Friday, June 30

What God is teaching me these days... (Pt 2 of 4)

3. Giftedness does not make a person a leader. This has been a real eye-opener for me. I have always assumed the most gifted people ARE the leaders. Not true. Many times God will gift someone as a teacher or evangelist, etc. but that doesn't make them a leader of others.

One of the frustrating errors I have made over the years is to expect these gifted individuals to be leaders just because they are gifted. I expect them to lead others to do the same things they are gifted in. While sometimes the giftedness and leadership skills come in the same package, that is not always the case. More likely, they do not. Leadership seems to be a special gift in and of itself. A leader will have gifts; but gifts don't make a leader.

I have a lot yet to learn about leadership.

Number 2 coming up...

Tuesday, June 27

What God is teaching me these days... (Pt 1 of 4)

4. Lots of the busyness and activity I fill my days with does not necessarily equal God at work in our midst. To the contrary it seems that most of the real work of God seems to take place in spite of all the things I run around filling my days with.

I am beginning to wonder if the best strategy for reaching our people group is no more complicated than simply abiding in His presence and ONLY doing those things He impresses my spirit to do through prayer. (Not there, yet, but thinking about it!)

The problem with this is, of course, we are goal and activity oriented. We are people who value "hard work." We are taught that the fruits of our labor correspond with how hard we have worked at something. We feel the preassure of men to perform and give an acceptable accounting of ourselves. Self-worth is gained by WHAT we do, WHAT people think of us, and how BUSY we are.

It is hard to simply rest in WHO we are in the Lord and WHAT God is doing all around us.

What is God showing you these days? I would love to hear it in the comments section (and believe other readers would be blessed as well.)

Lesson number 3 coming up...

Friday, June 23

Missionary perks

Stepchild over at Missions Misunderstood has been doing an interesting series on "missionaries that shouldn't be on the field." His series got me to thinking about some of the perks that come with the territory. Many of our supporters aren't aware of the many personal privileges we missionaries enjoy that aren't available to just any one.

-Getting our own individual glass to drink out of at social occasions and not having to share your drink with someone else.

-Not only having running water in our house, but HOT water too!

-Having a CD burner on our home computer instead of relying on 3.25" floppies.

-Having a computer that runs on Windows 98 instead of one that still uses DOS programs. (if you've never heard of DOS, come visit us--I'll introduce you)

-Being given the seat right in front of the only floor fan in a closed room where 50 people are gathered together in 102 degree heat. (I'd gladly pay good money if we weren't already blessed with this perk.)

-Being asked to sing, preach, teach, baptize, speak, dedicate babies, marry, or give the devotional at every known church event that takes place. (If you're a missionary, you know what I mean by this one.)

-Being invited to 200 birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings per month because they know at least the missionary will bring a nice gift.

-Having a phone that actually works (most of the time.)

-Always the one invited to go places. (They know the missionary has a car and will provide the transportation for the other 15 people also wanting to go.)

-Double portions of rice, chicken and plantains at any social occasion. (They reason we must eat twice as much to be as big as we are!)

-Always being complimented on how fat we are getting, or how much weight we have gained over the past month. (It truly is a cultural compliment meaning we are "well fed", "healthy" and can afford to eat like we do.)

-The honor of receiving 3-4 calls a week from people asking for help in translating an English recipe, a letter, their kid's homework, a legal document, etc. (How many times have I heard, "oh, it will just take a minute of your time...")

-For only $2 being able to buy on the corner any software program we might ever need or desire, complete with code-cracking to make it work. (Same goes for any DVD movie on the market!)

-Being stared at every time we set foot outside the house like we were some movie star with no greater claim to fame than being a foreigner.

-Being the first person people think of when they are in an economic crisis and need a loan.

-Oh yes, having a maid. (How do people live without one?)

-Fruit vendors, knife sharpeners, plumbers, sewer cleaners, street sweepers, bottle collectors, repairmen, newspaper collectors, beggars, Jehovah Witnesses, gardeners, electricians, professional con artists, salesmen, ringing your door bell 100 times a day to see if you need their services or can give them anything. (While sometimes annoying--especially during afternoon siesta--it is generally a nice perk when you actually do need them!)

-Someone to do all your yardwork for less than your kids allowance.

-Garbage picked up daily seven days/week, 365 days/year. That is probably my favorite missionary perk, one I really appreciate getting back to after every Stateside furlough. Our last furlough (no joke) NOT ONCE was our garbage picked up due to our never figuring out how to do it right. I was totally overwhelmed by the "garbage manual" explaining all the rules and regulations about what kinds of trash will be picked up, on what days, in what type of containers, etc.

