Temptations of the Digital Age - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2019-08-11 AM
  • Sermons

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For those of you who are guests this morning, let me just say, that you have caught us taking a brief break from what we normally do on Sunday mornings. For the past several years, we have been studying our way through Paul's letter to the Romans. And if you come back on the first Sunday after Labor Day, you'll find us back at the end of Romans 11, picking up where we left off and continuing into the practical application of the Gospel, that Paul will take us through, beginning in chapter 12. So, we invite you to be part of that, but we're taking a little break from that and looking at a couple of issues that have been on my heart.

The issue that I want us to begin to consider today, has been on my heart, frankly, for a long time. It has to do with the unique temptations of the digital age. In one sense, of course, these are not new temptations, because they are actually present in every age, as Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 1:9, "There is nothing new under the sun." Or as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13, there has, "No temptation overtaken you but such as is [what?] common to man."

So, in that sense, they're not new; however, what is new with the rise of technology, and the Internet, is how these temptations come. First of all, the total volume of temptation is unique with our digital age. You and I are exposed to more potential temptation in a day, than previous generations might have been in a month or more.

Secondly, the constant availability of temptation. When I was growing up even, there were some temptations that were hard to find; in fact, you never just stumbled across them. Not true anymore.

A third way that the technological age has given a new twist to temptation, has to do with the private setting of temptation. In the past, temptations that came primarily when you were in public, can now be found constantly assailing you in the privacy of your own home. And perhaps most surprising of all, the sort of newness of the technological temptations we face, is the increasing acceptability of many of these temptations among Christians. Things that Christian people in the past considered sinful, have become perfectly acceptable today. People post them on their pages. Now, how has this new age of temptation come?

Well make no mistake, it is not merely technological progress, although certainly, in fact, that is true. Rather, what we are facing is part of a world system, the Scripture says, that Satan has created and rules in order to enslave and destroy the soul's of men and women, and to weaken the faith and undermine the maturity of believers. So, what we face today, the technological world, the digital age in which we live, ultimately is the creation of Satan himself as part of his system. Now don't misunderstand me, this is not going to be a rant by a fifty something year old man who wants to return to the "good old days." That is not me. Now, it is true, that I'm not a digital native, I'm old enough not to have been that. And, I also need to confess to you that I have intentionally avoided social media for the purely practical reason that I struggle to keep up with the real people in my life, much less the virtual ones. The people with whom God has enriched my life. And so, those things are true, but, you also need to know that I own, and daily benefit from, a smart phone, a tablet, a laptop, a television and high-speed Internet. So I am not suggesting that we return to the pre-digital world any more than I desire to return to the pre-industrial world. Instead, in today's message and the ones to follow, I have three goals.

First of all, I want to equip us to recognize the subtle, but powerful ways, that our technology is shaping us. Is shaping our thinking and especially is shaping our thinking about spiritual things. Secondly, I want us to understand the biblical response to the common digital temptations that we all face. How do you respond? And then thirdly, I want to create a biblical framework for making digital devices our servants, rather that becoming their slaves. And that's frankly, the reality with most people in our world today. They are slaves of their devices.

Now, the last several months, I made a list as I've been anticipating these messages. I created a list, in the digital world, of 22 temptations and sins that have increased with our technology. I've added, day after day, week after week, I just kept adding and that is not exhaustive. 22 isn't even beginning to be exhaustive. Rather than trying to go through 22 different temptations and sins, I've decided that it would be more helpful for us, to group the primary temptations that come to us into categories, and address them that way. Now, let me just confess to you, that that means, that rather than the neat and tidy categories I usually like, there is going to be some messiness. There's going to some overlap, and yet, I still hope, that this will be helpful.

So let's look at it together. Through your devices, and through the Internet, you Christian, are confronted with temptations in several specific categories. The first category is probably not going to be what you expect. Let's call it this: the principle temptation; substituting the trivial for the essential. The principle temptation that comes in the digital age, I am convinced of, is replacing, or substituting, or exchanging the trivial for the truly important.

