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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bad boys, Bad boys.... or Commitments in the hour of desperation (3)

Like anyone else we take the time to know, we are beginning to understand Jephthah a little better. He has been cast aside by his family, but possesses the skills needed to save the Nation. He knows that any victory he is able to accomplish will only be with the help of the Lord. He knows this based on his faith, alone. But he is also well-grounded in the real world, so he wants to know what will happen to him when this is over. These people haven't really proven themselves trustworthy.

Text: Judges 11:1-12:7
But, there is still more to be discovered. Jephthah is also a man of wisdom and patience. Before he gathers the troops and goes storming off into battle, he sends messages to Ammonites in an attempt to reason with them. All of this is captured in verses Judges 11: 12-28.

Basically, the Ammonites feel justified in attacking Israel because they want to get back the land the Israelites took from the Ammonite king when they came out of Egypt. Egypt? Seriously!? It has been about 300 years since this occurred, so that makes this request and ongoing raids seem a little out of synch to Jephthah. He says as much, “While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?”

Part of his argument is that the land was never stolen from the Ammonites, but won in battle. He feels this is a good path of reasoning, as the Ammonites have captured land (of the Moabites) in centuries past. So, the logical conclusion of this line of thinking is that if the Ammonites came into possession of land by winning it in war, how are the Israelites wrong in winning it in turn from the Ammonites?

He has so far been successful in refuting their false claims, so in thanks, he once more invokes the name of his God in a prayer (after a certain fashion), that the Lord will vindicate His people by passing judgment against the Ammonites.

“I therefore have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the LORD, the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.” My 21st Century translation of this is: I am so confident that I am right, that I know that God will do as I ask and smote you.

But of course the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message and the fight was on.

We all hate trying to talk to someone who refuses to be swayed to our line of thinking. We know we are 100% in the right, and that they are wrong. Sometimes, unfortunately we get so wrapped up in our rightness, that we are blinded to all else.

Think about some conflict you have going on right now. Of course you are right and maintained the moral high-ground. Is there some for compromise. Is there a way that you can leave some dignity to the other person? Or, do you want God to smite them, too?


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bad boys, Bad boys.... or Commitments in the hour of desperation (2)

By the grace of God, Jephthah has been restored to his people, and his first focus, according to our text is, “what’s in it for me?” We have talked a little about what is wrong with his mindset, but there is also something right about it. It turns out the Jephthah was a man of faith.

If we turn briefly to the New Testament, we see that the writer of Hebrews (probably Paul), calls him one of the pillars of faith from the Old Testament.

“And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:32-34)

So, whatever we may think about the character of Jephthah so far, we find assurance in Hebrews 11 that he was a man who had faith in God and that his faith was put into action. Faith without action is a waste!

It is import5ant to remember that the Bible is ONE continuous and continuing story, not a lot of little stories with no apparent connection. As we can see in Judges 11:9, Jephthah expects that if he goes up against the Ammonites and gains victory, it will be the Lord’s doing.

Jephthah clearly demonstrates the mind-set and heart-set we should have before and certainly after accomplishing any undertaking.

James echoes this same sentiment and admonition in the New Testament. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” James 4:13-5

Along with (if not before) all of the other preparations we put into place to order our lives, prayer (and of course, actually listening to the still small voice) should be a priority.

First, we acknowledge that it is the Lord who guides our steps. Second, we must be certain that we are following the Lord’s direction, and following Him; and not trying to lead Him where we want to go. Third, after we have our victory and success in whatever way we may choose to define that, we must remember to give Him the glory and the credit.

So we are beginning to se a much more complex man who knows where his help comes from, but is also has his feet firmly grounded in earthly reality. This reminds me of another adage about people being so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.

We must know where our help comes from, recognize it and be grateful for it; but as responsible stewards of a supply of gifts and talents, we are to spend them wisely, not squander them. This is the least that expected of us; that we use our gifts wisely and to the benefit of others, and not just ourselves.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Lamentations for All Our Lost Boys

One of the illusions of our lives, especially our online lives is that the world is cheery and wonderful and bright. That we all have “futures so bright, we have to wear shades.” We enter our chat rooms and our hang-outs, where we are all of one mind and heart. We speak diversity and welcome all with open arms. We stand together as we chant our online mantras of peace and unity and “SoMe has no ROI.” And all is right with the world until

Until the outside world crowds into our little existence here.

A cyber-friend sent me a link to an article last week, that I've been thinking about for the last few days. The article is:

Hate Crime: 19-Year Old Kicked, Beaten To Death As Anti-Gay Slurs Hurled by David Badash on August 22, 2011 in "Bigotry Watch, Discrimination, Hate Crimes, News"

The sadness this story evokes is multi-leveled and muti-layered. Once I could take a deep breath again, I tried to decide what's the saddest part of this story.

Is is that a young boy seemingly, full of potential has lost his life for no apparent reason?

Is it that a young man cannot be gifted / (presumably) gay / black and survive in this world?

Is it that we have bred such a generation (not just the boys in this story) who would take a life for nought?

Is it that we have not progressed significantly since Cain and Abel (or cavemen, if you like) with the exception of our shiny toys?

Is it that the rest of us want to look away disgusted for the moment and pretend that nothing out of the ordinary has happened?

Is it that some of our hearts break and bleed, but we offer nothing more to the family of Marcellus Andrews or any of the other children we see “drowning” every day?

Is is that, like the commenters to the original post, we rail against the sky claiming that this is the fault of the politicians?

Is it that next week we will be consumed by and weeping over something else, and forget all about this? Don’t believe me? Tell me: What’s happening at the reactor in Japan today? What’s new in Haiti? How are the poor people in New Orleans faring?

