There are those who speak at such times of the omnipotence of God. Some will see this and all such natural disasters as evidence against the God in whom we trust. They will portray the earthquake as ‘Exhibit A’ in their case against our claims of a good and loving God.
Others will feel it necessary to defend the righteousness of God. Well-meaning Christians will rise to declare this disaster to be God’s majestic will, a will wholly impenetrable to us, and they will cite our story of Job to warn us against efforts to comprehend it. And, sadly, other Christians also will rise to declare this disaster to be God’s will, but, forgetting Job and distorting our story tragically, they will tell us precisely which group among us brought about the earthquake as punishment for their unforgivable sins.
Each of these do us a service, for they force us to give an account of our faith in God and to remember carefully the truths about God we actually claim. For the same question that moves these groups haunts us, too, as we see the tears of anguished, hungry, and orphaned girls and boys reaching their hands out to us: where was God in the earthquake?
Theologian David Bentley Hart offers the best answer I know in his book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? He wrote it upon reflecting on the great tsunami that struck Asia in 2004. Hart reminds us that “we are to be guided by the full character of what is revealed of God in Christ. For, after all, if it is from Christ that we are to learn how God relates himself to sin, suffering, evil, and death, it would seem that he provides us little evidence of anything other than a regal, relentless, and miraculous enmity: sin he forgives, suffering he heals, evil he casts out, and death he conquers. And absolutely nowhere does Christ act as if any of these things are part of the eternal work or purposes of God.”
Seth Godin said it first, “Small is the new big.” Now it appears, big churches are the new small churches.
Let me explain. The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas is sponsoring Verge, a missional community conference. Felicity Dale of simplychurch.com and a leader in the simple church movement, comments about the new interest megachurches are showing in microchurches:
Just over a year ago, within the space of 72 hours, Tony and I had three megachurches ask us about simple church. We may be fairly slow on the uptake at times, but even we couldn’t miss the fact that this might be the Lord. Since then we have had a two national meetings with megachurch and microchurch leaders meeting together, and even the theme of last year’s national conference “The Rabbit and the Elephant” reflected this potential.
Austin Stone Community Church is one of those megachurches interested in using microchurches (missional communities) to reach Austin. So, small is the new big, as Seth Godin said.
Megachurches are coming to the realization that you can only build so many 100,000 square foot buildings and 1,000-space parking lots. The economies of scale, both economically and organizationally, favor smaller groupings of people. The original and most successful model of this small-to-big idea is Yoido Full Gospel Church founded by David Yonggi Cho in Korea. Built on cell groups, Cho grew Yoido to over 700,000 members. But the church’s goal now is to start 5,000 new churches, a kind of reverse of what Cho originally did. Of course, not everyone likes Cho, but regardless of what you think of his theology, his organizational gifts are evident.
So, small is the new big as megachurches move out from their gigantic worship centers into neighborhoods, coffee shops, apartment complexes, and homes. Is this a trend, or just an isolated example of the big church to small church phenomena? Stay tuned.
According to a new survey, over 84% of mothers online — some 27-million women — can be grouped into 5 “digital mom” categories. However, these tech-savvy mothers use the internet, social media, gaming, texting, and other online content in different ways and for different purposes. Churches can benefit from the insights of this new study by the marketing company Razorfish, and the world’s largest mom-centric website, Cafe Mom.
The survey discovered these five “digital mom” types:
1. The self-expressor mom.
Typically in her early thirties with one preschooler, and possibly more on the way, this mom is as likely to be stay-at-home as employed. She balances the most limited household budget of all 5 types, and so needs to shop for value. This mom is a highly socialable networker, and has a higher than average number of friends in her online social network. She both creates and participates in online polls as one of her favorite ways to engage with others. Her social network page is often decorated with digital badges, photos, and playlists which communicate her style. Marketers can involve the self-expressor in their online brand campaigns by appealing to her artistic and individual sense. She seeks the advice of real-world friends on parenting, but then turns to her online friends for addition advice and guidance. 40% of moms fall into this category.
2. The utility mom.
The utility mom is in her mid-to-late thirties and is raising a couple of tweens. She is likely to have the most children at home, yet spends the most time online in her social networking groups. Yet, she prefers to bring her own real-world friends into her online network, rather than make new online friends. She is more likely to join online groups, particularly if they are local school groups or groups providing practical information. While she will answer other online polls, she creates little online content herself, and has the fewest online photos posted of any group. She does like online game and quiz widgets, but values information from her real friends over that of her online network. The utility mom uses her social network time for both monitoring her own children, and her own enjoyment of playing games or answering quizzes. This mom is 26% of digital moms.
