Results tagged “social media” from Reformation21 Blog

A Pastoral Letter to Myself (In the Case that I Fall)

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Dear Self,

You're much weaker than you think. Remember that Scripture says, "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). It's easy to look at men who have fallen in ministry with a hint of disgust and harsh judgment when they don't simply disappear. But, let's be honest; you know how much you would struggle to fade away from public life if the same thing happened to you. Pernicious pride is always lingering within. God-forbid that this letter ever becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; but if it should, pursue humility, accountability and godliness. By God's grace, diligently pursue repentance and holiness. If you should sin in such a way that you are no longer qualified to serve in pastoral ministry, please put the following counsel in practice:

1. Remember that you only have yourself to blame.

Ever since the garden, man instinctively seeks to shift blame on others for his sin. You're like your father, Adam. Remember the way in which he sought to blame even God for giving him Eve; and, remember how he blamed Eve for giving him the fruit (Genesis 3:12)? Guard against the temptation to blame others for your own sin. As a Christian, you are not obligated to sin; and, when you do sin, it is a willful transgression against the Law of God. No one else made you sin. Now you must own it. You're not helping anything by scandalously blaming others, publicly exposing them, and ensuring they take a fall with you. If someone else was involved in your sin, there are appropriate means that God has appointed for dealing with them, and you are not part of it now. Repent! Begin working through a process of spiritual restoration. Trust the Lord and His church to rightly handle others.

2. Stay off of public platforms.

Your repentance should be as public as your sin (not in the sense of parading it, but in the sense of making it evident); and, if at some point you have a public platform of which people outside your local church are aware and talking about your sin, it may need to be addressed in an open forum. Otherwise, shut down your social media accounts, don't write posts for ex-pastor blogs, and don't try to find ways to turn your fall into a method of gaining fans and followers. Your friends and counselors may not be willing to tell you this, so I will. You have brought shame to the name of Christ and His Church. You have violated the 3rd commandment (Exodus 20:7). The grace of God is so profound and rich that you're not beyond forgiveness and restoration, but that doesn't negate the fact that your sin has consequences. Whatever public ministry you had before has been lost at present...and rightfully so! The world doesn't need you; and, it certainly doesn't need you to start a new blog detailing your recovery process or to write a book about the sordid details of your fall. They surely don't need daily Tweets of your glimpses of hope in the midst of the darkness of your rebellion. From the dust you came, and to the dust you shall return. You are far from being as great and necessary as you think. Know that truth about yourself and act on it appropriately.

3. Be honest and get pastoral help.

It's going to be tough to admit to another pastor that you need his counseling because you've spent so much of your life counseling others. Remember, it's the same pride that got you into this mess that will keep you from getting the help you need. You've never been surprised by the sin of other Christians, so why do you think one of your friends will be surprised by yours? Find a man you respect and love, sit with him and let him pour into your life. You need his counsel, so be honest. What led to your fall? What changes have you made? What's going on in your heart? If you can't be honest and receive counsel, you still haven't reached the end of yourself--you're still living upon your own self-righteousness. Give it up now and trust God's appointed ministers to help you. You'll be exceedingly thankful that you did so, in the end.

4. Rediscover the power of the ordinary means of grace.

Up until this point in your life, you've never met a man who fell in ministry who was making good use of the means of grace. They're simple means. You talk about them all the time. You know from your own experiences how wonderfully transformative and powerful they can be. But, you allowed yourself to get too busy with ministry over the years. You got distracted, off track and started using the Bible as a preaching manual, first and foremost, instead of the truth that you are to always love, behold, and apply. Prayer became non-existent for you; worshipping with the saints became a chore; and, partaking of the Lord's Supper has of recent years been merely a ritual. Now it's time to transform your schedule and your habits to make use of the means of grace. You know what to do, so do it. God promises to be there when you arrive; and, while your salvation was all of God, your communion with Him depends in large part upon your willingness to engage in the relationship.

5. Use the gifts God has given you to serve in another vocation.

Don't spend your time trying to find ways to plant a new church or take on a de facto pastoral ministry in another city. As far as pastoral ministry is concerned, you're done for now. That doesn't mean that God is done with you; and, it doesn't mean that your gifts are useless to the rest of the world. You've spent much time learning how to organize and inspire people to work hard and work together; you've learned how to lead a team to make great progress. You've learned how to become a problem solver, a motivator--as well as how to network and skillfully use resources. You've preached sermons in the past about the gift of work and how God's people don't have to be pastors to glorify Him. Now it's time to take your own advice, find work so you can provide for your family, and be the best man you can be on the job. It will take time to get used to, but God has uniquely gifted you to serve others. Don't let those gifts go to waste.

6. Remember the Gospel that you have preached.

Don't forget what you have preached to others. You're far worse than you think. God's grace is far greater than you can imagine. You didn't come into the Christian life as a perfect man, and you won't leave this earth as one. You're going to sin--as you always have--but thanks be to God that in Jesus Christ there is grace upon grace for pardon and restoration. If you confess your sin, He is faithful and just to forgive you and to cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Jesus died that you might live. While the consequences of your sin are going to be very difficult to live with for some time, you have been redeemed and are, therefore, secure in Christ. Don't forget these precious truths. Your sin is great, but your Savior is greater. Remember the word of the Apostle, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Those are just as true for you today as they were the first day you believed. Fight to believe the truths of the Gospel for your own soul.

Sincerely,

Me

A Just Silence

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We've all felt the pressure to speak out about things that we know little to nothing about. The increasingly prevalent sentiment is that if Christians-and especially Christian leaders-don't speak up on the hot button issues of the day, then they are complicit in fueling social injustice. 

The insistence of many that all of us need to continually speak out about almost every social issue and make official statements of sympathy or refutation in the court of public opinion--when, in fact, the courts that God has established have not had a chance to run their due course--is, quite frankly, wearing me out. I suspect I'm not alone.

The strong insistence of those who press Christian leaders to speak out on any given social issue is fundamentally flawed by virtue of the fact that many of us simply don't know enough about most issues in order to make educated, timely and necessary statements. It is a very dangerous thing for finite creatures of limited intelligence to behave as though we are infinite beings of unlimited intelligence.

This past summer, a number of individuals insisted that I was complicit in a police shooting when I did not speak out about the evil of such an injustice. I can understand someone leveling that charge against an eyewitness or against someone who was withholding pertinent information. But to tell someone sitting in a living room 800 miles from the incident--who knows virtually nothing about the situation or those involved--that he isn't loving his brethren unless he speaks out against an injustice is itself an injustice. It is the injustice of placing a biblically unlawful burden on the conscience of another. 

