Monday, February 24, 2020

THE CHRISTIAN AND SOCIAL MEDIA


"Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways“ 
Psalm 119:37

Time is a precious commodity, and to spend it wisely is one of the  Christian’s  absorbing goals. 
We don’t want to waste our lives.  

So, how do we manage the social media? 
It is very clear that we must manage things before they manage us, otherwise we become slaves of our things.[1]  The Christian is not to be controlled by things, but by the Spirit of God[2]. The social media  greatly challenges  our stewardship of time, but not only  of time. 

There are  some subtle challenges  connected to this phenomenon - such as information overload.   So many images and messages  pass through our mind  - each crying out for our attention. It becomes quite bewildering and downright  impossible to sit down and adequately reflect and process all that is being thrown at us from the  many media channels. 

The long history of human innovation proves that every technology has inevitable consequences. It is very difficult to see what a given technology may lead to, and what changes it may produce in society over time. Only time can tell.  
We can  now for instance see the development of consumerism and its related problems. We never thought that  consumerism would produce  an ecological challenge. But consumerism,  fed by the media and advertising is responsible for the plastic pollution that we now face. Everything is packaged atttractively  in plastic  to make it appealing to the consumer, but it leaves us with mountains of plastic that  polluite our soils and seas. 

Intellectually we have become addicted to sound bites. Our attention spans are shorter. Our powers to think through consequences are reduced, because we are  bnow taught to focus on immediate gratification. 

This media  bombardment began  to intensify in the last century with the advent of the Radio and TV. It is now amplified many times over by the advent of the social media. 
Should we be alarmed?  
Should we have reasons for concern?  

Many among us have embraced Facebook … Twitter … SMS… WhatsApp …Google ... Blogger … Others have shunned it. 

Each one has their own reasons.  

I freely confess that I have a love – hate relationship with the social media.  There are times when I think that these   are tremendous forums of information and communication.I have located a number of old,long lost friends via Facebook. I have been able  to see  how people were doing  and stay  in touch  and see their photos. I have been able to send brief communications world- wide, at the drop of a hat. I am enabled to remember people’s birthdays[3].  But there are other times when I find that the social media are too time consuming.  They do have an addictive element.  Also, I confess that never have I felt more connected to the world, and yet, never have I felt more watched. There is more than enough evidence on the world wide web to condemn me for being a Christian.

The social media has revolutionized our world. Facebook is now the most successful civil forum in the world. It was instrumental  in  the    Arab  spring revolution  in  2010 [4] (some called it the Facebook revolution), replacing dictators  and replacing them … well with other dictators.
A new language is appearing.  In 2013, Oxford English Dictionary declared “selfie” to be their Word of the Year.[5] Other new  words are  photobombing and unfriending  and ‘lol’. English, as the most dominant language on the Internet, is becoming a new type of Pidgin English.
The Christian world has not been slow to buy into the social media.  Most churches now have blogs, websites, Facebook pages. It is one of the new ways to let the world know about the gospel of Jesus.  On a number of occasions people have visited our church (and have stayed)  because  they have seen my blog, or our  Church’s  Facebook page.  A number of  my Christian friends use Face Book  and Twitter  to share  Scripture,  and to post  useful  articles  or links  to Christian websites. That is all very positive, and yet, there are subtle dangers!
Tim Chester in his book, “Will you be my Face Book  friend” (2013)  writes, “while  the benefits of  new technologies are immediately apparent, the negatives  are more hidden.[6]   
Let us consider  the apparent  and the more hidden dangers. 
Apparent Dangers
Time wasted on social media.  According to research done, nearly half of FB users (ages 18-34) check in  within minutes  of waking up in the morning. Repeated  checking thereafter absorbs large portions of time.
Constant interruption. We feel the constant need to check our  social media accounts, interrupting valuable time with others. The same is incidentally true for the cell phone. We allow ourselves to be interrupted because the phone rings. We cut conversations with people because the phone rings. The phone rules and overrules. We need to develop a Christian mind on this.   
Not using proper grammar and sentences is affecting the way we express ideas. We are losing  our ability to construct an argument.  
Social Media users  tend to  skim  text  rather than read it.  I am constantly amazed to see how often people misread information posted  on  social media  because they do not read thoroughly. 
A lack of careful analysis and evaluation due to information overload. We know the facts,but we don’t know how to analyze them. We do not engage in  critical thinking.I can think of no better method to promote  critical  thinking  than reading  a book with a pen in hand, interacting,  arguing or agreeing with the writer as I go along. I am forced into a conversation, but in skimming a book I am just looking for information  (which has its place). 
Changing our attitude to learning.  Having Smartphones with their Google capacities means that we can now access information whenever we like.  In that sense technology makes us more efficient.  We do not have to go to a library or find an outdated Encyclopedia Britannica  to get outdated  information, but now have the latest information  at our fingertips.  
But here’s the challenge:  
Why learn or memorize when you can google?  
Why learn historical dates when you can look them up on Wikipedia? 
The problem is that we are no longer holding information in our minds, preventing us to make connections between ideas.  
Why learn Bible verses when you have your Bible on the phone?  Yet the Bible itself calls us to meditate on it and retain its words. We are to have the word in our hearts and not on our cell phones, “I have stored up your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you”  (Ps 119:11)
Getting hooked to digital cocaine:  If you want to know whether you have an obsessive relationship with the social  media,  here’ s is a quick  checklist [7]  Do you check your FB page often in a day? More than 20 mins on FB per day? Do you find it difficult to imagine a day without social media?  Do you ever  gone online  to check  messages / FB status during a church meeting? Do you answer phones or messages during meals or conversations? Do you keep it in the bedroom ‘on’ all night?


