a bit monkish.
This week, Danville Centenary UMC is hosting Camp in the City, a ministry of Pine Cove Camps in Tyler, TX. Camp in the City brings a Christian camp to a local church, transforming the church into a summer camp for a week.
The love of Jesus has flowed through our church during Camp in the City. What has inspired me the most are the counselors, who have boundless energy, deep love for their campers, and hearts of servants. Camp in the City counselors have a relationship with Christ (vertical faith) that extends to others (horizontal witness). To be honest, they have an exuberance for God and others I haven’t seen in a while, and they genuinely want to see their campers fall in love with Jesus.
Having Camp in the City here this week has allowed me to process the various issues facing the United Methodist Church. It seems that many in the UMC are trying to see a horizontal witness develop into a vertical faith. That’s why in North America, the UMC is in many ways, failing in our mission. When what unites us is polity and church laws and not the Apostolic, Trinitarian Godhead, we’re just another 501(c)(3) non-profit trying to do good works in the world. When our goal is to appease every people group so as not to offend them and not to share "the way, the truth, and the life" message of Jesus Christ with people who have no idea who He is, we’ve become something other than the church depicted in the Book of Acts.
When the vertical gets replaced with the horizontal as the focus of the church, we cease to be the Body of Christ because Christ is no longer our head (Colossians 1:18). This principle is the same for progressives who desire to create their own morality as it is for conservatives who focus solely on denominational standards and policies.
I’m longing - praying! - for a renewal in The United Methodist Church that is focused on a vertical relationship with Jesus Christ that extends horizontally into the lives of others. If this spiritual leadership is not going to come from the Council of Bishops or other denominational personnel, then it’s time for us to stop waiting. Let's be the holy people of God the Bible tells us to be: not united with the values of the world, but united for the transformation of the values of world by the Holy Spirit.
What the world needs is not United Methodist clergy and laypersons who are simply obedient to the Book of Discipline. What the world needs is United Methodist clergy and laypersons who are so in love with God the Father, so committed to Jesus Christ, and so empowered by the Holy Spirit that they count it a privilege to be called fools for Christ and to be scolded by the world. May it begin with me.
It’s in our Wesleyan heritage: Without personal holiness there is no social holiness. Only good works.
Thank you for your vertical witness, Camp in the City. You've inspired me to remember what constitutes real ministry in the world.
** ADDITIONAL NOTE: The violence in our country - police shooting citizens, citizens shooting citizens, and citizens shooting police - is not going to be stopped by new laws or heightened protests. The answer to these and other issues in society is Jesus coming alive in people's lives. Horizontal solutions will always be limited in their effectiveness. What the world needs is an increase in vertical relationships becoming horizontal.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
Around the world, metacommunites exist that are exceptions to our longstanding definitions of ‘community.’ These metacommunities play smartphone and tablet games together and have friendly relationships in off-game chat apps. When I heard about the existence of these friendships, I was skeptical. These folks don’t know each other’s real names. They don’t know where their friends really live. They don’t even know if these friends are the gender they say they are. Aren't these groups filled with predators? Can these people really develop lasting friendships and true community? And if so, what are the implications for those of us in the church?
So about four years ago, I dove in to discover this phenomenon for myself.
After a co-worker briefed me on the basics of online etiquette, I assumed the name “Bernard” (not surprising for those who know me) and started playing a game on my smartphone. I joined a guild/clan and instantly became part of a gaming community. I was introduced to people with names like Avalon, Bigspin, DaShadiest, Killabee, and NinjaBill. We played the game together, chatted with each other, and shared in each other’s lives without giving out too much information about ourselves. These folks said they were from Chicago, Eastern Canada, and California.
Before I knew what was happening, our little band of friends disbanded to play other games. However, three of us: Avalon, DaShadiest, and myself found ourselves in the highest ranking game guild in the world. We met new friends, like Jade, Flagg, Zedsta, Ruby, and Lee. When the app developer suddenly deleted the game, we were left without a game to play! But we had each other through our off-game texting app, so we continued to be in each other’s lives until we found another game to play.
I wasn't a gamer. I only played the games to be in the lives of the friends I'd made. I never revealed that I am a Christian (or a pastor/professor), but I was committed not to deny it if I was ever asked. No one ever did. They knew I was Bernard from the Louisville area with a PhD in medieval history. All true.
It’s amazing how well I knew these folks. In private messages I learned of marriage breakups, recovery from alcohol, I counseled them about relationship issues, helped people process job transitions, and where to go on vacation. I completely realize that all or some of these personal issues could have been fabrications. They could have been fantasies from people I only thought that I knew. However, my experience was that these people really were being honest with each other. I do remember one person from England named BillBob who briefly joined our game. After three days, BillBob said, “I’m not actually a guy. I’m using my boyfriend’s game name.” In my experience, BillBob was the exception. People were generally honest and were simply longing for friendly gaming relationships with each other.
