A Theology of Writing

Here are some notes from a study I did on the concept of writing and creating in the Bible. For some I added comments, for others I did Screen Shot 2021-01-10 at 10.44.23 AMnot. I present these as an encouragement and instruction for those who write or those thinking about writing more as your ministry. Feel free to comment or add to this list where this entry is posted.

  1. “Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them” – Deuteronomy 31:19. – God had Israel compose a song to remember, but in this case, it was to commemorate their unfaithfulness. We compose and write to help people remember, including ourselves, about God’s faithfulness, even when we are unfaithful to Him and His ways.
  1. Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me. - Joshua 18:4. God asked the scouts to submit a report of what they saw in writing. I am not sure why he required it in writing, but perhaps so they could keep the vision alive of what God had promised them. We write what we see in faith and that may be something that cannot be seen yet without faith.
  1. As the men started on their way to map out the land, Joshua instructed them, “Go and make a survey of the land and write a description of it” – Joshua 18:8. Notice that the men could write at this early stage of history.
  1. Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness” – Isaiah 30:8. We are not writing anything that compares to the inspired word of God, yet we do want to write down what we believe God is showing us – about His word, His promises, my experiences, my creative expressions – all with a view toward providing a witness for future generations about God’s love and acts in my generation. Think of those who did this – Wesley, Augustine, Thomas a Kempis, John Calvin, D. L. Moody, A. B. Simpson, G. Campbell Morgan
  1. “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you” – Jeremiah 30:2
  1. “Take a scroll and write on it all the words I have spoken to you concerning Israel, Judah and all the other nations from the time I began speaking to you in the reign of Josiah till now” - Jeremiah 36:2.
  1. “Take another scroll and write on it all the words that were on the first scroll, which Jehoiakim king of Judah burned up” – Jeremiah 36:28.
  1. “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer” – Psalm 45:1.
  1. “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe” – Psalm 107:2.
  1. “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works—and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness” – Psalm 145:4-7.
  1. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” – Matthew 10:27.
  1. “With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus” – Luke 1:3. Notice that Luke did not claim that the Lord directed him to write; it was a natural decision based on the request from Theophilus for more information about the life and times of Jesus.
  1. “Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” – Philippians 3:1. Don’t wait until you have a thought or idea that no one else in the universe has ever had. Don’t be concerned that you are writing something that has already been said or written by someone else. There is nothing new under the sun.
  1. “Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.” – 2 Peter 3:1
  1. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” – 1 John 1:3-4.
  1. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth” – 1 John 2:21.
  1. “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” – Revelation 12:11.

They Need Water - Please Help

The pandemic has caused difficulties the world over and our partners in Kenya are no exception. One of our partners is an Screen Shot 2021-01-08 at 9.51.55 AMorphanage of 72 (18 are high school age, the rest live in a group home led by our brother and friend, Pastor David Koech). I received this email from Rev. Koech this morning:

Hi Brother Stanko,

We thank God for we have started well with all our 54 kids reporting back. We were a bit worried especially for the teenage girls who had gone home [the orphanage sent as many children as they could back to their village with even distant relatives during the holiday break; now school has begun again].

Our current water situation is dire. During dry times and over corona time, we used a lot of money hiring motor bikes to bring water to support our work, but still our water source is not very clean water. Kiromwok High School (Pastor Amos' church) drilled a water well and we have talked with them. They are willing  to give us free water. The easiest way is use of motor bike since the school is 3 kms away (2 miles). This is clean water and it will be easy to hire a young man at 200 shillings/per day [$2 per day) instead of paying 20 shillings per 20 liter. A new bike is khs 120,000 [$1,200]. The same bike will assist us to transport our tea harvest at a later time. That's our current prayer need in order to serve clean water to the orphanage and the school  especially during this corona time when a lot of water is needed.
 
God bless you.
Rev. Koech

This process of transporting the water will be an all day every day event but is vital for the health and well-being of the children and their caregivers. Will you help me help the children have access to fresh water by helping purchase the motorcycle they need (yes, the picture here is an actual one from Kenya, which shows how important any transport is, especially in rural areas)? Please give a special gift today using Paypal on my website, the Cash App ($stankojohn), Venmo@John-Stanko-10, or my mobile app (designate Bomet Motorcycle). Of course, you can also send a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. Thank you for your help in getting much-needed water to much-needy children.


