God may judge it mete, To rescue with a tweet

This is the second in a four part series exploring the Christian’s approach to social media. Today we will consider the benefits of social media after last week tackling the dangers. In the next two weeks we will look at why and how I use social media and finally offer some tips for using social media.

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In recent years I have often listened to friends and family publicising the fact that they have left social media. Some people are simply ‘fasting’ from it, while others have quit it altogether. I have found that there is usually an air of pride that accompanies these announcements. However, I have rarely heard people laptop-computers-1446068-mpublicising the fact they are joining the social media ‘club’. Often those who join social media can do so with a sense of shame/embarrassment – feeling like they are joining something they shouldn’t be.

But, there are plenty of benefits to using social media and those who use it should not be ashamed – given that it is being used well. Below is a brief list of benefits, before we turn to Scripture to consider an overarching benefit.

Relationships

I have had the great privilege of being able to travel. In particular I have spent brief periods of time in both Peru and Zimbabwe.

While in these countries I spent time with people who had a significant impact in my life, formed friendships with others I had things in common with and met numerous brothers and sisters in Christ. However, after a number of weeks I had to travel thousands of miles back home to Northern Ireland. There is now a considerable physical distance between these people and me.

Yet, with social media I can enjoy the great benefit of maintaining and even strengthening these relationships. I can watch friends timelines and to a degree ‘experience’ life with them, and they too can do the same with me.

Social media offers the great benefit of keeping and strengthening relationships, in particular long distance relationships.

Living the Gospel

Although there is a persistent debate concerning the balance between proclaiming the gospel and displaying the gospel, the fact remains that the gospel must be both displayed and proclaimed (in what proportion we can leave for another day).

Social media I believe offers just one more avenue in which the gospel may be lived out and displayed. It provides us with the opportunity to allow people to share our lives, albeit in a limited way. Paul told the Thessalonians ‘we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves’ (1 Thess. 2:8 ESV).

Therefore, social media offers us the benefit of giving people a window into our lives – our priorities, our calendar, our service – and in giving people a window into our lives we live the gospel, to a degree, in front of them.

An Audience

Connected to the above benefit, social media can give us an audience which is usually bigger than we often enjoy.

When I delivered my talk on social media I delivered it to a group of 20 young people. Last week I was preaching at my church’s prayer meeting, again I had an audience of approximately 20 people. There are many people who will not make the time to come and listen to me teach the Bible, or share my thoughts on particular topics (and I don’t necessarily blame them). However, through social media I enjoy a much bigger audience. In addition to a bigger audience, I have an audience which constitutes non-Christian family members who wouldn’t listen to me in person, old school friends who shunned me when I confessed Christ and others who could not make it to hear me.

Social media gifts the benefit of an audience (although we should treat this audience with respect).

Prayer Ministry

I have only recently realised this as a benefit.

I follow a church planter from Wales called Dai Hankey on twitter (@daihankey). From time to time he will tweet that he has some spare time and will take prayer requests and pray for people. This is a great idea, and a good way to use social media.

In my new job with Baptist Youth I have reversed this idea and repeatedly posted on social media prayer requests for the ministry of Baptist Youth. Lots of people have responded both in person and through social media. This effort has began to cultivate a group that consistently check Baptist Youth’s social media and pray for those issues and concerns shared.

Social media can be used beneficially by creating a prayer ministry.

Overarching Benefit

Last week I quoted the book of Colossians. We must return there to see the overarching benefit that social media can be:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col. 1:15-20 ESV).

The key verse here is 16, ‘For by him [Jesus] all things were created…all things were created through him and for him’. Social media falls into this category; it has been created for Jesus. It can be used for the glory of our Saviour and this is the overarching benefit of social media.

John Piper, concerning social media and these verses from Colossians, tweeted ‘All things were created through Christ and for Christ. The world does not know it, but that is why twitter exists, and that is why I tweet’. He also tweeted, ‘The Lord of the earth and sky, Can thread a needles eye. So he may judge it mete, To rescue with a tweet.’

This is the overarching benefit of social media – it can be used to the glory of God. Not only in the faithful living of His people, but perhaps even through saving someone through a tweet.

What a glorious thought, God saving people from every tribe, nation, language and tongue through the gospel displayed and proclaimed through social media!

Certainly we can say that social media can be beneficial.

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Thou Shalt Have No Graven Social Media Image

This is the first in a four part series exploring the Christian’s approach to social media. Today we will consider the dangers of social media and in the coming weeks tackle the benefits, why and how I use social media and finally offer some tips

Toward the end of 2014 I was asked to take a session on social media for a group of young people.

