“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.’ After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:20)

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (1 Corinthians 4:20)

All the talk now is about civil rights for homosexuals, gay marriage, gay Christians, whether or not a monogamous gay couple is still living in sin according to the Bible, and what the Bible even says about homosexuality, whether it condemns it as sinful or not. All of this age-old doctrine which denounces homosexuality is being thrown into question and people can’t stop talking about it. But that’s all it is right now, really, is talk. And the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk only, but of power.

I like what Bill Johnson says about healing in the Church: that if the part of the Church that believes in miraculous healing would demonstrate it, then there wouldn’t be a part of the Church that didn’t believe in it. Until there is a demonstration of what we say we believe in, it’s just talk. And if all we do as Christians is talk but demonstrate no power, no authority, then it’s no wonder our endless ramblings have led us into questioning whether or not homosexuality (among many other issues) is sin. But if we demonstrated the power of the Word of God as Spirit working through flesh and blood, no amount of talking would ever be able to deny what happened.

So, many Christians now are coming to believe that monogamous, consensual homosexuality is fine according to the Bible. Great. But until I see something more than talk, something more than debates and people trying to prove they’re right and the other guys are wrong, it doesn’t mean anything. It has no power, no authority. Even Jesus worked a miracle before He started preaching and teaching. It’s astounding how well some people can critique the Bible and change what it says literally to make people believe it meant something else figuratively, but I don’t see those people healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, making disciples, with miraculous signs accompanying them. They’re focused on the laws and and talk and not so much on the power.

Then again, I don’t see very many people doing that at all, regardless of their stance on homosexuality.

And this poses a problem. While I side with the party that denounces homosexuality, who am I to talk if I don’t demonstrate power in the Holy Spirit? If I’m not making disciples, if I’m not healing the sick, if I’m not casting out demons, what effect would it really have in this world if I tell you that homosexuality is wrong? Would you care at all what I might have to say on the subject?

But I can’t do those things by myself, you know. The Holy Spirit must do them through me. So herein lies the key point: I must be changed to facilitate the working of the Holy Spirit in my life if I hope to say or do anything with power and authority. And so must you. And so must everyone who wants to live in the power of the Spirit and with authority. We can not stay the same way we are and expect God to bow to our demands and respect our comforts and still be used by Him. Again, I like what Bill Johnson says about this: that our comforts are not high on God’s priority list and probably the main reason the Holy Spirit is called the “Comforter” is because He intends to make us uncomfortable so that we will need the comfort of the Holy Spirit to make it through. In order to be changed, we need to be humble. God usually does not force change on us; we must respond to His call for change humbly and sincerely.

And now here is my challenge for you and for me: be changed. The gay pride movement hopes to instill pride and respect for homosexual people in all who hear its message, but not by following God’s example of love and grace. We should love and respect homosexual people, but not because they’re forceful and demanding of it. So I dare you, if you say homosexuality is not really a sin, that homosexual marriage is legitimate and honorable in God’s eyes, to pursue the Lord, obey Christ’s call for all of us to heal the sick, raise the dead, drive out demons, make disciples. I dare you to do these things, allow God to change you from the inside out, and still hold onto pride of any sort, still believing and teaching that monogamous homosexuality is fine.

Regardless of our stance on homosexuality, we’re all called to pursue the Lord, be changed by Him, make disciples, heal the sick, and so on. So let’s do it. If we don’t live with the power of the Holy Spirit, all of the calls for pride and demands for respect are just empty talk.

Last year, my brother offered to start a fundraiser so that people in America could all pitch in together to buy airfare for me, my wife, and all of my kids to fly back to the US for a visit. We turned it down. We had a few reasons, but essentially we felt it was not time for us to go back to America, and we still feel that way.

I think about America a lot. More now than I used to. I think about my old friends I had in America, my family and relatives, my old church, even old jobs I had years ago. I don’t want to go back to live, I know that; God has brought me to Japan and my place is here, at least for this season of my life. I just think sometimes that it would be nice to go back for a visit. But then, other times, I think I have no reason to back and I’m happy right here.

Years ago, before I ever moved to China, I read the book “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel. I loved it. But one of the things I loved about that novel was its cover; it was a picture of an Indian boy in a lifeboat with a tiger in the middle of an ocean… alone. I told God then that I wanted to be like that — I wanted to get in a boat and sail off and just be lost out there alone on the sea, guided by only the Holy Spirit. Then I moved to China and realized God had answered my prayer.