And then came the news from my close gaming friend DaShadiest last December: He had just been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and had just a few months to live. I didn’t know “Shadi’s” real name. I knew he lived in California, but I didn’t know where. Yet when I learned of his cancer I was as devastated as if I had heard this news from someone I knew face to face. What began as a social experiment to see if online communities have merit had taken a very real-life turn.
Shadi's cancer produced in me the most surreal emotions I had ever felt. I was grieving for a friend and I didn’t even know his name. I didn’t know what he looked like or where he lived. I didn’t know the sound of his voice. Of all my gaming friends, I had only talked to Avalon on the phone once, and discovered that he, too, was facing some serious health issues. My online friend Shadi was facing a life-threatening situation and I was completely helpless to do anything.
Over the next few months, I had a decision to make with Shadi. I wanted to be sure he had a solid support system wherever his home was, and that he knew how deeply I cared for him. I also had some eternal concerns. Do I risk alienating him by sharing my faith? If I did that, would I be crossing a social line? Would he feel that I had used our friendship only to push my Christianity on him?
I finally decided to open up to Shadi a bit. Here’s part our conversation (Shadi's words are in white):
Over the next few months, Shadi wasn’t chatting as often as before, but we still kept in touch. I shared with him that God loves him no matter what he believes and that God had sent his son Jesus to the world to take the penalty for all the wrong things we’ve ever done. He thanked me and expressed his gratitude for our friendship.
In early May, I messaged Shadi to check in with him. Days passed and he didn't reply. I began to worry. My good friends Jade and Lee joined me in trying to find out if Shadi had died. I scoured California obituaries, but how do you find if someone has died when you don’t even know his name?
We had a phone number Shadi had used to register the chat app, but it’s considered an invasion of privacy to ever call someone’s number. I decided to send a text message instead, and addressed it to Shadi or someone in his family. A couple of days later, I received a message from his girlfriend stating that he had died.
As I continue to process Shadi’s death and my relationships with these online friends, I’m becoming more and more aware of the longing people have for friendships. We're so hungry for any type of community with others that we're willing to have relationships with people we don’t even know.
My experience with this online community has not been with the darker side of the Internet. I can’t express enough how cautious people need to be in these metacommunities. I’ve been very careful in choosing folks to befriend (although I must admit that a few of these gamers have seemed a bit creepy at times!).
Online friendships certainly can't replace face-to-face relationships. Recent studies have revealed that despite the interconnnectedness of people today through technology, we're feeling more isolated than ever before. We've been created by God to be in community with one another. Online friendships are just one way for us to do that. But online friends can't give us a hug when we need one.
Now that I’m facing my own, albeit pretty tame, battle with cancer, I’ve been amazed at the support and prayers coming from my online friends. They’re gifts of God in my life. I don’t know their names, or where they’re from, or information about their families, but I know God does. And I know God has brought them into my life, just as God has brought me into theirs.
And through it all, my understanding of the word 'community' has just been blown up.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
Is it just me, or are Christians in the United States more vocal this Presidential election season? Perhaps it’s the volume of Donald Trump’s voice and his dominance in the polls over the evangelical candidates. Maybe it's the images of filled stadiums cheering for unlikely candidate Bernie Sanders. Whatever it is, something seems to have awakened Christians to the political process in the United States, and the tone is somewhat angry.
In evangelical circles (particularly among Republicans), the idea seems to be that having an evangelical Christian in the White House will solve the nations erring ways. The focus is on a person’s character rather than a person’s competence. Many evangelical Christians who are seeking a candidate with solid Christian character so do because they have a deep commitment to the Bible as God’s revealed Word.
So what does the Bible say about the government and those who run it? In looking at the image of the Emperor on a coin, Jesus famously said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Jesus seems to be setting up a separation here between the kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God. In fact, as he’s standing on trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus tells him,“My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
In Romans 13, Paul writes that we’re to submit to the authority of those in government, for God has placed them over us. Paul sees the governing authorities’ roles to be collecting taxes and keeping the peace by punishing wrongdoers. Paul writes that Christians are to submit to the governmental authorities because God has allowed them to rule. Paul gives no exceptions to this. The implication is that even when the government or governmental leaders might persecute Christians, we are still to obey them.
From a New Testament perspective, we see a separation between what Jesus ushers in as the Kingdom of God and what the world sees as the kingdoms of the earth. Paul never writes that if the Emperor accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord then the Roman Empire would prosper (centuries later, when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, little changed socially).
This is where I’m confused by evangelical Christians in the United States. According to what I read in the Bible, our primary citizenship is not in the country where we reside, but in the Kingdom of God. To be a disciple of Jesus is to have a Kingdom identity, not a political party or national identity. The government and the Body of Christ have different roles in society. That’s not just my opinion. It’s in The Book.
