"If we let the world raise our children, we can’t be surprised if they come to love the world rather than God."
Into The Laps Of Our Children
The text message saddened and angered me. It astonished me to read, “Wow, Mr. Ratburn on PBS kid show Arthur is gay. He married a man on the show”. Kid shows often stay neutral on these issues, so I searched for myself. Sure enough, Mr. Ratburn came out as gay and got married in the “Arthur” season premiere.
I watched “Arthur” as a kid. My children did, too.
The Ratburn episode illuminates a grander reality in America. American Christians aren’t surprised by gay marriage, nor are we oblivious to the reality that gay marriage is legal and now being embedded as a cultural norm. However, alarm bells ring when homosexual marriage sneaks into our living rooms and whispers a contradictory worldview in their ears.
Homosexuality has appeared in children’s television before—in fact, a 2005 “Arthur” episode featured a friend with two moms. Doc McStuffins had an episode featuring an interracial lesbian couple and Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie have also been confirmed as a gay couple.
Homosexuality as a cultural norm is no longer something “out there” waiting for our children when they enter the real world. It is barging into our living rooms and demanding that we say something.
Gay Marriage is a Sin Problem
Am I just an alarmed, far right bigot indoctrinating my children with an ancient text? Some readers will say that I am. Is this post uttering intolerant hate speech and teaching our children to hate homosexuals? To many, it will be read that way.
That is far from the truth. Homosexual marriage decimates Scripture’s proclamation that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Instead, people have replaced God’s special revelation with an alternative that doesn’t even allow for natural procreation.
In all of American history, heterosexual marriage was considered the norm, even by secular Americans. The tides have completely turned.
Homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:31-32). Numerous other sins will keep people from inheriting the Kingdom of God, such as sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, greed, drunkenness, reviling, and swindling (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). There are more lists, and we are all on them. There is none righteous (Romans 3:10).
But the same Jesus who died on the cross for those other sins also died to save homosexuals who will place their faith in Christ and turn from their sin. The same Spirit who brought us from darkness to light can do the same for homosexuals. The same Father who loved us and gave His Son for us can do the same for homosexuals.
All sinners, whether gay or straight, can run to Christ for forgiveness and repentance. The Scriptures still hold true that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Parenting On Guard
I need to repent of being too lax with television consumption in my home. We don’t even have cable, so I convinced myself of some illusionary control that slipped from my hands in an instant.
If you’re a Christian parent concerned with your child’s worldview, join me in guarding our children. This doesn’t mean living in a “Christian bubble” pretending that sin doesn’t exist. Rather, proactively instill a biblical worldview through conversations and discussions using Scripture as the foundation.
In response to “Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone” we must commit to using much wisdom and diligence in protecting our children from anti-biblical worldviews. How can we do this?
Guard the worldviews that enter your homes. As our culture embraces abortion, gay marriage, transgenderism, and other sins as normal, Christians must engage with the world’s perspectives and refute them with Scripture. Talk about the Bible with your children when “you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Dt. 6:7). If we let the world raise our children, we can’t be surprised if they come to love the world rather than God.
Guard the media your children enjoy. Change the media appetite in your home. Rather than cherry-picking which hot ticket sins to guard them against, families should ask of every show, “Does this hinder my child from the glory of God and His work in the gospel?”. Any shows that normalize sin should be removed from our watchlists—at least until our children are old enough to teach them discernment. Christian alternatives such as Pureflix, JellyTelly, and RightNow Media might sound corny, but holiness will never be cool to the world.
Be bold like Joshua who said, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Guard against losing the gospel. We will fail our children if we don’t give them the gospel. Sin is in their hearts, even if they’ve been rescued by our Savior. Stop treating them like they’re innocent little angels who could never do wrong. It’s simply untrue. Every human being carries the sin of Adam—even our beloved kiddos. Like their parents, they deserve to be punished for their sins by the Holy God of the universe.
But God, in lovingkindness sent Jesus to save people from their sins. But God gave His Holy Spirit to turn our dead, stony hearts into living, bleeding hearts alive to His goodness and glory. But God calls all people, gay or straight, to repent and believe in His Son. He will rescue any sinner who cries out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” and places their full hope in Jesus.
God can reconcile the worst of sinners to Himself. If He saved us, He can save anyone. Ask Rosaria Butterfield. Ask Jackie Hill Perry. Ask Peter. Ask Paul. Ask Solomon. Ask David. Ask Rahab. Ask Abraham. Ask Noah.
How will you and your family respond to the moral shift that is working its way into our homes?
Is it tough to imagine that people with abundance struggle with contentment? Shouldn't the wealthy and most successful people be the happiest? The opposite seems true as Americans are becoming less happy rather than more. If you're reading this blog post, you may even be one of them. I'm one of them. The shock value really sets in when you consider that, according to Global Rich List, a net income of $2,700 per month places us among the top 1% of the richest people in the world.
