Monday, February 15, 2010

I'm So Much Cooler Online!

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.


Anonymous said...

I too have found facebook as a way to connect with sisters and brothers on Christ as well as other people I have met along the way.
Two ways that facebook has been an oasis for me is, I have for years belonged to an Online Prayer Minitry ( Prayer Warriors International) in which we receive daily Prayer Requests and Praises as well. Many of my friends and relatives know I belong to "that Prayer Group" and ask for me to put their requests online. They take comfort knowing people from all over the world will be praying.
I also have found facebook as a place to encourage others. It has especially been meaningful when I can do that even when I am struggling myself with "stuff", I always felt the way to go is to encourage others when I myself may need such encouragemnt. ( like call someone when you need a call, write a note when you would love to receive a note, give money when you need money...well I know you know what I mean) "Give and it shall be given to you"...actually doing these things, makes my day.
Linda ( as I am not that computer savvy, I have to figure out how to not be anonymous)
Linda from CT

David said...

Thanks for sharing and reading along Linda.

To be "Linda" in the comments, just use Name and URL. For the URL you can use your Facebook profile link. Or you can sign up for a Blogspot account (same as Gmail, YouTube if you have one of those.)

BTW - We are all on Facebook - be sure to look us up.

Tony C said...

As I told you Friday, I believe we are living in most exciting times! The ability to evangelize, exhalt and encourage has never been more accessible on a wide scale basis. I feel so blessed to be just a small part of what God is doing on the internet.

I loved the video too! Marsha Brady is still hot! Have a great week my friend.

Anonymous said...

I would venture to say that since the "church" is a body of people, the method of their getting together would be an open thing. And an internet gathering can reach people who might otherwise be unable attend a vibrant growing body (instead of the other kind that we have all too many of). But I would also suggest that not meeting people face to face makes it nearly impossible to truly get to know them. Consider that nonverbal communications communicates more of the information we know about others than any other medium and that most of that information is not controllable by the individual. This goes beyond the two dimensional image you might see through a webcam to all of the rest of the sensory cues that allow you to really understand (assuming you pay attention) what is going on with another person.

For example. "I am fine" when presented in text conveys no information. When coupled with crossing of arms across the chest you have a negation of the "fine" claim; or coupled with a joyful smile and spring in the step it becomes an understatement inviting a chance to share; or coupled with a face seamed with lines of sorrow it may be someone whose needs are so burdening them they can't bear to recount them yet again; or coupled with a uric acid smell and a limp they may be suffering from gout and may or may not want to talk. These contexts cannot be lifted from a text based encounter and my experience one on one with dozens of people (I wanted to say hundreds and it may be but it may also be hubris) most who are in need can barely make the effort to walk into a church and the internet is even more uncertain because child molesters can make their online presence look quite the opposite of what they are with no clues to betray that things are "not quite right". Clues that you can get from looking around as you approach a place where people meet.

Anyway, I could write dozens of pages on the subject of interpersonal relationships and have done so in the past, but the bottom line is that online experiences really enhance the small encounters you might make at church or at the mall or wherever by filling in information about others but they really can't replace them. Praying for one another is only one way we're commanded to help one another and the rest pretty much requires you get your hands dirty.

Joyce Lighari said...

In the best of situations, Anon is right. However, many of us are not in the best of situations.
For me I would not have much fellowship at all if it were not for the internet, emails and social networks.
There are many reasons why people cannot have face to face relationships - I think we should encourage positive online interactions and ministry.

~ Jan ~ said...

I agree with Joyce and Linda. The chronically ill, disabled, isolated and house bound need the same sort of spiritual connection with the Body of Christ as those fortunate to find it within the four walls of a church. Internet ministries and prayer groups provide and fill the needs of some of the most forgotten "Livings Stones" that make up the Church of Christ.

God began to fine tune within me His gifting of intercessory prayer for others in 2004. By Spring of 2006, He led me to an entry level position on an experimental prayer team for one of the outreach programs at my church. Eighteen months later, their policies changed and the freedom to move within the realm of the Holy Spirit was being squelched. Also, I had to commit to the day(s) I chose to serve. If I couldn't make it on a certain day, I was to contact my team leader 24 hours in advance and was responsible to find a replacement. There were no exceptions to this rule.

My chronic health issues and that of my mother's didn't come and go according to their agenda. I couldn't make the kind of commitment they required of me and I had to step down. Yet I was welcomed to attend the Tuesday night, Prayer Team, support group.

I understand that rules are set in place to govern the body and to establish order within a ministry. However, they were willing to let me go, in spite of the evident impact my prayers had on the guests and certain prayer team members. I guess they preferred their rules over one who desired to make an impact for the Kingdom of God.

On and off, I went to the Tuesday night support group until the fall 2008, when my health no longer afforded me the ability to attend it or services. I made numerous efforts to keep in contact with those I believed I had connected with on a spiritual level. With the exception of one woman, sadly, I, who had become as needy as some of the guests we prayed for, was shortly forgotten - abandoned by those whose words were just empty promises.

But the Lord is so kind. He says in His word that He will put the lonely in families and that's just what He did in 2009 when I was introduced to the online prayer group called "BASIC" an acronym for "Brothers And Sisters In Christ".

This group of men and women, having a united passion for Christ, also has a genuine concern for the Saints. We sorrow when others sorrow and rejoice when they rejoice. Not only are our requests taken to the Lord in prayer, on behalf of each other, but have also been met through the actions and deeds of BASICS' members. Notes with words of encouragement are being sent to bolster the faith of those whose situations are leaving them discouraged and tangible needs are being provided for as the Holy Spirit moves on the hearts of those to supply the need. And of course, for me, I am most blessed by the personal relationships that have developed from being one of its members. To me, the believers in BASIC are as close and genuine as any church family I have ever experienced. Like you said David, with the Holy Spirit, there is no distance between God and His children or with each other.

Be blessed, my friends.