Malaysia Airlines Flight #370, Sensational News and Thinking about Death

Boeing 777 - #370The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been a sensational news story. CNN as well as a number of other news networks have seen their ratings spike due to this story as the (probable) deaths of 227 passengers and 12 crew members of this unfortunate 777 flight which has (probably) crash landed in the South Indian Ocean. The most likely explanation that I have read about the story actually didn’t come through a news outlet but rather from a pilot on social media here

This has got me thinking – why are stories about plane disasters so captivating and so sensational? Tragic deaths are always interesting to the human psyche. Yet these are not the only people to die tragically since the disappearance of this Boeing 777. Most statistics show us that on average 153,000 people die on a daily basis. Of this number 16,000 are children, tragically dying of diseases related to malnutrition. These are averages and speak of general suffering taking place throughout the world, yet statistics generally do not move us emotionally or intrigue us, they just sadden us and make us feel somewhat helpless. This means since the deaths of those on the unfortunate flight, millions of others have died, with most not receiving wall to wall coverage by CNN.

There is something about plane travel that many of us (and most of CNN’s audience) will relate to. Sitting helpless in a metal tube at 35000 feet in the air. I’m sure many who travel run the scenarios of these tragedies through their heads when they travel on a plane. Which means when tragedies like this or 9/11 happen the played out scenarios in our heads are reinforced and the audience is therefore not repelled by the story, but rather intrigued as that scenario could happen to them.

News is inherently self absorbed. It is really only news if it applies to an individual. This was brought forcefully home to me over a decade ago. I had just come from the UK, where Sky News had wall to wall coverage of a missing school girl, who was tragically found murdered. I at the time was visiting Rwanda. We met with the Prime Minister who wanted us to visit the Genocide Memorial that was about to open. A very tragic burial site of 250,000 who died in the genocide of ’94, which saw 1 million murdered in the space of 100 days. As I got back into my military escort afterwards I asked the driver if he had had any family or friends murdered. He almost casually answered that 50 of his family and friends had been killed during the genocide. Each death during this genocide was horrific. I was shocked. How had this genocide not had the same news coverage. The answer is complex – but ultimately comes down to the fact that News is only told if the news agencies think it is applicable to the audience – we are self absorbed.

This might be seen as somewhat of a morbid post, however I do think that thinking about death is healthy. Moses encourages in his Psalm to ask God to help us number our days in order that we might gain a “heart of wisdom”. Other studies of show that thinking about death actually sets your priorities straight and is psychologically healthy. So today you might want to do what I used to do regularly on my home from work – walk through a cemetery! It’s good once and in a while to get a sense of your own mortality and see that you are like grass in comparison to YHWH.

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World Vision’s Interesting Actions

ImageIt would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall at World Vision over the last few days. On Monday they released a statement that they were changing their staff handbook to allow employees who were in same-sex marriages. While at the same time strangely saying this did not mean that they had changed their own definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. It was surely a little naive to think as they said on Monday that they were not picking sides in a debate. Only 48 hours later they released another statement to say that they had made a mistake. Here are their words:

Dear Friends,

Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.

In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.

We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.

While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.

Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world. We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Sincerely in Christ,

Richard Stearns, President Jim Beré, Chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board

There would appear to be some very deep differences of opinion in the board at World Vision for these two statements to come out within a 48 hour period. They MUST have known the first statement would have resulted in the inevitable backlash that it did – surely they considered this? Which makes the second statement in such a short space of time so interesting. I’m sure there have been some pretty intense conversations over the past 48 hours. I’m sure they regret making the first statement.

I can’t help but feel however it is a decision based on expediency rather than principle (I’m sure this is not true for all). But I’m sure the original decision even at these early stages resulted sadly in the loss of much support. At the end of the day many children would lose sponsorship, this whole affair is fairly tragic. I have supported World Vision since a child completing the Sponsored Famines and now as one of the African agencies with a sponsored child. In choosing to help support those in need however I do strongly look at not just the aid that is being provided, but the motivation and message that is being spread. As Gary Skinner from Watoto told me once, “We want to give a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus”. Justice is spread not just with physical redemption, but also spiritual “Jesus centered” redemption and for that to take place we do need a clear view of law, sin, repentance and the substitution of Jesus.

