Community

You Become What You Trust

joao-tzanno-622687-unsplash-1.jpg

Humans have always loved idols. Israel’s history shows us that no matter how many miraculous wonders we witness, our hearts will always elevate the created before the Creator (Rom.1:25). What began as statues to Baal, Asherah poles, and Greek temples, continues to permeate our culture. These days, our idols look a bit nobler—a spouse, children, happiness, comfort, health—but they enslave us just like the idols of old.

Our idols don’t just settle for helping us break the second commandment, they permeate much deeper in our lives. The Psalms tell us that those who trust idols will become like them (Ps. 135:18). We may not turn into stone and wood, but eventually, the idols of our heart can chip away at significant areas in our spiritual lives.

The idols we create are blind, deaf, and mute, and if we continue serving them, we’ll eventually become the same. If left undisturbed and ignored, we may begin to lose our own sight, become deaf to others, and render our speech useless to the surrounding world.

Blind to Our Sin

One of the first ways we become like our idols is in becoming blind to our own sin. If we are in Christ, we have been given a new heart (Ezek. 36:26) and our eyes are opened to the gospel, yet the temptation to turn back towards darkness endures. It’s why the author of Hebrews exhorted the church to take care that no one has an unbelieving heart, “leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12-13).

Each person, feeling, circumstance, or dream we hold up as more important than God is ultimately a declaration of unbelief. Our idols make us believe that God won’t satisfy more than our they can. Our idols make us think that God’s grace isn’t enough, so we must make our own rules. They make us think that seeking our own comfort is more worthwhile than seeking the Lord’s glory.

We may not say these truths out loud, but the subtle deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) will continue to feed our idols of unbelief, make excuses, and harden us to the sin we harbor. Some of us may continue to idolize health, blind to the ways we are trusting in our workouts to give us the peace that only God can give. Others may cloak our approval-seeking in righteous words like service or encouragement, but in reality, our idols stay hidden behind the sin we can’t see.

The trouble is, we can’t crush what we can’t see. This is where the passage in Hebrews gives us great hope. We must “exhort one another daily” (Heb. 3:13). Just as we could not open our eyes to Christ without his work, we need the Holy Spirit and Christ’s church to open our eyes to our blindness—even after salvation. It’s our brothers and sisters who can illuminate the darkness, and the Holy Spirit alone who can give us back our sight and put to death the idols of unbelief in our hearts.

Deaf to Our Brothers and Sisters

Our idols can make us become blind to our own sin, but they can also cause us to become deaf to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We see this played out in big and small ways in the church, whether it’s the prideful parent who refuses to seek any outside help, or the church member holding his politics so tightly that he can’t hear the concerns of a brother in Christ. Our strong opinions, steeped in the idolatry of self, can keep us so attuned to our own views that we can’t stop to give grace or charity to our dissenter.

But Christ calls us to something radical. He not only tells us to open our ears but to go even further by outdoing one another with honor (Rom. 12:10). We are told to bless those who hurt us, to be humble in our own eyes, and do what is honorable in the sight of all (Rom.12:14-17).

Beginning to knock down these idols begins by first finding the root. Where are we deaf to the concerns and wisdom of our brothers and sisters in Christ? What topics do we bristle at hearing a word of correction? Or what topics do we refuse to seek wisdom in?

You’ll likely have to ask a trusted brother or sister to help you see what you cannot. Of course, our brothers and sisters in these disagreements are sinners too, but Jesus tells us our first step is always to look upon our own sin (Matt. 7:3).

Mute to the World

Finally, our idols can mute our voice to the world around us, which fleshes out in two ways. The first is seen when our idols make us look exactly like the world around us. When we idolize comfort, a job, or happiness, we will inevitably be tossed into anxiety when these idols are not met. When the job is lost or life gets difficult, we will look no different than the unbeliever in the cubicle sitting right to us.

As Christians, however, our lives should look different because our hope is completely different. That doesn’t mean that we can’t feel stressed or experience difficulty, but it does mean that our priorities should look different than the unbelievers around us. When we continue to let the idols of our hearts take over, they rob us of the chance to preach a different and beautiful story to the world around us.

