Origin Story Part 2

A little while ago, I turned out the story of this blog’s origin, or at least its title’s genesis. As I think about it further, and my experience engaging with people in conversation and watching others do the same with different approaches, I think of how we do this on Social Media too.

Enjoy part 2 of the origin.

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As the weeks turned into years of doing this thing called, Ask The Blind Pastor, I made some observations.

  • Sometimes, the Christians are overly confrontational. I had some of my biggest arguments with Christians wanting to change me or get me to think more correctly. Also, a Christian activist came on campus to overtly share his message against sin. Sadly, most were turned off by his offensive presentation style and demeanor and missed the beauty of the gospel message he shared.
  • Most people were not interested in a conversation. I am not sure why, but much of my time there consisted of people walking around me, talking to others in the quad or simply hanging out. The issue of God did not seem like a relevant topic. No matter if I changed the topic to Life or anything else, the pastor word either intimidated or unimpressed the majority of students who saw the sign.
  • Many still stopped to see what was up. Nonetheless, the efforts of being present and available to talk at their level allowed for many, many conversations to happen. Most were of a single conversation, but others came again to continue the dialogue another week. I still fondly remember one cynic who would faithfully met me to debate. I believe we formed a friendship. I wish I could have stayed in better touch with him after I went to Thailand.
  • Consistency mattered. One important part of something like this is being consistent. I have no empirical data to back this up, but can say with certainty it mattered that I was there on a regular basis. An expectation began among the students that I would be there. Thus, when they needed someone to talk to, or they had an issue from a class pop up, they knew they could come find me.
  • Curiosity brought people in. Often, those that were most interested were not the skeptics bringing the debate, but those listening in. I remember one girl who came to Jesus through this ministry was going through a big issue personally. She sat listening as I talked about God’s love in such a compelling way to a skeptic that when I was through with him, she wanted to know more. It is cool how we are still Facebook friends to this day and how she is loving Jesus more and more.

This exercise in putting yourself out there for dialogue, debate and deep conversations did many things in me as I did impact some and see a handful come to Jesus. First, I know that I am not an evangelist. The gift is not on me to see people simply come to Jesus. But, that does not stop me from being evangelistic and watching some come to Jesus. Second, we can all do something to engage the harvest, or witness of our faith, or whatever you want to call it. No one is exempt.

Finally, I learned a lot about the people living in our community, the people I wanted to reach, the people far from God in that young adult age range. I heard why many were no longer in church, or why others were so skeptical. I heard what many valued or cared about. I listened to those who talked with me, as well as those who talked around me. Sometimes, I would simply engage in conversations around me. I began to understand the way people thought and felt about the world around them. And my heart broke more for them. I wished I could do more to draw them to see Jesus.

This is what I meant a few weeks ago when I talked about “Ask The Blind Pastor” on steroids when I had a chance to consult on a TV show with religion as the backdrop, Hand of God with Ron Pearlman.

But out of this sign that I carried with me and kept safely on my desk birthed this blog in which I get to continue the conversation. I get to talk about God, life, culture, mission and the like here. I get to exercise how to articulate what I feel is important, and I hope a few people enjoy it along the way.

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Origin Story Of The Blog

This has probably taken too long to come about, but alas we are here with an origin story of the blog.

Well, more an origin story of the name. This is more exciting than a story of why I jumped into the trend of blogging.

I love dialogue, and I love questions, so there we go with the ask part. Oh, maybe we should give a better picture than a word by word understanding of my nature and values.

The title flowed out of a posture I took many years ago while leading a young adults group. Maybe I should phrase the term beginning a young adults group rather than leading one. The group started mostly out of my passion to connect with young people in the area. We had a couple or three or four besides my wife and I in a healthy vibrant mostly young families church with a strong Hispanic mix.

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Our church building was basically around the corner from the local community college, Saddleback College, which claimed some 10s of thousands of students. My passion for these students grew as I took the bus in to work each morning. The bus I rode into work stopped at the community college only a couple of stops ahead of my stop for the church office.

These young people were in that wonderful time of early adulthood, a time full of possibilities, loaded with potential, energy and availability like no other station of life, and fraught with insecurity, drama, and the unknown. This is a wonderfully unstable time of life as young people want to be significant, part of something significant, going somewhere and pretending they are somewhere as they figure out where and who they want to be. I simply love it.

My heart broke for these students. How could I connect them with the story of God and what he was wanting out of their life. What more could be done? We did not have any students from the college among the few young adults we had at our church. And I wanted to get out of the office and into the community.

