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Conquering Recursion

This guest post is by Dean Zhang author of Bamboo Updates; you can find it here.  He is also a floormate of Tyler and Adam at the University of Illinois where he is studying Computer Science.

We’ve all seen the relapse phenomenon. It’s happened in friends and family. Sometimes it is a joyous thing and other times it is too painful to watch. Whether it be a habit or a serious addiction they always seem to find their way back to us as time passes.

Most of our lives, we’ve been told what not to do. Out of love, our parents tell us not to do certain things in order to be a good person. We listen to this out of good faith in our childhood but eventually, we put most all these properties into question. Perhaps it is at this time that we are told what not to do the most. I remember that in youth group at church, my youth pastor almost spent more time telling me what not to do than my parents did. Which leaves the dangling question: Why? Why is it bad? The most common answers we receive are:

“Because it is/I told you so”

“Because It’s in the bible”

“Because it’s against the law”

While these are legitimate answers for the most part (bar the first response as a default parent answer), they don’t give real basis for not doing any of these things. Being told what not to do doesn’t really prevent people from doing any of those things, they just instill guilt as they carry these actions out. Our hearts have never been seeded with the proper motivation.

Jesus gives us a parable in Mathew 12:43-45

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

This can be applied both literally and figuratively in many cases. We are often tempted to restart bad habits and addictions after we have just let them go but look at the reason: “When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. …” We tidy ourselves up after getting rid of bad things in our lives but we forget to replace the evil. “Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there.” Recursion occurs and things get worse.

So what fits in this house that has been swept clean and put in order? The answer is God’s spirit.  He’s big enough to fill the whole house…if you let him. It is a challenge as it requires transforming our selfish will into His will but everybody has the capability to do this because we were made for this.  God should be our motivation.

Allowing God’s spirit to inhabit all of you is also a frightening decision to make. Many times we find ourselves giving him 50% of the house, leaving the rest for our assets. Often, we don’t even want him to be our all and if it comes to it, do not be afraid to pray to want to want him to inhabit the whole house.

God must not only become the dominant figure in our hearts (house) but the only occupant as he is the pivotal part in permanently ending the recursive cycle.

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Radical – Book Review

Title: Radical, Taking back your faith from the American Dream

Author: David Platt, Wikipedia Bio

Topics: Discipleship, Missions, Christian Living

ISBN: 1601422210

Purchase: Amazon.com ($5.33 + Shipping)

My Rating: ★★★★★

Culturally speaking, there is a growing frustration with “church as usual” amongst many Christians today. While it is easy to criticize the church in America, David Platt reminds us that we are part of that church. In his book, Radical, he seeks to raise our awareness of many cultural “blind spots” that we as Christians in the United States tend to miss.

I really like this book. I think that Platt does a fantastic job of humbly addressing the complacency that is present in the church. He doesn’t take an angry tone, but rather addresses the disparities between our cultural definition of what it means to be a Christian and what Jesus said it means to be a Christian. As the title suggests, Platt does call our attention to many Bible passages in which Jesus calls potential followers to literally sell all that they have and to follow Him. When we read accounts of those who are “radical” in their faith, we tend to just say, “The Lord has called me to do something different.” I love Platt’s approach; as he asks two vital questions:

  1. “What if God did call you to live a radical faith?” and,
  2. “What does it look like to live a radical faith?”

I love the fact that he asks both of these questions. So often, we have so many justifications for not doing radical things on our faith that we end up doing nothing but justifying ourselves. But Platt doesn’t just raise our awareness of the issue of inactivity amongst Christians. He seeks to provide direction in what it might look like to be active as a Christian. I love this aspect of the book! His main purpose is not simply to bemoan the state of the church in America. His main purpose is to motivate his reader into action. His book isn’t just a bunch of whining – it is in fact the opposite. Instead of simply bashing the Church in general, he seeks to lift our imaginations and see what we could do as Christians if we all lived radical lives. His true passion, as seen throughout the book, is to see the Church in America recognize its potential to impact the entire world.

