Entertainment Detox

Three years ago, Steph and I decided to cancel our TV subscription and try Netflix instead. We did this primarily for two reasons – we were getting tired of all the filth and profanity on TV and secondly, it would save us a few bucks. For the most part, we were happy with Netflix because we were able to watch our kinds of shows and without all the commercials. Last year we switched from Netflix to Amazon Prime, once again because it was cheaper. Still, we weren’t entirely satisfied. We were able to watch good, wholesome shows and movies, but something was still missing. Our solution was to take the month of January and watch nothing at all. That’s right – no TV for a full month (some of you are probably gasping right now).

One month later, having met our goal, I can honestly say we barely missed the TV at all. TV for us was almost exclusively an evening activity, after the kids went to sleep. It was our time to relax and kick back, but the problem was it was costing up precious time to talk with one another. The funny thing is that just this morning Steph was even talking about getting rid of the TV all together. I don’t think we will be going back to our old TV watching ways anytime soon.

In the book, Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper offers the following:

Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the ads are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust, no matter what program you’re watching. The greater problem is banality. A mind fed daily on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. Its facility for this great calling is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial and so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers, and the capacity of the heart to feel deep emotions shrivels.” (page 120)

I would encourage you to examine your entertainment viewing habits. I am not saying you should give up TV and entertainment completely, but simply to take a serious, sober look at your entertainment consumption. Our Lord only gives us a short time here on earth – may we use every moment to His glory.

Should I Purchase a Kindle e-reader? – A Pastor’s Perspective

About a year and a half ago, we moved from Ohio to Waverly, NY. A team of four men (now all dear friends) were gracious enough to come and move us to our new home and church family. The big joke during (and for months after) the move was the amount of books I had – from my estimates between 800-900 volumes. The jokes still haven’t stopped but I really don’t mind. I love to read and books are just part of my toolkit.

It was around the time of our move, however, that I realized I had a bit of a problem. From the beginning, my new office was full of books and there was no room to grow my book collection. So I came up with the idea of replacing old and unused books with newer and better books. This has proved to be an effective solution as my library today contains better quality content books, even though the quantity of books has platowed, and even decreased a little.

Now, let’s get to the Kindle.

I have always been a late adapter when it comes to technology. In terms of books, I envisioned myself using traditional hard copy books long after the e-book, e-reader revolution. However, to my surprise that has changed. It all started when my wife downloaded the kindle app for our computers several months ago. Since that time, we have accumulated dozens of good books for a very reasonable price, sometimes even for free. While it took a while for us to get used to this new reading medium, I could see it’s value, something early adaptors foresaw years ago. Then last month my wife and I finally decided to purchase Kindle e-readers and we have quite enjoyed our new devices.

There are many tools and functions of the Kindle, especially if you have the Kindle Fire version. I am sure there are people who barely use it for reading at all. However, my concern in this review is the Kindle as an e-reader. It’s benefits are many, but allow me to just name a few.

First off, the reader can store hundreds of books on one device. If you travel a lot, this will prove especially useful. Another benefit is the adjustable font size to meet your reading preferences. Last week a pastor friend of mine told me that using an e-reader has helped him in his bible reading, as he no longer strains to read the text. I would also add that the Kindle is easy to navigate is incredibly light. If you are like me and have some big tomes that are not easy to hold, this is especially nice. Lastly, if you find a good quote that you want to use in your teaching or preaching, it is easy to copy and paste, and much quicker than copying word for word. I have already taken advantage of this a few times.

I would still recommend getting a hard copy book if you know it’s going to be a reference book – one that you will consult again and again. I often enjoy marking up my books as I interact with and think through the books content. And while you can do that with an e-reader, I still find it easier with a hard copy book. I would also warn against over collecting. If you are used to buying $10-20 books, $5-10 books (or cheaper) can be tempting, but a book’s true value is in actually being read. As King Solomon reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). It’s not how many books you have that matters, it’s the quality of books you have, and being able to master those books.

You probably already know there are several excellent e-readers on the market today. My intention is not to promote the Kindle so much as it is to recommend purchasing an e-reader in general. I expect that traditional, hard copy books will always be a part of my library, but I have now made the switch to regularly using an e-reader and I don’t regret it.

