The Wise Way

Last week, I discussed innovation and creativity, pointing out that the pandemic caused churches to be creative in their use of technology. I used the example of the synagogue as an example of an innovation that was creatively used in Jewish history, and was wondering what innovations will emerge from this season—or if in our rush to reopen our churches we will abandon ongoing creative use of technology that could lead to something fresh and new in the way churches deliver their "services."

If you have ever heard one of my purpose presentations, you probably heard me start at Acts 6:1-7, Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 4.34.07 PMwhere the apostles chose men to carry the burden of the work among the widows:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

The people elected these men to serve or minister to the widows in the church, and the Greek word for service here is diakonia, from which we derive our modern church office of or word deacon.

Many churches have taken this passage in Acts 6 and turned it into a model for church governement and service. In some churches, the deacons are the ultimate governing position; in others they are people who serve by doing practical things in the church like building care, women's ministry and the like. The goal of this essay is not to debate which approach to or interpretation of deacons is correct; the goal is to show that any approach to deacons as a church institution misses the point altogether.

The original deacons were not about church government or tradition; they were simply an innovative solution to a new problem.

THE BACKGROUND    

As best we can tell, there was no biblical concept upon which the apostles drew to elect and commission the deacons. Jesus had instructed them to care for the poor. Most widows were poor in the early church if they had no other family to care for them. As the church grew, the number of widows increased from those outside the ranks of the Hebrew residents in Jerusalem. The apostles were being called upon to address this problem that had never before been faced. it is interesting that Luke is careful to point out that the problem was between two ethnic groups, the Hebraic and the Hellenistic believers, which shows us that ethnic tensions are nothing new to the modern church

The apostles addressed this problem creatively and used wisdom to come up with an innovative solution. I don't believe they were instituting a church office in Acts 6, but rather an approach the church should take to problems and challenges that are sure to come up in every generation, whether in or outside the church. The were setting a precedent, not establishing a tradition.

THE IMPLICATIONS

When I reflect on creativity and innovation, I think of the verses in Proverbs 8:22-31 where we learn that wisdom was at God's side when He created the universe:

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,  before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind."

Wisdom is closely related to creativity, which leads to my definition of creativity: the wise application of knowledge to existing problems or opportunities in such a way that something new and innovative emerges.

In Acts 6, the problem was the widow care. The biblical precedent that existed was the instance when Moses selected helpers (or something akin to deacons) because he was overwhelmed; later, elections were also common in Israel to elect synagogue leaders. So the apostles applied existing knowledge (getting leaders help and holding elections for those helpers) in a new way—a wise way—to address a current problem and the result was creativity: a group of men who we label deacons today.

What's my point? The church should be the bastion and vanguard of creativity. We have the Creative Spirit of God in our midst. We should not be looking to solve new problems with the solutions of the past. We are bound to our traditions when we don't see creativity as a function of the church and believers, or when fear causes us to retreat to the tried-and-true procedures rather than experiment with new applications of tried-and-true wisdom principles that can lead to innovation.

I urge you not to settle for what's been done, but take what's been done and pioneer something that has never been done. The world is not waiting for us to debate the role of deacons, but to find 21st century solutions to modern challenges that are the equal of what the apostles did in Acts 6. When we do, we will be working with the wisdom of Proverbs 8 that was present when God created and structured the world. And when we do, one thing is certain: There is no greater creativity with which you and I can work.


Pandemic Pondering

It has been six weeks since we were directed to stay home and shelter in place due to the COVID-19 Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 8.11.52 PMpandemic. These have been busy days for me since I took on a few new projects like a Facebook Live half hour session three times a week and an hour-long blog radio show Monday through Friday. That is on top of the coaching, publishing, and fundraising that has emerged as people have had more time to think, do some self-analysis, and create. The fundraising is for our partners in Kenya, who are going through their own pain as they stay indoors and trust the Lord for food and health.

Every morning when I get up (earlier than ever these days), I post my daily devotional on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Then I wait before the Lord and start to post short sayings meant to challenge the readers to be more purposeful, creative, and productive--and also less fearful. Those sayings have created a lot of "buzz" on social media, and the blog radio has been averaging 35 downloads every day (that's pretty good for the size of my audience and reach). 

I launched my free ministry mobile app for PurposeQuest International a few weeks ago. If you have not downloaded it, please do so now. It will help us stay connected and give you notices when I post or publish new resources. I have also updated my website and continued my weekly Purpose Study Bible Studies and the weekly Monday Memo.

