Sunday, June 28

Book Questions (another one of those 'tag your friends' thingees)

1. What author do you own the most books by? Three way tie between Elisabeth Elliot, Frank Viola, Watchman Nee. I was surprised to find I owned so many titles by Nee.

2. What book do you own the most copies of? The Bible, of course. I also collect hymnals and just counted 40. My favorite is a facsimile of the original 1779 "Olney Hymns" by John Newton and William Cowper.

3. Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions? No--I end sentences all the time with prepositions and don't even realize when I do it.

4. What fictional character are you secretly in love with? I have read hundreds of books in my life time but can't recall any characters that I am secretly in love with.

5. What book have you read the most times in your life? The Bible.

6. Favorite book as a ten year old? I loved any book I could get my hands on about the Civil War. If there were pictures, that was even better!

7. What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year? I don't read bad books. My rule of thumb is if a book doesn't capture my interest in the first 100 pages I will simply stop reading and usually never pick it up again. However, it has been a couple of years now since I last failed to finish a book once started.

8. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year? I don't know if it was the best but definitely the most helpful to me personally was "Walking With God" by John Eldredge. I give it my highest recommendation.

9. If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be? Of all the questions, this is the hardest for me to answer. There are just too many good books out there that I would like everyone to read, and too many categories from which to choose! might be Rob Bell's "Velvet Elvis" and another J. Eldredge's "The Sacred Romance" or maybe Don Miller's "Blue Like Jazz."

10. What book would you most like to see made into a movie? I've heard that William P. Young's "The Shack" is being made into a movie. If done well, I think it could have a profound impact on its viewing audience. Close follow-ups would be "The Heavenly Man" by Brother Yun, and Barbara Kingsolver's "The Poisonwood Bible."

11. What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read? Miguel de Cervantes "Don Quijote de la Mancha" in the original 1615 version for an advanced Spanish class I took in Costa Rica (I understood only about 20% and guessed at the rest!)

12. What is your favorite devotional book? A tie between Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest" and "Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen" by Charles Ringma.

13. What is your favorite play? "The Mouse Trap" by Agatha Christie, the longest run of any play in the world. My wife and I saw this classic in London and count the evening as one of our most memorable.

14. Poem? "The World Is Too Much With Us" by William Wordsworth

15. Essay? "On Church Music" by C.S. Lewis.

16. Who is the most overrated writer alive today? The lady who writes all the Harry Potter books. I just hope my wife and son don't see this, because they are both huge HP fans.

17. What is your desert island book? The Message.

18. And...what are you reading right now? I just finished "The Rabbit and the Elephant" by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna (hope to blog on it soon--great book!), and have started "Animal Farm" by George Orwell.

Feel free to "tag yourself" and answer the questions. If you do so, leave a comment below so we can go over and check out some of your favorite books.

Thursday, June 25

Unsung heroes: José and Adriana Salazar

I have never understood why movie stars, politicians and athletes get so much attention, while true heroes--like José and Adriana Salazar--who have given their lives in sacrificial, selfless giving for others, live their lives as unknowns and off the world's radar screen.

Michael Jackson dies and every follower of Christ tunes in for the details. But great ongoing Kingdom stories, like the Salazar's, go virtually unknown and are passed over in favor of supposedly more "exciting" stories (SBC politics? Wayward SC governors and their affairs?) Are these things really more interesting or exciting to us than true stories taking place in God's Kingdom? If so, what does this say about who we are as followers of Christ?

The short version of the Salazar story began several years ago when José, a medical doctor, and his wife began noticing the abandoned elderly wandering the streets of Guayaquil. The couple watched in horror as these sick, malnourished people would eat out of garbage piles and sleep on the dirty and dangerous city streets.

One day they decided to bring home one of these wandering homeless elderly. After a bath, a good meal, a physical examination, and some clean clothes, José and Adriana realized there was no way they could just return him to the streets. So they continued to treat him like one of the family. Before long they had 40 abandoned elderly living in their home and found themselves with more than their hands full!

