Category Archives: Personal Reflection

The Sweet Freedom of Ditching My Smartphone

Andrew Sherwood is a personal friend whom I asked to write a reflection about why he ditched his smartphone. I hope his words serve you as you pursue “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

 smartphone

 

“You want a phone that doesn’t get the internet? You mean you have an iPhone but want to go back to a flip-phone? Can I ask why?” You could tell the wireless salesman thought I was pranking him.

“I’m addicted to my iPhone,” I replied.

I pitched my iPhone for a basic no-internet flip phone a few months ago. First, let me say plainly: I believe getting rid of my iPhone is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my adult life.

That’s not because I believe it is wrong, sinful, or always unwise to have a smartphone, but because I discovered I was too immature and too undisciplined to use it well.

Perhaps you’re wrestling with some vague sense of dissatisfaction from a technology addiction and hopefully the below is helpful to you as you think about what to do next. Personally, I overestimated what my iPhone would give to me and I underestimated what it would take from me.

Here is some of fruit I’ve seen since pitching it:

Purity

“Can a man embrace fire and his clothes not be burned” (Proverbs 6:27). Praise God if you don’t struggle with sensual temptations on your smartphone. But if you do, why carry constant temptations around with you 16 hours a day? For years, I made lame and unwise excuses about keeping my phone rather than pitching it. But the flame from these things is real and the burns run deep. You can lose your soul to an iPhone. Your soul. For a phone. Deepak Reju’s article on this aspect of temptation is 
fantastic.

Increased Focus on Things that Matter

Do you ever get a nagging sense of conviction when you’re supposed to be paying attention to your wife, kids, discipleship companion, pastor, sermon, etc. and you ever-so- quietly click on the power button to check your phone? I did. Thousands of times, actually. My daughter would happily run over from the playground and find me nose down, buried in some sports equivalent to People magazine. Truthfully, I’m sickened over the memories I should have made with my family that were instead empty moments spent with my 
iPhone.

In Psalm 90:12, Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully, so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.” The sands of time are sinking – and I will give an account on That Day of the grains of sand wrongly given to frivolity instead of stewarding the good gifts God has graciously provided me through the people in my life.

Increased Prayer

I used to check my iPhone at stoplights, carpool lines, walking someplace — anywhere I had even a moment’s downtime. Without my smartphone, there are new opportunities to pray throughout the day. The ant principle seems to apply here (Proverbs 6:6) – over time, the small windows to pray pile up into storehouses full of brief prayers to my heavenly Father.

Living Without the Low-Pitched Hum of Anticipation

Being plugged in to a broader world of Twitter, e-mail, and instant news made for a precarious idol in my life. Even when physically putting my phone away for a few hours during family time, my heart was often going through the motions when eating a family meal, putting my kids to bed, or talking to my wife. It wasn’t just distraction I was dealing with: it was a problem of dissatisfaction that nothing but “plugging back in” would satisfy.

After getting the kids down to bed, I would sit down on the couch and immediately light up my phone, checking emails and social media. I was getting my fix (though my desires were never satiated). My wife might interject a kind comment like “Hey, how was your day?” and my immediate emotional response was one of annoyance or worse, anger. I noticed that I was frantic for updates when being without my phone for even a few hours. Have I ever honestly yearned for God’s Word or His presence as much as my phone? Just check my phone log of time spent on Twitter vs. my time in God’s Word and you’ll see what I really cared about. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Reading More (Actual) Books

I underestimated the time I would spend reading junk on my phone. Every night in bed, every morning when I woke up and the countless slivers of stolen time in between. There has been such refreshment in keeping my Bible and a few library books near me to read whenever I have free time. I’m sure there’s some way to usually read really good stuff on your smartphone that feeds and waters the mind and soul but I’m far from disciplined enough to do that.

“This is the greatest gift you’ve ever given me”

“When you had your smartphone, you were a walking vending machine of whatever you’d ingested that day. It was difficult to talk about deeper things that mattered because you were constantly distracted by internet litter. You’re now able to focus and give necessary attention to deeper issues. More of what we talk about comes from your heart rather than your Twitter feed.” – My Wife

Healthy Connection to My Humanness

I’m not anti-technology (I’m writing this post on a computer). I’m a graduate student and use technology for a lot of what I work on—and I’m thankful for it. But I also feel like I’m sort of an idiot. If Google Maps doesn’t tell me how to get somewhere, I’m lost even if I’ve driven to the place ten times before. And remembering something? Forget it—I have to put it into my phone.