Many feel compelled to watch more news, read more pertinent books, research related cases and further educate themselves so that they can knowledgeably speak out and finally absolve themselves of the charge of functional complicity. But is this the right response? 

Years ago, John Piper was speaking on the subject of sleep. In that talk, he emphasized that when we attempt to live without sleep we are ultimately trying to become like God. Sleep is the great equalizer. Ultimately, all of us need sleep. We can't live without it. Sleep is one of God's ways of reminding us that He is the Creator and we are the creatures. As Psalm 121:4 reminds us: "He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." The very thing we often want to claim for ourselves is only true of God.

I can't help but wonder if this urge to watch 24 hour news and to read article after article on a particular social issue is not only an attempt to become a more informed individual--it is a way in which we seek to have such comprehensive knowledge as to render a judgment on everything. It may be that we are simply seeking to do that which belongs to God alone. In the face of a particular human injustice, it may be incumbent on us to speak out. But it can also be just as right to say, "I don't know. I hope justice is done, but I eagerly await the verdict of the courts and ultimately the verdict of God." It's liberating to admit our limits.

Jesus did not speak out against every single social injustice with which He was confronted. On one occasion, a man came to him to dispute a matter about his brother and an inheritance that their Father had left behind. Instead of speaking to that particular social injustice, Jesus said, "Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you" (Luke 12:14)? He then went on to warn the man about the dangers of harboring covetousness in his heart. Was Jesus wrong for not pronouncing judgment on the social injustice of one man withholding a portion of a father's inheritance from his brother? Was Jesus complicit in that injustice? None of us would ever dare say such a thing.

As I have been preaching through the book of Revelation, I have been struck by the fact that all of the evils that men think they can sneak past the courts of men will be finally and fully called up at the great judgment seat of God. Those wicked schemes that we pressured one another into speaking about (even in ignorance) will be dealt with by the one who knows all, and who will in no way acquit the guilty.

This doesn't mean that we are to be indifferent to issues of social or moral injustice. This doesn't mean that we are to be complacent or fatalistic about evil. But, it should help foster in us a bit of humility and a sense of our human limitations.

Brothers and sisters, let's make sure that in our zeal for the execution of justice, we don't fasten burdens around the necks of others that we and they were never meant to carry. There comes a point where the destruction, death, and evil of the world around us can begin to take a very tangible toll on our hearts and lives. In light of our limits, and in light of God's very own place as the ruler and righteous judge of the universe, we have to be willing to place the injustices and evils of this world into the hands of Him. Let's make sure that our attempts to be guardians of justice is not an attempt to claim for ourselves what ultimately belongs to God alone.

If you're burdened by the evils of the world, I want to encourage you not to respond with either conscience binding expectations or with frustrated indifference or fatalism. Rather, I want to encourage you to learn when to sleep and when to let the world rest in the hands of our Father who always knows what is happening, and who always knows exactly what He will do about it. After all, "the Judge of all the earth" will do what is right. 

Adam Parker is the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church (www.pearlpres.com). He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson and the Assistant Editor of Reformation 21.

Laying R.I.P. to Rest

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I have great admiration for non-Christians who have contributed to the improvement of society through their inventions, production, leadership, literature and art. My wife and I were recently reflecting on the remarkable ways in which Steve Jobs' labors helped changed the world in which we live. I love so many of the beautiful works of art and music that have been the product of secular artists; and, I do not, for one second, believe that we should sequester ourselves from the use and enjoyment of the contributions of self-avowed unbelievers in the world arounds us; otherwise, as the Apostle Paul wrote, "you would need to go out of this world" (1 Cor. 5:10). There is a common grace principle at work in the world by which God allows men to benefit their neighbors, making life in this fallen world a little less painful than it would otherwise be.

That being said, I've noticed something of a concerning trend over the past several years. It is the way in which believers speak about culture-impacting individuals at their deaths. Instead of simply expressing appreciation for their life and achievements, it has become commonplace for Christians to use the shorthand R.I.P. ("rest in peace") on social media when speaking of individuals--in whose lives there was no evidence of saving grace--at their death. At the risk of sounding ill-tempered, I wish to set out several reasons why I am troubled by this occurrence.

First, when we employ the abbreviation R.I.P. we are inevitably admitting a state or condition inseparably linked to the idea of the afterlife. We are not speaking of something indifferent to the truth of the hereafter. Someone might push back at this point, suggesting that R.I.P. is nothing other than a way of expressing appreciation for an individual's life and achievements. However, while certain words and phrases can be fluid in their meaning (e.g. "goodbye" has taken on a different meaning than its Old English sense, "God be with you"), "rest in peace" gives the sense that the deceased are "in a better place"--a place of rest and peace. If we care about the eternal salvation of men, and whether or not they are trusting in Christ alone for eternal life, then we should painstakingly avoid giving the sense that we believe in any form of universalism whatsoever.

Second, as Christians we should revolt at the idea of "praying for the dead," since there is not a single ounce of biblical support for such an idea. By saying "rest in peace," we necessarily run the risk of giving the impression that we are saying a prayer for the deceased--whether for self-professed unbelievers or self-professed believers. This alone ought to give us pause as to whether we should seek to abandon the practice.

Third, the Scriptures teach very clearly the costly nature of both rest and peace. The biblical narrative is one of the redemptive rest that God has promised to provide through the life, death, resurrection, ascension, intercession and return of Christ (Matt. 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:1-10). The eschatological rest that Jesus has purchased for believers comes at the costly price of His blood (1 Cor. 6:20; 1 Peter 1:19). Additionally, the Scriptures are clear that there is "no peace for the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22; 57:21). The LORD warned, through the prophets, of the false prophets' message of "Peace, Peace!" when there was no peace (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that God has purchased peace only "through the blood of the cross" (Col. 1:20). The rest and peace for which we should long--both for ourselves and for those around us--is grounded on the nature of the Person and atoning death of Jesus. If men have spent their lives rejecting the Gospel and have not professed faith in Jesus, we should not be offering them posthumous well wishes. It puts the nature of the exclusivity of Jesus and the Gospel in jeopardy--even if that is not our intention.

