How to Fight Off Wolves

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.– Matthew 7:15 

The internet contains more than 50,000 sermons. How do we discern between the Word of God being preached and what our online Bible Study last evening called, scoffers?  

A scoffer is someone who looks after his own interests, denies Christ in words and/or actions–a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In this age of media, here is how to be a more discerning believer as per Gaye Austin’s online teachings (in her words):  

  1. ACTION 1: Verify—write down what is being said.  
  1. ACTION 2: Clarify—write down what is said from both points of view; ask if it violates one of the cardinal doctrines: virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, etc.  
  1. ACTION 3: Pray for understanding and insight. In John 14:26, Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring to their minds what Jesus taught. If we are anointed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, can He not do the same for us?  

According to a Lifeway Study, only 32 percent who attend church regularly read the Bible every day. It’s not a church building that will bring people closer to God, but it can be the church people who make disciples starting with spending time with the Lord and learning about Him through the Bible. Then, sharing your knowledge appropriately in the face-to-face and online.  

That includes… 

  • Being active on your church’s Facebook or Youtube Lives. Not just checking in. Sharing your thoughts on the sermon. Engaging others online with love.  
  • Sharing what you are learning in your daily or weekly study of the Bible and allowing others to challenge you or ask you questions. To help you bear the challenges, come at sharing what you are learning from a position of humility. Afterall, most of us are not theologians. Our desire to learn the Bible is to draw closer to the Lord. Our pride should not get in the way.  
  • Use social media as a tool to help you get into good disciplines. It is not whether we should limit our time online, but how we use it. If you are scrolling and sharing out of habit or boredom, you are not using your time well.  
  • Allow margin in your day-to-day schedule for God-appointments (online and face-to-face).  

How do you discern out of the more than 50,000 sermons shared online what is God’s truth and what is fluff or self-promotion?  

Read your Bible and pray.

Then, be a part of God’s plan of transformation in yourselves and in other people by using your social media differently and invest time in other people’s lives online and in the face-to-face.   

How to Love Others in 5 Not-So-Easy Ways

Sitting in the coffee shop, sipping ice tea on a hundred-degree day across from a new friend, I was reminded again of Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. We talked about love. The topic of love has been on my mind lately.

Over social media, people use the Bible to try to emotionally blackmail another person to agree with or to comply with choices the other party is not in agreement with. This isn’t love. Love is determined by the motivation of the speaker. The Bible uses many examples on what loving your neighbor looks like. Then, you learn about the different Greek words that describe the different kind of loves that are mentioned in the Bible, like Agape.

Got Questions defines Agape love as that which, “…involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will.” They use 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 as an example. I have even heard Agape described as sacrificial love in other articles.

 The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman, published in 1992, on how to express love “…in your spouse’s language”, reminded me that each of us has a love language and won’t recognize love unless expressed to us in that language. It doesn’t only apply to spouses, but friends, neighbors, and even strangers. If we want to love others like Jesus, following His example is important, and understanding what the Bible says about it is necessary. It’s also important to understand who your neighbor, friend, or even the stranger is when trying to love them. Social media makes that easy (and hard) to do.

I recently read a Tweet about a man who reconciled with his friend after a four-year shut down in communication. The original argument was over politics. He wrote at the end of his tweet, “FOUR years lost.”

Loving others is not easy, and it takes sacrifice, like Jesus. When you Google “love your neighbor scripture”, this link comes up. When you read the Bible in context and you see all the love verses together, Clarity happens, and the truth confronts your spirit. Because you love the Lord, obedience is the next step. There’s nothing natural about it, either.

How do we love our neighbors, friends, and strangers when both face-to-face and online relationships are tough right now?

