Monday, July 28, 2014

How Social Media Has Made Me a Better Writer and a Better Christian (Part 1 of 2)

(Access the audio.)

Writers have a love-hate relationship with social media. While they know that they need to be active on the internet in order to extend their reach and gain a wider audience, many of them dread the time it takes away from their writing. 

I happen to love social media, and not just because I'm an extrovert. I believe that its use has benefits beyond gaining an audience and establishing a platform. 

I believe that it's made me a better writer and a better Christian. 

How Social Media Has Made Me a Better Writer and a Better Christian:

Part 1: Social media promotes the distillation of ideas. 

I always have a lot to say—too much, in fact. 

Fortunately many social media platforms (such as Twitter, which limits post size to micro levels) force me to be concise. Knowing that I'm dealing with a 140-character limit prompts me to pare down each post, scrapping needless adjectives, phrases, and clauses—forcing me toward the purest expressions. 

One of the reasons that I love to read C.S. Lewis is his ability to handle weighty truth and deep spiritual ideas in simple language (whereas if I tried to write on such themes, I would produce a load of polysyllabic gibberish). 

Not that we need to water down truth or talk down to people. Quite the reverse. 

We need to come beyond the human need to impress others with our vocabulary; to lay down the pride that incites us to be needlessly complicated; to spurn the type of lazy communication that focuses on quantity over quality. 

Wasn't it Albert Einstein who said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"? 

A hard truth when applied in light of spiritual understanding. 

May God give us grace to go further and deeper in our study of His word; to distill our understanding down to a fellowship so deep that even our shortest sentences are pregnant with His truth.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Three Reasons to Watch World Cup Even if You Don't Follow Sportsball

Although I love competition and greatly admire athletic ability, I don't generally follow sports. It's too much of a time commitment, for one. For another, I've never felt any great affinity for any of the cities/states where I've lived, meaning that I lack the sort of local patriotism required to become fanatic about a particular sports team.

But while I don't follow sports in general, I do make an exception for the World Cup. 

You should too. 

Three Reasons to Watch World Cup Even if You Don't Follow Sportsball:

  1. The Hair. I think ABC says it best: "One of the selling points of the 2014 FIFA World Cup is the salad bowl of countries and ethnic groups who represent the dozens of cultures. Another perk, however, is delighting in the creative ways players coif their hair in the heat and humidity of Brazil." From David Luiz's flowing curls to Mathieu Debuchy's neo-Swing Kids style to Rodrigo Palacio's whimsical (and hideous) off-center rat tail, World Cup 2014 was a veritable treat for lovers of all hairstyles: the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. Check out ABC's slideshow here.
  2. The Drama. As a veteran middle/high school teacher, former drama director, and playwright, I relish all overt displays of human drama; hence I hold in high esteem any sport which allows its players such a vast range of human expression. When it's all said and done, I'm a little disappointed that the players don't take a curtain call. 
  3. The Global Phenomenon. America's persistent isolationism can be seen in many areas. Of primary concern is our refusal to adopt the metric system despite the fact that the measuring system we actually use makes very little sense. Of secondary concern is that our public restroom doors often have huge gaps in them. Of tertiary concern is our ambivalence toward futbol. While the rest of the world loses their minds over the sport on a regular basis, Americans are only vaguely aware that it exists. Perhaps this is because futbol is one area in which Americans are unable to make any pretense toward superiority. (Tim Howard being a notable exception.)
Similar claims can be made for watching the Olympics, which is why the summer of 2016 will find me once again glued to the screen, pretending to care about sports.

Until then, I'll just be over here in the corner not caring. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

God Loves You, but that's Only Part of the Equation

The good news is that God loves you. Scripture is very clear on that. It is important, however, that you understand the rest of the equation. Allow me to illustrate why.

Let's imagine that you're a Jewish Christian living in Jerusalem during the time of the first severe persecution of the church (Acts 8). You have been faithful to your beliefs only to find yourself now chased from your home, driven from pillar to post, split from the local body of believers, and sent reeling into a wider, more hostile world. Would you not bemoan what has taken place? Of course you would. 

I'm sure that those early believers were forced to grapple with the question of where God's love fit into the equation. Perhaps they cried out, as we sometimes do, "Lord, don't you see what's happening here? Don't you care about how much I'm struggling? I thought you loved me." 

But witness the providence of God at work: after Paul was converted and began traveling on his missionary journeys, he met other Christians everywhere along the way (even in Rome!), Christians who could trace their presence in these regions to that initial scattering. 

Yes, God loves you, but if you hold on to that one truth to the exclusion of all other truths, you will find yourself completely adrift. 

God loves you, but that's only part of the equation. 

You must bear in mind that His love for you does not operate independently from other aspects of His nature, such as His love for other people, His sovereign will, and His overarching plan to demonstrate His glory to all humanity.

So when the storms hit, do not despair. Remember that God does indeed love you, and because of that love, you are afforded an anchor for your soul. Remember that the Christian experience does not promise the absence of storms, but shelter in the time of storm.

William Cowper was no stranger to this concept. As a believer who grappled with depression, he found grace to pen the following words:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
William Cowper, 1774  

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Ridiculous Reality of Rewards

During my first few years of teaching, I experimented with giving rewards. 

I'm not talking about giving good grades. Those are not rewards: they are an honest evaluation of student progress. (At least, in theory.) No, I'm talking about enticing students to study with the promise of candy and bonus points and a handful of raffle tickets that could make one lucky student the owner of some exotic prize, like a pumpkin. 

Yes, one year I raffled a pumpkin. 

I said that I experimented, remember?

Eventually I stopped with the rewards. This was partly because I think education should be its own reward and partly because it turned out to be really, really expensive.

I don't think it ever dawned on the students how ridiculous it was for me to reward them for their work. Yes, many of them did study hard to improve themselves. But they wouldn't have been able to study anything if I hadn't issued them their books, and there would have been no books to issue without the time having been taken for the books to be reviewed, selected, and ordered. My students may have done well on their tests, but that's mostly because I synthesized the information for them prior to class. I studied hard and crafted lessons and lectured and led discussions with one goal in mind: for my students to have the tools that they needed to succeed.

In fact, long before those kids suspected that Shakespeare or dangling participles even existed (long before some of them were born, even), I was already investing hours and hours into acquiring the knowledge and skills that I needed so that one day they would be able to reap the benefits.

The point of this post is not to toot my own horn. Not by a long shot. I certainly made plenty of mistakes as a teacher, and there were an embarrassing number of times that I felt unprepared, caught flat-footed by an unexpectedly keen question. 

But there's a spiritual parallel here that's too important to miss.

Long before we knew of Him or even existed ourselves, God was already outlining His plan for our redemption. Jesus, whose death was planned before the foundation of this world, did all of the necessary work so that we could be redeemed. Sure, each of us at some point must come to the realization that we need Him. But such realization is only possible because He already did the work and because the Holy Spirit teaches us how to respond. 

We deserve no reward for being allowed to understand what God has seen fit to make known.

And yet He says that He will reward us. 

It's the most astonishing thing. 

He did all of the work, opened our eyes to truth, taught us to know Him, makes righteousness possible, continually offers us the strength to obey, and then on top of all of that, He says that He will reward us.

What other response is there but to worship? 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14, ESV)