What hurts the most?

What they do?

Or, what we do not do?

There will be a new pain tomorrow. A new crisis, a new hand-wringing heart-wrenching catastrophe will appear the next day.

And, I know this sounds trite, but: We are the hands and feet of Christ…

And, if you are in the group that doesn't like Christ OR the group that likes Christ and you don’t like gays or blacks or somebody else, We are still the hands and feet that need to get things done.

Help someone…

Do some thing…

There is no one else.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

You've decided to start a blog. Cool! (part 3)

5. Share

There are several blogs that I subscribe to and write comment to on a regular basis. There are many that merely scan the title. I do, after all still have a day-job; and a life.

Commenting on other people’s blogs comes with many benefits, and a few pitfalls:

  • It can provide an opportunity to improve your writing. Even though it’s a comment, use it wisely. Express your idea clearly, coherently and succinctly.

  • Give you exposure to prospective audience; get your name “out”

  • It is an opportunity to meet with and engage some great people, many of whom are willing to help you with an issue

  • It demonstrates your ability to think deeply and critically

  • Caveat: Be sure to read the whole blog if you are going to comment. There is nothing more damaging to you than to come across as a loose cannon, especially when you’re totally off-topic.

  • If you disagree, say so and explain why. Most bloggers are open to honest commentary, both positive and negative. However, stay on-point. This is not a place to promote your blog, promote yourself, or launch a personal attack. If you cannot contribute to what’s being discussed, stay out.

Share the blogs you enjoy with your readers.

6. Invite comments to your own blog

  • Encourage comments

  • Encourage people to disagree, and explain different viewpoints. Who knows, you may even learn something.

  • Acknowledge every comment and view. This is particularly important in the beginning. There is a blog that I read regularly which garners over 100 comments, and the author makes a point to address each comment. Not just some “cut and paste” nonsense, but a thoughtful note, which without asking, serves as an open invitation for me to return.

  • People want to be noticed, they want to be engaged; but mostly they want to be noticed.

7. This is a relationship first and foremost!!!!!

Almost everything we do in life will either add value to or detract from our relationships with others. This is even more of a challenge as we engage in social media. Decisions about your writing, and your character are made very quickly. You don’t have face time to try to recover, like in real life.

The challenge is to cultivate and cherish your readers; and you have precious few seconds to grab their attention.

If you do sell, don’t oversell, don’t be pushy, and don’t try to sell too early in the “relationship.” There is nothing that is more of a turn-off than feeling that you have been pulled into a faux-relationship, only to find out you are just there for the sale; you are just a number. I have unsubscribed from several blogs that I have otherwise enjoyed, because the focus shifted from engaging and enlightening to selling. In fact, just this past week, one of the leadership blogs that I particularly enjoy started pumping out emails about the great opportunity I was obviously not smart enough to purchase. I put up with the first 2 or 3. Then…..Click, and UnSub.

This is a relationship, and you should treat it as such.

Are you here to engage or just to sell?

Is this your mission and ministry, or are you just looking to make money?

It’s a relationship. Show up on time, and show up prepared. Set your schedule and stick to it. If you’re going to be off, or changing your schedule for posting, let your readers know. If you’re going to stop, say so. Like any relationship, if you disappoint them too many times, they will leave you.

8. Enjoy it!

This is the single most piece of advice I can give. If your blog becomes a drudgery, I can guarantee you that you will stop.

Bring your A-game every time out of respect for yourself and your readers. Bring your A-game because you should never bring anything less to your work, especially your ministry work. Bring your A-game every time, because you never know who is checking you out.

           Bring you’re A-game every time,              
and enjoy the ride!

What would you add to this list to help new bloggers?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Bad boys, Bad boys.... or Commitments in the hour of desperation (1)

Bad boys, bad boys…. You guys know this song- whatcha gonna do when they come for you?

Well, we are still in Judges. The text is Judges 11:1-12:7

Have you ever encountered someone who is so afraid that they will be cheated, short-sheeted, burned or screwed over at every turn, that they are wholly unpleasant to be around? It feels as though you need to put everything in writing for them. They want assurances and promises from others before they will take any requested action or partner in any conceived plan. You know, they don't want to waste their time and effort if nothing good is going to come of things.

We learn from the text that Jephthah is the illegitimate son of Gilead, born of a union between his father and a lady of the evening. However, when the legitimate sons of Gilead grew up they drove Jephthah out so they wouldn’t have to share their inheritance with him. The wording seems to indicate that he was older than the rest; perhaps conceived and born before Gilead even married the woman who gave him other sons. In this case, and according to the tradition of the day, the older son would receive a double portion and the sons under him would divide up what was left of the inheritance between them equally.

So we have an unknown number of brothers who have grown up in a house with a half-brother as the oldest, in line for the lion’s share of the inheritance, and kind of an embarrassment to them because of the circumstances of his birth, so when it comes time to start thinking about dad going the way of all flesh they decide Jephthah has to hit the road.

Verse one says he was a valiant warrior, and that apparently played a role in his success in drawing a gang of street toughs around him. The Bible says they were ‘worthless fellows’. The NIV uses the word ‘adventurers’. The Hebrew word means ‘empty’, idle’. They hung out together in the land of Tob, an area east of the Jordan and according to Bible maps, just outside of Gilead.

Jephthah wants some assurances, first.

In due time, while Jephthah was away, the Ammonites attack Israel. The citizens seek protection, so now they call upon the most-valiant Jephthah. Not the unworthy and illegitimate Jephthah, but mighty warrior Jephthah.