Now, we're going to get to the spiritual meat of this in a moment, but before we do that, I just want to say that this kind of subtle substitution happens in countless ways that are not inherently sinful. But I think it is good for us to understand them as believers. For example, with the digital age, we often substitute shallow skimming and page-hopping for deep thought, and focused concentration.

Several years ago, I read a book called, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. And, the author of this book argues that, and this is an overstatement, but Google is making us stupid. Its author, Nicholas Carr, shows that the Internet is built on the principle of interruption. It is a chronic state of distraction. You understand this. Click...click, click, click, click, click. That state of distraction, the author argues, "follows us after we leave our computers making focused concentration and deep thought increasingly difficult." Now, if you're honest with yourself, if you have ever been given to deep though and focused concentration and you have entered the Internet age, you have to acknowledge that that's true. It's harder today to focus like you used to focus. It is for me, I have to fight for that.

Another way that we've seen this substitution take place, is the digital age has replaced knowledge with information. In other words, the digital age is really about information, not true knowledge. The founders of Google took their name from a mathematical term, the mathematical term, googol. Not spelled the way Google, the search engine is, but, g-o-o-g-o-l. A googol is the number 1, in mathematics, the number 1, followed by 100 zeros. That's how much information the founders of Google plan to catalog. But understand, that having information available is not the same as having knowledge. It only has googols of information available and accessible.

The digital age has also exchanged, and this ones really important, again, in a non sinful way, the digital age has exchanged a balanced view of reality with a self-created reality. Let me say that again, the digital age has exchanged a balanced view of reality with self-created reality. Do you understand that whatever you choose to look at and read on the Internet, you're going to get more of that? That's how it's shaped, that's how it's framed. There's a sense in which it discovers what you want and feeds you more of that; frankly, until all opposing voices are drowned out, by the voices you wanted to hear.

In Habits of the High Tech Heart, Quentin Schultze writes, that, when that happens, in reality, we are left with,

...endless volleys of nonsense, folly and rumor, masquerading as knowledge, wisdom, and even truth. [Schultze goes on, and listen to this, this is really helpful, to say], "This information is not simply at our demand, but under our control. We live in a world where we can see only what we choose to see, hear only what we choose to hear, and read only what we choose to read. Through technology, we have the ability to filter out everything, but what we wish to be exposed to, creating what one University of Chicago professor has called, "the daily me", a self-created world, in which we see only the sports highlights that concern our favorite team, read only the issues that address our interests, and engage only the op ed pieces with which we agree. The highly lauded personalization of information protects us from exposure to anything that might challenge our thinking or make us uncomfortable. [And then, Schultze ends with this quotation, this is really insightful, listen to this]. Unchecked, we begin to follow the sound of nothing more than the echo of our own voice.

There are other substitutions that have happened in the digital age that are not necessarily sinful. There's been the exchange of images and emotion for real argumentation. The exchange of celebrities like Instagram influencers, You Tube stars, and actors, for real role models. The substitution of staged moments, for real life. You know, it used to be, that people were into experiencing the moment. Experiencing what they were enjoying at that moment. And then cameras came along, initially, to capture a candid shot, just a split moment of that whole experience that we were enjoying, just so we could keep the thought. So it captured life as it happened, just one little, small slice of life. But today the emphasis has changed to the staged photo. Working hard to capture the perfect moment. Now, I'm not into these things, but my daughters tell me that this has become such a problem that it's increasingly difficult for tourists to get candid shots with their families at key venues around the world because Instagramers go there and stay there taking thousands of photos in order to get just the right one to post.

So those are non sinful ways that we have substituted the trivial for the essential. But that's not why you're here this morning. So let's talk about the real problem. You see, the principle temptation of the digital age, is spiritual. And it is the spiritual temptation to replace what is essential with what is trivial. Now this happens to us quickly and easily because it's an inherent human tendency.

Turn back to Jeremiah, chapter 2. Jeremiah was dealing with this human tendency. The Lord was dealing with it through Jeremiah. And Jeremiah 2, verse 12, the Lord says,

Be appalled, O heavens, at this,

And shudder, be very desolate," declares the Lord.