Secondly, our idols keep us from purposefully entering into the lives of those around us. Who has time to develop a relationship with a neighbor when we are too busy with our own projects? How do we encourage the woman behind us in the checkout when we are too concerned with our phone? The nature of man-made idols is that they must be maintained. We must keep feeding our need for approval, tone our body, multiply our entertainment—and when we do we are left with little time for else.

But again, Jesus calls us to something radical. We have a different mission than maintaining our idols. Instead, we are to give up our hold on everything in this world to gain everything in the beauty of Christ. We are to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) and to proclaim his name among the people God has put around us. And if we want to be ready to give an answer for the hope we have in Christ (1 Pt. 3:15), we must first clear away the idols that rob us of that voice.

Good News for Idolaters

While it’s painful to see the grip of idolatry, the good news is that we worship the God who stands above every idol. Just as the ancient statue of Dagon fell to the ground before the Ark of the Covenant, our own idols will fall prostrate before the true God of heaven (1 Sam. 5:2).

We don’t have to feel defeat but can seek out our idols so we can destroy them. We can stop to see what has been keeping us from speaking the gospel to those around us. We can ask God to show us where our ears have been closed to our family in Christ. And we can ask from the Holy Spirit and our brothers and sisters to help show us the sin we can’t see.

We may start to become like our idols, but it’s the power of the cross—the same power that raised Jesus from the dead—that gives us the power to crush them. Each day we can lean on the God who continues to breathe life and hope into our blind, deaf, and mute hearts.


Brianna Lambert is a wife and mom to three, making their home in the cornfields of Indiana. She loves using writing to work out the truths God is teaching her each day. She has contributed to various online publications such as Morning by Morning and Fathom magazine. You can find more of her writing paired with her husband’s photography at lookingtotheharvest.com.

Why God's People Rejoice in Gathering

john-cafazza-425904-unsplash-1.jpg

Imagine approaching your childhood home. You see a familiar sign on the front porch that reads, “Home is where the heart is,” though the “H” is missing, a couple other letters are broken, and others are so caked with pollen and dust they’re almost indiscernible. You’ve arrived at the house which was so full of life when you were a child, but years of vacancy and neglect make for a cold welcome. Where is the warmth that once filled this house?

We all long for a welcoming, safe home.

ABANDONED HOMES

While we may appreciate the aesthetic of a well-crafted house, what makes a house a home is the life within it. The same is true of the house of the Lord.

We see this clearly in Psalm 122, as the author begins with the invitation:

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

Who is the "us" that invited him? It was the sojourners who would make their annual pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem. This psalm would become one of many they would recite as they made their ascent to the holy city.

What a shock to be a pilgrim who, upon arrival, finds the house of the Lord was empty. He makes the journey through “many dangers, toils, and snares,” only to learn the house is vacant—there isn’t a single light on in the whole building, not one person in sight.

Would the weary traveler still be glad about his invitation? Hardly.

The rejoicing hinges on the personal invitation. He is glad to make the journey because he makes it with others and plans to meet others there (v. 4). It's a family reunion of sorts, in which traveling disciples meet with other disciples. Their rendezvous is overdue, so they are eager to reconnect.

God makes a disciple by bringing a man or a woman to Christ. But that is only part of the work. God also saves them into a family, the church. Disciples are meant to rejoice and long to reconnect with their extended family each Sunday in worship and throughout the week. It's not the building that makes the church but the people gathered before the Word of God.

BROKEN HOMES

Abandoned houses serve as a memento of the life that once existed within their walls. They remind us that things are not as they should be.

This reminder is even more painful for those currently living in a broken home. Their house may be full of life, but not firing on all cylinders. Maybe a divorce or an untimely death is a constant reminder that the dinner table has one empty chair.

Part of God’s design for his covenant people is that the spiritual family can make up for the parts of the nuclear family that are demolished by death, disease, and depravity. God’s family should be united (v. 3), and those brothers and sisters and friends (v. 8) that comprise it should pray for its well-being (v. 6), peace, security (v. 7), and prosperity (v. 9).

Some of the most moving testimonies in the church involve mothers and fathers who stood in as parental figures for those who never had them or who live far away from moms and dads. Beautiful stories unfold when those have been abandoned by or have left behind their families find a new family created by the shed blood of Christ.

God makes disciples as they come into relationship with Jesus, but they are matured in the community of the Church.

CHAOTIC HOMES

Others may not come from a broken home or ever experience the emptiness of returning to an abandoned house. Yet what family has not experienced a season of chaos?