This does not mean that believers are to be hasty or uncharitable in the way in which we speak of the death of those who most likely died in unbelief--or that we are to speak in such a way as to indicate that we know with certainty where someone has gone when they have died. Surely, we have comfort and joy when someone who has professed faith in Christ--and in whose life there was fruit that they are in Christ (Matt. 7:16, 20)--departs from this life. It is the great comfort of believers to know that their fellow believers are now "resting in peace," as they "rest in Jesus" (1 Thess. 4:14). The Old Testament speaks of believers as being "gathered to their people" at their death (Gen. 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:29, 33). This is reserved only for believers. It is set in contrast with how the Scriptures speak of unbelievers at their deaths. However, when asked about those who never professed faith in Christ--someone who has spent the better part of his or her life adhering to some particular false religion--we should remember that none of us knows what God the Holy Spirit has done in the hearts of men and women moments prior to their death. None of us knows whether the regenerating grace of God has come at the final moment; and, therefore, we should only now be seeking to warn the living of the wrath to come in order to hold out the hope of redeeming grace in Christ.

In a day when the biblical doctrine of Hell has virtually disappeared from pulpits across the land, and the social conventions of the time demand more seemingly congenial speech than the Scriptures exemplify and require, we should give great personal examination to what we are saying and why we are saying what we are saying. We should weigh the implications of our speech, both in verbal and written form, remembering that the same Jesus who said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 1:28-29) also said, "for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment" (Matt. 12:36).

The Trinitarian Debate: Some Reflections and Cautions

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First a confession, I rarely read blogs--especially Christian ones. My reason is simple; blogs are no kind of forum for engaging in thoughtful, reflective, analytical and measured theological discourse. No doubt some do it wisely, even brilliantly; most do it carelessly, a-historically and ineptly. However, I have made an exception with the explosion of blog comments and rejoinders relating to the question of eternal subordination. It is not my intention to pass any comment on the substantive issue of God the Son's eternal subordination, or otherwise, to his Father. I do, however, wish to make three, hopefully helpful comments.

First, it should be a non-negotiable rule, a canon of Christian discourse if you like, that if a brother has a concern about another brother's theology, he should first speak with him personally and certainly out of the public gaze. There may come a time when it will be necessary to make the concern public, but that should be a last resort not a first strike. It is only too easy with social media to let our fingers and not our heads rule our contributions to theological discussion. Truth matters and matters deeply. But it is only by "speaking the truth in love" (αληθευοντες δε εν αγαπη) that we grow up into Christ the head.

In no sense am I denigrating passionate debate or seeking to downgrade the importance of doctrinal accuracy. I am, however, pleading for theological debate between brothers that is courteous without being anodyne, passionate without being derogatory, Catholic spirited without being partisan.

Second, doctrines as weighty and freighted with the theological reflections of two thousand years of church history as eternal subordination is, should not be subject to proof texting from the Church Fathers or the magisterial Reformers. It is the easiest thing to cull church history and find quotes from eminent theologians that support your particular conviction. But theology has never been done in an historical vacuum and it is imperative that the historical contexts of theological debates and doctrinal formulations be properly understood--Nicea and Chalcedon being cases in point--before quotations are extrapolated and used to defend one's position. I have always found it fascinating that the Chalcedonian formulation revolves around four negative adverbs (ἀσυγχύτως ἀτρέπτως ἀδιαιρετως and ἀχωρίστως). The formulators were apparently more comfortable saying what was not true of the hypostatic union than they were saying what actually was true of the union. I am not saying that only the Academy's experts should engage in these profound discussions and that the rest of us should view theology as a spectator sport. I am saying that we need to be far more knowledgable than most of us are before we bless the church with our insights and pronouncements.

Thirdly, a healthy appreciation of two statements of Herman Bavinck in his Reformed Dogmatics should stand guard over our involvement in theological debate: "Mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics,"1 and "The incomprehensibility of God and the unknowability of his essence...became the starting point and fundamental idea of Christian theology."2 When Paul wrote his magnificent doxology in Rom.11:33-36, he was acknowledging that God was beyond him--that he was out of his depth as he explained the "Gospel of God." When we have said all that we feel capable of saying, we left to exclaim in adoring wonder, "Oh the depths!" If our theology does not lead to doxology, it is not Christian theology.

Christian theology is anchored in and flows out of two foundational truths, that God is Three and yet One, and that Jesus Christ is the God-Man, one Person with two natures (which doctrine John Owen calls "the glory of the church"). Here more than anywhere we are out of our depth. "We speak," said Augustine, "only so that we may not remain silent." What we speak is to be shaped wholly, and ultimately alone, by God's infallible word. I have used the word "ultimately" to make a point. Sola scriptura does not mean, and never did mean in the Christian tradition, nuda scriptura (the view of the Jehovah Witness heresy). The Reformers who most passionately espoused sola scriptura, did so within the Christian tradition, reading and evaluating what the church in earlier generations wrote and taught. It is remarkable, for example, how often Calvin quotes Augustine in his Institutes (over 400 times).

Perhaps these are simply the musings of a social media Luddite. Maybe I need to "get with it and move with the times." Maybe. Or maybe Reformed Christians need to resist the immediacy of today's social media and rediscover the rigor and joys of theological colloquy, listening and learning, as well as pronouncing.

1. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, God and Creation, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 29.

2. Ibid., 36

     

A web of wisdom

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For anyone who may be interested, here's the complete picture:

1. Know and watch and guard your heart, cultivating the fear of the Lord.
2. Seek wisdom.

3. Remember the power of words.

4. Consider your testimony and character (digital footprint).
5. Assess the nature and influence of the company you keep.
6. Involve wise counsellors, especially parents when you are younger.

7. Be aware of your time and your attention.
8. Beware of filth and frivolity.

9. Train and restrain your appetites.
10. Cultivate humility.
Conclusion.

And so, for the time being, the sonic screwdriver returns to its box.

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #6

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Having trawled through the following . . .


. . . we come to the end:

9. Train and restrain your appetites.
  • He who earnestly seeks good finds favour, but trouble will come to him who seeks evil. (Prv 11.27)
  • An evildoer gives heed to false lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue. (Prv 17.4)
  • The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. (Prv 18.8 cf. 26.22)
  • The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. (Prv 18.15)
  • The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbour finds no favour in his eyes. (Prv 21.10)

We need to do this in the real world so that we are equipped for the online realm. Think about what you want and why you engage in social media in the way that you do. What contributions do you enjoy and what links to you click on and what patterns are you a part of and what trends do you follow? Are you seeking what is good and delighting in what is pure, or do you find yourself revelling in what is empty, lascivious, malicious and cruel? Do you enjoy the exposures and failures of others? Are you hooked on gossip? (Not worldly gossip, of course, that would be . . . well, worldly - no, you are merely keeping abreast of matters in the evangelical world.) Are your appetites and contributions Christlike? If they are, you will help starve those who trade in filth and frivolity of their market. We must decide now that we will have no part in such things: we cannot afford to wait until the options are immediately before us on the screen.

