Discipleship in an Age of Twitter

When I entered the Twitter world in May 2012 with @BestBibleTweets, I set a goal that seemed audacious at the time: gaining 4,000 followers within one year. However, that goal was surpassed in just six months, and I’m now reflecting on having reached the new  milestone of 15,000 Twitter followers.

Although this accomplishment is exhilarating in many ways, it’s also a time of sober reevaluation. At each new milestone, I’ve found myself facing honest questions, like “Do Twitter followers count for anything in eternity?” … “Are any lives really changed?” … And “Do my supposed followers even read  my tweets?”

Reaching the 15,000-follower mark seems to have special significance from a biblical standpoint. You probably remember the story of Jesus feeding 5,000+ hungry people on a Galilean hillside. When women and children are counted, it’s likely that around 15,000 people were fed, comparable to my present number of Twitter followers.

This is one of my favorite events in the Bible—but it had a troubling aftermath.

After Jesus fed the multitudes in John 6, He began to explain the cost of true discipleship. Instead of just involving miracles and free meals, it turned out that a real follower had to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood”  (v. 53). Hmmm…so much for easy believism or greasy grace.

And while Jesus’ day began with thousands of fair-weather followers, it ended with only the Twelve remaining. The text says that many of those who turned away after hearing His “hard teachings”  had actually considered themselves to be “disciples”  (v. 66). Yes, this is a troubling story indeed.

Jesus finally asked His 12 remaining followers, “Do you also want to go away?”  (v. 67) What a question! You see, it’s one thing to say you’re following Jesus when everyone else is—when it’s the culturally expected thing to do. But what if the tide of public opinion is flowing in the opposite direction? Where will you stand in that day?

Peter’s response to Jesus’ question has often been portrayed as heroic, but I’m not sure that’s quite accurate. He replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”  (v. 68).

Yes, Peter was absolutely correct that there was no one else he could follow who would be able to provide eternal life (see John 14:6). Yet his response could also be interpreted to imply several less virtuous traits: (1) Peter seems to have already given some thought  to what his “other options” might be, and (2) he perhaps would have been open to some other option if it seemed a feasible alternative.

Could it be that Peter was secretly wishing there was some other  Messiah who had a “kinder and gentler” message? Or was he tempted to regret that he and his fellow disciples had left behind their fishing nets, tax offices, and other occupations to put their destiny squarely in Jesus’ hands?

Regardless of what Peter may have been thinking at the time, he made the right choice in the end. So I guess it’s OK to wrestle with God’s call as long as we ultimately heed it.

I hope some of my 15,000+ Twitter followers will read this blog post. And I pray that a few will count the cost and become true disciples of Jesus.

What about you? Are you only following Christ because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do among your friends or family? Are you willing to follow even if others turn away at His hard teachings, after they’ve received their fill of miracles, bread, and fish?

Be honest.

 

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Do You Have Skin in the Game?

Attributed to renowned investor Warren Buffet, “skin in the game” is a term describing the willingness of a company’s top executives to invest some of their own money in a project. It’s a sign of good faith and their confidence in the outcome.

The concept makes a lot of sense, if you think about it.

Why should you or I want to invest in a company or a project if the insiders don’t believe in it enough to risk their own  money?

But the skin-in-the-game principle actually started long before the days of Warren Buffet.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of three-year-old Jenny, who was terrified by a fierce thunderstorm one night. With each flash of lightning or clap of thunder, she screamed in fear, pulling the covers over her head for protection. And when the covers proved inadequate to comfort her, she ran downstairs, where her mom was still working in the kitchen.

“I’m scared, Mommy!” she said, firmly wrapping her little arms around her mother’s legs.

“Go back to your room, Jenny,” her mom told her. “God will take care of you.”

“OK, mommy,” she reluctantly agreed.

But no sooner was she back in bed than another roar of thunder shook her room, once again sending Jenny back to the kitchen, where she wept as she clung to mom.

“What did I tell you, Jenny? God will take care of you,” the mother said, getting somewhat irritated.

“But mommy, God doesn’t have any skin  on Him!” the little girl protested.

Well, even though we surely can sympathize with Jenny’s point, the good news is that God did, in fact, come to us with skin on. We’re told in John 1:14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Not content to remain hidden away somewhere in the heavenlies, our Lord became Immanuel, “God with us”  (Matthew 1:23).

Yes, God put skin in the game. Real skin. You see, He believed enough in His “redemption project” to become personally involved—fully invested, we might say.

Notice that He didn’t just send His Word through prophets, angels, stone tablets, or handwriting on the wall. He came Himself  and lived among us.

