Tools for Healthier Screen Use

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I recently heard a person on the radio remark that in this moment, right now, we are using the least-advanced technology we will know moving forward. It is hard to imagine what our technology will be capable of in ten years, but one thing is certain: it isn’t going away.

Our church recently hosted a public forum for our city called Life Through A Screen: The Benefits, Risks, and Wounds of the Internet. We live in a world of screens. Many of us use them daily for work and the rest of life too. Using technology in God-honoring and safe ways is a skill we must learn. We are the first generation to address the unique benefits and pitfalls of this technological age. Here are some helpful tools.

One of the forum speakers, Dr. Mark Pfuetze, shared a page he created with helpful resources. I’m incorporating resources from his list along with a few others:

Resources for Good Screen Health:

Online Filters for Computers and Mobile Devices:

  • Covenant Eyes: Allows you to have your internet history ranked and sent to accountability partners of your own choosing.
  • Net Nanny: A parental control site.

Understanding Pornography:

Need Help? Counseling Resources:

 

We Shall Be Residents, Not Tourists

If you took me to the most glorious place on earth, I can promise you this: at some point I will long to leave and go back home.

One of the realities we celebrate when we think about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection is how all things will be made new. Scripture tells us there will one day be a new heavens and a new earth, and there the people of God will have glorified bodies. Perhaps you’ve wondered, as I have, if this means that in the life to come we’ll have the wisdom of the aged, bodies of 21 year olds, the metabolism of 15 year olds, and the energy of children.

It can be fun to try to imagine what our eternal destiny as the children of God will be like—the geography, the city of God, our glorified bodies, and the sweetness of a “New Earth” sun-ripened peach. But we make a mistake if we think of our eternal destiny as something more like a vacation at the beach than our home.

A number of years ago, my parents moved from the midwest to an island on the Atlantic coast. At least once a year my wife and I load the kids into the car and drive out for a week with my folks on the beach—a glorious, relaxing, and funky-smelling magical land of sunburned noses, fresh seafood, playful dolphins, and moonlit beach-walks.

But guess what happens after we’ve been there for a while? We start to feel a hunger for home. For all the beauty, fun, and relaxation the beach has to offer, the place itself cannot capture our hearts in the way home does. Why is this? Because home isn’t just where we keep our things. It is where we experience life. Our friends are there. Our work. Our church. And so also our struggles. Our worries. Our routines.

Home is where we belong. Home is where we see the flaws in our friends and the cracks in our city’s foundation. It is where we wound each other and then consider whether or not to circle back and pursue healing. This side of glory, home is the place where people most clearly see what Paul describes as my corruption, dishonor, and weakness (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). In other words, my home is where people most clearly see me as I really am. Same goes for you.

Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, 1 Corinthians 13:8-12. These Scriptures don’t talk about the life to come as though it is an extended vacation in a place that is not our home. One of the most glorious implications of the resurrection of Jesus is that those whose lives are joined to him in his death and resurrection will themselves be changed in such a way we will be a perfect match for all the glory the New Heavens and New earth call for. In the life to come, we will be at home.

Just as heaven and earth will be made new—so will we. Not just our bodies, but our hearts and perspectives too. We will not be tourists in God’s eternal glory—but residents.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

The Walking Contradiction: A Good Friday Meditation

[Author Note: This is audio and transcript of the short homily I gave at Christ Presbyterian Church during our Good Friday Service.]

Peter blustered in protest, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you.” All the others said the same.[1]

I say the same too. Perhaps you do as well.

Peter was so certain that he would never collapse. He was so certain that his resolve to follow Jesus could bear up under any weight. He was one of Jesus’ inner three—present at the transfiguration,[2] in the room when Jesus raised little Talitha from the dead,[3] the first to confess that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, [4] and the only disciple to actually walk on water with his Lord on the choppy surface of the Sea of Galilee.[5]

He was so certain. Even if he had to die with Jesus, he would never deny him. Never.

And yet, by the time the rooster crowed the following morning, Peter stood in the rubble of his own buckled self-image.[6]

Peter is not a character in a novel—a work of fiction. He was a real person, as real as any of us. He had moments of profound spiritual awareness, and he had moments of unimaginable spiritual collapse. He was a walking contradiction—a man of duplicity and faith. He really loved and believed in Jesus, and he really failed and denied Jesus.

For anyone in this room who professes faith in Jesus, we are the same. Every single follower of Christ, from the beginning, until now, and continuing on until He returns, is a living contradiction—we love him and believe in him, and we fail him and deny him.

