7.11.2009

glorifying God online

We recently spent a month and a half with our youth group discussing technology. This included discussions about communicating to large groups, such as social networking and blogging, more personal communication like instant messaging, texting and cell phone use, and a variety of pitfalls one can get into using technology, covering time wasters, downloads and theft, and some more unfortunate uses of the internet and technology, especially regarding images we’re either barraged with or can easily find. Even covering all that we barely spoke to all that’s going on and all the things we need to keep in mind as we navigate this rapidly expanding world.

We wanted to be sure no one left our discussions feeling all technology is somehow “bad.” Technology is neutral, but we need to use it properly. So we made sure every session to ask the question each of us should ask about everything we do,

“How does this glorify God?”

Obviously in discussions about theft or lust, we could pointedly state that those things never bring God glory. But other uses of technology have potential to do things and reach people in ways never before available in history. What will we do with them?

I often discuss or am asked about doing evangelism online, and I tend to approach the topic with excitement and trepidation. I am excited that people are willing to start thinking about technology as an evangelistic tool. I’ve been honing my outreach for years, expanding and using new things as they become available and relevant to reach people, especially in long distance relationships, some of whom I’ve never met. And therein lies the trepidation, because I have also learned over time to take serious precautions as I roam the internet, and I always want to be sure anyone else considering online outreach does the same.

With that, I would like to share some online cautions. People are very willing to share everything about themselves (and everybody else) on the internet, partly because there’s a disconnect with the “real world” when one is sitting behind a screen and keyboard, and this has the potential to be extremely dangerous regardless of age. The internet has made a lot of crimes easier to commit, and scams and stalkers do abound, so sometimes a little prevention goes a long way.

You should never make the following public about yourself or on behalf of anyone else:
• Contact info., primarily phone number and address
• Inappropriate photos (Don’t take them in the first place. Better yet, do nothing inappropriate to photograph!)
• Extremely personal information for all to see (and be careful e-mailing, chatting, etc. as this can “leak”)
• Financial info. – PayPal, bank accounts, credit/debit cards, social security number, etc. (And no one from Africa offering to give you their dead spouse’s money is your friend.)
It’s also highly recommended against publicly sharing:
• Full real names (even my e-mails have aliases)
• Current schools
• Current places of employment
• Where you/they will be and when
Of course, you should also always use caution in becoming friends with anyone you don’t know. I have a policy of only “friending” those I’ve actually met on one social networking site, with the exception of perhaps a few I’ve had a reasonable number of years speaking too online. I am more open to friend requests on another, but less open with the information I provide.

And so, with cautions such as these built in, and remembering Who I represent even online, I try to utilize the internet to glorify the Lord by sharing who He is with other people I talk too. I do this in a number of ways, which can include any of the following:
• God honoring and/or Scriptural, not preachy or judgmental, status messages, quotes, etc.
• Keeping up with friends, local and long distance
• Responding to anxious status messages and posts with love, prayer and God’s Word. These are often more appropriate to address privately.
• Blogging about what God is doing in one’s life
• Legally posting music with solid Christian lyrics
• The message can vary per audience. Mix in life stuff as long as the message doesn’t go against Scriptural principles. Be consistent and real.
I have prayed for and counseled many people during chat sessions and discipled others online via e-mail, chat or Skype, which allows for deeper interaction in being able to see another’s body language while talking. This includes a friend I met through the game site Neopets and shared the Gospel with a few years ago.

I’ve helped a few people research and find good churches out of state, using the internet of course. And for many individuals, I’ve shipped books or Bibles and cards once trust was established.

This website, obviously, is extremely useful in sharing the Gospel, various resources, how the Lord called me and what God is doing in my life. This has been invaluable in quickly sharing things with others, as I can simply link them to a page of the site or blog to discuss the content or answer a question. I also use the site heavily around major holidays to link holiday letters or Halloween outreach content.

Pretty much everything I do is free, other than the cost of accessing the internet. I bought my domain name and mini ministry is now graciously hosted by a great friend in TN, but I used a free server for years. The real cost here is time and effort in reaching a culture where they are, online, and finding ways previously unavailable or considered unorthodox to tell the world the greatest story there is to tell, that salvation and joy are found in Jesus Christ alone.

As will always be the case with technology, there’s more I could say. If you have questions about reaching out online, leave a comment. I’m glad to discuss. Pray for me as God mercifully allows me to reach different people in many parts of the world for His glory without ever leaving home. This is my mission field.

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