Thursday, March 26

Healing as a process

Healing. That is probably the key word of what the Lord has been doing in our lives over the past few months of being Stateside.

In the New Testament there are many references to Jesus and the apostles healing. A repeated phrase in the Gospels is, "...He healed them." Jesus healing was instantaneous. While I believe that God continues to heal in this way today, I have seen more evidence in our own lives which points to healing as a process.

Why does Jesus choose to heal over a period of time, and not always on the spot?

This is something that has taken a while for me to understand. We have been Stateside because we needed to heal: emotionally, spiritually, physically, and relationally with my wife, children, and with the Lord.

All of these take time.

The process of healing is just as important as the healing itself. While healing is taking place, our relationship with the Lord is restored. Slow healing allows us to heal with others as well. In the process of slowing down enough to heal us, God has many things teach us. If He were to instantly heal--like we want Him to--we would probably say, "Thanks, Lord!" and jump right back in to the destructive life style that led us to needing the healing in the first place. We would most surely miss out on the greater blessing of what He wants to deal with in our lives that has led to the brokenness in our lives.

What do you think? What has been your experience with healing?

Monday, March 23

Returning to Ecuador

"You must be so excited about finally getting to go back to Ecuador. When do you leave?"

I have probably heard variations of these words a dozen times over the past few days. Those voicing these phrases are well-intentioned, so we respond kindly with the words everyone expects us to say,

"Oh yes, we're thrilled to be getting back home..."

The truth of how we really feel about going back would take a lot longer to explain. I'm afraid we would burst a lot of people's bubble about not being the super-saint missionaries we are expected to be.

Excited? Thrilled? Home?

After 20+ years living in Guayaquil I personally do not relate to those terms as being descriptive of our life overseas.

Don't get me wrong. We do know this is where God would have us. We are called and have not yet been released from this calling. If given a choice we probably would choose somewhere else to live. Guayaquil is not my idea of the "good life." It is hard to live there. It is even harder on one's family.

Sure, when people come down for a few days visit everything is wonderful, awesome, exciting, inspiring, beautiful, exotic, adventuresome, etc. But all that quickly fades. The honeymoon phase usually ends sometime around the end of the 2nd or 3rd week.

So, are we going back grudgingly with a bad attitude? No. We go back realistically knowing what it is we return to. Danger. Hot year around. Crowded. Loneliness. Insecurity. Discomfort. Poverty. Frustration. Sickness. Constant noise. Lack of privacy. Spiritual warfare. Misunderstandings. Inconveniences.

Some would say, "you're nuts for submitting yourselves to all that. Stay with us and do what you do over there, here in America." It sounds tempting. Even logical. After all, haven't we done more than our fair share for the Great Commission?

Our response?

Check out Jesus' words in Matthew 16, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it..."

Life isn't about feeling good, living the "good life"--the American Dream--seeking our well-being, experiencing personal fulfillment, being satisfied.

It is about Him, his Kingdom. His will. His desires. His heart. His good pleasure. His glory. He is the Potter; we are the clay.

Does this sound strange?

Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself (what? deny myself? lay aside personal preferences?), take up his cross (hey, I'm not ready to go to the cross, I'm not ready to fact, I want to live the good life like everyone else), and follow Me (that's fine as long as He leads me somewhere really cool and somewhere I want to go...)

The funny thing about it all, is when we actually deny ourselves, take up his cross, and follow Him, we find the very life we were seeking all along!

I can't think of anyone more blessed than we are. I mean that. God's hand has been on our lives throughout this wild, crazy journey we have been on now for more than 50 years. I wouldn't trade places with anyone.

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS."

The reward, the "good life" is not something we get now. Rather, it will be rewarded to us when the Son of Man comes in the glory of His Father. Jesus will be the one to personally repay our deeds, ministry, toil, and sacrifices.

Thanks for whispering a prayer for us as we return to Ecuador a week from today.

Saturday, March 21

Watch, Work, Walk

People often ask us, "why are you returning to Ecuador?"

We return because Jesus imminent return to earth is near.

