Culture

Rethinking Social Media and the Church: From digital consumer to community creators (Part 1)


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I’ve come across three common sentiments church thinkers and pastors have about social media:

  1. Social media is impersonal and artificial.
  2. Social media is wasteful and distracting.
  3. Social media is harmful and distorting.

99% of these sentiments have been delivered to me through our modern day ark called “social media.” Do you see the irony?

But before we go further, let me just say, “Yes and Amen!” There is truth in these statements, especially in our present context.

But these concerns and warnings do not paint the full picture of how we should be engaging our socio-technological paradigms in the church.

Your phone now has the capability to:

  1. Start a non-profit that helps your city’s most dire needs.
  2. Crowdfund the next church plant.
  3. Write a book about Jesus
  4. Create, record, and upload your very own podcast to discuss critical issues in the church.
  5. Contact directly through private messaging your favorite author, pastor, etc.
  6. Vlog, blog, chat and share your faith and story.

And a million other things. Here’s the problem though: most of us don’t even think to do 1-6 or 7-1,000,000. Why? Because most of us identify (by our habits at least) as digital consumers that leverage social media for essentially one thing only: SELF.

And if that is true then sentiment 1, 2, and 3 apply all day long. Because Christianity teaches that if we do anything that is self-centered and consumeristic then it will always be impersonal and inauthentic, wasteful and distracting, and ultimately, harmful and distorting.

This is the great pastoral concern. And it fits doesn’t it? So what is the solution? I keep hearing to “get off.”

And if we only use social media to self-promote, then I would be much more resistant to it.

But here’s the counterpoint. Social media is not just a fad. It’s not going away. It’s becoming more sophisticated and more accessible at the same time.

If we jettison technological connection, then we are choosing to forfeit the biggest channel for which we can share the goods of Jesus Christ.

Here’s the problem, we just don’t have enough data. If you look around a lot of people are self-promoting, or self pontificating, or bible thumping in the name of Jesus. I see this on my news feed all the time. It doesn’t take any effort or any thought.

But my experience has been that some of the best examples of salt and light, faithfulness and authenticity have come through social media. And I wouldn’t know about it any other way. It’s not a fluke. We are more a digital world today than we were yesterday. The reality is you cannot reach me without technology and social media anymore. And the opposite is true as well–I cannot get in touch with you, not a bit, without technology.

So if we want to be more:

  1. Personal and authentic
  2. Purposeful and captivating
  3. Beneficial and philanthropic

Then we need to rethink social media. And we need movement from digital consumer to community creators.

We need a new paradigm in the church to raise up disciples who can navigate the digital world we live in today.

Here is how we do it:

  1. Commit to creating something.
  2. Commit to doing it every day.
  3. Commit to making it valuable for others.
  4. Commit to worshipping Jesus through your endeavors.

To be continued…

Culture

the church needs digital discipleship


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A gigantic gap in the Church today is her understanding of our progressively digital reality. This century, technology will accelerate and continue to proliferate, infiltrate, and assimilate everything including how we do church, share the gospel, and live out our faith at home and in the workplace. This is not what is disputed.

What is strange to me though is that this news is being treated as an omen rather than an opportunity.

Today, many pastors and Christian writers are expending a great deal of energy to stave off the impending digital “doom.” The last few years I’ve heard more warnings about me tracking my “like” totals on social media than all other possible human vices combined. That’s weirdly imbalanced to me.

This morning, I read an article on Christianity Today called “How Podcasting Hurts Preaching: Sermons belong in church, not our earbuds.” I think it accurately represents a common fear the church has towards our increasing technological habits.

Here’s the conclusion of the article:

Promoting sermon recordings sends the message that the congregation can just as meaningfully hear the message in the car, the bathroom, or the train commute as in church on Sunday—which cheapens the value of the sermon and the church gathering.

Disembodying the message and the congregation keeps pastors from plausibly promoting the embodied message of our embodied Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. By podcasting the content of the sermon, churches unwittingly promote the same cultural gnosticism of digital media’s disembodied form that is itself a primary driver of declining church attendance.

Now really is a good time to ask, “What would Jesus podcast?” The answer is: nothing. In fact, Jesus was so against any form of mediation that he never did anything unless he was there, live, in person, embodied, to see to it personally.