What are your thoughts – do you choose to support an organization purely on physical aid or also because of the message they embody?

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The Most Important Rule of Marriage

Aaron and EricaToday I had the joy to marry Aaron Kremer and Erica Mazo.

This short address was directed for them on this happy day, and yet, the challenge remains for all married couples today

Erica and Aaron

Many have heroes who are celebrities – actors, sportsmen and musicians. It is perhaps unsurprising to you – that my heroes are a little different. One such hero was a man of unusual character – an early Church father by the name of Tertullian. And unlike today’s celebrities Tertullian had something rather good to say about the marriage of two Christians

“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in home, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the faith they practice . . . Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit . . . They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake God’s banquet, side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts . . . Seeing this Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present.”

Before me today stand two Christians. Aaron and Erica you both have committed your life to the way of Christ, and so today is a joyous day. A day when you will commit your lives to each other –  A day that you will stand before God, your family and friends – Profess solemn vows and enter into the covenant of marriage.

 It falls to me to give you a charge. My charge is small and my charge is simple but my charge is not easy. It is the same charge that the Apostle John would give in his old age. The old saint would be carried into various Christian fellowships and hoarsely whisper this passionate command. It is the charge that Paul called the “Royal Law”. It is the charge that Jesus gave his disciples as a new commandment  – It is simply this – Love one another. Love one another deeply

 Jesus said it this way A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

But a challenge stands before us today and the challenge is this – what is this love?

 Epithumia

It is not the love spoken of in plays like Romeo and Juliet. The love of most romantic comedies coming from Hollywood today – Boy sees girl over a crowded room – and it is “love at first sight”. The New Testament actually has a name for this. It is  ἐπιθυμία – Epithumia. It means an inordinate desire or lust. You have found the one you are attracted physically, emotionally, intellectually and you have fallen in love. This love of attraction or addiction is in fact not viewed very positively in the Bible. I’m sure as two beautiful young people this was a part of you getting together but – “first sights” are fleeting.  It is hard to determine if you are truly “in love” because emotions are fickle And when you fall in love in such a way it is all too easy to fall out of love. Sadly, many marriages have fallen apart – because of the allure of this idea. But when I say love one another deeply this is not what I mean.   

 Eros

Often when we use the word love or lover in English we mean sexual or erotic love. Popular culture is full of it – “10 ways to become a better lover”. The Greeks had a word for this as well  – Eros. Yet the Bible never used it – because in a Christian marriage sex can never be separated from love – but what do I mean? Sexual union should be a component of every healthy marriage. Your sexual union is for children, but not just for children, It is a physical expression of the spiritual commitment that you make in marriage. As Tim Keller says “Sex is a way of saying, I see all of your imperfections and I am still completely, exclusively, and permanently committed to you.” Sex is a part, an important and enjoyable part – but still only a component of love.

 Philia

Many see love as affection or friendship. Now here we are getting closer. The Bible has a word for this Φιλία – Philia – Brotherly affection or friendship. Again this friendship component must be a component of your marriage. Aaron, Erica must be your best friend, Erica, Aaron must be your best friend. The marriage where husband and wife are not the best of friends is a marriage that needs life support. Friendship is the oxygen you breathe in marriage. For too many, marriage is a place of either weak connection or antagonism. A place that would be exemplified by the story of Lady Nancy Astor, the first female Member of Parliament and her adversary Winston Churchill. She remarked to him one day “Winston, if you were my husband I would put poison in your tea”. Churchill thought for a moment and dryly replied “Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it!” May your interactions not become poisonous But friendly affection is –  again only part of the story. And again it is not the word that the New Testament uses when it speaks of husbands loving wives and – wives loving husbands. The words that you will use in your vows to each other in just a moment.

 Agape

The word that is used in the New Testament for marital love is Agape. Not once and twice, but repeatedly, again and again. This is not some lowly, base kind of love. This is the highest form of love

This is the love of God.

This love is an outward looking, covenant keeping love. This love is an action, which goes beyond a feeling and is moved by compassion. This love sees someone in need and comes to serve “in sickness and in health” This is the love of 1 Corinthians 13 – you act not on the basis of emotional need or sexual desire – but because of a deep covenantal – reach.