While no one would doubt the need of the USA for the Gospel, the truth is, America has had every opportunity to accept the Gospel many times over, but has chosen to reject the truth. Is it fair that the Gospel be preached to some over and over and over, while 95% of Ecuador has had little exposure to the truth and are on their way to a Christless eternity?

Time is quickly winding out. I believe we are living in the last generation before the return of Christ. I believe there is a good chance that we will be here when the trumpet sounds and Christ comes to earth the second time in judgment.

I strongly urge spending 20-minutes to view this 2009 message by Anne Graham Lotz where she lays out a strong case that we are living right now in the final days of human history.

Knowing of Christ's imminent return, how does this personally affect your watching the signs of the times, working to bring in the final harvest, and your walk with the Lord?

Thursday, March 19

Jesus: The way off the streets for prostitutes in Ecuador

By Dea Davidson

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador (BP)—Their market value is $5. Another $5 will buy a pay-by-the-hour room. In a port city like Guayaquil, Ecuador, accessibility to cheap thrills is easy and the cost is minimal. Playing Russian roulette with AIDS and other diseases is the biggest drawback.

Women on the street corners of Ecuador’s largest city are as much a fixture as the downtown shopping stalls. Residents and visitors see them as a commodity, a service, a convenience. But not International Mission Board missionary Barbara Rivers of Houston.

Rivers and a group of Ecuadorian women also walk the city streets, mingling with the working women. But instead of miniskirts, halter tops and high heels, these women sport colorful polo shirts with a message of hope embroidered over their hearts.

Jesucristo Señal de Salida — Jesus Christ is the way out.


María’s father was an abusive alcoholic, so she left home, intending to live with her grandmother in another city. A family friend agreed to help her — for a price. By the time she arrived in the city she was no longer an innocent 12-year-old girl.

Her grandmother had her placed in jail. She learned to drink liquor, smoke marijuana and use drugs.

María ended up in a brothel where she was forced to hand over her prostitution earnings. She escaped from that situation but took up with a man who fathered her first two children. Living on the streets, she had two more children with another man.

Then someone invited her to church. Not interested at first, she remained in her old life. Some female believers told her about God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, prompting her to attend church. When the pastor invited her to pray a prayer of faith, she gave her life to Christ.

“Jesus filled the emptiness of my heart and changed my life completely,” María says. “My old life is in the past.” Now, she is married and works in a vegetable market.

“I can talk with other women who live in situations similar to mine and tell them that God wants to give them a new life,” she says. “I believe that God is using me to take His Word to others.”


María and others like her are living stories of redemption. These women bring hope to the streets as they minister alongside Rivers and Norma de Campos, an Ecuadorian pastor’s wife who began the work in 1998. The women introduce themselves, share Scripture and tell the prostitutes about God’s love.

“For most of them, no one has ever told them they love them or told them God loves them,” Rivers says.

Sharing testimonies connects new believers with the women still in bondage. Their stories are a glimpse of the inner beauty without camouflaging the ugliness that remains. The new believers repent from what they’ve done, Rivers says, but they encounter the same house, same people, same neighborhood.

Rather than dwell on the difficult circumstances, these Christians are devoted to seeing women on the streets come to know the One who died to buy their pardon. To reach them, Rivers, de Campos and their team hold events for the women’s families, offer getaway retreats to teach them about the love and forgiveness of God and lift up their efforts in prayer during monthly meetings. Approximately 30 women attend the two Bible studies offered each week.

Although they turn to Christ, some will still return to the streets. They struggle to move from lives of bondage to a full understanding of who they are in Christ.

“The best thing is for them to be convicted by the Holy Spirit instead of them doing what we tell them to do,” Rivers says. “They just don’t see that prostitution is wrong. It’s part of Satan’s lie.”

Dea Davidson covered this story as an overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board.

Tuesday, March 17

Blog madness 2009

Over at SBC Voices there is a fun contest going on for the 2nd Annual SBC Blog Madness 2009. Much to my surprise "The M Blog" is listed in the South Division up against some very good blogs--several of which I read regularly.

Everyone is being encouraged to drum up votes for their blog, so PLEASE VOTE FOR ME in this first round elimination. Click here and vote for the M Blog!

