Archive | June, 2013

Internet Evangelism: A Lesson in Etiquette

28 Jun

If anything can stir up a good online controversy, it’s the subject of religion.  Perhaps the reason for this is that the internet allows us the opportunity to share everything we think or feel without anyone knowing who we are and with little risk that our words will be censored.  Electronic media allows us to send our deepest thoughts across the globe in a matter of seconds, spreading our version of the “Good News” to anyone who will listen and, oft times, to many who won’t.

That’s why, this week, we’re taking a look at a few rules of internet etiquette and sharing some tips for those who want to utilize the web to share their Christian faith.  It is our hope that these will help you become a better example of Christ in a less than Christ-centered medium and, perhaps, make a difference in the way the online community views those who see things from our perspective.

  1.  Don’t troll.  It’s great that you want to share the Gospel, but how you share that Gospel can make a big difference in people’s attitudes towards this important message.  If a site or conversation doesn’t naturally lend itself to religious discussion, don’t force your way in.  More than once, I’ve seen someone toss out John 3:16 in the middle of a gaming dialogue or go into a full-blown explanation of the Salvation message on a site that has nothing to do with religion.  While these “hit-and-run” tactics do occasionally produce fruit, most of the time, they simply produce a sense of annoyance amongst their victims.  If you want to share effectively, be selective.  Seek out those who want to exchange views and don’t bother those who don’t with pithy phrases or random verses.
  2. Don’t mistake anonymity for license.  This follows quite naturally from our first rule.  Too many times, I’ve seen Christians say or do things online that they would never do in real life.  While there is much to be said for the courage that can be gained when someone isn’t looking you in the eye, there are pitfalls as well.  One of these is the tendency to speak more freely and with less tact than we would if addressing a personal friend.  The result?  Christians online have gained a reputation for being thoughtless and inconsiderate: two things that Jesus wasn’t.  Before weighing in on a conversation, consider your words.  If you wouldn’t speak this way to your family, friends, or co-workers, you shouldn’t be speaking this way at all!  Not sure whether you should say something?  Take a moment to ask yourself how you would feel if someone said something similar to you?  If you’d feel put off, they probably will too.
  3. Be people-driven, not agenda-driven.  It can be tempting to presume that internet dialogues are a “one-shot” chance at sharing Christ with someone.  While this can be true, it’s equally true that genuine relationships can be formed online.  (Just ask my fiancé.)  Like any other relationship, these take time to develop and a quick jump from meeting someone to an intimate dialogue concerning the error of a person’s religious views can put an end to a relationship before it’s even begun.  Before you exchange views, exchange names.  Find out a bit about people and they’ll usually be interested in finding out about you.
  4. Keep the focus of the conversation.  Sometimes, you won’t have the opportunity to develop a relationship.  In these cases, at least try to keep your dialogue on-topic.  If you’re on a site that encourages the exchange of religious views and the topic being addressed is creationism vs. evolution, don’t go randomly diving into a discussion of divine sovereignty or the incarnation.  Make sure that your comments fit with the overall theme of the dialogue.  True, by following this rule, you might never end up at the Gospel, but by respecting the direction a discussion is taking, you do demonstrate respect for the individuals involved in the dialogue – something that Jesus definitely promoted!
  5. Give the benefit of the doubt.  The internet is a worldwide community.  The people you find online come from a range of ethnic, social, and political backgrounds.  They represent a diversity of culture and not every culture represents itself in the same way.  Because of this, it can be easy to presume that someone is being “rude” when, according to the social standards they’re used to, they’re just being forthright.  Don’t assume that you understand someone else’s motives or background and never respond to a comment based solely upon what you would have been thinking or feeling if you had said the same thing!
  6. Don’t be rude… even if others are.  Sometimes it isn’t culture that influences the way a person presents themselves.  On occasion, we encounter folks who are just downright nasty about things.  But that doesn’t give us the right to behave the same way.  As Christians, we are to represent the light of Christ and that means that we demonstrate respect for others regardless of how different their views may be or how badly presented!
  7. When the details aren’t provided, don’t fill them in.  More than once, I’ve seen someone ask a question and receive a response so far removed from that question that it’s hard to understand how the person who replied could have possibly thought they were being helpful!  Unfortunately, many times, this isn’t due to trolling, but to one person “filling in” the details when the other party hasn’t provided them.  If you are unclear about what is being asked, take the time to clarify before trying to answer.  A little humility can go a long way.
  8. Don’t tell others what they believe.  While some religious viewpoints have standards by which they can be measured (like Mormonism or Islam), others (like atheism) don’t.  And not every individual within every faith will believe the same things, regardless of whether their Scriptures say they should.  Instead of letting others know what they should believe, take the time to ask questions and find out what they do believe.  You’ll be in a better position to dialogue once you have.
  9. Avoid showmanship.  With a worldwide community watching, it can be tempting to try to say something brilliant, pithy, or new.  Unfortunately, giving into this temptation usually brings more glory to ourselves than to God.  You’ll get much farther if you “keep it real” than if you hop up on a pedestal and start spewing one-liners.  You’re here to talk with real people, so be a real person, yourself.
  10. Know when to leave.  Sometimes a dialogue just gets out of hand.  When this happens, it’s time to walk away.  Others may accuse you of cowardice or an inability to defend your point of view.  That’s just fine.  Remember that even Jesus remained silent when He stood before Pilate.  God will use the words you’ve already spoken to His own glory, though you may never see the results.

