If you or someone you know is old enough to know that lighting explosives off the top of your head could kill you, you don’t need a law to restrict your purchase of said explosives…
If you haven’t yet read the Graeme Wood article What ISIS Really Wants from the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic, I’d suggest you take some time (quite some time actually) to do so. While I don’t believe that Graeme fully answers the question implied in the title of his article, it does shed some light on my own misconceptions about ISIS and what it’s really about. There has been a lot of feedback (some 14,000+ comments) on the article itself as well as tweets, Facebook posts, and others all surrounding this article. There were even a handful of followup articles that I haven’t had time to read yet. I’m glad that men like Graeme have taken the time to write about such a polarizing topic.
I’ve often thought about this passage from 1st Thessalonians. In a world fueled by novelty, it’s difficult to find a place that is legitimately quiet. The topic has been written about ad nauseam. Most of these articles talk about the practical physical health benefits with specific regards to sound. There’s more to noise though than just sound, right? No doubt the noise aspect is an interesting topic. In our culture, the typical day roars to a start with an electronic alarm clock that immediately has a long list of notifications from the night before. During your groggy “snooze-button” state, a clever email marketer wrote a catchy subject line that is now embedded in your brain before you can even decide that it’s not worth your time. This is the time when we make our worst decisions. If you look at your phone or computer during this time (or really any time during the day) and even read a few mere words, you’re in. As the day progresses, we’re bombarded with information via email, music, advertisements from every angle, TV, conversations with co-workers, more email… You get the point.
I’ve decided to make an active attempt to quiet the noise in my life. I long for that quietness that I remember when I went camping with my family as a kid. I’ll define what noise means in the context of this writing, so we can be on the same wavelength. Noise is anything extraneous and undesirable for the life I want to live. Some might call it clutter. Some might call the mindset of reducing this noise feng shui. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The principle is the same: reduce the nonessential. Think about trying to hone in on the amazing jazz player in Central Park while the hustle and bustle of New York City is all around. This is what we’re going for. How about some examples and practicality?
As a business owner, I understand that one needs to talk about and advertise the business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Doing what you can to promote your products to the right people makes perfect sense. On the buyer end, though, is it really necessary to have fifty new emails each morning telling you about all the new stuff that’s out there? Is it just to satisfy your curiosity or are you legitimately interested in purchasing something from this company in the next month? If you are, great! By all means keep that email subscription, but if it’s just to satisfy your curiosity, just because you’re afraid you’ll miss out, unsubscribe or choose not to expose yourself immediately. This is noise. This applies to any and every email. Be ruthless. Check out SaneBox if you want some help with this.
While advertisements through email, TV, smart phones, tablets, and the like are near inevitable, here is one practical step you can take to reclaim some sanity and stimulate the economy. If you are a computer user (this includes smart phones and tablets), pay for the non-advertisement version of the developer’s app. Apps are cheap (although they should be more expensive). You see fewer ads, and everyone wins. Value the developer’s work. Try out the free version if there is one. If you like it, buy it. Put some food on his/her family’s table and give your eyes a break from all the ads. Don’t go crazy, but support good software for people that are also trying to make an honest living by working with their hands.
Let’s move to the more physical world. Do you have a closet or garage filled with moving boxes that have been unopened over the past few moves? Stuff that’s sitting around that could be sold for a few dollars or even more? It’s too much. Sell it. This is also noise. You don’t have to get rid of everything that you deem sentimental. Just be honest about whether you really need it in your life. Peter Walsh (no relationship), author of “It’s All Too Much” (linked above), can shed some light on this topic. Every time you pass that closet or box, there is a subconscious activity taking place. Your brain knows it should do something about this stuff, but another part of your brain is saying there is nothing to do about it. Conundrum. It’s a waste of mental energy. It’s what David Allen calls an “open loop”. Make the decision to do something about it. It’s noise in your life. You’ll breath easier at the end of the day when you come home and there’s tangible stillness in the air.
