Friday, March 30, 2012

Will Jesus Use Facebook?

TITLE: WILL JESUS USE FACEBOOK?
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 28:16-20
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 30 Mar 2012

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:16-20)

There is one lingering question that is becoming more fascinating by the day. "Will Jesus use Facebook?" For Christians, this question typically triggers at least two kinds of responses. The first group deplores any technological association (branded the world) with a sacred figure. The second group embraces the use of anything as long as Christ is preached.  My reflection this week will touch on the impact of online media on society, with a particular interest in what it means as far as Christian witness is concerned.


A) Technological Luddites

In the 19th Century in the UK, due to the perceived threats of technology on their jobs, many workers revolted against factories that implemented modern machinery. Instigated by a person called General Ned  Ludd, a movement arose between 1811-1816 that emboldened ordinary wage earners against anything that threatened their livelihood, namely, technology innovations. Workers burned, broke, and banished the machinery in a widespread protest against technological devices. The term 'Luddism' is now used to describe people who sense a fear of the downside of technology and seek to fight against the use of certain technologies or engineering innovation. Such a fear reared its head again during the Industrial Revolution where machines increasingly dominate workplaces. I remember a time when my fellow workers were complaining about their duties being replaced by a robot. Sure enough. After a few quarters, the company laid off people in order to cut costs.

At the turn of the century, technology has appeared more frequently via a new name: The Internet. Like Newton's law, whenever there is a change, there will also be an equal and opposite reaction. Cultural critics like Neil Postman have since argued against the downsides of technology, saying that:

"Technology always has unforeseen consequences, and it is not always clear, at the beginning, who or what will win, and who or what will lose." (Neil Postman, in a speech here, given in Stuttgart)

Others like Sherry Turkle, a long time observer of human-machine interactions bemoans the way people are isolating themselves as they allow technology to get in the way. Nicholas Carr goes farther to warn people about how technologies like Google are changing our brains and the way we think and live. In an insightful book called The Shallows, Carr argues that as people praise the glories of modern technology and gadgets, many users tend to be blind to the side effects of technology.

"Our focus on a medium's content can blind us to these deep effects. We're too busy being dazzled or disturbed by the programming to notice what's going on inside our heads. In the end, we come to pretend that the technology itself doesn't matter. It's how we use it that matters, we tell ourselves." (Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, New York, NY: W W Norton, 2010, 3)
Not to be left behind, we have Kevin Kelly, in a provocative book, "What Technology Wants," that pushes the envelope even more, saying that the new technological world is not about what man wants from technology, but about what technology wants from people. On the pervasive use of smartphones, one contributor to the Economist appeals to us to remove our enslavement.

Neo-Luddites! You may accuse them.

B) On the Other Hand

Then there are those who champion technologies. The bookstores are full of those in praise of Google, the Internet and the use of technology. Just talk to any man in the street and you will realize that they spend more time connecting online than relating offline. Christians have also adopted the use of computer terminology in their writings. Neil Cole, a church planter even uses computer software versions to tell Church History. He calls the New Testament Church in the early centuries "Church 1.0." The 16th Century Reformation is called "Church 2.0," and our modern era represents the evolution of a new version called "Church 3.0!" Popular speakers Tami Heim and Toni Birdsong have combined their expertise to urge Christians to go online and to learn to share our faith in the Internet world. As I read their latest book, '@StickyJesus,' I get a feeling that the Great Commission can be read as:

".... Go ye therefore and make digital disciples of all online communities. . . ."

Acts 1:8 can be partially re-written as:

". . . . you will be my witnesses on Google, and in all Twitter and Facebook, and to the ends of the social media world."

Again, those are not their words. They are conjured up as a result of reading how passionate Heim and Birdsong have been. They argue:

"For you, a Christ follower, the discussion around technology and its impact for good cannot be left to chance. It's a conversation that must be an ongoing priority. It must become part of the writings, readings, and teachings that communicate faith to this and future generations. And if businesses, motivated by profitability and survival, continue to generate effective content marketing solutions and new ways to engage the public, the body of Christ should be alert - and teachable - to use those same strategies." (Toni Birdsong and Tami Heim, @StickyJesus, Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2010, 7)

C) My Take

My personal reading of it all is that we need to learn to use technologies well, but also critically. We need to periodically take a step back and ponder why we are doing what we are doing. We need to pause to reflect upon the ways of social media, the pros and cons, and to draw the line often by saying:

"Social Media. You shall have no hold on my life."