Blogging….Some Thoughts

Hard to believe, but I’ve been blogging for about 4 and a half years. Way back in March of 2009 I started up and it’s been an interesting journey. There have been a few times where I was ready to quit but I kept at it and looking back I am glad I did. To my surprise the readership of this blog continues to grow and I now have a database of over 400 articles that I often find myself referencing for ministry purposes.  Anyway, here are a few thoughts on my journey in blogging.

  1. It’s fun.  I enjoy organizing and recording my thoughts with the hope of stimulating good, Christian thought.  Douglas Wilson said that the reason he blogs is to make the thoughts in his head go away and I can relate to that. 
  2. It’s challenging.  There are millions of blogs and websites and we only have so much time to spend surfing the net.  We also live in a sound bite culture where our attention spans have shortened and if you are a writer, you only have so much time to grab the reader and convince them this is something worth spending a few minutes on.  It’s also a challenge to be clear and concise.  I don’t want to waste your time but I also have to make my case.  There is also the knowledge that as soon as I hit “publish,” what I have written is suddenly “out there” on the world-wide-web and I want to be sure that I really meant what I said.   
  3. It’s ironic that I’m blogging because I don’t consider myself a “techy” kind of guy.  I do love to write, but my wife is much more technologically inclined than I am (by the way, she has been super-helpful to me in this and I need to give credit where credit is due – thanks Honey!).  Also, wordpress.com is easy to use and operate which is a blessing.  
  4. I want to keep this blog gospel-centered.  If Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:21) and His Church (Matthew 16:18) is not the focus, then I am only wasting my time and your time.
  5. I realize that a blog called “Standing for the Truth” may not be the first choice for a child of post-modernity.  I grew up in a generation that does not like to think in terms of “objective truth” or anything that makes claims on our lives.  But as I read and study the scriptures, it is clear that we must take a stand for gospel truth (Ephesians 6:10-18).
  6. Blogging is only supplemental to my role as husband, father and pastor. Going hardcore has been a temptation for me in the past. I could try to post something everyday, but I have come to realize this is not my primary calling. Ministry and family come first and I really only have an hour or two each week that I can devote to the blog.  At the same time, what I write is an overflow of my life and ministry.  Often what ends up on the blog was originally sermon content or a discussion in one of our Bible studies.

Thanks for stopping by the blog – whether you are first time visitor or have followed for some time now. I trust that what you have read has been encouraging and challenging and that God has been glorified through it all.   

Twitter, Social Media, and True Influence

I have always been a late adaptor when it comes to technology and social media. For example, I waited several years before joining Facebook. When I finally joined back in 2009, one of my college friends joked, “Welcome to 2006, Dan!” Well, after several years of holding out, I finally decided to give another social media sensation a try – Twitter. Someone invited me to join so I thought why not give it a try? Long story short, I closed my Twitter account after only 1 week and 6 “tweets”.

I was surprised by all the random people who signed up to follow my account. Why did these people want to follow me? As I looked into their accounts, I noticed that many of them were following thousands of other people. Sure, they had thousands of followers themselves, but I found it curious that they were following so many people on Twitter. Obviously, they weren’t truly “following” them, which means it was more about self-promotion than anything. “I’ll sign up to follow you, and then you sign up to follow me, ok?” That’s the kind of game they were playing.

To be sure, not everyone on Twitter is like this. I’m sure that some people use Twitter for noble purposes. It certainly doesn’t encourage sustained critical thought (a maximum of 140 characters per tweet), but for some, it is a useful tool for sharing information and I am not necessarily suggesting you close your Twitter account. However, as the digital age continues to transform our society and particularly, how we communicate, there are few things we need to keep in mind as Christians.

First, be careful not to let the technology rule you. Social media can be a great time waster. I remember reading a blog post by a Christian leader announcing that he had just reached 20000 tweets. It doesn’t take long to produce a tweet (or Facebook post), but I can’t help but think this guy wasted a lot of time on his way to 20,000 tweets. Although you might think the world needs to know what you had for lunch, the truth is, no one really cares, regardless of how many followers or friends you have. Be careful not to let social media (or anything) take you away from what is most important.

