Last Class

This is a report from my last class for the week. Next week I have a class on preaching, and I can't wait to use the material I have learned this week!

As I mentioned, yesterday we "took apart" the Olivet discourse found in Matthew 23-24 and Luke 21, showing clearly in the original language that Jesus was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem and not the final judgment that we are awaiting as His followers. We traced the usage of Jesus' words to the Old Testament, seeing what any Jew who knew his old covenant would have understood when Jesus said what He said. We also saw that the "end of the age" was referring to the end of the old covenant age and not the end of time.

This makes so much sense and changes how I have read and interpreted so many passages that refer to the "last days." It also explains why so many believe that Paul and others "missed it" by predicting the return of the Lord in their lifetime, something which obviously did not happen. They were not looking for the Second Coming at that point. They were looking to the end of the old covenant era with the Temple, animal sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood.

I woke up at 3 AM this morning thinking about all this and it has had a deep impact on me. I am looking forward to the last class today, not because I haven't enjoyed it, but because 8 AM to 5 PM is a long time to sit in a classroom setting.

This weekend Kathryn and I are off to New York to celebrate our eldest son's 30th birthday. It hardly seems possible that it has been three decades ago that he was born, but it is. I'll have more class reports for you next week.

Class Report

We are in day four of the Christ in the Gospels class and it continues to elevate my view of Christ and the gospel writers. The professor has had such an encounter with Christ through the gospels that he breaks down and cries as he delivers some of his insights. I went to bed last night talking about what we learned yesterday and could not wait to get back today. And we are sitting in class lectures from 8 AM to 5 PM, with short breaks and an hour for lunch.

Today we are studying the Olivet discourse as found in Matthew 23-24 and Luke 21. The original language clearly shows that those passages are not about the Second Coming of Jesus but rather the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

We have seen so many interesting and important things in the gospels as we have studied the Greek and connected much of it to the Old Testament. I don't think I will ever approach the gospel accounts in the same way after taking this course. I have preached so many things from the gospels but not preached them as gospel or good news of Jesus.

I will keep you posted on what we learn today.


I am sitting in my Christ in the New Testament class at the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary in Pittsburgh. I must say that the class has already taken my breath away! I had forgotten how meaningful it is to study the Word in the Greek. We got such tremendous insights yesterday from Matthew, Mark and Luke that I wanted to jump up and shout at one point.

Our professor makes a strong case for the early existence of the first three gospels, all three in existence within 20 years of Jesus' ascension. He further points out that the variations in each gospel were not because each one edited the previous one, but because each gospel was written to a different audience. Thus, each writer would have tailored their material to meet the needs of their readers. I don't have time to develop this, but it is significant to refute many who say that the gospels are full of errors and contradictions. They are not.

Matthew wrote his gospel first to believing Jews and probably wrote first in Hebrew or Aramaic. Mark wrote in Rome to believing Jews and God-fearing Gentiles, probably basing his narrative on Peter's stories and narrative. Luke wrote his gospel to Gentiles who had little or no contact with Jewish culture. Luke's gospel probably also had the approval of Paul, his traveling companion.

Right now we are studying Matthew's gospel and how his accounts, which can also be found in Luke, are adapted for the Jewish reader, emphasizing how the kingdom was being taken from Jews and given to Gentiles. This would have been significant and even scandalous to a Jewish reader. Luke does not include that insight because it would have been insignificant to his Gentile readers.

I have to get back to my studies, but suffice it to say that I am privileged to have the chance to sit and study with a scholar like this for two whole weeks.

Extreme Makeover

I seldom watch television, usually only having time for watching an occasional sports event. Last Sunday, however, I had a chance to watch the show Extreme Makeover. This shows features a makeover team as they choose one family and rebuild their ill-equipped, often run-down home. On this particular show, the team chose a woman from Mississippi with three children who had a terrible home with no running water. The family was sent on vacation and the team went to work to renovate their home in one week. The house was so bad that they bulldozed it and started over.

