A few years ago I came across a game on my phone all about starting businesses. First it's selling lemonade until you've made enough money to sell newspapers and then you work your way up until you're running banks and oil companies.
It was fun. Pointless. A harmless way to kill a few minutes when I was waiting for my coffee to brew or whatever.
The problem, though, was that the game was linked to real-world time. When you put the game down for an hour and came back to it, an hour's worth of lemonade had sold.
A couple of taps later and you've multiplied the amount you're making per hour, which of course incentivizes you to come back as often as possible.
On top of that, the game gives you all sorts of milestones and achievements to shoot for and constantly gives you new twists and upgrades every time you're about to lose interest. ""Oh, I can start businesses on the moon now!""
It didn't take long for me to become hopelessly addicted.
It's embarrassing to admit, but I played the game when I lay in bed at night, and it became the first thing I did in the morning. ""Hey! Six or seven more hours of sales!""
I even started checking into the game several times throughout the day.
Eventually I realized what was happening and saw the countless hours being spent for literally no reason, and I deleted the game off my phone.
What started out as a simple diversion had become an addiction. The game was telling me how to live my life and I was obeying.
How many of you have experienced something like that in the past few years? It may not be games, but social media? Netflix? Online shopping? YouTube?
How many of you have given in to that urge for just one more click, one more episode, one more purchase, one more video... and watched as your self-control (not to mention your time and money and energy) has slowly slipped away?
It happens to all of us. Not because we're all weak, but because our technology is designed for it to happen.
What do we do when the technology meant to help us master our lives instead begins to master us?
That is what we're going to talk about today.
We're in the third week of our series, ""The Good Life: Technology,"" looking at five biblical principles for a healthy life in the digital world.
In the first week of the series, we talked about the fact that as followers of Jesus, our job is not to abandon technology, but to transform it. To move into it as light bringers. We are not of the world, but we are sent into it.
The principle there was this: Principle 1: You are on a mission.
Last week, we talked about how easily our self-worth and identity can be wrapped up in what happens to us online and how quickly we lose sight of our identity as beloved children of God.
So the second principle we introduced is: Principle 2: Your identity is in Christ, not in likes.
Next week we're going to talk all about what we choose to let influence use. Principle 4: Garbage in, garbage out. And the last week we'll talk about re-learning the art of authentic relationships. Principle 5: Face to face is best.
But today we've got to talk about how easily our technology wraps us in chains and how we can start to break free of them.
Now, the game I mentioned was intentionally designed to keep me on it as much as possible. It was a finely crafted addiction machine.
And we'd all say, ""Well, of course! They want you to spend money on in-app purchases. You can boost things and speed things up and get the ultra platinum master pack for just $49.99!""
So sure. Video games are made to be addictive. But I would argue that almost every one of the technologies we so rely on today does the exact same thing.
News flash. Facebook is not interested in connecting you with people.
They are interested in making money. And they do that by getting as many relevant advertisements in front of your eyeballs as possible. And they do that by keeping you on the platform and pulling on your emotional strings.
For example, whenever you update your profile picture, it gets featured in your friends' feeds. Why? Because Facebook knows that when you change your profile pic, for a moment you're especially vulnerable and longing for social approval.
So they give you the likes you're looking for, you feel like you have value and worth, so you come back again looking for more. It feeds the addiction cycle.
YouTube works hard to predict what kinds of videos you would want to watch. Every second you spend on the app - watching, liking, commenting, sharing, even ending a video early - is all being fed into an algorithm which can further tailor content to draw you deeper in.
""Why yes, I do want to watch a video about chicken composting techniques for permaculture.""
YouTube knows you. So now, when you pull to refresh your recommended content, it's just like a slot machine. The reward center of your brain goes crazy in anticipation that you might just find the next awesome video you've been waiting for. It's like a drug.
It sounds dystopian, but the machines are learning you. Social media, ride sharing apps, Netflix, Google Maps, your credit card...
Unless you're Ron Swanson and don't use technology at all, there are tens of thousands of data points on you that all these companies use to wrap chains around you and make sure their platform is as addictive as possible.
All of this from technology that was meant to make our lives better.
""How proud we often are of the multitude of instruments we have succeeded in inventing, of the abundance of commodities we have been able to produce. Yet our victories have come to resemble defeats. In spite of our triumphs, we have fallen victims to the work of our hands; it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us."" -Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath
The truth is, we are enslaved to our technology, just like the rest of our world.
And yet, as we've been saying throughout this series, we as followers of Jesus are called to be distinct from the world around us. Different. We are sent into this world to transform it. To bring light.
How can we do that if we're also trapped in the darkness?
We have to find a way to break free, even as we continue to use the technology which is just a part of our world now. And it just so happens, I believe there's a biblical principle all about how: the sabbath.
Now, on the very first page of the Bible we are introduced to the idea that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested - he stopped creating. Or in Hebrew, shabbat (where we get our English word sabbath).
The Bible goes on to explain that this seventh day of rest - this sabbath day - is something the Israelites were expected to observe every single week. To stop from their work and spend 24 hours resting.
It was so important that it's actually one of the Ten Commandments. Don't murder, don't steal, observe the sabbath day...
Now, we'll talk a lot more about the sabbath in February, when we have a whole series about the law and the 10 commandments. But for now, I want to just focus in on one aspect of the sabbath I think is really relevant to our discussion about technology. One principle that we can apply.
""Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.
Now, in Hebrew, the word ""sabbath"" literally means ""to stop"" or ""to cease."" There are other words to describe resting as in reclining or relaxing. But the word sabbath means bringing something to a stop.
