The Social Media Diet

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There are as many diet plans as there are people. It seems like there’s always a new trendy diet people are willing to try, whether it’s the Keto diet, the South Beach diet, the Atkins diet, or the Paleo diet, to name a few. There are also people who live a lifestyle of abstaining from certain foods, such as vegans, vegetarians, or people like me, who have to avoid gluten because of my Celiac disease. To go along with all of these diets, there’s the money spent on weight loss programs and gym memberships. Thus, the weight loss industry totals into the tens of billions of dollars annually.

Spring is here and I’m trying to work off the weight gained during another cold Midwestern winter, but I’ve started a different diet. This diet is to increase my peace of mind and my spare time: the social media diet.

I joined the world of social media back in 2010, as a way to connect to out-of-state relatives and catch up with people with whom I lost contact. However, I quickly saw the ugly side of social media. Comment about anything going on in the world and cue the vitriol in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Social media, like anything else, is not bad in of itself, it’s about how it is used.  I began to see the irony of how people took a platform meant for connection and turned  it into a means of division. There’s no room for moderation because everyone has made up his or her mind.

I was scrolling through weeks ago and asked myself, “What are you doing? What are you looking for? Do you really need to know any of this?” I thought about gradually reducing the amount of time spent on social media, but I’ve decided to stay away. I’ve deleted social media apps from my phone, which saves a lot of memory on your operating system. If I do happen to log on, I put myself on a short timer (like five minutes).

The early results are in and I have to say so far so good. I’ve dedicated more time to reading and being productive around the house. I seem to be more positive, as I am not exposed to negativity and drama first thing in the morning. The best part about it is no politics. I used to enjoy political debate, but since everything these days is a political topic, I have soured on the issue. I believe staying away now will be beneficial with the upcoming 2020 U.S. elections.

I’m not telling anyone to close your social media accounts. If scrolling through Facebook or tweeting is something you enjoy, that’s fine, it’s your life. However, for my own peace of mind, I’ve decided to forge a new lifestyle, which I am enjoying thus far.

 

 

Jesus Crosses Social Barriers

“Now he had to go through Samaria,” John 4:4 (NIV).

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Have you ever tried to avoid driving on a certain stretch of road or try to bypass traffic in a particular city? What if going through said stretch of road or city was the shortest, most direct route to your destination? Would you still avoid it? Is there some long-standing bias or bad memory associated with the road or city?

During biblical times, the average person walked everywhere or they may have rode a donkey, camel, or perhaps a horse. When there are great distances involved, especially while traveling on foot, you would want to walk the shortest route possible. In one instance, Jesus took the shortest route and crossed a major social barrier.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee and went through Samaria, which was the shortest route. “Now he had to go through Samaria,” seems like a pretty innocuous statement for a 21st Century reader, but in Jesus’ time, Samaria was controversial among the Jews of Israel. In fact, many Jews tried to go places by avoiding Samaria all together.

The controversy dates back to the Old Testament. Samaria was the capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel, while Jerusalem remained the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom in 722 BC and deported many of the Jews. The Assyrians brought in Gentiles (non-Jews) to settle the land. These Gentiles intermarried with the remaining Jews, which created a “mixed race,” which the Jews of Judea did not recognize the Samaritan as “authentic Jews” for lack of a better term. The Samaritan Jews also believed Mount Gerizim was the holy site for sacrifice, not the Temple in Jerusalem, and recognized only the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) as Scripture.

Understanding the conflict between the Jews and the Samaritans gives a different context to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which probably would have angered many in his Jewish audience that a Samaritan would be hero of the story.

I will not go through the entire story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), but I want to discuss some of the highlights. We live in such a divisive time, where people only read and listen to what confirms their confirmation bias, from which they do not budge. Let us take a look at the barriers Jesus crosses in this story:

-Jesus goes directly into what many consider “hostile territory.”

-Jesus, a Jew, speaks with people who are Samaritans.

-Jesus, a man, ministers to a woman.

-Jesus does not condemn the Samaritan woman for her past.

-Jesus does not debate doctrine, cast judgment, or threaten anyone with hell.

-Jesus brings a message of hope for all people, regardless of their background.

-Jesus breaks down the barriers of  institutional racism.

After Jesus ministers to the woman, she goes back and brings people of the town to see Jesus. Jesus and the disciples end up staying in Samaria for two days and many Samaritans come to faith in Christ.

