself to he loving care of His heavenly Father. He call us to do the same. 

More next time… 

Gossip-Free – Part Two

The second set of questions you should ask yourself to avoid gossiping online are equally important. Before sharing your thoughts, ask yourself, “Am I making private matters public? Am I about to share something that would be better handled privately?” In his wisdom, Solomon said, “It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbour; a sensible person keeps quiet. A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence” (Proverbs 11:12-13 NLT).

If you share what should be secret, you’re gossiping. 

Before you post anything online, be absolutely certain you’re not making something public that should be private. Do it to protect others. And do it to protect yourself. If you want close friends, you can’t be perceived as a gossip. The Bible says, “When arguing with your neighbour, don’t betray another person’s secret.” Others may accuse you of gossip, and you will never regain a good reputation” (Proverbs 25:9-10 NLT).

Be trustworthy!

Keep what’s private, private.

The third set of questions you’ll want to ask when gossip starts flying begins with this: “Am I permitting — maybe even encouraging — others to gossip?” It’s not only wrong to dish it out; it’s also wrong to eat it up. Scripture is clear: “Wrongdoers eagerly listen to gossip; liars pay close attention to slander” (Proverbs 17:4 NLT). Notice that this verse doesn’t say that only gossipers are wrongdoers. No, it says wrongdoers are also those who “listen to gossip.” It not just wrong to spread gossip; it’s wrong to consume it. Why? Because what you permit, you promote.

Not only should you keep yourself from gossiping, you shouldn’t associate with those who gossip. What is true “in person” is also true online. Because I am a Jesus follower, I do not develop close friendships with gossips; in the same way, I choose to avoid those who continually spray venom online.

Remember, if someone gossips to you, then they’re likely to gossip about you. Stay clear of repeating gossip — and of hearing or seeing it.

If someone is gossiping in person or online, you can be subtle in your approach to avoiding it. You can explain politely that you are not feeling comfortable with the conversation. If that’s not your style, you can take a caring approach. Explain to the gossiper that if __________ (insert names) knew you were talking about them, you would hurt their feelings. (And if you’re talking about them online, there’s a pretty good change they’re going to know.)

Or you could help gossipers take an approach that is consistent with the teachings of Jesus. Remind them of Matthew 18:15-16, that if they have a problem with another brother or sister, they’re supposed to go directly to that person. And if all else fails to stop the gossipers, be direct and make the consequences clear. If they keep it up, you’re not going to hang out with them, anymore (or follow them, or whatever). 

Any time I talk about someone else, whether in person or online, I want my words to be something I’d be willing tp say in their presence. We should answer honestly, Am I about to make private matters public?” When talking or posting, “Are my words helpful or hurtful?” Finally, “Am I permitting or encouraging others to gossip?” What we say (or allow others to say) matters because our words have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). I want my words always to be helpful;, not hurtful. You know that old saying: you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution. By God’s grace, let’s be a part of bringing solutions, not increasing problems. 

Gossip-Free – Part One

God set forth ten commandments for His people. One of them states that we are not to bear false witness. In today’s terminology we might say that a person should not be involved in gossip. Gossip always involves speaking things that are not entirely true. And, even if the facts are accurate, you are only hearing one side of the story and thus missing perspective. And, believe me, perspective can make all the difference in understanding a situation accurately.

Interesting: the people being gossiped about hate it, and God hates it. So before you post an on-line posting, a comment, or a link, consider three sets of questions to keep yourself gossip-free online and thus not in sin. Breaking any one of the commandments is, according to James, a sin.

Before you comment on anything online, ask yourself the first set of questions: “Is what I’m about to say helpful or hurtful? Will this build up or tear them down? What’s my intention behind what I’m about to type?”

Paul surely never dreamed of the technological advances we have today. But he still directly addressed our tendency to gossip: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). If what you intend to communicate is unwholesome, don’t type it. Don’t tweet it. Don’t post it. As followers of Jesus, we want everything we say to build up others. The Bible tells us, “A scoundrel plots evil, and on their lips it is like a scorching fire. A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:27-28). 

We all hate when others gossip about us or someone we love, but we don’t always realize how quickly we can fall into gossiping ourselves. Sometimes we even think we’re being honest, but actually we’re disguising a dig. You know what I’m talking about. We start with something positive before sharing what we really think — the proverbial turd rolled in glitter.

      • “I’ve always liked this restaurant, except for the poor service last time.”
      • “She’s always been someone I’ve admired, but after what she said last week …”
      • “For years I’ve really respected him. But let me tell you what I just found our.”

Even Christians fall prey to deceiving ourselves in fairly elaborate ways. 