My work in my publishing company is busier than ever. I counted 19 projects in various stages of development from the conceptualization phase to final proofing before publishing. Those are in addition to the three projects of my own I am working on. I also just finished teaching a class in the Gospels for Ottawa University in Kansas and posted the grades this past week. 

Why an I telling you all this? It is because I want to encourage and challenge you at the same time. Jesus told a parable in Luke 19 in which the master gave each servant one mina to work with until the master returned: "So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back'" (Luke 19:13). One servant earned ten minas, one five, but one did not increase at all. The master told the one who showed no increase,

“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?" (Luke 19:22-23).

The lesson of the parable was and is that God expects increase from His Kingdom citizens. The absolute increase is not what's more important; it's just that God invests in us and wants to see a return on His investment. You don't have to write books or do anything like I do or in the quantities I do them, but you do have to take who you are and what you can do and see how you work them so you bear much fruit for His glory.

Where do you think your greatest opportunity for increase is? That is where you should put your emphasis, especially as we look to enter into a new normal as the world emerges from the pandemic. If I can help you discover those areas of strength and potential growth, please contact me. You know where I will be: sitting at my home desk broadcasting, writing, and helping others to create as I feel God wants me to do. 


Down, But Not Out

As we close out the year, I trust you have had a purposeful and productive year. There is a Christmas gift for you at the very end of this entry. Before you get to all that, however, please enjoy this classic Monday Memo from the archives and apply the purpose lessons to your life this holiday season.

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I love spending time in the city of London. One year while I was there, I went to see Handel’s Messiah Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 6.01.30 PM
at the Royal Albert Music Hall. What a wonderful way to enjoy a timeless masterpiece of music and Scripture in the city where it was composed. That visit sparked one of my Christmas favorites from the Monday Memo archives, which I present to you again this year.

MESSIAH

Messiah is considered by many to be the greatest musical feat in the history of mankind. Commissioned by a charity to produce a benefit concert, Handel wrote the Messiah in only 24 days. A musician once told me that someone trying to copy the Messiah could hardly do so in 24 days—that is the level of inspiration in which Handel operated when he wrote. Handel never left his house for those three weeks. His food trays remained untouched outside his office door.

A friend who visited him as he composed found him sobbing with intense emotions. Later, as Handel groped for words to describe what he had experienced, he quoted St. Paul, saying, “whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it, I know not.”

What’s even more impressive is that Handel wrote Messiah under extreme duress. The Church of England strongly criticized and opposed Handel and his previous Scriptural works put to music. At the age of 56, he had no money, often going out only at night so as to avoid his creditors. Handel performed what he considered his farewell concert and went home, fully expecting to end up in debtor’s prison. Yet the first performance of Messiah in Ireland in 1742 raised almost 400 British pounds for charity and freed 142 other men from debtor's prison. Of course, the rest is history as countless millions have enjoyed and marveled at his work for more than 250 years. Handel also went on from there to enjoy tremendous success and popularity in his latter years.

So what does this have to do with you? Perhaps you are a person of purpose but you feel frustrated, even defeated in your PurposeQuest. Maybe you find yourself down and out, discouraged and criticized, forgotten and a failure. Perhaps your finances are in poor shape. If any of those descriptions fit you, read on, for this Memo can restore your hope and faith. If that’s not where you are right now, read on anyway, for that will probably describe you one day as you pursue your purpose.

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE DOWN AND OUT

What should you do if you are in a season of “un-use,” disfavor, or inaction? As we close out 2018, I urge you to do three things if you are discouraged, disillusioned, or dismayed. And if you’re not, I urge you to find someone who is—you shouldn’t have to look too hard—and encourage them in their dark time.

  1. Renew your faith in God. Your success and purpose expression don’t depend on your faithfulness; they depends on God’s. Remind yourself that God can do anything, and then rest in Him. Handel went home to retire and perhaps thought it was all over for him. Yet God helped him when a group found and commissioned him, and God can do the same for you.
  2. Keep preparing for your day of success. I don’t think Handel went home to retire and abandon music. Don't you abandon your love either. Keep writing, reading, learning, and practicing. When the phone rings or the mail comes with your opportunity, you will be fresh and prepared, having worked in faith for the day of success.
  3. Be generous. Handel wrote Messiah for charity, even though he was destitute. What can you do for someone else even though you are down and out? It is a good thing to do the unexpected in hard times, and giving something away definitely fits the bill when you are in need yourself. What better way to express your trust in God?

