Virtual Prayer: A Step-By-Step Guide

I just added a new post to WorldVenture.com for the Church on Mission posts. I hope you find this helpful. If you would like to know more about digital discipleship, please let me know.

Face-to-face prayer, phone call prayer, and virtual prayer share the same ingredients—consistency, compassion, and patience. The difference between them are the tools we use to convey the “prayer and emotional support” that practicing Christians are seeking today. In fact, on a spectrum of interaction where face-to-face prayer is most personal, virtual prayer is a step above a phone call because we can see each other on video in ways that we cannot over the phone. Continue Reading…

The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel: Lessons in Social Media

The real tragedy in The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel on Netflix was how internet users became ruthless in their pursuit of “truth.” In this four-episode series, two characters emerge–Elisa Lam and the Cecil.

Elisa was a Canadian, a student, and a Tumblr blogger. She micro-blogged in the same way many of the early bloggers did when blogging was young—transparently, authentically. Her Tumblr was self-expression and connection. This is refreshing, considering that most blogs now are about selling you something. We are led through strange events, including the history of this Skid Row hotel.

Live interviews from a former manager, a former maintenance worker, police, the coroner, psychologists, Youtubers, bloggers, historians, and other “web sleuths” led us through the Cecil Hotel’s dark history and the strange journey of Elisa. The series seemed to present the story similarly to how the public heard the information as it was happening. This is good story-telling, giving us the right ambiance.

When the last episode plays out, and her body is found floating in the water tank, you are left feeling sad for the family who endured the media coverage as well as the victims of assumptions made by people online.

Morbid, a death metal musician, was mobbed online with hateful messages and death threats as people assumed by his music and his stay at the hotel that he killed Elisa. Hundreds of death threats and messages peppered his Youtube account. The Mexican FBI even briefly visited him at his home. This drove Morbid to an unsuccessful attempt at taking his life. To this day, Morbid said in the interview, he has trouble getting back into his art. He says no one apologized to him for the cyberbullying and the pain it caused.

From this, I felt we could learn some lessons from the Vanishing…

  • Hotel Cecil was located in Skid Row and housed people like Richard Ramirez. Elisa Lam was under-medicating as bipolar 1 and hallucinating, acting out, and being strange. No one thought to question her behavior or get help because it was the Hotel Cecil—a hotel where the unknown was an everyday occurrence.
  • Always Google map or Google earth a hotel before staying. Stay on Main, and Hotel Cecil shared the same elevator. It was not two different hotels, just two distinct hotel experiences to gain more business. It was still dangerous for a tourist.
  • The police do not share all their information, and the media is usually wrong or has an agenda.
  • Do no harm. Having a social media platform is a form of power.
  • Don’t obsess over bloggers or any other social media personality.
  • Think of the family of the one who vanished or died. I can’t even imagine how they felt watching all this unfold online and on television.
  • Use social media to connect and help each other.
  • Your words on social media will live long after your time here on earth is over. Make it count.

Some still believe that Elisa Lam’s accidental drowning was some kind of conspiracy. The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel very thoroughly debunked any conspiracy theories. She wanted to see the world, and instead, lost her life in Los Angeles. However, her words on Tumblr live on.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A New Email Service Opened

It’s tough these days to keep a good attitude. I want to help.

Once a week, beginning next Monday, I will be opening up to you a new email service.

Catch Your Breath: Your Weekly Encouragement will be a quick read filled with encouragement and Scripture. You do not have to be of my faith to sign up and receive them. You can reply to this weekly email if you do have prayer needs or have questions. This is different than my regular ministry emails.

Sign up by clicking here.

How to Prayer Fast and Encourage Others to Join You

According to one blogger, there are about 77 references to fasting in the Bible. My favorite is this verse,

Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16

CRU describes fasting as,

“…abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Simply going without food because it is not available or for medical reasons is not biblical fasting. There must be a spiritual motivation to qualify a fast as biblical.” 

