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This sermon series promotes using digital technologies in a way that honors God, based on Romans 12:1-2. It challenges believers to use discernment and recognize the negative effects of technology when used unwisely.
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We’re in our summer series tonight, a series we have called The Christian In The Digital Age. We want to encourage you and instruct you in that. My message is called Tech-Savvy. I want you to be wise about the digital world in which you and I live and learn. So take your Bible and turn to Romans chapter 12, verses one to two. Not really going to expound this passage other than to use it as a springboard for the thought that as you and I live in a world marked by technology, it would be easy to be passively squeezed into that digital mold. And we want to make sure that we bring a renewed mind, a theological mind, a Christian mind to the issue of technology, lest the world have too much influence over us. That’s really what Paul’s getting at here in Romans 12, one to two, and I want to use it as a launching pad.
Romans chapter 12, one and two, “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Tech-Savvy, Romans 12, one to two.
I was reading about an English class at a university where the teacher was talking through the issue of gender association in the English language and how that certain events and certain things were often attributed with a certain gender. Ships and planes have always been described in the feminine gender and up until recently, hurricanes as well. And as the teacher was talking about gendered association in the English language, someone asked him, what gender might we attach to a computer? Would it be feminine or masculine? And he thought that was a good question and so he split the class up, put the guys over in one corner and the girl’s over in another and they were to come back with their conclusion as to whether a computer should be described in the feminine or in the masculine. Well, the girls come back and they argued that the computer should be described in the masculine, and the reasons were this, in order to get their attention, you have to turn them on. They have a lot of data but are still clueless. They’re supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem. And as soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you’d waited a little longer, you’d have got a better version. So the girls think the computer should be described in the masculine.
Well, the guys come back and they said, “No, let’s describe the computer in the feminine.” It should be a female gender description because no one but their creator understands their internal logic. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else. Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval. And finally, as soon as you commit to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it. Either way, masculine, feminine, that’s a fun debate. But the serious debate is not how we define computers, but how computers are defining and redefining us. That’s the real debate, and we’re going to tackle that across our summer series, The Christian and the Digital Age.
Because I don’t need to tell you, you’re probably more tech-savvy than I am, that you and I are living in a world increasingly defined and redefined by smart devices, computers and digital technology. Unless you’ve been in hibernation, in the last 20 years, the growth of technology in terms of its intrusion upon life has been exponential. Smart devices, computers and digital technology has reshaped our world in terms of communication, travel, medicine, entertainment, how we learn. And let’s be honest, much of that is good. Much of that is good. You know what, we might get off a Boeing Dreamliner in Heathrow after an 11 hour flight to London and complain a little bit, but if you just stop for a moment and think about that ocean you flew over for several hours. Would you rather fly in a modern jetliner or bob up and down in the ocean for three weeks in a little sailboat like our ancestors did and the pilgrims did? Technology is a wonderful thing. It bridges distances.
I Skype and FaceTime my family back in Northern Ireland all the time, and it’s not the same as being there in person, but you know what? It’s a blessing and it’s a wonderful aspect of modern life. Medicine. You know that June just recently had her gallbladder removed, it was done laparoscopically with a couple of small incisions and all kinds of wonderful medical technology that cuts down the time and the pain and accelerates the recovery. This is the day in which we live and it’s a wonderful thing. These are the best of times. Let’s be honest, I don’t think any one of us would want to go back to the pre-digital world, would you? Any more than we’d want to go back to the pre-industrial world. These are the best of times. I’m old enough, bumping up against 59 to remember my grandmother’s house with no indoor plumbing. I remember a time growing up where our family had no television. I had to sneak around to my aunt’s to get a goggle at that worldly device that was invading everybody’s homes.
I remember the time when June and I communicated between the Irish Baptist College and the Whitfield College of the Bible on a paid telephone. I remember looking left and right down the halls to make sure nobody was there before I said, I loved you. Okay? Those were the days man, and they seemed like prehistoric because the change has been just multiplied on marvelous. And so when we talked about the technology in terms of communication, travel, medicine, entertainment, how we learn, how we communicate, for the most part it’s all good. These are the best of times.
