Angry Birds or Angry God?
Posted May 15, 2012 by Steve Hafler
Angry Birds is a greater dilemma for this generation than an angry God. God is approached with the childish expectations of instant gratification and entertainment. Front row seats are coveted to Brian Regan, MercyMe, and LeBron James, but back row seats (where I can sip coffee and check sports headlines) work just fine when gathered together for God. We live in a PCWorld where technophiles worship Apple, devices become iGods, and Tweeted lines of sermons are sufficient.
Step back for a moment and consider an aged apostle’s instruction to a young man in the ministry. A young pastor who dealt with many of the same distractions we face. The discerning Paul writes a letter to Timothy and warns him of a challenge looming on the horizon. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching” (2 Timothy 4:3).
I am not exactly sure what form first century distractions took, but obviously in the pagan context in which Paul and Timothy ministered it would be similar to the challenges we face today. Paul refers to listeners as having “itching ears” and accumulating for themselves“teachers to suit their own passions.” The tragic result is that they ”will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Our present struggles, though not unique in essence (1 Corinthians 10:13) are in HD and 3D because we have at our fingertips devices that allow constant connection with information and people all over the world immediately. Our access is quicker, broader, and seemingly more private. Like those living in Corinth or Ephesus our greatest opportunities often translate into our greatest threats. For example, it is much more enjoyable and convenient to listen to a popular preacher while out on the lake Sunday morning – a teacher who holds no authority over you, provides no accountability, and who does not care that you are “doing church” at the lake.
Let’s hone this in and consider a single question connected to the larger problem. How should God’s people respond to the use of electronic hand-held devices when gathered together for worship? I offer these considerations in principle understanding there will always be legitimate exceptions (leaving the phone on vibrate because your child is at home sick, you are a doctor or community officer on call, your iPad is what you read your Bible from, etc.).
- Shepherd your children to keep their online devices at home. This will help eliminate the temptation to be distracted by gaming, sport’s scores, and friend’s texts in church. It is imperative that our children (by following our example) learn to listen to God’s Word and “endure sound doctrine.” There is something worse then an upset child or a pouting teen – an offended and angry God. Though God is loving and long-suffering, He is also a jealous God who is not neutral to dishonor. He is grieved by our love for things, our inattention, and our apathy. “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil” (Ecclesiastes 5:1).
- Adopt a biblical view of the church and worship. We have a tendency to “go to church,” to “do church,” and to be “exhilarated by worship.” We forget that we “are” the church and that we worship by “giving” to God (Psalm 96:7-9). It is not enough that God’s people show up at an address, park their car, and enter a building on Sunday. It is insufficient that we follow the bulletin, hold a hymnal, and turn to the Scriptural passage. We need to train ourselves and our children in the disciplines of “giving” to God glory, of “worshiping” in spirit and in truth, of silence and solitude, and of offering to God a worship in the beauty of holiness. God is deserving, not only of our firstfruits of income, but our undivided heart and attentive mind. What do we say about our worship when games or friends rivet our attention in the house of the Lord? Which “god” is being adored? Which god are people attributing “worth” (worship) to?
- If the pull is too strong then make the difficult choice to leave your smart phone or iPad at home or in the car. It is often mediocrity that undermines great things. If handheld devices become a source of temptation that pull you away from better things (God’s Word, worship, prayer) then eliminate the entanglement. Even though there are great apps (the Bible in different versions, study tools, and note taking helps), if the device becomes a source of distraction then don’t bring it with you. Close your ears and eyes to the hundreds of options at your fingertips so that you can hear God’s voice and see Him in His Word.
- Don’t play games or watch sports/movies during church. Reverence is a non-negotiable in our approach to God. If this is too much to ask then please stay at home. “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the LORD of hosts to you” (Malachi 1:6).
- Don’t text or chat during church unless it’s an emergency. If you receive a text that needs an urgent reply then please do so discreetly or remove yourself from the assembly so that those behind you are not distracted.
- Understand that not all people with an iPad or iPhone are playing games or texting. Many of our people have their electronic Bible open together with a sermon note document. We must be careful not to let a generation gap cause a critical attitude toward those using these devices. At the same time we must value the view our elderly have (a high view of God and a careful reverence in worship – both of these are exemplary), and understand that some around us see these devices as “toys,” and therefore deem them inappropriate for church altogether. The consistent appropriate use of these devices in church will close the gap of misunderstanding.
Disconnect to connect on the Lord’s Day. Let Angry Birds and other clever games wait until later. Make a deliberate choice to please God by listening to Him. Jesus often said,“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The problems is not with God’s Word or the method of delivery. God does not change his ordained methods to accommodate a distracted and intolerant people. Paul told Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-3).
[This post was originally published on Safari of Life on May 15, 2012.]