What is the specific temptation or failure you look at and say, “Even if I have to die, I would never deny you by doing that”? What is the thing you believe you are incapable of doing? The transgression you would never commit? It is important for us to be honest about this question, because that inconceivable offense—that “low” to which we know we would never stoop— has the power to lure us into an even deeper denial— the self-confidence that there are some areas of our lives that did not require the events of this day.

When we start saying to Jesus, “I need you to inspire me. I need you to teach me. I need you to correct me in some areas, and show me how to live” but do not say, “and I need you to die for me, to deal not only with the sins I commit, but also with that part of me that so willingly permits my rebellion against you,” we empty Good Friday of its meaning. We render this day a tragedy, but not a victory. When Peter said, “I will never deny you. That’s not in me to do,” he was saying, in part, “I don’t need what you are about to do—at least not as much as others might.”

We’re not sinners because we commit sins. We commit sins because we are sinners. Sin is a condition of the heart before it is an act of the will. Those years Jesus had with Peter were not spent in order to teach Peter how to stay strong in the face of fear—how to commit fewer sins. They were given so that Jesus could be the sacrifice that would atone for Peter’s sin condition—which included both his pride and his duplicity.

This shines light on two beautiful truths.

First, Jesus knew the measure of Peter’s pride, as he does of yours and mine, and he laid down his life for his proud friend. Peter’s swagger and bravado—his self-assurance that he would never deny Jesus—was one aspect of Peter’s sinfulness for which Christ came to atone. Pride: it was the first sin humanity every committed, and as Augustine said, it is also the last to fall in each one of us. We kick habits and implement self-disciplined new ones, and pride says, “See, look at how good you are. You’ve got this.” Jesus went to the cross for those of us whose sin is the proud self-confidence that we didn’t need him to. Disciples are not people who would never deny Jesus. They are people who come to believe they would, and have—and if Christ doesn’t keep them, they will be lost.

Second, Jesus knew the measure of Peter’s duplicity, as he does of yours and mine, and laid down his life for his fearful friend. The fact that Jesus named Peter’s betrayal before it happened is a mercy. Jesus saw through his friend, as he does with all of us. He knows where we are prone to wander away. He knows the situations that are fertile soil for our hypocrisy. He knows we are deniers. He is faithful to deniers. Paul wrote to Timothy, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny who he is.”[7] Christians are walking contradictions—believers and deniers at the same time. Peter denied being a denier before he denied knowing Jesus. All the others did the same.

And yet, Jesus walked on past his disciples’ fears and failures to the place where he would atone for them. They followed as we often do—from a distance, afraid of getting too close. But he went on. Tonight we remember what he went on to do.

Conclusion:

When this Good Friday service is over we will all leave in silence. We will have walked through the events of this good, dark day. We will hear about Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane,[8] his betrayal and arrest,[9] Peter’s denial,[10] Pontius Pilate’s decision to crucify the Lord,[11] Jesus’ crucifixion and his death.[12]

And although in a few days we will celebrate Easter, tonight we will leave the story with a dead Christ. We will not resolve the tension. It is good for us, on this night to remember the weight of the sacrifice of our Lord for the walking contradictions he loves. We will leave here feeling as though, like Jesus’s body in the tomb, our own hearts are buried.

Why? Because the events we are talking about tonight really happened. Really. Before night set in on that first Good Friday, soldiers would thrust a spear into Jesus’ side to make sure he was dead. Then they would permit Joseph of Arimathea to take Jesus’ body down from the cross and bury him in a nearby grave.[13] They would seal the grave with a large round stone built to roll like a giant wheel into place, covering the mouth of the tomb. That night it would seat with a heavy thump.

And everyone, EVERYONE, expected that he would remain in that tomb, because that’s what happens with those who are dead and buried. They stay dead and they stay buried.

[1] Mark 14:31

[2] Matthew 17:1-13

[3] Mark 5:21-43

[4] Luke 9:18-22

[5] Matthew 14:22-33

[6] Matthew 26:69-75

[7] 2 Timothy 2:13

[8] Matthew 26:36-44

[9] Matthew 26:45-50, 55-56

[10] Matthew 26:69-75

[11] Matthew 27:1-2, 24-26

[12] John 19:17-18, 25-27, Matthew 27:45-50

[13] John 19:31-42

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

The Question Good Friday Asks of Us

Good Friday, the Friday of Holy Week, puts to us this question: Who do you say Jesus is?