  1. Count Others More Significant Than Yourselves (Philippians 2:3): The relationship comes before your preferences. As a leader, I am learning John 13:1-17, when Jesus washed his disciples feet. Yes, I want to be that kind of leader, that kind of friend, and that kind of person. The word honor comes to mind. I want to honor others before myself, and this can be done without sacrificing my values or the relationship. In practical ways, some suggestions might be to ignore thoughtless online remarks, let another person know privately or publicly that you prayed for their request, be a good guest instead of a demanding one, and always give more than you receive out of the sheer joy in being generous. Look for ways online and face-to-face where you can serve a need or even a want. Everyone likes to receive that unexpected card or gift in the mail. Don’t be too proud to pick up a broom.
  2. Unity for The Gospel: In reading Philippians 4, two women had a quarrel in the church. Paul implored them to, “…be of the same mind in the Lord.” Both women needed to recall that the Gospel that they had in common was more important than the quarrel. Much work can be accomplished if our differences can be resolved. What gifts were we given to serve the Lord? How has the Lord prepared us for the work He has for us? It goes on to say in the chapter to “Show a gentle disposition to all men” (online and face-to-face).  
  3. Learn About Your Friends. Lurk on their profiles. Study your friends. Learn about how they need to be loved. For some, it is gifts. For others, acts of service. Respond accordingly. How can you use your own social media to help them rejoice? How can you practically help them? Have no agenda in the realm of friendship. Invest time in online and face-to-face conversations. Where possible, avoid phone calls, and instead use video calls so you can see each other’s facial expressions.
  4. Speak Truth if You Have the Relationship: We don’t have the right to speak into someone else’s life unless that permission is given. Build the friendship first, and you build trust. Cherish that trust. Put the Gospel first above any other “truth”. Respect the other person in your choice of words and tone. It’s advisable online to use emojis for facial expressions.
  5. Forgive. The divide and anger are so thick one could cut it and serve it on a plate. Forgiveness is essential for our souls, to be reconciled with each other, and it is also a process, depending on the sore point. But, it is worth the effort to forgive, if not for our own sakes.

This love thing is really a struggle. If we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”, we must know the answer to that was: the cross.

Now, what?

5 Ways to Use Social Media to Help You Through COVID19

The first time I went shopping during April’s COVID-19 shut down was like a scene out of M Night Shyamalan’s Signs. The family went to town to get out of the house after their strange crop circle and encountered surreal face-to-face conversations. The only thing normal in April for me was being home and hiking. Going out to do errands added stress to my life due to several factors, including the mask or no mask people, the shortages of food or toilet paper, and the many rules associated with some shopping centers. Fear felt like a dark cloud over our small town and impacted social media. Afterall, social media is a visual expression of a person’s heart.

What if the only thing you can control is you and your environment? And, what if doing that helps other people fight their fears and live a faithful and fruitful life?

It starts with your social media.

  • Post statuses that remind you what God has done in the past and what He is doing now to keep your heart focused on the only calm in the storm.  “Joshua also used stones to help God’s people remember His goodness. After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the Israelites experienced the power of God to roll back the waters of the Jordan River, enabling them to cross over and take possession of the Promised Land. Joshua then commanded them to build a memorial of stones as a public testimony of what God had done for them … stones that would remind them to keep on praising Him.” (The Stones of Remembrance)
  • Snooze or unfollow sources that contribute negatively to your mental health. At least, severely limit your exposure to that news cycle if you wish to stay informed. Stay informed to only know how to pray or how to help. Change your reason for watching updates as fuel for you to exercise your faith in the community. A great example observed online was how a church dropped by goodies to an older couple suffering from severe exposure to the COVID19 virus.
  • Get outside. In some countries, rulers have greatly restricted people’s movements. If you can get outside, it’s important to make the time. While outside, use your pictures to capture God-moments, like a bird, a family, or something that makes you smile. Post about it online and tell people why this was a happy moment for you. Post about it slowly. Don’t photo dump. Instead, use the photos on your phone to post each day and to share about that photo. This goes back to the first point in this list.
  • Use technology to build connections both new and old. Use video conferencing to just hang out with your church friends, to read together, cook together, or just hang out and talk. Watch a movie together. Use this time to go to your friend’s social media and comment on their stuff. Participate in your church’s page or group’s online conversations. Your words can disciple at this time. If you are focused on others, you are less focused on what you cannot control.
  • Mind your own business. Resist the urge to post about what other people are or aren’t doing. Resist the urge to comment on posts that complain. Snooze them.

How can I support you in prayer? Leave a comment or message me on social media.

How to Transition to a New Normal Starting Now

Every day that I peruse the local Facebook groups, I see distressing comments, hopelessness, fear, and anger; a lot of anger. People are threatened by what they can’t see. It makes them irrational, reactionary, and even hoard leaving many facing product shortages. The home chef must get creative with the ingredients they can find, and the future looks dire with long food lines, more government restrictions, unemployment, increased homelessness, and heavier business and individual debt. There’s a lot to be angry about. We can’t control what’s happening, but we can control how we respond. I believe we are missing the lessons God has in this current COVID19 season in order for us to prepare for a new normal.

Right now, WHAT we do is critical to HOW we transition to the new normal at the end of this COVID19 season.