But let me qualify that a little bit. Let me justify why we as a pastoral team, as an eldership, decided this would be a good topic to discuss. Because the speed of change is so fast and I’m not sure our thinking has caught up with our technology. I’m not sure our thinking has caught up with our technology. I think when it comes to many Christians that we have passively embraced the sweeping changes that technology has brought to life. We gravitate to the upside of technology and I’ve made an argument for that briefly, but there is a downside. There is a challenge. We need to understand the massive nature of the change and the speed and our thinking hasn’t caught up with the technology. And perhaps we haven’t embraced and thought through the downsides and the challenges technology has become, as Neil Postman said, mythic in nature. Neil Postman was a cultural critic, a media theorist. Some of you may be aware of one of his older books, Amusing Ourselves to Death, as he addressed even the issue of television, which is old technology. But in it he talks about how technology has become mythic. Not mythic in the sense that it’s false or legendary or made up, just mythic, and it’s become so much part of life. We can’t imagine life without it or before it.
Let’s be honest about that. Technology has that mythic character to it in today’s world. And yet, as I’ve just said, as a 59-year-old man, in my living memory I can remember a day without cell phones and tablets. I remember a day when there was no televisions. But these things have now become ingrained in life in a period of about two decades, in a period of about 20 years, life has changed massively. Almost in mythic quality because we can hardly imagine a world without our smartphones and digital technology and our tablets and our iPads. It’s a subject that’s massive and worth thinking through and we may have become a little passive in our acceptance of it, in our embrace of it, in our thinking. Our theology hasn’t caught up with the technology.
Most of our homes have multiple devices being used, in many cases, indiscriminately without a clear theology or worldview to guide and govern our use of this technology as Christians. We’re not thinking Christianly. Or maybe some of us are and that would be great to hear you articulate a Christian worldview about your use of technology because there is a danger here. It’s an inherent danger. You and I live in a world marked by technology, but it’s not a passive world, it’s not an amoral world. This is a world that has a certain mindset that rebels against God. That’s why we’re warned in Romans 12, verses one to two, not to allow the world to squeeze you into its mold. There is a world system and technology is part of it.
That’s why even when describing a Christian conversion, Paul describes it in radical terms in Ephesians two, verses one to five, and he talks about a time when we once walked according to the course, the pattern, the mindset of this world, but we’ve been reoriented and reprogrammed in the gospel. And we have got to take a new look at what was part of our old life and what is part of a world system set up in rebellion against God.
We need to be tech-savvy. We need to be biblically wise, theologically insightful regarding our technology. We must have God’s thoughts upon the world in which we live. In a very good book on technology, one of the books I’d recommend, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. He acknowledges a letter he sent to a Christian ethicist in Scotland called Oliver O’Donovan. And he asked his perspective on technology and this man was older than certainly the guy asked him the question. And he said, “This is more of an issue for young theologians than for old theologians,” but he did say this and Tony Reinke quotes this in his book. “Media doesn’t just lie around passively waiting for us to come along and find them useful for some project we have in mind. They tell us what to do and more significantly what to want to do. There is a current in the stream and if we don’t know how to swim, we shall be carried by it. I see someone doing something and I want to do it too, then I forget whatever it was that I thought I wanted to do.”
But it’s that little phrase about that media’s just not lying around. Technology’s just not lying around passively for you and I to take it up. It’s active, it’s seeking us out. It wants to shape our thinking, it wants to redefine the things we use and why we use them and how we live our lives. And this Scottish ethicist is saying you need to swim against that current. And I would just want you to keep that kind of idea or analogy in mind. When it comes to technology, I think we could categorize everyone here tonight into two categories. There are the floaters and there are the swimmers.
Okay? There’s a current in the cultural stream, it’s a media current and it’s not passive and it’s not neutral. It’s part of the world system. And we as Christians must swim against the current or across the current, not with the current. We can’t simply float. We’ve got to renew our minds. We’ve got to make sure we’re not being pressed into the world’s mold. We can’t be naive about technology. Don’t float. Swim.
If I can go back to the days that I remember as a boy when initially my father held out against television, he saw it as an intrusion of the world into the home. And after a while he realized he was going to lose his family to his sister, my aunt, if he didn’t buy one. And everybody was kind of going through that kind of decision making process. And there was a story that kind of circulated in Northern Ireland at the time in Christian circles. There was a television make in Ireland called Murphy, go figure. Murphy televisions. And one Christian man held out for a while and then realizing, “You know what? Maybe this is a good tool for education,” and whatever. He decided, “You know what? I’m going to go in and get one of these.”
