Reflections on “18 Obstacles to Personal Devotions in the Digital Age” by David Murray

Yesterday, while going through my twitter feed, I ran across the above named aritcle. I enjoy reading David Murray’s blog, as his posts are biblical, thoughtful, and challenging. (I’m also excited to begin reading his new book, which came out just after I made my fall reading list). This particular post struck a cord with me, and so I want to share it and some thoughts on it. Before reading my reflections, please take a moment to read David Murray’s post here, as I will only comment on a few of the 18 obstacles.

To briefly summarize, Murray contends that despite all of the good (or perceived good) of the digital age, the habits created by the pervasiveness of technology and information can actually be quite detrimental to our spiritual lives. Murray is concerned not only by the distractions produced by our always-on-hand devices, but also by the way our consumption of and access to information is seemingly changing the way we think in general. (Lest you think Murray is being an alarmist, Nicholas Carr was discussing this issue back in 2008). Thus, Murray lists 18 obstacles that the wonders of technology present to Christians’ devotional lives, and thus their spiritual health.

Two of Murray’s points particularly resonated with me:

Murray writes:

9. Loss of quiet: Constant beeps, buzzes, and updates reduce undisturbed time for the brain to rest. Unlike other revolutionary media like radio and TV, the Internet is ubiquitous. We never get even a few minutes waiting in line with our own thoughts but turn to the smartphone to fill it up.”

I can certainly relate to this. I have noticed I used to chat with people in a line or think about an issue that was on my mind, now I just check twitter. This can also be a killer to my devotional life, because anytime I hear an alert on my phone, I want to grab it and see what it’s all about. To combat that, I try to always silence my phone when I’m reading or studying my Bible. If I forget to turn the volume off, I simply ignore it until I am done reading. Chances are whatever the alert is, it can typically wait fifteen minutes.

This next point by Murray struck me on an even deeper level:

“17. Loss of humility: In This is your brain on GoogleKate Shellnut wrote: ‘These days, we still say things like “I don’t know how” and “I can’t remember it,” but our ignorance rarely lasts long. Seconds later, it gets pulled up on Google or YouTube. The information we don’t know is so close—quite literally at our fingertips—that we forget we don’t know it.'”

As I think more about my social media habits, I find that much of the reason I spend so much time on twitter is because I want to be “in the know.” Somewhere, deep inside I am terrified of being “late to the party” and looking silly because I found out about something three hours after everyone else. I don’t want to not know. I want to have seen the tweet, read the blog, watched the video, so if someone says “Hey did you hear about (insert new pressing thing here)?” I can calmly (and smugly) answer, “Oh yeah, I knew that.” That is insecurity. That is pride. That is me wanting what only God has: omniscience. And that is sin. For that I must repent. Which is a sure sign I need to spend less time on twitter, and more on my knees.

This is a pretty big issue for Christians, and one of which I think many are unaware. We can often feel that we don’t have time to sit and read God’s Word, and when do, we often find it so difficult to focus. As it turns out, some of that may well be caused by the environment that live in; by that very patterns of life we’ve come to accept as “normal.”

The truth is, growth in Christ is something that takes time, a lifetime in fact. We can’t Google ourselves to spiritual maturity. It takes the work of Holy Spirit moment by moment, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ. My prayer and hope is that articles like this one will help me and you identify those things which would distract us from Christ and build the discipline to press further into Him, even if that means disconnecting, unplugging and not being the “first to know” the latest news.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out David Murray’s follow-up post: “20 Tips to Personal Devotion in the Digital Age.”

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Tips for Bearding

Shadow BeardOver the years I’ve had a variety of facial hair styles (and for the last nine years a very patient and gracious wife). I’ve gone from sideburns, to mutton chops, to several varieties of goatee (like the Guru and Goat Pharaoh). But, my favorite has been the full beard. There is just something special about a beard choosing a face.

As seasons change, you might be considering the comforts of a beard over the hassles of a scarf for those brisk autumnal days. Perhaps you’re preparing for that great festival of fall known as “No Shave November.” Or, maybe you’re like me and simply feel  it’s time for your face to be well equipped with a fully grown beard. Whatever your reasons for bearding, I thought I’d share some helpful tips to help fill out your facial hair.