Perhaps your home is free from glaring and unrepentant sin and God has blessed you with a house that has been passed down for generations. But the reality is we will all face sins of varying kinds (Heb. 12:1) and seasons of busyness that border on chaos.

Some Sundays it may be hard for the modern pilgrim to drag himself to church because he worked a sixty-hour week. A mom of small children is likely putting in even more hours on the regular, and coming to worship on Sunday might seem impossibly difficult.

In Psalm 122, the pilgrim’s feet are standing within the gates of Jerusalem (v. 2). Those feet must have been tired, sore, and blistered, but to paraphrase Mother Pollard, “his feet were tired but his soul was rested.”[1]

What is it that compels you to keep gathering with the saints?

Is it the chaos that seems to increase every time you get ready to head out the door to church on Sunday morning? Is it the weariness you feel after a long hard work week? Is it the spiritual apathy that creeps in?

Obstacles and temptations try to prevent us from gathering with God’s people, but push through and resolve to find nourishment for your soul. The body and its ailments will pass away, but God and his Word will last forever (Matt. 24:35).

The mature disciple begins to prioritize church, not just for her own needs, but because she recognizes she is called to multiply disciples and think beyond herself.

DWELLING PLACE OF THE LORD

To bring this all home (pun intended), a word has to be said about the relationship between the Old and New Covenants. It's commonplace to see preachers and theologians play fast and loose with the relationship between the Old Covenant temple and the New Covenant Church. To be sure, there are some commonalities. However, it is a mistake to draw a one-to-one comparison between the two.

The distinguishing mark of the Old Covenant temple was that it was indwelt by the presence of the Lord. The God of Israel himself inhabited their building of high worship.

The arrival of Jesus in the first century A.D. flipped this whole paradigm on its head. He was indwelt personally by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:18) and referred to himself as the new and better temple (Jn. 2:19; Matt. 12:6). What’s more, he promised that when he departed he would send that same Spirit to indwell his followers.

The New Covenant equivalent of the Temple is the church, to be sure, but only when we correctly define the Church—the people of God, the living stones (1 Pet. 2:5) that are built up into a spiritual house.

REJOICE TO GO TO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD

Do you rejoice to go to the house of the Lord? I hope you do. But hopefully it’s not because the music is superior or the aesthetics are amazing. The right reason to rejoice in going up to the Lord’s house is that his presence is there.

The house of the Lord is found in the midst of his people. There, Jesus is present and glorified.

Otherwise, it’s like walking into an abandoned house.


Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Clarks Summit University) was born and raised in Upstate New York where he is now working to plant Engage Albany, a church in the heart of the capital. Prior to that, he served at churches in Troy and Maryland and taught hermeneutics. He and his wife, Hannah, are raising three kids: Knox, Hazel, and Ransom. You can read all of Sean’s articles here.

[1] Quoted in The Montgomery Bus Boycott: A History and Reference Guide, Cheryl Phibbs, 2009.

You Don’t Have to Be Busy to Belong

unnamed-1.jpg

One evening when reading our dinner devotional book, I read about the Feast of Trumpets, a once-a-year event when the Israelites were called (literally) to repentance. The trumpet would sound and they’d remember that their time was God’s gift and whether they’d spent it well or not. Nancy Guthrie writes, “God set up a yearly holiday called the Festival of Trumpets to blast the people out of their spiritual laziness.”

Sometimes I wish we’d get a trumpet blast to arouse us out of our spiritual stupors, so we’d be forced to see how we use busyness to block our ears.

Slowing Down

We need trumpet calls and wake-up calls. We need to say no to the things that lead us away from the story of God and lead us to follow a story of the suburbs. The suburbs keep us busy because we think the more we move, the more we work, the more valuable we will be. If we hope to nurture a life of faith, we’ve got to stop moving long enough to hear God’s voice.

The gospel says: come to the desolate space. Tantrum, scream, cry, face your fears of insignificance and irrelevancy there. Then find rest in a rest that is not of your own making. Find Jesus. And having found Jesus, we will be sent out, and he will ask us impossible things—not to test us but to show us (even in the food we eat) that he provides not only for our hungers but also for the hunger pains of our communities.

