Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Going Out

I had the chance last Tuesday to go and meet some strangers. I met a small handful of people who have similar interests as me. What interests you ask?

Quit prying into my personal life.

Just kidding. You already know I am a geek and one of my hobbies is playing Minecraft. I have mentioned in previous blogs about my desire or interest in planting a virtual church in the gaming community.

Anyways, I had a chance to meet a small handful of other geeks from the Nashville area who all are active and have a virtual presence in the Minecraft community.

You also know that I am incredibly introverted and the older I get the more I have to work to not let that rule me. Social Interaction is something I at times enjoy, but it just drains me. I do not like to be in situations where I am surrounded by people I do not know and having to talk about nothing deep or meaningful. You guessed it... I am a lot of fun at parties.

Anyways, this gathering was not so bad. I was nervous and awkward at first, and probably awkward all night. I still had fun. I enjoyed getting to know everyone. We had the whole who are you in real life conversation as opposed to our gaming names and personas. No one really freaked out when they asked what I did. One even referred to me as The Coolest Pastor they have ever met.

I quietly agreed! :)

The night rolled on and we laughed a lot. A few hours passed and one of these young men came and sat next to me. He began to talk to me about his faith. I asked questions. He talked about his struggles. I listened and asked questions. He opened up. He shared. We talked about Jesus. We talked about what it meant to Obey and Follow Jesus with your life.

It was a great moment for sure.

Then he said something I will not forget. This was the Tuesday after Easter. He said he was feeling all of these things for a while. He never felt like he could deal with them at Church. He even said he wanted to talk to someone on Easter Sunday, but did not have an opportunity.

Why is it this way? Why is the last thing we feel free to do when we gather is to have conversations about our real life? Or limit it to a 5 minute invitation or a few choruses of "Just as I am"? Why do we insist on having our Church Personas on. Why do we say things like "I had a rough week but am fine now" even though we are not. This has always troubled me. I am guilty of this myself. Sometimes when I have a horrible week I feel like I have to be that loving wise guy who needs to be Mr. Perfect and deal with others issues and neglect mine.

Not This Mr. Perfect...

But this Mr. Perfect...

I think you get my point...

If you have read my blog before you know I have a million thoughts about how we as the Church gets things wrong. I have a million thoughts on how we can do things differently. Today, lets talk about some things I have actually tried!

How can we create an atmosphere were deep personal interaction can go on?

This is one area I am blessed to say I have tried hard to implement some strategies to do this differently. I am blessed with a community that now seems to thrive on this interaction. Here are a few things that have worked for us.

Create Opportunities for Participation

I have for a few years now asked questions while I am supposed to be preaching. The first few times I did this I got some strange looks. It did not take long before people started to chime in and even raise their hands to question. I got to the point where I did not try to tell people how to apply what we talked about. I just opened the floor for discussion. The fear is that we open the floor to crazy, but that is not always bad. Let others share what the Holy Spirit is saying to them. You will be surprised at what you get when you allow others to participate. You will love the tears, wisdom, fears, struggles, and honesty around you.

If gatherings are only about you, your take on the scriptures, and how you think everyone should see it, you have severely missed the point.

Gatherings are Not Performances

This is hard. We want to do the best we can when we do gather. We want to do things with Excellence. We want to start and end on time. We want things to flow and look appealing. How do you do that, but still keep it honest, fresh and free? Flexadaptability is the key. Who cares if you start a few minutes late if it means you can have a conversation with a brother or someone gets welcomed. Who cares if you go a few minutes late if someone is expressing themselves. Who cares if you do not completely finish your sermon notes or trash them altogether. Sometimes no matter how hard you have prayed over a service and feel you are in control... The Spirit may have other plans.

Be Available

It is impossible for me to have meaningful discussions in the few minutes after the gathering. I am usually drained. I am usually wanting to get out as soon as possible and recharge my mental batteries. I usually cling to someone I care about and I know understands me. These are things I have to train myself not to do. I also know that if someone does have an issue, it most likely is going to take time and energy to sort through it together. If you do not have the time after a gathering make a time to get together when you can focus on them, listen intently, speak confidently, and most of all show them the acceptance of Love.

Be Honest

We have to be the ones to lead on this. I have a hard time letting people into my life. I have a hard time letting people know who I am. I have a hard time of lowering my own personal expectations for myself. Genuinely share what is on your heart. IF you can accomplish this and not be fake at it you will be blessed. If you have to drum up false emotion so you can look like a normal person just quit. If I have a rough week I try to share it. I ask and allow others to pray for me. If they ask how I am I try to be honest. I try to not put on my persona, even though at times I still do. You are not above anyone else around you. If someone wants to Love on you accept their blessing.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

E-community, E-vangelism, E-cipleship... Are they Biblical? (Part 1)

Is Real Community Possible Through Digital Means?

