Online Purpose Classes

ANNOUNCING ONLINE FOUR-WEEK PURPOSE CLASSES

TAUGHT BY DR. JOHN STANKO

  1. Held on Saturday mornings from 10 to 11:30 and Wednesday nights from 7 to 8:30, Eastern New IMG_6102 York time. Classes start Saturday, July 25, and Wednesday, July 29, and will go for four weeks. (Picture to the right is from a classroom purpose session. Online classes will have similar content.) I have now added a Sunday class starting July 26 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. New York time (add 5 hours for Nigeria, 6 hours for Zimbabwe, 7 hours for Kenya).
  2. You must be able to access each of the four classes via Zoom.
  3. You will have assigned readings from my book Unlocking the Power of Your Purpose along with videos to watch.
  4. The class will consist of discussing the material and giving you a chance to develop your purpose statement with my help and that of the class.
  5. The tuition is $125 for the course. Send me an email at johnstanko@gmail.com telling me you want to enroll and which session you would like (Saturday, Sunday, or Wednesday) and I will invoice you via PayPal. You can pay in installments if you wish. We can work out payment other than PayPal as you require.
  6. A limited number of scholarships are available. Email me with your request along with your background, where you live, and why you are enrolling at this time. Scholarships will be awarded no later than July 20 and depend on funds donated for this reason.
  7. Tuition also covers the two books we will use in class, which I will send you when you have registered.
  8. In the meantime, download the free PurposeQuest International mobile app and get started watching the class videos.

TIME TO BE ABOUT YOUR PURPOSE SO YOU CAN SAY, 'PUT ME IN, COACH!'


Reclaiming Revelation

I have been asked many times during this pandemic if this is the end, if the return of the Lord is imminent as proved by the signs of the times. Some have referred to the book of Revelation, which Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 7.49.59 PMcertainly seems to describe cataclysmic global events such as we are witnessing now. My answer is always the same, "I don't know if this is the end, but I am closer to my end than I have ever been." The truth is I don't know and no one else does either. All we can do is be faithful to this day and trust the Lord for tomorrow.

Years ago, I wrote a commentary on Revelation called The Revelation Project: A Fresh Look at the Last Book and my perspective flew in the face of most commonly held interpretations. I later turned that book into volume twelve of my Live the Word commentary series, but I thought of the introduction to both of those books this week and want to share it with you here. My purpose is to continue my work to reclaim the last book of the Bible from the zany and bizarre interpretations many hold that cause them to mistakenly examine current affairs under the light of Revelation's message. Here is what I had to say in my introduction.

*****

I suppose it is natural for us to think about the end of time and speculate concerning what will happen leading up to the end and beyond. Due to the popularity of fiction books that focus on the end times, along with the commonly held and taught positions on the meaning of the rapture, the millenium, and the antichrist, people study Revelation, along with Daniel, Ezekiel, and some parts of the gospel accounts, a majority are looking for the beast, the dragon, and the meaning of the number 666, among other things mentioned in Revelation.

Yet as you start this commentary, I am asking you to do something completely counterintuitive. I ask that you suspend any and all preconceived notions you have accumulated about Revelation, just for as long as you read this book. I don’t want you to think as a pre- or post-millenialist. If you tend more to be a preterist, futurist, historicist, or even an idealist (and if you aren't familiar with those four labels, please don't spend much time researching them), I want you to approach this book like you know nothing at all. If you don’t do that, then you will approach my book or a reading of Revelation looking for the familiar, consequently not seeing what else may be there. If you go looking for the antichrist, that is all you will see. If you can go looking for the Christ, you may notice things you have not seen before.

That brings me to my main objective for writing this commentary and that is I want you to read  Revelation, approaching it as a devotional book. My reason for this is that is your approach, at least in part, to the other 65 books of the Bible. You usually read those books asking, “What can I learn from this that will help me in my daily walk? What can I learn about God’s will for my life? What can I learn about the Lord Jesus that will enhance my worship and walk with Him?” 