Now I live in Japan and have not been back to the US since June, 2010. My children have never seen American soil. And I’m losing contact with people. Some of them I’ve lost contact with purposely for whatever reason, while others have simply drifted in their own lifeboats farther and farther until I could no longer see them on the horizon. Am I even American anymore? If I went back to America, would I still have a place there? Even if all I did was visit for a short time, my entire time there would be taken up with fulfilling expectations to people, visiting them, going to their churches, seeing their new wives, new husbands, new kids, new activities. I would be inundated with updates from people I don’t know anymore. I love them, but I don’t know them anymore.

I have no life in America. I’m in Japan. And the more kids I have, the harder and more expensive it is for me to go back to the US. And I think this is what God wants. He’s the one who brought me to Japan, who led me to marry a Japanese woman, who gave me these kids I now hold in my arms. God has not yet given me the means to go back for any reason and I don’t want to try to make it happen on my own. If I go back, God is going to have to take me back Himself.

So, I’ve learned a lot being out here on the sea in my little boat with God. I’ve struggled and cried and fought and danced and worshipped and prayed and begged and cried some more, and the Lord has led me through all of it. I wouldn’t have experienced half of this if I’d stayed in America or held onto America for comfort. I can tell you now, if you want to grow, if you want to be challenged, if you want to become stronger, if you want to man  up, let your lifeboat drift from land a ways and trust God to guide you.

When I first got married, I thought I had made a terrible mistake. When my wife and baby daughter moved in with me while I was living in China, I went through an awful period of time of regretting getting married, feeling suddenly and absolutely homosexual through and through, and I had no idea what to do. I was afraid of my wife in some ways. I was afraid she’d reject me if she knew about what I was struggling with, afraid she’d want a divorce, afraid she’d resent me or try to hurt me in some way. Meanwhile, every day I lusted after guys on the street, on the bus, at work, in restaurants, out shopping, everywhere, from morning till night. I was so wrapped up with guys in my mind that I couldn’t see my wife in the way once had, the way a husband should view his wife. I couldn’t love her properly, I wasn’t attracted to her, and I was the closest I had ever been to telling her I was actually still gay and wanted out of the marriage.

To make a long story short, I fought. I prayed and cried and eventually told my wife what was going on with me. She didn’t get upset and she didn’t reject me, either. It didn’t seem to bother her at all. She still loved me. Months and years passed and I continued to fight and pray and cry and that hardship and temptation left me… or I left it. I’m not tempted or struggling like that at all anymore, and I love my wife now more than ever.

But some people would say that I was gay and I should have never gotten married to a woman. But that’s not true. I felt gay, but I wasn’t really.

On last New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I fasted. I ate nothing for those two days. My wife was in the hospital recovering from giving birth. She knew about me fasting. She encouraged me to continue fasting until the morning of January 2. I agreed, but couldn’t sleep much the night before. I woke up at 1:30 in the morning, in pain from hunger. Yes, technically it was January 2, but just barely. I stayed in bed until about 4:30, then decided to get up and eat. I drank a cup of herb tea to prepare my stomach, and finally ate a little bit at 5:00.

I felt like a wretched sinner afterward.

I had been under the expectation that I would not eat until I ate breakfast as usual that morning. 5:00 was not a usual time for me to eat breakfast. I cheated. I ate too early. I failed. I was a failure. My fast was a waste. I was a waste. I sinned. I was a sinner. God was angry. He was disappointed in me. I was a disappointment. He could forgive me, but then that would be an abuse of His grace. I didn’t want to become a grace abuser, too.

I took my son to the store with me by bicycle later that morning, unsure if this voice I was hearing was from God, my flesh, or something else. I didn’t know what to do with it.

During the fast, God had made me aware of some subtle sins I was guilty of and of which I had to repent. I thought I was done, clean, ready to move on to the next phase of life. But instead, on that morning of January 2, my new phase of life started with me being a wretched, wasted, disappointing failure. And I was planning to go see my wife in the afternoon.

