THE FACEBOOK PROVERBS

THE FACEBOOK PROVERBS

I can see it now, an ad headline on Yahoo or Youtube: SECRET BIBLE CODE PREDICTS HOW TO ACHIEVE FACEBOOK SUCCESS! We are such suckers for looney lines like this that it would likely get a million clicks. The surprising thing is that the headline is true, from a certain point of view.

I discovered this by doing something else you will no doubt find looney: Reading Proverbs backwards.

Before you call for the guys in white jackets, let me explain. I read the Book of Proverbs through two or three times a year. Every time its accuracy and insight fascinate and instructs. But the phrases and cadences have become so familiar that I found I was just passing through, ignoring the scenery the way you do on an oft-traveled road. So, I decided to read the book in reverse order. That’s when things started to pop, especially regarding Facebook.

I am a daily Facebook visitor. Sometimes it is a time waster. But other times it is, as it was designed to be, a great facilitator of relationships. Given the shredding of our sense of community in the last fifty years social media is increasing our ability to stay connected across the artificial divides created by our suburbanized, isolated, hyper-mobile car-culture. It is the electronic front porch where neighbors stop briefly for a friendly chat, share helpful information, and strengthen the bonds of civilization. That’s a good thing, usually.

Then there’s the dark side of Facebook, the crude comments, political rants, and thoughtless posts and re-posts that with neighbors on one’s own front porch, we wouldn’t normally utter. Facebook can’t recreate the proximity that prevents us from disgracing ourselves and as a result people have lost friends, jobs, opportunities, careers, and reputations, sometimes permanently. As a result, most large employers now have strict social media rules in place and restrict access on their in-house networks.

That’s why The Facebook Proverbs are so important. They were written long ago for a people trying to achieve honorable community in the land of Israel. Their composer and compiler, Solomon, was one of the most wise and successful leaders who ever lived. Using them as a guide to all of our social posts will help us achieve that rarest of cultural commodities: courtesy. They are marked in the margin of my Bible with a large F and now that this post has grown so long, I will only share a few in hopes that they will whet your appetite to look for more. You will be amazed at how relevant they are.

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding

but delights in airing his own opinions. Pr. 18:2

 

A fool’s lips bring him strife,

and his mouth invites a beating.

A fool’s mouth is his undoing,

and his lips are a snare to his soul.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;

they go down to a man’s inmost parts. Pr. 18:6-8

Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud,

but humility comes before honor.

He who answers before listening—

that is his folly and his shame. Pr. 18:12-13

The first to present his case seems right,

till another comes forward and questions him. Pr. 18:17

From the fruit of his mouth a man’s stomach is filled;

with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied.

The tongue has the power of life and death,

and those who love it will eat its fruit. Pr. 18:20-21

This last is not from The Book of Proverbs but from the late L. R. Barnard, my mentor and professor of Historical Theology: Cultivate courtesy gentlemen; it is the oil that lubricates the fine machinery of civilization.

STAYING PUT: Lessons from Long-Term Ministry

“Thank you,” seems inadequate for all of the honors I received from Faith Community Church  last Sunday. The church took the morning to celebrate my twentieth anniversary as its pastor, taking me by surprise in the process.

Some themes stood out in the comments, and others came to mind later, which might prove helpful to you someday. Call them Leadership Lessons from Long -Term Ministry, but many will apply even if you are not a preacher.

Preach the Word. Expository preaching, interpreting and explaining a passage of scripture in its historical, grammatical, literary, cultural, and biblical context, demonstrating how it applies to the listener and points them to Christ, is key to the vitality of any church or believer. It is a time-consuming endeavor that preachers either have to fight for against other demands, or are gifted with by a congregation. FCC made the decision long before I arrived to give its pastor, and by proxy itself, that gift. All of us benefit from it. Find a church that values this and you will usually find a healthy church.

Decide to stay. If you want to have a deep impact on a community you have to commit to the long term. Randy Pope, Eugene Peterson, Rick Warren, and many others advocated for this in their writings as I was preparing for ministry, and I believed them then. But now I’ve seen the generational effects of hoeing one row for two decades and the fruit is sweet. Warning: You cannot do long-term work without short-term rests. Build Sabbath into your lifestyle and vacations into your years.

Speak hard truth with soft words. Speak with grace and gospel faithfulness to the difficult cultural trends of the day and do not flinch. It will force you to examine yourself, be fair to others, and rely more on Christ. It will also stiffen the spines of your listeners.

Be with people one-on-one. Love them for who they are, where they are, as they are. Grieve with them, celebrate with them, honor them, and respect them. They will do the same for you.

Make sure you have a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy; a mentor, a brother, and a disciple, or trainee into whom you can pour your life. They will coach you when you are clueless, strengthen you when you are weak, and challenge you to keep growing.