Why does it still feel like we don't have enough? Why doesn't prosperity automatically equal contentment? Why doesn't success render us the most joyful people in the world?
The Answer is a Secret
The answer lies in Philippians 4:12-13:
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Tucked neatly in Paul's encouragement and thanksgiving for the Philippian church and their generosity is the mention that his circumstances have taught him a vital lesson—contentment. What seems so elusive to us here in the West was attained by Paul. We too can learn this "secret" which impacted him.
In what circumstances did Paul learn contentment? We often forget that Paul learned contentment both in times of frustration and in times of favor. When Paul was brought low, was hungry, and was in need, he learned to be content. In times of abounding, having plenty, and experiencing abundance, Paul also learned contentment. It was "in any and every circumstance" that Paul learned the "secret" of contentment. For a culture stricken with affluenza—extreme discontentment, malaise, and distress due to the pursuit of success and wealth—the gospel is the only cure.
The Symptoms of Affluent Discontentment
Before we get to the cure, it's necessary to point to some of the symptoms of discontentment that plague the successful or affluent:
- excessive spending
- continual dissatisfaction with work
- grumbling and complaining
- apathy and malaise regarding life in general
- envy of others' possessions
For those who require a more spiritual list, we see:
- being hyper-critical of your local church
- dressing up complaints with spiritual jargon
- irritability when things don't look as they should
- lack of joy
- inability to rest
If the Holy Spirit taught Paul contentment in any and every circumstance, He can do the same in us. When I'm tempted to despair of the discontentment in my heart, I remember that the source of Paul's contentment was Christ. He learned contentment by forsaking his strength and entrusting all things to Christ who gives him strength (Philippians 4:13). Rather than developing stoicism or willpower, Paul leaned on Jesus in his weakness. By grace, we can do this too!
The Cure for Affluent Discontentment
How do we cultivate Christ-centered contentment when things are going well?
Remember how you got here. When we are abounding, reliance on God can fade into the background. We get used to the daily bread, good grades, promotions, positive behavior of our children, or successful daily devotions. When comfort becomes the norm, we can subtly slip into thinking that it was by our intellect, athletic prowess, personal charm, or work ethic that we have found success. This is all futile. The God who created the world gave us this success, and He deserves the credit for even the smallest morsel.
Rely on Christ daily for strength. One of the greatest daily habits we can build is asking God for help with what we think we can do on our own. Jesus meant it when He said, "apart from me you can do nothing". We are in grave danger of dethroning God in our hearts and placing ourselves or others in His place—especially in seasons of affluence and success.
Rest in Christ's finished work. Too often our cravings for success stem from a heart that desires approval before God and men. Since hard work often leads to success and approval, and success and approval lead us to work harder, we endlessly work harder to achieve more success and approval. The cycle either continues or we burn out. Rather than living in this hamster wheel, we need to search our hearts and ask whether we truly believe Christ did enough. We need to ask ourselves the hard questions: Did Christ truly earn God's approval for us? Or do we need to add our work to His work?
Rehearse the gospel daily. In light of resting in Christ, we need to meditate daily on the gospel. We need to remind ourselves that apart from God's grace we are sinful enemies of God. It is only by His grace that we have been freed from sin and given the spiritual gifts we desire to steward well. When we succeed with those gifts, we need to be reminded that it's through God's grace we are able to do anything.
Reflect the glory of God in your words and actions. If the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, our success should always aim to give Him glory. When we are thriving, we have the opportunity to point to Christ. The accolades and rewards that were once mountains to conquer become platforms that we can use to reflect glory back to God.
No Direct Flights
When I travel, I love direct flights with no layovers. Sometimes this either isn't possible or simply isn't cost effective. When considering contentment, I can see that there is no direct flight between success and contentment. Honestly, the seasons that I find success are often the seasons that I am the most discontent. In those moments, I need God to say, "take care lest you forget the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 8:11).
Through meditating on scripture and seeing the example of successful godly people, I've realized that most content people are those who know Christ—not themselves—as the source of every success.
A version of this article originally appeared at For The Church.
I often wonder how I can wake up in the morning and not give God a second thought.
On so many mornings, I feel a gravitational pull to reach for something, anything, but God. Email, music, social media, sports, blogs, and news can’t seem to wait, even though they are infinitely tiny compared to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Worse yet, they eclipse God, numb me to spiritual reality, and set the tone for the whole day. My body may be awake on these days, but what about my soul?
The rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces in the heavenly places never take a day off. Neither can we. Self-righteousness lurks in the shadows of a victorious social media debate while gossip pursues as I describe the flaws of others. Anger pulls up next to me as I come to a screeching halt and spill coffee in my lap. I know this is true, but sometimes I’m unaffected by these realities.
