Much could be written about Pastor Shodankeh Johnson. I'll stick to what I have personally experienced getting to know him as a colleague at Cityteam.
Shodankeh is a man of prayer. I'd heard that he wakes early in the morning to pray for an hour or more each day, and when I hosted him in my home I found that to be true. More than pray, he actually sings in a soft voice to God, I woke up to hear it.
Another time, while attending the New Canaan Society San Francisco Weekend, I had arranged for Shodankeh to share a room with a dear brother and mentor to me named Ken Churchill (I wrote about Ken here). One evening, Ken received an email from a man in Africa who was reporting that another man who is Shodankeh's colleague was imprisoned. Ken informed Shodankeh of this terrible news, only to watch him fall to the ground in prayer where he began by praising God.
Once, I had set up for Shodankeh to speak at a conference, literally planning most of the details of his visit, from the time he stepped off the plane. A colleague, Eric Venable, picked him up with the intent to bring Shodankeh to the office to brief the plan and get settled in. But Shodankeh asked to be taken to Stanford University. Eric asked him if he had an appointment, to which Shodankeh replied that he did not, but he had been praying on the flight and God had directed him to go there. Off they went, and when they arrived, they began to walk around the campus, and in so doing, ran into an old friend of Eric's. As they got to talking, they learned that this friend was the secretary for a director of the Hoover Institution, a prestigious international think tank. And, she revealed, there was a new program in the works to resource international leaders just like Shodankeh! The program wasn't publicized, but she offered to provide some information if they would come to her office. Of course, they went, and despite his schedule being completely booked for the day, it turned out that the Director was in his office and took over an hour to brief Shodankeh on the program and give him all of the necessary details to apply. These kinds of divine directives, interactions, and provision are commonplace with Shodankeh and his team from Africa.
Later, when Shodankeh arrived to the office and I heard the story, I asked him how these things happen to him. He replied to me that when he travels abroad, he has a team of people, as many as 50, praying and fasting for him the entire time he is gone. I came to know that he is a man of prayer, and that his team in Africa often doesn't make a move until they have paid a high price in prayer and received direction from God.
Because of Shodankeh's love for prayer, I have put myself in position to pray with him and bring him to pray with groups of people I am a part of. Two examples, are the Legends prayer group I attend and the New Canaan Society brothers at a weekend retreat. Shodankeh has come to bless the men of Legends a couple of times and when he does there is always a thick presence of the Holy Spirit. Another time, Shodankeh joined a group of men who left the NCS weekend retreat to go to a hospital to pray for a young man who had been shot in the head. That man went on to have a miraculous healing that I documented here.
As I said, much more could be written about Shodankeh, in fact it has here and here. I also encourage you to read the book Miraculous Movements, many of the stories of which come from the work of Shodankeh and his team in Africa. Shodankeh is a man who seeks to know God and the fruits of the Holy Spirit are evident in his life, and for that he is definitely a Hands On Christian.
A short video with a powerful testimony from Pastor Shodankeh Johnson.
When I was first coming into my faith, a guy told me to look up Francis Chan's YouTube videos. The first one I found (just below) had me watching his videos late into the night, very impacted by what he was saying, his emphasis on the profound meaning of Scripture often overlooked, and his sense of urgency.
When I moved to California, I learned that Francis lived in San Francisco, and it wasn't too long before I had a chance to hear him preach in person at a youth event. I realized then that what strikes me most about Francis is his urgency, the man does not want to waste a minute on this Earth. That, and a fear of the Lord, has driven this man deep into his faith, and his teachings have literally changed me as a person.
In November 2013, at the New Canaan Society San Francisco Weekend, Francis was set to speak again. I was eager to hear what he was going to say to a few hundred business guys packed into the opulent Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill. Francis looked to be under duress during his talk, he gazed to Heaven, at one point he knelt on the ground in prayer before the men. Here is what he said.
After this talk, I was struck silent. I walked back to my hotel room, not wanting to listen to another speaker or talk to anyone, I just wanted to get on the ground before God in prayer. I wanted to repent that I just keep doing things on my own terms, not surrendering to God the way I know he is calling me to do. As I walked to my room, coming from the other direction was my roommate, Charlie.
Charlie and I entered the room one after the other, and I don't recall that we spoke a single word to each other. We put our things down, he in his separate room, me in mine. We soon realized we were both about to be on the floor in prayer, and so we joined each other. We called out to God and our prayers sounded similar. We prayed for maybe forty five minutes or so.
As we got up, we recognized there was a reason we were connected through this group, that we were sharing a room, that we both came back to pray. We offered to each other that while we are friends, we really only know about 70% of each other, at best. We agreed that we didn't want to leave this conference, and make nominal changes for a few weeks or months, to return to the same old way of doing things.
We made a commitment right then and there that we would work hard to get to know each other. And, more importantly, we would call each other every day or two to hold each other accountable to reading Scripture and to getting before God in prayer.