God will be found by us in the desolate spaces. Going to desolate places might look like recalibrating our time to fit what we say we value. It might be removing our phones from our nightstands and choosing to not document our lives on social media. It may be committing to read our Bibles even when we’re not sure if God will show up.

Our time is not our own to fill like an empty shopping cart—with whatever strikes our fancy and fits our budget. Our time (like our money) is a means to love God and serve others. Paradoxically, only as we give of our resources will we be filled. This isn’t American bootstrapperism where we muscle it out to be generous; instead it’s slowing down and acknowledging that we have a Father God who sees our needs and kindly answers them for our good and his good pleasure.

But if our schedules are packed too tight—like our closets—there will never be room to let in anything new, including God. Our daily habits, our weekly schedules, and our purchases all add up to how we spend our lives. Anything we turn to that dictates our daily habits also shapes our hearts. We hunger for good work and restorative rest, and yet we stay busy because we fear we won’t find anything in the desolate places. But what if instead of circling the suburbs or distracting ourselves, we simply stopped? What if we said no more often? What would happen if we slowed down?

We could begin to live ordinary time well.

Living Ordinary Time Well

When we live ordinary time well, we practice disciplines that increase our hunger for the right things—not the quick-fix chicken nuggets of the soul, but the nutritious meal. We pray. We read our Bibles. We give. We serve. We partake in the sacraments and dig our hands into the life of the church.

When we live ordinary time well, we choose to spend our time for God’s kingdom instead of building up the kingdom of self. When we do, we don’t have to force our days, plans, or even our memories to provide total satisfaction. In her book Simply Tuesday, Emily P. Freeman writes, “Part of living well in ordinary time is letting this day be good. Letting this day be a gift. Letting this day be filled with plenty. And if it all goes wrong and my work turns to dust? This is my kind reminder that outcomes are beyond the scope of my job description.”

When we stop moving, we realize time was never our own. Then, our days can be received as gifts.

If we slowed down and pruned our schedules, we’d begin to decenter ourselves. We’d practice sustained attention and even be bored. We could begin to imagine what finding holy in the suburbs would look like in our hearts, families, and neighborhoods. We’d give our children the tools to know how to be comfortable in their own skin without having to perform to feel loved. We’d give them (and us) a better way to live in a culture that says you have to stay busy to be seen. We’d show them a better way to belong than through joining a frenzied, success- and image-driven culture.

You Don't Have to Be Busy to Belong

The upside-down kingdom of God in the suburbs stakes this claim: you don’t have to be busy to belong. When we stop striving, we don’t have to hoard our time or treasure. God’s kingdom testifies that rest is possible, not just checking out from the rat race in your favorite version of suburban leisure, but more than that, we can experience a deep, restorative rest.

The gospel says that in Jesus we’re held, protected, loved, and valued simply because we are God’s children. But to imagine a vision larger than what our suburbs sell as success and productivity, we have to have the courage to slow down.

There we have the space to wrestle with all that our busyness hides and there, we pray, we will find God.


Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs by Ashley Hales. Copyright (c) 2018 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Ashley Hales is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother to four. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and after years away, she's back in the southern California suburbs helping her husband plant a church, Resurrection Orange County. She's the author of Finding Holy in the Suburbs and a contributor to Everbloom. Connect with Ashley at aahales.com.

How to Cultivate Communal Comfort in Your Suffering

rosie-fraser-592594-unsplash-1.jpg

Suffering powerfully highlights what has always been true—we were not created for independent living. Suffering reminds us that God’s grace doesn’t work to propel our independence but to deepen our vertical and horizontal dependence. The strong, independent, self-made person is a delusion. Everyone needs help and assistance. To fight community, to quest for self-sufficiency, is not only a denial of your spiritual need; it’s a denial of your humanity. Suffering is a messenger telling us that to be human is to be dependent.

My friend TobyMac so wonderfully captured with these words: “What does it look like to admit your need and open the door to God’s warehouse of provision?” Consider these seven steps.

1. Don’t Suffer in Heroic Isolation

There’s nothing noble about bearing down and suffering alone. In fact, it’s a recipe for disaster. Everyone has been designed by God for community. Healthy, godly living is deeply relational. Worshipfully submissive community with God and humble dependency on God’s people are vital to living well in the middle of the unplanned, the unwanted, and the unexpected.

