Yesterday I got home after visiting a church and was surprised to see that our Broadband connection had stopped working. I phoned our service provider and they checked the line and couldn’t see any problem.
They decided that they needed to send an engineer out and I was a bit alarmed at being told that if the fault was because of something we had done there would be a £60 call out charge. I was alarmed because with the work converting our garage to a study the phone / internet connection was moved and I was worried that we might be at fault, even though it had been working well previously and nothing physically had changed or moved.
I was also miffed that because of other meetings the earliest that I could accommodate their visit was Friday this week!
This morning I had a brainwave. The router supplied by our internet provider was new and had been working okay, and we still had the old router which worked well until I unplugged it to put the new one in. So I plugged the old one back in and it worked – the internet connection was live!
I phoned our internet provider and eventually spoke to a nice man, explaining what I had done. He was delighted to be able to say that he knew exactly what had happened. The new router must have done a firmware update while I was out and had adopted a setting that was incorrect. He talked me through what to do, and ‘tadaa!’ we now have our broadband connection back, the engineer is not needed and £60 is not in peril. Woop!
It may be a tenuous analogy but I think that God’s Spirit is in the process of upgrading the firmware of believers. The Bible calls it ‘spiritual fruit’ (Galatians 5:22-23) but it’s the same thing – we are being improved, made more like our Creator intended.
But (and this is where the parable of the router update fails slightly) there are occasional incompatibility issues. Sometimes we have to move on from past habits, attitudes, actions, grudges and other negativity that is holding us back from fulfilling our potential. It’s not easy because some of these things become like a security blanket or a teddy bear that we are comfortable with and don’t find easy to let go.
If they had released the news ten days ago we would all have assumed it was an April Fools Day prank. If it had just come in an email we would have ignored it as a phishing attempt. If it has been a Facebook status that we were urged to share we would have thought it was a sham or a scam.
But apparently there is a bug in some security software that was supposed to make internet transactions secure that potentially has the opposite effect and would enable attackers to steal usernames and passwords, copy data and even set up spoof websites that appear legitimate. This loophole has existed for 2 years! The ‘experts’ tell us that there is no evidence that anyone has made use of this bug but we are still being advised to change all our passwords as a precaution. If you think this could be a spoof bloggage have a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-26954540 (unless of course that is a page that has been set up using the bug…)
It’s scary stuff isn’t it? Especially in a world in which we conduct so many of our transactions online. And especially when we are urged to have different passwords for all of our different logins and we can’t remember which ones are which! Even more so because we probably login to the same sites from different gadgets so will have to repeat the process several times for each site. I predict that the inconvenience and frustration levels of internet users will rise over the next couple of days as we all try to do what we have been advised but can’t remember all of the details!
How many of us won’t bother? How many of us will assume that it won’t happen to us? After all, how many billions of transactions are taking place online every day, what are the chances that ours will have been intercepted? And the experts tell us that they don’t think anyone has been compromised. So why go through all of the hassle?
Last Sunday morning we looked at a passage from Luke 20 where Jesus issued a warning to the people in Jerusalem about its imminent destruction, while also containing warnings about the end of time. How many people ignored him at their peril when the Romans razed the city to the ground in AD70? The film Noah has just been released which shows a man and his family responding to a divine warning even though it seemed madness to those around them until the rain started falling.
When we talk about warnings about the end of time we can seem a bit bonkers. We can seem like the people who used to walk around with billboards: ‘The End of the World is nigh’ – at best quirky and at worst suffering from some sort of delusion. And for all of those reasons I think Christians have avoided the subject – unless somehow the public spotlight shines on them when they announce the date of the end of the world (and then announce a different date when the first one proves to be wrong).
But all of the scientific evidence points us towards an end time. This planet has finite resources that will run out eventually. The sun is going to expire one day (or night). There are predictions based on probability of cataclysmic asteroid impacts on earth. The environmental impact we have made on our planet is heating it up. And even our economic systems have been shown to be very fragile. We tell ourselves that these events are a long way in the future and are highly unlikely to affect us.
And Jesus did tell us not to try to work out when it will all happen. He simply encouraged people to be ready: “watch and pray.” If we have an eye on the future we will know that this world is not all there is and that one day it will cease – so we can hold much more lightly to the things of ‘now’ that will enable us not to worry so much about them, perhaps reducing stress! And if we are prayerful about it we can invite God’s perspective on who we are and how we are.
So this morning we have really joined the digital age. Because of the large number of internet-connected devices in our home our broadband connection was running really slowly. There were various correlations but the most significant was that the speed of connection was inversely proportional to the waking hours of our teenage offspring.
