What Platform Are YOU Standing On?

When I recently I hit 20,000 Twitter followers @BestBibleTweets, I started having eerie flashbacks of a conversation last year with a pastor friend named Steve. He had spent a considerable amount of time trying to build a social media “platform” to promote a book he had written. Some marketing guru apparently had told him that if he could gain 20,000 followers on Twitter, it would be a breeze to sell his book.

It took several years, but finally Steve achieved his Twitter goal and was ready to launch the book. He was so excited. Steve was convinced his book would sweep the country, if not the world.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well. He had invested most of his life savings to design and print 10,000 books, figuring he could easily recoup his investment when the books sold.

But within four or five months of launching the book, reality was beginning to set in. Instead of selling thousands of books, he had sold only hundreds. And he found himself giving away many copies of the book for free  to friends and relatives.

Steve was bewildered. He thought he had built a pretty impressive platform. But somehow the response from his Twitter followers and Facebook friends was lukewarm, at best.

Meanwhile, Steve had withdrawn from most of his pastoral responsibilities so he could go on the road and promote the book. He spoke at some churches, did some book signings, and even was interviewed on a few local radio programs. But despite these noble efforts, he still had over 9,000 books stored in his garage.

If you are looking for an easy moral to this story, I’m not sure I have one.

I’ve seen lots of disillusionment over the years from those who sought a higher platform. Some of these people seemed very well-intentioned, with a sincere passion to impact the world with their message. But in other cases, the message seemed to get buried amid narcissism and self-promotion.

I’m not against platforms. I’m glad to have an ever-growing tribe of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I want to get my messages to an ever-wider audience.

But I’m still wary of all of the social media hoopla. The Bible is clear that true promotion must come from the Lord, and nowhere else (Psalm 75:6-7). If you are trusting in something else or someone else to give you a platform, you’re likely to be greatly disappointed.

The more I walk with the Lord, the more it seems like the safest “platform” is the one closest to the ground—where we humble ourselves before others to serve them and wash their feet (John 13). And doesn’t this kind of face-to-face, hands-on, behind-the-scenes ministry bear greater fruit in the long run than any lofty type of platform?

When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, will He really ask us how big our platform was? Or will He simply want to know whether we faithfully loved and served people with whatever platform we were given?

Despite the clear words of Jesus, it seems we’re still prone to seek the place of honor at the banqueting table instead of the place of service (Luke 14:7-11). Meanwhile, Jesus’ model of leadership was to build a platform to lift others  higher, not ourselves.

 

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Signs You’re a Shapeshifter

I don’t want to alarm you, but I’m concerned you may be Shapeshifter—and there’s a good chance you don’t even know it.

Shapeshifters have been a part of literature and folklore in nearly every human culture throughout history. Whether it’s a handsome prince who’s turned into a frog or a scary alien who’s masquerading as a human, shape-shifting always keeps a story interesting.

But I hope you’re not offended when I suggest you may be a Shapeshifter. I’ve concluded that we’re ALL Shapeshifters in one way or another, and that’s not always a bad thing.

There’s even shape-shifting in the Bible.

Romans 12:2 says: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Two important Greek words here illustrate the shape-shifting principle. The first is syschēmatizō,  which means “to be conformed to someone else’s pattern or mold.” It’s not a good thing to allow your “shape” to be determined by external circumstances, events, fads, or relationships. God hasn’t called you to be a chameleon, simply blending into whatever your surroundings happen to be at the moment.

The second word is metamorphoō,  which means “to be transformed, transfigured, or changed into another form or appearance.” This is a GOOD kind of shape-shifting, for it means we are increasingly becoming on the outside  what we already are on the inside.  Instead of allowing external forces to determine our identity, we have an internal revelation of who God has created us to be.

Paul explains in Romans 12:2 that positive transformation on the outside is impossible unless there has first been a “renewing of your mind”—transforming your thinking and nature on the inside.

It may startle you to discover that even Jesus was a Shapeshifter. Although He existed in eternity “in the form [morphē] of God,”  He “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance [schema] as a man…”  (Philippians 2:6-8).

