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.

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!

Missing Persons

Have you noticed that every time your smart phone buzzes, whistles, chirps, beeps, or dings, something in you can’t help wondering “Oooh. What was that? I wonder if it’s something important. Who sent me something? I must know right this instant.”

Have you heard of FOMO? It’s a thing. I read recently that FOMO was added to the latest edition of a popular English-language dictionary. FOMO is an acronym for “Fear Of Missing Out.” It was coined for an entire generation of people who are constantly worried they’re going to miss something.

We ask, “What am I missing?”

“I might miss someone’s funny cat picture.”

“I might miss the next video clip that goes viral. Then tomorrow everyone else will have seen it, and I’m going to look like some kind of idiot because I haven’t seen it yet.”

“I might miss the next trailer for that movie that doesn’t come out until eight months from now.”

“I might miss a really beautiful inspirational quote from some person I’ve never heard of.”

“I might miss someone Liking that picture I posted twenty minutes ago.”

Ask yourself this question: at the end of your life, is it really going to matter how many “Likes” you got? Do you honestly believe that you’re going to be lying on your deathbed one day thinking to yourself, “If I had gotten just three more Likes on that picture I posted of that weird tomato back in ’15, I would have made an even hundred. One hundred Likes. Triple-digit Likes. Ooh, life would have been so good. #ICanDieHappy #RIPme” 

Life is not about how many Likes you get. It is all about how much love you show. The only way people will know that you are a follower of Jesus is by how well you love other people.

Have your children been begging for your attention? Have they been acting out? Maybe instead of posting online about how they’re driving you crazy, you should put down the phone and engage them face-to-face. Maybe you argue, “Well, they’re doing the same thing! I can’t peel them away from that stupid device!” That may be true. But you’re the parent. It’s your job to teach your children (no matter their age) how to engage in real life in ways that make it more meaningful than anything they can get looking at a screen and tapping pictures.

Instead of FOMO online, what you really should be afraid of is missing out on the people in front of you. You may be missing out on your children growing up. You may be missing out on enjoying an intimate marriage. You may be missing out on deep friendships filled with meaning. Is your fear that you’re going to miss out on something causing you to miss out on what matters most?

Figuring this out in your own life is going to take a little effort on your part. But maybe it’s time for you to make some basic rules like these:

Phone curfew is 10:00pm: phones get silenced and plugged in somewhere out of sight.

When you’re with your family or close friends, phones get silenced so they don’t even vibrate and are placed face down. Nobody picks up their phone during dinnertime or at your small group.

Really think this through. If you’re in bed with your spouse while you’re both on your phones, and you text her, “In the mood?” there’s something wrong. She texts back, “Sry not tonite #headache.” If you’re not laughing at this, maybe it’s because you can picture it happening — if it hasn’t already.

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 John 3:18 NLT).

Don’t just pray for people. Pray with them.

Don’t just Like what they post. Like who they are.

Get involved in one another’s lives.

The greatest weapon the first-century followers of Jesus had was their love for each other. The outside world persecuted them so fiercely that they were driven together into a radical, unifying love for one another. If anyone among them had a need, someone else sold some of their possessions and used the money to meet that need. Scripture says that they were so generous and so loving that “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:32-37).

Can you imagine? The sceptical world looking on was thinking, “You know, I’m not so sure about that whole Jesus-being-raised-from-the-dead business. I’m not sure I believe what they believe, but I sure wish I had what they have. They love each other and care for each other.”

That’s exactly what Jesus said would happen: “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples” ( John 13:35 NLT).

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how many followers you have.

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how many Likes you get.

They won’t know that you’re His disciple by how quickly you respond to emails.

Believe it or not, they won’t even know that you’re His disciple by how many Bible verses you post.

No, they will know that you’re Jesus’ disciple when they see His love in you through your actions. When you get involved in the lives of other people, when you care for them right where they are, when you open up your heart and do life with them — that’s when they’ll see something in you that they really want. Then when they ask you what makes you so different from everybody else, you’ll be able to say, “God gave His Son for me to forgive me of my sins. I’ve found freedom and life in Him, and that’s how I’m able to show you this kind of love.”

Others won’t know you by your Likes

They will know you by His love. 

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part Two

 

Blog of September 7, 2020

We are looking at how technology has changed how we relate to others in our day and age. Last time we saw two of three major changes:

1> The term “friend” is evolving

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s continue our look and see number three…

3> We have the power to do friendship on our own terms

Not only do many of us have more virtual Friends than real friends and are addicted to immediate gratification in connecting with others, we face another downside to social media: the power to define relationships on our own terms. Let me explain what this means. Let’s say my friend texts me. I have some choices, don’t I? I can read his text right away, or I can read it later. I can reply as soon as I read it, or I can reply later. I can even choose not to reply at all.