-Being able to go to the Pharmacy and buy whatever medications you need without a prescription. (Just go down to the corner drugstore 24/7 and get what you need--none of that $90 doctor fee to tell you what you already know!)

Hmmm. And Stepchild wonders what missionaries do with all their time...I guess we're busy managing all the perks that go along with being a missionary!

Care to add any other perks you enjoy overseas? Just add them to the comments section!

Tuesday, June 20

Ministry Happens

I originally got this from Jon Dale's blog "chasing the wild goose." The "Ministry Happens" thought comes from a Mark Batterson message entitled Wild Goose Chase.

One of my mottos is "ministry happens." I think that at least 90% of the ministry that happens in the gospels is spontaneous. Jesus was headed from one place to another and an opportunity would present itself. Jesus was willing to get off the beaten path and take the road less traveled. He didn't see them as detours or dead ends. Too often we mistake human interruptions for divine appointments.

A.W. Tozer said that one of the greatest dangers facing the church was what he called "the dictatorship of the routine" when "everything can be predicted and nobody expects anything unusual from God." We need a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's prompting so that we can seize opportunities as they present themselves. Spontaneity is part of spirituality. In the words of Winston Churchill, "Planning is important. Plans are useless."
For people like me geared toward intentional ministry the above thoughts are a needed reflection. Am I too busy to take time for someone interrupting "my ministry?" Am I so geared towards that 10% intentional ministry that I overlook the 90% God sets in my path daily?

Is not that 90% as much "real ministry" as the 10% I set out to accomplish?

"Intentional ministry" people often hide behind the excuse of thinking we are too busy with "real ministry." We simply do not have time for unplanned "spontaneous ministry." The reality though is we view our own agenda as more important than the needs of others. Their need for feedback and/or attention is viewed as detrimental to our accomplishing our more important intentional ministry agenda.

Was that Christ's attitude who often left the crowds and made time to go eat at Zaccheus' house? Healing blind beggar Bartimaeus? Stopping in his tracks on his way to a resurrection when the woman touched the hem of his robe? Taking time for the children, leaving the crowds to wait? 90% of ministry happens when we seize those spontaneous opportunities that come disguised as detours or interruptions.

Saturday, June 17

Church as a movement, rather than an institution

Probably THE most difficult paradigm shift for me personally over the past seven or so years has been to understand the church as a movement, rather than an institution.

The end purpose of church is not to leave established an institution complete with buildings, staff, and ministry programs. Rather, church is part of an

...ongoing process, not an end in itself...strategic parts of an organic rhythm of witness...Some might exist for only a season, others might stay as an entity for generations, BUT THE GOAL WILL BE TO REPRODUCE, NOT JUST TO SUSTAIN ITSELF...[Churches exist to] send-gather-disciple-reproduce [and then repeat the process.]

The days when churches would build monolithic church buildings and proudly proclaim that they've been here since 1861 (or whenever) are ending...thinking about church as a movement, rather than as an institution, will require a complete paradigm shift for current church leaders.
["The Shaping of Things to Come" by Hirsch and Frost, pg.67]

This shift in thinking is what will propel us to finish the Great Commission task in THIS generation. As my previous post illustrates, God is moving in today's world in unprecedented fashion to redeem the world back unto Himself. What is hindering is not so much that we do not have the needed personnel or resources; rather, what is lacking is a true understanding of what the church was intended to be. The church must become a missionary movement. We need to get away from the idea of church as somewhere we "go" and get back to the NT concept of "being" the church in today's world.

The idea goes something like this...

  • existing churches train/commission all their people to go out and be on mission with God in today's world
  • those "sent ones" evangelize and gather new believers for discipleship
  • the new disciples are established into indigenous churches, leadership arises within the new church as the new believers begin to discover their spiritual gifts
  • this new indigenous church trains/commissions their people to go out and be on mission with God in today's world
  • the process is repeated over and over to the ends of the earth

The church is always on the move, not settling in, but always reaching out and expanding. Does it really work this way? Therein lies the rub. For most of us, church is still an understanding of a place-program, somewhere we go. We have not really made the paradigm shift necessary to get us out of our comfort zones and out into the world. We really need to get away from an institutional understanding of church and move into an organic-missional-incarnational view of church.

Wednesday, June 14

The simple way to turn 30 disciples into 100,000

Church Planting Movements going on in today's world are some of the most awesome and mighty works of God in history. While revivals seem to be something God has chosen to glorify Himself in the past, CPMs are what He seems to delight in today! It is my understanding that there are some 47 CPMs currently being tracked going on right now in every region on the face of the earth. They continue to fascinate and challenge me as a M to pray and long for the same to happen in our midst.