This is the love of Christian fellowship – and – most importantly today it is the love of Christian marriage. When the King James Bible translators came to translate this word agape they used the word charity because it connotes something that is loved despite its worth – They were right. This is a love that looked down and saw us in our need and despite our unworthiness gave the life of the Son of God to die on a cross. This was Agape the highest form of love.

This is the sacrifice you are called to as husband and wife.

I say sacrifice – but if love works as it should it is no sacrifice at all. You are called to love one another deeply within the confines and safety of the covenant that you are about to make.

This is not a consumer contract. In a contract it might take a few months or a few years, but suddenly you wake up one morning and it’s not working anymore. You start to look for an out. In a covenant – you see the flaws of each other  – everyday – they might drive you crazy. But unlike a contract, you’re not looking for the upgrade. Unlike a contract you don’t have to keep marketing yourself. In a covenant you are safe – safe to be vulnerable about your deepest weaknesses In this marriage covenant you have found home because you have promised, and because there is covenantal, sacrificial love on both sides

 And so the challenge will remain every morning and every night – Will you learn to love?I pray you will – And I pray that this will be the start of a wonderful journey.

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Three Lessons the Moravians teach us about Prayer and Mission

Moravian_missionAt the back of the prayer room in Kansas City is a scripture quotation by someone we see at IHOPKC as something of a hero – Count Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf. The reason being that Zinzendorf led a group of Moravian refugees in a community at a place called Herrnhutt in the 18th Century. They were responsible for a one hundred year prayer meeting and sparking the first wave of the modern missions movement. Books have been written about the Moravians (which I encourage you to read). However for the purposes of this blog I want to highlight three areas where believers today can learn from Zinzendorf and his community of Moravians.

1. Missions begins and ends in prayer – The Moravians are known for their prayer meeting which began as a commitment to “hourly intercessions” which went around the clock, however it is my experience that it is impossible to touch the heart of God in prayer and not touch His heart for mission. I have met in the past year or so with the leaders of some of the top missions agencies on the planet. There has been much talk about the Prayer Movement and the Missions Movement coming together, however when I dug a little deeper I discovered that many of these organizations were birthed from the place of deep and at times continuous intercession.

If you neglect prayer, you neglect the heart of God and you will soon come to neglect the mission of God and simply become a humanitarian aid agency (humanitarian work is not wrong, it is just I believe as a Christian if we do not offer the cup of cold water IN THE NAME OF JESUS, we offer false hope and deliver false justice). So mission begins in prayer, but it also leads to prayer. The fundamental purpose of mission is so that man would be reconciled to God so that man can approach God in worship. The end of missions is the nations raising their voice in worship before the throne of God. The Moravians knew this well and we would do well to learn from them

2. Missions is about all of life and not just the spiritual part – We often make an unhelpful dichotomy between sacred and secular. The professional clergy was introduced into the church predominantly in the fourth century as the priesthood as opposed to the laity. Luther came stating that we must recognize the Priesthood of All Believers. We are all priests. While vocational ministry exists, I love a quote by Prof. Cecil Pawson (David Pawson’s father) who said “There is nothing secular but sin”. The Moravians tools this to heart and saw their identity primarily as Christians, missionaries, priests of God, messengers of the gospel, but also were skilled in various vocations. This meant they could travel to the furthest reaches of the globe, practice their skill as a shoe maker, a baker, a tinker etc yet primarily be a missionary. The world needs more believers who will see business as mission, especially if we are to reach the most unreached parts of the earth with the gospel of Jesus.

3. Missions is all about Jesus – The watchword of the Moravians was “That the Lamb would receive the reward of his sufferings”. The Moravians knew the meta-narrative of the gospel well, they knew their part and they knew where they fit into history. This gave them an unshakeable peace, which John Wesley was in awe of in the midst of a gale force storm on the open seas. They knew it was ultimately about the price Jesus paid in his first coming, so that he could have a pure and spotless bride at His second coming. They lived that the Lamb of God would get His inheritance.

