Tuesday, June 29, 2010

God Crafts Man-Fishers

18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 20At once they left their nets and followed him.
21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-22

Jesus calls Peter and Andrew, James, and John to Himself, and they immediately come and begin following him.

Notice that "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" contains three action phrases:
Come = one time decision
Follow me = ongoing decision to continue, step after step, day after day
Make you = God's craftsmanship that forms us into man-fishers

The second and third are ongoing, not one-time events. And see the symmetry? We follow; God makes us. God is faithfully ("I will," he says) doing His part in this as we follow Jesus. He does not instantly create us into master man-fishers, but makes us into this over time.

It greatly encourages us to remember that God isn't done with us yet. We're not responsible for making ourselves into anything, that's what God does. (See also John 15:1-17 about abiding in Christ and bearing fruit.)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

If You Want to See Change...

Over and over again we want to see positive changes -- in our weight, fitness, relationships, godliness, bank account, abilities to teach well, etc.

There are just three things needed to see positive changes:

1. Vision for the future, improved state. You'll be thinner and able to run a 5 minute mile, out of debt, in the Word every morning, and perfectly in tune with your spouse and children and even that cranky co-worker.

2. Desire for change. You actually want to change. You actually want to be that person with the improvements over where you are now.

3. Follow-through on the means to make the change. You need to eat less, exercise more, change your spending and saving patterns, talk with your spouse on a regular basis, and open the Bible every morning and do more than skimming your eyeballs across the page. Thinking about these things and wishing things does not make them happen. Failing to act differently means failing to make positive changes.

You need all three for positive change.
No vision + Desire + Means = activity without directed purpose
Vision - Desire + Means = unwillingness to continue
Vision + Desire - Means = wishful thinking and fantasies

You can use this framework to help yourself diagnose where you're falling short, or when you're coaching someone else.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Using Twitter as a Means of Influence

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson and a real thought leader for using media effectively, talks about Twitter as a leadership tool.

How Can Christian Leaders Get Started with Social Media? from Michael Hyatt on Vimeo.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Deceptively Simple Tip With Spectacular Results

Here's my recommended practice: As you prepare for any teaching, write down what you want your audience to learn and apply. What will be important from this in the days following class time, and in 1 year? Be sure you actually write it down.

Don't fall into the snare that constantly threatens many of us: "Yup, I know that, so I don't need to write it down."

Something about writing it down gives it weight and meaning and power that's completely different than an unwritten thought.

I can't tell you the difference this makes in both your preparation and your delivery. You have to experience it for yourself. Everyone I know who has done this consistently tells me it creates a HUGE difference in the quality and effectiveness of their teaching.

Try it. Let me know what happens.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

How I Respond to Discouraged Teachers

"Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 5:42)

I've been corresponding with several discouraged teachers in the past few weeks. "No one is learning," one wrote, "so I'm giving it up." Another said, "They don't want to hear anything challenging, just the rah-rah-Christians-are-great stuff. I won't teach that way, so I'm thinking I should go to XYZ church instead." A third wrote this week, "Our minister wants to me to teach the same intro class all the time, and I'm tired of it." Another woman wrote me candidly expressing her frustration this way: "If I don't hear someone say thank you they can just find someone else to do it!"

Just yesterday I talked with a man who seemed convinced that if ministry was hard then God wasn't in it and he should move on. (I suggested he check that perspective against Scripture - it's not a biblical perspective at all.)

Teaching is often tough, challenging, gut-twisting work. There are times and cirumstances where you don't see much fruit. You may not hear appreciation. You may feel forced into situations that aren't your chosen ideal.

Perhaps you need a season of rest. Perhaps you need to seek out a different teaching situation.


I won't judge you if you do, that's not my perogative.

But I will say, in most situations, you and I need to stand firm, confident in the power of the Lord, working hard and spending ourselves on behalf of others. It's a calling. It's a level of commitment that means we have to (as marathon runners say) "take the pain and tuck it away somewhere" until the race is done. We're part of God's work to beat back the darkness, did you think it will always be easy?

Read that Acts 5:42 passage again. This was how they behaved after they were beaten and abused by the authorities.

Keep on teaching to change lives! And encourge your fellow teachers to do likewise, for the glory of God.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free Training for Sunday School Teachers, Leaders

There's a free live webcast on July 11 that I encourage you to attend. You'll get some wonderful content from excellent leaders. I'm thrilled to see them do this for no charge and aim for 20,000 online viewers!