When the family came back, they had beautiful new home that the show built and paid off for them. There was a new car, the latest appliances and scholarships for her three children. Then they gave the woman a fully-stocked home business shop. During the show, the team brought in CeCe Winans to do a benefit concert in a local church to give the woman some money. As the woman and her children walked through their new home, she kept saying, "Thank You, Lord! Thank You, Jesus!" I was moved as I watched.

But I was wondering how the woman's church could allow her to live in those conditions all those years? Why did it take a group of non-church people to come in and help her? How could the church have a nice building when one of their members lived in squalor. Throughout the show, everyone kept telling us what a good woman she was. Yet I kept wondering why the church could not have done some of what that show did. Why are we afraid at times to bless other people beyond their wildest dreams? Why can't people walk away from the Church feeling like I did when I finished watching that show?

Isn't that what the church is about? Aren't we to take care of our own and dispense grace? Why did a secular show figure out how to bless someone when the church often can't figure it out? Why do we spend millions on pizza for our youth meetings, multi-millions on air conditioning and coffee shops in the church building, but we can't seem to help people. I don't get it.

It reminded of the time that I bought some dress shirts at a Nordstrom Department Store in San Francisco and proceeded to lose them in the local mall. When I went back to Nordstrom, they gave me four new shirts free of charge! I wrote an article called "A Shirt Tale" describing the incident and likening it to the mission of the Church: to restore what's been stolen and lost in people's lives without assigning blame or guilt.

I doubt if I'll watch Extreme Makeover for the rest of the year, but I won't soon forget the episode I saw. I want to be a part of an organization that is committed to extreme makeovers too, and that organization should and must be the Church of Jesus Christ. We need to stop playing church and become the Church. I only hope the world doesn't do all the good deeds there are to do before we wake up to our mission.

Technorati Tags: ,

You Must Be Crazy!

I mentioned that the title of my message last week was "You Must Be Crazy!"  I took my text from Mark 3:20-22, which states:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, "He is out of his mind." And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, "He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons."

Talk about having a bad day!  First, Jesus family thought He had mental problems.  Then the leaders of His day concluded that He was doing good through some association with evil.  The spirituality of the day was so subnormal that when Jesus introduced the true normal, it seemed abnormal. The people concluded that there had to be something wrong with Him and not them.

What made Jesus seem "crazy" was His behavior and attitude that is described in Philippians 2:1-11. Since Jesus requires that you and I have the same character as He has, then there is a good chance at some point that people will think that you are crazy, too!

Many people told or wrote me that the message was helpful, so I thought I wouild send along my Powerpoint slides below.

Download you_must_be_crazy.ppt


More on the Magi

My family went to Saturday night service and, lo and behold, our pastor spoke about the magi and the star they saw.  That certainly has been the major theme of this Christmas season for me and, as he spoke, I jotted down some more thoughts to add to what I already wrote a few days ago in a post entitled The Magi. Here are those additional insights to the story found in Matthew 2:1-18.

1.  The magi were Arab scholars and wise men.  Let us take heart that in this story some Arabs were more in tune with Jesus than the Jews were.  May God work in the lives of both Jew and Arab today so that the Son of God may be worshiped and revered in their midst.

2.  Think of the difficulty of their trip of 1,000 miles.  They were carrying precious cargo for the gifts, so they faced security issues, discomfort, fatigue and probably traveled at night to avoid the desert heat.

3.  Those who lived closest seemed to care little about what the magi (and shepherds) told them concerning the birth of the King.  Those who came the farthest and those who lost sleep pursuing the baby Jesus had the greatest reward.

4.  The magi were led to Jesus by the following means:  Daniel and the local Jews in Babylon, their own study of the Old Testament, nature by means of the star, Herod and the unbelieving Jewish officials, and dreams.  If you are open to God, He will use any and all means possible to guide your path.

5. The magi came more for Mary's sake than for Jesus, who was too young to comprehend the event.  Scripture tells us, however, that Mary treasured these things in her heart and probably drew on them decades later when Jesus began His ministry.  What are you treasuring in your heart so you won't forget?