Related Resources

A History of 24/7 Prayer – a brief overview I wrote a few years ago

Lord of the Ring – Book about Zinzendorf and the Moravians

False Justice – A book by my friend Stuart Greaves that deals with the issue of humanitarianism without Jesus

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The Creative Forerunner

loudspeakerIf you resonate with the truth of the forerunner ministry and you do not have a strong gifting in preaching from a platform are you invalidated? The very simple and obvious answer is no, and the truth is, due to the radical shift in technology in recent years the most effective preaching platform may not even be the church pulpit anymore. I say the church pulpit rather than the church platform, because I still strongly believe that it is “through the church (that) the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known” (Eph. 3:10). The reason I make a differentiation is because preaching is not the only gifting that the New Testament envisages that the church members will possess, indeed it is envisaged that as the “ekklesia” gathers to worship each one would bring their own contribution to edify to the body depending on their particular gifting. The Bible outlines many giftings and callings that can help build up the body and there are many extra-biblical callings (which if they had existed in Bible times I believe would have been included), which likewise need to be employed to communicate the fullness of the gospel.

Do you feel invalidated from this ministry if you are a designer of any ilk, a blogger, a script writer, an author, a TV producer, a videographer, a podcaster, a coder, an inventor or indeed any other kind artist? It is evident that the workplace is increasingly populated by those that have been termed by Richard Florida as the “creative class” (see “The Rise of the Creative Class”—Revisted, Revised and Expanded, 2014, Basic Books). Florida has noted in his work that over a third of the workforce are part of this class. Sometimes the workplace is simply seen as a place to be endured by Christians, perhaps something that can be used to fund Christian ministry, yet the truth is we need a much more holistic approach. We absolutely need to ask the question about what we do with our financial resources, but perhaps a more germane question is what are we doing with our creative skills. Do we even consider that these skills can be used to further the Great Commission of Jesus more directly? How are these skills important in the storyline of Jesus returning to the earth? My earnest desire is to see these giftings fully align with the New Testament’s message and be an effective tool to build up and prepare the Body of Christ.

CREATIVE GIFTS – Let us break this down a little further as it relates to the various creative forms that we engage in either for our vocation or simply as a creative expression of who we are. This is in no way an exhaustive list, what it is however is a challenge to think about common forms of creative expression in missional ways. If you are a creative, I challenge you to think of your artistic calling and think how you can use it for missional purposes.

SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS – We live in an age of social media revolutions. The pen has truly become mightier than the sword. Social media is a platform of much that is banal, yet there are growing number who are using it to disciple a generation. Today most Christian young adults are spending more hours on Facebook than they are reading the Bible. The platform may not be Facebook or Twitter tomorrow, but rest assured there will be a platform and writing will be a critical component. Communicators who can cut through the dross, redeem much in society and provide biblical insight to those who might not receive it anywhere else are much needed. If you are a communicator, social media is both a place to cut your teeth in speaking to this generation and to hone your skill in communicating the bare essentials in compelling and engaging ways.

BLOGGING – Blogs such as Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Mashable and Gawker are some of the most popular destinations for many online today. While you may not consider the latest personality quiz or celebrity news a blog, it is an undeniable fact that blogging both forms and changes the world views of many in this generation. It is my contention that the growth of New Calvinism since the early 2000s has come about largely through an army of bloggers. Blogging should be a critical component of any social media ecosystem. It takes a little more effort than simply tweeting, but it also provides a destination for the brief thought of your tweet to be fleshed out. Whereas a Facebook discussion might be fruitless, blogging provides a forum for discussion to happen in a much more reasonable way. Oh that we will see a generation of creative bloggers communicate the message of God himself.

AUTHORS – While social media and blogs are a first step in the journey of writing. It is my hope that out of every one hundred bloggers we can see ten effective authors emerge. While we need effective songwriters to spread theology through sung worship, the truism is born out that “leaders are readers”. And if this is the case (which it is) then we need an army of writers. Writers who are poets, writers who are story tellers, writers who are theologians, writers who are historians, writers who inspire and teach through their craft. The pen has always been mightier than the sword and today the many technologies which help us write have become mightier than an arsenal of weapons.