I recognize that during my more fundamentalist days, I was a very divisive Christian. I have seen the error of my ways and I am now trying to break down these man made barriers. I believe the church and all of society can benefit from this example of Christ. Just because someone isn’t the same skin color as you, believes a different political philosophy, goes to a different church, or lives a lifestyle you don’t agree with, that doesn’t make them bad people. Everybody is just like you, in search of love and acceptance, which we need to provide. There is no need to condemn anyone for their past, because we all have a past. Let’s quit treating each other like dogs and rubbing our noses in each other’s mess. If we as Christians want to be more like Jesus, we need to be tearing down these superficial barriers instead of building  higher and higher walls.

 

 

Our Age to be Enlightened

By Michael W. Raley

The time has come for the reasoned and rational voices to prevail,

And put aside the empty rhetoric, which only leads to more travail.

All these tired talking points only take us back to the problem’s start,

As more and more dig deeper trenches around their obstinate minds and hearts.

How about we actually work together to solve problems

Instead of resorting to demonizing and fear mongering?

We should have long ago made great strides and progress.

Yet, we continue to retreat and regress.

There are those who  refuse to see the dawn of a new day,

Because they cling to the comfort of the old ways.

We must not allow ourselves to be frightened,

For this is an opportunity, our age to be enlightened.

 

 

 

Live for the Present, not the End

I used to be fascinated by the end of the world, the apocalypse, the end of days, whatever name you want to call it. I’ve poured over Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24 (which is also found in Luke 21 and Mark 13); the Book of Revelation, and scoured the prophets as well. I read the first twelve books of the left behind series, anticipated the four blood moons of 2014-2015, sneered at the date setting, and I was an avid watcher of end times teachers. For good measure, I tried to see how current events such as 9/11, the War on Terror, the rise of ISIS and certain world leaders fit into the prophetic timeline.

What I’ve learned: waiting for the end only hampers living in the present. As a Christian I know Jesus and other New Testament writers told us to watch for the signs, but I believe we should be more diligent in teaching and showing God’s grace to the world around us. Don’t let this present moment pass you by as you wait for a heaven that’s a lifetime away.

Apocalyptic teaching, of course is not unique to Christianity, as many religions, cults, sects, and cultures modern and ancient have anticipated some cosmic cataclysm to generate rebirth or to rewrite the wrongs and social ills of their respective societies. In an age of scientific understanding we know that eclipses, meteors, planetary alignments, earthquakes, tsunamis, and so on are all naturally occurring phenomena. In the past ages that had little or no scientific understanding, such events were attributed to the judgment of God or the gods upon society. Since many of our religions are based on these ancient texts and modes of thinking, we as a society still have these thoughts in a technologically advanced Twenty-First Century.

I believe we must take a more reasoned and logical approach in understanding the world around us. I’m not putting down anyone’s beliefs or discounting any sacred teaching, I’m just advocating that while we are “waiting for the end,” we make our current world the best it can be. A prime example is that we cannot trash our planet in the hopes of living on Mars or Jupiter, as those ideas may remain the dreams of science fiction.

As a church, we cannot find ourselves again on the wrong side of history when it comes to such things as civil rights, taking care of the less fortunate, the environment, and being the light of the world as Jesus said we should be. We have real issues that we must address. I have said in many blog posts before, I have no particular political affiliation-I’m not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian or anything like that. However, within the last forty years or so, many American Evangelical Christians have aligned themselves with political parties  who are against many of Jesus’ teachings- taking care of the sick, giving to the poor, elevating the status of women, recognizing those who have a different perceived social status, and just simply showing compassion to your fellow man, woman, and child. Many oppose how their tax dollars are spent, especially when it comes to social programs such as welfare, Obamacare, and other programs, yet fail to realize that the government has simply stepped in to fill the leadership void because a large majority of the church has been waiting for the imminent end of the world.

Let’s put aside the religious and political hostility and examine what is in our own hearts, casting the judgment on ourselves and not on our neighbors. To paraphrase Jesus, we have to stop picking the sawdust out of everyone’s eyes while we walk around with a two-by-four stuck  in our eyes. Let us love those who are different than us and step outside of our comfort zone. Two thousand years or more have passed since the end time discourses. I know the counter arguments about how the world had to catch up to God’s vision or  God’s measurement of time is different than ours, but we can find reason to rejoice in the present. We still have time to show love to our neighbors and try to have a little heaven on earth.

