Smartphone Stewardship

The iPhone is turning ten this week, and as if on cue, Tony Reinke (senior writer for desiringGod.org) has an interesting new book called 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I do recommend the book, along with another superb new book, The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch.

Rather than doing a full summary of Reinke’s book, I want to draw you attention to a particularly helpful section related to the smartphone and our use of it, ten diagnostic questions we should be asking ourselves in this digital age:

1. Do my smartphone habits expose an underlying addiction to untimely amusements?

2. Do my smartphone habits reveal a compulsive desire to be seen and affirmed?

3. Do my smartphone habits distract me from genuine communion with God?

4. Do my smartphone habits provide an easy escape from sober thinking about my death, the return of Christ, and eternal realities?

5. Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with the pursuit of worldly success?

6. Do my smartphone habits mute the sporadic leading of God’s Spirit in my life?

7. Do my smartphone habits preoccupy me with dating and romance?

8. Do my smartphone habits build up Christians and my local church?

9. Do my smartphone habits center on what is necessary to me and beneficial to others?

10. Do my smartphone habits disengage me from the needs of the neighbors God has placed right in front of me?

All these questions are designed to help us to “move from being distracted on purpose to being less and less distracted with an eternal purpose”(52).

Discipleship in a Sex Saturated Society

In his excellent book on Faithful Discipleship in a ‘Hypersexualized World’, author Jonathan Grant makes astute observations about the evolution of sexual norms in the modern age and why it is necessary to understand where we are at culturally in order to live have wisdom in living out God-honoring relationships with others. He contends that the boundaries of sexual norms have been pressed, separating sex from the social contexts that had given it its essential meaning. The five stages are:

The journey began with the separation of sex from procreation, which was enabled by a host of factors, including the invention of contraception, medically assisted conception, and the modern priority given to sex as an expression of companionship rather than as primarily for having children.

The second state is the separation of sex from marriage, so that cohabitation came to be seen by many as a sensible form of pre-marriage testing or even as an alternative lifestyle. The loosening of sexual relationships is reflected in our use of the term “partner,” which is primarily an economic term. In the name of authenticity and honesty, we declare that we will become partners in this common endeavor for as long as it suits our perceived needs and desires.

The third is the separation of sex from partnership. The commodification of sex, as a form of recreational pleasure seeking, means that many people have come to think of sex simply as a lone pursuit that just happens to involve another person. The hook-up culture that says there is such a thing as casual sex. A recent USA Today story said that millennials consider sex less intimate even than dating or meeting the parents of a partner.

The fourth stage is the separation of sex from another person. This is made possible by technology and prevalence of online pornography and the auguries of virtual reality sex. The reasoning goes, why include other people if sex is purely about self-gratification?

The fifth and final stage is the separation of sex from our own bodies. Our inherited gender was once seen as normative for determining what bathroom we use, how we dress and who we marry. It is now understood that gender and sexuality are things we choose, and that our ‘orientation’ is part of a deeper ‘sexual personality’ that transcends our gender.

As the culture marches on in re-defining sexual norms, I want to challenge you to look back (and I don’t mean just to the 1950s), way back to the second century A.D., when Christians had to wrestle with the questions of what faithful discipleship looked like in their own ‘hypersexualized world’ of the Roman Empire. The Christian response articulated in the Letter to Diognetus (written around 130 A.D.) combined a compelling vision of being both distinctive and discerning.

The letter describes Christians as sojourners, people who are both “at home” and “not at home” in their society. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.

They marry, they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh but they do not live after the flesh.

They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life.

I think the book by Jonathan Grant informs us well of where we find ourselves culturally and the Letter to Diognetus challenges us to be in the world but not of the world, in a word: distinctive.

The Culture of Self

The proverbial saying is that if you want to know what water is like, don’t ask the fish. Why? Because the fish does not know anything different. It has no point of contrast. Christian faithfulness requires some sense of where we are culturally and socially. And though we might have general notions, I believe a few definitions and then some illustrations will help us understand the milieu that we find ourselves in in 21st century America.