The brothers and sisters around you have been placed in your life as instruments of grace, and as I’ve said before, they won’t be perfect instruments, they won’t always say and do the right things, but in the messiness of these relationships God delivers to us what only he can give.

In my own suffering I’ve had to fight with the temptation of self-imposed isolation. I know I need the presence and voices of others in my life who can say and do things for me that I could never do for myself, and I know that the relationship I have with these people is God’s gift of comfort, rescue, protection, and wisdom. Are you suffering in isolation?

2. Determine to Be Honest

The first step in seeking and celebrating the gift of the comfort of God’s people and experiencing how they can make the invisible grace of God visible in your life is to honestly communicate how you’re handling what you’re going through. Honest communication is not detailing the hardship you’re going through and letting all the people around you know how tough you have it. Complaining tends to drive people away and to attract you to other complainers, which is far from healthy and helpful. Rather, every sufferer needs to be humbly honest about the spiritual battle underneath the physical travail so that brothers and sisters around you can fight that spiritual battle with you.

And don’t worry about what people think of you. Remember, you don’t get your identity, peace, security, and rest of heart from them but from your Lord. No one in your life is capable of being your messiah; people are tools in the hands of your Messiah, Jesus. It would be impossible to fully communicate the depth of the comfort, strength, and counsel I have gotten at crucial moments of spiritual battle from the dear ones God has placed in my life. Are you humbly and honestly communicating to others about how you’re handling your hardship?

3. Let People Interrupt Your Private Conversation

You have incredible influence over you, because no one talks to you more than you do. The problem is that there are times when it’s very hard to say to ourselves what we need to hear. The travail of suffering is clearly one of those times. It’s hard then to give yourself the hope, comfort, confrontation, direction, wisdom, and God-awareness that every sufferer desperately needs.

So you need voices in your life besides your own. You need to invite wise and loving people to eavesdrop and interrupt your private conversation, providing in their words things you wouldn’t be able to say to yourself. And don’t take offense when they fail to agree with your assessments; you need these alternative voices. They’re not in your life to hurt your feelings but to give you what you won’t be able to give yourself, and that in itself is a sweet grace from the hand of God. Who have you invited to interrupt your private conversations?

4. Admit Your Weakness

Doing well in the middle of hardship is not about acting as if you’re strong. God’s reputation isn’t honored by our publicly faking what isn’t privately true. The grave danger to sufferers is not admission of weakness but delusions of strength. You see, if you tell yourself and others that you are strong, then you won’t seek and they won’t offer the enabling and strengthening grace that every sufferer needs. And remember, the most important form of weakness that we all face isn’t the physical weakness that accompanies so much of our suffering but the weakness of heart in the midst of it.

Determine to be honest about your weakness, and in so doing, invite others to be God’s tools of his empowering and transforming grace. When you suffer, you view weakness either as an enemy or as an opportunity to experience the new potential that is yours as God’s child. Is your habit to admit or deny weakness?

5. Confess Your Blindness

This side of eternity, since sin still lives inside us and blinds us, there are pockets of spiritual blindness in all of us. As you walk through your travail, there may be inaccuracies of belief, subtle but wrong desires, wrong attitudes, susceptibilities to temptation, wrong views of others, struggles with God, and evidences of hopelessness that you don’t see.

So in love, God has placed his children in your life to function as instruments of seeing. They offer to you insight that you wouldn’t have by yourself. Because they can see what you don’t, they can speak into issues in your life, and by so doing be not only instruments of seeing but also God’s agents of rescue and transformation.

It’s humbling but true of every sufferer that accuracy of personal insight is the result of community, because sin makes personal insight difficult. Since we all have areas where we fail to see what we need to see, we need to welcome those whom God has sent into our lives to correct and focus our vision. How open are you when those near you help you see things in yourself that you don’t see?

6. Seek Wise Counsel

It’s dangerous to make important life decisions in the midst of the tumultuous emotions and despondency of suffering. Often in the middle of hardship, it’s hard to see clearly, to think accurately, and to desire what’s best. The shock, grief, and dismay of suffering tend to rattle the heart and confuse the mind.

When you are suffering, you need to humbly invite wise and godly counselors into your life. I’m not talking here about professional help, although that’s good if necessary. I’m talking about identifying the wise and godly people already in your life who know you and your situation well, who can provide the clarity of advice, guidance, and direction that is very hard to provide for yourself.