For My people have committed two evils;

They have forsaken Me,

The fountain of living waters,

To hew out for themselves cisterns,

Broken cisterns

That can hold no water.

God's talking about Himself as the true God, and He's comparing Him to a fountain of fresh water. A spring, spewing forth constant fresh water, but people, sinful people, have exchanged, have substituted, the real God, that's like a fountain of fresh water, for their own broken cisterns, idols, that don't even hold water. Not only is it stagnant water, there's no water; they're broken. They don't hold anything, they're worthless. This is a tendency human beings have. This exchange, this substitution of the trivial and the worthless, for the essential.

You see it in Romans, chapter 1, right? Paul talks about the same thing. We have exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made by corruptible man. But, that's idolatry. Even when we claim to have eschewed idolatry, and we claim to worship the true God, we still find it easy to substitute the most important commands of God, in Scripture, with lesser ones. That's what our Lord said in Matthew 23:23; he said, "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, [you tithe your kitchen herbs], but you have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others".

So understand folks, that we, as human beings, by nature, are tempted to make this terrible swap. This exchange for the trivial in place of the essential. But, let's ask ourselves this: when it comes to the digital age, what are the most common expressions of this temptation, this subtle temptation, to exchange, that we face? Let me give you several of them.

First of all, substituting personal opinion for biblical truth. Substituting personal opinion for biblical truth. Now this takes a couple of forms. First of all, it can mean, that you are embracing the mindset of our age, as if it were equal to the word of God. In other words, it's not your opinion, it's somebody else's opinion, that you embrace as if it were truth. This happens constantly.

In fact, I read an article recently entitled, The Secret Lives of Facebook Moderators. Over three months, Casey Newton, a reporter-investigator, interviewed a dozen current and former employees of a company called, Cognizant, which is based in Phoenix. And Cognizant is hired by Facebook, and people are put in the position of beings moderators of the more egregious, outrageous content on Facebook. They're supposed to go through the Facebook posts, and sort through it, and get rid of those things that are terribly outrageous. Newton writes this,

The moderators told me the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day, gradually led them to embrace fringe views. [Now, stop there a minute and think about that. These are people who are hired, knowing that these views are bizarre, outlandish, ridiculous, unfounded; they're hired to go and find them on Facebook and get rid of them. That's their job; and yet, in reading these things, they begin to embrace them. He goes on to say], One auditor walks the floor of this company promoting the idea that the earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, [that's troubling], said, "I no longer believe 911 was a terrorist attack.

In an interview the article's author said this, "In ways that we're only beginning to understand, we really are shaped by our media environment, and repeated exposure to the same idea." That's what happened. These people were hired, knowing these were ridiculous views, to weed them off of Facebook, but by taking them in day after day after day, they began to believe them. Don't you for a moment think, that can't happen to you. In fact, I would argue, it happens in subtle ways to all of us.

See, the point is, you are influenced by what you are repeatedly exposed to, in ways you don't even understand. And everything you're exposed to, has a philosophy, a mindset, a worldview. Do you understand that? Everything, it has a worldview. And, it is either part of the truth or it is part of the lie. Those are the only options. This is what our Lord said in John, chapter 8. Turn there with me, in John 8, He's talking to the Jewish people, and He says to them in verse 40, John 8:40, "But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, [notice this] a man who has told you the truth, [now what was the source of the truth Jesus taught?] which I heard from God." So you have, God as the source, and truth that comes out from God.

But I want you to notice the contrast down in verse 43.

Why do you not understand what I am saying? [The truth that I am teaching]. It's because you cannot [the Greek word is dunamai, you do not have the power, you do not have the capacity, to...] hear my word. [Why not? Verse 44, here's the reason. Because...] You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, [now notice this, Satan...] does not stand in the truth because there is [what?] no truth in him. Whenever he speaks, [literally, whenever he speaks the lie], he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of [it, literally, he is the father of...] the lie.

So do you see what Jesus is saying? You've got two sources. You have God and Satan. Out of God comes the truth, out of Satan comes the lie, and all lies. And everything ultimately traces back to one of those two sources.

