Untie?

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I once saw a cartoon involving a person holding a sign that read, “Bad spellers of the world: UNTIE!” Part of what makes the joke funny (at least to a pun-lover like me) is that all the correct letters are there–just two letters are transposed–but the meanings are completely different. And, of course, the bad speller misspelled the most important word. Instead of asking for unity, the sign invites potential destruction and chaos!

There is a serious side to this cartoon, however. Just like the sign-bearer, we often carry a message that is vastly different from what we mean to project– it may look similar or close to what we intend; it may even go unnoticed at first–but eventually, it will make us look foolish and actually call more attention to our faults and failures.

As Christians, we often pray for unity– we talk about it, we long for it, and we call out for it. But what are we DOING to promote unity and love within the Church? I recently ended my subscription to an on-line forum with articles about Christian Living. I wanted to support discussion, encouragement, and even constructive criticism among the Christian community. But more and more, I found the articles and discussions were not constructive; they were divisive, sarcastic, boastful, and condescending to other believers based on how they worshiped– the kind of songs they sang, or the lighting and seating in their sanctuary, whether they wore suits and dresses or ripped jeans and flip flops, whether they collected offerings or had a diverse worship team. There was no effort to listen or present Biblical principals that might help congregations find a balanced way to discuss differences in worship styles. There was no invitation for consensus or inclusion; no discussion of doctrinal principles or lasting truths that must be upheld. It was a forum for bickering, snide commentary, complaints, and virtue-signaling from self-righteous people taking pot-shots at other self-righteous people. I’m ashamed to admit that I did not unsubscribe earlier–I sent in my own snide comments, my own self-justifying judgments of others.

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The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) includes Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control– it doesn’t include cleverness, arrogance, criticism, or divisiveness!

Ephesians 4:1-6

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+4&version=NIV

It is not difficult to let our thoughts and emotions lead us to react badly– to untie, rather than unite. Here are several handy questions to ask BEFORE we grab up our “misspelled” sign and march around spreading dis-unity and chaos:

  • If Jesus were listening to me or reading my posts– and He IS!–would He agree? Would He “like” or “share” this? Would I send it to Him? Would I say this to His face?
  • Have I really thought about what this says to my family? My friends? My neighbors? My enemies? My Pastor? My co-workers? Strangers? Will it bring people together? Or will it force people to take sides? (There are times when we all need to be challenged to take sides on important issues, but is this one of them?)
  • There are some great posters in elementary schools that use the acronym to evaluate social media, but it works equally well for gossip, news articles, or any information or opinion that we wish to pass along– THINK–T: is it True? Have you checked the facts, dates, assertions, etc., to see if they are valid? H–is it Helpful? Is this good information? Am I helping people find a solution to a problem, or offering encouragement? I–is it Inspiring/Important? Am I wasting time passing on information or opinion just because I find it clever or entertaining? Or will this information inspire and build people up?Are lives in jeopardy if I don’t pass this information along or if I don’t comment? N–is it Necessary? Does this information or opinion need to be shared? With everyone? By me? Now? Finally, K–is it Kind? Even if it is “true” and “helpful”, etc., it can be abrasive, hurtful, or condescending in tone. Being “right” can still be “wrong” when it comes to unity and encouragement.
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Lord, help me to speak and act in ways that bring unity. Help me reflect the Grace and Peace that comes from You. Let my words and deeds produce Spiritual Fruit that lasts. May I seek to build up others, not tear them down or “untie” relationships that You want to flourish.

Good Christians of the world– UNITE!

Everyone’s a Critic!

Social Media can be a wonderful thing– it connects us, and helps us share good news, prayer requests, events, photos, and more. It can help us make new friends, get re-acquainted with old friends, learn new skills, and be more informed.

Sadly, though, social media can also bring out the absolute worst in us. Social media is immediate– we see or hear something, react to it emotionally, and respond without taking time to think. But social media is not really social. It is social only in the “virtual” sense. And that creates problems. There is nothing like being anonymous behind a computer screen to turn us into the biggest bullies, critics, and self-indulgent know-it-alls. Worse, we find it easy to spread vicious gossip, misinformation, and negativity by pressing a single “share” button…we didn’t even say it!

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But we DID send it out. And others saw it, heard it, felt it– for better or worse. Even the “good” responses– followers, “likes”, smiling emojis, and such–can feel impersonal or even forced. But what about the comments that reveal contempt, anger, sarcasm, or hatred? Critical, biting, self-righteous, self-gratifying, smug comments and posts.