The writer clearly values embodiment and physical presence as it pertains to church attendance and community worship. That’s a good thing. Prudence is a necessity. And yes, the church has done more imitating than innovating when it comes to using technology. Certainly, a major issue we need to address from within the church.

But here’s the irony–I would never have even seen this article if it wasn’t posted on my Twitter feed. You cannot reach me without technology. And I cannot reach you.

What baffles me is the indictment of technological mediums like podcasts as the reason why millennials are the greatest church-skipping generation or why we are facing a faith crisis in this country today. Church services are boring so blame the podcast. Pastors cannot compete with the rest of the world so attack smartphones.

I am skeptical. It’s just too easy of an answer.

It’s like a Christian doctor in the 1960’s saying, “People seem to care less about their mortality because they don’t have to deal with polio anymore. Let’s withhold the polio vaccine so that people have a reason to go back to church and turn from their worldly ways.”

That would be a ridiculous way to get people “right” with God. And I am arguing that the underlying thesis of the article such as the one I shared above is equally ridiculous.

Someone once said, “Technology does not change us. It exposes us. It’s a mirror.” I think this is true.

Our podcasts are not the problem. Our smartphones are not the problem. I am the problem. You are the problem. But what is compounding the problem further? Our unwillingness to look towards the horizon of a new world and see the vast opportunity God has laid out for us.

This century, salt and light must go virtual. God is calling us to a digital Babylon. But we are fleeing like Jonah when we should be ruling like Daniel.

Digital Discipleship

The answer to our technology problem is not just learning about the pitfalls and limiting our exposure. It’s also incorporating prudence and skillfulness into our discipleship. But there is something more important–a vision.

We simply don’t have a vision for how to leverage the power that is on our smartphones and laptops to glorify God.

Maybe your experience is similar but I have never heard a sermon where the practical application was “Go out and create content. Share your love for Jesus on a vlog.” I’ve never been directly inspired to create a Youtube channel or crowdfund a project that shares the Gospel in creative new ways. Why not a new non-profit with people on the other side of the world? Why not vlog every day and talk about faith? Why not create a movement that fights for social justice and changes?

We need to relook at what’s in our hands. We need to recognize that there is a cavern of opportunities for us to excavate right underneath our fingertips.

Most people are now on facebook, youtube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter FOR GOOD. It’s not going away, O’ hopeful Pastor. And there is more to come. This is our new reality. And I praise God for it. In 15 years, we won’t be contemplating whether technology should be embraced or not. We will be neck-deep in it. In 15 years, we won’t be asking the questions we are asking today.

But in order to be good stewards, we must change our mindset about what is prudent and wise. Yes, the world has become filled with noise. Millions of videos, photos, articles, and songs are being created and uploaded every day. Why add to it? Because we have the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ.

Let the Gospel contest with the world. Let it enter into the arena of ideas. I think it will prove to be a worthy challenger to the narrative of this world.

Would love your thoughts!

Grace and peace.

Life

I am life logging


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I am on a mission to be more minimalistic in my life. So, I downloaded yesterday an app called Day One. It’s a life logbook app. I

It looks like this when you open the app:

I like it because it’s really simple and streamlined. Very stylish. The camera button adds a photo and the + adds a text entry. The buttons are big and accessible.

When you want to add a post, you come to this screen:

You can add pictures, locations, hashtags. And it is all organized into a calendar. It’s free but they have a premium service too but I don’t think I’ll need it.

I got the idea of keeping a life log from Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist.

He says,

Just as you need a chart of future events, you also need a chart of past events.

A logbook is like a journal but you only write a sentence or two max.

So far it has helped me to be mindful. How am I spending my time? Am I being intentional and deliberate about what I am trying to accomplish every day?

You might assume that keeping a logbook is counterproductive. I think it depends. If you’re purposeful, a logbook can aid you in bringing focus to your life.

The hard part is building the habit. I’m already noticing that my logbook keeps me on task but I think there could be more value there.

So far, I’ve been good at keeping 90% of what I do documented. I’m trying to get better.

I’m hoping that if I keep documenting, I’ll become better at time management, organization, writing, budgeting, resting, and taking care of myself.

Do you keep a logbook? How has that worked out for you?

