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July 2006

N. T. Wright

I don't think I've done any book reviews this year.  While I am behind on my reading goals for the year (25 books finished so far), I have read some good ones and some not so good.  This year, however, I have discovered a real gem in N. T. Wright and I have read two of his books so far, with one more sitting on my desk.

Wright is the Bishop of Durham, England and is the author of 30 book.  He has taught New Testament studies for 20 years at Cambridge, McGill and Oxford Universities.  I am currently re-reading the book I want to review for you and that is Wright's latest book entitled Paul: In Fresh Perspective.  I chose this book since I will be leading a cruise retracing the steps of Paul this coming October and I am already preparing for my times of teaching onboard.

Wright does indeed give what he promised:  a fresh perspective on Paul and his teaching.  He points out that there already was a gospel in Paul's day and the supposed good news was that Caesar was Lord.  Of course Paul presented his case that Jesus is Lord based on the power of a resurrected life.  Paul also redefined the people of God, retelling the Abraham, exodus, exile and restoration stories in light of the work of the cross.  And finally, Wright describes the impact of Jesus and the gospel on the kingdom of God, something that every God Jew longed to see restored. At one point, I was so moved by Wright's clarity and insight into the church as the people of God that I wanted to jump up and run around the room! 

This book only made me appreciate Paul all the more, understanding still further how far he broke away from Judaism while still drawing from it for his teaching and work.  Paul saw himself as a prophet in the tradition of those mentioned in the Old Testament and he delivered his message to the Roman world and Jewish community with courage and clarity.

If you're looking for a good book on Paul, look no further.  You can click on the title above and order your own copy.  This is a book I highly recommend.

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I'm Home!

I made it home.  The trip was fairly uneventful, which is the best kind to have.  The biggest delay was from Detroit to PIttsburgh, the shortest and what should have been the least complicated leg of my journey.  It wasn't.  But I made it safely, my bags arrived with me and my wife was there to greet me at the airport.  In Detroit, I made good on one vow and ate two hot dogs in a restaurant there.  They were excellent!

I got a surprise upgrade to business class from Amsterdam to Detroit and had the exit row aisle seat from Johannesburg that gave me lots of leg room so I could sleep.  The business class was nice--seats that recline into a bed, great food, and constant attention and service.  I took the opportunity to read and to do this week's Bible study; I wanted to be a good steward of the upgrade gift that God gave me.

I woke up this morning at 4 am, which is standard practice until I get adjusted to the time here.  Today I will work to unpack and open mail.  Then I have a number of things to do if I am going to take some time off this weekend leading up to the Fourth of July.  I know I've been posting a lot of travel entries lately, and I guess that's because I was traveling so much.  But now that I'm home, I promise to resume more teaching.

At any rate, it's good to be home.  As I reflect on my journies since April, I am grateful to God, my family and my African friends for their support.  And now I plan on enjoying some of our summer weather before I depart for Africa again on August 22.

The End of The Road

I have been away from home since April 23, but the end of the road is in sight.  Since then, I slept in 12 different hotels, flew 30,000 miles, visited five countries and spent two nights on a plane.  I survived a computer crash, the loss of my camera, a stomach virus and a blister beetle walking up my leg (where it touches the skin, it leaves a blister--accurately named, don't you think?). 

I profiled more than 100 people, met with many more in one-on-one sessions and spoke about 50 times to crowds both large and small.  I spent 1,000 hours in church (all right, it just seems like 1,000 hours) and did three radio interviews (I confess that sometimes I would rather do radio than church).  I think I can safely say, without fear of criticism, that it was a productive trip, both spiritually and practically.

I just finished my last appointment and I am in the Johannesburg airport waiting for a flight to Amsterdam that leaves at midnight.  When I finished that appointment with a PurposePartner earlier this evening, I had a tremendous sense of fulfillment and relief.  I feel like I did what I was supposed to do during this trip and I am so glad to be going home.

