Sunday, January 22

Church in the ashes


A true story heard from a fellow Ecuadorian church planter working in a neighboring region of our province.

Luisa was eager to start with her new church plant. She had no where to go, and did not know where to start. After praying, she felt led to start under the shade of a tree near where she lived. Her first gathering consisted of herself and two other girls. Luisa was ecstatic. She was on her way to becoming a church planter!

Two weeks later, the tree was cut down by the owner of the property. Luisa was devastated. She went to her church planting mentor and cried, "Now, what am I supposed to do? I have no where else to meet. The tree has been cut down."

Her wise mentor told her, "Thank the Lord! He has now provided you with a place to sit! Resume meeting in the branches of the fallen tree."

Luisa did so, and the group meeting continued to meet for a couple of more weeks. All was going well until the owner decided to burn the fallen tree.

Luisa went back and lamented, "Now what are we going to do? The owner has burned our tree. Now we don't have anywhere to sit when we gather."

Her mentor told her, "Go back and continue to meet in the midst of the ashes. Church is not the place, but the people the Lord has given you to work with. Trust God. He is with you."

Luisa did so. She and her little band of new believers continued to meet in the spot where now only ashes remained.

Meanwhile, the intrigued owner continued to wonder at the group that so faithfully gathered no matter what he did to the tree. Finally, out of curiosity, he too began coming to the gatherings to learn more about what was going on.

A few weeks passed and he too gave his heart to Jesus. With his new heart, he donated the portion of land where the church had been gathering. Since it is hot out in the equatorial sun, he also decided it would be nice if everyone could have a shady place to sit. He then built a shelter large enough to accommodate the growing group out of the hot sun.

Many lessons can be learned from this story.

One that registered with me, is that God often has to reduce our "tree" (works) to ashes before He can build the church He intends on having.

Another lesson is the idea that set-backs, trials--and even tragedies are often viewed as detriments to the work. But more often than not, end up being the very means God uses to accomplish His purposes.

What other lessons do you see in this story?

Friday, January 6

Things God is teaching me


Be faithful in the little things. God will accomplish much through my small acts of obedience.

Thoughts are sub-conscience prayers. Be aware of what I am praying.

What is not given is lost. What am I hanging on to that ought to be given away?

One negative comment packs more power in someone's life than a dozen positive remarks.  I need to be careful how and what I communicate with others. If I am unable to build someone up, it is better to remain silent than use words that will tear someone down.

Confront problems, hurts, misunderstandings, and mistakes as soon as possible. Don't allow Satan to carry out his agenda of rejection, suffering, division, fear, and pain.

What does God have to say about it? It is not about me deciding everything and doing things as I deem best. If He is Lord, he is lord of ALL, including those things I assume I can handle on my own without his input.

This is the day the Lord has made. It is up to me to choose whether or not I will rejoice and be glad in it. This is a daily choice.

John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Who is actually increasing/decreasing in my life? Am I moving in the right direction?

Seek first His Kingdom. Does this thing seek to advance my kingdom or His Kingdom?

Charles Swindoll writes that, life is 10% what happens and 90% how I react to what happens. Am I focusing more on what has happened, or how I am reacting to what has happened?

Mother Teresa wrote, "Slowly I am learning to accept everything just as He gives it." Am I learning to accept all things without complaining and whining, understanding that it is God who allows these things in my life?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,
Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries...

Am I seeing God in every common bush, or am I one of those plucking blackberries?

Excellence is in the details. Attention to details is one of the ways I can worship God who is worthy of my best.

People come first. Everything else falls in line behind them.

We are blessed to be a blessing (Psalm 67). Am I using my blessings to bless others?

Sunday, July 31

What really matters?

I am convinced one of Satan's major schemes is to distract us from the few things that are truly important.

As Jesus says in Luke 10, Martha, Martha...you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

In practical terms, how does one go about choosing Jesus first?

God is showing me that I don't have to respond or act upon all that gets tossed my way. Just because someone throws me the ball, doesn't mean I have to catch it.

It also means simplify. Reduce. Unclutter my life. Define what is really important in regards to the Kingdom and focus on doing fewer things better. If the enemy can somehow fill my day with endless trivial tasks, I will not have the time, energy, or focus to deal with the really important things.

Everyday there are just too many ministry opportunities, tasks to perform, expectations, reports to absorb, books/articles to read, requests for prayer, favors asked of us, calls for help, meetings to attend, programs, work-related tasks needing attention, and daily responsibilities with family.  About 3/4 of the things I engage with are things I don't care anything about, but do them anyway so as not to offend anyone, and stay on people's good side.

