“We know how powerful those things are”

The smartphone, with its endless apps, is designed to whisper to you that the thing you are doing is not the thing you ought to be doing. The phone isn’t encouraging your progress; it’s causing you stress. Want to know what hostile AI [artificial intelligence] looks like? You’re holding it.


That’s a quote from chapter six, Set Tech Limits, from Ben Sasse’s book Them. There’s a reason that this chapter is the longest in his book. He’s preaching, quite convincingly, that the quick advancement of technology is a major contributor to the cultural challenges in America. These challenges are apparent by the fact that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs creating these advancements don’t want their own kids to have iPads and smartphones. “We know how powerful those things are.”

There’s so much in this chapter that, unless you keep up with all the latest tech news, you have no idea about-the possibility of living to 200 because of advancements like our skin transmitting information to the internet or microscopic computers swimming around in our bloodstream repairing cancers before they are diagnosed, to name a couple. These sound like good things. Sasse shares also some bad things, particularly those that will impact the generations who don’t know a world without AI.

He doesn’t drop the fear and leave. Sasse provides doable suggestions for setting technology limits for yourself and your family. He shares his personal boundaries for how long he engages technology and at what time of day. For his family, they observe a “digital Sabbath” for a big chunk of Sundays. Other practical suggestions include turning off notifications, stop checking likes, read comments only at a predetermined time, and unfollow politics addicts.

This post is my final post referencing Sasse’s book. My recommendation is:

  • If you are American, read it
  • If you are a parent, read it
  • If you are culturally concerned, read it
  • If you are desiring healing encouraged by love in your family and your community, read it
Advertisements

The Wise’s Time

A couple of posts ago I mentioned Ben Sasse’s book Them. I’ll finish it before the sun goes down, but I’m taking a break to ask a question.

The question comes after reading chapter seven entitled “Buy a Cemetary Plot” (you should get your own copy to find out what that title’s about). That chapter contains thoughtful words from a 2017 commencement address by Josh Gibbs, a teacher and author in Richmond, Virginia. Address paraphrase: life is full of seasons in which we are tempted to look forward to the next season in order to find contentment. Sasse includes this quote by Gibbs:

Contentment is a condition of the soul, and it does not come with getting what you want, but in giving thanks to God for what you have been given.

Both writers lead their reader to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes where Solomon describes how everything has its time:

Birth, death; love, hate; gain, lose; weeping, laughing; breaking down, building up; silence, speaking; war, peace; gathering, discarding; mourning, dancing; planting, gleaning; embracing, distancing; tearing, sewing.

Then Sasse wrote this:

The wise man learns how to grow where he is planted. He chooses joy. He embraces the time and season.

And that’s what forms my question: What time is it?

  • What time is it in your season of life?
  • What time is it in your family?
  • What time is it in your community?
  • What time is it in your church?
  • What time is it in your country?

Solomon said every time has a purpose. To wring every ounce of purpose out of their time, the wise make these choices:

  • Choose to embrace this time and season
  • Choose joy
  • Choose to learn and grow
  • Choose to thank God for what He’s already given 

More Than A Backscratcher

Could you imagine Jesus saying, “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”?

Yeah, me neither.

Why is that?

Two good thoughts:

  1. Scratching each other’s backs implies equal benefit. Hard to believe any human could match the benefit received from a Jesus back scratch.
  2. The statement also implies conditions. That’s indicated by “if.” Jesus’ if statements weren’t conditions in which he sought a personal need being met. He was all about his Father’s kingdom. Not his. Not ours. (See Matthew 16:24, 19:21; John 8:42, 11:40)


The Kicker:

He offered more than a back scratch. He offered several times to lay down his life (John 10 and 15). Then he did it. And that provided more than a back scratch. It offered abundant life now and eternal life later.

He’s someone worth following. And to start following, maybe we could say, “Since you laid down your life for me, I’ll lay down my life for you.” 

He’s more than a Backscratcher. 

Serving Frank

Two weeks ago I received an email from a stranger. It was Thursday after a rather trying Wednesday. The email was from a daughter who had an urgent request. Her 86-year-old father was dying from liver cancer, living alone in Bradenton while she and her brother lived in other states. A few weeks earlier she and her husband had visited her dad and had brought him to church that Sunday.  I had spoken that Sunday; therefore her reason to reach out to a stranger with her request.

It was a simple request…Go visit her dad and talk to him about spiritual things. Truthfully, my first thought was, “I’m doing my best to keep up with what’s already on my to do list. I’m drained, but I’ll try to go by.” As it turned out, her dad Frank lived less than two miles from me. I told myself, “There’s no excuse to not go by on your way home.” 

Today, four visits later, I’m so glad I did. What a genuine, rich spirit! We could have visited for hours each time, but his strength required short visits. Thursday we said goodbye. His children came to take him with them for his final earthly trip before his eternal trip.

