Last week I shared on my various social media sites, a brief takeaway from a conversation I had with my mother. This takeaway has struck a nerve, understandably so. In our social media world, the use of the term “blessed” has been turned into a proclamation of all the good things that we have from vacations to cars to a new home. It’s often turned into a hashtag that says without saying, “I’m living my best life now.” In other words, it’s all about us, what we are receiving materially, gifts that will one day vanish, and not truly about the Lord. However, blessed is defined as those who live with God in heaven (noun) and to be made holy (adjective). There’s more to it and perhaps one day soon I’ll write more about what it means to be #blessed. But for now, I pray that what I shared on social media from my conversation with my mom might encourage you to think of all God’s blessings in your life (Psalm 103):
My mom called me last night to chat. Said: “People talk about being blessed but I know I’m blessed.” My mom has experienced the death of her young daughter, the death of her oldest daughter, the death of her husband, she has one kidney, has had cancer.
She knows Jesus #blessed
I’ve recently taken up cycling and I enjoy it. I love being outside to begin with, and there’s something special for me when I’m on my bike with the wind at my back and the bright sun beaming down on my face. It’s refreshing. Of course it doesn’t always work out quite like that. There are often times when I’m dodging potholes, praying I don’t hit the squirrel that darted out in front of me and fighting incredibly strong gusts of wind. There was one time when the surface became uneven and I was certain of my doom. Thankfully, I’ve had enough training to know how to handle the bike. My foundation was strong and though I could have fallen, I was prepared for that change in the road. That highlights my goal in cycling: if the ground shifts, maintain a strong foundation.
This idea of maintaining a strong foundation is at the core of the first few chapters of Colossians. There’s a problem in Colossae. People are teaching false doctrine and these false teachings have infiltrated the church. After Paul praises Christ’s superiority and awesomeness, he issues warnings. He wants the church to be equipped in knowledge and remain steadfast in faith so that the Colossian Christians are not taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit, according the human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). The false teachings they faced were likely many and varied, but from the examples given in verse 16, Paul is likely referring primarily to Jewish law and traditions.
Paul’s warning wasn’t just for the ancient church in Colossae. Timothy was given a similar warning: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and traditions of what is vastly called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith” (1 Tim 6:20). You and I have the same warning. The Pharisees loved to preach a works-based gospel and (all these centuries later) we are still likely to live as though we are still under the law. We also must fight against the world and the cultural narratives that whisper lies about who God is. If our foundation isn’t strong—we will surely falter.
So, how do we maintain a strong foundation in the midst of shifting situations and others swerving from the faith? Paul tells us in verse 6, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” We want to be rooted—deeply in Christ. We need roots like the wild fig trees in South Africa that reach 400 feet deep into the foundation of the earth. We want roots that are deep in truth—ultimately in the truth of the gospel and what it means to be alive to Christ. We need to be built-up in him—like a building with a core that reaches deep into the earth, we must be strong in the knowledge of Christ and what it means to be his in order to fight the good fight of faith.
We remember that we have been circumcised with Christ. The old flesh is gone and we are now a new creation. We are new and must live in this reality both intellectually and bodily—abiding in Christ. This is the reality—we are indeed new (2:11). We have been buried and raised as Christ was buried and raised. Sin’s reign and power has died, and we now have power to resist sin’s alluring call on our life. Christ died and defeated death—miraculously we share in this resurrection. We were spiritually dead and have been spiritually raised. We were dead in our sin—dead and without the power to resist. We are now alive with Christ (2: 12-13). Christ made a way for us to be with him and His father in glory. We are now forgiven. The debt was paid and the debt wasn’t paid in part. God doesn’t put our sin on layaway. Jesus paid it all. All the legal demands are gone—abolished, nailed to the cross (2:14). And we remember that we have an adversary. The accuser wants to whisper lies to you about who you are in Christ. He whispers lies about who God is.
But the cross disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (2:15).
Our firm foundation is not only in Christ; it is Christ Jesus. The ground may shake and we may stumble around from time to time but for those of us in Christ nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom 8: 35-39). Remember your testimony, remember when the Lord first brought you to Himself. Rehearse the gospel to yourself. When the ground shifts beneath know that you will not be overcome as you are established in the faith.
