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July 2008

Help Them Listen

I went back for the second day of my church conference I mentioned in my last post and the presenter did an excellent job talking about preaching, using Hebrews as an example of a model sermon.  I had never seen Hebrews in that light, but it made sense.  He also pointed out that Hebrews is based on Psalm 110 and that each chapter includes an Old Testament verse upon which the writer expounds, just like a sermon.

In the midst of his points, the speaker made an appeal that addressed the boredom issue I mentioned yesterday.  He said that our goal should be to help people listen, to give them oral assistance!  Hallelujah!  He used the example of the mother with three children sitting in the pew who is distracted and harried.  What help can we give that woman, he asked, so that she can take the message home and meditate or apply it.

I liked that thought, so I want to find ways to provide oral assistance when people listen to me speak.  How can I be a better communicator?  What can I do that won't take away from the message but will actually assist and serve the message?  How can I help them listen?  That's a worthy goal, don't you think?

I have sat through way too many meetings when the people finished way before the speaker, but the speaker was determined to finish his message come hell, heaven or high water.  I don't want to force feed the people.  I don't want to say, "You're going to listen if it kills you. . . and it may very well do so!"  My goal is to be like Jesus in Mark 12:37:  "And the large crowd listened to him with delight."

Maybe we should start a delightful speakers club or association, all members committed to effective communication, both in and outside the Church.  One thing that would be required for that to happen is for speakers to get feedback on their messages, even if it's feedback on a pulpit sermon.  Now that would revolutionize speaking and sermonizing overnight!  Yet most pastors and leaders don't have the heart or courage to get that kind of evaluation on a regular basis, especially when they believe they are preaching the word of the Lord.  But if we are going to be effective, we need that kind of feedback.  So what say you, are you ready to join my delightful speakers club?  You can be the third member if you write soon, for I am the second member and have already joined.  Who was the first member?  Why, it was Jesus, of course!  This whole club is His idea.


Last night, I finished my sixth of fifteen books required for my upcoming August D Min classes.  The latest was J. Gresham Machen's classic Christianity and Liberalism.  I had read this book years ago, but it is worth reading it again, for it outlines the battle Machen faced with liberalism in the Presbyterian church 80 years ago (he lost the battle and had to leave the denomination).  We are facing exactly what Machen faced, but this time fighting it as society attempts to make Jesus nothing more than a nice, moral teacher like Confucious or Buddha. 

Yet last night I attended a small church seminar (I won't say where or sponsored by whom) and listened to two good presentations, one of which was read from a paper.  Yet I looked around and the audience was listening, but there was a general malaise.  Some of the people were bored, the questions were half-hearted and most of us present were pretty much "grey heads."  It was definitely not a youth movement.  I sat there and thought, "This is part of why we are losing the battle with cultural liberalism; we are boring!" 

Then I thought that last week at the same time, I was at The Pacific Insitute seminar in Seattle.  I have heard that material many times before, yet I was on the edge of my seat, took a lot of notes and made many journal entries.  So I sat in the session last night and asked God for insight.  I asked Him to show me if it was my problem and to open my eyes to what I am missing.  I prayed that the same dynamic would be found in me that was in Jesus' ministry, "The large crowd listened to him with delight" (Mark 12:37). 

I want to write and speak in such a way that people are interested. I also want them to be able to take the message out and apply it immediately to family, work or church. I don't mind entertaining people, in fact I accept that I must entertain to keep their attention.  I want to have a message, however,  to go with my entertainment.  And Lord, please make me relevant!  I know my brothers would say, "Truth is truth and doesn't have to be relevant to be truth." I would agree, but does that mean that truth can be presented without passion.

Jesus was relevant; He taught but He also healed and counseled.  He met the people where they lived, and they walked for days and then sat for days to listen and be with Him.  They followed Him without thought for their own provisions (He had to multiply bread for them to eat on several occasions) and I cannot believe that they sat for days and were bored.  Jesus spoke truth but also embodied truth. There was something irresistible about Him and I want that same dynamic present when God gives me opportunity to communicate for Him. I know that is a dynamic of the Spiri but if there is anything I can do to foster that dynamic, then I am willing to pay any price to have it.

