The Inward Battle

Ephesians 6.11

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. ― J.C. Ryle

One of the Fruit of the Spirit is peace — a gift which we receive from God. Yet here, in Ephesians, the focus of scripture turns to war. Timothy Keller, in a sermon on spiritual warfare, quotes the 19th century Anglican bishop of Liverpool J.C. Ryle on the way spiritual war and peace exist in the life of healthy followers of Christ:

Let me talk to you about true Christianity. There’s a vast quantity of religion current in the world that is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing…
There are thousands of men and women who go to chapels and churches every Sunday and call themselves Christians… But you never see any ‘fight’ about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all.

Let us consider these propositions.… The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict or fight. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or even twice a week, but the great spiritual warfare … its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests … of all this they appear to know nothing at all.

Do you find in your heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Are you conscious of two principles within you, contending for the mastery? Do you feel anything of war in your inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. 
All true saints are soldiers. A real Christian can be known as much by his inward warfare as by his inward peace.

May the peace of Christ be in you as you fight the good fight necessary to cultivate the fruit of heaven on earth.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 9 (Listen – 4:16)
Ephesians 6 (Listen – 3:17)


Buying Back Time

Ephesians 5.15-16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 

We don’t think of most days as evil. Some days, perhaps, are best referred to as “inconvenient,” most are just “full.” Everything from devotional time to exercise demands a few minutes of a day. Add in work, friends, family, and life’s unexpected events, and the days are overflowing.

Even our digital artifacts reveal this. Every minute, of every day, the world’s 3.2 billion Internet users:
  • Click “like” on 4.1 million Facebook posts and 1.7 million Instagram posts.
  • Post 347,222 Tweets.
  • Upload 300 hours of YouTube video.
  • Download 51,000 apps from Apple.
  • Stream 77,160 hours of Netflix video.
  • Swipe 590,278 pictures on Tinder.
  • Take 694 Uber rides.

In light of this, calling most days evil seems disproportionate. Pastor and author Darin Patrick notes the meaning of the phrase “making the best use of”, “comes from the Greek word that means ‘redeem.’ Paul is literally saying, ‘buy back time.’” In this way our calling is less toward productivity and more toward our ability to give our time to restoring brokenness in the world.

In contrast, the authors of Scripture reveal all humanity’s ways to restore the world apart from God as “evil.”
It’s easy to identify the grand ways we try to buy back time through our own power: on one hand we try to control our external image — holding on to youth while our bodies age. On the other we try to manage our internal world — with our minds even, and tragically, trapping themselves in the guilt and pain of the past.

The billions of clicks, uploads, and views we dedicate ourselves to online are also ways of buying back time that are within our power. Life’s moments of beauty can be preserved, at least in part, through pictures and videos. Stressful days can be relinquished in the plot line of a mini-series online. Even the encouragement we miss during the workweek can be cultivated through the right post online.

Self-redemption, in light of the beauty and sufficiency of God’s redemption through Christ, is revealed for what it really is, “evil.” God wants your redemption and thriving so deeply he gave himself wholly to it. Ephesians continues; “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 8 (Listen – 10:23)
Ephesians 5 (Listen – 3:42)


Data-Driven Dating :: The Weekend Reading List


Earlier this week the AIDS Healthcare Foundation created kerfuffle in Los Angeles by taking out billboards that link dating apps Tinder and Grindr to Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Taking aim at the apps themselves, and not the behavior they promote, seems to call people to an all-in or abandon-ship decision.

Few cultural decisions for people of faith are this polar. More often than not we find ourselves the minority navigating a foreign land based on our understanding of Scripture and culture.

Ubiquity of Online Dating

As a category, dating apps are growing rapidly. New offerings include networks just for farmers and gluten-free singles, as well as Netflix tastes and bacon affection (for real… although the later is owned by Oscar Meyer).

“Of 19,000 couples married between 2005 and 2012, more than a third met through an online dating site,” The Financial Times reports about the $2.1 billion industry. Highlights from Pew Research Center study reveal that:

  • Online dating has lost much of its stigma. A majority of Americans now say online dating is a good way to meet people.
  • One-in-five adults ages 25-34 years old have used online dating.
  • 5% of Americans who are in a marriage or committed relationship say they met their significant other online.
Brokenness Online
This rapid growth has not come without problems. The reduction of a human being to data-and-picture has proven to be fertile ground for cultivating a consumeristic view of potential partners.
All the data on race I have is from dating sites, but on these sites black users, especially, there’s a bias against them. Every kind of way you can measure their success on a site — how people rate them, how often they reply to their messages, how many messages they get — that’s all reduced. — Christian Rudder, Founder, OKCupid

This week Salon highlighted three categories most prone to discrimination in online dating; “Fat people are ridiculed all the time. The plight of bald men has been well articulated by the likes of Larry David and Louis CK. And of course, anytime we talk about appearance, race will eventually come into play. Online dating apps provide fertile ground for these kinds of appearance-based biases to take root.”

The Illusion of Companionship
Most dating apps court users with the promise of a better experience and longer-lasting matches. Yet researchers can’t find data to back up these claims. “The ways online dating sites typically implement the services of access, communication, and matching do not always improve romantic outcomes; indeed, they sometimes undermine such outcomes.”

Encountering potential partners via online dating profiles reduces three-dimensional people to two-dimensional displays of information, and these displays fail to capture those experiential aspects of social interaction that are essential to evaluating one’s compatibility with potential partners. — Dr. Eli J. Finkel, Northwestern University

While there are success stories for those who meet online, there is also an abundance of disappointment and pain enhanced by the structure of the apps and the behaviors they encourage.

After managing simultaneous relationships, while fielding new requests off multiple apps, Debbie Weiss confessed:
Eventually I realized this was an addiction. I had fun stories to tell. I looked put together. I was having adventures and figuring out public transit. I was “getting out there,”
But it felt wrong.
I realized that online dating was not going to take the place of a real support network. I was addicted to having someone to talk to in the evenings, even if it was just a prelude to a meet-up that never happened. When someone was texting with me, I felt wanted, and less lonely. — Debbie Weiss

Questions for Community
Perhaps the best questions for Christians in regard to most online dating networks are not “if” but “how.” Singles in faith communities have the opportunity to meet people they never would have been able to meet in generations past. The Christian theology of humanity made in the image of God can spur conversations which uncover more than data can show.

Most compelling, a Christian’s ability to draw their chief happiness, satisfaction, and identity from God can upend marketers’ efforts to try and fulfill that in a potential partner. This shift in worldview heads off the liability that data can’t prevent — trying to draw from a spouse what can only be received from your Creator.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 4-5 (Listen – 7:21)
Ephesians 2 (Listen – 3:04)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 6 (Listen – 5:10) Ephesians 3 (Listen – 2:41)
1 Kings 7 (Listen – 7:47) Ephesians 4 (Listen – 3:58)

The Weekend Reading List

The Efficacy of Prayer :: Throwback Thursday

Ephesians 1.16

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

By C.S. Lewis (1956)

The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers.
If an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine of prayer at all. It would prove something much more like magic—a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.
The very question “Does prayer work?” puts us in the wrong frame of mind from the outset.

“Work”: as if it were magic, or a machine—something that functions automatically. Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person.

Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine. In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary— not necessarily the most important one— from that revelation. What He does is learned from what He is.
Petitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men?

For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.

It is not really strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.

Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. If our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, we had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

— Excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ (wonderful essay) The Efficacy of Prayer.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 3 (Listen – 4:29)
Ephesians 1 (Listen – 3:10)