One young pastor writes: “When I was a new Christian in college, I never wanted to miss the Thursday evening prayer meeting because if you did, you were fair game. ‘We need to pray for Craig,’ other Christians would say. ‘He doesn’t seem as passionate about God as he use to be. If he was, he’d been here praying with us. And did you hear that he said another bad word during practice? Yep, we definitely need to pray for him.’ One time they were praying in my living room, and I had a test early the next morning. About 11:00p.m., I told them I was going to bed. I actually heard one guy tell the group they needed to pray for me because I cared more about my class than I did about God’s presence.”

Now in that same spirit of carefully disguising gossip as well-intentioned prayer requests, many make their “concerns” public on Facebook or some other form of social media. We’ve all heard or seen these kinds of prayers, if we have not been the person praying them.

      • “Please be in prayer for Megan. She’s doing things with her boyfriend she shouldn’t be doing”
      • “Pray that Bob stays away from that woman in accounting who keeps flirting with him”
      • “Hey, y’all, lift up Jenn in prayer NOW!! She was boozing @ the party last nite.”
      • “My dad lost his cool again with mom. Believe with me that God will do a work in him.”

While it’s always good to pray, not all prayer requests belong online. At least not with the kind of descriptions that imply something you may know very little about in someone else’s life. If you’re going to request prayer online, do it in a way that doesn’t make others look bad.

Maybe you’re inclined to push back and argue, “But, Ralph, it’s okay to talk about things if they’re true, right?” Not necessarily. Everything you say should be true, but not everything that’s true should be said. Before you type it, ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Or hurtful?

If it’s not helpful, don’t say (type) it. 

Moved To Action

The Greek word that the New Testament translates “compassion” is splagchnizomai. It is pronounced “splag-ch-NEE-zo-my.” It means “to be moved as to one’s bowels.” It means to have your bowels yearn. It’s a passion arising from a place so deep inside you that you can feel it, that it sounds like your intestines are working, doing something inside of you.

When the New Testament was being written, people believed that love and compassion originated from within your bowels because that was the deepest place in your body, right in your center. When they used the word splagchnizomai, they were describing an ache, an empathy for another person felt deep inside. But even more important, it means that you feel so strongly, you are moved to action. Don’t miss this. It’s powerful. Compassion is not just an emotion, not just some feeling you have that eventually passes.

True compassion demands action.

Let me put this another way. If you say that you care but then don’t act on that feeling, it’s the same as not caring at all. Please reflect on this, because It can be hard to process.

Let’s think about what this looks like in our everyday life. When we see something on Instagram that really connects with us, or something on Facebook that makes us feel some emotion., what do we do? We click. On Instagram, we may spring to double-tap on the picture, because that Likes it. Tap, tap. We can see that the person is going through a hard time, and that makes us feel bad for them. So we acknowledge their pain by giving them our Like or double-click. But clicking isn’t caring. Truly caring means taking some action. It’s getting ourselves involved so we can make a difference in a life. Clicking doesn’t change anything. Caring is not Liking a post; it’s loving a person.

As you might guess, Jesus is the best example of how this concept was lived out. In every verse in the Gospels where we see Jesus and the word compassion together, we immediately see Him perform some action. He was there, He felt compassion, and He did something. Every single time.

But don’t just take my word for it. Look for yourself. For example, in the gospel of Mark, a man approaches Jesus with a desperate need:

“A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed” (Mark 1:40-42 NLT).

Compassion. Splagchnizomai. Jesus felt, and immediately He acted. He touched the man. 

Here’s another one. When Jesus was leaving Jericho, two blind men heard Him going by and called out to Him, asking for His help (Matthew 20:29-30). “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed Him” (Matthew 20:34).

Jesus felt compassion; therefore, He acted. True compassion demands action. To say you care but then not act is not to care at all. We’re living in a society where we care less and less about other people. That’s even quantifiable: young adults care 40 percent less than they did just a few decades ago. It’s tragic. And I believe, it’s unacceptable for those of us who call ourselves God’s people, His Church, to just sit by and not act when we’re surrounded by people in need.

It boils down to this: the more I obsess over social media, the more I care about me and the less I care about other people. But the more I focus on Jesus — the more I try to get to know Him, to serve Him, to draw closer to Him — the less I care about me and the more I care about His people (John 3:30).

When I look at how Jesus lived His life, and when I allow the words He said to challenge me, something in me changes. I am compelled to deny myself, to take up my cross, and to follow Him (Matthew 16:24). I actually want to die to myself. I want to follow Him.

I’m going to ask you some potentially really difficult questions. When was the last time you gave an hour to serve someone else? What about a whole day? Have you ever spent an entire weekend just serving other people?

What about financially? When was the last time you really went out of your way to give financially? I don’t mean something obligatory, something people might expect of you. I mean that you gave just because you felt like it. You gave a significant, difficult amount for you that would genuinely make a difference in some else’s life.

When was the last time you missed out on doing something that you really wanted to do because you chose instead to invest that time in someone else? If you’ve done any of these things recently, then I praise God with you.