He has a bit of an attitude, some of which may be justifiable, but he rapidly moves to extremes. Verse 7 is one of the first evidences of the attitude in Jephthah. He tosses their earlier ill treatment of him into their faces and then challenges them to justify now coming to him for help. The elders state their reason for coming and in the very wording of it they say they want him to come and be their chief.

But then in verse 9, Jephthah asks for a confirmation of what they have just offered. In fact, he puts the question to them as though they have not just made an offer, and that it was his idea to begin with. Don't you hate working with people like that. You ask them to help with you with something, but they want to sound like they invented toast and that you may be the most moronic person they've ever met! Thankfully everything we do is not about who gets the credit. But I digress...

Basically, he wants to know what’s in it for him, and he’s not going to mount up until he has a verbal (if not written) agreement before witnesses. “If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them to me, will I become your head?” This sounds like wise planning since they kicked him out before. What's wrong with it?

When we find ourselves in a position to do something for others, are we right in asking ‘what’s in it for me’? Are we ever justified in listing all that we have done to be of service to them?

Here's the challenge:

Pick a day, soon. For one day set aside your all of your grudges, everything you want to get even for, everything you think an individual (or the world) owes you...and just be helpful to anyone who asks. I'm only asking you to do it for a day, 24 hours.

Let me know how it works out for you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fleas and Fellowship- Who’s in your crew? Judges (6)

Image: Gideon's battle with the Midianites by Hoet, Gerard (Dutch painter and draftsman, 1648-1733)

What do fleas, Lord of the Rings and Gideon have to do with real life?

In life, marriage and business we need to carefully choose the people who will be with us on our journey. Many will be with us for a short time, a season; a few will stick it out for the long-haul. I am by no means advocating that we disdain hanging with anyone.

We have limited time, and most of us have purposes, passions and pursuits we'd like to be about.  There will be way too people who will only take from us, while others will build us up and help lift us to new heights. You want people with you who are bringing something positive to the relationship, something beneficial to the struggle. Life is not just about getting stuff from other people. We should each make it an effort to give at least as well as we get. This is not to be accomplished in a competitive spirit. Think about it for a minute. Do you like being second chair all the time? Probably not. We can’t honestly expect our friends and teammates to continually be the booster and never the victor.

We all want to have a great time in life, but when things get hard we want someone standing there in the trenches with us that we can depend on. We have needs that go well beyond lending us a few bucks. There are times in our lives when we need them to lend us an ear or a shoulder.

There are many people we may call acquaintance, but precious few who are friends. Be careful who you roll with. As my mother counseled me, “If you lay down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas”…or something worse.

The Fellowship (LOTR) never lost site of the goal, even when they lost site of Frodo. They remained committed to the fellowship and the quest. This remained true when they were surrounded  by thousands of comrades in arms; and it remained true when there were only 3 of them.

Gideon's started out with an army that was woefully out-manned and outnumbered. His army was then reduced to 1% of its original size. He was left with a tiny force that was focused, attentive and willing to be led.

As we strive for excellence and move toward mastery, as we try to become better human beings, we want to associate with people who have similar perspectives.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fleas and Fellowship- Who’s in your crew? Judges (5)

The plan:

Gideon gave to each man a lamp, a pitcher, and a trumpet, and told the men exactly what to do with them.  The lamp was lit, but was placed inside the pitcher, so that it could not be seen. He divided his men into three companies, and very quietly led them down the mountain in the middle of the night, and arranged them all in order around the camp of the Midianites.

Then all at once, a great shout rang out in the darkness, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon," and after it came a crash of breaking pitchers, and then a flash of light in every direction. The three hundred men had given the shout, and broken their pitchers, so that on every side of the camp, lights were shining. The men blew their trumpets with a mighty noise; and the Midianites were roused from sleep, to see enemies completely surrounding them. All they could see was lights beaming and swords flashing, while the sharp sound of the trumpets was blasting.

They were filled with sudden terror, and thought only of escape, not of fighting. Wherever they turned, their enemies seemed to be standing with swords drawn. They trampled each other to death in flight from the Israelites. Their own land was in the east, across the river Jordan, and they fled in that direction.

Preparations made: No men or talent wasted

Gideon had been concerned that the Midianites would turn toward their land that Israel still occupied, but he had already prepared to cut off their flight. The 10,000 men he had placed on the sides of the valley. There they slew many of the Midianites as they fled down the steep pass toward the river.

He had also sent the men of the tribe of Ephraim, who had taken no part in the war thus far, to hold the only place at the river where men could wade through the water. The Midianites who had escaped from Gideon's men on either side of the valley were now met by the Ephraimites at the river, and many more were slain. Among the slain were two of the princes of the Midianites, named Oreb and Zeeb.

A small part of the Midianite army was able to get across the river and continued their flight toward the desert. Gideon and his brave three hundred men (sounds like the Spartans) followed them closely, fought another battle, completely destroying them. He captured their two kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, whom he killed. After this great victory the Israelites were freed forever from the Midianites. The Midianites never made war on the tribes of Israel again.

After this, Gideon ruled as Judge in Israel. The people wanted him to make himself a king. "Rule over us as king," they said, "and let your son be king after you, and his son king after him."

But Gideon said: "No, you have a king already; for the Lord God is the King of Israel. No one but God shall be king over these tribes."


There are few important lessons we can garner from Gideon's story.

FirstBe yourself. Know who you are and what you can contribute.
One of my mentors has a saying, "Stay in your lane," which I think is apropos to this situation. Gideon had won a great battle. However, if you go back to the beginning of this story, he never saw himself as a great warrior or leader. He has delivered, with God's help and is ready to get back to what he is good at.