Each day we are battling not only the schemes of the devil but also the world and the flesh. As soldiers sleep with one eye open, so must the child of God. We don’t have the option to walk in a drowsy stupor as though we are lounging at the beach on vacation. Rather, we are like the soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy — ready to bring utter destruction to our sin.
Keep Your Heart with God
How does God call us to live in light of the reality of spiritual warfare? His word is clear: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). One of the most important, and neglected, duties of the Christian is to be watchful. Puritan John Flavel aptly stated that “the greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.”
To be watchful is to slow down and take notice of our hearts in light of God’s word and the gospel. God calls time and time again for us to watch carefully over our souls so we won’t fall into sin. He knows that our flesh is weak, so he exhorts us to sit day and night at the gates of wisdom, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our souls and reveal our need for his grace. He knows that in the moments that we look away from Christ, we are like David whose heart was sinfully captured by the beauty of Bathsheba. The call to keep our hearts is the call to zealous care for the most precious part of who we are.
Watchfulness in the WordIt’s easy to find watchfulness throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, we see that the Israelites were commanded to watch themselves closely so they wouldn’t fall into idolatry (Deuteronomy 4:15). In the Psalms, we get a glimpse of a watchful heart seeking after the Lord (Psalm 5:3; 59:9; 119:148). In Proverbs, the wise man watches daily at the doors and gates of wisdom (Proverbs 8:34).
In the Gospels, Jesus called his disciples to “watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6), to be watchful for the Bridegroom to return (Matthew 25:13), to be watchful, awake, and prayerful in these last days (Luke 21:34–36).
In Paul’s epistles, saints are called to watch out for those who cause divisions and obstruct the gospel message (Romans 16:17), to be watchful and take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthians 10:12; 16:13), to watch against falling into sin while helping a brother in transgression (Galatians 6:1), and to be watchful in prayer (Colossians 4:2). Peter calls for believers to be watchful because Satan is prowling and desiring to devour us (1 Peter 5:8).
All of this talk about watchfulness can conjure up images of exhausting legalism. It sounds so puritanical, doesn’t it? I can hear groans from the crowd, “I thought we were free in Christ? Won’t excessive watchfulness negate grace and rob us of our joy? I don’t want to be overly introspective. That’s depressing!”
Jesus has an answer for these groans. His Father is glorified when we bear much fruit, and fruitfulness brings us fullness of joy (John 15:8–11). By abiding in him and receiving grace, we have help to keep our hearts with vigilance. But what does that look like?
First, we abide in Christ. If apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5), then we must do everything with him and in his power, acknowledging our utter dependence on Christ. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily. This could be as simple as praying, “By grace, I’m both a sinner and a saint. Lord, give me the strength I need to glorify you in this moment and the rest of this day.” As we humbly acknowledge our reliance on Christ, we will find ourselves leaning into his strength in times of temptation and trials.
Second, we regularly examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Do you seek your own kingdom? Is there sin you refuse to repent of? Are you looking to Christ with faith? To prevent morbid introspection, we would do well to heed the advice of Robert Murray M’Cheyne and take ten looks at Christ for every look we take at ourselves.
Third, we follow God’s word. Jesus didn’t pull out his Bible when Satan tempted him. He quoted the Scripture, in context, directly from his mind. We need to commit to more than just reading our Bibles. If we slow down and memorize God’s word, we can take it with us everywhere we go. As we are meditating on and applying the Scriptures, we are being shaped and led by the Spirit of God.
Lastly, we walk with the saints. We are not vigilant by ourselves or for ourselves. We are the body of Christ. As members, we should certainly watch over our own hearts and be aware of sin that could lead us to fall away from God, but we also need to love the Christians in our lives enough to warn them when we see them falling into sin. It’s easy to build and maintain superficial friendships, yet it’s more valuable to be accountable to other believers who are willing (and not afraid) to push us toward godliness daily.
Starting in the Morning
Though I haven’t mastered the art of keeping my heart, God used a season of anxiety, depression, and suffering to open my eyes to this great need. Each morning is still a battle. I don’t win the battle every time, but I’m much more aware of what is at stake.
As the Spirit works in me to make me more Christlike, I keep fighting and watching with more zeal and vigilance. Keeping our hearts is costly, but we fight with the strength of the One who transforms them.
This article first appeared at desiringgod.org.
"Regardless of where we are at on the spectrum, everyone in Christ must heed His powerful words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)."
I'm torn between two friends.
One friend is “anti-woke”. He throws around terms like "cultural Marxist" and social justice warrior (SJW) but doesn't define them in a way I can understand. He denies any sort of privilege in society and got upset when Albert Mohler released the "Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary". He told me that white people didn't need to apologize today for sins they didn’t commit in the past. That’s just “white guilt”—a social justice tactic. When white preachers used their platform to call their white church members to search themselves and their churches to eradicate racism, I was told that they were "virtue signaling" and simply appeasing SJWs.