Jesus’ style of shape-shifting was the exact opposite of most people you meet today. While we generally try to put our “best foot forward” and appear to others as someone greater  than we really are, Jesus humbled Himself and took on a form that hid  His divine majesty from people’s view.

However, three of His disciples were given a brief glimpse of Jesus’ inner radiance when He was transfigured [metamorphoō] before them one day (Matthew 17:1-8). His appearance on the outside took the form of the brilliant glory He already possessed on the inside.

The devil, of course, is a diabolical kind of Shapeshifter. Paul warns in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that Satan disguises himself [metaschēmatizō] as an angel of light. Instead of allowing his inner nature to be transformed, Satan merely puts on an outer facade.

So we certainly don’t want to be Satan’s kind of Shapeshifter, trying to fool people by an outward appearance that is different from our true nature. Instead, we want to be changed from the inside out—increasingly transformed into the image of Christ in our daily conduct and relationships.

Our hope of reflecting the glory of God is not in putting on a religious mask or disguise, as so many still do. Since Christ already lives in us (Colossians 1:27, Galatians 2:20), we must simply allow Him to express Himself—“shifting our shape” more and more into the shape of His image and likeness.

 

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Welcome to the Royal Family!

Since the birth of a new prince to William and Kate, there has much talk about England’s “royal family.” The whole world took notice of the birth, and commentators opined that the new baby signaled hope for the royal family’s future.

Although I’m glad George Washington and America’s founders shunned the whole “royalty” concept, there’s a lot we can learn from the monarchical model. First of all, the Bible says God has a KINGDOM, not a republic or a democracy. And while the kings, queens, princes, and princesses in England are basically figureheads  these days, God is a King who still reigns with full authority.

The new prince in England obtained royalty simply because his parents were descendants of the House of Windsor. In contrast, no one is a Christian because of who their parents are. It is a personal choice, not a right of inheritance: To those who receive Christ and believe in His name, “he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God”  (John 1:12-13).

Yes, in order to become a part of heaven’s royalty family, we must be “born of God.”  No matter the rank or circumstances of our human parents, we don’t enter the kingdom of God until we are “born again”  and “born of the Spirit”  (John 3:1-8).

While it’s an incredible privilege to be part of God’s royal family, it’s also a great responsibility.  Just as the new prince in England will be under the daily scrutiny of the paparazzi, we as Christians are under the constant scrutiny of a watching world. Will we live up to our birthright as citizens of heaven? (Philippians 3:20)

It’s time to remind believers of their high calling in Christ, just as Peter reminded the Christians of his generation: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light”  (1 Peter 2:9).

So, if you belong to Jesus today, you never need to hang down your head in shame or low self-esteem. You are royalty, after all!

But also notice that Peter says we should be boldly declaring God’s goodness to others who aren’t yet a part of the royal kingdom. You see, when new “babies” are born into God’s family, there is great joy in heaven (Luke 15:10). And every new birth signals hope for the expansion of God’s kingdom in coming generations.

 

 

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Preaching Like Jesus Preached

I recently had a dream that really got me thinking. In the dream, a pastor was describing a very common dilemma in the American church today.

“Jim, a few years ago I changed my preaching style in an attempt to reach more unchurched people,” the pastor began. “And sure enough, our church has attracted more visitors and unchurched people than ever before.”

“That’s great!” I told him. “So what’s the problem with that?”

With a rather pained look on his face, the pastor continued his story. “In recent months, several of our longtime church members—and biggest givers—have expressed dissatisfaction with my preaching. They say it’s not as ‘deep’ as it used to be, and they no longer are ‘being fed.’”

The dream was just getting interesting when I awoke, and that was the last sleep I got that night.

So how would you answer this pastor’s dilemma?

As I’ve reflected on the question raised in the dream, I’ve concluded that the answer is found in reexamining how Jesus preached. Although we like to think “times have changed” in our new technology-driven world, perhaps they haven’t changed as much as we assume.