Stop To-Do

          When Peter F. Drucker was alive, I tried to attend his Foundation’s annual leadership conference every year.  For me, it Screen Shot 2021-01-04 at 11.47.39 AMwas always a time to reflect and refocus on the coming year.  In 1998, Jim Collins, author of Built to Last, was on the conference program. During his presentation, he talked of his goal to read 70 books annually.  Up to that point in his life, he had read about 35 books in a year’s time.  Collins told us how he bought a new chair and lamp to facilitate his anticipated increase in reading.  At the end of the year, however, he hadn’t reached his goal – he still read “only” 35 books.

            Collins and his wife tried to determine why they hadn’t increased their reading and they came to the realization that they would have to make some serious adjustments to do so. They got rid of the cable television hookup in their home—and every year after that they consistently reached their goal.  “Most of us have a to-do list,” Collins said,  “but I think as leaders we also need a ‘stop to-do list.’ We can’t keep adding to what we do without at some point taking away something we’re already doing to make room for the new activity.”

            A “stop-to-do” list.  What a novel idea!  Imagine if you and I and the organizations that we serve began to evaluate our activities with a view toward eliminating those that were outdated. Or stopped doing some things because there were other opportunities that would or could produce greater results. Or had some mechanism that helped us recognize when an activity, even a good activity, no longer served the vision or mission of the organization. 

            Peter Drucker speaks the concept behind a stop-to-do list in several of his publications. I quote here from his book, Managing in a Time of Great Change:

What, then, needs to be done?  There is a need for preventive care—that is, for building into the organization systematic monitoring and testing of its theory of the business.  There is a need for early diagnosis.  Finally, there is a need to rethink a theory that is stagnating and to take effective action in order to change policies and practices, bringing the organization’s behavior in line with the new realities of its environment, with a new definition of its mission, and with new core competencies to be developed and acquired.

There are only two preventive measures. But if used consistently, they should keep an organization alert and capable of rapidly changing itself and its theory. The first measure is what I call abandonment. Every three years an organization should challenge every product, every service, every policy, every distribution channel with the question, If we were not in it already, would we be going into it now? By questioning accepted policies and routines, the organization forces itself to think about its theory. It forces itself to test assumptions. It forces itself to ask: Why didn’t this work, even though it looked so promising when we went into it five years ago? Is it because we made a mistake?  Is it because we did the wrong things?  Or is it because the right things didn’t work?

Without systematic and purposeful abandonment, an organization will be overtaken by events. It will squander its best resources on things it should never have been doing or should no longer do. As a result, it will lack the resources, especially capable people, needed to exploit the opportunities that arise when markets, technologies, and core competencies change. In other words, it will be unable to respond constructively to the opportunities that are created when its theory of the business becomes obsolete.[i]

            It’s the job of the board of directors or leadership team in any organization to see to it that the limited resources of that entity are directed to activities that are most consistent with the purpose of that entity. Leaders must make sure that the money and people are devoted to the right cause. But often the day-to-day leaders are more in touch with the pulse of the business than the board members and need to help the board understand reality. They need to educate the board members that just because the organization can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should do something. It’s at that point that leadership has to make the hard decisions, and that too constitutes the price of leadership.

            At other times, the founder or long-standing leaders have favorite, “pet” projects. They want these projects to continue because they like them, not because they’re effective or productive. What’s needed is some mechanism to evaluate activities that will clearly identify those that have outlived their usefulness. Leaders must also do this on a personal basis and learn to say “no.” It’s hard to say “no,” however, if you’re not sure what your “yes” is. One of my favorite stories is found in Acts 6.

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.  So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.  Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-3).

            There are three lessons in this passage that will help you or your organization to stop doing one thing in order to do something new.

1. Face reality – As a leader, you must look at reality.  Often the phrase “facing reality” is used to refer to the downside of something.  But it can also be used for the positive.  The apostles faced reality.  The early church was growing, and that was good.  Growth brought problems, however, and this gave rise to a significant complaint from one of the groups in the church.