It has not been easy with a family this large. Caring for them physically, emotionally and spiritually has been quite a task! Everything is dependent upon God's supply and provision! Each of the current 70 family members (as they are referred to) are showered daily with love, care, and attention until the day they die. Most of the those taken in from the streets quickly give their hearts to Jesus and follow in believer's baptism. For the Salazars, church is a 24/7 love operation with daily breaking of bread together, fellowship, and teaching of God's Word! We have personally witnessed many of these baptisms which are done in a bathtub (see video below.)

My wife, Linda, did a great job blogging on the Salazars a few days ago. She has included several photos of last Saturday's Father's Day celebration. To encourage you to click and read, here is a "teaser" from her latest post...
Once the government came in and told him that he was not fulfilling the requirements and restrictions for having an "old folks home" in his home and that he would have just a few days to close it down and move all the people out. Jose prayed and within a week there was a coup that brought in a new government (coincidence?).
Last week I put together the following video/slideshow of some photos José sent me of the ministry.

Wednesday, June 24

What house churches should be doing right now

I am a long time subscriber to Maurice Smith's The Parousia Update Letter. Maurice, along with a growing wave of others (including myself and my wife) believe that believe God is raising up the House Church movement to be His “underground church” of the end-times. In light of this conviction, Maurice shares in his June 16, 2009 newsletter what could well be a prophetic word...

I believe this underground church will become an “underground river” of God’s Spirit which will flow in great end-time power and blessing, and the end-time harvest that so many people have longed for will be reaped in, through and by that underground house church movement. Revival is indeed coming, but not in the form so many have expected. Christians will soon be meeting in house churches, not because it is the new “chic” thing to do, but because persecution and the practical impact of world events will necessitate it.

In light of this necessity, he goes on to suggest things we should be doing right now:

1. Get serious. It’s time to “wake up and smell the coffee”. Understand that house church is no longer “one option among many”. It is about to become a necessity. Stop “kicking the tires”. It’s time to make a serious commitment to systematically practice being an organic house church, not to mention an organic house church movement. We no longer have the luxury of wasting time.

2. Get clean.
So, how do you get spiritually clean? First, learn to nip nonsense in the bud early, not later. The longer it goes, the harder it is to confront. Second, learn to spend prolonged time together as a body in worship and waiting upon God. The length of time you as a body can sit in silent prayer and worship before the throne is often an indicator of the “weirdness level” in your group. Spiritual weirdness often has difficulty with silence and quickly wants to fill it - often with a lot of self-proclamation nonsense, or “binding the heavenlies” or “strategic spiritual warfare” or other “formulaic” nonsense that sounds spiritual but isn’t. Third, listen to what God is saying to His Church for these times.

3. Get your house in order. I’m talking about order, not organization. God has plans for your house church in these “end-times”, and those plans begin with ordering His Church in your midst based upon the gifts He has given to serve it and to lead it. Begin seeking God to raise up His gifts and His gifted leaders in your midst. Every revolution, spiritual or otherwise, has leaders. If you don’t know who the gifted leaders in your house church are, either you don’t have any (doubtful) or you haven’t asked God to reveal them (probable), or you’re refusing to recognize them (usually out of fear). Find them. Acknowledge them. Lay hands on them. You’re going to need them, and the Church is going to need them.

4. Begin networking. House churches tend to be an “independent” lot. We don’‘t seem to play well with the other kids in the sand box (although I find the same tendency among conservative institutional churches, bad habits we have apparently carried with us into house church. Detox. Detox). But those days are quickly coming to an end. You will not survive what’s coming as a “free range chicken”. I have a word to describe free range chickens: “lunch” (especially with BBQ sauce). Begin actively building working relationships with other house churches. You’re going to need each other to survive.

5. Simplify (and learn to travel lite). As I have shared before, I believe God is calling His Church to travel lite. Several years ago God called my wife and me to “live by faith”. That calling has, at times, been a challenge, both for us and for those close to us. But we are coming to see how God has used the experience of the past several years to prepare us both to lead and to teach others to do the same by modeling. You can’t lead others to a place you’ve never been. A time is quickly approaching (for us it has already arrived) when leaders simply cannot be tied to a U-Haul. If you don’t know what that means, well, don’t worry. You soon will.

