Where is Jesus in all this new social web technology? part 1


The other day I was present at a men’s breakfast meeting of one of our local churches.

The topic of this breakfast meeting:

 We’ll have plenty to eat and all your questions regarding Facebook, Twitter, the internet etc, etc will be answered!!

The questions were addressed at a panel of experts all involved in IT and internet in daily life. There were a lot of questions from a very basic level as to what are these social networking sites, how do I protect my children from them, to where is Jesus in Facebook, Twitter, Google+? ( I could not help wondering at times that not being “in the know”, distrust and a call for protection went hand in hand).

Christians and the social web: bipolarity appears to reign

The questions came a midst a seeming division of camps in the Christian world. Last year the Pope called out to Christians to embrace these networks as a way to proclaim the truth.

If technologies are used with wisdom, he explained, “they can contribute to the satisfaction of the desire for meaning, truth and unity which remain the most profound aspirations of each human being.”

The “Christian way” of being present in the digital world means being “honest and open, responsible and respectful of others,” he explained. It is a way of communicating that is consistent with the Gospel, supported by actions worthy of the same witness in one’s daily life.

“New and more complex intellectual and spiritual horizons (and) new forms of shared awareness” are opened up by new technologies and Christians are also called to proclaim their faith in God in these spaces, the Pope said.

“Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the internet from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others,” he said.

Christ’s truth is not a question of online popularity, the Pope added, rather, it is “the full and authentic response to that human desire for relationship, communion and meaning which is reflected in the immense popularity of social networks.”

While noting that “direct human relations” are always essential to sharing the faith, he invited Christians to”confidently and with an informed and responsible creativity, join the network of relationships which the digital era has made possible.”

Having a Christian presence online is based not only on a desire to be there, but “because this network is an integral part of human life”
Source: Catholic News Agency 

At the same time however

Chicago parish advises churchgoers to keep kids away from social media 365 days a year, the Chicago Tribune reports:

“[Facebook] is exactly the opposite of the Christian culture where people go into the secrecy and sacredness of the confessional to blot out their sins forever,” St. John Cantius parish leaders wrote in the church bulletin.

The warning was directed at families trying to raise their children in a wholesome environment. It indicted social networking sites for encouraging vanity and dishonesty by providing an outlet for children to create their own electronic version of reality. It also pointed out, for example, that acronyms such as PIR (parent in room), POS (parent over shoulder) and GYPO (get your pants off) can lead children far astray.

“God entrusted parents with the care of their children for one particular purpose, and that is to teach them the way ‘to know, love, and serve God in this life and save their souls hereafter.’ Everything leads us to think that Facebook fits poorly into this plan and was devised for a very different goal.”

In an interview with NPR,Presbyterian pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow suggested worshipers not give up Facebook or Twitter for Lent or any other reason:

If social media is addictive and it’s holding you back from connecting to God and your understanding of spirituality, then, yes, by all means, pull back. But I think that oftentimes social media is allowing people to be church in a way that is unprecedented in our culture today. In fact, we should figure out, how do folks use social media even more effectively to be church during this time is another way to look at it.

There appears to be a bi-polar perspective so typical almost of the Christian world at large. The very relevant question “WHERE IS JESUS IN ALL THIS NEW TECHNOLOGY”  remained rather unconvincingly answered during that particular breakfast meeting. Hence an urge to expand on this a bit more in this series of posts.

Without  a doubt I can agree with the panel of experts that the internet is a great resource, makes it possible to be uplifted listening to worship music while doing other things. I can relate to that, I thoroughly enjoy listening to worship music myself, but in all fairness that is no valid argument to be online, I can go ad buy an album or listen to a Christian radio station for that. I do believe that as a resource the internet has opened everyone up to incredibly good teachers, from a church organisation and preacher/teacher’s perspective it is fantastic that your teachings may be available well beyond the wall of your church. From a personal perspective, I have had tremendous benefits from some of the sites out there with amazing speakers and sermons available to watch, listen, read, to name a few:

And there are of course hundreds more. All great resources all great places to hang out. But that does not answer the question Where is Jesus in all this new social web technology? 

The Great Commission

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 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 NIV

Now the great commission applies to ALL followers of Christ, I think we can agree on that. I think we can also agree that as Christians we are “in Christ.” With that said, you could answer the question “Where is Jesus in all this new social web stuff” with the simple reality that it is in the participation of you and other followers of Christ.

Our participation, the sharing of our lives and thoughts, either publicly or using more private parts of the technology may well be part of that great commission. Sure enough I like facebook to stay in touch with friends, family and my home church Harmony, but over the past years, I have found it an invaluable tool to support others, ask questions, answer questions.

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Just as in daily life, the way we live our lives and the way in which we live out our relationship with God will make a difference and the visibility thereof may well be a better way to  “make disciples of all nations”  may well be a better way to teach than trying to be the next ‘sermonizer’ on the net.

From a personal perspective, I think every life is worth sharing; it is not ours in the first place, and social networking sites like facebook are a great way to exemplify and or illustrate what it means to be “in the world but not off the world” (John17:14-15).  Does that mean I NEED TO BE ON FACEBOOK, GOOGLE+, TWITTER, HAVE A BLOG ETC? Not at all, but if I want to be the world than that is part of it, a part I choose to participate in, and I have found it to be the way to get to know others well beyond the boundaries of my own community.