Monday, March 16

Church planting quiz

God Grown has come up with a quiz to help one determine whether or not your heart is in the right place for going out and starting a new church.

Here are my quiz results. If you take the test and care to share your results, please paste them into the comments section below. I'd love to see how others scored!
You Scored as To Answer God's Call

Listening to Jesus and doing what he says will always prove a good strategy in church planting. While God calls in many ways, it will be essential when times get tough that you remember your calling.

Missions and Disciplemaking
To Answer God's Call
Building Intimate Community

Because it is Doctrinally Sound and/or I read about it in a Book

I just want to Lead
I am Detoxing from a Harmful Church Experience

I want to Plant a Larger church


Wednesday, March 11

A reason to laugh, shout, clap, and dance in the rain

When I get down and think our work in vain, and not worth the struggle, it helps to reflect back on the amazing things God has done in our past. The God of yesterday's victories is the same today, and forever. So let us rejoice and be glad in Him. Our toil and labor are NOT IN VAIN!

I remember being invited one afternoon to a party. The occasion was to celebrate the baptisms of several new believers in one of the new Guayaquil house churches. This particular house church is made up mostly of rough street kids: ex-gang members, former drug addicts, and kids from dysfunctional families. I had attended their baptisms a few days earlier, but now they just wanted to get together and have a party to celebrate--and celebrate they did!

Just before dark, about 20 of us gathered out under an open patio and had a time of singing and sharing with one another. People spoke out freely testifying what Jesus meant to them. 2-3 spoke words from the Scripture. Those who had been recently baptized were called up one by one and given baptism certificates. Photos were taken, hugs were given, and as each received his certificate everyone clapped and cheered for the person who had now become their new brother and sister in Christ.

This was followed by the first Lord's Supper for most of those present. Ritz crackers and local brand Kool-Aid did nothing to detract from the solemnity of the occasion. Many knelt on the ground in prayer. Several had tears in their eyes. What got to me though, was what happened next.

It began to rain.

There was no shelter except for a tiny piece of tin that only 3-4 could stand under (I was one of them!) Instead of the rain spoiling the party, the CD boombox volume was turned up to MAX. Two of the younger men began to dance in the rain. They were soon joined by a couple of others. Everyone was soaked by then, but who cared? There they were, splashing around in the pouring rain with the rest of us clapping and cheering them on. Laughter and singing was on the lips of everyone as the dancers stretched and jumped and twirled on the ground to the beat of the music. Nothing was going to spoil their party and the joy they had in the Lord!

At first my conservative upbringing caused me to recoil at such indecency going on--in church! But these were new believers, most only a few weeks old in their faith. What they were doing was expressing their uninhibited joy and new found love of the Lord. It seemed totally inappropriate to do anything but worship with them! Didn't Jesus himself say that there is more rejoicing in heaven over ONE SINNER who repents than ninety-nine righteous? After a few moments it dawned on me that no one was more pleased than Jesus Himself! He is the very One who had come to earth and given his life in ransom for these very kids who were now celebrating his atonement. Why not laugh, shout, clap, and dance in the rain?

Sunday, March 8

And to think we have problems

This post really should be titled, "Pray for The Congo", but sadly, most of us are too wrapped up in our own problems and concerns to be bothered by the plight of faraway, faceless peoples in war-torn developing countries. This is more than we can handle right now emotionally with everything else going on in our lives. Don't we have enough problems right here at home to be bothered about the suffering in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo? After all, what can we really do about their plight?

My own awareness and growing interest in the DRC began this past summer. I found myself in an airport gift shop browsing through the various book titles for something to read on the plane. I had narrowed my selections, when out of the corner of my eye, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible caught my attention. I had been aware of this title for some time but had assumed it to be one of the new contemporary translations of Scripture. Not at all!

As one reviewer describes it, "This novel tells the engrossing story of quirky, feverish Baptist preacher Nathan Price who hauls his family off on a mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. The story's narration is shared by his wife Orleanna and their four daughters, ages 5 - 15, who seem much too tender and naive to survive the trials of harsh conditions, poor housing, language barriers, cultural clashes, and natural antagonists. What results is an absorbing story set against the backdrop of political and religious upheaval."