He concludes, "So, is Jesus coming back soon? I can’t say for certain. No one can. But I’m waking up . . . and I smell coffee. How about you?"

Sunday, June 21

Did Jesus actually say do these things?

More from *Victor Choudhrie...
  • Jesus never asked you to worship only on Sundays. His disciples worshiped daily, broke bread from house to house and the Lord added to the church daily and the churches were planted daily. (Acts 2: 46-47; 16:5; Heb. 3:13)

  • Jesus never said that only the pastors can serve bread and wine. Jesus served roast lamb, bread, bitter herb and wine for the last supper. Whenever His disciples gathered they shared Agape meals together in His remembrance. (Exo. 12:8; 1 Cor. 11:20-26)

  • Jesus did not say that you should tithe. According to His teachings, the disciples opened their homes and shared their possessions with others so that no one lacked anything. (Acts 4: 32-34; Deut. 8:17-18)

  • Jesus did not ask you to build a church building. He said God does not live in houses made with human hands because the heaven is His throne and the earth is His foot stool. Now we are the temple of the living God. (Acts 7: 48-49; 2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Cor. 3:9)

  • Jesus did not say that you appoint qualified professional pastors. He gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip His church. (Eph. 4:11-12)

  • Jesus did not say that only the Pastors can baptize. Jesus said you go and make disciples and baptize them. (Matt. 28:19)

  • Jesus did not ask the pastor to bury. He said let the dead bury the dead, you go and raise the dead. (Luke 9:60; Matt. 10:8)

  • Jesus did not ask you to follow the church program. He said follow me and I will make you fishers of men. He did not ask you to send believers to Sunday service or the Bible school. He said send the laborers to the harvest fields. He said he who gathers is with Me and he who scatters is against Me. (Matt. 4:19, 9:38, 12:30)

  • Jesus did not ask you to organize crusades and conventions. He will not judge you on the basis of large crowds or the wonderful worship and beautiful music. He will judge on what you did for the little and the least of the world. (Matt. 25:31-46,18:3-6; Isa. 58:6-9)

  • Jesus did not say that only men can talk in the church and the women should cover their head and keep quiet. He made them talk, even allowed them to argue with Him in public. (Luke 10:40; Mark 7:24-30)

  • Jesus did not say that you are just a layman. He bought you with His blood and ordained you priest and king. As royal priests, make disciples, baptize, equip fishers of men and rule on earth. (Rev. 5:9-10; 1 Pet 2:9)

*Victor Choudhrie gave up his medical practice for full time church planting in central India. Along with his wife Bindu, large numbers of grassroots level leaders have been trained who have planted thousands of house churches all over India. After reading, you may not agree with some of Choudrie's interpretations of the various Scriptures quoted. I personally find his non-western conclusions quite challenging. While mostly agreeing with what Bro. Victor writes, I find several of these difficult to implement in our own church planting context. What about you?

Thursday, June 18

A thoughtful response to: "Why are we afraid of house churches"

Lance and I go way back. He is a good friend and pastor of Iglesia Betania, a Spanish-speaking Reformed Baptist Church in Denton, Texas since 1989. Sometimes, people choose to respond privately to things shared here on the blog. In this case, I asked Lance if it would be all right to share his email about my recent blog post Why are we afraid of NT house churches?

I am a great advocate for a simpler church model and have no objection to house churches as such. My congregation's biggest burden is a building. It drains our resources, financial and man-power, and adds little if anything to the effectiveness of our ministry. House churches have clearly been effective in spreading the gospel in South Korea and other parts of the world.

I do, however, question whether the model you speak of is actually the New Testament model. My understanding of New Testament practice—I prefer 'practice' to 'model'—is that the believers met in small groups rather regularly, perhaps daily, and then the smaller groups came together less frequently. However, the New Testament gives only sketchy information about how the church was organized and claiming anything to be a New Testament model is claiming more than the Scripture itself teaches.

Furthermore, because details of organization are not mandated in the Scripture, I have to ask if we are required to duplicate their church organization and practice. What worked in first-century Greco-Roman and Jewish cultures may not work in twenty-first century Anglo-American or Ecuadorian or British or any other culture.

