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In Over My Head

In Over My Head

So I’ve started writing for NLCF’s website. Traditionally it’s the staff who write, but they want to get a few others writing regularly, to kind of get a broader perspective on what God’s doing in the congregation (either by writing about what God’s up to in our own lives, or by sharing stories of other people.) So I volunteered. I’m scheduled for three dates this semester, each about three weeks apart. Here’s the first one.

Scripture on faith, deeds, and love

A couple of well-known verses have been on my mind since my post, “Setting things straight“:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

James 2:14-17

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Faith without deeds is dead; faith and deeds without love are nothing.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

Unplugged (sort of)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about God, it’s that he likes to throw monkey wrenches in our plans, and substitute his own. To disrupt us if we start to get too comfortable—not because there’s anything wrong with comfort, but because if we’re too comfortable for too long we start to get stagnant.

A week ago I shared my intention of delving into technology on this blog a little more. I specifically said that I was going to start with a review of an app called Moves, and that I was going to write said review this weekend. I actually started it this afternoon, and wrote for a little while until I had to go to 130 Jackson for sound check and band practice before the service. Once we’d gone through the sound check, and I’d got the mix about where I wanted it, I pulled out my phone and picked up where I’d left off (the beauty of cloud sync) while the band practiced.

Then the service began. [nlcf] is doing a series on the Seven Deadly Sins, leading up to Easter. Last week we started with Pride, and this week was on Gluttony. Jim defined gluttony more broadly than it is commonly used, to mean an unhealthy over-indulgence of anything, to the point of waste, and to the point of turning our focus away from God. At the end he brought up Lent, which begins on Wednesday, and encouraged us to think about something we could give up for the forty days, that could make room in our lives to grow closer to God. He gave a few examples of common fasts, including chocolate or Facebook. Even while he was still talking, I knew. I’m going on a technology fast.

I mentioned in last week’s post that my biggest time waster is technology blogs. It may not have come across in what I said there, but I’ve been realizing over the past several weeks that this is a big problem. Not because there’s anything inherently wrong with them, but because they suck away so much of my life.

In addition to the Seven Deadly Sins series, over the first four weeks of the semester, at [nlcf] we’re focusing on listening and hearing from God, and freeing up time to do so. That is, we’re spending the four weeks looking at it in depth—particularly in our Engage Groups, but enmeshed with everything we’re doing—in order to become a congregation that practices it habitually, setting the tone for the semester and beyond. A major aspect of it that we’re taking on is time management. This is something that has plagued me…probably as long as I can remember. But God’s been turning the heat up on this issue for me recently, and now that we’re honing in on it at [nlcf], it’s something that I really want to tackle head-on this semester. Not only to free up time for God (although that’s the most important reason,) but also to stay on top of homework better, so I’m not getting it done late at night when it’s due the next morning, and to have time to do other stuff that I just can’t now. All that stuff that falls under the umbrella of “being a good steward of my time.”

Part of this has been looking at things we can prune back. The amount of time I spend on tech sites (or their app counterparts), YouTube, and the like, jumped quickly to my mind. So I’ve already been thinking about ideas for regulating my time spent on non-school-related or unessential surfing. But after Jim’s sermon tonight, I’ve decided that for Lent, I’m going cold turkey.

My plan is to only use my iPhone, iPad, or laptop to do the things I actually need to do. It’s unrealistic to unplug from email, texting, or even Facebook, because I need to be able to stay in touch with people, and all of those are necessary for that at some point or other. So I’ll launch the Facebook or Facebook Messenger apps if I get a notification, I’ll take appropriate action, and close them. (Historically, wasting time on Facebook has not been a huge issue for me like it is for a lot of friends. I have other issues.) Same goes for email—I’ll open it when I get an email, respond accordingly, and move on. (More on email below.)

It’s unrealistic to stop managing my schedule and to-do lists in their appropriate apps. (Well, technically this one’s probably doable, but I don’t think it’s necessary or beneficial. I’ll still be carrying around my phone, so I may as well use the calendar and task management apps. I’m not about to go out and buy a paper planner. I really think that would just make it harder to be effective with my time.)

It’s certainly unrealistic to stop using the apps and websites I need to do homework and stuff.

But other than the essentials, I’m unplugging. I’m not gonna read up on the latest iThing and everything it can do. (I think that’s gonna be the hardest part of this for me. What might Apple do between now and Easter, that I’m gonna miss? I’ve heard rumors of updated iPads sometime this quarter, and of an up-and-coming iWatch sooner or later. Of course, if they do something big, I’ll hear about it somehow or other. But I won’t get to read all the juicy details myself.) I’m not gonna browse the App Store looking for apps to experiment with. I’m not gonna play Letterpress or Angry Birds Star Wars. I’m going to resist the urge to pull out my phone anytime I’m standing in line or waiting around for class to start, just to fill the time. Or to reach for it when I wake up and spend the first minutes of my day reading a review of Blackberry 10.

