Reaching Inbox Bliss

[This is a reprint of an article published last year.]

On a given day, my five email inboxes fill up with around 100 emails. The urge to read, respond, sort, and delete often proves overwhelming. I have to get the number back to zero before I can move on. I confess—it’s almost a compulsion.

Unlike traditional mail, email is cheap and instant. You can whisk out dozens of them without spending a cent, and the recipients have the digital bits nearly as soon as you press the send button. Of course, the same is true in reverse. With a good percentage of the population clacking away at their keyboards, the avalanche of emails often buries ministry leaders.

But you can get your email to work for you instead of being enslaved by it with a few simple steps.

Multiple Email Addresses

Cut down on the email time warp with more email addresses? That might sound crazy, but consider who exactly has your email address. Often, you have to give your address to online sites to purchase items, establish new accounts, and register for giveaways. If you set up an email address specifically to give to such sites, you’ll know that most emails you get on that account are low priority or promotional.

Reserve your main email address for friends, family, or professional contacts. If you have limited time, you can focus on that address for the more important missives.

A program like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook can easily handle all your accounts (they gather your mail from Exchange, Gmail, iCloud, Yahoo! Mail, and other accounts). Setting them up is easier than you may think.

The When

Resist the urge to check your email more than once or twice per day. If you leave your email program or site open, you’ll constantly check as soon as a new piece of mail pops into existence.

In fact, be careful about checking first thing when you sit down to work. If you do, you’ll likely spend most of your time deleting and typing instead of working on the project you meant to tackle. Could you miss something urgent? Perhaps. But if it’s really important, you’ll likely get a phone call or text message instead.

Plan your time carefully. Open up your mail, work through what you can, and get out when time’s up.

Inbox Zero

Do something with every email you receive instead of letting it taunt you from the inbox. Respond to the most urgent ones and then either delete or archive. If some have information you’ll need later, put them in a folder or archive. For messages that need a response later, move them to folders based on the date or timeframe you need to write back. After that, go through the folder for today’s date and either respond or move them.

Mastering email means being intentional. If you try to simply handle it as you can, you’ll likely end up frustrated with a bloated inbox. Put a system in place and stick with it.

Know Your Enemy

To most Americans who don’t know the Bible (especially younger Americans), Christians seem to be fighting a war against progressive ideas. Given the media portrayals of Christians denouncing this or that societal change, that’s an easy conclusion to reach. It would tie together what they know of our complaints and boycotts.

Now, let me go on record here to say that I’m committed to a straightforward reading of the Bible. All the way. I just accept what it says.

That’s why I know the enemy. And the enemy is not gay marriage, evolution, liberals, conservatives, or any other ideology. No, here’s what Paul says:

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

When we focus on the symptoms, we miss the real disease. The reason we’re fighting these secondary issues is because we’re not struggling against the primary one. We’re not here to attack people or their ideas—and certainly not their failings. We’re here to love them, point them to the Truth, and bring down Satan’s strongholds. (Yeah, I know—we like to act like that guy doesn’t exist.)

There are many, many people out there who are held captive. Satan uses them as living shields. We see those held hostage and ignore the one who’s really doing the damage.

Our fight isn’t against any person. It’s not against unbiblical relationships or gruesome acts. It’s not against institutions.

Our fight begins on our knees in prayer and continues with our servant’s hands.

Love Your Life Away

Two black engines—that’s how close I was to missing the train altogether. Instead, I watched as graffiti-tagged boxcars rumbled in front of me as I idled in my Prius within shouting distance of my apartment. I could see my road flash between the train connectors, but I couldn’t get there.

Trucks and compacts stretched up the hill behind me and disappeared around the corner. For five minutes, we had a common purpose—letting the train clear the crossing. We were held together without meaning to be.

And then it was gone—disappearing with a blue-rimmed skull above a bubble-letter nickname I couldn’t read. The gates rose, and the line of clustered cars dispersed.

Maybe that’s a strange place to notice, but I wondered about the impact I’m having. As humans, we get knotted together in groups at various points in our lives—like points of tension when a rope is kinked up. We have times when we get thrown together with a cross section of other people, and for that moment, we’re connected by an event, purpose, or roadblock.

But what am I doing with those moments? Am I using them to share love? Or am I just waiting for the time to pass?

Every day, people stumble by on their way somewhere. It’s easy to be absorbed in my own life, but I’m called to reach out and take hold of such moments.

I want to love my life away for Christ. I don’t want to hoard it for myself.

Irrelevance Suits Us

When John the Baptizer raised the head of Jesus out of the water, his main work was over. Jesus took it from there. The big event in the desert became a side note in the gospels from then on.

The American church would do well to grapple with that shift. When we squint back into the history of the church—the universal church of all followers of Christ—we see sand blowing through where the “center” used to be. Where once towers to Christian influence soared, there are now tourist attractions geared toward snapping pictures of the artwork. Where once monks and pastors got aching hands from writing about the faith, there are ruins of monasteries and castles.

The Holy Spirit reaches where He will reach. He does not follow our human lines of prestige and influence. America has no greater claim on the center of God’s work than London or Rome or Constantinople or Alexandria did. Our blogs and books make us no more the focus of the gospel’s impact than what the Church Fathers penned.

Instead, God uses those willing to decrease—wherever they may be found. The dying small towns of America. The slums of Mexico. The underground church of Asia. There’s no center—there’s only boundless grace.

America matters. It matters because God’s still breaking dead hearts and giving new ones. But the gospel explosions are happening elsewhere.

Let’s pray for the places God’s kicking up the dust—and that we’ll see the same here once again.

[H/T to Dr. Jonathan Martin for inspiring this title and idea.]

Why I’m Pentecostal: The Impact

[Make sure you read the background and change posts first.]

Being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” is not a panacea for your spiritual ills and human failings. You don’t suddenly stop struggling with the fleshy side of who you are. Nothing stops that but death. But that second baptism does jolt your life.

Now, let’s stop here and clear a few things up. The gifts of the Spirit are weird, yes—at least from our perspective. But they aren’t unintelligible—they clarify. He points us to Jesus; He inspired the Bible to be written and opens it up on this end as well; and He charges up our worship like a Red Bull.

He does not do things that lead people away from Christ—ever. He keeps things nice and tidy. He’s done with the Bible. And He does not inspire anyone to hang out with poisonous snakes. (He gives us wisdom to not be dumb, after all.)

Since my second baptism, the Spirt most often shows up in private moments to talk to God in a way that He understands, but I don’t. I never know when I’ll start or when I’ll stop. That’s up to Him. I can throw myself in fervent prayer all in English for an hour—and that’s all there is. Or I can have Him spark something when I had no other intention than falling asleep. It’s His leading, not my urging.

I’ve also been given one—and only one—interpretation of what someone else said in a language I’d never heard before. In fact, while the person was speaking, I kept my head down, hoping not to be noticed—like you do in a class when you don’t want to be called on. But I got called to bat, and the interpretation rolled out before I could even think.

As for miraculous healing, that’s also a single incident. A friend who’d suffered from epileptic seizures suddenly stopped having them—and hasn’t since we prayed for her. Given how bad they were before, I was pretty stunned. It was like brain surgery without the scalpel.

But for the most part, my post-Holy-Spirit-baptized life has been more of a private transformation. Slowly, I’ve had courage wired into me. I don’t really think about it unless I consider where I started. But when I do, I see how God’s taught me to master that manual transmission in my spiritual life.

And that’s where I am.