Walking Down a Different Row

I just returned from a visit to my grandchildren and took time to go to a local farm to pick some Screen Shot 2020-07-10 at 3.17.04 PMberries. It is hard work for this farm is on a hill, it was hot, and while the berry bushes had plenty of fruit, it was spread out among many bushes. I find it fascinating that I could walk down one row with bushes on both sides of me and see plenty of fruit, but then when I went to the next row and looked back on the row I came from, I saw fruit I missed. I tried to see all there was to see when I went down the first row, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not see it all. What I needed was a change of perspective to see all there was to see.

When I have led cognitive and social learning seminars, I include a phrase, "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Of course, the things I am looking at don't change, but my perspective is changed according to my approach and angle for viewing. I have used the same concept when I have taught preaching classes, for I tell students that they must suspend what they think they know about a verse or passage for even a short moment as they prepare to speak, for as soon as they are convinced they know what a passage says, they will miss what else it may be saying. This is called the lock-on, lock-out phenomenon. As soon as we lock on to what we think we know or see, certain we have seen all the berries or the meanings there are, we lock out the possibility of seeing more.

When I was a pastor and did some marriage counseling, I would surprise couples when we began by asking them to tell me what their partner was about to tell me about them. "What is your wife/husband going to tell me about you?" Many would make an effort to answer my question, but quickly switched gears to report what was wrong with their spouse. They had locked on to the problem with the other person and had often locked out their contribution to the need for counseling. 

What's my point in all this? It is a valuable exercise to put yourself in someone else's place or to shift your perspective from time to time in order to see what you cannot see from where you have been. For example, today in the mail I received a copy of a book The Best Short Stories by Black Writers (1899-1967). Why would I order and read this? I do so because I am not black and I want to read something written by people who don't look like me and probably don't think like me. Since I work with many African Americans, it will help me walk down a different row to see what I could not previously see.

When we don't walk down a different row, it may be because we are not as secure in our position as we would like others to believe and thus need to read or be exposed only to things that will reinforce our current position. That's not wrong unless it is what we always do and thus cut ourselves off from the "fruit" that is right in front of us but we can't see, not because we aren't physically capable or don't want to, but simply because we cannot see it from where we are standing—mentally or physically. Do you have the courage to walk down a different road and see something new? Or will you keep walking up and down the same old row and limit yourself to what you are convinced is all there is to see? While you are answering those questions, I will be reading the book I just got in the mail.

A Spirit of Fear

If you are like me, you know 2 Timothy 1:7 by heart: "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (NKJV). I use this verse often when I coach people to find purpose or to be creative, and I have felt free to use this truth in many other areas of life and ministry, including my own. Therefore I was surprised this week when I looked at this verse in the context where it is found, and discovered that I should not be as free to use this verse as I have been, for it seems to be  specific and focused in one and not all areas of life.

In the verse before seven, Paul wrote these words: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God FanIntoFlamePicwhich is in you through the laying on of my hands" (2 Timothy 1:6 NKJV). Paul was urging Timothy to recognize the gift he had and instructed him to fan the gift into flames. When our homes had a fireplace, I would often have to employ this tactic. If I could get a small flame going, I would gently blow on it, giving it more oxygen so that it would spread. That is what Paul was telling Timothy to do: Take the smallest spark of his gift and do what he had to do to make it burn hotter and brighter.

So the context for not having a spirit of fear is not applied to all areas of life, but to the expression of our purpose and gifts. Paul would not tell us not to be afraid where our gift is concerned unless it was a common tendency for it to happen. We shrink back in fear when we have a chance to express who we are instead of taking every opportunity to do so and to learn how to do it more effectively.

Where are you afraid to express your gift? In fact, do you know what your gift is? Have others laid hands on you to confirm or release the gift? What can you do to fan it into flames, giving it the oxygen it needs to flourish and prosper. I have been on a search and destroy mission the last few years of my life to find and eradicate fear, and it's been a large task. I suspect this will continue for the rest of my life.

What are you doing to confront and neutralize the fear where your gift is concerned? I encourage you to read these verses and the others in 2 Timothy 1 and do what Paul was advising Timothy to do, which was to stop hiding behind his fears but to step out into the light of self-expression, which is the only way to honor God for making you who He made you to be.

Personal Direction for 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

W51D5 - Personal Development

"Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands or war, my fingers for battle" - Psalm 144:1.

David was a leader in Israel who began his career as a warrior, taking down the giant dGoliath. Then he led troops in battle, which brought him fame and King Saul's jealousy. Because of that, David led a band of misfits as Saul pursued him to kill him. Then David became king of the tribe of Judah, and eventually all Israel. David recognized it was God Himself who trained him first as a warrior in preparation to be king. That led David to praise the Lord his Rock. Leaders must develop themselves for whatever role God wants them to play, but they must recognize that God directs their development program. This realization should lead them to worship the Lord as the source of their development and ability to lead.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Today's Step is to define your area of expertise as a leader. For David, it was for war; what is for you? Is it technical expertise? People skills? Finance? Cross-cultural work? Training? Communication? Once you identify those area(s), then you must pray and ask God for His help and grace. Also ask Him to show you what you can do and where you can go to become the best 'you' that you can be. Don't leave your development to chance and don't wait until you get there to get ready. Get ready now, but remember to worship Him along the way.

W46D5 - Personal Development

"And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 'This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other'" - Zechariah 7:8-10.

