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I am still trying to figure out what my role is here at Elect Exiles. As many of you know, for the last year and a half I have been writing at Christ and Pop Culture. More recently I have taken on a larger role there as an editor. On a personal note, I think CaPC has benefited my writing tremendously due to being surrounded by an active community of writers and taking on the added challenge of editing. I grew weary of the random nature of my posts here at Elect Exiles and needed a more challenging and creative platform on which to write. CaPC has proved a fertile ground for such endeavors. Even more recently, I have begun writing a monthly column on Christianity, culture, and videogames for Relevant Magazine. This project has been incredibly rewarding as I believe the world of videogames is a pretty massive field that Christians are failing to adequately discuss, criticize, and interact with. These writing and editing endeavors along with being a husband, pastor, and soccer coach, have left me with little to no time to spend here at Elect Exiles.

At one point Elect Exiles was a fairly well read blog–at least in the sense that we had a number of subscribers, a regular rotation of weekly posts, active contributors, significant weekly hits, and the occasional article that blew up and spawned a lively discussion. However, life got busy for our other writers and eventually I was more or less the only active writer with Kevin Schaub posting the ocassional article.

So where does that leave Elect Exiles now? I have often thought about starting an entirely new blog where I write mostly personal things about life, marriage, family, ministry in the local church, and the like–things that don’t require extensive research and/or multiple drafts. However, most blogs die almost overnight it seems and I don’t see the point in starting something new when I have a blog I could resuscitate. Maybe I should let go of EE–it at least had a handful of productive years. And yet I haven’t been able to shut EE down, I feel like I still have something to say here.

For now my intention is to at least post a couple articles a week here. They will likely be personal rather than professional and reflective rather than academic. I know I have made commitments to this blog many times that I have failed to keep, so I am not making any promises but I do want a place to share what is going on in my life, my family, my church, and occasionally expound on my writing endeavors. Google+ may prove to be a better place for such endeavors but for now neither Facebook nor Twitter is sufficient for what I want to do, so I am going to try to pick EE back up.

So that is the tentative plan. Maybe Kevin Schaub will join in too and share his experiences–it was his blog in the beginning. Who knows maybe Tyler Whitman will resurrect his presence here as well–I can only hope so because blogging with Kevin and Tyler was a tremendous privilege. With that said, sometime this week–hopefully tomorrow, I plan to post a reflective piece on the birth of my daughter, Evelyn Jane Dixon, who was born last week and is precious!

I hope what I write here profits you but if not just remember the internet is a really big place ;)

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If there is anyone still reading this blog, you might want to know that I am now a regular contributing blogger at Christ and Pop Culture.  I WILL try to keep blogging here, I know I have been pretty sporadic and if you are still reading my stuff here–thank you!

Christ and Pop Culture is a very unique blog and I am looking forward to contributing over there.  They are one of the few sites that engages pop culture from a thoroughly biblical standpoint.  They are careful with but not fearful of pop culture and I find that encouraging.  You can find book, movie, television, and even video game reviews there alongside political and cultural commentary.  In addition, at CAPC, there is a cool section called “Of the Moment” where contributors post links to various things they have been reading–so I will be posting various things I come across pretty regularly.  Definitely check it out.

I will likely write an article there once a week or so, which will give me time to keep posting a few times a week here (I know I haven’t done that lately, but it is within the realm of possibility).  I tend to write ridiculously long posts–I plan to work on that so that I can actually keep this blog going.  In fact, I think that is why my blogging dropped off, because when you try to write big, expansive, far-reaching posts like I tend to, it can become a little overwhelming to keep that up regularly. So I am going to try to start writing shorter posts, hopefully that will make this blog more accessible.

I do have some plans to write some new posts on divorce and remarriage that will be pretty thorough–I have recently rethought my position on that issue and my old posts are still on the blog and frankly need correcting.  I have rambled on enough.  Here are some links to what I have written so far at CAPC:

My latest article is a review of Denzel Washington’s post-apocalyptic Bible-protecting action movie, Book of Eli.

I also wrote an article on the Sabbath and pop culture.