In other words, we are too stuck on the concept of a New Testament model when the New Testament model is not really relevant. That said, I find nothing unbiblical about the practice you describe. Neither do I find anything unbiblical about the more traditional Anglo-American practice most of us grew up in. It may not be very effective. It may be outdated. It is not, however, unbiblical, nor should it be casually replaced.

I also share the concerns about sound doctrine and teaching expressed by several. Many advocates of house churches dismiss this issue, but it is extremely important. By God's grace it has not, apparently, been an issue in your work in Ecuador. However, here in the States it is a major issue. All of the house churches or 'cell group' churches I have any experience with very quickly degenerated into heresy in some degree. That is not necessarily because they were house churches—many traditionally organized churches in the U.S. have also degenerated in heresy—but, it is a 'pinch point' in the practice that must be anticipated and actively monitored.

Leadership selection and training must be a primary concern to those involved in house church ministry. Leaders must be well trained in Biblical truth and what those truths mean in terms of practice. I have long said that we as Baptists have very good doctrine, but our doctrine and our practice rarely come together. Furthermore, that training will be more effective if done through the local churches rather than separate seminaries or schools.

All that said, I believe we must do church more simply in the near future. That means fewer and smaller buildings, less money in general, more worship and teaching and less activity, and more involvement of the entire congregation. I am a great advocate of bi-vocational ministry. After all, no one is more free to be obedient to God than he who has nothing to lose.

Also, if we want to talk about a New Testament model, we cannot escape the fact that in practice even Paul was bi-vocational. One of the most effective times of evangelism in the United States was during the frontier days when the farmer who plowed a field during the week stood on a stump in that field on Sunday and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ and him crucified. This was not a house church model, but it was generally a small and intimate community of believers. This is one of the reasons Baptists, Methodists, and the Churches of Christ are so strong in the South and Midwest. They allowed, even encouraged, bi-vocational pastors. During that time, one of the primary purposes of local Baptist associations was pastor training. In spite of the informality of the system, this was a time of good, solid doctrinal teaching and practice. Sadly, the deterioration of the evangelical church in America has be presided over by seminary-trained, vocational pastors.

Most importantly, as a general observation without judging any one person, group, or congregation, we must regain our high view of God's holiness and sovereignty if we wish to see effective evangelism. That can be done in a house church model or a more traditional church model, with a vocational pastor or a bi-vocational leader. It is imperative, however, that we regain a biblical view of God if we are to be his people doing his work.
What do you think about Lance's observations? I think several of his points deserve our attention.

Is a NT model of church irrelevant for us today?

Is sound doctrine and teaching amiss in the house churches you are familiar with?

Are simple/house churches on shaky Biblical ground when they claim to be New Testament models of church?

Since we are not part of the Roman-Greco world, are the apostolic prescriptions for church something intended only for the first century ekklesia?

Is our Anglo-American tradition equally valid with church practice as found in the New Testament?

Are bi-vocational workers more the ideal than trained, professional seminary graduates?

Good questions. Thoughtful material for consideration. What do you think? Pick one (or two!) and dive in!

--Lance Johnson blogs at Except by Prayer and Fasting.

Wednesday, June 17

Is God calling you?

Fellow missionary, Kevin: Somewhere in South America serving just to the south of us, asks whether God might be calling more of us to plant our lives overseas than have responded.

Let's be generous for a moment. Let's say that there are one billion evangelical believers in the world. I think that is a little high, personally; but let's call it an even billion, as some claim.

Of those one billion, how many do think are missionaries? Go ahead, take a guess.

Would you believe about 98 thousand? I jest not. Ninety-eight thousand, give or take a few, have responded to the call of God.

Now the world is at an estimated 6.7 billion. One billion of those are evangelical believers. Ninety-eight thousand are missionaries, those men and women who carry the gospel around the world to others who have not yet believed...

...let's just suppose that those 98 thousand are represented by the thickness of one sheet of paper. One sheet of standard paper is .0038 inches thick...