*A version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine
When I lost my father in 1997, I thought my little world might crash around me. Even as I think about it now, my heart begins to pound and my eyes well up with tears. I was 19 years old at the time and I don’t know if there’s anything more precious to a little girl (or a young woman in my case) than her father.* It was a great loss. I wasn’t a Christian at the time of his death so I couldn’t have ever predicted how much the Lord would use my father’s death to reveal His great love for me.
When I became a Christian at 22, one of the first things I began to understand was that I was no longer fatherless. God is indeed the father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). When God saves us we are not only justified, we are also adopted. We are brought into a new family. We are given the right to call the Holy One, Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6; Rom 8:15). And he looks at us as his children (Gal 3:26). It is remarkable to think through all of the implications of this sweet doctrine, the doctrine of adoption. For someone who no longer had an earthly father, it affected everything about how I related to and continue to relate to God.
There are three ways I’ve been profoundly impacted as I reflect on how we can relate to God as our Father:
Rightly Fearing Our Father
When my dad walked in the room, all eyes were on him. He had a gentleness that could be sensed and yet a command that couldn’t be ignored. When he spoke, I looked him in his eyes and listened. In many ways, I revered him. The honor I showed my dad falls woefully short in comparison to the reverence, honor, obedience, and worship that we should reserve for our Heavenly Father. He is to be feared and worshipped. And as our Holy Father, we must recognize that He alone is God.
Receiving His Grace
I remember when I had to share some grievous sin with my earthly father. Even as a non-Christian, it was quite difficult for me to confess. I remember it well. I went to him, and without hesitation he thanked me for sharing and he forgave me. I couldn’t believe his graciousness. As believers, it can be difficult to imagine that we are fully forgiven for all of our sin (Psalm 130:12; Isaiah 43: 25-26; Eph 1:7; 1 John 2:2). Jesus paid it all! And God tells us in His word that if we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive us and purify us (1 John 1:9). Jesus has made a way for us to approach our Father who is holy. We can come freely as His children and receive mercy and grace in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Receiving His Discipline
When we think of discipline, we often go straight to pain or punishment. As a mother, I know that my desire to discipline my children stems from a heart that loves them and hopes to protect them, but my attempts also fall short. I can be angry and selfish – my sin can affect how I discipline. God’s discipline, however, is not like ours (Heb. 12:9-10). God does not want us to grow weary or fainthearted in our fight for faith (Heb. 12:3). We will be trained, tested, and strained but as we walk by faith and not by sight, we walk knowing that God is treating us like His children who He loves dearly (Heb. 12: 7-8). And His discipline yields sweet rewards (Heb. 12:11). We can rest assured that there is a great purpose in all he does and nothing can separate us from His love and His goodness. He acts for our good (Heb. 12:10).
This short piece only scratches the surface of the riches and blessings that come with being a child of God. Let’s join Paul in Ephesians in thanking and praising our Father who chose us to be His:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:3-6).
*I realize that many of my readers may not share or relate to my experience. Memories and thoughts of your father may leave you hurt, confused, and angry. My hope and prayer for you is that you, too, would be encouraged by the reality of God as your Father. There’s no one like our God–not even the best of earthly fathers compare.
A version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine.
My daughter loves to give gifts. Almost weekly she comes home with something to give to me. “I made this for you, Mommy,” she’ll say grinning and looking endearingly at me with her big brown eyes. Last year, she wrapped a Christmas gift for me and couldn’t wait for me to open it. In fact, she was so eager, she made me open it two weeks early! I was happy to oblige for the sheer joy of watching her light up. But as much as she enjoys giving gifts, I’d dare say that receiving a gift is pure exhilaration for her. She can’t believe we’d think of her. She won’t stop talking about the gift…at least for the day (she is a kid and kids tend to move on to the next thing). The point is, she receives gifts with open hands, humbly, with excitement and joy, with thanksgiving, and never once does she ask if she needs to repay you or earn what she’s been given. I wouldn’t go so far to say she doesn’t believe she deserves the gift, but she does know how to receive it.