First John, chapter 2, verses 15-17, say that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of the life, that is part of this world system that Satan has created, and John the Apostle says there, all that is in the world, all of those things, those are not from the Father. Well where did they come from if they didn't come from the Father? Well 1 John 5:19 says, "the whole world [that is, the whole world system] lies in the power of the evil one." That's where it comes from, so understand this, please let this bore into your soul. There are no independent thinkers, and you're not an exception. You're thinking will always be shaped by influences outside of you. Either it will be God and His word or it will be Satan and the ideas that originate with him and that he directs and controls to blind people.

This is where all unbelievers are. It is where you were before Christ. Go to Ephesians, chapter 2. Ephesians, chapter 2, verse 1. Paul describes our life before Christ. He says, "you were dead," you were spiritually dead, "in your trespasses and sins, in which," that is, in those sins, "you formerly walked," the idea here is, you walked as a pattern of life, you walked in lockstep with those sins, "according to the course of this world."

That is a very interesting expression. Literally, the word course is the word aion, from which we get the word, age of this kosmos. So, literally it's, you walked according to the age of this kosmos. What does that mean? The word age, or here translated course, has the idea of the current prevailing mindset of the world system; that's the idea here. The current prevailing mindset that permeates the world system. Do you understand that our age, your age, has a mindset? Where do you think that came from? It didn't come from God. It came from Satan, he has created the system of prevailing thought that permeates the world in which we live. And you were once, before Christ, enslaved to it.

And you can still be influenced by it, turn over to Romans, chapter 12, we'll get here in the Fall, but notice Romans 12, verse 1. Paul says, as he turns to practical application of the Gospel, he says, "I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, [because of the salvation you enjoy] present your bodies to God." You know your body doesn't belong to you, it's Christ's, He bought it. He paid for it with His own blood. Your body is His, and so is your mind. Verse 2, "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." He says, literally, don't be conformed, don't be shaped into the mold, and here's our word again, of the age, of the aion. Don't allow the prevailing mindset of your age to push you into its mold. Don't start thinking like the people around you think. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind. How does that happen? Through the will of God, verse 2 goes on to say, it's not talking about what color car you buy, or what career path you're on. It's talking about the revealed will of God in the Scripture. Be transformed by understand the will of God as it's contained in the Scripture. Christian, your mind is not your own. It was bought with a price. And you don't have a right to think separately from what Jesus Christ thinks about anything.

It's absolutely crucial you understand what I am trying to say to you here. Every idea, every thought to which your mind is exposed is part of the war between God and Satan. Every website, every vlog, every post, every tweet, every comment, every photo intended to communicate a message. Every movie you watch, every song you listen to, every show you watch, is either the truth, that can be traced back to God, or it is part of the lie, that can be traced back to Satan; that's it. There are no neutral ideas or thoughts out there. Our world is in a cosmic war and there are only two sides. Don't let any thought or idea that you come across go unchallenged or untested. Be on your guard. Every thing you read, every blog post, every comment, every tweet, every show, every song, every line, every meme. Test it against the Scripture and don't you dare pass it on if you haven't first said, "Is this what Jesus Christ thinks about this issue?" The question must always be, what does the Bible say?

Now, a second way that you can be tempted to substitute personal opinion for biblical truth, is by promoting your own views as equal to the word of God. This is the other side of it. The first part of it is being influenced by the human opinions of others. Buying in to the world view that's out there. But frankly, having bought into it at some level, you can then begin to promote your own views, in some ways, as equal to the word of God.

You see, the digital world is truly egalitarian. Everyone has an equal voice on every topic. I mean, if you do a search because you take your blood pressure and you discover its 300 over whatever, and you're worried about that, and you want to know if that's a problem, you do a search, and what happens? You get a whole bunch of possible places to go, and they all look relatively equal. Like they are all able to speak to your issue. They all have an equal footing, except for those who pay a little more, and get a little better position. And in some cases, the algorithm shows them up if they're more popular, but in the end, it's very difficult to distinguish in our world, between the completely uninformed, who shouldn't even be talking about this issue, the amateur, who knows just enough to be dangerous, and the expert in the field.