As I rode my bicycle to the store, rather than fighting that voice inside my head that told me I was those things I just mentioned, I listened to it. I followed where it led me, step by step, but cautiously, not necessarily accepting its accusations. After going through the list mentioned above, the next step was that I couldn’t tell my wife what I had done; that I had eaten breakfast earlier than usual and thus failed in my fast. “Why can’t I tell her?” I said aloud. Because she’ll be disappointed, too, just like God. And while God can show me grace, my wife is human, so she can’t. She’ll be angry. She’ll be sick of me and my failures. She’ll hate me. She’ll hold it against me for the rest of our married lives. Or she’ll want a divorce. Don’t tell my wife. I must keep it a secret and guard myself against her or she’ll hurt me. She doesn’t need to know. She doesn’t need to be fully involved in my heart and life.

That was it. I knew right then that this was not from God. This voice I was hearing and which I suddenly realized I had been hearing for all of my married life was not from God. It was a voice, no doubt. It was so loud in my head sometimes that I couldn’t shut it out. My fear, my anxiety, were not from God and did not lead me to repentance and love, but to secrecy and division. I knew then what I had to do. I spoke to the voice. It wasn’t my own voice I was speaking to. I realized then that I had my own voice apart from this “voice” that preyed upon my mind. I spoke, commanded it to be silent, cut it off from me, and spoke aloud the opposite of what it was telling me. I said aloud to myself, to the spirit which spoke to me, to God, to all of creation, and every being in the spiritual realm that my wife loves me! My wife loves me! She doesn’t hate me! She doesn’t want a divorce! I’m not a failure! Nobody is disappointed in me! I’m not a disappointment! God loves me! My pastor loves me! I am lovable!

…and so on.

Immediately I felt relieved. I smiled for the rest of the day. And I haven’t heard that voice since. It left me. And I have been more relaxed and sleeping better this year than in recent years. Not only that, but my relationship with my wife has grown, deepened, and been blessed.

There are spirits among us. They speak to us. You hear them, I’m sure of it. You know what I’m talking about. That voice you hear, that thing you feel in your stomach, your heart, your joints, or your mind, you know it. You might think it’s your own mind, your own thinking, and that might be partly true, but there are spirits and they speak to us and we need to be aware of them.

We are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). That means we can control our thoughts and either allow or deny certain thoughts to remain in our minds. The way we think, feel, believe, or the things we desire do not have to be so. If we’re consumed by lust, we can fight those thoughts. If we’re consumed by jealousy, anger, and bitterness, we do not have to remain jealous, angry, or bitter. If we feel like we’re failures, even though we know that we’ve been forgiven, we do not have to accept failure.

This is not motivational speaking! I’m not trying to sell you a book or launch a seminar! This is not self-help! This is truth. If your thoughts are contrary to what’s true, you don’t have to accept those thoughts. Chances are, those thoughts are driving a wedge between you and your spouse, you and God, you and other people, you and whatever it is God is calling you into. Therefore, they are not from God. And you don’t have to accept them. And you need to know that they may not necessarily be your own thoughts. They might be implanted there by evil spirits.

We don’t like to acknowledge the presence of evil spirits, but they’re real. Throughout the Bible, we see many people possessed by evil spirits which manifest as insanity, epilepsy, seizures, sickness, etc. Jesus and God’s followers were able to command and control these evil spirits and thus the person suffering was made well. Today, we just give them medication and hope our government pays for their continued care.

What if epilepsy were curable with the spoken word? What if the mentally ill were not actually ill, but rather possessed? What if depression was the result of spiritual oppression? People will say that I’m being inconsiderate of the feelings of these poor people who suffer from these things, that I should just accept their problems as incurable and be nicer to them as they continue to suffer throughout their lives. But, no, I’m not going to accept that.

I’m not going to accept disease.

I’m not going to accept depression.

I’m not going to accept pain.

I’m not going to accept divorce.

I’m not going to accept marital discord.

I’m not going to accept homosexuality.

These things are not normal, right, or good. They are not how we are supposed to get through this life. And in Christ, I don’t have to accept them. And I haven’t accepted them. And, although I once suffered from anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, lust, anger, dependencies on various things, distrust and resentment toward women, bitterness, homosexual feelings, and marital stress and frustration, I no longer do, and it’s not because I read a self-help book and decided to change my life, but because the Holy Spirit is in me and, in Jesus Christ, I have the power in the spiritual realm to either allow or refuse the influence of evil spirits in my life. And by the Holy Spirit, I can discern the voices of evil from the voice of my God.

You can, too. Don’t accept the unacceptable. Wake up and fight.

