January is Gone

January just flew by, or is it just my impression of how quickly the first month of 2016 passed through? I thought I would write some personal thoughts this week since I am not posting my daily devotional and haven't yet started my video devotional format. Here goes.

  1. I have two personal writing projects that I am working on. The first is the editing of last year's daily devotional, Life Matters: Daily Reflections from the Book of Psalms, and the second is Unlocking the Power of You, which is the fourth book in a four-part Unlocking series (Purpose, Creativity and Productivity are the other three, already published).
  2. I stopped my Saturday morning radio show, but I don't miss getting up early on Saturday morning to trek across town to the studio. I sense more media is in my future, but nothing has emerged yet.
  3. I am teaching three college classes every week, and will pick up a fourth in two weeks. I always sense God's presence when I teach.
  4. I am editing four manuscripts right now for my publishing company, Urban Press. There are also a few more projects getting ready to get under way. I am pleasantly surprised at how well the publishing work is going, but the key word in that endeavor is work! I am writing morning, noon and night, although I am not complaining - just sayin'.
  5. I am on day 28 of a fast to start the year. It is going well, and I am going to finish fasting this week.I am not fasting for any particular reason, or to seek specific direction from the Lord. My morning prayer is, "God, I will do whatever you want me to do, wherever You want me to do it."

I sent out an appeal letter this week, asking for financial help for my upcoming trip to Kenya that starts on February 25. If you regularly read this blog, you know the work I am doing to build libraries, establish relationships with orphanages, finance orphans to go to school, and other relief and development work. I trust the Lord's provision for these projects, and this year is no exception. I am attaching my fundraising letter at the bottom of this post and ask that you read it then act accordingly. I need your help, and I am confident that God will orchestrate meeting these needs as He always has.

That's about it for now. Thanks for your patience as I work out a rhythm and routine for how to do the video devotionals.

Download FRLtr2016-1


Personal Direction for 2016

It occurred to me that I updated my Facebook readers of my publishing plans for 2016, but did not post an update on my blog, so here goes. First of all, Happy New Year! I trust the year has gotten off to a good start for you and that you are pursuing purpose and fruitfulness in these first days. I am starting the year off with a personal fast to set my course for the year, and to seek the Lord's guidance on many issues.

As you may know, I began a publishing company last year called Urban Press. Business is good, and right now I am in the final edits of four manuscripts that Urban Press will publish. That''s about 650 pages of writing that I am juggling between the four works, and it's been both a challenge and a privilege to help shape the four narratives of the four authors.

I began teaching again for a new semester last week, and this semester I will teach History of Leadership, Leadership and Strategy, and the Pentateuch, as well as oversee two final projects for two separate Master's-level leadership classes. On February 25, I will be part of a team returning to Kenya to reconnect with our work there.

I decided to stop two things as 2016 began and one of them was my daily devotional that I have written every day for the last seven years (the other was a Saturday morning radio show here locally). The good news is that each one of those days can be found on my personal blog, if you still want to access something to stimulate your daily Bible study. Simply go to my site, look down the right side, and you will see a link for each year's devotional - Daily Dose, Leadership Walk, Life Matters, What Would Jesus Ask?, and Purpose Pearls. Those represent about 1,800 daily devotional entries, so I am sure you can find something there you like.

In a few weeks, I am going to experiment with a new devotional format, and that will be video. I hope to launch a daily video devotional, but I have to figure out the logistics and how exactly I will do that. I assume I will post the link on this site where you can watch. My thought right now is to go back and do What Would Jesus Ask You Today? in this first video series. All that is subject to change as I seek the Lord.

Of course, you can access all my material in book form by purchasing any devotional from Amazon. All my books are in Kindle and paper format, so you can carry one with you in your briefcase or in your e-reader. I am working on three personal projects right now: a 20th-anniversary revision of Life is a Gold Mine: Can You Dig It?; Unlocking the Power of Your Productivity; and Your Life Matters: Daily Reflections from the Book of Psalms. Those projects are part of the reason I stopped publishing a daily devotional this year, for I am starting each day by working on my own material before I move on to teaching or editing other people's works.

Thank you for bearing with me in this transitional period. It will take some time for me to find a new work rhythm, but I am confident it will come with God's help and direction. My eyes are fixed on him as we start a new year, and I know He will lead and guide. If you have any thoughts, questions, or impressions of the direction I should take, please feel free to contact me at johnstanko@gmail.com. Thanks for your support, and please also let me know if I can help you in your own quest for a purposeful life.


