No Other Gods But God Only!

Speaking to people today it appears that they have numerous – and often many – gods before God Almighty. They worship money and all that it can do for them. The pleasure it can bring. They put technology before God and spend more time posting on Facebook and Instagram than they spend in God’s Word and in His presence. They have a seriously dysfunctional relationship with their followers on Facebook, their phones, and their many social apps. But they don’t care. They know something should change. But they just shrug it off. They think, “I’m fine with it. I like it. This is just my thing. Even if it’s wrong, even if God has something better for me, I don’t care.”

In the Old Testament, Gideon faced a similar problem with the people around him. They willingly bowed to idols and thumbed their noses at God in the process. But God was having none of it. With righteous passion, He told Gideon, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judges 6:25). Notice that God didn’t tell Gideon to help the people manage their idols, to shorten them by a few feet, just keep them under control. No, He commanded Gideon to tear them down. Cut down the poles. Don’t tolerate the idols. Crush them. Destroy them. Smash them. Obliterate them.

If you know your unhealthy obsessions are interfering with your most important relationships — with people or with God — it’s time to act.

Today.

This moment.

Now.

God doesn’t want you to have any gods before Him. Not a single one. God longs for you to know Him, to enjoy His constant presence and goodness, to walk by His Spirit, and to live in His love.

When Jesus saw a rich guy who idolized his money and things, Scripture says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack, He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me’” (Mark 10:21 emphasis added).

Don’t miss Jesus’ motivation here for asking so much of this rich young guy. Jesus didn’t tell the young man to give all his money to Him and to His disciples, or to the building fund for the new temple. Jesus simply loved him. Do you see that? Jesus loved him. And Jesus loves you more than you can imagine. He doesn’t want you to allow yourself to be seduced into settling for something counterfeit. He wants you to embrace His grace, satisfied in your soul, because He is not only all you need but more than you can imagine. 

It’s interesting to me that at least in the Gospel record, Jesus didn’t tell anyone else to sell everything snd give away all their money. This is the only time that Jesus gives such a specific command. Why did He tell this guy and no one else to get rid of everything? It’s not because God doesn’t want us to have money and things; it’s that He doesn’t want money and things to have us. Without question, the things of this world had this rich man’s heart. They consumed him. He’d been seduced. And because Jesus loved him, He wanted him to have something better. So He commanded him to get rid of his idols and follow Him.

If you sense the Spirit of God nudging you (or maybe it’s more like a kick in the cursor), don’t ignore Him. He loves you. If your soul has been seduced into serving a counterfeit god, the one true God wants something better for you.

But gaining the better requires tearing down the idol.

Don’t manage it.

Destroy it. 

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. 

The Price of Peace – Part Two

The Bible is quite clear about how we can cultivate and enjoy God’s peace, as well as how we can lose it. When we worry and fret over what we don’t have, what we wish we had, what someone else thinks of us, or how jealous we are of others, inner peace remains elusive. Scripture tells us, “Worry weighs a person down, an encouraging word cheers a person up (Proverbs 12:25 NLT).

Whenever technology increases our worry, whenever it helps us fragment our attention and compartmentalize our hearts, it also kills our peace. We worry when we rely on our own abilities rather than trust in God. But His Word tells us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

When we lack peace, we live stressed and afraid. We’re always wondering when the next problem is going to pop up, the next conflict arise, the next crisis hit. Even when things are good, we hold our breath, constantly expecting that other shoe to drop. (It always does, right?) It’s hard to be whole-hearted in our pursuit of God when our thoughts are polluted by worry and anxiety. Instead, we should, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:15).

Now is a great time to be brutally honest.

Are you addicted to something on line? Looking lustfully? Spending uncontrollably? Surfing endlessly? Playing continually? Gambling consistently? Scrolling incessantly?

Tell the truth.

While it’s never going to be fun or easy to kick an online addiction, you’ll be surprised how quickly your peace will be restored once you surrender the problem to God. Because if you’re serious about pursuing God’s healing, He’ll meet you wherever you are.

So if you find yourself overwhelmed with virtual temptations, remember that God isn’t surprised. He knows what you face, and He’s already made a plan to help you find freedom. Paul offers us this amazing promise: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful, He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Don’t miss the power of these words. 

God will provide a way out.

What’s your way out? I don’t know. It could be something dramatic. But be honest. You are a sharp person. If some small tweak would have fixed your problem, you would have done it a long time ago.

You way out may be confessing to your spouse, your best friend, your small group, or your pastor. It might be deleting an app and making sure you can’t get it again. You might need to lay down your phone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, Kobo, computer, television, and anything else so you can’t get to anything you shouldn’t see. I don’t know what you need to do. But chances are you have a pretty good idea.

God promises to give you a way out.

James tells us, “Submit yourselves then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:7-8).