6.  Your level of joy is commensurate to the distance you must travel to find that joy, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

7.  The magi had to make the same trip home after they found Jesus as before.  There are no shortcuts in following God.

8.  The magi disappeared after the story and we know nothing of their work after they returned home.  Did they spread the good news?  Were other lives impacted?  How were their lives changed from that point?  What difference did the star and worship of Jesus make?  What differnce has the baby Jesus made in your life, not only during Christmas, but from that point forward?

Feel free to write your comments or additional insight about the magi on the site where this entry is posted. You can also read my weekly Monday Memos by going to the site where they are located, including number 276 which was also about the magi. And don't forget my personal PurposeQuest website, which has loads of material that will help you find your purpose and be productive.

Technorati Tags: , ,

The Magi

I hope this finds you either preparing to have or already enjoying a wonderful Christmas and holiday season.  I came home Tuesday night and worked to get ready for my annual meeting with our accountant.  The meeting was last night and, all in all, we had a good year, finishing strong in the last quarter. 

Last Monday I wrote about the magi in The Monday Memo, those wise men who came to see and worship Jesus as described in Matthew 2:1-18.  I can't seem to get this story out of my mind, so here are some additional thoughts on this story, in no particular order (you may want to read The Monday Memo 276 if you haven't already to get some additional background on this subject):

1.  These wise men came from the area of modern day Iraq and were probably of the people today known as Kurds.

2.  The distance from Persia to Bethlehem was 1,000 to 1,200 miles.  Since they came on camels, the trip would have taken a long time.  Thus they could not have arrived around the time of Jesus birth. That's a long way to come in search of spiritual knowledge.  The Jews could have made a local trip to see Jesus but did not, in spite of the accounts not only of the magi, but also of the shepherds.

3.  The magi were wise men who were given authority over the state religion of Persia by Darius, thus they had political influence coupled with religious wisdom. 

4.  At one time, Daniel was appointed head of this hereditary priesthood, thus leading to the conflict and intrigue that led to Daniel's night in the lion's den.

5.  In all probability, Daniel entrusted the Messianic "secret" to a sect of the magi since he received many prophecies and was the chief magi.  Many Jews in Babylon could have kept the "secret" alive over the next six centuries.

6.  The magi probably arrived in Judea amidst great pomp and a large entourage, including cavalry and soldiers.

7.  When the magi came and worshiped Jesus, they foretold that all earthly kingdoms and wisdom would bow to Jesus the King or perish. 

8.  Herod was dead shortly after he had the young boys slaughtered in Bethlehem.

9.  The religious leaders told Herod and the magi where the King would be born, but they refused to follow, even out of curiosity.  This depicted the eventual disinterest in Jesus by most of the Jewish leaders. 

10.  The magi gave gifts to Jesus. We should, too.

11.  Politicians like Herod often try to use the Bible and spirituality for their own ends. 

12.  Politics and Jesus have never been a good mix, even in the modern world.  Why?  Because most politicians must lie or tell half-truths to obtain and maintain power. 

13.  It is interesting that the magi (non-Jews) had more integrity and spiritual hunger than Herod (a part-Jew) and the Jewish leaders (all Jews). 

Feel free to write your comments or additional insight about the magi on the site where this entry is posted. You can also read my other Monday Memos by going to the site where they are located. And don't forget my personal PurposeQuest website, which has loads of material that will help you find your purpose and be productive.

From the Stanko household, we wish you a very Merry Christmas! 

Technorati Tags: , ,


I am in the Johannesburg airport again.  I don't know how many times I have been here this year, but I am on a first name basis with one of the currency exchange agents!  I have a nine-hour layover here, but after some appointments and shopping, I'm down to three hours.  I fly all night to Amsterdam and face more layovers as I make my way home.  This will be a long trip.

A Delta Airlines plane just went past the airport lounge window.  I had heard that they were starting service from Johannesburg to Atlanta in February, but I guess they have started earlier.  That gives me another option for travel to Africa and that's always a good thing.