Let’s take a look…

Instead of teaching from carefully constructed outlines, Jesus taught either via stories or in response to questions people asked Him. Grasping this simple truth has amazing implications for solving the dilemma raised by the pastor in my dream.

In Jesus’ vast crowds, we know there were at least three types of people:

  • People far from God, known to everyone as “sinners.”
  • Self-righteous religious folks, like the Pharisees, who mistakenly thought they were doing well with God.
  • Jesus’ disciples.

How could Jesus possibly address all three groups without watering down His message? Should He given an evangelistic message, intentionally ignoring the religious folks and His disciples? Or, instead, should He ignore the people in need of salvation, while He taught “deeper truths” to those who were already steeped in Scripture?

In the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), Jesus masterfully addressed all three groups by telling one simple but profound story. He didn’t have to single out the sinners in the crowd and try to put them under “conviction” by harping on their vices. No, when Jesus told the story, the lost could see for themselves the consequences of living far from the Father’s house. No one in their right mind would want to end up broke and working in a pigpen.

But those far from God could also see a beautiful illustration of the acceptance  they would receive in the Father’s embrace once they came to their senses. Why remain in the pigpen, when they could experience such abundance and celebration back home?

However, this parable wasn’t just an evangelistic message. Perhaps its most powerful message was to the self-righteous “older brothers” in the crowd. Although they were working hard on the Father’s estate, such people had little relationship with Him. When the Father threw a big party for the wayward son who had returned, the older brother refused to participate.

Again, those in Jesus’ crowd who fit this profile knew that He was describing them.  They either could repent of their smug attitude and join the party, or else they would end up remaining outside, full of animosity and bitterness.

Jesus’ disciples could also learn much from this story. Would they have the Father’s heart to welcome the least and the lost into the kingdom? Or would they put up roadblocks, with a sour attitude like the older brother? This wasn’t merely a theoretical question, because Peter and the other disciples had to deal with this very issue when the Gentiles were brought into the church a few years later (Acts 10, 11, and 15).

So what can we learn from how Jesus preached? He never watered down His message for anyone. With each group present, He confronted the specific issues and attitudes that were hindering them from enjoying the full celebration available in the Father’s house.

If we adopt Jesus’ style, will there still be some people who say they “aren’t being fed” by our preaching? Undoubtedly so. But many of these, like the older brother, have no idea how much fun they could be having by joining in the party.

And some would rather have their notebook filled with sound theology than their heart overflowing with the love of God. They want to be “fed” by messages that reaffirm their self-righteousness rather than dispel it.

Often the critics are seeking to have their ears tickled, with no intention of ever acting upon  the messages preached. But Jesus’ preaching made people squirm, because it demanded life-change and action.

 

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Tired of Living on the FRINGE?

Recently my wife and I started watching the Fringe  TV series on Netflix. The fictional show deals with unexplained supernatural and technological occurrences investigated by the FBI’s “fringe science” division. It turns out that many of the grisly events have been caused by a collision of parallel universes and alternate timelines.

Having watched several seasons of Fringe, I can’t help but think of a pivotal but rarely discussed passage in Job 26:14: “Behold, these are the fringes of His ways; and how faint a word we hear of Him!”

After years of feeling the smug satisfaction of knowing he was an exceptionally upright and virtuous man, Job finally understood an awful truth: Although he had been doing all the right “religious” things, he was only on the outer edges  of God’s plan for his life. Instead of having an intimate daily relationship with the Lord, he was only hearing God’s voice faintly  and sporadically.

During the climactic final scene of Job’s story, he admits to the Lord, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes”  (Job 42:5-6).

People always wonder why Job had to go through such horrendous trials. Part of the answer is simply this: God wouldn’t allow Job to remain on the fringes.

The Lord wanted to bless Job in new ways, beyond his wildest dreams. Yet none of that was possible if Job was content to stay on the fringes. He already had been blessed with great wealth, but God had a far greater dimension of abundance in mind for Job.

There have been many times in my Christian life when I languished on the fringes of God’s ways. Perhaps you have too. Often when we’re on the fringes, we don’t even know it.

