The Benefits of Going Deeper

Nicholas Carr’s ground-breaking bookThe Shallows, describing the effect of the Internet on the way we learn and Interact, was first published in 2011. In the seven years since the book was released, we have come to better understand the meaning and implications of the book, because “the shallows" aptly describes the place where so many people dwell in this era of instant information and constant connection.

Despite greater access to knowledge, the virtually unlimited reservoir of information the Internet provides has dampened the quality of our interactions with one another as well as the way we take in and process content. To summarize Carr’s conclusions,

  • Breadth of knowledge is not the same as depth of knowledge;
  • An abundance of facts and data does not equal wisdom; and
  • The ability to connect with an unlimited number of people does not lead to deeper relationships.
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First and Second Things

In the Olympics as in life, coming in second is nice, but it’s nothing like being first. We remember gold medalists but quickly forget who took the silver. Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights speaks for all those whothink first is best when he says, “If you ain’t first you’re last.”

If there’s an exception to this “It’s Best to Be First” principle, it’s one made popular by the outstanding “I Am Second” campaign—currently featuring Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton—where the message echoes the ubiquitous HE>i slogan from a clothing brand based on the Bible verse John 3:30: “HE (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.”

Which is why it’s puzzling that so many of us who call ourselves Christians put second (that would be us) ahead of first (that would be God). To be fair, it’s not like we think we’re more important or better than God, but that doesn't stop us from taking a shot at first place. So we trumpet a passion we have for a cause and make that our first priority. You know, good causes like caring for the poor, helping the disadvantaged, giving voice to marginalized voices, those sorts of things.

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Are You a Little Weltschmerz?

Even for the most optimistic among us, the events of the past few weeks have been difficult: Social unrest, ideological clashes, political turmoil, nuclear threats, and to top it off, one of the most devastating storms in American history. Any one of these is capable of producing a knot of anxiety. But all of them at once is enough to make you more than a little weltschmerz.

Wait, what? What is weltschmerz? Not exactly a household word, weltschmerz is in fact a useful and appropriate way to describe the state many people are in right now. Coined by the German Romantic writer Jean Paul at the turn of the 19th century, it literally means “world pain” or “world weariness.” The word has been used from time to time to describe the anxiety many feel because of all the troubles in the world.

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More Than One Way to Jesus?

Jesus insists and Christians believe that he is the only way to God (John 14:6), but is it possible that there are many ways to Jesus? Theologian Peter Kreeft asks the question this way: “What subjective relationship must one have with Jesus in order to be on the right way?”

Some insist you merely need to say a prayer inviting Jesus into your heart. Others suggest it isn’t enough to reduce your salvation to a “magic formula,” that there needs to be true repentance, or a desire to turn away from sin. But was the thief on the cross next to Jesus sorry for his sins? All we know from the text is that he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” to which Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

What about the Old Testament saints? How were they saved? James the apostle, writing about the kind of faith it takes to please God, said that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness” (James 2:23). Abraham didn’t know Jesus, but he experienced the righteousness of God extended to sinful people through Jesus.
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My New Year's Resolve

I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions. This is likely because I know I could never keep them. You know the popular resolutions well.  Get-up-earlier, actually-exercise-for-the-love, go-to-bed-earlier, read-the-one-year-Bible-without-missing-a-day, cut-out-sweets, I mean, who am I kidding? I could never keep those up for an entire year. That’s 365 days! (I’m not good with math so hopefully I got that right). I don’t make resolutions because I can’t keep them. I end up feeling like a failure come March or April when I’ve lost all steam to uphold such resolutions and I go on a colossal binge of all things unhealthy and unorderly. Is anybody with me?

Resolutions may not be my thing at the start of every New Year, but to resolve, that I can work with.

Resolve means to ‘decide firmly on a course of action.’ I can do that.

You may be familiar with a guy named Daniel from the Bible. He’s the guy who was thrown in a lion’s den and lived to tell about it. He was also a man who influenced culture and didn’t allow the cultural waves to carry him away from the path he was on. Daniel was an Israelite. He was one of God’s chosen people. He was living in Jerusalem when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded and took what he wanted from the area, including Daniel.

