Tyndale alumnus (BA ’12) and pastor Nicholas Dookheran joins us this week to continue our series on holy practices and habits that have encouraged others during the pandemic.
Nick writes, “Digital spaces are often places where we go to ‘disconnect’ from the busyness or pain of life. The people we interact with in those digital spaces are not just usernames but real people with stories, complicated lives, and real needs. We as believers ought not to ignore the call of God to be ambassadors in these spaces, even when it looks very different. If we are willing to engage with digital spaces, and meaningfully build relationships with the people on the other side, we can still see God move in powerful ways.”
Nick currently serves on the pastoral staff at Sanctus Church in Ajax, Ontario. Raised in Scarborough by immigrant parents from Trinidad and Tobago, Nick enjoys playing basketball, loves music, and spends as much time as he can with his wife Natalie.
Nick’s message is entitled, “Don’t turn off when you log on”.
It all started when we bought a bunch of PlayStation 4s, and now I might be marrying a couple that I've never met before.
Good morning Tyndale, friends, and family. My name is Nick, and I am a student on the Seminary side, studying in the clinical counselling program. I was asked to reflect and share on a practice that I've leaned into in this disruptive season, and maybe by mistake, but I found it incredibly life giving. I found myself leaning into this practice of living missionally.
Almost a year ago today, Premier Doug Ford announced that schools were going to be closed for two weeks, following March Break, and I can still remember the ambitious youth pastor inside of me, ready to pounce on this opportunity. We quickly moved our programming online, we did daily devotionals to provide a lot of opportunity for our students to connect with one another, with our leaders, to just go deeper in their walk with Jesus. I was so excited, and then as a two week window kept moving, it just kept moving, and now a year later, those of us who are parents, or work in some sort of student ministry could probably attest to the fact that this has been the longest two weeks of our life.
We've all experienced it, and I'm confident that many of our speakers before me have talked about the disruptive nature of the pandemic. We know that so many of us have experienced it financially. The economy is feeling it. From a mental health standpoint, we kind of feel it there. And us as a spiritual community, we're seeing the, the difficulties we faced, as well, in our own walks with Jesus and and in our communities, we observe each other. And in order to be truthful here, I want to openly acknowledge, I don't believe as I take stock of of the last year of my life, I didn't feel like this was the most thriving I've ever felt with Jesus. I myself felt, felt the suffering. And so in no way shape or form is this a 2021 "life hack" to rejuvenate your walk with Jesus, kind of message.
In this season, there were three things that sort of emerged for me. Learning to lament, leaning into community, and living on mission. This morning, I want to spend our time exploring that last piece, living on mission. And I want to apologize to my Anabaptist friends up front, and you'll see why in a moment.
Early into the lockdown, my friends and I, all got a hold of some PlayStation 4s, and we all downloaded a game called Call of Duty Warzone. And boom, magically, we who were previously very busy with life, were instantly connected. Previous to COVID, we would see each other a handful of times a year, and now weekly and much more frequently, we were catching up with each other laughing and enjoying our relationship. And through a friend of a friend connection, we got connected to a couple that moved from the Durham Region to Edmonton, and their names "Assassinator" and “Seventee”. Now, I know their real names, but I think it's important that I call them by their gamertags for the, for the purpose of this morning. This gamer couple became a regular part of our community, and I'm not kidding. We walk through so many of life's challenges. We walk through marital struggle, we walk through unexpected health challenges, through episodes of depression, through starting new businesses. Everything that this life had to offer. Everything that this year had to offer, we experienced together.
The group chat that organizes us is, is filled with jokes, game updates, trash talk, but it also is home to the, to the worship song that gets posted, that moved us in the week or, or a page from the book we've been reading that that really is edifying or building us up or, or when difficult times happen, prayer requests get posted and, and we're encouraged that we're actually praying for one another. And all of this isn't without, with an agenda to try to make this a Christian group chat. It's just us trying to be our full selves with one another. Assassinator and Seventee have been disciple, have been, are being discipled by a mutual friend of ours who isn't playing with us regularly, but we as the community have been able to watch them invite God's wisdom into their relationship across a period of time. Now when you're playing these games, they can be very intense. They require a lot of communication, a lot of alertness, a lot of teamwork, and in order to succeed, you really have to be fully invested in the moment. And one day when I'm gearing up to be fully invested in the moment, and be a good teammate, Assassinator drops this bomb on me and she says, "Hey, so we're thinking of coming back in the summer, and we wanted to know, Nick, you're a pastor, would you marry us this summer?" And I couldn't believe what I had heard. I was overjoyed at the decision for them to get married, and I was absolutely honoured that they would ask me to perform their wedding. I was over the moon for them from a friendship perspective, and, and it was a signal that the relationship that we were building online was a very real relationship. It wasn't second class, and particularly for them when they moved out to Edmonton and didn't know anyone when they moved there, we became the first stop for community for them. Real meaningful relationships were formed, and we got to participate in that along the way. This was one of the cookie crumbs that signaled to me that there might be something significant and real happening here.