In his book, How (Not) To Be Secular,  (which is itself a guide to understanding the much larger work by Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor A Secular Age), James K.A. Smith describes the age that we find ourselves in as ‘An Age of Authenticity’. This involves the combination of living the ‘authentic self,’ which is “being true to who you are” and living out ‘expressive individualism,’ which is “expressing your own identity rather than conforming to models imposed by others”.

When Stephen Colbert addressed graduates of Wake Forest University, he said “the best way to withstand criticism is to have your own standards so you can judge yourself as successful even if other people think you are a failure. Set the bar for yourself, and if you fall short, you can “be an easy grader.”” Colbert ended his speech by encouraging students to “find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong” and then to “make the world good according to your standards, no matter what others might think.”

Modern authenticity encourages us to create our own beliefs and morality, the only rule being that they must resonate with who we feel we really are. The worst thing we can do is to conform to some moral code that is imposed on us from outside – by society, our parents, the church, or whoever else.

We see this too in Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 1992 Abortions Rights Case, Casey v. Planned Parenthood, when in his majority opinion he stated that: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s concept of existence, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

In her bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, which chronicles the authors quest for personal fulfillment. At 32 years old, Elizabeth Gilbert was educated, had a home, a husband, and a successful career as a writer. She was, however, unhappy in her marriage and initiated a divorce. She then embarked on a rebound relationship that did not work out, leaving her devastated and alone. After finalizing her difficult divorce, she spent the next year traveling the world.

She spent four months in Italy, eating and enjoying life (“Eat”). She spent three months in India, finding her spirituality (“Pray”). She ended the year in Bali, Indonesia, looking for “balance” of the two and fell in love with a Brazilian businessman (“Love”). Who, recently, she announced over Facebook that she was getting a divorce from.

Why was the book, and subsequent movie such a phenomenon? I believe that it was because it stuck a cord culturally. It is the quintessential, ‘be true to yourself, ‘live out your own identity’, and ‘don’t listen to what others say’ narrative. It was lauded by Oprah Winfrey on her show, it was a New York Times bestseller, and story was turned into a movie with the signature character played by Julia Roberts.

And lest you think this is limited to adult, cosmopolitan culture, consider the lyrics from the popular children’s movie Frozen song ‘Let it Go’:

It’s time to see what I can do,
to test the limits and break through.
No right, no wrong, no rules for me.
I’m free!

Engaging the Culture (Part 4)

The fourth insight from our ongoing series on Timothy Keller’s blog A Missionary Encounter Today? is An Evangelistic Stance and Approach. Keller write’s “there is no evangelistic presentation that fits every culture. Every culture requires the basics of sin and salvation to be communicated in different ways.” I would add that we can substitute ‘person’ for ‘culture’ in the quotation and still be true to the point being made.

What is evangelism? This short definition by D.S. Lim is a helpfully succinct defintion: “Evangelism is the verbal proclamation of the good news of salvation with a view of leading people to a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.”

1. The participants in evangelism: Every Christian!

The work of evangelism is essentially that of bearing witness—each of us is called to testify to what God has done for through the work of Jesus Christ. Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…”

2. The substance of evangelism: The Gospel

We aren’t merely calling others to live a moral life, or asking them simply to “believe in God,” or trying to convince them that Christians are “nice people.”

The Gospel is the “good news” of God’s saving work through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Why is it “good news?” The Gospel message is the solution to our most fundamental problem as human beings—alienation from a holy God because of our sin. The great “good news” of Christianity is that Christ has paid the penalty of our sins on the cross and that by trusting in him, we can receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life (John 3:16). Salvation comes only through faith in the finished work of Christ on our behalf (Acts 4:12).