There’s something about that neuro-rewiring that leaves me puzzled (read “The Shallows” for more on this) and unsure about what it’s ultimately doing to my ability to think. These days, I’m actually looking around at the streets I drive on, figuring out how to get places and forcing myself to remember things people tell me. There’s nothing inherently virtuous about these changes but there is a palpable sense of freedom when I do them.

I was taking a walk with my daughter a few weeks ago when she looked up and said “Daddy, I like having conversations with you. You’re good to talk to.” The irony. Sad thing is, I’m not that great to talk to. I’ve trained myself to zone out and to communicate to others “My phone and whatever it has on it is more important than you.” I don’t want that to be true another second of my life.

The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson once wrote “Sin hangs weights upon us so that we move but slowly to Heaven.” Those weights are often placed upon us slowly, over time, so that we get used to the pressure of them before sin adds more. And then the slower …and slower………and slower we move.

Is your phone a weight slowing your path to Heaven? A coal you’re heaping in your lap? A thief you paid $500 to steal things that matter?

Prayerfully ask God and those around you.

What is your phone for you?

When Grace and Evil Collide – A Reflection on Charleston

On Wednesday, June 17, 2015 we witnessed something remarkable.

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church welcomed a young white man to sit in their pews and pray with them.

Dylann Roof certainly wasn’t the first white person to visit this historically black church, but their well-documented history reminds us why an unwelcoming spirit might have been a reasonable response when he walked through their doors.

Every Reason Not To Love

Emanuel was born out of a group of freed slaves who began worshipping together in 1791 while many of their wives and children remained the “property” of free white owners.

One hundred and forty members from this church were arrested and whipped by white authorities in 1818.

After a planned revolt by some of the slaves in 1822, white people publicly hanged 37 black slaves, including Emanuel’s founder.

The congregation’s building, which was erected with their own hands, was burned by an angry white mob in that same year.

White people had outlawed its services and the church was forced to worship in secret beginning in 1834.

In 1868, one of their former pastors, Benjamin Randolph, was shot in broad daylight by three white men.

Their church is in a state that flies a Confederate flag and has roads named after white generals who fought to keep them from freely driving to church on those roads.

Over the years they worshipped in a city where whites told them to use “colored” toilets and eat at other tables because “your kind isn’t welcomed here.”

Those memories could have clouded the air when Dylann Roof walked through their storied doors.

But instead of cold shoulders, he was offered a warm seat on a pew to pray.

History would have screamed not to let him in that night. Don’t let him close. He doesn’t deserve your love. He’s only going to hurt you.

Evil In The Face Of Grace

During the hour they sat with their would be killer, the church members shared songs and prayers and words of welcome.

But then evil showed its fangs.

Murderous, racist, grace-hating evil made fresh blood flow from old wounds.

Grace had smiled and evil struck it down.

When their killer walked out their doors, Emanuel AME was left with nine new reasons to hate the people who have hurt them.

Nine more funerals.

Nine more empty seats at the dinner table.

Nine more names forever etched into this church’s grueling history.

Suzy Jackson.

Daniel Simmons.

Myra Thompson.

Cynthia Hurd.

De’Payne Doctor.

Sharonda Singleton.

Clementa Pinckney.

TyWanda Sanders.

Left behind are widows and orphans and weeping family members with new reasons to withhold grace.

But that is not what they have done.

Instead, they have once again extended grace in the face of evil.

Grace In The Face Of Evil

At Roof’s bond hearing family members showed Dylann the same grace he saw when he sat down to kill their loved ones.

From broken hearts they spoke words that have stunned many:

“I forgive you…you took something very precious away from me…I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you…you hurt me and you hurt a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you.” – the daughter of Ethel Lee Nance

“I forgive you and our family forgives you, but we would like you to take this opportunity and repent. Confess. And give your life to the One who matters most, Christ, so he can change it…He can change it.” – Anthony Thompson

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate…everyone’s plea for your soul…is proof that they lived in love and that their legacy will live in love…and so hate will not win…” – Alana Simmons (granddaughter of Daniel Simmons)

Those were not empty words from thoughtless lips.

The hymns they sang outside the courtroom afterwards were not the delirious songs of reeling family members.

What we witnessed is grace. The supernatural grace that flows from a spring that abides in the heart of God’s people.

The slain members of Emanuel AME welcomed Dylann Roof into their midst because Christ had first invited them (1 John 4:19-20).

They pressed past the temptation to say “your kind isn’t welcome here” and offered him a seat because Jesus had first given them a seat at His table.

And now, their family members have done the same. They have offered forgiveness because Christ has forgiven them (Ephesians 4:32). 

Grace Wins

On Sunday, June 21, 2015 the wounded but resilient Emanuel AME church assembled once again. The pews were filled with members and visitors from every color. As they walked through those doors they carried the strange mix of being heavy yet hopeful; afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

The building that was filled with gun smoke on Wednesday was filled with joyful songs on Sunday.

