Reclaiming Revelation

I have been asked many times during this pandemic if this is the end, if the return of the Lord is imminent as proved by the signs of the times. Some have referred to the book of Revelation, which Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 7.49.59 PMcertainly seems to describe cataclysmic global events such as we are witnessing now. My answer is always the same, "I don't know if this is the end, but I am closer to my end than I have ever been." The truth is I don't know and no one else does either. All we can do is be faithful to this day and trust the Lord for tomorrow.

Years ago, I wrote a commentary on Revelation called The Revelation Project: A Fresh Look at the Last Book and my perspective flew in the face of most commonly held interpretations. I later turned that book into volume twelve of my Live the Word commentary series, but I thought of the introduction to both of those books this week and want to share it with you here. My purpose is to continue my work to reclaim the last book of the Bible from the zany and bizarre interpretations many hold that cause them to mistakenly examine current affairs under the light of Revelation's message. Here is what I had to say in my introduction.

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I suppose it is natural for us to think about the end of time and speculate concerning what will happen leading up to the end and beyond. Due to the popularity of fiction books that focus on the end times, along with the commonly held and taught positions on the meaning of the rapture, the millenium, and the antichrist, people study Revelation, along with Daniel, Ezekiel, and some parts of the gospel accounts, a majority are looking for the beast, the dragon, and the meaning of the number 666, among other things mentioned in Revelation.

Yet as you start this commentary, I am asking you to do something completely counterintuitive. I ask that you suspend any and all preconceived notions you have accumulated about Revelation, just for as long as you read this book. I don’t want you to think as a pre- or post-millenialist. If you tend more to be a preterist, futurist, historicist, or even an idealist (and if you aren't familiar with those four labels, please don't spend much time researching them), I want you to approach this book like you know nothing at all. If you don’t do that, then you will approach my book or a reading of Revelation looking for the familiar, consequently not seeing what else may be there. If you go looking for the antichrist, that is all you will see. If you can go looking for the Christ, you may notice things you have not seen before.

That brings me to my main objective for writing this commentary and that is I want you to read  Revelation, approaching it as a devotional book. My reason for this is that is your approach, at least in part, to the other 65 books of the Bible. You usually read those books asking, “What can I learn from this that will help me in my daily walk? What can I learn about God’s will for my life? What can I learn about the Lord Jesus that will enhance my worship and walk with Him?” 

Once you suspend your preconceived notions of what Revelation is or how you have interpreted it, here are some other guidelines I have set up as you work through the material, just so you know how I am approaching this work:

    1. Revelation is not a book primarily about the future. It is a book about the past. This does not mean that there are no future aspects to Revelation. There most certainly are. Yet the other 65 books of the Bible primarily explain how God has worked among His people, culminating in the work of Christ on the cross. The Old Testament basically tells us that Christ is coming. The New Testament explains the implications for His finished work and Ascension to heaven. Revelation has much to tell us about Christ’s work just like the other books do.
    2. Revelation is a book about Christ, not the Antichrist. Yes, Revelation does depict the work of forces that align themselves against the Lord and His Anointed One, but their actions are shown to be futile in light of God’s superior power and authority. Focusing on the enemies of God has tended to magnify their power and actions. We are never to magnify the enemy, only God.
    3. Revelation had to mean something to the churches that initially received it. The New Testament was written to the Church in all ages, and Revelation is no exception. The gospel of Matthew has meaning for us today, but it also meant something to those for whom it was first writtenthe Jews of the first century. If we can grasp and recapture some of what Revelation could have meant to the early church, then we will have a clearer understanding of what it says to us today. 
    4. Revelation is called the Apocalypse because it is a book that utilizes apocalyptic language and images. The word apocalypse literally means unveiling. It was a genre of literature that was well-known to the early church, but almost a complete mystery to us today. There were specific rules of interpretation for apocalyptic literature then, just like there are for satire and science fiction today. You approach those latter types of literature with certain expectations and rules for interpretation. You must do the same as you read Revelation. Much of Revelation employs graphic and exaggerated symbols and metaphors, intended to give a general “bird’s eye view” of the work of Christ as He rules until all His enemies are His footstool. Those metaphors are not to be taken as literally as some have imagined. When Revelation wants you to know what something represents, it tells you. When it doesn't, be careful not to assign specific meanings that may even make some sense, but are not supported by biblical evidence.
    5. Revelation was not intended to generate fear, but trust and confidence in God. If the other 65 books of the Bible were intended to teach reverence for God and confidence in His ability to protect his people, then why would Revelation be any different? Yet the Bible and Revelation do tell the sinnerthose who are apart from God, those who are in open rebellionto fear. He will not remain silent forever and He will eventually judge His enemies, both in this Age and at the Final Judgment. If anyone should fear when reading Revelation, it is not God’s people but those who do not know Him.

