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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Are screens affecting our children’s brains?

Each day, Monday to Friday, I receive an e-mail from Dr Jim Denison, a trusted author and subject matter expert in areas where faith and current events intersect. His Daily Article provides leading insight for discerning today’s news from a biblical perspective.  Today's article deserves as wide an audience as possible, and only takes about four minutes to read. It is published here with permission.
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"The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been studying the effect of screen time for children. The preliminary results are in and they’re not good.
The NIH report shows that nine- and ten-year-old children who spend more than two hours in front of a screen each day score lower on thinking and language tests. This is troubling since the average “tweenager” spends up to six hours a day on their tablet or phone.
In addition, scientists have found that children with daily screen usage of more than seven hours show premature thinning of the brain cortex. This is the outermost layer that processes information from the physical world. While it’s too soon to know with certainty that screen time usage caused the changes to the children’s brains, scientists will be monitoring this relationship carefully.

Are your children addicted to technology?

The NIH report is just one example of the growing effect of technology on our children. Another study related smartphone use by children to sleep deprivation and other problems associated with poor attention spans. This is alarming since two-thirds of children take their smartphones to bed with them.
One group of scientists found that the more time four-year-olds spent interacting with media, the shorter their sleep was at ages four and six. A study published by Harvard Medical School has shown that blue-tinged light emitted by devices such as smartphones and tablets suppresses the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone vital to good sleep.
Counselors warn that digital addiction is a growing problem. The compulsion to continue playing video games or using technology is escalating. China has identified internet addiction as one of its main public health risks. In some parts of Asia, digital addiction rates may be as high as 26 percent.
Among American children between the ages of eight and eighteen, around 8 percent could already be classified as addicted. A 2010 study found that children in this age group spend more than seven hours a day consuming media.

Practical ways to manage technology

In The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place, Andy Crouch offers practical commitments parents can make to help their children and family manage technology. Among them:
  • Turn off technology one hour a day, one day a week, and one week a year.
  • Use screens for a purpose and together rather than aimlessly and alone.
  • Dedicate car time to conversation with no technology.
  • Be sure spouses have each other’s passwords and parents have complete access to their children’s devices.
I would add this: community is vital to our souls. We were made to do life together. Every image of the church in the New Testament is collective–a vine with many branches, a body with many parts.
By contrast, technology isolates us. For every family that plays a video game together, there are multitudes of children (and parents) who play them alone. A computer or handheld device is intentionally isolating. It’s hard for two people to use one keyboard or focus on the same screen.
Such isolation can be devastating.
While technology can foster a sense of community through social media, it’s no substitute for in-depth personal relationships. Nothing replaces spending time with those we love. A screen is not a parent.

“We are familiar with his evil schemes”

Here’s the bottom line: God intends parents to be the pastors of their families. We cannot delegate their souls to their teachers at school, ministers at church, or friends online.
Fathers are told to “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We are to value our children as “a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3).
One of the many reasons I admire the Jewish culture is its commitment to the home and family. The father is responsible for teaching the Torah to his children. The parents are responsible for modeling Jewish faith and culture. The survival and prosperity of the Jewish people across forty centuries are largely due to this passionate commitment of each generation to the next.
The family is God’s invention and design for us (Genesis 1:28). But the devil hates all that God loves. If he can use technology to isolate children from their parents and infect them with pornography, violence, and digital addiction, he will.
Paul said of Satan, “We are familiar with his evil schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11 NLT). Can you say the same?"
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Monday, 10 December 2018

Kindness - it's a characteristic of love.

In the home of the Roman centurion, Cornelius, Peter shared about the Lord Jesus. One of the things that he said about Him was that "... He went about doing good ..." (Acts 10:38). Jesus was, in fact, kindness and goodness personified, for He was full of God the Holy Spirit. When the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, we too will want "... to walk in the same way in which He walked." (1 John 2:6), and spend our lives ministering to others.

Let's face it - everyone can perform some deed of kindness each day. A pleasant greeting; an expression of sympathy; a visit to a shut-in person (perhaps with a couple of cakes to go with a cup of  coffee!); even a good book passed on to gladden another's heart. A lunch shared; an errand done; a word of affection, or encouragement. These are the kinds of things that are within the power of almost everyone. Larger opportunities may not come our way, but those smaller ones are almost always to hand.

I read, recently, of an Arab who was chauffeur for a lady travelling in the Holy Land. Noticing an obviously Jewish driver experiencing difficulties with his car, and having received permission from his employer, he stopped to offer assistance. It didn't take him too many minutes to realise that he didn't have the parts necessary to get the other car moving again, so, having once more sought permission, he invited the Jewish man to ride in the front with him so that he could take him into the city where he could get further help. 