3. The groupster mom.
This mom is in her early thirties with elementary school-age children. As the name implies, she is more likely to join groups or start groups than any other digital mom segment. But she is also not the most social of the digital moms, receiving more friend invitations than she sends. She is confident and sees herself as a go-to person for advice, but not necessarily shopping advice. She depends upon her online friends for parenting advice, although she says she is more influenced by brand programs on social networks when it comes to purchasing. She also ranks the highest in sending private messages online, and values 1-to-1 communication. The groupster mom is 12% of the digital mom cohort.
4. The info-seeker mom.
In her twenties with her first baby, this mom is looking for information. She is among the best educated of all the moms, and is most likely to be a stay home mom. She is interested in parenting information, which she prefers to get from real friends, but she will also turn to online parents in similar situations to hers. She values the mom-to-mom conversations online, but while she uses social networks, her primary concern is to get product or parenting guidance. The info-seeker is 12% of the total group.
5. The hyper-connector mom.
This mom is the oldest, usually in her forties, with the oldest kids, usually teenagers. Experienced as a parent, she uses social media more to chat with others, and gain information on products she might be considering. She also monitors her own teens online usage, and is likely to play video games online with others. She accesses digital news channels more than younger moms, and also blogs, leaves comments on the blogs of others, and is the highest content creator in the survey. She is highly active, inviting others to join her online community of moms. She values this online community more than expert opinions, online reviews or print advertising when it comes to purchasing decisions. This mom is 9% of the digital mom universe.
Other insights into the world of digital moms includes —
- All of these digital moms value WOM — word-of-mouth — recommendations, especially when the WOM comes from their online network.
- While all of these moms use digital media, they do so for different purposes and in different ways depending on their age and the ages of their children.
- From a marketing standpoint, online advertisers should engage these digital moms, rather than just depend on banner ads displaying on social networking sites. The same might be said for churches and women’s ministries.
You can download and save the full report here. The report is 36 pages and filled with charts and text explaining how each “digital mom” segment uses Web 2.0 media. If you’re interested in women’s ministry, the internet, demographics, or social networking, this report will give you lots to think about.
E-readers were all the rage at the Consumer Electronics Show last week. There were so many new e-readers introduced that one techno-wag actually whined about the number, scope, features, and size of so many devices. I looked at all the e-readers, glanced at most of their capabilities, but I’m not buying one yet. Here’s my wish list for what I want an e-reader to do:
1. Do more than display digital books. Apple may (I hope) surprise everyone with an mega-iPhone device that will be a computer, video camera, media player, e-reader, gaming device, internet communicator, and perhaps even a phone, but at a hefty price. HP had some tablets on display when Steve Ballmer of Microsoft spoke, but no specs, delivery dates, or other info. Dell showed a 5″ tablet that has promise, and of course the Nexus One Google phone might fit the bill in most of the things I’m looking for. But I don’t want to buy a dedicated device.
2. Use an open reading platform. Apparently PDF and EPUB are the most ubiquitous, with Amazon’s Kindle using a completely proprietary system. Blio, a new digital publishing platform was also introduced at CES, but apparently it’s proprietary as well. I want to be able to access my books over multiple devices, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
3. Books available in the cloud from multiple devices. I like Kobo, the former ShortCovers mobile phone ebook reader and service. Kobo has a very good interface for my Blackberry, plus I can login on my macbook as well. I can download books, and access them from the cloud, and Kobo remembers where I was when I quit reading.
4. Wireless purchase and accessibility. Kindle created this feature and others are following close behind. It’s really so 20th century to have to download books to your computer, then sync to your mobile device. This will be an assumed feature in the very short future.
5. Notation, bookmarking, and other ways to personalize text. Most of the higher end e-readers already have this, and a new Samsung device lets you write with a stylus (but do we want a stylus?), just like writing a regular book. But, is that what we really want to do, or do we want to link our notations to specific paragraphs? Anyway, at a minimum the ability to interface with the text of the book itself.
