The challenge of digital dependency

For the first time in many years sales of dumb phones have increased. Dumb phones only enable people to make phone calls and send texts. Some people want to escape round the clock access to social media. One lady said, “I just hated the fact I was always on it. My friend told me I checked my smartphone 150 times a day and told me I was always on Facebook pages and Instagram. The more you do it the more you feel you need to do it. Switching to a dumb phone is not full cold turkey because I do have an iPad, but it’s more about choice. If I go out with just a dumb phone then I can make a choice and have a day without all the noise of the notifications and apps.”

A recent report by Ofcom entitled “A Decade of Digital Dependency” says that 78% of people in Britain now have a smartphone and most of them say they couldn’t live without it. People spend less time making phone calls and more time messaging and accessing the internet. Many check their phones every 12 minutes and spend more than a day a week online. 40% of adults check their phone within 5 minutes of waking up and just before they switch out the light at night. On average young people aged 15-24 spend 4 hours a day on their phones and check them every 8 minutes. For the first time women are spending more time online than men.

While the Ofcom report highlights benefits such as keeping in touch with family, it also says that smartphone use increases stress and disrupts personal and family life. More than 50% of people admitted that using their smartphone interrupts conversations with friends and family. Using a smartphone at mealtimes was deemed inappropriate by 72% of 18-34s and 90% of those aged over 55.

Smartphones must be used wisely. Time is valuable, and our lives fly by so quickly. Personal face-to-face relationships are really important. Our family and real friends are very precious. Real friends do not demand our constant attention but love and give. There are many things we don’t need to know but some things are so important we dare not miss them. Time to listen to God and to speak to him is vital. He hears our prayers and he cares. When we begin and end each day speaking to him in prayer he gives us his peace and the strength to face whatever may come.

A love that forgives and forgets

Last week someone broke into a small valley church in Abersychan in South Wales. They stole £60 in cash that had been collected by the Mother and Toddlers’ group to provide toys, books, biscuits, drinks and snacks for the children. There were also plans to hold a Christmas party. When people in the community heard what had happened there was a wonderful response. A local councillor set up a crowdfund page inviting people to raise £200 to replace the money that had been stolen and to repair the damage to the church building. He wrote, “Ove the past few years, Noddfa, under the direction of Pastor John, has worked hard within the community to help the youth and residents. Please help to replace their loss to show what a caring community we are.” So far nearly £800 has been donated!

On his Facebook, Pastor John thanked the people for their generous support of the church. He said, “As a church we love everyone in our valley just as Christ loved us. We long for opportunities to show this love by sacrificially giving and supporting the community we have been called by God to serve.” He expressed grief that someone was so desperate at Christmas time to risk so much for such a small amount adding, “If they had simply come to see us, we would have rallied around them and supported as best we could. If they are reading this, we have a number of events going on over Christmas and they are most welcome to come and join us to find out more about a love that they will not receive anywhere else, a love that can forgive and forget.”

This story wonderfully illustrates the great themes of the Christmas message. Christmas is about forgiveness. Whether we attend a church or not, we all break God’s commands and need to experience God’s forgiveness. Before Jesus was born Joseph was told that Mary would give birth to a son and that he was to give him the name Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins.” Each of us needs a Saviour and through Jesus all our sins can be forgiven.

Christmas is also about giving. At Christmas we remember the amazing gift God gave to the people of the world – his beloved Son. In John’s Gospel we read, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

The Love that Gives

As a New Year begins, and most of the news is bad, the story of Manoly Viravong and Veronica Buttigieg is wonderful and so encouraging. Manoly and Veronica met for the first time last summer at a mutual friend’s wedding anniversary party. Manoly, who has 2 teenage children, told Veronica that she had been waiting for a kidney transplant for 5 years. A close relative had said he would donate one of his kidneys, but had changed his mind. Manoly was on dialysis for 8 hours every night and the need was becoming urgent.

When Veronica heard Manoly’s story she said, ”Why don’t you have one of my kidneys!” In July, 2 months later, the operation took place and Manoly is now well on her way to recovery. Veronica said, “I barely knew Manoly but after talking to her, and hearing how desperate she was, I felt it was the right thing to do. We all knew that there was a chance I could die, but I wasn’t worried at all. I am a Christian and I felt that God said it was right. I had real peace about it because I knew it was what God wanted me to do. I felt completely calm.” Manoly says, “I can’t really thank her enough. We are very close now, like sisters. I’m really very grateful to her and I count my blessings every day.”

The story of Manoly and Veronica reminds us of the wonderful love of God. One of the best known verses in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Many people think that the message of the Bible is about God telling us what we should do. But Christianity is not about what we do, but about what God has done in giving us his Son. The Christian life begins for each of us when we gratefully receive Jesus as our Saviour.

We can never repay God for his amazing love in Jesus, but when we receive him as our Saviour, our hearts are filled with love for him and overflow in love for others. That’s why Veronica gave her kidney to Manoly. She had experienced God’s amazing love for her in Jesus and wanted to show that love to Manoly. This is a love we can all know and show.

A Time for Giving and Receiving

The weeks leading up to Christmas are very busy. There are cards to write and send and presents to find and buy. It is an exciting time, especially for children. This year the difficult economic situation means that many people have less money to spend and there are already many special offers in the shops. Many families are apprehensive about how they will afford the cost of Christmas, but are still looking forward to precious time together.

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. At Christmas we want to give special gifts to those we love. This need not involve great expense. We want to express our love in a gift which has been carefully planned and which we know they will really like. Christmas morning is eagerly awaited, and not only by the children!

At the first Christmas God gave a very special gift to the people of his world. It is the greatest gift ever given. Then, as now, the world was a sad place with many troubles. The Roman Empire dominated many nations, including Israel, and most people were poor. Jesus came, not to solve the problems of the day, but to solve the biggest problem we all face – our sinful hearts and lives. The message of the angels to the shepherds was, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord!” Our sins spoil our relationship with God and separate us from him. Jesus came to bring reconciliation through his perfect life and death on the cross. The name Jesus means “Saviour!” God, against whom we have all rebelled, took the initiative by giving his only Son to be our Saviour.

Opening a present from someone we love brings great joy. Parents enjoy watching their children opening their present and seeing their delight when they see what it is. The child’s instinctive response is to give their parents a hug and tell them they love them. Have you ever responded to God’s gift of Jesus like that? Do you love him for giving you such an amazing present? It brings great joy to God when anyone receives Jesus as their Saviour. This Christmas, like the shepherds, why not take time to receive Jesus, God’s gift to you, and to thank him for his love to you.