Second: Be prepared. You can't step up or move forward if you don't prepare. Prepare for the best case scenarion and worst case scenario.

Third: Don't (necessarily) believe the hype. This relates to number one. Don't let other peoples ambitions for themselves and for you cloud your judgment.

Too often we buy into the accolades and praises of others, and lose our focus and all too often, our way. Gideon had the ability step up and do what was needed, but he didn't let it go to his head. He was not consumed with the need or desire to be "large and in-charge." Gideon had done a great service for the Nation of Israel, and they wanted to repay him and may him leader. He was ready to get back to his "real life" now that the threat was gone.

We may be good at a certain aspects of our job, but that doesn't necessarily translate into replacing our boss. I would contend that we need to strive to be the most excellent "US" we can be. We can learn a great deal from other people, but we do not need to become them.

FourthWe can each do extraordinary things in extraordinary times. Never sell yourself short. Step up.

I can do all things....

[We'll finish up tomorrow.]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fleas and Fellowship- Who’s in your crew? Judges (4)

Gideon sends word through the camp: "Whoever is afraid of the enemy may go home." The army started out with about 30,000, and 22,000 people went home. Now we are down to about one-third of our original strength. But this actually left the army stronger. All the cowards had gone, and only the brave men were left.

But the Lord interjects again saying to Gideon: "The people are yet too many. You need only a few of the bravest and best men to fight in this battle. Bring the men down the mountain, past the water, and I will show you there how to find the men whom you need."

The next morning Gideon, by God's command called his ten thousand men out, and made they march down the hill, as if they were going to attack the enemy. While they were beside the water, he observed how they drank, and split them into two companies based on this. Why?

When they came to the water, most of the men threw aside their shields and spears, and knelt down and scooped up a mouthful of the water with both hands like a cup. These men Gideon commanded to stand  together in one company.

There were a few men who did not stop to take a large drink of water. They continued to hold their spear and shield in their right hands to be ready for the enemy if one should suddenly appear. They simply caught up a handful of the water in passing and kept marching, while lapping up the water from one hand.

What’s the real life application? The first group are the friends and co-workers who really want to be in our corner, and mean us all the best, but they cannot keep their eyes on the prize. They are good friends and great company, but they really only understand the here and now. They can only focus on what is right in front of their eyes.

The second group is in it for the long haul. They know what needs to happen, and they’ll stick it out with you; even when it’s not all fun and games.

God said to Gideon:"Set by themselves these men who lapped up each a handful of water. These are the men whom I have chosen to set Israel free."

Gideon counted these men, and found that he was left with only 300. That’s one percent of our original force. The one-percenters get it! What's the difference? The three hundred were earnest men, of one purpose; not turning aside from their aim even to drink, as the others did. These men also, were watchful; always ready to meet their enemies.

The final plan didn’t need a large army; but it did require a few careful, bold men, who would do exactly as their leader commanded them.

Not bad characteristics: careful, bold, follow commands.

Have you ever found yourself with too much help; so many people giving input that no work gets done? It seems counter-intuitive that smaller, focused groups can move mountains. They are also nimble enough to adjust without a lot of rhetoric.

This is our group. This is the group that is in-sych with what we are talking about and where we are going.

Is your small group, too big?


Monday, August 22, 2011

Fleas and Fellowship- Who’s in your crew? Judges (3)

Back to Gideon, fleas, fleece and fellowship...

Recap: The people of Israel are downtrodden. The Midianites have come against the. God has asked Gideon to raise an army to defend the Nation. The Nation has been worshipping the false idols of Baal and Asherath. Gideon destroys these and has been found out. The mob approaches Gideon's father, Joash, seeking revenge.
And Joash, Gideon's father, wisely said: "If Baal is a god, he can take care of himself, and punish the man who has destroyed his image. Why should you help Baal? Let Baal help himself."

And when they saw that Baal could not harm the man who had broken down his altar and his image, the people turned from Baal, back to their own Lord God.

Gideon sent messengers throughout the tribes for the men to gather, and bring swords and spears. But they had few weapons. Most of the Israelites were not prepared for war. They met beside a great spring on Mount Gilboa, called "the fountain of Harod." This was near the base camp of a vast Midianite army. So, as soon as the Midianites heard that Gideon had planned to set his people free, they came against him with a mighty host.

Gideon was a man of faith. He really wanted to be sure that God was leading him, and he prayed to God and said: "O Lord God, give me some sign that thou wilt save Israel through me. Here is a fleece of wool on this threshing floor. If tomorrow morning the fleece is wet with dew, while the grass around it is dry, then I shall know that thou art with me; and that thou wilt give me victory over the Midianites."

Very early the next morning, Gideon came to look at the fleece. He found it wringing wet with dew, while all around the grass was dry. But he was still not satisfied.

He said to the Lord:"O Lord, be not angry with me; but give me just one more sign. Tomorrow morning let the fleece be dry, and let the dew fall all around it, and then I will doubt no more."

The next morning, Gideon found the grass, and the bushes wet with dew, while the fleece of wool was dry. And Gideon was now confident that God had called him, and that God would give him victory over the enemies of Israel.

The Lord said to Gideon: "Your army is too large. If Israel should win the victory, they would say, 'we won it by our own might.' Send home all those who are afraid to fight." God is trying to demonstrate to Israel that it is not in its own strength, but by the strength and grace of God, that they would prevail.