If you want to be a man or woman of integrity, then maybe it’s time for you to submit to God like never before. That’s where you start. Then with Christ’s power, you can resist the devil and all his e-temptations. Tragically, so many people do just the opposite. They resist God’s promptings and give in to the temptations of the evil one. But that won’t be you. And it won’t be me.

Instead we will live with online integrity leading to holiness and righteous living. Because our lives are not about us. We will not gratify the self-centered lusts of the flesh because we’re born of the Spirit. We will not allow God’s loving trust to slide into the quicksand or popular opinion sink us into lower standards. We will guard our peace. We won’t allow how we use tech to rob us of our purpose, passion, and power.

As we pray, God will give us wisdom to set up pleasant boundaries and safeguards to keep temptations as far away from us as possible. And when we are tempted, we know that Jesus has already given us an escape route.

We will seek Him, see His way out, and take it.

We have His power to overcome sin. We have His Spirit to lead us into righteousness. We have His presence to keep us pure.

We will be whole.

We will be complete.

We will know the peace of the Lord. 

The Price of Peace – Part One

When you think about it, no one stumbles into righteousness. People fall into sin every day. But no one just falls into holiness. It requires making deliberate, prayerful choices and walking an intentional path. Which bring us around to thinking of the peace that being right with God brings into our life. When we are born again, we finally have peace with God (Romans 5:1) as the war is over. And then as we walk with Jesus we have the inner peace that passes all understanding just as He promises.

However, there is a stress point here in our lives. Because of modern technology we see this peace that is specific to being a believer destroyed by the constant need (or what we think is a need) to respond to every sound that our phones and laptops make when messages are being received. 

Peace is a funny thing. We tend to think of it as the absence of conflict, the period between wars and military battles where opposing sides at least pretend to get along. (Does that remind you of some marriages?) Whether it’s “peace and quiet” longed for by a stay-at-home mom with young children or something negotiated among world political leaders, we all tend to think of peace as this quiet, calm, serene state of being.

But in the Jewish culture, the word peace, shalom, has a much richer, fuller meaning than just “getting along” with everybody. In fact. Shalom is one of the underlying principles of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible that Jews consider foundational to their history. Shalom means not only the kind of personal peace we often crave but also a harmonious environment and a sense that everything’s right with the world.

Shalom is about living out the fullness of who God created you to be and enjoying the abundance of blessings God showers on you. This kind of peace includes a feeling of confidence and blessing because you know who you are and what you’re supposed to be doing. It also encompasses a sense of security, an ability to relax and not have to try to control everything because you’re able to trust in God’s goodness as well as His plan. What’s interesting is that peace, shalom, cannot be earned like a paycheque after a week’s work. It comes as a free gift if we’re just willing to receive it. 

We all say we want more peace, but I wonder if we recognize what we do that often robs us of God-given peace. Like checking our email obsessively because we’re afraid we’ll miss something, when we should be enjoying time with God, our family, or a close friend we’ve been missing. Or like responding to emails to make sure everyone views us as the hardworking, super-efficient people we are, when we should be focusing on more important priorities. Like killing time surfing for an hour or so because we are avoiding a difficult conversation. Like obsessing over the latest hot app game when we should be playing with our kids. Like numbing the paining of life by clicking to the “wrong sites” for a lustful escape from reality.

Here’s what many people miss: when we misuse technology, we’re robbing ourselves of the peace we so desperate crave, because even the momentary escape is followed by waves of intense guilt. We want to numb the pain, but on the other side of our binge, the pain is still there, only worse. We love the momentary distraction, but then reality screams at us and our responsibilities pile up. We love the thrill of the lust, but the fear of getting caught haunts us and robs us of sleep and peace. Like a person dying of thirst who gulps salt water, that which is supposed to satisfy only intensifies our need. So life goes on as usual. More stress. More anxiety. More worries.

And less peace.

Everyone talks about being so busy and longing for more rest, but not many of us are willing to guard our integrity by unplugging and protecting our personal peace.

One way to measure the peace in your life is to think about your level of satisfaction and contentment. Are you always striving for more, trying to keep up with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers? Or can you appreciate the enormous blessings you’re enjoying today — a bed to sleep in, food to eat, a family to love, friends to enjoy, a car to drive, and a job that provides income?

I’m convinced that our peace (or the absence thereof) is directly tied to what we focus on each day. We don’t need a lot of specialized knowledge or superhuman will to achieve peace. We simply need to keep paying attention to what we are doing with our time. If we’re focused on escaping the pain of life, avoiding problems, and trying to control our image to the rest of the world, then we won’t have much peace. And the more we seek to surf porn, feed a shopping or gambling addiction online, or envy others for all they appear to have online, the more miserable, restless, and anxious we’re going to feel.

Guaranteed.

More next time….

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.