Articles 2

Human Strengths and Weaknesses

Aaron Lapp
Kinzers, PA

Human life is sometimes easy to figure out and at other times is nothing short of a mystery. There are times when we think we understand ourselves but cannot find a reason for the peculiarities of others. We consider it to be an advantage to be ignorant of ourselves, but we can easily see through the whys and wherefores of others, where they should change for the better, while we give ourselves too much slack for the worse.
Like the Quaker who said to his wife, “Methinks the whole world is queer, except me and thee, but at times I am not even sure about thee!” That substantiates the line of worldly thinking that supposes that men can never understand women, or vice versa, that women can never understand men. The ideal Christian marriage is that husband and wife are being fulfilled to the extent that they are progressively able to understand their spouse over the course of time. Love is nurtured, wherein the understanding of each other is increased, and the undesirables are cast into a mental waste basket and disposed of along with the other mental trash of the week.
In the dynamics of human relationships, the richness of give and take increases the value of being connected as we try to lovingly understand each other. A larger congregation can absorb better the cantankerous ones while a smaller congregation has the same percentage of people who are difficult but scarcely enough ideal people to absorb their peculiarities. Here is a list of what constitutes strong characteristics that are desirable. We might suppose the strengths as being our fortunate lot. It is easy to see only our strengths, while some others, who are “hung up” on us as a person, can only see our weaknesses. As the Bible says, “Why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at naught thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10). The Bible calls on the church to address the sins of the members of the church but forbear with each other’s in-house weaknesses. (Oh Lord, help us to do each part with love.) Many church problems can arise when some sins are overlooked, and some weaknesses are overcooked.
Here is my list of twenty strengths and their corresponding weaknesses.
1. Industrious/Selfish
2. Restless/Aggravate, agitate
3. Rise/Put others down
4. Vision/Perfectionist
5. Preacher/Never wrong
6. Creative/Manipulative
7. Dad/Always right
8. Helpful/Bossy
9. Inquisitive/Suspicious
10. Chairman/Controlling
11. Punctual/Judgmental
12. Early at it/Self-congratulating
13. Teaching/Know-it-all
14. Overconfident/Fearful
15. Successful/Boastful
16. Expressive/Complain, find fault
17. Collector/Show off
18. Traveler/Stories of self
19. Quiet/Lack of concern
20. Excellent memory/Snoopy

We judge ourselves by what we intended to say and do, whereas we judge others by what we thought we heard them say and by what we thought we saw them do. We are naturally kind to ourselves.
Our human weaknesses will likely be noticed and mentioned by those who have not appreciated us over time. Whereas those who always have thought well of us will think of our strengths when they see us or when our names are mentioned. We scarcely think of ourselves as being stuck in such a humanness of variable judgmentalism. Choosing to love the unlovely and choosing to trust those whom we are not sure about is the way of release for ourselves. There is grace from God whenever we desire to do His will, live as Jesus lived, and think of others more highly than ourselves.
These things of human judgment can be lessened by a growing discipline in Christlikeness and by thinking less of self and more about others. On this context Jesus said, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:33, 36, 37). There is also the classic principle given by Jesus, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” This verse is given in Matthew 7:12, which is easy to remember as we recognize it applies to seven days of the week and twelve months of the year (7x12).
The helpful grace of God teaches us to work on it when our inclinations are toward pride and selfishness, to where our strength can increase toward more favorable Christlikeness and our weaknesses decrease. Our dispositions and native characteristics are seldom completely changed but can be modified by the sanctification of the Spirit.
We are not discouraged by the fact that we cannot be brought to perfection in this life; God has assured us of being perfect in the life to come, in heaven. We are encouraged to know that the teaching by the grace of God is toward being “a peculiar” people, as those who are divinely “His very own, redeemed from sin, and purified unto God,” partially restated from Titus 2:11-14. That text says, “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”
The two words, “teaching” and “soberly” are translated into the word “discipline” in Luther’s German. “Discipline” is a direct link to “disciple,” which involves being taught mentally, along with a conscious mental assent, as in agreeing with Christ, and a mental consent to follow up and do accordingly in life as His disciple.
The Bottom Line is that everyone needs the crisis of saying “no” to Satan and their own fleshly desires, and saying “yes” to Jesus. From there we give consent to follow Jesus as a disciple of His and accept His discipline all through life. Conversion is the personal crisis in a moment of decision for Christ. Christian growth is the day-by-day cleansing from our personal weaknesses, which can be sins, even after we are born again. The grace of God saves us in a moment of a crisis decision, and His grace disciplines us in an intentional denial of self and the acceptance of His way to live in a continuing renewal.