...If that represents all the evangelical missionaries of the world, then it would take a stack of paper some 31,000 feet high to represent all the evangelicals of the world. Shades of Mount Everest, folks! I can't even get my mind around the ratio for the other 5.7 billion left in the world.

Do you think that perhaps God may be calling more than those 98 thousand who have responded?
Is He calling you? Have you ever really prayed about it? Can you say with complete truthfulness, "I definitely know He is NOT calling me to serve Him overseas?"

Might I be so bold to suggest, unless the Lord of the Harvest has made it quite clear He does NOT want you to go, maybe He intends you to GO!

Do any of Bryan Riley's suggestions for Sure-fire ways to avoid becoming a missionary hit too close to home?

What are you waiting for? If you were the Lord of the Harvest, would you be content with a response rate representing a single sheet of paper lying at the bottom of a stack piled as high as Mt. Everest? Just asking.

Sunday, June 14

Why are we so afraid of NT house churches?

I have been thrilled to see the growing interest for house churches in the North American context and especially amongst my Southern Baptist brethren. As IMB-SBC missionaries, most of us are engaged in training, teaching, and planting NT house churches much like the one described below.

A while back on sbcImpact! blogging friend, Geoff Baggett, asked his readers (mostly Southern Baptist) House Churches: Will They Really Work In North America?

The following phrases were lifted from the 67 comments generated from that post. To be fair to those commenting, I would encourage you to read their complete thoughts in context. Most are fairly common objections about house churches heard quite often...

...accountability and proper doctrine would be my two red flags

...the rise of house churches is more of mark of unhealthiness churches are dominated by people who do not want to submit themselves to the leadership of the church

...the lack of biblically trained leadership would often create an environment rich in heresy

...early churches meeting in homes, is that descriptive or prescriptive?

...I tend to think of this as more a reaction against the mega church and mega-wannabe

...I think that house churches work better in some cultures than in other cultures

...To me, the key biblical point is not where the church meets. The key point is whether the pastor meets the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.

...House churches work well in places where there is persecution and a need for secret meeting places.

...I don't think it would work in my context...

Rather than spend time refuting each of the above concerns, I would rather share what DOES take place in a house church gathering (at least in our Guayaquil, Ecuador context.)

After reading, you can judge for yourself if any of the above are relevant concerns.

1) At 6:30 pm we began with 15-20 adults and several children, meeting in the home of the church planter, which also doubles as a beauty parlor during the week. All the hair dressing equipment had been moved to another room to make space for the plastic chairs that were set up in a circle. It was very hot and crowded, but nobody seemed to mind (except the visiting missionaries!)

2) We sang a cappella 2 hymns, 1 psalm, and 1 praise chorus, all chosen at random by those present from tattered song books and a few xeroxed copies. No instruments--nobody there could play--no praise band, no over-head projected screens, no PowerPoint presentations, no choir, no microphones, pulpit, or any of the other "essentials" that many consider necessary in order to have "church." The singing was off-key, but it was a loud, heartfelt joyful sound!

3) Several people shared testimonies of how God is working in their lives and what God had been teaching them this past week from His Word. There was an open time of prayer with several people praying for one another as they were led of the Spirit.

4) The church planter led in a participatory inductive Bible study of Matthew 10. The focus was on persecution and how we are to confront it as Christians. There were no theologians quoted, books referenced, Greek word studies--just pure Bible, verse by verse. The illustrations were all from their own personal life experiences. Lots of participation, questions, and dialogue. The visual aid was a piece of newspaper print with the main points handwritten and taped to the wall.

5) We next observed the Lord's Supper as commanded by Jesus...1 Cor.11:23ff was read, followed by several moments of silent confession of sins. 3-4 people shared testimonies of what Christ meant to them and how grateful we all were for what Jesus had done for us. While partaking of the elements we sang a love song to Jesus. [NOTE: Here one might have reason to raise an eye brow--they used Ritz crackers and grape Kool Aid instead of unleavened bread and wine--but nevertheless, what was done, was done in remembrance of Jesus.]

6) An invited guest was introduced and it was quickly ascertained she was not a believer. At that point 2-3 shared with her their stories of how Christ had turned their lives around. A couple of others shared relevant scripture verses with her. The lady asked us to pray for her sick husband. Several people gathered around her, and did just that. The woman appeared very moved by the prayer and concern.

