The Corona Reset: A Blessing in Disguise

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Before the pandemic, my wife and I were balcony dwellers at church. A throwback to a time when our Sunday school class would all sit together, on high, in the balcony. A great place to watch all the movements below and be hidden from the pastor’s view due to the bright lights.

Unnecessary Explanatory Note: We have stayed in the balcony due to the ease of finding seats. When you serve, easy seat access is a plus.

Since we have returned to church from the dark pandemic times, Tab and I have sat downstairs. Free from Sunday school, serving, and any other positions we may hold, we have been free to just attend… to just be.

Sitting where we have been sitting, I have smiled to myself many a time. You see, church goers joke about members having assigned seating. When I say joke, I speak of a partial truth. One of those things that is awkwardly grinned at but often experienced in the form of a wordless glare. The “Hey, why are you sitting in my seat” glare. But why are you talking about assigned seating and “the glare”, Bryan?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

On the other side of COVID-19, everything is new at church. Months of not meeting together have erased ingrained habits. We’ve had to figure out what the church looks like when it does not meet; We’ve had to figure out what church looks like when it does meet with a lurking virus.

My key here is that the old is gone. The boardgame has been reset. New habits, even those as small as seating, are allowed to begin anew.

  • I have loved being able to talk with those I didn’t normally see by sitting in the balcony.
  • I have loved feeling more a part of the worship service, not so distant–proximity is huge–.
  • I have loved the feeling of a new beginning.

As we experience a reset of the old norms, I want to encourage you to shake things up. Talk to those you didn’t talk to before. Allow yourself to experience the Body of Christ in a whole new way.

From Across the Net – “Leadership Is Being Wrong and Right, All At The Same Time”

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Leaders are called to lead and leading means making decisions. As it relates to worship services within our church, some people will be thrilled if we choose to remain outdoors for the next three months. Others will be frustrated if we choose to endure the July and August heat outdoors in Camden, SC. Neither decision is morally superior to the other, but either decision will be judged right by some and wrong by others.

You can read more here

From Across the Net – “When Will Your Church Be Back to Normal?”

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I have loved watching my own church pivot in this crisis. Embracing technology as a way to bring us all together.

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash

Some churches that never even recorded their sermons were able, in no time, to livestream their services, to provide ways to do youth group Bible studies via Zoom, and maintain prayer chains through texting and social media. Churches without even a website address found ways to enable their people to give their offerings online. Some churches had to find a way to vote on calling a new pastor with online voting or drive-through affirmations. 

This sort of creativity will not end. The fact is that though many, if not most, churches can plan for a “re-opening” some time in the foreseeable future, in almost every case, this will not mean dropping live-streaming and other forms of connection but adding in-person gatherings to what we are doing now. 

You can read more here

My Church Is Not A Ministry Competitor

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I was recently listening to a podcast when the host presented a thought:

The Church is more concerned with getting people plugged into the organization’s ministries (children’s ministry, youth ministry, greeter ministry, etc.). And is far less concerned about equipping believers to minister in their everyday lives.

This thought of competing ministries, the Church versus the believer, floored me. Made me shake my head for a moment. You see, by serving within the local church, we have a safe place to learn how to minister to others. As we learn how to minister to others in the church, we can take that experience and apply it to our lives. Think of it as building spiritual service muscle memory. I then use this muscle memory as I go throughout my week.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

Service has taught me a few things:

  • That no task, big or small, is beneath me.
  • To slow down and listen even when it feels inconvenient.

I do not see my church as a ministry competitor. I see my church as a partner, a group of people God is using to develop me. He uses situations that arise to challenge my ways of thinking. Situations that cause me to pray and ask discernment. God uses our churches to grow us in the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

What about you? Do you think that the Church is more concerned about itself versus helping/equipping believers? AND/OR What has God taught you about serving in the church that you then take into your daily life?

From Across the Net – “Don’t Let the Angry Ten Percent Control the Direction of Your Church”

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Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash

This is a good article from Thom Rainer. I hate it when personal preferences start to make Sunday School Teachers, Youth Leaders, and even the Pastor question the path God has them on.

In churches, I see pastors, again and again, yield to the pressures and criticisms of the ten percent. I get it. I’ve been there and done that. May I suggest some perspectives on this issue? Perspectives are not solutions, but they can help us persevere when the ten percent get really loud.

You can read more here

From Across the Net – “China tells churches: Children and teens can’t convert until they’re 18”

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China’s government has intensified its crackdown on Christianity in recent months, including its enforcement of a law against the conversion of children and teens.

