Tuesday, January 23

Simple churches need simple plans

What are some of the things you sense God is leading you to undertake this year? Our small band of simple churches has determined to stick to our five-year plan of working towards seeing 500,000 come to know the Lord in our province of Guayas.

The simple churches we work with need a simple plan of action.

There are four things we are constantly focusing upon to accomplish this task:

1) Praying the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers.

This one is interesting because continually we see God answering this prayer request. I could share scores of examples, but will give you a recent one: This past Tuesday night we were coming out of an Associational Meeting with the President of the BWA, David Coffey. I was standing around greeting folks, when a couple approached me and directly asked when we could get together to go over ways they could start a church in a town they were visiting weekends. Earlier that same evening a man sat down next to me and just started telling me that a home had opened up and he was going to begin a new church there this coming week. Just like that--simple--out of the blue!

2) Every church plant a church every year.

Can you imagine what would happen if every one of our churches simply reproduced itself once per year? How hard can this be, and yet year after year our churches get involved in all kinds of programs and another year goes by without planting new works. Our team feels that we need to use all our influence, every opportunity given us to get across to our pastors, churches, leaders to start new works. We aren't talking about planting hundreds of churches; just start ONE this year. Multiplication will take care of itself if we will do our part of working towards one new church plant each.

3) Every believer winning/discipling four others to Christ in a year's time.

Part of the difficulty we encounter here in Guayaquil is fierce competition from many good and noble emphasis going on all the time. There is a continuous stream of programs, conferences, concerts, etc. All these are good, but they have a way of terribly distracting us from the "main thing." What our team is saying to our people is FOCUS ON ONE THING and that is winning four people to the Lord this year and discipling them so that they become reproducing disciples themselves. Like #2 above, if we will do this faithfully, multiplication will get us to our goal of 500,000 in less than five years.

4) Repeat the above until we reach our goal of 500,000.

We feel the need to concentrate on a few things and do a few things well. We are trying not to be reactionary to what comes along, but be pro-active in a few things. Focus on the above three goals, repeat them over and over, and leave the results up to God.

What kinds of things is the Lord impressing upon you, or your ministry this new year?

Sunday, January 21

Women church workers

Again the subject of the role of women workers and what they can or not do in their role as females within the Body of Christ has once come to the attention with the recent posting of Wade Burleson's Sheri Klouda: Gender Discrimination, Federal Law and the Law of Christ in the SBC and SWBTS. To date this post has generated 321 comments (his follow-up post on the same subject with more than 200+ comments itself brings the total close to 600--that has to be a record!) Not to mention all the other blogs, news stories, editorials, etc. posting both for and against what has taken place at SWBTS.

How do these issues affect women workers in missions? Others have written volumes about how these matters should be handled Stateside. But how do we handle overseas in our own contexts the role of women workers in ministry?

I'd like to begin by posting a bit of Galen Currah and George Patterson's Women Mentoring Women from their MentorNet #42. While not 100% in agreement with the entire article, much of what they express conveys my own views and feelings about the role of women workers in church, missions and church planting in general.
We who mentor church workers must facilitate the training of women in ways that honour Scripture, respect culture, empower women, advance the gospel, and cause new churches to reproduce continually.

The New Testament provides significant examples and teaching about women workers. Likewise, church history and the contemporary church reproduction around the world reveal some powerful facts about women workers.

Biblical and Current Examples

- Around the world, the majority of church workers are women, often poor, even illiterate, women. If only males were allowed to plant churches and train leaders, then most of that work would never get done, and most of the major church planting movements currently underway around the world would grind to a halt.

- The New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit distributes ministry gifts to all believers, according to His will. The result is that “each one” has a gift to share with others (Rom 12:3- 6; 1 Cor 12:7; 1 Pet 4:10-11). Thus, woman believers all have one or more gifts of the Spirit which are for the common good, enabling them to share in church meetings, to start new church meetings, to train new leaders, and much more. Among the five kinds of gifted persons that Christ gives to every church or cluster of churches (Eph 4:11), some are women:

Women apostles. Here we are not talking about the Twelve but about ordinary church-planting apostles. Junia and her husband Andronicus (Rom 16:7) were wellknown apostles [not “known by the apostles”], as were Priscilla and her husband Aquila (Rom 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; etc.).

