Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ask Me Anything (Sleepovers, Miracles, Making Money, etc)

Once again, I’m going to attempt answers to a selection of the questions I have received through my Ask Me Anything feature. This week’s questions involve sleepovers, miracles, reading the Bible in church, and the clarity of the Bible. But I am going to begin with an answer to what is probably the most common question I receive.

How do blogs make money? How do you make money? Is it actually possible for a blogger to earn a living?

I receive this question quite often. Sometimes it feels a little bit awkward and sometimes it feels very natural. I guess it depends on the context and the way in which it is asked. Sometimes people are asking how I make money and sometimes people are considering their own blog and wondering how they might make money. Here’s the answer: Yes, it is possible for a blogger to earn a living, but it’s not easy. It’s no great challenge to monetize a blog enough to make a little bit, but it’s very difficult to monetize a blog enough to earn a living.

So how do bloggers make money? They tend to make money in a few different ways.

Advertising. Most blogs run advertisements in the sidebar of their site, and each of those generates a little bit of income based on the number of times the ad is displayed during a period of time. For the average blog, that might total $100 a month or even less. Many others run Google AdWords which pay only if a reader clicks on them. I have chosen to go with sponsored posts, which means companies or ministries pay to write a blog post on my site. I run one of these posts each week and it is the single most significant source of revenue.

Affiliate programs. Most blogs also rely on affiliate programs, the most common of which is Amazon. Essentially, if you click on a link to Amazon (or many other stores) on a blog, it is likely that the blogger will receive a small percentage of whatever you buy during that shopping session. Small blogs may earn a few dollars a month this way, or even a few hundred. There are some, mostly dealing with gadgets, electronics, and websites that can even earn tens of thousands of dollars a month this way. I am part of the affiliate programs for a few different stores. This is a reasonable source of income for me, but insufficient on its own.

Royalties. Bloggers who have written books or other material may receive royalties from them. Christian authors soon learn that while books do provide some income, it is, for the vast majority, both minimal and sporadic. Simply put, the Christian market is quite small and unless a book really takes off, it is unlikely to provide nearly enough to live off. None of mine are in that category.

Patronage. A relatively new model (which is based on a much older model) is patronage. Sites like Patreon allow people who read blogs to support it as individuals—to be patrons of the arts. I use Patreon and very much appreciate the people who have signed on to support me in that way.

The most important principle is to diversify revenue streams enough that it will not spell doom for a blog when one stream diminishes or disappears. Amazon’s recent and sudden decision to severely trim their affiliate fees ran more than a few sites out of business.

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Thank you for sharing how your church worships. I noted that most of the time the Scripture is read by an elder and I love that. What is your opinion of a child—anywhere from eight years old to 17—reading the Sunday morning Scripture in the worship service? Our pastor plans to implement this in a few weeks.

We typically have two formal Scripture readings in our services. The first is what we tend to refer to as the “opposite testament reading,” which means if our sermon is based on the New Testament, this reading will be from a complementary passage in the Old Testament (and vice versa). This reading is done by a member of our Scripture-reading team, a small group of church members who have received training in how to read well. Our training text for them is Max McLean’s Unleashing the Word.

The second reading is the one that provides the text for the sermon, and this one is read by an elder or by someone who is being trained or prepared to be an elder. In other words, only people who are called and permitted to preach will do this reading. This is because we consider this reading what Paul calls Timothy to in 1 Timothy 4:13: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” This text has a level of instruction and formality to it that makes it suitable for pastors. In other words, we consider the first reading to be member-to-member ministry and the second reading to be formal teaching ministry.

So, would our church allow a child to read the Scripture in the service? We would not for that second reading since a child cannot be an elder. We may for that second reading if that child was a baptized member of the church who had been trained to read Scripture well. If the child was old enough to profess faith, be baptized, and be a member of the church, he would be old enough to serve the church by reading the Bible. That said, we tend to baptize a little bit older than some churches, so it is unlikely we would have an eight-year-old in that position. We might, though, have a teenager.

***

Since we believe God wrote the Bible we would expect it to be the best and clearest book ever written. Yet we talk about endless apparent contradictions. Good writing doesn’t have apparent contradictions. How simple would it have been for Jesus to say “here is how you are to baptize.” Didn’t he foresee that the lack of clarity would cause problems later on?

I think the Bible is clearer than we make it out to be. The problem is not the clarity of the Bible, but the muddiness of the human mind. Our problem is that we approach the Bible with pre-existing agendas and cultural biases, reading it through hazy lenses and unfair expectations. The contradictions are not within the Bible, but between the Bible and what we expect it to say. I am quite convinced that one of the great shocks we will receive in eternity is how we squabbled over matters that God actually makes crystal clear. The fact is, no matter the form God chose Scripture to take, we would have found a way to mess it up.

