When my children were small they used to argue over whose program would be watched on the only T.V. we owned. My wife Lise and I thought that when they grew up these silly children's quarrels would evaporate into adolescent maturity. When they became Teenagers, they did not fight over the programs any more, they fought over the remote and what's worse, Lise and I have joined them!
It is amazing how this little contraption that allows you to change channels without getting up has affected our lifestyles. Actually getting up to change the channel has become unthinkable. We'll look for that thing between the cushions & under the couch for 30 minutes before we'll actually walk over to the T.V. And not being able to flip through 10-12 channels while our program pauses for a couple of commercials is a real punishment.
Remote technology has enabled us to control our possessions from a distance and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Having a remote control ignition to start your car and warm it up on a cold winter morning is quite handy.
No, I'm not worried about how we handle our things - what concerns me is that this remote control attitude might seep into our relationship, especially our relationship with God. We already see evidence of this happening in our society today.
Remote Control Relationships
There was a time that the telephone was a marvelous convenience for messages, emergencies, business and contact with far away friends and relatives. Real relationships, real connection, true bonding however was accomplished the way it had always been done:
- Face to face conversation
- Displayed affection given and received
- Sharing activities, work and travel
This was usually experienced within the framework of the home, the local community, the extended family. Until 100 years ago most of the people you knew were in your extended family or town and only the most adventurous left to explore other places - usually returning when it came time to have a family. After several "world" wars and migration, the invention and development of electronic communication we are a society that is increasingly conducting our relationships on a remote-control basis: We talk to our families on the phone more than we do in person. We travel via the television set to far more places each day and see more of other countries and cities and people than we do of our own communities - in which we rarely walk and in which we know less and less people.
For example I know and recognize more people who live in Washington and Hollywood and New York than I do neighbors in my own neighborhood. I can order and have delivered to my door any product through the Internet. If I wanted to I wouldn't have to leave my home, even have my groceries delivered each week, simply by using my little remote control "mouse" to point and click for whatever I needed; or send an e-mail to keep in touch. If I chose, I could deal with everyone, from sales clerks to my accountant to even my doctor using only my remote control devises.
One danger with this trend is that we risk becoming less human and more like the machines we love to control. In other words when most of our time is spent interacting with soulless machines, we lose the sensitivity and grace that human interaction cultivates and produces. Another danger here is that of selfishness.
As an increasing number of devices are designed to serve us and make our lives easier and more convenient - the idea of disturbing ourselves to serve another becomes more and more "remote" (excuse the Pun). Let's face it, if getting up from the couch to change the channel is a chore, how are we going to handle going out on a cold dark night to visit a sick person, or a new member of the congregation or conduct a Bible study with an unbeliever? Obviously we can't stop or turn back the technological progress made in the last century, nor should we want to. The challenge is to resist becoming slaves of the machines we so love to control. This state is easier to fall into than you may think.
For example a young guy buys a car he can barely afford. He works all day on a machine in a factory dreaming about the machine he will drive home that night. He spends his Saturday cleaning, polishing the car and his Sunday driving it to show others how wonderful it is. And Monday he must go back to working on the machine so he can keep up the payments on the machine he dreams about.
I ask you, who's in charge here, the man or the machine? You can substitute "computer" for "car", or "sound system" for "computer" - whatever.
In a society where machines are taking precedent over people, the church has an opportunity to offer something sorely lacking in the lives of many people -- real relationships with real people. In the last 50 years, the government has taken over much of what the church used to do. Benevolence programs, pastoral care etc., these were things churches traditionally contributed to society.
The government took over those types of activities in the last century and most churches were left with matters of religious education and worship assemblies. This is why so many groups have concentrated on schools, large buildings, T.V. and radio programs. But as we enter the 3rd Millennium an obvious social need has emerged in or rich, independent, machine and gadget filled society:
- The need to be with other people, the need to belong to a human enterprise not dictated by computers, or things.
- The need to interact without a remote control or a menu or an inanimate go-between.
