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Internet

You believe you are the center of the universe

David Foster Wallace was an American thinker and writer, best known for his novel Infinite Jest. He passed away in 2008, which is a loss to all of us because we could desperately benefit from his thinking right now. In 2005, just a few years before his death, he gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College that has become known as the “This Is Water” speech. It was turned into a very short book which you can buy here if you’re so inclined (I bought a used copy for, like, $3). Much of Wallace’s speech is focused on how the liberal arts are designed to teach us how to think differently and maybe get a bit outside of ourselves so that we may have a bit more critical awareness of ourselves, to realize, “a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.” He goes into one such example here (bolding mine, italics his):

Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.

We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down.

It is our default setting, hardwired into our boards at birth.

Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of.

The world as you experience it is there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever.

Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

You get the idea.

First, the comment about our self-centeredness being our “default setting” struck me as soon as I read it because when I talk to the students in our youth ministry about original sin, I use the “default setting” language and they get it. But isn’t this posture true of all of us, not just Wallace? It’s really just natural to see yourself as the center of the universe, even apart from the sinfulness of it, because you see the entire experience of life from your perspective. As close as you are to your spouse or your children or your church family, it is impossible for you to literally experience life as they do. No amount of time or investment of social energy can lead us to truly live life in through the eyes of others. How easy is it, then, for everyone in our lives to become characters in a movie all about us? Our spouse is the love interest of the main character. Our boss is the curmudgeonly-but-lovable villain who means well but is too old-fashioned for his own good. Our kids are the comic relief and the way we learn about our own selfishness. Everyone else is just extras on our movie set. Wallace is right: our default setting is to see the entire world in relation to ourselves. We never think about the fact that we are actually a supporting actor in someone else’s movie. The connection to social media and the broader age of the social internet ought to be clear, right? Social media perpetuates the idea that we are the main character in our own story. It allows us to take our personal movie to market and share it with the world. It’s no fun being the star of your own movie if no one else can experience it. But now, with the innovation of social media, we can take our performance on the road and show everyone that we are the stars of our own lives. The Christian implications of this phenomenon are many. Perhaps we are best off seeing ourselves as supporting actors or even extras in God’s story at which Jesus Christ is the star. God is the star of the human experience. If you’ve ever wondered about or maybe been skeptical about social media perpetuating self-centeredness, this should ease your skepticism and confirm your wonderings. The idea that social media is a neutral tool equally possible to be used for good or bad is genuinely foolish. I used to believe this, so I’m not being critical of anyone in particular here. I am a convert from this wrong-headed idea. As you tap and swipe and scroll, consider how your favorite social media platforms may be training you to see yourself as the center of your universe, and perhaps as the center of others’ universes. How does this change how you view other people? Perhaps it makes you see them as less important and their needs as unfortunate consequences of not being the main character of the story. The pings and red dots and notifications and hearts and thumbs-ups on all of our manicured content feigning authenticity reinforces the reality that “there is no experience that you were not at the absolute center of.”

This originally appeared in Chris Martin’s “terms of service” Feb. 26, 2021 blog/newsletter and is reprinted with permission.  “Terms of service” looks at the social internet from a Christian perspective and comes in both a free and paid subscription, either of which you can sign up for at www.termsofservice.social.