3. The method of our evangelism: Declaration and Demonstration

A. Declaration: Telling the good news
But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15).

Since the Gospel is, by definition, “good news,” evangelism always involves the sharing of this news. We encourage each of our members to bear witness to Jesus Christ and share the Gospel in the network of relationships He provides to us. These “fields of harvest” (see Matthew 9:38) include our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, classmates—anyone whom God has placed in our lives.

B. Demonstration: Living the good news
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

In addition to proclaiming the Gospel, Christians are to testify to the reality of the Gospel by the way they live. The Bible describes believers as “…his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). These good works include deeds of kindness and love that express God’s love to people and give credibility to the message we proclaim.

Finally, there is a corporate dimension to living this good news. We believe that our lives together in the local church is an effective means of testifying to the Gospel. Through our unity and the transformational work of the Spirit in our live we testify to the power and effectiveness of the Gospel.

So, modifying Keller’s quote from above “”there is no evangelistic presentation that fits every person. Every person requires the basics of sin and salvation to be communicated in different ways.” The above are the basics of an evangelistic stance and approach within (ideally) the context a strong personal relationship.

Engaging the Culture (Part 3)

Continuing our series looking at Timothy Keller’s insights from his blog post A Missionary Encounter Today? We are going to take a more in-depth look his third point A Faithful Presence Within the Vocations. “Today’s church must equip Christians with the doctrine of vocation to integrate their faith within their work.” Some excellent books on the topic include: The Gospel at Work by Greg Gilbert and Sebastien Trager, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller, God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life by Gene Veith, and Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by suburban Kansas City pastor Tom Nelson.

An underappreciated insight of the Protestant Reformation period in the sixteenth century was what the Reformer Martin Luther popularized the biblical notion that Christians need to think of their lives in terms of vocation, or calling. From his readings of 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Luther taught that each Christian has multiple vocations: he argued that each Christian has particular callings in our work, in our families, as citizens in the larger society, and in the Church.

Luther argued that God works through means. He institutes families, work, and organized societies, giving human beings particular parts to play in his vast design. In these societies, it is my gifts for your; my vocation for your vocation. In our life in the world, in the interplay of vocations, we are always receiving and we are always giving. This is the dynamic of love. God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other.

Biblical Motivations to Work:

1. Motivation: Work to Love God

Before all else, we should love God in and through our jobs. In the course of Jesus’ ministry “an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:35-39).

When you become a Christian, your overarching, overriding, life-driving assignment becomes crystal clear: you are to love God and others. No matter what you do for a living, you are working for something different than what the non-Christians around you are working for. Yes, money is important. Yes, advancement in your career can be good. Yes, you want to help your boss and do a good job. But ultimately you are in your job so you learn to love God and other people better.

2. Motivation: Work to Love Others

If loving God is the greatest commandment, Jesus tells us right behind it is love for others: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). God provides for our needs through the work he calls us to do in and for the good of society. Loving others typically happens at the day-to-day level or relationships with other people. We are called to love the particular people with whom we rub shoulders every day, and that ought to motivate us to do our work well. This should motivate us to work hard and to work well.

3. Motivation: Work to Reflect God’s Character

When God created human beings, he created us “in his image, in his likeness” (Genesis 1:26). At the core, those phrases mean human beings had a God-given job to do in the world. They were to stand as God’s representatives, ruling the world as his vice-regents and communicating to the universe, “It is God who rules!” As they did so, they would also reflect his character to the world.

In one way or another, your job somehow involves the work of bringing beauty out of ugliness, order out of chaos. This creative action in our work reflects the character and work of God. Before God created the world, the universe was “formless and empty” (Genesis 1:2). There was nothing there! Instead of darkness, God brought forth light. Instead of unformed waters, God created land and seas. At the end of his work of creation, God looked at his work and saw that it was very good! It is no accident then, that when God finished his work and placed Adam in the garden of Eden, he called him also to work – to create order and beauty in the world. That is at least in part of what God meant when he told Adam to subdue the earth and to work and take care of the garden (Genesis 1:28; 2:15) We image God when we carry out our work in faithfulness.