Theology

5 Principles for reading Jonah


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I am going to try and do a new blog series where I share literary principles that are specific to each book. It will be a bi-weekly(ish) post focusing on a book or part of a book. My hope is that these exercises will help us practice and become more confident with reading some of the more inaccessible or obscure texts in the Bible.

This week, let’s take a look at Jonah.

Principle 1: DON’T be distracted by the fish.

What is the first thing that most people focus on in the story of Jonah? That mysterious human-swallowing fish–which, by the way, has probably derailed 100% of all Bible studies on Jonah. Yes, it is quite fantastic, open to interpretation, but literarily irrelevant.

The author doesn’t seem interested in the fish. I think this is intentional. He uses the least amount of words possible to tell us that it happened, only mentioning the the length of time, but ties no further narrative value to it. If you examine the prayer Jonah prays, chapter 3, or 4, the fish, the ocean, and the sailors are not mentioned ever again. You would think that such an extraordinary event would have significance or meaning but the details only serve to bring Jonah from point A to point B.

And if the story is virtually the same with or without the fish detail, why include it? Glad you asked.

Principle 2: DON’T skip the poetic prayer.

So the fish swallows Jonah. Swims around for 3 days and 3 nights. And then vomits him on dry land. What happened in between, Jonah? What was it like? Did you see a little wooden boy? Tell us! What? Oh, you prayed? You’re going to just recite a prayer? No other details? Ok…

The author includes a recited prayer in chapter 2 of Jonah. While Jonah is mostly a prose narrative, it briefly breaks genre and transforms into Hebrew poetry. Now, this is significant. In the Old Testament, embedding poetry in a prose narrative is a literary tool that communicates emphasis.

For example, in Exodus, the first 14 chapters narrates how Moses engages Pharoah and Egypt in order to free the Israelites. But chapter 15, the author includes a song. The weird thing is the song recaps what the author has already explained through prose. Why the redundancy of information in a different genre? Emphasis. Significance.

Jonah includes a prayer because the prayer is significant to the theme of the story and to his development as a character.

What is the prayer about? Answer: “Salvation belongs to the Lord” (2:9).

The subject matter is not arbitrary. It foreshadows a central motif further developed in the second half of the story.

Now, keep in mind that Jonah is a prophet of the Lord. He is not learning something new but recounting what he already knows to be true about God. He is not having an epiphany or learning a new lesson. Rather, he is doing two things. First, I imagine his circumstance was dire which is why he cries out of sheer desperation. Instead of explaining what Jonah was feeling through narrative, the author chooses a poetic style to dramatize and add emphasis. But secondly, the subject matter in the prayer is meant to be contrasted with the events ahead. I think it’s brilliant. At the heart of Jonah is the theme of divine mercy for the disobedient. Jonah, disobedient in his own way, experiences this individually in the belly of the fish. Soon, a whole city will encounter this idea.

Principle 3: The lesson is in the dialogue.

In any given story, an author typically has many choices to make when it comes to progressing a story. A common decision is whether to narrate or to write dialogue. In the Old Testament, there are several places where years and decades are passing by and the reader might not know it. But when you include dialogue, you are literarily slowing down the pace of the story to a crawl. Usually, when someone utters a word, it is describing a singular event in history that took place in mere seconds. This is probably conventional but let’s apply this principle to Jonah.

Look at 1:6,

What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps this God will give us a thought, that we may not perish.

What intrigues me about this piece of dialogue from the ship’s captain is the last part. What a primal statement that perhaps all human beings have thought at some point in their lives. Does God give us a thought? Does God care about our fate? I believe that this is the central question the narrative of Jonah tries to answer. And we only have to look at 3:9 where the King of Ninevah repeats the motif in a question, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

And it’s not just about what is spoken but what is not spoken. Look at 3:4,

Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!

The brevity of Jonah’s prophecy is quite stark. No detail is given. No reason for such a fierce consequence. But the message gets through and the Ninevites respond with repentance. We are never told in the story why the Ninevites were the epitome of evil. We do not the city’s history, relationship to Jonah and Israel, their culture, belief systems, or anything else. And I think this is important because all of that would detract from the point of the story. The point isn’t the gravity of evil but the gravity of repentance.

Principle 4: Read what is not there: Purposeful omission.