I’m going so far as to rearrange my home screens to put the apps I’ll need on the first one. And not even go to the others. (This is actually a very strategic step. As long as my home screens look like they always do, I won’t think twice about tapping open my News folder and tapping one of the icons sitting inside it, before realizing what I’ve done. But if that folder is nowhere to be found on that first screen, I’ll remember that I’m supposed to be staying away from it.)

I’m even going old-school and pulling my old (imitation?) leather-bound Bible off the shelf. The one with pages and stuff. (The books I’m reading are stuck in iBooks, though, and I think it’s still worth reading those.)

And during these forty days, I’m going to be thinking long-term—about what boundaries I can set on myself in this area for once Lent is over, and about other steps I can take to manage my time a little better.

I will probably still be blogging some. Maybe even a little more frequently, because with more time to hear from God I’ll probably have more stuff to share. But if you were excited about hearing about apps, sorry. I’ll leave you with a consolation mini-review. (Last chance to plug an app here for a while—and this is actually relevant.)

Going back to email, I actually just started using an app that I think will really help in the battle of the inbox. It’s called Mailbox, and it conveniently just launched the other day, although I’ve been waiting for it for months. The basic premise is that the only emails in your inbox are the ones you need to address at this moment. The app badge actually shows the total number of emails in your inbox, rather than the typical unread count. You can archive or delete an email, move it to a list, or snooze it. This snooze feature is where the innovation really lies. You can tell it to snooze until later today, tomorrow, next week, or even later. It will move into a Later section (where you can still go to see the emails you’ve snoozed) and will come back to your inbox whenever you told it to, so you can deal with it then. Sure, it’s a fancy way to procrastinate, but it’s a good way to handle those emails that you’re leaving in your inbox until it’s a good time to take care of them. It makes me really think about each email—whether I can respond to it now, or if there’s a better time when I actually will. In the meantime, I can get back to “Inbox Zero.” Which feels really, really good.

They’re launching for just iPhone and Gmail and will expand from there. (In anticipation of this app, I set up yet another personal address over break, at Gmail, and have my previous email addresses (iCloud, etc.) forwarding to it. Virginia Tech mail is conveniently Gmail-based.)

They’re also rolling it out first-come, first-serve, slowly at first, but speeding up exponentially. I was fortunate enough to hear about the up-and-coming app back in December, from a blogger who got let in on the private beta and said it was the best thing since sliced bread. I got on the waiting list way back then, so I was only #18,728, and I got access to the app only a couple days after it launched last week. People getting in line now could be waiting a month. (While you’re waiting, the app shows the number of people in line in front of you and behind you. Last I saw, there were more than 600,000 behind me.) But I think the app is worth the wait.

If you’re an iPhone/Gmail user, you can read more about Mailbox at http://www.mailboxapp.com, and get it on the App Store here.

Back to Lent. Seeing as it starts Wednesday, I have a couple days to think about this some more, and see if there are any other ways I can unplug. (If you have ideas, drop them in the comments below.) In the meantime, I’ll probably start easing into the ideas I have so far, before going all-in on Wednesday. So there you have it. This could be an interesting six weeks. But I think it’ll be good. Really good.

(Also, in case you were wondering—my iPad and keyboard only stayed in the trash can long enough to take the picture. I actually wrote this on that iPad, with that keyboard.)

Setting things straight

On Wednesday night, right before going to bed, I posted a link to an article titled "There. I said it. I don’t want my kids to be Evangelicals." In my (very) brief commentary I quoted the following from it:

I want my kids to think set apart means that they will love so radically and freely that whatever moral choices their making, through all their years of figuring it out, won’t be what people are even able to focus on.

A couple hours later, I was still trying to fall asleep when my phone beeped and lit up. I could tell from the first few words of the email, staring at me from my lock screen, that I had made a huge mistake. It was my dad, pointing out how badly it could be misunderstood, and that it would probably offend a lot of people we know who follow my blog.

Being two-something in the morning, I responded by writing a short post that included an apology, my concerns about being misunderstood, and a promise to write a longer clarification of my intent later. Until then, I took the link down. (I’ve included the link here for context and because this time I am including a lot more qualifying statements to (hopefully) make myself clear.)