Accordingly, he ends the book with a chapter which contains a five-point, one-year-long specific challenges for Christians in general that will help each one find his or her own individual “next step”:

  1. Pray for the entire world. Cultivate a heart for the nations. He suggests the book Operation World as a starting place.
  2. Read the entire Bible. Get used to hearing God speak to you.
  3. Sacrifice one’s money for a specific purpose. To give sacrificially, and personally (not just generally) to others (possibly just one person). To allow a generous heart to grow inside of yourself as you sacrifice that which you own for the benefit of others.
  4. Spend time in another context. Widen your view of the world and others by spending time serving in a place outside of your city, or even outside of your nation. He suggests spending 2%, or roughly one week, serving elsewhere.
  5. Commit your life to a multiplying community. Be a disciple who is both being discipled by others and making disciples. Be connected in your faith to others.

Whether it is your view of discipleship or your view of international missions, this book will make an indelible mark upon the way that you think. There is just too much to write about this book for it all to fit into one blog post. I highly recommend that you go read it!

Glossophobia? (Part One)

The first thing I was thinking when I saw that word (Glossophobia) is what in the world does it mean!? Well, the word represents something that most people around the world fear more than death, public speaking. “As many as 75%  of people have Glossophobia. Statistically, far more of us claim that we would prefer death to giving a speech; even comedian Jerry Seinfeld used to joke that at a funeral, most people would rather be lying in the casket than delivering the eulogy” (Glossophobia.com).

This summer, I was required to take a Communications class for school. Many people told me I would have no problem with public speaking, but the butterflies in my stomach were telling me otherwise. In order to pass the class, we had to prepare three speeches, one with a group and two flying solo. Yes, I was rather nervous in the beginning. Yes, I had been dreading the thought of taking this class. And yes, I had Glossophobia, but by the end of the semester, my attitude began to change. I had been equipped with a toolbox of thoughts that changed my outlook on communication. My professor provided our class with many valuable notes that I want to share with you in my upcoming series. By the end, my goal is that readers will be ready to challenge their Glossophobia and be successful in the realm of public speaking and communication!

My professor started our first day of class by challenging us to define communication. When everyone shared their definitions, we all had multiple ideas about this one simple word. In a way, that is what he was attempting to show us. This one word is used by people every day, but everyone has their own unique way of expressing its meaning. He then provided us with seven characteristics to give us an image of communication…

1. Communication is constantly occurring

2. Communication is constantly changing

3. Communication usually involves an exchange

4. Communication involves a relationship

5. Communication is heavily influenced by culture and co-culture

  • Culture:  attitude, beliefs, and values of a group of people
  • Co-culture: a group within a culture that has attitudes, beliefs, and values that are different from the larger culture (Gender, race, Midwestern, etc.)

6. Communication is power

7. Communication is a process

We will dive deeper into these ideas later in the series. For this first post, I want to discuss characteristic number seven. Communication is a process because it usually involves both a sender and a receiver. In a nutshell, this is what occurs between a sender and receiver during communication:

Sender encodes a message, delivers it through a channel, message goes through barriers, receiver decodes the message, receiver encodes feedback, delivers feedback through a channel, feedback goes through barriers, sender decodes feedback (all of which takes place within a situation).

Even though the above definition may seem complex, it does not even begin to dive into all the variables that both the sender and receiver express! Within the structure of communication exists verbal and non-verbal cues, proxemics, kinesics, paralanguage, haptics, and chronemics that all add meaning to the message being conveyed. Have no fear because I will explain these variables and how they can add meaning to your message in upcoming posts. In the future, we will also be discussing the structure of your speech, delivery of your speech, and tackling what some people fear more than death, communication anxiety, also known as Glossophobia.

As for today, I hope I have expanded your horizons on the meaning of communication. I want to leave you with a question to ponder that my professor also shared with us:  Can one not not communicate? (OR–are we always communicating? Are there times when we are not communicating?)

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

On Being Needy

People have a natural aversion from being in need.  We like to have all the power, solve our own problems, leave everyone else out of it.  This works great as long as we are by ourselves, but it breaks down as soon as you mention the word team.

Feeling needed is empowering .  As Thoreau said, “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”    Our chest puffs out when someone asks for our help and puts our solution into effect.  We want to share the news that our idea worked.  We wish it would happen more often!

In many cases a leader will be capable of doing all of the work necessary for a project.  The leader doesn’t really need the help of any of their followers.  The question is, what is lost if the leader does all of the work?  The answer comes in two parts, one for the followers and one for the leader.  In the case of the followers they are losing an opportunity to be involved.  An opportunity to use their own skills to further the vision and contribute.  This leads to a lack of buy-in and they feel detached from the project.  You will not find anyone who daydreams about a solution when they are not intimately involved with the problem.  A follower cannot be intimately involved with the problem if the leader has already solved it.  Soon, the leader will find themselves alone, the team disbanded.