YOUTUBERS – Compared with some of the venerable media companies YouTube is still a child. In existence since only 2005, it like many of its other social media compatriots has grown rapidly. The statistics for Youtube are simply staggering. YouTube beats any cable network hands down in a contest for Millennial viewers; we have seen the short form videos of YouTube find a ready audience in our instant social media.  Unsurprisingly, individuals who have the skill and tenacity have been able to make a living from such videos. Explainer videos, animated videos, spoken-word videos are all watched millions of times and shape the way that culture thinks and the way that culture acts. The technical barriers that once applied to television have been reduced dramatically, but the question of compelling content and able communicators still remains. Is it possible that the revolutionary meta-narrative of the Gospel could become a virus on YouTube? One thing is for sure, it will not disciples of Jesus do not embrace this tool.

DOCUMENTARY MAKERS – Documentary has become the domain of modern day activism. It is possible to find documentaries about many of the great “causes” of the day. What is not always so evident however is the power of the documentary to challenge and change world-views. Worldviews are important as they are typically assumptions that are communicated implicitly by the filmmaker. These implicit assumptions are very rarely challenged by an audience. Individuals will often discuss the issues the documentary raises, few will go down the onerous task of deconstructing the worldview presuppositions that the film assumes before discussing the issues at hand. Yet such deconstructions are necessary for many Christians who will conform their thinking to the pattern of the world. The challenging question for Christians however is where the documentary makers are who can speak about the issues of the day are from a Christian worldview. I believe having discussions with a foundation of truth will always have good results.

MEDIA PRODUCERS – Television and radio producers of both entertainment and news media face similar challenges to the documentary makers. There are many Christians in these fields and many who have been raised in by Christian parents. In the rough and tumble of everyday tasks, decisions and to do lists do we let the revolutionary message of the Gospel shine through not only our daily interactions, but actually inform the way that we write and produce the television and radio that goes forth.

CODERS – Code is perhaps the fastest growing international language. We live in a world dominated by the latest applications that make our world more efficient, more social and generally a better place to live. Is it possible that we can think about this new language to help the gospel go forward more efficiently? Coding is undoubtedly a valuable economic benefit to the individual, but are the coders who have surrendered their life to the claims of Christ selling their skills so that they can stand before the kings of this age, or so that they can bring many into glory in the age to come.

ARTISTS – Painters, photographers, actors, dancers, musicians are often the subversive ones in society. Making controversial statements through their art. Changing the way we think about reality and culture. Let us not divorce our faith from our art. Let the subversive message of Jesus flow through our art and in some small way prepare a way for the coming of the Messiah.

This list of creative callings is far from complete, yet as we close this blog I encourage you to think about the creative calling which God has given you. It is perfectly natural to think about your work and creative expression as a form of worship and I encourage you to do that, however also start to think missionally. How can your gifting build up the body of Christ, how can your gifting proclaim the truth of the gospel (and often in ways that are not blatant, overt or stereotypical) and how can your gifting prepare the way for the return of the Messiah to the earth?

Related Posts

10 Rules of Social Media Etiquette

Would Jesus Tweet?

Messengers: Make Your Message Clear

Is Webstreaming Good for the Body of Christ?

Webstreaming: Our Story

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10 Rules of Social Media Etiquette

social-media-logos“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

Paul is here transitioning in his letter to the Romans from a masterful  exposition on the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike into practical advice on how the Jew and Gentile can relate to one another in a joint fellowship. This transition is an appeal to believers who are both Jewish and Gentile to live sacrificial lives that do not conform to the pattern of the present world. This is a perennial challenge to believers; that we truly become strangers and aliens in this world, that we don’t embrace friendship with the world and yet we still reach out to the world in intentional ways of love and service.

Be Intentional

Social media is the way that billions in the world are relating to one another. There will always be a temptation to simply embrace the habits of the world, because everyone is doing it. Yet we have to be intentional. Intentional about even opening accounts on social media. What are our intentions for opening a Facebook or Twitter account? And then once we have, we must be intentional about what we post.

I’m assuming many who are reading this have already made the plunge for varied reasons and set up one or many social media accounts. If you have what follows are a few principles that I want to present as a way to “not” conform to the pattern of the world, but to use social media in a way that is both Christian and redemptional. These questions actually apply to more than simply social media, most are more general relational rules, however social media has a tendency to amp up inherent human challenges, so be intentional and try to think about these questions before you post:

Question #1:  Am I adding to or providing a way through the clutter?