Over a year later, Charlie and I still talk a couple times a week at the minimum, pray together, reveal our struggles as much as anything, and encourage each other through life. There are times when we'd rather not reach out for all kinds of reasons, sometimes we are even annoyed at each other, but we both know that our relationship serves a higher purpose, that investing in the other isn't just about us, its about drawing closer to God, and glorifying Him. I think its fairly rare to have these kinds of real relationships among men, but I think when the Holy Spirit moves men get connected in a very strong way in relationships that bear great fruits.
I digressed there a bit into my personal story, rather than about Francis Chan and why he is "Getting It Done." Most recently, I had a chance to have dinner with Francis with about a dozen other guys. We were eager to hear what he's been up to with his "Crazy Love" project in the Bayview section of San Francisco. In a nutshell, Francis decided to start living church with a core group of brothers and sisters that are known by their love and their unity first, and then multiply from there.
He shared over dinner how they had multiplied a couple of times already, he told stories about how Christ's love is being expressed, and the way that everyday men and women are being raised up to teach and make disciples. In fact, Francis says he seldom preaches, since everyone is willing and able to preach and share together.
The question that came to my mind, which I asked Francis, is this, "Are the people who are coming into the church poor?" Francis said that they are. And then the follow-up question, "Can it work among the rich?" This is the million dollar question (ok, pun intended). So many of the disciple making movements that I hear about that have the characteristics of the early church we read about in Acts, people loving and caring for each other and being united, well, it mostly seems to happen among the poor.
This lead to Francis talking about a project he feels led to, a partnership with a larger church in Silicon Valley called Abundant Life. The elders at Abundant approached him about going "all in" for the kind of love and unity Francis is seeking with Crazy Love. And so, Francis has an opportunity to try "it" on a larger scale, he's come on as an elder and is preaching there periodically. Needless to say, I'm going to be praying for his effort and keeping an eye on the progress for sure. Here is a sermon Francis gave at Abundant Life called "Giving God Our Best."
In closing, I just heard Francis talk, again at the New Canaan Society Conference in San Francisco. And while a good deal of his talk was directed at the men and movement of NCS, his boldness in speaking the truth, in only desiring to please God was evident. And, his message about defining the God we serve from Revelation Chapter 4 has already vastly changed the way I pray. As soon as the video is available, I'll post it here online.
Don't stop Francis, fly far as on the wings of eagles brother!
My first week at Cityteam was an immersion into caring for the poor, addicts, and reaching the lost, those who do not know Jesus. That included two days with David Watson, and everyone in the room with him knew that he was legit.
Truth, wisdom, patience, David is a man that lives to see Jesus made famous, and he has fought many battles along the way. He's lost friends as martyrs in Nepal, has lived in more countries that I can name, and he has trained up thousands of leaders that are making incredible impact around the world.
In short, because I'm not doing David much justice in my introduction here, if you want to know about discipleship from a warrior, follow David Watson's blog. He doesn't update it all that regularly, but there is meaty content already there. He also runs a FaceBook page called Church Planting Movements, with his son, Paul (who I'll cover in another post here soon).
Kent and I met at a hackathon event in Silicon Valley, put on by Leadership Network. Kent stood out because he showed up early to pray over the space, he was clearly very smart but humble too. He helped me empty the trash and do the menial tasks it takes to run a straight 72-hour event for over 100 people, despite that he was listed as an esteemed mentor. He offered me access to his hotel room for a shower and to nap. Yet, there was a lightness about him too, we had fun together. And before we parted ways, Kent pulled me aside and said he wanted to help me, and encouraged me to think about ways that would be possible.
Kent and I have stayed connected ever since, which is saying a lot since he spent the year after we met traveling the United States with his family packed into an RV, with only occasional stops in one place for an extended time. Kent and his wife Evie felt called to be on the move with the purpose to connect the church, to share resources, and breakdown barriers. Kent's work manifests itself most clearly in two websites he runs, called Open Church and Church Relevance. Or follow his travels and commentary on Twitter here. Evie is a phenomenal artist/graphic designer/technologist and you can enlist her design services online here, and follow her artistic renderings online here.
It is a great blessing for me and my wife to know the Shaffer's. When Kent makes occasional trips to the West Coast, we find time to sneak off on a hike up a mountain to pray in the early morning hours. And we were blessed recently when they parked their RV behind our home and we had a few days to have our families spend time together. They are dear souls, salt of the earth people, who you just know are following the Lord wherever He might take them.
Kent and I write back and forth to each other by email and text and an occasional phone call. To know that there is a man out there in the world who I know is following Jesus and who is like-minded, that I can call knowing he will be real with me, this is a priceless gift. When I look back on our relationship and consider how it formed, I know that it could only have happened through the work of the Holy Spirit. People just don't often meet each other, stay in touch via email, and consider themselves to be close as family. Yet, that's what Kent is to me, a dear brother in Christ.
