How to Fight Off Wolves

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.– Matthew 7:15 

The internet contains more than 50,000 sermons. How do we discern between the Word of God being preached and what our online Bible Study last evening called, scoffers?  

A scoffer is someone who looks after his own interests, denies Christ in words and/or actions–a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In this age of media, here is how to be a more discerning believer as per Gaye Austin’s online teachings (in her words):  

  1. ACTION 1: Verify—write down what is being said.  
  1. ACTION 2: Clarify—write down what is said from both points of view; ask if it violates one of the cardinal doctrines: virgin birth, the inerrancy of Scripture, etc.  
  1. ACTION 3: Pray for understanding and insight. In John 14:26, Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would bring to their minds what Jesus taught. If we are anointed with the indwelling Holy Spirit, can He not do the same for us?  

According to a Lifeway Study, only 32 percent who attend church regularly read the Bible every day. It’s not a church building that will bring people closer to God, but it can be the church people who make disciples starting with spending time with the Lord and learning about Him through the Bible. Then, sharing your knowledge appropriately in the face-to-face and online.  

That includes… 

  • Being active on your church’s Facebook or Youtube Lives. Not just checking in. Sharing your thoughts on the sermon. Engaging others online with love.  
  • Sharing what you are learning in your daily or weekly study of the Bible and allowing others to challenge you or ask you questions. To help you bear the challenges, come at sharing what you are learning from a position of humility. Afterall, most of us are not theologians. Our desire to learn the Bible is to draw closer to the Lord. Our pride should not get in the way.  
  • Use social media as a tool to help you get into good disciplines. It is not whether we should limit our time online, but how we use it. If you are scrolling and sharing out of habit or boredom, you are not using your time well.  
  • Allow margin in your day-to-day schedule for God-appointments (online and face-to-face).  

How do you discern out of the more than 50,000 sermons shared online what is God’s truth and what is fluff or self-promotion?  

Read your Bible and pray.

Then, be a part of God’s plan of transformation in yourselves and in other people by using your social media differently and invest time in other people’s lives online and in the face-to-face.   

How to Love Others in 5 Not-So-Easy Ways

Sitting in the coffee shop, sipping ice tea on a hundred-degree day across from a new friend, I was reminded again of Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. We talked about love. The topic of love has been on my mind lately.

Over social media, people use the Bible to try to emotionally blackmail another person to agree with or to comply with choices the other party is not in agreement with. This isn’t love. Love is determined by the motivation of the speaker. The Bible uses many examples on what loving your neighbor looks like. Then, you learn about the different Greek words that describe the different kind of loves that are mentioned in the Bible, like Agape.

Got Questions defines Agape love as that which, “…involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will.” They use 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 as an example. I have even heard Agape described as sacrificial love in other articles.

 The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman, published in 1992, on how to express love “…in your spouse’s language”, reminded me that each of us has a love language and won’t recognize love unless expressed to us in that language. It doesn’t only apply to spouses, but friends, neighbors, and even strangers. If we want to love others like Jesus, following His example is important, and understanding what the Bible says about it is necessary. It’s also important to understand who your neighbor, friend, or even the stranger is when trying to love them. Social media makes that easy (and hard) to do.

I recently read a Tweet about a man who reconciled with his friend after a four-year shut down in communication. The original argument was over politics. He wrote at the end of his tweet, “FOUR years lost.”

Loving others is not easy, and it takes sacrifice, like Jesus. When you Google “love your neighbor scripture”, this link comes up. When you read the Bible in context and you see all the love verses together, Clarity happens, and the truth confronts your spirit. Because you love the Lord, obedience is the next step. There’s nothing natural about it, either.

How do we love our neighbors, friends, and strangers when both face-to-face and online relationships are tough right now?

