Friday, May 1, 2015

The Problem with Facebook

I wonder sometimes what Facebook is doing to us. Or rather, if our engagement in social media is changing who we are and how we live life. Because actually, Facebook is a passive tool. We are not victims, but actors. So let's own our part.

I've recently seen some articles and videos about the discrepancy between what people post on Facebook and the reality of their experience. Facebook, for most of us, is a snapshot of life, whether in words or photos. And whether taking a portrait or a candid photo, we typically try to look good. And so I'm not sure why anyone is surprised that most Facebook posts are, well, cheesy. We're mugging for the camera, so to speak.

But there are also those who use social media as a platform for complaint. Rather than putting their best face forward, they indiscriminately post verbal vomit for the world to read. Still, this is a choice. This is the face that are choosing to reveal.

The problem is not whether or not we can take Facebook posts at face value. We can, for the most part. The problem is when we believe that Facebook tells the whole story--both ours and theirs. Because it doesn't. And actually, it shouldn't. I have Facebook friends that I've never actually met in real life, and sharing my life at any depth in that venue would be at the least inappropriate and at the most dangerous.

So while I love Facebook for quick updates on who is going where, and what they ate, and who has a birthday, and who's kids won what prizes, and who got a new job, and who knit a new sweater, and all those other little snippets...I don't look at Facebook as a basis for real relationship.

I may be able to read a prayer request on Facebook, but I can't lay my hands on your head and pray for you.

I may be able to smile at your funny experience on Facebook, but I can't share a belly-laugh with you.

I may be able to appreciate your amazing vacation, but I can't hear the enthusiasm in your voice.

I may be able to join your cause on Facebook, but I can't see the passion in your eyes.

Facebook is like reading a menu. Real life relationships are like eating a meal.

And the problem is not with WHAT people post on Facebook. It doesn't matter if the description in a menu is flowery and detailed or blunt and to the point. Reading the menu can't satisfy our hunger. The problem is believing that our hunger for relationship can or should be satisfied by a menu.

We need to be living out real lives in community with other people. We need to hear each other's voices, see the tears in each other's eyes, and we need to touch each other. We need to laugh together in person, we need to eat meals around the same table, we need to walk through the same fields. If Facebook is your main source of community, then I hate to tell you, but you don't have a community.

Our brains and bodies were created for connection with other human beings. This isn't just psychology, it's biology. In their book A General Theory of Love, the authors (all of whom are medical doctors) talk about the fact that humans are not able to live solitary lives, that we actually need the physical presence of other human beings in order to be stable. They write that "people cannot be stable on their own. Not should or shoudn't be, but can't be....Total self-sufficiency turns out to be a daydream whose bubble is burst by the sharp edge of the limbic brain. Stability means finding people who regulate you well and staying near to them" (86).

I think we need to stop fretting over the "accuracy" or "transparency"of  Facebook posts. What we need to think about is staying near to the people who regulate us well!

The menu can never take the place of the meal. Let Facebook be what it is. Glance through it if you like, post a comment or two. Then shut down your computer, turn off the iPad, silence the SmartPhone, and meet a friend for coffee. Take a walk with a neighbor. Pray with a family member. Give yourself fully to the people in your midst, rather than constantly being divided between electronic connections and real ones.

We are losing something of life because we settle for reading the menu of friendship instead of feasting on the real thing. Don't blame Facebook. There is a "log out" button.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Birthday to Remember

Wednesday was Chandler's 18th Birthday, and I wanted it to be special!

I wanted it to be special because I have such special memories of my own 18th Birthday. When I turned 18 I asked my parents for a new Bible. They took me out to dinner at Benihana's where they presented me with a lovely new Bible. And then they handed me another gift. Much to my surprise, my parents gave me pair of real diamond earrings. I was stunned by the beauty and extravagance of the gift. I still have my diamond earrings and I wear them often. I don't remember many birthdays, but I will always remember that one.

So with Chanlder's 18th Birthday fast approaching, I was eager to figure out how I could make it a day to remember. We had purchased him a nice wallet as a gift and I had planned all of his favorite meals, but it just didn't seem, well, special enough. And with David out of town, I would be the only guest at the party. I just knew it would be a flop. And I was so sad.

