Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Screen Preaching

Video venues aren't going anywhere.

For those who may not be familiar, sometimes when a church experiences a great deal of growth, they will open up "campuses," essentially a branch church off of their main church hub, typically referred to as the "main campus." Depending on who the pastor is, their church background, or sometimes which book they most recently read, these campuses may have different fancy names or operate slightly differently. They all tend to serve a similar purpose though. That doesn't make it a bad thing, in fact its often times a great convenience for those who attend the church. When there are multiple places where the church meets, you can find a place that's closest and more accessible for you and where you live.

Because the person preaching on any given Sunday cannot be at all places at once, this can pose a problem. Will the church have a live pastor at each campus speaking at each service, or will they have one campus where a primary communicator does his thing and the other campuses become what is called "video campus," meaning they have huge screens where the sermon is shown movie-style.

If they choose to go the video route, will they live-stream the sermon? Or will they put the video campuses on a week delay? Because there are ridiculous opportunities for everything to go wrong while live-streaming (lag, loss of connection, more equipment to potentially fail, possible need for someone to give an impromptu talk if everything goes sideways), most churches who go the video route choose to go on one week delay. You may have your suspicions and concerns, but these video campuses work surprisingly well in practice. Let's face it. We're a culture built around staring at screens all day long. TV screens, computer screens, movie theater screens, cell phone screens, screens up the yin-yang, yo! I promise you that as someone who was originally skeptic of the technology, it all goes out the window very quickly once you actually experience it yourself. Watching a sermon on a screen in a church building works.

I was thinking through this a few days ago when a weird question popped into my head, as they do.

Assuming these video campuses do work (which I lean towards), is there any need for any of the campuses to have a live communicator at all? I know it's a crazy idea, but what if whoever is speaking on a Sunday (be it a single primary communicator, or a rotating group of pastors) pre-recorded their sermon during the work week and all campuses showed the same presentation at the same time without having to lean on the clunky technology found in live streaming. It fixes a lot of the technological problems and introduces all sorts of interesting possibilities. The tech team can do post work on the video, the speaking pastor is freed up to do other things on Sunday, even if that just means that he can sit with his family.

So I figured I'd toss the idea out there and see what you guys think? Could it be a good idea? What do you see as its strengths and weaknesses? I'd love to read what you think!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Don't Forget to "Wee"

I'm trying something new today, lets see how this plays out...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Church and the Kill Switch

"Yes, 'the church has a mission.' But it's better to say that 'God's mission has a church" -Ed Stetzer

One question I have been asking myself often over the last year has been an observation on what the purpose of the church is. Depending on who you ask this can be a very loaded question and I won't pretend like it's an easy question to answer. In fact I'm sure I'll be making adjustments to it for the rest of my life. I've already made some pretty substantial changes to my own views even in recent months.

Let's just go ahead and jump right into where I've landed on this. The purpose of the church is to:

1. Share the gospel with outsiders
2. Disciple insiders
3. Maintain accountability
4. Develop Community

Regardless of your views of the mission, every program your church uses should be an answer to a question that arises from that mission. How do we develop community? Introduce small groups. How do we maintain accountability? Introduce covenant membership and develop consistent church discipline. That may not be how you would choose to answer these questions, but they are an answer. This is what churches should do; continuously ask themselves how to actively chase after the mission that God has set before his church.

In that same vein, if one of your programs is not an answer to a "missional question" then that is an excellent excuse to kill the program. Many churches are willing to sacrifice themselves on the altar of their programs instead of crucifying their programs on the cross of God's mission. When we stop asking ourselves how to actively introduce the gospel to outsiders and instead try to figure out how to maintain a two hymnal songs per service quota, it's a good indication that your church has lost the plot.

A culture of change is paramount in a church. A church should constantly evaluate their programs to insure that everything they do is an answer to achieving the mission given the church. They shouldn't be afraid to flip the kill switch the moment a program no longer answers a need and instead becomes a comfortable tradition. When they don't, churches have a tendency to collect "ugly couches" (an Andy Stanley quote) furniture that worked well and looked great two houses, three paint jobs, and twenty years ago. The problem with an ugly couch is that everyone who visits you instantly recognizes that you own an ugly couch, but every time you see it all you recognize is a thousand great memories and a really comfortable butt groove.

It's important to recognize that even though the questions should never change, the way we answer those questions will constantly change. The way a question is answered right now is not necessarily how it will be answered next year. This is why evaluation is so important, so that answers do not become ugly couches.