  1. Count Others More Significant Than Yourselves (Philippians 2:3): The relationship comes before your preferences. As a leader, I am learning John 13:1-17, when Jesus washed his disciples feet. Yes, I want to be that kind of leader, that kind of friend, and that kind of person. The word honor comes to mind. I want to honor others before myself, and this can be done without sacrificing my values or the relationship. In practical ways, some suggestions might be to ignore thoughtless online remarks, let another person know privately or publicly that you prayed for their request, be a good guest instead of a demanding one, and always give more than you receive out of the sheer joy in being generous. Look for ways online and face-to-face where you can serve a need or even a want. Everyone likes to receive that unexpected card or gift in the mail. Don’t be too proud to pick up a broom.
  2. Unity for The Gospel: In reading Philippians 4, two women had a quarrel in the church. Paul implored them to, “…be of the same mind in the Lord.” Both women needed to recall that the Gospel that they had in common was more important than the quarrel. Much work can be accomplished if our differences can be resolved. What gifts were we given to serve the Lord? How has the Lord prepared us for the work He has for us? It goes on to say in the chapter to “Show a gentle disposition to all men” (online and face-to-face).  
  3. Learn About Your Friends. Lurk on their profiles. Study your friends. Learn about how they need to be loved. For some, it is gifts. For others, acts of service. Respond accordingly. How can you use your own social media to help them rejoice? How can you practically help them? Have no agenda in the realm of friendship. Invest time in online and face-to-face conversations. Where possible, avoid phone calls, and instead use video calls so you can see each other’s facial expressions.
  4. Speak Truth if You Have the Relationship: We don’t have the right to speak into someone else’s life unless that permission is given. Build the friendship first, and you build trust. Cherish that trust. Put the Gospel first above any other “truth”. Respect the other person in your choice of words and tone. It’s advisable online to use emojis for facial expressions.
  5. Forgive. The divide and anger are so thick one could cut it and serve it on a plate. Forgiveness is essential for our souls, to be reconciled with each other, and it is also a process, depending on the sore point. But, it is worth the effort to forgive, if not for our own sakes.

This love thing is really a struggle. If we ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”, we must know the answer to that was: the cross.

Now, what?

4 Ways Harriet Tubman Inspired Me

A Commentary on Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton

“’The Lord told me to do this. I said, ‘Oh Lord, I can’t—don’t ask me—take somebody else.’ But Tubman also reported that God spoke directly to her: ‘It’s you I want, Harriet Tubman.’” (pg. 82)

Harriet Tubman was a missionary, and not your typical missionary. Harriet was a fugitive slave with the Underground Railroad who later served as a spy with the Union Army. She didn’t choose to become a “missionary”, rather she was chosen. In fact, many who knew her would say God chose her for that role. Through her lifetime, she encountered many of the same issues and situations missionaries face when answering a calling.

Harriet Tubman oftentimes raised her own funding. Even in her later years, William Seward (United States Secretary of State, 1861-1869) was visited by Harriet many times for donations to her various projects. Harriet was generous to a fault so much so that William Seward said, “You have worked for others long enough…If you ask for a donation for yourself I will give it to you, but I will not help you to rob yourself for others.” During her time as an Abductor for the Underground Railroad, she often spent the summers working at a resort to save up money for her trips into slave territory to bring more slaves to freedom. Between this and her later years of championing the causes of women and the elderly, four things occurred to me:

  • Our support is dependent upon churches and individuals. We raise up capital to serve in the role we feel God has chosen for us. Like Harriet, our roles may involve public speaking or other influential people advocating for our cause to get more funding. Perhaps, we may even publish books or writings to build up awareness of our causes with this act helping us to raise further funds.
  • False narrative was a problem back then, too. In some of the accounts in the book, enthusiastic abolitionists wanted to showcase what was happening in a way that would emotionally tug at people’s souls, causing them to give more. Near the end of Harriet’s life, when she needed more money, an author wrote a biography of her which was an exaggerated work. It sold and provided some extra cash for Harriet.
  • Other lessons from Harriet’s life, such as her adoration of John Brown, remind me to stay obedient to the Lord. John Brown was an extreme and charismatic abolitionist. He even made his own manifesto to create his own country and planned a battle in which he died. Harriet wanted to join him in that battle, but she reported that God didn’t want to her to go. Harriet’s work might have been compromised and her life prematurely ended had she joined John Brown in that battle.  
  • When Harriet discovered John Tubman’s remarriage, the rage became a more practical anger. John refused to see her. “She did not give way to rage or grief, but collected a party of fugitives and brought them safely to Philadelphia.” (pgs. 82-83). Right now, we live in an age of rage. Instead, we ought to look at practical ways to process our emotions during this time of history. Harriet didn’t spend her time complaining about John or wallowing in self-pity. She did something whether through service or donation.

As Supported Staff with WorldVenture in Digital Disciple-Making, I’m finding ministry a practical outlet for the uncomfortable time we are living through. I can’t change the circumstances we are living in (social unrest, worldwide shut downs, etc), but I can change how I act, how I serve, and instead process that grief and discomfort through helping and encouraging others online. Even my financial partners have taught me about generosity in that I hope to live a generous life myself no matter the circumstances.

Thank you, Harriet Tubman, for living a courageous, selfless life and for loving others well.

3 Ways to Make Room for God

“Since I cannot govern my own tongue, tho’ within my own teeth, how can I hope to govern the tongues of others?” – Benjamin Franklin

Taking a stand doesn’t mean being the loudest person in the room, especially on social media. Follow God in making a positive impact in your community and stick close to Him during this time. Trust Him.

I know it’s hard with everything going on to feel like you have no control over what is happening in the world, and that speaking out gives you a feeling of control. But, like this flower, you can bloom. We’ve been so blessed as a country to live in a prosperous nation, and maybe now we see the reason why we are here? It’s been so easy to live here versus other parts of the world (from what I read). I wonder sometimes, as we chafe against what is happening, why we still want our old habits?

Let God use this time to change you into a new creation and set aside the old. On this 4th of July may we look at ourselves and see what God wants us to do going forward (and not the God we have invented for ourselves, but the God as represented in the Bible). Maybe it’s time to start a new Bible reading and prayer habit?

Here are 3 suggestions to help you form new habits:

  • Get up earlier than your normal hour if your day is full. A story from missionary history reminded me that spending time with God means rising early for some people. When my work schedule changed after I started a new job, I continued rising at the same hour each morning to make sure my relationship with the Lord wasn’t neglected. Maybe you are an evening person? Stay up late. Perhaps your lunch hour works best for you? Bring your Bible to work.
  • Use Your social media to stay accountable to your walk with God. The first sentence in this blog was, “Taking a stand doesn’t mean being the loudest person in the room.” This followed a quote from Benjamin Franklin. What you write on social media is what you are and reflects your heart. The posts online can either make you bitter or you can start controlling your dietary intake of what you read. Keeping your heart healthy means learning how to use social media in a way that benefits both you and your readers, followers, and friends. Perhaps share what you are learning on Sunday, in Bible Study, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about the Bible online. Be discerning in whose answers you accept by comparing the answers to what you are reading. Commentaries can be helpful in this.
  • Bible apps are wonderful. You can fit them on your phone and your phone can fit in your pocket. Grab a bottle of water and take a walk with God. Find a quiet place to sit and read a chapter. Ponder that chapter. Focus on it for the rest of the day. What did you read? What did you just learn about Bible history? How can you apply it now? What did it mean then?

Take care of your heart during this time and make God a priority. Talk to Him. As Benjamin Franklin said, you can’t control what others post (or how their posts make you feel), but you can control what you post.