Second, measuring one’s influence by the number of Twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or blog hits-per-day is not a good measuring stick. Stats and numbers can be very seductive and we must not fall into the trap of equating them with influence. Most of the time, we never really know how God used a particular post. There are times where people comment and join the conversation, but most of the time, the best thing we can do is surrender our work over to God and say – use this (whatever it may be).

Third, our influence is often best realized in one to one relationships. For example, two people studying the Word of God together can be flat out powerful (check out Acts 8:30-35)! In the Gospels, we see how Jesus modeled this with the disciples. If anyone ever had the ability to draw a crowd, it was Jesus. On occasion Jesus did preach to the masses, but his main focus was investing in the Twelve, and to a lesser extent, the 72 (Luke 10:1). For Christian leaders today, there is the temptation to focus more your social media network than on discipling a few people in your church. As you crunch the numbers, there is a very simple reason we are inclined to think this way. I can reach hundreds with a blog post (for some of you thousands), while I can only reach 2 or 3 or 4 in one-to-one discipleship. So which is a better stewardship of my time? Well actually, unless you are John Piper or Albert Mohler, the best use of your time will be in one-to-one discipling and in focusing on your weekly preaching and teaching responsibilities. As the maxim goes, we have to have a big enough vision to think small.

Fourth, find time to get away from the computer and social media and all the distractions the world offers. As a late adaptor, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t yet have a mobile device like an iphone or an android. I just have a plain old cell phone and it serves me well. However, I still struggle to pull myself away from the computer at times. If you have a curious mind, the internet can be a serious distraction and it can have the effect of tuning out the voice of Jesus in your life. Don’t rely upon the internet or social media for your information feed. Instead, develop a rich devotional life with daily time for just you and God, without the distractions of the outside world.

Fifth, if you are going to tell the world something via social media, blogging, or some other form of media, make sure it is something worth saying. There is a lot of information floating around in cyberspace and if you are going to add to it, make sure it’s edifying. Every once in a while, our church has a testimony time and sometimes I encourage our people to follow the ABC’s of sharing. It should be Audible, Brief, and Christ-centered. I think this fits for our discussion here. No point in wasting your time or someone else’s either. And if it’s not Christ-centered, then it’s really not that important.

I quit “tweeting”, but I haven’t given up on blogging (obviously), Facebook (at least yet), or of utilizing of our modern communication mediums. If you are a pastor, my advice is to focus on the things that Pastors have always focused on – prayer, the Word, and on training up the next generation of leaders (2 Timothy 2:2). By all means, use modern technology to accomplish that, just make sure you are not “used” by the technology.

Discipleship in the 21st Century

The digital explosion has changed the world forever. There are now about 2.3 billion people who have access to the internet and over 800 million people who are on Facebook. There are countless gadgets and devices now on the market that 15 years ago would have sounded silly. Even something like a blog (weblog) would have sounded like a strange concept back in the 90’s.

It’s amazing how the internet has shrunk the globe. It never ceases to amaze me the people who find their way onto this blog. In just the last week alone, there were visitors from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Cambodia, Taiwan, Brazil, Poland, Iceland, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Ghana, in addition to North America. Obviously, the internet has been used for a lot of very bad things, but God has also used this tool for the furtherance of the gospel.

Let me give you an example of redeeming technology for the purpose of discipleship. Recently, a good friend of mine by the name of James had an idea. He wanted to be able to study the bible together with some brothers in Christ, one of them being yours truly. The problem is that James lives in Calgary, I’m in Ohio, and our friend Bruce is in Vancouver. James’ solution to this problem was to open a blog and download the Psalms onto the blog. Our plan is (we are just getting started) to read the Psalms together, comment on what we are learning, and sharpen one another in the Lord (Proverbs 27:17). This is a really simple idea, but it can be effective. Any time Christians use technology to draw them into the Word of God, it’s a good thing.

Just so you know, I am not in favor of the growing digital church (multi-site) movement. If you are not part of a church, then join a solid, Bible-believing, gospel-centered church. It’s great to have brothers and sisters around the world in Christ, but these  types of relationships should never substitute for involvement in a local church. The Bible tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

There are all kinds of ways the digital explosion is being used to spread gospel truth around the globe. I praise God for that and I pray that the people of God would continue to find creative ways to practice discipleship. Whatever the medium, the bottom line is this – we must sit at the feet of our Master (Luke 10:39) and listen to His teaching and be empowered by His grace (Titus 2:11-14).