As a Christian, the notion of a spiritual world seems to me like something that simply has to exist if I call myself a Christian. Of course there’s a spiritual world. The Bible is full of references to spirits and the realm(s) in which they exist. Have you ever looked into this? It’s like the rabbit hole that Alice fell down into Wonderland. We tend to glaze over this realm of spirits and focus on things we can understand such as justice, righteousness, good works, joy, peace, and love, and these are all great things which the Bible also spends a lot of time addressing, but let’s not forget that there is a spiritual world which, in many ways, is more real than this physical one in which we live.

Go through the Bible and find all the references you can to angels, demons, spirits, heaven(s), hell, hades, the abyss, and so forth. People seemed to mention these things when they were writing the Bible as if they were common knowledge, as if there was no question about them. Howard Pittman had a vision/experience with the spiritual realm and talks about it openly. You can look him up on YouTube. He explains about the Nephilim and their role on the earth, their doings with the “daughters of men” as talked about in Genesis 6, and why God flooded the earth, and that the Nephilim are likely the fallen angels mentioned in Jude 1:6, and how it all connects with Revelation.

Between the falling of Lucifer to the earth, the Nephilim in Genesis, and the banishing of Satan and the demons to an eternity in the lake of fire in Revelation, we see people throughout history and recorded in the Bible suffering from (or, as in the girl in Acts 16, possessing supernatural and lucrative powers because of) spiritual infiltration, possession, and control. Apparently, there is an entire realm filled with countless spirits — angels, demons, and human spirits — and they’re active, moving about our world, occasionally manifesting themselves into physical beings which we can see and touch. There are accounts of this happening throughout the Bible.

I, myself, have had at least one encounter with angels manifested in the flesh. A few days before Christmas, 2004, I was walking in the evening, just after dark, along a busy street in my neighborhood. Four or five guys came running up from behind me and knocked me down to the ground and began kicking me. I was pushed into a brick wall and could not escape as they all began to beat me. I was shocked and terrified, but my first reaction was to pray. I commanded them in the name of Jesus to stop their attack and called out to God for help. Then I believe it was four angels that appeared; two above my head and two at my feet. Immediately all of the guys beating me ran off without stealing my wallet or taking anything from me. I quickly sat up and saw at least two angels chasing them, then looked out toward the street to my right and saw one angel running across the street, then it vanished into the air. They wore heavy, armored uniforms which looked like riot gear with red-and-purple fatigues on under them, and their hair was golden. I didn’t get to see their faces.

I have told this to some people, even non-Christians, and some of them have said that they were probably police officers and not really angels.

Right. Police officers. Four police officers with shiny blonde hair, wearing uniform red-and-purple riot gear, not saying a word to me or checking on me after the attack, suddenly appearing out of nowhere when I call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, chasing off my attackers, and then disappearing into nothingness. Which takes more faith to believe: that I was rescued by such police officers, or that angels appeared when I was in sudden danger and called on the Lord?

This all works together to make me realize even more that the spiritual realm is very, very real. In a way, we as humans play a very little role in all that’s happening in our realms of physicality and spirituality. Our bodies die in a very short time compared to the eternity which spirits live. And yet, we’re actually spirits ourselves. We simply live in our bodies for a short time before moving into the spiritual realm. Therefore, we also in a way play a very big role. Even Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:3 that we will judge angels. We are the only beings for whom Jesus Christ — the Son of God — died. We can be given His authority, His Spirit, and live in His power, by His grace. We are very, very little in and of ourselves, but as reborn spirit beings made alive in Christ, we are a power for the rest of the spirit world to take note of.

 

Read Hebrews 3 and 4. Both chapters.

Hebrews 4:1 — “Therefore, since the promise of entering his (God’s) rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” (NIV)

Fall short of God’s rest? Wait a minute, God gives us rest. Rest from what? Our work. God rested on the seventh day of creation, and we, too, should rest. God didn’t need to keep creating in order to continue being God.

We are told to not be found to have fallen short of entering God’s rest. God’s rest. That doesn’t refer to our own relaxation methods or laziness. It’s God’s rest. There’s a difference between God’s rest and our own laziness and relaxation. (Not that relaxation and laziness are the same. Please don’t split hairs with me here; I’m doing the best I can to express what’s inside me.)