Now here's the problem. Because that's true, because there's this level playing field out there, and let's just be honest, this is true, we can be tempted to think, we are the experts because we have researched the topic extensively on the Internet. And then we begin to give counsel, we begin to give advice to others, as if our opinions are true, and, frankly in some cases, as true as, or even more true, that the Scripture itself. If you think you can't be tempted to this, think again.

So let me just ask you to think about your own pet viewpoints. Ok? Think about yours; think about the websites that you read most often, think about the causes you champion on line, the things you post about on line, that are not explicitly chapter and verse contained in the Scripture. I am not talking about a principle of a principle. I am talking about: can you show me a chapter and verse that says it? What are those causes, those things that you champion, that don't have a clear cut, explicit statement in Scripture?

Let me just say this to you. You should never be as sure of those things or present yourself as sure of those things, as you are of what the Bible says. Sadly, that's not true. If you look on line there are many Christians who say a whole lot more about things the Bible doesn't talk about, and who appear far more certain of those things, than they seem to be about what the Scripture actually teaches.

Now, I know I am in dangerous territory here, but I am already there, so here we go. The primary areas where this happens with well meaning Christians are discussions relating to two categories: politics and health. Politics and health. Christians seem to be experts in both. Now, let me just say this, and I say that tongue-in-cheek. Look, we all champion causes, and that's fine. You can think what you want to think, you can say what you want to say, just be very careful, not to equate it with the Scripture. In fact, I would say this. If you spend more of your time on line, reading about and promoting ideas that cannot be found explicitly in the Bible, chapter and verse, you are in danger of substituting human opinion for biblical truth. You shouldn't be that confident about anything that isn't stated in this book. This is all you know, it's all I know for sure. And everything else ought to be up for grabs. And you certainly shouldn't be trying to bind other Christian's consciences with your opinions on those issues.

Let me show you, this was a passion of the early church. Turn to 1 Corinthians, chapter 4. I first learned about this verse sitting in a Greek class in grad school, and my father-in-law, who is now with the Lord, was teaching that class. Turns out, he had a portion of this verse in Greek above his desk in his office. And it's never left me. First Corinthians 4, verse 6, Paul is talking about the misconception of leadership that was going on there in Corinth, and he says in verse 6, "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn [now, notice the next words] not to exceed what is written." Now, in English that sort of just blends in. But in Greek, that expression, "not to exceed what is written," is preceded by a use of the definite article. Think the in English. So how odd is that? Let's read it that way. "So that in us you may learn the not to exceed what is written."

What's going on there? Well, this was an unusual use of the Greek article. That's what my father-in-law pointed out to me, and it's been substantiated in a variety of ways. It was to introduce a common saying. The common saying in Greek is, Me huper ha gegraphtai. Not beyond what has been written. Paul is saying, I want you to understand this common saying in the life of the church that we all champion, and I want you to apply it to this situation. Here is what you need to let burn into your souls, not beyond what has been written.

Brothers and sisters, that's how we need to live. I grew up in legalism, and this verse resonates with my soul. Me huper ha gegraphtai. Not beyond what has been written. May God make us individuals and church like that.

Jesus, Himself, in Mark's Gospel, chapter 7, addressed first century Judaism, what had become, not the Old Testament faith, the true faith, but what first century Judaism had become; the false religion that it had become. And His big issue with it was that it substituted human authority for divine authority; it had added to the word of God. And so, He says in verse 7,

in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.

By the way, that's always what happens. When you start adding to the Bible, when you start going beyond what is written, that always will become more important to you than what the Bible actually says. Just like it did for them. Notice, He gives an example, beginning in verse 9. I taught a number of messages through this passage when we were going through Mark. So, if you're interested you can go back and go into it in more detail, but notice what He says in verse 13, "thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down;" and then this sends chills down into my soul, "and you do many things such as that." Folks, may we never be guilty of doing many things like that, where we add to the Scripture, we go beyond what has been written.

