It’s Not About You…

I almost didn’t go to Cross Training last night. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve missed it this year – heck, not even this month. But my reasoning last night as to why I didn’t want to go was different than every other week. It was much more personal.

Every year around Valentine’s Day, Tony takes a week or two to discuss sex and relationships. Last week he brought in a guest speaker, Clint, to speak about sex and I imagine it was a good message (like I said, attendance has been minimal). But this week it was his turn and he decided to talk about relationships. And that’s why I didn’t want to go: I don’t like to talk about relationships.

Why then talk about them now? Because I had a good heart-to-heart with God a few hours before Cross Training last night and it ultimately influenced me to go. You see it all starts with this deep, oftentimes uncontrollable, desire to marry. I want a wife. I want kids. I want to be someone I didn’t often see growing up: A loving husband and father. Part of the struggle with this desire is that I’m very impatient. Like the Bad Lip Reading of Jim Harbaugh, I’m oftentimes this frustrated, whiny little kid complaining about how he hasn’t had a girlfriend ever and that he’s waited so long and blah, blah, blah.

Usually every time someone asks about if I’m seeing anyone or why I might not be interested in a particular girl, this issue of mine comes to the surface. In those conversations, I quickly clam up and either give short answers or don’t answer at all. And no matter what might happen throughout the rest of the day, all I’m thinking about is how I wish I had someone to get all cuddly with for movies or get excited and giggly when someone asks me about her. And every time I feel that desire, I’m brought to the reality that I don’t have it. It upsets me.

So when the time came to go to Cross Training and hear about how relationships are supposed to work and relive all the frustrations of being single, I sat down with God to explain to Him why I didn’t want to go. I started with the shame and guilt that I feel for having hurt girls in the past. And then I talked about all the times I had been hurt when opening my heart to someone and hearing them tell me how they don’t feel the same. And before I could get to my persuasive conclusion as to why I was justified in not attending last night’s Cross Training, I could hear God whisper to me: “It’s not about you.”

Yes, this sounds insensitive, but you have no idea how much freer I feel having heard that. Why? Because what God pointed me to last night wasn’t something that makes me feel worthless; He pointed me to something that gives me every bit of confidence in the world. He pointed me to the Gospel.

In the past couple of weeks, a group of us from Emmaus Life have been going through this book called the Tangible Kingdom Primer. Its focus is obviously God’s kingdom and what has – not surprisingly – come up time and time again is the definition of the Gospel. What is it? Is it a ticket to heaven because of some prayer we pray or statement of faith we sign off on? Is it a checklist of various things God wants us to believe and do in order for us to earn His favor? Or is it a self-help phrase that we should use in order to get over our depression and insecurities? Well, yes, it’s partially those things, but definitely not limited to them. It is believing in the redemptive actions of Jesus on the cross as a model to follow in our every day lives.

What were those redemptive actions? Yes, He was flogged and then crucified, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What happened before that? He healed, He taught, He fed people, and He washed His disciples’ feet. In His time, that was a job reserved for the slaves of slaves – the lowest of the low – not for kings. And yet here Jesus was in John 13 stooping down to clean the feet that followed Him.

His sacrifice on the cross must never be minimized from what it was and is: Our atonement. But a king’s intentional death is meant to wake people up and consider the life the king lived – after all, how else could you truly understand what the king died for the in first place?

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” – Matthew 20:26-28

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” – Matthew 16:24

Jesus’ Gospel is about nothing else but service and sacrifice. And no, He does not mean serving yourself or sacrificing for yourself; He means to imply that it is not about you, but rather the people who need you.

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,’” – Matthew 9:36-38

And this is a message that applies to everyone – even the single hopeful-romantics like me. Being a good coworker, friend, or spouse doesn’t begin when you realize what you want; it begins when you realize what you must give.

God bless.

Relational 401k’s…

Several things came together this morning at church.

As some of you may know, I’ve been going phone-calls-only for the whole month of January (possibly longer) whenever I need/want to talk to someone. No Facebook chat, no chatting via Twitter (although this one isn’t really an issue), and no chatting through texts. If I need to ask someone if dinner is still on for a particular night, I give them a call. If they don’t answer, I don’t hang up and text them; I leave a message.