When white Christians explained "white privilege" (another social justice term) and told their churches how to think through it, my friend told me that those preachers had gone off the deep end into liberalism and the social gospel. He kept arguing that I would eventually fall away from the gospel and into the same social gospel if I believed white people generally have it easier in society. Rather than acknowledge my fidelity to the gospel and desire for doctrinal precision, he just keeps saying that I’m going to start accepting homosexuality, transgenderism, and then deny the authority of scripture.
My other friend wears the “woke” badge proudly and gets up in arms anytime I talk about the Reformers and Puritans because they owned slaves. He says he doesn’t feel comfortable in "majority culture" (white) contexts and generally believes that white Christians don't want black leaders in their churches. When I wrote about my concerns with leaving evangelicalism and the dangers that might come with it, he said I devalued the black church. He thinks I shouldn't speak on behalf of black Christians because I'm not in a black context nor would I be able to survive in one.
To him, I'm too much like Carlton Banks and mainly serve as the "token" anywhere that I go. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, he was mad at “white evangelicals”. To him, this was a major problem and when I attested that many of my white evangelical friends didn’t vote for Trump, he said I was blind to the facts. When "whiteness" was deemed as inherently evil and something that needed to be repented of, he made it clear that black people just need to give up trying to find a way in evangelicalism or bridge the racial divide that still exists. In his eyes, white Christians don't want to submit to black leadership, so why keep trying? Why keep writing books? Why keep attending conferences? Shouldn't black Christians just do their own thing?
You see what I mean? Both of my friends say some good stuff. They both proclaim the gospel and both desire God’s justice to be seen in the world. They both desire God’s glory in the local church and for it to spread abroad through global missions.
They both also say some things that I disagree with. They both accuse the other of losing the gospel. They both argue that their side is the biblically correct way and that the other way has always caused damage to the church. They both make exclusive claims that their method properly lives out the implications of the gospel.
Various Takes on Being “Woke”
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "woke" means "aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)". In street terms, it means seeing what’s really going on behind the facade presented by history books, news, and media sources. It’s often a term of endearment for those who are socially conscious.
In his book Woke Church, Eric Mason says of wokeness, that “if you have a level of understanding of the double consciousness of blacks and are regenerate, you are woke.” He adds to the dictionary definition the requirement of regeneration. In other words, to be truly woke in Mason’s eyes, means to be a believer who understands that black people are conscious of both being American and being black. For him, these consciousnesses are connected and yet often at odds with one another.
The anti-woke side is mostly white evangelicals (a term I sought to define here). To avoid over-generalizing, I see several black believers on this side as well. The other side is mostly black evangelicals. Again, to avoid generalization, this side has picked up many white proponents and several of the black people on this side have disassociated themselves with evangelicalism or the reformed movement. One side makes theological precision and biblical integrity their focus. This is very good! The other side seeks to apply the rich, gospel-centered theology they hold. This too is wonderful!
The anti-woke side guards against the use of secular sociological terms and theories such as social justice, intersectionality, or critical race theory when interpreting scripture. This caution is wise. The woke side seems to embrace (or at least not fear) these theories as they look at society and seek to live in light of the implications of the gospel. Their desire to apply the gospel in society is admirable.
As Trevin Wax recently stated, these two groups "would do well to articulate the real dangers of their own side (quietism and social apathy in some circles, and ideological compromise and theological liberalism in others)". As I think through these issues, I’m seeking to do the same. I see positive and negative on both sides, and I don’t find myself clearly landing totally on one side or the other in the discussion on race. I am, however, committed to the gospel and sound doctrine. I consider myself reformed and would likely fall within the definition of evangelical (when the term is used religiously and not politically).
Am I too woke because I see the effects of racism in the church? Am I in danger of falling into old liberalism and the social gospel because I see that (in general) my white Christian friends have privileges in society that I don't have? Am I just race-baiting because it seems that my race hinders ministry opportunities in rural Kentucky? Am I leaving my reformed theology and commitment to Scripture and sound doctrine behind because I acknowledge partiality on a large scale in our society?
I am searching myself to see if my observations are true. If I'm too woke to be biblical, I need to repent. I need to run back to the cross, and I need to set my eyes back on the Savior who transforms me into His image from "one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18).
Not "woke" enough
Am I not woke enough because I love the white Christians that I do life with each week? Am I not woke enough because fighting perceived racism with isolation from white evangelicals doesn't seem to be the solution? Am I diminishing the value of Christians of color because I want to see more black Christians in churches like mine? Is my reformed theology and biblical commitment blinding me to the realities of racism and its effects on the church? Should I leave evangelicalism and reformed theology behind altogether?