And so he went into the department store in Belfast to buy himself a television and he was shown the latest Murphy television with all the gadgets and all the joy and entertainment that he and his family would enjoy. And so he put the money down on the counter and the fellow went and got the television, it came out in a box. And as the man looked at the box, it said these words, “Murphy brings the world into your home.” He said, “Hey, take that back. The world’s not coming into my home.” Now we can play with that. There’s a bit of a fallacy to that, but it’s to my point, there is a current in the stream. Media’s not neutral, technology’s not neutral in how it’s being used by the world system. And Murphy and Apple and Google are bringing the world into our home and we’ve just got to be smart about it. I’m not sure that leads me to unplug or take a hammer to my media devices. It just reminds me, hold on a minute. I’ve got to make sure that I’m using it and it’s not using me and that I’m swimming in the current, not just floating. Get the point?
So that’s what I want to help you think through. There’s four things I want to cover tonight and then four next Sunday morning. These are going to be kind of suggestive, more than exhaustive. In many ways, more negative than positive because I want to get us to think smartly and discerningly. If you read Tim Challies’ book, The Next Story, which is again another very helpful book, he categorizes Christians into three categories. There are those who enthusiastically embrace. That’s the Christian who’s not smart, who just embraces media, sees no downsides to it. Doesn’t connect it with the world system and thoughts raised up against God and exposes themselves to danger. So there’s the category that enthusiastically embraces. There’s the category that strictly separates and that’s the category driven by fear. Realizing, “Hey, you know what? This does bring the world into my home, therefore I’m not going to run any risks. I may not be mature enough to handle this,” and therefore their modus operandi is prohibition and refusal. It’s not necessarily evil and it’s not necessarily a bad decision. Enthusiastically embrace, strictly separate.
But Tim Challies challenges us to be disciplined discernment as the third option. Enthusiastic embrace, strict separation, disciplined discernment. These are the best of times and these are the worst of times. The media and technology can help us, but it can greatly harm us. Can we begin to comprehend, and we’ll touch on this a little bit next Sunday morning, the damage the pornography is doing through the internet? It’s massive, massive. Discernment is required, watchfulness is required. That’s just one issue.
And so let’s jump in. If you’re taking notes, I’ve put all my headings under the letter T. Number one, when it comes to media technology, it’s a question of thanks. Want to start out on a positive note. It’s a question of thanks. These are the best of times. I love living in the modern world. I like modern machines and conveniences and the blessing in travel, communication, comfort, medicine that technology brings. If you asked me, “You know what? If you had a choice, what era would you like to live in?” “Now.” Okay? Now. This is a question of thanks. The world is a better place because of technology. We’re living longer, traveling further, accessing, enjoying more of the world around us, a world that God declared good. And technology allows us to enjoy good things. First Timothy 6:17 reminds us that God has given us all things to enjoy. While I need to be discerning, technology and the digital world is something to enjoy and receive it as a gift from God.
We don’t need to be cultural Luddites. You know who the Luddites were? They were a 19th century group of Englishmen that went through factories smashing up machines. They didn’t like the progress that technology was giving and some of their concerns were real, to be honest about it. But the phrase a Luddite, it’s just come to describe someone that’s kind of against progress and advancement. The Christian isn’t to be a cultural Luddite. We’re to embrace change and see the good in it because what we’re talking about here in technology and digital developments is what I would call the outworking of the creation mandate. Okay?
Back in Genesis chapter one, verses 26 to 28, what does the Bible say? This is what God says to the first man and the first woman. This is the mission statement. “Then God said, let us make man in our image according to our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the earth, over the cattle, over all the earth and all every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in his own image. In the image of God, he created him, male and female, he created them. Then God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.'” Okay? That’s the social side of things. Start a family, develop societies, communities, fill the earth and subdue it. “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the earth and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
This is what we call the creation mandate. And included in it is this idea that man can take what God has made, what’s on the earth, what’s above the earth, what’s beneath the earth. Man can take what God has made and make something of it for human advancement. Man is called to take what God has created and to repurpose it and reorder it for his benefit. He’s to subdue the earth, he’s to exercise dominion and rule over the earth. We’re created in the image of the creator. And one of the distinct things about a man or a woman is their ability to create, to show initiative. And we ought to embrace that. Created in the image of the creator. Man is given to invention, creative activity and Christians are to celebrate that happily. In fact, that’s what technology is. Technology is subduing the earth. It’s taking materials that God has given us. It’s taking the wisdom and scientific development of centuries that have piled upon centuries and making something better.