Just in case you missed it, I set out to introduce this topic in this blog post. So if you are just joining in on this article, go to this article and catch up. It is pretty awesome! You will not be wasting your time.... ;) 

Today I want to continue this discussion. I want to start here, because if this question can not be answered in a satisfactory manner, we probably should not continue. If the answer is clearly NO, then really there is no point to go forward. For this reason,  this particular topic will take up at least 2 posts. What is the topic you ask??? 

Are Online Faith Based Communities Biblical?

I did a quick Bible Search and the words Online, Website, Facebook, Internet, Technology, Computer, WIFI, Chatroom, or Media DO NOT appear in any major translation of the Bible.

End of discussion. I guess we can just go home.

Are you kidding me?


I tease and have fun, I am sorry if that does not come across as well as if we were sitting together laughing. 

That being said, I do know the word Twitter IS in the Biblebut it is not the Twitter as us cool hipsters know it. The word Network is also in the Bible! Yet once again, not the kind of Social Network we are wanting to talk about. So what am I talking about?

This is where it gets..... interesting?

So how do we really make a Biblical case for technology that was completely out of sight out of mind of the earthly authors when Moses was walking around the desert. Or when David was hanging with his mighty men. Or when Jesus was with his disciples. I mean, if Moses did have GPS on his smartphone, he might not have wondered for 40 years. If David and Saul had Twitter, they would have originated the first Celebrity Twitter feud to make Kanye and Jimmy Kimmel look small time. If Jesus had Skype he could have been able to disciple more than 12 men in 3 years!

Ok. I am probably wasting your time, but I think you get where I am going with this.  

The problem when trying to answer this question is we are going to have to get to an area that makes some uncomfortable, and that is in the area of speculation. This is something that honestly, I do not know if I am truly up to the task for. I am going to do my best and be objective, fair, and let the Bible speak for itself, but how do we let it speak for itself in an area it does not address? So I will look at Biblical verses I think applies both AGAINST and FOR Online Only Gatherings. After that, we will try our hand at a conclusion.

Verses not in favor on Online Only Gatherings

James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
I may be able to pray over someone without the need to be present, but it gets pretty hard to anoint them with oil. You may think this is an outdated practice, but this last year we were called to the bedside of a sick brother to pray over him and anoint him with oil. You may not hear of it in the common place, but I assure you that it is still being done!

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
Once again, I can probably go make disciples in a digital space, but how can I physically baptize them. I really doubt that if we even created a digital avatar and baptized that little collection of ones and zeros it would really mean anything. I know there have been digital weddings and what not, but I think we would really be going far far out of the way to justify the legitimacy of Digital Baptisms. Feel free to try in the comment section, I will take you seriously... I promise! ;)

Hebrews 10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
I will use this verse again in the FOR discussion. I am trying my best to be fair and see things from both perspectives. I have to take this for what it meant in the day it was written. I know we can apply to our circumstances in today, but when it was written, it is talking about meeting together, physically. Taking it for what it says we are being told to meet together, to be in close proximity. 

Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.
Again, I will most likely use this verse to argue FOR online only gatherings. That being said, taking this for what it says, it implies a location that we are gathered in. Just like Hebrews 10:25, we are to be gathered. In this verse it also tells us that when we gather together, there Jesus is among us. I hate it when I sound all Church-ey... but I want Jesus to be among us more and more.

I feel like there are other verses that say very similar things and it will bring us to the same conclusions. We are told to be together and do things that we can only do occupying close, personal space. At the very least being able to anoint the sick, baptize one another, greet each other with holy kisses (1 Thes 5:26), hug one another (yuck), extend the hand of fellowship, and so on and so on. These verses all imply physical interaction that can only come with close physical proximity. We can not ignore or dodge this, regardless of how introverted or tech-savy we are or become.

So I think I can easily get rid of the "ONLY" part of "Online Only". There are some things we are asked to do that can only be done with us being in close proximity. So what about those who are housebound? Lets go down that trail a little later.

I will close by saying this. These verses all "could" be used to argue against online only church gatherings, but there is nothing that says online gatherings can not be possible. I mean if we take a step back and think, the letters of Paul were probably pretty meaningful interactions to those who read them during the day in which it was written, and he was not always in close proximity to those he was writing to. In fact they are very meaningful to me sitting here 2000-ish years later.