Internet

Facebook…to God’s glory

Recently a colleague commented on the fear that some have about social media, and their resulting reluctance to open Facebook accounts. She said it reminded her of controversy that occurred in the mid 1970’s, when television first became common amongst our church families. I thought it an interesting point, and wanted to take a brief look at Facebook, in light of how our churches dealt with TV those decades ago. Where’s the discussion? Back then, church members debated the pros and cons of having a television. It was a hot issue. People were concerned that television viewing would pose a serious threat to the spiritual wellbeing of the congregation. Consistories even hesitated to nominate for office those brothers who had purchased a TV. Today, most families do have a TV or watch its programs via the Internet. We’ve come to understand the need for good stewardship – what matters is how we use the TV, not whether or not we have one. And in a similar way, we today realize that the world of social media is not inherently evil. And it is already as common as TV; an estimated 1.94 billion people used its services in March. Checking Facebook is just a part of our regular daily activities for many, it’s not a hot issue. An addiction But maybe it should be. Following the introduction of television, problems with TV addiction also soon appeared. Families discovered that it wasn’t easy to turn the TV off. Programs were smartly sequenced to keep the viewers tuned-in. And, church members also fell victim to too much TV viewing. Who knows how many church meetings were missed, and how much time was wasted, due to a TV addiction? Whilst seemingly less concerning than, for example, an addiction to drugs, the spiritual harm caused by a TV addiction is real and troublesome. “Facebook Addiction” is a new reality. A quick Google search of this topic will uncover a host of websites aimed at helping those who have been caught-up in the fury of Facebook. As blogger Michael Poh notes in a post titled, 7 Telltale Signs of Facebook Addiction: As you get used to communicating on Facebook via messaging, sharing photos and posts, commenting and “liking” others etc., it may come to a point when you get more comfortable socializing online than offline. You become over-reliant on Facebook to fulfill your social needs and may start sacrificing the time spent on real-life meet-ups for coffee with your friends.” How ironic, that something which is intended to improve our social world, can actually lead to increased loneliness. The disconnect When television ownership became possible within our churches, initially it resulted in a sort of disconnect between the members. There were members who readily accepted and welcomed a television into their homes. But, there were also members who strongly opposed television ownership. This latter group often spoke about TV’s negative influence and their concern for the spiritual wellbeing of others. Some parents even prevented their children from visiting friends with homes that had a TV. There were two groups. It was a time of “disconnect” between the members of one church. Fast forward to today’s world of social media, and consider how Facebook has influenced our churches. Unlike the debates surrounding TV, little has been said about having a Facebook account. Rather, it seems like it is just assumed that an active church member should have an active Facebook account, if only to keep in touch with others. Nevertheless, what about the members who are reluctant to join Facebook? We know spending too many hours reading and posting messages can lead to problems, so we know Facebook is not for everyone. So what of invites that happen only via Facebook? Or events that are only advertised there? If some members don’t have an account, for whatever reason, won’t they feel left out, disadvantaged and disconnected? Although the disconnect caused by Facebook might seem trivial, whatever threatens to breakdown the communion of saints should not be ignored. Fellowship The point here isn’t to argue that Facebook – or TV – are inherently bad. Just consider, when TV first became available in our homes, it wasn’t uncommon for families or friends to get together and enjoy an evening of TV viewing. Whether it was an exciting sports event, a special documentary or perhaps an important news report, these were times of fellowship amongst church members. Although such evenings might be rare today, it shows that TV can be used to bring people together. So is the same possible with Facebook? And if so, what does Facebook fellowship look like? One member told me, “Each day, on Facebook, I look forward to Rev. V’s meditations!” Another member said, “It’s such a good way to share each other’s joys and sorrows.” It is a way to stay in contact when living far away from loved ones, or when shut in. As someone told me, “Without Facebook, I would probably be quite lonely.” Clearly, the enhancement of fellowship is also possible through Facebook. Of course, we realize that what is viewed and put on Facebook will be crucial, just as it with the kinds of TV programs watched. Angry Facebook messages and inappropriate TV programs will endanger true fellowship. Conclusion It’s interesting to note how both the TV and Facebook have impacted our churches. At times we struggle to adapt our lives to the changes that confront us. Making the right decision isn’t always simple or easy! Yet, the Lord guides us through His Word. Colossians 3:17 states, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” In the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re instructed to “hallow” the name of God. Therefore, we must not post anything on Facebook, nor allow our eyes to see TV programs, that will lead us away from God. Lord’s Day 47 concludes with these words: Grant us also that we may so direct our whole life – our thoughts, words and actions – that your name is not blasphemed because of us, but always honored and praised. As the communion of saints, we remain duty-bound to use the TV and Facebook (and other social media) for the benefit and wellbeing of the other members. Such a duty might cause us to join Facebook, or help us to be patience with others who are reluctant to enter into the world of social media. Ultimately, our discussions about social media (including Facebook) must serve to God’s glory! A version of this article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of Una Sancta and it is reprinted here with permission....