The End of Print?

This morning I read the following:

“Encyclopedia Britannica says it will stop publishing print editions of its flagship encyclopedia.

The Chicago-based company announced on Tuesday that the encyclopedia would not be available in book form for the first time in 244 years. The company will continue to publish digital versions.”

For many of you, this will not come as a surprise. The demise of print has been long forecasted and Britannica is just one more example of the dominance of the digital format. I, for one, am not too thrilled about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the benefits that come from living in a digital world, but I also love books – hardcopy books. I love the feel of books. I love marking up books. Sometimes I even love the smell of books. But the distribution of books has changed. Whether it’s a good change is still up for debate.

Recently, my sister and brother-in-law gave us a gift card to a bookstore. Rather than buy regular books and incur the shipping costs, Steph and I thought – why not get an e-book and save the shipping costs? So that’s what we did and now we each have books on our computers. I guess you might call me a “late adapter” when it comes to technology, but it’s hard not to see the benefits of using digital e-readers. For one, it’s nice not having to cart around and store more books. It’s surprisingly easy to navigate and can be more accessible to you. But if the end of the print world ever happens, it will be a sad day for me. And while it doesn’t seem like the publishing world is slowing down, it has changed dramatically over the last decade. Witness the closing of bookstore giant Borders last year.

What does the future hold for print? I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you no matter how predominant and “reader-friendly” the e-readers become, I will always prefer the real thing to the digital version. Like anyone, I appreciate the benefits of digital technology, but if I had a copy of the same book on my computer and in print, you guessed it – I’m going to read the print version. You can call me old fashion – that’s just me.

Some thoughts on the death of Steve Jobs

Jesus once asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:36-37).” These questions came to mind yesterday after I heard the news of Jobs’ death.

Jobs died Wednesday at the age of 56 after a long battle with cancer. What Jobs accomplished in his life is nothing short of remarkable. Recently, Apple Inc. (the company he founded and led) surpassed Exon Mobil as the most valuable company on the planet. Jobs is deserving of much of the credit for the phenomenal rise of the once “small” computer company.

Blogger Albert Mohler writes:

“The death of Steve Jobs, founder and iconic leader of Apple, is a signal moment in the lives of the “Digital Generation,” which Jobs, along with a very few other creative geniuses, made possible. Few individuals of any historical epoch can claim to have changed the way so many people live their lives, do their work, and engage the products of the culture.

Jobs was one of the most influential cultural creatives of all time. If that seems like an exaggeration, it is only because the products that Jobs and Apple brought into being have become so familiar that they appear as the furnishings of contemporary lives. The personal computer was not invented by Steve Jobs, but he saw the possibility of integrated systems that would allow personal creativity to blossom. He saw products that customers did not even know they needed — and then released the products to the public, creating entire new markets and unleashing an explosion of worldwide technological creativity.”

Steve Jobs was indeed, a “creative genius.” The Creator God blessed Jobs with rare abilities and he certainly made use of those abilities, but the question that I have been asking myself ever since his death is – to what end? If anyone could claim to have gained the world, it was Jobs, but was it really worth it?

Apart from a deathbed conversion, it is likely that Jobs, in the words of Jesus, “forfeited his soul.” There is no indication that he ever repented or gave his life to Christ. This means that on Wednesday, Jobs entered into a lost eternity. While we can’t help but be impressed by his earthly accomplishments, as a follower of Christ, I am deeply saddened that Steve Jobs died without the hope of heaven and the hope of eternal life.

The bible says, “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) If he hasn’t already, Jobs will soon meet his Maker and I fear that he won’t be covered with the blood of Christ. His life will be an open book before Almighty God and there will be no excuses. The only way to be spared from the wrath of God is to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Friend, don’t wait another day to give your life to Christ. Like, Steve Jobs, you might have enjoyed a life marked by success, riches, and perhaps even some fame. But in the end, none of that will matter. After all, “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Don’t waste your life – repent and turn to Christ before its too late.