Why Can't I Just Go to Church on the Internet (Part 2 of a series)

Sometimes I feel like a mosquito flying into Niagara Falls.

Life slaps me around, disjointing my relationships, goals, and hopes.

I often experience spiritual disorientation.

Are you like me?  Do you turn to the internet to re-connect to community?

The endless connections, created by the internet, brighten our disconnected lives.

But is there a dark side to convenient, cyber-space connectivity, which may diminish your experience of deep church? 

You can read about the first possible dark side here: Part 1

A second dark downside, of going to church primarily on the internet, relates to Jesus.

Jesus is God in the flesh.  He is God with skin and sense receptors.  He is the face and touch of the living God.  He is the God with scars.

Two short stories about Jesus challenge the internet church movement in our culture.

The first story about this “God-in-the-flesh” Jesus is told by his biographer Mark.

Mark writes this about Jesus:  “And he went up on a mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.” (Mark 3:13ff)

Did you feel the “physicality” in the phrase “they came to him”?

To him.  To him.  

There was a directionality and physical locality involved with connecting to Jesus.

Distance dissolves when Jesus desires you to become his disciple.

Now I know what some of you are concluding.  You think that internet church (watching a pastor preach a sermon, a praise band singing to God, or reading spiritual blogs from Christian teachers, etc.) decreases distance from the truth about God and enhances connectivity.

Yes….and no.

You are instantly connected to truth but you are not yet connected to touch.

Let’s keep reading. 

Mark continues “And he appointed twelve… that they might be with him.”

Did you catch the word “with”?

Why did Jesus desire, and then choose a group of friends?

So that they might be WITH him.

Jesus, the en-fleshed God, desired physical, personal proximity.

Notice that he didn’t primarily send an email to a bunch of guys with a download of his latest sermon or blog.

Notice that he didn’t send them a book full of cool facts with smarty-farty religious words and millions of moral rules.

Jesus desired his friends to be WITH him.

I know what you’re thinking….

Getting together WITH people at church can be scary, frustrating, and fearful.

I know.  Church people (I am one of them) are sinful, hurtful and downright “ugly” (as we say in the South) at times.

But deep church people have all been desired by Jesus and he desires that we all gather together to be WITH him.

Deep church people, spending time together, are being changed by His grace even though we are simultaneously saints and sinners.

Back in the ancient Garden of Eden, after we turned and stopped trusting God, we ran and hid and lived in fear.

We did not want to be WITH God or others.

But God would not put up with our isolation, shame and hiddenness.

He came near personally and called Adam and Eve to be with him.

What if the church was the one place on the planet, where you could finally stop evading God?

What if the internet, for some, is actually a place of evasion and hiding in a hurtful world?

Deep church is full of followers of Jesus, with flesh and blood that have the guts to come out of hiding.

Warm arms open to embrace singles, children, widows, widowers, the rich, the poor, impatient pastors, the untouchables and unwantables.

Mark tells this second story of Jesus touching an unwantable.

Mark 1:40-41  40 And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, "If you will, you can make me clean."  41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, "I will; be clean."

Yes, internet spirituality is a good way to connect.

But what if we can’t really escape our essential hunger for deep, enfleshed community?

What if going to an actual church with actual people shapes us to become more human?

You can be truly known in all of your ruin and glory…and deeply wanted.

You can enter the embrace of two real arms from a friend and squeeze them back with a mutual grip of grace.

You know, I might download a sermon this week to learn something cool.

But I can’t wait to go to church and experience my full humanity—a clothed-with-flesh soul, cleansed forever.

Will you join me?

Pastor Howard
Senior Pastor
Metro North Church

Why Can't I Just Go to the Church on the Internet (Part 1 of a series)

The internet has been called “the ultimate connection machine.”

The intricate web catalyzes our connectivity to people and information in ways we never dreamed possible.

But is there a down-side, especially as it relates to experiencing deep church?

Let’s not start off too cranky and critical.

Two potential benefits to “going to church” on the internet, pop immediately to mind.

First, members of our church family get sick.  Others travel in our highly mobile society.

The convenience and availability of an internet sermon or blog post can be an avenue of grace to these folks.  

Second, we live in a post-Christian culture, where less and less people join churches.

Going to church isn’t part of their cultural cadence.  

They see the church as irrelevant with no real “value add” to their life.

And didn’t Jesus say to “Go out into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature?”  

“Every” includes even those that consider deep church a waste of time and effort.

By placing a sermon on the internet, an unchurched, skeptical “outsider” to grace can be reached.

They can experience a connection to the story of Jesus and have a “free taste” of the gospel.

So you might say that the internet is not “evil” in and of itself.

In fact, it potentially benefits many.

But is there a dark downside?

Let’s mention one in this blog post and I’ll mention more in future posts.