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There you have my basic approach to the reading, study, and interpretation of Revelation. It is a book of victory, not of defeat, and I resent just a little those who have made it be something else. It matters what you believe about the end for that will direct how you live. I want to live as one who lives daily in the truth that Jesus has taken on, and will continue to do so, all comers and He is still winner and champion. Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!


The Online Pastor

My revision and expansion of my 2009 book Changing the Way We Do Church is coming along. The expanded version will include an entire section on technology and social media, which was hardly Screen Shot 2020-06-12 at 7.14.28 PM
mentioned in the first edition. I won't go into all I will have to say there, but in light of my posts the last two weeks about creativity and innovation in the church, here is an excerpt from the new section I want to show you this week.

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In the earlier part of this book, I recommended that each church appoint a purpose pastor, someone who can help people recognize and then engage their life purpose through appropriate actions like publishing, starting a business or non-profit organization, or entering into full-time church or missions work. To go along with the purpose pastor, I also recommend that every church identify and empower a pastor of social media and technology. I will not get too specific as to their job duties, but in general, they will be to

take who we are as a people—what we teach, how we worship, what we believe, how we apply what we believe—and make it accessible not only to those in our closest proximity but also to those who live in other regions or countries.

This position will not allow a church’s presence online to be an afterthought or something that is done when the church gets around to it but will make it a top priority. They will have the full cooperation of all the staff and in a sense will co-pastor the church with the lead pastor, mutually submitting to one another. Due to the resistance and priority that lead pastors tend to give to the face-to-face church presence, this online pastor and his or her team must have unprecedented power to make decisions in the best interests of the online work, sometimes at the expense of the live worship experience. The online pastor will have the authority to involve any and all church staff and members in this endeavor.

For example, let’s say that the senior pastor shares a message that is well received by the people. The online pastor can decide to turn that series into a book, an online series with a study guide, or put it in any other format necessary to fulfill his or her mandate and the senior pastor cannot refuse. The online pastor can assign any staff member online duties and they cannot refuse or claim it’s not their strength or gift, or resort to the “I am too busy” excuse. As an example, the online pastor can decide the church is going to live broadcast the youth or children’s ministry and that’s that. There can be no protests from either department that they don’t want to do this.

My assumption is that all the resources any church needs to fulfill its mission are already sitting right in its midst. The church only needs new eyes to see who is present and utilize those people in a more effective way. This is also where the purpose pastor can help the online pastor, for the purpose pastor should be close to who knows and does what in the church, and also whom God is speaking to about more involvement in the church’s ministry work.

The online pastor will be tasked with identifying a team that will provide an online presence during the live worship services. The members of that team will use their own social media presence, or the church’s, to publish and broadcast portions of the live service. That will include quotes from the sermon, perhaps a line from a song sung that impressed them, or their own insight as the service progresses: “Pastor Sam is preaching from 1 Samuel 1. I have never thought of Hannah as he is presenting her. Good stuff!”