It was like a match made in heaven. But what to do to connect me to this beautiful and open field for conversations.

Through several brainstorming sessions with my pastor and I, we came to the conclusion, I needed to get on campus to make connections. I could enroll as a student in some fun class like pottery, a language arts class, creative writing, or something else. In the end, I decided to go straight out for my purpose, to connect with students as a local pastor, graciously, noncombatively, relationally and open-handed. However, as a blind person, I struggled with how I would connect with students. What might I do?

The strategy took form.

I would take a sign with me. A sign inviting conversation.

A sign to let people know I am blind. For me, people often miss my blindness as I have eyes that look normal. And with sight for 20 years of my life, I still look like I see with them even as I don’t. More importantly, a sign would help me as I could not simply observe who might be open to a conversation. Furthermore, I wanted students to engage me, and not to perpetuate the stereotype that witnessing is getting up in people’s business.

My sign took various adaptations but primarily read, “Ask The Blind Pastor Anything About God” The key was Ask The Blind Pastor. About life, about doubt, about anything at all.

I placed the sign on a table or in anything near the bench I sat on in the quad. And this created space for conversations.

This sign started something for me that helped me engage with people, people outside of church, something that has turned into a blog and constantly learning, listening and dialoguing. I went a couple of times a week, week-in-week-out. This became my passion. I made sure my office assignments could be flexible, so I could be out in the community. If anything, I did not want to be stuck inside the office as the world went by outside. The world often gets neglected as we pastors stay in our church work bubble, and when we forget the importance of modelling a missional posture to the world, it is no wonder evangelistic engagement slips in our churches.

If we wonder why the church is struggling to reach the world, we must ask is the church attempting to reach the world? Some are, some people are, and some churches are doing exceptional at this commission from God. However, too many are simply leaving the task up to someone else, up to the professionals, up to God and his sovereignty, or simply worrying about other things. And with the gravitational pull of working in and for the church, it is easy for leaders to simply stop being present in their community, their neighborhood, their city.

For me, I created an opportunity to dialogue, and I learned a lot about those who were not in church, their values, their passions, their reasons, and simply who they were. I loved it, and I have never forgotten the importance of listening and dialoguing with people outside of the church.

What are ways that you engage with those outside of the church bubble, outside of your bubble?

Late To The Party

I love to be the first one in line, even if it means cutting. I love to know new information before anyone else, maybe because I caught it on Twitter, or maybe because I am higher up on the gossip chain. I love being in the know.

I love new information. I love anything new, and I love being able to share that with others. I like to be ahead of the trends and not behind. I love to ride the wave and not miss it. But mostly, I just like to be a part of the party, whatever key party that is. I just like to be in more than out, a part more than left out, included and not excluded.

So it can be pretty hard to impress me with something new, or something that I did not already hear about elsewhere.

Now, knowing that, I don’t mind being fashionably late to a party, but this week, I feel like I have been super late to the party.

What party?

For the first time in my life, even though it always sounded like a good place to be, I found my way to the Foursquare Missions Press Banquet. Before going, I often thought it would be a nice place to network and eat good food. I love missions and am open to anything mission related. However, I seemingly never allowed the Press to rise to any priority on my radar.

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Why?

That is a good question, you ask me. Well, to not beat around the bush, I thought the Press was antiquated. Even as a missionary, I just did not see what the big deal was as I hadn’t seen it applicable to my situation. Furthermore, I saw the print medium as going the way of the buffalo. The idea was nice in a former time, but with newspapers going out of business, magazines closing down, and everything moving online, I simply figured this was nice but not essential any longer.

Boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong.

Watch this video, and you will see.

Innovation captured my heart immediately when I caught what the Press was up to. They are looking for new ways to utilize the print medium, working to get posters printed, books published and disseminated, training materials and gospel tracts available in formerly difficult places. The current levels of creativity at FMP are beyond my wildest imaginations.

This thing (FMP) birthed out of a retired man’s vision a generation ago and full of retired volunteers today has such creativity and cutting edge desires to help get the gospel into the hands of local people, I am blown away. This is something I can get behind. This is something I wish I had been behind for a long time. My question this last week has been a consistent and constant one. Why didn’t I know about this? Do others know, and if not, how do we get the word out.

My heart was gripped as statistics were shared, as milestones were celebrated and most of all salvations piled up in large part due to the faithful work of the Press. People are getting the word into their hands and finding God. This is more than incredible. This work is life changing.