10. Cultivate humility.

  • When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom. (Prv 11.2)
  • Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished. (Prv 16.5)
  • Most men will proclaim each his own goodness, but who can find a faithful man? (Prv 20.6)
  • Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him. (Prv 24.17-18)
  • Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips. (Prv 27.2)
  • A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honour. (Prv 29.23)
  • If you have been foolish in exalting yourself, or if you have devised evil, put your hand on your mouth. (Prv 30.32)

Do not be obsessed with measuring your petty progress and your ephemeral fame. Numbers can be deadly, especially if we become enslaved to them. How many friends do I have? What about him or her? How many views? How many retweets? We are being trained to think of the whole environment as some great arena for a straight competition in which numbers are the register of success or failure, influence or irrelevance. Do not use social media as a platform for your own promotion or to build your own reputation. I understand that you may be under some right obligation (contractual or felt) to draw attention to kingdom work you have been or will be involved in, and I appreciate that we ought to be sufficiently committed to the truth to which we cling that we are willing to make it known even at the risk of appearing self-serving. That said, it is frankly sickening how many men (some of whom make criticising others part of their stock-in-trade) manage to spend a great deal of their time mentioning that they have written such-and-such a book, recommending their own work shamelessly, linking to sweet things others have said about them, and retweeting anything with their name in it. Set out to exalt Christ, esteeming others more highly than yourself. Do not seek out applause and attention, nor angle for compliments and flattery: it is as sad to see someone post a stream of photos at his or her most seemingly-attractive in the hopes of getting all those gushing responses as it is to see the gushing responses flowing on demand. Do not proclaim your good deeds: some environments provide a good space for seeking prayer and rendering praise, the exchange of information, but might there be an ulterior motive? Some lack even the delicacy of the parodies of British DJs from a bygone age, Smashie and Nicey, who made it quite clear in as public a forum as possible that they did not wish to speak of "all the work I do for charidee." Information-sharing can be profitable; self-promotion is reprehensible (see Mt 6.1-4). Let your social media use serve God and others, and not yourself.

Conclusion
In conclusion, whatever you do in this sphere, remember the impact that it has on you, your church, and your Lord, and choose it and use it to the glory of God. Look first to yourself, being slow to judge others (Mt 7.1-5; Rom 14.4), and be especially wary of imputing evil motives to brothers (1Cor 13.4-7). Do not presume upon your spiritual safety (1Cor 10.12). Let this be one proportionate dimension -  not the first or only one - of a life in pursuit of likeness to Jesus Christ. Remember what is at stake (Mk 9.43-50), and that heaven and hell hang in some measure upon the choices you make while floating in the electronic ether. It is better to be thought a Luddite nobody than to be a damned technocrat, better to be a slow adopter than a fool without brakes. If your online engagement is dragging your soul down to hell, then it would be more profitable for you to cut up the cables and cast away the wi-fi than to be up-to-date with all the latest trends and technology even as you descend to the pit. Simply put, if something cannot be used to the glory of God, then do not use it, and do not let anyone tell you that you are redeeming the culture - you are not, you are corrupting your soul. Furthermore, then, if there is a need, repent of your sin and make restitution in the same spheres in which you sinned (Lk 19.8), and then set out in dependence upon God to put away what you cannot use for God's glory once and for all, and to use what you can, if you can, when you can and as you can for the honour and praise of his great name.

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #5

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What's a Time Lord to do? He dabbles a little in the 17th century and the shadowy fiend known mainly as the Pope of Ealing throws twitterbombs in his direction. He dips an intergalactic toe in the murky waters of the 21st century, and Davros himself pitches up and gets narky.

But not to worry, chaps: we're almost there, and next week I shall probably be sliding the sonic screwdriver into my universal toolbox for a few days, as - Lord willing (which, at present, very much includes health permitting) - I shall be noodling around Romania, listening to and labouring with the esteemed Conrad Mbewe at a series of conferences. However, I have been skidding across the 18th and early 19th centuries in the last few days, and trust that I have found a few provocative nuggets that I might share at some point.

In the meantime, let's crack on . . .


7. Be aware of your time and your attention.

  • As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy man to those who send him. (Prv 10.26)
  • In all labour there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty. (Prv 14.23)
  • He who is slothful in his work is a brother to him who is a great destroyer. (Prv 18.9)
  • Laziness casts one into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger. (Prv 19.15)
  • The lazy man says, "There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!" (Prv 22.13)
  • I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man. (Prv 24.30-34)
  • He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows frivolity will have poverty enough! (Prv 28.19)

This may be a matter that is primarily before God for some, but it will almost certainly have an effect on others, including family members and employers (both actual and potential, who are now almost certain, among other things, to be checking out your online profile). Do you know how much time you are spending on these things? There are tools available to help you log your time online. Paul calls upon us to "walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5.15-16). Social media is one of the great distractions of the age, a demonstration that it is not time we lack but the ability to apply ourselves in the time we have, and any level of slavery to social media is likely to have a dramatic negative effect on your diligence and productivity. It can become an excuse for not getting on with or accomplishing something in what we might quaintly call 'real life', and that real life will all too soon begin to show the marks of distraction and dissipation. Activity in social media can give the impression of having done something while neglecting what ought to be done. "In all labour there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty": I am not suggesting that there is no place for relaxation and cheerfulness, for a wide variety of appropriate humour, for a healthy measure of banter, as there is between friends face-to-face, but can we really say that our online interaction is more than idle chatter? Or is our life governed by the empty blether characteristic of so much social media?