The Politics of Jesus

The Lord Jesus Christ is the most influential figure to have ever lived. From His sacrificial death and resurrection to His teachings, billions of lives have been changed. The principles Jesus taught and exemplified have also been sources for great social and personal change. If our salvation in Christ is supposed to influence every aspect of our lives, how does this influence our political beliefs for the upcoming Presidential election?

In this post, we will examine the politics of Jesus. However, I will not make the Lord out to be a card carrying member of any political party nor will I be pushing for any particular agenda or platform. Also, keep in mind that there are no perfect candidates nor are there any perfect elections. This current election cycle has a lot of people holding on to their affiliation’s ideological extremes, perceiving to vote for the lesser of two evils, or just tuning out in general. But if Christians are to vote along biblical principles, what exactly does the life of Jesus illustrate in this regard?

For an examination of how a Christian is to respond biblically to their government, I would encourage you to check out my post, “A Christian’s Civic Duty.” https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2015/09/19/a-christians-civic-duty/

When Jesus walked the earth, Israel was a territory of the Roman Empire. However, Jesus’ harshest criticism was not directed at Caesar, but against the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees- the religious leaders of the day. Jesus openly exposed their hypocrisy in placing barriers in front of so many people, while neglecting the teaching of the most important aspects of the Law. Jesus came to earth to die for our sins; He did not seek to start a theocracy. Jesus’ kingdom was as He said, “Not of this world.” Jesus also downplayed the political ramifications of Him being the Messiah. In the Old Testament prophecies, there are no clear distinctions as to the verses that mark the first and second coming of the Messiah. Many people believed the conquering Messiah would come first and overthrow Rome, when the suffering Messiah came first.

Political power can corrupt, but Jesus could not be swayed by the allure of political power. Jesus emphasized devotion to God over allegiance to worldly things and agendas. Jesus crossed cultural barriers, as the Gospels record Him ministering to Gentiles. Jesus also elevated the status of women, as with the examples of the Samaratian woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, and the woman who anointed Him with the alabaster jar of perfume. Jesus also welcomed and cared for children.

Jesus also ran social programs, as He feed the hungry, treated the disabled, the sick, and the mentally ill. Jesus believed that we should love and treat each person with dignity and respect. Jesus emphasized blessing (speaking well of) our enemies, or those who seek to criticize us. Jesus broke down social conventions and man-made traditions to reach people with the Gospel or healing. Jesus reached out to those who were cast off by society- prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, the possessed, and other “sinners.” Jesus also taught fulfilling our civic duty and pay taxes to our earthly government. Jesus’s teachings and deeds are vast, and as John put it, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” (John 21:25, KJV).

Who or what you vote for is between you and God. I just want to emphasize that as Christians, we must be spiritually discerning of the things that go on inside and outside of the church. We must not be swayed by false promises or fear-inducing rhetoric. We must no longer demonize our political opponents or those whose life choices are different from ours. Jesus taught us to love and forgive all people as He has loved and forgiven us. As this election nears, let us all pray for God’s will to be done and that He would give us the wisdom to go forward. God bless you all.

Filling the Leadership Vacuum

As I write this, the United States is weeks away from a presidential election. Like American politics in the Twenty-First Century, the race has been divisive, polarizing, uncivil, filled with countless accusations, and lacking in character depth and substance when it comes to putting forth solutions to solve our country’s  problems.

I have no political agenda here. I consider myself apolitical- I am not Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, or any other label that can be placed on a person’s political views. My principles are guided by my faith, family values, and my life experiences. The current political environment has created a segment of the population that is discouraged and apathetic toward what is happening with the presidential race. Poll after poll shows the lack of support and dissatisfaction Americans have for their government. It also seems as if reason and moderate discussion no longer apply to politics because the extreme ideologies have seized both political parties and people in general.

Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vison, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV).

When leaders fail to lead or if their principles are negotiable, the entire nation suffers. Historically, as a nation’s leaders go, so go the people. This is true in the current case of the United States, ancient Rome, or even ancient Israel. Just as the Bible says that bad company corrupts good character, so too does lawlessness among leaders creates lawlessness among the people. When leadership is wanting in government, you could also more than likely believe that leadership is lacking in the home, in the church, and in the workplace. This creates a vacuum, where people try to fill in the gaps for themselves and do what is “right in their own eyes.” And as a result, standards and ethics disappear.

In the Old Testament, God frequently rebukes kings, priests, false prophets, and the peoples of Israel and Judah for their continued disobedience and lawlessness. One such instance can be found in Ezekiel 22, where God specifically rebukes the priests, princes, and prophets.