One of the wrong motivations is to be “…seen by others.”  Social Media can quickly become a popularity gauge or misunderstood because of its visual nature. If someone posts a good deed or that they are fasting, someone immediately assumes it’s to “…bask in their admiration” of your spirituality. Examine your motivations.

My experience with a prayer fast is not eating from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in one day, only drinking liquids. I wear a bracelet that says “Pray”, given to me by the hostess of a home I was staying at, as a physical reminder to pray and not to eat. The gnawing hunger in my gut and the discomfort remind me why I am praying and the rawness of a situation. Because social media is visual and simultaneous with face-to-face life, I live by example. I post that I will do a prayer fast and invite others to join me in the cause. My motivations are to inspire others to take the world’s brokenness seriously and give it to God.

So, post about your prayer fast…

  • Post a picture of a verse you highlighted in the Bible, and invite people to join you on a prayer fast.
  • Paint or draw, or have your kids draw, something that shows a prayer fast, and invite people to join with you when you post that picture.
  • Use your social media as a journal. After a prayer fast, maybe done in secret, post your thoughts on fasting that day with a nice photo of where you were as you were fasting.
  • A fast may not be avoiding food, but maybe it’s an electronic fast? Or a social media fast?

What other ideas can you come up with to inspire people to join you in a prayer fast? 

Fasting Resources:

The Anatomy of a Bridge

How to Cross the Divide of Polarization  

The Golden Gate Bridge was built in stages. It wasn’t expedient, and it cost more than $35 million after construction began in 1933 ($523 million in 2019 dollars). Eleven workers died constructing it. It took four years to build. It bridged an almost two-mile section of the bay. Bridges are necessary, costly, and take time to create, much like building bridges between people today.

We Start with the Foundation

All bridges need to be secure at the foundations and abutments. In the case of a typical overpass beam bridge with one support in the middle, construction begins with the casting of concrete footings for the pier and abutments. Where the soil is especially weak, wooden or steel piles are driven to support the footings. After the concrete piers and abutments have hardened sufficiently, the erection of a concrete or steel superstructure begins. – Encyclopedia Britannica on Beam Bridges

The “soil” is you and me. We must prepare ourselves, the “soil”, to construct a bridge or several bridges. It will be costly. It will hurt. Occasionally, you may make someone angry or offend another. God may ask you to do more than you are willing to do or give up more than you are willing to give up. But, the “soil” must be prepared. Bring in some wise counsel, those steeped richly in biblical wisdom.

Proverbs 19:20-21 says, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Wise friends are our “supports”, “foundations”, and “abutments”. They are our concrete piers as we seek to build a steel superstructure.

The people I call friends come from many different backgrounds and their experiences help me make the decisions I need to make going forward. However, I start with God as my source of strength and joy, and in my online work, I move ahead in prayer over whom I may meet and the words I need to use at the time.

The Building of the Bridges

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, there are many different bridge types: Beam Bridges, Arch Bridges, Suspension Bridges, Cantilever Bridges, and Cable-Stayed Bridges, but each one has something in common. Besides a good foundation, the bridges are connected from one spit of land to another, crossing chasm, a canyon, an ocean, or a river. Each bridge operates differently according to how it was built and serve a purpose.

 In a Cantilever Bridge, “each new segment is supported by the previous segment…” We need each other as believers of the Jesus of the Bible. How can we build bridges that support the heavy loads life brings daily? We must love people we meet on their terms, not on how we want to be loved by them. In your online work, seek to…

  • Build something in common with others.
  • Earn their trust.
  • Withhold your opinions where necessary.
  • Listen.
  • Stop judging.
  • Let them get to know you online. Get to know other people online.
  • Be a better version of yourself. 
  • Pray.

A Bridge Often Needs Repair

Now that you have built some bridges that have fostered good conversations, there’s an aging bridge that needs new supports.