What to expect
These are the main areas of my life that I’ve committed to doing something about. These are the ones that I wrestle with. It’s a process and probably shouldn’t be handled in a weekend. I’ve been working toward a quieter life over the past several months. I’ve deleted apps (noisy ones that are clamor for my attention). I’ve unsubscribed from hundreds of emails. I’ve reduced the number of devices and amount of stuff in my life. I’d like to be able to live out of a backpack. As I get closer to the goal, though, I find that I have some very bad habits. I still check email habitually on my phone. Even though SaneBox is quietly working behind the scenes, I “just check” all the time. It’s a terrible habit that pulls me away from the current moment and the stillness that is everywhere if I would just open my eyes and absorb it. Living a quiet life is not so much about the cacophony of sounds in our lives, but mostly about the “noise” that consumes our culture. It’s about a return to what’s truly meaningful in life. Expect this to be a challenge. It’s doable, but it’s an easy decision to just start. Start with just being aware of it. Move on to making some small changes. Try it out for a week, and notice what happens. You can always go back. You probably won’t want to, though.
It’s a vexatious thought to consider: you have a message, a very important message. Should you share it? You consider the ways that the message could be delivered in a tactful, unassuming way. You try to be considerate of the recipient’s feelings. You consider the implications of the delivery of your message. You open your mouth for the first time with a trusted friend. She listens, but you get the idea that she’s only listening because she cares about you, not because she’s actually interested in what you have to say. You see her again later that month, and the same topic comes up. She’s slightly more agitated this time and politely changes the topic. The friendship continues, but it’s clear that something is driving a wedge between you two. Is this message worth the relationship? Yes. It’s that important. I care about her, and she needs to know. As the relationship continues to center around this topic, the tension grows. The conversations become shorter. The dialogue about anything else that used to be foundational to the relationship dwindles. She stops returning your calls and texts. She’s gone. You’ve lost a friend. Why? Your message is perfectly clear. It makes logical and common sense. Why won’t anyone believe you? Why are you the only person this is obvious to? Do people think you’re crazy? It doesn’t matter which way you spin it. The result is the same: you’re unwelcome, off your rocker, or even worse a lunatic. This is especially true if you’re right.
Such is the life of the prophet. I’m not speaking in Biblical terms alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re Edward Snowden or Jesus. At some point, friends and family write you off as the black sheep. We’ve all been there. A friend comes to us with an urgent “message”. We hear the words, “The sky is falling! Take cover!” Yes, yes. I know it is. Thank you for sharing. Please, let me resume drinking my beer and watching Big Bang Theory. We wouldn’t be wrong for responding this way. He’s wrong, and I’ll just be polite until he quits telling me about it. Another round! If he’s right, then I have some hard work to do. What if he’s right, though? Have I even considered that possibility?
The global and historical response to the “prophet” is essentially the same: “You are not welcome. Your words are uncomfortable to my ears. I don’t like the fact that I’ll have to do some soul searching or potentially change my life in order to heed the warning. This is hard work, and I don’t like the idea of being inconvenienced by what may or may not be true in your message. Right or wrong, I don’t care. I just want to get on with my life.” We’ve all been there. We’ve all been the prophet. We’ve all been deaf to the prophet. We’ve all been the crazy prophet with a crazy message, and we’ve all rightly become annoyed at the craziness of his message. It’s not a constant state of being in one role or the other. At times we have urgent messages we’d like to deliver to friends and family. It might be the latest MLM scheme or something of much greater importance. If we’re bold enough, we vocalize. Other times we don’t. For fear of being ostracized, ridiculed, or beaten, we shut down. We are the prophet, and society passively beats us into submission until our voice is silenced. In other circumstances we are on the other side as the recipient. We hear the crazy talk, and in the worst case scenario lose a friendship because this issue is the issue that is of utmost importance now. To not take the issue seriously is to not take the prophet seriously.
In my own life, at some point, I’ll be entrusted with a very important message. Most of the time, I’m pretty vocal. My fear is that I’ll be unable to communicate a very important message clearly or that ostracization will drive me to keep my mouth shut. On the flip side I’m afraid that someone in my life will come to me with an important message, and I’ll be too concerned with the meaningless activities in my day that I won’t hear that, this time, the sky is indeed falling.
I’m up considerably earlier than I normally would be on a day like today. I’m working at home today. I’ve been slightly depressed since Monday morning in my return to the office. I miss spending time with my son. I think men can really relate to this, but it doesn’t have to be active time spent with him. Merely being in the room and hearing his squeaks and cries for help warms my heart. I really want to be around for his growing up. I want my business and career to grow and be structure in a way that I can be available to wash dishes and clothes and change diapers. I have an unbelievable company that allows me to do most of these things. These are the years that I never get back. I could say the same about the precious years before Roman came along with Karla and I. In retrospect, I’d say that I didn’t use those as well as I could have. I should have cherished them more. I look back and wonder where the first three years of our marriage went. I look back and wonder why I didn’t spend more time with just us. I don’t want to have regrets, though. I want to look back and say, “That was foolish. There is no condemnation, however, and I want to change this in the future.”
