My last blog (see below) told the story of the missionary Boniface. He cut down the Oak of Thor in the Middle Ages to remove the superstitious idol from among the Germanic people to whom he was ministering. The theme of wood was used to tell the story, most obviously by the towering oak being reduced to a Christian chapel.
Yet the story was given the title “The Axe Handle” because it was also made of wood. This handle was what gave Boniface the leverage he needed to accomplish the task at hand. As the prophets showed (see Isaiah 44:9-20) wood can be used to fashion idols or to glorify the God who gave it to us to use. Boniface, like Elijah who built laid wood on a stone altar to challenge the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, or like Gideon who had to cut down the wooden idol Asherah in front of his father’s house before he could face the Midianites, had to challenge his generation’s veneration of an idol. By using a wooden-handled axe, he employed the very substance the people worshipped to bring down their idol and glorify the Lord.
Some thirteen hundred years since Boniface, perhaps trees are no longer idolized in the Western world (tree huggers excepted), but nothing is more venerated in our generation than our technology. From palm pilots to i-pods, from DVD’s to DSL, people are awash in the “technology tsunami” that has hit us. Our young people are especially turning to it constantly not only for the entertainment it encourages, but for the knowledge and relationships it gives as well. The problem is that so many lack the wisdom needed to handle the technology, and consequently like the people of Hesse they have worshipped and served the created thing rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). This past year in my ministry one constant theme has emerged in all my counseling situations: in one way or another, the people coming have become ensnared in the sins and the illicit relationships that the “see-what-you-want-whenever-you-want” nature of technology encourages.
The New York Times recently reported the story of Justin Berry. As a thirteen year-old boy, he learned about webcams from a friend at school. Being naturally shy, he purchased one and, without his parents’ knowledge, set it up on his computer in his bedroom and opened up his own website, thinking he could make friends over the Internet. Make friends he did, for it was not long afterwards that he was approached by a new “friend,” i.e. a pedophile, offering him $50 to take his shirt off while the webcam was on. Reasoning that he took his shirt off at the pool and others saw him, and that this would give him some spending money, Justin complied and was paid through an account set up with PayPal.
One thing led to another, and it was not long until Justin was making thousands and thousands of dollars doing all sorts of grotesque things beamed to his payers through the webcam. When his parents started wondering where he was getting all this new spending money, Justin deceived them by saying he had set up a website consulting business. His parents had no idea that the child they thought was extremely talented and entrepreneurial was instead becoming immersed in a life of secret, sexual perversion. Fortunately, Justin became sickened by his lifestyle and, wanting to come clean, at the age of nineteen he turned in his records to the Justice Department. The most sickening aspect of this story is that Justin learned that not only had his friends lied to him about their identity but that many were in child-related work fields, such as teachers, daycare workers and pediatricians.
Perhaps you will not fall to the degree Justin did. But this story highlights what Neil Postman explained in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Media is not neutral, for it has the power to shape our souls. The technology quickly goes from being controlled by us to controlling us. Under its powerful allure, we start believing that we need to see and know and experience everything available. Falling to the ancient lie of Satan, that by tasting all these things “we will be like God,” actually accomplishes what it always has. Instead of becoming more like God, we become more carnal, superstitious, lazy, deadened, even animal-like. Entertainment becomes our god, and how this technological tsunami has rushed into the church as well.
Recently an acquaintance of mine was describing their new, sprawling church complex to me, explaining how they had huge screens beaming the church service into the coffee house part of the building so that people could “watch church.” Is the God of heaven, who revealed Himself to us through the written word, really pleased with His people sipping vanilla lattes while watching a Christian drama on a wall-sized screen? Does the church in my town that too has just such a coffee shop, called “Jehovah Java” of all things, really not understand they are blaspheming the name of the Lord? Are we not to be those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, not cappuccinos? And is it not common barn animals who are supposed to be content with their feedbags on? Media has shaped our souls, indeed, and we reflect more the image of the fat cows of Bashan than the glory of the Son of God.
To get a handle on all of this, remember Boniface’s handle. What the world bows before to satisfy its own lusts, we must take and use as leverage to chop down the idolatry. Young people need training in wisdom from the mature on how to guard themselves from the dangers of the Internet while at the same time being shown how to use it for Christ’s glory. Rather than doing Google searches to see the latest shenanigans of a movie star, the church must be searching out the wisdom and knowledge now available at its fingertips like it never has been before. Instead of blogging turning into a display of idleness and empty words for which we’ll be judged come the last day (Matthew 12:36-37), Christians must use it to get someone out there in cyberspace to really think about something important for a minute. Just as the Gutenberg printing press was used to spread the Reformation through literature, we need to cast out the gospel over the Internet to bring in a worldwide catch. So just for inspiration purposes only, take your keyboard, lift it high overhead, cry out, “Glory be to the God of heaven and earth!” then get to work. For much chopping, sawing, fitting and hammering needs to be done.
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