Tuesday, December 23

Wednesday, December 17

What if the church were run like an airline?

I travel quite a bit, and have been watching all the up-charges that the airlines have been passing on to customers. From paying for the first checked bag, to fuel surcharges, to purchasing soft drinks, they have really socked it to the consumer with all the new charges. I was thinking... particularly during this economic trying time for many churches, maybe we should take some advice from the airlines. Here are some things that I think we could take from the airline world and apply to our churches that might help get us through these trying times:

--First donut free; each additional donut 75 cents.

--All aisle seats are now $10/week. Back row premium seating available for $20 per week.

--First ear plug is free. Additional earplugs just $5 each.

--iPod rental with a Perry Noble sermon - $20 upcharge

Oh... there's more...

--Valet parking: $20 plus tip

--No Bible charge: $10

--Cell phone ringing during service: $50 one time charge

--Late to service fee: $10/per person

--"Sing that chorus one less time” request: $20

--Nursery diaper change fee: $5/lb.

--KJV upgrade to NIV: $15

--U-PIC the sermon topic: $250

--Hit job on the organist (rates vary per city/church)

--Online tithing discount rate: 8%

--Music Volume Up fee: $20

--Music Volume Down fee: $20

What would you add? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Tuesday, December 16

The last 'caudillo'

For most of our 22-year missionary career in Ecuador the name of León Febres-Cordero has been prominent in our lives. The former President died Monday, 4:30pm in Guayaquil. The name probably will not ring a bell with many reading this blog, but his political life and influence has been enormous over the decades in Ecuador.

A good summary of the colorful life and political influence of Febres-Cordero can be read here.

The closest I personally ever got to the man was to stand behind him in the immigration line at the Miami International Airport Jan/07. As we approached the black American woman official with passports in hand, I wondered if she had any idea who she was addressing. "The Lion" has been one of the most feared, respected and powerful voices of the past four decades. I found it amusing that she kept him there for several minutes asking "his reasons" for coming to the USA. I guarantee you, nobody in Ecuador would have questioned Leon like that! It will be interesting to watch the direction the Ecuadorian conservative political right takes without the presence of the last 'caudillo'.

Sunday, December 14

The missing love factor

If love is what God most wants of us, and if love is what we most want in return from others; why do we spend so much time, energy, and money (check out this Geoff Baggett post) on things that are not about loving God, or loving one another?

I invite you to take the following church quiz from Jonathan Brink.

1. I would rather go to a church that:

(A) Had great worship
(B) There was love.

2. I would rather go to a small group that:

A: Had cool people.
B: There was love.

3. I would rather participate in community that:

(A) Had lots of programs
(B) There was love.

4. I would rather attend a function that:

(A) Was hip and entertaining
(B) There was love.

5. I would rather be lead by:

(A) A really smart person.
(B) Someone who loved.

How did you do on the quiz?

In all our strategies, methodologies, planning, programs, structures, are we missing the main ingredient of love? Does complicating something make it better? Why do we think that clutter and more activity is what people need/want?

As we approach a new year, I intend to use the "love factor" as a filter for everything we decide to do. Before embarking on yet another busy schedule, does the activity encourage a greater love for God? Are we really loving others in a way that they "feel" loved?

Do you think the focus of the activities, programs, gatherings you are involved with foster genuine love for God and others?

Friday, December 12

The church within the church

Within every church lives what I would call, the real church. What I mean is that attending a church service or even joining a church, is not the same thing as being the church.

Regardless of size, there seems to be a core group of believers within every assembly who are truly "church." This group can include or exclude leadership, but in every sense, they ARE they church. They are the church when there is a scheduled meeting, just as they are the church throughout the week.

Over the past seven months we have been Stateside, we have visited many different churches. One observation I have made is that within churches there seems to exist another, much smaller, assembly of people. This smaller "church within the church" is made up of vibrant, loving, serving believers--call it the 20% who do 80% of all that ever gets done.

I have been fascinated by this group of people. To me, they are the real church. The rest seem to make up what is certainly called the congregation, but the true ekklesia seems to be the heart and soul of what makes a church a church.

Not only does this core group fill the slots in their local church's program, they are the ones who pray for one another, visit the sick, witness to the lost, invest their money in the Kingdom, fellowship together outside of the planned programs, minister in Jesus name, engage with their community, walk in fellowship with the Lord, disciple/mentor others, share their spiritual gifts within the body of Christ, engage the marginalized of society, share what they have with those less fortunate, serve others instead of waiting around to be served, gracious with those who don't see eye-to-eye with them.

It doesn't matter if that church takes the form of a mega, simple/organic, traditional, or cell church. Nor does it matter what denominational background they come from. A true remnant of God's people can always be found within the gathering of believers who are truly seeking first His Kingdom, His righteousness, and His glory.

These people exist within every church I have ever known. They are the real church within the church.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 9

I did not like what you had to share today

"I did not like what you had to share with us today."

"What you had to share really challenged me."

"We're not used to hearing
the kinds of things you talked about."

"Wow, I had no idea..."

Variations of the above seem to be common reactions shared with us after gatherings where we have been invited to speak.

So what is it about our sharing that strikes a chord in people?

Usually, I am just sharing about our life and ministry in Ecuador with the house churches. It is pretty standard fare--the normal everyday ABC's of what God is doing in our midst. I am certainly not one of those "polished" preachers--it's not my gift.

So what is happening?

The more I think about it, a Vance Havner quote keeps coming to mind,

"The church is so subnormal
that if it ever got back to the New Testament normal
it would seem to people to be abnormal."

Could it be that too many of our churches are living so "subnormal" that anything "normal" now sounds so extraordinary that it shakes people up because they aren't experiencing anything even close?

Another thought I can't get away from is that the ministries of apostles, prophets, and evangelists have been so marginalized in our contemporary churches that anyone functioning out these giftings tend to "stick out", and seem "abnormal" (eg. how people react when I share).

I am all for the needed pastoral and teaching gifts of Ephesians 4:11-12 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ... but sadly, I have seen little evidence of functioning apostolic, prophetic or even evangelistic roles so commonly found on the pages of the NT.

Those not functioning in the accepted pastoral/teaching roles, have been largely relegated to "a.p.e." status and silenced to the side lines of church life.

When we silence the apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic voices in our midst, we become a crippled body of believers. We can easily miss out on the full measure of what Christ intends for his church. When we ignore those He has placed in our midst with a "different beat" and allow ourselves to only be led by those who functioning out of a pastoral or teaching basis, we do unintentional harm to the body of Christ. The church was meant to be led by a balance of Spirit-empowered functioning "a.p.e.'s" and yes, pastors/teachers.

1Co 12:28 is very clear, and yet so totally ignored, And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues...

It grieves me to see that we are becoming churches that exalt knowledge about the Gospel, over obedience to the Gospel. Passages like 1 Cor. 12:28 have been reinterpreted to make them fit with our current church traditions and practices. But, do we have that right?