Until the heat was on, Job didn’t have a clue about his true condition or what he was missing. He had fallen into the common trap of comparing himself to those around him, instead of comparing himself to God’s holiness. He was content to be “the greatest of all the people of the East”  instead of great in God’s kingdom (Job 1:1-3).

Just as in the Fringe  series, Job’s ordeal stemmed from a collision of universes or kingdoms. God versus Satan. Good versus evil. Relationship versus religion. The judgmental assumptions of his friends versus God’s ultimate plan to bless him.

But amid this horrific collision, God was working all things together for Job’s good (Romans 8:28). If it hadn’t been for his trials, Job might have never discovered he was living on the fringe.

However, there’s a major difference between Fringe  and the Bible. In the TV series, exciting “paranormal” events happen on the “fringe” of human experience. In contrast, when believers are content to stay on the fringe in their relationship with God, the exact opposite  is true—life is boring and there’s little, if any, experience of the supernatural. A life on the fringe is a bland, powerless, and unfulfilling existence.

Aren’t you tired of living on the fringes of God’s purposes? I am.

It’s time to dive in and go deeper in your relationship with the Lord. Yes, you may experience turbulent and disturbing collisions between parallel kingdoms at times, but that’s where the fun is. It’s in the center  of God’s will that you will find peace, satisfaction, and fruitfulness.

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The Twinkie Comeback (and why it matters…)

November 16, 2012 seemed to be a day that would forever live in infamy. Hostess Foods—producer of the Twinkie—announced it was liquidating its assets and going out of business.

But this week there was good news for grieving Twinkie fans everywhere: After an eight-month hiatus, Twinkies once again grace store shelves across the land.

Perhaps this is part of some kind of trend this summer. Superman (the “Man of Steel”) is back…the Lone Ranger is back…and now Twinkies are back as well.

It’s as if there’s some kind of resurrection  going on. Cultural icons that once seemed dead are coming back to life, and I’m not referring to zombie movies here.

What are we to make of this improbable revival?

Like “mom and apple pie,” Twinkies are something you could always count on  in the American culture. Even though I hadn’t eaten one since I was a kid, I was comforted by the fact that they were available  if I ever suffered from an unexpected “Twinkie attack.”

The apparent demise of Twinkies last fall seemed to signal deeper issue: Many other  icons of traditional American culture were likewise passing into oblivion. Newsweek  magazine had announced it was only going to be available online, no longer in print. Cassette tapes and 8-tracks have long ago been replaced by CDs, and now even my CD collection is at risk of being replaced by new technology. And how much longer will we have land-line phones?

Everything is changing.  That seemed the central message of the Twinkie death.

Now, in recent months, it has become increasingly evident that even the definition of the American “family” is rapidly sifting. You’re considered a narrow-minded bigot and homophobe if you still cling to the ideal of a family like “Leave It to Beaver,” “Father Knows Best,” or “The Cosby Show.”

Twinkies are an emblem of simpler days—a time when most Americans were attuned to the same cultural values. It seemed we all  watched “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Perry Mason,” and “American Bandstand.” But what are we left with now? “The Simpsons” and “Jersey Shore”? Is this progress  or regress?

The death of the Twinkie was just one more sign that nothing  is dependable in secular society. Many of the things we thought we could count on are no longer available. Everything  is shaking, as Hebrews 12:25-28 predicted, and sometimes the changes come suddenly and unexpectedly. Instead of Who Moved My Cheese,  the new bestseller could be Who Stole My Twinkies?

The good news for believers is that our lives can be firmly grounded on the unchanging truth of God—“a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:25-29). In a rapidly changing world, He never changes (Malachi 3:6).

While Twinkies are hardly an apt symbol of the kingdom of God, there is an encouraging parallel. If Twinkies and other cultural icons can go from death to life, maybe there can be a revival of biblical values and morality as well.

Traditional values seem to be dying, if not already dead. Right and wrong has been replaced by 50 shades of grey. Absolutes have been discarded in favor of relativism and “different strokes for different folks.”

