Monday, June 16, 2014

FOMO Kills YOLO Every Time

My wife and I just returned from our bi-annual trip to the Caribbean. It didn’t start out as an every two year deal, but beginning in 2004, we have averaged one vacation trip to an all-inclusive Caribbean resort every two years. It is a typically restful time of fun in the sun, sitting on the beach, and the occasional jet ski accident (but that is another story). As a pastor who is very (read overly) connected, it is a wonderful time to disconnect from all things electronic.

On our very first trip I got in the habit of placing my cell phone, watch, and wallet in the hotel room safe and not removing them until the day of our departure. It is a strategy that has worked wonderfully well. Going a week with no email, no text messages, no voice mail, and no social media is a great way to detox from the constant stream of information that comes our way. Or, more accurately, our need to constantly react to the constant stream of information that comes our way!

For the most part, it seemed most of the other vacationers did the same thing. Cell phones were non existent, there was no wi-fi on the premises, and the handful of computers that resort has charged a pretty peso for a half hour of use. Based on the emptiness of the computer lounge, very few people were willing to pay the price. Instead, they enjoyed each other’s company, the beach, and the pool.

This forced electronic detox was pretty standard even as recently as our trip in 2012. But, a dramatic shift has occurred in the last two years. This year I was stunned to see nearly half of the people at the resort walking around with cell phones, iPads, or other electronic devices. To be fair, some of them were using Kindles (or other e-Readers) rather than carry old fashioned books around. And, I realize that the smart phone has replaced the hand held camera / video camera for most people, particularly because it allows instant ability to “share” pics and videos with your social media circle. And, that is precisely where the problem lies.

I cannot tell you how many people I overheard commenting on their social media feed, but it was a lot. The scenario went like this: a pic or video would be “staged” (i.e. “hey, do that again” or “hey, let’s all take this pic”), the pic / video would be uploaded, and the “uploader” would realize that some previous pic / video had been commented on and they felt obliged to share that comment with the person sharing their trip (i.e. “hey, look what so-and-so said about that pic at dinner last night”).

It seems to me that one of the reasons for taking such trips is our preoccupation with YOLO (You Only Live Once). Life is short; you only get one shot the reasoning goes, so let’s make sure we have a blast. While I don’t subscribe to the same rationale as those who pursue such adventures due to a narcissistic desire, I have been privileged to experience some pretty cool aspects of God’s creation and the cultures it has spawned. I have climbed the steps of Monte Alban in central Mexico, eaten a home cooked meal in the home of a Moldovan villager, swam with sharks and sting rays off the coast of the Dominican Republic, watched the waves roll in at Baler Bay in the Philippines, ridden a motorcycle from coast to coast across the United States, stood on the edge of the Grand Canyon, observed the gold covered walls of the Cathedral de Santo Domingo, and had the privilege of being present at the birth of both of my children. The uniqueness and “power” of those experiences would have been diminished if my focus had been on cataloging and “sharing” those experiences with a nameless, faceless electronic world that simply consumes such experiences vicariously and indiscriminately.

I am convinced that the effort to make sure we ring every ounce of “experience” out of an experience is derailed the moment we succumb to FOMO…the Fear of Missing Out. It is FOMO that forces many to constantly check in with their social media page, their email or their text messages. It is the bizarre notion that, if someone “says” something that they do not instantly reply to, they have somehow missed out. The irony is that they “miss out” by being preoccupied with not missing out. The way I see it, FOMO kills YOLO every time.

So, rather than trying to capture and share a moment, just experience it. Relish it. Soak it in. Enjoy it for all that God intends it to be in your life. And, yes, I do believe God has a purpose in powerful experiences. That purpose is to point us to something greater: Him. When we diminish the power of these experiences by trying to capture and share them, it is like darkening the mirror that would reveal something of who God is for us. When we do that, we truly do miss out.

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Long Obedience

“California? But that is such a long way!” The responses vary little from that. The context is always the same. Someone has just asked the farthest I’ve ever ridden a motorcycle. After their incredulity subsides a bit, I share with them the story of two men, two motorcycles and a 6,898 mile, 16 day, 18 state trip of a lifetime. After sharing the story several times, I got to thinking that taking a coast to coast motorcycle trip shares some similarities with pursuing Christlikeness. Stay with me, I promise I’m not crazy. I’ve summarized these similarities into three areas.

1. Be Committed
Eugene Peterson once wrote a book on discipleship called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. I think that is a great description of what is required to ride a motorcycle nearly 7,000 miles in just over two weeks. When people asked how we did it, I tell them we headed west and rode to the ocean, then headed east and did the same. We had a long obedience – a commitment – in the same direction.

When it comes to discipleship, we know the destination: Christ-likeness. That is what we are pursuing. We need the same kind of relentless commitment to being “like Christ” that we have in other areas of our life. Sadly, I find a lot of folks are quick to quit when they do not experience results immediately. When riding coast to coast, there were a number of places I had seen before. I had to see them again, in order to get to the places I’d never seen before. I think discipleship is a lot like that. We see some of the same things over and over in order to get to a place we’ve never seen before.

2. Be Intentional
A person cannot ride across the United States on a motorcycle in one day. In order to maintain one’s sanity (and some measure of physical strength), the trip has to be broken up into smaller segments. On day one we rode 470 miles, on day two it was 510, and then on day three we rode 611. Even those days, we broke down every gas stop. We knew how far we were going to ride between each stop and which exit we were stopping at. Needless to say, a lot of intentional planning went into the trip.