The first few days were a bit challenging. Several times I would find myself mustering the courage to call someone when I’m not really ready to talk to anybody. With as uncomfortable as I may have been, however, that’s exactly the sort of thing I’m shooting for with this goal; get into the habit of communicating at a human level, especially when I’m inconvenienced. And yet God challenged things a bit deeper this morning. In a word, the message was “community.” But the particular aspect I found challenging was this thing called “investing.”

I recently started a Roth 401k through my job and talked to several different financial advisors about “investments” and percentages and profits and a whole bunch of other business words that gave me a headache. The idea is you put a certain percentage of your paycheck into an account and the company matches that percentage (up to a certain point – usually 3%). Incorporated into the whole mix are these things called mutual funds. You select which level of aggression of a plan you’d prefer (levels differentiated by how much you’d like to invest in stocks, savings, etc.) and the smart financial advisors put together all the right stock options that’ll make you a profit on your money. You pay a certain amount upfront with the intention of receiving more in return.

Scott talked a bit about investments this morning. Only, he talked about relational investing; paying time, money, or energy to invest into a relationship (either romantic or just as friends) that will reward us with additional happiness. He then talked about how, when such an investment falls through, people back out of those relationships almost completely. Or as Scott said, when someone gets hurt by another church member or has a personal struggle they don’t want to deal with, they leave for another church – or stop going altogether. In other words, they cut their losses and go.

This struck me today because what I’ve discovered throughout all the phone calls I’ve made is that I’m reinvesting into friendships I haven’t touched for a while. For instance, my friend Jeff sent me a message on Facebook asking about a missing camera. Instead of replying via Facebook, I called him. We ended up talking for a good twenty or thirty minutes catching up on how things were going. A similar thing happened when my friend Connor called asking me a specific question about the Bible. And again this afternoon when I called my roommate who was getting back from Arizona – and again tonight when I was called by an old friend scheduling a dinner for this week. 3% at a time with each person, I was reinvesting into each friendship.

What I find the stark difference between financial investments and relational investments is that you can back out of one and be perfectly fine, but to back out of the other every time they go wrong will actually ruin you. If you simply avoid friendships because you’ve been hurt by one or a particular friendship has gotten serious and extremely-personal things have to be shared, then you’re never actually going to grow as a person. It’s like reading a novel up to the point where things get dangerous for the characters, then moving on to an entirely new novel; you’ll never know how each story ends, let alone how they got through the dangerous stuff. And those are the parts of the story that you truly remember.

Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” Contextually speaking, yeah, the author’s probably talking about money. But in light of what God’s been teaching me and what Scott talked about this morning, can you see how this might apply to the relational investments you’ve made? I’ve certainly been refreshed by the friends I’ve talked to over the past few days – just by talking to them. They did nothing more than pick up the phone when I called them and yet that somehow cheered me up. Can you imagine what would happen if I spent more time with my church outside of Sunday morning? Can you imagine if we got dinners or watched movies or simply hung out together? Relationships can hurt you, I know. But relationships can also heal you. Especially the Christ-based relationships.

Scott has talked a lot about our decision-making processes that revolve largely around some form of security: job, financial (sort of the same thing, but it can be different), social (only hanging out with people who make you feel comfortable), or even geographical. What I feel God has challenged me with this morning is to find the areas of my friendships where I’m relying on a safety net. And once I’ve found those various safety nets, just cut them. An example might be when I’m with a friend who’s proven himself trustworthy, but for some reason I haven’t talked about my worst struggles or fears; God would want me to talk about those things. God wants that safety net gone.

As I said earlier, with financial investments, cutting your losses and moving on is oftentimes needed. But it cannot be the default mode we have when things get tough with our friendships – especially with church friendships. Like Scott said this morning, the church should be the place people turn to in order to deal with whatever thing they have going on; not the place they run from. We can do our part by not running from our friends to ignore our problems; oftentimes, our friends are the very ones we need.