Finally, the online pastor will then help each staff member with their own social media philosophy, helping them spell out exactly how and when they will personally engage social media, which media they will use, and what they will include in their online presence, which may be a weekly blog, a regular video update, a devotional, or a podcast. Where the technical savvy is lacking, the online pastor will provide training.

Then the online pastor will do the same for any in the church who are interested in doing the same. He or she will start by imparting a theology of social media, reinforced from the live pulpit, to help people overcome any latent bias. Then the online pastor will help people understand how to use technology in a way that is consistent with their personal ministry or purpose.

That's just a portion of my thinking where the online pastor is concerned. One more point I did not include is that this online pastor cannot report to who I am calling the Sunday meeting pastor, for the latter will always prioritize the face-to-face meetings, often at the expense of an online presence—just as they have done since social media came on the scene. It is time for the Church to be innovative and an online pastor is one position that is needed and relevant, as the recent pandemic has shown. It is no longer acceptable to use social media as a church bulletin in cyberspace but instead to make it an important part of ministry, equal in energy and commitment to the on site services.


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.


Innovative or Creative?

There are many byproducts and interesting trends emerging from the pandemic. One of them is the Screen Shot 2020-05-30 at 9.24.37 AMstruggle for economies to re-open. Part of the problem is that we have learned to live with so much less that many are hesitant to spend cash on what they can live without. It has also caused us to step back and see where our economy has gone over the last decade. In my estimation, much of our creativity has gone into making what already exists a little better or a little different. For example, the first microbrewery was innovative, but do we need hundreds of them? Probably not. The same is true for yoghurt shops, health spas, and retail stores selling cheap junk from China.

My main focus, however, has not been the economy but the church during this season. Tomorrow, many churches will reopen, having done a "deep cleaning" with seats spaced for appropriate social distancing. During the pandemic, I saw a lot of creativity from the church but I did not see a lot of innovation—the creative use of something that changes culture and not just the expression of cultural values or norms. Let me give you an example of what I consider innovation and you will understand what I mean.

THE SYNAGOGUE

Did you ever give any thought to where the synagogue came from, or how or why it emerged? There is no mention of a synagogue in the Old Testament. The first mention is in the gospels and by then, it was an important part of Jewish life and worship. How did it become so popular and prominent? 

It seems that the Jews had a pandemic of their own in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar ransacked Jerusalem and the Temple along with it. The entire focus of Jewish life had revolved around the Temple and and the sacrificial system. Then suddenly, just like we experienced in the last few months, their worship focus was gone.

Some of the Jews stayed behind in Jerusalem but most who survived were carried off to Babylon, home to many temples devoted to idols that were off limits to Jews. What did the Jews do? They innovated. They adjusted from the Temple system with animal sacrifice to the synagogue with a reading and study of the Word as the main emphasis. When they returned to Judea 70 years later, they did eventually rebuild the Temple, but by then the synagogue was firmly established as an important part of their worship culture.

SO WHAT?

Where am I going with all this? Churches flocked to use social media during this pandemic, some who had been vocal opponents of its use prior to the lockdown. They had the attitude "social media and technology are an abomination to the Lord . . . and an ever-present help in time of trouble," but made it clear that this was only a concession to the unusual times. Many saw their "numbers" go up and their finances hold steady (those who still refused to engage it cannot wait to reopen for their lifeline to the people had been cut off). Some gave testimony that people were "watching" them from foreign lands and some had people surrender their lives to the Lord through the use of technology.

We saw churches conduct drive-in church services using their car radios in church parking lots. We had drive through prayer and hearing lines. There were many other examples of creativity, but now that the "pressure" is off, can we still be creative? We were creative in our deployment of technology but can we now also be innovative?