This need has not gone unnoticed as more and more coffee shops, book stores and social clubs are springing up to provide the setting for lonely and disenfranchised people to connect with other human beings. As I said, this need has not gone unnoticed by the business world, but to a large extent it hasn't been perceived by the church. In our desire to keep ourselves unspotted from the world we've created a fortress like attitude where we are quite comfortable in the pure and safe Christian world we've created - self sufficient to ourselves.
But this was never the plan or purpose of Christ!
- You are salt of the earth - Matthew 5:13
- You are the light of the world - Matthew 5:14
- The kingdom of heaven (that's us) is like leaven - Matthew 13:33
Do these analogies sound like we're supposed to circle the wagons and simply defend ourselves from the influences of the world? No.
- We have to go out into the world in order to preach the gospel.
- We have to be in the world in order to minister to those who are hurt, to those who hunger, to those who suffer.
- We have to be part of this world so we can stand up to injustice, immorality and the constant impurity devised by the evil one.
We can only do this by pressing a button; we can't do this by remote control. We can only do this by getting up off the couch, tearing ourselves away from our computers, cutting ourselves off from our gadgets and toys and start making people the priority for our attention and ministry. It starts with our families and re-connecting with them, and continues with the effort to make real contact with our brethren, and finally results in the effort to provide a face, a hand, a heart ready to reach out to those who are lost and defeated in this world. Changing hearts to having faith in Christ cannot be done by remote control, you have to get up and do it yourself.
Remote Control Prayer Life
Another danger present in our remote control life-style is that we think we can use God as a channel changer. I call this "remote control prayer life". If you don't what's playing in your life at the moment - pray that God will simply change the channel. We're so used to getting what we want by pressing a button or turning a key that when it comes to our spiritual life we think it should work this way too. But we forget one important thing about prayer when we use it this way: We forget that prayer is not about getting and using control, it's about giving up control.
Prayer is not a devise we use to get God to change things, it is our appeal to God for Him to change us. Through prayer we come into the presence of almighty God where we let go our desire to control the good and bad in our lives and turn over the control to Him. In our house there is no greater sign of kindness and graciousness than to give up the remote to someone else and trust that they will tune into the programs that everyone can agree on. This is what prayer is supposed to be, giving over the remote to God and trusting Him to tune in to a life you will be able to live.
Whether it's health issues, family problem, spiritual and emotional struggles - prayer in these cases is not a remote control command for instant solutions, but rather it is a way to put ourselves in harmony with God and His purpose. It is a way of saying to Him, "Here I am Lord, control me".
Prayer as a remote control activity is fruitless and discouraging, just like a remote with dead batteries. But prayer as a way to enter God's presence and relinquishing control is the way to personal transformation. Just as Moses' face shone with brightness when he was in the presence of the Lord. We too become different because of our presence before God through prayer. When we talk in God' presence and open ourselves to growth, we become different.
- We become people who trust God more
- We become people who love others more intensely.
- We become channels of God's grace to our brothers, to the poor, to those who desperately need God's care and encouragement.
- We become detached from our need to control, our need to fashion a happy ending to everything -- and we can accept God's plan and purpose for us whatever that is.
So long as you hold the remote in your prayer life, you cannot tune into God's perfect will. When, however, you come into His pressure through humility and prayer -- He will assume the control and your life - your true life, will come into sharper focus.
Summary / Invitation
What will you take with you from this place this morning? If you leave with a resolution that from now on you will reach out to people in a "personal" effort to develop relationships: with your family, with your brethren, and with those who need Christ; rather than surrounding yourself with more gadgets that cut you off from everyone -- you will have profited from your time here
If you leave with the understanding that God desires that you come into His presence through prayer in order to be changed so that you can more easily accept the life He has given you - you will have taken an important step in your personal spiritual development.
If you leave here without having yet obeyed the gospel in repentance and baptism; or been restored from unfaithfulness and sin through the prayer of the elders -- then you may be passing up the last chance you will ever get to be saved because you never know when death will call. Before you leave today, make the decisions that I have laid out before you in Christ, and if you need to come forward for any reason come now.