Divorcing Social Media While Still Using It for Good

Do you feel like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. are stealing your time and energy but don’t know how to stop? Here’s a PRACTICAL way to reclaim all that precious time while still using social media for good.

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The Contemplative Life

I’ve always been intrigued by the writings of monks and priests—Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Brother Lawrence. Manning used to spend months alone in a cave, with no companion except God, and though part of me cringes at the idea of such solitude, another part of me understands it. I live continually with a relentless longing to be with God every day, all day—to “splash around in His heart,” as a friend who now lives in heaven described it. I can think of no better way to spend a minute or an hour, a day or week or lifetime, than in connection with God—sometimes talking, sometimes silent, but always in His Presence, always listening, always aware of His nearness.

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I thank the Lord for a husband who’s more than happy to take second place in my life, who doesn’t doubt my absolute love for him while also making ample room for my madness for God. Kenny doesn’t blink an eye when I crawl into my prayer closet or pull on my running shoes and head to the park because I can’t go another minute without getting alone with God. He takes it in stride when I talk aloud to Jesus, though sometimes he has to ask, “Who are you talking to?”—knowing the answer could go either way.

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I used to find the verse “Pray without ceasing” confusing: How could a person possibly get anything done if all she did all day was clasp her hands together, close her eyes, and intercede for the sick? But there’s nothing impossible about that verse at all! To pray without ceasing is simply to cultivate a constant awareness of Jesus, to converse with Him with the ease of one who talks to a best friend, to develop the ability to see Him everywhere. There’s no striving in this kind of life; in fact, if you’re trying to white-knuckle your way into His presence, give it up. You need only to lean back into Him because He’s already there, within you and around you. Dare to see, taste, and hear Him right where you are, right now. Practice His presence, and one day soon you’ll realize you’ve spent the whole day tuned into the heartbeat of Jesus.

That is the contemplative life.

Our Beloved Church Props and the Presence of God

PrintHow have we, the American Church, managed to make the Sunday experience so complicated while simultaneously stripping it of the presence of God? Perhaps it’s because we suspect that God is insufficient—that His sweet, savage presence is not enough—and so we’ve overwhelmed and burdened ourselves with props. We tell ourselves we’re promoting God with our endless list of beloved props (though many are, in fact, designed to promote ourselves). We pour our money and energy into grand buildings, artistic bulletins, endless theatrics, elaborate graphics, computer effects, light shows, and cutting-edge programs until we’re too exhausted and preoccupied to invite Jesus into the mix.

At the same time, we perpetuate the spectacle/spectator mindset with our stages and theater seats as the select few carry out their duties while everyone else, including Jesus, is expected to sit there and behave. And all the while, we remain unchanged.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am not anti-technology, nor am I saying that building funds are unbiblical. But who can deny that we’ve become so rehearsed and polished that we’ve wrung ourselves dry of all spontaneity, leaving no room for the Holy Spirit and forgetting that, if left to Himself (deprived of all our props), He would be what He’s always been: absolutely everything we need.

A Word About Fasting

7eWavS1442934673My husband is at a monastery for a few days this week. Those who know him would find this comical: he’s a long-haired, tattooed hippie with a disreputable past who loves his motorcycle and ragged jeans. Even so, when I talked to him last night, he said the monastery felt familiar. The reason for this is that Kenny spent a handful of years as a missionary in Nashville, during which he lived in a windowless room that he dubbed “the cave,” and fasting was commonplace. The monastery, designed to exemplify the virtues of fasting, silence, and poverty, has tiny dorm rooms, a Daniel fast diet (no meat, sweets, or other luxuries), and many no-speaking areas.

That got me thinking: there are elements of the Christian life that were meant to be commonplace for believers that have become completely foreign to most of the Church. But I’m not here to reprimand anyone—rather, I’m here to say that we’re missing out. Granted, I don’t want to live my whole life in a single, windowless room, but living simply, as unattached to the world and possessions as possible, allows for great freedom. I’ve experienced just one speech fast, which was intense and beautiful; I’ve been longing to do it again. As for fasting food, that’s almost never easy. In fact, I cringe at the thought. And yet there’s nothing like that spiritual buzz, which tends to set in after a few days as your perspective shifts. The emphasis we Americans place on food (and it’s far more than you’d think) suddenly seems ludicrous. The spirit wakes up and takes center stage. What’s truly important becomes important once again, and what’s irrelevant finally becomes irrelevant.

Here are a few paragraphs from my journal during a liquids-only fast:

I’ve been kinda living in the supernatural lately, and I don’t want it to stop. It’s Day 19 of a 40-day liquids-only fast. I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. A mug of pureed veggie soup feels like a feast. I’ve been spending an hour in my prayer closet every morning, sometimes more, and it feels like ten minutes. I’m eating the book of Romans.

There are plenty of days lately when I’m nearly giddy “for no reason”—even right in the middle of working. Laughter comes easily. Hours go by and I forget to have my soup. I’m forgetting what it’s like to eat. I never want this to end.

Silhouette the girl jumping over the gap at sunsetI have energy, energy, late into the night. Mental alertness and productivity. Patience. Spiritual sensitivity. Contentment. Creativity, hope, and confidence. Affection. Groundedness. The absence of stress and anxiety.

