Thursday, 8 January 2015

Dying to our ‘Selfies’

There’s no doubt that 21st century Scotland is a society which is characterised by vanity.  Fuelled by digital innovation, self- image, self- promotion and self- esteem have become the watchwords of our times.

The word ‘selfie’ meaning , ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media’ has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary which named it as ‘word of the year’ in 2013 due to the amount of interest in it. In the last 12 months, use of the word ‘selfie’ increased by 17,000% according to language research.

Writing in the Telegraph last month in an article aptly entitled, ‘Generation selfie: Has posing, pouting and posting turned us all into narcissists?’, Anna Hart argues that while the vanity of the selfie is most extreme in the under forty generation, no age group is immune.

“According to a 2013 study by ComScore, the over-fifty-fives now make up 20 per cent of Britons online, and they are just as likely as 35- to 44-year-olds to have a smartphone. Forty per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds in Britain are on Facebook, 18 per cent of over sixty-fives. Newly retired baby boomers are travelling the world with their iPad Airs, taking selfies at Machu Picchu, writing travel blogs, getting arty with the filters on Instagram”.

The taking and posting of selfies is fast becoming the norm for politicians like David Cameron and Barak Obama. For tasteless, vacuous self promoters such as Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, the selfie has become the self sustaining oxygen necessary for life.

Writing in the Mail Online recently, Sarah Griffiths summarised some interesting research from Ohio state University: “People who share lots of selfies are displaying psychopathic traits, according to a new study.

It found that men who regularly post selfies on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, are more likely to be narcissistic, impulsive and display other characteristics, such as a lack of empathy.

Obsessed with selfies? Men who regularly post them on social media sites are displaying psychopathic traits, according to a new study, which found that selfie addicts are also likely narcissistic. Male celebrities such as Justin Bieber (pictured) regularly keep their fans updated with self-portraits

Researchers also revealed that self-objectification may be a bigger problem for men than previously thought, with many taking the time and effort to edit and improve their selfies, before posting them online…………… men who posted selfies regularly, scored higher than average for levels of anti-social traits”.

As a born again Christian, I despair when I see the fascination with self-image, self-promotion, and self-esteem amongst those who claim to be believers; particularly those who are older, more mature in the faith and who should therefore know better.

Journalist Carey Lodge writing in Christian Today asks this question of believers: “Sometimes I wonder what Jesus would have done if he lived in an age of camera phones. Would he have tweeted photos of himself hanging out by the water's edge, having a few glasses of wine at the wedding at Cana, or standing next to that tree with the caption "I think someone's up there, LOL"? Somehow I can't imagine it, because he always favoured intimate relationship over self-promotion.”

I agree. The Bible has some sound advice for anyone caught up in the culture of vanity and pride. These personal characteristics mask an individual’s sin. The gospel on the other hand reveals the truth that leads individuals to repent of their sin.

The Bible clearly explains that vanity and pride are part of our sinful natural self. Every human being is a slave to the natural self until he/she places their faith in Jesus, who sets the captives free.

True believers are those who surrender to Jesus and humble themselves in order to have God’s perspective in life rather than a selfish one.  

Jesus said: ‘“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”…..the question is: are we prepared to die to self?

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Doing the Core Business !!

As a retired former secondary school deputy head, I am always delighted to see some of my former pupils successfully plying their trade as independent plumbers, electricians, joiners and painters and I wish them every success in their enterprises.
As time passes, these craftsmen and women become well known characters in the community, not least because they carry out work repairing and improving the homes of ordinary people.
They are however an enigma when it comes to matters of faith. At 11am every Sunday morning very few if any of this group are to be found in church. Indeed in my town more adults attend primary age football games on a Sunday morning than attend all of the church services put together. Why is it that white van men and women seem to be out of reach of the church while remaining in plain sight in Scotland’s towns and cities?
There is no easy answer to this question. However we can glean some clues from the Bible. Writing to the Christians in Rome, the Apostle Paul urged fellow believers to share the good news about Jesus when he said: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”
The clear implication here is that it is the duty of Christians to ‘preach’ Christ to non believers. In our 21st century culture, we should perhaps read ‘communicating’ rather than ‘preaching’ as most people today do not like being preached at.
Sadly the body of born again believers, whose job it is communicate Christ, is largely middle class and the ‘church’ lifestyle is pretty disconnected from the rest of contemporary society. In an article in ‘Christianity Today’, Caryn Rivadeneira ‘cuts to the chase’ when she says:  “Lots of folks talk about how churches and the Christians who fill them up are known more for what we're against than what we're for and more about whom we'd like to keep out than who'd we want to invite in, or at least keep in.”
Herein lies the challenge for the can the body of Christ in 21st century Scotland begin to connect with all of society in a meaningful, culturally relevant manner....... What practical steps need to be taken?
If evangelism is the core business of churches which describe themselves as evangelical, here are some starter questions which church members/leaders should be asking of themselves and their fellowships.
·        Is commitment to evangelism a key priority for all your church’s leaders and office bearers?  
·        Does your church have a strategy for evangelising its own locality?
·        Was the whole church involved in developing the strategy?
·        Is this strategy regularly discussed, promoted and reviewed?
·        Has your church identified and commissioned evangelism leaders? (Pastor can’t do everything)
·        Does your church train, support and motivate all members to share their faith at a personal level?
·        Does your church have a prayer strategy to support its evangelism effort?
·        Does your church have a support/teaching programme for new converts in expectation that locals will come to Christ?
·        Does your church celebrate when someone comes to Christ?       
It is really heartening that some born again Christians in Scotland do say that they want to share the love of Jesus with people in their locality. The real challenge is: do they love Jesus enough to move from words to deeds?
People deemed to be ‘out of reach’ can be reached when there is heart commitment, proper planning and real servant leadership by local Christians.
White van men and women need Jesus just as much as everyone else. The key question is, does the church want them?
Any answer other than an unequivocal ‘YES’ is a betrayal of the Gospel.