The second loss is for the leader.  If the leader places themselves in need they lose the position of power.  Pride must go out the window, a hard thing to do.  It takes a certain humility to be in need.  It takes an even greater one to purposely put yourself there.  You may be capable of doing everything yourself, but what are your followers losing so that you can puff up your ego?

I think people learn better from stories than from lectures (this should be a post!).  So take a minute to read through John 4:1-42 below for a great story of Jesus humbling himself and talking to a Samaritan woman.  What is Jesus giving up (by even being on Earth, by talking to a social outcast) so that she can gain?

________________________________________

John 4

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

______________________________

I challenge you to place yourself in need more often, give people the satisfaction of being able to help.  Listen to people’s ideas more often, seek their opinion, and attend to their answers.  You’ll be amazed at the results.

How do you empower others?  Share in the comments below!

Working With Passion

This is where talent and passion can get you.

Last week, in my post about how modern society hates silence, I briefly mentioned the assumption that, after a hard day’s work, we need mindless activities to distract ourselves from work.  I said that was a subject for another post; well, here it is!

At the beginning of 2010, a survey revealed that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their jobs (I know this was over a year and a half ago, but I do not believe things have changed significantly since then).  That means that 55% of the workers surveyed were dissatisfied with their work.  That’s tens of millions of people in the United States alone!  If work is an important part of who we are – and in the U.S., at least, we tend to define ourselves by our work – is it any wonder that the overall mood is is so pessimistic lately?

A year ago, I was in that 55%.  I was just finishing up an internship which was an exercise in frustration, and unbeknownst to me I was in for an entire semester of more of the same.  So, from June until about Christmas, I felt like I was in a cave, pushing against a huge solid boulder that refused to budge.  Sometime during that time, I promised myself this: I was going to finish my master’s degree as soon as possible, get a job that didn’t require too much thinking (or, more importantly, programming), and get myself out of the research field as soon as I could.  I was burned out, discouraged, and had no hope of the situation improving.  When I wasn’t at work, I was doing everything I could to take my mind off of it.

Now, things are very different.  I’m getting results.  I’m much better at programming.  My thesis topic changed fairly significantly and I find this one much more interesting.  During idle time, I find myself pondering obstacles I will encounter in whatever analysis I’m doing and coming up with solutions.  The result?  I’m no longer dead set on leaving grad school; in fact, I’m seriously considering going for the Ph.D.  Once again, I am passionate about atmospheric science.

That passion makes all the difference, I think.  Passion is what causes the scientist to ask and answer deep, complex questions about the world around them.  Passion is what drives my dad, a tax preparer who works 80+ hour weeks during tax season, to go to work before dawn six days a week for three months and still do taxes for friends and family on his (very limited) time off.  Passion is what drives someone like Michael Phelps to not just swim for fun, but to train with an intensity very few of us can comprehend in order to be, quite literally, the best in the world at what he does.

Humans are created to be passionate.  Think about it – how easy is it to be passionate about a sports team, a relationship/person, a belief system, a video game?  Work is just as much a part of our lives as  a close relationship or a favorite hobby.  It might be harder to be passionate about our work – particularly if the job is not that exciting or fulfilling – but that does not make it any less necessary.  Whatever job you are doing, you have control over whether it is a lousy job or a fun and rewarding one (I only wish I had understood this more when I worked in fast food).  It’s your choice; are you going to be in the 55% or the 45%?

The Bible: More than just “Food for Thought”

It’s a given fact that the act of reading has many benefits. If you know someone who is a professional writer, they will tell you that one of the greatest secrets to being a writer is being an avid reader; those who read can write more quickly, clearly, and colorfully than those who don’t read. Professional authors aren’t the only ones to reap the benefits of reading. We know that “Leaders are Readers,” as Tyler so poignantly put it in his previous post. We all have something to gain from the general practice of reading, but I think that we have much, much more to gain from the disciplined practice of reading the Bible.

I’d like to give a bit of backround upon Biblical literacy before I begin, so bear with me! The Protestant Reformation brought with it the largest wave of biblical literacy since the original authorship of the New Testament.

