Suppose a person were to go to a blacksmith and say to him, ‘I want you to make me a long and heavy chain — I will pay you well for it.’ The blacksmith, for the sake of the money, commences it; and after toiling hard for some time, finishes it. The person calls, and says on looking at it, ‘Yes, it is a good chain — but not long enough; work on it another week, I will then call and pay you for it.’ Encouraged by the promise of full reward, the blacksmith toils on, adding link to link. When his employer calls again, he praises him as before — but still insists that ‘the chain is too short.’ ‘But,’ says the blacksmith, ‘I can do no more; my iron is all gone, and my strength too.’
‘Oh then, just add a few more links, the chain will then answer my purpose, and you shall be well paid.’ The blacksmith, with his remaining strength, and last few scraps of iron, adds the last link he can. ‘The chain will now do,’ says the man, ‘you have worked hard and long; I will now pay you your wages.’ And taking the chain, he suddenly binds the blacksmith hand and foot, and casts him into a furnace of fire!
Such are the wages of sin. It promises much — but its reward is damnation!
“The wages of sin is death!” – Romans 6:23
What! is the reward for all that hard toil — death? Yes, death! Oh, extraordinary wages — but more astonishing still, that any should be found to work for them!
If the only wages for sin were those received in a lifetime, we could be calmer. But oh, Eternity, Eternity is sin’s long pay-day — and the wages paid is Hell!
…But never forget, there is a way of escape in Jesus.
Social media is brain poison. That is what runs through my mind every time I see one of the those nicotine commercials. Yes, I see the irony in that there is a good chance you found this post on social media. I am not saying that every aspect social media is negative. There are good things that social media can do for us, but my time on social media usually cost me more than it gives me. What I am getting at is that most people are not aware of how this relatively new tool is effecting them.
T. David Gordon, in an episode on the White Horse Inn called “Distracting Ourselves to Death,” pointed out that you cannot use a tool without that tool shaping you and the culture in which you live. For example, imagine a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture being introduced to good land and a shovel and a plow. If this group of people begin to use these tools repeatedly it will change them. The muscles used working these tools will develop. Their backs could grow stronger and their hands could end up with new callouses, and they would begin to spend more time in one place instead of moving around.
If the use of these tools is effective enough, it could even change the values of the culture. Once, the lean quick hunter was the most valuable body structure because it could provide food. Housing and supplies that could be quickly packed up and moved would also have been more valuable than those that are permanent. Now that these new tools have been introduced, and the people are settling into a specific place, the easily moved supplies are no longer as important. Along with that, the stocky strong body becomes better able to provide than the lean quick body. All of this change happens because of the introduction of new tools.
Social media is a new tool, and we must be aware of how it is changing us. Christians especially. Changes brought on by new tools which are positive or neutral are fine, but if you see changes taking place that move you away from what Christ has called you to be, it is time to either change the way you are using the tool, or abandon it altogether.
There have been enough studies conducted on the use of social media that the negative effects are unquestionable. Long use can cause anxiety, depression, unhealthy sleep patterns, negative body image, and unrealistic expectations. One of the most counter-intuitive effects is loneliness.
Social media is also addictive. Have you ever posted something and repeatedly gone back to check to see how many likes and comments it is getting. This is not something that has happened accidentally. It was designed to get you to do that. Posting is like inserting a quarter to a slot machine hoping you hit the jackpot. You sit and watch the wheels spin to see what is going to happen. One more quarter, one more post, yet the viral jackpot rarely ever arrives, but there are enough little wins to keep you coming back. It is addictive, but did you know it can also diminish your ability to concentrate?
When was the last time you spent 20 minutes on social media and had sustained concentrated thought on one subject? That is not how it was designed. It was designed to have your mind flit from one unimportant piece of information or entertainment to the next, rarely spending more than 30 second on each new thing. What this does is it trains your alert attention to be at full strength; constantly looking for the next shiny object presenting itself for your consideration. All this happens without a single deliberate thought. If you do this for hours and hours, your alert attention grows stronger, but your executive attention grows weaker.
Your executive attention is your ability to stay focused on one topic or task at a time. Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, points out that long hours on social media, and even our constant alerts and notifications on our smart phones, programs our brains to be more focused on alerts, while at the same time diminishing our ability to concentrate. If you find it more difficult to maintain deep thought on something for a sustained period of time, social media may be one of the reasons. The good news is that this can be reversed by changing your habits. Knowing this, it is easy to see how social media effects productivity in more ways than one.