Once you suspend your preconceived notions of what Revelation is or how you have interpreted it, here are some other guidelines I have set up as you work through the material, just so you know how I am approaching this work:

    1. Revelation is not a book primarily about the future. It is a book about the past. This does not mean that there are no future aspects to Revelation. There most certainly are. Yet the other 65 books of the Bible primarily explain how God has worked among His people, culminating in the work of Christ on the cross. The Old Testament basically tells us that Christ is coming. The New Testament explains the implications for His finished work and Ascension to heaven. Revelation has much to tell us about Christ’s work just like the other books do.
    2. Revelation is a book about Christ, not the Antichrist. Yes, Revelation does depict the work of forces that align themselves against the Lord and His Anointed One, but their actions are shown to be futile in light of God’s superior power and authority. Focusing on the enemies of God has tended to magnify their power and actions. We are never to magnify the enemy, only God.
    3. Revelation had to mean something to the churches that initially received it. The New Testament was written to the Church in all ages, and Revelation is no exception. The gospel of Matthew has meaning for us today, but it also meant something to those for whom it was first writtenthe Jews of the first century. If we can grasp and recapture some of what Revelation could have meant to the early church, then we will have a clearer understanding of what it says to us today. 
    4. Revelation is called the Apocalypse because it is a book that utilizes apocalyptic language and images. The word apocalypse literally means unveiling. It was a genre of literature that was well-known to the early church, but almost a complete mystery to us today. There were specific rules of interpretation for apocalyptic literature then, just like there are for satire and science fiction today. You approach those latter types of literature with certain expectations and rules for interpretation. You must do the same as you read Revelation. Much of Revelation employs graphic and exaggerated symbols and metaphors, intended to give a general “bird’s eye view” of the work of Christ as He rules until all His enemies are His footstool. Those metaphors are not to be taken as literally as some have imagined. When Revelation wants you to know what something represents, it tells you. When it doesn't, be careful not to assign specific meanings that may even make some sense, but are not supported by biblical evidence.
    5. Revelation was not intended to generate fear, but trust and confidence in God. If the other 65 books of the Bible were intended to teach reverence for God and confidence in His ability to protect his people, then why would Revelation be any different? Yet the Bible and Revelation do tell the sinnerthose who are apart from God, those who are in open rebellionto fear. He will not remain silent forever and He will eventually judge His enemies, both in this Age and at the Final Judgment. If anyone should fear when reading Revelation, it is not God’s people but those who do not know Him.

*****

There you have my basic approach to the reading, study, and interpretation of Revelation. It is a book of victory, not of defeat, and I resent just a little those who have made it be something else. It matters what you believe about the end for that will direct how you live. I want to live as one who lives daily in the truth that Jesus has taken on, and will continue to do so, all comers and He is still winner and champion. Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!


The Wise Way

Last week, I discussed innovation and creativity, pointing out that the pandemic caused churches to be creative in their use of technology. I used the example of the synagogue as an example of an innovation that was creatively used in Jewish history, and was wondering what innovations will emerge from this season—or if in our rush to reopen our churches we will abandon ongoing creative use of technology that could lead to something fresh and new in the way churches deliver their "services."

If you have ever heard one of my purpose presentations, you probably heard me start at Acts 6:1-7, Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 4.34.07 PMwhere the apostles chose men to carry the burden of the work among the widows:

In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic 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 and sisters, 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.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.

The people elected these men to serve or minister to the widows in the church, and the Greek word for service here is diakonia, from which we derive our modern church office of or word deacon.

Many churches have taken this passage in Acts 6 and turned it into a model for church governement and service. In some churches, the deacons are the ultimate governing position; in others they are people who serve by doing practical things in the church like building care, women's ministry and the like. The goal of this essay is not to debate which approach to or interpretation of deacons is correct; the goal is to show that any approach to deacons as a church institution misses the point altogether.

The original deacons were not about church government or tradition; they were simply an innovative solution to a new problem.