These rules, of course, are only a starting place.  You can probably think of a few more (if you do, please share them in the comment box below).  Keep them in mind the next time you visit a website or drop into a chat room and you may be surprised by the results.  Remember, our ultimate goal as Believers is not to get ourselves noticed, but to bring glory to God.  And that only happens when we demonstrate respect for others!

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The Nightclub

26 Jun

Read: 1 Peter 5:6-11

“No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.”

2 Corinthians 11:14 NASB

While I love to tell stories about my political experiences, the story of my first (and last) experience in a nightclub is one of my favorites.  It was the night of the Governor’s inaugural ball and the rotunda at the State Capitol had begun to clear.  Everyone was moving on to another party planned to last late into the night and I found myself sitting alone, staring up at the majestic dome.

It was at this point that the Senate Majority Leader, the Senator from my own district, noticed my solitude and asked me if I had a ticket to the next event.  When I responded that I didn’t, he suggested that I come along anyway – promising to take care of the problem when we arrived.

I carefully considered the offer, realizing that I didn’t know where the event was to take place or when I should ask my ride to pick me up.  “Where is it?” I asked, gathering up my coat and purse.

His wife quickly pulled out their tickets which read “Big Easy Conference Center.”  The two looked at each other for a moment as though they had not noticed the name of the venue previously.  After a moment of silence, the Senator turned to me and explained that the last one had been in a hotel conference center, a very nice place, and that he imagined “Big Easy Conference Center” would be quite similar.

Having no other plans for the rest of the evening, I agreed and we all hopped a trolley which had been hired to transport attendees from the ball to the party.  The streets were relatively dark and only seemed to get darker the closer we came to “Big Easy.”  Something told us all that this was not right when we stepped off the trolley and began to walk down the alleyway into which we had been directed, passing an inordinate number of bars on the way.

We finally found the “Conference Center” and when the Senator was asked for his tickets, he simply flipped through the stack which he had purchased for his wife and children and we were allowed to pass.  (I decided it would be best to forgo partaking of any of the food being offered at the event, since I was, essentially, being snuck into the venue.)

Inside, we discovered that the “Conference Center” was actually not a conference center at all, but a night club offering a buffet and karaoke.  The awkwardness we felt was intensified by the fact that most of the people there were in Hawaiian shirts and we were all still in our formals.  We stayed long enough to put in an appearance, then left with a good story that I will still be telling even after I have children and grandchildren of my own.

 The truth is, all of us should have known that something was wrong with the scenario long before we took that walk down the alley.  Despite the good name under which the party was booked, there were plenty of hints that the event would be less than appropriate.

As Christians, we often fall prey to similar traps laid for us by the Devil.  Presenting himself as an angel of light, he lures us into situations that appear to be acceptable, but in the end turn out to be otherwise.  Perhaps this is why Peter cautions believers to be alert.  Only when we’re paying attention to what is happening around us can we be certain to avoid the Devil’s snares!

Challenge:  This week, practice alertness.  Before doing anything (even seemingly good things), take the time to pray and examine the situation carefully.  You may be surprised at the number of traps you avoid!

 

Restricted Nations

24 Jun

Most of us in the western world have little idea what it’s like to live in a place where our faith cannot openly be expressed.  We meet undisturbed for worship, read our Bibles on park benches, and even share the Gospel openly on our sidewalks… and all without repercussions.  Yet for many believers around the world, this is more dream than reality.

It’s for this reason that I’ve become rather fond of “Restricted Nations”, a series of small, easy-to-read guides produced by Voice of the Martyrs (VOM).  At around 100 pages, each volume highlights the history of the Christian church in a single country.  From the first missionaries to modern political difficulties, you’ll hear the stories of those who were willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the good news that God loves sinners.  You’ll discover the truth behind the claim that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” and uncover new ways in which you can make a difference both through prayer and active intervention.