The truth is, few of us are able to process all the data and requests that get sent our way. It is unrealistic to expect people to process and act upon so much new and changing information without it affecting the side of things that do matter and have eternal consequences.

Back to Jesus, Mary and Martha...What are the many things that keep me worried and upset? Jesus says only one thing is needed, and Mary had figured it out. I think Mary was so in love with Jesus that very little of the stuff her sister was distracted with seemed all that important in comparison. Mary was commended for choosing--and it is a daily choice--Jesus first. When Jesus, his kingdom, and his righteousness come first, the other stuff might not get done, but our lives will be more of a blessing, and will bear the fruit promised by Jesus in John 15.

Wednesday, July 13

21 prácticas que están frenando el avance del Reino de Dios en el Ecuador

Felicity Dale comparte 15 reasons why we don't see harvest. He modificado su lista original en inglés para incluir algunas de las razones que creo están frenando el avance de la obra del Señor en el Ecuador. Sus comentarios son bienvenidos.

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1. Estamos tan involucrados con otros creyentes que no tenemos tiempo para invertir con los que aun no conocen de Cristo.

2. Tenemos miedo de ser contaminados al tener demasiado contacto con el mundo.

3. Entender al evangelismo como un serie de eventos que se hacen en vez de un estilo de vida de cada creyente.

4. Líderes que creen que llenar el templo es la meta, en vez de movilizar a la iglesia a los campos de la mies.

5. Falta de rogar al Señor de la mies por obreros.

6. Poco énfasis en preparar a los obreros para la cosecha y más énfasis en el desarrollo de los líderes cuyo función principal debería ser el "capacitar a los santos para la obra del ministerio."

7. Líderes que creen que el mandato de "buscar primeramente el Reino de Dios" significa crecer más la iglesia donde ellos pastorean.

8. El creer que "hacer discípulos" significa predicar el evangelio y esperar que la gente venga al templo y forme parte de nuestra congregación.

9. Pescar en aguas donde no muerden los peces, o cambiando la metáfora...buscar cosechar en terreno que aun no está listo, o donde poca semilla ha sido sembrada.

10. Invitar a las personas venir a nuestra iglesia, en vez de comenzar nuevas iglesias con ellos y sus amigos en los lugares donde viven.

11. Cuando alguien se convierta al evangelio, lo extraemos de su propia comunidad para formar parte de la nuestra.

12. Evangelizamos sí, pero lo hacemos al azar en vez de buscar hacerlo con "personas de paz" como mandó Jesús. (Lucas 10:1-9)

13. El amar más nuestros reinos que Su Reino al dar prioridad a nuestros proyectos, programas, sueños, y levantar templos sobre los claros mandatos del Señor de 1) amar a Dios, 2) amar al prójimo, y 3) hacer discípulos.

14. El depender más en cualidades de carisma, estilo, organización y preparación sin importar ni requerir la presencia y poder del Espíritu Santo en nuestra obra.

15. Esperar que Dios bendiga todos nuestros esfuerzos, sean cual sean, sin tomar el tiempo para buscar lo que el Señor realmente desea de nosotros.

16. Todo centralizado dentro de las cuatro paredes de la iglesia.

17. Iglesias que gastan el 98% de sus ingresos en si mismas en vez de invertir en "hacer discípulos a las naciones."

18. Oramos por muchas cosas, pero poco por las almas perdidas.

19. Esperamos que otra persona lo haga. Y cuando alguien sí intenta hacer algo, criticamos todo lo que hacen diciendo a quién nos escucha cómo debían haberse hecho las cosas.

20. Usar la excusa, "Dios no me ha llamado para ser misionero" cuando la Gran Comisión indica claramente lo contrario.

21. División entre el Cuerpo de Cristo. Nosotros somos los "buenos" y todos los demás hermanos están errados. Mejor alejarnos de todo aquel que no es cómo nosotros para así no contaminarnos de sus falsas doctrinas.

Wednesday, July 6

If you thought like a missionary

A few years back Ernest Goodman wrote a post entitled If you thought like a missionary... which contains some good thoughts for all of us.

The word “church” would conjure images of people, not buildings.

Your plans for the year would be limited only by your creativity, not your available funds. You’d have a plan for what happens after you’re gone (a plan that could be implemented tomorrow).

You’d worry more about getting things right than being right. You’d know that every decision you make along the way has far-reaching implications for the work. Missionaries think about the long-term strategic consequences of decisions like establishing elders too soon, dividing up families for Bible study, and growing one large church vs. starting several smaller ones.

Church planting would be more than just starting a church and being its pastor; it would entail discipling indigenous leaders and pastoring through them.