Speaking of going home, I have plans for the next two months while I am in the States.  The first thing I will do is eat a hot dog in the Detroit airport.  Then I will kiss my wife and look at her for a while.  After that, I will visit my 89-year-old mother and take the long weekend off to celebrate our nation's Fourth of July holiday next Tuesday. 

I hope to take in a baseball game in person and somehow keep up with the World Cup soccer scores from Germany (I think Germany will win, by the way).  I plan on attending the Christian Booksellers Convention in Denver on July 11 and 12 and will travel for business to Virginia, Dallas, New Jersey, Seattle and West Palm Beach before I return to Johannesburg on August 23.   

Thanks for your prayers that helped sustain me during my trip.  Thanks also if you contributed toward my support while I was away.  If you haven't contributed lately, now would be a good time to do so that I can take some time off without financial concerns.  You can make a contribution on my website.

Most importantly, I thank God for His protection and grace during the last two months.  Since April 23, I have sensed the truth of the verse that says, "For in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  I have felt God's help and presence every step of the way, and I am grateful.  So it's time to sign off.  When I write you next, it will be from my home in Pennsylvania.  All I can say as I return home is "God bless America!"

Warm Feet

I was away from Harare for the last few days on retreat at a local lodge called Chigenta.  It was a nice place, but everything was open air, including the meeting and sleeping rooms.  This may not seem to be a big deal, but it is winter here in the southern hemishere and the temperatures are cool.  To keep warm, we had a fire lit in our meeting room.  At sunset, we went out on a game drive to see some animals and that turned out to be a mistake.  When the sun went down, it took what little warmth there was with it and we froze our toes off as we returned to the lodge.

In the evening we had a fire in the large public sitting room, where I grabbed a chair and pulled up rignt next to the fire as I worked on my weekly Bible studies.  There was no fire in the dining room, but eating raised our body temperature so it wasn't so bad.  The dilemma was that our sleeping rooms had a screen over the window opening, and that was all!  There was a cover over the opening, but the cool air was pretty much free to come and go at will. 

As I got ready for bed, I put on everything I had that was long sleeved to keep me warm.  As I got into bed, I noticed a lump in the bed that I assumed was an extra blanket, but I was wrong.  It was a hot water bottle!  I can't remember if I ever slept with a hot water bottle before, but I can tell you, I thank God for this one.  I rubbed and caressed it with my feet all night and it brought me great joy and satisfaction.   I couldn't believe that it was still warm when I got up the next morning. 

There was only one other problem during the night.  The lions nearby roared all night, leaving me no choice but to get up and put in my earplugs.  Such is life in the African bush and I'm not complaining.  But I won't be in hurry to spend any more African winter nights in an open air camp.

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It's Been Five Days

I haven't posted anything on this site for five days!  That is my longest absence since I began writing  last October.  Believe me, I miss it when I don't write.  I get cranky (well, crankier is a more accurate description) and feel like I am out of sync when I don't create.  When I was in Nairobi, the Internet was down in my hotel for two days.  Then we got so busy with the choir tour that there was simply no time to write.  So I'm back, and I hope you missed me.  If not, please don't tell me.  Pretend you did.

I am back in Harare to wrap up this trip, which began on April 23.  I have been in Africa since May 2 and it is time to go home!  I miss my wife and I miss wireless network connections--how's that for a combination?  Of course I miss my wife infinitely more than the fast connection speeds.

People often ask me, "What do you do in Africa so often?"  I tell them, "I speak, consult and talk to people and groups about purpose."  I don't come to Africa only to do things, however.  I come because I receive so much when I do.  The attitude among many is that we must come to Africa because the Africans are so needy.  Now there is great need here, but the spirituality of the people is the most intense and authentic I have encountered anywhere in the world.  Many have been educated abroad and most are usually bilingual if not multilingual.  So it's not like I am living in a hut using sign language to communicate with scantily-clad natives. 

