Saturday, March 4

Personal Book Survey

1. What author do you own the most books by? Fiction: Jeffrey Archer. Non-Fiction: Elisabeth Elliot. I was surprised to find I owned so many titles by Watchman Nee and Amy Carmichael.

2. What book do you own the most copies of? The Bible. I also collect hymnals and just counted 37 sitting on my bookshelf. My favorite is a facsimile of the original 1779 “Olney Hymns” by John Newton and William Cowper.

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions? No--I end sentences all the time with prepositions and don't even realize when I do it.

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with? I have read hundreds of books in my life time but can't recall any characters that I am secretly in love with.

5. What book have you read the most times in your life? The Bible.

6. Favorite book as a ten year old? I loved any book I could get my hands on about the Civil War. If there were pictures, that was even better!

7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year? My rule of thumb is if a book doesn't capture my interest in the first 100 pages I will simply stop reading and usually never pick it up again. However, it has now been a couple of years since I last failed to finish a book that I have started reading.

8. What is one of the best books you’ve ever read? I don't know if it was the best but definitely one of the most helpful to me personally was “Walking With God” by John Eldredge. I highly recommend this book.

9. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would that book be? Of all the questions, this is the hardest for me to answer. There are just too many good books out there that I would like everyone to read. are some I'd like to "force" on certain people I know: “Love Does” by Bob Goff, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis, "Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell, "The Sacred Romance" by Eldredge and Curtis, "Blue Like Jazz" by Don Miller. All of these express for me the essence of what Christianity is all about without all the religion that distracts from Jesus’ teachings.

10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie? I understand William P. Young's "The Shack" is being made into a movie. If done well, I think it could have a profound impact on its viewing audience. Other possibilities would be “Bruchko” by Bruce Olson, or maybe Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible."

11. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read? Miguel de Cervantes “Don Quijote de la Mancha” in the original 1615 version for an advanced Spanish class I took in Costa Rica (I understood only about 20% and guessed at the rest!)

12. What is your favorite devotional book? A tie between Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” and “Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen” by Charles Ringma.

13. What is your favorite play? “The Mouse Trap” by Agatha Christie, the longest run of any play in the world. My wife and I saw this classic in London and count the evening as one of our most memorable.

14. Poem? “The World Is Too Much With Us” by William Wordsworth

15. Essay? “On Church Music” by C.S. Lewis.

16. Who is the most overrated writer alive today? The lady who writes all the Harry Potter books.

17. What is your desert island book? The Message.

18. What are you reading right now? “Biblical Foundations of Freedom” by Art Mathias, “Psychology” by David Myers and Nathan DeWall, “The Book of Mysteries” by Jonathan Cahn, and “The Gospels” by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

19. The “Top Ten” books that personally impacted your life? (You don’t have to necessarily agree with everything they write.)

1.     “Love Does” – Bob Goff
2.     “Walking With God” – John Eldredge
3.     “Shadow Of The Almighty” – Elisabeth Elliot
4.     “Houses That Change The World” – Wolfgang Simson
5.     “Blue Like Jazz” – Donald Miller
6.     “Hind’s Feet On High Places” – Hannah Hurnard
7.     “Organic Church” – Neil Cole
8.     “Velvet Elvis” – Rob Bell
9.     “The Sacred Romance” – Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
10. “The Shack” – William Paul Young

[Honorable mentions: “Prayer” by O. Hallesby, “Heaven on Earth” by R. Alan Streett, “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn, “Pagan Christianity” and “Reimagining Church” by Frank Viola, “The Present Future” by Reggie McNeal, “Love Wins” by Rob Bell, “The Shaping Of Things To Come” by Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch—all of these are books that have greatly impacted my thinking.]

20. Five authors who have most influenced your thinking (again, one does not have to agree with everything they write.)

1.     John Eldredge
2.     Philip Yancey
3.     Elisabeth Elliot
4.     Neil Cole
5.     Rob Bell

Honorable mentions: Watchman Nee, Frank Viola, Wolfgang Simson, Tony & Felicity Dale, A.W. Tozer, and Henri Nouwen.

Feel free to copy the questions and fill in your own answers. If you do so, please leave a comment below so we can check out some of your favorite books.