4. Motivation: Work for Money

One of the main reasons we work is so we can provide for ourselves, our families, those we love, and others. We work so we can eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10; Proverbs 12:11; Ephesians 4:28). It glorifies God when a Christian works hard to provide for his family and to be a blessing to others. You can take satisfaction and work with all your heart in a job that simply provides, eve if it is not the most personally fulfilling job you can imagine or the most financially lucrative job out there. Providing for your family, blessing others, supporting the work of the church – all of these are legitimate and good reasons to work. The love of money may be “a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), but a godly use of money glorifies God.

5. Motivation: Work for Enjoyment

In his kindness, God even allows us to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 8:18 that it is God “who gives you the ability you produce wealth.” Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 states, “It is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink, and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor…to accept their lot and be happy in their toil – this is a gift of God.”

It is true that our work can be “toilsome,” yet at the same time, it can also bring us satisfaction and enjoyment. Do you ever experience satisfaction or enjoyment in your work? It not, it is likely that the mechanics of your job is not all that enjoyable – the repetition, monotony, hard physical labor, stress, etc. However, you can still find satisfaction and enjoyment in doing your job well and knowing you are doing it for the Lord Jesus Christ and as an expression of your love for him.

6. Motivation: Work to Adorn the Gospel of Jesus Christ

“Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” (Titus 2:9-10)

In this passage, Paul is instructing workers to work well and to do their work honestly. When we work in ways that reflect God’s loving authority, creativity, excellence, and honor, our lives back up and support the gospel we profess. Our conduct communicates. It can either confirm or undermine what we say with our lips. People are pretty good at recognizing those who are more interested in themselves than in serving others, who care more about getting ahead than about loving and caring for the people they work with. We are called to adorn the gospel by loving and serving others whom we work with and for.

Conclusion: Work With and Eternal Perspective

When J.R.R. Tolkien had been working on writing The Lord of the Rings for some time, he came to an impasse and he began to despair of ever completing the work in his life. He had been working on the story for several decades and the thought of not finishing it he said was “a dreadful and numbing thought.” It was at this time that he sat down and wrote a short story by the title “Leaf by Niggle.” Niggle was intended to represent Tolkien himself. He was a perfectionists who always fretted over details and struggled with anxiety. In the story, Niggle, was nearing death, though he had one picture that he was trying to paint.

He had in his mind a picture of a leaf, then a whole tree, and then behind the tree, a vast expanse of country. Knowing death was near at hand, he sat about getting to work on his canvas, but he never got much done. There were two reasons for this. First, it was because he was the “sort of painter who can paint leaves better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf trying to get the shading and the sheen and the dewdrops on it just right. So no matter how hard he worked, very little actually showed up on the canvas itself. The second reason was his “kind heart.” Niggle was constantly distracted by doing things his neighbors asked him to do for hem. In particular, his neighbor Parish, who did not appreciate Niggle’s painting at all, and asked him to do many things for him.

One night when Niggle senses, rightly, that his time is almost up, Parish insists that he go out into the wet and cold to fetch a doctor for his sick wife. As a result he comes down with a chill and fever, and while working desperately on his unfinished picture, death comes to Niggle. Just before, poor Niggle cried out weeping, “Oh, dear! It is not even finished!” Sometime after his death the people who acquired his house noticed the painting and put it in the Town Museum, where it hung in a recess and was noticed by only a few eyes.

When Niggle gets to the heavenly country, something catches his eye. He runs to it – and there it is: “Before him stood the Tree, his Tree, finished: its leaves opening, its branches growing and bending in the wind. He gazed at the tree, and slowly he lifted his arms and opened them wide. ‘It is a gift! He said.’”

Though largely forgotten in the old country, in the new country he finds that his tree, in full detail is finished, and not just the image that he had died with. His vision was part of the True Reality that would be enjoyed forever.

