The Most Addictive Substance

Remember the1999 movie The Insider? Russell Crowe plays Jeffrey Wigand, a real-life person who exposed tobacco companies’ practice of putting addictive substances in their products. As you might expect, his revelation of the truth did not leave him unpunished.

Well, the tobacco companies had nothing on Facebook.

See, Big Tobacco made two major mistakes. Number One: they tried to hide their actions — and, despite persistent attempts to scare Wigand into recanting, they eventually paid for their deception. Number Two: the addictive substances that allowed them to make such huge profits were additives, not naturally occurring substances.

Enter Mark Zuckerberg and friends.

You may have noticed that “top commenters” on popular Facebook pages now have diamonds next to their names — badges of honor indicating to all other commenters that wit and insight, cleverly wielded, can earn you internet fame and, more importantly, LIKES. Facebook is, in fact, constantly introducing new ways of reminding you that YOU ARE JUST SO IMPORTANT AND POPULAR AND SPECIAL!!! Some examples:

• Help more people to see your brilliant post by adding a colorful background!

• Make sure you show up first on the feed by “adding to your story'”!

• Look at this video we at FB headquarters have made highlighting the times your witty posts and delightful pictures got SO MUCH LOVE!

• Earn the coveted Top Commenter Diamond by spending EVEN MORE time crafting comments that reveal to others in your online community just how darn smart you are!

Genius.

No subliminal messages, nothing hush-hush: just repeated, varied, and blatant appeals to the most basic human temptation…i.e., the desire to place ourselves at the very center of the universe. A desire so strong that fulfillment of it releases dopamine, a pleasurable AND ADDICTIVE substance produced by our own bodies.

Friends, I am highly susceptible to this temptation. I doubt that I’m alone. And so I simply urge you: RESIST IT.

I’m not suggesting that you quit Facebook entirely; whether that’s necessary is a question only you can answer for yourself. But read Philippians 2. Read Jesus’ words about humility and servanthood sprinkled throughout the Gospels. Let the message of Romans 12:10 — “give preference to one another in honor” — be hidden in your heart, guiding your daily interactions and choices, pushing away the temptation to affirm your own preeminence in the world.

Pride is insidious, and comes in many guises. Keep watch — and return again and again, not to the shallow and briefly satisfying well of Facebook, but to the ever-springing well of God’s Word.

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How to be Satisfied

 

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

I love these verses.
I love the vivid illustration of the abundance found only in God.
Around me, I see the search for satisfaction apart from Him, and pray that those who don’t know Him would discover the riches of His lovingkindness.

But then, for my part, I forget.

Having placed my life in God’s hands, I neglect to draw my strength from Him as the days pile up. Though I start the morning in His Word, I then spend my day letting the temporary difficulties of life — for our life on this earth is indeed temporary — weigh me down. Discouragement sets in, and, sensing depression lurking on the edges of consciousness, I seek to fend it off.

…By distracting myself.

If I can just take a brief mental vacation, I tell myself, I’ll make it through the next hour. I scroll through Facebook, I watch baby elephant videos, I eat a quart of ice cream in one sitting. And that “works”… until the ice cream is finished, or duty calls, and I have to face the next task, my spirit as empty and worn out as it was before…because these things that are not the bread God freely offers, they inevitably fail to satisfy.

Finally — how long will it take me to REALLY learn this? — I start using those moments between tasks to approach His throne. And here are two beautiful things that happen:

He receives me readily, with no hesitation, no demands for penance or proof of my love.

He satisfies.

God doesn’t promise that hardship, depression, or fatigue will disappear if only we come to Him. Yet He DOES promise His presence, His comfort, and so much more…and I have found, again and again, that He is infinitely more satisfying than anything I can distract myself with here on earth.

Don’t Forget to Look Back

“Just keep moving forward. Don’t look back.”

In modern-day America, this has become a mantra. Looking back means dwelling in the past, and doing that is anathema.

Certainly, there’s some wisdom here. SOME.

But when we read the Bible, we find that, time and time again, the Israelites are exhorted to LOOK BACK. Why?

For many reasons, actually…but one stands out, and it is this: LOOKING BACK REMINDS US OF WHO GOD IS.

When the Israelites remembered what God had done, not only in their own lives but in the lives of their ancestors, they were reminded anew of God’s power, of His love, and of His faithfulness. Whatever was coming next, the stories of their past gave them courage and hope to face it. The New Testament writers, too — read Acts 2, Romans 4, and Hebrews 11, for starters — encourage and inspire God’s people by recounting His wondrous deeds in the past.

And we can say, as Sam said to Frodo in The Two Towers, “We’re in the same tale still!”