Don’t be threatened by this; it’s something we all need, and wise sufferers welcome it and enjoy the harvest of good fruit that results. Have you invited wise and godly counselors into your life to help you decide what would be hard to decide on your own?

7. Remember That Your Suffering Doesn’t Belong to You

2 Corinthians 1:3–9 reminds us that our sufferings belong to the Lord. He will take hard and difficult things in your life and use them to produce good things in the lives of others. This is one of the unexpected miracles of his grace. When it seems that my life is anything but good, God picks it up and produces what’s very good in the life of another. Every sufferer needs to know that the comfort of community is a two-way street. Not only do you need the comfort of God’s people, but your suffering positions you to be a uniquely sympathetic and insightful tool of the same in the lives of others.

Your suffering has given you a toolbox of gospel skills that make you ready and equipped to answer God’s call to be an agent of his comfort in the lives of fellow sufferers. God calls you not to hoard your suffering but to offer it up to him to be used as needed in the lives of others. And there’s blessing in taking your eyes off yourself and placing them on others, because it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Have you hoarded your suffering, or seen it as a means for bringing to others the good things that you have received?

Yes, it’s true that the God of all comfort sends his ambassadors of comfort into your life. They’re sent to make God’s invisible presence, protection, strength, wisdom, love, and grace visible. So welcome his ambassadors. Be open to their insight and counsel. Confess your needs so that God’s helpers can minister to those needs. Live like you really do believe that your walk through hardship is a community project, and be ready for the good things God will do.


Content taken from Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn't Make Sense by Paul David Tripp, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Paul David Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization. He has been married for many years to Luella and they have four grown children. For more information and resources visit paultrippministries.org.

10 Ways Phones Can be Used for Our Good and God's Glory

Am I the only who feels this way? I wondered for the umpteenth time. I was in the midst of a conversation with friends lamenting their iPhones. The complaints were familiar: our smartphones make us more self-focused, short-tempered, less able to interact with real people, eager for the approval of others, unable to read and communicate in-depth. The woes are limitless.

And I don’t disagree. I too have given over too much power to my phone. It has shaped me in a number of ways I’m not proud of.

But my secret thought in that conversation and others like it is this: I like my phone. I think it’s more helpful than hurtful—even (maybe especially) in my spiritual disciplines. Am I a fool to say I think it has actually aided gospel growth in my life?

In our effort to distance ourselves from the pitfalls of these devices, are we missing what a blessing they can be?

BRAND NEW TECHNOLOGY, SAME OLD PROBLEM

Throughout history, people have sounded the alarm every time some new technology hits the scene:

  • Socrates worried writing would cause our minds to grow lazy;

  • There were cries of information overload and chaos when the printing press was invented;

  • The distribution of newspapers caused concern that people would no longer get their news directly from the pulpit;

  • Worried parents thought that teaching reading in schools would certainly wreak havoc on the minds of their children;

  • Later generations worried the advent of radio and television would wreak havoc on their children’s ability to read.[1]

Today, you can’t go on the Internet without seeing headlines bemoaning the connectivity and technology of this age, too. Those concerns are valid. Certainly, we should not consume new technology without carefully examining the ramifications.

Paul’s warning to the Ephesians is useful for us: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).

THE CAPACITY FOR GOOD AND EVIL

Just as the printing press can print the Word of God or pornography, our phones can deliver good or evil. With the Holy Spirit’s help and the accountability of a Christian community (and perhaps the implementation of some digital boundaries), we can choose to use our phones for our edification and sanctification, rather than for our destruction.

Our phones can be put to work to help us to obey this command in our current age: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

They can help us find wisdom and gain understanding, which is a blessing (Prov. 3:13). They can help us “do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thess. 5:15).

10 WAYS PHONES CAN BE USED FOR OUR GOOD AND GOD’S GLORY

The following are ten ways smartphones can be tools for our good and even God’s glory.

1. Hearing the Bible. Perhaps the most important way our phones can help sanctify us is by providing the Word of God through various Bible apps. While paper Bibles should not be replaced, Bible apps can provide customized daily reading plans, nourishment in a pinch, and add oomph to our quiet times. As I make my way through my Bible-in-a-Year plan, my app audibly reads along with me. In this way, not only am I reading the Word of God in my physical Bible, but I’m also hearing it as I go. This is especially helpful to me in the early morning when my mind is prone to wander.