THE BACKGROUND    

As best we can tell, there was no biblical concept upon which the apostles drew to elect and commission the deacons. Jesus had instructed them to care for the poor. Most widows were poor in the early church if they had no other family to care for them. As the church grew, the number of widows increased from those outside the ranks of the Hebrew residents in Jerusalem. The apostles were being called upon to address this problem that had never before been faced. it is interesting that Luke is careful to point out that the problem was between two ethnic groups, the Hebraic and the Hellenistic believers, which shows us that ethnic tensions are nothing new to the modern church

The apostles addressed this problem creatively and used wisdom to come up with an innovative solution. I don't believe they were instituting a church office in Acts 6, but rather an approach the church should take to problems and challenges that are sure to come up in every generation, whether in or outside the church. The were setting a precedent, not establishing a tradition.

THE IMPLICATIONS

When I reflect on creativity and innovation, I think of the verses in Proverbs 8:22-31 where we learn that wisdom was at God's side when He created the universe:

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,  before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind."

Wisdom is closely related to creativity, which leads to my definition of creativity: the wise application of knowledge to existing problems or opportunities in such a way that something new and innovative emerges.

In Acts 6, the problem was the widow care. The biblical precedent that existed was the instance when Moses selected helpers (or something akin to deacons) because he was overwhelmed; later, elections were also common in Israel to elect synagogue leaders. So the apostles applied existing knowledge (getting leaders help and holding elections for those helpers) in a new way—a wise way—to address a current problem and the result was creativity: a group of men who we label deacons today.

What's my point? The church should be the bastion and vanguard of creativity. We have the Creative Spirit of God in our midst. We should not be looking to solve new problems with the solutions of the past. We are bound to our traditions when we don't see creativity as a function of the church and believers, or when fear causes us to retreat to the tried-and-true procedures rather than experiment with new applications of tried-and-true wisdom principles that can lead to innovation.

I urge you not to settle for what's been done, but take what's been done and pioneer something that has never been done. The world is not waiting for us to debate the role of deacons, but to find 21st century solutions to modern challenges that are the equal of what the apostles did in Acts 6. When we do, we will be working with the wisdom of Proverbs 8 that was present when God created and structured the world. And when we do, one thing is certain: There is no greater creativity with which you and I can work.


Innovative or Creative?

There are many byproducts and interesting trends emerging from the pandemic. One of them is the Screen Shot 2020-05-30 at 9.24.37 AMstruggle for economies to re-open. Part of the problem is that we have learned to live with so much less that many are hesitant to spend cash on what they can live without. It has also caused us to step back and see where our economy has gone over the last decade. In my estimation, much of our creativity has gone into making what already exists a little better or a little different. For example, the first microbrewery was innovative, but do we need hundreds of them? Probably not. The same is true for yoghurt shops, health spas, and retail stores selling cheap junk from China.

My main focus, however, has not been the economy but the church during this season. Tomorrow, many churches will reopen, having done a "deep cleaning" with seats spaced for appropriate social distancing. During the pandemic, I saw a lot of creativity from the church but I did not see a lot of innovation—the creative use of something that changes culture and not just the expression of cultural values or norms. Let me give you an example of what I consider innovation and you will understand what I mean.

THE SYNAGOGUE

Did you ever give any thought to where the synagogue came from, or how or why it emerged? There is no mention of a synagogue in the Old Testament. The first mention is in the gospels and by then, it was an important part of Jewish life and worship. How did it become so popular and prominent? 

It seems that the Jews had a pandemic of their own in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar ransacked Jerusalem and the Temple along with it. The entire focus of Jewish life had revolved around the Temple and and the sacrificial system. Then suddenly, just like we experienced in the last few months, their worship focus was gone.

Some of the Jews stayed behind in Jerusalem but most who survived were carried off to Babylon, home to many temples devoted to idols that were off limits to Jews. What did the Jews do? They innovated. They adjusted from the Temple system with animal sacrifice to the synagogue with a reading and study of the Word as the main emphasis. When they returned to Judea 70 years later, they did eventually rebuild the Temple, but by then the synagogue was firmly established as an important part of their worship culture.

SO WHAT?

