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