Where do Christians Witness Most? Online or Offline?

Have a guess at these two questions before you read on for the answers:

Questions

1. What percentage of Americans share their faith online each week?

2. What percentage of Americans share their faith offline each week?

Chart: The Atlantic. Data: Pew Research Center

Chart: The Atlantic. Data: Pew Research Center

Answers

According to the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Electronic Media Report:

1. On average, 20% share their religious faith online each week.

2. On average, 40% share their religious faith offline each week.

Anything surprise you about these figures?

The main thing that surprised me was that twice as many people shared their faith offline than online. As you can see, the figures are higher for evangelicals, with about 60% sharing their faith offline and 34% doing so online. But notice, it’s still about twice the number who share offline compared to online.

Happy Surprise

I’m pleasantly surprised at that because I thought a lot of Christians had moved their witnessing online where they didn’t need to face real people in real time in the real world. I’m not alone in that perception. Yesterday, I asked some some friends whether they thought Christians witnessed more online than than offline, and they all answered “more online.” It’s good to know we were all wrong and that most Christians are still actively witnessing to Christ in normal everyday life.

A couple of other encouraging findings as reported in The Atlantic:

  • Religious engagement through electronic media generally complements rather than replaces church attendance and sharing faith face-to-face.
  • There’s hardly any variation among age groups: People younger and older than 50 were nearly equally likely to say they’d talked about their faith on social media within the last week.

Stunned Surprise

Emma Green at The Atlantic was quite stunned by that, given that “younger Americans are less religious than older Americans, and they’re also much heavier users of social media.” Good on the seniors who are keeping up with the younger generation!

It still leaves the question as to why a much smaller number share online than offline. Emma Green suggests that people are more comfortable speaking about their faith one-to-one with people they know rather than on social media where so many strangers can “listen in” and comment or criticize.

Still, it would be good for all of us to get our percentages up, both online and offline. What a difference might be made if 100% of Christians witnessed both online and offline every week, or even every day.


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12 Ways To Make (and Keep) Friends


OK, so you read yesterday’s post and now you’re motivated to pursue biblical friendship, but how? What do I do now? Thankfully, Jonathan Holmes’s excellent new book on biblical friendships is packed with tips on how to make, cultivate, and keep friends. Here are a few I picked out.

1. Cultivate the greatest friendship

“As the first and most important step, be encouraged in your friendship with Jesus Christ. Our Savior died for you so he could call you a friend! He is the faithful friend, the supreme friend. So cry out to him. Ask for the ability to understand biblical friendship better, and as a result to receive the grace and courage to pursue others with a glad heart.” (28)

Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx said: “[Friendships] take their beginning from Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ.”

2. Don’t make an idol of friendships:

“When we make a good thing into an ultimate thing, it becomes a bad thing. (39)

3. Change the measure of your life

“When we reflect on our lives, they are measured not by our incomes or good works, but by our relationships— by our friendships.” (Ed Welch quoted on p. 13).

4. Beware of substitutes

There are three substitutes we frequently take for the real thing: social media friendships, specialized friendships [based on a common interest or activity], and selfish [purely what I can get out of it] friendships.”  (32)

“Technology, social media, and common interests are helpful contexts and tools to help facilitate friendship, but friendship itself is always more than these.” (41)

5. Prepare for disappointments and discomfort

The book opens with typical stories of Christians who have been disappointed and frustrated in finding, making, and keeping Christian friends.