As I did a little research on Christians and social media I came across St. Pixels, Church of the Internet. St. Pixels is an online ‘church’ where people create an avatar and ‘meet’ together via internet at particular times throughout the week. This is an attempt at Christianity in a virtual world. One man who is involved in this experiment said that it’s great because everyone is real, open and honest; laptop-computers-1446068-mthere are no pretences.

What are your immediate reactions to St. Pixels?

I have huge concerns about this kind of experiment because I fundamentally disagree with this approach to church. How can you be real if you can’t shake a hand, give a hug or look someone in the eye?

Scripture tells us that Christians must never give up the habit of meeting together (Heb. 10:25), and I would argue this means physically in person. Indeed, John laments the limitations of the technology of his day as he writes ‘Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete’ (2 Jn. 12 ESV).

This idea of creating an online persona, and restricting interaction with people to social media and the like, is the danger I wish to address before briefly highlighting a few other dangers.

It is inevitable that engaging with social media will have some kind of impact on our lives – if it didn’t we wouldn’t do it. After all that is the reason we do anything, because it impacts our lives. Sometimes this can be for good, but on other occasions it can be negative.

One of the negative impacts that social media has is the creation of a graven image. Not in the sense that we create a physical image of God, but in the sense that we carve out a particular online image for ourselves. It is almost an exercise in branding, or rebranding, as we let people observe us as the people we want to be instead of the people we actually are. Perhaps you remember the ‘naked’ campaign where women put up pictures of themselves online with no makeup on to raise money for charity. Apparently, research revealed that on average women took 300 photos before they found one they were happy to put online. I am not sure I believe the statistic but I am sure most of them took more than one! This illustrates the point – we portray a particular version of ourselves.

Once we have created this online image we can very quickly become consumed with how many friends or followers we have; how many retweets, favourites or shares we get; what replies or comments are posted; who is befriending or following us.

The result of this is that our online image begins to shape us; in other words we begin to take our identity from it. A poor day online is a poor day, whereas a good day online is something to record in our journal (or perhaps more realistically tweet about).

The apostle Paul warns about this kind of behaviour in the book of Colossians:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations — “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 2:20-3:4 ESV).

In the Colossian context people were taking their identity from their religious image. They followed rules and regulations to make a name for themselves, to be honoured and adored by others, to be accepted. Paul’s concern was that they were getting their identity in all the wrong places. If you have been raised with Christ, he says, then your identity is in Christ and that is what matters. Acceptance from Christ far outweighs the acceptance of others, or at least it should.

Regarding social media the same principle applies. The danger is that we take our image from our online persona and how successful we are on that front. But, Paul would gently remind us that our life is now hidden with Christ in God. Your photograph got no likes? So what, you are seated with Christ in heaven. Your tweet got no retweets? So what, your life is hidden with Christ in God. Your Bible College lecturer stopped following you? So what, you will appear with Christ in glory.

Allowing social media to define our image is a massive danger, and yet very subtle. We must protect against that – and I find that meditating on Paul’s words to the Colossian helps me recalibrate how I think about my identity and self-worth. No longer do I find satisfaction in online activity, but rather in heavenly thinking because Christ is seated with my life hidden in God. When he returns it will not matter how many likes my new profile picture got…but it will matter on whether my mind is on heavenly things or not.

Our hope is our identity in Christ, not our social media profile!

As mentioned above this is not the only danger. Here is a brief list of other dangers, some related and some not.

Speed

Speed is one of the big selling points of social media. Talk to your many friends immediately; share your spectacular photograph instantly; follow your favourite celebrity incessantly. This is the attraction, the speed with which life can take place – the good things are shared in a moment and the bad buried in a flash.

However, this poses a huge danger. It is all too easy to make a rash statement with social media and have a plethora of people see it. There are many things we are willing to say about people when they are not present (although this should not be), which we would never dream of saying to their face.

Social media can make that moment public. Our thoughts, reactions and misguided judgements are broadcast in a second for the world to observe. A moment of anger can cause irreparable hurt all because we can express that anger to the world with great speed – often not allowing yourself time to thoughtfully consider our reaction.

Misread

Slightly related to the above danger is the fact that what we put on social media is primarily read.

The danger with this is that tone is very difficult to discern in only 140 characters. This makes it exceedingly easy to be misunderstood. What is said in jest could easily be taken seriously; sarcasm could be interpreted as venom; empathy could be read as self-pity.