Romans 14 explains that the moral decisions you and I have to make, fall into three categories. There's: Thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt. There's: Thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not. And everything else is an issue of conscience. That's it. Every moral decision falls into those three categories. There are legitimate issues of conscience, and we are not to judge another person based on our own choices in those issues. Romans 14:10, "why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God." Don't promote your own opinion about anything as if it is equal to or superior to the word of God. Either by how you say it or how much you say it. So, we're tempted to substitute personal opinion for biblical truth.

Secondly, we are tempted to substitute worthless distractions for biblical priorities. Worthless distractions for biblical priorities. You see, the digital world is full of distractions. The average person in this room, and I know some of you are exercising great restraint, others of you are not, checks his smart phone every 4.3 minutes. Every 4.3 minutes you check your smart phone. 81,500 times a year, once every 4.3 minutes. And, that's just one of our distractions in the digital world. There are so many other distractions. Things like binge watching, Internet searches, shopping, social media, playing video games. Listen, I'm not saying all of those things are evil, many of them are not. Unless, of course, you're watching or searching or playing something that is contrary to Scripture. But, watching viral You Tube cat videos, you didn't even know I knew that happened, did you? Spending time on Pinterest or posting photos on Instagram, is not sinful, but the common and subtle temptation in all of those things is the constant distraction from truly important priorities.

Nielsen tells us, that the average adult in the U.S., spends almost 10 and a half hours a day with media. You say how in the world does that happen? Well, we're getting more creative. Increasingly, people are doing two of them at the same time. They're watching television and have their phone or iPad and they're doing something on it as well. 10 and a half hours a day. Why? Because it's a diversion, it's a distraction. Why do most people, why do unbelievers like diversion and distraction? Well, it reminds me of the older demon in the Screwtape Letters giving advise to the younger demon on how to keep somebody from coming to the truth of the Gospel, he says just fill his life with noise.

More to the point, Blaise Pascal, wrote this, speaking of unbelievers, "Take away their diversion, [this is before the digital age, take away their diversion], you will see them dried up with weariness as soon as they are reduced to thinking of self." They don't want to be alone with themselves, and their own thoughts. Just distract me. Give me something that takes me outside of myself.

But for us as Christians, is this a wise use of our time? I mean, think about Moses in Psalm 90, verses 10 and 12. He says, "As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years," By the way, that was 1,400 years before Christ, Moses wrote that. That was the lifespan then, 70 or 80 years, it's still the span today. You're not going to do much to vary that, some of us won't make it, some of us will live a little longer, but that's the average. How do you respond to that? Well listen to Moses in verse 12, "So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom."

Tony, I think it's pronounced Reinke, in a book I would highly recommend to you called, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, wrote this, "The more distracted we are digitally, the more displaced we become spiritually." Let me read that again, "The more distracted we are digitally, the more displaced we become spiritually." Why is that? Because, let's be honest, what does our digital time usually replace? Most often, it comes at the expense of our biblical priorities of loving God and loving others. Most often, our screen time, comes at the expense of our spiritual disciplines that are supposed to be the constant occupation of true believers.

I was struck with this this week. I am going back through Psalm 119 again, as I have done a number of times in my Christian life. Turn there with me, Psalm 119. And this just jumped out at me, how we've substituted priorities. Here's the Psalmist, Psalm 119, verse 147. Verse 147, "I rise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words." Here's the Psalmist saying, I wake up with God on my mind. And I cry out in prayer to God.

Contrast that with the modern age. I just read a statistic this week, I think it was 70% plus of people, the first thing they touch when they wake up in the morning is their smart phone. And 40 something %, I think it was 42% of Christians admit, that before they think about doing spiritual things, they access their email on their smart device. What did the Psalmist do? He woke up with God. He woke up with God on his mind. But look at the next verse, "My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word." He said, you know, I can't wait for it to be night time, why? So I can update my Facebook. No! So I can meditate on Your word. That's what I want to do. He woke up and went to bed with God. That's what Christians have historically done, but Satan is so clever, he's taken a device, that's a good device, helpful device, and he's transformed it into a monster and a master.