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Writing out my testimony is a tremendously encouraging exercise.  Every time I write it out, I write it out differently.  Not because the gospel changes (it doesn’t) but because as I grow, and mature (hopefully I am maturing), I begin to see with more clarity what God was doing in my life at different stages.  I also come to appreciate the gospel more and cherish it in new ways.  Kevin recently posted his testimony in 3oo words, I thought I would follow suite but mine ended up being 600 words when I was finished.  This in no way makes me more spiritual than Kevin (it actually probably makes me more long winded and less concise which is a continual problem of mine), but when I sat down to write out my testimony this is what I wrote and I decided that I didn’t want to cut any of it out to make it shorter.

If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and have never written out your testimony, why not start today.  It is a very worshipful experience–it will remind you of the grace of God that you have in Christ and will make you more apt to share it with others.

My testimony in 600 words:

Growing up “Christianity” was going to church from time to time and singing some songs about God and zoning out while some guy who I didn’t know from Adam spoke for 30 minutes about God.  I knew Christianity had something to do with Jesus but I wasn’t really sure what that was.  I remember singing songs about the cross but it always seemed really sad to me—that this guy who seemed so good died such a horribly painful death.

So I great up relatively unaffected by the cross and more importantly unaffected by Jesus.   Because “Christianity” was just something I was involved in and not something I cared about, I spent much of my teenage years trying to get as many people as possible to accept me and like me.  I did a lot of foolish things to that end—all while searching for contentment and joy which seemed to be elusive.

During the my later years of high school, I started attending church with some friends who actually seemed to care about Jesus, not just about appearing to care about Him but actually caring and thinking and interacting with Him—and the cross was precious to them.  This messed up my whole perception of “Christianity” and in addition, I was hearing the gospel for perhaps the first time in my life.

As I was attending this church and getting to know these people, I was being told that God is holy—He is ultimate—perfect and magnificent in every way.  I was also hearing for the first time in my life that there is something deeply wrong with me, something at the core of my being that was keeping me from the contentment I so desperately wanted.  What was wrong with me was me.  I mean that in all sincerity.  I was my biggest problem.  I realized that I had spent all my life worshipping myself and trying to find joy in life by doing what I wanted to do and getting people to like me so that I would feel good about myself.

What I was learning was that I was a sinner and that sin is breaking God’s law but more than that, sin is treasuring anything more than I treasure the God who made me.  I was learning the true meaning of the cross.  I learned that God is holy—perfectly just and I am not and therefore the relationship with Him that I was created for was messed up because of my sin.  It became clear to me that I owed my life to God and I had not given it to Him and I deserved to be punished by Him.  At the same time I began to learn that the cross was and is the eternal remedy by which that relationship for which I was created could be healed.  Jesus offered to take the punishment God owed me for my sin if I would turn from sin and trust Him as Lord.  And in return Jesus offered me His righteousness and an eternally satisfying relationship with God.  This was simultaneously the most mind boggling and joyous news I had ever heard.

So I gave up on striving for significance through the praise of others, I still struggle with that now, but I have thrown myself at the feet of Jesus and found a joy far more filling and a treasure that will not perish.  Perhaps that sort of joy sounds too distant or too idealistic to you, let me challenge you to read one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and see if Christ doesn’t appear to be the all satisfying treasure of the universe.

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Mario 2You have heard the arguments on both sides and if you haven’t heard the arguments, if you are a Christian parent you have at least debated it in your head–“should I let my child play video games and if so, how much?”  And if you are  Christian and you enjoy playing video games, certainly the thought has crossed your mind–should I purchase that new video game system?  Would it occupy too much of my time?  Would I use it wisely or would I get addicted?  Is there any value in video games?  Are they worth playing?

***Update*** I have now posted parts two and three of this series:  Part 2:  Why Video Games are Worth Playing and Part 3:  Why Video Games are NOT Worth Playing.

Given the fact that these questions have often plagued my mind over the last 10 years since I came to know Christ, I thought I would do my best to share them with you and help you think through these issues–what should the Christian’s relationship be with video games?  Should Christians play them at all?  Is there a healthy way to enjoy video games in a way that doesn’t damage our relationship to Christ?  Is there a way to play video games that actually encourages us in our pursuit of Christ?  Can video games help build community?  Or are they just a source of distraction?