Hence the conversion to Fibre Optic Broadband. I thought that it would involve diggers digging holes in the road, a trench being dug through our garden and holes drilled in walls. Instead a nice man came in, having done the work at the green box at the end of the road, did a bit of disconnecting and reconnecting, and I was almost ready to go. Following instructions in the booklet that came from our supplier was easy, and after waiting for a couple of minutes… tadaaa. Superfast broadband (at least until the teenagers wake up!).
This quick conversion is in marked contrast to the way in which most people come to faith. It seems that so much attention is paid to the ‘moment’ of conversion – when someone makes a decision to follow Jesus or realises that they are a follower – that we neglect all that goes before and much that comes after.
James F Engel’s famous eponymous scale reminds us that the ‘moment’ is only one part of the journey of faith. An amended version is here:
I have been reflecting on this in preparation for Sunday morning, and wondered where the people who will be in church are currently located on the scale. I hope and pray that they are moving upwards, wherever they currently are, and hope and pray that we as a church are helping them in that process.
It’s a real challenge. We want to be helpful, we want to be supportive, we want to assist people in their following of Jesus (or ‘discipleship’ in Christian jargon) but that can sometimes be reduced to attending a course, or reading a book, or ticking a box. I reckon the best way of ‘discipling’ someone is a group of friends together who encourage one another, who support one another, who pray for one another. If there are particular issues or questions they can ask someone who might know. But it doesn’t need structure so much as a loving mutual responsibility.
I am a bit worried about a friend of mine. He’s on holiday in Cyprus and has lost his bag that contains his mobile phone, his wallet and other important items. He has managed to find an internet cafe and sent me an email asking for my help. If I can send him some money by international transfer it will get him out of the difficulty he is in. I am heading off to the bank later.
Before I go, however, there is an investment opportunity that has come my way. It was very fortunate – a complete stranger happened to come across my email address and is offering me the opportunity to invest in a small company that is guaranteed to make enormous profits when it is floated on the stock exchange later this year. So there are two things I need to do at the bank. Or there would be…
If it wasn’t for the other email I received from someone whose father was a Minister in a corrupt government in Africa. Sadly he has died and his daughter wants to redistribute his wealth by giving some of it to worthy causes around the world – including me. If I can just send her some details of my bank account she will arrange for the transfer of millions of pounds.
So what I plan to do is to get the money from the corrupt African official, send some of it to help my friend in Cyprus and invest the rest in the company that will make me even richer. I can then use that money to put into new investment opportunities that I am sure will come flooding in once the internet knows how astute a businessman I am.
Before any of you start sending me messages, yes I do realise that these are all scams. Otherwise being a corrupt millionaire would be a very bad occupation – their life expectancy is very poor. And friends will have to stop going on holiday, or at least contact the British Embassy or Consulate where they are, rather than expecting me to help by email. And there will be thousands of successful small companies about to be floated on the stock exchange. Never mind all the offers of drugs and gizmos that would ‘enhance’ me (how do they know?).
It was an email this morning that sneaked through the spam filter, supposedly from someone I know in trouble in Cyprus that prompted this bloggage. It upsets me that there will be people taken in by these scams. It saddens me that the criminals who are perpetrating these crimes don’t care at all about the impact on the lives of the people they rip off. It annoys me that it is likely to be the more vulnerable in society who will be taken in by these frauds.
Yesterday I wrote bloggerel about the way that people can perceive that cyberspace is not real and fail to consider the consequences of their actions. I think that there is a similar failure on the part of the criminals to consider the consequences of these scams (or more accurately a complete disdain for them). Just because you can’t see someone’s face does not mean that they are not affected by a crime. Just because you don’t know someone does not mean that they do not feel violated by such activities.
It used to be that we could easily avoid being victims of these crimes. Many of these scams work because people are greedy and lazy. We like the idea of getting rich quick. We are keen on the idea of great rewards for minimal effort. If it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
But now there are scams that are seeking to exploit someone’s compassion and good will – help a friend in trouble. These can be more persuasive because they are appealing to a better side of human nature. The irony is that they are being perpetrated by people who seem to have lost touch with that side of their character.
Sometimes I think churches can be guilty of similar crimes. We can suggest that you get great reward for minimal effort if you become a Christian. Sadly sometimes that is couched in material terms, but more often it is ‘eternal life in exchange for a prayer’. Whereas Jesus called people to follow him, counting the cost and picking up their cross daily.
And I have been in Christian places where, to put it bluntly, an atmosphere is created that exploits people’s emotions and invites a response that is not God-inspired. It is possible to manufacture a pseudo-spiritual atmosphere. I could offer you the formula if you like (for a fee).
