57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 57. Drowning in the Sea (Recap)

2 Sam 22:4-6  “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and have been saved from my enemies. The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.

Recently: In the last seven studies we have been considering aspects of the culture we find in the West at this time in history, aspects that threaten our very spiritual lives if we allow them to overwhelm us, and I likened this to being drowned by these things. Now to draw these threads together to better enable us to see the big picture, let’s consider the analogy of the sea as a description of the culture that we live in. We said near the beginning that ‘drowning’ is the negative outcome of being out at sea, but alternatives are that we swim, we sail, or we surf. In other words the sea has the capability of killing us by drowning but it also has the capability of being used for enjoyment, business or travel, all legitimate pastimes or experiences. The analogy of the sea is also useful when we consider it is often tumultuous, there is constant movement and change and it can be threatening. (Jude used a similar analogy – Jude v.13)

What this says is that a godless culture is always bad and harmful, tumultuous and changing, but ‘culture’ in itself is neutral and so all of these things can be positive if they are godly, i.e. we enjoy them within the confines of God’s guidance and direction and we avoid excesses. These things we have been considering are not bad in themselves, but they are bad when we use or experience them in a godless fashion. When that happens they change from things provided by God for our blessing, into things that have the potential to destroy us. Let’s examine each of them again briefly to see these things.

The Possibilities of Materialism: Now the truth is that God has provided everything material and spiritual for our blessing. When we speak of materialism we tend to mean a life that excludes the spiritual and excludes God. All material things, we say again, are potentially things for blessing. Used in excess, most things become harmful. The ‘world’ is materialistic (godless) but we as Christians should always hold a balance that accepts, is aware of, and operates in, a spiritual dimension as well as a material dimension. Our spiritual lives are threatened when we forget or fail to operate within that balance and almost invariably it will be the spiritual side that will suffer. Having said that, there have been those who reject the material dimension and speak of it negatively, forgetting it is God’s provision for us to be used wisely and thankfully (Jas 1:17, 1 Tim 4:3,4). However our greater threat is likely to be we get caught up in materialistic living and that is a life where we forget the spiritual dimension that we are called to experience, live in and serve in. The call is therefore not to let enjoyment of the material world become the all-important thing in life but maintain a balance whereby we operate in, experience and enjoy both realms.

The Danger of Unreality: Being creative, which includes writing books, making films and so much more, is part of being made in the image of the Creator, but fiction is always fiction and we must never forget that. Even more we must always remember that the human author, film-maker etc. is a human being who may or may not be conveying an incomplete picture of what life is about. ‘Romanticism’ tends to view life unrealistically through rose-tinted glasses while ‘realism’ tends to point out only the harsh realities of life. Often a book or film will express one of the other but rarely both together, and therefore we should always remember what the author or film-producer is aiming to do and, in our minds, refocus in the light of the truth about God, and us as sinners with the possibility of redemption, i.e. remember what is and what is not ‘real’.   The danger is always that if we are regular readers or regular watchers of TV, videos and films (and computer gamers, for that matter) we can get swept up in what we have seen/experienced and lose contact with reality, how life really is. The temptation that the enemy puts before us, is to believe the lie that I can live in that unreal ‘reality’ and forget that actually there are always consequences to be born with such things in the real world.

Holding Knowledge Lightly: Knowledge in itself is neutral. The problem with ‘knowledge’ is that sometimes what we think is real or true is not, it is merely an opinion or a hypothesis that may yet change. Knowledge becomes dangerous when we allow untrue knowledge (rather like ‘fake news’) to determine our outlook on life, our perception of what is or is not real and true. It is also dangerous when we allow knowledge to boost our egos or more specifically our pride. Pride always means a loss of perspective, making us think we are greater, more powerful, cleverer, than we are. Pride also questions whether we need God.

There is a saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” which the Internet suggests means, “a small amount of knowledge can lead to overconfidence, leaping to invalid conclusions based on what you do know without taking into account the things that you don’t know.” The wise person knows that the more you do know the more you should realise how little you know, and thus will maintain an outlook of humility. Failing the understand these things means we can become overwhelmed and even intimidated by big people, big theories and big figures. At such times a healthy dose of reading the scriptures and remembering that God is THE big person who is all-knowing and all-wise, is a wise approach. He alone should be our ultimate source of wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” (Psa 111:10) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) Never let go that perspective.

