Church Leader Devotion 3: The Whole Counsel

As we continue to examine Paul's address to the Ephesian elders, we read his summary of his ministry values and approach Screen Shot 2022-07-27 at 1.19.11 AMwhen he was establishing a church in any venue:

"You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:20-21).

In these verses, we learn that Paul conducted both evangelism efforts to identify new believers and then preached "anything that would be helpful" to the converts. His goal was to equip the church for successful living, which was made up of moral and ethical directives consistent with a holy lifestyle, along with an appropriate understanding of the mystery of Godthat the gospel was now available to the Gentiles by grace. Paul summarized all this when he said,

"Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:26-27).

One Bible version calls it the "purpose of God" and another summarizes it as "all that God wants you to know." Today, the whole counsel is found in the sacred Scriptures, which leaders are to be familiar with so they can present a full perspective of God's will. Since Paul was addressing the Ephesian elders, it would be good to examine his letter to the Ephesian church as a good example of the "whole counsel," for the first half of the letter is doctrinal while the last half addresses holy behavior.

Are you balanced in your ministry between evangelism and discipleship? Do you major in one or a few doctrines, like faith or the end times or political social action, or do you teach through the Bible in some systematic format, not avoiding those passages or issues with which you are not comfortable or competent? What are you doing to become more adept at ministering the whole purpose or counsel of God?


Church Leader Devotion 2: Leadership Purpose

In the last devotion, we began a study of Paul's farewell address to the Ephesian elders when they came to visit him in Miletus. Screen Shot 2022-07-09 at 9.32.00 AMLet's move on to look at more of that sermon:

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace" (Acts 20:22-24).

Paul's main objective was to fulfill his purpose, which was "testifying to the good news of God's grace." More specifically, Paul did that more effectively among the Gentiles than he did with his own people. That is the power and focus of purpose. It is what you do that when you do it, you can sense God partnering with you, and you see results from your work. The Ephesian elders were proof of Paul's effectiveness, for he had established the church there and years later, it was thriving with elders in place.

If you're a church leader, don't assume your purpose statement is simply "preaching." It could be working with a certain age group through counseling, teaching, or practical care. It could also just be your presence, which encourages or challenges people in the Lord's will for their lives. Then again, it may be any of those in a particular area of your city or country, or even a foreign land.

Paul further described his purpose in Galatians 2:7: "On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised." What task has the Lord assigned you? Where are you most fruitful in your ministry work (not where do you hope or think you are most fruitful)? Can you describe it clearly and simply? Is it your aim to finish that race and complete your work like Paul? How can you be more effective?


Church Leader Devotion 1

I have had notes for quite some time that one day I hoped to publish in some kind of devotional for pastors and church leaders. Screen Shot 2022-07-02 at 11.51.30 AMI  have decided not to put it off any longer but to start with Paul's remarks to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:

From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:17-21).

What do we learn from these first few verses?

  1. Paul lived among the people so they could come to observe and know his way of life. He was not aloof but rather accessible to all.
  2. Paul had to deal with Jewish opponents wherever he went. Yet he remained humble and meek, and not combative. He stayed focused on his purpose for being among the people.
  3. His teaching and preaching were to equip and edify to the believers, not to perform or broadcast his own ministry.
  4. His ministry was both large group (public) and small group (house to house). Once again, we see he was accessible to the people. (Perhaps today he would use social media to teach and touch others.)
  5. His message was clear: repentance and faith.

How do you measure up to this first of Paul's statements in his address? What else do you see in these verses that would be relevant to church leaders? What changes do you need to make based on what you read in this post? Feel free to add your comments to the site where this entry is posted.


Another Eye-Opening Experience

My favorite eye-opening story in the Bible is found in 2 Kings 6. There we read that Israel was at war with the king of Aram. Screen Shot 2022-06-29 at 12.28.12 PMElisha the prophet consistently warned the king of Israel of the intentions of his Aramaen enemy, so much so that the king of Aram was convinced there was a spy in his midst. He was assured there was no spy, just an accurate prophet:

"But Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom" (2 Kings 6:12).

When informed of this, the king sent a troop of soldiers to find and apprehend Elisha. One morning, Gehazi, Elisha's assistant, went outside only to discover that they were surrounded by their enemies. Gehazi panicked and asked Elisha, "'Oh, my lord, what shall we do?' the servant asked" (2 Kings 6:15).

Elisha remained cool and declared  there was nothing to worry about, for "those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16). Then Elisha prayed but not for protection, not for friendly troops to rescue them, and not for the defeat of their enemies. Instead, he prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see" (2 Kings 6:17). When Gehazi's eyes were opened, he saw chariots of fire all around them. Their allies truly did outnumber their attackers!