8. Beware of filth and frivolity.
  • . . . to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life - so you may walk in the way of goodness, and keep to the paths of righteousness. For the upright will dwell in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the earth, and the unfaithful will be uprooted from it. (Prv 2.12-22)
  • My son, keep my words, and treasure my commands within you. Keep my commands and live, and my law as the apple of your eye. Bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart. Say to wisdom, "You are my sister," and call understanding your nearest kin, that they may keep you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words. For at the window of my house I looked through my lattice, and saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding, passing along the street near her corner; and he took the path to her house in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night. And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart. She was loud and rebellious, her feet would not stay at home. At times she was outside, at times in the open square, lurking at every corner. So she caught him and kissed him; with an impudent face she said to him: "I have peace offerings with me; today I have paid my vows. So I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you. I have spread my bed with tapestry, coloured coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he has taken a bag of money with him, and will come home on the appointed day." With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would cost his life. Now therefore, listen to me, my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths; for she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death. (Prv 7.1-27)
  • A foolish woman is clamorous; she is simple, and knows nothing. For she sits at the door of her house, on a seat by the highest places of the city, to call to those who pass by, who go straight on their way: "Whoever is simple, let him turn in here"; and as for him who lacks understanding, she says to him, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of hell. (Prv 9.13-18)
  • He who tills his land will be satisfied with bread, but he who follows frivolity is devoid of understanding. (Prv 12.11)
  • Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief. (Prv 14.13)
  • The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on foolishness. (Prv 15.14)
  • The mouth of an immoral woman is a deep pit; he who is abhorred by the Lord will fall there. (Prv 22.14)
  • My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. For a harlot is a deep pit, and a seductress is a narrow well. She also lies in wait as for a victim, and increases the unfaithful among men. (Prv 23.26-28)
  • Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbour, and says, "I was only joking!" (Prv 26.18-19)

Again, before anyone accuses me of po-faced pietism, let me make clear that we are free to engage in that healthy and legitimate cheerfulness which is good for the soul (though bear in mind that banal and inane is not the same as healthy and legitimate - how funny can a cat that looks like Elvis be after you have seen it seventeen times?). But remember the devil's modus operandi: he plays upon "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jn 2.16), and social media can be a cesspit of these things however much perfume gets sprayed around. Incidental and deliberate prompts to immorality (images and words) are everywhere, and men in particular are prone to be stimulated and trained by the imagery, and the world is learning how to catch women in the same web more effectively. One prominent British newspaper is well known for its 'sidebar of shame,' boasting a phenomenal rate of clicks through on the rather obvious basis that it majors on unclad women and salacious gossip. The adverts that run on most sites are no different - hot singles in your area, anyone? And we can be so good at masking this: if someone were to calculate, for example, the pictures of friends you have looked at on Facebook, what would be the proportion of those who are the most physically attractive? Is that not a temptation? Satan can use this to train us to do his bidding, especially when we can just keep on clicking, a Pavlovian chain reaction, each tap of the finger providing the anticipated reward - before we have gone very far, we have passed through the levels to some of the worst filth known to men. Alongside of this, though perhaps less immediately dangerous, a sham and shallow lightness can also prevail, a sort of forced frothiness, pandering to frivolity and vanity. One man of God once pleaded, "I will set nothing wicked [or, worthless] before my eyes" (Ps 101.3), and much that is not explicitly filthy is at best painfully empty.

The sixth and final instalment coming up . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #4

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We're making progress, and I will bundle all these links in due course, but for now we have had . . .


Here are principles 4, 5 and 6.

4. Consider your testimony and character (digital footprint).
  • The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise. (Prv 11.30)
  • As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (Prv 11. 22)
  • The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but the words of the pure are pleasant. (Prv 15.26)
  • Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right. (Prv 20.11)
  • Like a bird that wanders from its nest is a man who wanders from his place. (Prv 27.8)
  • The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Prv 29.25)

A 'digital footprint' is the mark you leave behind as you make your way through the online world: it is the electronic shape of who you are and what impact you are having. I say unequivocally that a man or woman's involvement in social media, as to its matter and manner, should change decisively at conversion. Salvation should alter your footprint as much in the online realm as in the real world. Many Christians seem to fear the face of men as much if not more in their online interaction as anywhere else. It is frankly embarrassing and genuinely tragic how few Christians appear to have any distinctively Christian contribution to make online, no savour of Christ to carry with them into cyberspace. Where is the outshining godliness that ought to mark the saints? I am, of course, not suggesting that your contributions should consist solely of Bible quotes and stanzas of hymns, but are the contours of Christlikeness evident in the things you say, like, and follow online? If you are a professing disciple of Jesus Christ, would someone be able to read through a few days of your online interaction and legitimately and intelligently conclude who and whose you are? What do you like on Facebook? Who do you follow? What do you tweet or comment? There may be a problem with some who have an online Christian persona and offline prove it a lie; far more grievous is the professing Christian whose digital footprint leaves not a hint of any nailmarks. Here is a chance to let your light shine clearly before men, rather than drawing a veil over or bringing a slur upon true religion. We ought to shine - deliberately and proactively - as much online as we do offline, and that, friends, may point us to the root of the problem.

5. Assess the nature and influence of the company you keep.

  • My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, "Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all kinds of precious possessions, we shall fill our houses with spoil; cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse" - my son, do not walk in the way with them, keep your foot from their path; for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. (Prv 1.10-16)
  • Do not envy the oppressor, and choose none of his ways; for the perverse person is an abomination to the Lord, but his secret counsel is with the upright. (Prv 3.31-32)
  • Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn away from it and pass on. (Prv 4.14-15)
  • The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Prv 12.26)
  • He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed. (Prv 13.20)
  • Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge. (Prv 14.7)
  • A violent man entices his neighbour, and leads him in a way that is not good. (Prv 16.29)
  • A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Prv 18.24)
  • Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul. (Prv 22.24-25)
  • My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin those two can bring? (Prv 24.21-22)
  • Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way, he himself will fall into his own pit; but the blameless will inherit good. (Prv 28.10)
  • Whoever loves wisdom makes his father rejoice, but a companion of harlots wastes his wealth. (Prv 29.3)

We might debate the reality of Facebook friendship, but the company we keep is an indicator of where we stand and in which direction we will go. Who are you attracted to and to whom are you attractive? Look through your friends, those who follow you and whom you follow, your blog feeds and readers, your regular commenters, the lists of recommendations that pop up for you on YouTube. What do all these associations say about you? Would you want a loving Christian friend or a faithful pastor to get a printout of your viewing history, all your online association and interaction? If not, why not? Besides, the Lord already knows it. Ask yourself seriously who you are influencing, if anyone, and to what end or by whom you are being influenced, and in which direction. Are you lifting others up or being dragged down? Are you found among the wicked, the angry, the restless, the complaining, the vulgar, and - if so - why are you there and what are you doing? Or, does your path carry you among the wise, the righteous, the peaceful, the pure? Evil company will corrupt your behaviour online as much as offline (1Cor 15.33). Is it time to do some weeding, even some vigorous pruning, of your online interaction and acquaintance?