Technology is the reordering of raw materials for human purposes. As Tony Reinke in his book, 12 Ways Your Phone Will Change You says, “Adam and Eve reordered the raw materials of soil in order to make plants and flowers flourish. Today, chefs and cooks reorder raw materials of foods into delicious meals. Framing carpenters reorder raw materials of wood and nails, form homes. Pharmaceutical chemists reorder organic and synthetic elements into healing drugs. Musicians reorder notes and signs into music. Novelists reorder the raw material of human experience into stories.” You get the point. We can reorder the created order to our benefit and as we do that, made in the image of the creator, in the best of circumstances we’re to celebrate that, enjoy that, and give thanks to God. As we’re made in his image, we’re his image bearers and that shows up in creativity in the laboratory, in the workshop, in the field, on a piece of paper. We reflect our creator in our creations and we ought to give thanks to God for that. And God is pleased. God likes technology in that sense, in that man has a wonderfully reordered the created order and made things that reflect the image of the creator in man’s creativity.
I just want you to understand that before we get into the downsides, we’re not Luddites, okay? That’s why I’m not in fear of strict separation because hopefully we can take that which is good and keep it good or make it good or put it to good ends, while the world system might take that which is good and use it to bad purposes. So it’s important you and I grasp that because in many ways all of life… I forget where I stole this phrase. All of life is cosmic plagiarism. That’s true. All of life is cosmic plagiarism. We’re just plagiarists. We’re simply a reflection of the creator.
And often I’ve been reminding myself because I love technology and I love aircraft, when I’m on a modern aircraft… Recently, I flew in a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I mean, it’s a marvel to behold. And I find myself thinking it’s systems like the avionics and all of that and without thought about God and I had to pinch myself and go, “Man, if this is what man can do, how great is the creator?” How glorious is the one who makes it all and upholds it all by the word of his power. You know the story, don’t you, of Samuel Morse who gave us morse code, who gave us the telegraph. When he was demonstrating the telegraph to the American Congress, he sent a message from Capitol Hill to Baltimore, Maryland.
And does anybody know what the first message was? What the first telegram was? He was actually given the idea by a little girl called Ani who was a daughter of the Commissioner of Patents. It actually was Numbers 23:23. It was the words, “What hath God wrought?” What hath God wrought. That’s a good way to introduce a new technology. What God has wrought through the creativity of man made and his image. May God be praised. May we use these things for his glory. May we thank him for every convenience and comfort that technology brings to life. Okay, question of thanks. Now, that we’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to be bad for the rest of the sermon.
Number two, it’s a question of time. Want you to be tech-savvy, so give thanks. That’s part of the wisdom. Number two, but be concerned about the waste of time. Technology’s a question of thanks and it’s a question of time. We as God’s people should be the most time conscious people on planet earth. What about Psalm 39 verse four? Psalm 39 verse four would remind us of that aspect to life. Listen to the psalmist. “Lord, make me to know my end. Help me to meditate on my death. Help me to realize the clock is ticking down, the hour glass is running out. Lord, make me to know my end and what the measure of my days are that I might know how frail I am. You have made my days as a handbreadth.”
If you were to put your hand out tonight, palm facing away fingers to the sky, I want you to imagine to your left a line that goes back to the beginning of time, to in the beginning. And then on this side, another line that just stretches infinitely out into eternity. Try and imagine the expanse of that line and see the breadth of your hand in its context. It’s nothing. The dash between the day you’re born and the day you die is a very small dash. And Christians are very time conscious because God has put eternity in our hearts. We realize that that’s what life is. It is an experience that takes place between two points of infinity. That’s why the psalm says, Psalm 90 verse 12, “Help me to number my days that I might apply my heart to wisdom.” What is wisdom? That’s life in the fear of God. That’s life connected to the thought of eternity.
Now, while we realize there’s a time and a season to everything under the sun, I don’t want us to get paranoid. I don’t want us to get to a point as Christians where we can’t enjoy a little bit of downtime or you can’t sit and watch a movie to relax because eternity beckons, I can’t sit at peace. I can’t rest. We don’t want to get to… There is a time and a season to everything under the sun, but we do know one life to live will soon be passed. Only what’s done for Jesus will last. That’s why David Brainerd prayed, “Lord, help me not to linger on my way to heaven.” Say, pastor, I thought this was a message on technology? I’m getting there. I just want you to get a sense that we of all people on the earth should be time conscious and given that, how dangerous is the digital world?