Can we even identify who those individuals are that Paul says are FIRST in the church? How about those he appoints SECOND? What ever happened to these roles that in Paul's instructions to the churches was the norm?

I interpret many of those who "compliment" my sharing, as really saying, "we need apostles, prophets, and evangelists in our midst to be the healthy vibrant church God wants us to be." That is what I hear them say. It has nothing to do with me, my speaking abilities, or our missionary stories--it is a realization that something is missing.

My point is NOT diminish the roles of pastors and teachers--the Lord Himself appointed them for the "building up of the body of Christ". What I am saying is, we need to restore to active duty, and RECOGNIZE those apostles, prophets, and evangelist types in our midst. They, like the pastor/teacher types, are equally meant to be part of the Spirit's leadership team help to "equip the saints for the work"...of making disciples in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

What do you think?

Will we be found faithful?

Saturday, December 6

A truly meaningful Christmas

Recently seen at Missio Dei and well worth reflecting upon this Christmas Season.

So, how do you plan to modify your Christmas spending to accommodate giving something of more lasting value? What our family is doing about this is shared below in #1,#2 of our Lottie Moon post.

Wednesday, December 3

My spot

Over the past months here in the USA, we have traveled, visited, eaten great food, seen beautiful country, met wonderful people, and had many wonderful experiences. But of all the places, my favorite has been right in our back yard in Bulverde, Texas.

"My spot" is located about 100 feet behind the mission house where we are staying. Our "home away from home" is located on the top of a hill on about 11 acres of land. Trees are everywhere. To be able to sit under their shade, under clear blue skies, feel the cool breezes whispering through the branches, and spend time with the Lord is about the closest thing I have gotten a Garden of Eden experience in many years.

We are very grateful to the Lord for providing this beautiful place to rest, recharge, reflect, and prepare ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to return to the mission field. This has been a good time for all our family. We are thankful for the Bulverde Baptist Church graciously providing us this wonderful place to stay while we are here in the USA.

In S. Baptist life, the week of Nov.30-Dec.7 is observed as the Week of Prayer for International Missions. In all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Season upon us, I would invite you to find your own special "spot" and pray for a world in need of the Savior. There are plenty of resources available to help you and your church intercede for international missions.

Don't know where to start? Try clicking one of the links above, or just start praying for missionaries along any of the following lines from a site found here.

Specifics to pray for missionaries:

Health and safety objectives

* Protection for the missionaries from accidents, crime, natural disasters

* Protection for the missionaries from sickness

* That missionaries will find time for proper sleep, rest, and exercise

* That missionaries' food and water needs will be met

Spiritual watch care objectives

* Times of intimacy for missionaries with Jesus in Bible, prayer and worship

* Shielding for the missionaries from dark forces in spiritual realms

* Preservation for missionaries from discouragement, fear, and doubt

* That missionaries will demonstrate purity, humility, boldness, wisdom, patience, love for people, a teachable spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit

Teamwork objectives

* That teams of missionaries will experience and express unity, love, good communication, patience, and spiritual gifts

* That missionaries will resist temptations toward jealousy, envy, bitterness, and pride

* That missionaries will be granted grace for cultural adjustments, dealing with jet lag, being away from family and friends and lack of privacy. [ more on culture shock ]

* For missionaries to have wisdom to design and implement effective efforts that will make a long-term difference here . . . and that they will be able to establish and maintain a solid friendships with government officials and other leaders in their chosen land.

BLESS -- an acronym to guide your prayer for missionaries or a people group

B - Body
Pray for physical health and nutrition.

L - Labor.
Pray for their work.

E - Emotions.
Pray for emotional health and well-being of the missionary or people group.

S - Social.
Pray for their social relations, their families and extended families.

S - Spiritual.
Pray for their spiritual condition.

If you took a moment to pray, would you be so kind to drop us a note in the comments? We would like to return the favor, so please mention something we can pray for you...and thanks!

Monday, December 1

Who was Lottie Moon?

How many there are who imagine
that because Jesus paid it all,
they need pay nothing.

Lottie Moon, Tungchow, China, Sept. 15, 1887.

How do you define significance?

Thanks to Rick Boyne for posting this on his blog.

Friday, November 28

What will you give this year to Lottie Moon?

Every year Southern Baptist Churches in the United States collect a special offering in December for international missions. 100% of this offering goes for overseas work. The goal this year for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $170 million.

Since we see first-hand and experience the impact of this offering, I would like to say THANK YOU for giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

Do you know how much the average Southern Baptist gives to international missions per year? $8.35!!!

Here are a few suggestions that you might consider this Christmas Season as you determine what amount to give. Some of these ideas come from the IMB website here, but most are things we have tried ourselves over the years and personally practice 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. Should we be getting more than He if it is his birthday?

2) Something we have done as a family for several years now is set aside an amount out of our monthly 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 LMCO 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 Lottie Moon.

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 thing we missionaries have done for many years is have 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?

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) View some of the ideas for promoting the LMCO at the IMB Idea Gallery.

Whatever you decide to give, please do so beforehand in prayer. The idea of just reaching in your pocket and giving whatever comes out doesn't seem worthy of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Give thoughtfully, prayerfully. There are few offerings that make as much of an eternal impact on the world as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Is $8.35 really all we can come up with in a year so that the world may know Him?

How much will you give this year to see souls around the globe come to the Savior?

You can give online here or checks can be mailed (gifts are tax-deductable) to:

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering
International Mission Board, SBC
P.O. Box 6767
Richmond, VA 23230

Sunday, November 23

Adullam's Cave

In May 2005 my wife Linda and I were privileged to attend a week at SonScape in Colorado. SonScape is a "small group spiritual retreat with personalized pastoral counseling for pastors, missionaries and their spouses. It is a week-long experience of exhaling the fatigue and staleness of life and breathing deeply of the Spirit of God. A place to rest, receive, and renew in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains..."

After a wonderful week of having a true "mountain top experience", the Lord didn't waste any time in letting us in on his intentions for allowing us to go. The descent was quick from our "Mount of Transfiguration" in the Colorado Rockies back to the valley below...

As we were preparing to leave, one of the other participants at the retreat came to our cabin. He seemed a bit uncomfortable, but looked me in the eye and said, "I believe God has given me a word to share with you." I didn't really know what to expect, but politely sat down and allowed him to share what God had placed on his heart.

He began reading from 1 Samuel 22:1-2...

So David left Gath and took refuge in the cave of Adullam. When David's brothers and his father's whole family heard, they went down and joined him there. (2) In addition, every man who was desperate, in debt, or discontented rallied around him, and he became their leader. About 400 men were with him...

The prophetic word he shared was that the Lord was about to make us a rallying point for those who are "desperate, in debt, or discontented." It would not be easy working with wounded people. I was stunned and speechless. Little did he have any idea how "right on" those words were to be for our us.