Here are details of the Sunday School live webcast:

* DATE: Sunday, July 11, 2010
* TIME: 4:00-6:00 PM (Eastern Time)
* TOPIC: Great Expectations: Planting Seeds for Sunday School Growth (free download, or purchase the book for $1.50 here)
+ Allan Taylor (First Baptist Church, Woodstock, GA): Expect classes to reproduce
+ Jeff Young (Prestonwood Baptist Church, TX): Expect people to attend
+ P.K. Spratt (Jersey Baptist Church, OH): Expect people to say yes
+ David Francis (LifeWay, Author): Question and Answer Time
* SIGN UP: http://www.lifeway.com/event/359
* PARTICIPATION GOAL: 20,000 online viewers
* COST: Free

Get more details and register here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Teach So You Cannot Be Misunderstood

"The British preacher Dick Lucas makes the point that the difference between the seed that fell on the good soil and produced many times what was sown and the other soils was that the good soil “understood” the Word. Clarity, teaching, instruction. Preaching is not just a vision moment; it is instruction. Clarity. Crystal clarity. Preach not to be understood but so that you cannot be misunderstood."

This inspires me, so I hope it inspires you. Teach to change lives!

How I Use Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook to Encourage the Saints

Note: This is a repost from early May. I continue to get questions about these tools and how to use them effectively in ministry.

Social media can take a lot of time and be a huge distraction. Yet I recommend ministry leaders and teachers explore opportunities to use these tools for two purposes:

1. Amplify your voice for the Lord, and share encouraging information to build up disciples
2. Learn more about the condition of those whose souls are entrusted to your spiritual care

In this article I’ll lay out my own strategy, all with no-cost tools, that lets you do both without having to be “online” constantly.

Individual Twitter tweets are limited to 140 characters. Blogs can support any length text, links, and embedded images, audio, and video. You have a lot more control options for Facebook in terms of who sees the information, than you do with Twitter or blogs. All three have a significant place in online ministry.

There are two key principles to follow:
1. Use each tool to its strengths, and schedule your posts so you set up information when you have blocks of time available, and then drip out the content over time so it’s a constant stream of encouragement.
2. Interlink the tools so that the same content is used multiple ways and different audiences.

Let me work through the tools.

I currently run two blogs, each with a different intended audience. Be Bold, Be Gentle is aimed at encouraging husbands and fathers. Teach to Change Lives is aimed at Bible teachers. I use Blogger (a free service) to host both. Were I starting over I would strongly consider using Wordpress on a domain I controlled.

Blogs let me share all kinds of information in multiple formats. Some blog posts are my own writing, and some are designed to point people to valuable content others have published. I tend to get ideas for blog posts in spurts, so I’ll write posts as I can, and then schedule them in advanced to be published. It takes a lot of stress off when you hit a dry spell for ideas, but know you have 1 to 2 weeks of material scheduled for publishing. My goal is to publish a blog post every other day on each blog. Some people are much more ambitious than this, and some publish less frequently. I can’t really create a good level of content at any higher frequency, and it seems to work for me.

I have years of blog posts that are all available to search engines. I can’t really control who sees this information. So I write with a mindset of providing generally helpful information to a broad audience of a lot of different folks.

I use Twitter to publish short, encouraging bits to a broad audience. I do have some controls of who sees Twitter information, but not very much. I assume anything I write on Twitter could go anywhere and be seen by anyone.

My objective for every tweet is that it will encourage people. Therefore I try to have a mix of quotes, Bible verses, prayer reminders, and a very few personal comments. I avoid the temptation to tweet about politics or world events – plenty of others do this. I do not tweet about my exact location or my travels or anything that would affect the privacy of my family. (See my blog post about why I don’t talk about my family on blogs or Twitter. ) I also set up my blog posts so they’re picked up by Twitter, so that’s additional content. (See http://www.digitaldrake.com/how-to-connect-your-blog-to-twitter-facebook/ for help with this.)

I use TweetDeck a few times a week to monitor tweets from people that I’m following. I’ll retweet things which will be helpful to my audiences.

I like to have at least four tweets a day: before 5am, mid-morning, noonish, and afternoon or early evening. But I don’t want to have to be online at those times every day. So I use a free service call SocialOomph which lets set up tweets in advance and specify the day and time they will be published. A few times a week I spend about 15-20 minutes and will crank out 2 or 3 days worth of tweets and schedule them. This approach lets me create the content on my schedule, but drip it out steadily to my audience(s).

Facebook gives me the most control over who sees what information. My personal guideline is to only friend people I know in person, or have some unusually close online presence with. I’m not trying to get to 5000 friends or anything like that. I created a fan page for “Teach the Bible to Change Lives” which is broadly public, but otherwise I’m picky about my Facebook friends. Most are from our church.

The majority of my Facebook posts are actually redirects from Twitter and my blogs. I’ve simply set those up to automatically be posted on Facebook. I also comment on information others post, and occasionally message someone I know on Facebook.