I could go on and on with example after example of the negative effects of social media, but let me end with just a few more points. Social media was supposed to help give a voice to the people, which is does to some effect, but have your noticed that we seem to have made it more of a megaphone for the fool?
Social media has become a bullhorn for ignorance, and it is our fault. This is how it works. Some person, way off their kilter, says something ridiculous, and they hold an opposing political view to our own. In order to show how stupid the other side can be, and to lump our opponents all into a nice stereotype, we share this person’s stupidity with all our friends and followers just to point out how bad the other side is. Our followers, in-turn, share it, and before long, this unknown person who has no grasp on reality has gone viral, and not everyone will think their idea is ill-advised. And we gave it a voice.
The fact that social media can be a megaphone for ignorance is one thing, but it leads to a greater problem because, as mentioned earlier, people are always hoping their next post will hit the viral jackpot. As they look around, they begin to notice that sane and normal thinking does not gain much traction in the likes and comments department. If you want your posts to rise above the noise, you will have to stoop to the level of social media, which usually involves half-truths, outrage, offense, and quick demeaning comebacks for the other stupid people on social media. It seems not even our president is immune.
Finally, have you ever noticed that cowards are courageous on social media? That is what trolls are. That is because social media gives a false sense of authority without vulnerability, and functioning this way will always fail to satisfy. As Christians, we are called to function with authority and vulnerability. The anonymity of the internet often causes us to act in ways we would never act in person. Social media, even with the good things it can bring, is mired in a cesspool of powerless tyrants. Then again, maybe they do have some social media authority because we continue to use social media like it is a tool we cannot live without, and they have figured out how to get their voice heard. Get enough of them together and you have an social media mob. This leaves us with a few options, either stoop to what works for them, or begin to devalue the importance of social media by changing the way we use it, or by abandoning it altogether.
Lets also not forget that these platforms are collecting all of your activity into a persona so they can market to you. They exist because you are a commodity. That is how they make money. They offer you their tool at a price, and that price is information about yourself harvested and sold. These platforms are also becoming more authoritative in the types of speech, or should I says views, they will allow to be communicated. Christian beliefs often fail to meet their standards of conduct. Even if you do have a multitude of followers and influence, if you continue to communicate the truths of scripture, it could all be taken away in a moment.
I have personally given too much of my life to social media. I have since made significant changes to how I use it. I only check my accounts once a week, and I spend no more than 15 minutes doing it. I still post continually throughout the week, but that is done through a scheduling tool which allows me to schedule posts without directly interacting with anything else on these platforms. I know you may actually be using these platforms for the sake of the gospel, or some other worthy endeavor, but that can continue without spending long periods of time scrolling through infinite feeds. Since I have made the change, it has been wonderful. I have been freed up to focus on things of greater importance. What about FOMO (the fear of missing out)? Well, I don’t fear missing out on brain poison.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8
It is amazing the amount of church growth that can be accomplished in the power of the flesh. Though there are significant problems in the church growth movement, we should all be for church growth. In fact, it seems almost impossible for a church to be fulfilling the great commission without some kind of growth taking place. We are to go out and make disciples. When they come in, they too are to grow to the place where they go out and make more disciples.
Many times, however, church growth seems to come down to thoughts like this, “If we get this program or attraction going, more people will show up,” and sometimes this is true, but have we traded the spirit of God for business acumen? Is our church only growing because we have grown skilled in organizational leadership and event promotion? Don’t get me wrong, those things are not necessarily antithetical to the ways of God. God has not called us to be inept in the ways of business and leadership. A godly elder should have knowledge in these things, but let’s be clear, a church can grow in numbers without the Spirit of God moving. To prove this, all you have to do is look at a few well attended liberal churches that have abandoned the faith.
The idea of common grace and saving grace applies not only to individuals but churches also. A church can grow in number and wealth if it has the right marketing plan, along with a number of other useful strategies, but this does not necessarily mean anything spiritual is happening there.
A church where the congregants live worldly lives is not really growing, even if it is growing in size on a regular basis. We cannot call it church growth when the majority of a local church is involved in much of the same worldly lifestyle as the rest of society. If we, as congregants, spend our week chasing after self-glory, personal peace, and affluence, and we let the Word of God sit unread while we neglect our prayer life, it does not matter how big our church is.