The Morning After

The church where I serve has six weekend services. Speaking five times (one is a video recording) over a weekend is not without its challenges. First of all, I must work to keep all five messages the same, even though the time available usually varies. I know 3-4 minutes does not seem like much, but when you only have 25 minutes or so, it can make a big difference. I have to think through what stories to include or not to include. Since there are PowerPoint slides, I cannot change the skeleton of the message, but may or may not have time for all the illustrations. What's more, I try to leave time for an altar call.

Then there is the issue of stamina. I like to inject some energy and passion into my messages and not shortchange any service. You have a lot going on while you are speaking as well, like babies crying, people coughing (one man who coughs sounds like an explosion), and people exiting rows. All that is normal for a speaker, but it adds to the challenge of staying focused and moving the message forward. Finally, there is the need to get done so the people can move out and the next service move in.

So here I am on Monday and I feel like I have moved some furniture. Please don't misunderstand: this is not a complaint. I just thought I would share some of what, from my perspective, goes on in doing multiple weekend services. If you would like to listen to or watch my messages from last weekend or two weeks ago, you can access them on the church site.

One more thing: I got this message on Facebook last night and thought I would share it with you. This kind of report makes the work of preaching so very worth everything that is invested:

John,

We have never met. I have been witnessing to one of my friends for over two years and finally convinced him to visit ACAC this morning, (I lead worship at an Alliance Church); he lives in Bellevue.

Anyway - long story short - he accepted Christ this morning as a result of hearing your sermon!

Thank you for serving!


Wow! Thank you Lord for the privilege of serving your people and your Kingdom! But now it's the morning after and time to return to our regularly-scheduled work week. There is certainly more to church work than preaching and teaching!

Land of the Living

It was so nice to get up this morning and not have to race off to class, as I had to do the last two weeks.  I now have seven of my eight weeks of lectures completed for my degree, but have a 25-page paper due on Biblical Worship and three written sermons for Issues in Theology, to be completed by the end of summer.  Plus, I had my thesis approved by the program head, which will be entitled, A Theology of Creativity and Productivity

While the title sounds academic, the project will not be.  I will simply try to point out that biblical, theologically and historically, the church has equipped people to go out and impact the world.  Then I will present my plans for what I call a Life Purpose Center, which can be established by any interested church and nonprofit anywhere in the world. I hope to have all that done by this time next year, Lord willing.

I learned a lot last week, but the format of lectures from 8 to 4:30, six days a week is nothing short of grueling. My cohort class has been together for seven weeks over two years, so we are now veterans of the lecture wars, but it is still requires physical and mental stamina to stay engaged.  Maybe that is what the programs is trying to instill?

I know I have grown through the program, and I have certainly learned a lot.  One thing is clear: Where you start in your journey to build a biblical worldview will determine how you define things along the way. For instance, if you don't believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available today, then that will color how you interpret things as you progress and grow.  I heard many presuppositions about worship and theology the last two weeks that allowed my professors to be consistent in their approach to Scripture, but limited their applications and interpretations nonetheless.  I admire those men greatly; I just don't agree with them all the time.

So now it is back to the workaday world, and none too soon. My emails and phone calls have piled up and it's time to do some real work for a change.


One Down, One to Go

I started school again last Monday at Reformed Presbyterian Seminary.  I have been in class all week and will be again next week from 8 to 4:30, Monday through Saturday. It is grueling, but the class was fairly interesting as we spent the week studying passages related to biblical worship. The Reformed Presbys hold to the regulative principle, which states that if it isn't in the Bible, it should not be done where worship is concerned.  Therefore they sing only the Old Testament psalms without any musical instruments.

This position was presented and defended but was not forced on any of the students, since none of us are from a Reformed Presbyterian church.  I came away from the class with an increased appreciation for the psalms but could not accept the presuppositions that allow for the exclusive psalmody position.  We had some interesting class debate, but all in a good spirit of discussion and fellowship.

As usual, there was lots of work reading up to the class and once we finish there will be 20-page paper due. Next week, we have an Issues in Theology class, for which I have not completed the class readings, most of which are from German authors who make the simple complex, if you know what I mean. After next week's class, I will have one more class next February.  When I have all my class work done and my project/thesis submitted, I will graduate with a Doctor of Ministry.  I have been in the program two years, and it has been a great experience.  I am learning a lot and how can anyone complain when you get to sit for almost eight hours a day and discuss Scripture and the things of God!  It is a privilege to be enrolled.