  • Apologize quickly.
  • Don’t hold grudges.
  • Forgive and ask for forgiveness.
  • Work together as believers.
  • Grace and mercy. We will all mess up.

Sometimes, bridges are dynamited. Don’t be so quick to dynamite a bridge before the new bridge is constructed and ready to use. In Genoa, Italy, 37 people died when, in 2018, a highway bridge collapsed. According to the New York Times, thousands of collapsed bridges since the early 20th century were investigated for possible poor construction.

Conclusion

Prepare the soil, build the bridge to connect across the chasms that divide, and keep that bridge repaired, so it endures through all kinds of storms and catastrophes. The Golden Gate Bridge was a historic feat that today, some say couldn’t happen in the time frame or the cost of when construction began in the ’30s. Many people online are blaming technology for the divides and dynamited bridges in their lives, but God won’t take our excuses in Heaven that “Google made me do it” or “Facebook made me do it.” We are each responsible for building and maintaining good bridges, but first, let’s prepare the soil.

Go to God today and ask Him to help you identify areas in your life that need changing.

Holodomor: A Lesson in Communications

“Holodomor” is a Ukrainian word derived from “holod” (hunger) and “mor” (extermination). In 1932 and 1933, 3.5 million people are estimated to have died during Joseph Stalin’s intentional starvation. He called it a natural famine, as did other journalists and governments, especially the New York Times journalist and later Pulitzer Prize winner Walter Duranty.  Duranty was stationed in Moscow, as were other reporters. Duranty said of Ukraine, “There is no actual starvation or deaths from starvation, but there is widespread mortality from disease due to malnutrition… conditions are bad. But there is no famine.” He never retracted his statement. Governments going through the Great Depression wanted the story buried.

Duranty wasn’t alone in Moscow. Among the reporters stationed there was Gareth Jones. A movie was made recently of his life (Mr. Jones, 2019). I watched it with some trepidation. As a frequent reader of the Holocaust, I was prepared for horror. It was a good film. A few other journalists also wrote about the Holodomor. Gareth snuck into Ukraine to see what Stalin was doing to the Ukrainians. According to the movie, Gareth was arrested by Soviet soldiers and released but pressured to not speak a word of what he saw in his travels through the Ukrainian countryside.

Environment and Society wrote, “The Soviet government banned any discussions relating to the famine until the late 1980s, and ordered historians to depict the famine as an unavoidable natural disaster… some scholars have compared the devastating event to the Holocaust.”

While it was considered to retract Duranty’s Pulitzer Prize posthumously, it was never revoked. Gareth Jones’ journalism career took him to Mongolia to pursue another story of injustice to which his guide, thought to be with the Soviet Secret Police, helped get him shot and killed a day before his 30th birthday.

The New York Times has a statement about Walter Duranty on their website. “Duranty, one of the most famous correspondents of his day, won the prize for 13 articles written in 1931 analyzing the Soviet Union under Stalin. Times correspondents and others have since largely discredited his coverage.” They also said, “The Pulitzer board has twice declined to withdraw the award, most recently in November 2003, finding ‘no clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception’ in the 1931 reporting that won the prize, and The Times does not have the award in its possession.”

Without eye-witness testimony or proof like the photos that came out of the Holodomor, people who claimed the unpopular opinion that the starvation was not a grievous famine could have been labeled “conspiracy theorists.” Before Gareth and a “few” journalists published their pieces, no one knew what was happening in Ukraine.

There is a museum that reminds people it did happen. You can click here to read it.

Resources:

Mr. Jones is not a movie for children.

Picture from the Museum page.

Right Now Media: How to Use It

We spend too much energy following the news and writing angry comments on social media. If we spent that energy a different way, how could God use us to change the world? In a book I am reading by Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather’s Son, he learned that to help others, he needed to be in a position to be helpful. If our heart is sick, how can we help others be well?