Turning Devotion-ills into Devotion-alls

Aaron Lapp,
Kinzers, PA

Family devotional time has a widespread problem of becoming more ill than hale and more bothersome than wholesome. It suffers from low input with time for or it being cut, its practice in a rut, and therefore it falls underfoot.
Its symptom denotes failure with symptoms of the anemia of colorless vitality. It loses interest, peruses skipping it, and uses little originality. Any manufacturers who have made no variations in their product in the last ten years are out of business today. Family devotions, once started, are almost without any changes, and are sustained mostly by knowing we should—somehow or other—so we try to keep it going in a changeless mode.
Sadly, the expectation factor arising from family devotions is about as low as that of pulling weeds in the garden. The duty part is high but the joy in doing it has little reward. We are either too busy, too lazy, or too uninterested, or else, we don’t have time to do it since we can’t quickly get through it. Our weekday schedules are hectic, all our involvements are electric, and the cell phone becomes frantic for our time. Even most meals must be eaten in haste.
Every congregation needs an occasional revival meeting, council meeting, and communion service. Is there any possibility that the Christian might need a revival meeting in the area of family devotions followed by a council meeting and a little communion service in the home?
I suggest at least once a week when the whole family could arrange for a time to plan for family worship time and doing so without using any prepared booklets by someone outside the home for the thoughts and Scripture chosen.
Prepared books or booklets are what any individual can read during his or her own quiet time whenever it suits.
Here is a new suggestion: Appoint one of the children to be the family secretary for the once-a-week family worship. The secretary should be given a record book (like a composition book we used in school). Records would be kept of who did the reading, what was read, and the song that was sung. Someone could be appointed to read the Scripture he chooses at next week’s family worship. That all would be signed and dated. Dad is the overseer to see it all “flows,” and Mom, as the vice-chairman, helps out to see that the secretary has it all written down. She could be secretary if the children are too small, or when the designated secretary is “out of town.” What a wonderful family treasure in years to come in the memory of the mind and in that book!
“Doing” family devotions because we must for the sake of other people is the death of the vision for it. Stern duty can have its own reward if it has some semblance of joy in the duty. Otherwise, it is otherwise.
The reason for family devotions has the central idea of the father being the priest for the family. But he is not only priest for the family, he is also prophet for the family. The Old Testament prophet spoke to the people as God’s representative to them. The priest was the appointed person to represent people to God in their sacrifice and worship.
Here is my burden: as conservative Anabaptist churches, we have experienced some mighty revivals from God during the 1950s and 1960s and since. With the good use of Bible schools and a rich source of ready, spoon-fed Bible helps, we have produced many interesting and capable preachers.
Many people by now know that I have been writing extensively to produce a complete commentary of the New Testament. Many preachers tell me they are OK with preaching, but volunteer to say that they are not writers. They say writing is hard work. Did we say it is easy? Nowadays, the most basic work of making sermon notes can be accomplished by using the keyboard and the computer. I am saddened to hear grown men say they are not writers, even though they are quite capable with a computer.
What is ahead for the next generation? (Please bear with me if I paint too bleak a picture.) I frequently carry several of my commentary books with me and introduce them to young men in their 20s and 30s. Do you know what they often say? I am amazed that grown men will admit that they are not writers. But I am appalled that young men quite often will say, “I am not a reader.” I want to say, “O. Lord, open the heavens—the fathers don’t write and the young men don’t read!”
The revivals in Bible times came by writers and readers. The revival that sparked the Anabaptist movement was in part by writing and by reading. Men become serious about God’s Word and wrote important works on various doctrines of God and how it should be lived.
We are aware that there are many computer programs available which provide information of all kinds in an instant, including many kinds of Bible study helps. We hope that conservative Anabaptists will never lose their fascination with books worthy of meditative study. The hard work of writing which has put maturer men out of gear has now spawned a new generation of young men who shy away from the hard work of meditative reading and study.
The Bottom Line is that a little creativity here and a little expressive exercise there in family devotions could help to lead in the art of becoming self-taught to a degree in personal reading and writing. Hopefully, we are not too busy or too lazy for too long in having missed our opportunity and responsibility to raise a generation that appreciates the expression of personal creativity in biblical literature. Moms and dads should encourage their children to keep a diary or journal, and just maybe do some of that themselves—you know, like we say, for a little change at a slower pace. Or maybe even having a little revival right in our own home, beginning with the priest!