Monday, February 6

Barbara Lynn Rivers (1954 - 2017)

De los 299 misioneros de la FMB/IMB que han servido en el Ecuador, pocos han logrado un mayor y duradero impacto como lo hizo BARBARA LYNN RIVERS (9 abril 1954 – 5 de febrero 2017).

Barbara llegó a Guayaquil, Ecuador como misionera en 1986 y retornó a los Estados Unidos en Febrero del 2010 por motivos de salud.  Antes de su llegada al Ecuador, Bárbara fue una misionera en Guatemala por dos años, y estudió español en Costa Rica.

Durante sus 24 años en Guayaquil, Barbara sirvió a su Señor en una variedad de roles: educación teológica, obra con la Unión Femenil Bautista (UFBME), SAS en Acción (obra misionera con señoritas), consejera de Teleamigo, ministerio a jóvenes delincuentes institucionalizados, ministerio a mujeres en prostitución, fundadora de la Fundación Dorcas y su obra con los ancianos, maestra en temas relacionados a la educación Cristiana, maestra de la Biblia, autora de material didáctico y de lecciones bíblicas, guerrera de oración, y capacitador de líderes en el movimiento de plantación de iglesias en las casas.    

Lo que siempre recordaré de Bárbara era su gran amor por el pueblo ecuatoriano. Su lenguaje de corazón era el EspañolEn muchas ocasiones conversando con Bárbara, ¡ella no se daba cuenta que estaba hablando en español en vez del inglés!   Ella prefería leer y estudiar su Biblia en Español. La mayoría de sus amigas más cercanas eran ecuatorianas y consideraba a la familia de Humberto e Isabel Riofrío como su propia familia. Bárbara era una fanática de los deportes, especialmente todo lo relacionado con el programa deportivo de la Universidad de Texas dónde ella estudió. Su risa contagiosa era algo que le seguía dondequiera que iba.

En abril del 2011 Bárbara retornó a Guayaquil por última vez para despedirse de la gente quién tanto amaba. Si no fuera por la enfermedad que padecía que forzó su retorno a los EE.UU. creo que hubiera continuado viviendo y sirviendo a su Señor en el Ecuador hasta su muerte. Durante esta última visita, el Municipio de Guayaquil honró a Bárbara con una ceremonia especial por sus años de servicio social y sus contribuciones espirituales al pueblo ecuatoriano.  Si no me equivoco, Bárbara es solamente una de  dos personas cristianas evangélicas que hayan recibido dicha reconocimiento por las autoridades locales.

Para mi esposa y yo, Bárbara siempre será uno de esos misioneros excepcionales que Dios utilizó para tocar las vidas de tantas personas. Trabajamos juntos con ella por más de dos décadas y aprendimos mucho por medio de su experiencia y sabiduría, admirándola siempre por el alto nivel de compromiso que tenía con el Señor. La hemos extrañado estos últimos siete años, pero regocijamos que por fin Bárbara está hecha completa y goza en la presencia de su amado Salvador a quién ella entregó de lleno su vida mientras estuvo aquí en la tierra.
--J. Guy Muse
February 6, 2017
Guayaquil, Ecuador

Barbara Lynn Rivers (1954 - 2017)

Of the 299 FMB/IMB missionaries who have served in Ecuador, few have made a greater and more lasting impact than BARBARA LYNN RIVERS (April 9, 1954 – February 5, 2017).

Barbara arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador in 1986 and returned to the United States for health reasons in February 2010. Prior to her service in Ecuador, Barbara was a missionary Journeyman in Guatemala and studied Spanish in Costa Rica. 

During the 24 years she was in Guayaquil, Barbara served her Lord in a variety of roles: theological education, work with the national Women’s Missionary Union (UFBME), SAS (young women in missions), counselor with the Teleamigo counseling center, ministry to troubled institutionalized youth (María José), ministry to women in prostitution, founding of the Dorcas Foundation and her work with the elderly, teacher of a wide range of Christian Education subject matters, Bible teacher, writer of training materials/lessons, prayer warrior, and trainer for the house church planting movement in Guayaquil and on the coast of Ecuador.
What I will always remember about Barbara was the great love she had for the Ecuadorian people. Her heart language was truly Spanish.  On many occasions we would be talking and Barbara would not even notice she was conversing in Spanish rather than English!  She preferred reading and studying her Spanish Bible. Most of her closest friends were Ecuadorian and she considered the Humberto and Isabel Riofrío family as her own family.  Barbara was a fanatical sports lover (especially anything Longhorns), and had an infectious laughter wherever she went.