Look at all the things that are going well in your life or in your organization.  Are you making these things all that they can be?  Do you need to pay even more attention to these unexpected success stories.  And what about the things that are not going so well?  Do you need to keep pouring time and resources into these situations, or is it time to let them go gracefully?

2. Embrace change – Letting something go means that there will be change.  Up to this point in the life of the early church, the 12 apostles had been involved in everything.  But as the church grew, they could no longer be everything to everyone.  They had to delegate and focus on what it was that they did that no one else could do.  They didn’t personally help the widows, but rather came up with a plan to make sure that the widows were helped.

When I say “embrace” change, I mean just that – enthusiastically accept it as a part of life. While change is necessary for growth and for effective leadership, you can’t minimize its impact. As a leader, you must be personally involved in helping followers understand the need for the change. Remember how long it took you to get used to the idea of the change, then be patient and give followers the same time to consume and digest the implications of the change. You must also be accessible to develop the plans for change and to help talk out the implications for followers.  It’s during times of change that followers need to have their closest contact with those in leadership.

One thing that can help others embrace the change is when you embrace change as a way of life and leadership. Gandhi once said, “We must become the change that we seek.” Therefore, you must model the tendency and practice of embracing change before you start dumping change on others.

3. Feed your opportunities; starve your problems – Peter Drucker provided me with this phrase and it’s profound.  Too often we do the opposite – we feed our problems and starve our opportunities. Drucker also gave a good rule of thumb where this concept is concerned. He advised that every three years an organization (or an individual for that matter) should evaluate all their activities by asking this one question: “If we had known three years ago what we know today, would we have started to do, or kept doing, this particular activity?” If the answer is a resounding “No!”, then it’s time to stop doing that activity. If you had known three years ago, for example, that you were going to have spend so much money and time on a venture, would you do it all over again? If the answer is no, then it’s time to stop it – NOW!

The apostles in Acts 6 didn’t get personally involved in the widow problem; in that sense they “starved” it.  Instead they fed the opportunity to pray and preach the word.  The outcome of this strategy was a good one. Acts 6:7 tells us that “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Robert Greenleaf also has something to say to leaders about the need to let go of something old in order to embrace the new. He called it “systematic neglect.” 

The ability to withdraw and reorient oneself, if only for a moment, presumes that one has learned the art of systematic neglect, to sort out the more important from the less important—and the important from the urgent—and attend to the more important, even though there may be penalties and censure for the neglect of something else.  One may govern one’s life by the law of the optimum (optimum being that pace and set of choices that give one the best performance over a lifespan)—bearing in mind that there are always emergencies and the optimum includes carrying an unused reserve of energy in all periods of normal demand so that one has the resilience to cope with the emergency.[ii]

How about you? What do you need to stop doing in order to undertake a new opportunity? What is no longer yielding the returns that it once did in your life? And how about in the organization you lead? What new opportunities are knocking at the door but can’t get in because the “waiting room” is filled with problems? Take out a sheet of paper and make a stop-to-do list and then have the courage to dialogue with yourself and others about the changes that need to take place.

[i] Peter F. Drucker, Managing in a Time of Great Change (New York: Truman Talley Books/Dutton, 1995), pages 32-33.

[ii] Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), page 19.


Secondary Worship

For the last two years, I have been gripped by the writings and sermons of G. Campbell Morgan, referred to as the prince of Screen Shot 2021-01-03 at 9.17.46 AMexpositors, who died in 1945 after a distinguished career as a pastor in London. I am currently working my way through the 10-volume series of his sermons titled The Westminster Pulpit, having already read his commentaries on the Gospels and Acts. My approach to the New Testament will never be the same after having read Pastor Morgan's work and I pray my writing and teaching can have half the impact his had and continues to have. (You can read more about Pastor Morgan and his many books here.)

In Volume Two of The Westminster Pulpit, I read this sermon on worship in which Pastor Morgan referred to worship in church as secondary worship while living out one's purpose as the primary human worship expression. Of course, you know I had to share it (in part) with you. Here it is.