2. Memorizing Scripture with voice memos. Storing God’s Word in our hearts (Ps. 119:11) is a sweet tool for sanctification. Using a voice memo app can greatly enhance Scripture memory. Reciting memorized portions into our phones allows us to immediately check our work against the written Word. The immediate feedback is excellent for catching mistakes and ensuring we rightly memorize Scripture.

3. Reading more books. Various apps allow us broad access to more books than in any other age. It’s normal today to travel frequently and commute long distances. That potentially wasted time can be redeemed as we listen to or read books we could not access prior to our smartphones. I am deeply indebted to Christian authors whose words have shaped me and library apps that have made wide reading affordable.

4. Growing through Christian blogs and websites. Smartphones allow us to access Christian blogs (like this one) and websites every day. Having the Internet in the palm of our hands allows us to wrestle with even deep theological issues at a moment’s notice. Whereas we would have needed to make a trip to a seminary library in the past, we can now immediately peruse a variety of sites and articles to help us gain commentary on a given Bible passage, theme, or difficulty.

5. Listening to a wide range of teachers and preachers. Many disciples find podcasts and sermons invaluable for growth and learning. Podcast topics vary widely from hearing news from a Biblical worldview to theological discussions, encouragement for moms to the history of racial issues in the church, and wisdom for Christian living. Access to a wide range of preachers and teachers from multiple theological backgrounds helps us keep growing both inside and outside our typical doctrinal bubbles.

6. Connecting with friends and family. Depending on one’s life stage or calling, texting can be a lifeline for Christian fellowship. Missionaries serving overseas, pastors or their wives reaching out to friends in their shoes in another city, or even new moms who need encouragement but don’t have time to meet or call a friend, can all benefit from receiving and sending encouraging texts. In our global, busy lifestyles, texting allows us to type out our prayers for one another. It can be a sweet and intimate way to keep in touch and build one another up.

7. Remembering names, prayer needs, and important dates. Phones can be a practical assistant, helping us practice hospitality on Sundays when we gather for corporate worship. We can immediately record the name of a newcomer to church right after we shake their hands. We can refresh our memories the following Sunday and greet them by name, making a warm and inviting impact. We can have our phones handy to record someone’s prayer request so we don’t forget it as soon as they walk away. Additionally, alarms can be set on our calendar apps to help us remember to pray for a surgery, an important test, or other need in our community.

8. Accessing special groups. While it’s no substitute for face-to-face friendship, Facebook can provide access to specific groups and ministries around the world. I’ve been able to connect with other adoptive parents, missionaries, ex-pats, and Christian women wherever I have lived around the world. These special niche relationships haven’t been available near me at certain times, and the online alternatives have been a source of strength and encouragement. Additionally, we can keep up with missionaries in various contexts through their secret online groups, which provide updates and prayer needs.

9. Understanding your community. Social media apps allow us to know what others in our communities are drawn to or hoping for. Based on others’ posts and what they’re chatting about, we can keep a finger on the pulse of what matters to those who attend our church, Bible study, or neighborhood fellowship. In this way, we can be better prepared for false teaching or false gospels when they arise, or fads that aren’t biblical. Social media allows us to be prepared in advance and contribute a gospel-centered voice to a conversation that might otherwise lack it.

10. Building one another up. Group texts are the way young adults communicate. Rarely do people call one another or use email. Texts are the best way to stay abreast of what is happening in the lives of our community members. Texts can be an excellent way to share joys and sorrows and prayer needs. They’re also a great way to coordinate group meetings, meals for people in need, and more. It’s nearly impossible to stay involved in relationships today without texting.

There is indeed a way to use our phones that will help us “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10).

Smartphones can be a powerful tool for our growth. Let’s consider how we might put them to work for our good and God’s glory.


[1] I am indebted to this article for this historical information. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2010/02/dont_touch_that_dial.html

Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters, and has served as a missionary for nearly two decades. She and her husband serve with Pioneers International and planted Redemption Parker, an Acts 29 church. Her passion is leading women into a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. Her book, Enough About Me: Find Lasting Joy in the Age of Self, is forthcoming with Crossway in 2020. Read more of Jen’s writing on her website or follow her on Twitter.