6. Involve wise counsellors, especially parents when you are younger.

  • Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine: do not forsake my law . . . (Prv 4.1-27)
  • Therefore hear me now, my children, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honour to others, and your years to the cruel one; lest aliens be filled with your wealth, and your labours go to the house of a foreigner; and you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say: "How I have hated instruction, and my heart despised correction! I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me!" (Prv 5.7-13)
  • A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. (Prv 13.1)
  • A fool despises his father's instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent. (Prv 15.5)
  • Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days. (Prv 19.20)
  • Cease listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Prv 19.27)

Do not be ashamed to take advice and to obtain accountability. Some of this depends on age and circumstance, so if you are younger, and have responsible, hopefully Christian, parents, then they should be one of your first ports of call. Otherwise, find switched on and plugged in (in every sense) saints of wisdom and maturity. There are services like Covenant Eyes that provide some helpful tools for accountability. But find faithful counsellors: give them access to your online activity, and seek their opinion. Get outside your normal circle, if need be, and find someone who will not necessarily tell you what you wish to be told: that is not seeking counsel, but looking for someone to applaud while you get on with whatever pleases you. Listen humbly to what your counsellors say, for far too much seeking of counsel is a desperate attempt to find someone who will confirm what you have already decided to do or tell you what you long to hear.

#5 to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #3

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So far, the introduction and the first two principles. Today, the most developed of the principles, concerning the power of words. While the applications are specific to social media, I hope that the principles are transferable to any communication.

3. Remember the power of words.
  • The mouth of the righteous is a well of life, But violence covers the mouth of the wicked. (Prv 10.11)
  • There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. (Prv 12.18)
  • A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness. (Prv 15.1-2)
  • A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Prv 15.4)
  • A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is! (Prv 15.23)
  • Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him who speaks what is right. (Prv 16.13)
  • Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Prv 16.24)
  • A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Prv 25.11)
  • As cold water to a weary soul, so is good news from a far country. (Prv 25.25)
  • Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy. (Prv 31.8-9)
  • Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit. (Prv 18.21)
  • The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue an angry countenance. (Prv 25.23)

Words are the most powerful tools you have at your disposal for construction or destruction in the lives of men. They can be used for great good or employed for great evil, a means of blessing or a weapon of cruelty. You may know the little ditty: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, / But words can never harm me." It is arrant nonsense. When you have been most deeply hurt, was it not words that were employed to do the damage, damage that lasts? Perverse words break the spirit and crush the soul. Carelessness with words is the mark of a fool. Whether Facebook status updates or comments, tweets, blog posts and their comments, chat room chatter, instant messaging or texting, speech or song, the godly man sets out to use words to do good, to promote health.

a. Note the connection with the heart.
  • The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but the heart of the fool does not do so. (Prv 15.7)
  • The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. (Prv 16.23)
  • My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice - indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things. (Prv 23.15-16)
  • Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. (Prv 26.23)

Matthew 12.34 says that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks," and, we might add, the finger types and swypes or the pen writes. Other people can and will obtain an accurate readout of your character from your online interactions. The pictures or posts that you comment on and the comments that you make will prove in measure a window on your soul. They will see your priorities and your appetites and your inclinations laid bare. This is why, perhaps, it is not only employers who ought to check the online profiles of potential employees, but pastors who should consider the profiles of potential members. It is one way - not an infallible way - to gauge the spirit that is in a man, taking into account the warning that fervent lips may hide a wicked heart.

b. Contribute sparingly and slowly and discreetly.
  • My son, pay attention to my wisdom; lend your ear to my understanding, that you may preserve discretion, and your lips may keep knowledge. (Prv 5.1-2)
  • In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Prv 10.19)
  • A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter. (Prv 11.13)
  • As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion. (Prv 11.22)
  • A fool's wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame. (Prv 12.16)
  • A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness. (Prv 12.23)
  • He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction. (Prv 13.3)
  • The simple believes every word, but the prudent considers well his steps. (Prv 14.15)
  • He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly. (Prv 14.29)
  • The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil. (Prv 15.28)
  • He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. (Prv 16.32)
  • He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. (Prv 17.27)
  • A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. (Prv 18.2)
  • He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him. (Prv 18.13)
  • The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression. (Prv 19.11)
  • Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. (Prv 21.23)
  • Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Prv 26.4-5)
  • Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honour to a fool. (Prv 26.8)
  • A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. (Prv 29.11)
  • Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prv 29.20)

Social media demands and usually gets spontaneity and immediacy, especially in its briefer forms, prompting many and rapid contributions. The environment calls us to communicate without any real thought. Again, the way that the screen distances our audience can betray us: would you announce to an audience of tens, hundreds or thousands some of the things that you broadcast online? We have no sense of that hunched over our smartphones or slumped in front of our screens. Proverbs reminds us that we should be conscientiously careful as to the number, speed and intended effect of our words. Perhaps we like the idea of being some kind of online first-responder, quick to the scene of the latest crash, showering insights over situations that no-one else has even realised have happened. If slowing down means that our name is not prominent, then so be it. Consider also how even the mechanics of commenting can push you in a certain direction: tiny keyboards and compressed expression keep us from nuance and development in discussion and interaction. How often do we reveal our ignorance by commenting on what we know nothing about simply because we were given an opportunity and a prompt to do so? Bloggers and commenters often speak to matters that they have no business addressing or no competence to address. Social media can become an involuntary verbal diarrhoea. Make yourself conscious of two audiences: God and those who will or may read your words. Does it honour God? What would this sound like if you said this to someone's face? For mankind, strip out all that vocal tone and body language might communicate, and consider what it communicates. Taking time, considering our reactions, weighing our expressions, being aware of our ignorance, speaking what is needful, holding back what need not be revealed about ourselves or others, will be the wisest course, and will likely garner a more valuable reputation in the long run.

c. Speak truly and honestly.
  • Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so. (Prv 3.27)
  • These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. (Prv 6.16-19)
  • He who speaks truth declares righteousness, but a false witness, deceit. There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health. The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counsellors of peace have joy. No grave trouble will overtake the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are his delight. (Prv 12.17-22)
  • He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, and he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil. (Prv 17.20)
  • A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape. . . . A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies shall perish. (Prv 19.5, 9)
  • He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself; when he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Prv 26.24-26)
  • He who rebukes a man will find more favour afterward than he who flatters with the tongue. (Prv 28.23)
  • A man who flatters his neighbour spreads a net for his feet. (Prv 29.5)
  • The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Prv 29.25)