They were grossly outnumbered, so many of the people were frightened, as they looked at the great host of their enemies. The Lord knew that these men would only hinder the rest in the battle. And we all know people like this. We each have a few “friends” who will cut and run as soon as things get a little too tight, too big or too uncomfortable.

But we must not lose heart every single time we feel outnumbered, outsmarted, outgunned...

We have not been given the spirit of timidity and fear.

Think of a situation in your life when you felt woefully inadequate, and things worked out to your benefit...anyway!

How was this situation salvaged?


Saturday, August 20, 2011

You've decided to start a blog. Cool! (part 2)

An important thing to keep in mind  when writing and editing the blog is that your reader’s time, much like our own, is valuable and limited. If we can try to conjure up a “typical reader,” they will in all probability read several blogs and news items daily. They want to get in, get out, leave a comment (if you make it easy), and move on. We live in an age in which we are bombarded with an excessive amount of information, and we have precious little time to process it.

As bloggers, we have seconds to grab people’s attention. We want to capture their attention for their first read, and keep them coming back for more.

3. It won’t make you rich

We all have childhood dreams in which everything we touch turns to gold, we can then leave our day-job and never look back. Sorry, but this probably won’t be that “thing.” And, no matter how many of times you send your $49.00 to some teenager pictured sitting in a rented Porsche, or get-rich ads to maximize profits and boost your SEO, none of these is likely to be your magic bullet. It takes work to understand your craft and perform it well; just like anything else in life.

As a beginner, your first priority is to produce a good, readable product with good content.

Good content is King!

You will hear this time and again. And, it is true. If your posts are poorly written, use poor grammar, are replete with spelling errors, or just plain boring, the only people who will ever read it are your aunt and maybe a couple of people at church. And those, not for long.

There are several legitimate texts to help you get better at your craft, learn about SEO (search engine optimization), how to properly monetize, etc. Just reach out. There are people who can educate you better about these things than I can. There are also many affiliate links to legitimately maximize your blog, financially.

In its essence, the community of bloggers, is just that…a community. We are a community, and most people inside the community are more than happy to offer some type of help. It is a grievous error to treat the “others” as competition.

No matter what we are trying to sell, shoes, books, washing machines, computers, or the next big “thing”- we must first be in the business of selling ourselves! I certainly don’t mean selling-out, or selling our souls, but demonstrating that we (and our writing) are a product worth investing time in.

4. Remember, this is a ministry, and your vision!

Don’t let envy cloud your judgment. It is human nature to look at someone else’s work or someone else’s numbers and get sidetracked. But the world isn’t looking for and certainly doesn’t need a copy of someone else’s site. Don’t plagiarize. Don’t steal material. Get appropriate permission. Most people will gladly share their material, with no strings attached if you ask, and give proper attribution. This includes photos.

This is your ministry! This is the flock that has been entrusted to your care. That may mean 1, 100 or 1000 readers. Tend it well; be faithful over the small things.

5. Share

There are several blogs that I subscribe to and write comment to on a regular basis. There are many that merely scan the title. I do, after all still have a day-job; and a life.

Commenting on other people’s blogs comes with many benefits, and a few pitfalls:
  • It can provide an opportunity to improve your writing. Even though it’s a comment, use it wisely. Express your idea clearly, coherently and succinctly.
  • Give you exposure to prospective audience; get your name “out”
  • It is an opportunity to meet with and engage some great people, many of whom are willing to help you with an issue
  • It demonstrates your ability to think deeply and critically
  • Caveat: Be sure to read the whole blog if you are going to comment. There is nothing more damaging to you than to come across as a loose cannon, especially when you’re totally off-topic.
  • If you disagree, say so and explain why. Most bloggers are open to honest commentary, both positive and negative. However, stay on-point. This is not a place to promote your blog, promote yourself, or launch a personal attack. If you cannot contribute to what’s being discussed, stay out.

Share the blogs you enjoy with your readers.

[conclusion next week...]

Friday, August 19, 2011

Faith, Pastors and Megachurches

I would be remiss if I didn’t make mention of the most obvious current church-related headline:

I have read a few of the accounts, but I don’t plan to rehash that here. I have many of the comments. Much of the commenting has been focused on whether those people will lose their faith, now that their leader is: a) deceased, and b) seemingly has fallen from grace.


I don’t know what the standard definition of mega-church is, but to me it’s a church with over 1,000 regular attendees or congregants. I have only attended and never been a member of a church of this size or magnitude. I have however been to larger churches that have two to three services on Sunday, and maybe one or two on Saturday.

When I have had occasion to attend these churches for prolonged periods of time (up to 10 years), I frequently met people who I didn’t even know attended “my” church. This doesn’t really strike me as fellowship the way the New Testament intended it.

So my question is and has been:

How does this kind of fellowship make us different than the Optimists Club, the Elks Lodge, or any other club?

These megas seem to fall into one of two main categories.

The first seems focused on the personality and style of the singular charismatic leader, and never progresses beyond that point. The assumed plan of succession tends to involve other family members. The press has made much of what will happen to Pastor Tims' church, now that he is gone. Who will take his place? Will the church remain intact? Can it survive?

The second seems run a little less like a family business, with dad as the CEO. They have organizational structures that prepare future leaders; and seem more focused on the MISSION, and not so much on the MAN.


One of the recurring themes in the comments about Pastor Tims’ passing is, will these people lose their faith? One of the building blocks of the New Prosperity Gospel, besides a slot-machine God, seems to be that the prosperity and faith are linked to a particular person and/or edifice. So, the thinking is that once the person is gone, everything will fall apart and the people will scatter.