At prayer that morning, we prayed that God would especially bless Chandler on his birthday. Still, I didn't know how to make that happen. After prayer a friend asked what we were going to do to celebrate. As 18 is the legal drinking age in France, I mentioned that I was cooking a special dinner and that Chandler has requested a shot of whiskey to celebrate. He had tried whiskey when touring the Jameson Distillery in Ireland a few years ago, and he had taken a liking to it. So my friend suggested that a few of us go out to a local bar and toast Chandler for his 18th Birthday. I was thrilled at the idea, and a plan was set in motion.

At 8:30 pm we gathered at The Caravage. There were ten of us all together, aged 16 to 70. Some brought gifts. All brought love. And Chandler was completely in his element.

The waiter brought the whiskey list, insisting that the Japanese whiskey was the best. Chandler took his advice--and ordered a glass. The smile on his face says it all. We sat outdoors, chatting and sipping drinks until the sun went down. Deeply content, we kissed everyone goodnight, said our farewells, and began to walk back home. And that was when the magic happened.

As we walked over cobblestone streets, we began to see lights floating up into the air. Up in the royal part of the medieval city, hundreds of laterns were being released. As they danced across the velvet sky, Chandler marveled and I held back tears. I had done nothing great to make his birthday special, but God surprised us all with diamonds in the sky.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I am the Lame Man

I have been Miriam, leading the people of God in the praises of the Most High. I have danced and sung before the Lord with the abandon of David. I have been stunned and silenced like Isaiah. 

I have been Peter, impetuous but sincere in my devotion to Jesus. I have jumped out of the boat just to be near to him. I have preached with the conviction of Paul, passionate to proclaim freedom to prisoners. I have been John the Beloved, convinced beyond a doubt of my Savior's love for me.

I have been the father of the mute boy, wavering in my faith but desperate in my need. I have thirsted after living water with the woman at the well, longing for someone to just tell me who I am. I have been the bleeding woman, desperately reaching to touch the hem of His garment.

I have been Mary, breaking my vase of expensive perfume to show my Lord how deeply I love him. I have been raised from death and breathed life anew like Lazarus. I have been the man born blind, given sight so that the work of God might be revealed through me.

But today I am the lame man, broken and helpless. Dead weight on my mat, my friends are carrying me. I am the burden that others are bearing, the one who needs healing but is helpless to seek it out for myself. My friends climb the stairs to the roof, dirty their hands to make a way for me draw near to Jesus. They gain nothing for themselves, but by their acts of love, I am brought to the feet of the healer. And there I find hope. 

There are times when I resist such tender expressions of kindness, not wanting to "impose" on friends. No one likes to be needy. And then there are times when I am painfully aware of the reality of my own neediness. I not only need healing, I need help getting to the healer. And so I lay back on my mat,  while tears of gratitude flow from my eyes for those who will bear my weight. 

And what is the first thing the healer says?

"Your sins are forgiven."

Yes. There before the crowd of strangers and in the intimacy of my dearest friends I am called out. The reality of my sickness revealed for what it really is, I am crippled inside and out. And yet, with those words, the burden is lighter. Yes, I feel better already. But I'm still lame. Awaiting the secondary healing that will serve as proof of the primary. In the Bible these two healings are just moments apart, but I find that is not how it always happens for me.

And so I rejoice. My sins are forgiven! 

And I wait for the healer's next move. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Personal Transformation

I'm taking a class on personal transformation right now, and I'm learning all sorts of interesting things about how the brain works and how different environments can either stimulate or inhibit change. There is great research available that can help Christian leaders create spaces and opportunities for spiritual formation. Of course, the main change agent for the believer is the Holy Spirit, and I am convinced that we cannot accomplish anything of significance apart from the work of the Lord. But that doesn’t mean that we should be apathetic either. Perhaps my main role is simply to be malleable--but even becoming a workable lump of clay requires some effort on the part of a human being.