But it’s not time to play a dirge for God’s truth. If Twinkies can be resurrected, anything  is possible!

 

 

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George Zimmerman and Me

A revealing personal look at life & leadership

I find myself sympathetic to George Zimmerman, because I made some of the same fundamental errors many years go. No, I didn’t kill anyone, nor was I in reasonable fear that my own life would end. And my errors didn’t involve any racial overtones.

I was just dumb.

I don’t believe George was guilty of murder, manslaughter, or even a civil rights violation. But when you hear my own story, I think you’ll see that he probably did  break some cardinal principles for successful leadership.

I wasn’t the coordinator of Neighborhood Watch, as George was. Instead, my first leadership assignment occurred at age 10 when I was appointed as one of the “Safety Guards” on the playground of my elementary school.

I’ll admit, I was rather proud of myself when they handed me my red armband, the symbol of authority to keep order on the playground. And after only two days of patrolling, I had the first major opportunity to exercise my authority.

I happened to spot a disgruntled-looking student walking by himself and throwing stones at the ground. Here is my chance to straighten this guy out,  I reasoned. The boy was much  bigger than I was, but I figured there was no reason to worry. After all, I  was the one with the red armband.

In retrospect, I can see that the stones weren’t really a threat to anyone’s safety. He might as well have been throwing

Skittles  to the ground. But at the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable to stop a kid from throwing stones in the playground.

However, this angry young man refused to listen to my demand that he immediately stop his behavior. Not only that, but my effort to exercise my authority as a Safety Guard resulted in a serious punching match—one he got the better of.

Frankly, I don’t even remember the punching match. I just remember sitting in the school office with bumps all over my head, while the secretary called my mother to come and pick me up early. As Mom later put an ice pack on my aching head, I tried to explain to her that I was just trying to exercise my authority as a good Safety Guard.

I don’t think she understood.

Leadership Lessons from My Playground Rumble

In retrospect, I bet George Zimmerman wishes he would have handled his encounter with Trayvon differently. But the slow motion perspective of hindsight is always a lot clearer than what we see on the spur of the moment.

As I look back, there are some clear lessons that can be gleaned from my painful experience as a Safety Guard:

1. Authority must be based on more than titles or outward symbols.  I was thrilled when they called me a Safety Guard and gave me an armband so everyone would know of my authority. But true authority is more than that. Even though we may have a badge, a diploma, a clerical collar, a special robe, or some other emblem of our office, we cannot naively assume that everyone will follow our leadership.

2. To some extent, authority is not merely delegated, it must be earned.  While I certainly believe in the principle of delegated authority, as a practical matter people will not wholeheartedly follow a leader unless they see that the leader has “paid the price” and laid down his or her life for them in some way. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:2 that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,”  which seems to mean that Moses’ credibility as a leader was not really established among the people until they saw how he handled the crossing of the Red Sea.

3. Authority is best exercised where there is a relationship.  If I had known  the guy throwing the stones, I’m sure we could have worked out something without the necessity of a brawl. Authority that is impersonal, driven by titles rather than a relationship, will almost always result in rebellion or resentment toward the authority.

4. The manner in which the authority is exercised is nearly as important as having the authority itself.  My problem as a Safety Guard wasn’t a lack of valid delegated authority; my problem was in knowing how to properly exercise the authority I had been given. Leadership mishaps are likely to happen when people are given authority but never trained in how to handle it.

5. The timing in which authority is exercised is often crucial.  As I look back, I can see that I was much too eager to exercise my new authority as a Safety Guard. If I had just taken time to pause briefly and better assess the situation, I would have recognized that the guy throwing the stones wasn’t really endangering anyone. Some leaders, like I was that day, tend to be hasty in using their authority.

What about you? Do you have the character and maturity to properly exercise the authority you’ve been given?

We need to pray for George Zimmerman and the family of Trayvon Martin. Except for my pride, I’ve pretty much recovered from my introduction into leadership as a Safety Guard. But the lives of George and the Martin family will never be the same.

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