This also seems to be a problem in many small non-growing churches as well. The people come on Sunday and see low attendance and wonder why the pastor isn’t bringing in more people with his sermons. Yet there is no real desire for personal holiness in their lives. After they spend the entire week indifferent to God and godliness, they attend church and expect something to happen. However, when we spend a good portion of our time doing things God hates, and not doing the things He loves, we shouldn’t expect much to happen when we attend church. The congregants often have more influence on the spiritual state of a congregation than the pastor. This can be seen every time a Godly preacher is driven away.
True church growth will not occur when there is no desire for personal holiness in the lives of its people. On the contrary, when there is a hunger for righteousness, and progress is being made in personal holiness, church growth has already begun. We do not need more programs to increase the number of people who attend and live worldly lives. We need individuals in the church to grow in Godliness, and as this happens, we will not need programs to bolster attendance. The church will grow because the people will be evangelizing, and more programs will be developed to accompany the need for the people who are coming in desiring to know Christ and be more like Him.
I have many concern about the state of the church growth movement, but this post was not aimed directly at it. It was against the idea that personal holiness can be neglected, while church growth is to be expected, and this can happen in churches with big marketing plans, and those without them.
As we grow to be more like Christ And by the world, we are less enticed, In our hearts, God’s Spirit’s moving, Then of our growth, He is approving.
John Cooper, of the band Skillet, recently addressed the rash of recent prominent Christians leaving the faith. People such as Josh Harris and Marty Sampson. His words are strong and worthy of your time. You can read his entire Facebook post here.
One of his points shines a spotlight directly upon a blind spot of those leaving the faith. It is worthy of reiterating here because it exposes the hubris behind such statements and their desired continued influence over the lives of others. Cooper says the following:
“I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?’ – John Cooper
My heart breaks for those who leave the faith. My heart breaks even more for those they have injured. In the end, my prayer is that they will return to the only Savior who can save their souls, but let us not mince words, they are clouds without water puffed up with their own self-importance, blinded to their own folly.
It is always interesting to track down the origin of certain rituals that are practiced under the name “Christian” which do not have their foundation in scripture. One specific ritual worth considering is the Roman Catholic practice of last rites.
To find out why this practice began, we have to go back to Tertillian who was a theologian who lived during the second and third century A.D. Tertillian was a materialist. He was not the kind of materialist we think of today, but the kind of materialist who believes that even spirit is material. This includes God Himself; though spirit was clearly a higher more refined type of material.
This played heavily into his views on baptism. Tertillian believed that the more refined spirit matter could bond quite well with the lower types of matter such as water. When a person was baptized, the Holy Spirit would bond with the water and somehow wash the person who was being baptized clean of sin. Thus making baptism part of regeneration.
Tertillian also believed that children should not be baptized. This is why many Baptists like to point to him to support credo-baptism, but the reason he thought children should not be baptized had nothing to do with Baptist beliefs as they are held today. Tertillian believed that once you were baptized, you would no longer be given grace if you sinned. If you did sin willingly, you would loose your salvation. At that point, you would have no further chance of redemption. Thus, you should not baptize children because they are certainly going to sin as they grow up. Tertillian, therefore, suggested that a person wait until they were about 30 years old before being baptized.
During this time, many people in the church were influenced by Tertillian’s beliefs, but they also realized that people would still sin after the age of 30. To protect people from sinning and losing their salvation, many church leaders began performing deathbed baptisms. This is why Constantine was not baptized until the end of his life.
Needless to say, those who held this view eventually began reject some of these ideas in order to return to a more Biblical understanding of baptism. However, the Latin Church never let go of the desire to perform a ritual at the deathbed to absolve someone from their sins. This is where the practice of last rites was born. It all stems from Tertillian’s aberrant theology regarding baptism, and, like Tertillian’s view of baptism, the last rites are still performed with the belief that they can offer a final purification of sin.
To give credit where credit is due, much of this information was gleaned from a Church history lecture by Dr. Gerald Bray from Beeson Seminary.
If you want to grow in godliness you need to slow down. What is it about being forced to slow down that makes us want to run faster than we were before? I think it is because, when sickness or some other obstacle hits us, we want to have the will to power through. Whatever it is, slowing down is something we resist, and when we are forced to do it, it is often uncomfortable.
When we have no choice but to slow down, however, we realize we had been taking our time and abilities for granted. On top of that, we realize that though we were running fast, much of it was spent on directionless pursuits. It is amazing how we can feel pressured to check social media, or check a gaming app on our phone. There have been times I have felt like my evening was pressured because I needed to write a blog post, but no one is sitting at their computer waiting for me to post. My mom doesn’t even do that. Still, something inside me says you better get something written soon.