The Life of Social Media: The use of social media and social networking, we observed, has many benefits to our lives today AND many curses. In the light of the many fears that are being raised by a variety of professionals, we would be wise to take note of not only the warnings of abuses and harms that can ensue but also the very real fear of addiction to usage. There is also the concept of the loss of reality that can arise, in both security and knowledge terms that we noted can distort the reality about ourselves and the world around us. Really an extension of the previous paragraph.

A Confusing & Uncertain World:  In both the USA & the UK and indeed many other ‘Western’ countries, Christians are now clearly in the minority and since our nations have largely rejected God we have lost a moral base and no longer believe in absolutes – values or principles which are regarded as universally valid – and so relativism rules which says that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute, i.e. right or wrong depends on every unique situation and will be different for every situation. At least that is what is said except the moment someone harms ‘me or my family’ and which point we scream, “that’s not right, where are the police, justice needs to be done, someone needs to pay for this!”

So we live with the ‘law of exceptions’ that says, “well, yes, generally it is wrong for someone to steal but perhaps there are exceptions, such as when someone is on the point of starvation,” or “well, yes, it is wrong to kill another person, but perhaps there are exceptions such as when a SWAT team have to take out a terrorist carrying a bomb.”  Ever since Hiroshima we have accepted that killing a large number of people is an unpleasant fact of life to save a much larger number of people from an ongoing war. Perhaps as Christians we might say that we recognise that in a fallen world sometimes an evil is necessary to prevent a greater evil – but it is still evil. But these are ethical dilemmas, necessary evils from living in this fallen world, but that is very different from the blatant misrepresenting of truth, telling outright lies etc. that have become almost a fact of life in recent years across the global communication and media networks.

Coping with ‘the sea’: Surfing or sailing on the sea of modern culture is appreciating the wonder and goodness of so many aspects of this world. Culture is sometimes defined as “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society,” i.e. the way societies think and then act. For us as Christians things like self-awareness, understanding, knowledge, wisdom and discernment must be major tools in our armoury as we seek to cope with the things these last studies have been dealing with.

Helps? Realizing that

  • we don’t have to comply with the pressures of peers and advertisers to get the latest piece of hi-tec,
  • rejecting the false and unreal perspectives that are often put before us,
  • rejecting the intimidating atheistic voices that seek to challenge with their skewed and incomplete ‘facts’, hypotheses and opinions,
  • taking control of thoughts about myself and others from Christ’s perspective and not that of my Facebook friends, and
  • refusing to be swayed by those who shout loudest in the noisy media market place of political, theological or simply ideological ideas.

Understanding & Living in Christ: Remaining above the surface of the water (culture) is what happens when we take hold of such truths as, God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6). The threefold thrust of that is that:

  • we are to see ourselves as intimately united with Christ,
  • in a place where we are (with him) to rule over our circumstances, and
  • where we are above – and therefore can see clearly – the shambles of the world below us.

In the light of all this, we might do well to finish this study with Paul’s prayer: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19)  Amen!

55. Drowning in Social Media

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 55. Drowning in Social Media

Jn 4:24   God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Where we are: I nearly covered this subject in the previous study entitled, ‘Drowning in Unreality’ but felt that it was such a major and significant subject that it needs dealing with on its own. Remember, we are covering things that have a tendency to drown the modern believer. So that we are quite clear, let’s lay out the scale of changes in our world in this area of social media or social networking and our general access to the Internet.:

Understanding the scale of social media:

  • First a Wikipedia definition: Social media are computer mediated  technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.”
  • Also, Social Networks refers to a dedicated website or other application which enables users to communicate with each other by posting information, comments, messages, images, etc. or a network of social interactions and personal relationships.”
  • Mobile or cell phones are probably the primary means of such communication across the world today. Here’s another breath-taking detail from the Internet: “In 2019 the number of mobile phone users is forecast to reach 4.68 billion. The number of mobile phone users in the world is expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019. In 2016, an estimated 62.9 percent of the population worldwide already owned a mobile phone.”
  • This has to be one of THE most significant changes in the way humans run their lives that has come about in the last hundred years.
  • (Figures have recently been released that suggest that 70% of people accessing the Internet do it today via a mobile phone.)

Benefits or otherwise of social media: Various websites extol the use of social media and without doubt the general use of the Internet can educate, build confidence and so on. Negative aspects about social network usage, that are highlighted in the increasing levels of concern being expressed, include Cyberbullying, Internet Addiction, Sleep Deprivation, Digital Footprint, Pornography and Sexting. In addition, warnings are given about general internet usage in respect of account hacking and impersonation, stalking and harassment, being compelled to turn over passwords, walking a fine line between effective marketing and privacy intrusion and the privacy downside of location-based services.