Again, I am searching myself to see whether I am blind to sin that I need to see in my heart and the church I am a part of. If we are ignoring or coddling sin, we need to repent. Jesus is the only answer.
Awake in Christ
Being awake to the gospel and its implications is far greater than any secular term we could embrace or Christianize. Every Christian who has believed the gospel is heeding the call of Ephesians 5:14–21. When God called out “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you”, the Spirit brought regeneration and woke up our dead souls. We were awakened in Christ and given spiritual senses. In Gospel Wakefulness, Jared Wilson describes this as “treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly” than all else.
The implications are life-changing. We all must search ourselves for evidence of this Spirit-wrought change in our hearts. Those who are awake in Christ are called to:
Is There Room For Each Other?
Can I see and discuss issues of partiality without being a social justice warrior and yet not disparage reformed or evangelical Christianity without being considered a Sambo (a sellout)? I think so. Can there be "woke" Christians? Yes, if “wokeness” means striving to see the realities of injustice in society—especially if being actively aware of these issues helps us love our neighbors in all circumstances.
Should there be fears about the social justice movement in our culture? Definitely, since the movement is pushing for unbiblical ideals and theories regarding race, class, gender, or sexuality. If the world is entering the church, God’s undershepherds must guard the sheep against wolves. Is God able to keep us faithful to His unchanging Word while also helping us love our neighbors? He is able to do that and far more than we can even ask or think.
Having sound theology without loving one another makes us academic. Having love for one another without sound doctrine makes us activists. In Christ, believers were recreated for far more. We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10). We are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are called to be perfectly one with one another (John 17:23). We are called to be salt, light, cities on a hill, and a picture of Jesus for a dying world! Shame on us if our disunity causes God's name to be dishonored among the Gentiles.
This doesn't mean unity for unity's sake. It doesn't mean that we won't have disagreements. It means that we find unity in the Savior and the message God has spoken through Him. Though our applications and methods may differ—and could even be wrong—we can be united as we discuss justice and the gospel.
As I navigate these challenging waters, I remember that I have the mind of Christ. In Christ, I can:
1. Pursue unity of mind with other believers (Phil 2:1-2). I need to strive to be of the same mind with them, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. This means not always commenting on a tweet I disagree with, not doubting others' salvation due to secondary differences, refusing to gossip about brothers and sisters with whom I disagree, and actively seeking to discuss and encourage them in the things that are essential to our faith in Christ.
2. Count others as more significant than myself (Phil 2:3). I need to refuse to belittle people in their disagreements with me. Even if I am right and they seem to be totally wrong, this will still allow me to value my brother and sister while humbly denying myself. This will lead to fewer arguments, disrespect, and anger in my own heart. This will also lead me to consider their arguments rather than writing them off and immediately coming with my own conclusions.
3. Look to the interests of others rather than myself (Phil. 2:4). Sometimes I’ll agree with someone my closest friends disagree with. It means that when a brother or sister shares their struggles, I can listen without being disinterested. Even if I disagree with their interpretation of the struggle or the terminology they use to describe it, I can listen lovingly and intently. Too often, I form and share an opinion in real-time rather than taking time to hear both sides or even care about the fact that someone is suffering. In a culture of microwave reactions, a godly response may be the crockpot method of patient and persistent prayer for clarity as I listen to those I disagree with.
I am not without hope in this situation. I pray that we would take more time to sit around a bonfire, sip some coffee, or shoot some hoops rather than argue online. As we’ve already seen, no blog post, 280-word tweet, Facebook status, or Youtube live video can do justice to this entire situation. These "friends" I spoke of do not represent specific individuals or every thought on the spectrum of this discussion. These observations are a culmination of conversations I have had with people, seen on social media, heard in sermons, or read in blog posts. I have friends all along the spectrum. I love those people, and I am truly praying for both clarity and unity in this situation.
Regardless of where we are at on the spectrum, everyone in Christ must heed His powerful words: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).
Are you displaying the love of Christ to the watching world?
"Algorithms don’t know the depths of our souls, but they keep us coming back. They keep placing content in front of us that draws out the sinful "old man" we are trying to put to death."
“What in the world is an algorithm?!” If that was your first thought, you’re not alone. More than some geeky tech lingo, algorithms are an important part of your day if you use the internet. In fact, algorithms run the show. That “breaking news!” didn’t come to your phone because it was the only breaking news on the planet. That tear-jerker you just watched wasn’t the most recent or relevant post you could’ve seen in that moment. The hostile comment battle you just won wasn't on the minds of 95% of your friends or the people you follow.
See what I mean? Algorithms don't take a day off.