Women apostles should be empowered and trained in how to organize new cells and congregations, and in how to appoint and mentor leaders

Women prophets. Anna, a prophetess, blessed Baby Jesus (Lk 2:36-38). Four daughters of Philip, an evangelist, prophesied (Ac 21:9). Paul told women, along with everyone else, that they could prophesy in the church (1 Cor 16:24 & 31) in submission to their husbands.

Women prophets should be trained in how to prophesy while remaining in public submission to their husbands.

Women evangelists. The first evangelists were women (Mt 28:7), and women figured amongst those who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Euodia and Syntyche labored with Paul “in the gospel” at Philippi (Phil 4:2 & 3).

Women evangelists should be instructed in how to let the gospel flow into families, households, and communities. They need methods and materials that women can afford.

Women shepherds. Lydia (Ac 16:14-15, 40), Nympha (Col 4:15), Julia, and the sister of Nereus provided leadership for churches that met in their homes (Rom 16:15).

Women shepherds should be supervised in how to lead cells and congregations to become obedient to the command of Jesus and of the New Testament.

Women teachers. It is normally older women who teach younger women (Tit 2:3-5). Priscilla, along with her husband, Aquila, mentored Apollos, a competent teacher, in their home (Ac 18:24-26).

Women teachers must be provided Bibles and literacy or easily recallable lessons and Bible stories to pass on others.

- The apostle Paul wrote these sticky passages:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:11 & 12 ESV.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 1 Cor. 14:34 & 35 ESV

Exegesis of these verses and their context shows that Paul was concerned that wives not usurp authority over husbands... [they write quite a detailed exegesis of these verses for those interested, but will not reproduce it here]
Ironically while so much debating is going on Stateside, in many parts of the world, there is a huge spiritual revolution going on. In contrast, the "women's role" debates are a minor whisper on the global scene. It seems strange that so many back home in the States are not up to speed with the way God is moving amongst the nations. I fear our testimony diminishing amongst the world's believers who are less pharisees on these issues and more obedient to simply be about the Lord's commands. What good is it to have all the right answers if we are not obeying the clear commands of our Lord like the Great Commission?

I am not smart enough or knowledgable enough to go head-to-head with those who seem to have a clearer understanding of these "sticky passages." My advise is to debate less and obey more. Let's join the Lord in what the Spirit of God is doing around the world.

I believe if we err, it should be on the side of erring to go out and DO, rather than stand back and DO NOTHING because certain Scriptures lend themselves to several different interpretations. As I've said before, we have made many mistakes over the years in our own ministry and church planting. I don't claim to have all the answers. Many fingers have been pointed to what we have done or not done correctly over the years, but we proceed ahead in faith to the best of our understanding, and that work definitely includes women workers on all levels of ministry.

Thursday, January 18

Jessica's Story

Barbara Rivers is one of our team members working with women in prostitution. Recently she sent me this precious testimony about the power of God to change lives. This is the heart of missions and the reason we are here...to see lives changed.
“My name is Jéssica Cárdemas. I am 32 years old and am a mother of 3 children. I was a woman alone and have fought to survive in spite of many obstacles in my life. Since I did not have a stable job in order to feed and educate my children, I accepted the idea of a “friend” who told me that I would make a lot of money. I fell into the lowest world, that of prostitution. Sure, I made money and was able to maintain the needs of my children but it is a life of greatest suffering. My life was so sad until a woman visited me on the street where I waited for clients and she preached to me the Word of God. Later she invited me to a Spiritual Retreat (3 days, out of the city). She went to my house and got permission of my husband, father of my third child. She told him that she would buy food for the 3 days that I would be gone. My husband accepted and she came through with her promise of food. I imagined that God would punish me at the retreat because I was not doing what was correct with my life, but it wasn’t that way at all. I was impacted by the prayers. I sensed that God was listening to me and cleaning me of all my sin. I felt that He was giving me a love that no one had ever given me. I felt that God was with me. The music was precious and I cried a lot. I learned how to treat my children. I give thanks to God for guiding me in his steps and was able to know Him personally.”
Barbara writes, "Jéssica has started a study of Matthew and desires to continue studying the Bible. We have encouraged her to finish her studies and she will begin in January to learn to cut and style hair. We have helped her to obtain the tools she needs for the job in order to begin a new life of work. Her husband accepted Christ as Savior at another retreat and they now plan to marry legally and be baptized. Please pray for them."