“Oh, but I would never do that…” Really? I have been guilty of passing along posts (or even creating posts) that drip with sarcasm, or gleefully correct people or groups I feel have said something “wrong”. I’ve even passed along Bible verses with smug captions.

“Well, everyone is a critic.”
“I’m only saying what is true.”
“Doesn’t the Bible tell us to warn others and speak out against sin?”

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There are many “gifts” of the Holy Spirit–teaching, preaching, healing, even prophecy– but nowhere in the Bible does it say we are “gifted” to be critics, nags, or to speak out in contempt, anger, and malice. In fact, the Bible contains several warning against such behavior:

Judging Others
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A1-5&version=NIV

Galatians 5:15Verse Concepts
But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
Philippians 2:14-16
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
James 4:11-12
Do not speak against one another, brethren He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Criticism,-Amongst-Believers

For more, visit: https://deeptruths.com/bible-topics/criticism.html

This does not mean that we are to stay quiet about evil, or excuse sin. But we are to do so in love, not with contempt for others, or pride in our own understanding.

Moreover, God, who has the right to be critical and pass His perfect, Holy judgment on us, is the very one who offers us Grace and Mercy, encouragement, and hope!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c]And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 NIV)
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8&version=NIV

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God is NOT our critic– He is our Savior, our advocate, our Father.

Lord, may I honor You by my words and deeds today–including my activity on Social Media! May I demonstrate Your love, encouragement, mercy, and goodness today.
Amen

M.I.A.

Yesterday was Father’s Day.  Father’s Day can be very difficult for many people– in my case, it can be a reminder of how much I miss my Dad, who passed away 20 years ago.  Some of my friends have had recent experience in losing a beloved father.  For some, the hurt is still there after 50 years, or 70.

For others, it is a difficult day, not because they grieve the loss of a father to death, but because they grieve the absence of a loving father– an absentee father, an unknown father, an abusive father, or a distant, cold, or critical father.

man wearing black zip up hooded jacket standing
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At this point, I generally point to the Father who is eternally loving and faithful– Our Heavenly Father is God of the fatherless and the orphan, the God of restoration and reconciliation.  No matter where our earthly fathers are or have been, God is always right by our side.

All that is true, but I want to share something that’s been bothering me.  I scrolled down my FB feed, and listened in at church, and talked to a restaurant owner, and looked at the card section at the store.  And there’s something missing.  It’s not that we don’t honor fathers.  I saw a lot of wonderful tributes to dads, husbands, brothers, and sons.  I saw sons sitting with their recently widowed father at church; a son honoring his father by taking him out to eat; fathers and sons wearing awesome matching shirts with fun messages, and lots of old photos of dads with their families in years past, as well as newer pictures of dads with goofy toddlers, and pretty girls in prom dresses, and holding newborns.

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We honor fathers, but we do not honor Fatherhood.  We seem awkwardly proud and surprised when fathers actually show up and do their job.  We make it seem easy, even brainless, in comparison to the work of a mother.  In fact, there are those who argue that Fatherhood is not necessary for family life.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is POSSIBLE to rear children in a single-parent household (male or female).  It is possible to raise strong and healthy children without the presence of a father (or mother).  But that doesn’t make it desirable or advantageous for a child, or for society.

fatherhood

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What are we losing as a society when we engage in (or stay on the sidelines for) a war on Fatherhood?  When we make excuses for bad fathers or mothers who choose to denigrate the men who gave life to their children?  What happens when “dad” becomes, not the name of a single influential person in your life, but the name of whichever man is currently living with mom, AND also the man who sees you every other weekend?  What happens when the media consistently portray moms as hardworking and wise, and dads are the comic relief?

We are losing the next generation of fathers; the next generation of men with drive and passion to work for something beyond their own whims and wants.  We are losing the next generation of women, too– as they struggle to be both mothers and fathers, or choose to be neither because it’s too much trouble to do it alone.  We are losing a sense of what it means to be a Father– the honor, the responsibility, the joy and pride, the reward.  Worst of all, we are losing the examples of fathers who through their words and actions, are pointing others to our Heavenly Father.  God is not a baby-daddy; He is not an absentee father or an every-other-weekend Father.  He is not a faceless provider of money for new clothes and college textbooks.  He is not a goofy guy who tells bad jokes and pats you on the head once in a while.  He is not the one who never shows up for your game or your dance recital because he’s too busy playing golf with the guys.

man putting his shoulder around boy while his other hand is inside his pocket
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This isn’t universally true– and I’m so grateful for the men, young and old, who are staying the course, setting the examples, and standing out like beacons of light.  And I don’t wish to belittle the women who have had to be both mother and father due to death or other circumstances beyond their control.  But we desperately need good fathers.  We need fathers who will fight the good fight; not fathers who are Missing In Action.  We need active, responsible, faithful Dads.  But we need to pray for them.  We need to honor them.  We need to encourage and support them.  More than just one day a year….