The same God who spoke the universe into being; who delivered Israel from slavery; who conquered death through the resurrection of His Son: He is still working in my life and yours. I look back at my own story, at the stories of my loved ones, and at the stories of God’s servants throughout history, and find that doing so gives me new strength, new hope, and renewed awe of God’s goodness.

Look to your past. Reflect on the many ways you’ve seen God’s faithfulness and everlasting love manifested in your life and the lives around and before you. Take heart as you face the unknown, because He who guided you in the past is the One who holds the future.

And sing to Him a new song, for He is, indeed, greatly to be praised.

If Christ Has Not Been Raised

It’s time for something a little different.

Maybe you’ve heard the term “Progressive Christianity.” If not, more than likely you’re familiar with its teachings. Though it lacks a formalized creed, its proponents teach a few basic principles:

  • God is love, and nothing BUT love.
  • In fact, love is God.
  • Jesus was a great teacher and role model who MAY have been — but probably wasn’t — God’s Son incarnate, crucified, buried, and resurrected.
  • Aside from the actual words of Jesus, Scripture is fallible, not to be considered authoritative or divinely inspired.
  • What matters — ALL that matters — is doing good (a fluctuating concept defined not by the Bible, but by current cultural norms and by those who preach the progressive gospel).

Below, I will link to several articles that elaborate on the concepts presented above. Meanwhile, I simply want to share what has recently become heavy on my heart and mind.

IT IS NOT LOVING to preach a Gospel that has been stripped down and whittled away until all that remains is what makes people comfortable.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, and contained in the Gospels themselves, a common thread is: “Beware of false teachers.” Few things are more dangerous than somebody you trust reassuring you that the path you tread is perfectly safe — that, in fact, it will lead to ultimate happiness and fulfillment — when, in fact, that path is bringing you steadily closer to destruction and ever farther from the God who created and loves you.

In the name of love, the world is increasingly being taught that Jesus’ love simply means being kind, following your heart, and professing a nebulous form of “spirituality.”

THIS. IS. NOT. LOVE.

Love — and by the way, we all know this — means doing what is best for the other person…and what is best does not always feel good. It means telling the truth; it means encouraging one another to do, not what will bring immediate and ephemeral happiness (e.g., avoiding responsibilities, eating only junk food, or using drugs), but what will bring ultimate and lasting fulfillment.

If this didn’t matter, I’d stay silent. But I believe Jesus’ words about Himself, and about the Scriptures, and I am therefore greatly saddened by current trends among those who claim Christianity.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge our sinfulness.

It’s humbling to admit that our good works alone are insufficient; that we need a Savior.

It grates against modern sensibilities to suggest that a morality exists outside and above ourselves, independent of our feelings and opinions.

But if it’s the truth, and if I truly love my neighbor, then I can’t afford not to share it.

 

 

If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at what I have briefly described here, I highly recommend (for starters) these articles:

For a basic but clear introduction to how progressive and historic Christianity differ: https://www.alisachilders.com/blog/the-gospel-according-to-progressive-christianity-is-it-really-good-news

For a look at how authors often promote seemingly subtle and harmless modifications on biblical Christianity: https://christianmomthoughts.com/10-signs-the-christian-authors-youre-following-are-subtly-teaching-unbiblical-ideas/

For an examination of the common claim that Jesus Himself was a progressive: https://oklahomaapologetics.com/progressive-christianity/jesus-not-progressive/

For my own more thorough exploration of what it means to share God’s truth out of love for others: https://naughtbeallelsetome.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/what-true-love-looks-like/

For an analysis of the progressive church and its shaky foundations: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2016/01/twelve-reasons-why-progressive-christianity-will-die-out.html

Because You Are Young

This one is for the kids. Well — mostly.

News flash: raising kids is hard. Always has been, thanks to original sin. But these days, maybe even harder. The thought of preparing our children for a world increasingly filled with ugliness, hostility, and despair is daunting. It’s easy to be discouraged, overwhelmed, fearful.

Yet there is reason to hope.

Several weeks ago, during Missions Month at our church, a young couple stood in front of the congregation and told their story: of how each of them had traveled to China in the past; how God had subsequently placed in each of their hearts a passion for returning there to share the Gospel; how this mutual desire had brought them together; and how God was now bringing them back to China to follow His leading.

The next week, another couple stood up front and shared their plans for bringing the good news of Jesus to Papua New Guinea. Like the husband and wife from the previous week, they were articulate, passionate, and poised.

And SO YOUNG.

In both cases, one member of the couple had grown up in our church. And in both cases, they were much, MUCH closer in age to my kids than to me.