I thank God for cultural critics like Postman, Turkle, Carr, and others. They help many of us who tend to use technological gadgets uncritically sit up and think. We are pressed with questions like:


  • Is there a better way to communicate than using the Internet?
  • How do I know if I am addicted to Facebook?
  • Am I missing out opportunities offline when I am hooked online most of the time?
  • Why do I need so many 'friends' on Facebook?
  • Am I using social media, or is social media using me?

The human problem is not technological. The human problem is still sin. Before the rise of the Internet, parents worry about their kids spending too much time watching TV or playing games on the computer. Society gets worried about the drug problem or gang recruitment activities in their neighbourhood. Pornography was a big concern a number of years ago.

Not anymore. Now, people have shifted to social media, and we hear news of Internet predators posing as innocent 'friends' to try to manipulate young minds to meet them at a physical location. The threat is real. Policing the Internet is becoming more and more challenging as privacy structures become more sophisticated. Sin masquerades itself in any media, any platform, through any channel. Christian, beware!

D) Will Jesus use Facebook? 

As I read the gospels, I believe it is likely that Jesus will meet us where we are. Just like the Samaritan woman in John 4, Jesus meets her at the well at odd hours during the day. Like Zacchaeus, the despised tax collector in Luke 19, Jesus offers to meet him at his house. Like the lame man in John 5, Jesus sees him at the Sheep Gate in Bethesda. The interesting thing is that Jesus did not remain at the well. Neither did he stick around in the house of Zacchaeus. He did not linger all the time at the Sheep Gate in Bethesda. After the witnessing for God, and the demonstration of signs, Jesus moved on! Even if Jesus has a Facebook account, He will not linger around in cyberspace. Neither will he be hooked online so many hours that he fails to pray and seek God's face first thing each day.

Yes, Jesus if he is walking the streets today, he will not simply disregard the technological gadgets we have on our hands. Instead, he may be asking us what we are doing, or why are we Tweeting what we are tweeting, or writing stuff on Facebook.

What will you do, if Jesus asks you: "Will you be my friend?" Certainly, Jesus will not simply want to be a 'friend' on your lists of Facebook friends. He wants to be more. Much more.  Will you let Him? Will you lead others to Him? Let me close with the following set of tips from Birdsong and Heim, which I hope can help us be more intentional and godly in our social media interactions.

  • "I am on my face before God before I get on Facebook and seek Him before I tweet.
  • I ask for the Holy Spirit's guidance and discernment before I enter into social media platforms.
  • I am deliberate about preparing my heart to go online and devoted to the larger, eternal mission.
  • I am others-focused and enter online communities with a desire to serve.
  • I am intentional about checking my heart for conceit, superiority, prejudice, and judgment.
  • I am fully present to people when I engage.
  • I acknowledge that God values every person I encounter online and that beating hearts are behind every picture and post.
  • I choose to be digitally generous. I retweet, post comments to blogs, follow up on emails promptly, and help promote worthy causes online."
(Toni Birdsong and Tami Heim, @StickyJesus, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2010, 175)


THOUGHT: "It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being." (John Stuart Mill)


sabbathwalk


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fighting Authority?

TITLE: FIGHTING AUTHORITY?
SCRIPTURE: Titus 3:1-2
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 22 Mar 2012

"Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." (Titus 3:1-2)

Currently, there is an ongoing dispute between the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the provincial government over pay and class conditions in the province. After several months of limited strike actions by teachers, the government has passed a law making it illegal for teachers to initiate job actions. Called Bill-22, if the teachers union decides to go on a strike, not only will it be an illegal act, the federation will be fined heavily for every day of job action. As the two parties go after each others' throats, the rest of the province helplessly look on. Many parents have to rearrange their work schedules in order to provide for alternative arrangements for their children. Some take no-pay leave. Others decide to put their children into private schools instead. The entire situation is not only messy for many households, but utterly embarrassing for the entire province. It has made Canada look silly, like children refusing to let go of each other's demands.

A) No Winners

I tell my kids that in situations like these, there are no winners. Everybody lose. The government loses credibility. The union leaders lose respectability. The teachers and many parents lose financially. Children lose out on instructional time. Anyone associated with businesses during a normal school day will also lose substantial income. When schools are not in session, there will be minimal business. I have heard from several teachers that they too are on the helpless end. Even for those who desire to simply concentrate on teaching, they cannot flout union regulations. If the union asks them to strike, they have to strike. So much for democracy. It is a socialist platform in which majority rules. Unfortunately, the BCTF has unwittingly isolated many parents as they look to become more militant in their demands. Just this week, the leaders even dare to broach the idea of 'breaking the Bill-22 law.' This raises alarm bells. It begs the question: What kind of a message are the teachers sending to our children? I think, the recent actions have given me concerns about the elevating stakes. As both BCTF and the government go back and forth at each other, the following unwittingly gets communicated.

