I find myself wondering these days what my students did in 1990 to distract themselves. That’s when I started teaching communication classes to college students, and I don’t remember any of them having cellphones back then. Or laptops, iPads and iPods. Maybe they secretly played Bon Jovi or Prince in their Walkman, one earplug in and eyes intent on me as I lectured. Some of them doodled; that’s still popular today. Some would open the school newspaper on the desk and try to read an article on the sly. A few might have tried to fall asleep, until I saw them and rudely interrupted their naptime. What I don’t remember is a student intently staring at his lap, checking his Twitter feed, his Instagram likes or his Snapchat streaks. Some are pretty good at it, and I can tell they have worked hard to master their cloaked habit. Others are about as subtle as a Trump tweet, and they just lock and load on their lap-phones, sometimes even laughing softly to themselves at something they are reading. That’s when I remind my students that I was born at night, but not last night, and would they please put their phones away?
A few weeks ago I noticed a student intently staring at his watch. Then he started poking at the face of it with his forefinger. This went on for several minutes, with regular pauses. I assumed he was too tired to finish the text and needed breaks in between sentences. Bless his heart. Actually, when I first saw this, it didn’t dawn on me what the student was doing. I don’t have an Apple Watch or its clone, so my orientation is not to think “texting” when I think of my watch. When I realized what was going on, I politely asked him to crush his watch under the leg of his chair. Not really, but I did tell him to take it off and put it away. First time ever!
Look, this is not an old-man rant about modern technology. I am not yelling at anyone to get off my lawn. I am just as guilty as the next guy at allowing my smartphone to control my day, if I am not careful. Even my watch has gotten into the act. I have a Garmin watch that I bought because it has a GPS in it and is helpful for tracking my running. It also talks to my phone, and they have developed quite a close relationship. This summer a pastor in Berlin was introducing me as I sat on the second pew with Cindy, preparing to go up and preach. Suddenly, to my horror, my watch told my phone to start playing music. It didn’t matter that my phone was muted, apparently, because loud strains of “Winter Wonderland” by James Taylor began to compete with the pastor’s introduction of the idiot in the second pew. Cindy and I struggled to turn it off and I was finally forced to crush it under the leg of the pew. Not really, but I walked to the pulpit with a red face and apologized to the multinational congregation about my faux pas.
I don’t have all the answers to our addiction to distraction these days. The research is startling, and you may have read George Will’s column last Tuesday in this paper. He quoted extensively from Sen. Ben Sasse’s new book about the epidemic of loneliness as a health crisis in our nation. Will wrote, “In the last quarter of the 20th century, the average number of times Americans entertained at home declined almost 50 percent. Americans are hyperconnected but disconnected, with ‘fewer non-virtual friends than at any point in decades.’”
One answer may be to reconnect to a healthy community. Find a good church and don’t just sit in a pew; get involved in the community. You may also need to put away the phone and go retro.
Speaking of which, does anyone have a Walkman I could borrow? I think I can find my old cassette tapes in the attic.
Have you ever heard of Lynch, Kentucky? I hadn’t either, until a few years ago. This past weekend, I got to experience what God is doing there firsthand, as 54 men and young men from Antioch had our annual retreat at Shekinah Village. That’s a youth camp and conference center tucked in a valley in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a wonderful place that offers fishing, horseback riding, hiking, and much more. And we all took advantage of the recreational and educational activities, including touring what was once the most productive coal mine in the nation, until it was shut down in 1963. But what we came back talking about was what God shared with us while we were there.
All of the people who work at Shekinah Village, or at any of the ministries that are under the umbrella of Meridzo, do so without a salary. No, they are not independently wealthy, except in faith. They trust God to supply their needs, and we heard story after story about how that is happening.
Meridzo Ministries began when Lonnie Riley left a senior pastor position in a mega-church in 1999, sold his big house and nice cars, and moved to Lynch, believing that God was sending him and his wife there to serve the people of Harlan County. Their website states, “30,000 missionaries have visited the Lynch, KY area over the last 10 years, and thousands of those ministered to have professed faith in Christ. These wonderful friends have assisted in bringing about physical and spiritual transformation to our region.” There were so many stories we heard, but one involved an African-American man, a Vietnam vet, who was living in a small house with no roof. Only a tarp covered his home, and the rain and snow had its way with him there. Lonnie heard about it and simply told the Lord that if he were given shingles, he would put a roof on the man’s house. The next day a woman called from Georgia and said she had 248 squares of shingles to donate. Do you need them?” Lonnie smiled and said, “Yes, as a matter of fact, we do.” The problem was they needed a truck to haul the shingles, so Lonnie prayed for a truck. A man called from western Kentucky to see if there was anything he could pray with Lonnie about. Lonnie told them they needed a semi. The man called back on the following Monday and said that a young man had been saved in his church recently. When the young man heard about the need for a truck, he called his non-Christian father who was in California. The father drove from California to Atlanta to Lynch at no charge. Three months later, the father became a Christian himself, as he saw that God was working in ways he could not explain. The vet’s house, by the way, took only 6 squares for the roof. They ended up putting new roofs on dozens of homes all over Lynch.
I had read Lonnie’s book, “Miracle in the Mountains.” It reads like something out of the book of Acts. I had heard about this ministry from my son Caleb, and from Scott, Joseph and others who work at Feed the Hunger, and who regularly send food to Lynch. But seeing it for myself, and meeting the men and women who have given up everything to go and work there and serve there? That was a game-changer for me. And for all 54 of us from Antioch.