Please God save us from tricking people into your Kingdom. Please God stop us from exploiting people. And please Jesus fill me afresh with your Spirit so I can be a better free sample of you today, and may your churches represent you genuinely and honestly.
Why do we think that the ‘virtual’ world of the internet and cyberspace is any less real than the physical world we inhabit? It seems to me that some people believe that because it is less tangible it is somehow less real. Is that why some people post abusive, threatening and menacing statements on social networking websites – because they don’t think they are real? They think they are just messing around.
Is it why, during the riots a few years ago, young people posted messages on social networking websites saying that there was going to be another riot somewhere – they thought it was all a joke.
Is it why some people have made inappropriate comments about others at work on social networking websites, or have criticised their bosses online – it’s not real, it’s virtual?
Is it why some people explore the seedier side of the internet because they think that the images and videos are not real?
Because it’s ‘virtual’ people don’t think about the consequences of their actions.
But the hurt, fear and stress caused is real. The threat perceived is real. The possibility of inciting violence is real. The damage to reputations is real. And so are the consequences. People are prosecuted for making threats online, for defamation online, for inciting riots online, and are sacked for comments made online. The people who are exploited to gratify the desires of others are real. The world may be virtual but the consequences of our actions are real.
I think that’s the same with our relationship with God. Doesn’t it sometimes feel ‘virtual’? We can’t physically see him, we can’t physically touch him. Our relationship with him can seem less real because of that. But simply because we can’t see or touch him does not make him any less real, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is less real, and it doesn’t mean that the consequences of ignoring him are less real.
If we are honest with ourselves there are moments for all of us when it feels like our relationship with God is virtual, intangible, unreal. He seems remote, distant, more of a good idea than a reality. But do our thoughts and feelings invalidate the reality? Are the consequences of the actions of those who think that cyberspace is not real any less real because they don’t think about them? Just because you don’t think God is there, or you can’t feel him, it does not mean that he isn’t. It just means that you need to reconnect. Start by reading a Gospel and see God in flesh and blood interacting with people like us. Jesus is not virtual!
Today we have changed our Broadband and Phone supplier. I realised that it was happening when I switched my computer on this morning and it told me that it was having problems connecting to the internet. When I checked our landline there was almost complete silence with a just hint ofgentle static hiss.
It felt very strange not being able to send or receive emails, make phone calls, check information on the internet and so on. I had to rely on books made of paper rather than doing a quick online search when I wanted to find something out. Nobody was able to call me (they would have got an engaged tone). It was eerie. It was frustrating. It was liberating.
Sometimes it seems like God has switched off the connection between me and him. It feels like there are problems getting in touch with him and all I hear from him is almost complete silence with a just hint of gentle static hiss. When I read my Bible I find myself reading words rather than feeling that God is speaking to me. When I pray I feel like nobody is listening.
That can be disconcerting: I don’t want God to be silent. It can be frustrating: why won’t he answer? But can it also be liberating? Is God silent sometimes to help us to learn and grow? When I was learning to ride a bike I started off with stabilisers. Then one day my parents announced that we were going for a bike ride / walk and that they were taking the stabilisers off. That was scary. I didn’t want them to. But they promised that as long as I needed them they would hold me upright by holding onto the seat.
Off I pedalled and my dad ran alongside me. Every so often I would realise that it felt different and would look around to see if he was still holding me. He wasn’t and I wobbled to a halt. I was annoyed that he had let go. I wanted the security of him being there holding me up. I did not want to be unconnected. But then gradually I realised that for the time that he had let go I had been riding my bike on my own. I gained in confidence and I have not looked back since (except when performing manoeuvres and have wanted to avoid being squashed by vehicles).
This is not the only answer to why God is silent but I think that sometimes it is because he wants us to try and use our faith on our own. I don’t mean that he wants us to do things in our own strength, but he wants us to put our faith into action, to go with what we know and to use the gifts and talents he has given us. He’s still with us, just like my parents, but he is also encouraging us to grow in our faith. We grow in spiritual maturity when we put our faith into action instead of remaining with spiritual stabilisers on.
Today’s apparent silence has been because someone had broken the internet. Or at least the part of it to which we are supposedly connected. This is becoming a frustratingly frequent occurrence. I am impatient for them to fix it.
Isn’t amazing how quickly we assimilate technology and start to rely on it? It was less than 15 years ago that I got my first computer with a dial-up modem (6k!) and now I get frustrated that I don’t get the ‘up to’ 20MB broadband speeds. I am impatient when things don’t download instantly.
It was less than three years ago that I got my first internet-friendly phone, and now I am frustrated that my Blackberry is not 3G and is slow at connecting to the www, never mind that it is connecting far faster than my first modem! I am impatient to connect.