6. Ability to search across my entire digital library. I have about 2,000 printed books. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to search through each volume because invariably I think a reference is in one book, when really it’s in another. Google Books is getting close with this, and if they ever settle their lawsuit with publishers, authors, and others Google Books may really be a handy reference tool. But, back to e-readers — search is another basic feature that will have to be included in all e-readers.
7. Cut-and-paste text from the e-reader to my writing device. I don’t see an alternative to heavy duty writing other than an ergonomic keyboard device like a desktop or laptop anytime soon. Of course, voice recognition could turn writing into dictating, but writers will still need the ability to do research, clip a quote, footnote the source, and paste all of that into their main writing device.
8. Video, audio, and color graphics capability. Black-and-white readers will be gone by next Christmas. Too many color devices will be introduced in 2010 for anyone to settle for e-ink only technology. One device manufacturer (I forget which one) demo-ed a reader that can switch between b&w e-ink and full color display. Why not all color, all the time? Digital books will take on a new form eventually, and will incorporate text, video, photos, graphics, and user interactive features.
9. Designed for digital books, not print books. Currently digital books run way behind print books in sales, so ebooks are the digital versions of their printed-on-paper big brothers. But that is changing quickly. Within five years (maybe less) the curves will cross and digital will pass print as the media of choice. Students will see it with textbooks and bring their new reading habits into the real world when they graduate. One tech guru predicts that students will be using tablet computers instead of laptops in the near future.
10. Foster communities for producing, sharing, and consuming media. Imagine a small group able to share notes, insights, video, audio, and photos around the book or periodical they are using as a study guide. Of course, everyone would need access to a device, but prices will come down quickly.
That’s what I’m looking for in my stocking next Christmas. What would you add to this set of specs, or how to you see the whole e-reader and other devices developing, especially as it relates to church?
Entertaining Angels: The Servants of Christ
6Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”
11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.12In a loud voice they sang:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
14The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Angels and Other Wacky Beings
When I was about 10 years old, our family bought a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I think my grandmother was selling them, actually, so we probably got a good deal. But I remember the day those red hardbound books arrived. We unpacked them and I began to look through them, amazed that any subject I could think of was included in the World Book. Well, now we have the internet, which is a lot like a set of encyclopedias, except with lots of bad information. Unlike the trustworthy World Book, the internet is full of both accurate, true, and totally ridiculous stuff.
If you google — and for those of you who don’t know the word “google,” it was named the word of the decade by the American Dialect Society — if you google, or search the internet, for the subject “angels” you get a lot of really interesting information. One entry I ran across mentioned both angels and ascended masters. Angels I was familiar with, but I had never heard of “ascended masters.”
As I read along in the article for that website, they listed the ascended masters. Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ wife on the earth and their two children, Buddha, and some other folks I hadn’t heard of. The ascended masters, apparently had been angels, retired from their stints as heavenly beings, came to earth, married, and so on. In other words, a pretty New Age sort of belief system, with no reference to Scripture, or even other ancient texts.
One entry on that same website responded to the question, “Am I a Christian?” The answer was that the writer grew up in the Christian faith, but now with this new knowledge of angels, ascended masters, and some other sort of revelation had transcended the orthodox version of Christianity. Love was mentioned a lot, too, I recall.
Now, my point in telling you all of this about ascended masters, none of which is either Biblical or true, is that some people want to latch onto angels in a sort of New Age spiritualism that separates angels from God the Father who created them, and Jesus Christ, in whose service they are engaged.
Let me say it more simply: You can’t talk about angels if you don’t talk about Jesus. Angels serve the Christ of God, the Anointed One, the Messiah. So, any attempt to separate angels from the ministry of Christ is an erroneous effort to separate angels from their purpose.
Angels in the Life of Jesus
Last Wednesday night I handed out a partial list of the Biblical references to angels in the life and ministry of Jesus. Let’s run down their presence in Jesus’ earthly ministry quickly:
1. An angel announces the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptist. Now this is my favorite angel passage because in it we get a glimpse into the sense of humor of the angels, and in this instance Gabriel the Archangel no less. As Gabriel announces to John’s father the news that Zechariah and Elizabeth will have a son and they are to name him John, Zechariah, who is a priest in the Temple of God, begins to question Gabriel. Here’s the exchange:
11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.[b] 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” — Luke 1:11-20 NIV
Don’t you just love Gabriel’s answer — “I am Gabriel and I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”
2. Luke records Gabriel’s appearance to Mary announcing that she will bear the savior of the world, and Matthew records an angel’s appearance in a dream to Joseph assuring him that it is okay to marry Mary.