How seductive is technology? Because it’ll do two things in relation to time. Number one, it’s a great time waster. It’s a great time waster. Come on, let’s be honest about it. Technology, YouTube, the media platforms that are available to us, they entertain us with the trivial. They marginalize the substantial and the essential. We’ll come back to that thought in our next thought. But media is constantly interrupting us, constantly diluting our focus where we get less done. It offers us so many options we get stir-crazy. It wastes our time distracting us, entertaining us with lesser things. Giving us so much to do, we do less. The average person checks their phone every 4.3 minutes. Nielsen, a media company, says the average adult spends almost 10.5 hours a day in some form of media. 70% of people tell us the first thing they do in the morning is grab their smartphone.
The digital world is a huge black hole and our time disappears into it. We find ourselves browsing stuff to buy, watching triviality on YouTube, listening to music on our iTunes, watching movies on Netflix, checking, updating Facebook, reading and researching articles. On and on it goes. Some of that’s justifiable, the rest of it’s just quicksand that pulls us in and pulls us down. You know what it’s like. I know what it’s like. It’s at our fingertips. Before we know it, our head is done and we lift them up about an hour later and we wonder where the time has gone. And when we look back on the last 60 minutes, it amounted to not much.
The time we spend with technology is supposed to save us time, but it doesn’t. It’s a great time waster. Rapper and pastor Trip Lee says this, “I will admit there have been times when I’ve looked up and realized I was looking down at my phone for 15 minutes and my son was playing right in front of me and I realized that I was not paying attention to my wife like I should. It takes intentionality and that is an ongoing fight for me.” It’s a fight for all of us. The digital world is a great time waster. It tempts us and it titillates us and it thrills us with stuff that’s but dust in the scales of eternity.
But there’s another thing it does, and I think this is very interesting. The digital world not only wastes our time, it reduces our perspective on time. What do I mean by that? There’s an immediacy about technology. There’s a what’s called presentism about the digital world. It makes us prisoners to the here and now, to the contemporary moment. That’s a fact and it’s a challenge. Every breaking news item, every calendar reminder, every trending movie, every piece of music, every alert regarding posts and products trap us in the contemporary moment. In the digital world, yesterday is ancient history. Okay? That’s so yesterday when it was only yesterday. That’s the world we live in.
Like Gulliver, we have been tied down to our present moment by a thousand digital connections. And it’s hard to break free. It’s hard to think beyond the moment, beyond the present, beyond the here and the now. In fact, here’s what one writer says, Tony Reinke quoting both himself and another. “It is of the nature of technology to dislocate us historically. In principle writes Greg Day, ‘The technological habit of mind is anti-teleological.'” Teleological means the purpose of, the beginning of, the aim of, the goal of. So he’s making an argument that technology works against teleological thinking. It doesn’t make us think about purpose and meaning and process and breadth of time.
It’s largely uninterested and indeed incapable of appreciating the notions of final causality or ultimate purpose. Our digital devices cannot lead us. They cannot map our history. They cannot set our priorities. All of these aims are rendered insignificant in comparison to the now of innovation. That’s true. It traps us in the contemporary moment. It’s marked by chronological snobbery. The new is good, the old is bad. It doesn’t allow us to look back and there’s no need to look forward or else you’ll miss out on what’s happening now. The digital world and technology has divided time into a fraction. You can see that all around you. People lost in their own little world captured by the moment, the latest trend, the latest thing, the latest idea. It’s kind of scary and it should be for people like us who are time conscious and eternally oriented.
In fact, I was thinking about the Bible and time and how the Bible encourages us to understand personal time, political time and prophetical time. Let me give you the verses you can look at in your own time. Personal time, that’s Ephesians 5:15-17, where we’re told to redeem the time because the days are evil. Buy back the time, buy up the opportunity to do something for God, to enhance your eternal reward, to win the, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Redeem the time, buy up the opportunity. It’s all around you, the days are evil and one of the evils of the time is to stop you from redeeming time. And redeeming time in a now context is understanding what the will of God is in doing it. God’s got things for us to do. God has allotted us a time and he has allotted us a series of works to do within that time and you and I better discover what that is and do it while time lasts. Okay?
We are his workmanship. We are his masterpiece created in Christ Jesus on to good works which he has pre-ordained, planned for us to do. And so we really can’t be sitting around twiddling our thumbs and getting caught up in the present moment and all the trends and trash that mark this culture. No, we’re wanting to understand personal time. “God, what is it you want me to do?” And then make sure we do it.