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

13 quick thoughts on "Screen-Smart Parenting"

Parenting is _________.  You fill in the blank.  It is so many things.  It is an adventure with no shortage of ups and downs.  I am sure we have felt at times proud and accomplished and then just as quickly felt embarrassed and insecure. These beautiful children God has entrusted to our care lead lives that are also filled with adventure and with healthy doses of curiosity. Screen time: less is more This year, we have been reading Screen-Smart Parenting in our homes and coming together to discuss its content together as parents. Our children have access to so much now and the book is encouraging us all to be good gatekeepers so that our children do not develop unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil longs to exploit. The digital devises in our homes and that many of our children possess provide opportunities for growth, learning and connection. Here are some tips that the book gives for healthy homes and habits: 1. No TV in the bedroom. 2. No background TV in the home. 3. Turn off devices at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime. 4. Teach your children to ask permission to use technology. Make technology a privilege, not a right. 5. Download/buy games and apps yourself, don't let children do so. 6. Oversee YouTube.  Tell your children to report any inappropriate games/sites/social networks to you. 7.Keep family computers/devices in as public a space as possible. 8. Don't permit technology use during meals. 9. Designate screen-free times for the entire family. Smartphones: you need complete access Our children need help with time management online and offline.  They need protected study and sleep time.  They need coaching on how to use good judgment online, with sticky and uncomfortable situations online.If your child has a smartphone: 10. Parents, you should know all their passwords. 11. Start with having all texts come to your devices. 12. Hold the phone when your child is sleeping (set up a nighttime charging station in a common room). 13. Encourage selfies in moderation. Most of all, our children need for us as their parents to be good digital role models for them.  Model that we can be engaged and present with our children without digital technology. We are now reading the last section of the book, Part 3.  In it, the author Dr. Jodi Gold walks readers through the development of a Family Digital Technology Agreement.  Each will look different but it will help shape the healthy practices you commit to as a family.  I am really looking forward to completing this for our own home! Technology: the Devil wants it for his ends Ultimately, we understand that this world is God's and He made it good.  We believe that there is not one square inch of God's world that doesn't have his mark and stamp as creator - and ultimate redeemer.  Satan is not a creator.  He is merely creative in how he has distorted and twisted what God has made.   Technology is a gift.  It is good - and we see and experience its benefits all around us.  But it is also something that needs boundaries and limits in order for us not to fall into traps of unhealthy habits and behaviors that the Devil has set up to exploit. This is good, hard work, parents.  But it is important.  And you are not alone! May God continue to give us courage and grace and wisdom as we raise up a generation of young people to know, love and serve Him.  To His glory!  Randy Moes is a high school principal at Calvin Christian School in South Holland, Illinois ...

Internet

Facebook censorship?