This interaction is on my mind for many reasons, but one has to do with the reading plan I started this week on @youversion. Author Brittany Rust penned a seven-day plan entitled Pouring Into Others When You Feel Empty. Day two’s devotional included this thought:

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are stronger than you know. Helping others isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to stretch the limits of your capacity to discover the limitless strength found in God. God has made you capable of bearing the burdens of others–will you open yourself up to be used by Him to do so?

The verse she connected to her devotional was from Romans:

“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭CSB‬‬

There are days we don’t feel strong. On those days, God often gives us an opportunity to meet a “Frank.” My prayer is that I don’t miss anymore Holy Spirit moments, that I choose to bear the weaknesses of those who need to be served, and that I reject to please myself in order to serve future “Franks.”

Polititainment & The Gospel

Huh?

Exactly. What is that and how do they go together? Let’s see if I can answer that question.

In Senator Ben Sasse’s book Them, he coined the term polititainment defining the work of journalism that combines coverage of politics while providing entertainment. He states the result is “we have a country of increasingly disconnected people sitting around watching news that riles them up…The pressure to belong, the desire to belong, makes people forget the Golden Rule.” 

Americans are addicted to it. And we are paying the price. I observed this just a few blocks from our church office this past Monday while driving by 2020 presidential campaigners on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Yes, you read that right-2020 campaigners. Maybe I’m clueless, but surely I can’t be the only person thinking that’s worse than walking by Christmas items on Walmart shelves before Labor Day. 

Much like writing a rare political blog post, I left a “what in the world” voicemail with the affiliated party’s local office. To their credit, they called me back to explain those campaigners were rogues unlawfully using the party name. In so many words, the party V.P. agreed we’re all paying the price of polititainment. 

And sadly, even our churches are included in the gouging. And the roaring lion seeking to devour loves it. He loves the division between believers, the distraction from purpose, and the disengagement of the gospel. Some of the loudest “Amens!” and thunderest congregational applauds given over the last ten years have followed politically charged statements about abortion, marriage, or homosexuality. Inside I’ve cringed because it felt like I was temporarily transported away from a gospel gathering and dumped into a party rally. Some believers have gone so far as to leave their local congregation over disputes concerning the placement of flags in the worship center. The lion roars while the gospel leaves the building.

American Christians, let’s learn from our brothers and sisters in other countries who may be without A/C, lyrics on a screen, padded seats, cars in the parking lot, bulletins, or carpet. Yet they gather underground, under trees, or in very crowded spaces hungry to hear the gospel because they don’t have a personal copy of it, in some cases because it’s not available in print. They would be quite confused by our mixture of politics and the gospel.

If you are curious how mixed these two things are in your own life, here’s a suggested exercise:

  • Compare the amount of time and avenues in which polititainment and the gospel are infused into your day. Those avenues could include social media, TV, books, music, emails, texts, etc. Keep a track of this for a week. Talk with God along the way, and by the end of the week see what you glean from your observations of your time engaged in these avenues.

Frankly, we American Christians should prioritize the Gospel over whether our church has a flag on the stage or not, whether our congregation is red or blue, which network personality to watch, or which party primary registration includes my name. The Gospel supersedes polititainment. Let’s die on the right hill.

Is this a shame post? To some degree, yes. But it’s meant to be more of a reality post. The American church is the frog in the pan of polititainment. It’s heating up. It’s time to leap out of that pan and into the one where the Holy Spirit has freedom, the Son is lifted high, and the Father’s name is hallowed.

That Person

I have them. You have them.

I am one. You are one.

That person…

  • …you are constantly battling the thought that they can’t do anything right
  • …you are tempted to believe is unforgivable
  • …you wish they’d just move on
  • …you wonder if there’s such a thing as too much grace
  • …you’re convinced doesn’t have a clue

That person(s) that you’re thinking about right now is your that person.

As a recovering judger and teller, I’ve labeled many people as that person. The more I own and understand that I’m also that person the fewer people I label. We have to resist labeling in our minds and hearts, and we need to be aware when we’re spreading our labeling to others by talking about that person. Not easy work.

How do we do this work? I’m doing it by asking myself three questions:

  1. How am I praying for that person?
  2. How will I stay engaged with that person?
  3. When’s the last time that person…
  • …had an arm around their shoulder?
  • …heard, “I forgive you”?
  • …believed they weren’t alone?
  • …experienced grace from another human?
  • …felt safe with those who knew them well?

It’s hard relationship work. But that person needs it. And as someone else’s that person, I need it.

Oatmeal & the Holy Spirit

Not sure when it happened, but at some point in my adulthood I became an oatmeal eater. For a ‘Bama boy, I might as well start calling a Coke “Soda Pop.”

When I choose to have oatmeal for breakfast, that usually means one packet of instant oatmeal. Occasionally I intentionally choose to double up. That wasn’t my intent this morning. Yet I did.

When I reached into the box for the one envelope, I actually pulled out two. I told myself it was not a double-up day and returned one envelope.

As I opened the one envelope and emptied it into my bowl, I realized I had unintentionally gotten a double-up bowl. In my structured world, there are one-envelope bowls, and there are two-envelope bowls. So what was I to do? Should I change bowls? Or, heaven forbid, do I double up when I’d already decided not to?