Like Gehazi, you may not need to have your circumstances change, although that may seem to be your most pressing need. Instead, you may need to change how you see your circumstances. Remember what I wrote when we first began this series:  When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. When Gehazi changed the way he looked at the hills that surrounded them, he saw the army of the Lord ready to protect them.

Why not pray Elisha's prayer today concerning your dilemma or greatest challenge? Ask God to open your eyes so you can see what you haven't been seeing up to this point. Can you see how this will help you with your relationships, business, or ministry?   It will change the way you approach your problems when you accurately see and understand them from God's perspective. In fact, you may realize you don't have a problem at all but a wonderful opportunity to trust God and learn more about His goodness and ways.


An Eye-Opening Experience

One of my favorite prayers is "Open my eyes, Lord, so that I can see what I can't see, what I'm not seeing here." It's a fact that we Screen Shot 2022-06-24 at 8.46.38 AM can't see or hear everything that is going on around us, but that doesn't mean things aren't happening. What's more, I often have blind spots to the reality around me due to bias, busy-ness, or faulty thinking or evaluation concerning what I see and hear. 

One of the first examples of God opening someone's eyes to see what they could not see was Hagar, Abraham's maid. Hagar had a child to Abraham since Abraham was childless (Believe it or not, Abraham's wife Sarah, approved of this at first). When the child, Ishmael, got older, however, and Abraham had a son of his own to Sarah, Sarah changed her mind and forced Abraham to evict Hagar and her son. When the eye-opening story begins, we see Hagar sitting in the desert, alone and forlorn:

Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow shot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die." And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob (Genesis 21:14-16). 

Hagar thought what I have thought many times: It's over. There's no use. I can't make it. It was then that God intervened and saved her and the boy. 

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation." Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink (Genesis 21:17-19 emphasis added). 

Hagar thought they were dead but God opened her eyes to an oasis that was nearby. Hagar couldn't see the oasis because she was sad, because she thought she knew everything about her situation and environment that there was to know. She was in the desert, they were out of water and in trouble. Yet Hagar didn't see it all; she was missing one important factor that changed everythingthere was an oasis right in front of her.

Is that your situation? Do you think you are "dead" only to be missing a major source, an oasis, near where you are today? Don't spend time fretting over your situation. Spend time seeking what you can't see, that one idea, perspective, or relationship that is right in front of you, that one thing that can change your situation from despair to hope. Someone said, "When we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change." Ask God to help you change the way you look at things today, even your desperate situation, and you just may see your situation change. 


Creativity Anxiety

If anyone, including a Christian, is going to creatively produce, he or she must deal with the issue of anxiety. I am learning to Screen Shot 2022-06-17 at 9.23.03 AMdeal with anxiety that keeps me from expressing my creativity and I see it all the time in many people. Church people have a whole repertoire of excuses that others don't use, excuses like, "I'm praying about it; God hasn't released me to do that; it's not God's timing; or I don't want to get ahead of the Lord."  Sometimes these expressions may be based in fact, but often they simply mask anxiety and fear. In my own creative journey, I've drawn wisdom from Eric Maisel's book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path through Depression:

When a creator does this frequently enough and lets his [or her] anxiety about creating stop him [or her] from creating, he [or she] begins to feel like a weak, indecisive person. It is a very short step to even darker feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. The end result of not knowing that he must brave his anxiety is that he ends up completely down on himself. Anxiety bests him and, to make matters worse, he then has to deal with the negative labels he pins on himself.  This classic vicious cycle, where anxiety leads to a battered self-image and a battered self-image makes it harder to brave anxiety, defeats many creators. 

Anxiety can debilitate any creator, even the most strong-willed and self-directing.  A fiercely independent-minded sculptor may mention with a laugh that some friends visited his studio and hated his new work. On the surface, it looks like he's shrugged their comments off.  Three weeks later, he complains of serious blockage. Doubts about his talent now make him anxious, his anxiety causes him not to sculpt, but the "why" of this is completely unknown to him. Anxiety has chalked up another victim.

Has anxiety claimed you as a victim?  I don't restrict the effects of anxiety to just the creative arts like writing or painting. It can hinder your ability to start a business, take a missions trip, teach a class, or go back to school. You can be so uptight about doing something wrong or doing it poorly that you don't do anything at all, and so you "wait" upon the Lord. 

Anxiety and fear are closely related, if not synonymous, in the creative process.  So dealing with anxiety is like dealing with fear: you must face it to overcome it.  You start by admitting that you are anxious and identify the reasons why: fear of failure, fear of criticism, ignorance of how to start, not knowing how to finish.  You must not hide behind the Lord and disguise your anxiety as something other than what it is.

How does the issue of anxiety apply to your creativity right now?  What has you stuck in a non-productive or non-creative rut?  I urge you to discover what it is and then get going on what you have talked about doing for a short or long time.  Don't let anxiety rob you and the world any longer of the best you that you can be.  If I can help, let me know.