Thanks for praying for Jéssica and for all of us as well. Prayer makes a difference.

Monday, January 15

Are we planting Baptist churches?

On Saturday, I was invited to a meeting with the director of the Ecuador Baptist Convention's Evangelism-Missions Department. Several Ecuadorian national missionaries were also present, along with a couple of other Baptist missionaries from the USA.

In the discussion about relating and working together it was suggested that the house churches that we are planting should have a strong Baptist identity. What is wrong, they asked, in these house churches putting a sign out front saying "Baptist church"? Are they ashamed of being Baptist?

I tried explaining that all of these house churches were autonomous bodies of believers. They are free to do as they wish under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, but that I didn't feel it was my place as a missionary to tell them to put out a sign proclaiming that here is where a church meets. Are we a Baptist church because we have a sign out front saying so, or are we Baptist due to practice and belief? Would you want a sign out on the front of your house saying something to the effect that your home is a Baptist church? The home itself is not the church, it is those who gather there that are the church.

It was implied that the churches we are planting are not Baptist churches because they are not supporting Baptist missions causes. It was ironic to hear this come from the mouth of those who had just declared they no longer gave to Baptist mission causes themselves and had no intention of doing so until certain accounting matters were cleared up in the convention. Sitting right next to them was one of three Ecuadorian Baptist International missionaries who has faithfully received a promised $85/month from the Guayaquil house churches. In two years we have never failed to send in our promised pledge. Ironically, the convention has yet to send a single dime in support of their international missionaries serving overseas. Yet somehow our house churches are not Baptist because we don't give to Baptist missions causes?!?!

What was really happening yesterday is that people are upset that we are not longer planting traditional Baptist church buildings, with traditional Baptist programs, along with providing a pastor who is a Baptist seminary graduate, duly ordained by a local Baptist church. House churches follow their own formats of interactive meetings, are highly focused on every believer being a minister of the Gospel, less formal leadership, believe in "being the church" rather than "going to church." So therefore the conclusion is we are not planting Baptist churches.

All this got me thinking about what is it that makes a church Baptist vs. one that is clearly NOT Baptist?

It is very interesting to me that "being Baptist" (at least here in Ecuador) means following the traditions, practices, and models passed down over the years. It is clearly ingrained that a Baptist church must go through several stages--preaching point, mission, constituted church--until they have:

--a building (without a building how can you have a church?)
--a pastor (not officially recognized until ordained)
--a certain number of baptized believers
--recognized/authorized church program(s)
--formal church services (cultos)

What goes against the grain is that our house churches skip all the above steps and go from new believers to NT churches in a very short time. We focus not on these extra-biblical requirements, but simply on what Jesus said to do: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Those disciples are gathered into natural meeting places in their communities (usually homes) and ARE church from the get-go. They do not have to jump through a series of man-made hoops to achieve official church recognition. Once you have baptized believers who are being discipled into obeying Christ, who are meeting regularly and are committed to one another and Jesus as Head, you ARE CHURCH. Since all our teaching is Baptist, I have no problem in believing that these newly planted churches are Baptist or at the very least "baptistic."

What was encouraging about Saturday's meeting is that we are at least discussing these issues. After several years, this is the first time we have formally met with convention leadership to actually talk about these things. I am encouraged. It is only through dialogue that we can overcome our differences with one another and learn that we are all in this together to strive to see the Great Commission come about in our life time.