Suffice it to say, even though I was physically on a trip to Florida, my heart and mind were in Africa.

There is little doubt the book is a controversial one. It portrays missionary work in a distorted stereotypical way as often practiced back in the 50's and 60's. But even so, this novel needs to be on the reading list of every cross-cultural missionary today. It is 1) a well-written good story, 2) insightful about how one should go about taking the Gospel to different cultures, 3) an education on what has happened in the Congo and why things are as they are today. The insights into how we relate and understand those so different from us would go far in not only advancing the Kingdom of God, but in bringing about peace so needed in places like the DRC.

The following CommissionStories video is only 4:14, but introduces a small slice of the complexities of taking the Gospel to this needy, sad, war-torn country.

If you have time and interest there is plenty more to learn about what is going on in the DRC. I found Congo's Curse to likewise be an eye-opening piece. To read about recent Baptist efforts in the Congo read here.

To conclude, would you pause with me to pray for the peoples of the DRC? Pray that God's peace, mercy, forgiveness, healing, protection, and provision be over this nation, and that the Lord of the Harvest would send laborers to minister the love of Christ and bring hope to the hopeless through the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 7

Funny story

For a good laugh, read the following story which appeared this past week on Frank Viola's blog.


A Minneapolis couple decided to go to Florida to thaw out during a particularly icy winter. They planned to stay at the same hotel where they spent their honeymoon 20 years earlier. Because of hectic schedules, it was difficult to coordinate their travel schedules. So, the husband left Minnesota and flew to Florida on Thursday, with his wife flying down the following day.

The husband checked into the hotel. There was a computer in his room. He decided to send an email to his wife. However, he accidentally left out one letter in her email address, and without realizing his error, he sent the email.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Houston, a widow had just returned home from her husband’s funeral. He was a minister who was called home to glory following a heart attack. The widow decided to check her email expecting messages from family and friends. After reading the first message, she screamed and fainted. The widow’s son rushed into the room, found his mother on the floor passed out. He looked at the computer which read:

To: My Loving Wife
Subject: I’ve Arrived
Date: March 2, 2009

I know you’re surprised to hear from me. They have computers here now and you are allowed to send emails to your loved ones. I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I’ve seen that everything has been prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then!!!!

Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was.

P.S. Sure is freaking hot down here!!!!

Friday, March 6

How much is your blog worth?

I saw this on Praisegod Barebones and clicked the link to find out how much my blog is worth. Not near as valuable as Bart's, but hey, if anyone out there would like to pay me the $26,533.38, the "M Blog" will be yours within the hour!

My blog is worth $26,533.38.
How much is your blog worth?

Wednesday, March 4

Three questions for every church

1. What is your church doing to deliberately make disciples?

2. What is your church doing to intentionally plant/reproduce new churches?

3. What is your church doing missions-wise to be His witnesses in your Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth?

While I realize there is more to being the Bride of Christ than the answer to these three questions, it is hard for me to conceive of a church calling herself a church that is not making disciples of the nations. The heart of God is a missionary one that loved the world so much that He gave what was most precious to Him, Jesus, so that we might be called the 'children of God'.

While there is certainly room in the Church for more than evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and missions, if we allow these to become anything less that priority mandates, the inevitable result will be a turning inwards and the beginning of a decline resulting in eventual death of that body of believers.

My own observations about the continual decline occurring within the Southern Baptist Convention is directly related to the loss of this focus we have traditionally had as a denomination.

QUESTION: So how do we turn the decline around?

ANSWER: Try answering honestly the above three questions!

Monday, March 2

It's not about methodology

Luis had faithfully attended the training sessions for church planting. He lived across the river from Guayaquil in the neighboring city of Durán. In his local community, everyone knew the friendly Luis who operated a small business out of his home selling eggs, TP, bananas, rice, batteries, and other daily necessities.

Well into the training, Luis invited me to visit the Saturday evening gathering of friends, family, and neighbors.