Funny Guy

On one of my international trips, I was in the car with three or four young men when one of them asked me a question: "Dr. Screen Shot 2022-06-15 at 7.45.16 AMStanko," he said, "I probably won't ever get another chance to be with you like this. I like to be in front of people and make them laugh. You do that so well. Can you share any secrets with me?" I am often asked questions about how I do what I do, so I had an answer ready. I thought I would share with you what I told him.

HUMOROUS SECRETS

1.  Accept who you are. I've always made people laugh and I love itmost of the time. There were occasions, however, when I abused and misused humor to make people look silly. I can remember one night when I asked the Lord to take away my humor because I had used it incorrectly. However, I sensed that God had no intention of taking it away; He wanted to teach me how to use it properly.

Many times since then I have been able to use my humor to de-fuse sensitive situations. My humor has enhanced my ability to speak and write. In other words, being funny is who I am. The first step to using it properly was to accept it as a gift. 

2.  Develop who you are. Once I accepted the fact that being humorous is part of who I am, I then set out to make my humor effective. I studied other humorous people. I watched their routines, studying what worked and what didn't.  I noticed that people did not laugh at everything they said, yet they were still considered comics. 

I've still made lots of mistakes and I've said and written many things that weren't funny. Yet I keep working at it, studying how I can be better at what I do and who I am. More often than not, I will hear feedback that says, "You should be a stand-up comic." I laugh and respond, "I already am!"

3.  Work at who you are. The final thing I said to the young man in the car surprised him. I told him that after I accepted who I who and began to develop my skill, I then had to work at being funny. I think a lot about what to say in certain situations.  I may even go back and reconsider, "What could or should I have said in that situation that may have been funny?" When I am an emcee or a speaker, I try to plan scenarios that could be funny before I go on, even if I'm working with another person. 

However, much of what I do is spontaneous; I'm not a good joke teller. Yet I have found the more work I do to make people laugh, the more opportunities present themselves for me to be humorous. 

YOU MAY NOT BE FUNNY BUT. . .

So there you have my three secrets of humor, and they really aren't so secret. They apply to almost any gift or talent you may have.  Humor may not be your gift.  I know, however, that you do have one, and that you may be looking past it or doing nothing with it. So, your assignment is to take these three tips and apply them to your own life and work.   

For instance, are you a good cook? If so, then are you applying these three principles to your life in the kitchen?  Are you taking cooking lessons?  Giving lessons? Writing cookbooks? Teaching others to cook?

Creativity, productivity and purpose aren't magical concepts. They require a lot of work on your part, not only to find them, but to fulfill and express them.  I urge you to do your part so that the world can enjoy you to the fullest.  As you work on your gifts, I promise to continue to work on my ability to make people laugh.


Easter Power

Easter isn't what it used to be. Today, it is mostly about Easter bunnies, colored eggs, candy, and mall salesif it's acknowledged or celebrated at all. EasterPic2I was in England a few years ago over Easter and I can remember thinking that if it wasn't for the hotels advertising Easter Sunday dinner, I would never have known that Easter was approaching. When I was a child, businesses closed down between noon and 3 p.m. on Good Friday and no business ever opened on Easter Sunday. There was never any school on Good Friday or Easter Monday.

This Memo is about the good old days, but not those days 65 years ago when I was young. The good old days I want to remember are the days 2,000 years ago when Jesus came back to life, after having been dead for three days. 

BELIEVING

Easter is still one of the best-attended church days of the year when many attend worship services, some for the only time of the year, to commemorate Jesus' resurrection. Think of it: All those people come back to commemorate that the Spirit brought a dead man back to life. They believe it actually happened and bear witness to it by their presence. If you're among them and believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, then you should be able to believe God for anything.

If God raises the dead, which He does, then He can cure cancer. He can provide for your business or ministry. He can transform you into the person He intended you to be, that person you want to be. If God can take a dead body and give it life, then nothing is beyond His miracle-working power. What's more, you have the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead living in you if you have put your faith in Christ. It's not a replica of that Spirit, it's not a portion of that Spirit. You have the Spirit that raises the dead living in you. Here's what Paul had to say about the implications of your Spirit-resident:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you (Romans 8:9-11).

THE SPIRIT LIVES IN YOU

The Spirit lives in you, and He didn't run out of power when He brought Jesus back to life. He isn't "out there" somewhere doing good work with the same power that raises dead people. He's in you. He's present to give you the mind of Christ so you can think the very thoughts of God. He's in you so you can transmit His presence to others who have no such Spirit resident; when they have an encounter with you, they're actually having one with Him. You're His hands, His feet, His ambassador, His emissary. Jesus put it this way:

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified (John 7:37-39).