Tim Challies suggested that it’s time to break free from the algorithm life. He reminds us that algorithms are “formulas carefully coded to spread some content and to suppress others”. In other words, with so much content out there, “algorithms pre-sort it for us”. Notice the word suppress. This can be beneficial if it suppresses content that would be harmful to us. It can also be destructive if certain content—at the discretion of artificial intelligence or the employees of social media companies—is purposely being suppressed to keep us in a habit loop of swiping or engrossed in that endless comment war that somehow keeps sucking us back in.
Lead Me Not Into Temptation
I’m no conspiracy theorist. I don’t think the final frontier was filmed in a Hollywood basement. I definitely don't think the earth is flat. However, I do believe algorithms can lead us into the very temptation we desire to be freed from. I started writing this post on Good Friday when the majority of my timeline was filled with people commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus. However, amid the hundreds of post referencing the death of Christ, the top post (and several others below it) were about "social justice warriors".
This seems insignificant, doesn’t it? But imagine if that happens every day for a month. I keep seeing tweets, retweets, and subtweets about a divisive issue until I feel obligated to choose a side. I eventually make up my mind and start to fight viciously against my "opponent". I start to develop such vitriol for those who share a different perspective that I get sick to my stomach when I think of them. Worse, since “those people” are in my church, I can’t imagine worshiping and fellowshipping with them. Do you see how this could spiral out of control quickly?
The cumulative effects of these 280-word statements are massive. Consider Colossians 3:8–9a:
“But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another…”
Algorithms don’t know the depths of our souls, but they keep us coming back. They keep placing content in front of us that draws out the sinful "old man" we are trying to put to death. We know the anger that comes from a snide comment thrown subtly on social media. We’ve been caught up in malicious and slanderous speech only to find out that it was “fake news”, “alternate facts”, or misleading information. We’ve seen (and been a part of) obscene speech. We’ve told the lies. Deep down, we know there is so much more to life, but we can't help but keep clicking and swiping.
We Are Responsible
I imagine some people standing before God on judgment day, holding their smartphones, and proclaiming, “Algorithms made me do it!”. We don’t have this option. Every human being is responsible for their own sin, though there is great wrath coming to those who tempt others (Matthew 18:7). By grace, we can overcome temptation because God has given us His Word, His Spirit, and a way of escape every time.
This doesn’t exempt us from using wisdom to limit our exposure to temptations. Christians must strive to navigate this world of algorithms in a God-glorifying way. Here are at least three helpful ways:
1. Ditch digital media altogether. Some of us need to abandon social media forever. Yes, maybe you. Maybe me too. People have lived millennia without staring into backlit glass and arguing with human beings who seem more like avatars with real names attached to them. For thousands of years, people waited to hear the news from people they knew personally or through a well-edited and reviewed newspaper. We can all survive. Even if we don't choose to ditch digital media altogether, it would be wise to consider a digital fast for a month or two.
2. Choose curated digital media. Tim Challies recommends either curating our own digital media or finding trusted curators of our own. In fact, he’s one of my trusted curators with his daily a la carte posts. Even better, we have public access to the 200+ blogs he reads to curate it! The key to this choice is that we are in control of who and what we see when we interact with the digital world we live in. While this has issues of its own, it gives us more responsibility for what we see.
3. Keep your digital media as is, but with caution. Most of us will probably choose this option. I don’t blame you! I’m not ready to ditch digital media, and curating sounds like a lot of hard work! Even if you don’t choose to change anything about your digital media, you must be aware of the algorithms and their impacts on your life. We have real spiritual enemies and they will make use of everything available to devour us. We all have to strive to be more watchful as we navigate the complex world of digital media.
Almost Almost Amish
Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family, is right when he says we probably have to become "closer to Amish" than we think. In other words, we don't have to outright reject technology or all that it offers us, but we do have to be much more intentional with how we use the world. We are in the world but not of it and we deal with the world as those who have no dealings with it because it is passing away.
How will you take control of your digital media?
"If you've placed your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrecting God of the Bible dwells in you today."
No resurrection? No hope. No resurrection? No life. No resurrection? No power. No resurrection? No Savior.
As we stand in awe of the life of Jesus, it points us to His death and resurrection. When we hear “it is finished” (John 19:30), we know the resurrection is right around the corner. Each time we set our minds on Jesus, our spiritual eyes are fixed on the ascended and risen Savior.
No resurrection? No faith, no relationship with God, no evangelism, no fellowship, and no growth.
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20)! In this, we rejoice! The Father’s purpose wasn’t thwarted by death. The Son’s position wasn’t threatened at the cross. The Spirit’s power wasn’t throttled when Jesus died that cursed death on the cross. Jesus rose!
The Resurrection Today
What does the resurrection mean for believers today? It means that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in every soul who trusts in Him (1 Corinthians 15:20, Romans 8:11). It means that life is radically altered because Jesus is the Son of God who laid His life down so He could take it up again (John 10:18). He is the Son whose Father raised Him from the dead (Galatians 1:1). If you've placed your faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the resurrecting God of the Bible dwells in you today.