Then there’s political time. That’s 1 Chronicles 12 verse 32, the tribe of Issachar says they understood the times in which they were in and they reacted accordingly. We need to understand our culture and the time we’re in, where the subjective has overtaken the objective. Where feelings are more valued than truth, where the moment is all you have and eternity’s just darkness. That’s the kind of times we’re in. A time when no thought is given to the times before our time. The old is bad, the new is good, those are the times we’re in and we got to fight that. We can’t float, we got to swim.
And then there’s Prophetical time. That’s Romans chapter 13, verses 11 to 14. Right? Do this knowing the time that now is. It’s high time to awake out of sleep. Time to put your phone down, turn your tablet off, stop watching Netflix and do something for God. Serve the kingdom. Love your neighbor, win the lost. Do you know what time it is? It’s high time to awake out of sleep for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent. You want to know where you are in history? You’re well into the day. It’s not nine o’clock in the morning prophetically. We’re moving towards midnight. The night is far spent. The day, that is the day of Jesus’ return, is at hand, therefore cast off the works of darkness and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness. Boy, doesn’t that describe what you’ll see on the internet? Lewdness and lust, doesn’t that describe what you’ll see on the internet? Strife and envy, isn’t that what the internet produces? Waken up. Understand your personal time, what God wants you to do and do it. Understand the political time, what’s going on around you in the culture and understand that, you know what, the any moment return of Jesus Christ could be at any moment. Therefore, be awake and be ready.
In his book, Your Spiritual Quotient, Mark Brewer tells the story of a man we’ll call Henry. He had had several episodes where he had collapsed in a seizure. This is back in the 1960s and it was soon discovered by a Dr. Wilder Penfield that this man was suffering from a huge tumor on his brain and it was putting pressure on his brain. It was creating blackouts and seizures. Now, we’re back in the mid ’60s here where you know this is cutting edge stuff surgically. And they decide to go in with Henry’s permission, given his options, and remove part of his brain. And so the operation takes place and the tumor was removed successfully. But one of the consequences, one of the downsides according to Mark Brewer in the book is that the surgery removes the part of his brain that serves Henry’s ability to remember things. His long-term memory. He had his short-term memory, but his ability to remember things in the past was very, very much diminished, which in a practical sense made him relive so many things.
In fact, in the book they talk about him asking about his favorite uncle that he didn’t remember had passed away. And so every time he asked about his favorite uncle, he was told that he had passed away. For him, he was not able to connect that with a past memory. So he lived it every time. The emotion of it, the grief of it, every time, it repeated itself and things like that repeated themselves in cycles. And what Dr. Wilder Penfield said about him was that this man had become a slave to the moment. It’s a powerful little phrase. Because of that operation Henry had become a slave to the moment. But I want to tell you this, I really believe this and I’m fighting it myself and I want you to be aware of it. The digital world and our technology want to make us slaves of the moment. The contemporary moment, the trends, what’s relevant to the influencers of our culture. And remember, it’s all part of a world system, a mindset that’s opposed to God and his son and the glory of the gospel. So those things are worth thinking.
Here’s another thought. Maybe we’ll only cover three thoughts tonight and we’ll cover the rest next Sunday morning. This is kind of a spinoff, the question of triviality. The digital age for the Christian is a question of thanks, but it’s a question of time and it’s a question of triviality. Just piggybacking off my last thought, the internet or smartphones or tablets, they can be a great waster of time because they introduce us to the trivial. And life for so many in our day, our young people and people around us, it’s a game of trivial pursuit. It’s hard to have an in-depth conversation with anybody anymore because they’re taken up with the trivial. And we’ll see this next time, digital technology has shortened their attention span and their critical ability to think. And they get caught up in the trivial, the shallow end of life is where they swim in. Think about it.
Our technology and the digital world has us fixated on people who are mostly shallow. Cultural icons who are best known for just being best known. They haven’t done anything, accomplished anything, discovered anything, created anything, written anything. No, we know them because technology makes them known and they are an image. And it’s all about image, not substance. How they look, what they wear, where they go, the things they eat, the cars they drive, which is all conspiring to make want what they have.
