The Tribulation of the Cross, Part 1

Do you ever get so frustrated with the world that you just want to check out?  I certainly do.  For example, as a blogger who posts to both Facebook and on WordPress, for me it is a lot easier to keep up with WordPress, since I can choose to see only what I want to see.  Facebook, on the other hand, exists to sell advertising and sometimes the best advertising is the kind that sparks emotion – even (or especially) bad emotions.

While Facebook is great for keeping up with friends and family, it recently started adding a ton of posts with statements like “The time is coming when good people will have to do bad things to very bad people,” along with other sarcastic, angry, and bitter political posts.  After a few days they must have tweaked their method again, and most of these went away.  Like many, I like to have my comfortable space where I’m in control, and I didn’t want to be on Facebook while knowing they were trying (and, sadly, succeeding) at manipulating my emotions.  I started feeling sarcastic, angry, and bitter, which was by their design.  Sometimes I ask myself why I am even there?

Some surprising advice comes in Philippians 2:6-8, where Paul writes about Jesus that, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  In times when I want to check out from the uncomfortable parts of living in this world, these verses remind me that Jesus, as God, might have taken an attitude of preferring to stay in a comfortable space where He could be in control, but instead He jumped into the mess that is this world we see every day to show the world what love is.

Another verse that calls this to mind is the familiar John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

When I’m struggling to face the world as I see it, I ask about 3:16, “Exactly which world did Jesus love enough to die for?”  The answer is this one.  The world He died for is the one where sex, anger, bitter tribalism, and political partisanship sells.  The one with a lot of sarcastic, angry, and bitter people.  The one with a lot of people who are more like us than we’d usually like to admit.  The one where it’s easy for our love to grow cold if we focus on the problems, and not on the cross, where God took the punishment for all of it.

To be continued tomorrow

Redeeming the Time

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca said that “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”  Unlike other resources, time cannot be replaced.  If I waste a dollar of my income, another dollar can be earned to replace it.  If I waste a minute, it’s gone forever.

Psalm 101, penned by David, contemplates what is worthy of our time.  Verses 1-4 say:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
            to you, O LORD, I will make music.
I will ponder the way that is blameless.
            Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
            within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
            anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
            it shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
            I will know nothing of evil.

In our modern, media- and current event-focused culture, the statement “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” may be the most challenging.  Reading this verse recently, I had to ask myself whether the reason I look at worthless things is that I don’t think they are worthless?  If to “confess” means to say the same thing about something that God does, I have a lot to learn about what is valuable and worthy of attention.

Today, let us learn to love what God loves and hate what He hates.  Let us confess what really matters, and “sing of steadfast love and justice.”  Let us also “ponder the way that is blameless” that we may “know nothing of evil.

There’s no time to waste.

Social Media Advice from Tim Keller

Photo by Richard Lee on Unsplash

Not everyone has the same relationship with social media, and not everyone loves or hates it the same amount and for the same reasons.  For some, it may be fine just the way it is for how they use it.  Below I’ve linked Tim Keller’s review of the book Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing by Chris Bail, which has some helpful observations on why social media is so polarizing for many, and some thoughts on how to make it a better place for discussion.  Bail’s book is based on social science, not religion, but Keller connects it to Christian principles in interesting ways.

One of my favorite lines in the review is that “social media is not primarily a place of public discussion of ideas. The ideas are ways to define oneself and signal belonging to a group, as well as to assign identities to others by associating them with groups you oppose.”  Near the end are listed “several principles that [Bail] believes move toward persuasion in social media rather than polarization.”  It begins with listening and seeking to understand.

Full article linked below.
(Estimated reading time 10 minutes)

Meet Ebenezer, the Blog’s New Mascot

Every blog needs a mascot, right?  Well, maybe not every blog, but this morning I decided this one does.  Before I introduce him, a little backstory on where he came from.

Boston is one of my favorite places to visit, and when I was there last October, we got this great picture of a squirrel in Boston Common.  The squirrels there ignore people most of the time, instead of running away like squirrels usually do.  But this one was not afraid of us at all; he walked right up and stared us down.  He stayed like this long enough for us to take a picture and was still around after we walked away.  For squirrels, fear of humans is a learned behavior and, in some environments, they just go about their business, unconcerned.

Ebenezer, at home in Boston Common

He was a great contrast to the “squirrel moments”[1] dogs (and people) have when they are “distracted by random nothingness.”  The Facebook page where I share this blog is called “A place to inject hopeful reminders of eternity into the distraction that is Facebook.”  I’ve used this squirrel as my social media picture before to joke that it was the best way to draw attention, and if people are easily distracted by squirrels, why not use one to distract people toward the blog?

So, this squirrel is now the mascot for Driving Toward Morning!  But he needs a name.  What to call him?

Meet Ebenezer
Many people know the name Ebenezer from Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, but in the Bible an Ebenezer is a stone monument constructed as a tangible and visible reminder of God’s past help for His people.  Ebenezer means “stone of help,” and such monuments were built in Genesis 28:18, 35:14, Joshua 4:9, 1 Samuel 7:12 and elsewhere.  Only this morning did I make the connection that when I write, I’m often trying to create a type of written Ebenezer.

For example, inspired by a devotional about Ephesians 2:4, I wrote a post about the power of the words “but God.”  In it, James Montgomery Boice says: “The words ‘but God’ show what God has done. If you understand those two words – ‘but God’ – they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.”[2]

So, I’ve decided to name him “Ebenezer, the ‘But God…’ Squirrel,” but you can just call him Ebenezer.  Whenever I see Ebenezer, I hope to be pulled back into awareness of God’s help when I am distracted or frustrated.  I hope to be reminded to store up treasure in heaven as squirrels store food for the winter.  I hope to fear God and not man.  I hope to be encouraged to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), as every squirrel I see reminds me that interrupting the seeming chaos of the world with “but God” can change everything.

Next time, and every time, you see a squirrel, I hope you are reminded of the same.  The world is not random, and God is relevant to your situation, whatever it is.

If you’re ever in Boston and see Ebenezer, say hello to him for me.


[1] https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SQUIRREL%21%21
[2] From “November 7.” James Montgomery Boice and Marion Clark. Come to the Waters: Daily Bible Devotions for Spiritual Refreshment.  (2017).

Flashback Friday: More Than Truth

Last June, I posted “More Than Truth” about how the media are “trying hard to weaponize you and I” with their own particular, filtered versions of what they call truth.    Proverbs 14:21 says “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor,” yet we are bombarded by stories grouping people into neighbors we should love and those we shouldn’t because they’re somehow causing the problems of the world through their political or other affiliation.  I struggle with the right balance, and I know others do as well, especially when the voices get louder.  The “Us vs. Them” mentality is everywhere, and while I generally stay away from commenting on daily news flow on this blog, this one couldn’t wait until Rewind Wednesday.

How should the gospel of the kingdom of God impact how we live in this bitter and chaotic environment?  Please read “More Than Truth” which is linked below, which makes a case that we must prioritize some truths over others, and that we also must not allow ourselves to “weaponized” by particular versions of truth.  Proverbs 14:20 – “The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends.” – is as true as Proverbs 14:21, but it too can weaponize if taken out of context and used as a prescription, not just a description.  “The wrong truth can make us despise our neighbor, or to support the wrong gospel.”

Don’t let the daily roar of news distract you from the love God has for you and for the people you will interact with face-to-face today.  Instead, pray that you may bring the eternal love of God into the pain of today’s world in a very real way.

Eternity matters, but life is hard. Therefore encourage each other today!