3 Steps to Keeping the Internet Under Control


 

Edmundo saved the day!  No, there wasn’t a real life or death threat, but we felt like it was an emergency.  We five Americans were stuck on a rural Asian island with no internet and no wi-fi accessibility.  What in the world were we supposed to do—not update Facebook?  But our hotel had pink flowery sheets, turtles, and an aviary outside our window.  This is classic status update material. We needed wi-fi, and Edmundo came charging in with his Samsung tablet and fully-charged Smartbro sim card in just the nick of time. Internet!

If you are like me, you enjoy being connected. On a deserted fisherman’s beach, I searched Around Me, just for the fun of seeing nothing within 40 miles.  Being disconnected is somewhat akin to being sent involuntarily through de-tox.  Who enjoys that?  Increasingly, we are living in a web-connected world.  Newsweek and others are very concerned that such ubiquitous connectivity is actually disconnecting us both from the rest of the world and from ourselves.

While I often dismiss such concerns as fear-mongering and joy-stealing, I think there is enough evidence beginning to mount that we ought to pay attention to our internet activity.  Even more importantly, as Christians, we must do whatever we do—including using the internet—to glorify God.  So, it seems we need an internet approach strategy.  Here are 3 simple steps to keep the internet under your control.

De-prioritize It

The first step in learning best how to use the internet is to not use the internet.  It sounds contradictory, but it is true. In an age that relies more and more on the internet and every wi-fi related iteration of it, we must not be led into thinking that the internet is as important as it seems. Its presence is everywhere, thus leading us to the erroneous conclusion that it is all-important.  It simply is not. Start your day with the Bible and prayer, never with email or Facebook.

Don’t stop your practice of beginning with a word from God and with a responsive prayer back to God.  There are things much more important than wi-fi book readers and smartphone apps.  Discipline yourself daily for the purpose of godliness and don’t allow the internet to fool you into believing its more important than your daily walk with the Lord.

Prioritize Your Purpose

Second, when you do enter cyberspace, do so with great purpose.  De-prioritize the internet in a general way (step one), then prioritize the internet in a specific way for a specific purpose.  Why get on-line at all?  Most likely, you get on-line for one of 3 distinct purposes:

Resources, Relationships, or Writing.

The internet is resource rich.  Search the term “salmonella” (which I brought home from my last trip to Asia), and you will find 18.3 million websites related to it.  Resources abound on the internet.  Find the few resource sites you trust, bookmark them, then visit them when you need specific information.

Relationships are important, too, and the massive success of Facebook is a clear indication that folks want to use the internet to connect with other people.  So, realize that you cannot keep up with everyone in the world, and narrow your “friends” or the people you “follow” to a small enough number that it keeps you honestly engaged in the lives of others.  Don’t attempt to be the most popular guy on the planet.  Keep the meaning of the word “friend” significant.  Not all friends are equal, and acquaintances are not the same as friends.  Keep your social network one which keeps you in touch with your family and friends.

Finally, some folks have something to say.  The internet can surely become a megaphone for those with a message.  Think through your subject. Study the way others are speaking on the subject, then get on the internet for the purpose of stating your message clearly, concisely, and convincingly.

In short, prioritize your purpose before opening your internet browser.  Are you opening for resources, to improve relationships, or to write your message?  Open the internet with purpose.

Personalize

Finally, personalize your internet experience.  Don’t attempt to duplicate the internet experience of others.  There are enjoyable and edifying adventures on the internet.  Let your online adventure reflect your individual personality.

For example, I have recently switched to Google Chrome (which I love).  It automatically opens 4 pages for me: a church page, a blog page, a politics page, and a sports page.  I check these four pages, then I leave the internet spider’s web.  Typically, I check email and Facebook from my phone.

Like you (perhaps), I struggle to keep the internet as an instrument instead of becoming its addict.  It’s good for us to think about the best ways to employ the internet so that it serves our needs instead of making us its slaves.  What are some strategies you employ?  Hopefully, this three-step strategy will help.

 

Adoption Yearning


Any pastor worth his salt (as the saying goes) must, at times, identify with the prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel was more than a preacher to God’s suffering people—he was a vicarious enactment of their plight, having to lay siege against Jerusalem (Chapter 4); eat “unclean” food; pack his bags for exile (Chapter 12), and lose his wife.  Ezekiel suffered with God’s people.  God told him from the beginning not only that he would be required to suffer with God’s people but that he would also need a head as hard as theirs in order to bear the suffering without seeing much of a reward.  The people would mock him, scoff him, listen to him for the entertainment value, but not obey what he taught them.  Ezekiel’s ministry was difficult indeed.