I have complete control over what I do — or what I don’t do.

If another friend posts a picture on Instagram, I have the power to determine several things. For example, is his picture Like-worthy? Is it worth the extraordinary inconvenience of double-tapping my finger on it? Or should I just scroll right on by? If this is another of his stupid cat pictures, you can probably guess what I am going to do. A dog picture. Different.

I am in total and complete control of these friendships; I manage them from a distance. If you are my online friend, I’ll show you only the parts of my life that I want you to see and tell you only what I want to tell you. If I don’t want to respond to the things you choose to show me, I’m not going to. If you post too many pictures of your product, or too many duck-face selfies, or too many “inspirational quotes” that the person you credit may or may not have actually said (because you can’t be bothered to check), or too many pictures of your cat making duck faces, I will unfollow you. We are in control of on-line friendships. And that control is changing how we manage our relationships.

Friendship doesn’t mean what it use to mean. 

I can’t speak for you, but to be really honest, I have to admit that the more I dabble on social media, the more I realize I’m delaying the personal interaction I crave. I have also never been more connected and yet feel so alone.

The author of Hebrews says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Wouldn’t it be amazing to get together with other followers of Jesus and discuss this topic? We could start with, “Guys, how can we become so aggressive in how we show love to one another that other people really stop and think, ‘Hey, these people must be Christians. Have you seen the way they love one another.?’”

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 12:25). 

Really let that sink in: “Let’s not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.”

“Let us not neglect our meeting together.

Have we fallen out of this practice?

If this passage isn’t enough to convince you, think about friendship in the context of your Christian faith. Think about what Jesus said: “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). Isn’t that powerful? Jesus promises us that whenever we come together with other believers in His Name, we will experience His real presence in a supernatural way. Does that mean you con’t experience His presence when you’re alone? Absolutely not! You can. It’s just something more, something special, something powerful happens when we come together with other believers to seek God. When you join hands with someone, when you join your faith together and go before God on His throne, you experience His power and presence together in very real ways (Acts 16:25-26).

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and lift up holy hands before our God to worship Him (Exodus 17:10-13). 

Something supernatural happens when we join together with other believers and, as believers have done for centuries, open up God’s Word and read it aloud together (Nehemiah 8:1-12).

Something supernatural happens when we unite our faith and passionately seek God together in prayer (Acts 12:11-14).

Presence is powerful!

Think about it this way: God didn’t shout His love from heaven. He showed His love on earth. He stripped Himself of all heavenly glory and became one of us. God became flesh in the person of Jesus. Even one of Jesus’ names, Immanuel, literally means “God with us.” He came and lived with us, He loved people others rejected. He poured His heart into people who the religious community said were not worthy. He hung out with — and even ate with — tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes.

Presence is so powerful. So why do so many of us settle for on-line relationships and neglect the old-fashion way of having friends; actually meeting with them one-on-one, face-to-face?  

Technology Has Changed How We Relate – Part One

I was away on my annual holiday for three weeks in July. And, every morning over my first cup of coffee I wrote a group text to everyone in my home church. Most were not aware that I was away and not at home in my office. It led me to think and briefly research how technology is changing the way we relate to the people in our lives. As we explore these ways, consider how each applies to your life and how you are using technology and social media to relate to others. 

1> The term “friend”is evolving

It used to be that when someone said another person was a friend, you understood exactly what they meant. A friend was someone who shared common interests or bonds, someone you enjoyed being around, someone you did life with. But it’s not that simple anymore, is it? Now a friend can be someone you’ve never met IRL (in real life). Friends can be people who follow what you post on social media. If they follow you, and you don’t follow them back, that’s one kind of friend. If you follow them, but they don’t follow you, that’s another kind of friend. And if you both follow each other, that’s yet another kind of friend. 

Currently, the average Facebook user has 338 friends. But surveys indicate that the average person has only two friends they consider to be close. As shocking as that statistic is, there is one that is even sadder: 25 percent of people in North America today say they have zero close friends! The struggles are real. Does it really matter that you have 338 Facebook friends if you have no one to share your life with? And I’m not even talking about the kind of friend who listens as you pour your heart out or share your latest struggles, Many people no longer have friends they can hang out with or who can drop by unannounced as a welcome surprise. (When was the last time you did that to someone, or they did it to you? Doesn’t it sound intimidating?) Technology supposedly saves us time, yet we seem to have even less time — at least for really relating to people. We have lots of online interactivity, but that doesn’t mean we have any personal intimacy.