But we can fall short of entering God’s rest. That’s why we’re told to be careful that we don’t fall short of it. How do we fall short of… anything of God’s? How do we fall short of His peace, His grace, His forgiveness, His salvation? By not measuring up, by not being righteous enough, holy enough, pure enough. How do we measure up/not fall short of God’s rest, peace, or salvation? Is it by our own deeds, our own righteousness? No, but by God’s grace given to us through Jesus. Trying to measure up/not fall short by our own good deeds equals work. And God rested from His work, and so should we. By resting, then, if we are trying to measure up with our own deeds and righteousness, we will believe that, by resting, we are condemning ourselves or sinning since there is no way to measure up if we aren’t constantly working toward that goal. Yet, God tells us to rest — He promises us His rest. We can only do this through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, our lives should not be about keeping ourselves from falling short or doing enough good stuff to be/remain righteous. Instead, our lives should be about abiding/remaining in Jesus, in His love, in His grace (John 15:1-17). Then, by abiding/remaining in Jesus, we are rather “automatically” kept from falling short by/because of/through Jesus Christ.

His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Go to Him and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

We do not need to try to measure up on our own. God said that He would never leave us nor forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:8, Hebrews 13:5). But will we leave Him? He is faithful even when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). Therefore, we know that we have the potential to be faithless. To not abide/remain in Jesus is to leave Him/forsake Him. He remains faithful to us even then, but we are on our own, alone, trying by ourselves to measure up by ourselves. I think in that situation, He stands by and waits for us. He does not leave us, but He knows when we want to try to measure up without Him, so I think He waits for us while He lets us try.

We can’t measure up by ourselves. If we do not remain/abide in Jesus, we will not measure up — we will fall short of His rest/peace/and, dare I say, salvation.

The only things we are told to do, the only commands we are given, the ultimate commands which sum up all of the law and the prophets, are to love God first and most above all else, and then secondly to love other people as ourselves. Is it our love, our acts of affection toward God and people which save us? No, but only God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Therefore, obeying those commands does not save us or cause us to measure up to God’s standard of holiness and purity. Doing something — even something good — with the intention of, for the purpose of trying to save ourselves or make ourselves measure up is self-driven, insincere, and done out of fear and obligation rather than true love and freedom from God in the Spirit. Therefore, by showing love, praise, and affections to God in an attempt to measure up, we are actually abandoning Him, abandoning Jesus, to make ourselves righteous by our own abilities. By showing love and affections to people in an attempt to measure up, we are actually breaking the command to love one another, especially to do so from a pure heart (1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 1:22).

We can not love others like that unless we abide/remain in Christ, receive/remain in His love, grace, and righteousness. Jesus Christ is the only One who can give us that pure heart from which we are to love God and people. When we are in that state of abiding/remaining in Jesus and we know that we are made pure and righteous by the blood of Jesus and not by anything we have done, then our hearts are pure and thus we can properly love God and others with pure affections, and only then can we truly find rest, knowing that we don’t have to try or work to measure up to be worthy of God’s salvation.

I’m working through my theology. This has been a hard month for me. I hate that word: theology. It sounds so sterile and distant, not at all like the loving relationship with the Creator that the Bible paints and which I’ve experienced. It sounds like something people sit down and argue about instead of getting up and running into the arms of our Heavenly Father. Still, I’ve been working through my theology this month, asking God and myself what it is I really believe, what it is He wants me to do, and how exactly I can be a Christian in this life among other questions on a long list I have in my journal.

One thing I’ve learned is that I’m not enough and I can never be enough. I’m not righteous on my own. Jesus had to make me righteous by dying on a cross and pouring His blood over me to wash me clean. But beyond this, I can’t do enough to be good enough or even better than I am. I can never do enough. In the modern church, there is this feeling like people who spend all day, every day, praying and fasting and reading the Bible are somehow better Christians than those who don’t do those things. In Revelation 4, there is a description of four living creatures which are around the throne of God in heaven, and day and night they worship the Lord, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” They don’t sleep. They don’t eat. They don’t have to go to the bathroom. They don’t get tired. They exist entirely to worship God constantly, day and night, forever and ever and ever. I can’t compete with that. I’d need to get some sleep eventually and stop long enough to eat something. And yet there’s a voice that tells me that I should pray more, read my Bible more, fast more, worship more, listen to Christian music more, listen to God’s voice more, write my heart out to God in my journal more, do more, and thus be a better Christian.