As Jesus is teaching in Mark 10, the listeners began to bring children to him so that he might pray for them (10:13). His disciples, however, found this to be a nuisance and rebuked them. As Jesus witnessed the disciples’ behavior towards the children, He was indignant (10:14). He was righteously angry and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs to the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (10:15-16). How do children receive a gift? They receive it like my daughter. And that is what Jesus desires for us.
When I think about my own conversion, I think I was like my daughter in the way she receives various gifts from her mother and father. I was humbled, excited, thankful, and joyful. I couldn’t believe that I could have access to the Great I Am, that I’d be forgiven for all of the sin I have ever and would ever commit, and that Jesus would pay the price for it all. But then, as I’ve gotten older in the faith, I can sense some of the awe of this free gift and access to the kingdom waning. As I gain knowledge, I can sense a fight to remember the beautiful basics of my faith.
I imagine I’m not alone. Faith is a gift from God—we could never earn God’s favor and we could never sustain his favor through our good deeds. We need to heed Jesus’ words and ask him to make us like little children, receiving the free gift of faith with thanksgiving and exuberance. We don’t want to become so familiar with the gospel that we forget to be like children. Rather, let’s return each day remembering that God is our Father and he loves to pour out gifts to his children. All you and I must do is receive.
a version of this first appeared in Tabletalk Magazine
One of the many benefits of writing, especially when I wrote for my local paper, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, is meeting various people from all walks of life. It is truly a blessing. One such meeting happened several years ago, when I interviewed a widow about her ministry to other widows. Her love for those ladies and the Lord was intoxicating. I want to be like her in so many ways.
She told me about various ways she had been able to serve others, and one was through something she affectionately named “love and run.” She would pray for God to allow for a time and place for her to do something for some unexpected person or family and then leave the place so that the recipient never knew who gave it. For example, once she pulled into a McDonald’s and told the drive-through worker that she wanted to purchase the person’s meal behind her. She paid and drove off.
Simple enough—and not even that original. But she did things like that a lot. And though she would never know the reaction or response of the one she helped, she did know that God was aware of her giving and her love of neighbor, and that was all that mattered to her. And this lady wasn’t giving out of her abundance—she was not rich. She was simply giving what she could with what she had.
Jesus instructs us in Matthew 6:1−4,“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Public acts of obedience are not sinful. Much of what we do, if we are living out our walk faithfully, will likely be public in some ways. But if we are practicing our righteousness with the motive to draw attention to ourselves—for the eyes and praise of others—then we have turned our good deeds into a sham. We will always have to fight mixed motives, but we should resist the temptation to do things for the primary motive of glorifying ourselves rather than God. And although I don’t think we should feel any pressure to pay for meals in a drive-through lane, something about it is appealing because it allow for giving in secret.
Have you ever served someone or been able to give in secret? It’s so rewarding, isn’t it? But I confess—thinking “love and run” is not natural for me. I am much too selfish and aware of my schedule and the tasks I need to accomplish in any given day. So I need to pray for supernatural power to be others-focused in this way. And to think, God stores up rewards for those who give for His eyes and His glory alone. What a blessing!
Valentine’s Day is all about love. For some it’s also about heartache and pain—which makes it a perfect day to show love to someone in need. On Valentine’s Day this year, what if we joined my widow friend to think of those who might be in need of some practical displays of love? Let’s do our very own “love and run” this Wednesday—but shhh, don’t tell anyone what you do, when or how you did it. Just store it in your heart and pray that those who receive will be blessed by it!
Love and Run ideas:
- Buy someone’s meal at the restaurant table next to you—tell the waitress, but don’t tell the guests.
- Buy someone’s meal through a drive-through.
- Go to a store and complete payments on a random stranger’s “layaway.” (Let the store contact the recipient and tell them the item is ready to pick up.)
- Send a meal to a friend in need—via a different friend.
- Give money to someone in need.
- Rake leaves or mow the lawn at someone’s home who may need assistance.
- Drop off a note to a friend or someone you know who may need a good word of encouragement.
- Call a nonprofit organization, find out their greatest need, and then give it.
- Put together a date package (dinner, movie, etc.) for a husband and wife who are struggling financially.
- Go to a grocery store in less affluent part of town and purchase the groceries of the person in line ahead or behind you.