Friends just doesn’t mean what it used to.

2> We’re addicted to immediate affirmation

Let’s say you were at home alone back in the old days (ten years ago), and you started feeling a little lonely. What would you do? You might pick up the phone and call a friend. You might even make arrangements to get together. You might walk outside and visit with your next-door neighbour. Any of these were reasonable choices, and they were all pretty easy, right? Apparently, they just weren’t easy enough.

What do we do today when we feel lonely? Text a friend, post an update, or share an old favourite picture. If you’re feeling really creative, we’ll surf for items to pin to Pinterest or make a new YouTube video. We might take a picture of our homemade chocolate chip cookies (gluten free, no GMO, hand-whittled, and carved from organic cocoa) and share it on Instagram. Or we Vine or Tic Tok a little clip about being bored.

Then there’s my favourite. If we’re really bored and lonely, we always have ourselves. That’s right, we can snap a selfie, right there on the couch. It we’re really motivated, we might even go into the bathroom and fix ourselves up a little first, then snap a selfie in the bathroom mirror. We tousle our hair, puff out our lips (duck face), and tilt our heads, snapping picture after picture, trying to get the light just right, determined to achieve a ‘perfect’ shot. We might even go as far as to wear our trendiest clothes, find a local you-wish-you-knew-where-I-was ally, and let the self-timer rip.

But we don’t have to stop there. We can touch up the photo, tweak the lighting a little more, maybe use a filter. We are nowhere near perfect, but we can manipulate images, apps, and filters to create an image of ourselves that’s perfect for the moment. And don’t forget the all-important caption. Is it inspirational? Clever, but not too obviously clever? We can even add a Bible verse for extra ‘Likes.’ Once all is in place we can post it. Then we can compulsively check our updates, hoping to hit the ‘Likes’ jackpot. 

Even if you don’t hit it big, we may score some fun comments. You know, things like: 

    • “Lookin’ good!”
    • “Love that shirt! Where’d ya get it???”
    • “omgosh amazing *swoons*”
    • “where r u? Totes adorbs!! [sexy, smiling emoji]”

We often get immediate feedback. But the problem with this kind of immediate feedback, this quick affirmation, is that it’s addicting. Even when we know it’s shallow, even when we don’t believe the sender is sincere in their flattery, we still love receiving it. To be fair, it’s not our fault. Scientists say that receiving positive affirmation like this release dopamine, a chemical in our brains that gives us a kind of euphoric feeling, a little rush. Just like similar drugs, we can get addicted to that high.

If you don’t believe me, consider the last time you posted a selfie and didn’t get much response — at least in the first hour. Do you remember having an empty feeling and thoughts like these running through your mind?

    • “Where is everyone? What’s up with that?”
    • “How many have clicked on it? Did they ‘Like’ it?”
    • “Who ‘Liked’ it?”
    • “Why didn’t she ‘Like’ it? She never ‘Likes’ my pictures. I’m going to stop ‘Liking’ hers. Just keep that up sister, and you’re gonna get yourself unfollowed.”

Many of us are addicted to immediate affirmation. What is this addiction doing to us? How is it affected our relationships?

Sociologists call all this “deferred loneliness.” We’re trying to meet some short-term need, but in the process of meeting this need, we’re deferring a deeper, longer-term need. We are meant to have deep, sometimes difficult feelings of loneliness to motivate us toward the kinds of contact with others that meet our deepest, long-term needs. Every time we seek instant affirmation, we ignore our basic human condition of loneliness and the opportunity of loneliness that drives us toward real friendship, real intimacy, first with God and then with others.

So our addiction to instant gratification can stunt our relationships. We’re living for ‘Likes,’ but we’re longing for love. 

More next time …

Two Are Better Than One

We are told that two are better than one. That “doing life together” is better than going through life alone. This is true in marriage but also true in friendship – deep, committed, lifetime friendships.

Two are better than one is a reference to the synergy that “together” creates. It applies to those who would assume that multiple relationships are not worth the effort we put into them; that having a spouse and /or a close friendship is all they can handle, and outside of that, it’s better to keep to themselves.

I know it’s easy to feel that way when you’ve had relationships that were complicated. I get that, because I’ve had, and still have, a few of those myself. I’ve come to realize that as much as possible I want to do life with uncomplicated people. People who believe the best. People who don’t read something into what you say, causing you to constantly watch how you say things and overly explain yourself. People who are stable and secure in themselves, open to conversation, not moody, not easily offended, not socially awkward. These uncomplicated people are not perfect, but once you’ve had complicated relationships, you have a great appreciation for the uncomplicated ones.