God gives us gifts for work that are to be used to serve other and to serve Him. This life is not all there is, and we must work with an eternal perspective, knowing that “In the Lord, our labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

 

Engaging the Culture (Part 2)

Point two by Timothy Keller on A Missionary Encounter Todayis the church is to be A Counter Culture. An alternative society with several distinct characteristics:

a. A striking multi-ethnicity. An important point is that “Christianity is far and away the most ethnically and culturally diverse religion in the world.” The demographics of the church should, at least, reflect the demographics of the community in which it is situated. Why is this important? Because an ethnically mixed community is a powerful apologetic. Consider Ephesians 2:14-15, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace.” Who can reconcile natural enemies and bring them into community together? Christ can.

b. We should be pioneers in civility, in building bridges to those who oppose us. In an age of social media, where it is possible to hurl verbal insults behind an anonymous avatar, and an age in which it is more easier, and often times more effective, to try an work up an emotional response through flamboyant statements rather than a carefully reasoned discussion. Christians should lead the way in showing kindness, respect, and civility toward those who oppose us. Francis Schaeffer once said that if he had a conversation with someone who differed with him on a certain point, he hoped that person would walk away with two equal impressions: Francis Schaeffer really disagrees with him, and Francis Schaeffer really cares about him.

c. A generous spirit and a concern for justice in society. As Keller explains in another work, “concern for the poor will be a significant mark of the validity of the Gospel. It is one of the “good deeds” that Scripture says will lead pagans to glorify God (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12). Some will oppose, others will be convicted, Peter says, but it is living out the implications of the Gospel. Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians 6:10).

 

Engaging the Culture (Part 1)

From a past blog post this year (http://www.timothykeller.com/blog/2017/2/13/a-missionary-encounter-today), Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in New York City provides some pointers on how to engage a culture in which Christianity is increasingly on the margins.  He goes back to examine the ways in which the early church engaged the often hostile culture that surrounded them, and suggests that “there was both offense and attraction, confrontation and persuasion…Christianity confronted and critiqued the culture…and yet the faith also convinced many people.”

Keller goes on to give six ways in which the church today can effectively engage the culture today. I am going to take each in turn and analyze and elaborate on the points he makes and how we should think about how to effectively engage those around us.

Keller begins with a call to a robust public apologetic (defense of the faith). Quoting Augustine, “our beliefs and lives do not in any way weaken the social fabric – rather they strengthen them,” we need to show how Christianity provides a foundation for a meaningful individual life and how it contributes to the social good.

Now undoubtedly, among many Christianity is seen as outdated, backwards, bigoted, regressive, among other descriptors given to it. How do we engage? Not by coming back with ad hominem attacks, but providing “thoughtful, accessible, and wildly diverse stories of people who found Christ and had their lives changed by the gospel.” Stories like this and this.

Keller goes on to say that “we need to show how the main promises of secular culture makes regarding meaning, satisfaction, freedom, and identity can’t be fulfilled.” He has a unique gift at doing precisely this. His book Counterfeit Gods does this brilliantly. How do we do this? Help people think through the implications of their worldview. Answers to the big questions like ‘where did we come from?’ ‘What is your purpose or meaning found?’ ‘How do you ground human rights?’ ‘Is all morality relative?’ (people may say “yes” that but they do not live consistently with that notion) ‘What happens after you die?’ Lovingly walk through these matters with your neighbor and seek to show the internal logic and consistency within the Christian worldview, and how it does provide answers to those ‘big questions of life’, and how it ultimately provides a foundation for our longings for ‘meaning, satisfaction, freedom, and identity.’

The social good extends to loving our neighbors in tangible ways. How is this done? Meeting physical needs in serving the poor and marginalized, being generous and helping to advocate for others well-being (physical, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually). Living out what Keller calls Generous Justice. In all these ways, we want to put forward a compelling Christianity.