CPM's often get a bad rap because they seem so unbelievable and are so beyond what most of us ever experience or can even imagine. Maybe it is because CPMs are indeed a "God thing" rather than "our thing." It continues to amaze me how SBC politics and our regional denominational issues get all the attention and how few ever hear (or even seem to care) about the stories of the incredible things GOD is doing in today's world.

For example, check out this abridged story from IMB staff writer Erich Bridges entitled The simple way to turn 30 disciples into 100,000.

EAST ASIA (BP)--The revolution started with 30 doubting farmers.

It was long after dark. Weary from working all day in the fields, they sat in the church -- the smallest of only three churches in a county of nearly 700,000 people -- and listened to "John," a visiting Southern Baptist missionary.

John told them of his vision: at least one church in each of the 200-plus towns and villages in the East Asian county within three years. And they were the seeds God would plant to make it happen. They looked at each other, then stared at the missionary as if he were crazy.

"Everyone here can start by holding a 'family Bible group' in your own home," John said.

"How can we do that?" they asked. "Who will teach?"

"You will be the teacher," John replied.

Frowns. Shaking heads. "But we don't know how."

"I will teach you right now how to do it. It's a very simple way. You have your own story of how you became a Christian. Just write it down on one page."

John asked them to read their "story" aloud five times to themselves, then tell it to each other.

Next, he told them to list everyone they personally knew who didn't follow Christ, starting with relatives and friends. Most could easily think of 50, 60, 100 or more.

"Divide them into groups of five," John said. "Find them in the fields, in the restaurant, at home, anywhere. Bring them to your place and share your story."

He returned two weeks later to see what had happened. Only 11 of the trainees had shared with anyone. He asked them to tell of their experiences to encourage the others. Several had shared with two or three people; one had told 11.

John again challenged the "silent 19" to share with people on their list -- or not to bother coming to the next training session. To the rest, he began teaching a series of simple Bible lessons they in turn could teach -- and train others to teach.

By January 2001 (two months later), 20 small worship groups had sprung up. Four months after that, 327 small groups with 4,000 newly baptized believers were meeting in 17 towns. By the end of the year, more than 12,000 new believers were worshiping God in 908 house churches...

By mid-2003, less than three years after 30 tired farmers gathered to listen to a missionary they suspected was crazy, the church-planting movement had produced more than 9,300 churches -- and more than 104,000 baptized believers.


Prayer (John readily displays the calluses on his knees).
"End vision" -- with the ultimate goal in mind.
Simple, transferable training skills.
Every lost person is a potential convert; every new believer is a disciple to be trained and sent.

John, who once rejoiced over one church start a year, doubted it could happen -- until he saw it with his own eyes.

"Jesus said, 'Go!' He said to teach them to become disciples, not just church members. We train everyone to become trainers. That is the CPM [church-planting movement] way. It is very simple, but it is a good way."

For the entire article click here.

The above isn't fiction, folks, its what is really happening out in God's world today. Let's get our eyes off ourselves, our theories, methods, issues, versions of 'conservatism', "isms" in general, denominational politics and onto Him who wills that "ALL men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth."

UPDATE: The last report I heard from this particular CPM reported 17,000 baptisms during the month of January alone, along with 6000 new house churches planted. Isn't it time we take a second look at what we are doing and align oursleves with what God is doing today?

Saturday, June 10

Byron's story

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Picking up with my previous post about storytelling, this week I'd like to finish a story I started a while back entitled "Dancing in the Rain". You might want to reread this story here before jumping into the second part below...

Byron, the house church servant-leader's music to whom they were dancing to in the rain, was not always known as a church planter or Christian Reggaeton (Latin rap) artist. Most of Byron's life has been spent in and out of jail cells as a wanted criminal. In his last gun battle with police he was shot seven times. As he lay bleeding on the street awaiting an ambulance, he was just conscious enough to cry out to God to save him. The Lord heard his cry and spared him. Bryon was left paralyzed from the waist down and is confined to a wheelchair. While in prison he was exposed to the Gospel so many times he had the presenations memorized, but still he rejected God's love for him.

After being released from prison, he returned to his former lifestyle. Things only went from bad to worse. Finally Byron decided to end it all and take his life. As he held a gun in his lap, and smoked a last cigarette, the Lord brought back to his memory all the words of those who had witnessed to him in prison. With the gun still in hand, he told himself he had nothing to lose by giving Christ a try. There, by himself he gave his heart to Jesus and promised to serve Him the rest of his days.