People often talk about coming into God's presence, but God's presence is always with you, whether you feel it or are aware of it. What difference should that make when you pray, work, and serve? It should make a big difference. Is it? Is Easter power present in your life and purpose work all year long? Are the rivers of living water from the Spirit's presence flowing from you? If not, then think about Romans 8:9-11 and John 7:37-39 and ask God to show you how you can allow this life-giving Spirit more room in your life to work and flow in the coming days and weeks. As you're doing that, I hope you find the time to have a blessed Resurrection Day.


On the Road Again

Here is a post I wrote in 2006, but it's still relevant to thoughts on my travels. Since 2022 looks like a busy travel year (although not to WallMapthe extent of my life on the road when I wrote this), I thought I would dust it off and share an edited version with you, for the content is still describes my thoughts about life in a hotel and on a plane. (The picture to the right is a wall map with pins in it of all the countries I have visited.).

*****

I'm sometimes asked about my travel schedule and how I like being on the road so much. I usually answer in jest, "A moving target is hard to hit." I've also been known to say, "I'm not sure that God knows where I am some times. And if He doesn't know, then the devil doesn't either!"

Seriously, there are a few thoughts that sustain me while I'm on the road. The first is the knowledge that my father, who served in World War II, was away from home for several years serving his country. I'm involved in even more important work of the Kingdom, so I should be willing, in my mind, to pay a price, and for me, that includes being away from home.

The second is a verse in Paul's second letter to the Corinthians: "I have been constantly on the move, I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers" (11:26, emphasis added). Paul traveled a lot to do what God wanted him to do; it seems that I have to do so as well.

Don't get me wrong. while I enjoy traveling, I also love being at home. I wish the doors would open in the States that have opened in other countries. I wouldn't mind staying busy at home. (Note: I was able to do that during the pandemic and was quite happy, not depressed or pining away for life at 39,000 feet.) And I miss my wife terribly when I'm gone. (You'll have to ask her if she misses me). I admit that I get a bit miffed when people glibly say, "You're never home!" I'm home about one third of the year, and my travels pay for the home we do have.

As people get to know me and my at times outlandish humor, they will often ask my wife, "How can you live with him?"  Her answer is, "I don't have to; he's seldom here. God has made a way where they seemed to be no way!" So until something else opens up closer to home, I'm destined to follow in Paul's footsteps and be on the move regularly. I only wish I could be as effective as Paul was when I go.


The End of Self

The end of self is the true beginning of self. What am I talking about? Is that a riddle? Double-talk? Let me explain. Screen Shot 2022-03-07 at 6.52.25 PM

Most people are familiar with Jesus' words that pertain to picking up a cross and following Him. The cross isn't the end of your personality; it's where it begins. The cross enables you to come into contact with so you can develop your personality as God intended it to be. The problem is that we are so steeped in the self-willed self life that it's almost impossible to let go. This is highlighted by Paul's words in Philippians 2:19-23 when he described his assistant Timothy:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Can you imagine? Of all the great men with whom Paul traveled, he had no one like Timothy. Timothy had reached an end of self to such an extent that he could be genuinely interested in the welfare of others and not his own. If Paul only saw one such man in his life, how many will you and I see? Perhaps the better question is: Can you become the one Timothy that other people encounter? More on that later.

I've been thinking this past week on the examples I can offer of people who haven't come to the end of self and self-will because they haven't truly picked up their cross. Here are some thoughts:

  1. If you have no experience in an area, but offer your uneducated opinion, and then are offended when people don't follow or listen to you, you haven't come to an end of self.
  2. If you can't accept advice, and insist on doing things yourself in your own way, even when you don't have the expertise, you haven't come to an end of self.
  3. If you refuse to change your habits, like how or where you work, or stubbornly resist adopting new technology or work habits, you haven't come to an end of self.
  4. If you've consistently had no results in an area of life, work, or ministry, but cling to the ways you've always done it (and get upset when someone speaks into your dysfunction), you haven't come to an end of self.
  5. If you believe you're entitled to your opinion (which you are), but that your opinion is special simply because it's yours, you haven't come to an end of self.
  6. If you ignore the input of someone who has walked a path before you, especially when that person has no vested interest except to see you succeed, you haven't come to an end of self.
  7. If you've failed in an area, but still want to be the one to give advice or direction instead of listening and learning, you haven't come to an end of self.

Keep in mind that I'm not suggesting your surrender your life's direction to anyone but the Lord. However, I regularly see these dynamics and tendencies mentioned above at work in my consulting and teaching and it keeps people from bearing fruit and transforming into the people God wants them to be.

What's more, I've seen them all operate in my own life, past and present, and I'm always confronting where I'm more interested in serving my own image of who I want to be (or seem to be) as opposed to who others and God need me to be. To the extent that I've come to an end of self, I have been able to embrace my true self and it has been liberating. I invite you to join me, so that together we can form an army of people like Timothy who can selflessly serve others through our true selves.