If 401ks are all about saving money for when you retire, then relational 401ks should be all about building friendships for when you need them most – and when they need you, too. But instead of 3%, invest 100%, even if you get nothing out of it – as loving your neighbor as yourself implies.

God bless.

Being Single Through Wedding Season…

I’ve never had a real girlfriend. Back in middle school there were a couple girls I “dated,” but let’s be honest; holding hands once or twice in a matter of five days isn’t really dating. Then in high school there was a girl I had “dated,” but there again, we only saw each other twice in the 6 days we were dating. And then she dumped me in a note during lunch.

For a single guy like me who struggles with how to even approach women, wedding season is pretty rough. Each newly-wed couple seems to have it all together; it just seems so easy for them to make things work. Sure, appearances aren’t everything. But they somehow got to the altar in the first place, didn’t they? They must be doing something right.

It frustrates me that I don’t know what that “something” is. Is it money? A six-pack? A bribe with lots and lots candy? I have no clue. In my world, it seems like every married man has some sort of secret knowledge that I don’t; like there’s some sort of code that I was supposed to learn in the fifth grade but didn’t because I was too busy playing with Legos. And every time I try to figure it out only leads to more and more frustration.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy for all my friends who’ve recently gotten married (eight couples that I can think of this year, so far). But each time another couple of friends get married I can’t help but wonder why I’m still single. It often feels like I’m doing something wrong.

When I start to feel that I’m doing something wrong, I either give up altogether and try to live the single life permanently or I start to feel sorry for myself and believe that I’m not meant for marriage. Neither of these is a good attitude to have. No, I’m not saying living the single life is a bad thing; I’m saying that allowing yourself to be controlled by your frustration and/or depression is a bad thing. And unfortunately, I often struggle with both.

In First Corinthians 7, Paul actually does say that it is better not to marry – not to say it’s a sin to marry, but to say that one’s worries and concerns are far fewer unmarried than married. And I would love to buy into Paul’s words except one thing: I want a wife.

I want to hold her hand when we walk; I want to snuggle up together on cold nights; and I want to show her my two left feet on the dance floor. I want to laugh with her, cry with her, pray with her, and seek God with her. I want a wife not simply for the purpose of not being alone, but for the purpose of experience life intimately with a girl. I want to see what a walk with God looks like through her eyes.

I’ve expressed this before (and apparently can’t express it enough), but I don’t like to write these sorts of posts because it usually leads to the same thing: People disregarding what I have to say here and simply encourage me with sayings like “You’ll find her some day, buddy” or somebody tries to set me up with one of their friends. If I wanted that stuff, I’d join an online dating site. But I don’t want any of this to be manufactured; I want to meet her when and how God wants me to. No sooner. No later.

In the meantime, though, I’m left to find a way to press on through the wedding seasons. It isn’t so easy with all of what I want mixing with all of what I don’t know about relationships. That is, of course, if I don’t pay attention to the weddings I attend.

With how different one wedding can be from another, there is still at least one commonality: A deep, unspoken friendship between the bride and groom. Every man or woman I know who has gotten hitched this year has had such an intimate, quirky friendship with their spouse. This friendship doesn’t make them any less of themselves than what they were when they were single, but rather more of themselves. Some way, somehow, their spouse brings out every small thing that identifies them as them. For instance, Kevin VanLoo just married Kara Meeuwsen (now VanLoo) yesterday. Kevin has always been a goof ball, but when he’s around Kara, he’s even more of a goofball. And she loves him for it.

He’s also been every bit of a Godly man and, just like his goofiness, even more so when Kara’s around. Spouses aren’t meant for us to stay the same, but, by pursuing God together, make us into the best possible versions of ourselves.

For a single guy like me, all I can do at this point is sigh and continue to pursue God. Most importantly, though, I must pursue God as myself – not faking any part of it, but seeking to improve every part of it. If I’m to find a wife worthy of a life-long relationship, I’m going to want her to fall in love with who I really am, not who I pretend to be.

Congratulations to all those who have gotten married or are getting married this wedding season!