Right Now Media is available on ROKU and your computer. Our church offered this to its congregation. I spent the first night going through Psalm 119, then listened to part of Francis Chan’s series on Mark. In exploring both ROKU and the site on my computer, I see so much potential for church members to make disciples.

Here are some initial suggestions: 

Whatsapp Chat Bible Study

  • Ask people to join you in a chat Bible Study on Whatsapp.
  • Create a group within Whatsapp. Whatsapp is secure.
  • All of you with an account on Right Now Media can choose a series to do together.
  • The leader posts each episode in the group each week and with reminders to watch to encourage participation.
  • The group watches one episode a week on their own time.
  • The leader opens it up for comment on WhatsApp.
  • The group leaves their thoughts and questions on it for discussion.
  • Whatsapp allows video, text, images, and even calls.
  • Don’t forget to download the study guide from your computer.

Right Now Media Video Conference Bible Study

  • If you log into Right Now Media on the computer, you can start a video conference virtual meet up to watch the same episode together and discuss it.
  • You can also do this on Zoom.
  • Don’t forget to download the study guide from your computer.

You don’t need to be a Bible scholar to lead a Bible Study. All you need is a desire to follow Jesus even into new areas of thought or to share some real hope with your neighbors. Making disciples is simply conversation. In doing this as a new habit, God will help your heart heal and refocus you during these interesting times.

I’ll be praying for you.

photo of people doing handshakes

How to Create a Digital Report

For context, go to WorldVenture to view the three-part video, How to Form a Digital Team, a video series from WorldVenture highlighting the importance of your church or ministry using your digital platforms for making disciples. You may take this post and make your own out of it. This is okay. Do whatever works for your audience, your team. This video series and this blog post are part of a larger series called, The Church on Mission.

This post goes with today’s resources available at worldventure.com (click here).

The digital report serves two purposes for your online ministry.

  • Shares with ministry leadership both the digital discipleship value and data of the online ministry as observed by the digital team and the exported data or observed data of the online platform you are using for the live feeds.
  • The report encourages the leadership, the congregation, and the digital team to continue with serving online even through what feels like unfruitful periods of ministry.

The data is important, but not as important as showing the digital discipleship value, like comments. Your team may not be techie and your leadership may find more encouragement in the digital discipleship side than the numbers side. You might be a data person, but not everyone can picture people when they look at numbers.

The report can be done in Microsoft Word, Google Doc, or Pages. For this post, I will be using Microsoft Word as an example. A pdf form is accessible here for your use, or email me for the Word format to edit.

You can also create an excel document with just the data, or simply export the data from your social media platform. Pay close attention to the data that is most important to your ministry, like views. The rest of the data is useful for knowing how to post to your ministry or church digital platforms, like days which are popular for posting. Since I encourage the use of personal social media in making disciples online in addition to any disciple-making tools your church or ministry adopts, that data is not so useful to your team.

First, create the folders and sub-folders in your computer with how you would like to organize the reports. Second, open a blank document like Microsoft Word and name it “(name of your church)” with dates of report. You can use the pdf form I have provided which lays out how the report should look.

For Grace Church, we use Monday through Sunday in our weekly reporting.

Note the line, “As read on…” because the views or other data present on Facebook can change by the hour as more people view the page.

Add a line for an update on the Digital Team. As the leader of the Digital Team, you want to encourage the leadership over you to continue to pray for the team in your ongoing efforts online. Also, let them know the dates you are meeting with the team for prayer. It’s okay if members of the congregation or leadership wish to join your weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly prayer and strategy meetings. It’s a great way to bring in new teammates or to encourage more prayer support in ministry.

For this report, my church uses Facebook primarily as their preferred digital platform. Facebook is ideally set up for ministry with groups, Facebook Lives that have a comfortable chat section with newer comments easily found, and rooms that allow for small group meetups by video conferencing. If you are a digital team, you might also include the next sub-section, “Social Media Tips” in case you are helping a church learn how to manage their own digital platform. Otherwise, you can skip that part and go on to the stats.

