Secondhand Smoke

smokeCan fire be carried in the bosom without burning one’s clothes?  (Proverbs 6:27 NRSV)

I think I just now realized that the expression “hot under the collar” came from this verse of Proverbs!  Oh the challenges we face in the Twenty-First Century Church, with our 24/7 news and social media.  We have become absolutely saturated with information until it’s coming out our ears.  The Word said it would be this way in the end times…Daniel’s age-old prophecy declared that knowledge would increase.  Interesting, isn’t it, that only knowledge seems to have increased.  Our world is just as unwise as it ever was; in fact, we’ve gotten pretty stupid to have become so smart.

As believers, we must guard our souls from toxic overload, truly.  At the time Ecclesiastes was penned, the only sources of information were books (well, scrolls and tablets to be more precise) and direct word of mouth.  Yet this totally relevant-to-our-day word was given to us all those centuries ago: The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd. Be warned, my son, of anything in addition to them.  Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.  (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 NIV)  Imagine the author’s awe had he a glimpse into the age of technology!  Now, it can be fittingly added, “of being bombarded with information true and false, there is no end…and overexposure is exhausting and unhealthy!”

A couple of decades back, I remember Nettie Neace teaching in Sunday School how that the Lord had delivered her from an addiction to watching the news.  Just a young adult at the time, I couldn’t really grasp the idea of keeping news channels on all day long; but that was before the Internet!  Now all we have to do is click open our social media just to say hello to friends and family, and it’s on!  Why, we can rabbit-trail all day long, following links to a million different opinions about our world’s debauched condition.  We can shake our heads in disapproval, rant a while, and then click “share!”  It goes on and on and on, and to what end?  At the end of the day, we probably haven’t actually prayed about the people and conditions who’ve shocked us so…but we sure have been drawn in by the stories and pictures!

God spoke the words “secondhand smoke” into my spirit this morning as I pondered these things.  Just as you can become sick from breathing someone else’s cigarette smoke, you can also become physically and spiritually sick from taking in the sinful, appalling stories about others’ lifestyles.   Are you absorbing the toxins just because you won’t distance yourself from what’s polluting your soul?  Many times we don’t even realize we’re doing it…if you’ve lived with a smoker or worked in a place where you have to breathe it all day, you can begin to tune it out to where you don’t even notice it anymore.  Your lungs do, however.  When we make it a daily routine to tune in to the next episode of “As the World Churns,” we are drawing fire into our bosom; we are filling our lungs with the fumes of sin.  Proverbs warns that it will burn us!  In our own covert ways, the world’s reveling can even become a form of entertainment as we take it all in.  It may not have immediate effects, but when you allow yourself to become glued to screen, letting commentary anger you and raise your blood pressure, it is going to do cumulative damage.  I made a comparison yesterday on my Facebook status that all of this is like poking your finger in your eye, yelling “ouch!” and then poking your finger right back in your eye again!  We can make ourselves victims of these whether our views lean to the left or lean to the right–there are plenty of ploys to anger us by “the other side” or to, as my grandma would say, “get our goat!”  And there are people who sure know how to push our buttons.  We can walk right into the smoke and hang out there, or we can recognize what it’s doing to us and walk away.

Does this mean we are to be like ostriches with our heads in the sand?  No, not at all.  We need to advocate and practice balance.  Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray, lest they enter into temptation.  We should limit our time around tv, newspapers, and social media to reasonable amounts.  What you read, stop and pray about it before just going on to another and another.  The true litmus test of whether it’s worthy of your attention is this:  1.  Does it move you to pray and intercede, or does it instead cause you to rant and rave?  2. Does it have the ability to enrich your life in any way, or is it just more “fluff?”  3.  Does it rob you of peace, or does it instead give you peace?  4.  Do you read it because you are seeking answers, or do you read it because you are addicted to the rush of another shock?   5.  Does knowing about it in any way stand to benefit you?  6.  Would Jesus post it to His status if He had a social media account?  Would He share, forward, bookmark, comment on, or consider it to be worth sacrificing time spent doing good?  7.  Can you actually do anything about what you’re watching, or are you just another spectator with an opinion?

I need work, too.  I’m not that into television, but I can easily get drawn into news stories online.  I have a big heart, I can come pretty unglued by all the sinful, unjust, hateful things going on.  Most of them don’t put me in a prayerful state, I must confess.  They depress me, discourage me, disillusion me.  If that’s all I fill my soul with all day long, how can I do anything more than wallow in misery?  I have to apply the Word to what I see, and pray for the people who are so full of hurt and deception; but I also have to know when I’ve ventured beyond praying and now I’m just loitering.  The Apostle Paul gave us a great guideline to follow about what we breathe in, and there’s nothing smoggy, smoky, fumey, stinky, or dirty in a bit of it:  Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.”  (Philippians 4:8 NCV)  If ever there were a time we need to apply some First Century godly wisdom, it’s now.

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