The Internet and its many related technologies have presented us all with a new set of opportunities and pitfalls.
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
The Internet is changing, growing and maturing. We see new kinds of media presentation and a convergence, or blending, of older kinds of media, such as audio, video and text, combined together, with the user able to direct the flow of information. One thing is sure, the Internet is not declining or going away any time soon.
Neilson ratings for September 2003, show that 125,846,143 individuals in the United Stateshave access to the Internet, and that each person in this group on average accessed the Internet 31 sessions in the month. On average, 26+ hours are spent online each month. [ footnote reference: http://www.cyberatlas.internet.com/big_picture/traffic_patterns/article/0,,5931_3096031,00.html ] This means that a lot of people are accessing the Internet on a regular basis. Which also means that you, the reader, likely have access to the Internet in some way as well.
With so many of us spending time online, it is well to consider what content we are accessing. Violence portrayed in a movie theater is commonly thought of as inappropriate for Christian minds. Is the same violence more acceptable to watch on a home television set? How about watching it on a computer monitor via the Internet? When dealing with sensory input, we need always to evaluate what we are watching against the principles Paul presented in Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."
I would like to present the idea that the Internet, at its core, is an information delivery system, and that Christians must take the responsibility to "filter" the content we allow into our minds, no matter whether that information comes from audio, video or text. We need to keep Philippians 4:8 in mind, and bring it up often as part of our filter criteria. Unlike with television, where choices are more of an "on or off" response to the one-direction information flow, the Internet allows us to take a detour or refine our search in another direction. With the Internet, we can more easily and actively participate in the filtering process.
Internet Pitfalls. The number one money-making industry using the Internet is related to pornography. Discreet home use can be a mask that allows easy access to inappropriate content. Some psychologists have suggested that males are more prone to visual temptations, and Satan has readily used the Internet as a way to ensnare boys and men alike in this way.
Unsolicited pornography. Realize that e-mail containing pornographic images can come to our screens displaying temptations without any solicitation from us. Satan will present us with this content even though we do not search for it. How we act on it will be played out in one of two scenarios: we delete the e-mail, or we delete our Christian experience. This may sound extreme. But remember that if Eve had not hung around the forbidden tree gazing at its fruit, we'd probably all be in Eden today.
For families with children, I suggest that the Internet access point be in a family room or other area where parents can readily see what the children are watching. For families with teens, the dangers of pornography need to be specifically discussed as a family group.
It is beyond the scope of this article clearly to explain the dangers of pornography, but the dangers are real. There is a special issue of the Adventist Review on this topic that can provide some additional resources. [ reference: http://www.adventistreview.org/2001-1540/story2.html ] I often tell young people, "Decide in your mind in advance how you will make your choice on this issue, and ask God to empower your conscience when you are presented with this kind of inappropriate material."
Excess time. Another area that could be a pitfall is the total amount of time spent online, especially if this time is spent seeking virtual relationships at the expense of live interpersonal contact.
Having spent time thinking about some of the pitfalls of the Internet, let's acknowledge that this is not an Internet-only phenomenon. Satan will always use the current forms of communication to access people's minds. Knowing how many people are spending time on the Internet, we should not be surprised that Satan has gained a foothold here. But, does God have a place in cyber space as well?
Instant prayer. I received an e-mail today asking for prayer from a missionary family working in Laos. The missionary wife had contracted malaria and was having severe medical complications. As a prayer supporter, I had the opportunity to lift this family in prayer at the time of their need. Without e-mail, I would not have known about their specific need till long after the situation was resolved. This is an example of the power of the Internet to provide global blessing.
How can you use the Internet for Jesus? How can you encourage others to a closer walk with Him? Local churches that use the Internet to communicate among their members show marked and praiseworthy results. One study focused on how Internet and e-mail helped congregations and found:[reference: http://www.pewinternet.org/reports/pdfs/PIP_Religion_Report.pdf ]
1. 83% of those responding say that their use of the Internet has helped congregational life B25% say it has helped a great deal.
2. 81% say the use of e-mail by ministers, staffs, and congregation members has helped the spiritual life of the congregation to some extent B 35% say it has helped a great deal.
3. 91% say e-mail has helped congregation members and members of the staff stay more in touch with each other B 51% say it has helped a great deal.
4. 63% say the Internet has helped the congregation connect at least a bit more to the surrounding community B 17% say it has helped a lot.
Bible studies via the Internet are becoming more and more popular. It Is Written Television has an active online Bible study program, with live instructors assisting students in their Bible questions. Amazing Facts and most other outreach ministries have Bible Study tools and online lessons. Perhaps you would like to prepare a Bible study series aimed at a specific target audience. The opportunities are truly endless, and young people can be directly involved in this kind of outreach. [footnote: The goal of technology is to make Internet authoring easier. Tools such as www.SimpleUpdates.com now makes it simple for a church or ministry to easily keep a website active and updated.]
In conclusion. The amount of information now available on the Internet far exceeds what previous generations had available in their home or even in their city's public library. With this expanded offering, we need always to be aware of the need to filter the content we allow into our minds. We can each have a part in shaping our sphere of influence on the Internet into an experience where the presence of God is felt. Perhaps that is through an e-mail of encouragement to another person, or by some other means God suggests as a way for you to share.
Bio ( If needed )
Darryl Hosford lives in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and is president of Hosford Web Service, an Internet services company which focuses church-related website projects and website hosting. Darryl is married to Cheryl; together they enjoy two active boys: Andrew, 4, and Daniel, 2.