Speak truly about what is good as well as what is bad. Most people react most vigorously to what they dislike, commenting or engaging when they are upset, and perhaps presuming upon anything that is healthy and worthwhile. Consider encouraging what is good and profitable where it is appropriate. At the same time, consider that deceit and flattery are rife in social media, in part because you can so easily put a gap between who you really are and how you wish to be perceived. Even your profile may be a more-or-less deliberate exercise in profile airbrushing, presenting the person you would like to be, or would like to appear to be, rather than what you really are. We must put this principle in context: something may be true, but may not need to be said. If you may or must speak, then speak the truth, even if rebuking sin or foolishness. (Please bear in mind that cyberspace is almost certainly not the best place in which to carry out this sorry but necessary duty.) The Lord hates lies and condemns flattery. Mindless gushing serves no-one; for example, the seeming inability of some to see a photo of their friend without pouring forth a flood of inane congratulation on that friend's alleged beauty or poise ought to be controlled. It goes beyond encouragement, especially if it may have been posted with the aim of eliciting that kind of response. Evasive words and silences can also be dishonest.

d. Avoid empty or bitter engagement.
  • These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren. (Prv 6.16-19)
  • A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention. (Prv 15.18)
  • The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts. (Prv 17.14)
  • He who loves transgression loves strife, and he who exalts his gate seeks destruction. (Prv 17.19)
  • A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calls for blows. (Prv 18.6)
  • It is honourable for a man to stop striving, since any fool can start a quarrel. (Prv 20.3)
  • Do not say, "I will recompense evil"; wait for the Lord, and he will save you. (Prv 20.22)
  • Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Prv 23.9)
  • Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls. (Prv 25.28)
  • He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears. (Prv 26.17)
  • As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, so is a contentious man to kindle strife. (Prv 26.21)
  • A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but a fool's wrath is heavier than both of them. Wrath is cruel and anger a torrent, but who is able to stand before jealousy? Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. (Prv 27.3-5)
  • He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will be prospered. (Prv 28.25)
  • Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath. (Prv 29.8)
  • An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression. (Prv 29.22)

Be a peacemaker wherever you are. If you must engage, do it graciously and truthfully, as you would wish others to engage with you. Do not seek out and join in fights: like taking a dog by the ears, once you grab hold you cannot let go. Some love to stir up trouble, delighting in pouring fuel on the fire. Some online engagement reads like a verbal drive-by shooting. Especially in the blogging world there are any number of discernment ministries which seem to involve the notion that everyone else has everything else wrong, you have it all right, and you are the (usually self-appointed) guardian(s) of orthodoxy or orthopraxy. There seem to be too many people with a reputation of more-or-less incisive criticism to maintain, too many individuals looking for some kind of argument to get involved in, too many fools participating in other men's quarrels, too many contenders looking for a fight or stirring up trouble. There is so much readiness to quarrel: there are some environments in which it takes no more than three steps for someone to start a fight: someone commends (or challenges) someone, someone queries the commendation (or challenge), the first person (or another) then defends the initial statement, and then everyone else launches off on one side or the other. It is wearying, not least when it takes place among people who ought to know better. Antagonism can bubble up over the most innocuous matters.

e. Shun slander and gossip.
  • Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins. (Prv 10.12)
  • Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool. (Prv 10.18)
  • An ungodly man digs up evil, and it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer separates the best of friends. (Prv 16.27-28)
  • He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips. (Prv 20.19)
  • Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases. (Prv 26.20)
  • The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body. (Prv 26.22)

Even more innocent sites can be used to destroy someone's character or cripple reputations. Digging up and spreading around tales - even true ones, when and where you have no business meddling in it - will bring no honour to the Lord. God abominates such things. Think of how much 'news' on some sites is nothing more than gossip, sometimes simply slander, both in the world and in the church: who has said what about whom, who is linking up with whom, what is rumoured to be going on behind the scenes at such and such a place. Again, consider the need to know and the need to tell. Consider not speaking or waiting to speak if you are not sure. If the matter hangs in the balance, ask yourself with judgement day honesty whether or not you accurately know and are responsible to tell before you open your mouth or press the appropriate button. If you can, let the fire go out.

#4 to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #2

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Following on from part one, in which I suggested that, as with so much else, we should ask the question, "How may I use social media to the glory of God?" Here are the first two principles:

1. Know and watch and guard your heart, cultivating the fear of the Lord.
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prv 1.7)
  • Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Prv 4.23)
  • The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. (Prv 15.3)
  • Hell and Destruction are before the Lord; so how much more the hearts of the sons of men. (Prv 15.11)
  • All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirits. (Prv 16.2)
  • In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil. (Prv 16.6)
  • The heart of the wise teaches his mouth, and adds learning to his lips. (Prv 16.23)
  • Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts. (Prv 21.2)
  • My son, if your heart is wise, my heart will rejoice - indeed, I myself; yes, my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak right things. (Prv 23.15-16)
  • Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross. (Prv 26.23)
  • As in water face reflects face, so a man's heart reveals the man. (Prv 27.19)
  • He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Prv 28.26)

All true religion is heart religion. As with so much else, this is a matter of setting the heart right and knowing the heart. Are you, fundamentally, seeking the glory of God? What you see and what you say, your desires and appetites, what you pursue and what you avoid, must be governed by the fear of the Lord. This righteous fear - sown throughout our Bibles, as much a part of our spirituality under the new covenant as it ever was under the old, perhaps even more so - involves a recognition of God's existence, the consideration that he knows our ways, the acknowledgement of his righteousness, the consciousness of his eye upon us, and the burning love that issues in a desire from the depths of our being to please him in all things, regardless of the opinions of men. This is vital, because one of the tricks of social media is so to distance the audience as to make us forget that what we say and do is being broadcast, sometimes for anyone who wishes to tune in. This spirit makes us conscious that there is always one pure and holy eye upon us. With a heart tuned to the desires and delights of God, we shall begin to be equipped to assess our engagement and to fashion it in a way that honours him. If our heart is turned away from God, if the centre of our being is not conditioned by the fear of the Lord, then the whole life - not just our online life - will be fatally compromised.