It can be very easy to be misread and misunderstood.

Emotionally Draining

Social media proves dangerous in that it drains us emotionally.

Think about scrolling down through your newsfeed: cute picture of a baby (aww!), a tribute to someone who has died recently (sadness), a rant about politicians (funny or annoying), a picture from a Saturday night (shocking), a celebration of an anniversary (happiness), a family member sharing news you’ve not heard yet (anger).

Look back through the list and note the range of emotions experienced inside two minutes of scrolling through a newsfeed. That is a lot of emotional energy expended in a very short time.

This drain on emotions then impacts how we function in life.

Pride

This danger is such a subtle danger that many of us are blind to it.

Have you ever celebrated how many followers or friends you have? Do you keep track on how many followers and friends your friends have? Is your mood dictated by your online ‘performance’?

We can so easily slip into the trap of finding our satisfaction in our social media persona.

False Image

The danger of pride can very quickly lead to this danger – promoting a false image of yourself.

To a large degree we exercise control over what appears online. We choose what pictures go up, we choose what we say, we choose when we appear online, and so on. Almost like St. Pixels, we create this online persona which we hope will make people like us, or admire us, or trust us, etc.

In real life, as we spend time with people in person they are able to observe us constantly. They see every small reaction, note how we talk to so and so, remember when we spoke, or failed to speak, and a host of other characteristics and traits. Undoubtedly we do not want some of those traits broadcast and so we choose to keep them to ourselves.

Social media is a dangerous thing, especially for the Christian. However, it is not all bad and so next Monday we will note the benefits.

Prayerful Priorities: A Call to Spiritual Reformation

What’s the greatest need of the church? What’s the most pressing need for your congregation? What should be your greatest priority?

If this was kids’ TV, I’d ask for answers on the back of a post-card. In lieu of such a method of reader participation, allow me to anticipate some responses. In fact, if you pushed me, these are probably my knee-jerk reactions to the question. What’s the greatest need of the church? Perhaps it’s systematic expository preaching, which strives to apply God’s Word to God’s peoples’ hearts. Or, our top priority should be crafting robustly biblical worship, joyful and true. Maybe we need a greater understanding of theology, deeply considering how redemption has been accomplished and how redemption is applied. Possibly, our priorities should include greater discipleship; focused evangelism; increased personal holiness?Spiritual Reformation

The list is endless. But, in A Call to Spiritual Reformation, Don Carson argues that each of these is merely symptomatic of a more serious need. There’s a vacuum, he argues. An abyss. An emptiness, a hollowness, which threatens to engulf the church. A primary priority which conditions all secondary priorities.

“The one thing we most urgently need is a deeper knowledge of God”. In our churches, in our individual lives, our priority must be getting to know God better.

You might be thinking: “that’s obvious”. A deeper knowledge of God? Surely that’s not the greatest specific need of the twenty-first century church? It’s arguably the greatest need for the church holistic, regardless of time or place. But, when it comes to knowing God, “we are a culture of the spiritually stunted”. We focus on the applied benefits of redemption; we tack the pursuit of our happiness, prosperity, and the fulfilment of our felt needs onto Christianity. We make God, therefore, “the Great Being…who meets our needs and fulfils our aspirations”. If we’re only seeking God’s blessings without any desire for a deeper knowledge of Him, then we’re selfish. All our growth will be stunted.

Everything Carson says, in A Call to Spiritual Reformation, flows out of concern for our need of a deeper knowledge of God. But, how does this pursuit shape our priorities of prayer? In fact, why is A Call to Spiritual Reformation about prayer? If our greatest priority should be to grow in our knowledge of God, why does Carson focus on prayer?

First: “one of the foundational steps in knowing God is prayer”. Prayer is verbal and spiritual communion and communication with the Triune God. So, prayer has a foundational role, in our pursuit of deeper knowledge of God. Second: “one of the basic demonstrations that we do know God is prayer”. If prayer is so fundamental to our knowledge of God, then the question of how and what we pray “is as important a question as we can ever face”. This is why Carson focuses on prayer; because how else “can we meet the other challenges confronting the church, if prayer is ignored as much as it has been?”. Prayer is vital, if we’re going to grow in knowledge of God. And, in a cyclical fashion: this pursuit must inform the priorities of our prayer.

Prayer which eagerly and passionately pursues God is not bare prayer. It’s prayer, with adjectives: “persistent, spiritual, biblically-minded prayer”.