And for those single men and women like me: Press on to know the Lord!

God bless.

Jesus: A Relationship in Progress…

Last Monday was a great day. It was sunny, I got to ride my bike to work, and when you breathed in through your nose, you could sense that spring had actually arrived. Of course, the next day was met with sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, and a new bottle of Zyrtec, but hey, Monday was cool.

Spring often leaves me feeling rather nostalgic. Two years ago I wrote a post about how this season is a sort of mile marker for my faith. In it I talked about how, during my freshman year of college, I had finally come to see Jesus as a person – a person with whom I could have a relationship. What has changed since that post isn’t Jesus’ relational aspect, but rather my commitment to that relationship.

As I quickly found out after graduating last spring, my relationship with Jesus was much easier in college. It was much easier to get some daily reading in. It was much easier to meet up with some friends for church. And it was much easier to pray on a regular basis. I was only working two or three days a week and school had only taken up a couple hours of my time each day. With several Christian roommates and a lot of free time, it was much easier for me to dive into Scripture, or pray, or worship, or whatever else God led me to. Since I’ve been out, though, I’ve really had to work.

What I mean by that is, like most meaningful relationships, you really have to work at it to make it the best it could be. With Jesus, you really have to go out of your own way to meet with Him. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve only had a few moments where this actually happened. Monday and Tuesday of last week were really good, but ever since it’s been a strain. Praying with Jesus and actually focusing on what I was praying about and why has been difficult. Why? Because my responsibilities around the apartment, with my two jobs, and with my finances often interrupt my time with God. Not to say responsibilities are evil (though they often feel like it); but to say that in order for any relationship with God to be meaningful, to have an impact, He must be our primary focus. Everything else must fall in line after Him.

I say all this because I haven’t approached my day-to-day with Him as my focus. Sure, I’ve had plenty of days where He was, but I think I’ve had more days where He wasn’t. I try to blame it on work, chores, and whatever else I can, but the bottom line is there is a responsibility that comes with a relationship with God. And it’s one that I haven’t fought for.

As I’ve said, it was much easier in college to surround myself with Christian friends, Bible study groups, and fellowship. With work, however, I find very few Christian friends, little time for church or Bible studies, and hardly any time at all for fellowship outings. And honestly, it sucks. Sure, I love my coworkers, work can be fun, and nights alone are often needed. But as I’ve written about recently, fellowship with Jesus freaks is essential for one’s spiritual growth and, most importantly, with one’s own relationship with Him.

This spring, as I see it now, might bring fewer working hours and hopefully more time to invest in a church body. In the mean time, what I hope to focus on is my own time with God. It might mean getting up a little earlier every morning to read and pray. It might mean hanging out with my Christian friends even when I’m completely exhausted. And it might even mean accepting fewer hours of work each week. Relationships (with our friends, spouses, future spouses) require certain sacrifices. Why should we ever think that it’d be any different with God?

If success is defined by something beyond financial well-being, then why should we work so hard for it unnecessarily? Instead, perhaps we ought to use that energy toward an authentic relationship with God.

God bless.

Being Un-Plugged…

This is by far the longest I’ve gone without Facebook and Twitter. For the most part I’m loving life: I’m not glued to my phone checking Tweets and status updates, I have a ton of free time that I don’t know what to do with, and I’m getting a lot more reading done. One other thing that came to mind just the other day, though, is a major challenge that the absence of social networking sites presents.

As those of you who know me are aware, I’m not the most outgoing person. I can be candid and energetic at times, but more often than not I’m the quiet kid in any given group. A couple years ago became an actual problem; I was too distant. Whenever I’d be with a group of close friends, I’d find ways not to participate in conversations. Sometimes I’d open a book and start reading even though I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was reading. My most common move was to find somewhere off to the side, out of the way (and out of eyesight of most people), and sit there to browse Facebook. Even though I’d be surrounded by close friends, I was still seeking the attention of Facebook friends.