As a father I will add, it is pretty simply the world our kids grow up in and understanding what is happening around them I see as part of my responsibility as a parent and teacher and last but not least I think it is fun, so why not?  And please be clear I do not see it as a replacement for real face to face relationships but as a complement to those relationships and a door to a wider network of interpersonal relationships.

Does this mean that as Christians we have to be on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, that we have to have a blog: I think the answer to that can be a short and sweet NO, but we can, and I did.

In summary

I think the question as to why participate in all this social media stuff: because you can, because your children and their friends will. As a parent I see it as my responsibility to keep up (as good as I can) so I can guide my children. Besides that because it is one way to be a light in the world and love God and others. It may not be your way but that is between you and God.  I agree with pastor Chow

But I think that oftentimes social media is allowing people to be church in a way that is unprecedented in our culture today.

Where Jesus is in all this social media? In the participation of each and every follower of Christ in this new technological stuff.

More in part 2, about the fear and perceived dangers expressed during the meeting.

 

An Inconvenient Truth?


32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32)

Today is visited an acquaintance. We were supposed to be visiting the Healing Room Christchurch but it was closed because of the school holidays. Upon my arrival I saw his state of being was not too flash. He felt rejected by society and most of all by what are supposed to be his brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Being the person whom he is, he did not blame or curse any off the people with whom he shares his faith; instead he wondered whether God had abandoned him and that as a result his fellow Christians were abandoning him.

I was reminded of some of the lessons I got when going through Law School. I thought back at how revealing it was to me that in law ot was not just what you did that could be legally relevant but also what you did not do: your omissions.  Paul very eloquently does not use any words that could indicate actions, he uses the verb causing. Which could also mean omission or in-actions. Could it maybe be that this was not a case of abandonment by God but by fellow Christians?

Admittedly, a wrong impression may easily occur. But looking through Christian goggles, that still does not mean that this man does not deserve a chance, no matter how different and needy he may be. And speaking from personal experience; give this man a chance and you will find a beautiful creation with a considerable depth in terms of faith and spirituality, despite some mental/psychological/psychiatric background and problems. Personally I can say, I have learned a lot from my acquaintance with him first and foremost that THERE IS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL IN EVERYONE IF WE ARE WILING TO LOOK FOR IT. But are we all looking for it? Or are we feeling more at ease with just staying at a distance.How sad is it really if a pastor from Auckland need to shop around and see whether there is a church that will accept this man for who he is?

Well what about your own church?

He does not want to go there any longer because of how he has been approached. He wouldn’t go there even if I tried to take him and believe me I will, again and again, despite his objections. What do you say to someone that cries out to you: “I have no church to go to anymore.” What do you say to someone that is experiencing a paradox daily as a resulted of the well meant but safe advice of fellow Christians.

You should be more amongst people.

However implicitly or explicitly it is also made clear that this does not include ‘the people’ that form part of the body of the ‘wise adviser.’ It all reminded me of the healing through Jesus, most of all the healing at the Pool of Bethesda. On several occasions people are urged by Jesus to go to the Temple. This is not so in the text of John 5 but thee a second encounter with the healed invalid takes place in the Temple. A number of the healings performed had a another significance:  hey did not just mean a physical healing, but also a spiritual healing which ensured that people could be entering the temple again. People that were crippled, or had other physical or mental conditions were not allowed access to the Temple, the core of their faith as a result of the Mishnah, the laws for Israel derived from the scriptures. Jesus did not just physically heal them, he ensured that the could be reconciled with the core of their faith in God. It fits in perfectly with his mission, with the concept that God wants to reconcile with His creation and uses Jesus and so illustrative are the words

“See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5: 14)

He did not say “Stay well” but “stop sinning.”  At the same time how harsh a law that prevents people that need it the most to have entry to the core of their faith. What else is there left than to stumble? What else is there left than to think that ‘you are not worthy of God’s grace because God’s law ordains it’?

At the same time I now wonder what is harder for a man: being denied on the basis of a religious law that is supposedly put in place by people that knew what they were doing, or being denied by people that purportedly care about your health and well being also in the spiritual sense?

You’d be better of finding another church, you would not or do not fit in. You are better of where there are more people like you.

Is this not the word upside down, and certainly not in line with what Jesus was teaching?  Paul, referenced at the start,  continued:

For I am not seeking my own good, but the good of many so they many be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10: 33)

Do we need to fit in with the worldly standards of the congregation of who is acceptable and who is not or do we as a Body of  Christ show the world that there is a place within the body for anyone and everyone no matter what their state of being is.  Yes it may be inconvenient in worldly terms, bit is that a reason to deny access, whether explicitly or implicitly?

I could well imagine someone saying to me referring to 1 Corinthians 10: 13:

Well if this man is tempted to turn away from God because of out alleged actions and omissions should we not expect God to provide a way for this man to stand under this temptation?

My rhetorical answer would be:

You are absolutely right, but given what I said earlier on, could it maybe be that we as the church, as the body of Christ arre that way out if we are willing to face the inconvenient worldly truth that comes with that.

Paul said:

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

With that in mind as well as out claim to be living out the full Gospel what is holding us back to restore this man to a state where he is no longer denied the core of his faith.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. 11 “The son of man came to save what was lost (only according to some manuscripts)

12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. (Mathhew 18: 10-14)

Can we really look ourselves in the eye when we have to admit that it is our worldly standards rather than our spiritual that is keeping such a man away from a fellowship in Christ? Is it maybe time for a “gutter bucket” ministry? And if so, “why me?”

What am I to do? Your words of wisdom would be appreciated as I am lost in this all.