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

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?

Tuesday, December 2

It's Lottie Moon Season!

While the amount varies from year to year, in 2013 the annual per capita giving of S. Baptists to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for global missions was $9.78.

In other words, if you gave $10 last year to global missions, you were giving more than the average S. Baptist.  As Lottie Moon herself asked over 100 years ago, "Why this strange indifferences to missions? Why these scant contributions? Why does money fail to be forthcoming when approved men and women are asking to be sent to proclaim the "unsearchable riches of Christ" to the heathen?"   I don't know, either, Lottie.

Every year Southern Baptist Churches in the United States collect a special offering in December for international missions. 100% goes for overseas work. The goal this year for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $175 million.

Here is how the offering works:

Since we see first-hand and feel the direct impact of this offering, I would like to say to everyone who gave last year or is planning to give this year, THANK YOU.  Maybe $10/year is all you really can give, and if so, God knows this and will multiply that $10 like he did the five loaves and two fish to feed the 5000.  But there are others who really could give more.

Would you be willing to ask the Lord what he would have you give to make His Name known amongst the nations?

What follows is a list of things we have personally tried over the years or practice regularly as a family.

1) Decide what amount of money you will spend on your family this Christmas and give MORE than this amount to the LMCO. After all, it is Christ's birthday we are celebrating. Shouldn't He be getting more than us if it is his birthday?

2) Something we have done as a family for many years is set aside a monthly amount from our paycheck and have that amount automatically credited to the LMCO. This took a couple of email and phone calls to set up, but we haven't had to fool with it since, and are able to give to LMCO throughout the year.

3) A variation on the idea above would be to have a gift box that you deposit a set amount every week/month throughout the year. Then give this amount to your church when the offering is collected in December.

4) Sell tickets to a mother-daughter or father-son breakfast or brunch. Invite a missionary as a guest speaker. Proceeds go to missions.

5) Auction students to church members for a day of service, from cleaning house to raking leaves. Money members give for the work youth do goes to Lottie Moon.

6) One idea missionaries have done in the past is hold an auction where a volunteer team brings in "goodies" from the States and auction them off to the missionaries. A six-pack of Dr. Pepper went for $120 one year! My son paid $60 for a box of Double-Bubble gum. I myself have paid $35 for a jar of Jiff peanut butter! All proceeds go to the missions offerings. Might your church do something similar with imported foods purchased from your local grocery store?

7) Challenge folks to save money for the offering by giving up something small. Examples include a fast-food meal a week or a movie a month. Host a special ceremony for everyone to give their offering and share what God taught them through their sacrifice.

8) Double (or triple!) whatever you gave last year. Give sacrificially, not what is convenient.

9) As a church body, decide to channel funds to a lost world instead of to building improvements or beautification projects.

10) Watch this video by IMB President, David Platt:

Whatever you decide to give, please do so prayerfully. There are few offerings that make as much of an eternal impact on the world as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Give online by clicking here.

Checks can be mailed to (gifts are tax-deductable)
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
International Mission Board, SBC
P.O. Box 6767
Richmond, VA 23230

Monday, December 1

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity

Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is 24 contributors (including yours truly) writing from differing perspectives what simple church proponents believe and stand for. Originally the title was to have been "What We're For"--a good description of what the reader will find in the 286 pages of this book.

What I personally like about this compilation is its contrast with many other writings out there which tend to place an emphasis on "what's wrong with today's church." Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity is a positive attempt to share with fellow believers what simple church is all about.

So, what is simple church? A simple question that doesn't have a simple answer--hence the book! Each of the 24 writers shares from his/her perspective a single aspect of what it means to be the church.

For example, in my own assigned Chapter 17, "A Church That Gives Liberally and Generously," I start out by exploring the difference between 'storehouse tithing' and Kingdom giving:
When Malachi 3:10 “storehouse tithing” ceases to be the standard for how much and where we give, many believers are left wondering: 
• To whom then should I give?
• How much should I give?
• When is the right time to give? 
In New Testament simple churches, giving is based upon Jesus’ teaching on the subject:
Freely you have received, freely give (Matthew 10:8). 
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38).
What implications do Jesus' words and teaching on this subject have for believers and the church today? How is money to be handled in the church as exemplified in the Gospels and Epistles? My chapter seeks to answer these and similar questions.