The set currently covers China, Iran, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Sudan, Indonesia, Colombia, Vietnam and Eritrea, but is constantly growing. Each volume may be purchased individually ($7 apiece) or as a set featuring the 8 original volumes for $35.00 + shipping and handling at https://secure.persecution.com/p-4725-restricted-nations-set-of-8.aspx  It’s a small investment and well worth every penny!

Foundations for Atheist Morality: Conclusion

21 Jun

Over the last few months, we have taken the time to discuss two commonly used “Foundations for Atheist Morality”.

We began our journey with a look at Societal Relativism.  We explored a few of the arguments used to support the idea that moral right and wrong are not universal, but are determined by individual societies.  We examined what this means for those who would go outside of their own society to right apparent wrongs like slavery or genocide, took a look at the difficulties which arise when we try to determine what constitutes a “society”, and even ran a few numbers to demonstrate the difficulties which accompany attempts to determine the moral views of the majority within those societies.  We concluded with the view that the only logical outcome of a societally relativist view of morality is an individually relativist view of morality in which each individual may create his own version of right and wrong without regard for others.

We then turned our attention to the Law of Nature.  We examined the proposition that a universal moral law can exist without a lawgiver and took a look at some of the apparent support for the idea that a solid foundation for moral behavior can be found within the natural world.  We took a careful look at nature’s “goal” to preserve individual species and considered the implications that this goal has in regard to human reproduction.  We examined natural selection and the ways in which a strict application of its principles would influence the use of modern medicine including the preservation of the lives of the elderly and disabled.  And we concluded with the view that an appeal to the Law of Nature leads to apathy rather than action.

Our purpose in examining these perspectives was to help Christians learn to effectively reason through the fallacies of each view with their atheist friends.  In the process, I had numerous discussions with atheists – some of whom did not hold to these views of morality and some who did.  It is important that Christians recognize that atheism (like the belief in a supreme being or beings) comes in many forms. Indeed, it would take a lifetime to address the full scope of moral views held by those who do not believe in a god and it is for this reason that we chose to address only two of them here.

Like the religious, atheists come to their views in many different ways.  Some were born into atheist homes.  Others reject god on the basis of bad experiences they’ve had with those who claim to worship a deity.  And others have serious questions about the rationality of religious belief.  It is the responsibility of every Christian to take the time to get to know and understand the views of the atheists in their lives before jumping into a moral debate.  We must approach our neighbors, friends, and family with humble, teachable spirits if we want to earn the right to be heard.

Did Anyone Follow That?

19 Jun

Read: Galatians 5:1-26

 

“Test everything.  Hold on to the good.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

 

 Incoherent customers are not an uncommon occurrence in retail.  More than once, I have found myself at the end of a conversation which, due to some misunderstanding at the beginning, has left me wondering what exactly just took place.

For example: on one particular afternoon, I was approached by a customer with a question about wrapping a tree that she had just purchased.  I responded by asking where she was going to place it.  (The assumption on my part being that she meant to wrap the trunk in order to protect it from the elements.)  “It’s going in my pickup bed,” she responded rather hotly, her irritation at my failure to comprehend her meaning quite evident.

I quickly realized that her concern was for the tree’s safety in transport and assured her that the gentleman who would load her tree for her would take a moment to look over the situation and provide appropriate advice.  I quickly radioed for an employee to retrieve the tree from the lot, but as I did so, the customer glanced out the window and, with a tone of exasperation announced, “Never mind, it’s already loaded. But that wasn’t the man helping me!”  She then proceeded to storm out of the store leaving me in a bit of a quandary as to what had just happened.

On another occasion, I encountered a gentleman seeking to purchase a bag of Diazinon (an incredibly effective insecticide).  It was with regret that I informed him that we had just sold our last bag earlier that morning.

“When I called a week ago, you said that you had it,” he replied, sounding a bit disgruntled.

“We did, a week ago, but we don’t anymore,” I apologized.

“You shouldn’t say you have things when you don’t.”

It was clear that my message was not getting across, but not wanting to lose a customer I replied, “We might be getting some more in this next week, I can check for you.”

“You can’t because it’s illegal.”

“No, Sir… not yet at least.”  (Everyone locally was aware of the pending EPA ban on the product – part of the reason we were selling through so much of it so quickly.)

“Yes it is or you wouldn’t be telling everyone that you have it!”  And with that, he turned around and left, leaving me, once again, wondering what exactly had just taken place.

Since good things always come in threes (at least so they say), I can’t resist sharing just one more tale of incoherence: this one aided by a telephone.

“I need to know how much a truckload of bark will cost,” my customer explained.  (So far, so good.  This is a common question and fairly easy to answer.)

“How much bark do you need?” I enquired, reaching for a calculator.

“I don’t know.  How much fits in a pickup?”