Colossians 3 shows us five aspects of the resurrection that can empower our lives today:
1. We have been raised with Christ (3:1–4). This unites us to Him for eternity. We have assurance in the work that Christ has done. No longer must we run on the hamster wheel of self-reliance and self-righteousness. We can rest in Him.
2. We will be raised from the dead (3:4). We are hidden with Christ, and we have the promise that when He returns, we will appear with Him in glory. If we died with Christ, we will also rise with Him because death no longer has dominion over Him (Romans 6:8–9). We can hope in Him.
3. We can seek and savor the things of God (3:1–2). Apart from Christ, there are none who seek after God (Psalm 14). Without the Holy Spirit making us alive, we are not even able to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Since we’ve been raised with Christ, our spiritual eyes can see and our spiritual ears can hear. We can taste and see that the Lord is good. We can savor Him.
4. We can kill sin (3:5–11). Sin wrecks our lives. Just a sampling of what the Bible considers sin will make the holiest of us feel wretched: “you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (v. 8). Christ’s resurrection power in us helps us put sin to death. We can fight through Him.
5. We can put on godliness (3:12-14). Grace transforms us. In Christ, we can do the impossible. By the grace that came to us through the risen Christ, we can bear the fruit of the Spirit and put on godliness, especially “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (v. 14). We will become like Him.
We need the message of the resurrection more than once a year. We need it in every moment. Live each day, hour, minute, and second by faith in the glorious risen Christ!
If you desire to learn more about joy, scripture, or Reformation history, you will be blessed and encouraged by this book. It values church history and keeps the historical context of the Reformation constantly in view. Most importantly, it's biblical and practical.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Are you searching for joy? Do you desire to find true wisdom on finding it? Are you interested in Reformation History? Reforming Joy: A Conversation Between Paul, the Reformers, and the Church Today by Tim Chester is the best of three wonderful worlds.
If you struggle with joy, Reforming Joy will offer you the gospel (our source of joy) and application (how to cultivate joy in your life). Rooted in Galatians, Chester makes clear the aim of this book:
"The Galatians are returning to legalism and losing their joy. So this is an invitation to rediscover joy. If your life lacks joy, then this is for you. I don’t mean being happy all the time—sometimes life is painful. But even in those moments we will find comfort in God. If you can’t find that comfort or if you’ve lost your fizz, then listen up."
He shows readers that we lack joy when we try to impress others and when we try to fix sin through religious duties. The gospel frees us from being slaves to the opinions of others and religious duties. In typical Tim Chester fashion, each chapter has a section to reflect. He also has a getting personal section which probes our hearts to get to the bottom of our joylessness:
"Identify someone in your church who you struggle to get along with. Satan sees that person’s faults and makes those faults the focus of his attention. God sees that person’s faults and makes Christ the focus of his attention. What difference would it make if your focus were more like God’s than Satan’s?"
Tucked neatly within this book is an exposition of Galatians 1-5. Throughout the chapters, you will find biblical teaching and sound doctrine based on Paul's teaching to the church in Galatia. For example:
"In 4:3, Paul says that the Jews “were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.” He uses the same word in 4:8 to describe how the Gentile converts used to be “enslaved to those that by nature are not gods.” In the case of the Jews, Satan took God’s good law and persuaded them to see it as a means of proud, God-defying self-righteousness."
He also cites notable Reformation leaders such as Martin Luther, William Tyndall, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Calvin as he frames up his teaching on the true gospel. If you want sound, solid biblical exposition, you'll find it here!
Tim Chester knows his church history. As the co-author of Why The Reformation Matters, he brings his expertise to Reforming Joy. He drops historical tidbits throughout the book to help readers see how God brought joy by reforming their views of the gospel to match Scripture’s:
"Luther’s second breakthrough moment was when he realized that God’s righteousness is not just a boost to help us become righteous. First and foremost, it’s the declaration that we are righteous."
Each chapter also has a "Voice of the Reformation" section which lays out important doctrines such as active and passive righteousness as defined during the Reformation.
If you desire to learn more about joy, scripture, or Reformation history, you will be blessed and encouraged by this book. It values church history and keeps the historical context of the Reformation constantly in view. Most importantly, it's biblical and practical. Reforming Joy is a great resource for personal study, small groups, or teaching through the book of Galatians.
"Kruger takes today’s sin seriously because she knows that a temptation to throw a tantrum today could give way to the temptations of 'materialism or sexual immorality' later."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Do you pray for your children? If you don’t have any children of your own, do you pray for the children in your life? Do you end up saying the same old things every time: “Lord, please save their souls and help them live for your glory.”? If so, you’re not alone. As vast as the Bible is (and as sinful as all children are!), we should have no trouble with variety and earnestness in praying for our children. The reality, though, is that we do struggle. We need help.
