The Danger of Being Desensitized

I open Facebook and begin to scroll down the page. Conspiracy theories, outrage over the virus situation, passive aggressive memes fill the page. On and on the links and videos go, eventually blurring together into a thread of expressed frustrations. In mere moments, I’m told to be angry about a variety of issues. “The opening of state governments is costing the lives of thousands,” the headline says. “Keeping everything closed is going to cost even more lives,” reads the next. The negativity continues for as far as I’m willing to go. Installing infinite scrolling was a brilliant move for app developers, though the ones without self-control (like myself) often pay the price.

It’s not that I want to take sides on issues. This isn’t the place for opinions on complex political matters. Instead, I want to call to mind something greater- the heart issue behind it all. As I spend time in the Word and seek to pursue what God calls His people to, I’m reminded that I need to spend time searching for the heart issue behind my outward sins. The time I lose each and every week to social media is a problem rooted in something deeper- a mind-numbing desensitization to what’s around me.

If I had to summarize a large majority of my experience online, I’d unfortunately have to summarize it as negative. Sure, there are positive videos (John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” comes to mind), but when I give my heart and mind over to mindless scrolling, I’m giving myself over to be taught what to feel on nearly every big issue we’re facing today. With each scroll, there’s someone or something new I’m told to direct anger and frustration, and before long, I’m numb. I don’t feel angry. I’m desensitized.

This isn’t new to humanity. As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, God has been giving instructions so the nation of Israel might guard themselves against this very issue. “Remember,” God says over and over. “Don’t forsake the law.” Yet, even after accepting and entering into a covenant with God as outlined by the law, that they forget the very commandments they ratified and begin worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 20-32).

Then, after the reign of King Solomon and the nation splitting, the northern kingdom forgets once again, becoming desensitized to the sin of the nations around them. Eventually sacrificing their own children on an altar to a false god, a command God explicitly prohibited. Sin was no longer vile and disgusting. It became something they thought would bring satisfaction.

These are the two concerns of being desensitized: the inward straying of our own hearts and an outward compromise of our witness to others. These two concerns are intrinsically connected.

In our personal struggles, we allow small compromises until we’ve gone farther than we ever thought possible. First, we begin to compromise by not pursuing God as we once used to. The compromises pile up. Slowly, but surely, we begin to stray. With this foundational pursuit of God eroding, something else must begin to take its place. When the trials and difficulties of life come, the missing foundation begins to show. Instead of being at peace and rooted in the eternal Word of God, we grow anxious, worried, fearful as the situation changes virtually every second. If we aren’t careful, these feelings can grow leading to anger at any given situation and towards others.

Social media serves as a megaphone: amplifying every emotion until nearly everything we post and express is at its loudest level. The anger, frustration, discontentment marks every post and comment until it blends together in an endless wave of white noise. These frustrations and fears become commonplace and normal to us. Again, we become desensitized. Soon, we begin to duplicate these same attitudes. Our foundation of peace has been replaced by fear, anxiety, and anger.

I write this as an examination of my own heart. I’m typing these very words because they are the tendencies I see in me. Especially during quarantine, my hands reach for my phone like a reflex. I catch myself scrolling, losing minutes of precious time. I turn away from the screen only to realize the white noise is beginning to take root. Maybe I’m overreacting, I think. I don’t want to give in to the stereotypes, missing the good things that can come from the connections social media brings. For a while, I just remained silent, liking posts from time to time, but not contributing anything of my own.

Then, this week, it all seemed to reach a tipping point. An innocent man in Georgia lost his life in February, his story lost in the wave of virus information. Finally, it gained traction and began to be shared. The issue behind it all? A story worth being angry about- a story of injustice, prejudice, and racism- was lost in the shuffle of things not worth being angry about. We’ve lost the righteous anger this story deserves because we’ve used it on trivial matters of division.

Through our compromises, we’ve lost our ability to disagree without being angry. We’ve lost our ability to process complex matters with time to think. We give quick responses out of a position of compromised hearts and desensitized feelings. We all end up paying the price. Let’s spend this time considering what we give our voice to and why. Let’s engage in conversations in love and seeking to make peace. Let’s save our voices, not screaming into the list of posts that never end, but joyfully reflecting and standing for the character of God to a world around us.

Coronavirus and Community

Forty-five days. This is how long I have been working from home. Forty-five days, most of them with a “work or home” order in place. Over forty-five days of not being able to gather in person with our church or with the students in the student ministry.