But what, exactly, were the Israelites supposed to stop?
Well, look at verse 15. ""Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt... that is why the Lord... commanded you to rest."" The Israelites were to stop their work because in Egypt work was all they knew.
In Egypt, constant, ceaseless work was the norm. The Israelites were ground to dust for the sake of profit. They worked 24/7 making bricks for Pharaoh - pursuing his interests. Day after day after day after day... and they had no choice in the matter.
As they became their own, free nation, the Israelites were meant to be different. They weren't supposed to throw themselves into non-stop labor, to be constantly working for survival or profit. And neither were those who were working for them - humans or animals.
Israel was going to be a place where the people of God would trust in his provision, not their own. And the sabbath was a constant reminder of that.
Once a week, for 24 hours, the Israelites ""sabbathed"" - they stopped - they put down their plows. Rather than pursuing profit or gain, the people gathered together, rested, and were free.
Free from the drive to survive. Free from self-sufficiency. And free from the temptation to oppress others for selfish gain.
Isaiah 58:6, 13
This is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people...
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don't follow your own desires.
Sabbath and human freedom go hand in hand. Put simply, sabbath stopped the grind of survival - the grind of greed - and reminded the people they were free.
So, what does this have to do with technology?
Well, as I said before, we are in many ways slaves to our devices.
Click this. Buy this. Keep watching, keep watching, keep watching. Hey, it's been about 45 seconds. What if something new just happened on Twitter? Oh! Someone just liked my picture. Did my phone just buzz?
Tell me I'm exaggerating. We're living in a technological Egypt. We're being worked to the bone. And for what? For someone else's profit.
Even though we are new creations in Christ, supposedly free from the powers of this world, we're letting ourselves be enslaved because, ""well, it's not technically sinning, right?"". Listen to how the Apostle Paul responds:
1 Corinthians 6:12
You say, ""I am allowed to do anything""--but not everything is good for you. And even though ""I am allowed to do anything,"" I must not become a slave to anything.
Like the Israelites, we need to learn how to sabbath. How to stop the hamster wheel and remind ourselves that we are free people.
Which is why the third principle for this series is so important to remember:
Principle 3: Sabbath breaks chains
Sabbath was a constant reminder to the Israelites that they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. It can be the same for us, as well.
Let me give you some ideas about what this could look like, practically.
First, there are some really smart, simple things you can do take back a bit of control. Pseudo-sabbaths.
You can turn on Do Not Disturb at work or school, so the only times you look at your phone are when you choose to, not when your phone wants you to.
You can disable notifications about everything except what's most important. Do you really need to know the exact moment that someone likes your tweet?
And you can put a complete ban on things that you know you can't overcome. I no longer allow myself to even download games which use real-world time.
Those are all really great things to consider, but a full sabbath is different.
Sabbath is sacred time. It's time set apart. Intentionally. It's not just using a bit more moderation. It's a full and complete stop of something for a time - a time in which our technological masters can have no say because we're not working for them.
When we do that - when we fully disconnect from something, we start to see just how much control it has over us. How much we're dependent on it.
We become aware, so when we do reconnect (again, we're not trying to burn this all to the ground) hopefully our perspective has changed. We see things differently and hopefully we have a bit more control.
So how would we do this?
Well, maybe it's a tech sabbath hour once a day. Maybe it's at dinner time, when nobody in your family can use devices. What would happen to your dinner conversations if it was a sacred time - if nobody could pull out their phone?
Or maybe you take a tech sabbath during one of your daily routines. Making breakfast, driving to work...
It could be an extended sabbatical from a specific technology or social media account. I've had friends who have logged off of Instagram for a month and they've found tremendous freedom in that.
Or maybe, a bit like the original sabbath, it's a day-long, 24-hour break from technology. A full day to stop and be free.
Which, in fact, is what we're inviting you to do.
Next Saturday, November 23, our whole church is going to practice this together. We're calling it the ""No Screen Saturday Challenge.""
It's a chance for us all - kids to adults - to sabbath - to stop for a whole day, regain control, and see what the experience teaches us.
Now, of course, there are going to need to be a few exceptions. Some of you have to use a screen for your job. Or you have a medical emergency in the family. That's ok.
But if at all possible, I'm challenging you to go the whole day without using any screens.
It's going to take some preparation. The day before the sabbath, the Israelites had to make sure they'd done all their harvesting, that they'd finished their travel, that they'd prepared everything, so they could fully rest an entire day.
You may have to prepare as well. Print off some maps. I've got to finalize my sermon a day early. Tell friends and family you won't be reachable.
Plan out your activities, too! One person told me the other day he had no idea what he'd even do on a Saturday without any screens. No Netflix? No video games? You've got to think ahead. Don't just be miserable.
It'll be a challenge. But think about what the experience could do for you:
A whole day of rest from the buzzing and dinging and noise. Hours of uninterrupted face-to-face interaction with your friends and family.
A day to examine your heart, to see what you miss the most and to acknowledge just how addicted you've become.
This will be a day to breathe free air again. To reorient your priorities. Just like the sabbath was always meant to do.
The No Screen Saturday Challenge. November 23. It's crazy. I know. I encourage us all to give it our best shot.
Because if we do, perhaps when we re-enter this technological world, it'll be a bit easier for us to do it as light-bringers, not as slaves.
Right now, as our service continues, we're going to stop and practice a mini sabbath rest. We're going to take a few minutes at each one of our campuses and just be silent. Sacred time. A little taste of freedom from the noise.
Remember: Sabbath breaks chains.
Whether it's a moment or a day or a month, stopping like this can remind you that you are free.