I fear two things (apart from God himself) this morning. One is that some of you may not have a clue what I'm talking about (which may be nothing new!) and second that I'm not the right preacher. Why? Because our topic this morning in our series on life in society today is chiefly about being wise about social media. What? I hear some of you say. Well social media is one major way millions of people in our society communicate with 'friends', 'connections' and 'followers' through such means as facebook, linked in and twitter via the internet. Worldwide facebook and twitter claim to have 1 billion users each. In the UK 31.5 million people are on facebook though for some teenagers it's now far less cool because their parents are signed up! Twitter now has 15 million subscribers here with half not tweeting anything but just using it as a news feed. LinkedIn has 10 million members.
I'm on facebook but I rarely post anything. I'm on twitter but I've only ever tweeted once and can't remember my user name, password or even how you get on to twitter! But, I ask myself, although it's wise to be cautious, am I/are we making the most of these and other media opportunities to make Jesus known as Paul challenges us in Colossians 4:5? Walk in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. All of which is wise regarding social media.
Let me ask you this. If these and other media technologies had been available in Paul's day would he have used them for the glory of God? Well the answer is that he certainly used the technologies of his own day - such as ships and letters - to help take the gospel to the Roman Empire and through his letters to us today. And for us as a church being on social media is the modern-day equivalent to being in the phone book. So it's good to be accessible there. If we're about spreading the gospel and want to invite people into what we're doing as a church, then social media can give us an opportunity to do that on a large scale.
But Paul wouldn't have wanted to be in touch purely by digital means from afar if at all possible. He was often longing to visit the churches he wrote to as he says in 1 Thessalonians 2:17:
But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy. (1 Thessalonians 2:17)
Which would be far too long for twitter! And when he was in Thessalonica he says that he "loved them so much that he and his fellow workers were delighted to share with them not only the gospel of God but our lives as well" (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Not just words, but a shared life, face to face. Not just an online presence but an embodied presence, which the gospel affirms.
God came in the person of Jesus Christ to live among us and to die on a cross so that we might truly live. God didn't just send a message. He sent, he gave his Son. And his Son took on flesh and dwelt among us, fully man and fully God.
You and I need to think biblically about this media revolution because we live in a world when every minute:
- 48hrs of new video is uploaded to YouTube - including extracts from clayton.tv
- 200 million e mails are sent
- 700,000 pieces of content are shared on facebook - including the JPC facebook page
- 100,000 tweets are sent on twitter - including clayton.tv tweeting what's new
Many people now communicate differently. And the new JPC website will reflect this. And just so we're all on the same page, even if not a facebook page, let me show you what some of these social media platforms actually are and do: Here's facebook - you can sign up - find friends - and gain access to the JPC page from where you can invite your friends to JPC services and events.
Twitter is a way of communicating by tweeting in 140 characters or less. So you can receive the latest update from clayton.tv if you become a follower of clayton. You can also retweet that to your followers! Clayton.tv is now available on most mobile devices including ipad and smartphones. So you can easily watch and then share programmes with others through facebook and twitter links. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3, asked for prayer that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured, as happened among you...
Which brings me to the
There are many good things about technology, media and the use of social media. New technologies reflect humanity's God given, Godlike creativity. God gave us a mandate to take his world and invent, create and produce.
Social networking can bring many benefits. For example, I recently won a national landscape photo competition on facebook! But, of course, then you've got to be wise about self promotion! So let's quickly move on!
When my two sons were in Brazil for the World Cup we kept in touch through facebook. My in laws communicate with their world wide family by e mail, facebook and skype and they're in their 80s. My parents on the other hand are self proclaimed Luddites so they're often the last to know anything! Indeed only 4% of those aged 65+ in the UK are on facebook. Which is a reminder that not everyone can be communicated with electronically and so more traditional methods still have their place. As a church we can keep in touch with each other and with our mission partners across the globe. These technologies also enable the gospel to be known in countries where missionaries cannot easily go or reinforce their work on the ground. Once it was radio and correspondence courses. Now websites and online TV channels bring the gospel to people while skype and e mail allow for follow up discipleship and theological training.
So there's much that's good about this internet and media revolution. These technologies can help us get the Christian message out quickly - locally, nationally and globally. Gutenburg's printing press of the fifteenth century had a similar impact 600 years ago when book publishing and therefore Bible publishing increased dramatically. Martin Luther's tracts were printed in their hundreds of thousands. Now Bibles can be on your phone, kindle etc and e books can be available all over the globe through the web.
1 billion watched the World Cup Final on TV. Billy Graham's final large scale mission - see myhopewithbillygraham.org.uk - will be in the form of a TV programme called The Cross which can be shown on DVD or on the web this November either centrally or in homes. The potential reach is far greater than a stadium rally. Will we make the most of this and other media opportunities? But what about
Technology is good but it has limitations and it readily gets perverted by our sin and used for selfish ends.