Believe in people and don’t micro-manage them. Find good people, give them the goal and the support they need, and then get out of their way. Look for and expect their best, and they will usually give it to you. Related: recruit people to your team who are strong where you are weak. I learned long ago that I was too emotional and empathetic for my own good. That’s one reason I try to surround myself what I call “concrete rational” personality types who can help me stay grounded in biblical objectivity.

Pray more than you politic. Consensus building and deal-making have their place in life. But no amount of politicking can accomplish what prayer can do.

Plan ahead and then give your plans to God.  Every leader needs to be at least five months, and preferably five years, ahead of his organization. But as in war, so in ministry, no plan survives combat. Keep the goal clearly in mind, pay attention to the dynamics of the situation, listen to His Spirit and be flexible with the details.

Offend early and often. I’m a recovering co-dependent people-pleaser. It took years to realize that people come into churches and other organizations with all kinds of expectations of the leadership, some conscious, some not; some reasonable, some silly, and some outrageous. Trying to keep them all happy was suicidal. I learned to make sure they knew what to expect, and what not to expect, as soon as possible. It felt offensive to my empathetic soul to do this, to disappoint some people up front, and anger others. Thus the motto, but the proof — the stability and harmony generated by uniform expectations — has indeed been in the pudding. FCC’s Handbook has been a great tool for this. If your organization doesn’t have a handbook, you should write one, and then require everyone to read it.

Finally, hold everything loosely. Any entity you lead is a stewardship from God, including your family. It doesn’t belong to you and he can take it from you whenever it suits his purposes. Live with gratitude and open, up-raised palms.

Phil 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [1]

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1984 (Php 1:3–6). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

DISCOVER YOUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS

I do the work of administration, but I’m not gifted at it.

A couple of years ago I ended up being the “Table Host Administrator” for the local Young Life Banquet. In a nutshell that means: ordering, arranging, and tracking hundreds of names with dozens of tables so that everyone has a seat, and each seat has a name, and it all flows smoothly so that the guests have a good time.

I almost pulled my hair out. Everybody got a seat, and everyone got fed, but it wasn’t pretty.

The next year my friend Gail was available to do it. Gail has the gift of administration. Everything flowed like clockwork; no traffic jams, no people wondering where they were supposed to sit. It was beautiful. It was so stress-free for me I almost kissed her.

Have you discovered your spiritual gifts, those things that energize you and bless others? Would you like to? Then read on.

What are spiritual gifts?

A spiritual gift is an extraordinary spiritual ability, brought to us and made operational in us by the Holy Spirit when we are born again, which distinguishes one Christian from another and enables them to serve the church.

There are different kinds of gifts, “varieties,” according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:4. Some have the gift of service. Some have the gift of administration. Some have the gift of prophecy, some the gift of wisdom. Paul’s writings include three lists of gifts: 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Romans 12:3-8, and Ephesians 4:7-13. None of the lists are exhaustive.  Only one gives any idea of ranking in importance. The gifts are as varied as the God who gives them. The gifts Paul ends up talking about are usually the ones over which there was some dispute.

Sometimes believers tell me, “I don’t think I have a spiritual gift because I don’t have mystical experiences, and I don’t seem to have anything in Paul’s lists.” But if you can say, “Jesus is my Lord,” then you have the Spirit of God and you have a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:3).

Discovering your gifts.

In 1 Corinthians 12:5 Paul wrote, “There are different kinds of service …” Service translates the Greek word diakonia. It’s where we get the word deacon and it can mean “attendant.”

There are hundreds of ways to attend to things. A person with the gift of administration might serve in a school. But she might also organize a business. She might be an executive secretary, or she might be a CPA, or she might be a Mom with lots of kids, or a fantastic table host administrator.

If the Spirit of God lives in you then you have a spiritual gift. It should be used to help the church, but it isn’t limited to Sunday mornings.

One of the ways to identify your gift(s) is to determine where you excel and work at developing it, discovering the varieties of how that gift might come into play. Ask yourself, “What do I really enjoy that helps others?” We think sometimes that if we are enjoying something it must not be spiritual. Or if we are naturally good at something then it isn’t spiritual. The point is that there isn’t just one way that your gift can come into play. There are “varieties of service”, multiple ways that your particular gift might serve the Kingdom of God.

A good way to discover your gift is to take one of the many online assessments, like the one available at Lifeway.com: http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Women-Leadership-Spiritual-gifts-growth-service.

Employing your gifts.

Another fascinating word appears in 1 Corinthians 12:6. It’s from the Greek word Energema, from which we get the word energy, and is translated “working”. It means “effect,” the effects produced by the exercise of your particular gift. Two people with the same gift will not produce the same kinds of effects.

You may have the gift of teaching, but different effects from C.S. Lewis, or the gift of leadership, but different effects from Mitt Romney. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a gift. Your gift has different effects.

The thing is to put your gifts to work, asking: “What kinds of effects do I have when I serve in this particular area? Are they positive? Do people respond well? Are the effects helpful to the mission? Am I energized by it, or drained by it?”

If you are energized, the effects are positive, and people affirm you, you’ve discovered your spiritual gifts.