Thank You, Father, thank You. I love You so much. I can’t for a moment wrap my mind around what it would be like to live without You. How would I survive a single day if I didn’t belong to You? To extract myself from Your grip, if that were even possible, would leave me with nothing. There is no me without You.

Why has the Church allowed fasting and other disciplines to go the way of the dinosaurs? Is it simply that they’re difficult for the flesh, or is it more than that? What do you think?

 

The Trouble with Hoarding

One of the things that the Old Testament manna represents is the basic necessities of life, which God provides when we seek Him above and beyond anything else. The Message puts it this way: “Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met” (Mt 6:33).

Screen Shot 2015-09-09 at 2.09.58 PMManna constituted the Israelites’ daily food; they would have literally died without it. To say it was a crucial part of their lives is an understatement, yet they disobeyed God’s instructions concerning it. His mouthpiece, Moses, charged them to make sure they didn’t keep the manna from one day to the next, yet they still tried to hoard it. It’s human nature to hoard, to make sure we have our “fair share.” We don’t like it when someone else has more than we do. Or perhaps the Israelites were lazy—hoping to avoid having to gather the manna the next day.

Or maybe they simply didn’t believe God, who promised to provide daily.

We’re a lot like the Israelites: we want our pantries and bank accounts and clothes closets full—and yet they’re quite never full enough to satisfy us, are they? We want our “safety nets,” our safeguards against not having what we want, when we want it. We loathe the thought of God stripping us of those safety nets because then we’ll have no recourse but to trust Him for each day’s provision, and that’s scary. And inconvenient. And uncomfortable.

And so we hoard.

When we fail to trust God for our basic needs, we fret and worry. We amass more than we need. We fail to abide in the heart of God and instead work so many hours that we become strangers to peace and rest. Worst of all, we miss out on the lovely, exhilarating sensation of belonging completely to Him. We forget that He is responsible and that we’re at His mercy. We turn our backs on His offer of sweet, fresh manna: “No thanks, I’m afraid You’ll shortchange me. Besides, I can manage on my own.”

Our culture insists that amassing wealth and possessions is synonymous with being a responsible adult. Are you brave enough to see that this challenges everything Jesus exemplified? Are you bold enough to trust that God will send the manna day by day?

A Post-Christmas Confession

I admit: I’m always giddy with relief when Christmas is over.

i wantThe reason for this is that every year, it becomes more painful and even embarrassing to witness the great, sad irony of Christmas: the effort we put forth trying to convince ourselves and the world that Jesus is the Reason for a season that overflows with greed, gluttony, materialism, and marketing. Our efforts would make far more sense if 1) the Lord had instituted the season in the first place, or 2) the Church refused to bend its knee to the gods of self-indulgence and consumerism and the many practices that fly in the face of all that Jesus exemplified.

I respect those who strive to claim the season for Jesus, yet I feel no urgency to do so personally because those who assert that its roots and traditions are steeped in paganism are, quite frankly, correct. Add to this the increasing demand for bigger and shinier and more expensive gifts; the propaganda of modern-day media and marketing; the stress and irresponsibility of credit card bills; the license to party and drink and eat far more than any other time of the year . . . and the end result is a cauldron of hedonism that the Church drinks from just as eagerly as does the world. The only difference between us and the world is that we simultaneously try to turn the spotlight onto Jesus . . . and then we wonder why the world thinks we’re goofy and why we’re as exhausted, broke, stressed, and overweight as everyone else come January.

black fridayYes, there are things about the Christmas season that I enjoy, like the weekend trip that my husband and I make to Nashville in mid-December every year to do some shopping and carry out our own little traditions. I put up a tiny tree for the sake of the grandkids, and I love the happy chaos of a house full of family. But I am always thankful when the season is over for another year and we can all stop pretending that it’s about Jesus when the Church as a whole actually sold out long ago.

Please hear me: to teach our children about the birth of Christ the King at this time of year is a very good thing, but to teach them the same truths at all times and during all seasons is better. The danger of relegating a certain season (or two, if you count Easter) to the celebration of Jesus is that it’s too easy to excuse ourselves from focusing on what truly matters the rest of the year. The question of where to draw our boundaries as believers when it comes to Christmas is a tricky one with no easy or sweeping answers, but this one thing I know beyond any shadow of a doubt:

Jesus Is the Reason. Period.

Image: Nehemiah Project

Image: Nehemiah Project

Jesus is the reason for life, for existence, 365 days a year. He wants to be the constant object of our affections, the daily motivation behind our behavior, the ultimate purpose behind our career choices, the never-ending desire of our heart, the goal and prize for which we reach every day of our lives. We do not truly live unless we live and breathe and move in Him and for Him. Ultimately, nothing else matters. Perhaps that sounds too radical, but it’s the absolute truth, so I’ll say it again: Nothing else matters. He is the reason for all of it. Let’s keep this in mind as we take down our trees and tinsel, work off those extra five pounds, pay off our debts, and decide what 2015 should look like. As we set goals and enjoy the feeling of a second chance that a new year brings, let us ask the Savior to take His rightful place as King and Lord. Let us echo the song that says, “Jesus, be the fire in my heart,
Be the wind in these sails,
Be the reason that I live.”