You’d exegete your cultural context, not consume it. What you learn would inform what you do, because indigeneity would be a goal of your work.

You would love your city, but never quite feel comfortable in it. Something would always remind you that you are a stranger, pilgrim, and at best, an acceptable outsider.

Your church would understand that it’s only a part of what God is doing around the world. There’s a lot to learn from believers of other times and in other contexts. Global involvement cannot wait until local work is mature.

Your team would spend more time listening to the Holy Spirit than listening to you.

Your family’s active involvement would be vital to your ministry. Missionaries, at least the ones that last, include their spouse and children in building redemptive relationships.

The people you’re ministering to would have your mobile phone number. The real one.

Your stories would be current, first-person, and self-depreciating.

You would be keenly aware of the depth of your inadequacy, the dangers of the spiritual reality, and the blessing of God’s gracious provision.

You should become a missionary.

Friday, June 24

¿Qué es una iglesia simple?

La iglesia simple es conocido por algunos nombres diferentes:

-la iglesia en casa
-casas de oración
-iglesia orgánica
-casas culto
-la iglesia hogareña

A menudo se pregunta, ¿qué es la diferencia entre grupos pequeños reuniéndose en las casas, células que se reúnen en casas, e iglesias en las casas que también se reúnen en hogares? ¿No son todas la misma cosa?

Rad Zdero, en su libro, Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader hace una buena explicación sobre las diferencias.
Aunque reconocemos y celebramos la mano de Dios en todos los modelos de hacer iglesia, hay importantes diferencias entre las iglesias tradicionales, celulares, e iglesias en las casas.
Muchos creyentes hoy en día forman parte de los grupos pequeños de sus iglesias. Estos pueden ser estudios Bíblicos, grupos de oración, grupos de apoyo, etc. Sin embargo, los grupos pequeños son utilizados en formas diferentes según el tipo de iglesia. Casi todas las iglesias utilizan a los grupos pequeños de alguna forma u otra. Estos generalmente saben reunirse en los hogares y animan la participación activa de los asistentes. Pero a partir de allí terminan las similaridades.

Las iglesias tradicionales utilizan a los grupos pequeños como una iglesia CON grupos pequeños (a menudo usan equivocadamente el término célula.)

Las iglesias celulares ponen el énfasis de la vida de la iglesia en el grupo pequeño. Usan correctamente el término célula para distinguir entre la reunión del grupo pequeño, y la del grupo grande (celebración) cuando todas las células se reúnen juntas en un solo lugar. Una iglesia celular es una sola iglesia DE grupos pequeños.

Una red de iglesias en casa entiende que cada iglesia en casa es una iglesia completa y autónoma en si misma. O sea la iglesia ES el grupo pequeño. Una iglesia en casa es una iglesia en todo sentido y hace todo lo que una iglesia tradicional o celular hace.


Monday, June 15

From everywhere to anywhere


Hanging in front of my desk and covering most of our office wall is the above map entitled in Spanish "MUCH REMAINS TO BE DONE."

Covered in tiny colored dots one is able to see at a glance where the largest concentrations of lostness are located in the world. The numbers are staggering: 6500 Unreached People Groups (UPG) totaling some 4-billion people who have yet to hear a clear presentation of the life-transforming Good News of Jesus Christ. Of these, 3000 are not only unreached, but unengaged by anyone. There is no one even trying to reach them! As Kirby Woods so aptly expressed, "The only thing worse than being lost, is being lost when no one is looking for you." 

This is why Linda and I are in Ecuador. To join Christ's team in doing everything possible to make His Name known in every single one of those "dots"--from everywhere in the world to anywhere God leads his people. That is our task. Our calling. Mobilization is the term used today to describe all that is involved in making disciples of the nations, who in turn, engage other nations. To mobilize is to Pray. Teach. Train. Equip. Encourage. Mentor. Assist. Counsel. When woven together we see a beautiful tapestry of disciples making disciples of the nations.

But this task is not ours alone. It belongs to us all. As C.H. Spurgeon said, "It is the whole business of the whole church to preach the whole gospel to the whole world." After more than 100 years of the Gospel seed being sown, watered and harvested in Ecuador, our adopted country has transitioned from being solely a mission field, and is now a front-line player in sending missionaries TO THE MISSION FIELD!

This past week a fellow missionary shared the following story that illustrates the kinds of things God is doing these days...
A Brazilian musician working in Vienna, Austria has started Bible studies with more than 30 Iranians and several Vietnamese families. Last month 12 of these were baptized and a new church started. This Brazilian evangelist/musician/church planter is being trained and mentored by two American families. One living in Germany and the other in Switzerland! 
God is indeed moving his people from everywhere to anywhere!