What have we become accustomed to in our church worlds?  Why are we content to be bored, not seeing that while we are willing, our youth are not?  Why do we settle for substandard communication when we are surrounded by a culture that excels at getting their message across?  I don't have many answers and I'm not sure I am even asking the right questions.  Furthermore, I know I have been part of the problem and want to be part of the solution.  Lord, help me to communicate effectively and accurately the truth that You have entrusted to me and allow me to do it in a way that is acceptable to You and delightful to Your people.  Amen. 

     Feel free to add your insights or comments to this entry on the site where it is posted. 

Another Show Finished

I finished another radio show this morning, this time interviewing my good friend, Kentice Tikolo, from Kenya.  Kentice has always helped coordinate my PurposeQuest events in Kenya and now works for the Kenya Wildlife Service.  She was and is a natural on radio as we talked about purpose and its role in the lives of Kenyans. 

Next week, I will have Dr. Jim Coy on my show.  Dr. Coy and I share the same publisher, and has a story of courage and purpose that you won't want to miss.  You can listen to the show at 9 AM Eastern US Time on the Voice America network or download any of the past shows from the station archives.

By the way, if you would like to receive an SMS text message a few minutes before the show as a reminder to listen, just send me your cell phone number via email and I will make sure you are included on the list, no matter where you live.

I got home last night from Seattle, where I attended another event with The Pacific Insitute.  My friend Kentice was over from Kenya for the same event.  We are discussing how to introduce TPI to Kenya and we have a lot of great ideas and should be there later this year with a launch.  Kenya will never be the same once we do that.

I realize that I haven't been writing regularly, but much of my time is going toward preparing for my August classes.  I've mentioned that I have a lot of reading and papers to get done and I am on schedule, but using two to three hours every day for that takes up a big chunk of my day.  I will try to do better.

UEFA Euro 2008

I haven't mentioned much about the football (or soccer) tournament going on in Europe right now, but it has been televised in the States and I have watched some of it.  I am pulling for Spain, for no reason that I can think of.  Taz, my friend in Zimbabwe, says that Germany is the team to beat. I think Netherlands has a shot, too.  They have played some fine football in the tournament.

If you are interested in who's still playing as they prepare for the championship on June 29, you can go the official site and check it out.  I have to watch soccer now that basketball is finished (yea Celtics!) and we have no baseball in Pittsburgh.  We have a team, but they don't play baseball.  They only go through the motions and haven't had a winning season since 1992.  So I am reduced to cheering, "Go Spain!  Go Netherlands!"  What a sad state of affairs.

Why I Procrastinate

I am in Minneapolis on my way to Seattle. This is the first time I have been on a plane in six weeks, a record for me this century!  With the nature of my work, however, if I am at home that means there is no income. Yet these six weeks at home were indeed the hand of God, for we have been able to get our new house in order and set up our offices.  In addition, I have so much school work to do for my August classes that there is no way I could have done it all without this time at home.  When I get back home next Tuesday, I don't go out again until July 14.  Even though money is tight, I know this time at home is in God's plans, so I am trusting Him.

I have been reflecting recently on why I have a tendency to procrastinate.  I have taught time management and have a reputation to get things done efficiently, but I have come face-to-face recently with discovering why I keep putting off certain things I must do.

The main reason is that I am a perfectionist.  There are some things I don't start because I don't believe I have enough time to do them perfectly.  Plus, I am afraid -- that's right, I am fearful -- of doing the wrong thing or doing the thing wrong, so I choose to do nothing at all, at least for the time being.  I even put this post off for a few weeks because I wasn't sure I had enough time or insight to write a good post -- no, time to write the best post possible.