Being real with someone – talking about deep, serious stuff – is so easy online. You can edit what you say before you post, you don’t have to face the disgusted reactions of others if you happen to write something stupid, and you don’t even have to leave home. It’s safe. It’s convenient. But, as I’ve recently found, it’s lacking.

My lonely feelings of late are probably mostly due to the fact that I’m not involved with any church. But they’re also partially due to the fact that I received most of my social interactions via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Once those platforms were removed, I now have to do something that I don’t like doing: work. I have to go out of my way to call up friends to hang out. I have to inconvenience myself just to get any kind of social exercise with friends or family. I can’t hide behind my computer screen anymore; I have to send my friend requests face to face.

My lazy side is not looking forward to this. It means more time away from my books, my journals, my blog, or whatever else I like doing, and more scheduling my days just to meet with other people. But I think the long-term benefits are going to far outweigh the upfront costs. It’s like my trip to Cost Co. tonight: I spent $139, but (if I stick to my schedule) I won’t have to spend a dime for a month – maybe even two months.

My point is this: Lent, which is what started this Facebook/Twitter vacation, is not just about giving up something; it’s about meeting with people. It’s about investing in God’s kingdom, His body, His church. It’s about going through the nitty-gritty stuff like heart-to-heart conversations or face-to-face confrontations. It’s about learning how to mend previously broken or damaged relationships and friendships without any mediator. It’s about learning how to tell a girl – in your own words, with your own voice – that you love her.

On second thought, Lent is about giving up something. Not Facebook or Twitter. Not alcohol or tobacco. Not movies or TV. Not coffee or soda. Not cookies or cake. Not burritos or burgers. Lent is a focus on the heart of Christianity. Christ demanded that we give up our selves – that we deny “me.” And you give up your self when you serve someone else. Once you’ve done that, then you’ll find out what specific thing you need to sacrifice.

God bless.

Beir Stein & Relationships…

“If I could define the Christian faith in one word, it’d be ‘relationship.’”

Tonight was Beir Stein night. It’s a night where a group of Christian guys get together at the Beir Stein over on 11th and just talk about life. I’ve been only a handful of times before, so I’m by no means a regular. But I’m very grateful I went tonight.

It was a very small group of guys compared to the dozen or so that I was used to seeing; just me, Reid Harrison, Andrew Maphet, Winston Arblaster, and Peter Fones. The first two are former roommates; Winston is a friend from CCF; and Peter is an Episcopalian priest who I met tonight. We talked a little bit about Rob Bell, a little bit about bag pipes, and a lot about what it means to follow Jesus.

Maphet and I are kind of in a similar boat; glad that God has given us jobs that provide, but would prefer a job that we actually love instead of dread. So when Andrew asked Rev. Peter a question about what to do when you’re trying to figure out God’s plan, I couldn’t help but listen to his response. It’s the same question that has been rattling around my mind for a little while, like I talked about last time. Tonight’s direction, however, added something to it all.

He asked Andrew if he had a job that provided for him, that paid rent and yet allowed him to do the things he wanted to do in his spare time. I thought of the $324 paycheck I just deposited this morning from working at Putters. Andrew said yes, that’s exactly what he has and Peter replied, “Well, what’s the problem?”

He went on to explain that while Jesus did in fact call the 12 Apostles to an entirely different vocation than they were previously working before, He didn’t ask too many others to completely change their jobs, but rather, in some ways, to redefine those jobs that they already had. As quoted above, Peter said it’s really all about relationship; getting together like we were at Beir Stein and building a community, a fellowship of relationships that talks about God, faith, prayer, and life together. Understanding that it was groups like our table of five that propelled much of the early church forward, I suddenly felt very relaxed about where I am.

Two main things that I gleaned from tonight’s mini-sermon were: 1. Church isn’t about a building but rather a group of people and 2. Our life’s purpose is based off of the relationships we build with others. As I walked back to my car after shaking hands with Peter, I realized that our faith, our movement of following Jesus, is truly built on relationships. And I realized that if I want to know what tomorrow holds, I need only to look to the people around me and how I relate to them.