  • Can we take questions during our live services using Facebook or Twitter and use the last 10 minutes of our message time to answer some of those questions to ensure that the people "got" what we were preaching? Can we then answer the other questions after the service throughout the week?
  • Can we designate an online church team to monitor who is watching or listening via social media, to pray with any who have needs, or to "welcome" them as we would during a live service?
  • Can we not finish a Sunday message and direct people to "tune in" on Sunday evening to hear the conclusion?
  • How about we develop online devotions for parents to use with their children during the summer and even throughout the school year?
  • Would it be possible to continue our online Zoom Bible studies and small groups?

These are only a few of the ideas I can come up with that I consider both creative and innovative that will help us make the transition from Jerusalem to Babylon as the Jews had to do. I would suggest that social media should be our synagogue-like response to current events. As we rush back to church, and well we should if we can and it is safe, let us not forget the pandemic lesson that technology is the next best thing to being there and has shown us the possibilities for a whole new concept of the church's mission. 


More More

Last week, I wrote an entry titled No More More that discussed our cultural obsession with more—more things, more variety, more experiences, more of just about everything. God has hit the pause button on all that and is about to reboot the world's economies, and the shake out and shake up will be significant. Yet there is a more that God does want and I thought I would discuss that this week under the title Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 7.43.48 PM"More More." My thoughts on this began when I read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 this morning:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more . . .

There is a more that God is interested in but it isn't the abundance of possessions; it is more love practically expressed first to the household of God and then to the world. In our pursuit of the wrong more, we suddenly did not have much time for the more more that God desired and that more is service to others in the power of our purpose and with the flare of our creativity.

My study of more didn't stop there, for then I did a search of the word more in the gospels and I came across a promise that Jesus made: "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them" (Matthew 13:12). This more is in the area of knowledge concerning the things of God, and it is interesting that this concept is mentioned in the three synoptic gospels—but is not limited to knowledge. Not to be left out, John describes his concept of more in John 15:1-2: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Define fruit however you wish, but however you do, be sure that God wants more of it.

I have counseled and talked with many people who are quite satisfied with no more. They are content with where they are, and are diligent to protect their privacy and way of life. God would have to break into their world with a spiritual crowbar before they would consider doing more for missions, being more creative, or being more involved. Yet notice the promises in Matthew and John. Jesus promised that those who have will get more; they have no choice in the matter. If they are fruitful, God will prune them so they will produce more fruit. You get the idea that God wants more more from you, for you, and through you, and there is no discussion about it. That's His will and plan.

When I have taught on the concept of organization, I have taught that we must organize our lives to handle more more. That isn't about stuff, for if anything we need to have less of that kind of more. Yet how can you organize your life and world to produce the more more that God intends for you? I have organized my life, my office, my schedule, my connections, and my entire world to produce more: more books, more insight, more service. When I had mastered the art of writing books, I started a publishing company. Why? To make more money? Hardly! It was to structure my life so I could produce more. I had a say in that, but my only say was yes or no. When I said yes, then I had to invest my finances, and position my life to receive and support the more more. 

What are your thoughts on more more? Do you think it's God's will for you? Do you think this season may have come to help you have less of the wrong more focus and more on the more more? I was so taken with this topic today that I decided that my next book after Proverbs 31 Men is done is going to be titled The Gospel of More, and it won't be about possessions. It will be about the right kind of more more. The sooner we can settle in our minds and hearts that God wants more and that more more is not an option, the sooner we can get about preparing and then realizing more. And if that is the result of this pandemic, it will have a redemptive harvest that was fertilized by the pain and suffering of people the world over as they embrace no more more and accept the fact that God wants more of the right kind of more.


No More More

When I first came to the Lord in 1973. I was on fire as I discovered many spiritual things I had never known before. One of those areas I discovered was the joy of giving. I was earning $600 per month (which is about $3600 in today's terms) and the day I got paid, I would pay my rent, my car, buy some food, support a few orphans overseas, and gave the rest of the money away—the day I got paid. Then I would live by faith for two weeks until I got paid again. I was happy and I learned so much about myself and the Lord.

