What I Learned from Not Being on Social Media for 6 Weeks

During the six weeks of Lent this year, I took a hiatus from Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I always tell people it’s good for the soul to get off social media because social media is, well, about you. It’s like a detox for the self-absorbed soul. Here’s are three things I learned/was reminded of during the past six weeks.

  • Being free from social media reminds me that I do not need to stay updated on everything that is happening in the world—big or small. The world goes on whether or not I know everything (imagine that!). Social media deceives us into thinking that we are more valuable or more fulfilled if we simply have information. We are gluttons for information. Information is important but a worthwhile and fruitful life consists of much more than having information. Today we have more information than we have ever had, yet the world is not really getting all that better. I’m not saying that we should all be clueless about what’s going on in the world. I am saying that social media can trigger our—my—desire to know information and assume the knowing is sufficient.
  • Being free from social media reminds me that I do not need to comment on everything that is happening in the world. My opinion matters very little (so take this post with a grain of salt). But the good news is your opinion matters very little as well. There’s only One voice that matters, and it’s God’s, not ours. It is important to write and dialog with others for a variety of reasons—and social media helps facilitate that. But feeling a need or compulsion to do so is dangerous and destructive. Social media has created a world in which everyone can be a commentator. It’s created a world in which power and influence are more easily obtained than ever before. Anyone can have an instant platform. But with this can come a sense of entitlement—not only that I am free to state my opinion, but that my opinion must be acknowledged and heard and even accepted by the masses. Social media thus becomes a kind of power broker. If you are on it and use it a lot, your reputation grows and influence spreads. This can be a good thing, but it can also morph into an unhealthy, crooked, and perverted desire for approval and control.
  • Being free from social media reminds me that the simple life is the best life. Every time I take a break from social media, I re-learn that there is beauty, joy, and peace in simplicity. Social media, in particular, and technology, in general, are good for so many things. They are good gifts from God. But social media is a bonus. It’s a tool. It’s peripheral, not essential. When used excessively and incorrectly, it complicates life. Social media can prevent us from engaging in the beauty of personal relationships and fool us into thinking that people who are not our friends actually are our friends. It tempts us, whispering, “Post this and watch how many comments and ‘likes’ you get!” To reiterate my first point, it throws thousands of pieces of information at us, encouraging binge-reading (or scrolling) and keeping us from deep reflection and true application. But in the past six weeks without social media, I never felt less human. On the contrary, in some sense, I felt more human. I’d like to believe I was a bit more in tune with what God was doing in the world and with the people around me. I hope that was the case. That’s the simple life–the best life. Social media too often subtly distracts me from the best life.

What about you? Have you ever taken a hiatus from social media? If so, how did it benefit you?

John Owen, Killing Sin, and the Need for Conversion

“Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” says John Owen in his famous work, The Mortification of Sin in BelieversSin is ferocious and relentless and unless we are actively seeking to kill it, before too long we will be devoured.

Killing sin doesn’t mean we completely destroy it (that’s Jesus’ job, not ours). It doesn’t mean we stop one wicked thing and replace it with another. It doesn’t mean we just occasionally overcome a sin.

Killing sin does mean that, over time, sin will weaken and it won’t be as attractive to us. Killing sin means that we fight sin by fighting to believe and live as if Jesus is more satisfying and delightful. Killing sin means we frequently see obedience in our life.

Owen writes about all this in more in his important book on sin. But one thing that particularly struck me this week as I’m re-reading Owen is the question of who. Who can kill sin? So often in popular Christian commentary or books, sermons or conversations, non-Christians are called to wise up, shape up, and clean up their act. Owen’s response? Ridiculous (my word, not his). Here are his words:

You would laugh at a man that you should see setting up a great fabric, and never take any care for a foundation; especially if you should see him so foolish as that, having a thousand experiences that what he built one day fell down another, he would yet continue in the same course…When the Jews, upon their conviction of their sin, were cut to the heart and cried out, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), what does Peter direct them to do? Does he bid them go and mortify their pride, wrath, malice, cruelty, and the like? No; he knew that was not their present work, but he calls them to conversion and faith in Christ in general (v. 38).

Owen acknowledges that God has provided many means to restrain sin, otherwise the world would be hell, as it were. But, ultimately, it is of no use, there is no power, and there is no eternal value if sin is not overcome by and through Christ. Owen writes, “Be sure to get an interest in Christ–if you intend to mortify any sin without it, it will never be done.” In other words, if you are not converted to Jesus–if you are not born again by the Spirit–you will never be able to kill sin in general or even particular sins. You may replace a sinful behavior with other less noticeable sins. You may modify your behavior so you don’t appear as sinful. But you will never kill sin. And Jesus will never be your all-consuming treasure.

Unfortunately, we Christians do much harm to non-Christians precisely because of this issue. We have made Christianity appear to be a religion of morality, as if this whole Jesus-thing about simply stopping a few bad habits here and there. It’s all too easy to say to someone, “Stop this sin or that sin because sin is your problem!” A particular sin may certainly be ruining someone’s life. That is true. But any particular sin is only a symptom of not being alive in Christ. The bigger problem is that apart from Christ, people are dead and at enmity with God.

Only conversion to Christ can change this. We don’t need a new strategy that will help us changes our behaviors. We need a new Master. We need a complete transformation. We need a new heart. Once this conversion happens a person goes from death to life. Then, and only then, let the sin-killing begin, because, as Owen concludes, “To kill sin is the work of living men; where men are dead (as all unbelievers, the best of them, are dead), sin is alive, and will live.”