Today he lives right in the middle of what is one of the roughest parts of one of the most violent, high-crime cities in all of Latin America. Byron's passion--calling--is to reach out to the lost youth just like he used to be. He lives alone in a tiny rented flat that is open 24/7 to anyone who wanders in and out at all hours of the day and night. He is a friend to all, ministers to them, puts them up for the night, feeds them whatever he has on hand, visits them in their natural habitats (bars, crack houses, etc.), prays for them, counsels them, wins them to Jesus, baptizes, disciples, and teaches them to do the same. "Church" is always going on. 3-4 evenings/week they even meet as a Body! On the wall beside his always open door he has a hand-painted sign that simply says, "La Iglesia de los Muchachos" (Kids Church.)

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The "Kids Church" now has four cells and so far have baptized over 100, mostly single mothers, street youth, and gang and ex-gang members. They all come from abused backgrounds, and disfunctional families, but are some of the most passionate youth I have ever known, completely sold out to Jesus who has given them a second chance on life.

Byron is unshamedly an outspoken lover of Jesus, and is respected by all who know him. Unlike myself, he is unafraid of the drug addicts, the criminals wandering the streets, and those rejected by society. He knows their world and goes straight into it to meet them on their own ground. Bryon's ministry philosophy is "love them to Jesus." It works!

He has only three books in his possession. A Bible, a Matthew Henry commentary that someone gave him, and a xerox copy of Frank Viola's "Who is Your Covering." The work is hard, there are many setbacks. Byron himself is highly criticized by fellow believers in the established churches due to his unconventional ways of ministry. Recently he married a couple in the house church who were living together out of wedlock. Both had become believers and wanted to "make things right." Many fellow Christians heard about what he had done and have now turned their backs on Byron demanding he retract what they call an unlawful wedding ceremony. After all, who gave Byron the authority to perform a wedding as an unordained, "lay leader?" One thing I keep reminding him as he faces his accusers is to remain focused on those that Jesus loves--the lost. Jesus said, "I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners..."

But not all is an uphill struggle. One of Byron's converts has become his girl friend and they are to be married soon. He has started physical therapy to see if he can overcome his paralysis and walk again. That hope combined with an upcoming wedding is even more reason to celebrate, sing, and dance in the rain!

Would you stop right now and pray for Byron? Pray for God to continue to use him in reaching youth who live without hope or a future. Pray for his physical healing. Pray for the young disciples as together with Byron they seek to win to Christ the whole sector of the city where they live.

Wednesday, June 7

Engaging not-yet believers

Ekklesia is a blog I read nearly everyday. Recently Wayne has posted a series of "Gospel Presentation" posts. Each of these seeks to share an aspect of how to present the Gospel.

While reading Wayne's ekklesia I have also been working my way through an incredibly insightful book entitled "The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission For the 21st Century Church" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. There is so much good content in this book that I find myself reading and rereading chapters over and over.

One chapter in particular deals with ways we can engage the lost. Since I consider myself a life-long student of evangelism and church planting, their words have really impacted me and got the old brain to thinking about these things. Their first of five suggestions for engaging the lost is storytelling.

Excite curiosity Through Storytelling. In our attempts to make the gospel clear, we have often squeezed all the life out of it. Jesus parables were intriguing, open to interpretation, playful, interesting. They provoked people to search further for the truth. Parables, stories, will be more likely to excite curiosity than propositionally presented outlines of the gospel."

Second...use Bible stories. This might sound like the ultimate conversation stopper, but at the right time and place, within the context of an established relationship, the retelling of an ancient biblical story can evoke a great deal of curiosity.

Third...use personal stories. Stories are events in a life. Telling stories demands personal honesty, accepting our weaknesses as well as our strengths. It is only when we reveal ourselves as weak and vulnerable that others will readily identify with us and be able to hear the invitation to join us in following Jesus.

John Drane says that if you think of the three kinds of stories as three overlapping circles, their point of intersection, where God's story, our story, and the biblical stories overlap, is where effective evangelism takes place.

Wow, and that is just the first of Hirsch/Frost's evangelism suggestions!

What has been your own experience with storytelling as it relates to sharing the Gospel?

Sunday, June 4

Moments that change the course of our lives

Can you recall moments or decisions that changed the course of your life?

All of us continually come to cross-roads in our life where a choice has to be made. That choice leads to a whole set of differing circumstances and our life is altered from what "might have been" due to our choice.

I can recall one such experience that changed my life.