Take Your Pen and Write

Floyd Stoltzfus
New Holland, PA

I sit at my desk in a quiet spot. I take my pen. I ponder. I pray. What shall I write? To whom shall I write? How shall I write it? When shall I write? Here’s good advice: Get started. Do not postpone. Think of our missionaries in lonely fields of service. Oh, there may be lots of noise like loud ungodly music where earplugs are a comfort at night when you are trying to sleep. Constant door callers may eventually drain your emotions. Gamblers might be shouting at each other just outside your kitchen window when they lose a deal in the game. There is a Sunday morning message to prepare. A baby dies in the community and you are called upon to conduct the funeral service. There are people in the community or hospital who enjoy your friendship and visit along with a devotional and prayer. Someone asks to borrow an important tool. Later some girls visit the mission after school needing loving assistance in homework assignments. So life goes on day after day. The mailbox is emptied but no letters from home. However, let me quickly add, it is not always so dry. Letters from home are placed into the box. These are welcomed and gratefully received.
Perhaps your station of service is too quiet. Nights are long and painful with depressing feelings. These might take root and slither their way through the dark soil of your aching heart to find some water for your thirsty soul. Sometimes it is called homesickness. Share your feelings with a confidential friend. Take a vacation. Write letters to folks in the homeland and humbly plea for a few notes of encouragement. Make your prayer requests known.
A missionary from a foreign land writes in an update, “Vacation Bible School [in a certain community] has been difficult in the past, but this year’s was the worst ever. The church was still reeling in shock because a member fell into sin, left her husband, and moved in with another man. Then when VBS classes began, unruly young people came to church to disrupt classes. Worst of all, one of the teachers had to be dismissed for misconduct.
“Half way through the Bible School, one of the girls causing disturbances was involved in a bad traffic accident.
By the mercy of God, she wasn’t seriously injured. We visited her and thanked God for sparing her life. To our surprise, she returned to Bible School more defiant than ever.  
“We trust, in spite of the difficulties, that good seed was planted in some receptive hearts. May it sprout, grow, and yield fruit.”
Howe ver, mission life has many bright spots and rewarding experiences that far outweigh the turbulent seasons. Letters of encouragement are like a refreshing stream in the desert to bolster vitality to weary laborers through difficult times. Whether sent electronically or by paper and envelopes, a word from a friend is deeply cherished and will energize a servant to faithfully labor until God calls elsewhere.
The World Book Encyclopedia describes seven “C” words that comprise a good letter: : “clear, correct, complete, courteous, concise, conversational, and considerate.” A letter often has a heading which includes the writer’s address and date. It may have an inside address which shows the address of the recipient. It needs a salutation; then the main part of the letter called the body, a complimentary closing, and a signature.
Meaningful letters reflect words of appreciation. Share how your friend has blessed you in years gone by. Maybe this person has encouraged you as a Sunday school teacher or in Summer Bible School inspiring you to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. I received such a letter yesterday by a dear brother. He asked about my well-being and adjustment since we are back in Pennsylvania. The tone of his letter was with tender words of encouragement. He shared some of his struggles but included the vital ingredient of a deep, unchanging faith in God.
Write how a nugget of truth from a message at church inspired you or how you have been blessed in your Bible reading and prayer time. Maybe there was an accident in the community, a death, or a birth of a baby that this person would not find out about if you would not inform him. Share about a most recent announcement of a couple’s engagement. Tell about your family, your garden and flower bed, or plans for a vacation. Be open to share a few of your trials, tests, or difficulties on life’s pathway.
Set a goal to write one, two, or three letters a month. It costs so little. “As cold waters are to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Prov. 25:25).

You've Got a Mission

Simon Schrock
Catlett, VA

I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again before many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
(Revelation 10:10-11).

John was abandoned on Patmos. His testimony for the risen Lord seemed crushed. Instead, God used him to perform a mighty work that would impact every generation.
“You must prophesy again.” God was not finished with John. There was yet kingdom work for him to do. John was to prophesy again, and write the Book of Revelation. God has work for every member of the body of Christ. There is a mission for all God’s children. All around us are unsaved people, people who are hurting, distressed, and discouraged by grief and disappointments. Orphans, widows, and older people who feel neglected need our ministry. There are people bound to sinful habits who will find release in Christ. This sinful and adulterous generation is discarding God’s principles and moving toward the condition of Sodom and Gomorrah.
In this hurting, hopeless world Jesus has called us to be his “salt and light.” God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18). God has placed you where you are to be his ambassador. Whether it is giving a cup of water in his name, or preaching his Word, there is a work for you in his body.
What an awesome thought—I’m part of his body and I have work to do for him! “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).
[This final meditation is from page 138 of Revelation Day by Day, edited by R. Leslie Holmes and Richard A. Bodey. Published in 2001 by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.]