In closing, in one of our email exchanges where we were discussing a trial I was in the midst of, as he often does, Kent shared an insightful passage with me, this one from an Indian pastor named Abraham Israel:
Eagles are the only birds that love the storm. When all other birds try to flee from the storm and hide its fierceness, eagles fly into it and will use the wind of the storm to rise higher in a matter of seconds. They use the pressure of the storm to glide higher without having to use their own energy. They are able to do this because God has created them uniquely with an ability to lock their wings in a fixed position in the midst of the fierce storm winds.
After a certain period of experiencing storms face to face, eagles love to play in the storms. The storms in life that we as God’s royal eagles face are trials, tribulations, and temptations (John 16:33; James 1:12). As we face the stormy wind of afflictions in life, the Holy Spirit helps us lock our mind in a fixed position with the grace of God through faith in the finished work of the Cross, which helps us conserve energy and just stay in the storm and enjoy the lift and height of heavenly mindedness in a greater and greater altitude (1 Cor 10:13; Eph 6:16; 1 Peter 5:9-10; Phil 4:7).
After a period of time, we start to love the trials because of the positive things of peace that we are able to experience in the storm and the heavenly after effects of being lifted in to a great height of spirituality and ecstacy in believing (1 Peter 1:8), which would not be possible without it. This is the reason Apostle James said,
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. James 1:2-4
We as a person of royalty need to take a quality decision of accepting trials willingly with joy because it lifts us in to higher altitude of spirituality without us wasting even an ounce of energy. After we start to use all the maneuvers in the midst of storms, we will surely say, “Bring it on!” with a stout chest and our head held high.
I first met Jack at the New Canaan Society, and in the hallway he spoke to me like a friend. His calm approachable spirit struck me; with people eager to speak to him, we had a leisurely five minute conversation. Me a young man who knew nothing of his journey, his books, anything.
After that conference, I learned that Jack had a son who went through Cityteam's addiction recovery program, was clean for awhile, then relapsed. When he did, he was discovered in a park by a wealthy Christian family in Silicon Valley that took him in to live with them. Somewhere shortly after that, he committed suicide.
Jack's story intrigued me, and I've attended his workshops and have picked up his book, "Surprised by the Power of the Spirit," but admittedly, have not read it yet. When he preached at the NCS conference in Washington, D.C. the Spring of 2014, he laid his heart out before 700 men in an intimate and graphic way regarding the near death of his wife, his struggles before God all the while, and now his care-taking of her.
Currently, I see Jack is posting about caring for Leesa on a Caring Bridge site here. Jack is a soldier who's wrestled with his faith publicly, he's stared death in the face, he's pastored churches, he's cared for many, and I see a man who is bearing himself naked before God, and before others to the glory of God.
Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:38-42
I was invited to a gathering of pastors at a local Denny's. There were about 20 in attendance, someone spoke for 10 minutes, then we broke into groups of 4 or 5 to see how we can pray for each other. When they got to me, I went on a rant about how God is flooring me and how I don't know what we are doing as a church and why haven't we reached out to pray for our server already.
Minutes later, the server, a skinny 20 –something year old Mexican kid who is all disheveled comes to our table—and a guy at our table asks him, "can we pray for you?" To which he responded: "I wanted to ask you guys for prayer, but I thought you were too busy."
The server followed up by dropping to a knee and saying tearfully, I want to give my life to Jesus, but I can't. We asked him why, and he said because he smokes too much pot. We prayed over him something fierce, one pastor was literally hooting and hollering, another spoke in tongues (I think it was a first for me to hear).
I got his cell number so I could follow-up. A few days later, one pastor forwarded me his weekly newsletter, detailing the story of Oswaldo at Dennys. How much do we busy ourselves with ministering to those of faith while missing the lost literally right at our table?
As a follow-up, I followed-up with Oswaldo shortly after our encounter and learned the number he gave me was no longer working. So I went to Denny's to see him in person, but he wasn't there. I left a note that another server said she would pass on to him, but I never heard from him. A year went by, and Oswaldo popped into my mind once in awhile.
Then, one of the guys at the table, the one who'd spoken up, he sent me a text message to report that Oswaldo had called him, but he was in the hospital with his wife and couldn't call back. Excited, I called Oswaldo and he answered, there he was. I quickly learned that his English was much easier to understand in person. It didn't matter, I asked how he was and went on to tell him what I thought about him, relaying the truth of God to him. His only response was something about how I had no idea how powerful this call was to him, how important.
I wish I could say that Oswaldo and I have connected more, we have not. He has never called me back, and I have only prayed for him occasionally. And yet, I trust that seeds have been planted and I pray they will be watered, and I know who to trust for the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). Even more, given the way this story came to life, I trust that it was a genuine move of the Holy Spirit.