It was the summer of the year I entered 10th grade. Our family was spending the year on furlough in Enid, OK as the "missionaries in residence" with Emmanuel Baptist Church. Yes, I know that Bro. Wade Burlesson is the current pastor of Emmanuel, but back then it was Bobby Sunderland--who I thought was the greatest preacher in the world! Every Sunday I would go to him after the service and say, "Bro. Bobby, that was the best sermon I have ever heard (and meant it.)" He would laugh and say something like, "I guess I'll just have to work that much harder to make sure next week's is even better!" While Bro. Bobby's preaching was making an impact upon a young sophmore, it was actually another event that summer that changed the course of my life...

One summer evening, all the youth were invited to hear some big OU football star give his testimony. Being an MK from Ecuador and not having grown up with college football, OU meant nothing to me, and the "star" speaker was just another name. As a shy newcomer, and not knowing any of the other youth, I chose to sit by myself on the very top row of the balcony. Personally I felt it was a better vantage point to check out all the cute Okie girls that had helped pack the sanctuary!

I don't remember anything the football jock shared that afternoon. All I remember was his invitation. He challenged everyone present to spend just 5-MINUTES a day with God in prayer and reading the Scripture. But he made it a bit tougher. He asked us to make a promise to God to do this for a year. A promise to God was something serious. I remember him reading some verse out of Ecclesiastes to that effect.

The words that changed my life that evening were...

"All those who would promise God to read the Bible and pray for 5-minutes daily for an entire year, raise your hand."

Being on the top row I peeked to see how many were raising their hand. There were a few, but not as many as I had thought should raise their hand. As I sat there judging everyone else, it dawned on me, that I had not raised my hand. I knew how serious a matter it was to promise God something, but made the decision on the spot to raise my hand. I left it high in the air until the football star said, "I see that hand on the back row..."

That very day I began my one-year vow. I sat down with my Living Bible and waited till the seconds ticked up to the "12" and then very legalistically began my five-minutes with God. This continued every day for an entire year. I never missed a day, even though there were several near-misses. One in particular when that winter we went to Falls Creek for a youth retreat. I had gone all day without my "five" and that night a little before mid-night the Lord woke me reminding me of the fact. I got up, put on some clothers, and went out into the cold night to the bathrooms adjacent to the dorms where we were staying...sat down in one of the stalls, clocked my five minutes, and then went back to my warm sleeping bag in the dorm!

My life has never been the same since those daily five-minute encounters with the Lord. They literally changed the course of my life. It was in my sophmore year that I really met God and established a life-long relationship with Him. Yes, I know five minutes isn't much time, but it changed the course of my life forever.

Today, as a missionary, we teach all new believers to spend SEVEN MINUTES a day with God. It is the second lesson after #1, the assurance of salvation. I know from first-hand experience if one develops the daily habit of walking with God his/her life will be changed.

Can you think of a choice you have made that changed the course of your own life? I would love to hear about it!

Friday, June 2

Favorite blog entries this past week

1) A good post on William Carey's wife Dorothy Carey from a biography my wife just finished reading. Dorothy Carey went insane in India and was the source of much suffering for William and family. My wife writes, "It was interesting to me because there are still missionaries who suffer mentally after being on the field for some time. Living in a culture completely different from your own can really wreck havoc on your psyche. Some people adapt better than others. I cannot imagine living through what Dorothy Carey lived through. It doesn't surprise me that she suffered mentally."

2) Photos of our recent 3-day family vacation and a few more photos of our recent camp out at Manglaralto here. See first-hand evidence of how much we suffer having to live overseas!

3) Interesting post about a hot missions topic over at Ken Sorrell's "We are all missionaries! Really?" The comments make this an interesting debate with both sides expressing themselves well.

4) Steve Addison's "Floyd McClung: Apostolic Passion" is definitely worth reading. I was challenged by the high priority prayer must be in the life of a missionary.

5) Last, but not least this week, is the longest article of them all, but well worth your time, David Rogers Historical Documents: Baptist-Evangelical Cooperation in World Missions, Part 14. Parts 1-13 are also good, but David says so well something in Part 14 that I have to quote it here,

Under "New Directions", the role of the missionary is less and less that of "hands on" church planter, and more and more that of "facilitator" of CPMs. This is perhaps a subtle distinction that is hard for many that have not lived on the mission field to understand...

It is even debatable to what degree, if any, we as church planters should "control" the new churches we ourselves are planting. Yes, we have influence, and significant influence, at that. But "control" is a different matter. One of the main principles of "New Directions", which has deeply impacted my own ministry in Spain, and in which I believe deeply, is the following… Impacting and "reaching" an entire people group with the Gospel, and seeing CPMs started among them, is a God-sized task. It is much bigger than any of our individual ministries, and much bigger than what we as the IMB, or as Baptists, can do by ourselves. It requires the participation and cooperation of the entire Body of Christ, both locally and globally...