Without warning, Daniel was kidnapped and under the King’s orders, he was to learn the Babylonian way, culture, language, literature, etc. He was also ordered to adopt the diet of the King’s men, a beefy diet of meats, carbs and wine (I’m doing a round of whole30 at the moment so all of that sounds delicious right about now. It’s only day 2; I’m in trouble.).  

In Daniel 1:8 it says, “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…”.

Daniel was bold. Essentially, a slave, he told his new boss he didn’t want to spoil himself with what the earthly King Neb (we can call him Neb for short don’t you think?) considered fitting because Daniel lived for a better way serving God, the King of all Kings.

We are people of culture. We were born into a particular culture during a particular time period for a particular purpose ordained by Jesus long ago. Culture is not bad. But there are cultural trends that are not of God and are not pleasing to Him. As a Christian, I want to be like Daniel. I want to live my life according to what’s good and pleasing to God and not according to my wavering culture.

So here’s my resolve for 2017.

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What is the Bible About? Part 2

Would you believe I was married for 7 years the first time I met my father in-law? Ha! He arrived from Cameroon dressed to the nines in a pale yellow suit. Over the course of his month long visit, I learned a little about him and a lot about my husband. 

As I got to know my father-in-law, I realized my husband had very similar mannerisms and characteristics. As it turns out, my husband is a lot like his father.

I was greater informed of my husband as my relationship formed with my father in-law.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve opened the Bible looking for the answers I think I need for the thing I think is the most urgent thing in my life.

What is the Bible About Anyway?

The Bible can be intimidating right? When you pick it up to read, where do you start?  In the beginning? (#punning). Or do you start with the words of the wise in Proverbs? Jesus seems to be pretty important. Do you start by reading about His life in the Gospel books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

Whether you’re new to Christianity or have been following Jesus for a lifetime, knowing how to read the Bible and where to start can be a challenge.

Confession: I’m a 100% through and through book nerd. My idea of a hot Friday night? A good book in one hand a glass of vino in the other. I devour books as if they are a big ‘ole fat slice of pie. I love books.

Unlike Other People

In recent years much has been marked by many debates in Congress, increasing campaigns by Presidential hopefuls, and a vast array of movies characterized by special effects. We have also seen the passing of influencers and among them is John Stott, whose influence has been profound and whose example is inviting and intimidating at the same time.

Let me give a personal note. In the early 1990’s I heard John Stott preach at All Souls in London. I was a college student and the impact was enormous. I was new to the Christian faith and seeking like mad for knowledge and understanding. After the message, I promptly visited the bookstall, purchased ‘Basic Christianity’ by Stott and read it until the binding failed. Over ten years later, I helped lead a group of high school students to London and I brought them to All Souls for worship on the Sunday morning we were in the city.

Paul Can't Keep a Secret and Neither Can I

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Play With Fire: Interview with Author Bianca Juarez Olthoff

This summer has been an amazing one for new book releases. I got my hands on a pre-released copy of Play With Fire and was both encouraged and inspired by author Bianca Juarez Oltoff’s story of transformation by fire. We all experience trials and endure circumstances we wish we could escape. Bianca went through her own fires and discovered refinement, passion and a loving God in the midst of the flames. If you missed my full review of the book, you can check it out here.

Last week I spoke with Bianca about her debut book Play With Fire. We also talked about the A21 Campaign, Propel Women and of course Adele. "Hello..........."

Check it out below and be sure and order your copy of Play With Fire today while it's hot off the press!

Bianca, you travel the world teaching and speaking for the A21 Campaign and for Propel Women. What do you love the most about your work and what are you looking forward to in the months and year ahead?