When like-minded, uncomplicated relationships come together, it’s far better than being alone. Especially, when there’s a common goal. There are three great reasons given in the verses below for why togetherness is better:

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. [Success] If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. [Safety] Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. [Strength]     (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NLT)

The writer is saying that in a healthy, life-giving relationship we help each other success, stay safe, and grow stronger. Who wouldn’t want that? See, God never intended us to do life alone. We’re all meant to do life with other people, specifically God’s people. We are formed for family.  We are created for friendship. We are created for community. The only way you can be all you are meant to be is to be connected, committed, and in community with others. When you’re in  healthy relationships, with like-minded people, you can’t help but get bigger and stronger on the inside.

That doesn’t mean that those people are perfect, nor does it mean their struggles are any less than yours. It also doesn’t mean that it’s easy or without challenges. But it does mean we should never buy into the idea that we are better off keeping our distance from people. To live life fully we need to continually work at staying connected to those who bring out the best in us. Connecting to those who are living life in Christian community. Connecting with those who want meaningful, in-depth, and long-term friendships. 

If you are trying to do life alone you are missing out on God’s best for you. You will miss out on God’s plan for your life. Don’t let other ideas, past experiences, or current fears hold you back. If you’ve withdrawn or been distant, closed in on yourself, just know that part of getting bigger on the inside means pushing past self-imposed limits to engage and be an active part of healthy relationships. 

Today would be a good day to begin that journey if you have not already started. And, if you already have connected with uncomplicated but sincere friends, let them know today how much you appreciate them. 

 

Sometimes You Have to Subtract to Add

In arithmetic, subtraction is the opposite of addition, but in relationships before the right people can be added, the wrong people have to be subtracted. The wrong people always hinder the right people from coming and staying in your life. This is true in both friendships and marriage.

Friendships: 

You might be at a place in your life where you could use some positive input and encouragement that the people around you can’t provide. In fact, if you look around at the people closest to you and all you see are people who talk about their problems or gossip about other people, you’re trapped in smallness with the wrong people. You’re surrounded by people who are going nowhere and complaining in the process. But that’s not what God wants for you. He wants you to rise up out of that. He wants you to be confident and know in your heart that there’s something better out there for you.

You can’t expect Positive Paul to come hang out with your friend Negative Ned. Oil and water don’t mix. But you can make a decision to not stay where you are surrounded by people who only pull you down or hold you back. People who drain emotional and mental energy from you and give little back in the relationship. People who take up your time and never personally change. People who use up the time you could be investing in changing and growing healthy relationships with others.

Don’t assume that God wants you to open your life to everyone. No, He wants you to:

        • Be cautious in friendship (see Proverbs 12:26)
        • Avoid being friends with fools (see Proverbs 13:20) and hot-tempered people (see Proverbs 22:24)
        • Do as much life as possible with people who sharpen and make you better and wiser (see Proverbs 27:17; 13;20)

The amazing thing is that when you relationally reposition yourself, free up the inner circle of your life, and start to be the person you long to be and God created you to be, the people you belong with will be drawn in to your life. They will come! Faith-filled people, encouraging people, people who live with hope and confidence will be added to your life.

Marriage: 

It’s pretty common for single people to say, “I’m looking for my other half.” Sometimes it’s just lighthearted semantics that express a desire to find the right person. Other times it’s a perception that a person has about themselves that they are never going to be happy unless someone makes them happy. They assume that their mood swings will be gone. Their fluctuating attitude will be stable. Their battle with low self-esteem will not be an issue when someone has fallen in love with them and is living life with them. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, in arithmetic one half plus one half equals one whole. But in a relationship, one half plus one half equals two different one halves. If you’re not whole going into marriage (or a friendship), you won’t be whole because of your marriage (or friendship). If you don’t overcome bad moods when you’re single, marriage won’t remedy your moodiness. 

Based on how the two of you are coming together, these things are true:

      • Two immature people coming together doesn’t make for a mature relationship
      • Two insecure people coming together doesn’t make for a secure relationship
      • Two unhealthy people coming together doesn’t make for a healthy relationship

But the opposite is true as well:

      • Two mature people will have a mature relationship
      • Two secure people will have a secure relationship
      • Two healthy people will have a healthy relationship

Whatever you are before you are married (or enter into a friendship) is what you bring into the relationship. The best thing you can offer another person is a healthy you, a whole you. Being healthy, staying whole, being our best, taking care of ourselves physically, spiritually, and emotionally is the best gift we can give the people we are relating to. Because in any relationship (marriage, friendship, team members) two whole people equals one amazingly healthy relationship.