Encouragement From The Word

Influencing

This week, we heard news about a group of individual investors, brought together through Reddit, a social news website with all manner of topics and subtopics available for mutual discussion.  They undertook a risky and interesting social-financial experiment:  they bought up a bunch of shares in low-stock-value companies, raising their value.

The hope, initially, was to cash in and make a quick buck.

But what has happened as a result of this is that the Wall Street and Bay Street establishments have been put on notice:  social media can have a powerful influence on the way things have always been done.

This isn’t really new at all, of course; it’s just new in its application.

Social media have been influencing societal trends for years, and the huge organizations that largely own social media – Facebook (which owns Instagram), Google (which owns YouTube), Twitter, and even upstarts like TikTok – know this all too well, and they use their power over these platforms to influence people toward the views that their owners hold.

Analogously, they have replaced the church in western society in terms of their influential role.

It used to be that if people wanted to know what to believe about any number of issues, they turned to their local church pastor, their parish priest, or their denominational policies.  

But even within the church, that doesn’t much happen anymore.

People are most influenced by that with which they spend the most time.  And for most people, that’s social media.

A couple of thoughts come to mind as I ponder this heavy, stinging reality.

First, we don’t want to isolate ourselves from the world around us, so we don’t want to tell people to avoid social media.  (In reality, it’s pretty hard for most of us to avoid anyway.)  We’re not seeking to create monastic communities of our churches.

But what if we sought to be influencers ourselves, as followers of Jesus, by sharing biblical perspectives on social media?

I have to admit that I find this hard to do, because the feedback that comes is often pretty harsh, and I just don’t want to deal with the drama.  But at the same time, if we have a wide circle of social media connections, we can speak into the lives of others and be influencers in our own right when we stand up for what the Scripture says is true.  Even if other people choose not to believe it with us, at least we have given them another perspective to think about.

The other thought that comes to mind is that if we are going to share what our faith says about various issues, we do well to study what the Bible says about it.  And that means digging deeper in the Word to understand how Scripture applies to these life situations – beyond what the preacher says during worship.

The result is that you end up spending more time reading the Bible than you do reading your Instagram feed.  And I accept this as a word from the Lord to me, since if I’m honest I probably spend a lot of time on social that I could be spending in the study of God’s Word.

If that reversal happens, I’m pretty confident that my posts will be of greater depth and higher quality than they are now, and that my witness for the faith will be clearer.  Maybe the same will be true for you.

So equip yourself:  make sure you own a Bible that’s in a translation you find simple enough to read, and in a print size that makes it easy to read (don’t discount that last part!).  Perhaps acquire a study Bible that has notes in it, prepared with scholarship that seeks to help you apply the Word in helpful, contemporary ways.

But don’t leave it on the coffee table; pick it up and read it every day.  Or use an app on your phone, if that works better for you.  

Don’t bemoan the waning influence of the Christian faith in society; be that influence.

[I]f someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3.15b-16a, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Picking Up Stones

If you’re a social media user at any level, you know that conversations can turn bad pretty easily when people disagree.  It can happen in face-to-face conversations, too!  How do we avoid ‘picking up stones’?  Jesus gives us some inspiration in John 10.31-42.  The link below lets you view the entire service.

 

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: “Christians in the Age of Outrage” by Ed Stetzer

Have you noticed that as social media have become more commonplace that people 81P-q0lP98Lseem to have gotten nastier?  I know I’ve seen it.  And, if I’m honest, there may have been a few times where I participated in it.  Some people make it their life’s goal to call people to correctness – or to their opinion, at least – and hiding behind the computer monitor allows them to do so with a greater degree of vitriol than they probably would use in face-to-face conversation.

Sadly, Christ-followers have not been immune to being sucked into the vortex of ugly online conversation.

Dr. Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair for Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College in Illinois, is a prolific participant in social media conversations.  Having worked for LifeWay Research before heading to the Windy City, he understands how to gather and communicate statistics in ways that will help build up the church.  And he has done so once again in Christians in the Age of Outrage:  How to bring our best when the world is at its worst (Tyndale House, 2018).

I was provided an advance reader copy (for my Kindle app) of this book by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., and had high hopes of completing the book and churning out a review much sooner than this, but better late than never, here it is.

To be sure, this book is aimed primarily at an American audience, and given the proliferation of tweeting taking place at the hand of the sitting President of that nation, and the likes, retweets and replies that come with them, it is not surprising that Stetzer would tailor the book to his home country.  That said, the principles apply to users of social media throughout the world.

Stetzer’s goal is to encourage people who love and serve Jesus to carry their faith not only into their face-to-face dialogues, but into their digital conversations, too.  Unfortunately, Stetzer has observed that the online outrage that has emerged over the past several years has Christians caught up in it, too.