“That means that for roughly 1200 years, the common man was unable to read the Bible for himself.”

The Bible hadn’t been in any sort of common vernacular since the days of the translation of the New Testament into the Latin Vulgate by Jerome, which occurred somewhere around 383 AD. That means that for roughly 1200 years, the common man was unable to read the Bible for himself, and dependent upon a priest to even hear it spoken! Can you imagine the mysteriousness surrounding the Bible during those times? With Biblical illiteracy fresh within their minds, the Reformers strongly held to a doctrine known as Sola Scriptura, that is, the belief that Scripture alone contains all that is necessary for full salvation and spiritual growth. We would do well to carry their convictions. While it might be trendy or even marginally beneficial to read the holy books of other religions, we know that only the Bible will lead us to spiritual life.

So, apart from just holding to a view of Sola Scriptura, why should we read the Scriptures? To start with the seemingly most obvious:

  1.  It is the manner by which the God of the universe has chosen to communicate with us. For whatever reason, God chose to get his words to us in written form. That means that, whenever I open that book, on some level, the God of the universe, both through providence and through the work of the Holy Spirit, will speak to me. I may not know it, just as a plant may not feel water in its roots after every rainfall, yet, God will soften the soil around my soul and deeply, deeply change me.
  2.  Many people have given their lives to get me the book that I have today, most notably William Tyndale and John Wycliffe. So often we easily forget our history as the church. We have ancestors in our tradition who gave their lives and suffered horrible deaths because they were so passionate about the Bible – the same book that we often justify not reading because we are “busy” or “tired.” I think it is an amazing thing that there have been so many who have gone before us that have drawn the inner strength to do great things from the same book that graces our coffee tables and bookshelves. Read it!
  3. We need the words on those pages to be alive spiritually. Quite simply, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Deut 8:3, Matt. 4:4, Luke 4:4) We need to encounter God’s words more than we need food. Do you believe that?

There are many more reasons why we should read the Bible, but I hope that those listed above will prove sufficient to at least drive you to consider the amount of time you spend reading the Bible. The Bible isn’t just “Food for Thought”; it’s food for our spiritual lives.

Can you hear me now?

I promised in my Seven Habits of Highly Effective People review that I would revisit the topic described in Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.  The advice in this chapter was the easiest for me to implement and make work for me so I want to share it with you!

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood comes in handy when having a conversation with another person.  It is placed in the “Winning Publicly” section of 7 Habits because the practice of it inherently includes other people.  The way most people go about a conversation is to start by sharing their perspective.  Running through your mind is “if I could only get them to see where I’m coming from, then they’d understand.”  What is ironic about this thought is that both people are thinking it.  Both people come to the conversation with the need to share their point of view, their side of the story.  With these two conflicting viewpoints, no wonder most conversations get no where!

To solve this clash of views, something has to give.  That is where seeking first to understand comes in.  This takes a lot of willpower!  You have to shut off your own inner voice and have a genuine curiosity about the other person’s point of view.  One of the best techniques I’ve found is to paraphrase what the person just said in the form of a question.  I might say, “So what you mean is…”  Almost every time I get it at least partially wrong!  My view is too limited to understand where the other person is coming from because we have different experience.  This paraphrased question gives the person time to reflect on what they actually mean, and clarify my understanding where I got it wrong.  What is amazing about this is that once you have clarified what the conversation is actually about, you can get accomplish something.

Imagine this conversation.  Your friend sits down at church and grumpily says, “I don’t really see the point of going to church anyway.”  This is a loaded statement, flags should go off!  You could jump in with 1,000 arguments about fellowship, great teaching, Biblical commands, etc… but instead you think it’s kind of odd that your friend, a regular church goer, has made this comment.  You ask a clarifying question, “So you think church is a waste of time?”  Your friend responds, “Not exactly, what I mean is…”  Well there goes the need for all of your 1,000 arguments!  The conversation isn’t really about church at all.  After a few more clarifying questions, it becomes apparent that what the conversation is about is that your friend’s car got hit in the parking lot on his way to church.  Who saw that one coming (M. Night Shyamalan is that you)?  I know that I would not be able to make the connection from “what’s the point of church” to “I’m frustrated about my car.”

