The Consequences of Connection


There is an incredibly interesting conversation going on right now over at one of my favorite tech news sites, The Verge. In a nutshell, one of their head writers, a Christian man named Paul Miller, has decided to abandon all internet use for an entire year. He is not browsing the web, checking Facebook or Twitter, streaming music or videos, or playing online games. His reasoning is this, the internet has been a part of his entire life since he was a child and it's become a primary driving force of his life. As he says in his introductory blog post...

"I feel like I've only examined the internet up close. It's been personal and pervasive in my life for over a decade, and I spend on average 12+ hours a day directly at an internet-connected terminal (laptop, iPad, Xbox), not to mention all the ambient internet my smartphone keeps me aware of. Now I want to see the internet at a distance. By separating myself from the constant connectivity, I can see which aspects are truly valuable, which are distractions for me, and which parts are corrupting my very soul. What I worry is that I'm so "adept" at the internet that I've found ways to fill every crevice of my life with it, and I'm pretty sure the internet has invaded some places where it doesn't belong.

In my wild fantasies, leaving the internet will make me better with my time, vastly more creative, a better friend, a better son and brother... a better Paul. In reality, I'll still be the same person, just with a huge professional and personal handicap. The things I'll miss most, like playing StarCraft with my friend from high school who lives in another state, or sharing Rdio and long read links with a co-worker at the next desk over, I hope to replace with more direct interactions, and more "meaningful" activities - whatever that means. The worst case scenario is that a year from now I'll be found wandering in the woods somewhere, muttering URLs to myself."


The resulting discussion on the Verge and other ancillary websites ranges from praise to ridicule, but the main theme that is being explored is this, "What is the value of the internet?"

Personally, I relate very much with Paul in that the internet has been a part of my life for a majority of my life. At last count, I personally own 14 different internet connected devices (well higher than the national average). I work in the technology field and can honestly say that for the last 5 years or so, my job has been either entirely dependent or at least heavily reliant on the internet. The internet has brought me great entertainment, knowledge, and communication with friends and family. It has also brought pain, waste, and all sorts of sin.

As a Christian, I've almost constantly had to keep reevaluating how this tool affects my life and my faith. I'm not going to get into a debate on whether the internet is inherently good or evil. I think that the Bible is pretty clear that there is nothing under the sun which God is not in total control of. Also, the Bible is clear on the fact that sin has invaded every part of this world. What I'm more interested in is a discussion on how, as a Christian, one should approach life with the Internet.

A couple of Scripture passages to consider:
1 John 2:15-16
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.
Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

You only have to spend about five minutes on the internet to realize that there is just about everything available on there. Things of the world? Check. Desires of the flesh and eyes? Big check. Pride? Have you ever seen someone's online resume?
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So here's the question that I found myself asking when reading about Paul's experiment. Is my relationship with Jesus better or worse because of the internet? At the end of the day, I think that this is really what's at the heart of the matter. Sure, the net can be beneficial and efficient for your job, it can help you stay in touch with people better than you maybe would on your own, but is it worth it if it means that your relationship with Jesus is hindered?

At first blush, you may think "Sure, the internet helps my relationship with Jesus. After all, I can read the Bible online or listen to a sermon podcast." I agree. Words can not describe how much I appreciate the time that I've spent listening to sermons from good preachers across the world that before I simply would never have encountered. But you also have to remember that those tools are only as useful as you use them. If I'm not committed to reading my Bible daily, it's not going to matter than I can do it on my phone or iPad, I wouldn't be reading the hard copy either. The same goes for sermon podcasts. It's far too easy to put a sermon on your iPod and feel good about yourself, but still only listen to music. Trust me, Bieber doesn't bring redemption. Or if you do listen, perhaps it's so that you have something on in the background while doing laundry or working. I'm not saying that this is wrong, but I do know that the preached word of God was not intended to be white noise. It is planned and prayed over long before it's ever spoken by the pastor so that it will have an affect on you. It is designed to lead you to a response in worship. Be careful in putting that in the background of your thoughts.

There is much good that can come when you approach the internet with a desire to bring glory to God. By God's grace, this blog, my Facebook page, and the sermons online that I've preached at SHEC have allowed me to have conversations about Jesus with friends, family, and even people I don't know. And absolutely there are incredible resources out there through which to learn about, share about, and grow deeper with God. Everyday people are getting educated through classes and lectures and blogs on how to be a better disciple.

Some others of you may have a less optimistic view, "No way does the internet help my relationship with Jesus. There's so much distraction, and negativity, and trash." I also agree. Author Tedd Tripp recently said in an interview that he thinks the number one danger to the American family right now is internet pornography. Russell Moore at Desiring God just wrote a very good article about video games and porn and their affect on men and boys today. Being a man raised in the internet age, I can attest to almost every point that they make here. And it's not just porn that we should watch out for. How many of you have spent time at your job playing Farmville? Or maybe it's the gossip and slander that goes on in forums and comments of so many websites. Many pastors even feel as though they can't post a simple status to Facebook because of the string of negativity and attack that comes with it.

We are sinful selfish people, and the internet provides the platform for many of us to indulge those tendencies. It's easy to sit at home and broadcast your thoughts because you'll never have to face those whom you attack or offend. (I say this fully aware of the fact that I am in fact sitting at home broadcasting my thoughts. Again, it's about your purpose, not your methods.) The truth of the matter is, no matter what we do, and no matter how someone may try to control the internet, it is full of people and therefore, full of sin. So maybe we should just avoid the internet like these folks. (BTW-This article is long, but incredibly interesting. I highly recommend it.)

So as I'm sitting here, writing on my laptop, cross-referencing articles on my iPad, watching Twitter on my phone, streaming music on Spotify (David Crowder's last album if you're interested), and downloading an episode of Community for Stacy and I to watch, I'm wondering how I'm bringing glory to God or enhancing my relationship with Jesus. Is it about spending more time on Christian pages than secular ones? Is it about making sure that you follow more Christians on Twitter than non-Christians? Is it really about what I'm doing at all?

1 Corinthians 10:31
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Am I doing everything to the glory of God? Is my ultimate goal in plugging in my wifi router to increase the fame of Jesus? Do I look to my Facebook friends for my identity? Am I growing in the knowledge and understanding of Jesus, or am I growing in my knowledge of funny memes?

These are questions that I think everyone should consider. I can't tell you in three easy steps how to approach the internet without sinning in the process. Some people should probably limit what they do on the internet based on their past and their personality. Some people are blessed to be able to partake in the world without becoming of the world. Personally, I find the internet to be a gift from God that blesses me and my family. I also have to constantly remind myself of my goal for it, or it easy to get caught up in useless and even sinful endeavors.

"When I discovered YouTube, I didn't work for five days. I did nothing." - Michael Scott

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