I'd love to read your thoughts on the mission of the church. What do you agree with? Disagree with? What would you tweak, take away, or add? Feel free to share any other thoughts you may have, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'm in ur face, blotorchin ur adiktionz!

"J-Pip is my rapper name yo!"

John Piper, for those of you who don't know, is a heavily Reformed, strictly Calvinist pastor in Minnesota capable of cranking out fairly intelligent books at about the rate that you and I internally monologue. Though I don't necessarily agree with every doctrinal stance he holds, it's difficult to not admit the guy is pretty amazing. In fact, I have doubts that John Piper is human rather than a futuristic robot fueled by God's divine will, overflowing so heavily with the Holy Spirit that it leaks out his eyes and lisp-twisted mouth. He is most famously known for his push into the "Christian Hedonism" movement, and coining the catch phrase "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."

Beyond that, Piper has a reputation in the Twitter world (@JohnPiper) for spouting these really abstract phrases from time to time that make people blink, then immediately spout "what the?"

Sometimes these are controversial statements, an example of this was when the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) was meeting in a conference center to discuss if they should allow gays to not only receive church membership, but to allow gays to serve as clergy as well. In the middle of this meeting, a tornado... no joke... formed outside of the building, ripped through it, and disappeared. I don't think ten minutes had passed before Piper lit up the Internet with his public acknowledgement of God's divine will made manifest to those depraved near-apostate Lutherans and that they had better fall on their knees immediately and repent earnestly lest they be smote. Unfortunately they cleaned up his original post shortly after "they" (whoever "they" may be... its pretty slippery, but everyone has them) realized the controversy that could latch onto this sort of a comment. The neutered version can be found here: http://bit.ly/239uty

But what brought me to blog was this comment which I received via Twitter this afternoon from good ole J-Pip.

"Is anyone really addicted to porn? Put a blow torch in their face; they will turn off the computer. IF they believe its real."

I've thought about this sentence for most of the day, trying to ascertain what exactly he is trying to get across, but what I think Piper is trying to say is that people many times try to abuse the term "addiction" as a crutch to excuse their human (Calvinist depravity!) demand to sin. He then qualifies his statement by saying (in my words) "Ohhh you think you're addicted huh? How about I blowtorch your FACE and see how quickly you drop that net connection!" Because in John Piper's mind, addiction is a powerful hold that would sustain through a facial flame-broiling. If you give up your grasp on pornography, drinking, drug use, casual sex, etc by threat of facial reconstruction with an angry flame, then you probably aren't addicted, and you're just lying to placate your desire.

What do you guys think? Just keep in mind, in the time it's taken us to discuss this, John Piper has already cranked out another book. What have you done today?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Suffer Compassionately

Today's blog is a bit different. For brevity's sake I will mention that this was a homework assignment for one of my classes. To the best of my knowledge this is a pretty unique concept, and I've certainly never heard it before. I am not so prideful though to think that I am the first one to come up with this idea, and in all actuality it's just a short beginings to a concept that I'm not even entirely sure I agree with, but sometimes it's good just to write things out anyway. I would love to hear your comments on this.

Many people ask why Satan has been allowed to remain on earth after his judgment. John 16:11 uses the Greek word kekritai when referring to Satan’s judgment, this word seems to mean “has been judged and continues in the state resulting from that judgment.” The existence of Satan contributes to conflict in current life. This conflict brings suffering. There are many arguments given by Christians to explain the existence of suffering in a world governed by an all-powerful and loving God, but I am going to provide what I believe is a unique angle to this topic. Though I do not think that any one answer fully covers the scope of the necessity of suffering, I do think it is important to recognize that suffering gives mankind, particularly Christians, the opportunity to reflect God’s compassion to the world.

In the third chapter of his letter to the church in Collosae, Paul takes the time to share ways that we can mature as Christians. These words are as relevant today as they were to the Colossian church around 62 A.D. One thing of particular note is found in verse twelve, where Paul says that we as Christians are to “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Compassion is something that we see often in scripture, but what is compassion? When many think of the word compassion, it brings up thoughts of feeling sorry for someone, or to perhaps lend a bit of time to one to show that you care. The Online Etymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper, a noted historian shows us that the word compassion is comprised of the Greek words com- which means “together” and “-pati” to suffer. With this it becomes clear that we as a church are called to take upon a heart that suffers with others.

