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December 2005
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February 2006

Cricket Anyone?

In June, 1994, I faced a big problem.  I was in Australia for the first time, on tour with the Integrity Music team.  I began to channel flip, hoping to find some sports to watch.  I did find some sports, but it wasn't anything with which I was familiar.  They had cricket, football (what we call soccer) and Australian football, which is a brutal combination of elements from rugby and American football.  So I thought to myself, "John, you've got two choices here.  You can either switch off the tv and not watch sports other than those offered in the U.S., or you an expand your repertoire of sporting choices."  I chose the latter and watched cricket.

Now ten years later, I can watch a cricket match and understand most of what's going on.  What's more, I've gone on to watch badminton in Indonesia (they are often the world champs), rugby in South  Africa (I watched the world cup in Singapore year before last), road racing in England and lots of soccer wherever I am.  My family and I were in the UK in 2002 when England played Brazil in the World Cup of soccer and it was quite an experience.  Then we went on to Austria and watched Germany lose to Brazil in the finals.  To say that the fans were rabid would be a massive understatement.

The most unusual "sports" I've watched were a tiddly winks tournament and sheep dog competition, both in the UK.  The sheep dog owners would put their dogs through their paces on a preset course, be timed and then evaluated on how well their dog obeyed and responded. Pretty strange.

Most would not consider professional wrestling a sport, but I do, and I see it all over the world.  I think pro wrestling is bizarre, but brilliantly planned and executed.  Everyone knows it's fixed, yet millions watch.  Why?  My wife says because it's like a male soap opera.  Maybe she's right.

Before we end this session, I have to confess that I have a favorite team in the British football league. At the risk of alienating my UK and African friends, I am a Manchester United fan.  I have to admit, though, that I love watching Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool any time they are on the air.  The quality of play is just exceptional.

I'm glad I made the decision to expand my sporting interests, because it has helped me connect with audiences wherever I go.  And my interest in wrestling has opened many doors to the younger male audience members, who think I'm cool because I know who Triple H and Randy "Macho Man" Savage are.  So what about you?  Are you expanding your boundaries, being exposed to and learning new things?  I hope so, for if you want to live an interesting life, write or speak about interesting things, then you must do interesting things.  So, cricket anyone?

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Go On Through

Every time I come to Africa, I bring the maximum alloted weight for my luggage.  Then I stop in Johannesburg for a day or two.  When I resume my itinerary, the airlines always charge me extra for excess weight.  I have fussed and argued with them, stating my case that they allowed me to bring it in at no extra charge.  Why would they then charge me extra to take it to my final destination?  The last time the man looked at me and handed me a sheet with a number for consumer complaints.  I called and the number wasn't working.

So yesterday as I prepared for my trip to Harare, I decided that it wasn't worth the aggravation.  They were going to charge me, I am doing God's work, it's not my money but His, so I refused to even think about it.  I got to the airport in plenty of time to check in, pay my excess and try to get the seat I wanted.  When I put the luggage on the scale, the woman asked me where I was traveling from.  When I said, "The States," she said, "Go on through."  She waived the extra fee!

This is a great example of the issues of trust and faith that I have been dealing with the last few years.  How often I have been in a similar situation, fretting and worrying over the outcome.  Then I have seen God intervene and I found that all my fretting was for nothing.  It was a waste of energy and time.  What's more, it evidenced my lack of faith in God's ability to take care of me and the things that pertain to my work.  I know the truth of Psalm 138:8a in the New American Standard translation, but don't always walk it out:  "The Lord will accomplish what concerns me."

Does this mean I will never be charged excess weight fees again?  I hope so, but I doubt it. What it does mean, however, is that when I am, God is in control and there's no need for me to get uptight.  So here I am in Harare, I have unpacked all my stuff, and I'm ready for a busy four-week stay.  Hopefully, I will be able to apply the faith lesson with which my trip began when the woman said, "Go on through." 

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Reviews of Not-So-Good Books

I finished two more books, which means that I am a little behind for the month.  I should be able to catch up, however, when I get to Zimbabwe.  In the meantime, let me tell you about the latest two.

1. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  Once a year, I read fiction.  This year I chose a book that a friend recommended to me, saying it was the best she had ever read.  Well, it wasn't a copy, it was more like a dictionary with almost 1,000 pages.  It was a pretty good story of a man who had a dream to build a cathedral in the Middle Ages.  Then the story became more like a soap opera as we watched how that dream impacted him, his children and grandchildren.  To my surprise, the book had a few "racy" chapters; I guess we in the 21st century didn't invent sex or its misuse.  At any rate, I am ready to return to nonfiction. 

2.  The Purpose Leadership Series.  I bought this 15-cd series in a secular bookstore, but it featured many well-known Christian speakers.  The series was billed as a purpose series, but from that perspective was a total rip off!  Only one of the cds talked about purpose at all.  The rest focused on forgiveness, Scripture memorization, and evangelism.  Many mentioned purpose in their messages, but only one cd gave any practical tips of how to clarify purpose.  As a man who teaches purpose, it became clear that the producers were trying to cash in on the purpose craze, but had no idea what they were doing.  I won't even provide the link for you to view it, for I wouldn't want anyone else to waste their time like I did on listening.  Whoever produced this series (and I didn't recognize the company), shame on you!  And whoever allowed their messages to be packaged in such a misleading project, double shame on you!