While I have been thoroughly blessed by all the contributing writers, some of my favorite chapters in the book are those which explore the following topics:

  • A CHURCH THAT TAKES THE GOSPEL TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH by Miguel Labrador (a fellow co-laborer in Ecuador)

There is so much great material here and to single out a few chapters is only to whet your appetite for some encouraging, but challenging reading.

Far too often discussions about the church descend into arguments about theology, practices, doctrines, traditions, and methods. None of the writers in this book desire to be a part of that kind of dialogue. Rather, each attempts to shed light and provide answers for a growing number of believers who sense that something is missing in the way we 'do church.'  Why aren't we experiencing more today what is seen in the Gospels and Book of Acts?

If you would like to know more about simple church and are willing to have your thinking stretched a bit about the church, I hope you will read Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity and let us know what you think about the book in the comments section below.

Tuesday, November 25

The Big Picture

Felicity Dale recently shared a post entitled What in the world is God up to? on her blog Simply Church. With the media political viewpoint on events in today's world we often do not see or hear about what God is doing in the midst of the nations. With Felicity's permission I reprint her encouraging post below.

  • There are probably more Christians in China now than members of the Communist Party.
  • In Asia, the T4T training has resulted in more than 1.7 million baptisms over the past 10 years.
  • In India, a Hindu nation, one house church network with which I am familiar, is seeing around one million baptisms per year.
  • Now seems to be God’s time for the Muslim world. In one nation we know, there are thousands of house churches. In another area of the Middle East, there is a movement that has more than 12,000 house churches.
  • A Buddhist nation has seen more than 110,000 new believers in the past 10 years.
  • In 1991, when the Communists lost control of Mongolia, there were maybe 4 or 5 known Christians. Estimates are that now, just over 20 years later, there are around 100,000.
  • In Africa, Rolland and Heidi Baker have seen more than 10,000 new churches formed in Mozambique and the surrounding nations.
    A few years ago, all of this would have seemed impossible. We may not be seeing huge numbers here in the West, but God is on the move in much of the rest of the world. Most (not all) the examples I’ve given here have occurred with disciple making movements/church planting movements. In these movements, the emphasis is on what is going on outside of the traditional church building. Ordinary believers are making disciples and leading small groups that eventually meet as churches.
    I know that numbers are not everything, but they are an indication of what God is up to. Several years ago, Wolfgang Simson did a survey of the largest churches in the world. If you include networks of churches that meet in homes, then numbers one through 19 are networks of house churches and number 20, at the time of his survey, was Paul Yonggi Cho’s church in Seoul, Korea.
    Throughout the world, God is using ordinary people—just like you—to start churches. What is there to stop you doing the same?

Monday, November 3

Neil Cole's "Primal Fire: Reigniting the Church with the Five Gifts of Jesus"

I ended up highlighting 138 separate passages in this book. What a gold mine of insight about the Eph. 4 APEST team and how they function! So much of what is written in these pages expresses my own heartbeat concerning the forgotten and yet-needed roles of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. We need the APEST functions as much today as when they were first given to the church in the first century.

I found the author's treatment of 1 Timothy 3 passage to be especially thought-provoking. Cole points out, for example, that some translators assume the role of 'overseer' in 3:1 to be an 'office' and hence, "stopped translating and started teaching something that Paul did not intend." In 3:8-13 I found his suggestion compelling that, "the roles of deacon and deaconess are the fulfillment of the equipping gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11—that is, deacons and deaconesses are the mature apostles, prophets , evangelists, shepherds, and teachers who equip the saints for the work of service." He goes on to state,

"From this perspective, an elder’s role is less broad in influence than that of a deacon or deaconess, and more focused on a specific spiritual family (what we would see as an oikos, which is a spiritual household of faith or a missional community). As such, the necessary abilities for the elder’s role are more specifically defined, and teaching is essential to that more limited role. In contrast, perhaps deacons and deaconesses are capable of many more ministry assignments (five, to be specific) on a broader scale, only one of which would be as “teacher.” That is, deacons may serve as apostles, prophets, evangelists, or shepherds."

I also resonated with the description of apostles and prophets (AP) being the START AND GO team, while evangelists, shepherds and teachers make up the STAY AND GROW team building upon the foundation set by the AP team. If you've ever wondered about what each of these five functions entail, this book does a wonderful job in spelling out how these work together and how each is needed.

The book repeatedly emphasizes something I have long believed and taught others, that each of the APEST are there to equip the saints for the work of service. They do not exist to be DOING the work themselves, but "for the EQUIPPING OF THE SAINTS for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." Since this goal has not yet been reached, there is still the ongoing need of modern apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to be about the appointed tasks. Cole does a good job in pointing out counterfeits to the real thing.