Out of Focus

I try not to bring current events into my writings on prayer.  That said, I feel compelled to discuss some recent events in light of a growing trend–instant and polarizing reactions to small events, petty arguments, and even non-events.

Recently, a celebrity–one whose entire career has been predicated on her whining, hateful, politically incorrect rhetoric–was fired and her TV show cancelled over a single “tweet” she sent making fun of a former White House employee.  The TV show in question was a regurgitation of her popular sitcom from 30 years ago; a show that was controversial then because of its irreverence and foul language.  The new show quickly invited controversy by seeming to support the current president– also known for making offensive and cringe-worthy tweets.

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There is more than enough finger-pointing, blame-sharing, and shaming in the wake of this incident–but there is even more hypocrisy.  The people who are celebrating in the wake of this comedienne’s downfall are the very ones who were supporting her three decades ago– then she was “bold” and “brave” and “real.”  These same people were likely watching the new version of the TV show just last week.  Now she is “racist” and “abhorrent” (I guess the word “hateful” is suffering from overuse, and needs a stand-in– it was used in at least two of the tweets from her boss and colleagues) and “unacceptable”.  The people who are defending her now were the ones calling for boycotts of her show in the late ’80s for its flippant tone and dysfunctional family morals.  They are calling for more shows to be cancelled– shows they still watch; shows they discuss freely on social media; or maybe shows they don’t watch, because their friends tell them how they should react to what they’ve missed.

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My point is that controversies and “outrages” like this are becoming more common, more polarizing, and more hypocritical every week.  In the rush to judgment, we are losing our focus and missing the bigger picture.  What this comedienne said was offensive– it was juvenile, personal, hurtful.  It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t appropriate, and it wasn’t fair.  But it also wasn’t shocking.  The reprisal was swift and harsh, but that wasn’t really shocking, either, except in the context of the show’s success (it was the highest rated show of the season).  In the days and weeks that follow, some will regret that this action left dozens of other actors and staff without jobs, and others will cry foul at those who continue to “get away” with bad behavior and hurtful language.  But few of us will turn the spotlight on our own faults, our own use of social media or hateful language, or our own contributions to the cut-throat culture that surrounds us.

monochrome photography of a man looking in front of mirror
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Before I cheer or protest or react to this recent event, I want to ask forgiveness–for losing my focus.  I invited that TV show into my living room, along with those characters and their skewed values.  I watched video clips of interviews and failed attempts at the National Anthem and other scandals, and I chuckled.  I clicked on the news stories about the sitcom “reboot”, and considered watching it because it would be controversial– something to talk about, yell about, or laugh at.  And I clicked on the “news” of this comedienne’s downfall, consuming it like popcorn, and being entertained by the fallout.

Forgive me, Father, and restore my focus.  Create a clean heart in me, and be my pure vision.  Help me to stop pointing fingers at others and point others to you.

Hebrews 12:1-2 New International Version (NIV)

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

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In This World You Will Have Trouble…

When will the violence end?  How long, O Lord, must we wait for justice?  Why did you allow this to happen?

I was overwhelmed yesterday– news of yet another violent shooting at a school, followed by angry rants and follow-up tidbits of information– the name of the shooter (his full ,, three-part name, with corrected spellings, etc.), his family history, educational history, social history, medical and mental health history, recent FB posts, criminal record, and so much more.  I saw reports naming his state legislators and how much money they have received from the NRA. There were statistics about the school, and its security measures– other schools, and how many school shootings there have been so far this year.  Reports about AR-15 rifles and other guns–how many are sold each year, how many are used in violent crimes, and which states and countries have the toughest gun control laws–with differing sets of statistics, opinions, and conclusions.  And, once again, I have seen quotes and posts, and accusations posted by people like me– ordinary people living hundreds of miles from the scene, who never met either the shooter or his victims, and, in most cases, have no personal connection with the horrors faced by these students, teachers, guards, and their families.

Senseless violence, natural disasters, sudden tragic circumstances, still have the power to shock us, overwhelm us, shake our confidence, our composure, our beliefs.  Most of us want to believe that we live in a predictable world, a safe and orderly world, a world that has been tamed, and groomed, and civilized.  And we don’t want those beliefs shattered with the truth– life is unpredictable, filled with tragedy, evil, and danger, and it will end in death.  I’m not saying this as a cynic or a pessimist– life is also wonderful, filled with love, laughter, achievement, delight, and eternally precious.  But why are we so deeply disturbed to face the truth about our troubled world?