*Picture taken on a trail in Arizona.

humility

Why Your Social Media Strategy Should Include Humility

“How we think of the people we work with and for. Our willingness—or lack of willingness—to consider their well-being, not simply focusing on how they can benefit us. Of meeting them at their point of need rather than our own. Of treating people like Jesus treats people.”Lead Like Jesus, Humility

The pressure of having a social media platform and being a “voice” or what some call an “expert” puts me as a Christian in an awkward position. Digital ministry needs more humility, not more experts.

Since COVID19, several “experts” online have divided the world. In some ways, each of us with a social media platform are suddenly experts in everything and we are leaders. When I received the Lead Like Jesus devotional in my email this week, I was struck by the above quote. To put into social media speak, here’s how I would re-write it:

  • We must admit there is more to leadership than we think, and to ask for wise accountability in our lives as we serve on social media. Ask a couple of people to hold you accountable to how you act online. My pastor is one of those people as is my husband and a mentor.  
  • Consider the well-being of those in your social media list who follow your posts. What do they need to hear? How can you serve them? Don’t focus on how they can benefit you. Listen to their voices. How is God calling you to serve them?  
  • As you gain knowledge and experience online, help others who may struggle with technology use their social media in the most beneficial ways possible to transform their communities.

Just today, I was reading a report put out by Visual Story Network. In it, I was struck by how people in digital ministry need a help center as they experiment in digital discipleship. Another part of the report shared how their supervisor directed them to the training and how only 15% implemented a media strategy immediately following the training. What struck me about the report is how we need to help each other. There are no experts, but you do have some people with more experience than others, especially in social media and marketing.

Asking for help, getting quality input from those you’ve set as accountability partners in your life, and learning how to listen online are important steps in digital discipleship. A drive fueled by a deep desire to share the Gospel with people and see them transformed through Christ should motivate you to serve. Everyone seems like an expert in something on social media. How many are humble on social media?

Suggestions for Serving:

  • Lead your efforts with prayer.
  • Accept correction and understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Study your social media follows and friend list. Pray for them.
  • Help your church by serving with them online.
  • Study both secular and Christian marketing sources, but ask yourself, “How will this help me make disciples and share the Gospel?” Adapt what you learn to your context.    
opportunities

Of Lost Opportunities

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.Read Ephesians 4:11-32

Originally, I was looking for verses online around the topic of “reeds blowing.” In my mind, I visualized social media campaigns and the people who are susceptible to follow them like reeds being blown by the wind, or as it states in Ephesians 4:14, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Social Media campaigns are like that. We click, we share, and we vent, even to the sacrifice of shutting down conversations with others or rupturing friendships.

In seeking the right verse for an image I was creating, I decided to read the whole chapter of Ephesians 4. David Guzik breaks it down to 3 subtopics: “A Call for Unity Among God’s People,” “The way God works unity: through spiritual gifts of leadership in the church,” and “Putting off the old man, putting on the new man.”

How does this look on social media?

  • “Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (vs. 1) – Answer the temptation to yell online, insult others, or use trigger words with Trapp’s saying to Satan, “I am a Christian.” The Bible exhorts us to walk as a believer, not act like the unbelievers. This includes postings online. Let’s not shut down conversations unnecessarily. This is to the benefit of the reader or listener who may not know Christ. It may even be to our benefit, too.
  • Keep the peace. Bear with one another. We need to forgive each other so we can work together for a greater purpose. People will post status updates we disagree with, join a political party we don’t like, or support causes that frustrate us. Keep the peace. Change happens when one or both parties listen to each other. Change happens inwardly as the Holy Spirit guides us.
  • We all have a role to play in face-to-face and online. People like to use the Spiritual Gifting verses as a reason not to do something. With probably half (or more) of a church congregation online, the Christian is already exercising one of his or her gifts in some way online. Most congregants post out of boredom or with a political agenda, but what if we posted more intentionally with someone’s eternity in mind? To keep a conversation from shutting down, a lot of self-control is exercised, even a giving up on being right happens for the sake of a person coming closer to the Father.
  • Being silent online is not an acceptance or rejection of a cause. It is not weak. A person can’t listen to others if they are busy talking all of the time. Silence allows for speaking the truth in love. May we “grow up” into Jesus.
  • The chapter ends on a note of forgiveness. Church is messy. People are messy. We’ve all offended others and been offended.