“One of the rules that have always been in their law is that you cannot proselytize or you cannot convert somebody under the age of 18,” Eric Burklin of China Partner told Mission Network News.

Previously, he said, “People were having their children come to church and many churches started what we would call Sunday school classes. They would use that time to teach children Bible verses and teach them Christian songs and so forth.”

Now, though, “any churches have been notified by [China’s] Religious Affairs Bureau heads that you can no longer conduct Sunday school classes in your churches.”

“They even put signage up in the entrance of some churches to indicate that,” Burklin said.

Photo by Adi Constantin on Unsplash

Crazy Drivers, Waiting, and Space Gunplay Ballet

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As we head into Fall, the time is changing. When my alarm goes off at 6:30am, the sky is dark. Walking in the morning, with Tabitha, now requires a flashlight to warn drivers of our presence.

Every time we go out and walk, Tabitha and I are amazed at how fast people drive on our street. Even on the side streets around our house, people use them as raceways. Whenever we hear a car come up behind us, we step to the side of the road, silently hoping that we don’t get hit from behind–at least I’m thinking… please don’t hit me!–.

Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash

Our adoption caseworker let us know, about two weeks ago, that she had put us in for a child. The due date for all caseworkers to submit their interest was this past Friday (9/13). Total wait and see. Excited though.

Spent a good chunk of Saturday with Tabitha. We had a nice lunch date and then went clothes shopping afterwards. Our time alone was much needed. Thankful for family who live close by who are willing to watch him.

Secrets.

Sunday we went to church. Got a good nap in after (splitting headache). Tab and Wyatt went to a birthday party in the afternoon. I stayed home and shot Nazi’s in Wolfenstein: New Order.

Earth

Lunar landscape

Dem Mond!

Speaking of Wolfenstein, I made it to the Nazi base on the Moon (because of course that is where they’d keep nuclear launch codes). There came a point where I had to make my way from one lunar module to another. This required a space walk. So there I am, all I can hear is my own breathing. Attack drones come out of nowhere! The music swells, I fire my weapon repeatedly, complete silence outside my spacesuit. There is something majestic about fighting in the vacuum of space. Listening to your own breathing as you dispatch enemies with precision. Space gunplay ballet.

Sweet lighting

I eventually made it off the Moon with my life and crash-landed back on Earth. Ah, London.

London Nautica

My work week has been a bit odd so far. I am in this period where I never know what I am going to be doing the next day. Drives me nuts. How about you, how is your week going? You playing/watching/reading anything that is blowing you away? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Kissing

Happy Tuesday!

A Fresh Perspective

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A few weeks ago, Tabitha, Wyatt, and I had the chance to go and visit another local church. One of my brother-in-laws was speaking and there was no way we were going to miss that!

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Stepping out of our own church context was refreshing! I loved how the church we visited gave time, during the service, to missionaries they support. We watched a video in which the missionaries gave an update on what has been going on with them. Their video reminded me that missionaries no longer have to feel so alone due to technology. That we can hear from them, stepping out of our local context, and get a picture of what is going on with the global church. I love this! Too often, I think, churches become too inner focused:

“What programs can we provide to bring people here.”

“If we build this THING, people will come to us.”

“If we have this meal, we can invite _________.”

Too often, we pull back into our comfort zones instead of pushing out and embracing others where they are; embracing those in our communities (outside our churches) and even those around the world through missionaries. I am thankful for the glimpse God gave me, in that “missions moment”, of the church abroad. Thankful for those Christians who act as the hands and feet of Christ where I cannot… but can through them.

I also loved the time of worship. I realize this is a personal preference, but I loved hearing hymns sung. I loved being able to sing without paying attention to octave changes and just pay attention to the lyrics. Reminded me that my background, growing up, was void of hymns. How I discovered the richness of them once I was in college. I want my son to love the hymns too (something I’m going to work on).

Tabitha and I have been talking for awhile now about taking a Sunday morning, when we are not serving, and visiting family at their respective churches. Stepping out of our familiar gave me a fresh perspective on the church as a whole, and my church as well. I can’t wait to do it again!

And yeah, my brother-in-law did a great job speaking too.

If you know of any resources on teaching hymns/hymn history to kids OR have any thoughts you’d like to share, drop them in the comments below. 