Where am I going with all this? Churches flocked to use social media during this pandemic, some who had been vocal opponents of its use prior to the lockdown. They had the attitude "social media and technology are an abomination to the Lord . . . and an ever-present help in time of trouble," but made it clear that this was only a concession to the unusual times. Many saw their "numbers" go up and their finances hold steady (those who still refused to engage it cannot wait to reopen for their lifeline to the people had been cut off). Some gave testimony that people were "watching" them from foreign lands and some had people surrender their lives to the Lord through the use of technology.

We saw churches conduct drive-in church services using their car radios in church parking lots. We had drive through prayer and hearing lines. There were many other examples of creativity, but now that the "pressure" is off, can we still be creative? We were creative in our deployment of technology but can we now also be innovative?

  • Can we take questions during our live services using Facebook or Twitter and use the last 10 minutes of our message time to answer some of those questions to ensure that the people "got" what we were preaching? Can we then answer the other questions after the service throughout the week?
  • Can we designate an online church team to monitor who is watching or listening via social media, to pray with any who have needs, or to "welcome" them as we would during a live service?
  • Can we not finish a Sunday message and direct people to "tune in" on Sunday evening to hear the conclusion?
  • How about we develop online devotions for parents to use with their children during the summer and even throughout the school year?
  • Would it be possible to continue our online Zoom Bible studies and small groups?

These are only a few of the ideas I can come up with that I consider both creative and innovative that will help us make the transition from Jerusalem to Babylon as the Jews had to do. I would suggest that social media should be our synagogue-like response to current events. As we rush back to church, and well we should if we can and it is safe, let us not forget the pandemic lesson that technology is the next best thing to being there and has shown us the possibilities for a whole new concept of the church's mission. 


More More

Last week, I wrote an entry titled No More More that discussed our cultural obsession with more—more things, more variety, more experiences, more of just about everything. God has hit the pause button on all that and is about to reboot the world's economies, and the shake out and shake up will be significant. Yet there is a more that God does want and I thought I would discuss that this week under the title Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 7.43.48 PM"More More." My thoughts on this began when I read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 this morning:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more . . .

There is a more that God is interested in but it isn't the abundance of possessions; it is more love practically expressed first to the household of God and then to the world. In our pursuit of the wrong more, we suddenly did not have much time for the more more that God desired and that more is service to others in the power of our purpose and with the flare of our creativity.

My study of more didn't stop there, for then I did a search of the word more in the gospels and I came across a promise that Jesus made: "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them" (Matthew 13:12). This more is in the area of knowledge concerning the things of God, and it is interesting that this concept is mentioned in the three synoptic gospels—but is not limited to knowledge. Not to be left out, John describes his concept of more in John 15:1-2: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Define fruit however you wish, but however you do, be sure that God wants more of it.

I have counseled and talked with many people who are quite satisfied with no more. They are content with where they are, and are diligent to protect their privacy and way of life. God would have to break into their world with a spiritual crowbar before they would consider doing more for missions, being more creative, or being more involved. Yet notice the promises in Matthew and John. Jesus promised that those who have will get more; they have no choice in the matter. If they are fruitful, God will prune them so they will produce more fruit. You get the idea that God wants more more from you, for you, and through you, and there is no discussion about it. That's His will and plan.

When I have taught on the concept of organization, I have taught that we must organize our lives to handle more more. That isn't about stuff, for if anything we need to have less of that kind of more. Yet how can you organize your life and world to produce the more more that God intends for you? I have organized my life, my office, my schedule, my connections, and my entire world to produce more: more books, more insight, more service. When I had mastered the art of writing books, I started a publishing company. Why? To make more money? Hardly! It was to structure my life so I could produce more. I had a say in that, but my only say was yes or no. When I said yes, then I had to invest my finances, and position my life to receive and support the more more. 

What are your thoughts on more more? Do you think it's God's will for you? Do you think this season may have come to help you have less of the wrong more focus and more on the more more? I was so taken with this topic today that I decided that my next book after Proverbs 31 Men is done is going to be titled The Gospel of More, and it won't be about possessions. It will be about the right kind of more more. The sooner we can settle in our minds and hearts that God wants more and that more more is not an option, the sooner we can get about preparing and then realizing more. And if that is the result of this pandemic, it will have a redemptive harvest that was fertilized by the pain and suffering of people the world over as they embrace no more more and accept the fact that God wants more of the right kind of more.