Joy, A By-Product of Thanksgiving

Mary June Glick
Seneca, SC

A thankful woman is a joyful woman. It does not necessarily mean she has an easy life or has experienced a life free of stress. In fact it may mean just the opposite. She may be a woman who has experienced deep pain or grief. Her life may have been full of bends and curves. Life may not have met her expectations. However, I believe a woman who has courageously walked through the storms of life and emerged with a deeper faith and a joyous spirit is a woman who has learned the secret of thankfulness.
Thankful, grateful, and appreciative all express the same thought. Thankfulness shows an indebtedness to someone. We are all indebted to God for His blessings to us and we are indebted to people. Cultivating a spirit of thankfulness strengthens our faith and brings glory to God. At the same time it can also strengthen our relationship with people. We don’t want to be like the nine lepers who were healed and forgot to say, “Thank you” to Jesus. Only the one who returned to thank Jesus formed a relationship with the healer. The Bible commands us to be thankful in all circumstances. This is not an easy command when we are going through trials and difficulties. We live in a culture that encourages us to act how we feel. However, God knows that only as we focus on our blessings will we become people of joy.
We have experienced many natural catastrophes in this past year all over the world. Earthquakes, tornados, and hurricanes have left many people homeless. There is war, famine and persecution in countries around the world. We wonder “Why” have certain areas been spared and others suffer? Was it because Christians prayed? I believe God answers prayer. I also believe there were many devout Christians who prayed. They still suffered tremendous loss of possessions and loss of life. We do not understand the mind of Christ. However, I believe God may have spared us be the hands and feet of Jesus, to bring hope and comfort to the hurting. He may want to use our resources to rebuild, to feed the hungry, and even to heal the sick. We can express our thanks to God by reaching out to others.
Why should we be thankful? Because God has blessed us and we should thank Him for each blessing.
Thank God for material blessing, for food, shelter and clothing. Everything we have in life ultimately comes from God. He gives us physical strength, mental understanding, many opportunities to work and the ability to work. Thank God for each gift he gives you, name them one by one. Speak of your blessings to others. Share your blessings with your children. Rejoice together in God’s goodness. I have seen people who experience so little in life of material benefits, yet exhibit a deeply thankful and joyful spirit.
Thank God for the people in your life. It is easy to take people for granted, to become angry and complain because they do not meet our need. But we must learn to thank God for those He has placed into our lives, our spouses, children, extended families and church family. Even thank Him for the people you work with. Let people know you love and appreciate them.
Thank God for the difficult experiences in your life. None of us wants to go through trials and trouble, yet it is in the midst of these that we draw close to God and experience His divine grace upon our lives. Suffering gives us a new perspective on life and draws our hearts to Heaven.
Thank God for the beauty of creation. For those of us who have eyesight, we need to enjoy the beauty of the sunset, the stars, birds, flowers, the ocean. God has given us so many things to enjoy. I will never forget looking up at the full eclipse in August, and recognizing just a glimpse of the greatness of God. I believe even the poorest person on earth can find joy in God’s creation. He does not limit His gifts of nature to anyone.
Thank God most of all for the gift of salvation. We will experience deep peace as we walk in a daily relationship with Jesus Christ. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. In everything give thanks. Joy is the by-product of thanksgiving.