In April 2011 Barbara returned to Guayaquil for the last time to say good-bye to the land and people to whom she had given her life. Were it not for the serious illness that ended up taking her back to the USA, I am confident she would have continued living and serving in Ecuador to her dying day. During this farewell visit, the City of Guayaquil honored her in a special ceremony for her years of service and the many social and spiritual contributions she made to the people of Ecuador. As far as I know, Barbara is only one of two Christian evangelical persons to have ever received such recognition.

For my wife and I, Barbara will always be one of those exceptional “under the radar” missionaries that God uses to touch the lives of many people.  We worked closely together for many years and learned much from her experience and wisdom, truly admiring her level of commitment to the Lord. She has been missed since leaving us seven years ago, but we truly rejoice Barbara is now whole and with the one Person to whom she gave her meaningful and well-lived life.

--J. Guy Muse
February 6, 2017
Guayaquil, Ecuador

Tuesday, January 31

¿Dios está en todo?

La tierra está llena del cielo 
Y cada arbusto común en llamas con Dios: 
Sin embargo, sólo él que ve, quita los zapatos, 
El resto se sientan alrededor de ella, 
Arrancando las moras. 
-Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh" VII.821-22 

Pocas líneas capturan tan profundamente el misterio de Dios y sus caminos.

Uno de los regalos más notables que Dios ha dado a la humanidad es la libertad de elegir. Podemos optar por ver el arbusto y agarrar las moras, o ver a Dios ardiendo en la zarza. La elección es nuestra. Cómo percibimos a Dios determinará como interpretamos los arbustos comunes de la vida.

¿Realmente está Dios en cada arbusto común? ¿Está Dios en la taza de café sentado a mi lado, o el portátil sentado en mi escritorio? ¿Existe realmente tal cosa como un celular santo o un clip de papel ungido?  ¿Es eso lo que Browning está tratando de decirnos?

Creo que ella está dando a entender que cada persona elija lo que va a creer  acerca de Dios. Elegimos nuestras respuestas a las cosas que entran en nuestras vidas. Es como la historia de dos prisioneros mirando desde detrás de las rejas - uno ve el barro de la calle y el otro ve estrellas en el cielo.

La vida puede ser vista desde ambas representaciones, barro o estrellas. Podemos ver las cosas desde la perspectiva de Dios, o elegir verlas literalmente como se presenten ante nosotros a través de nuestro cinco sentidos. Todo depende de nuestra percepción de cómo Dios obra en nuestra vida.

Cuando Moisés encontró la zarza ardiente en el desierto lo primero que le asombró era, "aunque el arbusto ardía no se consumía." 

Cuando el Señor vio que había ido a mirar, lo llamó desde la zarza: "¡Moisés! ¡Moisés!" y Moisés dijo: "Aquí estoy." 

Entonces, pues, ¿sigue llamándonos Dios desde los arbustos comunes? Creo que sí. Pero sólo cuando elegimos verlo, oírlo, y lo percibimos en todas las cosas. Nuestra respuesta tiene que ser el mismo que tuvo Moisés, "Aquí estoy, Señor." 

Cuando alguien llega tarde a una cita a la cual hemos esforzado para llegar a tiempo, tenemos la opción de ver un arbusto "encendido de Dios" o un arbusto irritante que sirve solamente para enfadarnos.  Nuestra respuesta común es la frustración y el pensar del tiempo perdido. Pero si en la realidad cada arbusto es uno encendido por Dios, ¿habrá una razón espiritual o importante para que las cosas sean como son?

Oswaldo Chambers lo dice de esta forma,
Todos podemos ver a Dios en las cosas excepcionales, pero requiere de la cultura de la disciplina espiritual para ver a Dios en cada detalle. Nunca permita que la casualidad de la vida sea nada menos que el orden señalado por Dios, y esté listo para descubrir los designios divinos en toda circunstancia.