We live in a world of clutter, we are constantly bombarded with media messages[1]. This is truly the information age. We are constantly in need of wisdom how to navigate this overload of information; trusted curators are needed who can provide a light in the midst of the clutter. So the very real question that you need to think about concerning what you personally post is whether you adding to the clutter or are you becoming one of the curators of information.

Question #2: Does this post provide helpful resources or information to my friends and social media contacts?

I am unclear whether your posting of the latest personality test proving what kind of dog you are is helpful to others, or what you are eating for dinner is an encouragement to others (it may be… I’m just asking the question), but one helpful way to bring definition to the first question is to ask whether what you are posting is helpful, informative and edifying to others.

Question #3: Am I being kind and encouraging?

Building up others in their faith and in their life is always to be encouraged. It is a good in itself, it will make you feel better and will make your audience better. The corollary is also true. Try to avoid unkind comments and expressions.

Question #4: Am I being negative?

Please take a moment to consider whether what you are posting is negative generally or offensive to someone else. As a general rule take all complaints offline. Bitterness, gossip and slander should not be found in the midst of the Christian community, yet the allure of gradations of sarcasm, cool cynicism to outright bitterness, gossip and grumbling is strong. It always has been, that is why the Bible takes such a strong stance against such language. The difference today is that such back room conversations are taking place in the open on social media platforms. Nothing good can come from this. If you would not make the comment to the person in front of a crowd of people, then don’t do it online.

Question #5: Am I angry right now?

If you are angry PLEASE don’t post. Social media is a very “immediate” medium, it is very easy to dash off your thoughts in a moment of anger and hit “send”. This would also be true of email. Please make it a rule if you are feeling angry/frustrated to cool down before you send any kind of electronic communication. Emailing, posting and texting lack so much of the nuance of human interaction. So if you need to resolve the issue immediately try to meet face to face. Sleep on the issue. If you have to write something try to get an objective counselor to read what you have written and offer some changes (and avoiding gossip in the process).

Question #6: Am I seeking approval through this post?

In addition to anger try to avoid posting while feeling other negative emotions e.g. self-pity, depression, and try not to post with a hope to self-justify yourself in the eyes of others.

Question #7: Am I being an online bully?

Social media is inherently tribal in nature. It is very easy to fall into political groups online either defending your own camp or criticizing another camp. In such a climate it becomes easy to fall into easy name-calling. If someone does not agree with me, this by necessity makes them a [fill in the blank] heretic. This is the epitome of online bullying, yet it seems to be a space that is inhabited online by those that have a passion for calling out heresy in others in the name of passion for Christian orthodoxy.

Question #8: Am I “pimping” my audience?

The sphere of social media is a place for dialogue. True dialogue involves active listening, not simply waiting for a space to speak, or sometimes in social media simply posting once and not responding to other people’s response. If you are trying to build a platform and you are a driven with a definite purpose often in trying to cut to the chase you want to mention your product, event, latest and greatest thing without building up a relationship/rapport with your audience. Sandi Krakowski has termed this practice as “pimping your audience”. Most people have a fairly good “insincere/phony” detector. You don’t like having product pimped to you, so do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Question #9: Have I become a social media stalker?

Unlike the other questions this one isn’t about posting, it is more generally about obsessive behaviors related to someone else’s profile/account. Relational dysfunction is common and it can sometimes get amped up on Facebook and other networks. There are several manifestations of “stalker like” behavior, but let me give one example. You have been in a relationship with a significant other and you break up. After the break up you visit the social media profile of the person you have broken up with rather too often. As a rule of thumb I would advise the couple to no longer be Facebook friends. There is a place of bitterness/fantasy that is very unhealthy that still being Facebook friends can create. The news media has noted that Facebook is being used in many divorce cases as people connect with previous partners.[2]

Question #10: Is the debate I am having healthy?

In March 2011 James MacDonald of the Harvest Church in Chicago hosted an event called the Elephant Room. He brought together ministers of the gospel of different theological persuasions with a stated purpose “to model loving confrontation and gracious disagreement that honors relationship and allows diversity of opinion but stands without compromise on the revealed word of God. As Proverbs 27:17 instructs us that iron sharpens iron, so we want to sharpen each other for effective ministry”[3]. As I recall, Macdonald had noted the amount of vitriol that attended online theological debate, especially in the comment section of articles. He thought there was a different more productive way and initiated the Elephant Room.