The digital world fixates on stuff. I mean this whole thing’s driven by advertisement revenue. They’re just going to throw stuff in your face. A few years ago you could watch something, a short movie or something that you want to look into, and now you can’t watch it without an advertisement. At least you got to watch 40 seconds before you get the opportunity to skip the advert. They’ve got fixated on stuff. The stuff they want you to think about, material things, the fleeting fashions of this world, silly memes, YouTube videos of people doing crazy things or cats chasing bubbles or dogs chasing their tails. That’s a great pursuit for someone made in the image of God, huh? Trivializes news by placing entertainment alongside it and with it. Life’s become a bumper sticker.
In fact, again, Neil Postman in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, he was onto this at the very beginning of television, which seems so long ago. But he said, “You know what? News and entertainment were melded together.” Welded together. So in the space of just a few moments, you could be watching something about the dangers of nuclear holocaust where millions would be incinerated and that’s followed momentarily by commercial about a cheeseburger. Think about what that does to your mental circuitry, your critical thinking. And the reason that that’s done, because no one wants to think long and hard about being incinerated. No one wants to think long and hard about emaciated bodies in Africa. We don’t like to be made sad, so although they’ve got to cover the news, they got to get you out of that quickly. And so they’ll entertain you and they’ll trivialize life and you’ll move from nuclear explosions to whether you want pickles and tomato sauce on your cheeseburger. And you end up in a world that’s trivialized. Life becomes a bumper sticker and the digital world becomes a means of escape and entertainment.
Listen to John Piper. “Television is one of the greatest life wasters of the modern age. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the adverts are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust no matter what program you’re watching. No, the greatest problem is banality. A mind fed daily by TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. It’s faculty for his great calling is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial, so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers and the capacity of the heart to find deep emotions shrivel.” He was talking about television. I mean, now we’re into the immersive world of social media and movies at the tip of her finger. And where is virtual reality going? That ultimately, virtual reality will allow you to step out of reality if you don’t like it and don’t want it. And where that ends up is kind of scary.
You know that right now you can get yourself a virtual baby and raise it online. Think about that. In one sense we kind of laugh at it and you could make an argument for a kid that might be educative and fun. But it’s not just kids that are doing it, there are adults who are doing it and the real is being substituted by the unreal. It’s kind of scary. It’s diminishing life and our ability to live it. And we’re getting caught up with the trivial. I think it was Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers, who I love to watch Once in a while. My wife doesn’t get their humor, says more about her than it does about me. “I find TV,” he said, “very educating. Every time someone turns on the TV, I go into the study and start to read a book.”
But think about, I just wrote down several little things to myself and we’ll wrap this up, the question of triviality. Remember Jesus warned us in Matthew 23:23 about the law, but can’t we extrapolate that and apply that in a secondary manner? Where he says, “You know what? Some of you guys are taken up with the lesser issues of the law and not the weightier issues of the law.” And life can do that to you and the media world and the digital world will do that to you. They won’t have you focused on the weightier issues of life. They’ll have you focused on the lesser issues of life: entertainment, pleasure, thrills.
What does Paul say about an elder in First Timothy three, verse two? That he’s got to be sober minded. The man of God, who by the way is the measure of the people of God according to Hebrews 13, he’s to be a sober minded man, not a clown. Not that he doesn’t enjoy a little bit of humor, but he’s not a clown. He understands what’s at stake. He’s serious about the things of God. He understands the damage sin will do. He understands that hell is real. He understands the weight of the glory of Jesus Christ in the face of the gospel. He understands all those things and it weighs on him and he carries it and feels its weight. The Bible constantly challenges us not to give ourselves to triviality.
What about James four, verse nine, where James calls the people of God to repent. And one of the little phrases I find challenging in my life, I hope you do, where he says, “You need to turn your laughter into mourning. You need to turn your laughter into mourning.” What are you laughing about? Death’s coming, eternity’s long, hell’s beckoning. Jesus is great. Men are sinning. Satan’s at work. What are we laughing about? Let’s get serious about serious things. You get the point.
The whole book of Ecclesiastes is talking about that when life is disconnected from God, it becomes empty. And the favorite verse is vain and weightless, and that’s the world we’re living in. The digital world is detached from God. It’s part of the world’s system and it’s marked by vanity and lightness and emptiness. But that’s not the world we want to live in because the Bible reminds us that you and I are stewards and Jesus is coming, Revelation 22:12, to reward every man according to his works. “Oh, you mean pastor, I’ve got to give an account for all the days I live and the hours I spend and the things I do?” Yep, you and me together. That’s pretty sobering. That’s pretty sobering.