I never leave Africa without having my return trip scheduled.  Otherwise, I can return home, get consumed in life there and forget about my role and commitments here.  So true to form, I will be back in South Africa on August 24 and then be back here in Zimbabwe around August 28.  Then I am escorting a group to Israel from September 3-13 and will be back in Zimbabwe until the end of September.  I must be home by then for Mother Stanko turns 90 years of age on September 30 and we are having a family celebration. 

Before I return home next week, I have many things yet to do and a lot of writing to catch up on. I already feel better, however, having written this entry.  I hope you feel better that you are reading something from me once again.  If you don't, please don't tell me.  Just pretend that you are glad.

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"We Did It Ourselves!"

Yesterday was the first day of the Tambira Nairobi 2006 tour featuring the Celebration Choir from Zimbabwe.  It is my privilege to be here in Nairobi to help with the logistics, but the team is doing well on their own.  The song Tambira (which means to rejoice and dance in Shona) is a smash hit here, and the crowd last night yelled and screamed for the choir to sing it.  But the organizers asked that the choir wait until the concerts on the weekend to perform it.

I am elated at the impact that the purpose message has had here in Kenya.  Everywhere I go, people acknowledge my role in bringing the purpose message here.  On Sunday I will be speaking at Nairobi Pentecostal Church Woodley in the second service and I suppose I'll speak on purpose unless God directs me to do something else. 

I thought I would be here until next Wednesday, but I have been summoned back to Harare a few days earlier.  We have  much to do before I depart on Sunday, June 25, so I will leave the team here and return to Zimbabwe.  I know they will be fine without me.

I have been reflecting on the Chinese proverb that says, "When the leader leads well, the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'"  Wherever I go, I go without title, power or authority.  Yet I use (or try to use) my influence to make a difference and lead the people where the purpose message can take them.  I feel like I am supposed to model a different kind of leadership than has been exhibited in the Church up to this point in time.  What's more, I feel like I am to show that this style of leadership can work as effectively as the more authoritarian style that is so prevalent and popular. 

I am homesick, but there is much to do before I return home.  Once I am home, I have a full schedule for July and August before I return to Africa in late August.  So it's time for me to lead on, but in a manner that has no position or power.  And as I do, I hope that many will say, "We did it ourselves."  If they do, I will feel like I've done my job and done it well.

It Never Gets Old

My son and I got back yesterday from our trip to the Masai Mara region of Kenya.  What a great trip we had!  We saw some amazing things that we will never forget.  The zebra are migrating earlier than usual this year to the Mara from the Serengetti in Tanzania to eat the tall Mara grass.  But there is a price for them to reach those grasslands, for they must cross the croc-infested Mara River to eat.  We saw two zebras snatched by crocodiles, who then devoured their beautifully-striped bodies right in the river.  I will never forget those 18 crocs as they gorged themselves on zebra meat.  That wasn't even the most fascinating site.

The next day we drove quite a distance to hopefully see some cheetah.  We were rewarded when we saw a cheetah mother and her five cubs.  What's more, as we arrived, the mother was positioning herself to rush an impala.  My son caught the whole scene on video.  What grace, what speed, what dexterity, what failure!  The impala outran the cheetah, and she had to return empty-handed to her hungry brood.  I saw her collapse from fatigue under a tree as the cubs looked for a breakfast that never came. 

My son's video looks like something off a National Geographic documentary, but I don't need to see that video to remember what I saw.  I will never forget it.  I have been to the Mara region three times now, and have also been to Kruger Park in South Africa on numerous occasions.  I've seen so much, but it never gets old.  If you've thought, "I'd like to do that one day," my response to you is, "Do it!"  No excuses, just make plans, spend the money and go see things that will stay with you the rest of your life.  And if you can, take a loved one or friend with you to savor the moment. 