There is no "Thou shall not gather on Facebook" in the Bible. I feel like I did my due diligence to seek out as strong of a case against it as I could. Good research tries to look at both sides in hope to eliminate a bias, even when a known bias is present. Bad research does the same thing, only creating a weak straw man that gets gleeful torn apart as if I were a Flying Monkey in the Wonderful land of Oz... which I really hope I am not doing! ;)

Next post we will continue to look at the question "Are Online Gatherings of the Church Biblical" by looking at the verses supporting Online Gatherings. 

So what do you think about the topic at hand?

What other verses do you see that could present a case AGAINST Online Only Gatherings?

Anything else you would like to add to this part of the discussion?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

E-community, E-vangelism, E-cipleship... Are they possible?

I was holding a baby in my right hand, and typing as simply and as clearly as I could with my left. I am right handed so it was not very easy.

It was a conversation I came in late on and unfortuatly left early on.

It was a necessary conversation. 

It was a good conversation.

It was good enough to bring me back here to My Awesome Blog after several months to toss out some brain food. What was the topic you ask?

Is real community possible through digital means.

I do not have strong opinions on the issue, but opinions none-the-less. This will (hopefully) be a series of blog posts as I flesh out what is on my mind. 

I want to approach this issue with as much clarity and openness as I can. I want to ask hard questions. I want to ask easy questions. I want to have dialog. I always have comments enabled, so go on down below and interact with me. The key IS interaction, even if we disagree. What is the point of this if we do not interact?

That is the root of where we want to go. Can we interact meaningfully in a Digital world? Even going so far as asking if we can interact meaningfully enough to merit online churches?

My Initial Thoughts

I think the question of is it possible is stupid. Of course it is possible for Meaningful Online Interaction. In no way shape or form would I say it is not. 

I have family that are in seemingly healthy long distance relationships that were started and are even maintained mostly online.
I have friends globally that I only have met playing Halo 2 with back in 2004 that I still interact with today.
I have friends that I only interact with playing Minecraft with lately.
I have friends that I watch Soccer games and interact with via Technology.
I have considered planting a virtual church/gathering in a virtual/digital world.
I have several friends that I currently only interact with digitally.

These connections happen all around us these days. We live in a Digital World. We are foolish to ignore, be-little, or deny the power of Online Interaction. 

However, Today I am not ready to go the online only route. I think there is much value in face to face interaction, we may even be designed for it. I am all for change, but I do not want to make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I am not ready to go All In... yet. I am also not ready to take it all off the table. Lets Discuss!

If you have read my blog, you know I am for interaction/connection. I feel most traditional Sunday Church Environments kill or at the very least hamper connection/interaction. Even among most, not all, Church small groups real honest connection/interaction is limited. We have much in this area we can improve upon.

The Conversations

Here are 3 articles that address and set up the issue better then I could. If you only read one, look at the first one.

Hands down this is the best introduction to discussion on the issue. Miguel is working very hard in the Cloud Forests regions of Ecuador making disciples and still offering a strong online presence. His context is not the struggling Americanized Church. Maybe that is why I feel his input on the issue is incredibly valuable. Take the time to read it, interact with it, and come back here and interact with me!

This is the most mainstream article I found on the issue. I will talk about this later, but this actually inspired me to consider some outside of the box ministry opportunities. Still counting the cost about how this can be a reality.

I actually taught one of these Uber-Intelligent editors/writers of this Journal when they were putting up with me as a Youth Pastor. I am a bit proud and biased, that being said this is right on the money. It is presents some ideas that are incredibly worth following up on, even if only as a starter for discussion. 

So where do we go from here?

So why not make the effort to at the very least and discuss how we can have a faithful presence in this digital age. Consider the great commission:

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

If you think of us living in a Digital World, then is Christ asking us to make connections and disciples in a Digital Nation as well?

"If Facebook were a physical nation, it would now be the third-most populous on earth." If we included all other social platforms in addition to facebook, the E-nation of the E-lectronic social realm, might in fact, be the largest nation on earth. The way we E-xecute the Great Commission may necessitate a closer E-xamination. We should not so easily dismiss the idea that Jesus would also want us to make E-sciples. -Miguel Labrador  

So that is where I am coming from. Here are some questions I want to deal with in this blog series. Feel free to interact and ask any of your own questions. As I said before, if we can not interact, what is the point to this whole endeavor?

Are Online Faith Based Communities possible?
Are Online Faith Based Communities Biblical?
What are the Pros/Cons of Online Only Faith Based Communities?
Are Online Faith Based Communities the best way for Community, Evangelism, or Discipleship? 
Do you know of any Good or Bad examples of Online Faith Based Communities?

So now get to interacting with me below!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

This may offend you

This just about sums up my thoughts right now. My good friend Charles Clary (Charles website),  an incredibly talented artist and professor at Middle Tennessee State University, introduced me to this painting by Todd Schorr. It is called Clash of the Holidays.