These are the sorts of questions I hope to address in a series of posts on the Christian and video games.  Before I jump in and start firing off posts, what do you think about video games?  If you are parent–do you let you kids play?  Do you set limits on how much they play?  If you are a Christian adult who plays video games–why?  Why do you play them?  What good comes from playing them?  Do you set limits on how much you play them?

I would love to hear from you, the reader, on what your relationship is with video games and how they play into your relationship with Christ.  If you are reading this you surely want to know–do I play video games?  The answer is yes.  I play video games and I do try to set limits on how much I play them.  I think that video games can be used in way that does engender community and keeps video games from becoming idols.  I will share that in posts to come, but I will also talk about the danger of becoming a video game addict, because there are a lot of those in our world today and I am confident that such a relationship with video games is not healthy for the Christ follower.  Before I came to know Christ, I was a video game addict–I played them all the time–needless to say, my use of video games has changed dramatically and I will share that in posts to come.

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facebook_02When I recently wrote an article on How Facebook Makes People Dumber, I was just having fun and taking some sarcastic shots at some of the sillier, time-wasting aspects of Facebook.  However, Time Magazine just came out with an article titled, What Facebook Users Share: Lower Grades.  A recent study by doctoral canidate Aryn Karpinski of Ohio State University and her co-author Adam Duberstein of Ohio Dominican University found that “college students who use Facebook spend less time studying and have lower grade point averages than students who have not signed up for the social networking website.”

In fact, results of the study were more telling than you might think, “typically, Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5, while non-users had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0.”  To back up these results, Facebook users said they averaged studying 1 t0 5 hours a week while non-users averaged studying 11 to 15 hours a week!

Despite these findings, 79% of Facebook users claimed the social networking site did not have an impact on their academic performance.  Maybe Facebook is an even more powerful force than we first thought–not only is it making our college students dumber–but they are s0 wrapped up in it that they are in denial of its affects on their lower grades!

Apparently, this isn’t the first time someone has suggested a connection between Facebook and “diminished mental abilities.”  In February, “Oxford University neuroscientist Susan Greenfield cautioned Britain’s House of Lords that social networks like Facebook and Bebo were ‘infantilizing the brain into the state of small children” by shortening the attention span and providing constant instant gratification.'”

While Karpinski and Duberstein admit that their study cannot prove a 1 to 1 correlation between Facebook and lower grades, Facebook users need to be aware (myself included) that Facebook is prime distraction material, sure to affect our school and perhaps even our job performance.   As a Christian, if it can affect academic performance, then surely it can affect my devotional life as well.

I would say more, but I need to go change my Facebook status . . .

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At one time on this blog I was faithful every week to report on interesting articles I came across in the news/blogosphere, but that day has come and gone and “The Cultural Thermometer” is no longer a weekly part of this blog.  However, I read some really interesting articles this week and decided to share them with you.  I am not sure if I am going to post “The Cultural Thermometer” every week, but here are some intersting and concering articles that I hope will help us take our culture’s temperature:

obese-children1.  20% of 4 year old children in America are obese.  Seriously–1 out of every 5 four-year-olds in our our country are obese–not overweight but obese.  There are a number of reasons for this and there are some intresting differences between the percentage of minorities that are overweight and whites.  The article suggests that those who are living in poverty lack the funds to provide a well balanced diet and are perhaps less educated on how to provide proper nutrition for their children.  That said, I want to say as Christians in one of the fattest countries in the world, when are we going to start taking gluttony as a serious sin issue in our country?  I can understand how poverty could contribute to so many children being overweight, but I would venture to guess that the biggest reason that so many children are obese in our country is because their parents are too!

2.  Is Vegetarianism a Teen Eating Disorder? This article from Time reports that “a significant number of kids experiment with vegetarian diets as a way to mask their eating disorders, since it’s a socially acceptable way to avoid eating many foods and one that parents tend not to oppose.”  Maybe if we taught our children to eat healthy early on, then we wouldn’t have this problem.  I don’t mean to sound harsh, I just think the number of cases of eating disorders in our country among teenagers is a sign that we have done a poor job of teaching our children discipline and moderation–important and often overlooked Biblical character traits!