Why does Jonah run? Weirdly, the author never tells us until the very end. But most of us mistakingly prescribe the reason prior to reading the ending. We read God’s command in 1:2, consider it to be a heavy task and then assume that the reason that Jonah is “fleeing” from God is fear. It’s not fear. It’s anger. And it changes the whole story.

If you read the whole story, Jonah doesn’t fear anything. He is the prophet of God. He doesn’t fear getting tossed in the sea–he suggests it. He expresses perfect coherency in the belly of the fish. He doesn’t stutter out of nervousness when speaking divine judgment–he levies God’s judgment with brevity and clarity.

Why does he flee? Look at 3:10 and then read 4:1.

Every character other than Jonah has one thing on their mind, “Does God care about me? Will he not let me perish?” But not Jonah. Jonah has a Ph.D. on the subject matter; he’s been through all 36 gates of Shaolin. No, he is pissed off precisely because God cares so much. Jonah knows that God prescribes salvation and relents destruction.

But here is the fascinating part. The author omits the reason intending for us to misunderstand Jonah. Why? To doubly emphasize the true flaw in Jonah’s theology. Jonah does not have an issue with a sovereign God who brings salvation in this story. He has a problem with sheer grace. It is why he flees in the first place. And his story is meant to teach us an incredible lesson about the extent of God’s love and mercy for people, even the Ninevites of the world.

Principle 5: Meditate on the last question.

The story ends with a question:

And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?

The last principle is one of reflection. I believe the last chapter between Jonah and God leaves us with plenty to rummage about. What Jonah wrestles with is something, perhaps, we all deal with on some level. We live in a fallen world. Has God who is sovereign in all ways abandoned us to ourselves? How does he engage with the Nineveh’s of today?

Do we really understand the God of the Bible? We have so many concepts of who He is. The sheer absurdity of trying to cohere the brokenness of this world with a good, loving God leaves us bewildered. And yet, I continue to seek the Lord. I trust in his character, his word, and most importantly, His Son, Jesus.

Let me know your thoughts. Would love your feedback.

 

 

Book

Book No. 2 of 49: Steal Like An Artist


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So I went to the book store today and picked up Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. I wasn’t planning on picking it up (I didn’t know it even existed). But it was visually appealing, and more importantly, I appreciated the principles. So, I bought it on the spot (along with Frankenstein and The Stranger). Just finished it. And now, I am 2 books into 2018.

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The core of the book is an inspiration towards creativity outlined in 10 simple, yet profound, principles.

Here are the ten (which are outlined on the back cover):

  1. Steal like an artist.
  2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
  3. Write the book you want to read.
  4. Use you hands.
  5. Side projects and hobbies are important.
  6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.
  7. Geography is no longer our master.
  8. Be nice (the world is a small town).
  9. Be boring (it’s the only way to get work done.)
  10. Creativity is subtraction.

The book has a really cool minimalist-style. It has simple, yet beautiful sketches, photographs, and graphs that supplement each of his principles.

My favorite quotes:

If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it. (8)

Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying. (33)

A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve. (41)

Work that only comes form the head isn’t any good. Watch a great musician play a show. Watch a great leader give a speech. You’ll see what I mean. You need to find a way to bring your body into your work. (54)

It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects, I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens. (65)

Don’t throw any of yourself away. Don’t worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don’t worry about unity–what unifies your work is the fact that you made it. (72)

 

 

 

 

 

Life

Small habits over big goals


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Someone once told me that day two is always harder than day one. Which means, for many of us, January 2 is the day of breaking our promises, goals, and resolutions.

Yesterday, we were full of hopes and dreams. But today, we have broken the hopes and dreams of countless fitness trainers, librarians, vegan chefs, and pastors.

And it’s because the second day is always a reality check. It sobers you to the loftiness of your goal. It reveals how motivated or how serious you really are about that goal. Maybe you are serious. Maybe you want it badly. But you realize now how much you have to sacrifice to get to where you want to be. So you’re tempted to give up, especially if you skipped day 2.

But before you queue up Bad Day by Daniel Powter, I have a suggestion.

Translate your big goal for 2018 into a small habit that you do every single day.

Take for instance, me. I want to write more than I have ever written in 2018. I want to blog about books, theology, and culture. I want to share life, and get to know more people every day through social media and community. I want to write 365 posts in 2018. That means I have to write 1 blog post every single day for a whole year.