This includes…

  • Learning new tools in technology. Some are now isolated, leaving it to the church to find creative ways to keep the congregations connected for those marginalized by technology. There’s no shame in asking for help in getting online.
  • Sharing memes isn’t enough. Conversation is more important. How are you holding conversations online with cultural Christians, non-believers, and your church family? Private and public communication means are available. Don’t be afraid to be you online.
  • Create new Bible reading habits. Many free or low-cost Bible studies are available right now to download. Hold an online Bible study with a friend, one-on-one. With many out of work, there’s plenty of time. Grow your faith during this dark time.
  • Double-check your information. We can take five minutes to do a Google search to find out if what we are sharing is true. A recent conversation about a quote reminded me that even something as simple as a quote found online needs research to ensure that what I am sharing is true. Check multiple sources with good reputations. If people can’t trust us with information unrelated to the Bible, how can they trust us when we share the Good News?
  • Audit your social media. Does it reflect your face-to-face life and does your face-to-face life reflect a Biblical life? Are we right with God?

What are you consuming online and how is it feeding your soul?

A BBC show inspired me to lose weight. They had a family keep a food diary for a week and afterward, the BBC put all the food on a table for them to see. Because of this, the family changed their eating habits and became different people physically and mentally. We are what we consume online. Use your social media to meet the needs of your audience during this COVID19 and as a tool for yourself to grow closer to the Father. This is a time for nonbelievers to see how we respond to a crisis as people of faith in person and online. At the end of this season of life, maybe we can emerge a better person than when it started.

Maybe it’s time to start some new habits? Thoughts?

______________________

Two people shared their responses to my Facebook post related to this blog:

“I had been working on being mindful of my words and posts; so this just makes me more aware. I want to be a light in this darkness and exude calm to a frantic world. Are the two compatible? Somehow I believe that they are.” – Trudy

“It is my hope and prayer that the better habits, the compassion for others, the stronger faith would not dim over time after this trying time. It is my prayer now, that the dark world would see God’s light shine through and that people would come to Jesus Christ. That God’s word would continue to be proclaimed throughout the world. That many workers come to the fields to spread God’s truth.” – Boots

How to Stop Adding Garbage to the Fire

Eli Pariser (What Obligation Do Social Media Platforms Have to the Greater Good) on Ted Talks Daily said, “Facebook right now I sort of think of as 1970s New York. The public spaces are decaying, there’s trash in the streets, people are mentally and emotionally warming themselves over burning garbage, and the natural response is to hole up in your apartment or consider fleeing to the suburbs.” This comment was received with loud applause and laughter.

In all honesty, the very people applauding are probably contributing to the decay of the social media space. What Eli suggests is creating responsible digital spaces in the way that cities build towns. To most that sounds like censorship, and as administrators of Facebook groups have soon discovered, moderating, not censorship, builds a productive and safer online community.

Towns have parks, public libraries, town halls, and the spaces are regulated or moderated. What he suggests is coming with Virtual Reality where you are facing the person you are talking to in a space you have created that encourages better discussions, supportive environments, and a place to worship if that doesn’t exist in your country. The problem is in people.

We cross boundaries, make assumptions, and refuse to change our behavior even if that may convince someone to understand our point of view. Hence, the applause in the video reminds me we are always great at sharing things we think other people need to learn but forget the humility of admitting when we are wrong.

So, how do we create a better digital space?

  • Exercising self-control in the face-to-face is just as important in the digital world. Measure your words.
  • Research what you share to sustain moral authority, so people believe you when you talk about the Bible.
  • Don’t react. Respond. In fact, the beauty of social media is the lack of obligation to respond quickly. We can instead choose to get back to the conversation when we have emptied our minds of damaging and defensive emotions. How many times have we imagined what we could have said later? Social media gives us those options.  
  • Refrain from humor others won’t understand.
  • Create parks, town halls, libraries, cafes, and other conversation-friendly spaces online to meet a need, create a bond, and build a friendship.
  • Most importantly, don’t assume you have the right to tell someone how to live. Build trust first. Think about mentoring the person rather than trying to make a mini-you.
  • Be teachable.

Social media may make you feel like fleeing to the suburbs or holing up in your apartment (i.e. leaving social media).

Don’t.