“It depends upon the size of the pickup,” I replied, fully expecting the customer to respond with something reasonably precise like, “It’s a half-ton, Chevy, short-bed.”

No such luck.  “It’s a small one,” she explained.

“Perhaps you can tell me how much ground are you trying to cover,” I suggested.

“I don’t know how much ground I’m trying to cover.  I just need to know how much bark I will need.”

“It depends on what size space you’re covering and how thickly you want to lay the bark down,” I explained, reasonably certain that this conversation was going nowhere fast.

“About two inches,” she replied.

The truth is that a little incoherence at the beginning of a conversation can lead to a lot of incoherence by the end.  Like shooting an arrow or throwing a ball, what seems to be an insignificant ambiguity in the aiming process can result in an end that is far removed from the intended course.

That the same sort of misdirection can occur when it comes to our Christian walk should come as no surprise.  What starts as a minor misunderstanding of Scripture can lead to a life which misses the mark – leaving others to wonder why there is such inconsistency between what we say we believe (God’s Word) and the way we live.  Perhaps this is why the apostles took such care to emphasize the importance of our studying (and following) God’s Word for ourselves.  Only when we do, can we be assured that our lives will be coherent enough for their message – that God loves mankind – to be clearly understood.

Challenge:  Take some time to carefully consider what you believe.  Does the way you live naturally follow?  Ask God to reveal how you can live a more consistent life!

Norman Geisler’s “Systematic Theology”

17 Jun

“What should I read next?”  The question was pitched to me by a young friend whose interest in apologetics had recently blossomed into a passion which seemed to consume most of his out of school hours.  It was clear that he already had a solid understanding of the basics (he’d read the Bible through several times while still in High School), so I felt compelled to give him something a bit meatier: Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology.

What do I like about these books?  Quite simply that they were written for people who ask hard questions.  Unlike many other systematic theologies, Geisler takes the time to present multiple views on each of the topics addressed and carefully analyzes both the strengths and weaknesses of commonly held Christian beliefs.  Using both the Bible and a good dose of logic, his goal appears to be to help readers learn to think for themselves rather than to simply regurgitate a few answers they learned in a Bible class.  This earns him five stars, in my book.

I’m also a huge fan of his detail-intensive style.  Breaking down each concept into its minutest parts, he turns complex principles into easy to understand concepts – making deep theology accessible to anyone willing to invest a little time in a good read.  Whether discussing the nature of sin or the reliability of the Bible, these volumes are sure to be a resource that you’ll return to again and again!

All four volumes of Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology(published by Bethany House Publishers) may be purchased individually (around $35 each) or as a set for $189.99.  It’s a bit of a hefty up-front investment, but one which you certainly won’t regret!

Foundations for Atheist Morality: The Law of Nature Part V

14 Jun

Last week in “Foundations for Atheist Morality”, we examined the implications that the natural moral law has for the field of medicine.  We looked at the difference between the way human beings determine each other’s value and the manner in which nature “determines” value.  We also asked an important question: If nature will, herself, select against the elderly and disabled, is there any harm in society helping her along?

Adolf Hitler asked this same question and came to the conclusion that the answer was “no”.  What followed was a bloody regime in which those who did not appear to physically contribute to the preservation of the race (homosexuals, the handicapped, and many others) were systematically exterminated.  Yet is this really an appropriate application of the principle of natural selection?

Undoubtedly, the Law of Nature does lend itself to violence.  The mass culling of one species in order to ensure the survival of other species (the southern African sardine run, for example) is not unheard of.  Carnivores hunt prey to feed their young.  One species forcefully removes another from its breeding ground.  And those who directly threaten the lives of others are, themselves, eliminated.  Yet one would be hard-pressed to find a situation in which the systematic extermination of specific individuals or groups of individuals is aptly demonstrated.  And this is an important point.

If the Law of Nature is to serve as a universal framework for morality, intervention either on behalf of the weak or in favor of the strong must be eschewed.  Neither those who perform acts of mercy nor those who promote wanton violence may be considered to be living lives in keeping with this accepted moral standard.  Indeed, the best application of the Law of Nature is not intervention, but apathy.

Doubtless, this conclusion will bother many, including the good-hearted atheists who would use nature for their moral guide.  Indeed, most of us spend our lives fighting against apathy, seeking to improve both our own lives and the lives of others.  We make the moral judgment that life, itself, is a gift and one worth preserving regardless of the contribution a given individual may or may not be able to make to the well-being of the whole.  We seek to demonstrate love, compassion, and concern for those who surround us – in short: to make the world a better place.

So where does this leave an atheist who wishes to use the Law of Nature as a foundation for their moral code?  Unfortunately, without a leg to stand on.

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