These are small examples, but we fill our days with these types of anxieties. Many of the things that have us running so fast could be eliminated without hurting anyone. Often, the only real negative impact we feel is the effect it has on our pride. We tend to think, “if I am busy, then I am important. People need me to fulfill all of my so-called responsibilities, because if I do not, things will fall apart,” but it is not true. Much of what we feel pressured to do is noise.
We rarely realize this until something hits our life that forces us to start reevaluating. There comes a time when your body or emotional state says, it is time to change pace. At first, we usually think we can work through it, but, in the end, we find that providence is serious about making us slow down. It is at this point that we will hopefully start to gain perspective.
The process is painfully pleasant. A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation. First, I wanted to power through as if my will-power could right all the wrongs with my health. Once I resigned to the fact that I could not do it, I settled in to make some changes. The first thing that I needed to do was to get rid of all the needless distractions that had been adding stress but did nothing to help me be productive with important things.
I started by reevaluating what truly mattered. The key to this was making sure my mind was set on things above, or in other words, making sure I was seeking first the Kingdom of God. I will not talk about this much here because most of my posts deal with this in one way or another, but if we fail to seek Him first, even slowing down cannot help us.
Upon reflection, I found I had filled my life with needless interruptions, and they were not benefiting me in any way. I also began to realize that I did not know I was being distracted because I was not even aware of what I was being distracted from. I believe this is the case for many people.
Then began the process of slowing down and removing needless stress. This process involved deleting apps on my phone, limiting social media time to once a day, and I even began to schedule time on my calendar to check email only three times a day at work, instead of checking it constantly. This reduction was the part that felt painful at first. I felt like I was going to miss out. If much of my productivity happens with email, how could I accomplish all that I needed to get done?
I noticed myself repeatedly looking to my phone for notifications that were no longer available. My brain’s habitual response needed to be retrained and it did not like it. The result of this was that I was not less productive, I was more productive. I had hours in the morning, afternoon, and evening, which were email and social media free. These uninterrupted hours forced me to become more strategic with my time at work and home, instead of wasting it always checking to see if I had new messages and diverting my train of thought. This also gave me more time to do something I enjoy, writing.
Regarding social media and time online, I realized I was not missing out on much. I also noticed that my executive attention, the ability to focus on something for an extended period of time, began to grow stronger. Before I was forced to slow down, I had already realized that the internet had started shrinking my thoughts. I began blogging 2005, that was eventually reduced to Facebook posts, and then I was down to 140 characters on Twitter. Though all of these can be powerful tools if used correctly, sustained thought is not something online platforms encourage. The big takeaway was that my mind was spending much less time flitting from one unimportant thing to another.
I also began to choose my television time much more carefully, and I would always keep my Kindle or a book with me. If I was going to spend time doing something during my free moments, I could at least make it something mindful. I could continue to tell you about more of these little changes, such as how the boredom created by the absence of so much entertainment and social media actually sparked creativity, but I think you are getting the picture. Let me conclude with a few thoughts on the importance of slowing down.
Slowing down is not something we have to be forced to do. It is something we can do even when our health is strong. Jonathan Edwards once said this about a man he honored deeply, David Brainerd.
“[One] imperfection in Mr. Brainerd, which may be observed in the following account of his life, was his being excessive in his labours; not taking due care to proportion his fatigues to his strength.”
Much of what I have written about to this points is removing the unnecessary and unproductive activity from our lives, but sometimes we even need to slow down on that which is worthwhile and godly. Our Lord has put His treasure in jars of clay, and though the outward man is wasting away, the inward man is being renewed day by day. This truth should teach us two things. First, our bodies cannot do it all, and these jars of clay will eventually fade. If we do not slow down, we will soon be forced to. Second, when our bodies force us to slow down, even in our service to God, we are not necessarily reducing our pace in being renewed spiritually, which is the ultimate goal.
It seems our Christian culture has come to believe that overworking and godliness are inextricably bound. If you are not running fast, then you are not redeeming the time. Sometimes, the best path to being spiritually renewed is through slowing down. Maybe it is time to take due care to proportion our fatigues with our strength. In doing this, we find we are redeeming the time more effectively than when we were before.
It is important to remember that doing less does not mean we stop doing difficult work. Much of our most important undertakings are challenging. This is why we often prefer busyness over slowing down. If we are using our frantic pace as a form of procrastination in regard to the things that matter, that type of busyness is actually a form of laziness. In the end, I found during my time of slowing down that I was actually accomplishing more.