Now fast forward 50 years later and I am still learning many spiritual things but I am not so much on fire any longer. While I am at home reflecting on pandemic lessons, I have two cars in the garage (we only need one right now) with full gas tanks, and a closet full of clothes—but I have no place to go. And I am reflecting on how I used to live and how I live now.

Then someone called me the other day and said, "I have some money in the bank and it's' not doing me Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 7.43.11 PM any good there. I want to give it to you for your work in Kenya." It is not a small amount and I was blessed and exhilarated for what the money will do, but then again, I thought of my current lifestyle and how I used to live. When I apply that to our culture at large, it made me think of something I read in Fast Company Magazine the other day in an article titled "For Weaving The Clothing Industry into the Circular Economy":

For decades, Americans have had an insatiable appetite for new clothing's spurred on by the fast-fashion industry, which cranked out cheap, disposable garments that helped global clothing production double from 50 billion items a year in 2000 to more than 100 billion today (There are only 7.8 billion humans on the planet) (March/April 2020 edition).

The article went on to describe the environmental impact to the production of that much clothing and it is staggering, but can you imagine one hundred billion pieces of clothing in just one year? Is there any doubt that part of the message of this latest crisis is that more is not better, is not sustainable, and is an enemy of the words of Jesus that warned us about the addiction to more?

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:13-21).

In this context, Jesus equated more with the concept of greed, but more sounds better than greed. In this season of less, God is reminding us that more, or faster, or cheaper, or new is not always better. I  for one know I have had an attitude adjustment while sheltering at home that will carry into the new normal.

Yesterday, we went to a store and had to stand in a long line after some of the things we wanted were out of stock. It seems that there will be much more of that (waiting and doing without) to come but that's a good thing, if it will help us get back to what I knew in 1973. There is more joy in giving and more comfort in trusting the Lord than more in our bank accounts, wealth, or retirement funds. The article and the person who called to donate the money have reinforced in my mind the idea that this season can be of great benefit to us as the people of God if we realize how deeply we got sucked into more and how much freedom there is to establish that there is no more more.

    Feel free to leave your comments on the site where this is posted. 


The Church, Technology, and Social Media

This is long, but it is the intro to my new section as I revise my soon-to be-re-released book, Changing the Way We Do Church. Stay tuned; there's more to come.
 
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It is hard to imagine a book that focuses on changing the way we do church that doesn't include a section Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 10.13.38 AM on technology. When I first wrote this book in 2009, however, I was a novice to Facebook. I had been using it for only three years and had been blogging for about that long as well. I don’t recall if I was using Twitter, but Instagram, Snapchat, the cloud, smartphones, and iPods were just coming into their own. A church was considered cutting-edge in 2009 if it was able to put their Sunday service online using their own website; social media wasn’t yet a possibility as a means to do so.

Now in 2020, we have an explosion of social media options and opportunities, and quite frankly, most of the church is stuck. Many churches livestream their services and maintain them in an archive for future reference. Some have blogs, chat rooms for prayer and counseling, and actively publish other ministry resources. Yet many churches are yet to make the transition to the digital age. Those churches don’t have websites, do not pay much attention to social media, and are addicted to what I call as face-to-face ministry. Unless someone comes in the door of the church, there is no relationship or attempt to establish one.

Lo and behold, in 2020 we have a world crisis known as the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The entire world was sent home, including the Church, and everyone, including the Church had two things to utilize to stay in touch: social media and technology! We had gas in our tanks but no where to go, so we either watched television, read a book, or learned how to utilize things like Zoom, Facebook, GoToMeeting, LinkedIn, or for some who were way behind, the features of a smartphone.