You see the Easter Bunny fighting Santa. You see images of the Holidays, flowers, eggs, chocolate, Candy Canes, Rudolph, and what appears to me Mr. Monopoly or money man watching the show wondering who will win... he does have a few dollars riding on it! All while little Baby Jesus with his Crown of Thornes is being overshadowed by just about everything else. Though he is in the front, he is tiny and not the center of attention. This almost became a Sermon illustration.

A few years ago I started to ask the question "What is Church as the Bible defines it?". I loved the answer I found, so I started to ask more questions and began looking into things more. I began to ask why we do the things we do. This lead to more questions and more answers. It began me on a journey to ask what is God really asking from me and us?

Through this journey I really began to find answers that were totally against how I was living my life, and even how I was following God. It began to change and challenge everything, even the direction of my life. It is not an easy thing to let go of everything you thought was right and good, for what God says in his Word. It often makes for interesting conversations and ruffled feathers. I keep a lot of it in for many reasons. At times it is easy, and other times it is not. I try to not convince people with wisdom, logic, intelligence, or arguments. I try to just follow Jesus with my life and I hope you see HIM.

We did not really celebrate Christmas this year. We did spend as much time with family as we could. We did give and receive many gifts. When asked why I threw away our Christmas tree (beside it breaking), I shared and people were good with my response. Most of them deep down understood the truth.

Easter is a little bit different.

People get really defensive about me not wanting to celebrate Easter.

I want to state this clearly before you call me a heretic.

Everyday, not just one day a year, needs to be about worshiping and celebrating the Creation/Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. 

Is God asking us to celebrate Christmas and Easter? No! Neither word appears in scripture. Easter is found in some English Translations, but it is actually incorrectly inserted in. The Greek word used in Acts 12:4 is actually paschal (the paschal feast, the feast of the Passover) or Passover... but we changed it to Easter to match our holy day. Some translations have it correct.

Did the Early Church Celebrate Christmas or Easter? No! See above, they were together on Passover. Both of these "holy-days" (Christmas and Easter) were invented by men, just men, hundreds of years later. In fact, both of these days were being celebrated by the majority of the world already. They were called other things and were celebrating a false god who was supposedly born on the same day we celebrate, and supposedly died on the same day we celebrate. We decided, either innocently or even more maliciously,  to say these days are about Jesus. The rest of the world was already celebrating these days, we just decided to hijack it and join in. A common theme in our past, present, and I am sure our future.

Do I have a problem with you Celebrating these days? Yes and No. I do have issues with you celebrating these days, and I will call you out on celebrating a day. Even regarding days God set aside, he is asking us to see and learn something about Him, and not worship the day. Jesus is the substance of all these days (Passover, Sabbath, etc) and alone is worth the Honor and Praise.

I do not have a problem with you Worshiping and Celebrating our Savior on these days or any day. We do not worship a day or days. It is not about days. It is about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This Sunday I will be celebrating and worshiping God, and you may be standing next to me as we do this together. I pray we praise the Name of Jesus everyday! I would love to Worship and Celebrate Jesus alongside you everyday!

All the other junk we do on this day is fun, but missing the point. My son will be enjoying egg hunts and eating lots of candy, regardless of my internal struggle. I just pray that I teach my son more about The Creator God who took on flesh so that the world might be redeemed through HIM. I pray that he sees the value in that over all the things we make these days about.

Just a warning to "Leaders" this weekend. If your plans, events, show is starting to overshadow Jesus, I pray you re-prioritize to do nothing but exalt the name of Jesus. You will have visitors. Do you want them to admire your show, or to daily admire the Son of God. Please get out of the way of Him.

When all is said and done this is where I stand. We made these days, Not God. We choose to do the things we do on these days. You do not have to do any of this. God is not asking you to do these things and if you really listen to him he may tell you to stop. Regardless of how I feel or what I say, Listen to and Follow HIM, not me.

Let us not be known for how good of a show we can put on a few days a year.
Let us be known for the show the Holy Spirit can put on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Let us be known for our identities in Christ and the love it displays.
Let us be known for living differently from the rest of the world.
Let us be known for the Power of the Holy Spirit manifesting in our lives to grow his Kingdom.
Let us be known for Following Christ in what he is asking us to do DAILY.
Let us be known for.....

Honestly, scratch that.... Let us not be known. Let HIM be known.

Let us die to ourselves DAILY, pick up our crosses DAILY, and follow HIM DAILY.
Let us realize we are crucified IN HIM, and we do not really live anymore... but HE LIVES in US!
Let us realize that our lives are a constant, continual expression of HIM DAILY!