I had some financially hard times in 2019 and had to resort to my own advice, following the three steps I outlined above. I am glad to report that I did not waver in carrying them out, and they brought me through. I’m grateful for God's help as 2019 comes to an end, and I hope you can find reasons to be thankful as well. If it's been a tough year for you, thank God for His faithfulness that kept it from being worse. At least you’re still alive and purpose eligible! Then take this Memo to heart or share it with someone who needs it. I pray that as you do what I recommend above, you will see a purpose breakthrough in 2020. Thank you for allowing me to come into your life every week and thank you for being a fellow PurposeQuest-er. As I close this Memo, I wish you not only a great week, but a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season!

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CHRISTMAS GIFT: Here is an link to my audio message (40 mins) titled "Have Yourself a Mary Little Christmas."


My 2019 Writing Goals

I share all my writing goals below so you understand how I structure my goals and work to be fruitful and productive; what can you add to help our readers set their own goals and be more fruitful? WritingPIc

  1. New Year's morning, the first thing I did was edit my daily devotional (today from my book A Daily Taste of Proverbs); then I copied and pasted it to Facebook; then I posted it to LinkedIn and Twitter; I do that Monday through Friday and draw material from five of my daily devotionals. It helps me to jump start my writing day and keeps me in touch with my followers all over the world.
  2. On New Year's Eve, I set up my manuscript for my Corinthians commentary (written and 115k words); I will edit that in January and have it ready to publish in March (It would be February, but I am going to Kenya in February).
  3. On New Year's, I began editing my next book (my 'Go and' series from the Monday Memo) titled 'Go and Obey'; my goal is to have it finished in January for publication in March/April.
  4. This week, I will sketch out my revisions for my 2009 book "Changing the Way We Do Church" I will start to edit and write new material in January, but most probably won't get much into that until late Feb/early March.
  5. After I finish Corinthians, I have three more volumes of my New Testament commentaries (written but need to be edited), which will be done, with God's help, by Dec 31, 2019; here is the link for the commentaries that are complete (Romans is done but in final stages of publishing).
  6. Someone gave me the idea this past week for a book I will title "Put Me in, Coach!" That is on the horizon for 2019.

What are your goals this year that will enable you to activate, stimulate, and rejuvenate your creativity?


A Spirit of Fear

If you are like me, you know 2 Timothy 1:7 by heart: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (NKJV). I use this verse often when I coach people to find purpose or to be creative, and I have felt free to use this truth in many other areas of life and ministry, including my own. Therefore I was surprised this week when I looked at this verse in the context where it is found, and discovered that I should not be as free to use this verse as I have been, for it seems to be  specific and focused in one and not all areas of life.

In the verse before seven, Paul wrote these words: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God FanIntoFlamePicwhich is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV). Paul was urging Timothy to recognize the gift he had and instructed him to fan the gift into flames. When our homes had a fireplace, I would often have to employ this tactic. If I could get a small flame going, I would gently blow on it, giving it more oxygen so that it would spread. That is what Paul was telling Timothy to do: Take the smallest spark of his gift and do what he had to do to make it burn hotter and brighter.

So the context for not having a spirit of fear is not applied to all areas of life, but to the expression of our purpose and gifts. Paul would not tell us not to be afraid where our gift is concerned unless it was a common tendency for it to happen. We shrink back in fear when we have a chance to express who we are instead of taking every opportunity to do so and to learn how to do it more effectively.

Where are you afraid to express your gift? In fact, do you know what your gift is? Have others laid hands on you to confirm or release the gift? What can you do to fan it into flames, giving it the oxygen it needs to flourish and prosper. I have been on a search and destroy mission the last few years of my life to find and eradicate fear, and it's been a large task. I suspect this will continue for the rest of my life.

What are you doing to confront and neutralize the fear where your gift is concerned? I encourage you to read these verses and the others in 2 Timothy 1 and do what Paul was advising Timothy to do, which was to stop hiding behind his fears but to step out into the light of self-expression, which is the only way to honor God for making you who He made you to be.


The Foundation of the Old

"Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many" -- 1 Corinthians 12:12-14.

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus' words that teachers of the Law will do creative things when they enter the Kingdom of God. Paul is a perfect example of what Jesus was talking about. The first half of many of Paul's epistles contains many important theological truths; the second half is full of practical steps of how to carry out the great theological truths. Paul's letters and theology, while inspired by the Holy Spirit, are also a product of Paul's creativity, for the Spirit was able to use Paul's background, experience, and unique insight to mold and shape the new doctrine of the church that was based on Paul's Old Testament foundation. While Peter had the keys to the Kingdom, only Paul had the creativity that could receive, conceptualize, and explain the Spirit's vision for the Church. Do you see that your preparation determines how much of your creativity God can use for His purpose? Do you also see that your ability to visualize and create the new emanates from how well you have mastered the basics in your field of creativity and innovation? Are you willing to pay the price to become proficient enough to do something new?