If we’re striving to grow, our prayer must be persistent. We don’t live in The Matrix; our brains can’t instantly download the necessary information and practice to make us masters of prayer. We’ve got to keep praying. “God is not more disposed to help us because our insincerity and flightiness conspire to keep our prayers brief”, and so we must be persistent! Our prayer must be spiritual. We shouldn’t view prayer as an add-on item, to be tacked on to the end of Christian activity. That’s “frivolous, hollow and superficial”. Prayer isn’t a mantra we’re obliged to perform; so our prayer must be spiritual! And, it must be biblically-minded. Carson’s not calling us to enthusiastic joyful prayer, but without any connection to the Bible. If we’re totally misappropriating or misapplying Scripture as we pray, then we’re in danger. Instead, “the rich mixture of approaches to God mirrored in Scripture must be taken into our lives”. This saves us from “formulaic praying, liberally ladled with clichés”, and at the same time helps us truly intercede for others by “think[ing] through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for”. We must be persistent, spiritual and biblically-minded in all our prayer. These three adjectives must become our priority.

How do we do this? What road are we going to travel?

Through God’s Word. “Just as God’s Word must reform our theology and our practices, so also it must reform our praying”. Carson exposits a smattering of Paul’s prayers. He limits himself to Paul’s letters, so we can see, more clearly, the repeated themes and emphasises of Paul’s prayer. If Scripture must reform our prayer-priorities, Carson looks to Paul; he shows the kind of prayers we should be praying, how we should be praying them, and the beliefs we should have about the One we’re praying to.

So, let me conclude by highlighting Carson’s exposition of Paul’s priorities of prayer, through 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.

Firstly, Paul is thankful.

When we give thanks, it’s usually for material blessing or physical provision: an unexpected bonus in your paycheque, an exceptional dinner. Usually, “what we give thanks for betrays what we value”. Our thanksgiving highlights our priorities. So, what is Paul thankful for?

  1. Paul gives thanks that his readers’ faith is growing.

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly” (v3a). Paul’s priority is that believers grow deeper in their knowledge of God.

  1. Paul gives thanks that his readers’ love is increasing.

“The love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (v3b). Practically, their love is growing. There can be no other reason “than because they are loved by Jesus Christ and love Him in return”. This is a clear sign that grace is working in their lives.

  1. Paul gives thanks that they are persevering under trial.

“Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (v4).

Paul’s priority is that which belongs to “the realm of heaven”. The tangible signs of heaven, breaking through in the lives of real believers, “which incline our hearts and minds toward heaven and its values”. We must look for the sings of grace in the lives of Christians, and thank God for them! This must be our top priority, if we’re to grow deeper in our knowledge of God: to thank Him for revealing Himself more deeply to our brothers and sisters. Do we do this? Have we thanked God for signs of grace in the lives of our churches?

Secondly, Paul is confident.

The goal of these signs of grace is Paul’s focus.

  1. For believers, there will be vindication.

“Since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you…when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed” (v6, 10). This prospect of Christ’s return must be a life-transforming reality. There will be an end, in which we see Christ!

  1. For others, there will be retribution.

“When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (v7-9).

Paul’s focus is orientated towards the end of the age. He savours the return of his Saviour; he anticipates the glory and the end of the Last Day. This gives Paul, and his prayer, perseverance and lasting strength. “It is hard to follow a despised, crucified Messiah – unless we fix our eyes on the end”. Our minds must be fixed on the new heavens and the new earth, if we’re to endure this world.

So, those are Paul’s priorities. How-about yours? Do they compare, or contrast? I’d encourage you to pick up your Bible, buy A Call to Spiritual Reformation, and determine to grow deeper in your knowledge of God.

War on Error

In my recent preaching I have been trying to work my way through the short letter of Jude. Admittedly, this is a difficult book to preach. Undoubtedly part of the difficultly surrounds Jude’s heavy reliance on extra-biblical sources (i.e. documents written around the same time as the biblical material yet not included in the canon, such as the Testament/Assumption of Moses), his very condensed writing and the seemingly harsh themes contained within. Additionally, as textual critics point out, Jude has some of the most disputed verses in all of the New Testament.

danger warningOn top of all this, Jude becomes a very difficult book to apply well. Some people abuse it to justify calling people they don’t agree with ‘heretics’. Others ignore it feeling the theme of judgement and punishment is not very ‘Christian’.