All in all, this is an excellent and much needed read for the greater Body of Christ, especially those in church leadership roles. We need to get back into a more Biblical balance in regards to being servants first and foremost.

Thursday, March 27

Churchianity to Christianity

The longer we are engaged in missional church planting, the more I find myself going back to Reggie McNeal's, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. This courageous book first came out in 2003, and has been challenging my thinking ever since. In the book McNeal describes the church in terms of six "new realities." The related questions to each of the realities are ones we find ourselves struggling with in our own life and ministry.

1. The collapse of the church culture.
  • Wrong question: How do we do church better?
  • Tough question: How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity?
2. The shift from church growth to kingdom growth.
  • Wrong question: How do we grow this church?
  • Tough question: How do we transform our community?
3. A new reformation: Releasing God's people.
  • Wrong question: How do we turn members into ministers?
  • Tough question: How do we turn members into missionaries?
4. The return to spiritual formation.
  • Wrong question: How do we develop church members?
  • Tough question: How do we develop followers of Jesus?
5. The shift from planning to preparation.
  • Wrong question: How do we plan for the future?
  • Tough question: How do we prepare for the future?
6. The rise of apostolic leadership.
  • Wrong question: How do we develop leaders for church work?
  • Tough question: How do we develop leaders for the Christian movement?
Of these six, the one that grabs my attention is #4. We are passionate about developing followers of Christ who understand the difference between religion and relationship. In our own context there are 800,000+ believers sitting in the pews of churches all across this nation. It is my conviction that followers of Christ are not made to sit in pews week after week. Their relationship with Christ calls for a response like that of Isaiah, "here am I, send me." Seek to deconvert believers from "Churchianity" to Christianity.

Which of Reggie's six points above resonate with you? What are you doing to address these issues in your own life and ministry?

Monday, March 24

Jesus' most ignored command

One of Jesus' most ignored commands is "...pray to the Lord of the harvest, that He send out workers into His harvest." Luke 10:2b (ten2b praying).

This is one prayer the Lord wants to answer. It is the first command Jesus instructed the 70 in Luke 10 as he prepared them for going out into the fields white and ready for harvest.

If I were training the "70" prayer would be an important element. But would praying for workers be the primary focus of the praying? Probably not. To me it is interesting that Jesus doesn't tell them to pray for the lost; he instructs them to pray for workers. It seems our job is to ask God to call out the laborers and send them to the harvest fields; it is the Holy Spirit's job to put those workers into contact with hearts He is dealing with.

I am more convinced than ever He is just waiting on us to ask him for workers. One of the most consistent prayers I pray everyday is for harvest laborers. Unless the Lord calls out the workers and puts it in their hearts to do the work, it doesn't matter how many people we might train. Very little fruit will remain.

Ten2b praying works. It is God's way of getting the job done. Praying for workers is something He wants to answer. He is waiting for us to get serious about praying for workers, so that He can get serious with us about sending us the workers he intends on using.

There are so many stories I could share but will limit myself to this one from Posorja...

Posorja is a 2-hour drive from Guayaquil. The first night of the training two men came. Nobody seemed to know who they were and they didn't say much. It was obvious they were visitors. As we were concluding the training I asked for people to share what the Lord had impressed upon them during our time together. Much to everyone's surprise both visitors stood, indicating they wanted to speak. The first man began to weep uncontrollably for several moments. Slowly their story got out...
My partner and I are professional fishermen from Costa Rica. We have been in Posorja for the past few weeks wondering why on earth God led us to this place. We have not been able to accomplish anything we had originally come here to do. Our plans were to go to Manta (another port city on the coast of Ecuador) and yet God strangely led us here. The first day we decided to go out and try to find an evangelical church. We happened to "discover" this church the first night of the training. We now fully understand why God brought us to Posorja. It was not for fishing permits, but for an understand on how to FISH FOR MEN. We have been wanting to work for the Lord and serve Him, but didn't know how to go about doing it. The tools we received in this training are exactly what we have been needing. We fish up and down the coast of South America and come into contact with many people in our travels. Our desire is to be effective fishers of men to all the places God takes us. We now feel prepared for the task God has called us to.
Some would call the above a coincidence. But I firmly believe this was yet another answer to ten2b praying.
Such are the kinds of things that happen when we pray like Jesus commanded.