Lord, I have placed all the emphasis on revelation and creativity like Paul exhibited on the work of the Spirit, but today I see that the Spirit used someone who was prepared and primed to do the "new thing" that You were announcing. I want to be like Paul, but first I need to prepare like Paul so I can have older things in my storehouse of wisdom to join with the new things You will bring my way.


True Creativity

"He said to them, 'Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old'” -- Matthew 13:52.

Jesus was instructing His disciples that anyone entering the Kingdom who had been a teacher of the Law was in a unique position. That person would have a rich heritage of tradition, yet would also encounter and see new things that would enable them to creatively combine old principles with new concepts. Let's apply this truth to creativity in general. Most people believe creativity is doing, thinking, or making something that no one in the history of the world has ever done, thought, or made. Most times, that is not the case. Instead, creativity is taking something old, like water, combining it with something else, like a plastic bottle, and meeting a new need (portable water available anywhere) to create something new but not unheard of. Do you have the ability to see how old things can be used in new ways? Do you see that as a function of your creativity?

Lord, I have misinterpreted creativity, and therefore I have not recognized it when it appears in my life. Yes, I have the ability to see new uses for existing things, and now I understand that is part of my God-given creativity. Consequently, I am free to be creative since it doesn't mean I have to invent or be creative like Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs to do so.


A Creative Confrontation

"The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, 'There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

'Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.'

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, 'As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity'" -- 2 Samuel 12:1-6.

Nathan the prophet had the unenviable task of confronting King David about his sin with Bathsheba, which the king had covered over for a year. Nathan knew if he was going to get the king's attention, he had to be creative and tread carefully, or else forfeit his own life. What did Nathan do? He drew on his creativity and told a story to David that caused David to react and pass judgment on David's own behavior, without realizing what he had done. Then when Nathan identified David as the rich man in the story, David had no choice but to confess and own up to his sin. Are you facing a tough problem that requires confronting someone, perhaps even your superior? Have you considered an indirect, creative approach that may soften the sting and open the door to real dialogue and even repentance? Pray and ask God for help!

Lord, this story is a beautiful example of creativity in action to address a difficult human problem. I need that kind of creative wisdom as I parent, lead, follow, minister, and counsel. I ask You to grant me the ability to confront with the skill and care that Nathan showed in this story.


A Creative Plan

"And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine" -- Genesis 41:33-36.

His brothers' creative lie took Joseph to Egypt where he served for 13 years, some of the time as an imprisoned slave. Then one day, he went from the jailhouse to the White House, so to speak, when he was summoned to interpret Pharaoh's dreams. Not only did he interpret them, he also created an on-the-spot plan to respond to the message of those dreams, which was seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed with his creativity, spontaneity, wisdom, and poise that he promoted him on the spot to the position of vice-president. Joseph was probably surprised at what had happened, for his response to Pharaoh's dreams was very matter-of-fact, giving the impression that this creativity was so normal for Joseph, he did not think it anything special. Do you have creativity that you don't think is very special? Do you see that your creativity can be the source for your promotion and success? Why then, are you holding back on expressing it?

Lord, I sometimes speak with creative wisdom, and people seek me out for my response, just like Pharaoh did Joseph. Help me to get past the "oh, that was nothing" mentality to seeing and accepting that my creativity is an important part of who I am and will help take me where You want me to be in Your will.


A Creative Lie

"Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, 'We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.' He recognized it and said, 'It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces'" -- Genesis 37:31-33.

After Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, they concocted a story to tell their father of what happened to Joseph. They took the coat their father had given to Joseph, dipped it in blood, and allowed Jacob to come to the wrong conclusion. That's not the worst part. They then allowed their father to live in that lie for 22 years, so long that the brothers believed it themselves, which is why they could not recognize Joseph when they saw him in Egypt because they believed he was dead. How often did these brothers have to creatively pretend like they missed their brother? How often did they have to creatively lie and embellish the story of Joseph's disappearance, covering the truth with a lie that turned into a huge deception? You can use your creativity for good as a means to serve God and others, or you can and will use it for other self-serving purposes. The choice is yours.

Lord, I choose to use my creativity not to build a fantasy world that I eventually believe, but to use it as You intended: to creatively serve Your kingdom and the people in it. Deliver me from all creative falsehoods that include excuses, denials of the truth, and facades that cover the truth in my heart.