No More More

When I first came to the Lord in 1973. I was on fire as I discovered many spiritual things I had never known before. One of those areas I discovered was the joy of giving. I was earning $600 per month (which is about $3600 in today's terms) and the day I got paid, I would pay my rent, my car, buy some food, support a few orphans overseas, and gave the rest of the money away—the day I got paid. Then I would live by faith for two weeks until I got paid again. I was happy and I learned so much about myself and the Lord.

Now fast forward 50 years later and I am still learning many spiritual things but I am not so much on fire any longer. While I am at home reflecting on pandemic lessons, I have two cars in the garage (we only need one right now) with full gas tanks, and a closet full of clothes—but I have no place to go. And I am reflecting on how I used to live and how I live now.

Then someone called me the other day and said, "I have some money in the bank and it's' not doing me Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 7.43.11 PM any good there. I want to give it to you for your work in Kenya." It is not a small amount and I was blessed and exhilarated for what the money will do, but then again, I thought of my current lifestyle and how I used to live. When I apply that to our culture at large, it made me think of something I read in Fast Company Magazine the other day in an article titled "For Weaving The Clothing Industry into the Circular Economy":

For decades, Americans have had an insatiable appetite for new clothing's spurred on by the fast-fashion industry, which cranked out cheap, disposable garments that helped global clothing production double from 50 billion items a year in 2000 to more than 100 billion today (There are only 7.8 billion humans on the planet) (March/April 2020 edition).

The article went on to describe the environmental impact to the production of that much clothing and it is staggering, but can you imagine one hundred billion pieces of clothing in just one year? Is there any doubt that part of the message of this latest crisis is that more is not better, is not sustainable, and is an enemy of the words of Jesus that warned us about the addiction to more?

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:13-21).

In this context, Jesus equated more with the concept of greed, but more sounds better than greed. In this season of less, God is reminding us that more, or faster, or cheaper, or new is not always better. I  for one know I have had an attitude adjustment while sheltering at home that will carry into the new normal.

Yesterday, we went to a store and had to stand in a long line after some of the things we wanted were out of stock. It seems that there will be much more of that (waiting and doing without) to come but that's a good thing, if it will help us get back to what I knew in 1973. There is more joy in giving and more comfort in trusting the Lord than more in our bank accounts, wealth, or retirement funds. The article and the person who called to donate the money have reinforced in my mind the idea that this season can be of great benefit to us as the people of God if we realize how deeply we got sucked into more and how much freedom there is to establish that there is no more more.

    Feel free to leave your comments on the site where this is posted. 


The Church, Technology, and Social Media

This is long, but it is the intro to my new section as I revise my soon-to be-re-released book, Changing the Way We Do Church. Stay tuned; there's more to come.
 
*****

It is hard to imagine a book that focuses on changing the way we do church that doesn't include a section Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 10.13.38 AM on technology. When I first wrote this book in 2009, however, I was a novice to Facebook. I had been using it for only three years and had been blogging for about that long as well. I don’t recall if I was using Twitter, but Instagram, Snapchat, the cloud, smartphones, and iPods were just coming into their own. A church was considered cutting-edge in 2009 if it was able to put their Sunday service online using their own website; social media wasn’t yet a possibility as a means to do so.

Now in 2020, we have an explosion of social media options and opportunities, and quite frankly, most of the church is stuck. Many churches livestream their services and maintain them in an archive for future reference. Some have blogs, chat rooms for prayer and counseling, and actively publish other ministry resources. Yet many churches are yet to make the transition to the digital age. Those churches don’t have websites, do not pay much attention to social media, and are addicted to what I call as face-to-face ministry. Unless someone comes in the door of the church, there is no relationship or attempt to establish one.

Lo and behold, in 2020 we have a world crisis known as the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The entire world was sent home, including the Church, and everyone, including the Church had two things to utilize to stay in touch: social media and technology! We had gas in our tanks but no where to go, so we either watched television, read a book, or learned how to utilize things like Zoom, Facebook, GoToMeeting, LinkedIn, or for some who were way behind, the features of a smartphone.