3. Angels announce the birth of Jesus to shepherds.
4. Angels send Joseph, Mary and Jesus off to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod the king, who is seeking to kill this newborn King of the Jews. When the danger is over, an angel appears to Joseph in a dream again and tells him to go back home.
5. After Jesus’ baptism, which we celebrate on this Sunday, Jesus goes into the wilderness where Satan tempts him. After Jesus meets that challenge, and after he is exhausted from 40-days of fasting and praying, the angels come to minister to him in the desert.
6. Angels comfort him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Luke 22:41-43)
41He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
7. Angels open Jesus’ grave at the resurrection. (Matt 28:2)
8. Angels witness his resurrection. (Luke 24:5-7)
9. Angels explain his ascension. (Acts 1:10-11)
10. Angels sing his praises in heaven. (Rev 5:11-12)
11. Angels accompany Him at his coming. (Matt 25:31)
But angels don’t just appear to Jesus. Jesus also speaks of angels as he ministers to people. Most of what Jesus said involved angels gathering the people for the final judgment, or acting as the messenger of Christ to summon them into the presence of God, like in this passage from Matthew 16:27 —
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.”
But Jesus also gives us some other clues about angels.
In speaking of little children, Jesus said ” See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” — Matthew 18:10
From that passage we get the idea of guardian angels, assigned to us, and little children in particular, to watch over and care for us.
And, in a question about marriage, Jesus says that those who have died…”At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” — Matthew 22:30
We’ll talk more about angels at death later in this series, but Jesus does give us clues as to the characteristics of angels in these and other verses.
Making Angels Happy
But the most important thing Jesus tells us about angels isn’t about how angels travel, or about what angels look like. The most important thing Jesus tells us about angels is what makes them happy. Listen to what Jesus says —
8″Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” — Luke 15:8-10
Angels are happy when people come to God. The mission of angels is to carry the message of God, and imagine how glad they are when that message is heard and received. When the message they deliver through their care, their ministry, their obedience, brings a positive response, the angels rejoice.
Angels are first of all concerned about our relationship with their Lord and ours, Jesus. Nothing else matters. Angels stand ready to do the work of God, and that work is reclaiming God’s creation.
That is why the angels in heaven are singing. But it was not always so. John the Revelator writes, in the passage we read today, that for a moment in heaven which may have lasted 10-million years, for one moment the angels are silenced. The angels have carried the message of God for uncounted millennia. But now John says there is a message, a scroll in the hand of God. The angels see the scroll, but it is sealed with seven seals.
In the first century Roman world, when the emperor sent a message, he sealed it with his ring, and if it were of special importance, he sealed it more than once. That message could only be opened by the one intended to receive it upon penalty of death. And the angels know this scroll in the hand of God is not for them. For the first time in the history of heaven, God has a message that the angels cannot deliver.
And so the Bible says, “a mighty angel” cries out “Who is worthy to open the seals?” And no on is found. And John says, “I wept and wept.” John, even as he sees this vision and lives this revelation, John understands that if no one can open the scroll that the final word of God will never be heard. But one of the elders, one of only four, says “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Finally, after searching through all of creation for one who is worthy to open the seals on the scroll, finally, at last, One is found.
The Lamb of God who stands in the middle of the throne, symbolizing his preeminence and centrality. This Lamb is worthy because he has been slain, and with his blood has purchased for God men and women, boys and girls, “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” His death, his resurrection, his victory makes him worthy to open the scroll of God, to pronounce the message of God, to finish the Word of God that the angels cannot speak.
And so the angels sing a new song. But….
This is not the song of bondage for the chains have been broken.
This is not the song of poverty for heaven is enriched with his presence.
This is not the song of sorrow for night has passed away and there is no more sorrow, no more tears, no more death.
This is not the song of longing for in Christ all the longing of mankind has been satisfied.
This is not the song of the past for the past has gone, and everything has been made new.
No, the angels sing a new song, a song that has never been sung before because there was no one to sing it to. But now they sing a new song —
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
You cannot speak of angels without speaking of Jesus.