I have a lot of books with me on this trip and hopefully will have a chance to bring you some better reviews in the coming weeks.  Until then, write with your own reading projects and let us know how they went. I hope they went better than my last two!

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Only One

Paul made a stunning declaration in his letter to the Philippians:  "I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon. . . I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.  For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:19-20 emphasis added).

What is so remarkable about that statement?  Consider all the men with whom Paul was associated--Luke, Barnabas, Silas, Titus and others.  Yet he said Timothy was the only one who was able to put self interest aside to embrace the interest of others. 

So if Paul only saw or had one Timothy, how many will you and I ever hope to work with?  Years ago, however, I concluded that this really wasn't the right question or issue.  The issue was whether I could become someone like Timothy in the lives of others. 

When I first set a goal to be a Timothy, it was a selfish wish.  I wanted to be connected to a "somebody" like Paul who could promote me and make me important through his importance.  Today I want to be a Timothy that is able to put my own interests aside in service to others.  If I was going to do this, I further realized that I would have to die to my own interests.  They could not exist side-by-side with the interests of others whom I was serving. 

Servant leadership requires that we pursue the same end that Timothy seemed to attain:  serving the highest priority needs of others.  May God grant you (and me) the ability to die to our interests so that we may have a genuine interest in the needs of others.

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Final Blind Spots

It occured to me this morning that I didn't post my final installment of my thoughts on blind spots.  If you remember, I pointed out how often God opened the eyes of people in the Bible to see what was already right in front of them.  God gave them perspective and that is what we desperately need in many areas of our lives.  I wrote that God must open our eyes to see ourselves, our circumstances and God Himself as they all truly are, not as we wish them to be.  This isn't all negative, for God must open our eyes to our strengths and purpose as well as our faults hidden behind our blind spots.

The final area where we have a blind spot is concerning the word of God.  How often has this happened to you?  You read a passage that you have read many times and suddenly you "see" something that you have never seen before.  Or you hear a message preached about a passage and you gain new insight into familiar words.

The psalmist wrote, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things from your law."  I pray that simple prayer regularly.  I pray that God will protect me from weird doctrines and inconsequential insights that may seem "deep" but in reality are worthless to help anyone in their daily walk.  One of the reasons I started my weekly online Bible studies is that I had a goal to write a devotional commentary for every book in the New Testament.  To date, I have finished 13 books along with a commentary on every verse on faith in the New Testament called The Faith Files.

I was just listening to a nationally-known Bible teacher yesterday and he stated that the nets that Peter let down to fish at Jesus' command represent our gifts and talents.  What?  Huh?  Did I miss something here?  I could hear the listeners ooooh and ahhhh at the man's insight, but it was nothing but a figment of his imagination.  He should have said, "That is like what we must do--use our gifts and talents at God's direction."  To say that the nets represented talents to Jesus and Peter is absurd.

I don't judge the teacher too harshly, for I have done the same thing.  That is why I need God to open my eyes where His word is concerned.  I need to see what is before me, but I need to see it from God's perspective and not what I want or need the verse or passage to say.

So there you have it--the final blind spot.  May the Lord open your eyes to see wonderful things in HIs word and may you walk in the enlightenment of eyes that are constantly being opened by God Himself. 

Too Many Beds

I am home for one night, having just finished a 17-day, six-city tour.  During that time, I slept in 11 different beds.  By the time I get to Zimbabwe this coming Monday, I will have slept in 15 places in 21 nights. Last year, I spent 22 nights on a plane and have learned to sleep almost anywhere.  I take some comfort from what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:26:  "I have been constantly on the move."

The amazing thing about my travels is the grace of God that goes with me.  I have logged about 3 million miles since 1989 and I have never lost any luggage.  What's more, I can count on one hand how many times my luggage hasn't arrived wih me!  I can't remember the last time I had a flight cancelled and seldom are my flights even delayed.  Of course, these are all situations over which I have no control, but over which God has absolute control.  Every time I see my luggage coming around on the carousel, I say, "Thank You, Lord!"  I don't take His help and grace for granted.

People ask me regularly if I am afraid when I travel.  To answer, I tell them the story from one of my African trips a few years ago.  I was in the Johannesburg airport when I saw someone I knew.  He expressed his sorrow at what had just happened back home in Pittsburgh where I live.  I hadn't heard of anything so I asked what happened.  He then told me that a gunman went on a shooting spree and killed five people.

When I got home, I found out that the gunman began his spree right across the street from my office.  After he shot his first victim, he walked past my office and down to a fast food restaurant where he proceeded to shoot the man who was my chaplain in college!  So how can I be afraid to travel, when violence can occur in my own country?