So, will I succeed? I don’t know. Maybe there will be days I get sick. Maybe there will be days where I have to deal with life. But there’s my big goal.

But I am not focused on the 365 posts. I am not focused on the 250,000 words. I am only focused on one thing:

Write everyday. No matter how little time or energy. Write something every single day. It may suck. It may be brief. But WRITE!

That is my habit. Every single night, before I go to bed, I am going to write something, share it, and try to get better. This is my small habit.

So what is your big goal? And what is that one small habit you can focus on so that you can chip away at your big goal every single day?

Book

My top 5 anticipated Christian Nonfiction books in 2018


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In 2017, I set a goal to read 30 books in one year. Holy Saint Mary! I expected to fail miserably. I ended up reading 49 (so proud of me)! And a big reason why was because I dedicated time looking for books that interested me. So, I wanted to share with you books that are coming in 2018 that have peaked my interest. This year, I plan to focus on reading more nonfiction, biographies, and theology.

So, here are my top 5 most anticipated in Christian non-fiction.

1. Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright

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Was Paul in the Handmaid’s Tales too?

The biblical writer, Paul, is one of the most detailed figures in the New Testament. We know more about him than probably all of the other New Testament authors combined minus Peter, maybe. But detailed enough to write a whole biography? “Challenge accepted,” says N.T. Wright (the N.T. stands for Night Train).

N.T. Wright, who wrote a not-so-simple book called Simply Christian and who probably knows more about the person of Paul than anyone else on the face of the earth, is coming out with yet another awkwardly thick, controversial, and probably worthwhile read on the life of Saul of Tarsus. I am looking forward to the extra-biblical source material he pulls from to round out the details and pad that near-500 page book coming out at the end of February.
2. Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther, and the Fight for the Western Mind by Michael Massing

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Less scary than Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction

Erasmus who? Exactly. Fatal Discord explores the historical rivalry between two heavyweight spiritual leaders, Erasmus of Rotterdam and friar Martin Luther of Wittenberg, in early 16th century Europe.

“In Fatal Discord, Michael Massing seeks to restore Erasmus to his proper place in the Western tradition. The conflict between him and Luther, he argues, forms a fault line in Western thinking—the moment when two enduring schools of thought, Christian humanism and evangelical Christianity, took shape.”

I am excited for this story. Today, Christian humanism and evangelical Christianity are still at odds in the west.

3. Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi 

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I have nothing funny to say about this cover

The center of Christianity is shifting to the east because now Christianity is spreading faster in places like China and India than anywhere in else.

I know very little about how Chinese Christianity has taken root in the mainland. But I have heard of the history of violence and persecution against Christians, particularly during Mao’s reign.

This is a martyrdom story about a woman named Lin Zhao, a Christian, a journalist and, the only openly defiant Chinese citizen against communism in that time period.

Recently, many of her writings have survived, which is incredible considering she wrote often on her clothes with her own blood!
4. Introducing Medieval Biblical Interpretation: The Senses of Scripture in Premodern Exegesis

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Remember the days when wild birds were stylish accessories?

Exegesis is my jam. So are the Middle Ages. When you combine the two, you get on my top 5 most anticipated Christian nonfiction book list.

I think one of the most important ways to study and sharpen our reading of Scripture is by referencing back and learning from our past. How did people view the Bible back then? How did they interpret the text? And how did Scripture influence the historical events of those days? Maybe we can learn from their successes and failures so that we do not make the same mistakes today.

Let’s get medieval in 2018.

5. Still Evangelical?: Insiders Reconsider Political, Social, and Theological Meaning

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What a time when evangelicalism is so scandalous

Still Evangelical explores a very contemporary issue within the evangelical body of believers and churches: what do we do with the label “evangelical” moving forward?

Today, evangelicalism is under duress. It is a label that polarizes politically, socially, and theologically. And now, many evangelical leaders are abandoning the label but not necessarily redefining their beliefs, citing the massive baggage and misunderstanding that comes with identifying now with evangelicalism.

I am fascinated with where all of this is taking us as a culture and as the church.

Many of the contributors in this collaborative book are well known scholars and thought leaders in the evangelical sphere. I am hopeful for their wisdom and candor.

So, there’s my top 5 in Christian non-fiction. I’d love to hear yours!