Many leaders I talk to are ambivalent or downright hostile toward the concept of anything but face-to-face ministry—and it has showed up in their demeanor or words when using social media. I have watched many church “broadcasts” on Facebook during this time of sheltering in place, and it is apparently clear that they are uncomfortable and ready to go back to “normal” as soon as the all-clear alarm is sounded. Most have simply tried to replicate their live services online without anyone monitoring who is watching, if those watching have any prayer needs, or if those watching are “visitors” to the online service. That tells me their online presence is a stopgap measure that is not being introduced as a permanent feature or fixture in the church’s ministry repertoire.

Why does my generation hate social media like many do? When I pose that question, I hear the usual complaints:

  • “Those who use social media are self-absorbed.”
  • “I don’t have time for anything but preparing my Sunday message and caring for the needs of those in the church.”
  • “If we deploy social media, people will stay home and not attend church.”
  • “People need to stop playing with their phones and pay attention to one another.”
  • “We don’t have money for technology.”
  • “We have no interest in broadcasting what we do to the larger public. Our first responsibility to take care of our own.”
  • “Social media destroy relationships, and the church is all about relationships. We must have face-to-face time to build and cultivate relationships.”

I am sure you can add other laments to the list—those you have heard or uttered yourself. When I talk about social media, often those listening assume or actually hear that I am implying that social media can replace the church, which I am not—but that summarizes how they see that it is either all social media or all face to face. 

Before the pandemic, the ministry opportunities available through the creative use of social media were huge—and now they are even greater. For example, one-sixth of the world’s population is now on Facebook. The Church was given the Great Commission to go into all the world, so now we can simply go to our computer (or phone) to reach a large portion of it. When we “go,” we have access to do or say pretty much anything we want and people are free to read or not, respond or not, reflect or not. What would happen if we paid as much attention to our online presence as we did to our face-to-face presence? That is the question I was asking before the pandemic. What will happen if we don’t pay as much attention to our online presence? seems to be the new, relevant question.

We don’t know and that’s the problem. What is going to happen to our church financial model? How will we fund ministry? Will people stay home after the pandemic? Will our content be censored, hacked, edited, or misused? What will happen to those who are currently addicted to face-to-face ministry? Will they go to another church?

All these are real concerns, and I am not here to predict what will happen. All I am saying is that this shift to technology that was optional before the pandemic is mandatory now. Before the coronavirus, church attendance was down; now it’s almost nonexistent. People don’t like change and shifting to a broader, more strategic use of technology is a BIG change. For many, church attendance anchored their week; for some it was a ritual. What will happen when the all-clear signal is given? Will people continue to rely on social media, apprehensive to assemble for fear of a new wave of sickness?

My own sense is that this represents a significant opportunity for the Church to do what it should have done where the appropriate and aggressive use of technology is concerned. God is using this pandemic, as He has other past plagues, famines, and catastrophes, to awaken and reposition His people for more effective ministry and witness.


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. 


Leadership Ethos

Aristotle, that philosopher of old, taught that there are three components to effective communication and Screen Shot 2020-04-24 at 12.06.20 PM persuasion. Since leaders should be good communicators, what he had to say has relevance for leadership development. The three components are logos, pathos, and ethos. I am sure there are many more qualified to speak to these three topics, but forgive me if I make a feeble attempt to look at one of the three: ethos.

What stirred my interest in this was a post I wrote last week on Philip the Evangelist whose activities are described in Acts 8. The verse that caught my attention is Acts 8:6: "When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said" (emphasis added). It occurred to me that having people pay close attention is what every wants (or should want). What made  Philip so irresistible was that he had logos, pathos, and ethos as he spoke with the crowds.

Logos is quite simply the information or skill that the communicator is discussing (it is also the orderly case that appeals to the minds of the listener). When I preach or teach, I have to know the Bible and convince my audience that I know it so they will be open to the lessons I am teaching. Pathos is the passion or energy of the communicator. If the listener is bored because the speaker is boring, that speaker can have all the logos but not the enthusiasm that is like a booster rocket capable of launching the message into a higher place. 