7) The offering was then collected with nearly everyone putting something in the small basket. I was one of the last to give. It appeared like there was less than $5 in total. All the proceeds of the offering were to go for #8 below.

8) Several minutes were spent going over details for next Sunday's evangelistic blitz of the whole neighborhood. This little church is dead set on winning their whole community to Christ. The offering collected tonight would be added to the previous weeks offerings and help buy needed tracts, Bibles, and EvangeCubes for the outreach event. If any money was left over, they planned on using it to buy cool drinks for all those who would be out sharing in the hot sun.

9) As they continued to talk about the planned door-to-door evangelistic blitz, refreshments were brought out. Each of us was served on a saucer a half slice of white bread, an empanada (fried meat pie), a spoonful of tuna fish (straight out of the can), one tiny cookie, and a small glass of soda pop. There were only eight glasses for 20+ people so most had to share a glass (we guests got our own glass and didn't have to share.) We sat around visiting, laughing, and sharing for about a half hour. I noticed that while we ate, several continued to gather around the visitor and were making her feel at home in the group as they chatted with her.

10) As the clean-up proceeded, the other IMB missionary, who was also visiting, was asked to share about her work with the Chinese. She taught us a song in Chinese, and we prayed for the Chinese in our city. Many questions were asked of her to better understand these odd "Samaritans" that live among us. Everyone was moved that there are so many Chinese in Guayaquil who do not know the Lord, and are actually Buddhists rather than Catholics.

11) A little after 9pm the meeting came to a natural close. Everyone hugged, kissed one another on the cheek and we all went home happy that we had been together in the "house of the Lord."


THREE QUESTIONS: What part of the above is not New Testament? What would be objectionable, even by Baptist standards? Do not these kind of gatherings closer resemble what we find in the pages of Acts and the Epistles than today's churches?

Again, go through the above list of house church concerns/objections and see if any are really relevant to what actually took place in what is, a typical house church gathering in Guayaquil.

Your thoughts and observations are welcome!

Better yet, contact us by email (in our profile) and help us reach an unreached/under-reached county of our province. Maybe by coming down and helping plant a church will dispel any remaining doubts about house churches being New Testament churches.

Friday, June 12

Conversational Prayer

Over the years of working with house/simple churches one of the most meaningful aspects of our gatherings are the prayer times. We encourage church planters to vary group prayer times so that they are more participatory. One of these is conversational prayer.

*Conversational Prayer:
  • Acknowledge God’s presence in the group. Praise and adoration is always good to help focus the group on communicating with the Lord.

  • Pray short prayers of one, two or three sentences.

  • Pray about one subject, idea or person at a time until everyone has shared as much and as often as prompted by the Spirit.

  • Be reluctant to change the subject as you would in any conversation until everyone is finished with it.

  • Times of silence can give the timid and the thoughtful time to contribute.

  • The more the conversation with God is passed around the group the deeper the intimacy grows. In time a small group becomes totally unified and purely transparent.

  • Watch God’s love flow freely, lives transform and answers to prayer abound.
*I am not sure who first sent me these suggestions for conversational prayer, but they have worked well for us over the years. I am thinking it may have been Gail Graves or John White. Anyway, whoever sent them, thanks!

Wednesday, June 10

My secret for good health

Just about everyone out there has a life changing gadget, diet or formula for good health and well being. Well, after 45 years, I am finally joining the ranks and will now disclose my own special secret to good health and well-being.

Get yourself a SanDisk Sanza Fuze mp3 player.

That's right. For me it has been the key to healthy living. Seriously!

--I have lost weight
--feel more energetic
--reduced my chronic migraines by 85%
--sleep better at nights and wake up early and refreshed
--feel less stressed
--have not been sick for many months now
--find myself in the best physical shape I have been in since high school

And all this, thanks, to my Sansa Fuze health gadget!

For years I have struggled to exercise, eat correctly, and do all those things we are supposed to do to be healthy. But nothing...repeat...NOTHING has worked, that is, until I bought my portable mp3 player.