Are we commanded to plant traditional Baptist churches, or are we commanded to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord? I would be interested in any feedback anybody might like to share.

Saturday, January 13

The church is mission

There are the five parts of the Bible.

The God of the Old Testament is a missionary God, calling one family in order to bless all the families of the earth.

The Christ of the Gospels is a missionary Christ; he sent the church out to witness.

The Spirit of the Acts is a missionary Spirit; he drove the church out from Jerusalem to Rome.

The church of the epistles is a missionary church, a worldwide community with a worldwide vocation.

The end of the Revelation is a missionary End, a countless throng from every nation.

So I think we have to say the religion of the Bible is a missionary religion. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable. Mission cannot be regarded as a regrettable lapse from tolerance or decency. Mission cannot be regarded as the hobby of a few fanatical eccentrics in the church. Mission lies at the heart of God and therefore at the very heart of the church.

A church without mission is no longer a church. It is contradicting an essential part of its identity. The church is mission.

--From 'The Whole Christian', "Proceedings of the International Conference of Christian Medical Students", ed. Lee Moy Ng (London: ICCMS and Christian Medical Fellowship, 1980), p. 46.

Thursday, January 11

Today is our 27th wedding anniversary

I know this isn't thrilling news to anyone outside of my wife and myself, but wanted to let the world know anyway...

We were married by my dad at Grace Temple Baptist Church in Denton, Texas, January 11, 1980. Since we were getting married in the dead of winter and had been having some really cold weather, we didn't really expect many people to show up. However, that weekend turned into a beautiful day with plenty of sunshine, and folks drove in to Denton from several surrounding States. We ended up with 300+ guests, so many in fact that we ran out of refreshments and neither of us got any of our wedding cake or even a bite of food at the reception!

My brother, Greg, was my best man. Linda chose her friend Lynn to be her bridesmaid. My college roomate Greg Albright played the piano. Linda's Aunt Ruth Stowell played the organ. Probably the most memorable part of our wedding ceremony for most of the guests attending was the wedding entrance music we chose. Edvard Grieg's "Wedding Day at Troldhaugen" is a delightful, joyful, happy music--quite different from Richard Wagner's more somber "Bridal chorus-Lohengrin" (Here comes the bride...) that is traditionally used for most weddings.

One of our favorite groups at the time were the Imperials (yes, we go back that far!) On one of their earlier albums they had a beautiful setting of "The Lord is my Light and my Salvation" (Psalm 27). Linda's brother, Tom, transcribed the music from the vinyl album and her sister Jana sang it as part of the ceremony. Just today we had a random CD playing in the car as we went out to celebrate over lunch when this very song came on. What a trip down memory lane!

For our honeymoon we went to Cancun, Mexico back when it was just beginning to develop into a major tourism center. We visited all the local sights, but what I remember most was playing endless games of Backgammon around our hotel pool. Strange what things rise to the top of the pile as the years go by. We still enjoy Backgammon but don't play as often. I also have a favorite coffee mug bought on that honeymoon that I still use 2-3 times a week. That Cancun $5 coffee mug has turned into one good investment of money! I would love to go back someday and visit this magical place (or at least it was then!)

I know I am rambling, but it is about good memories from 27 years ago today.

Anyway, Happy Anniversary Linda! I love you!

Saturday, January 6

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven

"The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened." Matthew 13:33

Much of what seems real in missions is not real. Much of what seems unreal, or unimportant at the moment IS real and DOES last. What we tend to count as important--more often than not--turns out to be unimportant. And those things we give little attention to end up being the real story of God's work in our midst. The key is to trust the invisible "leaven" of the Holy Spirit's work behind the scenes.

Answers.com defines leaven as: An element, influence, or agent that works subtly to lighten, enliven, or modify a whole.

I am slowly beginning to understand that indeed the Kingdom is like leaven. An element, influence, or agent that works subtly, behind the scenes to modify a whole so that Christ is glorified.