*****

When does a man worship? A man worships when he is what God meant him to be. I may sing every song in the hymnbook and never worship. I may recite every creed that was ever prepared, and never worship. I may inflict all manner of scourging upon the body of mine and never worship. I may kneel in long lonely the vigils of the night and never worship; and the song, and the sacrifice, and the prayer are nothing unless I am, in this one lonely individual life of mine, what God Almighty meant me to be. When I am that, my whole life worships.

How can I be that? Only as I discover His law, only as I walk in His ways; and here is the difference between the flower and man. The supreme dignitary, the tremendous and overwhelming majesty of your life and mine is that of our power to choose, to elect, to decide, to will. Consequently, the worship of the soul that can choose and decide and elect and will is profounder, mightier, greater than any other worship could be. It is not in the antiphonal songs of choirs, or in the chanting of music to which we listen, or even in our own singing; it is in taking hold of our individual life, and the putting of it into such relationship with God that it becomes what he means it should be.

I do not worship God by going to China is a missionary. If God wants me to stay at home and do the work of a carpenter. I do not worship God by aspiring to some mighty and heroic thing for him if the capacity he has given me is for doing the quiet thing, and the simple thing, and the hidden thing, and the unknown thing. It would be very foolish for the hummingbird, instead of entering the tulip, to try to beat back the air and combat the eagle. It worships by staying where God puts it. It would be very wicked for the eagle to cultivate a mock modesty and say that it preferred to remain among the tulips when it ought to be soaring sunwards.

So that if I have spoken to you about the fact that God has foreordained works, that we should walk in them, I now remind you that if you worship when you find God’s appointment, and when you walk in the way God has appointed, you realize your own life. Worship consists in the finding of my own life, and the yielding of it wholly to God for the fulfillment of His purpose. That is worship! You say, would you tell us to find our life? Did not Jesus say we must lose it? Yes, “He that findeth life shall lose it,” but he did not finish there: “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it,” not another life, not a new life, not a new order of life, not an angel’s life, for instance, but his own life. The Cross is necessary, restraint is necessary, sacrifice is necessary, self-denial is necessary; but these things are all preliminary, and when Paul describes the Christian life at its fullest, he does not say I am crucified. That is the wicket gate. That is the pathway that leads out. That is the beginning. “I have been crucified with Christ: yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is the son of God.”

Or again, he says, speaking of Christ himself, “It is Christ that died,” but that is not the last thing, nor the final thing, “yea rather, that was raised from the dead.” And so if the cross be absolutely necessary, and it is-your cross, my cross, my individual dying to the ambitions of selfish desire, all that is necessary; but beyond it, life. What life? My life. The new birth is, but the passing into the possibility of the first birth, the new creation is but the finding of the meaning of, and the fulfillment of the purposes of the first creation. “Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Discover His law. Answer His law. Walk in the way of His appointing. Let Him who made you lead out all the facts of your life to the fulfillment of His purpose, and then your whole life is worship.

Then, brethren, you will see that worship does not begin when you come here [to church]. This is a very valuable part of worship, but it is secondary worship, symbolic worship. This is the day in which we cease the worship that perfectly glorifies him in order that in song in praise and prayer. We may remind ourselves of the perpetual and unending truth that life lived within His will, and according to His law, the life of holiness is the beauty that glorifies God. This service is but a pause in which, in word and attitude we give expression to life’s inner song. And if there be no such inner song, there is no worship here. Worship is the perpetual poetry of divine power and divine love expressed in human life.

Angels worship not merely when veiling their faces, they sing of His holiness, but when ceasing their singing at His bidding. They fly to catch the live coal from the altar and touch the lips of a penitent soul who sighs. It is true “they also serve who only stand and wait.” But it is equally true that they also worship who serve, and serve perpetually. And it is in the service of a life, not specific acts done as apart from the life, not because I teach in the Sabbath school, or preach here, that I worship. I may preach here today, and never worship, but because my life is found in His law, he is answering His call, responsive to His provision and arrangement, so almost, without knowing it, my life is become a song, appraise, and anthem. So I worship! I join the Angels, and all nature, in worship when I become what God intends I should be and in the blossoming of His ideal. We sing the song of His greatness in His love.