Indeed, our band of Guayaquil house church believers is made up primarily of these kinds of people. We feel God is using us to seek out, love, disciple, edify, and church the rejects, the losers, the marginalized, the forgotten...and yes, the desperate, in debt, and discontented!

As the years have gone by since this prophetic word was shared with us, I have been amazed at how "caves of Adullam" literally describe who we are. Our "caves" consist largely of women in prostitution, abandoned elderly, homosexuals, broken marriages, the sexually abused, drug addicts, alcoholics, kids from street gangs, the hopeless, the extreme poor, the financially indebted, the unemployed... all seem to gravitate towards the refuge they find in the Guayaquil house churches.

What is interesting about the desperate, indebted, and discontented in 1 Samuel 22, is that in 1 Chronicles 11, they become "David's Warriors." The "rejects" become mighty warriors and men of valor. In chapters 11 and 12 these men are individually named. They are singled out for their valor and formidable deeds. This is our prayer too. That all the outcast, hurting people He continues to send our way, will be transformed by the Holy Spirit of God into mighty warriors for the Kingdom.

As we approach this Season of Thanksgiving, we are grateful to the Lord that He continues to provide places of refuge for those who are hurting. Will you pray with us for the "Adullam Caves" in Ecuador?

Tuesday, November 18

What is your church's commitment to international missions?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of preaching missions at the Lewisville Baptist Church in Lewisville, NC where Les Puryear is pastor. I have long appreciated his thoughtful blog posts on many topics, but Les is probably known best for his focus on "small church" issues in the SBC.

When I first read Les's post about SBC church involvement in international missions, I was shocked by the data he shared...


...During the IMB Pastor/Missions Leader Conference, I was stunned by the following information:

SBC Churches Involved in International Missions (2006)

Limited = 51.5% (24,700)
Supporting = 48.5% (23,300)
Exploring = 9.5% (4,500)
Partnering = 1.0% (480)
Multiplying = 0.1% (50)

Definitions of Involvement Categories:

"Limited" means no discernible involvement with international missions either through prayer or through financial giving.

"Supporting" means some level of prayer and financial support.

"Exploring" means prayerfully investigating opportunities to be on the international mission field.

"Partnering" means prayerfully and personally engaging a specific UPG or segment in a church planting strategy. This includes both churches working with an existing missionary or the church working as the missionary with the UPG or segment thereof.

"Multiplying" means encouraging, enlisting, and equipping other churches to become strategically involved in international missions.

I was stunned to hear that more than half (51.5%) of the churches in the SBC do not financially contribute to IMB.

Almost 25,000 churches have no discernible involvement in international missions.

Less than 10% of our churches are actively looking into opportunities to go on the international mission field.

Only 1%, (480 churches) are actively partnering with our missionaries to help accomplish the goal of communicating the gospel to all of the world.

I have been weeping over this information since I first heard it... Currently, the church that I pastor is in the "supporting" and "exploring" categories. It is my prayer that God will move the hearts of Lewisville Baptist Church to become a "partnering" and "multiplying" church in regards to our missions involvement.

Have the local churches, who comprise the SBC, lost their fervor for missions?


Les's question is one we all need to be asking ourselves. With all the activity going on in our churches, are we losing our fervor and commitment to see the nations come to Christ? Is missions just another minor activity and program of the church? Can missions really be just another option for the church? What is your church's commitment to international missions?

Monday, November 17

Should we go to church?

Alan Knox does an excellent job expressing many things I would like to say about the way we "do" church. Hebrews 10:24-25 is often quoted as the reason believers should go to church. But what is this passage really commanding? Is it simply to go to church? Or is there more to it than just showing up on Sunday mornings? And if so, are we actually DOING what the passage admonishes?

What follows are Alan's thoughts about this often quoted passage...

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

What are believers required to do according to this verse?

The command in this passage (actually, an imperatival use of the subjunctive) is "let us consider". The purpose of "considering one another" is to stir up love and good works. Thus, the author of Hebrews expects believers who have the freedom to enter the presence of God (Heb 10:19) and who have Jesus as their high priest (Heb 10:21) to demonstrate that by thinking of ways to exhort others toward love and good works in their lives. This is the command, not "assembling".

So, what part does "assembling" play in this passage? It plays a secondary role. The author of Hebrews recognizes that we cannot exhort one another towards love and good works if we never meet with one another. Similarly, we cannot stir up one another towards love and good works if we do not encourage one another. The two participles ("not forsaking" and "encouraging") play an important, but secondary, role in the requirement of considering one another in order to provoke love and good works in each other's lives.

So what? We're still supposed to assemble together, right? Yes, in fact, according to Scripture, believers will want to meet together with other believers. Assembling together is not required in Scripture, but it is expected. However, attendance alone does not meet any scriptural requirements. It is possible to meet together with other believers and never fulfill the purpose of thinking about how to spur one another on towards love and good works, and then exhorting them towards that goal. A "perfect attendance" award means nothing to a believer.

If we meet together in a way that precludes us from encouraging one another toward love and good works, then we are not meeting in a way that Scripture prescribes or describes. Similarly, if we require attendance, but do not allow believers opportunities to exhort one another toward maturity, then we are not helping people to follow the teachings of Scripture.

Instead of someone saying, "I don't think I've seen you around here in the last few weeks", what if they said, "I noticed that you haven't encouraged anyone around here in the last few weeks".

Yes, I know. It is much easier to count noses. It makes us feel better to have a "full house". But, attendance means nothing if people are not exhorting one another toward maturity in Christ.

Yes, I know. In our mega-gatherings we cannot possibly know whether or not people are encouraging or being encouraged. But, is the answer to the situation to change the scriptural responsibilities of believers?

Yes, I know. Some will suggest that we have "small groups" in order to encourage one another. The only problem with this answer is that Scripture only gives one reason for believers to gather together, whether there are a large number of people or a small number of people: edification.

So let's continue meeting together - whether in large or small scheduled weekly meetings or in large or small spontaneous meetings. But, let's come together for the right reason: not to count noses and record attendance, but to consider one another in order to stir up one another towards love and good works.

Friday, November 14

It's a beautiful world

In spite of all that is going on in the world, it is still a beautiful world that our God has created. Last weekend our family hiked through the natural beauty of Lost Maples State Natural Area. The following 2:16 slide show taken last Saturday simply does not do justice to the real thing in all its splendor.

Wednesday, November 12

Reimagining Church: "The Best Of Frank Viola"

Reimagining Church: Pursuing The Dream Of Organic Christianity is without a doubt Frank Viola's magnum opus of his numerous writings on the ekklesia. In this book, church is realigned with all the "strange" descriptions and practices that we read in the pages of our New Testament. It is church as we dream about it being, a going back to her 1st century roots as intended by her Founder.