For instance, in Rev Shuller’s church, his children fight for control of the money, the building and ostensibly the people. In Bishop Long’s church, people stay or go, and remain confused. There are many other examples I could site, but I won’t.

The Book of Revelations calls the pastor’s of the seven churches angels. We may consider them different than most of us, but they are not angelic. And this is not meant as disrespect, but they are human, and subject to the same wrinkles, foibles and mis-steps that of with that condition.

Some people worship angels (and pastors for that matter), presenting yet another condition that should not exist. This makes an idol or a god is made out of something created by Another.


What is faith?
The writer of Hebrews (who is probably the Apostle Paul) gives us a definition:
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1).

What are we to have faith in? We are to have faith in God, and faith in ourselves. Faith in Christ is faith in God, so we won’t split hairs. It’s part of that whole Trinity idea.

We can and should have a certain kind of faith in other people. We can have faith that they will or will not do what they say. Faith that they do love and / or care for us, or they do not. We have a certain kind of faith in others, but not the same as the faith to which God calls us.

Will the people at Pastor Zachery Tims' New Destiny Christian Center, Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, or Rev Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral lose their faith? I hope not.

They will not lose their faith if they have not lost their perspective and have not lost sight of the true prize.


Rev. Zachary Tims, RIP; our reward is not in this world.

Members of New Destiny Christian Center -

“…weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

Questions for you:

1. Will you leave your church if something happens to your favorite pastor?

2. Why are you at your particular church?

  • Learn

  • Teach

  • Make a difference

  • Be transformed

  • You are called here

  • Get your “holy checkmark” for the week

  • Political or business connections

3. Is your church a club for like-minded people or is it The Bride of Christ?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fleas and Fellowship- Who’s in your crew? Judges (2)

File:Maarten van Heemskerck 024.jpg

How we decide who will go into battle with us?

Sorry, history lesson first:

You already know this but, the Israelites spent 40 years wandering around the desert, for what should have been a 4 day trip. This happened because they were repeating offenders, and God waited them out until a new generation was born. So, finally, the Israelites have come into the Promised Land, but they couldn’t keep their act together. And, this is why I love the Old Testament; these people are US!

They stopped worshipping God, Who had just saved their hind-quarters, and started worshipping Baal, so the Lord left them to suffer for their sins. Enter the Midianites. The Midianites lived near the desert on the eastern side of Israel, and they decided to come against the tribes. For each of seven years that this struggle went on, the Midianites swept over their land at the time of harvest, and carried away all the crops of grain, until the Israelites had no food left for themselves, including sheep and cattle. Along with the army, the Midianites brought their own flocks and camels which ate all the grass of the field. The people of Israel were driven away from their villages and their farms, and were compelled to hide in the caves of the mountains.

One day, a man named Gideon was threshing out wheat in his hidden place, when he saw an angel sitting-under an oak-tree. The angel said to him: "You are a brave man, Gideon, and the Lord is with you. Go out boldly, and save your people from the power of the Midianites." Gideon answered the angel: "O, Lord, how can I save Israel? Mine is a poor family in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house." And the Lord said to him: "Surely I will be with you, and I will help you drive out the Midianites."

Then the Lord told Gideon that before setting his people free from the Midianites, he must first set them free from the service of Baal and Asherah, the two idols they most often worshipped.

One of the altars to Baal, and an image of Asherah were near Gideon’s father’s house. One night Gideon went out with ten men, and threw down the image of Baal, and cut the wooden image of Asherah into pieces, destroying them. In its place he built an altar to the God of Israel; and on it laid the broken pieces of the idols for wood, and with them offered a young ox as a burnt-offering.

On the next morning, when the people of the village went out to worship their idols, they found that the false idols had been cut up, and the altar taken away. In its place an altar of the Lord, and on it the pieces of the Asherah were burning as wood under a sacrifice to the Lord. The people looked at the broken and burning idols; and they said: "Who has done this?"

Someone said: "Gideon, the son of Joash, did this last night."

Then they came to Joash, Gideon's father, and said: "We are going to kill your son because he has destroyed the image of Baal, who is our god."


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fleas and Fellowship- Who’s in your crew? Judges (1)

Mysterious connections.

I have been hounded recently by 2 or 3 seemingly random thoughts, and have been searching for the connection. Last week I attended one of my favorite chats, #leadfromwithin, and we discussed values: what are values, what are core values, what do you value most, how to demonstrate and how to communicate them. And even though it was a great chat, that’s not really one of the three.


The first issue is fleas. I fondly recount stories from my youth at which time I became persuaded that my mother was the inventor of the concept of  “tough love” , and we will share more of that in the future. But, one of the phrases she liked to share with us was, “If you lay down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.” You can probably guess what type of fleas she was referring to.


The second issue, fellowship. I have watched LOTR (Lord of the Rings) trilogy more times than I can count. One of the things that always strikes me is that, even when the fellowship has lost track of Frodo, who they are supposed to be guarding and helping, they don't lose sight of the goal or the quest they are on.

How many of us can say that we have those kinds of people in our lives, our crew, our mastermind group, whatever you want to call it. How many of us have people who will stick with us whether we are up or down? How many of us have someone who always, always, always has our back, even when we are not around to know about it?

For that matter, this presents an opportunity for us to ask ourselves, “Do I watch out for my friends, my best buds, my true BFFs like that? All the time?”

In churchspeak it is frequently referred to as "covering" someone else. Watching over them, protecting them from harm, and helping them move in the right direction even when they don’t want to.