I think there are similarities here, too, with growing in Christ-likeness. We know the big goal (i.e. look like Christ), but we need some markers between where we are now and that big goal. This is an area I fear the church (and too many Christians) fail. We are not very intentional when it comes to our spiritual development. We attend church, pray and hope we are doing enough. The truth is, a spiritual growth plan would be helpful. That is, a way to look at how you are spending your time, talents and treasure and then an intentional plan to increase in each area. By writing (i.e. documenting) your current level and your intended increase, you have a build in tool for accountability.

3. Be Persistent
Few trips ever go completely according to plan. Ours didn’t either. There was the crash on the bridge in North Augusta that forced us to re-route. There was the blown fuse in West Texas that delayed our arrival in Brownfield. There was the broken headlight wire that required us to bypass part of historic Rt 66 in order to make repairs. And, I could share a dozen other such alterations to the plan.

When it comes to our spiritual growth, we also have starts and stops. We have periods of tremendous obedience and growth that are sometimes followed by a moment of stupid, sinful disobedience. Here’s the deal: you can’t quit on the trip because it doesn’t work out exactly as you had planned. We didn’t turn around in North Augusta when the bridge was blocked. If we had, we would have missed out on so much. Likewise, you should not quit when you have a moment of disobedience. That is what God’s grace is all about. That is why he says to confess our sins and he is faithful and just in forgiving us and cleansing us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9).

It didn’t matter how many obstacles we encountered, because we were committed to the big goal (i.e. reaching the Pacific Ocean), we were persistent to follow the plan we had set forth (and adjust it, if necessary). We made it to California and back – by God’s grace, some careful planning, a commitment to the goal, and persistence to modify the plan when necessary. In your spiritual life I pray you would know that God has committed to you that he not only began a good work in you, but he intends to carry that work to completion on the Day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6). He also encourages you to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). I pray you would do so with a long obedience in the same direction.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The NEXT Step - A Vision Worth Giving To

The church I serve has a long history of engaging in three year capital campaigns. In fact, by our 25th year, we were in our ninth campaign. If you are reasonably good at math, you can discern that we had some campaigns that overlapped others. There was a good reason to engage in those campaigns: The church was growing quickly and needed to build new facilities, which cost money. Unfortunately, the campaigns did not always raise enough money to cover the debt incurred by those facilities. As a result, when I arrived here nearly five years ago, we were $3.4M in debt and about to launch yet another capital campaign, which we did in the spring of 2010.

When that three year campaign ended, we still had $2.9M of debt and I began to wonder why we were doing this? If God’s people were to give faithfully and obediently, we would have enough funds to cover our debts and our ministry? I believe the answer to be “yes” – not just for our church, but for every church. The reality is that most people who call themselves Christians do not give biblically. Barna reports that only about 5% of adults “tithe,” with evangelicals leading the way by given a mean of $4260 per year to all non-profits. What that means, simply, is that most people do not give faithfully and obediently.

As we began to contemplate the “next” capital campaign, it became obvious to us that we did not have a money problem as much as we had a discipleship problem. We had a large number of believers who were spiritually immature in many areas, including the stewardship of their finances. We began to wonder: what if we tackle the real problem (spiritual immaturity) and not our pressing need (finances)? The issue came into focus for us when one of our Stewardship Team members asked the question: “if we had money in the bank and no debt, would we still do a capital campaign?” The answer was swift and obvious: No.

So, we began to think about how to tackle the real issue: spiritual immaturity. We concluded that most Christians want to grow in their faith, but simply do not know what they are supposed to do. Worse, too many think of spiritual growth has terribly complicated. While we acknowledge the fact that it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately is responsible for our sanctification (Phil 1:6), that does not mean that God has not called us to engage in certain activities that nurture growth (Phil 2:12). Our question then became: what are those activities?

What we discovered was not revolutionary or new. It was, in fact, very old. We concluded that there are at least six activities that should mark the life of every believer:
Prayer (Know)
Bible Reading / Study  (Grow)
Evangelism (Go)
Serving (Show)
Giving (Give)
Community (Belong)

Because it is daunting to try to tackle all six of these at once, we thought it best to encourage our folks to ask themselves: what is The NEXT Step for me in each area? We reminded them that no matter where you are in your journey with Christ, everyone has a “next” step.

In the fall of 2013 we launched an annual seven week emphasis called The NEXT Step. Each week we focused on one of the areas of spiritual discipline and the biblical call to commit to it. We concluded with a call to solidify our commitments by putting them in writing and publicly laying them at the altar. Over 50% of our congregation responded to this challenge.

Here’s the thing….The NEXT Step is not a one time thing. Spiritual commitments need to be revisited and reflected upon from time to time to make sure we are still moving forward in our faith. So, every fall at our church we will ask: what is The NEXT Step? Although the specific details around the emphasis may change a bit, the call to re-examine where we are in our walk with the Lord will remain. While it is still to early to announce exact results, we can say we have noticed more consistency and faithfulness from our people in the six areas of emphasis.

While there may be good reasons for churches to engage in three year capital campaigns, I wonder if we end up sending the wrong message. Obviously, if we have a new facility to construct, there is clear need to raise capital. But, more and more frequently, churches are using capital campaigns for debt reduction. For us, we became convinced that raising pledges every three years sent the wrong message to our church. We began to focus on paying bills and raising money and lost sight of our mission: to make disciples. We did not make the shift away from the triennial campaign without a lot of thought and reflection. But, once we did, we have not seen a decrease in our giving, which was one of our concerns. Rather, and more importantly, we have sent a clear message to our church that raising disciples is a greater priority for us than raising money. And, that is a vision that people support in every way, including financially.