However, this doesn’t totally negate Jenny’s point. People today still are looking for “God with skin on.” They need something more than a pat answer or an encouraging Bible tweet. They’re longing to see and interact with other human beings who are filled with the presence and power of Christ (Colossians 1:27).

So the next time you send a tweet, post a blog, or put something on your Facebook wall, remember this sobering statement by the apostle Paul: “We were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also OUR OWN LIVES, because you had become dear to us”  (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

If Paul was still around today, I’m sure he would be using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, and every other possible means of sending out the gospel. Yet, even more importantly, he would be modeling an “incarnational” faith and investing his life  into people he loved.

For Paul, presenting our bodies as “a living sacrifice”  (Romans 12:1) wasn’t just theology or theory. It meant putting our skin in the game.

As you interact with people through social media on your computer or smart phone today, don’t forget to also put some of your “skin” in the game. Your friends and followers may need to see you in person  from time to time. Like Jenny, they may even need a hug.

 

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What’s Holding You Back?

Sometimes we’re on the brink of our breakthrough, but something is holding us back. Can you relate?

After Moses’ death, Joshua found himself on the banks of the Jordan River, overlooking the Promised Land on the other side. God was telling him to take the Israelites over the river and into their destiny—but there was a problem.

Forty years earlier, Joshua had been one of the 12 spies sent to view the Promised Land before the Israelites entered (Numbers 13 – 14). The spies all gave a glowing report about what a wonderful land it was, but 10 of the spies said there were fierce enemies and “giants” in the land. It was much too dangerous to risk entry, they warned.

Joshua and Caleb were the only spies who said the Israelites should obey God and trust Him to give them the land. But their report was rejected, and more than a million people chose to wander in the wilderness rather than enter the Promised Land.

Now Joshua had come full circle, right back to this place where he had boldly proclaimed God’s provision—but where he suffered an agonizing and humiliating defeat when his message was rejected. Forty years had passed, but he still was traumatized by the memories.

Perhaps you find yourself in a similar place. You are on the brink of the Promised Land. You have tasted its fruit before, and you know it’s an incredibly good land. Yet you also remember the painful experiences associated with this. Fear and apprehension rise up within you when you consider the prospect of taking a step of faith to cross over and face the giants.

God has brought you to this place, not so He can torment you, but so He can heal you. He is telling you, just as He told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”  (Joshua 1:9).

You’ve experienced the Promised Land before, and here you are again—right on the brink. The Lord has brought you full circle so you can face your fears and find your destiny.

You are SO close, and you can succeed this time. Don’t let anything, or anyone, hold you back. I’m convinced the call toward your future is stronger than the tormenting chains of your past.

 

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Diamonds Under Your Feet

You can search the whole world for your breakthrough, when it’s actually a lot closer than you think. Whether you need a miracle in your health, finances, relationships, or peace of mind, it’s possible that the answer is right under your nose—or perhaps right under your feet.

In his classic book, Acres of Diamonds,  Russell H. Conwell tells the story of a Persian man named Ali Hafed, who heard about the discovery of diamond mines in some parts of the world. Ali sold his large farm to travel throughout the world in search of a diamond mine that would make him extremely rich. After a fruitless search, he was so poor, broken, and defeated that he committed suicide.

One day the man who purchased Ali Hafed’s farm saw a flash of light from the stream where he was watering his camel, and he pulled out a huge, radiant stone out of the water. The man had discovered the diamond mine of Golcanda, the most magnificent mine in history. The moral to the story was that “Had Ali Hafed remained at home and dug in his own garden…he would have had acres of diamond.”

Ali Hafed was extremely close to his breakthrough, yet he died penniless and defeated because he never knew what he had.

Conwell’s story was first published in 1890, but its lessons still resonate today. Each of us is richer than we realize, but often we simply don’t know where to dig. Or perhaps we began to dig in the right place, but we gave up too soon—right on the brink of our breakthrough.

Too often, we don’t recognize the amazing blessings God has already given us:

  • Jacob was in a barren desert when God gave him a supernatural revelation of a gateway to heaven. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it,”  he concluded (Genesis 28:16).
  • Joshua was struggling with fear when God told him to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you,”  the Lord assured him (Joshua 1:3). The territory already belonged to him, despite the appearance of walled cities and enemy nations.
  • Paul told the Ephesians he was praying for their spiritual eyes to be enlightened to “know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints”  (Ephesians 1:18). And he told the Colossians that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”  (Colossians 2:3). Like the diamonds concealed under Ali Hafed’s house, some of God’s treasures are hidden  beneath the surface—and we won’t find them unless we are willing to DIG.

If you need a breakthrough today, remember this: You’ve already  been given “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”  (Ephesians 1:3). So go ahead and enjoy the Lord, and start receiving everything He’s purchased for you. You’re a lot richer than you think.

 

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