As I have studied this book (and attempted to preach it well) I have been struck again and again by Jude’s call to ‘War on Error’. Yesterday I preached on verses which gave some very helpful pointers in conducting the ‘War on Error’. The one which I want to highlight today is the encouragement to remember…

Remember

The verses I preached were 17-23, and in verse 17 Jude writes,

But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

At this point in his letter Jude is approaching his climax (vv. 20-23). He is only after spending an extended amount of time describing the identifying marks and ultimate punishment of false teachers (vv. 5-16). And so, he is sure to draw a distinction: ‘But you’. He is speaking directly to the believers and he calls them to remember.

This call to remember is not merely an exercise in memory recollection. It is a call to think about, consider and act upon. It involves both the mind and the will. It is an active exercise that Jude urges his readers to be engaged in.

It is unclear exactly how much contact, in person, Jude had with the church(es) he is writing to. However, what is clear is that men were sent with authority, by Jesus, to proclaim the gospel. This activity resulted in the planting of this church(es) by these apostles (consider v. 18 where the apostles are recorded as repeatedly speaking in person to Jude’s recipients).

The purpose of remembering the apostles’ predictions is so the Christians Jude is writing to may be able to both spot false teachers (and teaching) and keep a watch on themselves. In other words, this remembering is to aid them in the ‘War on Error’.

Read and Reflect

As I thought about applying this truth in my preaching there were two common applications that I could just not avoid.

The first was to read.

I appreciate that reading the Bible can be seen as a safe and easy application for a sermon. But in the ‘War on Error’ it is vital that we cultivate as deep a love for God’s truth as much as we cultivate a deep knowledge of it. And the first step to cultivating both a deep love and a deep knowledge of God’s truth is by reading it until it works its way into our hearts and minds – which will require a lifetime of reading. And I think this repetitive reading is the key.

We must read all of our Bibles over and over again.

This is part of the reason I am a huge advocate for reading the whole Bible yearly. But you don’t even have to read it yearly – once every two years, or three years, or five years. As long as when we finish it we don’t leave it, but go back to the beginning and start all over again.

The Bible isn’t the only thing I think we should be reading though.

Something I have come to appreciate more in the last six months or so is Church Tradition and History. Being a ‘reformed’ non-conformist (Baptist) I have always (wrongly) had a certain amount of concern and fear of Church Tradition and History. However, I am becoming more and more appreciative of the lessons we can learn from it. We can see how false teachers (and teaching) arose throughout the history of the church and also see how it has been tackled, successfully or otherwise.

Three books I have found very helpful on this front recently have been:

The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (there are also a number of other confessions and creeds which are beneficial).

Contending for Our All by John Piper (three biographical sketches of men who stood for truth in their day and generation).

History of English Calvinistic Baptists by Robert W. Oliver (a history of Strict Baptists in England from 1700s to late 1800s).

The second application was to reflect.

Think about the things we read – again possibly an easy way out on the application front. There is no better way to equip yourself for the ‘War on Error’ than to engage your mind in reflective thought both on the apostles teaching and Church Tradition and History.

Perhaps keep a notebook beside your 1689 Confession and note the truths you think are neglected today. Pray through Scripture seeking a deep understanding of the truths expressed by the biblical authors. Consider the false teachers and teaching of the past – are they present today in a slightly different form?

Caution

This ‘War on Error’ must be fought cautiously.

Mark Driscoll, for all his foibles, offered one piece of advice that is impressed upon me deeply. He warned that the young, restless and reformed movement were far too eager to wage a ‘War on Error’. He warned the young restless and reformed movement to not throw around the term heretic loosely.

We must be very cautious, and just because someone is slightly erroneous in one view does not necessarily mean they are a false teacher, a heretic, and therefore must have war waged upon them.

However, this caution does not mean you are not equipped to respond to call of Jude. Too many of us leave the ‘War on Error’ for the qualified pastor or Bible College lecturer. But this is not who Jude writes to, he writes to a congregation(s).

Now this does not translate as a naming and shaming of people on social media we disagree with. Rather, it means after a thoughtful consideration of their teaching, a constructive conversation with close and trusted friends and much prayer to the God of truth we then form a decision. It is then our responsibility to shield other Christians from their teaching – not by using the proverbial soapbox, but in private discussions with our brothers and sisters.

Commenting on the verses I preached yesterday, Michael Green writes

We have largely lost any sense of the diabolical nature of false teaching, and have become as dulled to the distinction between truth and falsehood in ideas as we have to the distinction between right and wrong in behaviour.

Although a slight generalisation, I agree with him. May we not neglect the ‘War on Error’!