The point of this story is that you cannot see another person’s perspective until you have curiosity to, and then take initiative to ask questions.  If you had jumped in with your 1,000 arguments you would have gotten no where, because no number of Biblical commands are going to pop the dent out of your friends car!  You have to be talking about what is actually on the person’s mind.

The second advantage of Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood is the then to be understood part.  Anyone will be more likely to listen once they have felt understood.  If they know that you have heard them ,because you paraphrased it back to them, they will be more open to listening to your side.  This allows the great two way street of communication to flow without a traffic jam!

After reading 7 Habits I picked up a book called Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen in the Harvard Business Review series.  They call Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood, “Listening From a Learning Perspective.”  I was amazed at the similarities.  Both books talk about having curiosity, discovering the two sides of the story, paraphrasing back your understanding, and asking clarifying questions when confronted with a loaded statement.  Both touted the benefits of letting the other person know that they are understood first.  My advice is to read 7 Habits first, and if you’re interested in this principle, start with chapter 5.  Then go pick yourself up a copy of Difficult Conversations because it is equally loaded with great thoughts!

“People never change without first feeling understood.” ~ Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen (Difficult Conversations)

Have you tried this habit; did it work like magic for you like it did for me?  Share in the comments below!

My God

My God…
Rap by Pastor Jason Chu, Beijing International Christian Fellowship

My God is not an old white man to be feared
With a list of rules that’s as long as his beard

He’s not a creation scientist
Who thinks if you can explain the rain that it makes it less great

My God is not a conservative Sex Ed teacher

Not a tract
not a VHS tape
not a bumper sticker
With a bogus slogan chosen for controversy
Or a candidate who managed to attract the right… wing.

He’s on the wrong side of the tracks – Palestines and Iraqs
He’s behind every person whose culture has turned their backs
He’s beside every divide to provide for both sides

He’s on top of the world…

…and still holds it together.

He’s the most clever

Sometimes he’s seen in Esther
Mary, Theresa, Lydia, Deborah
Rashawna, Jingyi, Eunju, Emma
Julie, Jessii, Tori, Becca

My God is not a limited release
You don’t have to line up – preorder – show up – and show receipts

He’s not a neatly produced show on stage
Or a test prep book with the answers in the back page

My God is not the Texas board of education

He’s not Jesus Camp but he’s also not The Simpsons

My God cries and my God laughs
He knows how it feels to drink cold beer in the bath
My God has a sense of humor
So he created me – an Asian pastor that raps

My God is strong enough to not need to prove himself
He’s big enough that he can fill any room in the house
He likes the little people
The hurting
The lost
The ones who lost their virginity to someone who stopped calling

He’s a father whose children didn’t listen
But he never lost his patience and lets us come home
And our room in the basement is always waiting and vacant
With fresh sheets on the bed and fresh food for the taking

My God loves weddings
He dances on the floor until long after the last guest has bounced
He doesn’t wear a crown / ring / bling / or white gown
But every head turns when he’s up in the house

He responds – to text messages, tweets, and gchat
He’s not afraid when I offer my honest feedback

‘cause he knows the shape of my eyes thighs and veins
And he loves them – even when I think I need to lose weight

He knows what it feels like to be beaten by a lover
Abandoned by a mother
Without a roof for cover
He knows what it’s like to have to stay undercover
Afraid of what others would do if they discovered

He listens to alcoholic confessions
Gives late night blessings in midnight sessions
Sometimes, keeps me guessing – but only if there’s a point to learn
He even cares when my other friends are unconcerned

He loves widows, orphans, gay people, straight

He’s crying tears of anger for every single rape

Every child hurt – every heart that breaks

Everything that aches with an unforgiven pain

And he’s there in Rwanda and he’s there in Kuwait

And he’s there shedding tears at every mass grave

And he tears off masks to expose every face

And in front of his eyes there’s no room to play games

‘Cause he’s every mother’s kiss and he’s every father’s gaze

And he’s the God of every person who’s been stood up for a date

And he doesn’t care what you call it

It’s not about the words

He just wants you

You

You

You.


My God…

Silence

Modern society is terrified of silence.  We walk into the grocery store and carefully chosen music is playing over the speaker system.  In fact, while we are driving to said grocery store, we are likely to be listening to the radio or iPod.  We listen to music while we work, exercise, and drive.  When we come home, the television is on “for background noise”.  Now, none of these things are inherently bad; listening to something while I work out, for instance, at least triples the amount of time I can run without getting bored.  But when we are used to constant noise, day in and day out, it becomes part of our reality.  If the noise is taken away, we are unnerved and even scared.