- Call your pastor and find out who is in need at your church. Pray for them and think of ways you might be able to care for them in more tangle ways.
(New Year’s resolutions were never something I was committed to in the past. However, I’m approaching 2018 differently. Over the last few weeks I’ve been sharing my goals and focus for the new year, along with thoughts and tidbits about how you might join me. You can read the introduction here, “Bible Reading in the New Year” here, “Rethinking Busy” here, and “Tools and Strategies for Using Time Well” here. Last week’s piece—“Social Media: Analyzing the Habit”—was the first of a two-part series on using social media. Today, we finish up that two-part series as well as this entire series on resolutions. )
As I said last week, I love social media. I really do. But the hold it has had on me over the past year became quite obvious as I began evaluating my time. I have no plans to completely retreat from Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. I’m not making a grand exit or even halting some form of weekly engagement. I’m simply attempting to make social media less invasive of my everyday life and work.
So what am I doing?
First, I think it’s important not to add undue burden to my readers. Any suggestions I make and any way of living that I share are not meant to be laws for you. They aren’t meant to be laws for me! As I seek to make changes, my desire is to be more effective and, in some cases, to repent where I see I’ve sinned against my God. But with repentance come grace and life, not burden. And my way (unless it’s clearly in the Scriptures and therefore not really my way) should never be considered the way. With that, here are my thoughts.
And how am I doing?
To be frank, not great. I had a goal and, as with many New Year’s resolutions, I haven’t done a great job of implementing changes so far. I have a few really good excuses (ha-ha), but for the beginning of this year, I haven’t made this change as much of a priority as it will be in the coming days. Basically, what I’ve been doing is learning about the issues and deciding what to do. The last thing I want to do is feed you stuff I’m not doing! May that never be.
With that, let’s grow together! Here are some tips and resources I’m hoping to implement. (a few of these I’m already doing). I’d love to hear from you about what you’re doing!
- If you are tempted to check your phone often, turn off, silence, or move it by a certain time every night and do not check it after that.
- Do not check phone first thing in the morning. (Caveat: I know some of you use your phone app to read your Bible. I do not. Remember that these are tips and not laws.)
- Check phone only at certain times during the day.
- Limit checking phone during “working hours.”
- Schedule times each week for deep, undistracted work that would include no phone. Be unreachable for a period of time. (This might require communicating with your spouse, coworkers, or others who might desire to reach you.)
One additional strategy I plan to implement is taking longer social-media breaks—a week, a month, or even longer. I suspect this will be where the rubber meets the road for me—and maybe for you too! I think taking a long break will show just how much I’ve relied on my phone. I imagine it will reveal my heart: my motives, my fears, my insecurities. Or perhaps I’m giving my phone too much credit. Maybe a break will reveal nothing at all and will instead just be a nice relief.
As to when do I plan to do it. I don’t know yet. In his book 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, Tony Reinke suggests not making an announcement when you take a break—just to get off the internet. When I do this exercise, I’ll take his advice and let you know later how it went!
Why I won’t exit completely
I want to love my neighbor as myself. I desire to serve my local community as best I can. This is all true. What’s also true is that both my neighbor and my local community are here, right here on the Internet. Because of busy schedules, it’s possible that I engage with many of my IRL (“in real life”) friends more on the Internet than IRL. My work with the ERLC and my ministry in general does also demand some level of social media (or internet) presence, As long as there are people on here—both local and beyond—I’d like to be on too.
I didn’t even have a smart phone until only four years ago. So I actually don’t think it would be that hard for me to say good-bye to it should society shift how we engage. But for now it’s such a sweet opportunity for gospel proclamation, enjoying one another, and learning about the culture. So for me, at least, it’s not time to say good-bye forever. Whether it’s time for you is a decision only you can make.
Finally, here are a few resources that might serve you in this regard. (Please note that I have not read all of them myself. A few are books I’ve seen recommended by people I trust.):
Connected: Curing the Pandemic of Everyone Feeling Alone Together, by Erin Davis
Engage: A Christian Witness Online, by Daniel Darling
12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, by Tony Reinke
The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, by Andy Crouch
So what about you. Do you have any tips for cutting back on social media? How have you tried? How did it go?