Last week I was talking with a Starbucks friend who told me that she was done with church. I asked her why and the answer I received was that mostly, it made her feel very uncomfortable. We didn’t spend much time talking about it, but afterward I tried to understand how someone new to the whole deal of Christianity might handle Sunday mornings and sitting through a service. Would they feel accepted? Would they feel as though they were being treated like a regular human being with thoughts, emotions, and beliefs of their own? Or would it be something cheesy – something so casual that it was lacking substance?

Sadly, I’d have to say that it has become or is becoming a place where people feel disconnected. With our trendy songs, trendy books, and trendy clothes, we indirectly communicate to newer people that in order to be accepted into the group you have to conform to every last detail that’s already present in the church. You have to clap when we clap, stand when we stand, pray when we pray, etc., etc., etc. Sure, it may not be exactly like this for every church on Sunday morning or in this exact pattern, but to someone who is seeking substance, someone who longs for transparency, it might be hard not to see it this way.

What I asked Peter later in the conversation, after the other guys had left, was about ministry and how one becomes a pastor. Granted, it’s different for Episcopalians, he admitted, but to some degree there’s a period of discernment – a season of testing various options and really sifting through all the noise that is America to decide what works for our own lives. I asked him this question because it’s been on my heart to enter into ministry – to possibly become a pastor. He told me that instead of asking the question, live it out for a while. See what’s there within that question and see where God takes it.

If the one word that describes the Christian faith is relationship, then that means community is crucial. If becoming a pastor means being on the leadership end of these relationships, then fellowship is even more crucial. The bottom line from tonight is that in order to find out what tomorrow holds I ought to invest my time in getting to know the people around me today. And no, it’s not merely showing up every Sunday morning to follow along with the synchronized clapping and the matching clothes. It’s about being real with people, letting them get to know me, and trying to get to know them.

Not everyone is going to like church, but maybe they’ll like families. Many of the earliest churches were house churches that didn’t have the stadium seating or the stage lights like the bigger ones we have now. Granted, they didn’t even have electricity back then, but you see my point: It’s not about how a church looks; it’s about how a church relates.

If this post seems scattered, it’s because it is. So many things flooded my mind tonight on my drive home from the Stein that it’s difficult to piece it all together. But I think I got down the main points: that the people around me are central to my life because they help challenge, strengthen, and deepen my faith and yet they’re central to my life when I want to figure out my life’s purpose. Community, fellowship, and what God has planned for each of us are all intertwined, I think. If we can’t figure out what we’re supposed to do with our lives, then maybe we ought to fellowship (worship, pray, read Scripture, teach, learn, etc.) with each other. It takes one thing: you.

Relational Relevance

I have the bad tendency of avoiding people I know or recognize that I pass while walking through campus. Typically, I use my phone as a hiding place. It was bad when I had a normal flip phone and could only receive and send texts and make phone calls. But now it’s especially bad since I have a Blackberry. I mean, the phone is awesome and quite helpful and I doubt it’s the phone’s fault for providing me with something to hide behind (though sometimes I yell at it as if it were the cause). But it’s made me wonder if there’s something wrong with our usage of technology. All the iPods and various phones that can do about anything except turn into a light saber (I hope they’re close though) are great innovations for improving communication and making information more available and easier to attain. But they can draw us away from being personal.

Yesterday I sat down for coffee with a hometown friend and we talked a lot about religion and Jesus and America and how different they are from one another. One of the things we talked about was how quick we are to stick to our own individual selves, where we pretend to be texting a friend or changing a song on our iPods when we see someone we don’t necessarily want to talk to. It’s not like we should stop and talk for hours on end with each person we see, but at the very least I think it wouldn’t hurt anyone to just say “Hello.”

The more I read through the Scriptures, I can’t help but realize how personal Jesus was during His ministry. He ate dinner with all kinds of people and would probably see hundreds of people He had met or healed on a daily basis. Though there aren’t many instances where we see it in Scripture, I have to believe that He would at least say “Hello” to the people He recognized, and mean it. He couldn’t bust out His Blackberry or His iPhone at the last second and check His fantasy baseball stats just because He wanted to avoid talking to a former leper or another Pharisee; He wanted to talk to people, face to face.