My travel philosophy is found in Psalm 31:15:  "My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and those who pursue me."  So it's off to Johannesburg later today.  More beds and adventures await and I am ready for the journey, but only because I know that God goes with me and helps me.

Monday Memo Update

I wasn't able to send The Monday Memo or Bible studies again this week.  After having all my emails go through last week while I was in California, none of them went through this week from Florida.  I guess that the Lord giveth and taketh away again!  I have one reader who wants to help me resolve this issue; I just haven't had time to sit down, call and work through the problems.

I am off to Zimbabwe for four weeks, so I anticipate continuing the blog entries from there, but I doubt if I will be able to send anything else.  I will keep you posted on my travels.

Self Conscious

Over the weekend, I tried a new exercise with the people who were present at our retreat. I bought a big box of crayons and had each person take one large sheet of paper from our flip chart.  Then I asked each person to draw a picture of their life at the present time.  Then we took turns over the weekend as each person explained their picture.

When I had to do a similar exercise a few years ago, I panicked!  I thought, "I can't draw.  I won't show this to anyone!  This is silly!"  But I did it and, strange as it may sound, it was a liberating experience.  It set me free from being so self conscious, and it helped me be self aware, to focus on and explain the then current realities in my life.

The results were the same for those at the retreat.  Many said it was their favorite activity of the whole weekend.  One woman pencil sketched hers first and then colored it in.  It took her a few days to finish. 

The point of the exercise is to show what we can do if we aren't so self-conscious but we are more self aware.  We may think, "What's in me is no big deal."  When we pay attention to what's in us, whether it's anger, joy, our favorite color, or our favorite activities, we can then use that to create something.  When we aren't so self-conscious, we can do things without worrying about what someone else will think.  Self-consciousness often leads to fear and paranoia.  Self-awareness often leads to freedom and self-expression.

So maybe you want to do what we did at the retreat.  Take out a big sheet of paper, a box of crayons and go to work, creating the masterpiece that is called your life at this present time.  Then show it to someone and explain to them what's going on.  I think you will see how liberating this can be and just how much you have to work with as you seek to express your creativity and purpose. 

Here We Go Steelers!

Sorry that I haven't written for a few days.  I arrived in Florida last Thursday and went off to a beach resort to lead a retreat.  Then I got back in West Palm Beach on Sunday in time to pick my wife up who has joined me for the remainder of my time here..  After I picked her up, we drove around, listening to the Steeler game on the radio.  Then we went to a local restaurant and they had the game on television.  I ordered some ribs, but watched the game from afar in the restaurant.  I shouldn't have done it.  I ate the ribs bones and all, barely chewing any of my food.  In fact, I really don't even remember eating at all.  Our waittress was from, you guessed it, Pittsburgh and the women who checked us into our hotel was also from Pittsburgh.

So now it's on to the Super Bowl for the Steelers, but on to Africa for me.  I depart for South Africa this Friday and then go on to Zimbabwe, where I will be for Super Bowl Sunday.  My friends there assure me that we will be able to watch the game, which will come on at about 1:30 am Zimbabwe time.  So as a loyal member of the Steeler nation, I will take my Ben Roethlisberger jersey and Terrible Towel to Zimbabwe, where the residents will have to learn how to cheer, "Here we go, Steelers, here we go!"

It's Hard to Listen

I went into national chain bookstore recently and there it was--a 14-cd series on purpose.  What's more, it was a collection of messages from Christian speakers.  The series cost almost $50, but I thought it would be a great thing to listen to while I am on the road this trip.

I am now on my 10th cd of the series and it's been hard to listen to.  Why?  The series was obviously an attempt to "cash in" on the recent purpose craze, but most of the speakers reveal the church's cluelessness where purpose is concerned.  So far, I have heard a message on evangelism, prayer, and excellence.  One speaker urged his listeners to "make a difference," and stated that at least 50 times.  His examples included being a "blessing" at work, prayer for society's problems and church commitment.

Only one speaker talked about a purpose statement and another read stories of elderly people who did unusual things, like earning degrees and bunji jumping.  One internationally-known Christian leadership "expert" used his tape to promote his ministry and products.  I have three more cds to listen to and then I can put this cross down and move on to something worthwhile.

It is especially sad for me to listen to this because I know of so much better material where purpose is concerned.  When will church leaders realize that purpose isn't a matter of good preaching, but teaching people to hear and recognize God's purpose for themselves?  When will the church expand its repertoire of service opportunities beyond the choir, ushering and the nursery?  When will leaders step off the pulpit and into the lives of their people to help the people process the will of God for their lives? 

I don't think any of that will happen soon, for the current leadership malaise in the church isn't being helped by the so-called experts who make a ton of money through satellite conferences, while doing little to help those who attend to apply what they hear.  And I want to know who edited this purpose series?  Whoever it was, they were out to lunch where purpose was concerned.

I am more committed than ever to produce resources that will help people grapple with purpose issues.  A total change of thinking is required where purpose is concerned and I hope to make some difference in this arena.  In the meantime, I will finish this series and move on to material that has something fresh and relevant to say.