Don't Settle for the Spotlight

jay-dantinne-199078-unsplash.jpg

Light gets our attention. Our eyes are naturally drawn to it. The warm, illuminating effects of light beckon us to come closer. We become curious to see what the light frames for our eyes. Our interest in the light often involves our desire to become spotlighted. Many find it difficult to resist being the center of attention. Our capacity for self-exaltation is limitless. Spotlights get easier to procure every day. Social media is a prime outlet for building our platforms, brands, and personal kingdoms.

We throw our energy into shining brightly. We misapply God’s good command to let our light shine before men by projecting ourselves into the world. Often, we are oblivious to the fact that we’re drawing attention away from our father to ourselves. We deceive ourselves into believing we’re promoting him when our heart’s true desire is to live in the spotlight.

We seek the wrong light. We settle for the spotlight when we already know the Light. More than that, our father has given us his light. It’s ours to shine. We must shine his light into a dark world, so glory is given to him, not to us.

God is the Light

During his earthly ministry, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). David said, “The Lord is my light” (Ps. 27:1). In Genesis 1:3 God creates light for the whole world. However, in Revelation 22:5 he says that heaven will have no need for such light because God himself will be our light.

We would happily live in darkness but for the grace of God. He exposes the darkness in us and opens our eyes to sin. He exposes our wickedness and illuminates his holiness. But he doesn’t leave us in our helpless state. In mercy, his illumination extends to our great rescue. His light guides us toward himself. He welcomes us into his family, making it possible to live as children of the light through Christ (Eph. 5:8).

His light is incomparable. When we attempt to stand in the spotlight, we desire to outshine our maker. The world is living in darkness. We once lived in darkness (Eph. 5:8). Charles Spurgeon said, “He who has been in the dark dungeon knows the way to the bread and the water.” We aren’t the light. We aren’t what people need. We point others to what they need.

We are Light-Bearers

2 Corinthians 4:6-7 teaches, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” We are the clay jars, not the treasure. We hold what we want others to behold. We hold the light.

When others look at me, and my eyes are on Christ, they will become curious to know what has my attention. They will shift their eyes from me to him. This is the goal—to make much of Christ. If people look my way for whatever reason, I want to leverage that opportunity to point them to the true light.

John the Baptist is a great example of a light bearer. He drew man’s attention to the light of Christ. “He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:8-9). He gladly watched his followers become followers of Christ.

Do we point all who follow us to Christ or to ourselves?

Shining the Light

As light bearers, we carry the light of Christ everywhere we go. He’s given us his light to shine into the darkness. Jesus commands, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). When God tells us to let our light shine, he doesn’t mean to shine the light on ourselves. He means to let the light that he sparked in our hearts shine. His light draws people to himself.

When we stand in the spotlight, people will be drawn to us. When we shine his light within us, people will be drawn to our father. When we shine rightly, he will get the glory, not us. When we shine rightly, our motivation and our joy will come from the advancement of his kingdom, not ours.

We must be careful, always examining our hearts to make sure that our good works are done for the glory of God and for the good of his church. The spotlight is tempting. But living in the spotlight will never satisfy us and will ultimately be disappointing to others. It is only when we shine God’s light inside of us that we will be truly satisfied.

True Light Transforms

God shines his light into our lives. This light within us is the light that we shine before others. When we stand in the spotlight, we settle for lesser glory. Worse, we tempt others to do the same. True and greater glory exists.

People may be attracted to a source of light, but they can only be changed when God gives them the light of life. He must open their eyes. He must illuminate their sinful rebellion of his rule and their necessary dependence on his grace for their redemption. He alone transforms former rebels into beloved sons and daughters. Spotlights may illuminate us, bringing us glory, but God’s light transforms us, bringing him glory.

Church, we must shine. We must radiate and reflect him and his glory. We must show others what is true. The world needs authenticity, not artificialness. We settle for a light on us when we have his light in us. The closer we get to the true light, the less we will settle for an imitation. No substitute will satisfy.

Be satisfied with his light. Be motivated to bring others to his light. Let them gaze into his glory and become transformed by it (2 Cor. 3:18). Shine for the good of the church. Shine for the sake of the lost. Shine for the glory of God. Shine on, church.


Christy Britton is a wife and homeschool mom of four biological sons. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. She and her husband are covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She loves reading, discipleship, Cajun food, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for several blogs, including her own, www.beneedywell.com.