To better understand my great appreciation for this book, allow me to share a bit about my own story of reimagining church...

My own pilgrimage with the house/simple/organic return to New Testament church began sometime around 1997 when the International Mission Board (the S. Baptist missions sending agency that we are a part of) instigated "New Directions." The assumption was that if we continued to do evangelism and church planting as we had always done it, we would never reach the nations for Christ. As this realization began to settle in our missionary hearts, we were faced with the huge question, "what, then, should we do?"

The IMB set out a few broad guidelines, things like:
  • focus on church planting; not church buildings
  • turn over institutional church work to national entities (seminaries, camps, schools, established churches)
  • church planting movements: churches that plant churches that plant churches
  • plant POUCH churches (Participative study/worship gatherings, Obedience to God's word as the measure of growth/maturity, Unpaid bi-vocational church leaders, Cell/house churches of 15 or less, Homes as meeting places)
  • missionary roles as mentors-trainers, rather than actual church planters
All these, and quite a bit more, were great, but none of us had a real grasp on how to implement these concepts. There was little help on the "how to" part. None of us had ever seen or experienced church any other way than it had "always been done." What was this thing supposed to look like that we were being asked to do?

In hindsight this bewilderment was a very good thing. Because it drove us straight back to the New Testament where we began a long verse by verse reexamination of the who, what, when, where, and how of the 1st Century Church. We quickly began discovering quite a few discrepancies between what we were reading and how we were actually practicing church.

Fast forward to early 2000 just as the new millennium dawned. In my role as team leader, I joined an online house church discussion group called House Church Connection which, BTW, continues today (for those who dare!) The purpose of the group, at that time, was to serve as a bridge for those journeying from institutional Christianity to 1st-Century NT house/simple church life. It was an extremely radical bunch for me at the time, but I was fascinated. I met and dialoged through dozens of long emails with "unknown saints" who had incredible insights on the very areas I was supposed to be an expert on. Where did they learn this stuff? I was baffled. As I struggled with the ideas and concepts shared, I received a lot of "hand-holding" and honest Biblical challenges to my questions and assumptions from new friends like Tracey Amino and Rick Carr and so many others whose names I have long forgotten. Even though sometimes ultra-extreme to my own views, I was drawn to the freedom this bunch of people had to follow Christ without all the baggage that accompanies the established institutional churches I had known all my life.

One day, out of the blue, one of the participants on the list mailed me an unsolicited copy of Frank Viola's "Rethinking the Wineskin." As I fearfully read the first few pages of this "heretical" book, I knew in my heart that I too could never return to the idea of "church" as I had always known it. A seed had been planted.

After being part of dozens of these organic/simple church plants in Ecuador, we have learned a lot from all our experiences. I don't necessarily agree with all that Frank writes, but there is little doubt his writings have been used of the Lord over the past eight years of church planting to help shape much of my thinking about the New Testament Church.

Reimagining Church is in my estimation a constructive summation of "The Best of Frank Viola." In these pages we find a more mature, polished, and cleaner compilation of reworked earlier material found in, "Rethinking the Wineskin" and "Who Is Your Covering?". His original "Pagan Christianity" was intended as the third book in this trilogy of early church practice.

The newly released, revised, and widely read (and debated!) Pagan Christianity co-authored with George Barna, was intended to historically demonstrate how far the contemporary church has strayed from its original roots. Reimagining Church is the natural sequel where Viola paints a compelling picture "where the body of Christ is an organic, living, breathing organism."

Even though I believe I have read most of the published writings of Frank, a lot of his earlier writings often have the feel of a radical zealot--a modern John the Baptist "crying out in the wilderness"--preaching repentance from a church gone far astray from its 1st century roots. Reimagining Church has come a long way to bringing the same challenging ideas expressed in these earlier ground-breaking works, for mainstream evangelical consideration and dialog. If I had a $1000 (and the book was in Spanish--hint, hint, Frank!) I would buy every pastor, servant leader, house church worker/planter, and missionary I know a copy. It is that good.

A good idea of what is between the pages can be seen in The Table of Contents:

Introduction: Toward a New Kind of Church

Part ONE: Community and Gatherings

1. Reimagining the Church as an Organism
2. Reimagining the Church Meeting
3. Reimagining the Lord’s Supper
4. Reimagining the Gathering Place
5. Reimagining the Family of God
6. Reimagining Church Unity
7. Church Practice and God’s Eternal Purpose

Part Two: Leadership and Accountability

8. Reimagining Leadership
9. Reimagining Oversight
10. Reimagining Decision-Making
11. Reimagining Spiritual Covering
12. Reimagining Authority and Submission
13. Reimagining Denominational Covering
14. Reimagining the Apostolic Tradition
15. Where Do We Go from Here?

Appendix: Objections & Responses about Leadership

If still not convinced, or want to investigate a bit more before taking the "plunge" try clicking on some of these links:

Read a sample chapter of Reimagining Church

Audio interview with Frank Viola and George Barna.

Frank's website Present Testimony Ministry

His blog Reimagining Church

Sunday, November 9

The event is not the event

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps.
(Prov. 16:9)

More often than not, the event we plan and carry out is not where the real Kingdom action takes place. While we may plan our programs, the real work of God often takes place on a completely different level. We have our purposes; God has his own. When all the dust settles, what remains is what God intends, not what we set out to do. The event itself ends up as a "side show". Not the main attraction.

Esmeraldas story. Years ago I remember planning an evangelistic musical choir presentation up to the northwest province of Esmeraldas in Ecuador. We had rehearsed long hours, and spent months raising money to cover transportation, lodging, and food for some forty people to make the ten-hour bus trip. Countless hours of prayer, rehearsal and performance details were invested in the Esmeraldas outreach event. Once we arrived, even more work went into door to door publicity and a few mini-concerts held at local schools to promote the event.

On the Saturday night of what was supposed to be our big city-wide performance we arrived at the rented city hall--the largest venue available to us--to find less than a dozen people present for our evangelistic musical presentation. I was upset to say the least. This had to be a joke God was playing on us. All that prayer, effort, money, work, and for what? Less than a dozen people!

We went ahead and performed the program just like we had rehearsed. The choir outnumbered the audience four to one! At the end of the presentation, an invitation was made for people to make a public decision for Christ. I wasn't surprised when no one came forward. All I wanted to do was get out of there as soon as possible and forget the whole disaster.

As we packed to leave, two women approached and seemed to want to talk. I was in such a bad mood, and not feeling very "spiritual" (I was pretty ticked about the whole deal) so I turned them over to the local national missionary who was standing nearby and went on with my business about getting everyone back on the bus to the hotel.

It wasn't until later that I talked to the local national missionary who had indeed talked with the women. What they had told him is that for YEARS they had been praying for someone to come to Esmeraldas to share the Gospel. Their "dream" was that God would somehow plant a church in their city. They expressed to the missionary that they felt God had answered their prayers that evening.

