Useless Bonfires and the Enemy Within

“What in the world are you doing?!?!” An exasperated dad was really angry at Benny. Seems his son Paul came home from a youth meeting saying he just needed to get rid of it all. All the distractions. All the items that were luring him to listen to them; embrace their anti-god messages; pull his money out of their pockets to buy more. Only quite a bit of that money wasn’t coming out of the 15-year-old’s account. He had been coming out of Mom and Dad’s – and it started before Paul was even born.

Benny tried to apologize. “I promise I didn’t tell him to trash it all that way. Did he literally put it all into a pile and burn it???” Hmm…Benny and I later mused. This dad was more upset that his son had walked away from distracting entertainment than grateful for the spiritual awakening that seemed to be happening in his wayward adolescent’s heart.

It was the mid 70’s and yes, stories abounded that “Jesus People” were having bonfires to burn their albums. And that was when albums were large, black vinyl disks stored in cardboard covers that would actually catch fire.

The sad thing is that Paul’s backyard bonfire didn’t cure his wayward heart. His pull to worldliness dogged him for years. First a music collection his dad started. Then backseat make-out sessions with high school girlfriends, followed by experimenting with drugs in college and halving the cost of his latest girlfriend’s abortion. When the Internet became available Paul’s still-wayward heart made him a sitting duck for bondage to porn.

And then he became a parent.

Paul is worried about his own teenage son who spends gobs of time playing violent video games and views who-knows-what on his web connected smart phone. And then there’s his barely teen daughter. Her boy craziness results in Paul feeling powerless to protect her from “Hot or Not?”-like sites and Instagram and snap chats and Facebook where she’s utterly unaccountable to him or anyone for her contact with her bazillion “friends” – many of whom he knows are guys just like he was.

Paul’s frustrated and fearful conclusion is that it’s just over for his family: his kids are gonna turn out just like he did. After all, they certainly won’t let him gather up the cell phones and iPads and laptops and Netflix accounts his hard earned money has provided for them (hey, all the kids have them!) to make kindling for another backyard bonfire. And he now wishes he had kept that album collection anyway. Geesh. How much could a collection like that have helped when money was tight or how cool would he now be to his kids if they were neatly stacked on shelves in the family room?

Deep inside Paul has come to realize his problem wasn’t the albums or the lyrics within. (Even the ones that talked about Jesus being dead when you played the album backwards. Who ever figured that out anyway?) The issue was Paul’s wandering, wayward heart and the enemy within. And intuitively he knows that’s also the problem with his own two kids.

Our church is currently doing a series called Unplugged: Finding Peace in a Digital Age. Two Sundays ago we heard a compelling part-two of the series. But there were some interesting things missing:

• No suggestions about how much time is too much to spend answering emails, catching up on last night’s game, playing video games or liking Facebook pictures.
• No railings against Internet filth.
• No advice to wives or roommates or parents to make sure Covenant Eyes is installed on all devices in the home.
• No rants about teens having cell phones or Facebook accounts before they’re wise enough to not use them for trolling or porn or sexting or just foolish talk with kids from their school or homeschool co-op.

All of these things are good to honestly discuss. But Eric (who preached that Sunday) chose to focus on something altogether more compelling - a more real and helpful solution for Paul’s heartfelt concerns. And for your concerns and mine about our kids, spouses, friends and family…and for ourselves.

Using the first half of John chapter 15 – the passage about abiding in Christ – Eric cast an inviting vision not for burning our devices but for allowing the fire of the Spirit of God to ignite fresh love for Christ Himself in our distracted hearts and minds.

“How much do we choke out our connection to Jesus by bring plugged in elsewhere? To what degree have we allowed digital trinkets to replace our pursuit of God? What must we disconnect from in order to connect to Christ Himself?” Questions like these pierced my heart. Yet more penetrating was the glorious invitation to find my joy in Christ – the One who offers not the false intimacy images and entertainment and online messages and voyeuristic opportunities to stay updated on what’s happening in my 823 friends lives, but the genuine and life-giving intimacy of being connected to the One who incessantly invites me to know Him more.

“Our digital culture fools us into thinking relationships can be automated and developed from a distance,” Eric said. “We don’t even have to remember anyone’s birthday anymore because Facebook will remind us! Real relationships are maintained by close connections. And John 15 teaches us that remaining connected to God means we have to intentionally abide in Him by listening to Him (primarily through His word), responding to that listening by thoughtful praying, and obeying His commands. “

He then visited five of the most compelling verses in scripture that address our distracted lives in Luke 10:38-42. You know the story about Mary and Martha. In today’s culture Martha was busy checking Pinterest for an attractive new way to set the table for dinner, searching on Facebook for that lentil recipe on a friend’s page that looked so yummy, and reviewing the article she read last week about how to get your younger sister to help out around the house while Mary sat at Jesus’s soon-to-be bloody feet.

“Sheree, Sheree,” He says to me. “You’re worried and upset about so many things. You want to serve people well. You love cooking and playing with and blessing and spending time with others. But only a few things are truly needed – in fact, there’s one thing I’m calling you to. Mary has chosen the very best thing and it will not be taking from her. Come, join her at My feet.”

I’m considering what sitting at His now-scarred feet should look like in my life. I know it will mean plugging into my trinkets less so I can connect with Him more. I could use your prayers if you think of me.

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