The World Cup

The world's most watched sporting event got under way the other day.  The World Cup is under way in Germany and people all over the world are glued to their television to watch 32 countries vie for the title of best in the world. 

I was in Europe in 2002 when Brazil won the Cup, so I've had some experience with how rabid the fans are.  As I write, I have the England versus Paraguay match on the television.  The United States doesn't play until Monday.  I understand they have a pretty good team this year, but no one ever expects the Americans to do much in soccer.  Perhaps this will be the year when that changes. 

There are four African teams in the Cup and there is great interest here in Kenya with how those teams do.  It would be great to have an African team win it all while I am here--although the finals take place in July after I depart for home. 

I am being a good citizen of the world by watching and initiating conversation with others about what they think and who their favorite team is.  But just between you and me, I'm dreaming about going home and watching a baseball game as soon as I return. 

In Kenya One More Time

I am in Nairobi once again until June 21.  I will be moving around this time, with trips planned to Mombassa, the Masai Mara, and Nakuru.  On Sunday I will speak at the youth services for the International Christian Church, where I will talk on Never Too Young For Purpose.  I'll let you know how it goes.  As I wrote in a previous post, I find I am talking to more and more youth groups, which is fine with me.

Yesterday I had a one-on-one PurposeAssessment with a woman who was a creative person trapped in an accounting profession!  By the end of the 90 minutes, she was a changed woman!  I know from experience that she will never be the same after her session.  She will think, interpret her past, and plan her future differently than before we met. And I think her accounting days are over.

I can still remember when a man met with me 13 years ago to discuss my strengths and weaknesses, using a battery of profiles to gather his information.  .  I was a pastor and miserable.  I had a job offer that I really wanted to take, but couldn't see how I could walk away from pastoring.  My session with him showed me why I was so unhappy as a pastor and also why I was perfectly suited for the position I was being offered.  After that session I resigned the pastorate and have never looked back.  The last 13 years have been more productive and fulfilling than I ever thought possible.  I vowed after my meeting that I wanted to help as many others as I could be free to be who they were as well.  I think I have been true to my vow.

I had a friend observe my session yesterday.  Afterwards she said, "I'll bet you never get tired of this."  She's right.  I love seeing people freed to be who they are. I pray God will give me many more years and changes to do just that, maybe even with you.

All The Time In The World

I feel like I'm too busy.  I'm not behind on any of my work, but I don't feel like I have had enough time to think lately.  And when that happens, I am not working to define what I should and should not be doing.  I just seem to go with the flow of the day with a gnawing suspicion that I am missing the new things, the creative things that I would like to do, that I need to do.

For instance, I write almost every day as I compose my weekly Bible studies and post to this site.  I answer a number of emails and write articles for magazines.  But it's been two years since I've published another book.  Why?  I haven't taken the time to write.

Notice I didn't say I didn't have the time.  I have all the time there is in the world every day--24 hours to be exact.  I have those hours, but I am devoting those hours to other activities. To write I will have to stop doing something else.  It is sometimes a hard decision to decide what it is that I should stop doing and what it is that I should do instead.

You have as much time as I do, the same 24 hours every day.  What are you doing with them?  Are you happy with your productivity at this point in your life?  If not, the answer isn't to try and add more activities, that is unless you have hours every day that you don't know how to spend.  The answer is to take a hard, objective look at where your time is going now to see where you can reclaim some of it for those things you really want to do.

Maybe you should consider a time log for the next week or two.  Don't keep a minute by minute account, but keep some general log of what you do and how long you spend doing it.  One year I did a time log and discovered that I spent 14 hours that week watching late-night television.  Confronted with that fact, I made some changes to make better use of that time that I was wasting on useless, mindless activity. 

I know you are busy, but is there any time that you can reclaim or reinvest?  I'm sure there is.  Once you discover where it is, then have the courage to redirect it to something more meaningful for you.  If you don't do that, then you will always feel like you are victim, never having enough time.  After today, you know that you have all the time there is.