At times I have wondered if my own children even have a chance of reaching adulthood with a strong, vibrant faith of their own amidst a culture so ready to undermine such goals. These young people showed me that it’s possible. And they’re not alone. Various high school students I’ve had the privilege of getting to know have similarly impressed me with their level-headedness, their love for the Lord, and their firm, well-reasoned determination to serve Him.

Paul’s advice to Timothy — to set an example for those who might be inclined to dismiss him due to his youth — was more than just a pep talk. It was a solid, life-giving exhortation.

If you, like Timothy, are on the brink of adulthood — or even if it’s still some years away — then trust me: your walk with the Lord is making an impact on more lives than just your own.

You are giving parents, like myself, hope for the future of our own children.

You have reminded us that God’s faithfulness is stronger than Satan’s attempts to draw people away from life in Christ.

And you have inspired us to continue pressing on, as Paul encourages believers to do in Philippians 3:14, because Jesus calls all believers, no matter their age, to fix their eyes on Him.

Rest for your Soul

Confession: I hear voices.

Just a few, really…but the loudest is undoubtedly the one that tells me every day: “You should be doing more.

“You’ve fed the kids mac & cheese one too many times. Where are the homemade power lunches? There are outgrown clothes in their dressers. Do you think they’ll just hand themselves down? There are things to be done! WHY ARE YOU SITTING DOWN?!?”

The other voice speaks, but more quietly. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

But…the louder voice has a point! Doing those things would help our household run more efficiently, enable me to be more patient, ensure a better future for my kids! I have to get on top of all this. I need to get it all together, and every moment lost represents one more step down the road to failure. Back to work – now!

Still, the quiet voice persists, reminding me: “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14)

The truth is, God never tells us to hurry – or to be superheroes. Instead, He promises that “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock…He will gently lead the nursing ewes” (Isaiah 40:11).

We can always find something that needs to be done. And if we allow ourselves to believe that things won’t be “right” until we get through our to-do list…we will never stop. Yet, when I remember that God knows my weakness – not just intellectually, but experientially, as the One who came in the flesh to live with us, as one of us – I realize that many of my demands and deadlines are self-imposed.

Scripture certainly endorses the value of work, and of giving back to God what He has given us in the form of time, talent, and possessions. When we veer into perfectionism and workaholism, though, we doom ourselves to frustration, exhaustion, and failure, setting ideals for ourselves that God never demands. His grace covers and redeems all my failures, real AND imagined; “His lovingkindnesses never fail. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

And so I heed the voice telling me to take one day at a time.

To remember that some things can wait.

To gratefully accept the gift of rest that God has given us.

And to rest, every day, in His matchless grace.

When Labels Become a Snare

Attaching labels to people is a dangerous business.

We all sense this, to some degree. We know that, while categorizing people can be helpful, it can blind us to the complexities that make each person unique. And so, especially with those close to us, we try to keep an open mind.

But when it comes to ourselves, we forget.

I am — as my friends know — an introvert. This means, primarily, that being alone is how I recharge. On the rare occasion when I have the house to myself, I revel in it. Instead of using the free time to meet, call, or even write to a friend, I simply soak up the blissful quiet and feel peace flooding my soul.

I have learned, however, that I can take this too far.

Depression and I are not strangers — because alas, this, too, seems to be part of my makeup. Although I expend significant energy fighting it off, there are times when I just can’t. And so, because I am an introvert, I seek aloneness. When I find that aloneness, it helps…to a point.

This point — the point at which solitude is no longer helpful — is the moment when my self-labeling becomes dangerous. Because I forget that I am not just an introvert. I forget that I do need people.

It’s tempting (especially for us introverts — ESPECIALLY if we are Christian introverts) to say that we don’t need people; to assert that all we should need is God; that people will fail us and that we should wait on the Lord. And yet, this super-spiritual rationalizing falls to pieces as soon as I crack open the New Testament.

As members of the Body of Christ, we are created to be in communion with one another, and this truth echoes throughout almost every page of the Gospels and the epistles. We reflect God’s image here on earth, and though we do so imperfectly, we are called to do so nonetheless…and this means, among other things, that we are to comfort those who are depressed.

When I withdraw from communion in my misguided introvert-style attempt to cheer myself up, I miss some of the beauty of being part of this Body. I say, effectively: “I have no need of you.” In doing this, I’m not depending on God at all; I am, in fact, rejecting the help He has provided in the form of beautiful sisters and brothers in Christ.

Fellow introverts: I am learning to do better. I have found that isolating myself eventually makes things much, much worse. Join me — especially when things look darkest — in stepping outside of your label, outside of yourself, and into the restorative fellowship God has put in place for His beloved children.