God makes a direct correlation between the behavior and disobedience of Israel’s leaders to the behavior of its people:

“The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Therefore I have poured out my indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,’ says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 22:29-31, NKJV).

God searched the land and found no one to be a person of principle and lead. What a sad commentary on Israel’s spiritual affairs. The United States finds itself in the same situation as our elections have devolved from the best person for the job to trying to discern the lesser of two evils.

However, the responsibility does not lie solely on the government. All of us must take action and display leadership in our lives- reach out to those who need a hand up. The problems facing our society- racism, discrimination, oppression, addiction, crime, marginalization, isolation are all matters of the heart. It is impossible for one election or one candidate to fix society’s ills. We must look within and examine ourselves. What can we do? Are we willing to stand in the gap for our loved ones? Are we willing to draw the proverbial line in the sand of our beliefs and morals and stand our ground? Are we willing to be a voice for those who cannot speak? Are we willing to be our brother’s keeper? I believe as we take leadership of our own lives, not only will our lives improve, but so will our nation. God bless you.

 

The Rulers of Darkness

Politics is a divisive issue in our world. Regular people and politicians alike take extreme viewpoints on the issues with seemingly no middle ground. Just a cursory scroll through your social media accounts can reveal the political stances of your family, friends, and followers. Behind every political party and political issue lies an agenda of a particular group of people. Though people speak out for and against the visible people of the political causes- elected officials, activists, celebrities, protestors, etc., do you consider who is really “pulling the strings” behind the scenes?

Luke chapter 4 (also Matthew chapter 4) tells the story of Jesus’ temptation by Satan. It is the second temptation that will be discussed.

“Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I will give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’” (Luke 4:5-8, NKJV).

Notice when the devil, speaking of the authority of the world’s governments said, “for this has been delivered to me,” Jesus did not correct him, but rebuked Satan when he demanded to be worshipped. When people and governments choose not to live under God’s authority and Word, they give Satan the right to rule in their lives, whether it is through habitual sin or flat-out worship of the devil. When this happens, the door is open to rampant immorality and open rebellion to God’s Word.

In 1 Samuel chapter 8, Israel rejects Samuel’s leadership and asks for a king to rule over them. Samuel goes to the Lord about Israel’s request and the Lord informs him that the people are not rejecting Samuel’s leadership, but God’s leadership. However, God sends Samuel back with a warning to the people concerning a king- their children would be enlisted in the king’s service, their property would be seized, and the people would face heavy taxes.

When Jesus went to the cross, died and was resurrected, the penalty was not only paid for our sins and the whole of humanity, but judgment was also pronounced on Satan and his kingdoms. Though Satan’s final judgment will be carried out after the millennial reign of Christ, he still has influence over the world’s system of government. Several times throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince of this world.”

“Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:31-32, KJV).

“Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.” (John 14:30, KJV).

“Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged.” (John 16:11, KJV).

The Apostle Paul also spoke of Satan’s influence in the world’s system. “But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4, KJV).

Paul spoke concerning of the past lives of the believers at Ephesus and the spirit at work in the world: “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2, KJV).

As Christians we live in the world, but are not of the world. Christians must be mindful that the battle is not against other people or against political leaders, but against evil spiritual forces.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:11-12, KJV).

The prophet Daniel had such an encounter with such principalities and powers. Daniel chapter 10 describes how Daniel sought God, praying and fasting for three weeks. Daniel had a vision and was told by an angel that God had heard his prayer on day one, but the angel fought with “prince of the kingdom of Persia” for twenty-one days and defeated the prince with the help of the archangel Michael. (Daniel 10:12-13). This same angel tells Daniel that after the prince of Persia, the prince of Greece will come. (Daniel 10:20). From a study of secular and biblical history, we know that the Persian Empire ceased to be the dominant world empire when it was defeated by Alexander the Great of Greece. The Bible shows us that Satan has influence in both ancient and current world affairs. Revelation 13 speaks of how Satan will give the antichrist the authority to rule.

Though we truly live in perilous times, I believe the world and its governments will grow more and more morally corrupt and will turn away from God even more. As the church of the Living God, we must be mindful of the times and remain steadfast. We must not let our hearts be troubled, no matter what laws are passed or what the courts decide. Satan desires to be worshipped and he will find any means necessary. Persecution will come, but we have overcome the world because Christ has overcome the world. Jesus is coming soon and all things will be made right.

“And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.’” (Revelation 11:15, KJV).