“This begins to get to the core of the problem: our sinful desire for control. We want friendships on our timetable, our terms of agreement. We do not want friendships that would move us out of our comfort zone.” (34)

6. Give the grace you have received

“If our individual walks with the Lord are so characterized by instability, imperfection, and weakness, why should we imagine that biblical friendships must somehow be seamless and perfect to be legitimate?” (97)

7. Read the Proverbs

  • Flee jealousy (Prov. 6:34; 27:4)
  • Be loyal (Prov. 20:6; 18:24)
  • Be truthful/honest (Prov. 28:23)
  • Keep confidences (Prov. 11:13)

8. Seek and promote spiritual good

“The willingness to engage in biblical candor for the sake of another’s spiritual good is one way in which biblical friendship is obviously and dramatically different from those worldly substitutes that typically ignore unpleasant subjects.” (53)

9. Ask good questions

Here are some practical kickstarter questions, best asked thoughtfully and graciously:

  • How can I pray for you?
  • Where are you struggling?
  • Where have you experienced God’s grace in your struggle?
  • Where has God been up to good in your life recently?
  • What is bringing joy to your heart?
  • Where do you see me growing spiritually?
  • How can I be a better friend to you? (69)

10. Work it out in ordinary life

“By ‘redeeming ordinary moments,’ I simply mean that some of the regular activities of daily life can be enhanced as we do them with others. Everyday life can be experienced on a different level when shared in the context of biblical friendship.”  (98)

11. Recognize your psychological bandwidth is limited

In his humanity, Jesus had limitations on his time and “psychological bandwidth,” just like you and I do. God chose to show us in his Word that even the divine Son could only maintain a limited number of what we are calling biblical friendships.” (84)

12. Dedicate time

“In his book A Meal With Jesus, Tim Chester records a 33 percent decrease in families eating together over the last 30 years and a 45 percent decrease in friends doing so.”  (67)

“If we want to have biblical friendships, we need to be people who relish the opportunity simply to talk. Ask yourself, Can I really expect to have a decent friendship of any kind— much less a biblical one— with someone I rarely talk to? Or someone I don’t talk to about my actual joys and struggles?”  (66-67)

Our friendships should be better, deeper, richer than anything the world enjoys.

The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes.


8 Reasons to Pursue Biblical Friendships

A couple of weeks ago, Rosaria Butterfield spoke at PRTS and left a deep impression upon all of us. One of the points she kept returning to was the compelling power of friendship in her pre-Christian lesbian lifestyle, in her coming to Christ, and in her Christian witness and service in subsequent years.

Rosaria’s repeated calls to pursue and build friendships inside and outside the Christian community coincided with me reading a number of books on friendship over the previous months and spurred me on to read the next book on my list, The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes, Pastor of Counseling at Parkside Church in Cleveland. And what a wonderful book it turned out to be. Like all Cruciform books, it’s short, simple, and practical – and also profoundly challenging.

Instead of reviewing it, I decided the best way to encourage you to read this book was to summarize it under two headings, (1) Motivations to Biblical Friendships and (2) Making Biblical Friendships. I’ll cover the second area tomorrow, but here are eight motives to biblical friendships that I found throughout the book.

1. The nature of God

We are, after all, offspring of the Triune God who has always existed as a unity of three persons…God actually draws us into that triune friendship as co-participants.” (Ed Welch quoted on p.13)

“The eternal Trinity is the most fundamental expression of community and relationship.” (19)

2. The image of God

“One of the simplest yet most profound aspects of mankind being made in God’s image is that we were designed to live in relationships.” (19)

“Adam was created to pursue, develop, and maintain human relationships as an integral part of being made in the image of the triune God.” (20)

3.  Spiritual growth

“[Adam’s] growth and significance [was] worked out in relationships.”  (R. Kent Hughes quoted on p. 19)

4. Gospel Witness

“More than any other relationship, biblical friendship demonstrates to the world a spiritual unity rooted in the supernatural.”  (94)

“Rather than serving as an end in itself, biblical friendship serves primarily to bring glory to Christ, who brought us into friendship with the Father. It is indispensable to the work of the gospel in the earth, and an essential element of what God created us for.”  (27)

“When our friendships exist for our own pleasure, comfort, and relational happiness, rather than a communication of God’s love and mercy in the gospel, we’re telling the [Gospel] story badly, and we may be telling the wrong story altogether.” (24)

5. Increased happiness

“God made us in such a way that we cannot enjoy paradise without friends. God made us in such a way that we cannot enjoy our joy without friends.”  (Timothy Keller quoted on p. 20)

6. Jesus’s need of friends:

Hugh Black: “He was perfectly human, and therefore felt the lack of friendship.”

