Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Journey: Jesus ... a Facebook friend?

By Rev. Mike Bealla, Director of Connectional Ministries

Greetings in the name of Christ!

A few days ago I was getting a bite to eat in a local restaurant and I overheard two young people who were talking about their “Facebook” experiences. (I have the bad habit of listening in on conversations happening around me.) One proudly announced having over four hundred Facebook friends. The other lamented in having only 29 friends. Sounding supportive, the first person responded, “Well … don’t be discouraged … it took me a long time to collect that many friends.” The second person then asked an interesting question, “How many of those four hundred friends are really friends?” The answer came back, “Only a couple.”

My eavesdropping often yields insights into what’s going on in the world beyond the church. My first response was to smile and assure myself that social media sites like Facebook are valid places for friends and acquaintances to gather and share some insights into their lives. The reality is, however, the strongest of relationships take more work than simply an exchange of light-hearted moments of life shared across the Internet.

I began to wonder about what it would have been like if Jesus used Facebook. Imagine how many “friends” would have followed him. How many friend requests would Jesus have had to deal with daily? My sick sense of humor wondered if one of our beloved hymns might have been titled differently if the Internet existed back then: “What a Facebook Friend is Jesus!” As many as might have followed him on Facebook, how many ultimately would have chosen to follow him in a deeper, transformational way?

In the midst of that conversation between those young people I heard something perhaps the church ought to hear. While we might brag about the number of “friends” we have, the truth is, real friends, real and deep relationships, are a precious gift to be nurtured and treasured. They go far beyond casual words shared or a funny cartoon mass-delivered via Wi-Fi. The church is not so much about friends as it is about transforming lives.

Much of today’s popular religious theology tends to cheapen the demands of discipleship to a kind of Facebook relationship with Jesus, that proudly counts Christ’s presence on our wall — almost as if saying we follow him — is all our relationship with Jesus needs to be. A kind of casual, “Hi, Lord, I’m having a nice day walking in the park,” all too often replaces a committed prayer and worship life.

Perhaps my greatest fear about such a shallow relationship is that it is easy to come to believe this grand plan of God’s saving love is just about me and my comfort and joy.

I usually write this column with an emphasis on resources to help your church become more effective in its making of disciples for the transformation of the world. So forgive me if I sound a bit preachy this time. After all, I do have a few years experience at preaching.

I just felt the urge to pass these thoughts on, and encourage all of us to fall in love again with Christ. To re-commit ourselves to an intimate relationship with God. To recognize the Holy Spirit that longs to dwell inside of us and to remind us that there is so much more work to be done through a people called United Methodists as we make disciples for the transformation of God’s world. Together in the name of Jesus the Christ.

If you already have that kind of deep, intentional, intimate relationship with Christ, praise God indeed. But if you are sensing the desire to walk the path of discipleship more deeply, I would encourage you to join a prayer group, a covenant discipleship group, a Bible study gathering, or some other growing opportunity to move your faith beyond the level of a Facebook friend.

Good thing this is not a tweet … 140 characters just wouldn’t have been enough!

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