I’m really excited because this is the year we have had the most amount of rescues in A21 history. I am excited to know we aren’t slowing down, we are taking ground. And that comes with a cost. There are a lot of sacrifices our team has made but we are very excited about the men, women and children we get to rescue out of slavery!  We have a lot of great things on the horizon with Propel Women. We have launched curriculum that can be used in a church, home or office space. We have a couple groups from google who are meeting. We have a group from Chick-fil-A who meet online. They post a video online and all get together on google hang out to discuss the topics on hand. What we’re really excited about is there are so many great Bible resources for women, but what about the practical side of things? There’s always a layer of Biblical foundation of course, but we really want to go after the heart of what are some of the felt needs women are facing today? And so our first curriculum on personal leadership, is dealing with issues regarding balance, prayer life, conflict, personal dreams, goals, etc. Those are topics people are really excited to open up and discuss. We just released our 3rd edition of the curriculum last week. We also have several events coming up on the horizon this upcoming year. It’s definitely a full schedule.

What prompted you to write Play With Fire and what is your hope for all who read it?

I wrote Play With Fire out of my desire to see those who feel their faith is nothing but an ember, to see that ember erupt into a huge flame. And for those who feel as if they are living a half-baked Christian life believing and thinking there is more to life that God has for them but just not knowing what that is. My hope is that this book gets into the hands of people who feel like they want the Holy Spirit to radically change their life and that is what this is birthed out of. Fire is symbolic of danger but fire can also be symbolic of transformation and that’s worth going after. I want people to know that trials and tribulations that seem like they are going to destroy them are actually the places where they discover the presence of God.

In Play With Fire you share about a couple individuals from your childhood and young adulthood who had profound influence on you and helped shape your perspective of God. What are some of the markers of a Godly mentor or influencer?

I think there is a level of humility and accepting and acknowledging what you don’t know that I’m attracted to. The people who have made the most profound influence on my life have been people who just simply found a place to discover who Jesus is, just the tip of who Jesus is, who God is. I’m attracted to humility and hunger. Those are the two values I look for in people I want to follow and learn from.

How can we encourage loved ones who feel as if they are walking through their fire today?

I love when we come alongside and just be in the pain with people. Sometimes we don’t need a Biblical prescription, sometimes we just need community. Like when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, he didn’t turn to Peter, James and John and say, please quote the Torah to me. He said please pray with me. Stay awake with me. I think sometimes we underestimate the value of the ministry of just being present and standing with people during trials and tribulations. And then the other thing is, once they know their friends are willing to stand with them, look for those windows to hold onto the promises of God. There are times you remain silent and just bear the pain and there are other times we speak boldly and declare the promises of God. We remind them of who God has called them to be. We remind them of the plans God has for them and we remind them that our God is faithful. So presence and promises are powerful in standing with someone who is going through the fire.

In Play With Fire you talk about worship in the wilderness. You describe a turning point when your prayers changed from crying about your circumstances to crying out to God, the One who could meet you in your circumstances. How important was this shift for discovering fierce faith, unquenchable passion and a life-giving God?

Throughout scripture there is power in crying out. We see it in the life of David and we see Paul cry out to God as Abba father. We see this phrase of crying out in Isaiah and throughout Jeremiah. I think it’s healthy to cry out to God but we have to be careful our crying doesn’t become complaining. And when we are going through these proverbial deserts or seasons, it’s very easy to cry out but if there isn’t response, crying can easily turn into complaining. When we are angry with God and angry at the situation we become bitter buddies, just frustrated with life and we start doubting the goodness of God like the Israelites did. They let their forgetfulness affect their faithfulness. They forgot their faithful God took them out of slavery. They forgot their faithful God promised them there is a promised land for them. And when we go through those seasons, we have got to talk ourselves straight. Talk ourselves into believing, wait a minute, I know who I am, I know whose I am, I know what I am called to, and nothing is going to thwart this. I have to hold onto the promises of God because even though this is not a good situation, I know that all things work for good. And I may not see it today, I may not see it tomorrow, I may not see it this side of heaven but I know that God is going to redeem this situation.

What are you currently reading and what music do you have on repeat right now?

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