Yes, I’m a proud American. Yes, I have political opinions. Yes, I’m going to vote. But as a lifelong student and follower of Jesus Christ with a high view of Scriptural authority, I know where my true identity lands: I’m a citizen of the Kingdom of God. With that citizenship comes responsibilities that are above my responsibilities as a United States citizen. I hope Christians put as much money and focus into missional Kingdom issues as they do political issues.
As a wise person once told me, “Do you want to hire a so-so plumber who is a Christian, or a master plumber who is a pagan and can fix your leaky toilet?” I want the next President of the United States to be the person best equipped to run the Executive Branch of the federal government and who will uphold the constitution as the presidential oath stipulates. If that person does not know Jesus, I’d cherish an opportunity to share the Good News with them. But I desire the most qualified person to be President, regardless of his or her faith.
Whoever the next President is or whatever political party is in control, my hope is that it’s not going to affect my life in the Kingdom of God. Whether in times of blessings or under threat of persecution, I pray my commitment to Jesus Christ will be the same. My allegiance is to the Savior of my soul, and His Kingdom will outlast any political party or nation.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
I’m thinking a lot about discipleship these days, and I hope to focus on this topic in the coming weeks.
The approach appears straightforward enough. The focus of local churches is to create programs in local churches that encourage members of the congregation to grow spiritually in various ways: Biblical knowledge, sound financial stewardship, devotional life, service to others, etc. This pattern exists in thousands of North American congregations. What can be called "Targeted Discipleship," this approach focuses on specific areas of the Christian life in an attempt to foster lasting change in those areas.
Lately I've been contemplating a different approach, something I call "Trickle-down Discipleship." The basic premise goes something like this: Introduce people to Jesus in a way that allows Christ to become not the most important part of their life, but their very life (Colossians 3:4), and the various means of Christian growth will "trickle-down," permeating their being. For example, instead of having an annual budget pledge drive or a capital campaign, focus your energies on holy living through Jesus Christ and let the Holy Spirit work. I've seen this first-hand in local churches I've served. Jesus becomes the center of attention instead of classes about how to do the work of Jesus.
The "Targeted Discipleship" approach has the danger of focusing on our own efforts to become Christ-like. Not only can this lead to works-righteousness, it has the odor of karma from the Hindu religion, in which good things come to those who do good things.
The focus of “Trickle-Down Discipleship” is that our relationship with Christ becomes as natural as our own breath. In fact, we can’t even imagine our own existence without Christ.
My hope is to see less programming in local churches and more saturating of Jesus in Christians' lives. The goal of this is not a healthy church, but a transformation of the culture around us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
After all, a local church shouldn't exist for itself, right?
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
When I was a kid, I put everything I could find in my pockets just in case I needed them. Of course, when I needed something in my pocket, it took me a few minutes to sort through everything to find it. Some women’s purses are that way.
I’ve discovered that using the Apple Watch is like having too many things in your pocket. You know what’s there, but it’s overwhelming trying to find one particular item. Shortly after I wrote my review of the Apple Watch, I stopped wearing the device because it was like having an iPhone on my wrist, and I didn’t need an iPhone on my wrist when I had one in my hand.
Last week I was sent an LG Urbane watch to review. This is one of several new Android watches which just recently have been made compatible with an iPhone through a free, downloadable app from the App Store. I’ve used the watch for about a week now, and for me it’s a perfect compliment to my iPhone.
What you may have read about the marriage between an Android watch and an iPhone is true: The apps are limited to what are already installed on the watch. However, what I’ve discovered is that I don’t miss having 100+ watch apps. iPhone notifications pop up on my watch, as do phone calls and text messages. The Android software comes with weather, a health app, calendars, email, a flashlight, and other apps, including several watch faces.
Setup was a breeze. I downloaded the Android Wear app and it began syncing with my watch almost immediately. I was then able to toggle which notifications I wanted on the watch, choose a watch face, and I was ready to go.
The battery life on the LG Urbane is similar to that of the Apple Watch, as is the charging time. However, the watch face is on all the time, so I never have to shake my wrist to activate the screen.
I like the circular shape of the watch’s 1.3 inch OLED display, and the included leather band with contrasting stitching looks sharp and professional (you can attach any 22mm wrist strap to the watch). The pedometer and other health apps seem to work well enough, although I haven’t really tested all of their capabilities.
For what I need a smartwatch to do, the LG Urbane running Android Wear works great with my iPhone. And with an audible, “OK Google,” I can set calendar items, search the web, set an alarm or reminder, or find the closest Starbucks.
An Android watch with my iPhone is a great way for me to keep the clutter of my wrist and keep this busy pastor organized. For me, this seemingly awkward relationship is a winner.