Two people recently shared with me how they went off Facebook. The stress of the online vitriol was too much. It made me wonder how many non-Christians felt this way and went offline or to other networks. I also wondered how many opportunities are being lost because we can’t see the forest for the trees? During these turbulent times, it distresses me to see the lost opportunities as well-crafted social media campaigns blow us like the wind from one issue to another. In between the gusts of wind are notes of normalcy and people in pain.

Here is a video on how to serve online in times of turbulence. If you do this challenge, would you message me on your progress and how it changed your perspective or helped others?

prayer

How to Pray When You Can’t

Every Monday, we get on Zoom to meet with people across the country and study the Bible. A thought-provoking question stirred our hearts and minds two weeks ago, and it was around Colossians 1:9a, “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you…”

Paul’s struggle in Colossians 1:29 caused Gaye Austin, our teacher, to ask, “Paul says he is struggling for them but he is in prison…Paul’s purpose for his struggling: Paul wanted them to be unified especially now that the ‘heretics’ had sought to disarm their faith.” She asked us if we struggled for others.

The screen sharing paused. I turned off the recording. Normally, I don’t record our Bible Studies. The space is sacred to encourage sharing in a secure environment. We recorded this one for those who were out for Memorial Day.

Silence followed on the heals of the question of prayer. Some shared their heart on how they struggled to pray and asked their questions about how to pray

Prayer is worship. It’s a conversation. A lot of great resources exist online to guide you deeper into a prayer life. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • Daniel Henderson runs a prayer ministry. A former pastor taught me to start with praise because God is praiseworthy and make your asks last. You can check out Daniel Henderson on Facebook and here on his website. He wrote a book called, Transforming Prayer.
  • Meditate on the Bible. When you have no words, think of Romans 8:26: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. It’s okay to sit in a dark room before the day begins and just listen to what God might say to you. Just sitting in His presence, He knows our hearts. He knows our needs.
  • Some amazing people shared how God gets them up at 3 AM. They didn’t know why. The Spirit led them to use that time to pray for the names He put on their hearts. What’s amazing about this act are the answers to prayer in those situations.
  • Pray the Psalms.

One my all-time favorite ways to pray is…

  • Grab a backpack with water and snacks. Pack a Bible or make sure you have a Bible App installed on your phone and plenty of battery power. Budget in a few hours off from your day and hike to a place that you love. Sit a few hours in the presence of God and read the Bible. Have a conversation with God.

Zoom is one of many ways to use video conferencing to have face-to-face meetups in this 24-hour world, post-COVID19. I have attached a printable Zoom how-to guide to this prayer guide. It includes visuals and suggestions, plus links to Zoom. You can print it and keep it nearby. The guide answers some of the common problems that happen during a Zoom call from the invitees’ point of view.

Free How to Zoom Guide

Download Zoom Guide Here

Roots Writers Update

When Roots began, it was to make disciples, not readers. We wanted writers to return to the roots of why they write. As a writer, we are story tellers and story tellers have a long history of doing good work to share the Gospel. With social media, writers have an opportunity to engage with people all over the world.

Week before last, our group met for the first time in the face-to-face at Third Shot Coffee since Covid-19 shut down in Arizona. Our leader, Sherry, was unable to meet and joined via Zoom. She is the one on my phone sitting on my backpack.

Right now, we are working on updating the Roots’ social media platform. Renee has been assigned to do our newsletter. Primarily, it’s been me trying to set up and run the social for this ministry, but my work with WorldVenture and that of the day job has left me with little time to do this.

We hope to assign someone to run the social media and keep it updated regularly. We also hope to develop a new service award for those writers who use social media well to “make disciples, not readers”.