The room that was stained with blood on Wednesday was saturated with praise on Sunday.

The place that was divided by hate on Wednesday was hand in hand in love on Sunday.

As they held each other up and sang hymns and proclaimed promises from God’s Word, the world witnessed the arresting reality that when evil and grace collide—grace wins. When hate strikes down love—it rises again. When Christians are separated from life through death—they are not separated from the love of God (Romans 8:28-39).

Why is this so? Because Emanuel’s strength finds its source in Jesus who was struck down by sinful hate, yet rose again to be the Savior and sustainer of God’s people (Psalm 54:4; Acts 2:22-24; Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 3:18).

What the world witnessed on Sunday was the resilience of a church who has not, will not, cannot, be killed.

Do they weep? Yes. Do they grieve? Yes. Will they ever be the same? No. But have they given up? No.

Why?

Because Emanuel AME has a Savior who lives forever to give them grace in the face of evil (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:24-25). Jesus has promised He would do this, and Jesus always keeps His promises.

The scene from that Sunday took my mind to a scene in the book of Revelation where we see people from every tribe tongue and nation, standing together to praise the Lamb who was slain.

Revelation 7:9–17 “…I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!…they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Among those in that future heavenly scene are the members of Emanuel who have been beaten and mocked and lynched and gunned down, including the nine who fell on Wednesday. It is this heavenly picture that has sustained so many of God’s people over the years, and it is what sustains them even now.

Until Grace is All We Know

One day, grace is all we will know. There will be no more racism or evil or hate or murder or division. All those things will be cast in to the lake of fire with Satan and those who followed him. But that day is not yet.

Between now and then, we live here, in a world stained with sin. We walk through doors with stained histories of both evil and grace. Living in this tension is not easy for any of us, nor is it equal for all of us. Many in this life, including our black brothers and sisters from Emanuel and other communities like it, have unique challenges to face as they journey toward that heavenly day.

As a white man, I have so many questions for the people in Charleston. I want to know how the grace of God has sustained them for so long and through so much? I want to hear how are they helping each other avoid despair and revenge? I want to hear how they have leaned upon Jesus and how they have seen Him sustain them.

But I know I cannot just make it about what “I want” to hear. So I hope I can learn whatever it is my black brothers and sisters would want to share. I can’t do that in South Carolina, but I can strive to do that at home.

For people like me, it is easy to see events on the news, and become a spectator who says, “that man’s racist hate is so evil” and “their response is so gracious.”

But we can’t do that. Change in our church or our country or our hearts won’t happen by distant observing.

My prayer and cautious encouragement is for us to be intentional to lovingly and humbly learn from those God has placed around us. We grow when we follow the example of Christ and enter into each other’s worlds. We need to listen to each other and learn from each other.

Not all people will experience life in the same way, but Gospel-inspired conversations are the pathway to true change. Be slow to make assumptions about how others experience life, and even slower to assume no racism abides in your heart. I am still learning how to do this, and you can read about my journey here.

We can learn much about this by following the example we’ve seen from Emanuel AMC. The more we do what happened on Sunday, the more we’ll grow and avoid things like what happened on Wednesday. I don’t say that to be overly simplistic, but I do believe that racism dies when people come together at the feet of Jesus who died to “break down the dividing wall of hostility” that separates us (Ephesians 2:14).

I pray that we will follow the Christ-like path of grace. It is the way forward, because when grace and evil collide—grace wins.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

A Year of Faithfulness – Reflections from Year 1 of Pastoring

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Today marks the 1 year anniversary of my installment as pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church.

I took the day to spend time in prayer and reflection of what the Lord has done in my life and our church over the past 365 days. It was a sweet discipline and one that I intend to keep up yearly until the Lord calls me to no longer serve as a pastor.

I share this because I think this kind of discipline is good for us, whether we are in full-time ministry or not. Setting aside time to reflect on God’s grace in our lives helps us to see ways we’ve grown and areas we still need to grow in. What follows is how I spent the day.

