Friday, July 11, 2014

Soundbite Theology in the Twittersphere #mylovehaterelationship

If you can't tweet it, don't say it. Because no one is listening. And if you want to be heard, you'd better say it on social media. Like it or not, we've entered a new era dominated by a group of Internet-based applications that enable the creation and exchange of user-generated content. And isn't that both the beauty and the tragedy of it all at once? Anyone and everyone can be heard. And any content holds the potential to go viral.

I'm not adding another voice to the chorus bashing Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc. In and of themselves, they're just tools for online interaction and information-sharingwith a little censorious bias thrown in here and there, albeit (which I've experience firsthand, btw). But, generally-speaking, it's all a matter of stewardship. And God can use social media to spread the gospel just like He can any other tool, electronic or otherwise. Simply put, social media can be used for good or evil. Hence my love/hate relationship with the way Christians use it.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov 18:21). And the tongue, when given a virtual mouthpiece, now has more far-reaching impact that ever before. The power of social media can be harnessed to spread the Word of God across the world with never-before-seen speed and magnitude. Formerly unreached people groups are now being reached with the gospel as a result of social media. But, false teaching is being disseminated widely online too. 

As stewards of God's Word, we are urged to watch our lives and our doctrine closely, persevering in them, in order to save both ourselves and our hearers (1 Tim 4:16). Social media is a big part of our lives, and how we handle it as Christians is crucial. The world is watching. 

Because biblical living is counter-cultural, using social media in a godly way is to swim against the tide. In our all-about-me culture, social media is dominated by narcissistic content that places the self at the center of everything. It's tempting to join in with the trending stream of self-promoting humblebrags that dominate our newsfeed. But as Christians on social media, we shouldn't conform to this worldly pattern of behavior, seeking instead to place Christ at our virtual center. Our presence on social media should reflect a sincere humility and love of Christ. At the very least, our faith in Him should be consistent with any content that we're putting out there. (This may sound like I'm stating the obvious, but the truth is, worldly culture is seeping into our churches and our presence on social media is certainly reflecting the impact of this).

This doesn't mean we need to be legalistic about tweeting only bible verses or sticking to exclusively "Christian" content. It doesn't mean we can't post a cute pic of our kid's first day at school or tweet about non-spiritual topics. It's more about having discernment. Rather than being sanctimonious about it, we simply need to live out our faith authentically in all areas of our lives, both on and off social media.

But it's hard to stay grounded in a fast-paced, over-stimulated culture in which our time is short and our attention-span, shorter. Our society is undergoing an A.D.D. epidemic in which the attention-span of the collective consciousness is shrinking by the second. If you can't tweet it in 140 characters or less, if it doesn't fit into a peppy soundbite, if doesn't download in a matter of seconds, it isn't worth our time.

And the same symptoms are affecting the spiritual health of Christianity in America. Today, many Christians, overwhelmed by life's frantic pace, are turning to quick-fix spirituality—or as I also like to refer to it, cotton candy for the soul. And for many of those in pursuit of the quick-fix, there's no time for discernment; if it sounds right, it probably is right. If a well-known pastor tweeted it, it's gospel. If a bestselling self-help author posted it, it's gotta be enlightened. If the word love is thrown in there enough times, then it must be loving. Inner truth? I'm sure that's in the Bible somewhere...No time to look it up on BibleGateway though.

Quick-fix spirituality provides people with feel-good moments inspired by nuggets of self-help wisdom and pithy pep talks: Don't feel down about yourself! You're beautiful! You're great! Tweets like these cater to human feelings first in an attempt to cheer everyone up. But in doing so, they center people back on themselves, not on Christmissing the fact that His love for each of us is actually the good news!

It certainly seems that the time is upon us when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3).

The short attention-span of the over-scheduled populous has given rise to what I've begun to call "soundbite theology." Pastors are increasingly using soundbites in their sermons for impact. Christian writers, filmmakers, and leaders, competing for the spotlight in an information-saturated world, often use soundbites to grab the waning attention of the over-stimulated masses. And understandably so.

The Twittersphere, for example, is dotted with millions of theological soundbites. Indeed, the very nature of Twitter necessitates concise word-usage. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, it can encourage us to boil things down, to get to the crux of the matter. On the other hand, it can lead us to be lazy-minded and spiritually shallow, satisfied with spiritual tidbits alone. But spiritual tidbits are rarely capable of doing justice to the depth and fullness of God's Word. Often, therefore, soundbite theology can leave us hanging...

Here are just a few tweets I read today from very prominent, well-known Christian leaders in America:

"Maybe it’s been years. You tried and it didn’t work out. It is time to start dreaming again. Get your hopes up." Hope in what?

"No obstacle is too big for you, no dream too great. You have the greatest force in the universe on the inside." —Force of what?

"Stay the course. Keep believing. You may be tired, discouraged and tempted to be frustrated, but don’t give up on your future." Believing in what?

"God sees you with unlimited possibility. Don’t limit him with your doubt!" —We have the power to limit God??

This random selection of tweets exemplifies the ambiguity of bad soundbite theology. Ultimately, the reader will decide what they mean, and there's plenty of room for error. None of them refer us back to Scripture. All of them center on the self, and distract us from Christ.

Rather than reducing our faith to a slew of superficial slogans, then, good soundbite theology should not only grab our attention, but should challenge us to both grow in our faith and go deeper into God's Word. We should handle soundbite theology much like we should the Proverbs of Solomon. Proverbs can stand on their own as nuggets of wisdom, but they are much better read in context and in light of other Scripture. Soundbite theology should be a teaser, inspiring people to contemplate the deeper biblical meaning that lies beneath.