  1. "If you do not get what you want, DEMAND!"
  2. "If you still do not get what you want, STRIKE!"
  3. "If you still do not get what you want, and forced to back down, STRIKE BACK!"


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Sticky" Faith vs "Post-It-Note" Faith

TITLE: "Sticky" Faith vs "Post-It-Note" Faith
SCRIPTURE: Luke 8:14-15
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 13 Mar 2012

"The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop." (Luke 8:14-15)
MAIN POINT: Inculcating sticky faith, in a 'post-it-note' world?

Man has always strived to invent things, and to create wonderful gadgets and devices. Yet, for all their striving and their diligence, the fact remains that many of the world's most innovative stationery products happen by accident. The American company, 3M (also known as Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining company) has long been known for producing great innovative products. Sometimes, they create so many different things that they do not know what to do with it. One of such an invention was a special adhesive developed by Dr Spencer Silver. Such a chemical will be able to hold light objects together temporarily without forming a permanent bond. At that time, this product is deemed to be a 'solution without a problem.'

While searching for a marketing application, Silva's colleague, Arthur Fry decides to use the adhesive for his music notes while singing for the Church choir. Often, the choir will struggle to keep the musical sheets together as any movement will cause the papers to fall all over the place. Just then, Fry remembers the adhesive back in the office and decides to use them for his choir notes. The application works like a champion for the church choir. The rest is history. The Post-It-Note pad becomes one of the most successful products ever to be launched by the 3M Corporation.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The 5Rs of RE-tirement

TITLE:  THE 5R's OF RE-TIREMENT
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 6 Mar 2012
SCRIPTURE: Ecclesiastes 7:10

"Do not say, 'Why were the old days better than these?' For it is not wise to ask such questions." (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Last week, thanks to a few thoughtful and passionate members of my congregation, we celebrated the retirement of two sisters in Christ. One has retired from the financial industry, while the other from the medical sector. Both have been very ardent Church going members, dearly loved by the people in the Church. I gave a short exhortation for these two persons and invited the rest of the people to eavesdrop. This week, I will summarize what I have said that evening, and expand a little bit on the points I made.

A) Wisdom from Cicero

Beginning with the wise words of the Roman philosopher, Cicero, I read out the following:

"It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved but by reflection, force of character, and judgment. In these qualities, old age is usually not only not poorer, but is even richer." (Marcus Tullius Cicero, 106-43 BC)
For a person more than 2000 years ago to speak so profoundly on the nature of the human individual, this is impressive. In our modern era, we are gravitated toward bigness, the powerful, the speedy, or any positive superlatives like great, gigantic, and gargantuan. The computing world magnifies power and speed through maxims like 'faster is better,' 'powerful is wonderful,' 'big is greater.' The consumer world advocates more as better. We see supermarkets selling goods in quantity by introducing 'huge' savings if we buy more. Hypermarkets sell things in bulk on the basis of value for money. Manufacturers bundle in a lot of stuff that we usually do not need together with some basic commodity that we need.

Unfortunately, many of us in our aging years bring these ideas into our thinking as well. We lament at our 'slowness' in getting things done when we see our younger colleagues doing more things at three times our speed. We are discouraged when we can only do one job while our juniors accomplish three tasks in a multitasking environment. We walk while they run. We single task as they multitask. We work  with frequent pauses while the young does not seem to need any rest!

(Credit: National Post)
The main problem with such a lifestyle of speed and might is this. As one tries frantically to make things happen, they risk rushing into doing things without adequate reflection. A story was told of a Chicago man who receives a request for an interview from a company located in Portland. After packing his bags and making his travel arrangements, he begins to think about how efficient he is in his logistics. Unfortunately, in his rush to get things done, he fails to clarify exactly which Portland the company is in. Upon arrival in Portland, home to the nice Western coast of Oregon, he is horrified to realize that the actual interview is in Maine, all the way to the Eastern part of the United States!

B) Wisdom, Character, and Judgment

No matter what, there are many things in life that cannot be measured by speed, by might, or by physical abilities. This is because life is not always quantitatively determined. More is not always more. Less is not necessarily bad. A recent article in ChristianityToday laments the trend of modern higher education that is introducing secular values that displaces the importance of wisdom. They focus on technical knowhow, content, and the frenetic focus on specialization. All of these quantitative measurements are accomplished at the expense of qualitative factors such as wisdom, character, and judgment.