This line of thought makes a lot of sense when we realize that as Genesis 1:27 tells us, we were made in God’s image. The Bible has much to say of how we serve a richly compassionate God. James 5:11 says “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” This verse clearly states that God strengthens us in our suffering by suffering alongside us! This doesn’t stop here though. God, in his divine plan tied a beautiful ribbon around this example of compassion. He punched a hole from heaven to earth and sent his son to set the example of pure compassion in a way that only Jesus as fully human yet fully God could. Christ took all of our suffering upon him and paid the price as the propitiation for our sins on the cross. As image-bearers of God, we are as humans and as Christians to reflect this example in our daily interactions with the rest of the world.

In his book, “Created for Community,” Stanley J. Grenz states that “Sin refers to any attitude or action that fails to radiate God’s own character.” If this is true, and the Bible provides multiple instances that show light on God’s compassionate nature, we see a cycle, perhaps even a plan begin to appear.

God is all loving and cares for his creation to the extent that he suffers for them. God is almighty and has complete sovereignty over existence. When God created man and woman together in his own image it only logically concludes that he would give us the facilities and opportunities necessary to fulfill our created role. Therefore suffering enters into the world, not as a punishment but as opportunity! Suffering can be used as a tool that not only shows God’s love to the world but as an instrument of Satan’s punishment as well. Satan already lives in the midst of his punishment as we already discussed and as his sentence is carried out he is revealed to be a puppet, aiding God’s creation so that even in the harm that suffering causes, our opportunity to reflect God’s compassion mocks Satan himself.

It’s funny how all of my life I’ve seen suffering as a tool Satan could use to drive us away from God, or to punish us for Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden. But through this perspective, it is Satan that is being punished through the suffering he provides, not us! As Satan causes suffering to God’s most beloved creation, I would imagine that it must truly sting, perhaps even suffocate when a Christian responds to another’s suffering by being compassionate towards them. In that act of mercy and shared suffering, Satan sees the divinely inspired potential born within humans whom were created in God’s image. I would think that this could cause Satan himself a good deal of suffering. Satan is spared no compassion, so by having no one to share in his suffering it must be a very heavy burden to actively and continually see his role as a mere instrument of God’s grace and mercy, mercy that he himself shall never receive. This constant realization must tear incessantly at him. One could even say this could be… a punishment?

If you view our interactions with others through this filter, then you begin to realize, as well as strengthen an already excellent view that suffering is not always brought on by sin. Many times people are drawn to asking questions like “What did I do to deserve this?” when something goes wrong in their life. Examples of this range from losing your job, to having medical related problems either personally or vicariously through someone you love. These events are traumatic and raise a lot of questions. What is important is that we ask the right questions. Instead of trying to take an irrational responsibility for a discovered suffering, instead you should ask what opportunity this raises. If you are suffering you must realize that it is not good to suffer alone! This is not how God intended humans to work! We are created for community! At the same time, if you see someone else suffering it is our obligation to offer support.

This is not always the easiest thing to do. In the book “Radical Reformission,” while explaining Jonah’s reluctance to minister compassionately to the people of Nineveh after being directly commanded to by God, Mark Driscoll says this.

“And the book brings us all, like Jonah, under the conviction that we love the things God has given us – homes, cars, hobbies, healthy, friends – more than our great cities and the spiritually blind people who annoy us. We pass these people every day and ignore them because our minds are consumed with ourselves rather than with our God and our neighbor.”

To do this is to, in some sense; deny an active role in God’s punishment of Satan. This also becomes a willful denial of our role as beings made in and reflecting God’s image. When we do this, when we rebel against the purpose of our creation and neglect our relational obligation to God we step out of righteousness. Clearly stated, to harden your heart to someone who needs to be shown compassion is to sin.

In conclusion I want to reiterate how amazing it is in God’s perfect plan to have such an active role. We are created in God’s image and in showing compassion to others, especially those who do not know Christ; we reflect God and shine his light and mercy into their lives, providing them with a glimpse of revelation so that they too might come to know Jesus. All the while reminding Satan that he holds no authority but that which is given to him, reflecting God and shining his judgment upon him, reminding him of not only his failed past, but his present role of a puppet, as well as his current and future eternity of suffering. Compassion is a luxury to be enjoyed by humans as God’s creation, and to deny its power is dangerous not only for those suffering, but for you as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Reformed Passion

Click on the image to see a bigger view of it.

Spirituality is serious beans folks. A handful of seriously serious beans.

Without going into a great deal of detail, and I know a good portion of my current audience already knows this story, but a powerful transition took place in my life over two years ago where I was faced with the fact that I knew a lot about God, but I never really knew God. This is easy to do when you have so much scripture thrown at you growing up that you think you already know all the good parts and no longer need to crack your Bible open.