Here's my brief testimonial success story (SanDisk ought to pay me a promotional fee for plugging their product like this!)

It all started one day as I was wandering up and down the aisles of an electronics store in San Antonio, TX. I chanced upon SanDisk mp3 players on sale. My two kids and wife already had their own (my wife an iPod) so felt guilty about spending money for a fourth one. But the price was just too good to pass up, so I bought myself a shiny red 4GB Sansa Fuze.

Like most of you reading, I have tried everything over the years with little success and no lasting results to show for all the effort, hunger cravings, sacrifice, and sweat.

I can think of fewer things I hate more than exercising--I absolutely hate every second.

Dieting...well that is a source of marital stress and tension, so that has never worked for more than 2-3 days at most.

Then I went through a phase where I got myself a stationary bike and would watch TV while exercising. The problem with that one is there are just too many commercials on TV and I have zero tolerance for commercials. So then I progressed to watching DVD movies (without commercials), but, that too, didn't work because I don't like wasting a good movie while sweating on a stationary bike. I'd much rather watch a good flick with a large bowl of butter popcorn, Coke, and my easy chair!

So what was it about the mp3 player that has made all the difference?

I LOVE BOOKS...I HATE EXERCISING. (You can probably guess where this is headed.) About nine months ago, I began downloading and listening to audio books (and podcasts) while going for morning walks. I was totally engrossed in the audio content and without even realizing it, was walking 30-40 minutes six days a week.

I have now been following this daily routine consistently for close to a year. It is the only thing I am doing. But the results have been amazing.

Now, to be honest, my secret success formula for good health is no rapid weight-loss plan. I have only lost an average of about 1 pound per month, but I FEEL so much better, have a lot more energy, and have lost more weight than all the combined efforts of the previous 20 years!

Lately I have tried to do something about the eating side of things. Dieting and low-fat eating are just not my cup of tea. I love my sweets, fried foods, snacks, carbs, etc. But what I have begun doing, though, is eating LESS of all these yummy things. Instead of 4 slices of pizza, it's now two. Instead of six panes de yuca, I stop after enjoying four.

The net result has been dramatic--at least for me. I am thinking about writing a book, "How to lose a pound a month and feel great by doing nothing more than listening to audio books!" The $19.95 sticker price could help finance some of our missions projects. Who knows, maybe it could even surpass Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" (which by-the-way is on my list to download!)

So, what works for you? What do you do for good health? Do you have a secret the rest of us could benefit from?

Sunday, June 7

Is shepherding a spiritual gift or a church office?

One of the on-going topics that continues to generate discussion amongst my peers is the role of women in church planting, and especially as these begin to take on more and more of a shepherding role with the new believers being added to the flock they have helped plant.

One of my missionary colleagues writes...
Could it be that, in the biblical sense, that a woman could be a pastor in the city/region church just as there were women prophetesses and a female apostle in the city/region church, but that women...not be elders in the house churches?
I confess these thoughts have gone through my mind as well: women functioning as Ephesians 4 apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in the city/region church, and only men as "elders" of local assemblies.

In most of the churches we relate to we don't refer to leadership (whether men or women) as pastors. We don't use titles. All of us are hermanos(as) brothers/sisters. We teach that ALL believers are servants and ministers of the Gospel. Both men and women alike are charged with fulfilling the Great Commission. That package includes: going, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching.

Peter's own words in 2Pet2: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood...that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light..." You=all of us.

Our part is to "make disciples." His to "build his church." When half of the work force are women, it only makes sense that a good percentage have shepherding gifts, as well as all the other lists of spiritual gifts mentioned in Paul's writings.

So, is shepherding/pastoring a spiritual gift (function) or a church office?

Because of what we have seen and experienced over the years, I personally lean towards shepherding as a spiritual gift (function) given for building up the body of Christ. I have seen plenty of evidence that the Spirit indeed gives this gift to certain sisters, just as He gives this gift to certain brothers.

What I have a hard time finding in the pages of the NT is where shepherding/pastoring is referred to as a church office. I don't see church offices in the New Testament. But do see much attention given to serving one another and to spiritual gifts for the building up of the Body of Christ.