1. Endure the Scruff: In my opinion, this is the hardest stage of growing a beard, much more so than the fabled “itchy phase.” While every face is different, for me the scruff comes around a week a half into bearding. This stage is so difficult because when anyone looks at your mane-to-be, it just looks like you haven’t shaved in a while, as opposed to being obvious you’re growing a beard. People may think, “Wow, something must be wrong, he’s really letting himself go.” But look again, I’m wearing clean clothes, my hair is how I typically keep it, something more is growing here. My dog didn’t run away, my manhood blossomed. You’ll be tempted to shave and “clean up” you look. But don’t give in my friends! Look past to scruff and envision the full, well-groomed facial ornament that awaits you on the other side, and endure. IMPORTANT: this stage will be exaggerated if you are growing in from some existing facial hair (like a goatee) to a full beard.

2. Choose Your Style: The order here is important. I find it best to grow your full beard before choosing the style that best fits you (or your situation). Why? You need to know what you have to work with. You may think all you can grow is a goatee when a full “Spurgeon” could be your’s. Remember, not all beards or faces are the same; the best way to wear your beard is as it naturally suits your face (to paraphrase Spurgeon).

3. Careful With That Trimmer: At some point, most of us will have to trim our beards. The important thing to remember here: trim longer than you think your should at first, and go from there. You can always trim a little shorter, but if you start off too short there is no going back. You could easily find yourself unintentionally back in the scruff.

There you have it, my three tips for growing a beard. For more bearded fun, check out Bearded Gospel Men. May the whiskers be always in your favor. Happy bearding!

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Why I Love the Church: The Stabilizing Power of Normalcy

Every so often there is a dust-up over why younger people, specifically Millennials, are (or maybe are not) leaving the church. (You can read all about the latest one here, here, and here). It’s not my intent to interact with those articles, but they got me thinking of the reasons I love the church and would never leave. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be explaining that in a series “Why I Love the Church.”

But, before I get going, let me define what I mean here by “church.” By “church” I do not mean the universal church, the cosmic body of Christ made up of all believers from all time. As a Christian there is no leaving that, and there is no way in except by faith in Jesus through the gospel. I instead have in mind the local church: a group of believers in Jesus who meet regularly for worship, prayer, Bible teaching, and the receiving of the ordinances of baptism and communion. So, keep in mind this series of posts is about why I love the local church, and why I would never stop being a part of local assembly of followers of Jesus.

First Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” In the past I read these verses and thought, “That’s nice, somewhere in the world someone else knows what this temptation I am going through feels like.” I knew I  was supposed to be encouraged by that, I knew it was supposed to help me in my walk with Christ, I even intellectually acknowledged the truth of the verse. But, the problem was none of that ever provided any power for every day living. The reason was that while I believed the verse, I was not living it.

Then, a few years ago, I realized how to put this verse into action, not just accepting its truth, but allowing that truth to transform my life. The answer is simple: if there are indeed others going through what I am experiencing, then the way for that to benefit me is to become a part of that “brotherhood,” as Peter says. How do we do that? Through the local church. It is in a local body of believers that we are connected to others who are experiencing “the same kind of sufferings.” It is in community with other believers that transformation happens.

Being committed to a local body of believers brings about what I like to call “the stabilizing power of normalcy.” This is how 1 Peter 5:9 came alive to me. In the church we see firsthand that we aren’t actually the only one going through our particular trials. This allows us to be encouraged by others and encourage them. In the church we find those who have gone through our same struggles and by God’s grace overcome. These dear saints can testify to having tasted and seen the Lord’s goodness and call us to press on.

Along with this, when we realize others have been where we are, or are there now with us, our problems don’t seem as insurmountable. The dizziness slows and the fog lifts; by God’s grace we gain perspective. Then 1 Peter 5:9 becomes effective, because the “brotherhood” is no longer “out there,” but surrounding us, loving us, speaking into our lives. And this gives us strength to press on, to fight the good fight, to continue trusting Christ, to keep relying on the Spirit’s strength. This leads neatly into the next reason I love the church: we don’t have to bear our burdens alone. But more on that next time.