3.  Groups in Massachusetts are Lobbying for and against Transgender Bathrooms.  The Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition is pushing for a provision that will allow “any man who self-identifies as a women access to women’s rest rooms, locker rooms, emergency shelters and fitness clubs and vice versa.”  What is scary to me is that these same sort of questions are also being asked about our schools as early as Kindergarten!

4.  Recession Spurs Egg and Sperm Donations:

Charitable donations may be down because of the recession, but another type of donation is up for the very same reason: egg and sperm. More women are trying to make money by offering their eggs to infertile couples, and men are doing the same with their sperm. Egg donor agencies in the Boston area report that their applications are up from between 25 and 100 percent over this time a year ago, and New England sperm banks have seen a similiar trend in the past six months.

In other words, people are making these “donations” to make money but interestingly enough, though these “donations” are up, “demand for donations is down.”  For an interesting read on the morality of such donations, click here.

fallout-3-box-art-front5.  The Challenge of Gaming Morality:  More and more games today are giving gamers the challenge of making difficult moral decisions.  This makes gaming a more compelling and intersting art form, however, sometimes it presents gamers with limited choices none of which we would consider “moral.”  Alan Noble from Christ and Pop Culture addresses moral decision making in video games using the popular game, Fallout 3 as a test case in this interesting article.

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monitoring-facebook

As a Facebook user for the last 3.5 years or so and a family pastor, I have a number of concerns about Facebook.  I have listed many of them here already–it is full of time wasting, self-centered, rubbish that has the potential to make us all dumber.  I have also noted how Facebook, if used wisely, can help build community and enable people to connect in significant ways.

A great portion of my time and energy as a family pastor is devoted to youth of my church (7th through 12th grade) and their families.  I disciple them, I lead trips with them, and teach a Wednesday night Bible study for them each week.  So this post is really dedicated to asnwering the question as to whether youth/teenagers should be on Facebook.  I will go ahead and say I think it very very unwise to let those younger than 7th grade on Facebook–there is just too much on Facebook that they don’t need to see and don’t have the maturity to filter through, that I do not think the potential reward out weighs the risk of allowing children (i.e. those younger than 7th grade) on Facebook.

That said, I am also hesitant to say that Facebook is a good idea for teenagers.  Why?  Because I know what teenagers do, many of them are my “friends” on facebook.  I have a number of teenage friends on Facebook from serving in youth ministry in Texas and let me just say that I have seen what some of them parade on their Facebook profile and it is NOT edifying to the young Christian soul.  That said, I also have a number of teenage “friends” on Facebook who love the Lord dearly and seem to be disciplined to use Facebook wisely and know how to navigate away from sexual immorality that is often displayed there.

I still have not directly answered the question that I have posed in the title of this post.  I think that is because I cannot give a blanket-statement-answer to this question.  Hopefully you know your teenage child well enough to know whether or not Facebook is a good idea.  So without being so brash as to assume that I have the answer for your family on Facebook, instead, I just want to let you know what is going on in the teenage world on Facebook and make some suggestions that will help you as a parent think carefully about whether or not your child should be on Facebook.

Here is what you need to know about Facebook and the generation of teenagers that are using it:

1.  Sexual Immorality is celebrated by many teenagers on Facebook.  Facebook monitors the content of the pictures that are posted there for pornographic content, however that does not stop teenagers from posting all sorts of pictures that I would not want my teenage son browsing through.  If you are seeking to protect your son from lust, know this–girls on Facebook are posting their Spring Break picture albums and their Drinking Party albums (you can guess what sort of things are celebrated in these albums–i.e. hooking up, getting wasted etc).  If you have a teenage son, you need to think about letting him into an environment where sexual immorality is celebrated.  If you have a teenage son, you need to know that there is a 99.99% chance that he struggles with lust on some level.  I have no quantifiable research to back that up except 7 years of working with students in which I have held teenage boys accountable on lust issues.