After he left the Jew at a garage, the lady expressed her surprise at the kind treatment the driver had given one who, she had supposed, was his enemy! "I didn't know that Arabs were so friendly with Jews!", she remarked. The chauffeur's reply was accompanied with a joyous smile. "Things like that don't make any difference to me since I've been converted! The Lord Jesus wants us to treat everyone as we would wish to be treated."

Now I appreciate that one does not require to be a disciple of Jesus in order to be kind. However, those of us who have become identified with Him should be so filled with His grace that we constantly overflow with compassion and consideration for others. Writing to his fellow-believers in the Galatian churches, the apostle Paul declared that: "... the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;" (Gal 5:22-23). I have long contended that, if the apostle had been writing using modern punctuation marks (which he did not!), there would be a colon (:) after the word "love". You see, the word "fruit"is singular, meaning that there is only one "fruit of the Spirit". The other characteristics, I suggest, are ways by which that love is expressed! You may have noticed that one of them is "kindness"!

Will you seek to express love by acts of kindness, today? Will you? 

Monday, 3 December 2018

Saved to serve!

This morning, in my personal devotions, my reading was Matt.25:31-46. These are some of the words of the Lord Jesus concerning judgement. There is too much to share in a blog post but, perhaps, one of the most important lessons concerns behaviour. 

We read: "When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and He will place the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at His right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see Thee hungry and feed Thee, or thirsty and give Thee drink? And when did we see Thee a stranger and welcome Thee, or naked and clothe Thee? And when did we see Thee sick or in prison and visit Thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then He will say to those at His left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see Thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?' Then He will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

What do these words say to us? May I suggest that the first thing is the certainty of His coming?  Secondly, that there will be judgement! But I want to emphasise what I see as a third lesson. If you read those verses carefully, you will notice that the charge against those who are condemned to eternal punishment does not concern what they have done, but what they have failed to do! There are sins of omission, as well as sins of commission! James writes: "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (4:17; my emphasis). The Westminster Divines defined "sin" as "... any want of conformity unto (omission), or transgression of (commission), the law of God." (Shorter Catechism). Not doing good is the moral equivalent of doing evil!

Of course, those who had - however unknowingly - served the Saviour (through serving others in His name) did not gain salvation by their good works! Paul makes that perfectly clear when, writing to the believers in Ephesus, he states that: "... by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works, lest any man should boast." (2:8-9). I have written in the margin of my Bible: "Salvation is not by works; but good works are the result of salvation." In that vein, Paul continues: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10; my emphasis). 

We do not serve to be saved - but we are certainly saved to serve!

Monday, 26 November 2018

An attitude of gratitude.

It was in one of our 'local' supermarkets, this afternoon. My wife and I were attending to some shopping requirements. As we passed a trolley that had a small child in it, he dropped the model car with which he was playing. I stooped down to pick it up and gave it to him. His (I presume) mother, turned around from the shelving and instructed him; "Dit merci au monsieur."("Say thank you to the gentleman."). "Merci, monsieur.", the child immediately said, and I responded appropriately.

As we walked on, I spoke to my wife, saying how good it was that a child was being taught to say "Thank you". I know that it is not as common in the UK as it was when I was being raised. I then found myself thinking: How often do we say "Thank you" to Father God, for all of His love, and grace, and mercy, and provision, and protection? Indeed, I suspect that those who are named "the persecuted church" are more thankful, in spite of the suffering that they endure, than are many of us who live in the greater freedom of the "western" countries.

Last week, we were back in the UK to attend the funeral service for a very dear friend of forty years, who had died of triple cancer. I can still recall (and will probably never forget!) her words when she informed us, a year ago, of her diagnosis. She informed us that she was in a "win, win" situation. "Either the cancers will be destroyed, and I will have more time to spend with (her husband) and the family; or it won't, and I will see Jesus sooner. Either way, I can be thankful."

John MacArthur is a well-known pastor and theologian from the USA. He has stated that A thankful heart is one of the primary identifying characteristics of a believer. It stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry.” The late Dr Billy Graham pointed out that “A spirit of thankfulness is one of the most distinctive marks of a Christian whose heart is attuned to the Lord.” I recall the late Rev. George B.Duncan - for many years my minister, spiritual mentor, and personal friend - tell of a Scripture Union Camp that he had led on the Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland. It was a boys' camp and, one evening, on the slopes of Goat Fell (the high point of the island), they were all seated around a camp-fire. He suggested that every boy pray, but do no more than thank the Lord. He informed us that it was a very moving experience to hear these young lads, one by one, say simply but sincerely, "Thank You, Lord", or "Thank You, Jesus."  

The letters of the apostle Paul have much to say about thanksgiving. However, it was to the disciples of Jesus in Philippi that he gave what is arguably the most important teaching on the subject: "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God." (4:6). We do not give thanks only when all appears to be well, but even when it is anything but! (That, by the way, is the attitude of our persecuted brothers and sisters).