By God’s grace, it seems we’re reaching the point where restrictions are beginning to loosen, with the hope that the virus is abating. At the same time, it also seems the restrictions are being loosened because quarantine fatigue is beginning to have an effect on those abiding by these orders. A recent article shared many experts’ anxiety over this fatigue, as data showed people leaving their homes more and more despite the orders put in place by state and federal governments.

The effects that come from a lack of social interaction include an increase in depression and anxiety. To help fill in what’s missing a large number of people have turned to the use of technology designed to connect people virtually. Companies like Zoom, which was previously only used by a small percentage of the population, is now commonly used among a large number of American households. The virus, and measures introduced to slow its spread, have drastically simplified life in our culture, pulling the curtain back to reveal universal truths about who we are and how we were created.

One of God’s gifts of common grace to the world is the desire for community. He’s wired each and every one of us with a longing for a place where we belong. Deep within us, we all desire interaction with others. We desire interaction with one another, and deep relationships where we can be known and loved. While the intensity of this desire may change depending on the person, the age of social distancing has shown just how ubiquitous the desire is.

Community is an essential component in our growth as Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the reasons why “receiving Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior” is an issue. While salvation involves taking responsibility for one’s own sin, repenting, and trusting Christ for forgiveness on a personal level, the Bible is clear that we have been redeemed to a community of believers.

Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:10

During the birth of the church in the beginning of the book of Acts, those who repented and trusted in Christ immediately came together as a community:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.

Acts 2:42-44

As society begins to slowly return to the way things were before, now is the time for us to take an honest look at what we’ve prioritized and return back to what God has called us to be: a community of believers built on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now is the time to simplify. Now is the time to push back against the idea of church as an experience. Now is the time to encourage others to trust Jesus for salvation and come into the community of God’s people. Then- and only then- will we find the deep community our souls long for.

Loving God in the Ordinary

Sometimes, we reach the point where life feels like it’s filled with nothing but Tuesdays. The days are ordinary. Nothing special is happening. We don’t dread the day like we would a Monday, and we don’t really have too much to be excited about like a Friday. The day is what it is. Which leads us to the question: how can we find joy on the Tuesdays? How do we love God in the ordinary?

Part of the reason why I ask this question is because I’m consistently seeking to push my students towards loving God and making much of Him in the ordinary. One of my biggest goals for my life and those in my ministry is to destroy the divide we place between the sacred and the secular. Sunday worship is meant to spill into Monday-Saturday life.

One of the ways we can push back against this separation mentality is by seeing our primary identity as Believers in Jesus. So, before we are a husband, wife, or single, we are a follower of Jesus. Before we are a mother or father, we are a follower of Jesus. Before we are a student or work somewhere, we are a follower of Jesus. All of these things are secondary to who we are in light of the gospel.

When we begin to live this way, we’ll begin to live in the way God has intended for us to live. We begin to walk in the abundant life Christ promised to bring us in John 10:10. Suddenly, we are no longer a spouse seeking our own gratification, but a servant seeking to meet the other’s needs. Then, we begin to see our roles as parents in light of eternity, understanding that we have an opportunity to raise a child up in the faith. At school or in our job, we do all things with excellence as unto the Lord, knowing we have an opportunity to worship through this work.

It’s in living for God that we begin to find the extraordinary within the Tuesdays. As Christians, we have been invited into living for the eternal each and every day, even in the smallest things. How will you use the ordinary to love God this week?

Marriage and the Mission of Christ

This Valentine’s Day marks the fifth year my wife and I have been celebrating this holiday together. This year looks a little bit different. With a baby arriving this summer, we’re in a bit of a transition as this is the last time it’ll be just us in our family. As I look ahead at what’s to come, it gives me a good reason to pause and to look back at the wonderful story the Lord has written for us, and to look ahead with joy at what’s to come.

On our first Valentine’s Day, we had only been dating for a couple months. Everything was new to us and we were still getting to know one another. I still remember planning a surprise trip to see her since she was out of town that weekend. When I showed up with flowers and chocolate in hand, the smile on her face reminded me that she would always be the one for me.