Late Thursday night in Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested—betrayed by one of his own disciples and abandoned by the rest. The Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin called for secret trials in the dead of night, and the verdict handed down was that Jesus would be crucified. This was an official order the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, would have to give. And reluctantly, on Friday morning, he did just that.

After a severe beating, Jesus was nailed to a cross where he would remain for six hours until dead.

He was crucified between two thieves. As he hung there, weak, bloody, and exposed, people from the crowd taunted and mocked him—scoffing that if he really was the Son of God, then why didn’t he come down from the Cross. They could not begin to fathom the irony of their logic. That cross was the reason the Son of God had come, and his place as our atoning sacrifice was one only he could occupy. It was his presence on the cross, not his ability to come down from it, that would soon prove his divinity. They knew not what they did.

One of the thieves started in with contemptuous words of his own, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself. Save us!” But the gravity of the scene settled on the other thief as he watched Jesus respond to the brutality of his captors with a prayer for mercy. The thief also watched Jesus give his own grieving mother to his treasured friend. Seeing the grace by which Jesus received this death, the second thief broke into sobs, saying to him, “Forgive me. I am here for the wrongs I have done, but you have done nothing. Please, remember me when you pass from this place into your waiting kingdom.”

At around 3:00pm, Jesus died.

Never before or since has more been lost and gained at the same time as at Jesus’ crucifixion. The world gained the atoning sacrifice of Christ. But for many of those present, their hearts broke because the one they believed to be the Savior of the world was dying at the hands of men. They couldn’t stop it and they didn’t yet realize he was dying for them. Many had put their hope in him, and though he had told them earlier that he would suffer many things and rise three days later (Mark 8:31), how could they have possibly known this was what he meant?

The reactions of the condemned men crucified on either side of Jesus and those gathered at the foot of the cross tell the story of every man when it comes to what we make of his crucifixion. The cross of Jesus confronts us all with the question of the true identity of Christ. Times of desperation can harden us or soften us, but the question of Easter never goes away: Who do you say that Jesus is?

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

The Scent of Opulent Grace

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On that Wednesday evening of that first Easter week, Mark writes, “While Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the Leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head” (Mark 14:3). John tells us she used about one pound of this “nard.”

First, some context: What is nard? Nard is an oil-based perfume that is extracted from spikenard, a flower that grows in the Himalayas of China, and also in the northern regions of India and Nepal. In Jesus’ day, it carried both medicinal and hygienic value. As a perfume, it was intensely aromatic and of a thick consistency, sort of like honey, only oily instead of sticky.

In our convenient world of electrical sockets and running water, we take for granted our ability to shower when we stink. This wasn’t available in Jesus’ day, so people often masked their body odors with oils. This is where you get references in scripture that talk about men putting oil on their heads (Matthew 6:17, Luke 7:46). It was a customary sign of hospitality to offer perfumed oils to guests in your home, like we might offer someone a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

With this context in mind, imagine the results of this woman’s actions after the dinner was over. What happens when a woman pours a pound of thick, richly aromatic, oil-based perfume on the head of a man who doesn’t shower every morning? He takes that scent with him when he leaves. It coats his hair. It trickles down his beard and neck and onto his back and chest. It gets in his pores. At rest, he is a walking diffuser. When he brushes his neck, the scent is agitated and released into the air like a scratch-&-sniff sticker.

So what if the scent that filled the room at Simon the Leper’s house stayed with Jesus and also filled the Upper Room the next night? Can you think of a reason it wouldn’t have? I can’t. What if, as Jesus wound through the narrow city streets of Jerusalem, the scent of that perfume lingered mysteriously in the air like a spirit after he had disappeared from sight?

And what if, after his arrest, as he was stripped down for the cat-o’-nine tails, the scent of this Himalayan flower was released into the air with every blow, filling the courtyard with an aroma that made everyone ask themselves, “What is that fragrance? Is that nard?”

And what if the scent followed the cross to Golgotha along the Via Dolorosa? What if as Jesus hung on the cross dying, every time he pushed himself up for a breath, the nard came to life again? That would have to be one very expensive application of one very intensely aromatic perfume. Even a year’s wage worth.

Imagine that as the Man of Sorrows died on that hill outside Jerusalem, surrounded by Roman soldiers, confused disciples, grieving friends, and self-righteous men whose entire lives were one big exercise in missing the point, imagine that the scent of extravagant opulence hung in the air.

