By Pearson Johnson
"I can put it down any time I want to." "It doesn't isolate me from people--it helps me connect!" "My phone is my life!" These and many other comments are overheard here on campus. This summer, Dr. Newton challenged the Student Life and Student Care staff to read a book about technology and its effects. I read 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, by Tony Reinke (Crossway, 2017), promoted by the above video.
He begins: "That blasted smartphone! Pesk of productivity. Tenfold plague of beeps and buzzing. Soulless gadget with unquenchable power hunger . . . dictator, distractor, foe!" but then says "untiring personal assistant, my irreplaceable travel companion, and my lightning-fast connection to friends and family... This blessed smartphone!"
I think we all feel this tension. I know I do. My smartphone has gone from being a nicety to being a necessity because of how I use it for work, for ministry, and for staying in touch with family and friends. Let's face it-- smartphones are a part of our lives and we need to deal with that fact. How can we do so with biblical wisdom?
Tony is far from anti-tech. His job is to use tech, creating content for Desiring God. He is a journalist and writer as well, so he is tech-fluent. His book is balanced and was very helpful. I wanted to recommend it. The Student Life team will also be posting some pointers based on what we learned from our summer reading in posts to come. Stay Tuned!
by Eric Newton
You don’t need a green thumb to understand that plants grow under certain conditions. (I can personally testify that learning about photosynthesis does not translate into growing plants successfully!) Sunshine is a factor. The type of soil matters. And far above all else, plants need water.
But how do Christians grow? Human beings are more complex than plants (though we don’t do so well without water either). When you consider the human heart according to Scripture—in terms of beliefs and values and desires and commitments—you realize that answering the question of Christian growth could get quite complicated. However, the essence of growth is quite simple.
At the end of his second letter Peter writes, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.” This concluding exhortation expresses some basic yet profound truths.
First, growth isn’t an option. This is the final verse of an apostolic letter urging believers to grow in order to maintain stability in the face of false teaching. In other words, if we don’t grow, we’ll shrivel. Our spiritual vitality will wither under the effects of false doctrine and worldly practices.
Second, growth requires grace and knowledge. This is familiar territory. We know we need grace. It’s one of our favorite truths, and for good reason. We have no hope unless God chooses to rescue us from our sin and favor us in spite of our desert. It is also clear that knowledge of Christ is important. He is central to our lives. Eternal life is knowing Christ.
But how are grace and the knowledge of Christ related? Are they simply two big ideas placed next to each other? Or are they organically related? Perhaps grace comes through knowledge?
It’s easy to think of grace in terms of a commodity. We often ask the Lord in the morning to give us grace for the day, perhaps like a pharmaceutical prescription or a same-day Amazon shipment. We know we have a need, so we place an order. But grace isn’t impersonal. It is the active presence of a Person.
In Titus 2:11 Paul says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” Clearly, the apostle is referring to the coming of God the Son. Grace arrived (in a new way) in Jesus Christ. In 2 Timothy 1:9 Paul speaks of God giving us grace “in Christ Jesus.” Peter begins his second epistle with this blessing, “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord” (1:2).
Let these words sink in. Grace isn’t an add-on or a side benefit. God graciously forgives and blesses and strengthens and teaches us in Christ. The only way to grace is a growing personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, how do we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Savior? The New Testament directs our focus to three primary ways: Scripture, prayer, and the local church. These three are sometimes called the “ordinary means of grace.” Ordinary doesn’t mean boring or lifeless. It means this is how God typically works. Of all the ways He could sanctify and strengthen His people, He has characteristically used these three.
God gives us grace through the Word of Christ, praying in the name of Christ, and living as a vital member of the body of Christ. We listen to, meditate on, and respond to Scripture (Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:4). We commune with God in prayer (Eph. 6:18; Heb. 4:16; Jude 20). We actively participate in the life of the church, including ordinances, worship, church discipline, spiritual gifts, and fellowship (1 Cor. 14:12; Eph. 4:29; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).
Plants need water. Christians need to know Christ. What would be a great year of discipleship? It comes down to the basics. We need to be solidly rooted in the ordinary means of grace, prizing them for what they are—the life-changing means by which we know and grow in Christ.
By Eric Newton, Dean of Students
Leadership is a very common topic. Amazon sells over 58,000 books with leadership in the title. With few exceptions, every church and community and company and even groups of children have at least one leader. Sometimes he is self-appointed. Sometimes she is thrust into the role, while at other times she has steadily grown into it. Sometimes he plays the part even though he doesn’t own the title.
BJU is a training ground for leaders, and we have arrived at the dawn of a new year. What would good peer leadership look like this semester? In other words, how would you finish this sentence: leadership is . . . ? Do you have some thoughts? We’ll come back to that.
Leaders tend to pride themselves on accomplishment. Success means achieving the sales goal or winning the championship or landing the promotion or gaining a large social media following or receiving an award or delivering an impressive speech. Some of these achievements are worthwhile. But none of them get to the heart of leadership.
Nearly 2000 years ago the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a group of believers who had become caught up in the celebrity culture of Corinth. Some favored Paul, others Apollos, some Peter, and other Christ. They were puffed up. They approved obvious moral sins and tried to gain the upper hand on fellow believers through the secular courts. They wanted the best spiritual gifts, the obvious ones that gave them apparent authority.
But to view influence in this way is to forget the gospel. The reason we are in Christ is not because of our personal pedigree or accomplishment or status. Through the preaching of Christ on the cross God calls to Himself the foolish and weak and poor and despised. He designed the good news to do us good by bringing glory to Himself.
In addition, God manifests His Spirit’s presence in every believer through at least one gift “for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). Our roles and gifts vary, but the purpose is the same—to bring God glory by building one another up. So, the point of my opportunities is not to show my worth but to reflect God’s, not to satisfy myself but to edify others.
What does this have to do with leadership? We should do our best. We should take initiative. We should use exercise our gifts and be resourceful. We should communicate in a winsome and compelling way. But these “accomplishments” do not in and of themselves equal spiritual leadership. You could do any or all of these things but in God’s eyes find they amount to nothing, if you don’t have love. There is “a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31). We could pull of the most heroic feat, give the most inspiring challenge, raise a record-setting amount of money, tolerate the most obnoxious roommate—but without love, it is nothing.
In other words, leadership is more than love but never less. We need good communication skills and initiative and perseverance and vision, just to mention a few. But Christians cannot lead without love. As we consider opportunities as leaders this semester, let’s keep 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 squarely in view. Meditate on these verses. Notice the activity. (All sixteen characteristics are active verbs.) Notice the selflessness. Reflect on how they exemplify Christ.
Finally, immerse yourself in God’s love for you. Remember what 1 John 4:10 says: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” May our gracious heavenly Father enable us to reflect His love as leaders this year.