To make a long story short, a church was indeed planted with that small group of people who showed up that night. After only a few months the church became the strongest Baptist church in that whole region of the country, and continues to this day to impact Esmeraldas for Christ.

What had been for us a disaster that night in Esmeraldas; for God, was his answer to the prayers of a few women's prayers. God had much more in mind than just a weekend event, He had in mind planting His Church in a needy and forgotten province of Ecuador.

And to show you just how awesome our God is, one of those two ladies who approached me that night, is today, the prayer coordinator on our church planting team in Guayaquil. Her prayer ministry, not only started a church in her hometown those many years ago, but today continues as an active team member helping us start dozens of churches all over Guayas and the surrounding provinces. The last time I was with Fabiola, before coming to the States on furlough, was to observe as she trained a room full of pastors in the steps to start new churches: the first step being the indispensable role of prayer!

Whenever I plan a program/event/meeting, I try not to get too worked up about the numbers who show up, or the visible outcome. We try to be faithful to do our part, but after years of events, I am convinced God's purposes often lie on the peripheral edges of our original intentions. It is not up to us to judge or measure by our own standards.

Oswald Chambers put it well when he said, "The idea is not that we do work for God, but that we are so loyal to Him that He can do His work through us."

In your own life and ministry, have you seen instances where the event is not the event?

Wednesday, November 5

The Paradoxical Commandments

Our family is reading aloud in our evening devotions, Kent Keith's Do It Anyway. For many years now these ten paradoxical commandments have impacted people all over the world. See why they have been quoted so extensively by so many.

The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build it anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

Friday, October 31

Why I voted McCain/Palin

We voted absentee last week for McCain/Palin. There are many crucial issues at stake in this year's presidential election: the economy, Iraq-Afghanistan wars, taxes, health care, social security, Iran, foreign policy...but the one issue that towers above all others for us is the right to life of the unborn. With two adopted children, this is a personal issue for our family. I could never vote for someone who is pro choice as is the Obama/Biden ticket. I think the greatest curse over our nation is Roe vs Wade. We will most certainly have to respond to God as a country (we may be doing so already) for our ungodly arrogance of placing ourselves in God's place in deciding who lives and dies.

The Gianna Jessen "Abortion Survivor" story is a powerful testimony illustrating in real human terms what is at stake in continuing to sanction the legal killing of the unborn. If you aren't familiar with this remarkable story you owe it to yourself, family, and church to hear one of the most powerful testimonials on what I believe to be the most important issue facing this country.

For Part 2 of this testimony click here.

Thanks to Amanda for blogging on this.

If interested in further information, videos, etc. there is plenty on the internet...just Google "Gianna Jessen".

Tuesday, October 28

The cost involved in being a missionary

One of the things I have come to realize during these days here in the USA, is the high 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 sacrificing? Are we really out there "suffering for Jesus?" God has provided for our every need. He has always been 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. We have given up much. Each member of our family has had to pay a real price in order 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.

I have often thought about Jesus response to Peters words in Luke 18, "Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You." And He [JESUS] said... "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."

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 and people in order to fulfill one's calling. There is a price to be paid. It isn't easy.

These days we have spent in the States have highlighted in so many ways, "what might have been" had we NOT chosen to heed His call. While America is far from perfect, there is so much good and 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 all the missed opportunities available for our children, one can't help but have second thoughts about them getting "second best" by our living overseas like we do.

Don't get me wrong, we aren't thinking about resigning. I don't believe God is finished with us yet in what He has for us to do in Ecuador, but we have had a lot of time to reflect the past few weeks. Stateside Assignment (furlough) is indeed a time for reflection, evaluation, processing, restoration, healing, rest, and re-equipping for returning. We have been so grateful to the Lord for this time made available to us to deal with our own needs.

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 (a la Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.) Before William Carey, the "Father of the Modern Missionary Movement" went to India, he said to the little 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?

Sunday, October 26

Money and S. Baptist Global Missions Efforts

Lottie Moon Fast Facts from the IMB on the state of world evangelization and the costs involved in the Southern Baptist global missions enterprise:

International Mission Board vital stats
• 5,359 missionaries (as of 5/12/08)
• 25,497 new churches*
• 609,968 baptisms*
• 567,413 new believers in discipleship*
*As reported in the 2007 Annual Statistical Report

Status of World Evangelization
• 11,573 people groups worldwide; 6.6 billion people
• 6,508 unreached* people groups; 3.8 billion people
• 5,903 Last Frontier** people groups; 1.6 billion people
• Less than 2 percent evangelical
**Less than 2 percent evangelical, no active church planting

Lottie Moon past and present
• 2008 goal: $170 million
• 2007 receipts: $150,409,653.86
• $3 billion given since offering’s inception
• $3,315 collected in 1888 for first offering, enough to send three women to China

IMB budgeted income:
Lottie Moon Christmas Offering - about 50 percent
Cooperative Program - 33 percent
World Hunger and General Relief - 6 percent
Field-generated funds, investment returns and other income - 11 percent

Total IMB expenditures 2007 - $300.4 million
• Overseas missions - $256.0 million
• Missionary support - $214.1 million
• Field work - $41.9 million
• Stateside - $44.4 million


Evaluating results solely in financial terms, $300.4 million was spent in 2007. That comes to $11,781 expended for each of the 25,497 new churches planted last year, and $492 for each of the 609,968 baptisms. If this sounds like a high cost per church/baptism, try comparing your own church's costs per baptism and church plant (assuming there were baptisms and church plants since 10,449 S. Bapt churches did not baptize a single person, and according to the Barrett and Johnson's, World Christian Trends, the cost of each baptism in USA institutional churches is a staggering $1,551,466!!! not to mention new church plants.)

If one divides the number of IMB missionaries (5359) by the baptisms and new church plants, the numbers average out to 4.75 church starts per missionary (9.5 per couple), and 113 baptisms each in 2007. Of course these figures include the work of all of our national overseas partners, and not solely work done by the missionaries, but it does give an idea of the kind of global response and the overall costs involved.

In these times of global financial crisis and insecurity, can you think of a safer place to invest with such a high return than in the Kingdom? Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for new disciples and church plants is a direct way of investing in Christ's Kingdom.

How much will you sacrificially give this year for global missions?

Friday, October 24

Wednesday, October 22

Why we don't make disciples

A story shared by Alan Knox on his excellent blog The Assembling of the Church describes why it is so hard for us to make disciples...

...A few weeks ago, my friend Joe invited me for a cup of coffee. We decided to meet at a local Starbucks on Tuesday at 5:00, just after work. We happened to arrive at the same time, and coincidentally, we both ordered the same thing: a tall cafe mocha decaf. Joe surprised me by buying my coffee. We found an empty table in a quiet corner and spent the next hour or so talking about God and life. We each discussed what God was teaching us and how we were trying to obey him in our day-to-day lives. We talked about loving other people and caring for the least. As Joe told his stories, I was encouraged and challenged all at the same time. When Joe announced that he had to leave, I was disappointed but also understood the demands of life and family.