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Soul Food (but not the deep fried kind)

Soul FoodThe other day I read this in the book Valley of Vision, which is a collection of Puritan prayers. It really nourished my soul as a reminder of my sinfulness and utter for grace in  Jesus. This reading can be found on pages 122-123 of the leather bound edition of VoV. I hope you enjoy:

Self-Knowlodge

Searcher of Hearts,

It is a good day to me when thou givest me a glimpse of myself;

Sin is my greatest evil,

   but thou art my greatest good;

I have cause to loath myself, 

   and not to seek self-honor,

   for no one desires to commend his own dunghill.

My country, family, church

   fare worse because of my sins,

   for sinners bring judgment in thinking sins are small,

   or that God is not angry with them.

Let me not take other good men as my example

   and think I am good because I am like them, 

For all good men are not so good as thou desirest, 

   are not always consistent,

   do not always follow holiness, 

   do not feel eternal good in sore affliction.

Show me how to know when a thing is evil

   which I think is right or good,

   how to know when what is lawful

   comes from an evil principle,

   such as desire for reputation or wealth by usury.

Give my grace to recall my needs,

   my lack of knowing thy will in Scripture, 

         of wisdom to guide others

         of daily repentance, want of which keeps thee at bay;

         of the spirit of prayer, having words without love,

         of zeal for thy glory, seeking my own ends,

         of joy in thee and thy will,

         of love for others.

And let me lay not my pipe

   too short of the fountain

   never touching the eternal spring,

   never drawing down water from above.

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What I’m Reading

2013-09-19 11.22.55This fall I’ve decided to take on a pretty heavy reading load. This is probably the most ambitious reading I’ve done since seminary (I even made myself a syllabus!), but I am pretty excited about it. I hope I will not only learn and grow from the reading, but benefit from the discipline I’ll need to accomplish my plan.

I am doing two basic types of reading. Each month I’ll read one book (two in October) that is focuses on practical ministry/leadership issues. My hope is that these books will help me hone specific skills. I am reading them for the “how-to” aspect. At the same time, I’ll read one theological/devotional book. My goal from these books is less to learn a topic (though I will) and more to simply nourish my soul and stir my affections for God.

So with that, here is what I’m reading:

Leadership/practical:

Tom Connellan, Inside the Magic Kingdom. This book looks at 7 keys to Disney’s success. While written from a strictly business/customer service point of view, it is helpful in thinking through creating a guest-friendly culture.

Ivy Beckwith, The Ultimate Survival Guide for Children’s Ministry Workers. You can probably guess what this is about. Me = New Kids Minister who wants to learn.

Dave Kraft, Leaders Who Last. Dave Kraft is a ministry vet, and I want to faithfully last. Anything I can do make myself a usable instrument of the Holy Spirit so I don’t become a statistic, I’ll do.

J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership. A classic I’ve had on my shelf, but never read. That will now change.

Timothy Paul Jones, Family Field Ministry Guide. You guessed it, Kids Ministry specific reading.

Theological/Devotional:

Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God. Sanders explores the implications of our faith being Trinitarian. I am about halfway through this, and while dense at times, this book takes you to dizzying heights as you explore the depths of the Triune God. Definitely feeds my soul.

Charles H. Spurgeon, All of Grace. Spurgeon is one of my heroes of the faith. I have read him, and he has a particular way of stirring my affections for God. Looking forward to this one from the Prince of Preachers.

Eric Mason, Manhood Restored. This is more of a hybrid practical/devotional book. Since it came out I have wanted to read it. Can’t wait to be challenged by this one.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. Another classic that has been on my shelf (see a trend?).

So, that’s my reading for the fall. Hopefully in a few months I can revisit this post, having finished each book. So what are you reading? What books do you go to feed your soul or just for fun? I’d love to hear from you. Happy reading!

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