In truth, I think that personal transformation requires 100% participation on my part and that it is 100% dependent on God’s work. This is why Paul wrote about running to get the prize and doing things mightily as unto the Lord. This is also why Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

But here’s the thing—we don’t have to worry about God keeping up his end of the bargain. If you belong to him, he IS at work in you. The question is, “Am I working for or against God’s work in my life?” And what I’m discovering is that if I am not intentionally, attentively, passionately working WITH God, I am inadvertently working against him. There is no middle ground.

I have heard some describe an emphasis on personal transformation as a type of self-obsessed navel-gazing. While it is true that formation requires introspection, self-awareness, and personal reflection, these things are means—not ends. Les Steele says, “Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the sake of others.” So the goal of spiritual formation is actually for the sake of others!  

Bible study, community service, evangelism, the sacraments, and church membership are all part of the spiritual formation process—these are tools that God uses to shape us into the likeness of Christ. But what surveys and studies show is that for many life-long Christians, these tools are not having the desired effect. We do all of these things because we know they are good things to do. And yet, after years of time invested in these efforts, we are little changed. The famous Christian psychologist, Larry Crab said, "I've been a follower of Christ for more than 50 years, and my testimony is that I'm disillusioned. What I have understood to be a distinctively Christ-centered, biblically informed approach to living does not seem to be transforming me the way I was encouraged to believe it would. I'm appalled, after all these years, at how untransformed I remain."

Can you relate?

And perhaps more importantly, are you okay with that? Did you come to Christ simply to escape the punishment of hell? Or did you come to Christ to experience new life? To be changed? To be transformed?

After almost two years of learning some new things about spiritual formation, and then with the things that I am learning though my class on personal transformation, I am so delighted to tell you that I have figured out some ways to join God in his work in my life, and I am being changed. The changes do not come quickly or cheaply, but they do come. I am no longer disillusioned, I am inspired.

The Spirit is doing a makeover on my life, and like a remodeling project, the beginning looked more like destruction than construction. And honestly, I’m still a bit of a mess. I wrestle with shame over the messes that keep getting uncovered in my life and relief that those things are finally getting the attention they need. It’s just not pretty. But I welcome the mess because I’ve caught a vision for Jesus is doing, and he has good plans.

Friends, if you have a similar experience I’d love to hear about how God has been transforming you. If you read this post and you find yourself spiritually stuck but longing for more, please share that as well. If you read my blog regularly, you’re always getting glimpses into God’s work on me! 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Confessions of a Failed Evangelist

I've been praying everyday for 10 months that the Lord would give me the privilege of seeing a person come to faith.

I don't have the gift of evangelism--that's a fact. But sometimes I let that fact become an excuse, and I stop looking for opportunities. What's worse is that I can start to ignore God's call and diminish God's work in my own life by convincing myself that I don't have to share my faith, because, you know, I'm not an evangelist. Then I remember that I don't have the gift of giving either, yet I'm still called to tithe.

Many of you know that David and I struggled with infertility, and that we consider our boys to be miracles. But during those years of waiting and praying for a child, we knew that there was something wrong! Why? Because when things are working right, when a husband and wife are both healthy, and when there are no efforts made to prevent pregnancy, then reproduction happens. And when it doesn't, it causes pain, suffering, and grief.

In the same way, disciples of Jesus are meant to reproduce. It should be a natural outgrowth of a healthy and maturing faith. Life, both physical and spiritual, was designed for fruitfulness and multiplication.

For years, (even decades!) I have had a sadly sterile faith. For many years I was happy to go about my own personal spiritual growth and about the training and formation of other believers. I could help people go deeper in their faith or farther in their walk. Which is fun. But then I noticed that those around me, though mature in their Christianity, were also sterile. Not only did I not bear spiritual children, but those I was leading were also not bearing spiritual children.

I hunkered down inside the cozy walls of the church and consoled myself with all the good work I was doing. I delighted in my growing Biblical knowledge and my faithful spiritual practices. Meanwhile, I found myself deeper and deeper in the bubble, surrounded by insiders. I focused on training and equipping leaders and building ministry teams. I ran programs and lead Bible studies. And those are good things. But I didn't have a burden for the lost, I felt mildly  annoyed by the idea--like they were tedious projects to which I should attend rather than lost sheep who were helpless and harassed.