During our final time of worship and testimonies on Saturday morning, one of the men said what we all were feeling. Todd said, “We cannot all leave our jobs and come to Lynch. There have to be people whom God calls on to supply the needs for that kind of ministry. But we can all live more simply, give more, and live by faith more. That’s the lesson I am taking back home.”
I thank God for Meridzo Ministries, and for allowing us to be a part of what he is doing there.
Imagine this scene. One of your neighbors calls on a Saturday morning with an urgent request to come immediately to his front yard. You hang up and hustle over there, to find 30 chairs on his lawn, most of them already filled with neighbors. Directly in front of the chairs you see two children on a bench, sitting quietly and studying the ground. As more neighbors wander in, you see shrugs and hear whispers of ‘what’s going on?’ Then the neighbor who called the gathering stands in front and thanks everyone for coming. “When I woke up this morning,” he says, “I awoke to screaming. I ran into the living room and found these two children (pointing at the defendants) fighting with one another over a toy. They were both angry and red-faced, and each was absolutely certain that he had possession of the toy first. I need your help,” he says, “to resolve this matter.” His face is grim and his eyes pleading. His wife has refused to come out, but you see occasional glimpses through the bay window, as she hides behind the curtains in the living room.
What would you say to your neighbor, besides, “Have you have totally lost your mind?” You would tell him that this is not a neighborhood matter, but a family matter. Surely, you might say, you are able to handle disputes among your own children.
Silly analogy? Perhaps, but it’s not too far off the beam. The church in Corinth in the first century was no different from the church in your neighborhood, and mine. Church members were taking each other to court, and Paul was incredulous. He was not stupefied by the fact that there were grievances among them. That happens in any family. He was amazed and saddened that they were airing their dirty laundry in public.
One of the favorite pastimes of the ancient Greeks, and, it would seem, the modern Americans, was to take someone to court. Or at least to go watch a friend sue somebody in court. Better yet, you could be chosen one morning to serve on a jury. There could be 200 jurors, plus one to break a tie, in a normal court case. In some cases, as many as 6,000 people served on the jury. Just imagine the chaos in that deliberation room.
If you read the text in Paul’s letter, you will notice that the apostle was not writing to the city fathers of Corinth, trying to change the mindset of the world. He was writing to Christians, in the church, who were taking their fellow Christians to a civil court, laying their cases before “those who have no standing in the church.” Disputes between believers should be settled in the church, not in the court system. There are exceptions to that rule, I know. If a man is physically assaulting his wife, for example, that is a legal matter that will be handled as such, as any legal matter should. But if one man in the church slanders another, or if a woman takes up an offense for her child, that is a matter for the church members themselves to resolve.
The late associate justice on the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, wrote this about our litigation-loving land: “I think we are too ready today to see vindication or vengeance through adversary proceedings, rather than peace through mediation…Good Christians, just as they are slow to anger, should be slow to sue.” Robert Taylor said, “Litigation is a manifestation of an absence of community.”
Got a grievance with your kids’ behavior? That’s a family matter. Got a beef with a brother in the church? That, too, is a family matter. Work it out, to the glory of God and for the sake of peace.
The people in Acts 12, listening to Herod give a speech, shouted, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” They were in the flesh and so was he and soon he was in the grave. When he received the praise of men, an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God, and he was eaten by worms and died. Here’s a good thing to remember: wrong worship leads to worms. I am not being funny. When men choose to worship themselves rather than their Creator, that worship stinks. It is wormy and corrupt, good for nothing.
Read Psalm 95 for a primer on how and why we worship. The verbs tell the story in the first few verses. Come. There is a movement on the part of the worshiper from where he is to a place where he will worship. If you are driving down the road on the way to work and your mind is filled with many things, you can “come” to worship right there and begin to praise God. Do it. Also, don’t neglect to “come” to worship with the saints in the house of God.
Sing. Worship and music are made for each other. And notice in Psalm 95, the invitation is corporate: let US sing. Worship is contagious. I am lifted higher in my worship when I am standing with people singing with all their might to the Lord. When I am surrounded by my brothers and sisters in Christ, I am moved by the power of God working in their lives as they worship.
Shout joyfully. This takes freedom. It doesn’t take freedom to shout for men. People do that all the time, at ballgames or political rallies, but those who belong to God are called to shout joyfully for Him. Can you do it? Is it even allowed in your church? C.S. Lewis said, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.” I like that. Our open exuberance for Christ makes our delight for Him even more enjoyable.
We are also to come before His presence with thanksgiving. Do you ever think about the fact that when we believers are gathered for worship, God is also there? We are joined by the One we worship. When one of my sons was about four years old, he tugged on Cindy’s shirtsleeve one Sunday during the singing and said, “Momma, God and the angels are here!” He was right. Perhaps a child’s vision for the unseen is greater than ours that has been clouded by years of ‘learning.’ By the way, here’s a side-note. I am so thankful my children have been standing beside me in worship for the past 32 years, since the oldest was able to stand. They have not been separated from their parents in another part of the building. They are better worshipers for it.
A.W. Tozer wrote 50 years ago: “To great sections of the church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service that now passes for worship among us.” When we come to watch instead of to worship, we are in trouble and the church is, too. When we come to be entertained rather than invited into God’s presence, maybe we need to reexamine what worship is.”
Come, let us worship and bow down!