I find this tendency intriguing, for when I finally decide to start, I usually finish in much less time than I expected.  What's more, I usually produce something that others say is good stuff.  So after I finish and it goes well, I ask, "Why did it take me so long to do that?"  Armed with that awareness, I still tend to repeat the process again and again.

What's the answer?  I have found that I must set deadlines for myself, telling myself I will have this or that done by June 20 (I can even obsess over whether or not June 20 is the correct deadline!).  I am also doing a bit more scheduling; I decide that even though I can't read the entire book or write the whole report, I will spend the next hour reading or writing. I haven't always done that well, choosing not to start until I can get it all done at one time.

Furthermore, I talk to myself saying, "John, the fate of the free world does not depend on this report.  It isn't for the eyes of the president.  Just do your best, but do it."  Then I make a list of what I would like or need to do today, but afterwards prioritize that list.  I am writing this blog because I put it on today's to-do list while I was on the plane, using the few minutes I have between flights to take care of this small project.

I'm not done reflecting on this question yet, for I'm discovering many interesting things about myself and how I work in the process.  The reflections must be working, however. How can I be sure?  Because I finally wrote this entry!  I'll keep you posted on what else I discover.  If you have any insights on this topic, feel free to enter them on the site where this entry is posted. 

New Profile

If you know me, you know I am always looking for tools and assessments that will help people know who they are and what kind of job they are doing.  This is the kind of information that leaders especially need, but it is also the kind they tend to avoid, especially in the Church. 

Last March, I earned a certification to work with the 360 degree feedback profiles offered by a company called The Leadership Circle.  These profiles are powerful tools that measure competence levels in key areas for both organizations and individuals.  They are called "360 degree" because the profile seeks anonymous feedback from those closest to the individual or organization, whether those people are peers, bosses, or direct reports.

I had my own profile done and it has been a accurate and insightful tool in my own personal development since March.  It revealed two interesting trends in my personal leadership development:  my tendency to underestimate my strengths and overestimate my weaknesses. I carry the profile results with me everywhere I go and study the results, looking for new or renewed insights into my style and how I can be more effective. 

I have just completed a profile on two leaders and we are in the debriefing stage at this point, going over the results to make sure they are understood and to plot the way forward.  If it were up to me, I would make these profiles mandatory for all leaders, leadership teams and staff in both church and non-church entities.  Of course, that isn't possible, so I must rely on it being a voluntary process. 

If you are serious about becoming the best leader you can be and in helping to make your organization the same, I urge you to enlist someone's services (hopefully mine) in conducting a 360 degree feedback assessment.  Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free."  Don't rely on your feelings or on feedback from peers who may be afraid to tell you the truth. Seek the truth, no matter how painful it may be, for in that truth is your freedom -- freedom to be yourself and to grow into the best possible leader. 

In case you haven't noticed, we have a leadership crisis in our societies, especially in the Church.  It will only be solved when individual leaders break free from the cultural pressures that keep them average and fearful to become open and honest.  I am committed to see this crisis solved and want to devote my time and energy to develop servant-leaders wherever people have th courage to lead and serve.  There is one profile for individuals and one for organizations. If I were you, I would invest in both. If I can help you or your organization, please let me know.

Fourth Show

This radio gig is fun!  Yesterday I talked on the air with Bruce Binkley, who shared his secrets with the listeners about starting a business that funds his ministry.  Bruce leaves for Viet Nam this Saturday, so he had lots of good things to say that fit right in with his upcoming trip.  It went so well that I am having Bruce back on the show in July.  It is always surprising how quickly the time goes during an interview.  You have to stay focused, interrrupt where necessary and make sure the guest says what is most important to them.  Some preparation beforehand is crucial.

If you want to hear the show with Bruce, go the network archives.

Next week I will interview my friend Yvonne Brooks from the UK.  Yvonne and her husband, Bishop Melvin, are good friends whom i have visited for the last seven years.  Yvonne will be in the States next week and I want to talk to her about her organization, Women of Purpose, and the special issues surrounding women and purpose. 