Somehow our great God came through and provided a way for us to fly to India to share the good news of Jesus. Today we are leaving for Vishakapatnam, India. It feels very surreal that we are actually getting on a plane to go when two weeks ago we were so convinced that we would not be going. I’m not sure what to do about all of this, but here we are nonetheless. God came through and provided a way for us to get on the plane. We are still short about two thousand dollars, but we believe that this money will also be delivered to us. We’re thankful and nervous at the same time.
This morning I’m reading through Genesis 22 where Abraham sacrifices Isaac. This is an interesting passage. It clearly states that God tested Abraham in his sacrifice of Isaac. When the prophesy of Isaac came, there was a long season of testing Abraham in his faithfulness. Now, God asks him to sacrifice the only heir to his legacy, the promise of God’s provision for the legacy. Is God contradicting himself? Even though Abraham faltered, his faith is now deeply rooted. He knows that the Lord has provided his son Isaac as the offspring that will start the legacy of Abraham being the father of many nations. There is wavering no longer. When the word of the Lord comes, he gets up early in the morning. He saddles his donkey, cuts the wood, grabs two of his men and Isaac, and off they go.
I’m trying to imagine the scene. I’m trying to imagine the time frame. I’m trying to imagine what sort of thoughts are going through Abraham’s mind as he is riding with Isaac. Is he worried? Is he still confident that he’s hearing God’s voice? Is anxiety and fear welling up inside of him? Is he being tormented? This passage doesn’t say. All we know is that on the third day, he sees Moriah from afar. He ditches the two men he brought with him, and immediately Isaac starts putting the puzzle pieces together. Abraham attempts to calm the young boy’s concerns and again states his faith in the Lord’s provision of a sacrifice. Abraham builds the altar. He lays the wood down. He begins to bind the young boy. I’m trying to picture what this looks like: a youth, (maybe 10–15 years old) probably of greater strength than Abraham (who is over 100 years old at this point), is struggling with his dad as his dad attempts to strap him down to what is clearly an altar of sacrifice. “No, father! NO!!!” He takes the knife to slaughter Isaac. He reaches up to kill his heir, and, “ABRAHAM! ABRAHAM!” beckons the voice from heaven. He stops.
Three days of intense obedience. He could have turned back at any point during those three days of travel. He could have allow his son to “escape”, but there is no questioning whatsoever in Abraham’s heart that the Lord will provide. Surely, the Lord would have questioned his motive if there was any lack of faith in him, but God was patient. Maybe there was some doubt and fear in Abraham, but he knew at the end of the day his call was to be faithful. The Lord saw the cry in his heart to be faithful regardless of the cost. He kept riding his donkey. There was a resolve in him. This resolve was forged in the furnace of trusting the Lord to provide Isaac in the first place. This resolve allowed him to keep going.
Will I be found faithful to the Father? Will I hear his voice from heaven as I’m about to sacrifice what I hold dear? Will I even sacrifice? I pray that I would. I want to be found faithful to all that he has for me. When I stand before him, I do not want to have a long list of “would haves” from heaven. May grace abound as I journey toward faithfulness in the eyes of my God and King, Jesus.
Karla and I have been in Kansas City for just over two months. In that time, we’re still asking the question, “We’re here! Now what?”. It’s a difficult mindset to be in: you’ve heard from the Lord, but he hasn’t fulfilled the future that he has planned for you. What do you do when the Father has spoken about career change, move to a different city, starting a family, or beginning a new ministry? If you’re like me, you want to jump in and immediately begin. Not often does the Lord work this way. More often than not, He is speaking those words into your life from a several years in the future. It’s as if he’s standing on the timeline of history calling you into something deeper even though you stand in today. He’s very much aware that you are not qualified, adequate, or trained…yet. But he aims to get you there. The very fact that you haven’t gotten there means that you’ll survive everything in between. Simple. No need to fret and worry about today; he’s already taken care of it, and tomorrow, and the day after. He’s for you. He has your best interest in mind and has not abandoned you.