Many leaders I talk to are ambivalent or downright hostile toward the concept of anything but face-to-face ministry—and it has showed up in their demeanor or words when using social media. I have watched many church “broadcasts” on Facebook during this time of sheltering in place, and it is apparently clear that they are uncomfortable and ready to go back to “normal” as soon as the all-clear alarm is sounded. Most have simply tried to replicate their live services online without anyone monitoring who is watching, if those watching have any prayer needs, or if those watching are “visitors” to the online service. That tells me their online presence is a stopgap measure that is not being introduced as a permanent feature or fixture in the church’s ministry repertoire.

Why does my generation hate social media like many do? When I pose that question, I hear the usual complaints:

  • “Those who use social media are self-absorbed.”
  • “I don’t have time for anything but preparing my Sunday message and caring for the needs of those in the church.”
  • “If we deploy social media, people will stay home and not attend church.”
  • “People need to stop playing with their phones and pay attention to one another.”
  • “We don’t have money for technology.”
  • “We have no interest in broadcasting what we do to the larger public. Our first responsibility to take care of our own.”
  • “Social media destroy relationships, and the church is all about relationships. We must have face-to-face time to build and cultivate relationships.”

I am sure you can add other laments to the list—those you have heard or uttered yourself. When I talk about social media, often those listening assume or actually hear that I am implying that social media can replace the church, which I am not—but that summarizes how they see that it is either all social media or all face to face. 

Before the pandemic, the ministry opportunities available through the creative use of social media were huge—and now they are even greater. For example, one-sixth of the world’s population is now on Facebook. The Church was given the Great Commission to go into all the world, so now we can simply go to our computer (or phone) to reach a large portion of it. When we “go,” we have access to do or say pretty much anything we want and people are free to read or not, respond or not, reflect or not. What would happen if we paid as much attention to our online presence as we did to our face-to-face presence? That is the question I was asking before the pandemic. What will happen if we don’t pay as much attention to our online presence? seems to be the new, relevant question.

We don’t know and that’s the problem. What is going to happen to our church financial model? How will we fund ministry? Will people stay home after the pandemic? Will our content be censored, hacked, edited, or misused? What will happen to those who are currently addicted to face-to-face ministry? Will they go to another church?

All these are real concerns, and I am not here to predict what will happen. All I am saying is that this shift to technology that was optional before the pandemic is mandatory now. Before the coronavirus, church attendance was down; now it’s almost nonexistent. People don’t like change and shifting to a broader, more strategic use of technology is a BIG change. For many, church attendance anchored their week; for some it was a ritual. What will happen when the all-clear signal is given? Will people continue to rely on social media, apprehensive to assemble for fear of a new wave of sickness?

My own sense is that this represents a significant opportunity for the Church to do what it should have done where the appropriate and aggressive use of technology is concerned. God is using this pandemic, as He has other past plagues, famines, and catastrophes, to awaken and reposition His people for more effective ministry and witness.


Times of Trouble

In case you haven't noticed, the world is full of trouble—big trouble. We now have a global health crisis, the ongoing threat of terrorism, random acts of violence, political distress and upheaval, and a lot of mistrust, hatred even, between people groups. I am in Colombia as I write and I have had more people than usual write to say they are praying for my safety, which I certainly appreciate. How can we navigate and negotiate these troubled times without being overwhelmed with trepidation? Should we stay cooped up on our houses? Hire body guards?

This post is not to prescribe anything like that, but I do want to share what I learned to do when I was in Screen Shot 2020-02-01 at 10.10.55 AMAfghanistan in 2002 right after the war against terrorism started there. I was with a group of believers from all over the world and we met every morning at 7 a.m. for prayer. When we ended our time, we all recited aloud Psalm 91 and it had a soothing effect that framed our day as we left to go out into a society where every building was riddled with bullet holes or pock marks from explosives. Perhaps you want to adopt this habit during these times of trouble. In case you do, here is Psalm 91 in its entirety:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
    and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

I believe the promises in Psalm 91. This does not release us to do foolish, reckless things, but it does allow us to walk in comfort and security during turbulent times. I want not just to talk about the promises of God; I also want to live in them as I carry out my purpose. I invite you to join me in doing the same.


Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Thoughts

Today America celebrates a man who challenged the nation to live up to its stated value that all men are created equal. We can acknowledge today how far we have come or how far we have yet to go, but regardless of which perspective you choose, today is a day we recognize the efforts of a man and his followers who caused dramatic change in America.

I was 18 years old when Dr. King was assassinated. I was about as racially sensitive or aware as any typical white teenager, MLKPicso the events around his murder puzzled me, but I was absorbed in other things, like graduating from high school. Then six years later, I had my conversion experience and was almost immediately thrust into a world where I was working and worshiping with folks who were both black and white. I was still clueless, but I realized in those early days that if there was any hope for people to get along, the gospel of Christ was the only answer. More on that later.

In 1989, I moved to Alabama, the heart of Dixie, to work with an African American pastor as his assistant. To say that was unusual would be the understatement of the decade, for most people expected it to be the other way around, as evidenced by places of business that would always ask me first if they could help me, even if my black pastor entered ahead of me.

The white population in Alabama was mostly lukewarm to our relationship, but I thought the black churches would be more intrigued and interested. They were not. White churches were white and black churches were black and "never the twain shall meet" was the rule of the day, and often still is. It was sometime during my 11 years in Alabama that I read Dr. King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail and I was captivated by the excellence of the writing but also, more importantly, by the rightness of the message. That letter caused me to ask myself two questions: If I had been older and more "in touch" in 1968, would I have walked, marched or stood with Dr. King? The answer I came to was probably not.

The second question was a more important one: What could I do now that I was aware? I determined that, by God's grace, I would be an agent of healing and reconciliation wherever I lived or worked. Since that time, that value has guided my decisions of where I lived, worshiped, worked, and traveled in ministry. Only God can answer if I have been successful. As Mother Teresa said, God did not call us to be successful, just obedient. Time will tell if I responded to that second question properly or followed through with my conclusion.

Today, I am not interested in diversity. I have no time for tolerance. I want to see people of all races and cultures come together and not be concerned about who is right, but concerned about how to be reconciled. Toward that end, I continue to do what I can to bring about reconciliation. I have concluded that if it is almost impossible for those in the church to be reconciled, and we have the power of the Spirit and the word of God as allies, then there is no hope for any other entity to accomplish that goal - not government, legislation, meetings, training, or wishful thinking.

Reconciliation will require people to be transformed and then to walk out the terms and behaviors of reconciliation, even when it is not in their best interests economically or socially to do so. The Christian faith has the only answer to the problem that causes racism and oppression, which is sin caused by the Fall of man, and therefore the Church is the only one that can offer the remedy. So far, we have not done a very good job.

On this important occasion, I pay tribute to Dr. King, but really, my tribute contributes very little to his legacy that achieved so much and is still producing results. The best honor I can give is to recommit myself to be a source of reconciliation wherever God assigns me. By doing that, I will be making a small contribution to a very big problem, but perhaps God will multiply my efforts to touch people who need healed from the pain of the past and the hopelessness of the future. Today is a day to remember and celebrate what Dr. King taught and gave his life for; tomorrow is a day to get back to work to make it happen.


Pearl 354: Details

TOPIC: Organization and Productivity

"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, so that you may know
the certainty of the things you have been taught" - Luke 1:3-4.

Luke was a scientist of sorts, so he was accustomed to being meticulous in his work. So when he went to write a gospel, he organized his work carefully. First, he investigated thoroughly; then he decided to write his findings in an orderly, chronological format. Finally, he had so much material that he ended up writing his gospel and what we know to be the book of Acts. All throughout his work, Luke evidenced a profound ability to organize his work and thoughts. What about you? Do you invest the same attention to organizational detail in your work? What can you do to improve in the coming year?

Lord, I see that even when you use someone, there is no substitute for clear thought and organization. Success is never haphazard or an accident, but rather You work with and promote those who can keep Your call and work from being buried in confusion and disorder. Help me handle the details well.