Lost the Plot

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In between craziness at work, change at church, and the unknown of adoption, I have to admit that I have been thinking a lot:

  • Reassessing my career (updating my resume)
  • Trying to figure out what God is saying after my church voted 93% in favor of our interim pastor
  • Wondering how long it will take to be placed with a child (we keep hearing 2 years)

With all these swirling thoughts, I got thinking about JohnnyBGamer. I love how the site has morphed into more of a personal blog for me. I especially need a place, right now, to work through thoughts and share ideas. But I got thinking about the idea for a gaming-based ministry, God gave me long ago. An idea that never included:

  • Articles on discernment
  • Answering questions such as: Can Christians do ____________?
  • Finding a spiritual bridge between whatever game I’m playing and connecting it back to a spiritual truth (no matter how weak the link)
  • Justifying why I’m playing (insert game here)

I think I got lost somewhere between the idea of being a combo of a Christian Gamespot mixed with what would later become GameChurch. Somewhere along the way, I got wrapped up in running a Christian video game Facebook group (which I stepped down from last year) and wanting to compete with GameChurch (which has since become something else). I forgot that God never called me to be this online thing. He always has shown me that it is more about building relationships than playing games. The games are simply a gateway to making friends and having a conversation. People are the focus.

I’m not sure what any of the above means moving forward. But I am thankful to be able to put into words what has happened over the years. I lost the plot.

A Letter To My Church Family

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Dear Church Family,

Back in February, during the Life Action Conference, God spoke to Tabitha and I. He told us that it was time to move on from the grieving process of not being able to have more children. After 9 years of trying to conceive, we felt Him calling us to adoption. So we stepped out of the boat, out of our comfort zone, just like Peter in Matthew 14.

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

In obedience to God’s call, we have completed:

  • 40 hours of state-mandated PRIDE Training (for foster and adoption families)
  • Numerous forms and have submitted an ant mound of paperwork
  • A home study interview that delved into our backgrounds, relationships, and family structure

Through all of the above, we have continued forward, waiting for the day that we will bring a child into our home. But like Peter, we do have days where we question; days where we freak out a little.

30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

I was telling Dr. Kelley (our pastor), who recently resigned, that even on our worst days, I still have God-given peace. A deep knowledge that God is in control, no matter how unknown (timing, age of child, etc.) the adoption process is moving forward.

I want to take a moment to encourage my church family. We are voting on an interim pastor this upcoming Sunday. I want to encourage you to:

  • Think about where we are as a church. We are not the same church that we were seven years ago when Dr. Kelley was hired.
  • Think about where we are going as a church. What does it mean to live out the Gospel in Longview, Texas.

I want to encourage you, church family, not to retreat to what is comfortable. Please do not grasp at what has worked before because someone is available OR because popular people say we should vote a certain way.

If God has been teaching Tabitha and I anything, He has been teaching us to let go of the boat and grab onto Him. I pray that our church would be able to do that, even if that means taking a deep breath, a moment, and searching for a different interim pastor.

Change is hard… but He is good.

Your brother in Christ,

Bryan

Your Calling Doesn’t Equal Career

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Ivan Mesa, writing for The Gospel Coalition, wrote a fantastic article titled “3 Things Your Calling Is Not“.

This might sound like an obvious point, but part of my angst has been due to the assumption I had to grab hold of my calling or else it would slip away. I’d be lost, I feared, wasting my life because I hadn’t been decisive or clear-eyed enough to know what God had called me to.

For a long time, the Church preached to men that your calling equaled your career. I personally found this line of thought to be hurtful and confusing. The night before college graduation, I remember breaking down and crying. I had no clue where God was calling me, no clue what a career might look like. Tears running down my face, I prayed that He would make a career path clear to me. That He would provide for me a job/career so that I could make ALL the money and further His Kingdom.

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Looking back, I can see how I took the preaching I had heard for years to heart. How when God didn’t immediately answer my career/job prayer, I took His silence and withdrew into anger, resentment, and bitterness.

Through His grace, God has nudged me over the years–He is a slow and patient teacher to my stubbornness–. Teaching me that He calls me where I am. He calls me at:

  • Church
  • Home
  • And Work

He reminds me that I do not have to set out on a mystical spiritual quest to figure out His will. Thank God for that.

If there is one lesson God has taught me over the years, it is this:

When I focus too much on myself, life becomes depressing. When I step out of myself and focus on/serve others, I find life and joy.

Which stirs up and boils down to this:

Embrace where you are called.