I enjoyed my time with Joe, and I was looking forward to spending more time with him. From what I could tell, we had experienced real fellowship, the beginning of community, the sharing of the Spirit. Also, since I am learning what it means to grow in maturity and disciple others, I thought it would be a good idea to share this experience with others.

The next week, I invited another friend to have a cup of coffee with me. Unfortunately, Tom was busy on Tuesday evening, so we had to meet on Wednesday. He works later than I do, so we met at 5:30, and since Tom doesn't like Starbucks, we went to a local coffee shop. I was a little concerned about the change in plans, but I thought maybe it would work anyway. When I got to the coffee shop, I had to wait about 10 minutes for Tom to show up; apparently he was delayed at work. I ordered my tall cafe mocha decaf, and waited a moment for Tom to order. Instead, Tom waited until after I paid for my coffee. I was surprised that Tom didn't buy my coffee, and I was getting a little anxious. Next, Tom ordered a black coffee - no mocha, no decaf. Even though there was an empty table in the corner, Tom picked a table in the center of the room.

As we sat and talked, I kept going over things in my mind: Wednesday instead of Tuesday; 5:30 instead of 5:00; local coffee shop instead of Starbucks; Tom was late, and he didn't pay for my coffee; Tom didn't order the same thing that I ordered; our table was right in the middle of the shop, while there was a perfectly good empty table in the corner. Things were not going well for our coffee meeting. In fact, I didn't see how anything good could come out of this. Everything was going wrong, and nothing was going right!

Finally, after enduring several minutes of this train wreck, I interrupted Tom as he was babbling on about how his job was not going very well, and how he was afraid that he was going to be downsized, and how he and his wife were having trouble. I told him that I needed to go and that I was sorry that our meeting wasn't very productive.

Then, Tom said something surprising, "I noticed that you seemed distracted. Is there something wrong?"

Can you believe that Tom asked me if there was something wrong!?!? I mean, everything was wrong! The day was wrong! The time was wrong! The location was wrong! The coffee was wrong! The table was wrong! I can't believe he had the nerve to ask me if there was something wrong. I don't even know if this could be called a proper meeting for coffee!

But, instead of pointing out his obvious flaws, I just shook my head and made a hasty exit. I decided then and there to never have coffee with Tom again. He just doesn't know how to meet for coffee.

Sunday, October 19

Lessons Learned Overseas

The following comes from David Watson's TouchPoint blog describing lessons he has learned overseas as a church planter.

1. Effective church planting teams spend 3-6 hours per day in prayer.

2. Training is continuous. Leaders are constantly reproducing more leaders, and disciples are constantly reproducing disciples.

3. Do extensive planning, but expect God to show up and do the unexpected.

4. Be flexible in order to take advantage of the unexpected.

5. Young Christians and young leaders are encouraged to lead and reproduce new Christians and leaders from day one.

6. Ownership of the work is in local hands, never in the church planters' hands.

7. There are no founding pastors. Church planters are church planters. They raise up and train local leaders who become the pastors of the the churches.

8. Family-based and group-based evangelism through Guided Discovery Bible Studies.

9. Every new Believers is trained as if he or she will be the next leader of a movement. People self-select out of training. We often see people become leaders who would have been overlooked with any selective training process.

10. Discipleship is about teaching to obey through word and deed. High accountability in close community is foundational.

11. Failure happens. Start over. Failure happens. Start over. ...

12. Church planting starts with ministry that leads to appropriate evangelism.

I can identify with many of these same observations from our own ministry in Ecuador. Every one of the above points merit an entire article in its own right. The one that catches my attention the most though is #1 where effective church planting teams spend 3-6 hours/day in prayer. That is convicting, but certainly true.

How about you? Which of these points caught your attention?

Thanks to Expectation Blog for being the one to point out this article for me.

Thursday, October 16

To live or die for Ecuador's Quichua

The following article entitled, Willing to die, he brings new life to his people, was written by Dea Davidson for the International Mission Board, SBC and is featured along with the Commissionstories.com video at the end in promotion of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions this year.


They came for him in the afternoon.

With torches in hand, 250 of Gabriel Mugmal’s neighbors forced him and his family from their home perched on a mountainside in Ecuador’s Andes. Gasoline trickled down Gabriel’s face and arms as the mob prepared them for a brutal beating, then burning. The only way to save his family was to recant what he believed.

For months, the then 27-year-old Gabriel had preached from house to house the newfound faith he and his family had embraced. He had spoken openly about the sin of idol worship that permeated homes and churches in the area.

Enraged, the crowd demanded that Gabriel renounce his words.

The thought, “Don’t burn me,” raced through Gabriel’s mind. But he wasn’t afraid and began preaching to the crowd from Genesis.

Moment of truth

Then the circling mob fell silent.

The priest, moved by Gabriel’s willingness to die for Jesus, took Gabriel’s Bible, raised it before the crowd and declared freedom to preach the Gospel.

“The Word of God shall be preached throughout the entire world,” he shouted. “You all are doing a good thing. Keep preaching the Gospel so that everyone can know Christ.”

As the crowd dropped their stones and sticks and trickled away, some families remained. “We want that,” they said. “How can we receive Christ?”

More than 250 now worship

Today, more than 250 villagers meet for church each Sunday less than 200 yards from the site of Gabriel’s near execution in 1982. The people of Naranjito are a light among the 300,000 Quichua people of northern Ecuador. Gabriel and those he has led to Christ have started approximately 30 Bible studies and churches in the villages that dot neighboring ridges and canyons.

“He literally took the Great Commission in Matthew 28 that it was his responsibility to go to other communities and just talk to them,” says missionary Darrell Musick.

The Quichua live in thatched-roof dwellings on farms at elevations up to 14,000 feet. Darrell and Rogene Musick work alongside Quichua believers to share the Gospel, provide training and materials, and use their ranching background to offer agricultural help.

Gabriel walked three hours to ask help

The missionary couple met Gabriel in 2004. He knocked on their door after walking three hours across mountain trails to their home.

“God has sent me here,” he said to the new missionaries. “I want you to train me to lead my people.”

Within months, the Musicks trained Gabriel in church planting and discipling. He then asked them to train his fellow church members at Iglesia Bautista Cordero de Dios (Lamb of God Baptist Church). Today, more than 200 have been trained.

As the people of Naranjito go about their day – shearing sheep or roasting cuy (guinea pig) – Gabriel blends in, looking much like any other farmer of the region. Only his ever-present Bible signifies his role as a spiritual leader.