Stopping Evil

Dale Stoltzfus
Lewisburg, PA

The year was 404, A.D. The place: Rome. The emperor: Honorius. A monk had traveled from the east to Rome. He found himself in the Roman stadium. The gladiators were beginning their fights. The monk was appalled by the scene of people killing each other for sport.
According to historian Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria (A.D. 393-457), the monk Telemachus, was more than just appalled. He was spurred to action. He moved down into the arena and tried to stop the gladiators. Some accounts have him shouting, “In the name of Jesus, stop!” The crowd, furious that Telemachus was interrupting their “entertainment,” stoned him to death. When the emperor, Honorius, was informed of the acts of Telemachus, he numbered him with the victorious martyrs and ended the gladiatorial fights.
The last known gladiatorial fight in Rome was on January 1, 404. Telemachus got in the way of evil. God used him to stop a heinous practice, but he paid with his life. To Telemachus, being salt and light carried a huge price tag, but his impact was even more huge.
Recently I heard a message by Brother Val Yoder, entitled: “Get in the Way of Evil.” Val says, “We must get in the face of evil with uncarnal weapons. Someone has said that we are going to lose our young people either to apostasy or to martyrdom. Our young people have a God-given passion. Will their feet run to preach the Gospel of peace and bring glad tidings...or will they hug pigskin and run for the end zone?” He says, “The foundational difference between the early Christians and their enemies is that the early Christians did not believe that they needed to survive. They didn’t expect to survive. Don’t depend on a speck of fairness in the system that will persecute you.”
When Elijah was on Mt. Carmel, he willingly got in the way of evil. He was willing to stand up to King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and other Baal-worshiping Israelites. All he had was an altar, God’s direction, a few faithful followers of Jehovah, and God. If he had had only God, that would have been much more than enough. Elijah had faith in the One with a power much stronger than the forces of evil, formidable though they were. God displayed his power in a very graphic way and evil was exposed. The Israelites bowed and worshiped and declared, “The Lord, He is God!”
After God persuaded him, Moses became willing to go to Pharaoh with Aaron and confront evil. He stood in front of a powerful ruler and gave him the message from the Great I Am. God used Moses to display his power to many nations and to strike the fear of God into their hearts. Heathen people steeped in idolatry were moved to fear God, because one man was willing to leave his comforts and securities to take God’s message to a stubborn, pagan, godless society around him.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam did not even try to stop Eve from committing the sin that ruined humanity. He joined her in committing the sin. Will I as a dad and husband and as a brother in the church do better than Adam did?
God has given us dads the job of guardian, leader, and protector. How much time do we spend praying, submitting to God, and resisting the devil on behalf of our families (James 4:6, 7)? How much do we engage in spiritual warfare for each of our children and for their well-being?
Getting in the way of evil in the lives of people around me may seem glamorous and heroic. People may notice and it may draw persecution. But what about my sinful nature? What about the evil in my heart? What about the ways I have been deceived? What about my blind spots and my sinful motives?
Am I willing to first deal with my sin and allow the Holy Spirit to “get in the way of evil” in my heart? If I can humble myself and pray and seek God’s face and turn from my wicked ways, God can better use me to do the “surgery” to stop the cancerous spread of evil around me and to bring healing (2 Chron. 7:14).
[From The Mid-Atlantic Informer, Vol. 29, Aug/Sept, 2017. Used by permission.]

Experiences of the Mission Field

Floyd Stoltzfus
Belize City, Belize

What might missionaries face, patiently endure, and joyfully live with? The following happenings, trials, tests, and experiences are from various situations of Christian missions. Most of these stories are historical in nature. Other happenings took place more recently. Pray for God’s protection over missionaries and the national churches.
David Brainerd said, “I cared not how I lived, nor what hardships I went through, if only I might win souls to Christ.” David walked the trails of Pennsylvania even during cold winters in snow and rain to take the gospel to the American Indians. Some were transformed into the glorious image of Jesus Christ. He suffered much from over-exposure and died in his late twenties.
It is night time and dark! The deep river called Top Gallon is flooded in Belize. The ferry is not in service. The water covers the approaching planks that are used to get into the ferry. A “cranky” dory (dug-out canoe) is used to transport two families with four young children across the river. Several trips are made. You load the dory with feed, chicks, gas, kerosene, suitcases, groceries, needed parts for a broken down vehicle, and more. You sit still on the dory as the veteran navigator paddles his way confidently and quietly across the river in spite of the strong current and you know there are only several inches from the top of the dory to the water. You reach the other side safely. But then it is two miles to the mission house. Walking is the only option. Some children need to be carried.
 The fuel hose burst on the vehicle. That will be repaired later in the night. Finally the exhausted families reach the mission house. The beds feel so good to the children. The two fathers walked back one mile to repair the mission vehicle. They work on it until it pumps fuel without leaking and runs smoothly. One family drives to their mission home through some swampy area and gets stuck. Now it is past midnight. Soon they need to give an answer to the mission board whether they are willing to stay on the field for another two years. Their answer, “Yes, we are willing.” It is worth all the hardships, distresses, and sacrifice when years later they see a growing, stable church rejoicing in the Lord.
Driving through the jungle rain forest may require crossing slippery, narrow wooden bridges without railings in several feet of water. You remove the fan belt and place a piece of cardboard in front of the radiator. Carefully and prayerfully you drive onto the bridge while another man walks ahead of the vehicle to direct the passage. In some lands missionaries will drive through deep ruts with sticky mud for miles to their destination with food and other items for the poor and more than that to preach the Gospel. These muddy, slippery difficulties seem to vanish when people who were steeped in superstitions and fears have been brought out of bondage into the glorious liberty of our Lord Jesus.
It was getting late in the northland. It seemed so long to the missionary’s wife for her husband (a pilot) in coming home on his airplane from another reservation. She was concerned and wondered what could have happened. Finally, in the distance, she saw him approaching the lake to land. She observed an awesome sight as two angels were traveling with the plane, one at each wing.
Mission life may find you involved in repairing your own vehicle, putting up with a screeching wash machine (at least for a little while), or bearing with the frustrations of computer failure. Then fixing the toilet leaks, or replacing house siding because of deterioration through high humidity and rainfall or termites tests a person’s character, especially if various other duties stare you in the face. But God has a marvelous way of quieting the spirit of the frustrated missionary. The enjoyment of God’s creation in the tropics with the exotic, lacy, palm trees, colorful flowers, beautiful birds, lovely night sounds, the balmy breeze, the white cumulus clouds, and the warmth and welcome of national people has a way of causing our cares to evaporate.  
Being a testimony for Jesus may require going the second mile, turning the other cheek, and patiently enduring cruel reproaches of injustice like being threatened and miserably tied up to pay a ransom. Others were kidnapped and some were raped because of following the Lamb into the highways and hedges singing the songs of Zion and preaching the Gospel. A longtime missionary couple is ordered into their bedroom by robbers. They are held at gunpoint, while one collects the valuables that can be turned into easy cash.
There may be the opportunity to volunteer in carrying heavy backpacks of God’s Word across Communistic borders. Fervent prayers are offered to the Heavenly Father for protection. There may be some of the group detained by the authorities who demand answers to the questions they ask. Through some miraculous intervention God leads the Christian volunteers on the way rejoicing but mixed with a certain fear that this is His work. God’s ways are so much higher than our ways.
There is such a joy in seeing people believing the gospel, receiving the Lord, and walking in obedience. But oh, how sad when people are offended and fall back in the old paths of sin. Then the national church fervently prays. Many pray daily for the backslidden brother. His name is mentioned at every mid-week prayer service. Finally after some years, the brother humbly repents in deep contrition. He was a preacher. He is not returning to ring any bells. The brother quietly submits to the ministers and the church. This brother dies  later. We are confi dent that our gracious and forgiving Heavenly Father took him to Heaven.
“Discipleship cannot be purchased at bargain prices” (Nelson’s Bible). The Apostle Paul humbly writes, “Are they the ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; .  .  .  Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, … Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (II Cor. 11:23-28).