So, do you have an attitude of gratitude? We have so much for which to give thanks. If a small child can do so because a stranger picked up a wee car and returned it to him, surely we, who have received so much from the hand of Father God, can do likewise! Someone has said that “To be grateful is to recognise the love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything.” Thank You, Lord; Thank You, Jesus.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Misunderstood.

It is, perhaps, understandable that various postal authorities regularly raise the cost of postage. More and more people use the internet to send 'letters' (e-mails), and greetings cards (e-cards), and fewer use any form of "snail-mail". I have to confess to being one of the guilty parties. Even the annual newsletter that my wife and I have been sending out since I was licensed as a "minister of the Gospel" has been in e-mail form for many years.

Greetings cards are also now sent electronically. I normally use a particular website (https://www.crosscards.com/) that provides, for many occasions, cards that have a specifically Christian message. However, there is one Biblical text that is used on many of their cards, that I refuse to use! It is, I would contend, one of the most misunderstood texts in the Old Testament, yet it is frequently quoted by those who claim to be disciples of Jesus, and who wish to encourage someone who is going through a difficult time.

The text is found in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, in the 29th chapter, and at verse 11: "'For I know the plans that I am planning concerning you,' declares YHWH, 'plans for prosperity, and not for harm; to give you a future and a hope.'" What a lovely promise! Who but those are opposed to, and who totally reject, the Biblical record could fail to be other than encouraged by such words? There is only one problem - they do not apply, directly, to you or to me!

Hermeneutics is the discipline of Biblical interpretation (the word may also be used for other literary interpretation). It has one supreme rule - nothing should be interpreted out of its context. There is another approach to specifically Old Testament (Hebrew: Tanakh) texts. I also recall a preacher point out that the words of the Old Testament fall into three categories: those that apply to the nation of Israel for all time; those that apply to the nation of Israel at fixed times; and those that apply to all people at all times.

An example of the first category would be the command, regarding the Feast of Passover, in Ex.12:14 where YHWH instructs His chosen people, through Moses, "This is a day to remember. Each year, from generation to generation you must celebrate it as a special festival to YHWH. This is a law for all time." (emphasis added). With regard to the second category, we might take as an example the word given to Joshua in Josh.11:6, where we read, in the context of a coming battle: "Then YHWH said to Joshua, 'Do not be afraid of them. By this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel as dead men. Then you must cripple their horses and burn their chariots.'" For the third category, no better example could be found than nine of the Ten Words (Commandments). The only one that does not apply to non-Jews is the Fourth, concerning Shabbat (Sabbath) observance.

Jer.29:11 falls into the second category. The words are part pf a letter, sent by the prophet Jeremiah, to his fellow-Jews in exile in Babylon (vs.4-28). The exiles were being informed by false prophets that no more of their countrymen would be taken captive, and that they would soon return to Jerusalem. However, through Jeremiah, YHWH informs then that they will be there for 70 years (two full generations!), and that they should settle down, and even pray for the city and for its welfare; and that those left in Jerusalem would face calamitous times.

Thankfully, YHWH is gracious, and this is where the words of v.11 come in. YHWH is assuring His people that, even in this difficult situation; even although they have been accepting the words of false prophets (with whom He will deal!); even although the words of Jeremiah are, on the face of it, depressing; He has not totally cast off His people! The time of their punishment is fixed, and He has great plans for them. Of course, as is the case throughout the Biblical record, there is the requirement of faithfulness and obedience! He will gather them "... from all the nations and all the places ..." (v.14) where He has sent them - words that are receiving their final fulfilment in this age, but that do not apply to believers today!

So, don't be in such a hurry to use Jer.29:11 as some kind of panacea for any difficulty - even if it is self-inflicted! But, our God is still a God of mercy and of love, and of grace. So we may apply these words, carefully, to ourselves. In the Zondervan Study Bible, D.A.Carson comments on vs.11-13: "It is also a profound encouragement to contemporary believers who may feel cut off from God by their sins or by difficult circumstances." The important point to make is that not even Dr Carson is suggesting that we may, as some do, presume upon God's love, and grace, and mercy. He is not suggesting that we may, as some do, take these words to mean that we will be financially rich, always find a good parking space, lose weight without any effort, or otherwise reinforce our carnal notions of prosperity. We need to read (remember!) in context. That means coming to the Lord in prayer (v.12); and seeking Him with all of our heart (v.13).

Then we may discover, for ourselves that, while not all Old Testament promises are directed to us, there may be occasions on which they may be legitimately appropriated for us! We may discover more of the truth of Paul's words to the believers in Rome, that: "... everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures [the Tanakh!] and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope." (15:4). May it be so for each of us, that He might be glorified in our lives, and witness.