Give a Kid a Christmas

Christmas in Kenya is not a time for toys and decorations, especially in 2020 as people are struggling just to eat. The custom WEMAChildis for the children to receive new shoes, a set of clothes, and a Christmas meal. For only $25, you can make that happen and thus give a kid his or her Christmas this year. We have 100 orphans whom God has entrusted to our care and your gift will give them a Christmas blessing that will last long after Christmas—except for the holiday meal. Is $25 (or more) too much to ask to help a kid, an orphan kid, have a Christmas?

COVID-19 has ravaged Kenya and our partners. God has been faithful to provide for them and every penny I have received in 2020 on their behalf has been sent over immediately. Now they are facing a Christmas like never before. Your gift will tell them you care and, more importantly, that God cares and is mindful of their plight. You will also be fulfilling the definition of religion as described by James, the brother of Jesus: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

You can give online or mail your check payable to PurposeQuest International, P.O. Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA, 15221-0882. PQI is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization and your contribution is tax-deductible. You can also give through my mobile app, the Cash App, PayPal, Venmo, or Zelle. Please give as soon as you can so I can assemble and send the funds prior to Christmas. Then their caregivers will know what they can do for the children. I want to wish you and yours a happy holiday season. As you get ready to enjoy Christmas hopefully with some family and friends, please consider sharing some of what you have with the Kenyan orphans with whom we work. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and I pray God’s blessings on you as you give a kid a Christmas in 2020. Stay safe and well.


Dr. Stanko Academy

At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt the Lord whisper to me, “This is a good time to raise money.” I StankoAcademythought maybe I had heard wrong, but at the same time, I knew the Lord was directing my attention to the needs of the Dr. Stanko Academy in Nairobi, Kenya.

SOME HISTORY

A few years ago, my partner Pastor Francis wrote to inform me that the school he had founded was no more. The landlord, in an effort to reclaim the land where the school was, had enlisted the help of the local police who at midnight raided the compound and destroyed the school. Pastor Francis was devastated, just like the school, not sure if he could continue or rebuild.

I put the word out and we raised some money enabling him to relocate and build a new school. As God would have it, the new version is superior to the old one (although much smaller) and as a token of his appreciation, he and the staff renamed the new school the Dr. Stanko Academy with the byline “Sweat for Success.”

JSFrontStankoAcademyOver the years, I have supported five of the teachers there and visited whenever I was in Kenya. Last year, Pastor Francis informed me that their lease expires in June 2021 and it would soon be time to move. Oh, I neglected to mention that Pastor Francis also has an orphanage and the children attend the Dr. Stanko Academy. When we raised money for new beds for the orphans last year, they placed the beds in the Academy classrooms, which now double as school room and dormitory—not an ideal situation when children are sleeping inches away from a metal roof on the equator.

Thus, when they move next year, we will need to find a place for the orphans and a school.

A GOOD TIME TO RAISE MONEY

Based on their need as well as God’s promise, I am therefore starting a campaign to raise $50,000 for StankoAcademySignthe Stanko Academy by January 31, 2021. This money will have to include the land purchase, the school, and an orphanage to house the children. I am not sure we will have enough for furnishings or equipment, but this is the amount on my heart.

The good news is that, as I write, I have received $27,000 toward the goal and I haven’t even made the formal announcement—people contacted me to give. That represents more 40% of the need—thank You, Lord. I have shared this project with a few ministry partners here in the U.S. who are “all in” and will contribute toward the project as well.

UpakoClassroomPerhaps you would like to make a special gift in memory of a loved one, in which case we would certainly be glad to designate a classroom, the library, or the orphanage with the name of those you wish to honor. Or maybe you simply wish to make a special thanksgiving offering to the Lord in light of His faithfulness to you and yours through this recent ordeal?

Also, this campaign needs to be separate from any of my other commitments to my partners in Kenya, so please keep in mind that this is a special one-time campaign. There is still a serious crisis in Kenya, and I need to continue to send monthly support so they can buy food and other necessities—and I need your ongoing help to do that.

Of course, any contribution toward the building fund is tax-deductible. You can give through my PurposeQuest International UpakoLittlesAssemblymobile app, the Cash App ($stankojohn), Paypal, my website, or by sending a check marked “Dr. Stanko Academy” to PurposeQuest International, PO Box 8882, Pittsburgh, PA 15221-0882. 