The next year was a time of stress and anxiety for us, as we had been engaged for over two months and still hadn’t decided on a wedding date. We didn’t know what was in store for the future. I had no jobs lined up, no place to live, and I would be graduating a year before her. For a while, I thought we’d have to wait another year to get married (honestly, I prayed against it- the Lord hears our prayers!), but God provided. Even in the midst of all this, I knew she would always be the one for me.

For three years now, we’ve celebrated this day. Each year, I think about how my love for her has grown- something I didn’t realize was actually possible when I said “I do.” Marriage is interesting in that way- not filled with the drama of butterflies, but with a love that is quieter and deeper serving as a foundation for a life together can sometimes only be described as “normal”. This isn’t a bad thing, but a beautiful thing. Emotions come and go, but the covenant we made is meant to be for a lifetime.

Naturally, that’s where my mind goes next- to the lifetime in store. I don’t know what God has for us; I’m learning to trust Him more than trying to figure out what’s years down the road. But as I consider these things and think ahead, I want this marriage to be marked by faithfulness. I want to look across the table at my bride in ten years, knowing that she’s the one. Then twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, and even more. One day, I want to look into her eyes, think of all the memories we’ve shared, and be able to say “We did it.”

I know it will be no small accomplishment to remain faithful. In fact, to have a marriage that stands the test of time is one of the most radical and counter-cultural things we can do as Believers in this fallen world. To be faithful is to paint a picture of a Savior who is faithful and has given Himself up for His bride, the church. This is the reminder Paul gives to husbands in Ephesians 5:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself…This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:26-28,

These verses give me hope. These verses remind me that I can be faithful in a world where infidelity is pushed upon us from nearly every angle without ceasing. Paul’s reminder is one that shows where we can find the fullness of all our marriages are to be, but the road there isn’t easy. Christ give Himself up for us, living a perfect life and dying on the cross for us. He won the victory and purified all who would come to Him in saving faith.

Then, He empowers us. This is the beauty; this is the hope. In Christ, I’m empowered with everything I need to reach that day where I can know that we made it. Where we can smile and see how God cultivated our love for one another. He gave us everything we needed to beat the odds.

At times, it can be easy to despair what’s ahead, but if I’m honest, I’m excited. He has been faithful to us before and will be faithful in what’s to come. Our story together is a reminder of this hope.

Leaving a Legacy

What is the one thing you want people to remember about you when you’re gone? This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot this week. For me, the idea of leaving a legacy has been rooted in thinking about the new life joining our family in July. For many others, the passing of Kobe Bryant has given all of us a reason to pause and consider the reason we’re all here.

If you don’t know, Kobe was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, was considered the NBA’s League MVP in 2008, and also had eighteen All-Star selections to his name. For an entire generation of basketball, he was their icon. He had a distinct, competitive nature to his personality and his approach to basketball, but a deep, passionate love for his family, as well.

What Michael Jordan was to kids of the 90s, Kobe Bryant was to kids of the 2000’s. And so, when news broke Sunday afternoon of his tragic death in a helicopter accident, along with the news of multiple others involved who died unexpectedly, the entire nation stopped to reflect on his life.

One of the interesting trends I’ve seen in light of this tragedy has been how unanimously people have talked about Kobe making a difference. From basketball teams honoring him in games throughout the week, all the way up to talks of redoing the NBA logo in his likeness. It would be wrong to argue the things he accomplished are pointless- because they’re not. People agree that he really has left a legacy.

I think this points to a desire wired deep within us to live our lives for something greater. All of us what to know that we’re making a difference. All of us want to know that our lives mean something. All of us are searching for that answer.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, it says that God has “put eternity into the hearts of man.” We’re all searching for the answer to some of life’s hardest questions, but we don’t realize that the answer to these questions is found in the one who made us. How can we know that we’re making a difference?

It’s in glorifying God and enjoying Him forever that we find the means by which we can leave a legacy. This legacy isn’t always marked by fame, but instead by faithfulness. It’s about training our kids up in the knowledge of God, loving those around us, and living a life seeking to honor God in all the decisions we make. It’s about asking for forgiveness when we mess up, encouraging our brothers and sisters in the faith, and inviting others to be reconciled to God.

But it’s also in the quiet mornings in the Word of God and in prayer, in the listening ear we offer a friend in the tough times, and in the wisdom we hope to share from a verse that has impacted our lives. In all of these moments of steady faithfulness we find what our hearts are searching for: satisfaction for the desire God has placed within us all. A desire shown clearly this week in the legacy left behind by a legend.