Scripture is to be a priority of our lives. Go back to Psalm 1, Scripture meditation. Psalm 1, the entrance to the Psalter, tells us of these two ways: the way of the righteous, the way of the wicked. The way of the righteous, verse 1, is marked by his abandonment of every human way. "How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked," he doesn't follow the advice of the wicked. So much of what happens in the digital world is just that. "Nor stand in the path of sinners," he doesn't adopt the lifestyle of those who are God's enemies. "Nor [does he] sit in the seat of scoffers!" He doesn't associate with those who mock God and His word. Instead he embraces only God's way, verse 2, "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night." Again, you see the subtle substitution that has happened in our age?

For many Christians it would be: his delight is in his new smart phone; and, in its aps, he meditates day and night. Again, I'm not the enemy of all of these devices, I have them, I use them, I am talking about how they quickly become our masters rather than our slaves.

Prayer and praise, in addition to Scripture meditation, are to be priorities, Psalm 35:28, "my tongue shall declare Your righteousness And Your praise all day long." Psalm 119:164, "Seven times a day I praise You, Because of Your righteous ordinances." And of course, prayer. First Thessalonians 5:17, "pray without ceasing." Pray continually, let your life be, whenever you have a free moment, be absorbed in prayer and praise. Scripture meditation. That's folks, what Christians have always done. This is how Christians have lived.

And so let me ask you, to ask yourself this question, as I have had to ask myself. Has the digital world, whatever form it takes for you, stolen these biblical priorities from you? If so, the first step is to recognize that it's happened. Second, set reasonable limits for your screen time, stay within those limits and dial it back when you realize you are spending too much time. And third, determine that you will spend more time in the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life: in biblical reading and meditation, in prayer, and praise, than you will, in a given day, on line. And that you will spend far greater time listening to God through His word, than you listen to everyone else. The principle temptation of the digital age is the substitution of the trivial for the essential, substituting human opinion for biblical truth, and substituting worthless distractions for biblical priorities.

Thirdly, substituting virtual relationships for biblical relations. Virtual relationships for biblical relationships. One of the main uses of the Internet is social media; and again, don't hear me, just because I'm not on there, doesn't mean I think it's a terrible thing. It has it's place, but here's some statistics. As of 2018, the largest social media site and ap in the world was Facebook with 2.3 billion monthly users. You Tube was second with 1.9 billion monthly users. Instagram is third with 1 billion monthly users, and by the way, Instagram is one of the fastest growing media platforms, especially with the younger generation. Twitter, has a minimal 360 million monthly users, and rounding out the top five is Pinterest, with about 250 million monthly users who have created over 175 billion pins on more than 3 billion boards. Let me just tell you Pinterest fans, you're never going to see them all, give it up.

Now, social media has it's place, and it can be helpful, but please understand this, it is not a substitute for real face-to-face relationships. In her annual presentation on Internet trends, Mary Meeker, a widely respected analyst, stated that adults today spend three hours on average on social media each day. Three hours a day. Many believe, that those hours are not wasted, but are actually invested in growing, deepening relationships. But, there is a body of evidence that is growing, that says exactly the opposite of that. MIT professor, Sherry Turkle, wrote a book, and I love this title, Alone Together; Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. In an interview about the book with Frontline, she said this, here's what Turkle wrote,

What I am seeing is a generation that says consistently, I would rather text than make a telephone call. [This is a couple of years old; now it would be I'd rather post a photo than text]. Why? Because it's less risky. I can just get the information out there, I don't have to get all involved. I would rather text than see somebody face to face. There's this sense that you can have the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. The real demands of friendship, of intimacy, are complicated. They're hard.

A number of articles have substantiated the growing loneliness among those who live their lives on social media. You know, I don't think, again, don't hear me throwing out the baby with the bathwater, but I don't think we realize how strange the social media thing really is. I mean, imagine this for a moment, you and I want to get to know each other, and I suggest that since we are both busy, that you just write a general note about whatever it is you want to share with everybody and post that on your community bulletin board. And I'll just go by there from time to time, and I'll read your notes, that you've written to everybody, and maybe I'll post my own. Or if you're younger, just post some pictures of yourself on the community bulletin board. Post a picture of that cup of coffee you're enjoying or of your new outfit or your new make-up routine or whatever it is. And this is how we'll grow a deeper relationship. Will just keep posting on the community bulletin board. General notes to the world.