It is easy for us to have the same attitude to what God does in our lives and through us…
We have four people preparing for Believer’s Baptism at the moment and I am thrilled to bits. But I want more.
We have regular newcomers coming along to our church, and it’s a joy to meet them and for them to join us for this part of their journey of faith. But I want to see more.
There are people who are coming to faith in our church, which is FANTASTIC! But I would love to see lots more.
Is it wrong to be impatient with God and what he is doing? Or is it the case that he could do a considerable amount more through us if we stopped trying to do things on our own and joined in with what he wants to do? If he wasn’t so gracious he would probably be getting quite impatient with me!
A man lay sprawled across three entire seats in the posh theatre. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the man, “Sorry, sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.”
The man groaned but didn’t budge. The usher became impatient. (There’s the link)
“Sir, if you don’t get up from there I’m going to have to call the manager.”
Again, the man just groaned, which infuriated the usher who turned and marched briskly back up the aisle in search of his manager. In a few moments, both the usher and the manager returned and stood over the man.
Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move him, but with no success. Finally, they summoned the police.
The copper surveyed the situation briefly then asked, “All right buddy, what’s your name?”
“Sam,” the man moaned.
“Where are you from, Sam?”
With pain in his voice, Sam replied, “The balcony.”
This is a semi-quaver (quick note) to let you know that I am taking a fortnight’s blog-holiday.
Feel free to peruse the archives and read some old stuff, but I am not intending to put anything new on here while I devote my time to relaxing, spending time with my family, relaxing, playing golf (maybe not so relaxing), relaxing and, erm, recharging.
Here’s one for the road:
You know you have been spending too long on the internet when…
Someone asks for your address and you answer “184.108.40.206”
You require a separate hard drive for all your bookmarks.
You have a copy of the original “Get Rick Quick” email from 1993 still in your inbox, unread.
How do you cope when you forget a password for a website, a program or (worst of all) your computer? There are usually ways of finding it out, but sometimes you have to be a bit of a detective. Yesterday I was planning to send a blog entry for you by posting via email. But I could not remember the access code. I knew I had done it in the past, but this time it would not come back to me, and was not stored in my Blackberry.
In the end I had to admit defeat and wait until I got home to post my thoughts on the Learning at Work day yesterday.
I have a dread that someone people experience church like that. They don’t understand all that is going on, some of the language we use or even can’t work out where to sit and it’s as if they have not been given the password. If they persist and do some detective work they can eventually work it out. But coming to church should not be difficult.
I can remember being challenged by someone speaking on this subject to go to a betting shop and place a bet. He said that if you have never been to a betting shop before it will be as awkward and unusual as it is for people who step into a church for the first time. I have to admit I never have gone into a betting shop, but I can imagine how it would feel.
In 1990 Sally and I went to a new church. (It was a Baptist church, so any non-Baptists can breathe a self-righteous sigh of relief – it couldn’t have been your church. Could it?) We needed to leave fairly quickly afterwards so sat in the back pew. As the church filled up two elderly ladies came and sat on either side of us. It became obvious that we were in their seats because they started talking. To each other. Across us. Not even acknowledging us.
During the sermon one of them got out some fruit gums. They passed them across us to their friend. Not offering us one!
We left feeling completely unwelcomed and excluded and never went back*.
In the evening we went to a different Baptist church and as the service was about the start the minister noticed us, came over and spoke to us, made sure we were welcomed and accepted. We stayed at that church for 4 years until we moved.
All of this fuels my dread that our church may cause people to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. But it’s not just about being made welcome and shown your seat. It’s also about helping people to feel involved and integrate. It’s also about looking after those who have been with us for a long time and perhaps feel taken for granted or even that church has changed around them.
There are no short cuts. Just good relationships.
New Year’s Resolutions for Internet Junkies 1. I will try to figure out why I *really* need 7 e-mail addresses. 2. I will stop sending e-mail to my wife. 3. I resolve to work with neglected children – my own. 4. I will answer my snail mail with the same enthusiasm with which I answer my e-mail. 5. I resolve to back up my 10GB hard drive daily…well, once a week…okay, monthly then…or maybe… 6. I will spend less than one hour a day on the Internet. 7. When I hear “Where do you want to go today?” I won’t reply “MS Tech Support.” 8. I will read the manual. 9. I will think of a password other than “password.” 10. I will stop checking my e-mail at 3:00 in the morning.
*About 15 years later I went back to that church as an invited preacher and was pleased that the welcome was warmer and people were obviously included. (I didn’t tell them of my previous experience).