It would be just like God to do this. Why? Because the cross is the most extravagant example of opulence ever offered, and because the scent of the opulence of his gift of life still hangs in the air today. Where? In his people. Paul puts it this way:

“Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

Easter is more than a story. It is a present reality. My Redeemer lives. And he calls me to a new life, not only in the world to come, but even now.

May we never forget what the opulence of God makes us.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

Easter Week in Real Time

As we prepare to enter into Holy Week—that sacred span from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, here is a day by day breakdown of what the Scripture tell us happened on each day. Use this guide to lead you through scripture reading this week.

 

Palm Sunday

(For the full account of the events of this day, see Matt 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, John 12:9-19.)

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem perched up on a colt on Palm Sunday, it was the first time since raising Lazarus from the dead that He’d shown His face in the city. The story of Lazarus’ resurrection had circulated so that even those who only heard about it later regarded Jesus as a celebrity.  Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus. They went out to meet Him and received Him like a King, because they heard He had done this (John 12:18).

Jesus said Lazarus’ death would end in the faith of many, and in the “glory of God—that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). But the glory He had in mind was even more glorious than His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  In fact, He wasn’t referring to the glory these people gave Him at all. Lazarus’ resurrection would steel the resolve of the religious leaders to hand Jesus over to a death He would freely accept—a death He would conquer.  That was the glory He meant. As He rode into Jerusalem, the people cried, “Your King is coming!” They praised His victory over Lazarus’ death.  But the irony was that He wasn’t coming to claim His crown on account of Lazarus’ death and resurrection, but on account of His own.

 

Monday        

(For the full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 21:12-22, Mark 11:12-19, Luke 19:45-48.)

If Jerusalem was a beehive, with His triumphal entry the day before, Jesus had hit it with a stick and you could hear the buzz grow as the anger within got organized. With that kingly arrival, He made a strong declaration about His authority over all the conventions of man.

On Monday, He returns for more, this time to declare the failure of His own people to live up to the covenantal mandate God had given them to be a blessing to the world.  Much of what the Gospels tell us about Monday centers on the theme of Jesus’ authority—both over the created world and in His right to pass judgment over it.  Everything Jesus did He did with authority. So when He woke His disciples Monday saying He wanted go back into Jerusalem to teach, as risky as it sounded it wasn’t surprising. But everyone sensed something stirring, as if Jesus had rounded a corner and His end was coming fast.  He was a marked man.

 

Tuesday       

(For the full account of the events of this day, see Matt 21:23-26:5, Mark 11:27-14:2, Luke 20:1-22:2, John 12:37-50.)

If Monday’s arrival in the temple was marked by Jesus’ all inclusive, living parable of cleansing God’s house, Tuesday’s entrance is marked by a direct, verbal confrontation with the appointed leadership. After Jesus makes the point that He refuses to regard these leaders as having any authority over Him, He elects to spend the rest of the day right there in the temple so that He might teach the people the word of God.  But Tuesday afternoon would be the last time Jesus would publicly teach in the temple as a free man. His words on this day would be His closing argument—His manifesto.

When Jesus left the temple that Tuesday, “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth and kill him” (Mark 14:1). But they couldn’t take His life from Him solely on the strength of the charges they meant to bring—not if He defended Himself. But He would not. Instead, by His silence, He’d offer up His life for a world of blasphemers and traitors and liars who so desperately needed to be upset. This was what He had come to do, and as He left the temple that Tuesday afternoon, He knew He would do it soon.

 

Wednesday

(For the full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 26:6-16, Mark 14:3-11, Luke 22:3-6.)

The past several days have been a rush of tension and anger for Jesus’ opponents and of unflinching resolve for Jesus. Words have been His currency, and He has spent piles of them. But on the Wednesday before His death, Jesus was still. 

He was in the home of Simon the Leper, a man known by what was wrong with him. During their meal together, Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister (John 12:3), came to Jesus with an alabaster flask of perfume. She had been saving this perfume, worth a year’s wages, for this very occasion (John 12:7). She began to pour the perfume on Jesus’ head and feet, which required breaking open its container (Mark 14:3). Like popping the cork on a $20,000 bottle of champagne, this was a very intentional act. She was there to deliberately offer Jesus everything she had. By giving to Jesus her most valuable possession, she was expressing that she knew what He was about to give of Himself was for her. 