PLEASE PRAY. My wife and I work closely with Ecuador's interdenominational missions agency in sending Ecuadorians to the nations. IM is currently working with 28 Ecuadorian missionaries who are either on the field, on home assignment, or candidates in various stages of preparation to be sent out. It is a huge honor and blessing to be part of what God is doing to complete the cycle of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and now to the nations of the earth.

We began our own missionary journey 28 years ago serving in Guayaquil (our Jerusalem). After several years we became part of the Guayas Mestizo Team (Judea) reaching out into the province. A few years later, we were charged with responsibility to reach the neighboring coastal provinces (Samaria). And now we are faced with reaching out to the nations (ends of the earth)!!!

A great deal of our time is spent working globally in the logistical side of sending Latino missionaries from all over the Americas into all the world. The #1 barrier for sending qualified Latino workers to their fields of service is in the area of finances. Recently a new project was approved by the IMB which seeks to supplement Latino cross-cultural workers enabling them to fulfill God's call on their life to go to the nations. The special Lottie Moon project is called "Partnerships For Global Sending" (NOTE: After clicking the preceding link you will have to click VIEW PROJECTS BY PEOPLE GROUP and then select AMERICAN from the drop box. The first project should be the one.) 

Jorge, from Venezuela, is an example of the kind of person we are seeking to help. His inspiring story is entitled "Called to Go" and can be viewed by clicking https://vimeo.com/100271203

Monday, December 8

How important prayer is for missionaries

We have been Stateside since May of this year. One of the things I have come to realize during our days in the USA is the cost--the sacrifice--involved in our calling as missionaries. For most of my life I have had the attitude of tossing aside any semblance that we are "sacrificing" anything for Jesus. I guess we have always seen our own condition as far more blessed than the vast majority of people we relate to on the mission field. We have been given so much. What are we really sacrificing? God has always provided for our every need. He is faithful.

And yet, being here in the States, I am seeing that following God's call on our life as overseas missionaries has been costly on us as a family. Each member of our family has had to pay a real price in order for us to live and serve our Lord overseas. I don't know if things would have been better or worse living this time in the USA, but I do know it has been costly to us as a family emotionally, spiritually, physically. In a real sense we bear real "scars" of our choice to follow Jesus like we have.
Peter:  "Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You." Jesus: "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life." (Luke 18)
These words were the text of the message preached by Keith Parks at our appointment service as missionaries back in December of '86. I have always focused on the last part that promises we will receive "many times as much" for the little we might have sacrificed. But there is no skipping over the high cost entailed in leaving behind those things (ie. houses, wives, brothers, parents, grand children, comforts, etc.) in order to fulfill Christ's call on our life. There is a price to be paid. It isn't easy.

I guess that is why Christ said count the cost before taking the plunge. Some of Jesus' toughest words are found in Luke 14,
Those who come to me cannot be my disciples unless they love me more than they love father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and themselves as well. Those who do not carry their own cross and come after me cannot be my disciples. If one of you is planning to build a tower, you sit down first and figure out what it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job. If you don't, you will not be able to finish the tower after laying the foundation; and all who see what happened will make fun of you. 'You began to build but can't finish the job!' they will say... In the same way," concluded Jesus, "none of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything you have.
These days we have spent in the States have highlighted in so many ways, "what might have been" had we chosen otherwise. While America is far from perfect, there is much good and certainly an abundance of opportunities and blessings that few people in the rest of the world can even come close to dreaming about. When we see the houses, cars, and lifestyles of our peers, we can't help but wonder if, we too, might be living like that had we not chosen to follow His call on our lives. When we see the missed opportunities that our children might have experienced had we made different choices, we can easily "second guess" the decisions we have made to live overseas like we do.

Some of the questions going around in my head these days are:
  • has it been worth it?
  • are we really making a difference overseas?
  • have we really made any kind of lasting, significant contribution?
  • is it time to move on and do something else?
  • is the work better or worse off for our being there?
  • have we been faithful?
  • are we supposed to go back?
  • does God have more for us to do there before relieving us of this responsibility?
  • how do we balance of obeying God's call with the needs of our children?
I share these thoughts with you as a means of expressing how important praying for missionaries is. We are common people, with real needs like anyone else. We need your prayers and support (eg. Lottie Moon Christmas Offering). Before William Carey, the "Father of the Modern Missionary Movement" went to India, he said to the small English society of believers sending him, "I will go down the mine, if you will all hold the ropes for me."

Will you continue to hold the ropes for us?