Whichever Shoe Fits

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Back in February, Tabitha and I were sitting in the auditorium at church listening to a guest speaker. I was having trouble paying attention, my mind wandering, until the speaker started talking about the Stages of Hurt:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

God spoke to Tabitha and I in that moment. We both realized that we had been cycling through those stages for years. Years. Not always in that exact stage order but something quite like it. You see, we have been trying to have another child for about 9 years now. Seeing what ultimately are the Stages of Grief, written down on the conference handout we were attending, did something. I could finally see the bigger picture. I could see how a friend’s baby announcement would suddenly shoot me into anger or even bargaining over not being able to have more children; I could see why, at times, I’ve been depressed.

In that moment of epiphany, Tab and I both felt that God was calling us to step out of those stages. We felt Him calling us to more.

So we talked and met with wise counsel at church. My church’s youth pastor and his wife sat down with us over dinner. They listened to our story and shared their own (I can’t put into words how much this meant to us). We learned that we weren’t alone in our experience. After meeting with them, we decided to contact the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. We attended an informational meeting (which was awesome). Soon after, we signed up to take adoption certification classes (PRIDE) which lasted a few weeks. We have since finished up:

  • Turning in financial information
  • FBI Database fingerprinting
  • Having a fire inspection of our home

We have a:

  • Health Inspection for the house
  • And an Home Study/Interview left before we are certified to adopt. We are almost there!

If you think about my family, as we move forward in this process, we are asking for:

  • Prayer (if you are not the praying sort, positive thoughts then)
  • Discernment
  • Wisdom
  • That God would lead our adoption caseworker to the child He wants

Excited to finally share this news with ya’ll. More to come.

Death of a Modern Woman

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A daughter got up to speak at her mother’s funeral recently. She talked about how her mom was a “modern woman”. Her unspoken words silently screaming that her mother resented staying home and raising her and her siblings.

The funeral continued with another daughter stepping up to the lectern to speak. She mentioned that her mom was a life long member of the church they attended. She also talked about current tensions between siblings and made a sideswipe at her brother for his lack of talent.

Photo by Kerri Shaver on Unsplash

Sitting there, I noticed that nothing was said of the deceased woman’s faith but only of her membership. As another daughter’s words were read aloud by the pastor, I felt grossed out by the tension in this family. The bitterness smothering any love that might once have existed between them.

As Tabitha and I walked out of the church, we held hands while walking out to the car. Trying to imagine living in family, having siblings, that were so torn up and hurt by one another. In the privacy of the car, we talked about how we want to be remembered. How we want people to speak of us at our own funerals.

I walked away thinking about what holds our family together. The faith and values that Tabitha and I surround ourselves and fill our home with. I would hope that Wyatt would grow up and look back on his childhood with fondness. I also realize that we can do EVERYTHING we’d consider right and things can still go sideways. I am thankful that God is bigger than any of my own parental missteps.

I want people to remember me for my actions and not my accomplishments. I want to be remembered as more than just a life long member of a church.

From Across the Net – “Five Specific Ways The Current Approach to Church Seems Badly Outdated”

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I have always been impressed by pastors and church worship leaders who allow for God to move. Thankful that my church’s Worship Arts Pastor naturally builds in time to pray during the music worship portion of our service.

One of the best questions you can ask as a church leader is “If people show up on a Sunday, have we left enough room for them to encounter God?” That can be done through music, through prayer, through silence and even through the way you preach. It’s a posture as much as it’s programming.

Too often, people show up at church hoping to find God. Instead, they find us.

You can read more here

Someone, Please Save Us, Us College Kids

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During my junior college years, I listened to “College Kids”, by Relient K, on repeat:

Someone, please save us, us college kids!
What my parents told me is what I did
They said, “Go to school and be a college kid.”
But, in the end, I questioned why I did

I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I knew I wanted more than the part time restaurant job I was working. Surely there was more to life than general level college courses, commuting, and serving food/busing tables. Add on top of that friends moving away for school, girls/dating, and not being sure of who I was in the church (or the church having a clue of who I was)… this was a huge transitory time for me.

(Oh no!) Not for me, not for me
Call it torture, call it university
(No!) Arts and Crafts is all I need
I’ll take calligraphy and then I’ll make a fake degree

I am thankful for those that God stirred up and called into my life during that time. He is faithful. I just didn’t always see His faithfulness as I clearly do now in retrospect. Little did I know that He was preparing me for bigger things. Bigger things like:

  • Moving away from all that I ever knew (family, friends, etc.).
  • Texas. TEXAS. The shock of Southern/Bible Belt culture.
  • My wife. I met her within a month of moving/going to school.