Elisabeth Elliot, misionera al Ecuador, elabora sobre el Salmo 16:5, "Señor, me has asignado mi porción y mi copa, tú sustentas mi suerte."  
"No conozco de ninguna simplificador para toda la vida. Pase lo que pase todo me viene asignado.
¿El intelecto humano rebela al oír tal cosa? ¿Acaso podemos decir que hay cosas que suceden en nuestra vida que no pertenecen a “mi porción asignada?” ¿Tenemos derecho de decir, esto sí pertenece a mi porción, pero lo otro no?  ¿Existen cosas fuera del control del Todopoderoso?
Cada asignación es medida y controlada para mi bien. Al aceptar la porción dada por Dios las demás opciones se cancelan. Las decisiones se hacen más fáciles, las direcciones más claras, y por lo tanto, mi corazón se tranquiliza." 
Al escoger aceptar la vida tal como nos viene asignada por la mano de un Padre amoroso, de hecho aprendemos la verdad que cada arbusto común de la vida literalmente arde con la presencia de Dios.

Dios está con nosotros en toda situación.
Dios está en nosotros obrando sus propósitos eternos.
Dios está aquí en este mismo momento.
Dios está por nosotros no importa que nos pase en la vida.
Dios nos ama. Nada que hagamos pueda cambiar esta verdad.
Dios asigna mi suerte y porción para mí bien.
Dios hace que todas las cosas me ayuden para bien.
Dios nos cuida y podemos descansar en su presencia.
Dios está en control de cada faceta de mi vida;
nada me suceda sin antes pasar por su permiso soberano.

Monday, January 30

Is God in Everything?

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.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, "Aurora Leigh" VII.821-22

Few lines capture as profoundly the mystery of God and his ways.

One of the most remarkable gifts God has given mankind is the freedom to choose. We can choose to see God in every common bush, or we can choose to see bushes and pluck their berries. The choice is ours. How we see the common bushes of life determines how we embrace life and God.

Is God really in every common bush? Is he in the coffee cup sitting by my side, or the laptop sitting on my desk? Is there really such a thing as a "holy telephone" or an "anointed paper clip"? Is that what Browning is trying to say?

I believe she is hinting we have the choice about what we choose to believe about God. We choose our responses to the things that come into our lives. It is like the story of two prisoners gazing out from behind bars – one sees mud and the other sees stars. Life can be seen from either perspective: mud or stars. We choose whether to see things from God's perspective or see what literally stands before us. Perspective is everything.

When Moses encountered the burning bush in the wilderness what first amazed him, "though the bush was on fire it did not burn up." 

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." 

Does God still call us from the common bushes? I believe He does. But only when we choose to see, hear, and perceive Him in all things. Our response has to be the same as Moses, "Here I am, Lord."

When someone is late for an appointment that we have ourselves have made the effort to be on time for, we have the choice to see a bush "afire with God" or a bush to sit round and pluck blackberries (and fume!) Our common response is frustration, loss, and thinking of the wasted time. But if every common bush is afire with God, might there be a spiritual reason or significance for even delayed appointments?
Elisabeth Elliot elaborates on Psalm 16:5, "Lord, You have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure." She comments, "I know of no greater simplifier for all of life. Whatever happens is assigned. Does the intellect balk at that? Can we say there are things that happen to us which do not belong to our lovingly assigned "portion" (This belongs to it, that does not?) Are some things...out of the control of the Almighty? Every assignment is measured and controlled for my eternal good. As I accept the given portion other options are canceled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter."
I think the key word in the above wise words is, " I accept the given portion..." As we choose to accept life as it comes assigned to us from a loving Father, we indeed learn to see "every common bush afire with God."


God is always with us in every situation.
God is always for us no matter what happens.
God loves us. There is nothing we can do that will change this fact.
God assigns to us our portion and cup—that which is best for our good.
God is here right now.
God cares for us.
God works all things together for our good.
God is in control of every facet of our life; 
nothing happens without first passing through his divine permission.

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, 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.