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
If you're like I am, you're open to anything that can simplify your life. As a pastor, I lead such a busy life between responsibilities at church, family, and with students I teach that it's all I can do to remember my keys, my wallet, and my iPhone when I leave the house in the morning.
The SAFE Wallet for iPhone 6 Plus (and 6s Plus) is the latest wallet case from the friendly folks at BulletTrain. Like the previous SAFE Wallet for iPhone 5, this version contains a "safe," or hinged compartment to hold credit cards, IDs, and business cards. The concept for all models is brilliant and the execution is well done, and the case comes in several colors. The 6 Plus model even contains a small compartment (called the "secret stash") for concealing a house key, extra cash, or other small items. To my surprise, the SAFE Wallet fits in my front jeans pocket without any issues.
Before discovering the SAFE Wallet, my iPhone was safely housed in the geeky, leathery case called the Book Book by TwelveSouth. While I love the design and craftsmanship of the Book Book, I didn't like that my cards and IDs were exposed to the world when I bent the case back to speak on the phone. Not only are the cards in the SAFE Wallet closed away, during phone calls, the SAFE Wallet is so slim that prying eyes have no idea that it's a wallet case in the first place.
I like supporting quality products from entrepreneurs who are attempting to break into large markets. BulletTrain produces well-designed, functional, creative products that make me feel proud to own, and their customer service has been top notch.
With all of the positive features of the SAFE Wallet, a couple of aspects could use some improvement. First of all is the price. $70 for a plastic cell phone case seems more than extreme. Yes, a Book Book costs as much, but it's easier to justify spending that much on a hand-distressed leather case. The SAFE Wallet includes a space for their soon-to-be-released SAFE Pen, but it's an extra $10. It should be included with the SAFE Wallet rather than as an add-on item.
Another issue I've discovered after using this case for about a week is that it's a bit slippery to hold. The material is solid and feels secure, but my phone has slipped out of my hand a few times and hit the floor. Thankfully, the SAFE Wallet did it's job and my phone is still in great shape.
Availability is another factor that can be frustrating. Currently, the only place I've found to purchase the SAFE Wallet is from Bullet Train's website, and delivery for new models can be slow. The shipping is through UPS Innovations, which uses both UPS and the USPS to deliver your package. My SAFE Wallet arrived 6 days after I placed the order.
Bottom line: If you're looking for a wallet case for your iPhone and you can stomach the cost, you can't go wrong with the SAFE Wallet. My biggest fear is that if I misplace my phone, I've also lost my cards and ID, as well. Perhaps I should use that "secret stash" compartment to house a Tile!
I look forward to seeing what other innovative products the folks at BulletTrain will introduce. For now, they have a winner with the SAFE Wallet. Let's just hope they'll be able to break into new retail outlets so this dandy case can become more available.
SAFE Wallet by BulletTrain
$69.95 with free U.S. shipping
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
Recently, after a long day, I fell into my recliner and began to channel surf. I remember thinking how amazing it was that I had more than 100 channels to find a show worth watching – and then I couldn’t find a single show worth watching. I continued to scroll through the channels until I finally gave up and turned off the TV. I hadn’t watched a single show, yet I’d wasted 30 minutes of my evening trying to find one.
We live in a diverse world, yet one thing everyone has in common is that we all have the same amount of time. No matter where we live, what language we speak, or what we do for a living, our watches and clocks tick at the same rate. Yet what makes time different for each one of us is what we decide to do with it. Imagine if we had a daily limited of the amount of air we breathe or the number of words we could say. We’d probably be careful with our breathing and speaking, not wanting to waste a single breath or word. In our short lives on earth, our time is limited, and we only have so much time to accomplish great things for God.
In 12th-century France, a young nobleman decided to give his life to Christ by surrendering his title and heritage and entering a monastery as a monk. The abbot of the monastery congratulated him and awaited the young man’s arrival. After several months, the young nobleman never came. The abbot wrote him letter after letter, imploring him to forsake the world and fulfill his promise to God. A few months later, the abbot received word that the young nobleman had become sick and died, his promise to God unfulfilled. The abbot would go on to use this young man’s example when corresponding with other young noblemen who felt a similar call from God to enter a life of ministry.
As we being 2016, how do you use your time? Each one of us is a steward of the time God has entrusted to us. We can use time for ourselves or for God. We need to remember that self-centeredness, even in how we use our time, only leads us away from God, not closer to God.
Serving God with our time is never a waste. It brings us blessings and joys as we serve others. How are we going to use our time this week? Will we spend our time scanning through TV channels or will we serve God? The next time you see your remote control lying there waiting for you to pick it up, you might want to look at it a little differently than you did before.
Fugit inreparabile tempus ("It escapes, irretrievable time.")
-- Virgil, "Georgics," Book III
(c) 2016 Michael C. Voigts
I'm a follower of Christ serving as an Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.