A (Brief) Political Manifesto

I recently attended a political event which was distinctively Christian. It was designed to inform Christians on the current political trends and issues related to family in New York State. I had mixed emotions during the event and as I’ve reflected back on it, not much has changed. But it got me thinking about how faith, the church, and politics intersect. I’ve thought about this before, of course, but this time I had a tangible experience that helped solidify some of my thoughts a bit more. After the event, I had a chance to write a reflection that is a sort of political “manifesto.” I pray it’s helpful to you.

We have been given an unbelievable privilege to live in a democratic republic. I believe Christians should participate in the democratic process. I believe individual Christians should participate and infiltrate the political arena and shine the light of the gospel there as we should in education, business, entertainment, the arts, law, etc.

I believe we should pray for our leaders, whether we agree with them or not. I believe we should submit to the authorities and honor them.

I believe that nearly everything Christians, in general, and pastors, in particular, say and do has political connotations and repercussions because our primary allegiance is to Jesus, not our country or any political party. We serve a different King; we are citizens of another country. We give to Caesar what is his, but ultimately, we give to God what is his, namely us. This is profoundly political in a general sense.

I do not believe pastors should tell their congregations who to vote for. I do not believe churches should run or fund political campaigns or endorse any particular candidate. Rather, church leaders should so teach and lead and equip the congregation so that they understand the Christian worldview and how the gospel changes everything. This will help people make informed, just, and godly political decisions.

I do not believe the kingdom comes through legislation, political power, coercion, or propaganda. We are salt and light. Salt used to preserve is unseen. It only takes a small match to light up a dark room. Our influence is subtle yet constant. Our movement is marginal yet powerful. The church is a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. That is, we are the picture of an alternate city in all our earthly cities. We want justice and shalom for our cities in this world, and sometimes legislation and political action can help. William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in England is a prime example. But we realize legislation cannot change hearts, and we realize the perfect society will finally come when Jesus returns. So we live together as a picture of that city to come and call others to join us. We desire and look for a new country, and I believe we were made for that country, that city—a city whose gates will never be breached and whose King never needs re-election.

Foot Washing and Cross-Bearing

Have you ever washed someone’s feet? I have. A couple times in various contexts. It sounds gross. But it wasn’t. Really. In our day, our feet are protected from wear and tear. We drive or ride to get to work, school, and home. We rarely walk more than a hundred yards and when we do, we wear Nike or Keen. What’s more, our streets and sidewalks don’t have slop and feces and trash on them. Feet today are as clean and cared for as they have ever been. So washing someone’s feet today is not as offensive and disgusting as it could be.

But back in the first century, it was. It was down right rank chore. It was reserved for the lowest person on the household totem pole. Nobodies, house servants, washed feet. Feet which had more than jam between toes (let the reader understand). If this kind of foot washing was a profession today, you can bet Mike Rowe would give it a shot.

In John 13, Jesus and his disciples eat their last meal together. Things were tense: Jesus said someone was going to betray him. But at one point, it got a little awkward. Master Jesus strips himself of his outer garment, drapes a towel around his waste, gets on his knees and starts and starts scrubbing the filthy, fecal feet of his disciples. And then he says, “If I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Everyone is offended. Or perplexed. Later in John 13, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (v. 34). As a matter of fact, if the disciples love as Jesus says, the world will know they follow Jesus (v. 35).

So what’s this all about? Was Jesus really telling his disciples to become literal foot washers? Didn’t Jesus know that shoes and boots would be invented and our feet would be protected and clean(er)? Is Jesus saying that the ultimate sign of love is to wash someone’s dirty feet?

Foot washing is a parable. An illustration. A foreshadow. Of what?

The cross, of course. That’s where John’s story is going. On the cross, Jesus goes low in humility–much lower than he deserves–and deals with all the muck and mire and trash and feces in the disciples’ lives and ours. That is “how” Jesus loved the disciples. Not merely by washing feet but by washing them in giving himself up for them. Elsewhere, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). As a servant who washes feet strips down and forfeits their personal dignity, Jesus was striped of much more than his robes and dignity. He lost his connection to the Father because he became sin, a curse for the disciples, for us so that we might come to God. He washed away the muck, yes. But he became the muck. He lost it all. He radically gave himself up. In washing their feet, he gave up his rights to be “the man,” and he became the servant. In dying for their–our–sins, he became the man on the cross. That is love. Foot washing equals cross-bearing.

But Jesus doesn’t just give up himself so we don’t have to. He gives himself up so that we can. And if the disciples, if we, love this way–radical, self-giving for the good of others–the world will know we belong to Jesus. You want to follow Jesus? You get to wash feet. You get to die. That’s what true love is. We love without any fanfare. Without any recognition. Without anything in return. Friends, this is a high calling. May God help us!

And then there’s that word in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world might be able to argue against our doctrines and worldview, but it will not be able to argue against our love. The world may object to justification by grace and prayer to a God we can’t see, but it will not object if we lay down our reputation, power, control, resources, comfort, convenience for others. The world may not like the idea of a Triune God being worthy of all glory and praise, but it will always be attracted to radical, humble, everyday self-sacrifice.

People may not join us, but they will know we have a different Master. A Master who serves. A Master who washes feet. A Master who bears a cross. Let’s be people who follow our Master.