What Mary did was beautiful and Jesus wanted everyone to know it. She was preparing Him for burial. There was honor and kindness in her gesture. He returned the honor by saying history would never forget her act of beauty. And we haven’t.

 

Thursday

(For the full account of the events of this day, see Matt 26:17-75, Mark 14:12-72, Luke 22:7-71, John 13:1-18:27.)

The Thursday prior to Jesus’ crucifixion fills many pages in Scripture. It begins with John and Peter securing the upper room. There, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, explaining He was there to make them clean. 

As they begin to eat, Jesus announces one of them is about to betray Him. Each wonders if He means them. Then He dispatches Judas to do what he intends.

During this last supper, Jesus sets apart the Passover bread and cup and reassigns—or better, perfects—their meaning. The bread is His Body. The cup, His blood. This meal will no longer primarily remind them of God’s deliverance from the external tyranny of Pharaoh, but rather from the internal tyranny of their own guilt and sin against God.

Jesus prays for these His friends and those who will come to know Christ through them—that His Father would make them one (John 17). Then Jesus and His friends leave for the Mount of Olives to pray (Mark 14:33). But He isn’t there only to pray. He is also there to wait. Soon a line of torches snake their way toward Him in the darkness. This is what He has been waiting for.

 

Good Friday

(For the full account of the events of this day, see Matthew 27:1-61, Mark 15:1-47, Luke 23:1-56, John 18:28-19:42.)

On Thursday night in Gethsemane, Jesus was arrested—betrayed by one of His own disciples and abandoned by the others. The Chief Priests and the Sanhedrin called for secret trials in the dead of night, and the verdict handed down was that Jesus would be crucified. This was something the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, would have to execute. And reluctantly, he did.

After a severe beating, Jesus was nailed to a cross where He’d remain for six hours until dead. Never before or since had more been lost and gained at the same time as at Jesus’ crucifixion. The world gained the atoning sacrifice of Christ. But for those present, either the significance of the moment was lost on them or their hearts broke because the One they believed to be the Savior of the world was dying at the hands of Rome. They couldn’t stop it and they didn’t realize it was for them. They hoped in Him, and though He had told them He would suffer many things and rise three days later (Mark 8:31), how could they have possibly known this was what He meant? 

 

Saturday—The Forgotten Day    

(For the full account of the events of this day as found in the Gospels, see Matthew 27:62-66.)

The Saturday following Jesus’ crucifixion might be the most unique and overlooked day in the history of the world—the day between Jesus’ death and His resurrection. Less is written about this day than any other in the scope of this week.  Yet what makes it so unique is that this is the only full day in history where the body of the crucified Christ lay buried in a cave. 

The day before, He was crucified. The following day He rises from the grave. But what about Saturday? Though we may not make much of this day, when we look at the few verses the Gospels give us accounting for it, we find this was by no means a forgotten day to the Chief Priests who had handed Jesus over to death.  During His earthly ministry, Jesus said many times that He would die in Jerusalem at the hands of the Chief Priests, but on the third day rise again (Mt 12:40, Mk 8:31, 9:31, 10:34).

Of course, the Chief Priests scoffed at this. But they didn’t forget it. On the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, Jesus’ prediction preoccupied their thoughts such that they simply couldn’t leave it alone. Matthew 27:62-66 tells us the strange story of how they couldn’t seem to simply dismiss out of hand the possibility that Jesus might have known something they didn’t.

 

Resurrection Sunday

(For the full account of the events of this day, see Matt 28:1-20, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-53, John 20:1-21:25.)

Early on this Sunday morning, some of Jesus’ friends set out to His grave to anoint the body of their friend and teacher. But when they arrived, they were greeted by what one of the Gospel writers calls “a man dressed in lightning.” He tells them Jesus is not there, as He said. He is risen.

In the week leading up to His death, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went out to meet the wolves of judgment, sin and death, and He did so with all authority. One might wonder, what good has it ever done anyone to die for some cause? This is the glorious beauty of the Gospel. Jesus didn’t die as a martyr for a cause. He was never in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was never at the mercy of anyone. He lived, died and was buried because He meant to be.

No one took His life from Him.  He laid it down. For who? For His flock, His people. And He laid it down only to take it up again.  The point of the cross was not to die, but to die and rise again, defeating the prowling wolves of sin and death themselves. He said, “I have authority to lay my life down, and I have authority to take it up again.” And this is just what he did. Easter says of Jesus, “He meant it! He meant to lay down His life for you. And as sure as he has taken it up again, he knows you.”

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.