Here is a summary of next week's show:

Episode Five: One Woman Helping Others Find Purpose

Do women face any special challenges where purpose is concerned?  What can one woman do to make a difference?  To find out, join John Stanko and his special guest, Yvonne Brooks, from Birmingham, England.  Yvonne is the founder of Women of Purpose in the UK where she writes, speaks and inspires women there and everywhere to find and fulfill their purpose.

Missed the live show?  This episode is rebroadcast at 6 PM Pacific. Past episodes are available on-demand and podcast ready.

Listen LIVE to VoiceAmerica!

Questions? Comments? Call: 1.866.472.5787/5788

Eat, Pray, Love

For some unknown reason, I picked up an audio version of Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling book, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything and endured all 11 CDs to the end while driving around town.  I have some alternate titles to suggest for this well-written but misguided work:

1.  Liz Gilbert Goes to the Prom at 35 Years of Age.
2.  Liz Gilbert Fashions a God That is Just Right for Her.
3.  Liz Gilbert Brings Sex in the City to Indonesia
4.  Liz Gilbert Saves Herself . . . And Is Proud of Her Efforts
5.  Liz Gilbert Rejects the "Christian" God and Finds Many Others
6.  Liz Gilbert Hears Voices that Say "I'm OK, You're OK"
7.  Liz Gilbert Starts Out an Emotional Mess and Ends Up an Unemotional Mess

If you notice, every suggested title begins with Liz, which is just how the book is written.  It's all about Liz.  Poor Liz doesn't want any pain in her life, so she spends a year in Italy, India and Indonesia trying to sort things out.  Gee, I wonder how anyone who isn't free to do that can find their inner peace?

Liz Gilbert is an entertaining writer, and I think she represents a large portion of modern seekers who want to find themselves but don't want God to help them. They want to do it on their own terms.  Yet Gilbert starts the book a mess where men are concerned (she ends her eight-year marriage) and ends it a mess (she "takes a lover," a 52-year-old Brazilian living in Bali).  After 12 months on the road, Liz landed right back in the arms of someone new who she will find, if she sticks with him for eight years, will have as many problems as her ex-husband did. 

So this book reminded me that we have a lot of work to do in reaching this generation for the Lord.  It also reminded me of the old song that I still hum from time to time, Jesus is the answer for the world today. Above Him there's no other, Jesus is the Way.

Prince Caspian

I have been swamped with work the last few weeks, but not too busy to see a movie or two on the weekends. I reviewed Indiana Jones a few weeks ago, did not bother reviewing Iron Man (it was entertaining but with no redeeming value), and last week saw the latest adaptation of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.

In this edition, our four young heroes are transported from World War II England back to Narnia when Prince Caspian blows the magic horn in Narnia.  Our four friends find that 1,3000 years have elapsed in Narnia since they were last there and that have been summoned to assist Prince Caspian as he opposes his evil uncle who is plotting to seize the throne. 

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant writer, able to portray Christian life principles and values in a way that was both entertaining and inspiring.  The movie captures the essence of Lewis as we see our flawed heroes fail, prideful, forgiving, brave, petty, strong and waiting for Aslan, the mighty lion who has the power to save those who put their trust in him.  Aslan does not disappoint, but he takes forever to show up, arriving just in the nick of time.

I found myself wanting to stand and cheer during the movie, but my cause for celebration wasn't the movie itself.  It was Lewis, who wrote to impact his day and is still impacting society through these cinema adaptations.  I wanted to applaud my faith -- I know that sounds silly -- which is so in touch with human drama and realities. (When is the last time you saw a good movie from a Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu writer that captured your heart and imagination?).

I left this movie wanting to do what Lewis had done: Take his gifts and use them in such a way that they touched people where they lived while highlighting eternal issues.  If you haven't seen Prince Caspian, do yourself a favor and go.  It will do you good, especially if you consider what you can do to touch the world around you like Lewis did his.