A divided mind, one caught between heaven and earth, will never find peace because it is chasing things in two different directions. A heart that is united in the fear of the Lord will be able to slow down and cover more ground because it has only one direction to go. This need to slow down and regain focus, like all battles with the sinful nature, is a daily struggle. Part of what prompted me to write this post is the fact that I have allowed many of these things to begin crowding my life again. We must continually guard our hearts against being pulled away from the Lord and his service by things of little or no importance.
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth;unite my heart to fear your name. – Psalm 86:11
Their snarls penetrated my ears with every evading stride. Every breath I took was weighted by the awareness that they were close behind me. I had entered at the narrow gate, but somehow they had managed to follow me onto the path. I could hear their taunts. Every one of their footsteps was like the sound of a war drum. There are days when they are out of sight. During those times, I feel the warm breeze of the Celestial City beckoning me homeward, but even then I know they are lying in wait. Their pursuit often leaves me anxious and exhausted.
I didn’t think they would be able to follow me onto the narrow path, but somehow they made their way onto the road. When I entered the narrow way, under the shadow of the cross, my sins were forgiven. He had delivered me from the slavery of sin that held me captive. Since He had open the way and called me in, I thought at that point I would be out of the reach of my enemies, yet they pursue me daily.
Every time I fall, the enemy shouts from behind, “You do not belong on this path! You belong to us, and we will catch and destroy you! I have learned the names of some, but others I am still trying to figure out. There are two who give chase called Shame and Regret. They often disguise themselves as messengers of the king. They tell me that, since my heart is prone to wander, the King prefers that I stay out of sight. That is Shame’s greatest strategy. He convinces us that we need to hide. He does this to keep us from finding the assistance that is available in the congregation of the saints, and he works closely with regret to keep us from approaching the Throne of Grace.
Many other enemies desire to sink their teeth into me as well, like sickness and sorrow, sin and sadness, and the final enemy death who boasts of his many conquests. In those moments when I am running scared, I have learned that there is a song being sung. It is a song of the past as well as a song of the future, and I must tune my heart into its melody.
The first time I heard it was at a time when I thought all was lost. The enemy had convinced me that I was a trespasser on the narrow road, and their presence was the proof. They told me that Lord had allowed them access to remove me from His sacred passage. I heard them chanting as they chased, “Our desire will have its fill. Our sword is in our hand. We will destroy (Exodus 15:9).”
Their tune, however, was soon drowned out by the song of the saints. The great cloud of witnesses sang, “The Lord is a man of war. Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power, your right hand, O Lord, shatters the enemy (Exodus 15:3,6).” This refrain gave me immediate comfort. Then another line stood out and gave me the perspective I needed. It recounted, “Pharoah’s chariots and his host He cast into the sea.” It continued, “The floods covered them: they went down into the depths like a stone (Exodus 14:4-5).”
The song I was hearing was the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18). At that point, it all fell into place. God had set the people free from their slavery in Egypt, and He had made a way of salvation by parting the Red Sea. He then allowed their enemies to pursue them into the way of escape for the very purpose of destroying them.
You and I have entered into the narrow path. At the entrance of that gate, we found salvation where there is no accusation or separation, but there is a path we must walk between the door of salvation and the gates of the Celestial City. Do not be dismayed by the fact that there are enemies still pursuing you on this path. Regret and shame, fear and anxiety, the troubles of a fallen world, and even death itself, will never make it to the other side, but you will.
One day shame and regret will be no more. Even now they have lost their power. To believe that a life of self-punishment and shame is needed for us to be right with God is to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was insufficient. That is a lie of the enemy. There is complete freedom in Jesus. The reason they are unable to hurt us now is because He has disarmed them and put them to open shame (Colossians 2:15). Our sin is what gave them their power, but He has canceled our debt (Colossians 2:14). Even death has lost its sting in His resurrection.
Though these enemies may get the best of us from time to time, they will all fail because our Lord is triumphant. Their pursuit of us into the King’s domain will be their destruction. As I mentioned earlier, this is a song of the past as well as a song of the future. This song will be sung again when the Lord returns to set all things right (Revelation 15:3). Listen to the song and keep marching heavenward. The Lord will lead us with His steadfast love, the people whom He has redeemed. He will guide us by His strength into His holy abode (Exodus 15: 13).
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider He has thrown into the sea. – Exodus 15:21