In 5 Things To Pray For Your Kids: Prayers That Change Things for the Next Generation, Melissa Kruger models how to pray biblically-specific prayers for our children. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the book wasn’t 5 broad principles about praying for our children. That would’ve been great, but Kruger actually gives readers 5 specific prayers within 21 broader categories. For those who struggle with mental math like I do, that’s 105 specific prayers!
The book is formatted so that you can pray through each theme for 5 days a week, pray through all 5 prayers each day for three weeks, or pray topically as situations arise. There is even space to write in names of situations to pray for specifically. This is one of those books that’ll probably have plenty of writing in it!
Each topic is based on a specific scripture passage, such as Matthew 6:6-13. The first prayer in this section urges you to “pray that your child may have a secret prayer life that yields rich reward from God” (p. 44). On the fifth prayer in this section we are reminded that “when children are young, they may be tempted to snatch a toy from a friend or to throw a fit when they don’t get their way...pray today about the temptations they are facing” (p. 45). Kruger takes today’s sin seriously because she knows that a temptation to throw a tantrum today could give way to the temptations of “materialism or sexual immorality” later (p. 45).
If you love the children in your life, pray for them. Plead with God to save their souls and grant them repentance from sin. Along with preaching the gospel to them, prayer is the most important work of parenting you can do on their behalf. 5 Things to Pray for Your Kids is a book that will stay on my desk as a reminder and tool to pray for the souls of my children.
"Randall understands that we live in the real world, and brings seemingly ivory tower theology to the coffee shops and front porches of believers everywhere."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Discipleship is a word that matters to every Christian. Jesus’ great commission is for us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). But how? For two thousand years, Christians godly men and women have taken the time to teach and walk with other believers in their walk with God. Following Jesus: The Essentials of Christian Discipleship by Andrew Randall may be just the spark you’ve needed to light the fire of discipleship in your life and the life of your local church.
Randall wrote Following Jesus with these three convictions in mind:
What topics come to mind when you envision discipleship? Bible reading? Prayer? Parenting? Work? Following Jesus concisely discusses each of these areas—and many more—with those three convictions and practical application seen throughout. Randall understands that we live in the real world, and brings seemingly ivory tower theology to the coffee shops and front porches of believers everywhere.
In his chapter on following Jesus in our choices, for example, he takes the theology of the sufficiency of Scripture and brings down to ground level when he says, “...the specific commands of the Bible are a hugely important starting-point as we consider the guidance of God. God has guided us. If we ignore the guidance he has provided, it is not reasonable to guide us further” (p. 102). We don’t need to pray about whether we should cheat on our taxes or walk out on our families because God has already spoken about such matters. Even in the gray areas, we are free to make decisions based upon God’s revealed Word without seeking mystical signs or new revelation.
Whether it’s an intense season of suffering or a time to seek renewed vigor in prayer, Following Jesus has some quick-hitting advice for you and the people you’re discipling. If you’re a pastor, church leader, or just someone passionate about discipleship, Following Jesus will be a great book to get into the hands of the believers around you—especially those who haven’t seen much discipleship. If you’re a disciple-maker (aren’t we all?) in need of a good resource, consider this one!
Get your copy here!
"A commitment to a biblical foundation doesn’t mean student ministry should have a stained glass feel to it."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Student Ministry by the Book by Ed Newton and R. Scott Pace will help you build, rebuild, or maintain a healthy student ministry. You won’t find trendy techniques or statistics for stacking your student ministry. Newton and Pace write solely to display God’s plan for your student ministry.
A commitment to a biblical foundation doesn’t mean student ministry should have a stained glass feel to it. Knowledgeable of the complex and digital world of our students, Newton and Pace address our students' identity confusions and crises with ancient truth that is steadfastly contemporary.
Student Ministry by the Book is laid out in three distinct and fitting sections. The first section sheds light on issues that plague all of our lives, but especially today’s students. As I pictured the students in my classroom, their struggles didn't seem so foreign to the person I see in the mirror each day.
The second section is all about sustainability through discipleship and delegation. Away with the bug zapper model of youth ministry where everyone flows to the charismatic youth pastor only to be stung by the electric jolt of idolatry. The biblical model is to fill cups that overflow into other cups until all the cups are full—this is discipleship.
The final section puts boots on the ground. For student ministry to be effective, our students have to develop their own spiritual disciplines and biblical worldview. Without these, student ministry will impede their spiritual progress and send them into a volatile world without the necessary tools to fight the world, flesh, and Satan.
I devoured this book in an afternoon, marking page after page with “amen!”, circles, illustrations, and underlines. If I ever get the chance to assist in selecting a student minister or developing a student ministry for a local church, I’ll be consulting this short volume as a foundational part of the process. If you need to build or rebuild a student ministry, let Student Ministry by the Book serve as a blueprint!