Growing as a School Leader

Gerald Miller
Guys Mills, PA

In January, I had the distinct privilege of spending a weekend with 40 other school principals. It was energizing to talk shop with other men who are in the same work. Something good happens when leaders relate to each other personally about the challenges and joys of what they do every day in school leadership.
We are well past the halfway point of the school year, and the countdown is here. More of the year is behind us than ahead of us. Now is the time to be planning and preparing for the coming school year, while juggling current responsibilities. Challenging? Yes! Essential? Absolutely! While some may not have the have title of principal or administrator, if you are the “lead teacher” or simply provide leadership for daily operations at your school, I would like to remind us of three things that are critical this time of the year.
Reflection is an essential key to keeping the vision of the school growing and prospering. While school leaders prefer to look ahead to what is coming and prepare for the future, this is best accomplished in the context of looking back. When reflecting, many questions could be asked. What went well in the events of the school year? Where was confusion? Are parents excited about the school? Why or why not? What is the “temperature” of the school culture? Is there joy and rigor in the classroom? Are teachers developing and growing?
More simply, an administrator could ask three questions and share these responses with their school board:
What are we doing at school that is not working?
What has gone well in the school?
In light of what is not working and what is working well, how does this impact the next year? What do we need to be doing?
Reflection enables us to see the future more clearly as we grapple with the reality of the past. In the short term it is easier to stay in a default mode of hoping that things will somehow get better on their own. Or maybe we think that if we don’t “rock the boat and make any waves” things will keep sailing smoothly. In the long term, this default position results in apathy, carelessness in the training of young people, and loss of vision.
Few of our school administrators in our smaller schools have time for adequate planning. However, just as businessmen see planning as a key to being a profitable business, so is planning to a healthy school. Effective planning springs from good reflection. Effective planning is also best couched in the larger context of the mission and vision of the school (What we do, why we do it, and how we will accomplish it). The common statement “if you aim for nothing you will always hit it” seems to apply here.
In planning, consider these questions:
How can we strengthen the areas of our school that are currently strengths?
How can we address areas of need with positive momentum?
What are the three goals we should have as a school next year?
Too many school leaders “fly by the seat of their pants.” The mental image of flying this way does not seem very compelling, but is seemingly a reality for us in our too busy schedules. As administrators, we need to find creative ways to devote good time to planning. Planning guides the school toward a goal, giving purpose and energy to the daily work of the school.
I have already mentioned that as administrators with a heavy teaching load, we have difficulty doing adequate reflection and planning. But I must add one more thing to your plate if we are to do anything more than survive. How are you growing? In what ways are you developing? Are you reading books and articles on education? Are you taking time for hobbies? Are you learning, or is it only the teachers and students who need to grow?
Sit down with your board chairman next week for one hour to brainstorm together the ways in which you can continue to grow. Stale leadership is not compelling for students or staff. Your school deserves better. Ask these three questions:
• What books will I read?
• Who will I meet with regularly to grow personally?
• What seminars or workshops should be a rhythm in my life?
Leaders who are not growing and developing lose their way eventually. Growing should be the first order of business as an administrator. Leading with integrity calls us to learning and to growing personally as we ask teachers and students to engage in the same.
Where to?
Reflection, planning, and development all take time and energy. How will we fit this into our schedules? I offer three ideas for your consideration.
• Consider requesting your school board give you a half-day per month or one day per quarter in which to do administrative work, including reflecting, planning, and developing. Maybe your board would like to substitute for you or take your students on a field trip!
• Make a schedule for this kind of work, or it will always happen “tomorrow.” Tell your board your plan so they can keep you accountable.
• Include your staff in this process by spending two to three days meeting together after the school year has ended in May. Doing this work as a team can be a powerful way to work out the vision of the church in community.
School leadership matters. We recognize this is in business, churches, and organizations. It is true for schools. I encourage you to seize the opportunity to develop personally as a way to serve the church by leading
your school well.