The first dark downside to primarily going to church on the internet, relates to Gnosticism.

I just threw a strange word at you…and believe me, Gnosticism, a religion that sprung up in the first few centuries of the church, has some strange ideas.

For one, a Gnostic didn’t think matter mattered.

The gnostic religion (gnosis is a word we would translate as “knowledge”) loved knowing things like ideas and concepts, but they despised the physical world.

Things like bodies, dirt, and wiping the runny nose of a toddler made them feel yucky all over.

They taught “dualism” which, just like it sounds, broke the world into a duo of yucky physical things and yummy spiritual things.

Their end game was getting as many downloads of secret knowledge as you could, while at the same time, staying away from bad physical things.

Let’s get back to our discussion about going to church on the internet.

When we listen to a sermon, we are getting a download of data.

But what are we missing?

We are missing a three-dimensional experience with a flesh and blood pastor.

If you got close enough to him on a Sunday, you might even smell the scent of his aftershave or get a whiff of his bad breath.

You would be reminded that he’s a normal human, just like you, and you might even experience the grace of a trusting connection.

Christians have always believed that “matter matters.”

God reached into the mud and made man to be a mirror of his beauty.

God, in Jesus, became flesh and lived with us.

We call this the incarnation or the enfleshing of God.

Gnosticism taught de-incarnation.  They were not a fan of things like driving to church, hugging people, and connecting “face to face.” 

Jesus, the embodied God, will never take off his physicality and transcend into a cyberspace download.

One day, you and I will touch his scars, see his smile and feel the touch of his hand as he wipes away our tears.

He understands our own scars, those embedded experiences of pressure and pain, better than anyone.  And his gathered church is called his body.

I eagerly await the gathering of our church family in worship and fellowship.

In fact, I believe we are most fully human when we move out of isolation and into deep community.

See ya at church,
Pastor Howard
Senior Pastor
Metro North Church

2 Reasons Why Casting a Net is More fun than Cleaning a Net

We have a thought-provoking saying here at Metro North Church: 

“We fish with a net, not a pole.”

What does that mean?   

Many fishermen would cast a net together to capture fish during the times Christ walked the earth.

Fishing with a pole all by yourself, like we might do here in the low country, was not the usual form of fishing.

Jesus’ last command - “Go and publish my plan to save the world!” is to be Metro’s first priority. 

And this adventurous command was given to a community of followers, not to an individual.

  •  But this is where I get stuck.

I know that I am to be seeking and saving the lost with others (casting the net of salvation), but if I am honest, I much prefer to stay on the shore and clean the nets with my fellow followers of Jesus.

Jesus found some “net cleaners” in Luke chapter five.  While walking by the edge of a lake, Jesus spied some empty fishing boats.  Luke the biographer writes “the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.”

Did you catch that?  Instead of spending time in the boats and casting the nets for fish, the fishermen were on shore cleaning the nets.

Jesus directs Simon "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."

Could casting nets be more fun than cleaning them?

Jesus seems to think so, and here are two reasons why:

Reason Number One:  Casting is adventurously dangerous, uncomfortable and unstable while cleaning is safe, comfortable and stable.

Sounds counter intuitive but think about it….

A story is boring if it has no risk of harm or hurt.  But who wants to risk getting hurt?  We are “hurt-averse.”  This makes sense in a fallen world.

And Jesus cares enough not to care about our self-focused, emotional hesitancy.  He is helping the fallen world to stand up again!

Peter replies to Jesus’ command to cast with the words "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!”

Behind Peter’s words we sense his exhaustion and desire for safety, comfort and changelessness. 

While on shore with his buddies, he was on solid ground going through the methodical motions of net cleaning. 

Our personal routines and rituals set the rhythm of the predictable net cleaning life.

But Jesus clearly commanded them to cast their nets.  His kingdom way of life always seeks the lost.  Sacrificial love involves danger, discomfort and the risky unknown.

Jesus crosses streets and climbs over fences in order to cast himself around others who need help and healing.  He ventures out with his people to rescue those caught in an ocean of darkness so that they can enter into the sunshine of life with God and others forever.

Cleaning the nets has its place.  But they are cleaned in order to be cast.

Reason Number Two:  Casting is more exhilarating than cleaning.

Simon and his fishing buddies cast the nets and experienced a SURPRISE! 

The nets captured so many fish that they began to break!  Luke tells us that another boat was rushed to the fishing site and both boats were filled to the point of sinking.

They all looked on wide-eyed with emotional astonishment.

I want that astonishment too.

But I will have to stop spending all of my time cleaning the nets.

I will have to relish the words that Jesus gave to Simon "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." 

I will have to grab a fishing buddy and cast the net.

Will you cast the net with me?

Pastor Howard
Senior Pastor
Metro North Church