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?


Justification by Tweet

Late last week, I tweeted something that I thought was pretty funny, clever, and theologically informed. (The Tweet has since been deleted, and I won’t tell you what I wrote. The content of the tweet isn’t important and it won’t benefit anyone if I repeat it here.) I came home later that day and after talking to Carly she gently rebuked me about my Tweet. She said, “You know, that was really unnecessary. You kind of seemed like the theology police.”

What happened next can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit: I had this overwhelming sense that I actually needed to listen to her (crazy concept, I know…a husband listening to his wife’s correction). I looked at her, nodded and said, “Okay, I didn’t even see it that way. You might be right.” Then, I left to workout at the Y.

At the gym, I thought about what she said. God taught me a precious lesson. What was really happening, at a heart level, was that I was trying to justify myself by my Twitter account. By God’s grace, I don’t do this every time I churn out 140 characters and click “send.” But on this occasion, unfortunately, I was trying to show God, my Twitter followers, and even myself that I am righteous because of my good theology and my recognition of bad theology. I was exalting myself and my efforts rather than exalting Jesus and his work in the gospel.

Twitter didn’t exist in the first century, but if it had existed, I have no doubt disciples of Jesus, like the Galatians, would have been tempted to resort back to a works-based system via tweet rather than trust in what Christ had done for them. The Galatians put their hope in God’s law, in general, and circumcision, in particular. Here’s how Paul responded to their problem: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (2:16).

And here’s the interesting thing: Paul is writing this to Christians. The Galatians were forgetting that they were freely justified by faith. The result was that they were seeking to progress in the Christian life (what we call sanctification, see 3:3-5 and below) by depending on works instead of living out of the freedom Christ provided (see 5:1). They thought that adherence to God’s law would make them more acceptable to God and others than they already were because of Christ.

My temptation isn’t to add circumcision or dietary laws or even following the Ten Commandments to what Jesus has done. No, I feel more righteous, more sanctified, by showcasing my theological knowledge, my devotional discipline, or anything else that I think I do “well.” If Paul were writing to me he might have said, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by your Tweets, James?…Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by Twitter or theological debates or quiet times, or by hearing with faith?” (3:3, 5). In other words, my Tweets or blogs or devotional times or theological competence does not make me more acceptable to God than I already am in Christ. The pressure is off. The gospel secures my righteousness. What good news!

O Father, would that I hear the gospel with faith today! I am a supremely loved and perfectly accepted son because of Jesus’ righteousness-providing obedience and sin-bearing death. Let Christ-exalting Tweets flow from that!

Life Theology

Lunchtime Thoughts on Sunday

“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.” (Al Gore)

  • I love this note from Desiring God about not making Piper a substitute for your own church: “While we encourage you to join us for the sermon, we encourage you even more to give primary attention to the preaching in your local church. In other words, we do not intend for John Piper’s sermon to replace the preaching of the Word from your pastor in your local church.”
  • I listened to the Rob Bell sermon I mentioned a couple days ago entitled “Love Wins.”  It has nothing to do with universalism or hell. Honestly, it’s a poor sermon on the effects and implications of the cross.
  • Greg Boyd blogs on Bell’s book Love Wins and says it’s not a defense of Universalism.  I don’t trust Boyd with a lot of theology (he’s an open theist), but that’s besides the point. In this post, he writes, “Rob is first and foremost a poet/artist/dramatist who has a fantastic gift for communicating in ways that inspire creativity and provoke thought. Rob is far more comfortable (and far better at) questioning established beliefs and creatively hinting atpossible answers than he is at constructing a logically rigorous case defending a definitive conclusion.” I have one thing to say to that: if this is the case, he shouldn’t be shepherding any kind of congregation that represents the name of Jesus Christ.
  • It’s good to hear that Boyd says the book doesn’t espouse Universalism.  But the problem guys like Taylor, Piper, and DeYoung (and I) have is not what Bell’s book is going to say, it’s what is promo material has already said.  I will read Bell’s book, but consider again this quip from the publisher:  “Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now.” Whatever Bell says cannot undo this statement.
  • College basketball’s conference tournaments start on Thursday, concluding with the Big Dance selection show on Sunday. If I were a betting man, my four #1 seeds would be: Duke, Ohio State, Kansas, and Pittsburgh.  Kansas will be #1 overall. My Huskers will probably go one-and-done in Kansas City. How do I know? There is nothing new under the sun.
  • Charlie Sheen has been on Twitter for about a week.  He has almost two million followers. I am not one of them. Each day, Sheen is quickly becoming more like his character Ricky Vaughn in Major League.

Social Networking Repentance

My latest Tweet said this:

Twitter repentance: The flesh wants to impress people by saying something memorable in 140 characters or less. Jesus died for that sin too.

I think with blogging, the same can be true.  Sometimes I blog just to look cool and sound smart.  Other times I really do have a passion to share something that grips me, but more often than not, I wonder, “Will they like what I write?”

So often, good things become ultimate things.  Jesus died for social networking sins, too.  O praise him for that!

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Four Reasons I Tweet

This past week I’ve been experimenting with Twitter.  I’m going to continue with it — for these reasons (in no particular order):

  1. It can help with overcoming verbosity (which I often struggle with).
  2. It helps me quickly reflect on what God brings to my mind as the days goes on.
  3. I want to do my part to redeem social media by making it as Christ-exalting and Bible-saturated as I possibly can.
  4. Everything created by God is good (even Twitter), and nothing is to be rejected if it’s received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:4).

My Twitter motto is, “Don’t waste your Tweet.”  In other words, you won’t find me writing about how I’m looking for that black sock I lost in the laundry yesterday.  It’s going to be God-centered, thought-provoking, and creative.

So, if you are desperate to find out what’s going on in my world throughout the day, you can now follow me on Twitter.