I want to make a couple things clear, before getting to the point I was trying to make in linking to that post.

First, I apparently didn’t make it clear enough that I was linking to a full article. I should have kept a format that made that obvious. The quote was what I wanted to highlight, but it only made sense in the context of the whole article. In retrospect, I can see how the quote on its own would be very easy to misunderstand. I think the article put at least some of those misunderstandings to rest. As it was, it looked like an isolated quote that I hadn’t even bothered to cite, and an inflammatory title that I had come up with myself. Which leads me to my next point.

I was not intending to attack or offend Evangelicals. Now, I won’t shy away from challenging people and stepping on toes if I think they need to hear it—even if they don’t want to. But this was not at all meant to be that kind of post. It is unfortunate that the writer set up the article as an attack on Evangelicals, because in doing so she alienated a lot of people, and the most valuable truths in the post, truths that should cross denominational boundaries, were lost. When I read it I was thinking about my own tendencies, and when I linked to it, I was posting it as a challenge (in a more positive sense) to all Christians equally. Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about the use of the word "Evangelicals."

What I resonated with in the article was the idea that we should be set apart by our love. As was pointed out, we generally think of being "set apart" as meaning morally. You know, don’t swear, don’t have sex before marriage, don’t cheat on your tests. Be good. And the idea is that people will notice and wonder why we’re so different. The problem is, in the West in this day and age, I don’t know that it’s always seen that positively by those outside the church.

(Because I’m already treading on thin ice after that last post, I’m going to say, please, please hear me out through this next argument here. Don’t jump to conclusions about where I’m going with this. While I’m giving disclaimers, let me reiterate that, though the article was specifically targeting Evangelicals, I was and am applying it equally to all Christians, myself included.)

Sure, some of them probably notice and respect it, but it seems a lot of people outside the church see us as holier-than-thou, and judgmental of everyone who doesn’t live up to our standards. And hypocritical, because we often fall short of those standards ourselves. (And if we’re really honest, a lot of times they’re right.) So it could be argued that aiming to be set apart morally just plays into this view of Christians.

Now, before I get eaten alive or walked away from, I am not saying that we should throw morals out the window, and go get drunk and sleep around so that we’ll be accepted by our culture. God has made it very clear that we are to live holy lives. I could list off the top of my head verse after verse from the New Testament calling followers of Jesus to be holy, and not to conform to the ways of the world. Jesus also made it clear that we would be misunderstood and even hated by the rest of the world.

"If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you."

John 15:18-19

But what will amaze them, what will really make them wonder, is love. Especially when they hate us. It will blow them away. It does blow them away. When Christians step up and choose to love instead of preaching at people about what’s right and what’s wrong, they can’t figure it out. I’ve seen the stories and the photos going viral on the internet. (That said, a large part of people’s amazement is that Christians have come to be some of the last people they expect to see it from—which is really sad, and infuriating. Because we have no one to blame for that but ourselves.)

Again, as the article pointed out, even though Jesus lived the only perfectly moral life of every human that’s ever lived, it was his love that was so compelling—both for the crowds and notorious sinners that gravitated to it, and for the Pharisees who couldn’t stand it and decided to kill him.

Now, I realize when reading over what I’ve just written that it could sound like I’m saying our number one priority should be PR. That’s not what I’m getting at. Jesus wasn’t worried about his PR—I mean, he provoked his opponents to the point of being killed—and he sure isn’t worried about ours. We shouldn’t love—or live morally, for that matter—in order to make people like us. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. And because God is transforming us into people for whom it is the most natural thing to do. Even so, Jesus said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." (John 13:35) So let’s live in such a way that we are known by our love.

One last thought: our mission is to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19). We aren’t doing that if we become just like them. We have to live the way Jesus taught us to, and teach new disciples to. (He says so in the same breath—verse 20.) But we can’t do that by pushing people away, either. We have to engage with the world. And love it.

Oops.

Right before going to bed I posted a link to an article I had just read after a friend posted it on Facebook. I am quick to find truth in things I read, which sometimes means I gloss over the rest and highlight the truth. The problem is that when I share these things, it can appear that I agree with everything that was said. In the case of this article, it was just brought to my attention that a lot of people could be offended by it, and the truth in it could be lost in a lot of misunderstanding. This was not at all my intent.

It is really late, and I’m supposed to be asleep, but I wanted to act right away to take care of the situation. So my short term solution is to take down the post and write this brief apology. I also will make it a priority in the next couple days to write a more lengthy clarification of what I meant to say by linking to the article, and clear up the major issues people will probably have taken with it.

I’m really sorry to anyone I have offended.