More Subtle Dangers[8]
On FB/ social media I can recreate my world to gain approval.  
I have a forum to reinvent myself to the watching world.  
I can create a new identity by selective reporting; by uploading pictures that portray me in a certain way - usually having a good time or looking good. There are no ugly pictures of me. My life takes place on a stage and I write the script, creating or recreating myself. Doesn’t this sound idolatrous?  I am re-creating myself in my own image? Are you in the process of reinventing yourself? Do you see the subtle process behind this kind of thinking? Who is it that made  you in His image? The obvious question here is - "that which I am  seeking to portary to the world- is that really me?" Is your FB image self more attractive or more successful than your real world self?"  The Bible teaches me that I do not need to recreate myself. Jesus recreates me. 
My identity is in Christ   and my Christian mind needs to learn to be content with that.
FB/ social media   can create a very “me centered” world.   


An Australian study entitled, “Who uses FB?“,  found a significant correlation between the use of FB and narcissism (self- love).  The study concluded, “It could be argued that Facebook specifically gratifies the narcissistic individual’s need to engage in self- promoting and superficial behaviour[9]. Think about this every time you post something, “Why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve? Who is at the center of this post? 

The underlying need of continuous posting on social media may be the seeking of the approval of others.   This need to be  ‘heard’ by others, and by what other’s should think of us, can be very intimidating. 

Our overriding concern should be what God thinks of us.  “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ (Gal 1:10). Paul here addresses the fact that the Galatian Christians had allowed themselves to be bullied by the information  which the Judaizers gave them,   into taking on another gospel.  Paul thinks  that they were submitting to  the fear of man  which was crippling their  thinking and therefore their actions, thus becoming legalists,  when in fact Christ had set them free. The Christian view is  that we ultimately  stand and fall before God. God is our ultimate judge  - see  Paul again in  1 Corinthians 4:3-5. 

Not only can I recreate myself on FB,  but I can measure myself  through FB. i.e. I can rank myself through the number of  FB  friends  or  the amount of followers on my blog and the comments I receive on my blog, or I can score myself through the amounts of ‘likes’. These  become the index of my self- worth,  and again  we point out  that  the Bible teaches that our   identity and worth and sufficiency  is in Christ.

Self - absorption   can cause depression.  A study at Stanford University  found people often depressed after spending time of FB. [10] Why?  FB  is geared to project positivity. Everything can only be liked.  You see pictures of people having a good time, and on holiday and doing things. There rarely are  pictures of someone feeling bored, unhappy  or miserable. In the meantime  back in my reality, the day that I have had  at  work  seems dull and  sad.   And I feel bad. 

 Superficiality:  Listen to this actual FB entrance  which I  actually read  on FB some years ago:“My beloved wife and companion  died  yesterday”. Response: 2 comments and 8 likes!  
I like the  fact that your wife died yesterday?”  That is the problem with skimming. It  does not produce  analysis. It fosters thoughtlessness. 

Temptations: Online flirting can lead to relational breakdown. More than a third of UK divorce filings in 2011 contained the word “Facebook” [11].
What Is The Spiritual Problem Behind All These  Dangers?


It is ultimately  a lack of contentment  in terms of  who we are  and the way God made us.  This   lack of contentment is rooted in our fallen natures.  Through the fall, we like Cain have become restless wanderers in the earth. We are never happy with ourselves and for this reason the  church father  Augustine  wrote, “Oh Lord’s our hearts are restless, until they are found in Thee!” The Bible teaches us that our heart’s content needs to be rooted  in Christ.
In Philippians 4: 10-13 we find the portrait of a contented man – the apostle Paul,   “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

These words were written by Paul who sat in prison because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Jealous and corrupt people have done this to him. He is now awaiting possible execution over their false charges. In this prison, Paul writes some of the greatest words on the nature of contentment.  He does this by way of a letter of thanks which he writes to the Christians in Philippi. He wants them to know that he is very happy and thankful to have received their generous gift, BUT he also wants them to know that he feels himself wonderfully sustained by God in this very difficult situation.  His contentment and his happiness is anchored in the LORD.   He doesn’t want them to think that he had been discontented before the gift arrived,  but he does want them to know that their generosity was truly appreciated. So he combines his thanks with this valuable lesson on the secret for contentment.

Christian contentment comes as we find ourselves rooted  and established in Christ.  Christian joy is not conditioned by human approval, or by being liked (or disliked). It is not dependent on   material comforts, a healthy body or a good job.  Christian contentment is rooted in the fact that Jesus loves us, and if He is with us, no matter what we may lack, we have that which matters most.

Let’s  see the social media  for what they are. They are useful, but we must learn to waste  our precious  time not on  these tools, but in real relationships,  firstly with our Tri-une   God, and  then in terms  of  real relationships, to which we are called  by God  in the context of His body the church.



[1] See Galatians 5:1 for warning
[2] See this principle applied  in Ephesians 5:18
[3] while the list grows longer it  becomes more and more impossible to keep up with the birthdays 
[4] Arab Spring is the media's name for a series of uprisings and protests throughout the middle east, beginning in December of 2010 including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen.
[6] Tim Chester: Will you be my Facebook friend p.11
[7] ibid p.17
[8] ibid p.19ff
[9] ibid p.22
[10] ibid p.24  A study done by Alex Jordan
[11] ibid p.30

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