I left Zimbabwe Monday after speaking at Celebration Church Sunday morning.  I focused on another Christmas theme, this time choosing to look at the role the shepherds played in the nativity drama.  The title of the message was, "Suddenly:  The Sights and Sounds of Breakthrough."  Since the church's theme was breakthrough for 2006, I thought I would wrap up the year looking at that subject in light of Luke 2:8-20

Of particular note to me is the fact that the angels didn't appear to the religious leaders or in a religious setting.  Instead they came to working class men who were working the night shift.  The shepherds reported for work that evening the way they had for many years, just as their fathers and grandfathers had done.  I'm sure they weren't expecting anything out of the ordinary.  Suddenly, however, the angels appeared and their lives were never the same. I made several other points, which you can find in the PowerPoint slides attached below.  I hope the audience enjoyed the message as much as I enjoyed delivering it!

I do hope you will spend some time this week reviewing and reading the accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke.  It's possible to get so busy during these hectic holidays that you forget the reason for the season!  The reason is Jesus and the circumstances surrounding his birth make for fascinating reading and study.

At any rate, I have to shower and then vacate the club where I am typing this update.  You can write your comments to this entry or give my readers your own insights into the Christmas story on the site where this is posted.  You can also go there to read through my various entries for 2006.  And don't forget my website, Monday Memo site and weekly Bible study site if you are interested in keeping track of all my writings.  You can subscribe to any of those on the sites themselves.

Also, please remember PurposeQuest and the Stankos in your year-end giving.

Download Suddenly.ppt   

A Mary Christmas

The only time of year I remotely miss pastoring a church is around Christmas time.  The Christmas story is so fascinating and exciting and I always enjoy talking about it. Did you realize that when you turn the page from Malachi to Matthew, you have just covered 400 years from the time of the last book of the Old Testament to the first book of the New?

God isn't always in a hurry to act, but when He does, He does so in a big way.  No part of creation was exempt from God's guiding and providential hand when it was time for Jesus to be born.  God used a star, the Roman government, angels, an inn keeper, dreams, shepherds, wise men and a host of other fascinating characters.  When I spoke last Sunday at Celebration Church in Harare, I chose to talk about Mary and entitled the message, Have a Mary Christmas.

It is easy to ignore the fact that Mary was a teenager when the angel appeared to her.  I wonder why God didn't send the angel to her parents, or to the spiritual leaders or her day, or even her husband-to-be?  God came directly to her, and she wasn't intimidated by the mighty angel Gabriel.  This young woman was truly extraordinary. 

I won't go through my entire message in this post, but I have included my PowerPoint slides with the seven main points of my message.  If you would like to understand how to have a Mary Christmas, I would urge you to access the slides below. 

Download mary_christmas.ppt

Technorati Tags: ,

What's In A Name?

I was reading and thinking about Sarah's name change in Genesis 17:15.  That got me thinking about others whose names were changed in the Bible.  Here are the ones I can think of.  Can you come up with any others?

1.  Abram to Abraham.

2.  Sarai to Sarah

3.  Jacob to Israel

4.  Jedidiah to Solomon (I'm not sure this one counts.)

5.  Simon to Peter

6.  Joseph to Barnabas

7.  Saul to Paul

Why would God change someone's name?  Why did some change their own names?  Here are the reasons I can think of:

1.  God was helping them make an affirmation of who He wanted them to become.

2.  The person was starting a new stage in life or work.

3.  It was a symbol that God was in control.

4.  It was indicative that God was doing a deep work in their life.

5.  God was their Father and fathers have the right and duty to name their children.

6.  God's view of who they were was more important than how anyone else saw them. 

Can you think of any other possible reasons? If you can, please write and add them to this post on the site where it can be found. 

Proverbs 22:1 states, "A good name is more desirable than great riches."  So what's in a name?  Obviously, there is a lot!  It may be interesting to find out, if you don't know already, what your name actually means in the language from which it was derived.  My name is John and that is Hebrew for God's gift.  So I should try to live up to my name, don't you think?  What's more, you should, too.