I have placed this project in God’s hands and will trust Him for the outcome. I am encouraged by what I already have, and know the total amount is well within God’s ability to provide. Please pray for the project that we will find land and be able to build something adequate with the money we raise. And of course, please pray for the orphans and children who are suffering during this worldwide crisis.


Spiritually Amish

I am in the final edits of my next book Changing the Way We Do Church, which is a second edition of a book I first wrote in 2009. In this second edition, I include an entire section on the role of social media Screen Shot 2020-08-16 at 10.17.02 AM
and technology. I ran across this excerpt from chapter 15 as I was editing and thought I would share it with you. The book should be released in about two weeks. I realize that those who probably need to read this excerpt cannot because they do not utilize social media, but I thought I would still send it along to those who do.

*****

One of the statements I made in a magazine article I wrote in 1979 was the following: “In this age of highly technological media bombardment and of intense competition for the attention of people, Christians face a formidable, yet crucial task, both of hearing what God says and effectively communicating it to one another and to the world.” We had no idea in 1979 what “media bombardment” was when we compare communication then to what it is today. We had no Internet in 1979, no social media, no cell phones, no cable TV, no email. There were only a few channels available on our television. Because of today’s ever-present technology, some church folk and entire churches have opted out of the onslaught, choosing instead to barricade themselves behind a technological barrier and ignore the noise of the attack.

I liken it to the example of my dear grandmother who came to the United States as a young woman to marry my grandfather in the early 1900s. She taught herself to read English, gave birth to 13 children, and woke up every morning to fire up the coal stove so she could cook for her brood. Later in life, two of her bachelor sons served 20 years in the military and came home after they retired to live in the house in which they were raised, making renovations that included installing a landline phone. Before that phone, if we needed to get in touch with my grandmother, we called her next-door neighbor who would go and fetch my grandmother, who would then walk from her home, stepping over the stream that came from the outhouse toilet, and walk about 25 yards to the neighbor’s house.

The image I have of believers who have checked out of the social media culture is of my grandmother who made do with what someone else had in order to stay in touch. She was cute and old fashioned, but out of touch. In fact, if we search for an example of people who are out of touch with cultural communication norms, we have only to look a few hours from where I live to find the Amish, who have rejected all technology, including vehicles, electricity, and other modern advancements.

The Amish are cultural freaks and people travel from far and wide to see them, buy food from their farm stands, and learn of and marvel at their out-of-touch ways. Yet no one wants to become an Amish. No child comes home to say, “Mom and Dad, I have decided to convert to Amish-ism so I can wear a straw hat, grow a beard, and be a farmer (or wear a head doily and dress modestly).”

My point is that the Amish are so out of touch with the reality of modern culture that their Christian witness is a private affair with no power to impact the world around them. That is how some churches and Christians will be if they continue to avoid social media and modern culture. Fortunately, the pandemic has awakened the Church and believers to the power of social media, but time will tell if it is a permanent awakening or if we return to our old-fashioned ways when the all clear signal is given.

Let me say before we proceed that I am not insinuating that social media will replace the Church. Face-to-face contact is always the norm for worship and Christian assembly. I am saying, however, that there is much more the church can do to incorporate technology into its ministry work, not as an afterthought but as a vital part. And in a time of crisis like we are currently experiencing, social media is the next best thing to being present with one another.


Contrasting Styles

There are no two leaders in the Bible who provide a greater contrast in leadership styles than the first Screen Shot 2020-08-08 at 7.25.10 PMtwo kings of Israel: Saul and David. I have often said that David learned more about leadership from Saul than he did anyone else: Saul taught him how not to lead. For the most part, David learned his lessons well and today, 3,100 years after he reigned, the nation of Israel still calls itself the people of David. I would say that indicates David did a pretty good job!

I was reflecting once on the differences between Saul and David to identify lessons for my own leadership growth and understanding. Here are some contrasts I found. There are probably more, but these are the ones I discovered.

