To Google or Not to Google…

When I was fourteen years old, I won a set of encyclopedias in a contest run by the local newspaper. This was in the ancient days before computers – personal or otherwise.

I was so proud of that new set. You would have thought I’d won London’s crown jewels! It replaced the hopelessly outdated encyclopedias my family had. This new set had pictures and modern entries, and – don’t laugh – I stayed up nights just reading about various subjects for the pure joy of learning.

Yes, I was a bookworm…or nerd…or geek…or whatever it’s called today.

Those encyclopedias took me through high school and into college. As personal computing evolved, so did access to information. I was no longer restricted to physical  books – or even the library – to satisfy my hunger for information.

The Internet became the new frontier – the digital equivalent of the wild west. And search engines are our railroad for traveling this new frontier. In less than twenty years, search engines have changed the way we access information. Lycos, Google, Dogpile, Bing – and Duck Duck Go are just a few of the sites that help us retrieve data from the World Wide Web.  Their names are as creative and varied as the information they provide.

Still, information will only take me so far. The bigger question is, how am I using the information? Interpretation and application determine whether the information becomes truly helpful, or remains an info dump that I wade through each time I boot up my laptop. With all the blogs, tweets, networks, websites, and yes, search engines, out there, it is way too easy to allow the information overload to sap my energy, drain my time, and influence my values as I passively take it all in.

Discernment is not a word we often hear these days. Yet, discernment is exactly what I need to process the information so readily available. Depending on one’s perspective, search engine filters are either a necessary moral protection or a restriction on free speech. Still, even with the use of filters, I cannot abdicate my responsibility to guard my heart and mind by guarding my eyes and ears. Proverbs 4:23 reminds me, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

Each time I boot up, I am keenly aware that there is a fine line between gaining knowledge and losing myself. How about you?

What are you doing to guard your heart when you turn on your computer?

More Bang for My Buck

The National Bureau of Economic Research has declared the recession to be over. According to their data, it ended in June, 2009. But don’t be surprised if fourteen million unemployed people disagree.

Still, even for those who have found jobs and are part of the economic recovery, life has changed. Surveys indicate that a new austerity governs spending habits as people struggle to decrease debt, increase savings, and protect themselves against the next downturn. Sales in discount stores such as Dollar Stores are growing as people seek greater value for their limited resources. They want more bang for their buck.

Obtaining more value is not limited to finances. As this new year speeds along, I’ve been thinking about other areas where my “spending” could result in a greater yield.  Some of these areas include:

Use of my time
I often complain about not having enough time, but I know time wasters often consume my days. I’m easily distracted, so even though I may have something I should be doing, I’ll look at Facebook, Twitter, or my email. I’ll check the snail-mailbox to see if something other than another bill was delivered. I’ll stop to play with the dog, or check the television listings to ensure I’m not missing something good.

It’s not that these things are bad, it’s just that I need to focus more on the task in front of me instead of flitting all over the place. A little more focus will definitely give me more bang for my buck in my use of time.

Physical health

The older I get, the more I am aware that my body “ain’t what it used to be.” It doesn’t help that I eat more of what I shouldn’t and exercise less than I should. Oh, I have great excuses: I don’t have much time to exercise, I have some lower back issues, and my metabolism has two speeds: slow and reverse. But that’s all they are—excuses.

If I want more bang for my health buck, then I need to make choices, not excuses.

Emotional investments
Cultivating relationships is hard work. Successful relationships require a commitment to invest in others, regardless of convenience. However, I know from past experience that a little investment now will yield high returns in the form of deep, abiding friendships.

While these relationships need investments of my time and behavior, they also require that I avoid investing in other ways. Rather than invest in emotional pity-parties or resentment at perceived slights, I need to redirect myself to extend forgiveness. If I don’t, how can I expect anyone to extend forgiveness to me? By doing so – even before I am asked – I am releasing myself from a prison of my own making. That’s more bang for the emotional buck!

Spiritual development
I’m a Bible teacher and an author for the Christian market. So, of course, I spend a great deal of time in the Bible, in prayer, and in writing that encourages others in their Christian walk. But it’s easy to depersonalize these activities – to go through the motions for the purpose of a lesson plan or research for a book, rather than for application to my own life.

But God is not interested in my ministry if it comes at the expense of my relationship with Him. If successful ministry activities crowd out intimate relationship, then everything I teach and write is a testament to hypocrisy, a stench rather than sweet-smelling incense that reaches God’s throne. More bang for my buck in my spiritual life comes not from more ministry, but from a more intimate walk with my Savior.

The economy has caused many to change their shopping habits. But the way I spend my money is just one of many areas where I would like to see more bang for my buck. How about you?

In what areas of your life do you want more bang for your buck this year?

What Does the Future Hold?

Ahhh…new year, clean slate, new beginning. Twelve months of potential.

But not everyone is optimistic about the future. Some say that if the past is any indication, we’re in for big trouble in 2011.

Newspaper headlines from 2010 brimmed with accounts of disasters. We witnessed manmade disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We watched as natural disasters unleashed a severe earthquake on Haiti and floods in Pakistan. Weather occurrences ushered in the hottest summer on record in South Florida and mudslides in California. An Indonesian volcano erupted for the first time in 400 years. Middle East tensions escalated as Israel raided a ship because it violated a maritime blockade and Iran’s first nuclear power plant launched in August.

The economic picture is gloomy, too. An out-of-control national deficit, high unemployment, and a foreclosure crisis have caused some to doubt optimistic pronouncements of an improving economy. Donations to charities such as churches and community agencies have fallen off. Aid workers cite “donor fatigue” in describing reduced giving to help victims of natural disasters around the world.

All in all, the baby new year has its work cut out for it.

With all the uncertainty, it’s no wonder there is a growing interest in end-times prophecy and Bible studies of the Book of Revelation. People want to know, What does the future hold?

A study of the end-times will give us a broad-brush picture of events, but day-to-day details remain out of reach. Still, God does not want His children to obsess about the future. He wants us to live in such a way that we will be prepared for the future by having dealt with our past. Unless the sin of our past has been paid for by the only sacrifice God deemed acceptable – His Son, Jesus Christ – the future will continue to be a source of fear.

No one knows the details of what the future holds.

But we do know who holds the future…and who holds us.

And that’s enough for me.

What helps you face the uncertainty of 2011?