***

Along the same lines of your article “Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers” article, did you and your wife allow your kiddos to stay over at family member’s homes when they were young? My husband and I have three little ones under the age of six, and are constantly feeling pressured by both sets of out-of-town grandparents to send the kiddos away for a week of “grandparent time.” We love and try to visit both sides of the family, and they also visit us quite often, but the insistence of a week or more of time away with our children seems excessive and unneeded at such young ages. How did (or do) you and your wife handle sleepovers with family, or family members insisting on extended time away with your kids? We want to honor our parents and are so thankful they want to love on our kiddos, and also realize that this is a matter of family preference, but what should be the biblical extent of the role (or responsibility) of Christian grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren?

Several years ago I wrote about Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers, and it quickly became my most popular article (more than eight million views so far!). I told how Aileen and I agreed long ago that we would not allow our children to sleep in the homes of other people. And we have stuck to our guns. Yet all the while we have allowed and encouraged our children to stay with their grandparents and to have their grandparents stay here when Aileen and I are away.

Much of the reason we did not want our children to stay in the homes of other people is that we do not and cannot know what goes on in those homes. We may know the family quite well, but not well enough to know all that occurs when night falls and the lights are off. We may have great confidence in the parents, but less confidence in their teenaged boys. Not only that, but we wanted to avoid the difficulty of having to tell one family, “Yes, our child can stay there,” and the other, “No, our child cannot stay there.” We considered it easier and less problematic to simply ban sleepovers.

But when it comes to our parents, we know what goes on in their homes because we lived with them for 21 years. I have total confidence in my parents because they raised me well; I have total confidence in Aileen’s parents because they raised her well. We know we have nothing to fear. Had my parents or her parents ever been abusive toward us, we would never allow them access to our children.

Parents need to remember that their children are their children. They, not grandparents, bear the primary responsibility. They, not grandparents, have the final say. Thus parents should not feel pressured into decisions that violate conscience or good sense. While we do not want fear to control the decisions we make for our children, neither do we want fear of man to control. Fear may make us imagine the worst of even the best people; fear of man may make us hope for the best out of even the worst people.

***

I have recently been considering a means to listen to books on audio in order to make the most of my commute time to work. Do you recommend Audible or any specific company? How do you think Christians should approach audio books and selecting a service for listening? Specifically, I am looking to listen to books related to Christian theology, history, biographies/autobiographies, and classic literature, but would like to do so in a manner that reflects good stewardship.

There are many times you have to choose between a Christian and non-Christian option when you purchase an item or service. You can shop at Amazon for your books, or you can visit the local Christian bookstore; you can use the real estate agent just down the street or look for a Christian one. I don’t think we find a lot of biblical principles of right and wrong when deciding between the two kinds of business. We are under no biblical obligation to shop at the Christian variation simply because it’s Christian (or professedly Christian). That said, I think there is joy and benefit in supporting Christian businesses whenever possible.

When it comes to audiobooks, the choice you’ll face is probably between Audible and a service like Christian Audio. Christian Audio is owned by believers and stocks almost entirely Christian books; Audible is owned by Amazon and stocks pretty much everything Christian Audio does, but much more besides.

If you are going to largely be reading Christian material, Christian Audio may be the way to go. You’ll get the books you want and you’ll be supporting a Christian-run business. If you’re wanting to mix up your listening, you’ll probably need to go with Audible instead of or in addition to Christian Audio.

***

I’ve read several of your articles and articles you’ve linked to regarding cessationism, including the most recent Ask Me Anything edition. It’s these articles that have caused me to reconsider cessationism. For the past several years, I’ve been in the “cautious, but open” camp, I suppose. However, in this most recent Ask Me Anything edition, you mentioned specifically that “we do not see…the dead being raised.” But there are reports of “the dead being raised.” For example, [an author has written a book] in which he recounts his own experiences raising the dead. I read this book with a lot of skepticism, and I watched a video interview with him about his first time “raising the dead,” and I honestly don’t know what to think. After that lengthy preface, my question is: How does a convinced cessationist assess these accounts?

First, let’s distinguish between miracles and people specially gifted to perform miracles. Cessationists do not deny that miracles can and do happen; what they deny is that there is a particular spiritual gift of healing still in operation. The issue is not one of healing, but healers. When someone is ill and near to death, cessationists and continuationists may pray very similarly, asking God to miraculously intervene and to bring about healing. But the cessationists will not seek out a person with the supposed spiritual gift of healing to ask their help. (They may, and perhaps should, though, look to and obey James 5:14.)

Now, how do we account for people who describe an experience with the kind of miracles we read about in the New Testament? In general, I think we can be skeptical. This is especially true when we aren’t familiar with those people and when we don’t have any connections to them. I say this because history shows there are vast numbers of hucksters and false prophets who claim to have performed miracles, only to later be proven liars. This is true on the mission field, the revival tent, and the bookstore shelf. The simple fact is, the charismatic movement itself has a very poor track record when it comes to verified miracles.

I should say that I’m grateful for men like Sam Storms who are attempting to right many wrongs within the charismatic movement and even to integrate it with Reformed theology. But I still don’t think they’ve satisfactorily proven that miraculous gifts are still in operation.



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