I believe it is due, in part, to the recognition that this is a fallen world.  It was not made for evil and tragedy and death, but every tragedy reminds us that the whole earth groans for restoration to what it was always meant to be.  The echo of Eden, and the hope of Heaven live in us, and the reality of our lost state cannot be denied when tragedy strikes.  The pleasant facade of the triumph of reason and humanity cracks, and we are forced to see that evil resides next door, down the street, across town, perhaps even in our own hearts and minds.

I love the movie “The Princess Bride” (ask any of my friends–I can quote whole scenes!), but when I first saw it in the theater, there was one line that struck me like a punch in the stomach.  The Dread Pirate Roberts (a.k.a. Westley) kidnaps/rescues Buttercup from her original captors, and after she tells him of the pain and desolation of losing her true love, he doesn’t comfort her by revealing that he is, indeed, her own sweet love, still alive and well.  Instead he says, “Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”   Wha-what?!   What kind of lover, when confronted by that kind of tragic outpouring, says something so callous?  To quote another line from the movie, “Why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?”  But Westley is not heartless.  The line is memorable, both because it is jarring in its context, and because we recognize that it holds a truth.  Anyone who tells you that this life will be free of pain and suffering IS selling something.  In the movie, Humperdink is “selling” the idea that he is going to make Buttercup a princess and marry her, and they will live happily ever after; all the while planning to kill her.  In today’s world, there are people trying to sell us ideas– that they “have it all figured out”; that truth and justice and morality  and even a person’s worth and value are all relative; that God doesn’t exist or that he doesn’t care; that evil is a figment of our imagination, or that human institutions can create a perfect society and “save” the planet from other human activities and institutions.

Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that in this world, we will have trials, trouble, tribulation, and/or suffering (depending on which version you read).  Not because God doesn’t care; not because he is incapable of stopping tragedies, but because we (humankind) have turned away from God, and the consequence of our rebellion is tragedy and death.  He doesn’t tell us this because he is callous or insensitive or cynical.  In fact, in the next phrase, he tells us to take heart, and to be of good cheer, for he has overcome the world.  HE has overcome the world, and in doing so, he has given us hope, and peace, and strength– not to avoid or deny tragedy, but to overcome it, and to triumph over it.

How does this relate to the pursuit of prayer?  Prayer is not a magic panacea in times of trouble–  it isn’t a chocolate-coated miracle pill.  Prayer (and sharing thoughts and prayers with those who are suffering) doesn’t make the suffering disappear– it doesn’t lessen the horror or the evil of an event, and it doesn’t guarantee that future hate, violence, injustice, or tragedy will disappear or even diminish.   But prayer reminds us that evil will not always triumph; that it need not overwhelm us, paralyze us, or defeat us.  I believe it can bring us from being “mostly dead” in despair, fruitless rage, divisive finger-pointing and fault-finding, “inconceivable” arguments, vengeful fantasies, and conceited self-indulgence, back to abundant life in Christ, and renewed courage to do what is kind and loving, even in the face of evil.  Prayer should also restore our focus on what is good, and noble, and true, so that we can be equipped to fight for what is right, instead of just ranting against what is wrong.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.– Philippians 4:8

I pray, in the wake of this newest tragedy, that God would show me where I am wrong in my thoughts and actions toward Him and toward others; that he would surround those who are suffering pain and loss, giving them comfort, strength and renewed purpose in the days ahead; that he would lead us to have the tough ocnversations, and take the right steps to bring renewal, restoration, hope, and healing to our communities and our land; and finally, that we would listen to, and acknowledge the truth, and take heart as we focus on the One who has overcome the world.

Prayer and Social Media

There are several positive and proactive aspects of prayer I want to explore in this journey, but I don’t want to deny or ignore some of the bad habits and false ideas that sometimes come with prayer.

One of the reasons I am writing this blog (see Prayer is a Pursuit) is to answer some of the critics and detractors of prayer.  Many of these critics are responding to what they see of and about prayer on FB or Twitter, on blogs like this, or on spiritually-minded websites.  If all I knew of prayer came from reading dashed-off posts and prayer memes accompanied by soothing photos, I would have a false and shallow idea of prayer, and one that invites criticism.