  1. Leaders raise up other good leaders. Saul had one mighty man (David), while David attracted, developed, and released many mighty men. 
  2. Leaders learn to serve others. Saul never learned to serve anyone; David served others, even Saul when he was pursuing David to kill him.
  3. Leaders must draw on multiple skills to be effective. Saul was one-dimensional (he was a great warrior); David was multi-dimensional (warrior, musician, poet, administrator, prophet). 
  4. Leaders do not rely on their gifts or God's presence alone. Saul was anointed but then did nothing to develop himself. David was anointed but spent the rest of his life developing himself.
  5. Leaders must have courage. Saul was fearful from the time he was anointed, but David learned to recognize and function in the midst of fear.
  6. Leaders have a relationship with God's Word. Saul was never a spiritual man, but David loved God's word and helped write it! Saul's anointing had no roots in God's word; David's did.
  7. Leaders allow suffering to play a role in their development. Saul spent his career trying to avoid or alleviate his suffering, while David learned from his ordeals—and even wrote poems about them.
  8. Leaders seek guidance from others. Saul sought no one's input until when he sought illicit wisdom from a witch at the end of his life. David constantly sought God's face and direction.
  9. Leaders deal with their anger and are self-controlled. Saul ruled and controlled others through temper tantrums and intimidation; David ruled through compassion and love.
  10. Leaders know themselves and how they work best. Saul used a sword and armor to protect himself, and assumed David would do the same. David rejected Sauls armor and used a sling with no body protection to get the job done.
  11. Leaders do not serve themselves. Saul never understood this but David served others even when Saul was seeking to destroy him.

There are more lessons such as David learned from history ("I have killed the bear and lion"), Saul did not. Saul was vindictive, but David was forgiving and gracious. David was a worshiper, but Saul had no such mindset. If you are a leader, go over these lessons and spend some additional time studying to see what you can learn from David's leadership example as well as Saul's—keeping in mind that Saul's lessons are mostly on how not to lead.


Defunding the Church

I am taking a chance borrowing an inflammatory statement summarizing a controversial movement in Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 6.16.36 PMthe U.S. as I write and apply it to the Church. No, I am not suggesting or praying that God will harm the church or cut off her resources in retaliation for perceived or actual shortcomings. I am using this phrase because I think this is what God is doing right now, and it is consistent with how I have seen Him work in my lifetime. I can also come up with a few biblical examples to show that God uses finances to direct His people into new ventures and then restores their "fortunes" when they are properly placed.

I am on record declaring with confidence that God is using this pandemic season to teach the church new things and strip and scrape away some of the cultural baggage and barnacles it has accumulated. I have used the phrase 'addicted to face-to-face ministry' to describe our penchant for public gatherings while ignoring the power of technology and social media—utilizing it reluctantly or as an afterthought, if at all.

Whenever I say this, some well-meaning soul will write me, sometimes in a frenzy, to say the church must meet, that anything else is not the church. They insinuate I am suggesting that technology can replace the church. At no point have I said that technological presentations can replace the church, but I have said it can be the next best thing to being there if we cannot meet. I have also said that we can and should use technology to reach more with the message of the gospel and to disciple others. We should have material relevant to counseling, evangelism, and doctrine online. Every church leader should have a vibrant, relevant presence online. With reduced attendance, I know the finances of many churches have taken a hit and God is using this not to punish the church, but to redirect its efforts. In that sense, God is defunding or getting the church's attention through financial leanness.

 A BIBLICAL EXAMPLE

To give you an example of this phenomenon from the Bible, I am going to use a story that isn't about financial lack, but it is about change that came to the early church that led to new, fruitful ministry. The story is found in Acts 8 and involves the story of Philip the Evangelist:

Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:4-8).

Let's flesh out this story a bit more. Jesus had told the disciples to go to Samaria and the ends of the earth, but no one seemed motivated to go. They were all staying in Jerusalem and its environs where everyone knew everyone else, having daily meetings in the Temple and from house to house. Then Stephen was martyred in Acts 7 and suddenly, the church could not meet as it had. The authorities persecuted believers, and we read how bad it got when we learn the ends to which Saul later to become Paul was willing to go to pursue and imprison followers of Christ. I liken this persecution to what the Church is encountering now in that its normal operations had been interrupted by forces beyond its control.