Cicero reminds us again that there are things that old age will enable one to develop more and more. The older we become, the more we realize that the futility of life is real. We learn from one of the wisest man who has ever lived, Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes. He reminds us that it is not a wise thing to constantly harp back at the past, saying 'Why are the old days better than these?' Such good-old-days thinking is prevalent among the older folks. When they see that they are no longer as competitive as before, as efficient or as competent as in the past, they start to feel depressed. Wisely, Qoheleth reminds us that such thinking is not good. Even the mere 'asking' of such a question is rendered foolish. By being fixated on the past, not only do we bog ourselves down with unhelpful nostalgia, we miss out the opportunities to live a brand new phase of life, to reap the benefits of what it means to grow old.

C) RE-TIRE

For Christians, think retirement in terms of RE-TIRE. Like fixing in All-Season tires when Spring/Summer approaches, or Winter tires before the cold and the snow comes, re-tirement is about receiving old age as a gift rather than a dreaded stage of life. We say goodbye to the old phase and greet the new phase with a bright 'hello.' We re-tire our lives in a way that recognizes our new stage of life.

Like Cicero, we can learn to be more reflective, to appreciate more about character building, and to develop a heightened sense of discernment and wise judgment. These characteristics are sharpened even more as one reflects back on the past years of old. In other words, the years that have gone by are not to be lamented merely as the good-old-days. They are essentially past events, valuable lessons, and personal stories that help one to live better, live wiser, and live more meaningfully. Instead of good-old-days thinking, I suggest the following 5Rs of RE-TIREMENT.

D) THE 5R's of RE-TIREMENT

i) READ a little more

Far too many people are buying books without actually reading them. They have become book collectors rather than book readers. Their bookshelves are full and some books remain in a shrink-wrapped condition! Perhaps, as one prepares to slow down, they can pick up the reading habit all over again. Read widely to supplement one's life learnings by interacting with some of the wise authors. Appreciate life through the literary gems. I recommend Joan Chittister's 'The Gift of Years' and Billy Graham's 'Nearing Home' as two possible books to begin your reading quest.


ii) REFLECT a little more

The young does not have many years to reflect upon. They are too busy trying to live out their careers and lives. Not so for those who have more than 60 years of life. Ask any statistician or economist who works with numbers. They will tell you that a wider range of data will give a much more credible understanding and interpretation to any particular study. The old will have this special privilege of reflecting. They can give thanks for the good times, and to learn from the bad times. They grow as a person as they reflect more of their past. One of my favourite writers is the Danish philosopher, Soren Kiergergaard, who famously writes:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” (Søren Kierkegaard)


iii) RE-ENERGIZE a little more

Physical exercise is a legitimate spiritual discipline. In fact, the older we get, we need to make sure that our physical conditions do not be compromised. Instead of running, why not walk? After all, health experts have said that by mere walking, one can meet the exercise requirements by at least 50 percent! Moreover, if the old can keep fit, it is a valuable contribution to society as well. Healthy individuals mean less stress on the national health system. It means more money saved for society. It creates lesser burdens for the young who are already struggling with the many challenges in this tough life. As the elderly re-energizes themselves, they too are setting forth a good example for the rest of society to follow. Talk about leading by example.


iv) RELAX a little more

The common catchphrase in our conversations is "I'm busy." This catch-all excuse can be used in practically any situations. Retirement phase is a good time to simply learn to slow down and relax. Like Jesus' teachings in Matthew 6. Look at the lilies of the field, or the birds in the air. Contemplate how God has fed and clothe them. It is a great opportunity to reflect and ponder about God, and the spiritual life that we do not normally get to appreciate. Chances are, the more we relax and give thanks, the more we learn to appreciate the little things in life, and the little acts of kindness done for us.

v) REACH OUT a little more

Finally, as the old increases in wisdom, character, and discernible judgment, they can become excellent mentors to younger ones among us. They can share of their experiences. They can learn how to say yes and when to say no. As they seek to disciple a younger person by reaching out to them, they are helping to fill in the gap that the young needs. In an age where Universities, colleges, and workplaces, have become so sidetracked by competence and efficiency, the older folks among us can help to supplement these temporal things with something more eternal: Wisdom. Reach out a little more and to bless a younger chap.

No one knows more about the futility of power, money, and fame than those who have tasted it and found it lacking. No one can appreciate the temporal nature of worldly things than the elderly and older people in retirement. Remember. Retirement is not a time to dread or to lament about one's physical prowess being halved. It is less about physical but more about spiritual. Let me close with Joan Chittister's words about old age.

THOUGHT: "A burden of these years is that we might allow ourselves to believe that not being as fast or as busy as we used to be is some kind of human deficiency.

A blessing of these years is that we can come to understand that it is the quality of what we think and say that makes us valuable members of society, not how fast or busy we are.
" (Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years, New York, NY: BlueBridge, 2008, 12)


Grow old gracefully inside, and graciously outside.


sabbathwalk


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.
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