“Whether it was twelve disciples of random backgrounds or a family like that of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, friendship was an indispensable element of Jesus’ earthly ministry.” (20-21)

7. Jesus’s choice of friends:

Remember who Jesus calls friends (John 15:13-15).

“Jesus, through his death on the cross, be-friends us so we can now go and be friends with others” (25).

“When we embody biblical friendship, we bear Jesus’ image, his character, his priorities, and his glory.” (26)

8. Distinguish between fellowship and friendship

“[Fellowship] can pave the way to the development of biblical friendships. But in this book I want to help you see what Christian fellowship can look like when taken to the next level and applied more personally. This is fellowship that has been given added depth, refinement, and detail through active investment in one another’s lives. It’s what I’m calling biblical friendship.” (18)

Eight wonderful and beautiful reasons to seek biblical friendships. Hopefully you’re now persuaded that this is something to pursue. But how? Tune in tomorrow for 12 Tips For Making Friends from The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship. Even better, buy the book and find out for yourself. It would also make an excellent book for a 6-week small-group or youth-group study.


The Biggest Heresy In America

Thanks to a recent survey by Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research we now know the biggest heresy in America. Pushing errors regarding the trinity and the church into second and third place is the denial of the Bible’s teaching about the doctrine of sin, especially in the related areas of human depravity and human inability. I say “related” because what we believe about human depravity impacts what we believe about human ability; what we are determines what we can or cannot do.

Regarding human depravity, the research showed:

  • 67% agree “Everyone sins at least a little, but most people are by nature good.”
  • 40% agree “God loves me because of the good I do or have done.”

Regarding human inability, the statistics were:

  • Only 16% agree with the doctrine that says “people do not have the ability to turn to God on their own initiative.”
  • 71% of Americans agree that “an individual must contribute his/her own effort for personal salvation.”
  • 64% of Americans agree “a person obtains peace with God by first taking the initiative to seek God and then God responds with grace.”

In summary, the vast majority believe that:

  • Though we sin a little, by nature we are good.
  • We can do good and God rewards our good deeds by loving us.
  • We have the ability to turn to God on our own initiative.
  • Salvation involves us taking the initiative that God then responds to.

From Polls to the Bible

But now, let’s turn from our culture and from the polls to the Word of God, to hear what God says about human depravity and human inability. As we will see, the Bible teaches that because of human depravity we have human inability. Here’s what the Bible teaches about our natural spiritual condition and abilities. Notice the repeated emphasis on what we cannot do.

1. You cannot think a good thought or desire a good desire: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).

2. You cannot bring anything clean out of your own heart or life: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? No one!” (Job 14:4).

3. You cannot see, understand, or enter the Kingdom of God:  “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

4. You cannot come to Jesus in your own strength: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44).

5. You cannot produce any good spiritual fruit: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

6. You cannot obey God: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7).

7. You cannot please God: “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8)

8. You cannot know spiritual things: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14)

9. You cannot savingly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord: “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3; Matt. 16:17).

Why so important?

Why is it so important to believe the Bible’s teaching in this area?

First, because unless we know how serious our sickness is, we won’t see our urgent need of the Good Doctor, Jesus Christ and will be slow, or refuse, to call upon Him for mercy and grace.

Second, this is good news because we can tell people to stop trying to do what they cannot do and start trusting in Christ alone for salvation. What a huge relief when we finally grasp: “I cannot, but Christ can…and did.”

Third, because we will give God all the glory when we are saved by Him. We will realize that salvation truly is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9; John 1:12-13; Rom. 9:16). And if salvation is totally, completely, and entirely of the Lord, then we will take no credit to ourselves but give God all the glory both now and forever (1 Cor. 1:31; Rev. 1:5-6).