The Bible describes, and the Church practices, many different kinds of prayer.  Prayer can be intensely personal and private.  It can be communal or corporate in nature.  There are prayer partners, prayer groups, prayer chains, and congregational prayers.  But prayer is not primarily or ideally a social activity, and its essence is not suited to be broadcast or posted.

Social media can be a very helpful tool TOWARD prayer– requests, needs, and answered prayer can be shared; prayer can be urged and encouraged; prayer can be discussed (as in this post); prayers can be made public as examples.  And people can be greatly encouraged by the knowledge that their needs are being lifted up by family, friends, even strangers across town, across the country, and even around the world.

But prayer on social media also presents real problems, and I’ve gotten caught up in some, so I’m sharing some of what I have learned.  These areas have been stumbling blocks for me– that does not mean that they are “bad” practices in general, or that my questions or criticisms will apply to others.  But if someone else struggles with these thoughts or issues, I hope my journey might help.

  • Social media tends to promote the “tyranny of the urgent”– posts pop up screaming for attention NOW.  I feel pressure to respond immediately with something encouraging.  To say that I am “praying” or “I will keep you in my prayers” is encouraging–but is it true?  A couple of years ago, I realized that, in my desire to comfort and uplift, I had started stretching the truth.  I meant to pray for the person/situation/need…sometimes I sent a hasty and half-hearted thought heavenward before scrolling on.  But I wasn’t really opening my heart to God OR to the person in the post.  As one critic put it– I was making myself feel better.  My words may have given momentary comfort or encouragement, but they were basically empty and hollow.  I made a vow going forward to do one of three things:
    • If I can, I will stop what I am doing and take the time to really pray about the situation BEFORE I respond, comment, share, etc.
    • If I can’t take the time right now, but I have my prayer journal handy, note the concern on today’s page (or tomorrow’s) to make sure I include it in my daily devotional time, so I can pray thoughtfully and whole-heartedly.  Sometimes I will comment after the note is written, or after the prayer has been said.
    • If I can’t stop, add it to my prayer journal, or make a note– I don’t comment or respond.  The other person may not know the difference, but I will.  I don’t want to give a false impression.
  • Social media thrives on drama, algorithms, and visibility.  Recently, I received two similar prayer requests within a day of each other.  Two friends shared about two different men in life-threatening situations needing prayer.  One of my friends’ posts went viral, with people setting up fundraisers for the family, a website, and daily updates.  The other post simply said, “Please share.”  It got a few responses, and one update to say that the man had died of his injuries.  These men were both precious in the sight of God.  They were both badly injured in the line of duty, and both had families who loved them and were in crisis. They were both equally in need, but not equally visible.  I prayed for both, but I wondered at the difference in visibility, and how it might be changing our prayer focus.  I am tempted, as I spend time on social media, to be concerned about those things that are most visible.  But who is hurting in my neighborhood, among my friends, among those people I interact with daily– their needs invisible to me because I’m only focused on what I see online?
  • Social media is both social and self-oriented.  How many people “like” or “follow” me?  How big is the circle of people I can reach?  What impression do others have of me?  But prayer is not about me.  I have a bad habit (shared by many others–especially Americans, I think) of wanting to be seen as independent and self-sufficient.  I want to be the one offering support–the “prayer” and not the “pray-ee”.  But if I’m going to put myself “out there” in either capacity, social media tempts me to measure and compare myself with others.  I am tempted not to ask for prayer for little ordinary things, tempted to exaggerate some pains and downplay others, and tempted to respond to others in ways that make me look “good.”  That’s just human nature, but it’s also sin, especially when selfish concerns and petty thoughts crowd out the natural compassion I should have for others and the honesty I should have about my own weaknesses and strengths.
  • Social media is a “glass house.”  What you post in haste, in jest, or for your “besties” is out there for everyone to see– and judge.  We are told not to judge, lest we be judged (from Matthew 7:1).  There are several groups who love to quote the first part of that verse, but it’s the second part that relates equally to social media.  If I post beautiful words about prayer and encouragement for my Christian friends, and hateful rhetoric about my political foes, I had better be willing to own up to having a double standard.  The same goes for the random offensive, suggestive jokes, the rants about my noisy neighbor and my unsaved relatives.  Sitting in front of a silent screen tempts us to “let rip” with sarcasm, frustration, self-righteous indignation, and self-congratulation.  All of us have probably posted things we later regretted because we think better of our words, or because someone “took them wrong” .  I want to become better at prayer, better at communicating about it, defending it from attack, and promoting it.  But that comes with a responsibility to learn, be honest about my failures, and open about the struggles I face.

I hope to do just that as I journey forward– on- and off-line!

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