And then there were stories, and stories. People are working hard to meet the urgent needs. The church in one nation is looking for ways to minister to the 1.5 million refugees that have shown up on their doorsteps the past couple of years because of the Islamic State. And the stories kept coming, the urgency could not be more clear, and the people at FMP couldn’t be more diligent and creative to meet the need they were called to meet.

When I heard another national leader from a closed country talk about how this will help them since the materials that get shipped to their island nation never make it farther than customs. Well, they might make it a little farther as they get dumped into the ocean never to be used much less seen by the vibrant church of that nation. What doesn’t get used? Tracts: In a nation where sharing the gospel is illegal and cause for the police to drag you into an interrogation or even an enhanced version of rendition with or without due process, a tract can be covertly passed from friend-to-friend. When people see these Christians living the gospel and exuding joy, they ask questions, and an inconspicuous tract passed from one hand to another allows opportunity to continue the dialogue after some reading has been done.

But evangelism is not the only call for printed materials. Leadership development often hinges on having resources to study. There is so much more benefit to seeing these materials passed around in a cost effective and safe way but I think enough has been said at this point.

If you have more questions, look up the site for the Missions Press. If you want to contribute, click here.

What captures your heart about innovation in mission?

Collectivism and the Church

Thai culture moves in many ways on the other end of the spectrum from Western culture, and I discovered many ways to articulate this in my recent class on Intercultural Communication with Dr. Scott Moreau at Wheaton College this summer.

I will intermittently share some of the insights I am gaining upon reflection.

Red: Collectivist/ Yellow: Individualistic

I am struck by the difference between my culture and Thai culture in the area of collectivism. I come from a society built on individualism. We have sayings like “follow your heart” and “where there is a will, there is a way.”

Thailand on the other hand sticks together in a more collectivist way. Community and family are held as strong values. When I say family, I don’t just mean the nuclear family, but a collection of extended family that may or may not live in the same home. Within collectivism, there is a sense of an in group and out-group. Those on the inside fight for one another and work to protect each other from shame. Those outside the in-group get little preferential treatment. Those on the inside get offered jobs, promotions and opportunities in contrast to the Western considerations of merit and ability.

As I reflected on the concept of a collectivist culture, I pondered some implications for the church as we plant a church in Bangkok.

First, I want to touch on a point of the relation between the church and a collectivist society. In a collectivist culture, one will see themselves as a lifelong member of a church. Once they join a church, they remain a part of that family. The more collectivist a society, the stronger and longer the bonds of membership within the church will be.

I wonder how this may play a role in the slow conversion of people from Thailand, but also stands out to me as enlightening why it is important to journey with someone as they come to know Jesus.

As I pondered this idea, I remembered one student who is interested in God. She lives almost two hours from where we live in Bangkok, but we have a great relationship with her.

As we communicated about God with her and found her open to Christianity, our Thai teacher gave us some sage advice as she tends to do. I am still wrestling with how this works out in our situation. Our Thai teacher wanted us to not recommend her a church until after we lead her to know Jesus. As she journeys with us toward a relationship with God, we can be the one who leads her to Jesus rather than sending her to a church to meet new Thai Christians. She won’t know them or have a connection with them enough to desire the effort necessary to invest in relationship with the new church. She went on to say that the student would remain with whichever community led her to know Jesus. I understood that to be normative for Thai culture, but now I see why.

Beth Barone and the definition of born again

The conference is on part Education and one part discussion. In the first session, I learned something fantastic in our discussion. One of the questions was how do you define born again in your own words? Beth had talked earlier on living in God’s world is so different than living in the world we know and understand separate from God. She shared about the change of life one of her adopted sons had from being an orphan in Bulgaria for seven years. He basically lived in a cage. He had never seen stairs for the first seven years of his life. He didn’t know how to walk up and down stairs. We see reality in what we have experienced. We only know what we have learned, and God wants to show us soooo much more.

In our small group discussion, Mike Field, a missionary from Australia to Papua New Guinea, shared an incredible illustration. He said his family was boat people. Generations ago, they were loaded on a boat in England and shipped to Australia, as place to put criminals. He was born in another land not on anything he had done, but because of the consequences of his family. He wasn’t a citizen of England but now a citizen of Australia. He is stuck with the consequences of his forefathers.

In the same way, we are not citizens of heaven no matter how good we are. Our citizenship was lost, and we need Jesus to get it back. We need to be born again into a spiritual kingdom. Our first birth is natural, and the second birth is spiritual.

How would you define born again to help shift the stereotype back into the authentic understanding of being born again.