This was a valiant endeavor indeed, for often such debate around theological or political issues become like a gladiator sport. Everybody is right in their own eyes and everybody has to defend their turf at the expense of civility. Such debates are commonplace on Facebook. Many of the questions we have already discussed also apply to such debates on social media. However a few further points should be added to determine whether you are having a healthy dialogue. It is important to note that Facebook or for that matter any similar online platform of either synchronous or asynchronous written communication is inherently flawed as it cannot carry the same nuance and pathos as a face to face encounter. The same words in one context can create mortal enemies, while in the other context can result in deeper friendship. If the debate is getting heated (and you can figure this out by asking questions such as are the participants civil, demonstrating humility and not saying things they would not say in a public forum) I would suggest to take it offline.

Understanding Intellectual Development 

One other piece of wisdom is seen by understanding some of the sequence of intellectual development outlined by Harvard psychologist William G. Perry, Jr in his seminal work Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years. In this work he noted the development of students during their college years from a very black and white dualist view of beliefs to a more gradated relative approach to belief. He noted nine distinct stages of progression. The change from the first to the second stage are however germane to many debates on Facebook that I have encountered. This change sees students coming from a position that the authorities of their youth (be they teachers, parents, spiritual leaders) are correct and know right from wrong, to a position that the “new” authorities the student has embraced are true and their previous authorities are not just wrong, but are actually being fraudulent. This violent switch from one set of beliefs to another is surely a prime motivating factor in historic revolutions and also results in very vitriolic comments online.

The next stage of development sees a little disillusionment in the “new” teachers, as the student comes to a realization that they actually don’t have all the answers. The progression moves on until the student finally arrives at a strong set of personal beliefs but with respect for others and a teachable spirit to other views. Let us be aware of this progression, having grace for those who are transitioning from the first to the second stage in this progression, but also aware that we need to navigate individuals beyond this stage to a place of civility and Christlike love.

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Why the Disciples didn’t tell Parables… or did they?

ImageThe main teaching methodology used  by Jesus to the masses was parables. Symbolic and analogous stories with deeper spiritual meaning. It is interesting when we get to the time of the Apostles that we do not find them using the same method. Instead we find them in more direct proclamation and apologetics. Why was this?

I think the first thing to say is we actually don’t have much evidence of actually how the apostles taught. After the Acts of the Apostles we enter into different literary genres (letters and apocalyptic prophecy). However we do have the Acts of the Apostles. It is helpful that both Luke and Acts are written by the same author as we have a direct comparison. The reason that we have no parables recounted in Acts is not simply because of a different author.

Before I get to my hypothesis as to why we find no parables, I just want to make a point that I think is important in New Testament exegesis. There has been an approach to this subject that I believe drinks too heavily from 19th century higher biblical criticism, and what I mean is this, we examine each piece of literature in the New Testament independent of the other parts and as such we seek (for some consciously, for others unconsciously) to drive a wedge between Jesus and the Apostles (in particular Paul), both in terms of message and methodology. I believe the greater joy and profitability in New Testament exegesis is to mine areas of synergy. We all know the individuals were different, with varied educations and experience, but as believers we should believe in the divine inspiration of scripture. To seek out the divine is more profitable than not, after all isn’t that why we follow Jesus?

With this in mind I think it is important to put ourselves in the mindset of the early apostles. They had been given the Great Commission from their master. A command to make disciples, teaching them everything he taught. My hypothesis (and I know it is largely from silence) is that the disciples did this. They taught what Jesus had taught them; meaning that they told parables…. Jesus parables. The other parts of Acts and indeed the letters are simply commentary on the teaching of Jesus. If this was the case then the New Testament writers (Luke in particular) would find no need to repeat what had already been written. However it was important to gather some of the Apostolic commentary on Jesus teaching which would add to our understanding of the teaching of the master.

It is also very probable in my opinion that the Apostles told their own parables, which were perhaps not directly building on Jesus points and therefore were not included. So there you have it… I believe the apostles did tell parables.

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