As the Father has been teaching me these things, I’ve certainly shaken my fist at the sky. I haven’t been happy about the being in the “waiting room”. I think it’s fair to say that all of us are perfectly content with the waiting room if it’s a routine surgery or a small filling at the dentist. Not all of us are content with the waiting room when we don’t know how things will turn out. Regardless of how qualified the doctor is, regardless of all the reassurance he gives us, regardless of how many friends and family members we have at our side, somehow it _still_ doesn’t feel completely comforting. They aren’t going through the non-routine surgery. They aren’t waiting and wondering if they’ll come out alive. They never will be able to fully understand until they are in your position. So you wait. Then wait. Some. More. Somewhere along the way, you hit the point of no return, and you’re shaking hands with the anesthesiologist, and trust yourself to the one that has the power to get you through this non-routine procedure. Moments later, you’re awake and everything is fine. Smiles and hugs abound as you come to and realize that everything is going to be ok. There’s still healing and recovery time ahead, but you are at least able to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
I like to think that this is how the Father looks at our struggles. He always has been and always will be making things right in the end. It’s of no concern to him whether it’s “routine” procedure or whether it’s painful. He’s more concerned with the growth and progress that you are coming into your true identity as his son or daughter. He’s standing one month or ten years or somewhere in between calling your name and drawing you closer to who you really are. In the process you get closer to his heart for you when he knit you together in the womb. This idea is fascinating. It’s worth dwelling on and recalling the words that he has spoken over your life and the dreams you’ve had since a child. He’s good, and he’s pulling you through. It’s the very reason that Jesus came: to restore all things, to recreate you as you were meant to be before sin came and jacked things up. Good thing there’s a remedy for your mistakes along the way. It’s by him and to him and through him that all things will be restored.
Karla and I had Christmas with my family in Arlington this year. Last year we did Christmas at hers, so we swapped this time. We had a delightful time hanging out with my family. It even snowed on Christmas Day! We had such a rushed December that Christmas seemed to be a little distant, but it almost seemed like we were fasting because the time spent with my family seemed to be different this year. When you fast, the time spent with The Lord is more impactful than it would normally be, not because you earned, but because you purposely place yourself in a humble and weak position to hear from The Lord. It felt a bit like this during Christmas. We were weak and humbled by all of the tasks required to move our stuff to Kansas City, so the time with family was more impactful.
OneThing & Hong Kong
The conference itself I’m sure had a great impact on some people, but I just had a hard time connecting with The Lord. I was expecting huge revelation, but instead I was met with a very dry and disconnected time. This went on for days even after we left the country to travel to Hong Kong. The purpose of the trip was undetermined, but as The Lord normally does, he told us once we got there. We were supposed to go to Shenzhen to meet with my friends across the border. We were pretty nonplussed with the first week in Hong Kong, but the second week in Shenzhen was much more life giving. We were able to spend time with believers and even meet some that had heard of IHOP. It was a huge sigh of relief that the time spent was not in vane.
We’re Here! Now what?
So, now our time in Kansas City officially begins. We arrived from Hong Kong on January 17th. We’ve been here almost two weeks and the time has already been very saturated with the presence of God. We’re extremely excited to have a few weeks to just sit and rest. Personally, I can feel the itch to produce something. It just doesn’t seem right to be able to sit before The Lord, inquire in his temple, and do nothing. From God’s perspective, I’m doing the only thing in the world that really matters: worshiping him. However, the world has brainwashed me. I see my life as valuable and important by what I can produce. I do; therefore, I am. When I’m challenged to not do, it feels weird. Vacation? That’s for the birds. I don’t get it. I really don’t know how to rest and just turn my brain off and let God do the thinking for me. God’s economy is much different, though. It’s not a quid pro quo economy. You don’t do to get in. It’s a one way street. He provides because he’s a provider. He loves because he’s a lover. He doesn’t ask us to earn it. In fact, he’s angry when we do. It mocks his Son. He used to, though. That was Plan A, to show us how much better Plan B really is. Plan A was the Old Testament Law. Plan A was to earn righteousness. Plan B was to receive it from Someone Else. Plan B is to believe and receive Jesus. It’s to receive the production—the good works—and righteousness of Another. The whole game changed when Christ came. I don’t produce so that God will love me. Now, I produce because I am loved. So often, though, I’m caught up in Plan A. It’s so difficult as a man wired by God for cultivation, to rest and receive his provision of works for me. I keep wanting to earn it. I feel like a chunk of our time here will be unravelling that lie that has been woven so deeply into my mind. Christ died so that I don’t have to find my identity in what I produce. If it was really left up to me to earn righteousness, I don’t think I’d do a very good job anyway. I have an amazingly patient wife who can attest to this, and a good heavenly Father that made a way that covers my failures.