Social media can take up a lot of our time. Someone has calculated that over 700 billion minutes are spent on facebook alone each month. Half of those in their 20s&30s check facebook just after waking up in the morning and half of those do so before getting out of bed. And then there can be the constant updates which can distract from our work. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:15-17
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
Social media can distract us from time with God and his Word. And if the medium is the message then it can also encourage us to skim rather than read and actually not to hold information in our minds. Whereas the Bible invites us to meditate on and retain words. For example, Psalm 119:11:
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.( Psalm 119:11)
And Jesus said in relation to our prayer life (John 15:7):
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7)
One writer says this about storing up God's Word in our hearts:
"I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorising Scripture. No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened.. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective.. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. . Your mind will become alert and observant.. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified."
Technology can make us more efficient and efficiency can be good. But efficiency doesn't necessarily make us more effective.
And technology can also make us less effective in terms of what we might call 'real' friendships or fellowship as e mails, texts, messaging through facebook or twitter aren't always the best way of relating as nuances and feelings can often be missed or misconstrued which can lead to people getting hurt or offended unnecessarily. And sadly people can also be abused or deceived through social media. Facebook has been a factor in 20% of U.S. divorce cases in recent years. Proverbs 16:23, 24 & 28:
A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones...But a perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. (Proverbs 16:23, 24 & 28)
But how do we obey this? How are we to be wise about the use of social media and other forms of media when there's a plethora of temptations on the web to entice you? (I don't need to tell you that online pornography is a problem but there are others.) So why do some use it so much? What does it offer? So thirdly
3) The Answer
First we need to see how Christ offers more than social media. And then see that it's the grace of God that leads to self control. Titus 2:11-12:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age... (Titus 2:11-12)
Christ, who gave himself for us and who purifies us, more than meets the needs that social media and other forms of media can appear to satisfy for us. And when we grasp the goodness of Christ then the focus of change is not on us, but on him, and any change brings him glory rather than us.
You see there can be problems perhaps especially when the media becomes so compulsive. So why and what does the gospel have to say about this?
Well one reason some find facebook so compulsive is that on facebook you can recreate your world through your words to gain approval. You can become the centre of your recreated world with your chosen people - your friends and your number of likes. Social media allows us to play God.
Whereas in the Bible the chosen people are God's people chosen by him. When by God's grace we put our trust in Christ we become part of his people and part of the church. God fits us together in a local church so we can help each other grow together towards maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16).
People can also measure themselves by the number of friends they have on facebook and the number of likes they get for a post, by the endorsements they receive on Linked In or the number of followers they have on twitter. We can easily become so concerned about what other users of social media think of us rather than considering what God thinks. Paul writes (Gal 1:10):
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)
What mattered to him was the approval of God. What matters to you? We can often check our social media looking for affirmation. Yet we're looking in the wrong place. As one researcher found people often feel depressed after spending time on facebook because its geared to being positive and usually everybody wears a smile whatever the reality behind the mask. The exceptions also spin their lives - with a message of misery. Like those who portray an upbeat image they can be self-obsessed. And there's a large online community for people with disorders such as anorexia who provide mutual encouragement and even compete at suffering. The desire to portray yourself as a success is then the same - it's just that the criteria of success are different - in this case how thin you are or how miserable you are.
You see the real question you need to ask yourself is: Am I trying to do self-identity or am I finding identity in Christ? Or: Am I looking for approval from others through my words, or approval from God through his gospel word? Self-justification is doomed to fail because we can't justify ourselves.
What does Jesus say to those of you exhausted by the need to portray yourselves for the approval of others? Matthew 11:28:
Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
The gospel says Jesus recreates me - I'm not a self made person. Jesus recreates me in God's image - it's not about my image. Jesus recreates the world - I'm not the saviour. Jesus recreates God's world - it's not my world. Jesus creates God's world with God at the centre - not me at the centre. Jesus creates and recreates through God's word - not through my words. It is these truths that enable us to be truly human, fit for the purpose for which we were created. And this is what liberates us from self-obsession to enjoy the goodness and grace of God. Which brings me lastly to the
4) The Face Book of God
There are dangers in social networking and to those who face those dangers, the gospel provides a better and richer alternative.
Facebook, linked in etc is where people show their face and for some it's the place where you recreate your image and world through your words. The gospel is where God turns his face towards us (Nu 6:36). It's the place where he recreates us in his image and recreates his world through his words. 2 Corinthians 3:18:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Through social media we can recreate ourselves to win the approval of others. Through the gospel God recreates us in the image of Jesus. Jesus makes us approved by God. And we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus with ever increasing glory. Have a look at your facebook page when you get home - do you really want this more than the glory of God?
The medium is the message - you can give your time to a site like facebook, which was created by a teenage nerd - or to being transformed into Christ's likeness with ever increasing glory. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:5
For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. (2 Corinthians 4:5)
Through social media it's possible to promote ourselves and gain friends and followers. But through the gospel, which can be shared through media, we promote Jesus as Lord and gain followers for him.
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness", has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Through the gospel we see the face of God. The Bible is the true Facebook, the book in which we see God's face. Prayer is the ultimate in instant messaging. The church is the real social network. The gospel is the place where we see 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ'.
So this week prioritise seeking God's face. To paraphrase Isaiah 40:6-8: "The facebook comments wither and the tweets fall, but the word of our God stands forever." What will we give our time to this week. Trivia? Or the word of our God that stands forever and to getting God's word out? And this doesn't just apply to social media but to all media. So I conclude with Philippians 4:8-9:
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practise these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)