Facebook is a place where many people are expressive about what’s going on in their lives. It’s a avenue for me to hear about family issues (positive and not so positive). As an elder in our church this is very helpful information, and gives me much to pray about. I notice that more women are active on Facebook than men. It’s probably partially because women are more expressive with words than most men, or represents a lack to time.

Putting It All Together
I’m writing up tweets and blog posts, and scheduling those to be published over time I set up Facebook to publish my blog posts and tweets, so that takes care of the Facebook content being updated over time. I’m checking for tweets from others occasionally, and Facebook once or twice daily. I need to update the Facebook fan page for Teach to Change Lives two or three times a week. (Someday I need to figure out how to automate this process!) That keeps my total time for social media in check, and the emphasis on creating helpful content rather than just being a consumer.

Key tools:
Blogger: http://www.blogger.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com
SocialOomph: http://www.socialoomph.com

My sites:

I encourage you to think about using these tools for ministry. There are already people in these channels, so use the voice God gave you to get His messages in front of them! But guard your heart and use your time wisely.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Considering Why Adam Was Created with Sin Potential

Intriguing 4 minute video at Stand to Reason looking at the question: "I have frequently wondered why we can't sin in Heaven but Adam could sin on earth. Why couldn't God have created us like we'll be in Heaven?"

Interesting comments on the video as well. I pass this along because it's a good example of dialogue in a teaching situation.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Don't Listen to the World's Ideas for Counseling, Listen to This

I'm not a trained counselor, but every Bible teacher will come into situations which require some discernment and counseling. Therefore I heartily recommend Tim Keller's classic article "Puritan Resources for Biblical Counseling."

Here is his summary for why we should model our counseling after the Puritans:

The works of the Puritans are a rich resource for biblical counselors because:
  1. The Puritans were committed to the functional authority of the Scripture. For them it was the comprehensive manual for dealing with all problems of the heart.
  2. The Puritans developed a sophisticated and sensitive system of diagnosis for personal problems, distinguishing a variety of physical, spiritual, tempermental and demonic causes.
  3. The Puritans developed a remarkable balance in their treatment because they were not invested in any one ‘personality theory’ other than biblical teaching about the heart.
  4. The Puritans were realistic about difficulties of the Christian life, especially conflicts with remaining, indwelling sin.
  5. The Puritans looked not just at behavior but at underlying root motives and desires. Man is a worshipper; all problems grow out of ‘sinful imagination’ or idol manufacturing.
  6. The Puritans considered the essential spiritual remedy to be belief in the gospel, used in both repentance and the development of proper self-understanding.

Print, read, and mark up the whole article.

Note: Keller references Thomas Brooks' work http://www.amazon.com/Precious-Remedies-Against-Satans-Devices/dp/1450539114/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1275643783&sr=8-1 which is on my "read annually" list. Nothing better has been written about Satan's standard playbook and recovering from sin.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

The Advantage of Legalism

The advantage of legalism is that you never have to grow up and become mature. You don't have to be discerning. You can remain selfish and self-righteous. You can keep all your pride.

Think about that. Think about why God doesn't call us to legalism.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Wrong Teaching on Suicide

Teachers, let's correct some common but flat-out wrong teaching on suicide.

These verses have been incorrectly used to say that suicide is an unforgivable sin:

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." (1 Cor 3:16-17)

Check the context of these verses: they're part of a long passage where Paul is speaking about divisions in the church, and body life.

Also, the English word "you" can mean either an individual or a group. If the context wasn't clear enough, the actual Greek word used here clearly indicates that "you" refers to a group, NOT an individual.

So do not allow people, however sincere, to justify some wrong idea about suicide from these two verses taken out of context.

If I may speak briefly about the issue of suicide, the key issue is always going to be the relationship with Jesus. Suicide is self-murder, and therefore is a sin. But the blood of Jesus covers all sin for those who are redeemed and made a child of God, a new creation. There are far too many situations and factors with suicide to make blanket statements about the state of their soul after death -- except that the redeemed sinner will be in heaven.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Bible Reading Plans

I'm sometimes asked what Bible reading plan I recommend. Years ago I would give a specific recommendation. Nowadays, I simply reply "The plan that will keep you in the Word systematically day after day."

I don't think the particular plan matters, just that you use one. And if you grow weary of one plan, switch to another one! Being in the Word regularly, and covering the whole of Scripture are the two aspects that count.

There are lots of plans available. For starters, check out these web sites:

A terrific list compiled on Squidoo

One significant tip: Get on the same reading plan as someone else, or a small group of people, and share what you are learning. If you know you're going to be having a conversation about it, you'll (a) be more likely to keep reading, and (b) actually learn more.