Prayer

  1. I praised God for His saving grace in my life. 1 Timothy 1:15 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” May we never get over His amazing grace in our lives.
  2. I praised God for my wife and children. Proverbs 18:22 “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” Next to Christ, my wife is the greatest blessing I have known in this life. She is the model of a helper who lays down her life so that mine can be better. I love her dearly.
  3. I praised God for calling me into full-time vocational ministry. 1 Corinthians 1:26 “consider your calling…” It is an honor to not only be called to know the King, but also to serve Him. I was freshly baffled and honored by the call.
  4. I prayed through our church’s directory and interceded for each member of our church. Hebrews 13:17 says I and the other elders will “give an account” for each of these people.This is a daunting and delightful challenge. My love for this flock grows daily.
  5. I praised God for my fellow elders. Ephesians 4:11 “He gave…pastors and teachers.” The elders I serve along side of are godly men whom I love dearly. They have put up with my craziness and supply so much that I lack. They are truly a gift from the Lord to me and our church.
  6. I reflected on my journal and praised God for His work. Psalm 33:4 “all His work is done in faithfulness.” I usually only journal when things are going really well or really bad, so I come off as crazy in my journal, but the Lord surely is seen as faithful. Man I’m glad He doesn’t say “yes” to everything I ask for.

Scripture

I spent devoted time in 1 Timothy today. What follows are a few questions I was challenged to consider and share with our elders.

Is the goal of all we do love? Are we cultivating a church that loves God and others? (1 Tim. 1:5)

How are we guarding our church and ourselves from swerving into shipwreck? (1 Tim. 1:6,19; 6:21)

Jesus came to save sinners, are we on this mission? (1 Tim. 1:15, 2:4-6)

Are we praying fervently for God to raise up qualified elders and deacons? (1 Tim. 3:1-13)

Are we intentionally disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness? (1 Tim. 4:7-8)

Are we toiling and striving toward the life to come because God is our hope? (1 Tim. 4:8-10)

Are we immersing ourselves in God’s word so others see our progress? (1 Tim. 4:15)

Are we keeping close watch on our lives and on our teaching? (1 Tim. 4:16)

How are we caring for the widows of our church? (1 Tim. 5:3-16)

Are we being patient and ensuring that we aren’t taking part in people’s sins? (1 Tim. 5:22)

Are we being patient in seeing good works in people? (1 Tim. 5:25)

Are we deepening in godliness and contentment? (1 Tim. 6:6)

Are we avoiding the love of money? (1 Tim. 6:6-10)

Are we helping those who have money know how to use it and view it? (1 Tim. 6:17-19)

Are we always aware that we are stewards of the Lord’s Gospel? (1 Tim. 1:4, 11; 6:20)

 

Sermon

I listened to the sermon Mark Dever preached on the Sunday I was installed as pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church. You can, and should, listen to it here. It is the best sermon I know to recommend to any pastor or church who wants to think well about what a pastor is and should do. This man has served me as a dear mentor and friend. I am eternally grateful for him.

5 of my favorite quotes:

“If you define success in terms of faithfulness, then you are in a position to persevere.” – Dever

“Do not tailor your church service to for people who have no love for God, that is a certain way to kill your church. You want to attract mature Christians and hungry non-Christians.” – Dever

“Run at a pace the congregation can keep up with.” – Dever

“Shepherd the flock in a way that you will not be ashamed on the day of the Lord.” – Dever

“We will never be faithful ministers in anything but appearance if we only consider the ministry in terms of this life…One day the sky will be rolled back like a scroll. Live and minister in light of that day.” – Dever

I also read Justin Taylor’s short account of John Piper’s last Sunday at Bethlehem Baptist and prayed that God would help me to be a faithful minister all the way until the end. Then I listened to John Piper’s recommendations of how to avoid ministry burn out. There is great gold in this brief segment.

15 Other Reflections on the Past Year of Pastoral Ministry

  1. When you follow Christ, Satan will oppose you.
  2. Friendship is a good gift from God. When it is absent, your soul withers, when it is present, there is life.
  3. You can do a lot without prayer, and that’s pretty scary.
  4. God is faithful, even when we are not.
  5. God loves to use weak and broken people for His glorious purposes.
  6. There is power in God’s Word, proclaim it with hope.
  7. Keep expectations low and strive to surpass them quietly.
  8. If you had more money in your bank account, you might not feel your need for God as much.
  9. Not everyone has to like your preaching. You aren’t called to pastor the world, just your church.
  10. God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He always gives us what we need.
  11. When things aren’t going your way, take it as God’s kind killing of your flesh. It is not always good for us to get what we want.
  12. As a church, we must always be building into ourselves while at the same time looking outside of ourselves. Keeping this balance is tough.
  13. There is no greater joy than to be served by Christ and to be in the service of Christ.
  14. The devil’s greatest tool may well be distraction.
  15. All of us are replaceable. I am just a steward for a season until my stewardship has ended.

The Psalmist says of the Lord “great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:2). Those who know the Lord know His faithfulness. We struggle and stumble, but He never changes. Praise God for the way He continually teaches us and shapes us into the image of Christ.

Please join me in praising God for what He has done in our church over the past year. He is ever-faithful.