Extent of Usage: Figures from the internet (although these vary from time to time) suggest Facebook with 2,200 million users is top of the usage charts, followed by YouTube with 1,900 million, Instagram with 800 million and so on. If you know anything of just those three you will realise the difference in types of site. There are many more in the table. Perhaps, rather than bandy figures about, a better means of observing the changes in culture worldwide in respect of social networking is simply to watch people around you in public spaces. For some people, to not have a phone in their hand would mean a serious sense of insecurity – we are not being dramatic here, it is true – and this, for us who are Christians should, I suggest, be a major cause of concern. We could be negative and speak about how intrusive the use of such a phone link is while in company, but the bigger concern is the downside of the wonderful friendship networking capabilities that has come about, which is this sense of insecurity if we are ‘not in the know’. One might also suggest for Christians, that a study on ‘gossip’ NOT being part of the kingdom of God maybe deserves revisiting.

A Pride Builder: Knowledge, they say, is power and as I have watched the use of the Internet and social media in both young and old, I notice one particularly interesting feature: a sense of ‘being in the know’ also creates a sense of superiority or, at the very least, a sense of self-worth. Knowledge is available as it has never been available before. With social networking, it is knowledge of what everyone else in my social hub is doing. Being ‘in the know’ creates this sense that once being a member of an elite club created. But there is being in the know in respect of the latest news or, for that matter, knowing about anything else. Google has become the most amazing source of information within a few seconds, whether it is to do with the local weather, the weather in your part of the world, how to freeze beans, how many sorts of elephant live in the world, or even what your street looks like! (The car on my forecourt is out of date!!!) Similarly, without doubt when my grand-daughters go out on their own, the presence of a mobile phone and instant access to home creates a sense of security. That is the good side but, although I watch the confidence etc. that exudes from the users of mobile or cell phones around me, I also note that generally there are still in their lives, many insecurities, worries, cares and concerns and, indeed, the knowledge of what is happening to everyone else (not always good) often adds to those things. Pride and superiority on one hand but insecurity on the other, and perhaps all three have increased with the use of the mobile phone.

An air of unreality: Living in the world of constant instant news, of knowledge of what all my friends are up to, and of this amazing sense of being linked in to all my friends is, I suggest, a source of creating an unreal environment in which to live. We think we know, but what we know is only superficial, basic facts of information.  We may think that knowledge is linked to wisdom, but it isn’t necessarily. We may think that information is the same as ‘understanding’, but it isn’t. It may just be the particular group of people I know in my local vicinity at present, but when I watch this culture I sadly find absent among the Christians the Spirit of God and it seems as if this reliance on networking and information acts as a substitute – and not a good substitute – for the presence of the Lord in your life. There is an absence of The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord,” (Isa 11:2) and one cannot help feeling there is a link. Accept no substitutes.

Concerns: Now I must confess to a real aversion to doing this study because I am aware that it flies in the face of modern culture, a culture that does have, without question, many benefits. Yet, as a spiritual observer it worries me as I observe the things I have commented on above. As I observe chat rooms and comments made by readers on news websites, it seems that so often this facility simply gives opportunity to bring out the worst of people, with hostility, criticism and general grumbling being regularly seen in such places. Not good.

The Source of Security: But perhaps the biggest issue must be, where do we get our sense of personal worth, personal fulfilment and personal security? Is it from being part of one of these networks, or of having knowledge available instantly, or any one of these other benefits? As good as they are, they should not be the primary means of obtaining such senses; it must be through the personal interaction with Almighty God, who is not merely available on the other end of a phone or Internet line, but He is there with you wherever you are and in whatever circumstances and instantly accessible. You will build up that sense of reality in prayer, in reading and studying His word, in Spirit-led and inspired worship. There is no substitute for any of these things.

To Conclude: It is possible that if you are someone who has a phone in their hands most of the time, you will feel defensive by what I have said, but all I ask is that you check out the reality of what I have been saying: do you have a real and genuine sense of self-worth and of security that comes from the knowledge of the living presence of the Lord? And perhaps, even more as a test, if you shut off your phone and left it in a drawer for a week, would you still have that? If you can honestly answer ‘yes’ then no problem, but otherwise perhaps some thought needs to be given to making some changes in your lifestyle.

Presumably you are here because you have been reading these studies, and so I end with asking the very basic question, are we each aware of being in the midst of God’s process of ongoing redemption for us? If we are not then, is this particular culture a hindrance to that?  Let’s conclude with Psa 121 and may this be our anchor: I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.”