In sense, you become inoculated to Christianity

After this transformation in my life I had an unfathomable desire to consume God's word. With this addiction came an unexpected, yet necessary and perfectly logical desire. I wanted to know why I believed what I did. I wanted to strip down every doctrine I had adhered to, every opinion I had argued for, and everything I thought Christianity was and seek purely after Biblical truth.

I wasn't prepared for how this decision was going to eat my entire Christian paradigm inside out. This happened in a few different areas, and it is probably better saved for possible blogs down the road. But this introduced me to some concepts that I was ignorant of beforehand. Ignorant either because I was completely unaware, or because I thought I understood what a particular concept was only to find I was oblivious.

It also introduced me to two words that were vaguely familiar, and yet I had no clue what they had meant at the time. Calvinism, and Arminianism.

When I found myself in a position where I craved to know what the Bible said about, well, anything, I found myself continually drawn to these fantastic resources made available by a group of people who are now being called (most recently by TIME magazine) as the "New-Calvinists." I found myself challenged more than I had at any other point in my life by sermons from John Piper, Matt Chandler, and the always controversial and Seattle's own, Mark Driscoll.

What struck me as strange was that they had a few (not many, but key) viewpoints that differed a great deal from my upbringing in the church. What was more difficult, was that they had very strong scriptural support for these views. I found myself digging deeper into the Bible, looking up Greek and Hebrew translations and cross-referencing the stitching out of my Bible trying to build the strongest foundation I could construct.

Throughout this period I slowly came to a conclusion that currently saddens me.

You see, I grew up in a Pentecostal Spirit Filled atmosphere. It has been my experience that these churches tend to be very strong when it comes to emphasizing the emotional aspect of the Christian walk. Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing either. The times in a church service that I have felt the most intimate with God has been in Spirit Filled churches. There's an openness that invites you into worship and draws you into feeling God's presence. The problem is that where the many Spirit Filled churches excel in passion, they drop the ball when it comes to intellectual doctrinal teaching.

This is where the Reformed church has been stepping in for the rebound over the last few years. I've visited Mars Hill a couple times since moving to Seattle and as controversial and... different as Mark Driscoll is, I can assure you that I learned so much at his church. Even my wife became extremely interested in his church, feeling like she had gained a great deal during our visits there.

There's only two problems here.

One: These "New-Calvinists" / Reformed / Resurgence churches proclaim to be Spirit Filled churches. From what I can tell, this is part of what separates the New-Calvinist from the older brand. This doesn't really change the fact that there's still a "difference" between churches when I've visited. Now granted, I've only visited Mars Hill twice and that isn't exactly a definitive sample size, yet their worship services have never matched up to the intensity that I've seen at my very own chapel services at Northwest University.

Two: Predestination. I just cant do it. For a scriptural paradigm that is supposed to be so definitively biblical, and for a group of people that emphasise the obviousness of predestination, I simply cant get it to stick.

As many verses as I can find that talks about God predestining us for anything, all of them can still be interpreted in a way that allows complete free will, and yet none of them (that I've found thus far) can explain some of the specific events that take place in the Bible.

Gen 3:22 has God kicking Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden "lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” Many Calvinists explain that Adam and Eve "enjoyed free will" before the fall, and yet after the fall it appears that God is stating that he doesn't trust the free will of man to not eat from the tree of life. Where is the predestination?

Exodus 32:10-14 God is royally ticked at the Israelites and is about to smite the dickens out of them when not only does the Bible say that Moses reminds God of his covenant with Abraham, but that God changes his mind after listening to Moses. Predestination?

This doesn't count the fact that Abraham had what seems to be a relationship with God, interacts with God, and God takes Abraham's opinions into hand when making decisions.

Or in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that Paul says that he must discipline himself daily lest after preaching to others he himself should become a reprobate.

How can any of these things exist in a world with 100% complete no-compromise predestination founded from before the beginnings of creation?

As far as I can tell, it cant. Fee free to explain to me how if you can. There's a ton about Calvinism that I can dig to some degree, I wouldn't take it as far as Hyper-Calvinism, but there's some really smart people out there that are totally into Predestination, and I don't claim to be a genius but I'm not an idiot either, and I cant see how anyone can look past this.

If you have an opinion on the matter, please comment. I've been reading sermons, listening to sermons, reading scripture, reading defenses, trying everything I can to see how these things can be reconciled. I cant find it.

In slightly more lighthearted news, like I mentioned in my last blog, I ran for student senate at my university to rep the commuting students. Election day was last Monday, and the results haven't been announced yet, but I'm feeling pretty confident here because when I went to go cast my vote, I saw that I was the only one on the ballot for my constituency.