Digital discipleship is investing your time online in real conversation using whatever technology is available and finding ways to meet in the face-to-face. Transforming communities in the face-to-face starts with our behavior online and who we choose to share our life with. Instead of burning garbage, let’s instead build a real fire that warms the soul and shines a light into the darkness with the sweet aromas of friendship, love, and truth.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

The Man With The Bullhorn

A man stood on the corner, shouting into his bullhorn, “Repent, or you will go to hell!” Social Media has become the bullhorn–A place rife with opinions. What if instead, we asked questions?

Rather than tell people how to think, walk with them as they think. 1 Peter 5:2-3 talks about shepherding. The commentary by David Guzik speaks of pastors.

“Shepherds should not do their job as lords, because the sheep do not belong to them. The sheep are entrusted to them. Instead, shepherds are to serve by being examples, not dictators. (emphasis mine)” (from here)

Every person on social becomes a shepherd; an example people follow whether they want that role or not. What we post both visually and literally shares our character with others. Everything from how often we check in to a church, to what we are studying in the Bible, to how we interact with others gives a visual story of our life to others. If we become the man with the bullhorn, we will only get people who agree with us and alienate the rest of them. If we alienate others, we do not have any connection with them.

Seek to honor others and slow down in building those friendships. A former pastor friend once said, “Salvation is a supernatural miracle.” It won’t happen overnight.

  • First, get to know your friends, what they post, what they are thrilled with, and how they struggle.
  • Converse with them often.
  • Most importantly, seek to meet them for coffee where the Spirit leads. Let the online friendship complement the face-to-face one.
  • Seek friendship because you care, and remain friends with them even if they choose not to become a believer. Always be authentic in all your friendships.

As to the man with the bullhorn, I only saw him once or twice. Most people avoided him. Others, like me, stared because it was so freakish. Things could have been different had he just talked to people.

Good Reads:

What Social Media Needs…

“As social media ramp up in the majority world especially, many in the West are finding themselves increasingly disillusioned. Some are convinced that nothing good can possibly come of social media usage based on the fracturing and division it brings, especially amid recent political differences. While Facebook has unprecedented potential to bring people, ideas and groups together, it just as equally can degenerate into a soapbox that rarely changes anyone’s opinions.” Facebooking the Unreached

As I finished reading Facebooking the Unreached and the Media Impact Report, I am no less convinced that social media and technology in all its forms are capable of reaching the unreached. I could talk about the barriers I have encountered, but instead will share what this kind of ministry needs…

  • A teachable spirit.
  • Bold courage.
  • Humility.
  • Faith to walk the unknown and face fear.
  • An understanding that the culture has changed and the world has changed. Time for grieving what was and for stepping out into this new frontier is now. In the words of one of my pastors (paraphrased), “The good old days are not here yet. When Jesus comes, then it will be the good days. The good days are coming.”
  • People willing to learn how to write emotion and show emotion. Social media is a visual story. It’s an open canvas with unlimited possibilities of expression.

Church leaders only need to make the connection of the online world and Biblical application, adding how to reach people online via even Facebook, in a consistent manner in spite of how the congregation may feel. Over time, if the leader is the example online that he wants of his congregation, the congregation will eventually follow. What we need online are people who can…

  • Exercise self-control (A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.Proverbs 25:28).
  • Get to know their audience so they understand trigger words which may shut down communication. Say the same thing a different way. (Romans 14:13, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.)

The quote above accurately portrays the West (that’s us, by the way) and their use of social media. Some are disillusioned because they only need our leaders in church and our missionary organizations to help us get a better grasp on this tool and use it more intentionally.

We Are What We Post

Someone somewhere said, “You are what you eat.” If we only eat Krispy Kremes, eventually our body would stop functioning. To stay alive, to have the energy to be the best version of ourselves, we need more than a Snickers bar, but vegetables and lean proteins. The same goes for social media.

Matthew 15:18 says, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” Whatever comes out of our heart lands on social media. What is on social media is what we’ll see every day. Whoever we friend on Facebook, is what influences us. What we post, influences us because social media can make us focus on good or bad things. It can drain us, isolate us, or it can build us up. It is a tool and how we use that tool is up to us. Social media isn’t the problem in society. It is us.

We need to surround ourselves with people online who are allowed to speak the truth in our lives–people whose online lives are an example to follow. Their posts become the compass that points to the Bible. They are people willing to meet us for coffee or introduce us to people willing to meet us for coffee. And likewise, our posts need to reflect the visual story of our lives in truth. Good posts are the vegetables our mother told us to eat because it’s healthy, not because they tasted good.

Eat more vegetables and less Krispy Kremes.