Pastors understand. Frequently suffering with God’s people, pastors surely understand what it is like to plead with folks to yield their full allegiance to a sovereign God—only to have those folks too often walk away toward a secular solution to a genuinely spiritual problem.  That can be a tough assignment.

Lately, however, I have suffered an assignment that might be more difficult—suffering with God’s people who suffer well.  OK, it isn’t more difficult. But pain is painful even when it is beautiful.  Lately, I have experienced a kind of sweet agony as I have suffered with a people who portray the brightest ray of beauty from the clouds of pain.

For several weeks now, I have been preaching a series of sermons from Hebrews 12 on the discipline of the Lord.  Basically, I have called us to trust God’s instructing love through suffering.  God’s instructing love is His discipline.  After first rejecting the suffering, we can be trained by God’s instructing love to learn something of the nature of God and thereby be humbled into what the Bible calls the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).  The process must be something like the joy of a mother holding a new baby girl after suffering hours of labor.

So, here we are as a congregation suffering. Here I am as a pastor suffering.  I am suffering with the weight of what I am preaching, knowing that in the congregation are mothers who have lost their daughters, fathers who have buried their babies, and a young man whose wedding party was crashed in the most inconceivably bad manner he could imagine.

I am also suffering my own setbacks, which on an agony scale don’t measure up to the loss of those who have buried children.  Still, I am suffering a degree of agony, longing to know why I have 2 children in Africa who are being needlessly withheld from their home, their family, and their father who desperately wants them in his presence.  How can I (a pastor) make sense of it all?  I am so frustrated with the injustice of a bureaucracy which keeps my boys away from me.

I have some options available.  My natural response is to fuel a deep-seated cynicism against my own government.  Trust me when I say my Republican roots run deep!  It would be easy to grow powerfully indignant against the current administration and buy into the fervor of adoption activism—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! But that isn’t my thing, not right now.  For now, I am a shepherd of a suffering people who are listening and learning (by watching?) about God’s discipline.

I must receive the Lord’s discipline.  So, what can I learn from my suffering, Lord? Surely, no good can come from the forces pulling my little boys from me and holding us an ocean apart against our wills.  What is this situation saying about you, Father?

Perhaps you, Lord, are painting a picture of the church through my life (and the life of my boys).  I am thinking of unexpectedly sober picture of the church presented in Revelation 6:9-11,

9 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; 10 and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.

Here with the Lord are those who have run their race as faithful Christian soldiers. They have died as faithful witnesses, martyrs.  Their concern is for justice—understandably so! They not only were killed unjustly on account of loving Christ, they are also now subjected to seeing others mistreated and even killed in the same unjust way.  Like Abel’s, their blood cries out.

But what is God’s reply to them? It is wait. But it isn’t a simple wait to which God is calling His people.  It is a specific wait.  It is a redemptive wait.  While the martyred saints are crying out for God’s justice, God is saying wait for my full mercy.  They cry for justice because God’s mercy is taking too long.

What this means is that God is certainly as aware as they are of the injustices against His people.  Heck, He is infinitely more aware of injustice than they could ever be!  The reason He does not act in the face of such injustice is that He is more focused for now on accomplishing the fullness of redemption.  “Be patient,” he tells His faithful.  “I have more aliens and strangers yet to adopt into our family.  As time welcomes them into history, I will be dispatching the Holy Spirit to give them eternity.  In the meantime, while that is taking place for my children, other injustices will occur. Don’t worry. I am keeping track and will repay. Vengeance is mine.  For now, trust me while I work through time to complete our family.”

We want justice while God is working redemption.  To say it another way, the only reason God delays justice is so He can fully express His mercy toward His people.  A God like that is worthy of our trust and our patient endurance.

So, I wait for my baby boys.  And I wait for the further redemption of Crystal’s death and Tommy’s loss. 

For Your Own Good


So, did your parents ever tell you to do something you didn’t want to do, using the rationale, “This is for your own good”?  Yeah, mine did, too.  We had to go apologize when the rest of our friends did not.  We had to work while they got to play.  We got the spankings… all for our own good.

I am confessing publicly today that my parents were right.  It was (and is) for my own good.  Discipline is good. Order is good.  Having one in authority over us who will tell us what to do is good, even though we will often either not accept such authority, or we will act is thought we do not want it.  Still, it is for our own good.

The Lord, through Moses, teaches this to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 10:13, telling them to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which the Lord has commanded them for their own good. I can imagine that some of the people grumbled inwardly at having to obey.  After all, the other nations got to have temple prostitutes and many wives.  Why obey the rules of God?