Today I was reminded of this truth as we listened to several church planters share their stories about things going on in the various new works. Over and over this theme repeated itself. Many of the things we focus on do not seem to bear much permanent fruit. Yet, God is continually at work doing things all around "our work" that indeed bear eternal fruit.

One brother shared this morning that he had given up trying to reach certain people in his community. Yet the Holy Spirit was silently working all the while behind the scenes. This past Christmas he and his family decided to throw a big Christmas party for the neighborhood children. Without his even asking, all those "difficult people" whom he had given up on, came forward asking how they might help. He now has their respect, their trust, and an open door for truly working with them in the days ahead. Go figure!

Another sister in Christ whom I never thought had much possibility at being an effective church planter shared that after many months of zero results (no surprise there), God began to orchestrate (leaven) things that none of us could have imagined. She was thrilled to be able to report that two of the seven people she is discipling are scheduled to be baptized in the coming days!

Leaven is something we see the effects of after a period of time. We all want to see immediate results. Report instant success. Yet, all around us God is much more deliberate, slowly, continually leavening our three pecks of flour until it is all leavened. It is not an instantaneous process, yet every now and then, the Lord allows us a glimpse of the beautiful work He is indeed doing in our midst.

Thursday, January 4

Standin' in the need of prayer

A few nights ago coming home from taking my kids to Taekwondo we pulled into the driveway with the car radio playing (in Spanish!) that old Gospel Spiritual, "It's me, it's me, it's me, oh Lord, standin' in the need of prayer..."

I hadn't thought of that song in years. Yet God reached down and like an arrow shot straight into my heart a message I needed to hear...

"It's not my mother nor my father...not my sister nor my brother...deacon nor the preacher, but it's ME, oh Lord, standin' in the need of prayer."

We stand in the need of your prayers!

The first of many personal weaknesses is my frequent participation in the "blame game." This of course is where everyone else is to blame for everything going wrong and life not being what I think it should be. It's always someone else's fault: it's the IMB's fault, our mission leaders, fellow missionaries, unresponsive churches, indifferent national brethren...my wife, kids, the heat, unfair policies...hey, even the dog gets blamed!

And yet, God speaks through an old gospel song...it's not really "them", they aren't the fault, it's ME, it's MEEEE, oh Lord, standin' in the need of prayer.

James 5:16 exhorts us to, "confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed..."

As we begin a new year, I have many sins to confess in my life...I need to be healed...will you pray?

My list includes: resentments, supressed anger, weariness, tired of the battle, longing to be elsewhere, lack of love for the people we are called to serve, laziness, spiritual dryness, passionless prayer and devotional life...

I don't mean to imply that God is not at work around us and in us. He is doing many wonderful things. I am indeed grateful for what I see are clear blessings and His presence and working in our lives.

But where is the joy I once knew in the Lord? Where is the passion for souls? The thrill of being one of his servants? What happened to the creativity and energy I used to have for serving Him? I don't know.

It's me, oh Lord, standin' in the need of prayer.

As depressing as all this might sound, we are not really depressed. God is good. We know that. It's more along the lines of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10...

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (10) Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong..."

Beginning a new year, we need the Lord to refresh, renew, revive, rekindle, reconsecrate our hearts to Him. Will you pray for us? Will you pray that in our weakness, Jesus would be glorified?

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 2

El Padre Nuestro

No digas PADRE
Si cada día no te portas como su hijo.

No digas NUESTRO
Si vives aislado en tu egoísmo.

Si sólo piensas en las cosas terrenales.

Si no lo honras.

Si lo confundes con el éxito material.

Si no estás dispuesto a aceptarla aún cuando sea dolorosa.

Si, teniendo, no te preocupas por el hambriento.

Si le guardas rencor al prójimo.

Si tienes intención de seguir pecando.

Si no tomas parte activa contra el mal.

No digas AMÉN
Si ni siquiera has tomado en serio las palabras...


Originally read on St. Jose's blog. There are numerous English translations floating around, but none beats the original in Spanish. "Jesus sketch" courtesy of Kiki Cherry.