I arrived about 15-minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin. Luis was thrilled I had come and declared,

"It is so good that you have come, Bro. Guido, you can lead the meeting tonight..."

"No, Bro. Luis, I have come as a visitor and look forward to the blessing God has in store for us tonight. Besides, as your teacher, I'd like to see how some of the things we are practicing in class are working out for you guys."

"But what should I do?" he asked with a confused look on his face.

"Do it just like we practiced in the classroom this past week. Pick one of the ice breakers to loosen people up. Lead them in singing 2-3 songs that relate to the Bible Study. Talk about the message of the songs. Facilitate the Bible Study #4 making sure all participate. Close with a time of ministry praying for the various needs. Finish up serving refreshments and visiting with everyone...just like we practiced and talked about in class earlier this week."

Luis smiled and said, "Oh yeah, now I remember. No hay problema (no problem.) Thanks. Let's do it. Are you ready to go?"

We walked across the street and entered a small room crowded already with some fifteen adults and a bunch of kids running in and out. There were 3-4 other believers present, but the rest were all people who Luis knew and had been visiting during the preceding days.

After greeting everyone, Luis's wife Rosa passed out songbooks and then led everyone in singing a couple of their favorites. I was a bit peeved that Luis had jumped straight to the songs instead of employing a fun icebreaker to ease the tension of those in the room who didn't know one another. It was evident that few present knew what to expect.

Not only had he skipped the icebreaker, but Luis chose songs that had no connection whatsoever with the 4th lesson. Then, instead of doing lesson #4, Luis seemed to flip randomly through the pages of his Bible looking for some familiar passage, and proceeded to read out loud a passage from one of the Gospels. Internally, I was totally frustrated with Luis that instead of following the simple meeting outline as he had been trained to do, he was just "winging it."

Luis then proceeded to share an "off-the-cuff" choppy commentary on what he had just read. Where was the group participation that we stressed so highly in training? My blood pressure was rising by the minute.

Suddenly, a woman stood and interrupted Luis. She had tears in her eyes. I nearly fell off my chair when she finally spoke...

"This is the first time in my life that the Gospel has been presented to me in such a clear and simple way. I truly understand now what Jesus did for me and I want to declare my allegiance to Him. What do I need to do?

Luis walked over to the woman, smiled real big, and gave her a huge abrazo (hug.)

He then, in front of everyone present, scrapped his "message" and shared with the woman a clear presentation of the Gospel. The few believers present gathered around and led her in a prayer of repentance. When the "Amen" was said, everyone clapped and one by one stood in line to abrazar and congratulate the new sister in Christ. Even before everyone had finished hugging, someone picked up an out-of-tune cracked guitar and next thing I knew they were singing, clapping and praising God! Spontaneous prayers, testimonies, and more singing followed. As prayer requests were made, everyone gathered around the person and prayed over them. Someone brought in mangoes for refreshments as people continued to visit, laugh, and sing even more.

And where was I during all this?

Sitting in the corner picking myself off the floor from the lessons the Holy Spirit was teaching me--the novice--about His ways not being our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts.

That outreach group soon became a church and continued to do everything just about as opposite as possible from everything we were teaching. But out of that seemingly "chaotic mess" dozens of people were saved, baptized, and a local ekklesia was birthed.

The "rest of the story" of that church plant could be written up as a book, but suffice it to say, I learned several big lessons that evening.

1) Locals know their people better than the outside "experts."

2) People do not come to Christ by our methodologies (however good we think they may be.)

3) The importance of love and relationships developed with those one is trying to reach (Luis was a "10" on a scale of ten on this one.)

4) It is much easier gathering people (not-yet-believers) who live close by and presenting the Gospel to them all at once, than winning a bunch of individuals separately and then trying to gather them all in one place.

5) A simple atmosphere of warmth, acceptance, and informality is more appealing to those we are trying to reach with the Gospel than a programmed formal church service.

6) As good as our way of doing things might be, His way is better.

7) What works with one group may not work equally well with another group. In other words, one size does not fit all.

Any of these lessons resonate with your own experience? What are some of the lessons the Holy Spirit has been teaching you of late?