What's more, I marvel at God's timing, for I started this program two years ago. With my position at Allegheny Center Alliance Church now, I am glad I made the decision to go back to school.  Every course has helped me prepare for what I am doing at ACAC now.  What are you doing to grow and be more effective in the work God has given you to do?  If you are thinking of going back to school, may I heartily endorse that option if you can make it work.  If not, at least embark on a reading program or attend some lectures or seminars that will make you better at what you do.


Easter Weekend

We had a good but busy Easter weekend (you may prefer to call it Resurrection Weekend).  Much of it was spent in church, for the local church of which I am part had two services on Friday night, one on Saturday and three on Sunday.  The quality of ministry was excellent and I was uplifted by it all.  At the same time, I took every available moment to work on my latest book, which is due to the publisher this coming Wednesday. I only have the Appendix to finish, so I think the deadline is within reach.

After I wrap up my book, I then have about 2,000 pages of reading to finish for my next two classes in the first two weeks of June (I figure I have to read 40 pages every day between now and then to finish), in addition to a paper due on May 1 for my biblical counseling class.

It's nice to see spring flowers in full bloom. Even though it's still cool, spring and summer can't be far away.  They can never come too early for me.  The Pittsburgh Pirates baseball home opener was last Monday, and the hockey and basketball playoffs are imminent. 

So that's what is new in my world.  What's new in yours?  Feel free to post your response on the site where this entry is posted.


IF

I was doing some reading the other day and ran across my favorite poem, Rudyard Kipling's "If."  I had not read it in a while, but it was good to read it and reconnect with its message.  Here it is for your reading enjoyment:

If

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!


Another Class Done

Today is my final day of lectures for my fifth of eight classes required for my Doctor of Ministry program. The eight-hour lecture day can be grueling. I read once that miners may have to mine a ton of ore to obtain an ounce of gold.  Yet that ounce of gold is worth a lot. That is how our class work can be. At times, we dig and drill long and hard and then we hit the vein of gold and it's wonderful.  You just have to stay awake and alert during the process.

I got much of my work back from some previous classes and I am pleased with the results. What's more, I am pleased that I am learning so much that will be relevant for my work at hand. But right now, I have one more day to finish one more class, and then have two more back-to-back classes in June.  Help me, Lord.


School Days Again

I am sitting in my Counseling the Flock class in seminary. I was driving in this morning and thanking God that I have the chance to step back for the week to study, discuss and learn. I am always amazed at how God gets us ready for our futures.  I started this D. Min. program two years ago and I am so glad I did! It has forced me to focus on things I would not ordinarily be thinking about.  I know this will help me in my church work for years to come.

Yesterday, I turned in about 45 pages of papers that I had to write to prepare for the class itself.  Now we have 45 hours of lecture this week and then have another set of assignments due by May 1 for this class.  At the same time, this week we will get our work for the next two classes, which will be held back-to-back weeks in June.

When I was flying home on Sunday, I was still reading and writing, confident I could get it all done, and I did. I am still learning to relax and not stress over what needs to be done in the time available.  If Joshua could have faith to stop the sun to get things done in Joshua 10, I am trying to learn to do the same.


Back At It

I got home from Nairobi last night and I had a great trip. Come to think of it, I've never had a bad trip to any part of Africa. Some have been harder than others and some were more productive than others, but it's always good to be there. Plus I had seven others with me this time and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them connect with the people and the land. They were a great team to travel with and I hope you had a chance to check out my travel blog that I wrote (in the third person, so even my wife didn't know it was me actually doing the writing!). If you want to go there, you will find my entries under the search name CUBM.

I wrote papers and read books all the way home on the planes and just turned in my nine papers (45 pages)  to my professor.  I am sitting in a biblical counseling class all week, Monday through Saturday from 8:00 to 4:30.  Then I resume my duties at Allegheny Center Alliance Church next week. I am learning a lot from my reading, writing and classwork and I thank God I started this program two years ago.  I have two more years until I finish, but I am looking forward to applying what I learn in my work, teaching and writing.

So I am back and will try to write more regularly. I did not post a Monday Memo last night and am behind on my John Bible studies since I had so much school writing to do. I am relaxed about it all, however, and under no pressure. I will get back to things when I have the time. In the meantime, I have to get back to class.  I feel smarter already.