You see, the biblical perspective is that relationships are built primarily on face-to-face interaction. In Scripture, being face to face is always better, than trying to carry on a relationship at a distance. I love the statement in Exodus 33:11, where it says, "the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face," listen to this, "just as a man speaks with his friend." Although we know our Lord now, if you're a Christian, you know Christ. To be with Him face to face, that's going to be better. John 17:24, Jesus thought so, he said, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am." Second Corinthians 5:8, we prefer, "to be at home with the Lord." Philippians 1:23, "I have the desire to be with Christ, for that is very much better."

You see, as wonderful as our relationship with our Lord can be now, we long for that relationship to be face to face. Scripture is equally clear, that our relationships with one another are better face-to-face. As we saw last week, biblical church members are to be committed to fellowship; to loving other believers, to practicing the one anothers. And a number of those require being face to face. Paul wanted to be with other believers in person. This was the point we discovered, you remember, in Romans, chapter 1. Romans, chapter 1, verse 10, he says, "I make mention of you, always in my prayers," and here's what I make a request of, "if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you." Paul desperately wanted to visit Rome. He wasn't content to engage in a long distance relationship. He couldn't satisfy his desire for fellowship, even by writing long letters like Romans.

The same point shows up in other places in the New Testament. Philippians 1:8, he says to the Christians in Philippi, "I long for you all." That is, I long to be with you. Philippians 4:1, "my beloved brethren whom I long to see."

The Apostle John was the same way, look at 2 John. The second epistle of John, and verse 12. Second John, verse 12, "Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full."

Folks, don't substitute real biblical relationships which are face to face with virtual ones where you post some general comment about your life, and other people read it. That's not a relationship, that's a bulletin board. Just on a very practical level, let me just say as a habit, because of this last one, don't interrupt face to face conversations, and face to face fellowship, for digital ones. The people there in your presence are more important, at that moment, unless it's an emergency. And more importantly, I would say this; if you want to really grow a relationship, pursue face-to-face communication. There is no substitute for face-to-face relationship.

So, I want to ask you to truly ask yourself, how are you doing, really, how are you doing in guarding your soul against the principle temptation of the digital age? And that is, substituting the trivial for the essential. Do your on line habits, what you read or post, show that you are substituting personal opinion, either the personal opinion of the world, of the system Satan has created, or your own personal opinion, in place of biblical truth? Are you embracing the mindset of the age? Are you drinking the false ideas that come pouring out of your computer? Or are you promoting your own views as if they were equal to or more important than the word of God?

Secondly, are you substituting worthless distractions for biblical priorities? How are you doing with maintaining the biblical priorities of a Christian? The focus of a Christian's mind delighting in God's law and meditating in it day and night. Being filled with prayer and praise as a pattern of life.

And thirdly, are you substituting virtual relationships for face-to-face biblical relationships? May God help all of us to look at ourselves in the mirror of His word, and not be tainted by the age we live in. May God help us to make our devices our servants rather than becoming their slaves.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for this time we've had together this morning. This is a bit of unusual study for us, but I pray that You would use it for good. Lord, help us to examine our hearts. Lord, we confess that, like a fish in a fishbowl, so surrounded by, permeated by, the water that he doesn't even know he's wet, Lord, we know that's true with us. That we live in a digital age and we are impacted and influenced in ways that I'm sure we don't even begin to understand. But Father, help us as believers. For these days to step outside of ourselves and outside of our times and to look in at our lives and our age through a biblical lens. And Father, help us to make the proper adjustments. Help us, O God, to be Your servants, and not the servants of anything else.

Lord, I also pray for those who are here this morning who are not in Christ. Earlier this morning, we sang the gospel, we read the gospel, from the first chapter of John. We prayed in keeping with the gospel, Lord they've heard the gospel and I pray that even today, they would see there sin, they would see the beauty of Christ, and they would be willing to turn in repentance and faith to Him, before they leave this place this morning.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.