Facing God’s Tests

Stephen Miller
Belle Center, OH

Some call it foolishness. Some call it ridiculous. But call it what you may, it still will not change the fact that God in His wisdom saw fit to put a forbidden tree right “smack-dab” in the middle of the Garden of Eden. And not only that, this forbidden tree was also “pleasant to the eyes and a tree to be desired to make one wise.”
Then of all things, God told Adam to take care of the garden—“to dress it and to keep it.” And the forbidden tree too? Surely not!
There it was—right in the middle. He couldn’t miss it. Almost any direction they looked, there it was. Or while walking from one side of the garden to the other, they couldn’t help but going past it. It was a very beautiful tree.
When they awoke in the morning, there it was! They couldn’t miss it—or forget it. As the fragrance of those blossoms drifted in the evening breeze, “Do not eat; Do not eat;” kept ringing in their ears.
But how about you and me, my dear friend? Is there something—just one thing—that God is withholding from you? Something that would be very pleasant —”something to be desired.” If only we would have this one thing, we would be so happy! The key to our fulfillment in life is contained in this one thing—or so we think.
We are reminded of it when we go to bed at night. In fact, we let our whole day be consumed with thoughts of “if only, if only!” “Why can others have it and I can’t?” For you it is one thing, for me it is something different. There it stands—right “smack-dab” in the middle of my path—forbidden!
Foolishness you say? Ridiculous? But God has a reason!
Our dear brother Paul found himself in a similar situation. He called it “a thorn in the flesh.” So after pleading with God three times to have it removed, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness!” And there is the answer! (or at least part of it) For the best was yet to come: “that the power of Christ may rest upon me” The ultimate! (2 Cor. 12:9)
And so, my dear friend, we have a choice in the difficulties of life. If God is withholding something from us, we can choose to become bitter—or better. The choice is ours. If indeed we would choose the latter, we will find that the grace of God is sufficient. His strength is perfect and the power of Christ will rest upon us! Hallelujah!