Do I have six wings? Am I covered in eyeballs? Do I have the head of a lion or an eagle or an ox?

I’m not enough. I can never be enough.

When the poor widow put her two copper coins into the offering collection, Jesus said she had given more than anyone else. He said that a Pharisee and a tax collector went to pray, and the Pharisee’s prayer was long and flowery while the tax collector’s was simple and humble and, I would imagine, short. Even when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, His prayer was pretty short. Whenever He broke bread to give to people, whether He was doing a miracle or sitting at a table with friends, He simple “gave thanks” and passed out the food. There was no long, eloquent prayer and blessing of the food. And in John 15, just before He was arrested, Jesus gave instructions to His disciples, and they did not contain any requirements of spending a certain number of hours each day in prayer or reading a certain number of Scriptures each day. His command was this: Love each other as He has loved us. That’s it.

Prayer, Bible-reading, fasting, and worshiping are all very important — vital — to our faith. But if we don’t have love, if we’re not producing fruit, then we’re not in good standing with God. We’re not righteous if we don’t abide in His righteousness. What does that mean? How do we do that? I don’t know. Like I said, I’m still working through my theology. But it has something to do with relaxing in Him and simply loving from a heart made pure by the blood of Jesus.

About two years ago, I deleted my Facebook account with no plans of ever getting back on it. I thought at the time that I’d have withdrawals from it, but I was surprised to find that I had none. Instead of feeling deprived, I felt refreshed, ushered into a new and wonderful way of life free from the pull of social media. A few months passed and I saw the value in blogging and knew I wanted to write, so I got on Xanga and got wrapped up with a group of warm and nurturing Christian brothers on there, most of whom shared similar struggles and experiences. But I stayed off Facebook. That was, until I met some people in Japan who apparently kept in touch only on Facebook and I thought that if I had any hope of having a social life in Japan, I had to get back on that grating merry-go-round of corporate advertisements and shallow relationships.

I started to like it, though. It was good to have regular contact with people again, even if only in an online forum, especially since Xanga closed its doors soon afterward. Many of the contacts (and dare I say online friendships?) I made on Xanga got carried over to the Facebook merry-go-round. Still, I made it a rule to keep my number of Facebook “friends” under fifty. I think my “friends” list has been hovering just above that number for a while now and I’m looking for a way to get it back down. And so I’m struggling with this.

Earlier this month, I posted this status update to my Facebook wall… or timeline… or whatever it’s called now:

Adding someone to your Facebook “friends” list is like inviting him to your house for dinner, but then not talking to him while he’s there except to say you like his dinner which you made, but he can’t respond to you because he’s too busy taking a picture of it with his smartphone and posting it on Instagram. I think I’ll do a sweep of my friends list soon.

Someone on my “friends” list soon commented on it, saying, “I’d say it’s more like letting people receive updates about what’s going on in your life, assuming that they’re interested and assuming that you want them to.”

I’m grateful for that comment. I’ve had to sit and chew on it for a while. Now here’s my reply, with no personal feelings attached, nothing intended or aimed at hurting the person who left that comment. You know who you are if you’re reading this. We’ve met face-to-face. I have nothing personal against you.

Inviting someone to my home for dinner is a sign that I welcome that person into my life, I trust him, and I want to get to know him more. It’s inviting him into a sacred, private space for the purpose of building a relationship. What good is it, then, if we don’t talk? So it is with accepting someone as a “friend” on Facebook, I feel. My Facebook page is private. Only select individuals get to see it. It’s special. Even carrying the title of “friend” in my book, even if only in an online forum, means something; at least it does to me. I don’t call everyone I know a friend. If I call you my friend, you’re special. If I let you see my status updates, I probably consider you differently than just another person out there in cyberspace. So if I call you my friend (by putting you on my Facebook “friends” list) and we don’t talk, what point is there in our connection? If there’s no relationship with me, how can anyone really be my friend?

The person who left that comment on my status said that Facebook “friendship” is more about people receiving updates on what’s going on in my life assuming that they’re interested and assuming that I want them to. But what kind of updates do people who don’t talk to me or have any relationship with me really need to get from me? And if they really are so interested in getting updates from me, why aren’t they equally interested in having a real relationship with me? That means talking to me on a personal level. As it stands now with daily updates and musings from my life, reading the Facebook news feed is little different from reading a celebrity gossip magazine. You can read all the gossip and news you want about Adam Lambert or Angelina Jolie, be incredibly interested in what they’re doing in their lives, wonder about their families and dreams and aspirations, but that doesn’t mean you actually have a relationship with them. It means you’re nosy and you need a new hobby.