2.  Most teenagers that are on Facebook are on it without Parental supervision.  How do I know this?  Because I have read articles about it and the articles I have read report that many parents today think that monitoring their teens use of Facebook is an infringement on their privacy.  So as you think about whether or not you will let your teen on Facebook, you need to know that most of the the teens your child will “friend” on Facebook are not being monitored by their parents as they use Facebook.  This means that the language used and subjects broached on Facebook are likely to be unedifying to your child. If you are going to let your teen on Facebook you need to know that you are letting him or her into a world where they will be free to explore things that you probably aren’t comfortable with as a Christian parent.  And yes, you cannot protect them forever and they need to learn how to live in the world and not be of it but is the best way to learn that lesson by giving teens uninhibited internet access?  . . . I am not sure about that.

3.  Facebook is a window to many many other things.  Facebook is no longer a closed community.  It used to be a rather simple place where you “friended” people then messaged them and wrote on each other’s walls.  It seemed to be purely social.  That is no longer the case.  Facebook is more of a business than ever before.  Much of what is advertized on Facebook are not things that I would want my teenage son to see.  Furthermore, teenagers are using Facebook post links to websites that I would not want my teenage son to go to.

So here are some suggestions concerning Facebook:

1.  As soon as your child begins to ask to join Facebook, think about setting a date at which time you will allow them to do so.  This is up to you, but I think if you are clear from the get-go you will avoid problems down the road.  If you say they can join at 18, then they won’t keep pestering you about it.  If you say they can join when they start high school, then they will know that they cannot join until then.  I can’t set this time for you because I don’t know your child and your family.  Obviously we cannot protect our children from the things of the world forever, but I think the key is to protect them from the things of the world while you can, especially when they are particularly vulnerable (i.e. their teen years).  Every child, however is different, so again, I can’t set a date for you, I just want to encourage you to protect them while you can!

2.  If your child has Facebook, as long as they are in your house,  they will use Facebook on your computer and your internet service and you have the right to shut it off at any point.  If you child has his or her own computer in their room, it is still your computer because they are using it in your house on your internet service.  Don’t let your child think that they have a right to privacy on the web and don’t let them think that they have some inherent right to use a social network like Facebook.  Its your house and your job as a parent to do everything you can to help your child seek the Lord and not fall slave to the things of the world that are so often celebrated on Facebook.  If Facebook becomes something that draws your child away from the LORD, pull the plug, take away the computer, do whatever it takes to protect your child from sin.

3.  If your child is on Facebook, know their username and password.  I suggest monitoring everything they do on Facebook.  You want to know who your child’s real-life friends are don’t you?  You wouldn’t give them the privacy to hang out with drunkards, druggies, and sexually immoral people in real life would you?  Then why would you allow them uninhibited access to something like Faecbook and allow them to connect with such people online?

This reminds me of something one of my professors in seminary said about children and cell phones, I think it applies to the world of Facebook too:

. . . if your child does have a cellphone, this means you have a cellphone. Your responsibility is to know about every call, and the identity of every person text-messaging your son or daughter.  You don’t have time to monitor this?  Then you don’t have time for your child to have a cell phone.

Similarly, I think if you don’t have time to monitor what your child is doing on Facebook, then you don’t have time for your child to be on Facebook.  I fear, as Albert Mohler has warned, that American culture has “shifted authority from parents to teenagers.”  Indeed, “how can a concerned and loving parent not follow their teenager’s online activities?”  If your child has a cell phone, its your cell phone right? Similarly, if your child has a Facebook, its yours too and you are responsible to make sure that it is not destroying your child’s soul.  If it is, while their under your roof, take action.

Along with Dr. Mohler, I too fear that “the emergence of an online teen community means that teenagers now have a new and powerful mechanism for retreating into an adolescent-only world, cut off from adult contact and supervision” and  I am not sure that such a retreat fits with the Lord’s plan for discipleship in the home (Deuteronomy 6:7-9).

I do not intend to tell any parents exactly how they should be raising their children.  I just want parents to know the facts about Facebook and encourage them to be involved in their teens lives and to shepherd their hearts toward Christ rather than the things of the world.  I also hope this post has gently warned parents against the naivete of assuming that your child is using the internet with completely pure motives–“no one is righteous, no not one” and the “heart is decietful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?” (Romans 3:10; Jeremiah 17:9).

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