I’ve realized how easy it is to consume news, information, and even spiritual knowledge without retaining it. We move from social-media post to online article to amusing YouTube video to online shopping seamlessly. One of the downsides is we don’t reflect on or respond to what we’re reading, viewing, and hearing. Because of the amount of information that inundated us, we also tend to forget what we read (that mattered) and fail to hold on to or prioritize what was actually beneficial.
“Let’s admit that we are not enough, and turn to the God who is.” Jen Oshman
Quotes from a book are a bit like tasting samples at the ice-cream shop. They can draw you in and give a feel for what a full cone (or book) offers. But books are always more than a few quotes. Books include longer stories and illustrations to provide context to those quotes, and suggested applications to live them out. Books build and sustain arguments and ideas that can become part of how you live faithfully in the world, even if you never have a quote ready.
We’re #blessed to live in a day and age where there are so many good Christian resources online and in print. However, there is also a lot of misinformation as well as bad theology out there. While this is only a small sampling, here are a few of my favorite websites for thinking biblically about personal, discipleship, and cultural challenges today. There are a lot of other great Christian websites for niche groups, but I left those out of my list.
One of the NT paradigms so helpful in growing or maturing as a Christian (sanctification) is that we live out our new identity in Christ. We are a new creation in Jesus, with our old self dying and a new me rising to life with him (Col. 2:11-13; 3:1-4). From this foundation of our new status as God’s forgiven, remade, and beloved children, and from this new identity where who I am is integrally connected to my union with Jesus, we then put to death sin and put on Christ. We say “out with the old and in with the new” when it comes to those desires, thoughts, and behaviors that aren’t fitting of me now in Jesus or are fitting. Unlike how our clothes become out of fashion every few years, the virtues of Christ we’re to put on (Col. 3:12-15) are unchanging. They are attractive, fitting clothes in every season and through the ages.
“The iron bolt which so mysteriously fastens the door of hope and holds our spirits in gloomy prison, needs a heavenly hand to push it back.” Charles Spurgeon
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1)
The Problem: Life is Hard God
Despite the way our culture values “authenticity,” most of us rarely feel comfortable enough to speak honestly and personally about the wounds and pains we carry, the weariness and weakness we feel, the dark thoughts or discouragement we wrestle with, or the disappointment and frustration with life experienced. While it might be okay to admit generalities like “My life is a mess” or “I’m struggling along,” to say how and why we are fragile or broken, to share real burdens and put them on the table seems a bit too far. It can be an awkward moment of transparency in a world of surface-level dialogue.
As you read the book of Colossians, Paul repeatedly holds up the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus in all things and over all things. This would be true for any of the churches he sent a letter (Epistle), but it was especially necessary at Colossae. There were those at Colossae undermining Christ’s sufficiency. They did this–as far as we know–not by rejecting Jesus, denying his humanity or divinity, or denying the claims of Jesus. Instead, it was more subtle. This false teaching conveyed the idea that Jesus is a great start, but to really arrive, grow, be happy, or experience the highest levels of knowledge and religious experience, other things needed added to Jesus or sought alongside of Jesus. It’s a “Jesus plus” or “Jesus and” theology rather than a “Jesus alone” theology.
I’ve recently had the chance to contribute to a few other websites or had articles picked up by them. For anyone interested in reading things that might not always get posted here, check out the following links.
2020 has given us plenty of challenges: the pandemic, quarantine and isolation, church closures and re-openings, racial tensions, riots, debates over masks and pretty much everything else tied to COVID-19, politics in an election year, and questions about government intrusion on the Church. Mix in that trying to figure out what families should do for school, and how that affects our jobs and income, as well as churches scrambling to do their best to gather together and care for those struggling with all that’s going on, and there’s plenty to leave us discouraged.
One temptation is to immerse ourself in the news–on TV, online, or through social-media–to stay up to speed and feel informed. The intense debates only fuel this as so many people read articles to defend their cause. It’s no wonder people feel stressed, anxious, and angry. To make matters worse, some statistics indicate Christians are spending even less time in the Bible than they did before the pandemic. We’re filling our minds with bad news and stressful news, meanwhile we’re neglecting to fill our minds and hearts with The Good News.
One of the things biblical scholars love to debate is what the “heresy” at Colossae actually was. Was it a heresy? What was taught? Was it from inside or outside the church? Paul warns the church at Colossae, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8).” So who were the false teachers at Colossae, and what was the nature of their teaching?
“Much in cultural engagement hangs on wisdom and virtue rather than a list of rules or universal plan that we might extract from the Bible.” Joshua D. Chatraw & Karen Swallow Prior, Cultural Engagement
“Of all its benefits, one of the drawbacks of the digital age is how easily we mistake information for knowledge….The goal of discernment is not to simply avoid evil in this life, it is to learn what is good so that we might embrace and enjoy it.” Hannah Anderson, All That’s Good
We have more information than ever, and yet it seems we’re less discerning than ever. Maybe those two go hand-in-hand, as the amount of information and the mediums we receive that information from (primarily online and through social-media) don’t prioritize wisdom.
In an age of fake news, alternative opinions, echo chambers, tribalism, information overload, cancel culture, and hot takes, taking the time to diligently study issues, consider various views, compare it with biblical teaching, and reflect on the nuances and complexities of those issues before arriving at an opinion–and sharing it–seems to rarely happen. It’s much easier to simply read one article that says what I like (or even just read the headline) and quickly share it with everyone. It feels good. But does it cultivate discernment and diligence? Does it over-simply issues or honestly reflect nuance? Wisdom is in short supply, but let’s do what we can to try and reclaim it.