Ethos is a more complicated trait but let's just say for the sake of this discussion it is credibility. A speaker can have the information (logos), the enthusiasm or drive (pathos), but if people don't believe they are credible (ethos), the message is not received. In fact, if any one of the three are missing, communication is incomplete, for someone can have the enthusiasm and be quite credible but soon reveal they don't know what they are talking about. 

Philip had the crowd's attention because he had the information (the truth of the gospel), the passion (he was a Jew who traveled on his own to the area called Samaria, which most Jews avoided due to their hatred of Samaritans), and the credibility (he performed miracles and presented himself as a man in touch with God who had an important message).

It can take a lifetime to gain credibility (ethos) but it can be lost in a moment due to a bad decision or moral failure. That's why morality is important for any leader for it bolsters the spiritual aspect of their work whether they are in church work or not. No one is seeking out the leaders of companies gone bust due to fraud to hear what lessons they learned. They may have the logos and the desire to help others (pathos), but their credibility is shot.

What are the implications for you? Most people spend their time on the logos and may spend some time on the pathos but neglect the ethos, which includes so many things like delivery, dress, vocabulary, transparency, experience, demeanor, tone, and the list goes on and on. When I preach, I cannot only be mindful of the information in my message or the passion, I must connect with my audience so I can connect with the at a deep level so they will receive, process, and hopefully accept what I say.

I want to be like Philip when I speak to or lead a group: I want their undivided attention. That means I have to pay attention to the little things that will contribute to the big thing called ethos that can make or break my ability to impart the truth God has shown me and people need. I want all three aspects that Aristotle said I need in order to be a truly effective communicator. Help me, Lord, to be just that.


The Wise Servant

I now have a ministry app you can download that will keep you in touch with my resources, broadcasts, books, and essays as they are available. See the end of this article to find the link and then download to your smartphone.

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In my weekly devotional reading, I read this story found in Luke 12 of Jesus' address to His disciples and the crowd listening. Peter got a bit confused and asked for clarification when he heard the message: “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus gave this response:

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge Screen Shot 2020-04-18 at 9.48.34 AMof his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:42-46).

I had never viewed Jesus' response as a directive to leadership, but yesterday I considered it from that point of view. Here is what I learned.

  1. Leaders are servants first and must maintain that attitude and perspective. 
  2. Leaders are stewards of opportunities to care for the other servants who belong to the Master, not the servant leaders.
  3. Power if intoxicating, for once the servant leader has been given power by the Master, the leader must be careful to use it wisely and properly.
  4. Abuse of leadership power stems from wrong thinking. When this servant thought, "I can misbehave because I've got time before my Master requires me to give an account," he began to abuse those under his care.
  5. God will hold His leaders accountable and since God is the source of all promotions to leadership, in and out of the church, He expects all leaders to follow His directives for attitude and behavior.
  6. All leadership comes to an end and then, and only then, will they receive their rewards and punishments.

Peter heard what Jesus was saying, that the parable was specifically directed toward him but anyone listening could "join in" and benefit from Jesus' lesson. Peter later wrote,

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).

If you are a leader, are you serving and caring for those under your care? If you are not yet a leader, now is the time to develop a leadership philosophy that incorporates service and accountability. Once you get the leadership power, it is so "heady" that you can begin to think you earn or deserve that power and start to abuse it. The time to decide what kind of leader you want to be is before you get the money, power, or prestige that can come with position. If you are already a leader, how are you handling yourself with your power? Are you using it to build others up or to build yourself up? Whether you're leading now or not, it is important to remember that God is watching and you ultimately answer to Him for what you did or didn't do with your opportunity to lead.

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Screen Shot 2020-04-18 at 10.40.26 AMMY NEW MINISTRY APP: You can now download my ministry app to keep us connected as purpose material and Bible studies become available. It is available in the Apple store, Google Play, and Amazon. Become part of my purpose nation via the App today!