2. Seek wisdom.
  • My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk uprightly; he guards the paths of justice, and preserves the way of His saints. Then you will understand righteousness and justice, equity and every good path. When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you; understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked; whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths; to deliver you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words, who forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. (Prv 2.1-17)
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones. (Prv 3.5-8)
  • Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men. . . . Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me finds life, and obtains favour from the Lord; but he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death." (Prv 8.1-36)

The fear of the Lord is the chief part, the foundational element, the controlling core of wisdom. You are not wise if you are not fearing God. The best simple definition of wisdom I know is that is it is "skill for righteous living." So taking that into account, we must ask for and cultivate godly wisdom: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jas 1.5). God has not abandoned us to this or any other sphere of life without light from heaven. If we do not know whether or not we can, or how we might, glorify God in this environment, let us ask God to show us, that we might "fear the Lord and depart from evil." Wisdom is found in the Scriptures illuminated by the Holy Spirit:
I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word.
I have not departed from your judgments, for you yourself have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Ps 119.101-105)
You cannot walk rightly in this matter or any other without heavenly wisdom, and it is both given by God and to be nurtured by men. All we need is available to us.

Further principles to follow . . .

A web of wisdom: social media to the glory of God #1

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Social media is perhaps the most common or popular expression of what is sometimes called Web 2.0. Web 1.0, for those who may be wondering, consisted mainly of static pages containing fixed data. Web 2.0 is the more dynamic, interactive expression of the interweb which we all now enjoy, or at least employ. Web 3.0, for those tantalised by such prospects, is likely to involve ever-closer tailoring in real time to the perceived interests of users based on data gathered from their previous activity. (Amusingly, the fact that this is being done has terrified and infuriated my esteemed mother - Google beware!)

Social media are those platforms and applications in and by which people create, share, exchange and comment on information. Most definitions and catalogues include the vast range of wikis, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, chatrooms and instant messaging and message boards, MySpace, Bebo, Flikr, Vine and a host of others.

But, if we are professing followers of Jesus Christ, should we get involved, and - if so - how and to what ends? Can we use social media to the glory of God? That question drives the answers to the may and the must of social media engagement. I think that, were he available to offer an opinion, the apostle Paul would suggest, in essence, that we may use social media and that, if we do, we must do so to the glory of God.

My answer is based on 1 Corinthians 10.31: "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Here Paul is responding, for the second time in the letter, to the language that may have been or have become a Corinthian slogan, possibly a twisted version of a truth now being abused by misinterpretation and misapplication: "All things are lawful for me." Even if Paul or another teacher had used some form of this language, it was never intended to provide cover for gross wickedness. In chapter 10 Paul responds to the assertion that "all things are lawful" with the reminders that not all things are helpful or edifying. His ensuing discussion, working through the matter of food offered to idols, ends in the general principle that whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, you are to do it all to the glory of God.

To be sure, Paul wants us to ensure that our most mundane activities are performed with an eye to glorifying God. But this eating and drinking is not, in the context, a mundane and meaningless activity. It is an activity that might involve entanglement with idolatry, if not in our own eyes then potentially in the eyes of others. Paul's point of principle, then, is that our great concern ought not to be with our own rights, desires and freedoms, but with the potential impacts and implications of our behaviour on the honour and glory of the Lord. God's glory and the church's reputation will be compromised on our account if what we do makes others judge unfavourably the faith we profess and the God whom we serve.

Our grand concern is all things ought to be the glory of God, the honour of his great name. All else ought to be subordinated to this. In the words of Charles Hodge, commenting on this passage, "Let self be forgotten. Let your eye be fixed on God. Let the promotion of his glory be your object in all you do. Strive in everything to act in such a way that men may praise that God whom you profess to serve." Notice the proactive nature of this: definitely seek out these ends, either by what you pursue and the way you pursue it or by what you refrain from pursuing. Matthew Henry also gives us some helpful insights:
The apostle takes occasion from this discourse to lay down a rule for Christians' conduct, and apply it to this particular case (v. 31, 32), namely, that in eating and drinking, and in all we do, we should aim at the glory of God, at pleasing and honouring him. This is the fundamental principle of practical godliness. The great end of all practical religion must direct us where particular and express rules are wanting. Nothing must be done against the glory of God, and the good of our neighbours, connected with it. Nay, the tendency of our behaviour to the common good, and the credit of our holy religion, should give direction to it. And therefore nothing should be done by us to offend any, whether Jew, or Gentile, or the church, v. 32. The Jews should not be unnecessarily grieved nor prejudiced, who have such an abhorrence of idols that they reckon every thing offered to them thereby defiled, and that it will pollute and render culpable all who partake of it; nor should heathens be countenanced in their idolatry by any behaviour of ours, which they may construe as homage or honour done to their idols; nor young converts from Gentilism take any encouragement from our conduct to retain any veneration for the heathen gods and worship, which they have renounced: nor should we do any thing that may be a means to pervert any members of the church from their Christian profession or practice. Our own humour and appetite must not determine our practice, but the honour of God and the good and edification of the church. We should not so much consult our own pleasure and interest as the advancement of the kingdom of God among men. Note, A Christian should be a man devoted to God, and of a public spirit.
So in this flood of data which we are called upon to surf, with its endless demands and vast opportunities, we cannot afford to engage thoughtlessly and carelessly. Like food offered to idols, our use of social media reflects on our profession of following the Lord and therefore, ultimately, it reflects on the Lord God himself.

It is therefore absolutely right to ask, first of all, "May I and should I engage?" The answer to that question will involve a frank and honest assessment of our own character with its appetites and inclinations. Taking that into account, we must consider the form, intentions and usual effects of any social media application or platform: What is the tone and nature of this? What is it designed to do for, to or with its users? What are the trends and tendencies of those who employ these as tools or as toys? Such questions will often throw up an immediate and obvious negative. Sites given over to slut-shaming or the exposure (literally) of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends have no place in the Christian's online cache. There may also, however, be sites which some will consider harmless which a Christian, or some particular Christians, should avoid or ignore because they do not need them or would not be able safely and profitably to use them. Remember, there is rarely, for many of us, any "You must!" to the question of social media involvement.

That brings us to the second question: "If I may engage, how must I do so?" How may I do so to the glory of God? In order to begin to answer that question, I wish to offer a web of wisdom, a grid drawn from the Book of Proverbs, which I hope will help believers filter out dangers and assess their contributions to various social media platforms. In the coming posts I will suggest some basic principles, some supporting texts which I hope you will ponder, and a brief summary which may help in your pondering. I do not expect that it will answer every question, but I hope that it will encourage a thoughtfulness and carefulness about our use of social media to the glory of God, as well as prompting thought about other forms of communication.

#2 to follow . . .