2017—A Plan of Action

Gideon Yutzy
Hutchinson, KS

In and of itself, making New Year’s resolutions is not a bad thing. What Henry David Thoreau wrote in the 1840’s is still true today: “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.”
Paraphrased, Thoreau was saying people can change and nothing under the sun is more awesome than that. At the dawn of 2017, a year unimaginably far into the future for Mr. Thoreau, I could not agree more.
New Year’s is indeed an appropriate time to think of personal change. Many of us prefer the traditional New Year’s resolutions. This year I
will keep better track of my keys. This year I will floss. This year I will catch up on my resolutions from 2016. (And 2015. And 2014…)
But what would happen if, instead of only listing things we resolve to do, we would also focus on becoming a certain kind of people? More specifically, what if we would resolve to become people of action? People who seek out new knowledge and understanding. People who avoid the tired script of the rat race.
Passivity plagues far too many people from our time—perhaps more than at any other time in history. Before you marathon runners dispute that statement, I remind us all that passiveness shows up in many personality types. Here are just a few.
Three groups of passive people
The victims. While Esther and I were living in Poland, Wiesiek, the Naturalist came down from Gdansk one weekend for a visit. At the time I was feeling a great deal of self-pity and injustice because of some relational difficulties. I decided to ask our friend for counsel.
If you’ve ever met Wiesiek the Naturalist, you know he cares for people. I had learned this, and that’s why I was unburdening myself to him. Yet when I finished, he was silent for a while. When he finally did speak, it was only this one maddening phrase:
 “Don’t be a victim, Gideon.”
Wiesiek the Naturalist, a man in tune with the very plants. A man whose country is familiar with suffering and where people have the right, if anyone does, to a victim mentality. (The historian Norman Davies once described Poland, which is situated squarely between the superpowers of Germany and Russia, as “God’s playground.”) I could take it from Wiesiek the Naturalist: I was being a victim.
Once his words sank in, once my immobilizing victim-mentality was identified and exorcised, I felt ready to take action over my problems.
The lemmings. Here I do not refer to squat rodents with short tails that follow each other off cliffs in the Arctic tundra. I refer instead to squat human beings with short attention spans who spend their waking hours taking in various forms of media.
Entertainment bombards us. No, it oppresses us. It numbs us. Granted, it can be harmless; it usually doesn’t include blood baths in a Roman colosseum. Nor would it be accurate to say that today’s entertainment is devoid of creativity or that all of its producers lack talent. In fact, in too many cases, that is precisely the problem: The makers of entertainment use creativity (substandard though it may be) but the masses of consumers do not.
Perhaps the greatest sin in today’s gluttonous intake of entertainment is not that we violate Psalm 101:3—I will set no wicked thing before my eyes—but that we violate Genesis 1:28, where God tells us to co-create with Him.
If we expect to live actively, we must free ourselves of entertainment-ism. In the spirit of Genesis 1:28, we must learn skills, seek out new knowledge, and, in general, rediscover the enthrallment of using our God-given abilities to create. Lemmings will never be active, creative people.
The perfectionists. Finally, some people tend to take action only when they think it possible to do so perfectly, which is never. They have ideas for creating things and engaging in life, yet the timing and feasibility are never quite right. The end of such people is identical to that of the lemmings: they pass through life without contributing.
Passive People Anonymous
What then is to be our strategy for becoming more active people in 2017? The answer is hardly to make Energizer Bunny-style resolution lists such as going to the gym three evenings per week or becoming fluent in Hungarian. Rather we should pray that the North American church would experience a renaissance in practicing St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15.16, ESV).
A major cause of passiveness is forgetting the importance of persistence. In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell proposes that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery (perfectionists shouldn’t be allowed to read it). His emphasis on persistence aligns with many scriptural writings, such as Jude 1:12 which instructs us to build ourselves up in the faith. For Christ’s beautiful nature to become our second nature, we must practice, not for 10,000 hours but for the rest of our lives. Practicing Christian virtues over carnal vices does not come automatically. “Character is formed by a thousand little choices,” says N.T. Wright.
N.T. Wright holds up the now-famous Captain Chesley Sullenberger as an example. When Sullenberger landed a commercial airliner on the Hudson River in 2009, he was able to do so only because he had maximized his years as a pilot to learn and grow. On that chilly January day, 154 passengers and crew were thankful that their pilot had not, in any point of his career, become passive. Here is what Captain Sullenberger said about the incident: “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years [more than 20,000 hours of flying and gliding instructing] I’ve been making small regular deposits in this bank of experience: education and training.” Practicing the 10,000 hour rule allowed him to make a colossal emergency withdrawal.
The other major cause of passiveness is failing to get started. In a recent talk, a writer named Josh Kaufman responded to the 10,000.hour rule. He points out that, while Gladwell was onto something, some people’s downfall is that they never start. What is needed for them is the 20-hour rule: the amount of time needed for most people to learn the basics of a skill. For Kingdom Citizens, Kaufman’s rule holds great promise. Consider this short list of what we could accomplish in 20 hours:

- Memorize the Sermon on the Mount.
- Learn a unique skill such as unicycling or stargazing (non-Hollywood ones) which will help us connect with more people, including people who don’t know Christ.
- Read a formative book.
- Spend an hour and a half alone each month journaling and listing potential areas of trials and temptations, thereby gaining an edge with an early offensive position.

Zig Ziglar, one of the least passive people of our times, had a saying: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” Whether our problem is getting started or sticking it out, we ought to consider Ziglar’s words.
A caveat—being active does not equal constant activity
There are times in life when it best to pause and take stock. Sometimes we may feel as though our noble desire for action has us thrashing wildly and spinning our wheels. Then is the time for healthy introspection. After making occasional adjustments, we should always gird up our loins and re-enter the fray.
Finally, 2017 should be a year for setting attainable, measurable goals as we continue serving our Lord in His Kingdom. But let us also use this year to become people of character— to become more like the Perfect Man, Jesus Christ.
As we follow Jesus, lemming-like behavior is for once entirely appropriate. The ancient Greek poets, although unlikely theologians, were right on target when they spoke of God as the One “in whom we live and move and have our being.” If we allow God to saturate our lives in this way, passivity will quickly become a receding memory. A life of inaction will be replaced with a life of using each moment to lay up treasures in Heaven. This most wondrous of metamorphoses can be ours if we resolve to abide in Him.
And that would be a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.