The rest of the report should be formatted as follows:

  • Start with the Facebook or Social Media subscribers, followers, or likes. Use symbols to show whether the count is up, down, or unchanged.
  • Set up the section for Facebook or Youtube Live Feeds.
    • Separate the services out.
    • Keep Youtube and Facebook separate.
    • If you have assigned digital team members to the service, add their names.
    • How many shares?
    • How many reactions?
    • How many views?
    • How many comments should be followed in the next bullet point of notable or meaningful comments. I normally choose comments that express thoughts of the sermon, how the pastor is connecting with the person, prayer requests or praises, etc.
  • Copy and paste the service section if you have more than one service streaming.
  • The next section should be notable Facebook posts. These are posts that have gotten a lot of reactions, shares, and/or received some notable comments. If there are meaningful comments on these posts, refer to them in the report.
  • If you have one or more Facebook groups, list them here as the pdf indicates: Name of group, purpose of group and group link.
    • List how many members are in the group and use the symbols in Word to indicate up, down, or no change.
    • List group posts, comments, reactions, and shares that are meaningful.

The purpose of the group is to show how the Saturday or Sunday service is connecting with your community and the world. The report must be laid out with a focus on connections. You can include other live streaming ministries in this report. By converting the pdf I’ve provided in Word, you can alter this report to better suit your needs in ministry. Or, again, email me for the Word document.

If you have any questions, please email me.

photo of people doing handshakes

Introducing The Church on Mission

Starting November 2 through WorldVenture, I will be publishing a series of videos and blogs called The Church on Mission to help the church and Christian nonprofit make disciples online and reach the unreached.

With COVID19 and prior predictions from notable sources that the church is changing in how we worship and how we gather due to technology and globalization, those of us involved in the digital world want to help the church recognize her ability to reach the unreached, the unloved, and the unchurched.

The first video, How to Form a Digital Team, will include three videos, a PowerPoint for your use, a list of trusted resources for further digital training, and a sample report form to get your congregation and leadership excited about digital discipleship.

The videos go as follows:

  • Introduction (1 minute)
  • The Template (3 minutes)
  • Review and Strategy (3 minutes)

It is designed so the international church leader can tweak it to his or her context in teaching their church congregations to make disciples online. It is also designed for the US church.

The series will be a long one and I will announce new videos and blogs as they are created.

Please be praying for this series.

How to Choose Better

Yesterday, I wrote a piece for WorldVenture, How Social Media Can Help You Live Deeply. In researching this article, I came across Proverbs 13:20,

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Who do you allow in? It’s certainly not my Facebook profile that determines whom I let into my heart. That’s just my living room with my Facebook Page being the front porch. However, what you read on your friend’s posts and your own newsfeed does saturate your heart, and most times with a lot of angst. It’s like a song on repeat. This is why learning your privacy settings and tools are important.

On Facebook, you can snooze someone for 30 days or choose to unfollow them completely without cutting that connection. I wish other social media sites had similar tools. With the people who text you or with people that you regularly meet for coffee, they are harder to Snooze or unfollow.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, says part of Proverbs 13:20, reminding us to choose the people we let into our heart carefully. Wise friends will lead us closer to Jesus, hold us accountable for our decisions, and even speak the truth when we least like to hear it. Proverbs 13:20 finishes with, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Who are those companions of fools?

  • They are the ones who enable us to live a way that leads us farther away from the person God wants us to become;
  • who say take another drink or use that drug even to your harm;
  • or people who can’t handle you when life falls apart;
  • or people who take advantage of another’s vulnerability to get something in return.

Not everyone can be that wise friend. Some people are built with bigger shoulders than others to catch the tears.

On Facebook or social media, it’s okay to have many friends or followers, cutting the connection only if it becomes toxic. But, your close friends should be the wise ones who help you choose better and bring you closer to Jesus.