This is not just true for noise; it also holds for other mindless distractions that take us away from the important aspects of our lives.  Take, for instance, this commercial for a Motorola phone:  

One could argue that I’m reading way too much into a simple commercial, I suppose, but these things have armies of marketers behind them whose job it is to study our habits, hobbies, activities, etc.  They have determined that telling potential customers that their product will help them work more efficiently in order to spend more time playing Angry Birds is a method that works and will get people to buy their product.  What bothers me about the commercial is not what it says, but what it assumes.  It assumes that our daily life consists of work and mindless activities (to take our mind off of work, but that’s a topic for another post).  When we are done with work and have, presumably, free time, we spend it on mindless activities.  We watch TV; we play video games; we browse Facebook for two hours.

If you are at home reading this, try a little experiment.  Close your music player.  Close all your browser windows/tabs (except this one!).  If you can, turn off the air conditioning or fans for a minute.  The goal here is to make your environment as quiet and distraction-free as possible.  Wait for one minute – yes you can stop reading now – and come back when your minute is up.  Now that all distractions are gone, how are you feeling?  Anxious?  Worried?  If so, you might be relying on those distractions without realizing it.

I should point out here that I live by myself and don’t have cable.  There is a LOT of quiet time in my apartment, so it doesn’t cause me anxiety any more.  But when I lived with people, I always wanted them around.  Being alone in a quiet room, even if it was only a dorm room, was a little bit unnerving to me.  Now that I have a bit more control over my environment, I find that I am more able to deal with quiet and distraction/free environments when my life is generally going well.  If I’m stressed out and/or anxious about anything, my ability to tolerate silence becomes almost zero.  Those are usually the times when you can find me playing random Flash games online.  It comes down to this: when it’s quiet, I am alone with my thoughts.  Sometimes I don’t like what I find there, so I try to block it out by distracting myself.

So if you tried my experiment and found yourself becoming more anxious without the constant noise and distractions of daily life, ask yourself why.  Are you trying to hide something from yourself?  Is there something on your mind that you would rather ignore and not think about that needs to be dealt with?  Or are you just so used to constantly being subconsciously distracted that you don’t even notice?

Full disclosure: About halfway through writing this post, I closed down everything else on my computer.  I even shut off my fan – and it’s 85 degrees in my apartment.  My problem is not so much noise but the Angry Birds-type mindless game distractions.  If I don’t have three or four windows open at any given time, I worry that I’m missing something.  That’s what I found from this experiment, and now I hope to fix that.  

Expand Your World

When someone asks you about the most significant part of your faith as a Christian (if you happen to be one), what comes to mind first? I think at least the majority of us, if not all, would point to our quiet time with God. To be a Christian seems so innately tied to that time when you can be alone with God – reading the Word, listening to praise music, praying, journaling – whatever it looks like. Is that it though?

Recently, I read a blog post by a guy named Tullian Tchividjian (whew, what a name!) on the Resurgence Blog, titled “Spirituality isn’t Inward.” (It’s a great post, so go give it a read!). This post rocked my world. I totally hadn’t even thought about the idea that the truest form of spirituality isn’t what I do in my quiet time with the Lord, but how my faith impacts and interacts with others. In the post, he references James 1:27, which states:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world”

Woah. So God views my actions towards others and my actions with regard to sin to be the most “pure and undefiled” expression of my religion.

Tullian raised the point that “Sin turns us inward, the Gospel turns us outward.” Isn’t that so true? As I focus more and more upon myself and the inward pursuit of conquering sin and “growing” in my faith, I actually cease to “grow” and my world shrinks around myself. Jesus came and didn’t call us to a faith that causes us to be obsessed with ourselves and our inner triumphs and failures. He called us to a faith that actually does something. A faith that interacts with others, not just between myself and God.

Matthew 5:14-17 says: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Could it be said better than that? Don’t “put a bowl” over your faith, but let your world expand to include the lives of others. Don’t just focus upon yourself to the point of shrinking your world, but focus upon the lives of others as well, allowing your world to grow as you shine the light of Jesus to others.