It was this that helped me feel not so bad when I voted for myself.

I was thinking about it on the way home, but what kind of victory is something when you had no one to race against? Therefore, in honor of our beloved President, I decided to name my pending victory after his first adventure into politics.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I expect an announcement for not my victory, but my Obamictory. Winning by virtue of having no one running against you. This is how the President first made it into state politics in the first place. With that kind of track record, who knows what I can accomplish next!

Seriously though, if you need to sign up for an account to comment on this blog, go do it. It takes two seconds and it wont hurt you a bit. Leave a comment on the topic of this blog. What is your opinion of Calvinism? New-Calvinism. Do you like Pie? I like Pie. What do you think of Predestination?

Was I predestined to have an Obamictory?

I think the answer to that is maaaaaybe!

Friday, September 18, 2009

We're here! Where's the party?

"Lay 'Em Down" by Needtobreathe. This is the closest I could get to a video with a clean sound.

To be completely honest, it didn't take Kristina and I very long to realize that Washington is a very different state from Wisconsin, but it took a week or so of hearing others refer to the University of Washington as "U-Dub" before my ears stopped perking up, immediately filling my thoughts with cheese head wearing beer guzzling university students.

My family and I had about a week to suck in as much of the area as we could before my semester began at Northwest University and we zipped around to as many places as we could. We picked up a few items at the Pike Place market in Seattle, ate some seafood off the coast, visited as many local coffee shops as we could find which lead us to visit as many local restrooms as we could find as well. Frankly the local markets in this area are nothing short of phenomenal. I've never seen such a variety and selection of fresh foods, and being a guy who loves food, I find this quite exciting.

When it came time to start school, the one thing that took me by surprise was that Northwest University has a five day orientation for first year and transfer students. It runs from Wednesday to Sunday with some of the events being optional, leading into the first day of classes that Monday. This blew my mind. The orientation I suffered through at UWWC (University of Wisconsin - Washington County) was a few hours of mind numbing insignificant lecture. Even when I saw the agenda for the five day spread at NU I was a little... cautious... going into the first day.

What I found was one of the most enjoyable events of my post high school education career thus far. The next few days was filled with an obviously premeditated and well planned process for making sure all new students were fully prepared to enter their time in NU but it was also a great opportunity to learn about the culture of the area, the students you were going to be attending school with, and how much Northwest cares about their student body. The time, effort, and money that this University invests into their students is really impressive. On Monday, as I stepped into my first class, I was already excited to be a Northwest University student. I don't think I've really ever experienced that outside of Christianity before.

This doesn't mean I'm not working my butt off though. Beyond being excited about school itself, the second most exciting thing about my first day was after I spoke to my Professors and realized I didn't need to bring the large majority of my 30 lbs of 17+ books to school with me. Northwest is also a lot more involved per class than any school I've attended before this, but it doesn't really bother me so much, even with all the time I spend on preparing for classes.

Here's an example of a random days worth of reading I have for a class, Ill just flip through my assignment planner I filled out on my first week of class and pick whatever day comes and list it here.

Book 1 - 12 Pages
Book 2 - 16 Pages
6 Pages worth of Term definitions in a dictionary
The entire book of John in the New Testament (21 Chapters)
Textbook 1 - 22 Pages
The entire book of 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament (29 Chapters)
The entire book of 2 Chronicles in the Old Testament (36 Chapters)
Text book 2 - 10 Pages
Prepare for a section exam

That equals out to 28 book pages, 20 vocabulary/dictionary words, 32 textbook pages, three lengthy books of the bible, and studying to prepare for an exam the next morning.

This is assigned for one night's worth of reading. I assure you that I would spread the reading out over a few days but the reading on the days surrounding them aren't that much better. This doesn't mean that every night is this crowded, but there are some nights that are even busier than this.

The funny thing throughout all of this though, is that I love what I'm learning, and I'm truly learning so much. I'm taking a moderately heavy credit load. 17 credits, so I expected to work my tail off, but as long as I'm learning and I can apply what I'm learning towards God's plan for my life, all of this is worth it.

I haven't really talked about this much before this but I'm also running for student senate to represent fellow commuting students. I want to find ways to help students that don't live on campus to integrate themselves into the university's community and events. The voting is taking place next week and we should know the results from that soon afterwards. This is my first year at NU so I'm not really expecting much, but it would be great to have the opportunity to serve the community.

Surrounding all of this school stuff is the fact that Kristina and I are still looking for a local church to call home. As long as it isn't like this church, I think we'll be ok...

But that's a story for another time...