Now I’ll try to be fair. I don’t give daily updates on my life to my cousins, uncles, aunts, and other relatives and distant relations I have. But I understand that, although we might bounce an e-mail to each other only once or twice a year, we still have a strong bond and they genuinely care about me and want to hear from me just as I genuinely care about them. But as long as I know they are doing well, they’re healthy, they have a growing relationship with the Lord, and their home life is good, I’m happy. I don’t need to see all of the pictures they’ve taken of themselves in the bathroom mirror every other day for the last four years. I don’t need to know what movies they’ve gone to see, what TV show they’re watching right now, what they ate for dinner last night and breakfast this morning accompanied by grainy pictures of food, or have huge portions of our conversations consist of hashtags. I care about those people, but I don’t need all of that to be satisfied. And do you know what? They don’t need that stuff from me, either. And neither do you. Nobody does. My life is not a gossip magazine. The majority of my relations should be happy with a Christmas card and an e-mail from me twice a year because that is what the people who have some of the strongest and oldest bonds with me get. And that’s normal. That’s good. It doesn’t mean I don’t like them. It means I don’t need their constant attention and comments every time I take a picture of myself in the bathroom mirror in order to know that we’re still on good terms.

I care about the people on my “friends” list. I really do. I want my Facebook to be a place I go and find fellowship with Christian brothers which is what I am missing most by living in Japan. I know that deleting people from our “friends” lists who might have thought we were closer than we really were is like saying, “I don’t like you anymore and I don’t care about hearing anything from you ever again. Now go away.” How is that not a slap to the face? But I’ve been through this in another, somewhat bigger way before. I had some very good, strong friendships with certain people at my church in America before I moved to Asia. But after moving to Asia, those friendships became restricted entirely to Facebook. I would e-mail them with stuff from my personal life, but get no reply, or get a reply only from their wives whom I didn’t personally know. After a long time, I realized that they did not care about maintaining a relationship with me. They had no personal communication with me at all. I thought I would simply continue e-mailing them stuff from my own life like I did to all of my other closest relations, but still got nothing from them. I felt that keeping up that kind of connection must have only made them uncomfortable — I imagined my old friends staring at that same e-mail from me in their inbox from a month before, knowing they had not yet replied or even finished reading it, shrugging their shoulders and telling themselves they were too busy to type out anything, and then moving on. I felt then that it would be more loving of me toward them to simply stop making them feel that discomfort, so I stopped e-mailing them entirely. I still have not heard anything from them at all in nearly two years, so I’m guessing they don’t miss me. I cared about those people. I still do. I want the best for them. And I learned that maybe what could be best for them would be no longer having to deal with me. That sounds awful, but think of all the time they have now to do the things they really want to do instead of reading my e-mails and typing ones of their own. I let them go because I loved them.

And maybe that’s what I need to do with a lot of people I know on Facebook… and maybe in other areas of my life, too. I don’t like putting up walls and blocking people out of my life, but I also despise settling for what’s mediocre when something much better is possible. I know studies show that the average person can have personal relationships with only around 150 people, but I think my number is much lower. I want to keep my Facebook “friends” list under fifty, not because I hate Friend #51, but because I love Friends #1-#50 too much to let our relationships become nothing more than an incessant line of self-photos and pointless, self-glorifying material. There has to be more to relationships than this, even online relationships. I don’t want to spread myself too thin.

I want to keep people updated on my life, but updated on the things that matter. I want Facebook to be a place of refuge and fellowship, real connection, and even intimacy if it’s possible. I want my updates to be personal, to be given to bless you and the other people I know online, not just to draw attention to myself. Denying someone my personal updates online and deleting him from my “friends” list does not mean I dislike him and don’t want to hear from him; I’m always open to receiving messages and e-mails from anyone. But it means I want something more with him than what we’ve been having and I think distancing him from the person who was willing to go with him to that deeper level of relationship might help him realize that there is indeed something more to relationships than attention-seeking and more to communication than just hashtags and pictures of food. It’s like that saying, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Cutting people out of my “friends” list, and maybe yours, too, might actually be the best thing for everyone.

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