Each disciple of Jesus has a sphere of influence, and we are called to remember that the world is watching not only how we act at work, and how we respond when our kid doesn’t get put in the game by the coach, but also how we respond when someone posts something to social media with which we may disagree.  As Stetzer notes in the second part of the book, “Outrageous Lies and Enduring Truths”, “in a culture where everyone’s default response seems to be indignation, we can justify our outrage as righteous anger.” That’s one of the outrageous lies he mentions.  Followers of Jesus are called to ‘turn the other cheek’, as Jesus says.  That doesn’t mean we should just let bad theology and the misrepresentation of the Christian faith simply float away; it means we should avoid using unhelpful language and tone in our online discussions, while also helping people to see that there is another side to the story.

We often don’t do this, because it takes work.  There’s researching the topic at hand in such a way that we have our facts straight, and then taking the time to present the more accurate, cogent argument in a winsome manner.

As a pastor, I took some great advice from this book on how I should handle my social media presence.  (I also got some great sermon ideas, though I’m sure that’s secondary to the main point Stetzer was trying to make!)

Stetzer’s heart, as a church planter, teacher and mentor, is to see the church fulfill its core mandate: to make disciples.  In order to do so, we must first be discipled ourselves, so that we can go and make disciples.  This is foundational to everything Stetzer writes in the book.  To that end, he writes about some of the idols that we demonstrate we hold, as expressed in our use of social media, such as politics, identity, and personality.  When any of these takes the place of God – which is what an idol does – it shows in what we write and how we write it.  And those idols keep us from being the ambassadors of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I could go on at length, as the book is quite lengthy (perhaps my one criticism of the book).  However, nothing Stetzer writes in Christians in the Age of Outrage is superfluous to his main focus or his undergirding principle.  I would call this “recommended reading” for pastors who use social media, and even for those who don’t, that they might (a) counsel congregants who do use social media (and that’s most of them) and (b) consider engaging in social media themselves.  Stetzer doesn’t recommend hiding from social media, since it’s not going away anytime soon.  I would also recommend this book for Christians who would consider doing a gut check on their own social media “tone of voice”, as well as to help them understand the current phenomenon of outrage that exists at the click of a mouse.

Christians in the Age of Outrage, by Ed Stetzer, published by Tyndale House.  ISBN 978-1-4964-3362-6.

Biblical Messages

BEING THE CHURCH: A special utensil

“Take a Sabbath from your opinions.”  If I’d heard that before I preached, I’d have included that quotation from a friend of our Youth Pastor.  It’s good counsel when we’re dealing with social media!

While there was no social media in Bible times, there are words in 2 Timothy 2.15-26 that can instruct us on how to engage Christianly in social media discussions.

Have a listen below, or check the https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fjeff.loach%2Fvideos%2F10211388998137823%2F&show_text=0&width=560” target=”_blank”>public link to the Facebook Live recording.

 

Encouragement From The Word

Hiding behind the façade of social media

I don’t know if you’ve noticed – if you are a social media user – but lately, it seems to me that Facebook has been getting nasty. With an election in Alberta, and a sex education curriculum in Ontario, and the Stanley Cup playoffs (among other things), it seems that everyone has an opinion or two. And social media is a common place to air those opinions.

Sadly, what seems to be happening is that people are using social media as a screen, such that they somehow believe it becomes appropriate not to fight fairly, making pot-shots and sweeping statements that would not ordinarily occur in the course of civil conversation. I think it’s because we don’t have to look each other in the eye on Facebook. (This seems to be less of an issue on Twitter, where the limit of 140 characters seems insufficient to air a rant or rebuttal.)

In life, there will always be areas where disagreement happens. It’s true in families and marriages, in friendships and collegial relationships – even in church. And there must be room for disagreement. That doesn’t negate the reality of absolute truth, of which there is much, but it does require tolerance.

Tolerance, nowadays, has been watered down to mean the acceptance of (and even belief in) everything. But what it really means is to give someone the right to be wrong. The awkward thing about this is that two people who argue, each of whom believes she or he is right, can tolerate the other and believe him or her to be wrong. That’s called agreeing to disagree.

Sometimes, agreeing to disagree is best left tacit – that is, the argument never actually happens. But in social media, that civility has lately been left behind.

So, if Jesus were on Facebook, what would he do? Well, that’s sort of a moot point, because even if the Internet had existed in the first century, Jesus had this thing about personal relationships. My guess is that if Jesus were on Facebook, he would say to everybody, “Let’s get away from this façade and have a personal conversation.”

Of course, that’s hard to do when one is conversing over social media with someone halfway around the world. But that might translate this way: “Have your social media conversations in the same way you would face-to-face conversations.”

Or, as Peter put it: “So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness” (1 Peter 2.1-3, NLT). The great thing is that this is a helpful word even if we are not social media users!