Again, it’s not to make you paranoid, it’s not to mean you can’t put your feet up and relax a little bit. There’s a time to rest. Jesus’ even said to his own disciples, “Come apart a while and rest. Too much going on.” But that’s not the way we live. We do that once in a while just to help us live and recharge our batteries physically and mentally and so on and so forth. No, we’re about the business of doing stuff in our body because we know at the judgment seat of Christ, we’ll be asked to give an account for the things we did in our body. The things we held in our hands, the things we gave our eyes to and our hearts to. And we know that.
What does Paul say? “Therefore, knowing the terror of the Lord.” The judgment seat of Christ isn’t a Sunday school picnic. It’s not like a Sunday school prize given for six year olds where you get something you don’t want. At least that’s how I remember Sunday school prizes when I was a kid. Good night, they’ve given me a framed picture. Who wants a framed picture? But no, it’s not a Sunday school prize given, it’s the judgment seat. I’m a dinosaur, where you put the video in and it’s rewind, the DVD, whatever it is. And we take a look at life together in the presence of Jesus. That’ll put our media usage and our imprisonment to technology in perspective.
Let me finish with this story and I’ve actually got my own version of it. It’s the famous story of Charles Simeon, the great English pastor in Cambridge who helped train up Henry Martin, the great missionary. He goes to Persia, dies young. Brilliant Oxford student, I believe, but gives himself the missions. While he’s on the mission field, a portrait of Henry Martin arrives in the manse or the parsonage, and Charles Simeon puts it up above his fireplace and above the mantle. And it’s a stern picture. He’s got these steely eyes that always seem to be looking on Charles Simeon. And often when guests are in the home, Charles Simeon would say, “There, see that blessed man? What an expression of countenance. No one looks at me as he does. He never takes his eyes off me. And he seems to be always saying to me, ‘Be serious, be earnest. Don’t trifle, don’t trifle.'” Then smiling at the picture and gently bowing his head in the presence of his guests, he’ll often pray, “Lord, help me not to trifle. Help me not to trifle.”
There was a picture of a former president of the Irish Baptist College, a man called Louis Deans, in the kind of coffee room at the college I went through before I came out to the Master’s Seminary. And it was the same thing, just an old photo or whatever way the eyes were, no matter where you sat in the room, he looked at you. Like, “Are you not finished your tea and biscuits yet? Have you not Greek to do, Hebrew to learn, theology to read?” I remember one day getting behind a piano and coming up. And there he was, looking at me. “De Courcy, get upstairs, get back to work.”
It’s a good thing to have that old generation of serious men who understood the ministry, who saw things in eternal perspective, looking down on you and above and beyond them as the all seeing eye of God, encouraging us not to be trivial. But the internet wants to make us trivial and it wants to get us caught up in the moment and we’ve got to fight that.
So I’ll stop there. We’re going to see next Sunday a question of truth, a question of temptation, a question of togetherness, a question of thought, and a question of tyranny. You say, “Pastor, you only covered three tonight, how you going to cover five next Sunday morning?” I don’t know. We’ll see. But these are the best of times, these are the worst of times. Our technology is a tool in the hands of a good Christian, but it’s also a weapon in the enemy’s hands that he can use against us. Remember, there’s a current and you’re either going to float or you’re going to swim.
Father, we just thank you for our study tonight in the summer series. We pray that indeed we would swim in this tidal weave of technology that’s sweeping this generation. On the one hand, we thank you for it. On the one hand, it’s an expression of man’s ingenuity created in the image of a creator, and it’s something to be embraced with thanks. And it enhances life, and it enriches life, and we thank you for it. We’re not going to call what is clean unclean, but we also realize that misused, wrongly applied, it can become unclean. What is a tool can become a weapon. What can enrich us, can impoverish us. Because in some sense, technology’s neither good nor bad in an off itself, it becomes that in our hands and how we use it or how it in influences us.
And so Lord, tonight as we begin to allow our thinking to catch up with technology, help us to realize it’s a question of thanks. It’s a question of time. It’s a question of triviality. There is some repenting we must do. There are some boundaries we must set. We must bring a renewed mind to our use of the digital world. And we must not allow the world to squeeze us into its mold of presentism and materialism and voyeurism. A world disconnected increasingly from reality, a world lost in a moment in time, a world blind to eternity, a world that’s godless. Help us not allow that world and its ways to mold us. May we be your image bearers, may we reflect the Jesus Christ and may the word of God renew our mind. For we ask and pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.