A thought occurred.  “Maybe I’m supposed to eat two packs.  Maybe there was unknown purpose behind my grabbing two envelopes and ‘mistakenly’ getting the wrong bowl.  Maybe I should just follow the signs.”

Is it possible in more life-changing moments that the Holy Spirit works through signs like this, and I just shut him out?  He’s led me to do something unusual, but my need for normalcy or understanding keep me from following?  I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

Instead of changing bowls, I retook the second envelope.  I doubled up purely to follow the signs.

Has doubling up this morning changed my life?  Doubtful.  But it certainly changed my spirit.

Dude, You’re Being Soft

(An “Own It” Series for Dudes…series resurrected. Four previous posts were August-October 2017)

Based on current reads and also interactions with dudes, it’s time to address a thing-the glaring decline in strong dudes. It’s a thing.

I’m not talking about physical strength. There’s probably an increase there thanks to gyms and fitness addicts. I’m talking about the rest of a dude’s strength-emotional, mental, spiritual-which are more important to build and maintain. So it makes sense that if they are more important, then they require more attention and intention. That’s work. Hard work. And it appears it’s not happening for many dudes.

Why is that? Let’s be honest. Working on strengthening your emotional, mental, and spiritual muscles has the stigma of being soft. Guess what…that’s shame messaging coming from the grunt section. How can something that requires hard work be soft, particularly if it brings you more holistic strength? I counter that not working on these areas is the real characterization of being soft.

If you’re up for it-the hard work of strengthening all of you-here are ten questions to get you started:

  1. What was the last yes you gave God?
  2. When did you last purposefully do something emotionally or spiritually uncomfortable?
  3. How do you manage your fight or flight tendencies?
  4. How are you addressing your present doubts and fears?
  5. How much say does God have in your decisions?
  6. What have you learned about yourself in the last three months?
  7. How are you engaging what you don’t understand about culture, relationships, or God?
  8. What was the last intentional change you made?
  9. What other dudes know you don’t want to be soft?
  10. What’s your level of being all in?

What other questions could you ask yourself to bolster your emotional, mental, and spiritual strength? Who can help you engage these questions? What will your fitness plan be to stop being soft?

Saying No to Say Yes (book review)

I don’t recall how I came across this book. I’m guessing it was a “if you like that book you’ll like this book” Kindle referral. God bless Kindle.

If you are remotely involved with pastors (you are one, you serve one, you sit under one, you counsel one, you plan to be one, you’re married to one, you are searching for one, you just hired one, you used to be one), this book is gold. Why? Because the church world more often than not fails when it comes to pastoral boundaries. Ask your pastor.

We cannot become an expert at anything if we are responding to everything.

If for no other reason, get the book for chapter three, Setting Boundaries in Anxious Congregational Systems. Congregations become anxious for all kinds of reasons. That’s part of community. In those anxious seasons, they respond in various ways. Chapter three discusses four of those: projection, scapegoating, triangles, and multigenerational transmission. Immensely helpful.

The greater the anxiety, the more primitive the functioning of members… The greater the anxiety and emotional contagion, the more primitive and reactive people become and the less capable of creative thinking.

Chapter three also introduces the topic of differentiation-the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning.

True differentiation is the ability to go home, not become emotionally reactive, and attempt to maintain a one-to-one relationship with key members of the family… Trying to keep everyone happy is not differentiation nor is avoiding or cutting off from unpleasant people. Differentiation is the ability to lead, set clear boundaries, say “no” when necessary, while at the same time building intimate relationships – even with those with whom we disagree.

All pastors will face boundary issues. It comes with the serving people career. If your pastor is up to pursuing excellence, he will agree with this final quote:

It is our job to preach, teach, and live a gospel that doesn’t depend on human over-functioning but on God’s grace.

Do him and yourself a favor. Get copies of this book and start creating healthy boundaries that connect to an overwhelming “Yes.”

Leadership Points

If you aspire to be a leader…If you currently have a leadership post…If you wonder how you’re doing as a leader, here are some points to consider (random and not exhaustive), especially for those serving the church world.

  • The only person to fear is the Holy Spirit.
  • Weigh carefully every “yes” and every “no.”
  • Be ready to say at any time, “I messed up.”
  • Expect disappointment, but don’t let it root bitterness.
  • Going to bed angry is always a bad choice.
  • You will never regret praying.
  • Professional Counselors are your friends.
  • Your weaknesses aren’t meant to bring you shame. They are reminders that you shouldn’t go it alone.
  • Horizontal affirmation will never be enough.
  • When you think you’ve communicated something well, ask yourself, “Did Grandma get that?”
  • God determines when you’re done.
  • The broader your reading the deeper your growth.
  • Your awe of God level produces your peace and contentment level.
  • Arrive prepared. Confess if you aren’t.
  • Assume you can always build more trust.
  • Thank the person or group who discovered the solution.
  • Believe someone else is the smartest person in the room.
  • You must meet people where they in order to lead them where they need to go.