Third: You knew I’d get Biblical eventually…it’s what I do here. In the book of Judges, Gideon, like Frodo Baggins in LOTR is given a very difficult task. He thinks the task is too big for him, or he's too small for it. He has a few lapses along the way, and he doesn't always seem certain that God is really with him.

Text: Judges 6:36- 7:22. Read the text, please.

After we get through a period of Gideon testing God to be certain, we are off to battle with the Midianites...maybe. And here is where we separate the big dogs from the fleas, the wheat from the chaff, _________________ (insert favorite metaphor here). Here we consciously and conscientiously chose the people we want with us and those we don't. We want a crew that can stand strong with us and take us into battle.

But how? How do we discern who the right people are?

   Who is your BFF?               Why?


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Doubt - Jeremiah (6)

When doubt persists, the final step is that we must take is to continue to pray

You must do this even when you do not feel like it. You may not feel sure that prayer is worthwhile, but you must still pray. This is the great thing about Jeremiah. Even at his worst times, he continued to pray. Sometimes it seemed that he only complained to God, but he continued to pray. Nothing stopped him. (Jeremiah 12:1-3; 15:15; 17:14 and 20:7-12.) Jeremiah prayed clearly and in an honest way.

Often, we are sad about our difficulties, problems and doubts. But for some reason, we try to keep our feelings out of our prayers. That is when these things can become a wall between us and God. Someone once said: ‘To deal with doubt you must let it get out!’ You have to let someone know.

Believe that a better time will come. You will be able to believe God again. Until that time, prove the worth of the faith that you once had. We can all know that God will never leave us.


We all have seasons of doubt. Many times they last a lot longer than we'd wish. Jeremiah has offered us a great deal of advice about how to get through our seasons of doubt.

As a review, we are to:

1. Allow God to examine and show us all parts of our lives

2. Be sincere about our lives and our calling. Understand what part do you play in the scheme of things.

3. Help the people around you change; don't become them

4. Reach back and remember the great promises that God's has given you in the past; trust these.

5. Continue to pray.

Most importantly,

Remember that God is always with you.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Doubt - Jeremiah (5)

In overcoming our doubts we need to

Remember God’s great promises in the past

God had spoken some great words to Jeremiah. He did this at the beginning of the prophet’s work. Jeremiah’s job was going to be very dificult, but God offers him encouragment.  Later, Jeremiah was plagued with doubts, he was suffering greatly. Then God spoke the same words to him again. (Jeremiah 15:20, 1:18, 19.)

You may have forgotten a great promise of God. It helped you get through the worst of times in the past. So, listen to the same Bible words again.

  • Trust His great promises.

  • He will give you strength and protection.

  • Best of all, God himself will always be with you.

When we have doubts, we should do something else too. We must

Trust God completely, whatever our feelings may be

We may feel that God has gone away from us, that He has adandoned us. At first, this is a matter of discipline. Here, in Jeremiah 17:5-13, ihe realizes something. He sees that it is foolish to go to anyone else for help. Jeremiah might phrase it this way:

Do not let your heart go away from the Lord. 

You might feel that God has left you. But he has not. Let your hope be in the Lord (Jeremiah 17:7).

Your life may be hard. Then look to him (Jeremiah 17:8).

Trust in his promises. They do not change. (1 Peter 1:4, Joshua 21:45 and 23:14, 1 Kings 8:56 and Numbers 23:19.)

Then we can again recognoze the sovereignty of God

Perhaps your life is not what you wanted it to be (Jeremiah 17:12) or going in the direction you thought it would. But something happens when we recognise His sovereignty. We are sure about God again (Jeremiah 17:13).

Jeremiah had stopped believing and trusting God. Now he begins to trust God again. The Lord really is like a supply of fresh water’.

And, the final thing we need to do is...

[conclusion tomorrow...]

Saturday, August 13, 2011

You've decided to start a blog. Cool! (part 1)

When I first started blogging, I didn’t see myself as much of a writer, but I thought I might have something worth saying.  I don’t really think most bloggers consider themselves writers who are on their way to their first best seller. When I started out, I thought it would be easy…it’s not. I have, however met some awesome people and learned a great deal about writing and myself along the way.

There are a number of things I wish someone had shared with me at the beginning, and even though I am not an expert by any means, I think I can help you skip a few of the newbie pitfalls. Many of these are inter-related.

1. Be yourself

This sounds simple enough. Before you sit to write your first blog, it is important to decide why you are writing. Your style will change as you grow, as your audience grows and as your interests change, but remember that you are taking your readers on this journey along with you.

There are many reasons we write, and this is by no means an exhaustive list.We write:

• To teach

• To journal

• To improve our writing skills

• To vent or to express a specific opinion

• To bring attention to and help cure a social ill

• To demonstrate and share a particular skill-set or passion, such a leadership, teaching, Bible study, recipes, quilting

• For profit

You are writing to an audience. Blogs, at least in my mind, are not meant to be monologues, but conversations. In order to start that conversation, you must have something interesting to say to your readers. Once you have pinned this down, the next question you’ll need to ask yourself is, “What is unique about what I want to say?” Or, perhaps the uniqueness lies in the way you plan to present it; or the platform you wish to use.

There is a ton of competition out there, so know why you’ve come. It is difficult to get a handle on good statistics, but there are over 20 million blogs on Google alone.

Don’t be discouraged. Get out there, write and write well.

What’s different about your blog? That’s what your potential readers want to know.

2. Find your voice

Okay, so we know that what we want to say needs to be meaningful and add value to the reader. What’s next? How we say it is just as important as what we say. This is called communication. We hope to speak or write so that our readers will understand, be enlightened, be fulfilled, be amused, be given pause to think, be transformed….