My hometown friend and I tried to imagine what the Apostles would think of us if they could somehow jump forward in time to 2010. Peter would probably pee his loincloth at the mere sight of a bus; Paul might say, “I wish I had this” when he’d learn about emails; and John might think to himself, “Um…This is totally not what was revealed to me.” The life that they were used to back then, the seemingly “primitive” lifestyle, has almost completely evaporated in America (don’t forget the Amish paradise). And I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing, but I do think there are limitations to how much time we spend watching TV, browsing Facebook because we’re bored, or zoned out to our music.

I say all this while listening to “Slow Ride” on my iTunes and checking the various status updates on Facebook from my phone. It isn’t easy to disconnect and it’s especially not necessary to disconnect entirely. But there has to be a balance. How else would we show people who Jesus is? By changing our status to some doctrinal statement and using a Bible verse to back it up? By writing on peoples’ walls “Jesus loves you!” but not showing it through our actions? No, I think the Bible is pretty clear on how to reveal Jesus: in person.

Donald Miller says that the greatest trick of the Devil is to get us into some kind of spiritual stagnation where we’re disengaged from God (and subsequently each other). Sure, Don was talking about rituals and mindless habits, but I think it’s easily applicable to our dependence on technology. There are many great tools that can be very helpful for many things; I would hate to have to write out the almost 500 pages of my journal by hand. My life would be miserable. But when it comes to the point where we would rather spend our free time playing online games or watching TV episodes aired on the internet or browsing the web for odd things like how to make ants explode instead of meeting up with others for coffee, lunch, dinner, a brew, or just to hang out, I think we miss out on something Jesus wants to enjoy: people.

There is no doubt in my mind that we could use movies, TV shows, or YouTube videos with exploding ants to bring some people together, and that’s good. But we could also do those very same things without being glued to technology. It seems to me that if TV and internet were to stop for just a day, people might lose their minds. We’ve become so familiar with the technological world that we’ve almost forgotten how to function around regular human beings.

Last night I was hanging out at Starbucks just reading. The girls at the table next to me were talking about one of the girls’ boyfriends and how they were having a fight. From the bits and pieces of what I overheard, I thought the boyfriend just didn’t want to talk to her. But when I glanced over, the girlfriend was texting the boyfriend; they were having a fight via text messages. Instead of calling each other and talking as regular human beings, and not having the ability to edit what we say, they were using technology to sort of hide themselves. The girl would ask her friend what she should say instead of just saying it. And when I put my books away to walk back to my car, I suddenly thought of how much I do that.

Text messaging is fun and sometimes convenient, like when you’re in the library (or at church…I know…I’m evil), but we sometimes get carried away with it and end up only depriving ourselves of an enjoyable experience. Jesus was relationally relevant not just because He taught about God and living out the commandment of love, but because He lived it as well. He met people where they were at instead of sending letters to them or smoke signals (hey, He was God; it could have happened). He knocked on peoples’ doors, asked if He could join them for a meal, and shared the gospel by merely being there. I’m just as guilty as anybody in leaning heavily upon my cell phone or my computer to communicate. But that’s just it; I’ve been down that road and know that it isn’t all of what it’s cracked up to be. Cell phones and computers are awesome and helpful, but they aren’t fulfilling. My pain, joy, anger, sorrow, peace, and turmoil is all felt much more deeply when I’m pouring out my heart in person than through an email or a text. And I feel all these emotions more deeply when my friends share it in person as well.

The main thing I’m getting at through all this is we were made to be relationally relevant to our culture and society. Sometimes that means knowing how to operate with the technological world, yes, but I think most of the time Jesus wants us to be able to operate as humans around other humans. Oftentimes it’s tough, uncomfortable, and maybe even a little fearful. But at the end of the day, when I’ve shared my heart with somebody face to face, I feel much more alive, much more real. And in hindsight, opening my heart more and more to people makes it so much easier to open my heart to God. Relationships are just flat out healthy for the soul.