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
The problem with Twitter is you only have 140-characters to make your point. The example above has been re-tweeted about a million times in the past two days, and frankly, I find it a little annoying.
Okay, so Rick Warren is a megachurch guru, no doubt. Warren has over 65,000 Twitter followers — I have less than 2,000. But the problem here is I think Warren is trying to be clever (who doesn’t occasionally?), but is sending a lot of mixed signals. Here’s what I mean:
- Being a small church is nothing to be ashamed of. Okay, right there is the first problem. The implication about small churches, of course, is that they are something to be ashamed of. If not, why would we need to be reassured that they’re not? I’m a small-church pastor, and a small-church advocate, and frankly, we don’t need megachurch pastors as apologists for the churches we lead.
- Being a small-minded church is disobedience to Jesus’ Great Commission. This struck me two ways — first, small-minded gets connected to small church. Not the same, but a clever bridge to make his point. But in making that point apparently Warren is challenging small churches to not be small-minded. Whatever that is. As though small-mindedness leads to small numbers in church. Does anyone really think that megachurches are small-minded? Of course not because everything they do is big — buildings, parking lots, staff, programs, and so on. They’re megachurches and by definition are de facto not small-minded. Second, why is small-mindedness disobedience to the Great Commission? Why isn’t it poor stewardship, or failure to love, or bad marketing, or a host of other inadequacies?
Okay, I’ll stop before I get 50 comments telling me to lighten up. My point is this — aphorisms can be clever, but they’re also simplistic and shallow. I personally believe Rick Warren is a good guy, so this is nothing personal. And, he takes his share of hits for everything from gay marriage to his recent appeal for funds. But please, Rick, if you’re trying to pay small churches a compliment, don’t be so clever in the future. Thanks.
Okay, I’m going for the cheap search hits with the title, but bear with me because I do have a serious point. Google launched the Nexus One phone today, to no surprise and with little flash. One reviewer said the presentation was “underwhelming.” Of course, that’s exactly what Google intended. Here’s why and here’s what your church can learn:
1. Google is not interested in a big splash. Back in the fall of 2007, Google announced the Android operating system, an open source system with an Open Handset Alliance to go with it. Reviews were mixed, prognostications abounded, Google was questioned, etc, etc. Same with any product launch. But Google knew where they were headed.
2. Google has a strategy. The strategy was, “let some other folks play around with this.” Which is classic postmodern, collaborative thinking. Let’s see what someone comes up with. To much fanfare, and not a little disappointment, the first Google phone, the G1, was offered by T-Mobile. It was widely trashed, but still it was the first. “It’s no iPhone” was the big complaint. But Google’s strategy isn’t to be Apple — hardware/software locked up together. Google’s strategy is to control the entire computing “cloud” experience. Mobile is the next piece of that. Here’s a site that agrees with me.
3. Google is good at iteration. They keep making it better, in other words. Incrementally, one step at a time, no splash, just good solid improvements one-at-a-time. No Steve Jobs, no big gathering of fanboys, just “here’s what we did to push Android to the limits.” So, now the G1 looks really ancient, and even the Droid is looking a little outdated. One step at a time.
4. Google is good at disrupting models. But the big thing about the Nexus One is that Google will sell it to you directly, without the mobile phone provider involved. Of course, you have to have some type of plan, and right now it’s just T-Mobile, but for the first time you can buy a legally unlocked phone in the US. I bought an unlocked phone in Hong Kong in 1999. I used three different GSM cards in it as I traveled from Hong Kong, to China, and then to the US. Google has just poked every mobile phone carrier in the eye with a sharp stick. But, they are apparently lining up to Google’s door anyway.
5. Google is in this for the long haul. Google isn’t after the one big splash, or the big event. They’re building their company on what they believe. Remember when Google search first started? No photos, no fancy text, no graphics. I thought it was completely lame. But it was fast, and it got faster, and they indexed the web better, and their algorithms delivered better results, all so that they could place ads in front of people. Oh, they’re still in the advertising business, they said today. Only now, they’re going to push ads out in a variety of ways to mobile phones, ebook readers, netbooks, and all the other devices that will run Android. And we thought all the Google stuff was free.
So, the lesson for churches is obvious. Be more like Google. Take the long view, go for the next step, disrupt the culture a bit, but keep on plugging. My money is (figuratively speaking, of course) on Google’s approach. And, I like the “do no evil” thing, too.