A Christian Tightrope Walker?

wallenda

Record-breaking daredevil Nik Wallenda completed Sunday what he called his most challenging feat to date: a tightrope walk between two skyscrapers 600 feet above downtown Chicago, partly blindfolded. (CNN)

The Skyscraper Live walk was broadcast on The Discovery Channel and follows previous live broadcasts of his tightrope walks across the Grand Canyon and the Niagara Falls. As usual, Wallenda frequently prayed to God and spoke of Christ’s help before, during, and after the walk. Many Christians rejoiced to hear God being praised in such a spectacular way before a watching TV and Internet audience of millions of people.  

Which raises huge questions. Can you be a “Christian Tightrope Walker.” Is tightrope-walking a legitimate Christian vocation? Does repeatedly mentioning God sanctify whatever job we do? Or are there certain vocations that Christians should not pursue? If so, are there biblical guidelines for helping us to decide which jobs are legitimate for a Christian? I believe there are four such guidelines, and I’d like to measure Wallenda’s chosen vocation against them.

Can I glorify God in this job? To glorify God is to make Him more famous; it’s to advance His reputation, and to lift up His Name. Conversely, my vocation should not do anything to obscure God’s beauty or reputation.

Although Wallenda mentioned God lots of times, and many Christians said that this was a great witness, I’m sure many non-Christians thought, “What kind of God thinks this is a good idea?” Did their view of God really improve?

Also, is saying God’s name a lot really the same as glorifying God? We can be doing that while all the time actually be trying to glorify ourselves. Interestingly, for all of Wallenda’s praising of God, he did let slip in a previous interview: “I don’t know what people will say about me 100 years from now, but it’s got to be pretty impressive.”

Remember the Devil once took Christ to a high building and tempted him by suggesting that He could publicly prove God’s care for Him by throwing himself off the pinnacle and surviving. Remember Christ’s response?

Can I do good to others in this job? Our vocation should be helpful to our society and contribute something worthwhile to our community. That also means that we should not do anything that might unnecessarily harm others.

Wallenda estimates that these kinds of tightrope walks generate millions in TV and tourism revenue. He also entertained multitudes. So, does money + entertainment = good to others? While there’s nothing wrong with making money and entertaining people, neither of these are enough to qualify a job as “loving our neighbor” by contributing something worthwhile to our community. Money and entertainment may be the by-products of a legitimate Christian vocation, but they hardly constitute one.

Also, what about the power of example? Do we really want to inspire others, perhaps kids, to try tightrope walking in their backyards or across ravines?

Did God give me the talent for this job? God does not call us to a vocation without supplying us with the necessary gifts.

Some have therefore argued, “Well, if God gave Wallenda the gifts, he would be wrong not to use them.” But did God give Wallenda the gift of tightrope walking?

He certainly gave him amazing gifts of courage, emotional control, agility, hand-eye coordination, perseverance, etc. But it was Wallenda who turned these gifts towards tightrope walking. Just because we have the gifts for something does not mean we are obliged to do it. I mean, if God has gifted you (certainly not me) with a beautiful body and a sense of rhythm, does that mean you’re called to be a stripper?

There are many men with similar gifts to Wallenda, who are sacrificially dedicating them to the service of their country in special operations in faraway lands.

Can I obey God in this job? Even if we think that our job glorifies God, helps others, and uses our talents, if it is against God’s Word, then it is illegitimate for a Christian.

“But where in the Bible does it forbid Christian tightrope walkers?” (I can hardly believe I just wrote that sentence!) Well, the sixth commandment, “You shall not kill,” covers far more than murdering. It simply selects the worst manifestation of this category of evil for prohibition. It also includes lesser evils such as rejecting or neglecting lawful means to preserve our lives and the lives of others.*

Wallenda may be a Christian, and he may be a tightrope walker, but he’s not a “Christian tightrope walker.” There’s no such thing.

*See summary expositions of the Bible teaching together with Scripture proof verses in Westminster Shorter Catechism 68 & 69, and Larger Catechism 135 & 136.