What I failed to consider is the possibility that there was something unhealthy, unwhole, about a sterile faith. I liked to believe that I could be a perfectly healthy disciple even if I didn't have any spiritual kids.

Then a really funny thing happened. I became a missionary.

Missionaries are sort of obligated to evangelize It's the main point, after all. So I became interested in sharing my faith. This may have had something to do with the fact that I wanted to have exciting news to write in newletters. It wasn't a lot, but it was all I had to offer. God began to work with my loaves and fishes of mediocre desire, until deep down, I became convinced that I was made to reproduce. My apathy melted away and was replaced by an emerging yearning to see people meet Jesus.

As I fell in love with a country and a language and a people group, I began to ache for their lost-ness. I made freinds with unbelievers and saw the depth of their beauty and the tragedy of their brokenness. But caring did not suddenly make me successful at sharing my faith. It did give me the push I needed to begin to study techniques, to learn from experts, and to take some risks.

Then, ten months ago a challenge was issued. Ironically, I was the one who issued the challenge. With a group of fifty French Christian leaders who had been listening to global experts teach about discipleship, I heard Steve Smith say that Jesus only asks two things of his disciples: to fish and to follow. And so we encouraged everyone in the group to pair up with an accountability partner and once a month ask each other, "How have you fished?" and "How have you followed?"

The accountability piece was key for me. I'm a pretty good follower most of the time, but just knowing someone was going to ask about my witness helped me to keep the idea of "fishing" in the forefront of my mind.

And still I failed.

I failed to share my faith. I failed to find new unbelieving friends. I failed to reproduce. But my prayers grew more fervent. Each month I felt sad for not having shared my faith--not guilty, mind you. But sad. I became healthily critical of my own unhealthy routines, my justification, and my weaknesses. I admitted that I needed help. I begged God to change me, to lead me, to use me. I did not see any change in my results, but significant change my desire. Even though the longing for spiritual children went unfulfilled, I began to realize that I'd rather live with the unmet longing than quench it with apathy. Awakening the desire was the first indication of healing.

Still, ten months of desperate praying can lead one to despair.

"Lord," I pray each day, "Give me a heart to share your love and grace with those around me and, if it is your will, the joy of seeing one who is lost be found."

Oh yes, it is his will.

This week I began an evangelistic Bible study with a new acquaintance. She is open to the things of God. She is eager to know more. And I wonder if in her I might see this prayer answered. The funny thing is, I don't want it answered for what it will do for me. I want it answered because I love my friend. And I'm keenly aware of how little this opportunity has to do with me, and how much it is the evidence of God's grace. After months of praying, I have not become some super-duper witness. In most ways, I'm still a failed evangelist. But I'm failed evangelist who prays. A failed evangelist who hopes. A failed evangelist who dares to ask God for spiritual children, that his kingdom might grow and that his glory might fill the earth. I can't produce spiritual fruit of any kind. But I do, sometimes, get the privilege of bearing the fruit that God produces.

Now I see a bud on the tree, and I can hardly wait to see what God will do.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