What’s your goal? Why are you out here in the blogosphere?


There are many different philosophies about length, and blogs come in every length imaginable. Some people limit themselves to a few hundred words, some a few bullet points, while others will write a veritable tomes. This you’ll work out as you go. I started writing post about 1,000 words in length, but have since determined that my readers are “good” for about 5-600 words at a shot.

A important factor to keep in mind is that our reader’s time, like our own, is valuable and limited. If we can try to conjure up a “typical reader,” they will in all probability read several blogs and news items daily. They want to get in, get out, leave a comment (if you make it easy), and move on. We live in an age in which we are bombarded with an excessive amount of information, and we have precious little time to process it.

As bloggers, we have seconds to grab people’s attention. We want to capture their attention for their first read, and keep them coming back for more.

[more next week...]

Friday, August 12, 2011

Doubt - Jeremiah (4)

Jeremiah has some doubts and...

He feels disappointed...

His work for God seemed to be a complete failure. (Jeremiah 7:25-28, 13:15-17) He would have been very happy if people had returned to the Lord. But this just isn't happening.

There is an important lesson for us here. When God gives us work to do for Him, we must be loyal and continue the work no mater what happens.

Being faithful and loyal to the task is more important than success.

When results become more important to us than doing a task correctly and sticking o it, we are in danger. Why is this dangerous?

We stop wanting to bring honor to God AND we start trying to prove our own worth instead.

Jeremiah felt bitter...

This often flows from our disappointment. God has not worked in the way that we hoped or planned. He hasn't done what we asked in the way they we wanted. This is what Jeremiah is feeling (Jeremiah 20:7-8).

Jeremiah felt sorry for himself...

This was the next thing that has gone wrong. The prophet was miserable. Nobody seemed to know or care about his feelings. He was very, very lonely. (Jeremiah 15:17-18, 16:2-9.) He suffered more stress than anyone realized. Perhaps this stress caused his character to become a little weaker.

This was a terrible time for the prophet. But he went back to have true faith in God. He realised that God could supply all his needs. His experience can help us.

We too have doubts. We might have a similar difficulties. There are things that we can do about it. The prophet’s experience shows important truths. We will now study these.
Like Jeremiah, we must:

Allow God to examine and show us all parts of our lives.

(Jeremiah 12:3; 15:19, 17:9-10) All Jeremiah’s thoughts were about the nation. He had no fear as he spoke about their lack of reality.

He forgot that he must be completely sincere in his own life.

The prophet was concentrating on the people’s ‘return’ to God. But God said to him:

If you return, then you can serve me’ (Jeremiah 15:4).

Jeremiah was full of pain and despair. God comes to him. He reminds the prophet about his job.

He must help people to change.

He must not change and become like the people (15:19b).

What God is trying to tell Jeremiah is that he needs to do the job he's been sent for. There is a real problem here that needs to be address, but there is also a risk. Just like in our own lives, he can be part of the solution or part of the problem. It would have been easy for Jeremiah to step back into a life of luxury and be content like the people, but that's not what he has been sent to do.

Having integrity, and always trying to live out your core values is not an easy life. But if they are your true values, that's the path you are compelled to stay on. If you are wishy-washy or inconsistent, people won't respect you, and they won't follow you.

But there's more we need to do...

What do you value most?


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Doubt - Jeremiah (3)

So, there are two questions of the floor:
  • We all call God unfair when things aren't going well for us, but do you call God unfair when He does good for you?

  • Do you ever doubt?

Of course we do! We may not at this particular moment, but we'd be lying to ourselves and everyone else if we said that we have never doubted God.

At some time, we are each plagued with serious doubts. You are not alone. These doubts come in a variety of ways. They may be doubts about what God is like. They may be doubts about how God acts. We are only human, it is our nature. We ask ourselves, ‘Why does this trouble happen to me?’ This is a natural question. But it can lead to doubts about God’s sovereignty. We start to wonder if God is really ruling.

We must remember at these times to turn to our Bible for help. It will stop the doubt when it begins. If we fail to do this, the enemy can and will use our lack of certainty against us. He will use it to take away all our certainties, our surities, our assurances. We will begin to question God’s sovereignty, His onmiscience, His omni-presence. We will begin to doubt that God even exists.

It all begins insidiously. Our first thoughts are: ‘Perhaps God does not really care.’ And, we end with: ‘Perhaps God is not really there at all.’ We must put our confidence in God’s Word, the Bible.

Our Lord God rules. He is All-Powerful.’  (Revelation 19:6.)

This is a powerful fact. This is a fact that does not change. It comforts us. It remains true whatever in happening in our life. It remains true no matter how I feel. God has never stopped being king. The events in my life are not just accidents. God rules! Things do not happen by chance.

But, that's not the only thing going on with Jeremiah...We must pay attention to something else. Because...

Doubt is often not the only problem

Doubt often comes when we have let other matters control our lives. This means that we have lost our trust in God’s sovereignty. So, the difficulties in life seem to be very great, almost overwhelming. Then we aren't so sure about God’s love.

This happened in Jeremiah’s life. At the beginning of his work for God, he was very brave. He accused the people of turning away from God. God was like ‘a supply of fresh water’ (Jeremiah 2:13).

Now, he is feeling full of despair. He cries to God. He says: ‘Lord, I think that you have changed. You are like a supply of water that became dry. So it stopped’  (Jeremiah 15:18).

There is some bad sytuff going on in the prophet's life. Perhaps there were some serious weaknesses in the his spiritual life. These things would allow doubts to enter his mind. They would lead to a lack of certainty.