If you don’t remember the last time you did something like these things, could it be that you’re not really that close to Jesus? You might think that’s a judgmental question. Possibly. But here’s something I know for a fact: when people are really close to Jesus, their lives are no longer about themselves. They become about glorifying God and loving others. 

Strength or Weakness

Did you know that we actually connect with people through our weaknesses. We may impress them with our strengths, but we connect through our weaknesses

Let me explain what I mean. Have you ever met someone, mentally looked them over, and considered the life you think they have? They’re nice looking for their age. Their spouse is attractive. They seem to have great kids. Their life seems to be together. In so many ways, it looks to you like they’re living your dreams. What do you think? “They’re just … so. … perfect. I don’t think I like them!” Right?

Isn’t that tempting to do? 

But that’s not real. You’re not really connecting with them. They’re not connecting with you. We want so badly to connect with others and we think that the best way to do so is by showing off our strengths. But it doesn’t work that way. 

Now, after you’ve spent more time with them and seen them in many different circumstances, you begin to get to know them, and you realize, “Oh. I never would have thought they struggle with some of the same things I do. They’re human after all. You know what? I really like these guys!”

Why? Because we connect through weaknesses.

However — and here’s the issue. We tend not to lead with our weaknesses. We hide our weaknesses and play to our strengths. And, at times, we hide our weaknesses and wear whatever mask we think we need to present to be accepted. We wear masks so that people won’t come to know how weak we really are and thus, we think, not want to connect with us. Not like us. 

How do I know that? Well, we only post on Facebook and other social media what we want people to see. Not the real you but the you that you would want to be. You show only your good side. In fact, you often just make stuff up and post it because you want to come across strong and in control. On Facebook and other social media we have filters that even make us look better in the pictures we post. So, we end up playing a part and playing the role we have created for ourself. But, in your heart of hearts, you know you’re not the person you present to the world. And, e know, deep down inside we are not connecting because the real “we” is no where to be seen. 

The danger is that we can become so used to showing our filleted self, so accustomed to the half-truths and exaggerations, that we don’t even know who our real self is anymore. Are you one person in one group of people and a different person in another group? Until you show who you really are, until you know and are fully known, you’re going to be longing for something more. You won’t really connect.

When we’re always filtered, when every selfie shows only our best side, we may impress some people some of the time. They may think, “Based  

Now that we’re on the same page about this, what do we do? Where do we go from here? How do we “turn off” our desire to constantly filter who we show the world we are? Well, some off-the-cuff suggestions would be:

      • Don’t use a filter every time on your photos
      • Try not to care so much about what people think
      • Just be yourself – if you still know what you are

All of this qualify as solid advice. But the truth is you can get advice like this anywhere. I’d much rather give you godly advice, wisdom that can come only from the source: God’s Word. I can give the solution to the problems with one simple phrase. Only Christ can remove the mask.

That’s it. When we turn to Christ, He removes the mask and the need to be someone you’re not.

Maybe you’re exhausted. You’re weary because you’ve already tried everything else you can think of. You’ve looked everywhere you can for affirmation. You’ve turned to one person after another, but you still haven’t found that thing you’re longing for. This is the promise you have from God, straight from His Word: You don’t have to remove the mask. When you turn fully to Christ, He does it for you!

Then you can finally drop the mask because you’re not getting your approval from Likes; you’re getting it from His love. You will no longer be living for the approval of people; you will be living from the approval of God. He will reveal the truth: you are acceptable to God through Jesus. You are the righteousness of God in Christ. His grace, His righteousness, is sufficient for you.

When you realize that Christ is all you have, you’ll find that He’s all you need. You don’t need approval from someone else because you have approval from Christ. When you turn fully to Jesus, you have the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead living within you. Your identity is not connected to how many followers you can get. Your identity comes from who you are following, and you are following Jesus. 

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NIV).

Have you ever experienced the Spirit of God? Have you ever called out to Him? Asked Him to come and live inside you? When you do, you experience freedom. When we all take the masks off — because our lives are better when we’re together, when we act as the Body of Christ, when we allow each other to see the “real” us — we will truly see the Lord’s glory.

Why? Because we truly connect through our weaknesses and not through our strengths. Because it is not about you and me. It’s not about our selfies. The reason we exist is to give Him glory. When we do, this Scripture says we will begin to be transformed — not into the person we think others want us to be but into His image, bringing ever-increasing glory.

Turn to Christ.

He’ll take your mask(s) off for you.

He’ll transform you into the image of Christ, not for the approval of people but for the glory of God. 

We’re not called to elevate ourselves (John 3:30); we’re called to deny ourselves and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). The way to follow Jesus in a selfie-centered, social media world is to give Him glory in all we do.  

Surrender your selfies and social media accounts.

Let Jesus lift off your masks.

Be real.

Be you!