  1.  It's Spring Break for George Fox students! Which means I get to step back from my studies and focus on some other things for a week. My focus this week? I've been seeking inspiration for the Easter sermon I'll be preaching, working on messages for a women's retreat in May, and catching up on e-mails that had been neglected for almost a month. 
  2. But if you think that Miss Jenn is all work and no play, you're sadly mistaken. Play is my middle name! Okay. Not really. My middle name is Ann. Without an E. And contrary to Anne Shirley, I like it like that! But I digress....How am I playing this week you ask? Well, I've crocheted a little poncho for a little girl, I'm reading some delightful mysteries (Masie Dobbs, if you must know), and I'm baking chocolate chip cookies. And eating them. I'm most definitely eating them. 
  3. Chandler has officially sent off his applications to three medical schools in France. Of course, he still has to pass his Bac, which is no small task! But in the Fench system, one can go directly from High School to medical school; there is no need for a Bachelor's degree. It will still take about 8 years, or the equivalent of a Bachelor's plus an M.D., and even more if Chandler sticks with his plan to become a surgeon. It's just that the studies are focused on medicine right from the start.
  4. David is itching to fly, but so far has not had much opportunity. Because he is not employed--just a contract worker, he must be hired directly by people who want to go somewhere using the air-taxi service with which he is associated. Though he is on a list of preferred pilots, without knowing any of the regular customers, it's hard to get chosen for a flight. Please pray for some open doors.
  5. I've been sleeping like a champ the past few weeks. Most people would consider that good news. I consider it a sign that my thyroid levels are out of whack. 
  6. I have such a hard time dressing myself this time of year. No, no. Not the physical act of donning clothes! That's not a problem! Rather, I don't know what to wear when the calendar says it's spring, but the weather screams winter, winter, winter. 
  7. Someone recently asked for a recent family photo. The impossibility of fulfilling that request made me sad. I'm really missing Graham. And as you may have seen on facebook, Graham's really missing half his hair. I figure it's practice for when the balding gene trickles down to him from his grandpa Burris. 
  8. Good News! Great News! Over-the-top-exciting News! We finally know the French city to which we will be relocating this summer. And...I'm not gonna tell you! I know. I'm such a tease. We're working on getting a newsletter out in the next few days with all the details. But here's a photographic hint:
  9. So here's something that happens to me ALL the time these days when I travel. I introduce myself, and people eventually ask if I have children. Then I tell them I have two boys, and I give their ages. Then, all of the people in the room gasp in amazment, saying something like, "That's not possible! You look much too young to have children that old!" And then I smile and say, "Wow. That just made my day!" But then I wonder why it makes me so happy to appear so young. Pretty superficial really. 
  10. Daffodils are blooming in my backyard, and as the official flower of the diabetes association, they always make me think of my sister Sharon, who died 18 years ago from complications of diabetes. She loved daffodils.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How God Rescued My Family

Last week I told you how we have been ruined--how God has so challenged and changed us that we will never, ever, be the same. Much of the ruining came through struggle, and I mentioned that we have wounds that may never heal. This statement was shocking to some, yet, I do not see it as entirely negative. Even the resurrected Christ, though fully alive, still bore scars on his hands and his side. To be ruined is to be just a little bit more like Jesus, and as one of my favorite cousins remarked, "I pray that I be ruined for Christ also. Nothing else satisfies." Indeed. Nothing else. 

But in many ways, ruining us was also a way of rescuing us. He has not rescued us from embarrassment or sickness or financial ruin. All of those he has allowed us to bear to some extent. Instead he has rescued us from complacency, from superficiality, and from autonomy. He has rescued us from the rat race, from keeping up with the Joneses, and from envy. He has rescued us from ourselves. And he keeps on rescuing us as we follow him each day.

This rescue has little to do with moving to France, though that happened to be part of the rescue mission that God used in our lives. God’s rescue has much to do with surrender, and being willing to leave those things in life that appear to be friendly but in reality, are hostile. Hostile to God’s kingdom, hostile to God’s people, and hostile to God’s plan. They’re subtle little buggers, and probably take a different form for each person, but I’m sure they exist in your life, too.

How can you tell if you have dangerous liaisons? Do you hold anything back from God? If you do, that thing has a hold on you and you need to be freed from it. Do you cherish self-righteousness or indignation? I know I do. But God is showing me that these emotional pacifiers are wicked cancers from which I need to be rescued. Do you live like a Lone Ranger, taking care of yourself and proud of it?  This type of independence is at odds with God’s call to interdependence. You need a rescue.

I loved my autonomy, until God rescued me by placing me in a community. I was driven to achieve personal success, until God showed me that building his kingdom was much more enjoyable than building my kingdom. I was firm in my understanding of things like politics and economics, until God rescued me from my own world-view to show me his world-view. Now I’m more confused than ever about how to vote, but more sure than ever about how to live.

God rescues us because we can’t rescue ourselves. But his way of rescue rarely looks like the primrose path. The way out of our own lost-ness is often a way that is fraught with thorns and mud puddles. The rescue wagon appears unsafe, and many will call you crazy for getting on board. But in the upside-down kingdom of the servant king, I promise that his rescue is worth it.