I have a second story. I was playing with a Polynesian friend of mine. His name is Kele. He lives in Hawaii. And this man is the walking gift of evangelism. He has this way of making people feel immediately comfortable when he's around. It's sort of like a superpower he has. He makes fun of himself. He makes a lot of jokes, but he will absolutely make fun of you, and for whatever reason, no one is ever offended. He just has this charm about him that when you get around him, you feel like you've been friends with him for years. It's very funny and very disarming. And so, when we play, we often stream online through a service called Twitch, and that way anyone can kind of find us, and hang out with us as we play. And one night, my friend Kele, who's, who's pretty good at the game, he, he kills someone in the game, and the person gets upset, and they find his channel, and show up in his channel. And the person that he killed, his username was TomBrady12. So TomBrady12, enters the chat and starts talking smack to my friend Kele. And again, Kele having the superpower he does, the spiritual gift that he does, is very funny, makes fun of himself, makes fun of TomBrady12. Disarms the situation, and a connection and a relationship is actually formed. Two nights later, guess who were playing Call of Duty with? TomBrady12. Now, I just want to kill this, this suspense, I have in fact confirmed this is not the real Tom Brady.
But, our friend, who ends up being a salesman, in Utah, we end up having such meaningful conversations through the game. To give you one example, again this is so early on, two nights after meeting him, we're playing with TomBrady12, and Kele, out of the blue, asks the question, "TomBrady12, do you know what your purpose in life is?" And I'm sitting here, like, we just met this guy, why are you going so deep, so fast? But to my surprise, TomBrady12 actually opens up, and starts to answer the question, and me and Kele get to listen as this salesman from Utah articulates why he believes he exists on this earth, and, and why he values life in general, and some of the near death experiences that led him to, to valuing his life and his time on this earth. So as a second cookie crumb that confirmed the fact that something valuable was actually transpiring online.
Video games can be such an easy coping mechanism, and a very big time waster, especially when you're in lockdown, and there's nowhere to go, and not much to do. But for many of us, it actually became a very real third place in a missional sense. It's where real community was formed, and meaningful relationships were actually enjoyed.
As believers, we believe God is still on the move, and I just want to encourage us in this way, if we keep our eyes open and a heart connected to God, we can see how God wants to continually reach people, regardless of the circumstances. In Acts 8, we read of Saul's persecution of the church, and by verse four of that chapter, we read, "those who were scattered, went about preaching the word." We know that when persecution hit the church, people got scattered, and the Kingdom went with the people. And now I just want to be absolutely clear, the inconveniences we faced as a church were not at all persecution, we were not persecuted, nor were we displaced from our homes, it was absolutely quite the opposite. But my point is this, because of the indwelling of the Spirit, the Kingdom of God lives inside of us, wherever we go. So wherever we go, the Kingdom is there also.
For a year, we were told to stay at home, and we did. But it's a little bit more complicated than that. Many of us went deep into digital spaces, and involved ourselves in digital communities, and we weren't persecuted. We weren't persecuted into them, but we were disrupted into them in some ways, and the truth remains wherever we are, so the Kingdom of God is also. Instead of physical marketplaces, that Paul would have been in, now we find ourselves in digital spaces like Reddit, and call of duty, in the comment section of Facebook, and Instagram, and TikTok. And many of us have felt really disconnected in this season.
Being in a community like this, what I'm about to share isn't profoundly, or it's profound, but it's definitely not new. God is with you, and nothing can separate you from his love. And, and if I could just offer one encouragement to us as a community in this time, it would be this, that we keep our eyes open for where the Kingdom is actually at work around you. Imagine being a Christian in, in Acts, and when Saul was persecuting the church, you think to yourself, okay, let's just flee. Let's get out of here. But when we get back to normal, when we get back to Jerusalem, that's when we'll pick up the things like living on mission, and evangelism and all of those important things. When it, when, when persecution hit the early church, the Kingdom went with the people. That's just how it was. God is still God.
God still wants to reach the lost, and we are still his ambassadors of reconciliation. And now because of this digital, now because of this disruption, a lot of us were driven into digital spaces. And for us, I think we need to remember that we don't get to turn off following Jesus when we flip open our phone. Think about my situation. What happens when TomBrady12 opens up about something going on in his life? And now because we have our eyes open and our hearts connected to God, God drops a prophetic word, or word of knowledge, wisdom, encouragement, and then boom, a softened heart meets a loving Jesus.
We cannot afford to neglect the digital spaces that we exist in. This is absolutely an arena that we need to continue to be followers of Jesus in. So much of the vibrancy of our faith is on the other side of actively walking with Jesus. Think about the Great Commission. "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them to obey." And then at the end, the promise, "And behold, I'm with you always to the end of the age." Think about Elijah who hears God, not in the winds, earthquake, or fire, but in the whisper. That happens right in the middle of him living obediently before God.
So in conclusion, yes, this, this season has been really disruptive, and, and yes to lamenting, yes to leaning into spiritual disciplines and communities. And, and the Yes, that I would want to bring to us this morning is yes to living on mission, still. And I hope that this morning will be catalytic to the Holy Spirit, opening up our eyes to the new spaces that we actually exist in, and would convict us not to push pause on representing Jesus when we're living in that space, especially in this disruptive season.
So, if you'll afford me the opportunity to pray for us, as a community, I would love to take that opportunity.
Holy Spirit, I thank you for this. I thank you for this season. It's come with so much joy, and hardship, and through all of it, we know that you're with us, even when it's been difficult at times to experience your your nearness. Father, I pray that in this time, you would open up our eyes and keep us deeply connected to, to your heart, so that we could just continue to be ambassadors of reconciliation in these new digital spaces that might be brand new for us to be figuring out how we can walk this out, and represent you in all of these ways. And so God I just pray that you'd fill us with your spirit, wisdom and open eyes. And I just ask this in, in your name, amen. Amen.
Have a great morning and a great day. See you later. Bye.
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