You can probably still hear the sound byte on AOL, "You've Got Mail." That was 1994 for me (Yes, that's me in the pic 1997). The Internet was little known at the time, and we likened it to the advent of the telephone. Like TV and Radio before it, the Information Superhighway (doesn't that sound so old?) was going to change things - and it did.
This week your Kingdom Bloggers are going to talk about churhin' it on the Internet.
I have been building web sites and working as a web programmer for over 15 years. For all the good that it brings, there is a fair amount of trash out there too - it depends on what you are looking for. The latest rage, and actually the very thing that caused the 'Net to proliferate, is social media. From the days of Compuserve and AOL chat (remember all the free discs!) to AIM, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter - the Internet has changed the way we communicate with humans. It also is changing the way that we interact as Christians. Of course the same problems with communicating via written text, minus the non-verbals of facial expressions, hand gestures and body language, apply.
Although online relationships are second rate in my book, they do have a purpose in God's Kingdom, and they are meaningful to me as an individual. I met my beloved wife on Yahoo Personals. Our first "real" date was a little awkward - there was something that seemed out of place. After regrouping online, from the second date on were we destined to be together!
If you are a Facebook user, be sure to read the Facebook 10 Commandments!
So what's so spiritual about being online? It allows us to fellowship with Christians that we would have never met. This very blog is a testament to that. Tony C, Dave T. and I have never been in the same state, let alone the same room, at the same time! And only I have met Joyce and Michelle. You be the judge, but I think God is using it. We are not only online friends, but the guys call each other at least once a week. We usually have a weekly thread where we act like a family - praying, sharing, encouraging, and joking too.
Online prayer can be a wonderful way to be an online Christian. I have belonged to the Sunset Road Baptist Church Prayer Group - it's been 14 or 15 years now - and their coordinator I have never met, but we've prayed through all kinds of stuff together. I know more about her church then I do my own!
It is an interesting, and I suppose controversial way to have "church," but it is producing fruit for the kingdom. Of course it has its limitations - we can't give each other a hug, or a handshake. But we are not transmitting H1N1 either - Tony prefers to catch that locally.
I guess what is most intriguing to me is that when we pray, God uses it. We also send out praise reports which encourages the others, and when we're down, we can get prayer from the brethren. As an online family, in many ways, this is a lifeline for some of us who don't have quality fellowship in our area. We are walking with each other through the ups-and-downs of life. I do love the KB bunch.
It doesn't seem to matter that there are 815 miles between me and Tony, 1,194 miles between me and Dave T, 707 miles between me and Michelle, and 1,585 miles between me and Joyce. In the Spirit and online, there are none.
Over 10 years ago - before blogs were invented - I wrote a daily email that went out to about 30,000 folks around the world entitled Time After Time. Some of my readers were in countries where Christianity was illegal. I received prayer requests for all kinds of things ranging from sermons to missionaries that feared torture. I had no idea what it was like to live in the Middle East, in a Communist or Asian country where Christianity is not the major religion.
One man I met via the Sunset Road prayer list, who I finally met, became a real friend. His name was Theodore. He died doing what he loved, missions for the Lord. HERE is that story. Let me just say that these were the kind of folks that had faith. They prayed for a jet, and God gave them one. They laughed about it, because He didn't give them a pilot or jet fuel. They ended up selling the plane to feed the poor.
There was a woman on that mailing list named Sue, and she would occasionally send a reply to a message I had sent out. Simple things such as, "thanks", "I needed that", or "could you pray for my kid's exams?"
One day a prayer request from her showed up in my inbox. Sue said that she was having tests to determine if the lump in her abdomen was cancerous. She asked for me to pray for her, and gladly I did. A week or so later she sent another email that confirmed that she had cancer; stage 4 it read. I remember feeling sad, but you know, I had never met her, and I didn't even know what she looked like. From a few of her replies, I gleaned that she was married, had older children and worked for an aircraft manufacturer. I prayed each day as she waited for the surgery date.
There is another footnote to the story, all of this happened shortly after I buried my dad. He died of lung/brain cancer on February 13, 1998. I hated cancer.
The next email that arrived from Sue read. "Could you please call and pray for me over the phone? I am scheduled for surgery tomorrow." Wow, I could do that for a sister in Christ. And so I dialed the number the next morning about 8 'clock; 6 o'clock their time. She was leaving at 7 for the hospital.
"Hello," answered a man's voice. It was her husband.
"This is David and I am calling to pray for Sue." I said.
She picked up the other line and said, "hello." I could hear the emotion in her voice.
I said, "Well, you know why I am calling, let's ask God what He wants to do here." I began to pray quietly in the Spirit. Then I prayed directly for her healing. "Amen" I ended in my most religious voice and wished them both blessings and hung up.
On and off all day, I was wondering how the surgery had gone. At about 4 'clock the phone rang in my office (Caller ID, never thought of it in those days). "They took another x-ray and the doctors can't find anything! Nothing!" Sue said.
"You're kidding me? Really?" (There in lies the sum total of my faith.)
"They took x-rays so that the surgeons could see the size of the mass before the surgery and could not find anything!" she said in such and excited voice.
That wasn't the last time I heard from Sue, but that was the last time I heard about her stage 4 cancer.
The value and even the quality of these relationships speaks volumes to the eternal value that they can have. The Internet has also allowed me to keep up with folks that I met in Brazil years ago - amazing as we have shared all types of experiences, photos and Christian fellowship online. Some of these relationships turn into the real thing - which is best in my book. But for now, I can be so much cooler online.