Personal development involves spiritual growth and development. In the verses above, the Lord spoke to His people through the prophet and outlined His plan for their development. That plan included: 1) dispensing true justice; 2) showing mercy to others; 3) being moved by compassion; 4) helping the helpless; 5) empowering the powerless; and 6) avoiding plots and plans harmful to others. Leaders should adopt this outline as a list of personal values they can pursue and express that will make their leadership more gentle, kind, and sensitive to the needs of other people, especially the poor and downtrodden..

LEADERSHIP STEP: Your Step today is to lay out a leadership and personal development plan that includes the points mentioned in today's verses. For today, focus on one of the six points in this devotional and think of ways you can develop that particular area or practice. For example, if you choose point six, consider how painful it is to 'hatch' plans that affect people's lives without their input—and then determine to be more inclusive in your planning and subsequent communication with others.

W41D5 - Personal Development

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
 your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well" - Psalm 139:14.

This verse does not just pertain to one's physical being - anatomy, life systems, organs and skeleton. It describes a human's personality, intellectual and emotional makeup as well. Some people try to change how they look and act because they are convinced that there are serious flaws in both. There may be, but they may also be exactly as God intended them to be. What God is mostly concerned with renewing or changing is one's thinking, which will transform those areas that do need changed while enhancing and maximizing the characteristics that are an important part of each individual's God-designed personality and physical appearance.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Your Step today is to read Romans 12:1-2 and remind yourself that your main focus for leadership and personal development is your thinking. If you can change your thinking, you can change your behaviors in any area, and bring about personal transformation that will enhance your leadership effectiveness. Where is your thinking most deficient and holding you back? Where finances are concerned? Public speaking? Learning new skills?

W36D5 - Personal Development

"Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well" - 3 John 2.

The writer was not just concerned with the reader's spiritual well-being, but also the reader's physical health. Leaders often encounter stressful situations requiring many hours of attention and labor. It is easy to allow physical health to deteriorate under those conditions, but leaders need all the energy and stamina they can muster to produce and maintain excellence on the job. This necessitates exercise, having regular medical checkups, eating properly and well, getting enough rest, doing fun things, and maintaining healthy relationships. And one thing a leader must especially watch and maintain is an ideal weight for his or her age and body frame.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Don't allow the pressures of and time invested in leadership to destroy your health. Your Step today is to assess your physical condition and health habits. Is your current weight what you desire or do you need to go on a diet and lose some pounds? Are you eating the right foods for you? What about your exercise program? Are you taking time to stay in shape? Do you have a hobby that allows you to step away from work and do something you enjoy?

W31D5 - Personal Development

"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them" - Joshua 1:6.

Since leaders take people to places and help them do things they could not go without them, those leaders must prepare themselves for the difficulties of the journey. According to today's verse, the first qualification or characteristic is strength, which includes mental, physical, and emotional. The strength must be for a purpose, which of course is to reach the destination or achieve the goal many thought impossible. The second is courage. Leaders cannot faint along the way, but must face the intimidating unknown with resolve and wisdom, for sometimes those leaders need the courage to change course or admit mistakes.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Your Step today is to consider strength and courage and how they factor into your leadership effectiveness. Start with strength. Do you have the strength to say no to distractions, and to persevere in the midst of difficulties? Where else do you need to have strength? Then go on to courage. Can you reflect on personal examples when you exhibited courage? Where might your courage be lacking now and what may it be costing your organization or your personal development? What can you do to bolster your courage to act—or not act when that is the need?

W26D5 - Personal Development

“When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his own people, the Israelites. He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian. Moses thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them, but they did not. The next day Moses came upon two Israelites who were fighting. He tried to reconcile them by saying, ‘Men, you are brothers; why do you want to hurt each other?’" - Acts 7:23-26.

Moses knew he was the rescuer of Israel. In Moses' younger days, however, he was full of himself and his own ways. Just in these few verses, we see that Moses decided, went, avenged, killed, thought, came upon, tried to reconcile, and spoke. Moses was trying to save the world, or at least the Israelites, in his own power. When he killed the Egyptian, perhaps he thought, "One down, three million to go!" God had to take Moses on the backside of the desert for 40 years to deliver Moses from himself. When God was finished, Moses did not even want to return to Egypt, let alone lead. Leaders must be set free from themselves if they are going to do great things, and sometimes God must remove them from leadership in order for them to have time to develop and become great leaders.

LEADERSHIP STEP: Are you removed from power or not at the leadership place you thought you would be at this point in your life? Your Step today is to map out a personal development plan or to reevaluate the one you currently have. That plan should include reading, education, new skills, respect for others in authority, journaling, self-reflection, and Bible study. Evaluate yourself in each of those areas (1 is poor to 5 is excellent) and set a course to improve and develop.

W21D5 - Personal Development

"Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action" - Acts 7:22.

Moses' foundation for leadership was his education; later on in life, God worked on his character. Yet without a doubt, he went to the finest schools and had the best teachers in preparation for what his foster mother assumed was a bright future in Egypt. Leaders cannot ignore their need for training and education, for leadership requires specific knowledge about the discipline in which they lead (banking, education, and the like) as well as a self-awareness that enables leaders to know their strengths and in what scenario they function best.

LEADERSHIP STEP: You cannot ignore your need for further education any longer. Today conduct a search of available programs in or out of your country (or online) without judging whether or not you can afford the time or money. Just do the research. Once you find one, how can you participate? Perhaps a summer program, an intensive seminar, or Saturday classes are possible. You need to make a significant investment in yourself, which will pay dividends to your leadership effectiveness for years to come. The time is now.