In a post on November 9, 2016, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg outlined how he was going to tackle the “fake news” occurring on his massive social media site. He stated: The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. So far so good. But he then went on to outline a 7-point plan that will rely on users, technical means, and third parties, to identify and flag fake news. Why could that be a problem? Because the third parties they intend to use – Snopes.com has been mentioned among others – have their own biases. As do all Facebook users; one person’s must trusted source can viewed by someone else as unreliable. So is Facebook going to censor posts based on the advice of biased sources? Let’s fast-forward to Dec. 27, 2016. Brendan Larsen of the GodOrAbsurdity.com website reported that he was now on his 4th Facebook page – the three previous edition having been shut down by Facebook for violating their Community Standards – and that he’d had a total of 35 posts banned by Facebook. According to Larsen: The original page had about 13,000 likes and was reaching millions of people until atheists got it shut down. I'm taking a new approach now where we avoid posting anything that might get us banned – it's just too difficult trying to rebuild followers from zero each time they shut us down. While some of Larsen’s posts were graphic – he showed the brutalized bodies of aborted children – Facebook says it removes “graphic images when they are shared for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate or glorify violence.” That was certainly not the case here. Facebook also says they will remove: …content that directly attacks people based on their: Race, Ethnicity, National origin, Religious affiliation, Sexual orientation, Sex, gender, or gender identity... This seems the most likely reason Larsen was banned (Facebook didn’t provide an explanation) since he has shared posts about Islamic terrorism – to link terrorism and Islam is, in some circles, automatically “hate speech.” This is the problem with biased users policing speech on Facebook – instead of censoring what’s fake, they may simply censor what they don’t like. On February 20, LifeSiteNews.com reported that Christian “vlogger” (video blogger) Elizabeth Johnston was having similar troubles for posting Biblical commentary on homosexuality. Johnston said: They are muzzling me and my biblical message while Mark Zuckerberg claims that FB is unbiased…. The post Facebook deleted included no name-calling, no threats, and no harassment. It was intellectual discussion and commentary on the Bible. This has a happier ending – on February 24, after LifeSiteNews.com brought publicity to her situation, Facebook apologized for this “error” and restored her post. What’s the takeaway? In asking Facebook to eliminate “fake news” we are also asking them to become the arbitrator of truth for their users. But do we really want them “policing” the news we read? God tells us that it is the presence of multiple counselors (Prov. 11:14) and access to the other side of the story (Prov. 18:17) that helps us find the truth. This is why Christians, overall, oppose censorship – we don’t want someone limiting who we can hear from. We shouldn’t trust Facebook or anyone with such enormous power. Of course there is a time and place for censorship, but it is a blunt tool, and should only be used for clear and pressing problems. So, for example, Facebook should ban posts that promote pornography and human trafficking – these are, on the one hand, enormous evils, and on the other, clear evils. To confront this sort of wickedness requires very little in the way of judgment or discernment on the part of Facebook – it would be hard for them to mess up here. But when it comes to “fake news” the problem simply isn’t big enough or clear enough to turn to censorship as the solution. Instead we should simply test what we read, and pass along only that which we know to be true. If in doubt, don’t pass it on – a simple but effective solution if ever there was one!...

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

Parenting the Internet Generation

Parenting has always been intimidating – it wasn't so long ago we were kids, and now we're raising them? – but one thing parents of the past could count on was that they knew more than their kids. For today's parents there is one very big part of life where that isn't true – when it comes to the Internet, and Apps, and smartphones, and social media, then even our youngest children can quickly outpace us. They can know how to use these tools better than we do, and yet they aren't mature enough to deal with all the dangers that also come with them. So what's a parent to do? Our children live in a "pornified" culture and it seems that no matter how protective we are, it's only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they'd never seen. So how can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen? To answer those questions and more I can't think of a better resource to turn to than Luke Gilkerson's Parenting the Internet Generation. It is not only fantastic, it's even free. Parenting is foundational 144 pages / 2016 What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn't simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us. The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I'll begin with one of Gilkerson's biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly. Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits. One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame – the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways. •  Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do •  Failing to really listen to them as we correct them •  Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”) •  Showing little compassion •  Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive •  Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks •  Showing favoritism to other siblings It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits. See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation...or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes): Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there. I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we're going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids. But it’s just that understanding that’s key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God's grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on. So we don't need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear: Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance. Contents In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out: 1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1) 2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8) 3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices) 4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9) Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples: "If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented? If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation? At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn? Each chapter also includes a link to a short (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over. These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents' study group too. Whether you're going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker. Conclusion This isn't a perfect book - I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I've not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with. I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn't spying - the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don't. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won't spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I'm sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE's motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It's clear they want to help parents. And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are. You can get a free pdf copy of Parenting the Internet Generation here...