How to Create a Digital Small Group

If a church is not engaging online with people viewing their live broadcasts, it is like turning on the television to watch a show or opening a newspaper. Church people are consumers. Naturally, most of our online churches over Mothers’ Day experienced a dip in attendance. As one social media expert said, the newness wore off. Online church is no different than the face-to-face church in that, when we go away on trips, when we sleep in, we miss church.

Here’s how to deepen the engagement of your church and reach people online:

  • Talk to people in the chat during the service. Train your congregation to talk to each other.
  • Share the live broadcast to local Facebook groups, but not in a spammy way. Instead, utilize a friendly introduction to invite conversation. Please make sure to check group descriptions to see if lives are allowed by the administrators. Respect admins of any groups.
  • Do a watch party later in the week of that Sunday’s service on your profile. Invite someone you are discipling to watch with you and discuss the sermon afterwards.
  • For people who do not like the distraction of the chat during service, encourage them to watch an earlier service and participate in the chat of another service. Be cross-generational.

Other ways…

  • Start a Facebook group for your church in collaboration with your pastors to compliment the work on the church Facebook page and other social media sites.
  • Start Whatsapp groups or text groups with your small groups to keep in touch more intimately during the week.
  • Have your Bible Study leaders do Facebook Lives in the group to talk about a weekly lesson. This can grow the Bible Study and keep the congregation in the Bible, too.
  • Use Zoom or Facebook Messenger to meet up if meeting in person is out of the question. Use them for one-on-one meetups so you are making eye contact rather than just a phone call. Even when we can meet in the face-to-face, video calls are great to do when it’s just not a good time to make the commute to see someone.

The point of social media was never to grow the church (though it can), but to reach people with the truth of the Gospel so they can grow in Christ. You can reach people all over the world, but you must desire this. Otherwise, online work is hard. It will wear you out without the right heart attitude.

The above picture is from a weekly small group that meets via Zoom every Monday. This Bible Study has been ongoing for the past few years.

How to Add Depth to Your Postings With Photography

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” – Dorothea Lange

Stock photo sites provide a wealth of beautiful photographs for your blogs and social media. We should strive to provide our own photos. They tell a better story. As the Digital Engagement and Disciple-Making Coordinator with WorldVenture, I have access to photos from all over the world. For WorldVenture, they make ideal Scripture image posts, support blogs others (or I) write, and give depth to updates and prayer requests.

Two years ago, I bought my first professional camera. I had been on social media for years. The massive libraries on Pixabay, Stocksnap, and Unsplash served my many blogging adventures well, but I wanted to go deep in my stories. I wanted to capture real people, real landscapes, and I wanted to tell their stories with detailed, good quality shots a smartphone was unable to provide. Authenticity is about transparency. In the church or mission organization, this is an important part of storytelling.

A picture of a door accompanying a verse about knocking is just a door until you realize it is a door of an ongoing ministry who sees answers to prayers all the time. A Scripture image comes alive, especially to those that know that ministry.

When I teach churches and individuals to use photography in their own social media posts, I don’t discourage the use of their smart phone. People connect emotionally and they connect even with the less polished posts as long it is emotional.

  • First, you can go to Google Drive on your phone and create folder to store your photos for quick and easy access to them for on-the-go posts. Create sub-folders named Spring, Summer, Sadness, Happy, or whatever will help you find specific photos for specific updates.
  • During the week, if you don’t use a social media poster like Hootsuite to schedule them, you can post your thoughts and add the appropriate image from your Google Drive folder.
  • Take the best photos you can, keeping your hands still, and getting familiar with the camera settings on your smartphone. Experiment with different light settings.

Don’t worry about having a plan for your pictures. Take pictures because something is beautiful. Take pictures because it brings you joy. Pictures intensify an experience and help you notice things you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. Pictures are a visual story. Whatever you post online, make sure the picture supports your words and your words support your picture, like a children’s picture book.