Praise God that there are a lot of very good, biblically-sound tweets out there in the Twittersphere! Here are some good ones I saw today:

C. S. Lewis @CSLewisDaily
“The #Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”  ― #CSLewis

John Piper @JohnPiper
“The immeasurable power of God toward those who believe.” Shown how? They believe. It is impossible with man. (Matt. 19:26)

Lee Strobel ‏@LeeStrobel
Our little time of suffering is not worthy of our first night's welcome home to Heaven. - Samuel Rutherford 

Dr. Wayne Detzler ‏@profdetz
The Doctrines of Grace. Salvation is by God's grace alone, not my fickle fumbling efforts, expectation, or endurance. (Titus 3:5)

Kevin DeYoung @RevKevDeYoung
The devil doesn’t want to make things spooky as much as he wants to make you forget about Christ. 

The fact is, we can't avoid it: soundbite theology is here to stay. The more Christians who are committed to using social media to glorify God, the better! Let's saturate social media with content that points us to Christ!

Speaking of which, don't forget to share our posts on Facebook and follow us on Twitter! @faithactually :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

More of Him, Less of Me

A few years ago, shortly after the birth of my second child, the following words of the Apostle John struck me with renewed impact: "He must become greater; I must become less." (John 3:30).

The Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Heb 4:12). Sometimes, hearing a familiar verse we may have already heard many times can impact us unexpectedly with more clarity and power than ever before.

This was the case for me one day when I was in the midst of struggling with what I've come to look back on as my most difficult year so far as a parent. The transition from a one-child to a two-child family is a uniquely challenging time that many mothers (and fathers) can relate to. Juggling the pressing needs of both a toddler and an infant at the same timeespecially for the first timeis no small feat!

And it seemed like I was floundering through every minute of every day, each of which I counted down frantically until my husband came home. What made it all the more challenging was that my new baby was a constant, inconsolable screamer. I remember a sympathetic friend saying to me once, "Oh, I am so sorry..." when she encountered the nails-on-a-blackboard screeching noise that was erupting from the little red face in my arms. I found it so hard that sometimes, out of desperation, I would put both the kids in the car and drive around aimlessly with ear plugs in! (In fact, they were industrial-grade ear protection muffs that I had found in the garage). I remember my husband calling me one time, when I was out on one of these destination-less drives, complaining that he was battling rush hour traffic in the rain and he'd be late. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I found myself  screaming down the phone above the child-generated cacophony, "Well, I'm driving around in rush hour traffic in the rain BY CHOICE, because ANYTHING is better than being at home right now!!!!"

In fact, there is much of that year that I can't even remember. Maybe, I had found it so traumatic that I've actually blocked it out! So much so that when I had my third baby recently, I realized that I was leaning on all my experience from my first infant because I couldn't hardly remember anything about my time with the second!

But it was during this time that God blessed me with what have become life-changing words for me. The phrase, "More of Him, less of me," started surfacing in my mind with increasing frequency and impact during that year. Sometimes, when I felt like I was suffocating, I would take a moment to breath in, praying, more of You, and breath out, less of me. It was a short, but profoundly calming prayer in the midst of the chaos.

John 3:30 has since become a "life verse" for me. I love it because it keeps my eyes fixed on Him (and not so much on myself). It shows me that where I am weak, He is strong. When I am empty, He fills me up. It reminds me that God doesn't need me to do anything for Him (because He's God!), but He allows me to enjoy the privilege of serving Him and He equips me to do His work. It reminds me that my identity needs to be in Him, not in my self-image or in how the world see me. He repeatedly shows me that the more I die to myself, the more I truly live in Him, for to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil 1:21). And the more I let go of control, the more freedom I actually have in Him.

The concept of seeking to honor and glorify God as opposed to seeking self-advancement, or self-truth, is counter-cultural and goes against the grain of human nature. Society will tell us to "put ourselves first," and that "we deserve the best life has to offer." We'll often hear that we are slaves to religious dogma and prisoners to our restrictive Christian beliefs. And our hearts may tell us to please ourselves, and disregard God's Word. But the human heart is deceitful above all things (Jer 17:9). And this temporal world that has rejected Christ will one day be gone. To die to self is to set our hearts and minds on what is eternal.

Jesus spoke repeatedly to His disciples about taking up their cross (a symbol of self-sacrifice) and following Him. He made it clear that if anyone would follow Him, they must deny themselves, which means surrendering their lives—spiritually, symbolically, and even physically, if necessary. He taught that those who would give up their life for His sake would find eternal life, but those who would cling onto their life would lose it (Matthew 16:24–25; Mark 8:34–35). Indeed, Jesus even went so far as to say that those who are unwilling to sacrifice their lives for Him cannot be His disciples (Luke 14:27).

That first year of my second daughter's life was a time of  struggle that brought me closer to God. The trials of this life can bring us closer to Him because they remind us of our dependence on Him. Understanding our true dependence on Him helps us die to self. We are encouraged, therefore, even to rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Rom 5:3-5).  And it is Christ who the source of our hope.

And so, it is in the midst of emotional turmoil and overwhelming trials that we can truly experience the peace that passes understanding, for such peace makes no logical sense and transcends our circumstances. It interrupts our frenzied thoughts. In our moments of weakness and desperation, God's strength can be powerfully realized. These experiences show us that we can truly do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil 4:12-14). These experiences humble us.

To me, the desire for, "more of Him, less of me," encapsulates the gospel, indicating that while I have a problem (a sinful heart), He has the solution (Christ). It is a good way to remember that "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20).

...And despite a bit of a rough start, by the way, our second daughter has blossomed into a sweet, loving child!