In response to this, Philip and others decided to venture out to Samaria, that land where the hated Samaritans lived. When Philip got there and preached, all heaven broke loose. Signs and wonders flowed and the residents "all paid close attention"—every preacher's dream! This is similar to what some are doing today. When the church cannot meet, they are venturing out to a technological Samaria and finding good results—no money, but good results. Other churches are not using technology but still finding new ways to deliver ministry, such as increased use of the telephone, mobile apps, drive through prayer lines, food distribution, and house-to-house visits (hopefully practicing social distancing).

Of course, eventually things settled down in Jerusalem for the believers or as much as it was going to as the days before the fall of Judea played out. Yet once Philip went to Samaria, others went there and beyond and eventually Paul and a host of others swarmed all over the Roman world to preach, teach, and establish churches. My sense is that once we start using social media as we should and could, we will have new success in ministry that will open many more doors we cannot even imagine or think about today.

Let's keep in mind that the Church belongs to Jesus. He bought it with His blood. If He wants us to change the way we "do" ministry, then it's our job to make the changes—not resist them in a theological frenzy of end-time paranoia. If you still aren't convinced, then all I ask is that you at least listen and learn from those who are embracing new methods of ministry that will produce different results than those to which you have become accustomed. If you are convinced that God is defunding only to redirect our efforts, then I encourage you to keep on keeping on. You are a pioneer for the Lord and one day you will share what you've learned with a grateful church that made the jump to new ministry modes that will enhance our public gatherings when the all clear signal is given.


Your Starting Points

I heard someone say once that humans are rational beings who do irrational things. After 45 years as a pastor and hearing people tell me all kinds of strange behavior (and seeing some of it firsthand), I am Screen Shot 2020-07-24 at 4.03.35 PMinclined to agree with that statement. I have reflected on it often, and would like to share some conclusions with you this week—and continue our discussion next week.

IRRATIONALITY

Our irrationality manifests mostly with where we begin in our thought process, not with the process itself. In this short space, I think it best to give you an example and go from there. In Mark 3:1-5, we read

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

How often have you said, "Lord, if I had a sign to confirm Your will, I would know and obey!" In this story, the Pharisees witnessed a magnificent and startling sign: A man's withered hand was un-withered right before their very eyes. What was their response? We read in Mark 3:6: "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus."

They saw Jesus perform a miracle and what was their response? They determined He had to die! That's irrational, but the problem was not in their conclusion but in their starting point. They assumed they knew all there was to know about the Sabbath and further believed it was their job to protect that day from violators on God's behalf. When they saw the miracle, they evaluated it from an irrational starting point. You might even say they had a stronghold in their mind for the thought that no creature could do what Jesus did on the Sabbath and get it away with it had a strong hold on their mind. From then on, they acted perfectly rational, for if they were correct (which of course, they were not), then the rational thing to do was punish Jesus for His offense.

STARTING POINT EXAMPLES

What's my point? The point is that you have starting points and they impact how you rationally carry out your life and ministry. Here are some examples:

Starting point: "The earth is flat." Result: Early explorers refused to go so far and no farther, otherwise they would eventually fall off the end of the earth.

Starting point: I don't have time to write a book." Result: You don't even try. Truth: You have all the time in the world (24 hours every day) but are probably using the lack of time as a front for your fear.

Starting point: "I don't have money to give." Result: You don't give, God doesn't bless you, so you have less to give. Truth: Even a small "widow's mite" can have an affect on God and the situation into which you are giving.

Where are you rationally living in a pattern that began with an irrational, incomplete, or flawed starting point? The only way to find out is to continually challenge your thinking where starting points are concerned. You don't have time to write a book? How is it then that I have written as many as i have?. You don't have money to give? How is it that you have $200 for cable television service or $75 to have your nails done or $89 for the latest doo-dad you need for your hobby? Because you have never challenged your "need" for so much television or the fact that your hobby or beauty needs are expensive and out of control, you don't give. You are correct (rationally) that you don't have money to give—because you are wasting it on something to satisfy your own desires. Your starting point is "I need this" or "I deserve this," and thus you follow through rationally on your flawed premise.

This week, challenge some of your starting points and check them out to see if they are passing as rational and consistent with the values you espouse. If they aren't, then if you change your "starting point," you can change your life! Next week, we will examine how to change your starting points. Until then, have a blessed week.