Well, we could sit around and slander the silliness of ancient Israel, but it would only serve to act as a salve over the wounds our own open rebellion against God.  How many times have we felt burdened because we have had to withdraw from the gossip sessions?  We have had to depart from the parties?  We don’t get to watch the same movies.  We don’t drink the same drinks or smoke the same smokes.  Don’t, don’t, don’t.  Isn’t it true that we have murmured against our parents—and even against God—because it seems that the message of faith is Don’t?

We aren’t so different from Israel.  We, too, forget that the commandments come in the form of a deep and loving concern for our souls.  DO the commandments for your own good. When we grumble about what we don’t get to do, we demonstrate that we have forgotten the goodness of God.  We think of commands as burdens, oppressive templates imposed on us from above which intend to stifle our freedoms.  But commands are not meant to stifle us.  They are meant to free us to the full flourishing of the children of God.

Obey the commands of God.  They are not burdensome.  They are designed to set you free in a way unlike anything else under the sun (John 8:31-32).  The commands will reveal to you greater truth and greater freedom.  The commands of God will demonstrate His great goodness and perfect love.  Obey the commands of God for your own good.

Swimming in Paradise Lost (Part 2)


Here is the point I am trying to make with this illustration of my sister’s suffering.  My sin of not honoring my mother’s commands caused both me and my sister to suffer a pretty nasty switching.  And it wasn’t unjust.  The responsibility was on me to make sure I had secured permission and that the matter was settled in my favor.  I should never have given an authoritative word to my sister without making the veracity of that word certain.

Mine was a sin of carelessness which cost my sister.  In Numbers 14, it was sins of rebellion which caused further suffering for the children of Israel.  As a penalty for their rebellion, the Lord determined that the adults of Israel who had been miraculously delivered from Egypt would not be allowed to enter the promised land.  Their children would be brought into the promised land, but they would not.

Can you imagine the pain and suffering of those 40 years in the wilderness?  Grandparents died.  Parents died.  Elder siblings died.  Israel was doomed to wander in the wilderness until all these people died.  As Numbers 14:33 says, “Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness.”  Just as all have suffered since the time of Adam and Eve on account of sin, so, too, Israelites suffered because their parents disobeyed God.

While it is true (as Ezekiel says) that “the soul which sins shall die,” meaning that each person stands before the Lord on His own, it is also true that  no one enters Heaven based on the good works of his parents.  No one enters Hell based on the bad deeds of his father.  It is appointed once that each person should die, and after that comes the judgment.

Still, we must not forget what the poet Donne taught us, “No man is an island.”  No one exists to himself.  No one’s actions are completely independent of others.  Folks who think their sins are their own and don’t hurt others simply demonstrate that they have no care or concern for others because all sin infects and injures others.  Just as my poor decision caused my sister to face the wrath of Momma, so, too, will our sinful actions cause others to suffer.  And, this especially the case with our children.

As parents, we have a special obligation to model upright behavior for our children.  I was telling someone the other day that I had an opportunity to sky dive one day, and I turned it down because it wasn’t worth the risk to me. I wasn’t afraid of dying—that isn’t the risk I am speaking about.  Rather, for me, skydiving was not worth the risk to my children.  (At that time, I had 2 little ones at home).  No amount of thrill for me would have been worth leaving them here without a father.  If something would have happened, my children would have suffered because of a poor decision I made.  I would have exchanged their opportunity of having a complete family for a one-time shot of adrenaline (or dopamine, or whatever you get from jumping).

How much more is it the case that when we knowingly sin—bringing drugs, drunkenness, pornography, adultery, and fornication into our homes—we cause our own children to suffer.  When marriages dissolve, children suffer.  When cheap sex ends in abortion, a child dies.  Mothers (who might have been) often suffer terribly after abortions.  And fathers suffer, too.  I know.  I have spoken to them in private after abortions.  You don’t know who they are, but I know them.  I know there is terrible suffering because of sin, and it isn’t isolated to the sinner himself.  It spreads to others like a snake’s venom spreads throughout the body, poisoning it to death.

Each one of us must answer to the Lord for our sins.  Each one of us also suffers in this life because of consequences from the sins of others.  And each one of us ought to remember that our sins are not our own.  So, as we swim in our little corners of paradise, let us remember that paradise has been lost (for now).  So, we must be careful to swim according to Christ if we wish to swim in the new and true paradise.  There is great joy–paradise indeed–in the presence of God.  Let us always remember to do our swimming there, surrounded by the beauty of His holiness.