For those in this period of transition, the church (as a whole) does little to help with the confusion. Once students leave the comfort and safety of the youth group, they are launched into church oblivion. This oblivion is somewhere between graduating high school and marriage. The church, inadvertently, preaches that marriage is the pinnacle; once married, growing a family becomes the next prize to be won. But where does that leave those in college? Forgotten.

Eighty grand later, I found out that all that I had learned
Is that you should show up to take your finals and your mid-terms
The party scene is kind of mean; I think it’s sick and twisted
The Navy showed up at my door and claimed that I enlisted

Some churches see the need and build college, young professional, and singles ministries (all of these are totally different ministries that should not be paired together) to bridge the gap till marriage. I am thankful for churches who see this need.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

College kids want to be recognized, listened to, and accepted in the church. They do not want to be treated as second-class citizens who serve as babysitters. Nor do they want to be treated as the “forgotten”, in-between singleness and marriage. We, as the Church, have to do more. We need to change the messages we are silently/subtly preaching through our actions. We also need to point to the stable foundation that is Scripture. College students are hungry for truth (scripture), faith that has depth, and delicious food. And maybe even a chance to come over, hang out, and wash their clothes.

We can do better. I’ve learned that Satan speaks into the silent places the church doesn’t. So let us speak and do.

From Across the Net – “Putting the “Service” Back in Worship Service”

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We want to be served… but Jesus calls us to more. I liked this piece from Chad Ashby, of 9Marks, titled “Putting the “Service” Back in Worship Service“.

How many of your Sundays look like this?

You show up, and parking lot attendants greet you. Faithful teachers instruct you. Ushers find a seat for you. A well-practiced worship band leads singing for you. Your pastor preaches a faithful, God-glorifying sermon to you. Childcare workers care for your children. And after all that, you pick up your kids and simply return home.

You can read more here

From Across the Net – “This Is America”

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

“But, but, Jesus wants me to live my best life now.” I joke, but deep down I wonder if I sometimes believe it. Great piece from Things We Didn’t Know – about life & missions entitled “This Is America“.

If sermons in your church sound more like self-help, living your best life (“for Jesus” of course), or simply marital and family advice, then you need to be asking yourself some serious questions about what you are being taught.  Jesus warns in Mark that many will come to deceive in the name of religion.  They will say all the “right” things, dress in all the “right” ways, know the popular prayers and sayings and topics of the times, and they will be leading you astray from the path to Jesus.  Guys, Jesus never promised a “better life” here on earth.  Following Him is costly, dangerous, painful, lonely, unpopular, counter-cultural.  And did I mention that it’s also worth it?  *don’t quit yet, I promise I will get there.

You can read more here

 

 

From Across the Net – “Why Men and Women Can—and Must—Work Together”

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Even though this article seems specific to a church/ministry organization, I have struggled with this at work. Especially when I am in the office alone, working through lunch, and a female co-worker decides to eat her lunch at work and wants to talk. There is a fine line between being professional and alienation.

It’s important—especially as seemingly more and more Christian leaders are caught in a scandal—to make sure the right boundaries are in place to protect your marriage, your ministry, and your soul.

But in doing so, it’s easy to put up so many boundaries you alienate yourself or stifle the giftedness and friendship of the opposite gender.

You can read more here

Designing Easter – 2019

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My church asked me to design a banner/slide for our Easter service. So, I swung for the fences!

Here is my first attempt:

Easter One

Feedback on the above image = “looks like a beach towel”. I then decided to go with more pastel colors and swap out the background.

Second attempt:

Easter Two

With this image, I noticed that I was having issues with the times at the bottom not standing out. So I swapped out some colors and added more shadowing.

The final product:

Easter Three

I love how colorful the final product turned out. If there was a contest, in Longview, for most colorful Easter banner, I think I’d win.

Unexpected Notifications

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Before pulling out of the driveway, I paired my phone with the car. No need to drive to church in silence. Plus, the boy likes the new Toby Mac album.

As I went to put my phone down, a notification popped up at the bottom of the screen:

“17 Minutes to Macedonia Baptist Church”

My map program knew where I was going.

Apple Maps

I am new to the world of the iPhone. I had no clue that it’s map program has been tracking me for weeks, perhaps even months? But there was something unsettling about the phone knowing where I was going on a Sunday morning. Also makes me wonder what else it knows and has learned about me.

Have you ever had your phone creep you out? Tell me about it in the comments below.