Faithful, humble discipler

“He is probably the most faithful, most humble discipler I’ve ever met in my life,” Darrell says. “When you give him instruction, or materials or Bibles, they don’t stay in his hands long.”

Gabriel and members of 27 church-planting teams he coordinates trek into Quichua communities each week to plow new ground for Bible studies that lead to reproducing house churches. On a bulletin board outside Cordero de Dios church, Gabriel posts names of villages the teams visit. Seeing their progress helps him coordinate a comprehensive church-planting strategy among these unreached people.

By hosting regular seminars he and fellow believers have trained more than 350 people scattered throughout the region. Gabriel’s prayer is to teach Bible studies and church-planting methods, to “quit crossing our arms and sitting,” as he says. “We’ve got work to do in Imbabura province.”

Darrell adds: “He wants every community to know the way of Christ. He doesn’t care where they are or who they are – just whoever will allow him to tell God’s plan for their lives.”


Go as a volunteer to help the Quichua reach fellow Quichua for Christ. Learn more about opportunities in South America. Find general volunteer opportunities.
Give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® to provide vital support to the IMB’s more than 5,300 missionaries worldwide, including the Musicks.
Pray for the Musicks and the Imbabura Quichua people during the 2008 Week of Prayer Nov. 30-Dec. 7.


Please click
to see the video of this powerful story.

Sunday, October 12


I have read some great books the past few months. One of these is Sway: The Irresistible Pull Of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman.

Having loved The Starfish and the Spider, I was curious as to how SWAY would live up to its touted, will change the way you think about the way you think.

Essentially SWAY is a book that seeks to identify the unseen forces that sway us in our decision making. What was fascinating is how vulnerable we all are to these psychological forces. What I often consider "rational, reasoned, logical thinking" is, admittedly, more often than not, my own "blind spots" influencing the way I think and reason.

For anyone dealing with people, ministry, organizations, church work, etc. this book will be an eye-opener. All of us tend to think of others as irrational in their behavior and thinking. But few of us believe we ourselves are influenced by these same factors. Sway helped me understand some of the deeply-rooted psychological forces at work influencing the choices I make. What often passes as "God's will" or the "right thing" is frequently more the irresistible pull of one of these hidden forces at work upon our thinking and reasoning.

"We're all susceptible to the sway of irrational behaviors. But by better understanding the seductive pull of these forces, we'll be less likely to fall victim to them in the future."

Some of the forces that sway us and are backed with fascinating real life stories and research:

loss aversion: how we overreact to perceived losses...our natural tendency to avoid the pain of loss distorts our thinking

strong resolve to stay the course to the way we have been doing things for years and our inability to react to superior strategies

value attribution:
our tendency to imbue someone or something with certain qualities based on perceived value, rather than on objective data...once we attribute a certain value to a person or thing, it dramatically alters our perceptions of subsequent information

diagnosis bias: our propensity to label people, ideas, or things based on our initial opinions of them and our inability to reconsider those judgments once we've made them

chameleon effect:
when we brand or label people they take on the characteristics of the diagnosis

fairness: and the great lengths to which we'll go to defend it...when it comes to fairness it's the process not the outcome that causes us to react irrationally...how important it is for people to feel they have a voice when it comes to the issue of fairness

group conformity: depends on unanimity for its power...the temptation to align ourselves with everyone else...a lone dissenter is enough to break the spell and "give permission" to break ranks with others in the group

For more on this enlightening book watch the following video...and then go out and get your own copy. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, October 7

Einstein quotes for missions and church planting

Many Albert Einstein sayings and quotes are highly applicable to missions and church planting. The following are my "top ten" favorites...

10. "The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them."

9. "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

8. "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

7. "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

6. "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."

5. "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."

4. "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

3. "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

2. "The important thing is not to stop questioning."

1. "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Have any other favorites or comments about any of the above you'd like to share?

Wednesday, October 1

Happy Birthday Josh!

This is our daughter Anna's birthday present to her friend and brother, Josh, on today his 17th birthday.

Happy Birthday, Josh. All of us love you!

Video photos and Twila Paris song compiled and selected by Anna Muse for her brother Josh on his 17th birthday.

Monday, September 29

God loves you

Alan Knox has once again expressed well a message all need to hear. Thanks Alan.


I have a message for all brothers and sisters in Christ...

To those who did not want to paste a fake smile on your face and act like everything is fine... God loves you!

To those who did not sign up to help in the new "ministry program" even though you felt pressured and made to feel less spiritual... God loves you!

To those who did not feel like sitting through another mini-concert and lecture that did not apply to you... God loves you!

To those who struggle with sins that are not the kinds of sins other believers accept... God loves you!

To those who have been called uncommitted because they do not attend every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and special event... God loves you!

To those who have struggled with their relationship with God and have been instructed that the answer is to get more involved with programs... God loves you!

To those whose children do not memorize all their Bible verses or cannot find every book of the Bible within 2.7 seconds... God loves you!

To those who do not work in the nursery, even after being guilted and given dirty looks... God loves you!

To those who choose not to bow your head and close your eyes... God loves you!

To those who feel they can never be good enough, can never do enough, can never look good enough, can never say the right things... God loves you!

To those who have had their questions, struggles, and pains all too easily brushed aside or fixed... God loves you!

To those who can't live up to the obligations and expectations that others have placed on them... God loves you!

To those who ask the wrong questions... God loves you!

To those who are ridiculed for being different and who stopped trying to look and act like everyone else... God loves you!

To those who have nothing to put into the offering plate... God loves you!

To those who would prefer not to sing in public... God loves you!

To those who fell asleep before the closing illustration of the third subpoint of the second section of the sermon from Leviticus... God loves you!

To those who like their tattoos, piercings, and long hair... God loves you!

To those who do not get excited about the latest publication by Rick Warren, Beverly Lewis, Max Lucado, Gary Chapman, or even D.A. Carson... God loves you!

To those whose children are not little angels... God loves you!

To those who are ignored or shunned or maligned by leadership... God loves you!

To those who have not memorized the books of the Bible, don't know where Nineveh is located, and can't pronounce the name Melchizedek... God loves you!

To those who have children but no spouse, a spouse but no children, or neither spouse nor children... God loves you!

To those who need a listening ear instead of a lecture, a friend with a helping hand instead of a ministry project coordinator, or someone with a gentle tongue instead of wrath and rhetoric... God loves you!

To those who are afraid to trust, afraid to care, afraid to love, or afraid to try... God loves you!

To those who want to follow God, but don't fit any of the ministry categories... God loves you!

To those who missed "church" four weeks in a row and no one noticed... God loves you!

To those who need five hours of baby sitting instead of a 5 second hug or handshake... God loves you!

To those whose "Sunday best" includes tank tops, ripped jeans, and flip flops... God loves you!

To those who would prefer to have someone show them how to live faithfully instead of tell them to live faithfully... God loves you!

To those who feel burdened by those around them and are not allowed to rest in Christ... God loves you!

Friday, September 26

How to win the world in one generation

The following comes from LeakeSpeak's Points to Ponder #5 ...

Have you ever wondered how we could win the world to Christ in our lifetime?

The Great Commission, that command Jesus gave all his disciples to do while He was gone, boils down to this: make disciples. Tragically, we get distracted with programs and organizations and structures and almost anything other than making disciples like Jesus said to do. Making disciples, according to what Jesus said, very simply amounts to teaching them to obey everything He commanded.

Teaching everything Jesus commanded includes teaching disciples to make other disciples. That was one of His commands; therefore, a disciple, by definition, is one who makes other Christ-followers. Jesus spent His public ministry, first and foremost, raising up a group of followers and telling them to do the same. This is because He knows the power of multiplication.

Guess what would happen if just one follower of Christ, in the next year, raised up one new follower and taught him also to make one new disciple each year? On down the line, every new disciple makes one new disciple a year and each new one is taught to do the same. Get the picture? At the end of the first year, you have two followers of Jesus, at the end of the second year you have four since they each made one new disciple, and so on down the line. If things continued this way with no break in the chain of multiplication, the entire population of the world would be following Jesus in 34 years. (And that’s accounting for a lot of population growth.) Amazing!

And, by the way, this year if all people who call themselves followers of Jesus each made one new disciple and taught them to do the same, in four years the entire world would be won to Christ. Four years! That’s the power of multiplication.

When we look at the needs around us and the fact that over 2.5 billion people have no self-sufficient church among them capable of making disciples of the rest of their people group, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. We either get discouraged and do nothing, or we try and do everything, figuring, “It’s up to me to win the whole world”. Neither response is healthy or productive. The second response is the one that runs many professional clergymen into the ground as they try and build gigantic organizations and programs that will somehow turn the tide of lostness. The best action would be for us all to start obeying Jesus and disciple a few people around us as followers of Christ. This should be our first and most important work. If believers everywhere would only take this to heart, we would take territory from the kingdom of darkness on a scale rarely, if ever, witnessed before in human history.

So how about you? Will you take to heart the command to make disciples of all nations and teach them to obey everything Jesus commanded? Or did Jesus just give that command to special people not like you?

Tuesday, September 23

Following Jesus

Under Religious Views on my Facebook profile, I state "follower of Christ". What exactly does following Jesus entail? In reading the Gospels one finds a whole lot more detail and explanation than just going to church on Sunday, reading the Bible & praying, not cussing, smoking, drinking, or gambling.

One can land in just about any chapter of the Gospels and discover first hand what the twelve experienced with Jesus as they followed Him on a daily basis. It entails quite a different set of activities from what most modern disciples routinely experience.

In my quiet time these days I have been slowly going through Matthew's Gospel. Take a look at some of the things the disciples go through with Jesus in just a couple of pages (chapters 8 and 9) ...
  • going through a storm and nearly losing their lives
  • watching Jesus perform a miracle of calming the winds and sea
  • coming out of the storm only to face demon-possessed men (fringe/marginal people)
  • pigs running off a cliff and the locals traumatized
  • people begging you to leave their region (being unwelcome)
  • forgiving sins in Jesus Name (are we supposed to do this kind of thing?)
  • healing paralytics (those unable to walk on their own)
  • confronting religious opposition for doing what is good and right
  • identifying with sinners and outcasts of society (the non-church folks)
  • calling on sinners to leave what they are doing and follow Christ
  • going to a party, eating/drinking with non-followers of Christ
  • being given a lesson on mercy and what that means by seeing it first hand
  • being questioned about religious practices and traditions and answering
  • healing a sick woman
  • raising a dead child
  • healing the blind
  • driving out more demons
  • going from town to town teaching in synagogues
  • preaching Good News of the Kingdom
  • healing every disease and sickness
  • having compassion for the crowds
  • instructing disciples to pray for laborers
  • pointing out the abundant harvest to disciples
Does this sound like a typical follower of Christ today? Can we identify with the way Jesus lived and taught his own disciples and the kinds of things He exposed them to?

I am struck that these first followers of Christ spent so much time healing the sick and demon possessed. Yes, there is also the preaching, teaching element of discipleship, but a lot of time was spent healing and ministering to the sick and oppressed. How much of my time is spent in these kinds of activities? How much of the above list would characterize my own walk as a follower of Jesus? How about your own?

Wednesday, September 17

When Jesus leads us into a storm*

A personal dialog with Jesus
(from Matt. 8:18-27) ...

Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea...

Why, Lord, do you lead us away from the crowds...activity...ministry just when things are beginning to look promising? There is so much to do. And just when the crowds are beginning to gather, you lead us to depart to the other side of the sea?

When He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him...

Yes, even though we don't understand your ways or timing, we who call ourselves followers of Christ, get in to the boat taking us far from all the action and exuberance of the crowds.

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep...

I might be able to deal with this storm if you were at least awake and personally navigating us through the crisis. How could you just lie there and SLEEP through the whole thing? This is terrifying. We're going under. We have no hope of getting out of this mess! What were you thinking when you led us away from the crowds and deliberately take us out into a dangerous storm? I'M NOT HEARING GETTING ANY ANSWERS TO MY QUESTIONS, LORD! Why the silence?!?! Don't you know that we're about 60-seconds from going under?!?!

And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing!"

Now that we're in the middle of the storm you led us into, unless you personally intervene and save us, we will certainly perish!

Where is the God of Psalm 121, "The Lord is your KEEPER; The Lord is your SHADE on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The Lord WILL PROTECT you from ALL EVIL; He will KEEP YOUR SOUL. The Lord WILL GUARD YOUR GOING OUT and your coming in From this time forth and forever." Aren't those your very words? Where are you now when we need you so desperately to come through for us?

He said to them, "Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?"

Afraid? Duh, of course we are afraid! Don't you see the waves around us? Can't you feel the wind blowing us away? Is this really the best time for a rebuke about our little faith?

Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and it became perfectly calm.

Another second longer, and we most certainly would have gone under. Why did you wait so long to intervene? Why do you lead us out into storms like these?

"Sometimes God calms the storms;
and sometimes God lets the storms rage,
and calms the child." (Unknown)

The men were amazed, and said, "What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?"

Now I am beginning to understand. There isn't a single aspect to our lives that you do not have completely under your control. Just as surely as you control the winds and sea, you are well aware of the "storm" I am going through right now. While I might feel anxious, troubled, and fearful at its "winds and waves", you are right there with me. You have allowed this storm in my life for a purpose. You wouldn't have allowed this storm unless it was part of your greater overall plan. I trust you now that you are in perfect control of everything happening around me.

I want to be faithful, and praise you in this storm.

"Praise you in this storm" by Casting Crowns.

*This post dedicated to all my friends and brothers out there currently going through a storm.