That some sisters are given the gift to shepherd other believers seems perfectly normal--except, of course, when you make shepherding an OFFICE, and we know from the Baptist Faith and Message that women pastors is a no-no! But, then again, I don't see in the NT where pastor/shepherd is ever referred to as an office.

In Paul's two lists of ministries the Holy Spirit has given to the church for her edification--1 Cor.12:28 and Eph.4:11--only in the later do we find pastors being mentioned, and in neither are these referred to as offices. (If you see something different, please share book, chapter, verses. And if you use 1 Tim.3:1 where 'office' is used in some English translations, please point out to me how the term 'office' is arrived at from the Greek.)

Would it then be correct to say only men will be "elders" of local assemblies, but any believer (male or female) who possesses shepherding gifts, be encouraged to use their spiritually imparted gift to build up the church? In such a scenario, male elders (plural) would share the shepherding and care of the local church with all those who possess the gift and aspire to shepherd/oversee/pastor.

So, to recap, women cannot be pastors--in the sense of title or office. Why? Because offices and church titles are not to be found in the NT. But it also seems Biblical to say any sister who is spiritually gifted in shepherding ought to exercise their gift. Agree? Disagree?

Still open for input and instruction from anyone out there caring to share your thoughts on the matter. What's your take on this matter? Please share your understanding of these matters with us so that we might be corrected if we are wrong, and affirmed if we are headed in the right direction.

Friday, June 5

The pineapple story

Remember the pineapple story about the missionary to New Guinea who kept getting his pineapples stolen? Like many others, I was first introduced to this remarkable story through one of the Bill Gothard, Institutes of Basic Youth Conflicts back in the 70's.

I had always assumed the story was fictional to illustrate some of the spiritual truths being taught at the seminars. Recently a friend emailed me a website where the "real" New Guinea missionary, Otto Koning, shares what happened through this preserved video recording.

If you like stories that are hilariously funny, challenge your thinking, inspiring, full of adventure, deep spiritual lessons, cross-cultural insights, and offer descriptions of everyday life on the mission field, you'll love taking a few minutes to hear Bro. Otto's testimony. I guarantee this beats anything you'll watch on TV this weekend, so enjoy, and feel free to share any thoughts you might have.

Thursday, June 4

Great evangelism and missions quotes

EVANGELISM is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. --D. T. Niles

If your Gospel isn't touching others, it hasn't touched you! --Curry R. Blake

We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God. — John Stott

The greatest hindrances to the evangelization of the world are those within the church. --John R. Mott

The Great Commission is not an option to be considered; it is a command to be obeyed. --Hudson Taylor

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose. --Jim Elliot

People who don't believe in missions have not read the New Testament. Right from the beginning Jesus said the field is the world. The early church took Him at His word and went East, West, North and South. -- J. Howard Edington

The Holy Spirit can’t save saints or seats. If we don’t know any non-Christians, how can we introduce them to the Savior? --Paul Little

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. — John Piper

Evangelization is a process of bringing the gospel to people where they are, not where you would like them to be. When the gospel reaches a people where they are, their response to the gospel is the church in a new place... --Vincent Donovan

The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become. -- Henry Martyn

How you believe God perceives people will determine how you respond to them. --Jacquelyn K. Heasley

Life is too short and hell is too hot to just play church. --Larry Osborne

Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I wish to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell. — C.T. Studd

It is possible to do evangelism without planting churches, but it is not possible to plant churches without doing evangelism. --unknown

God's plan in these last days is revival in His worldwide church and through the revived church the reaping of a final great harvest of souls. --N. Grubb

The Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. --C. S. Lewis

We talk of the Second Coming; half the world has never heard of the first. -- Oswald J. Smith

We Christians are debtors to all men at all times in all places, but we are so smug to the lostness of men. We've been "living in Laodicea ", lax, loose, lustful, and lazy. Why is there this criminal indifference to the lostness of men? Our condemnation is that we know how to live better than we are living. --Leonard Ravenhill

Being an extrovert isn’t essential to EVANGELISM–obedience and love are. --Rebecca M. Pippert

It is now possible to live a "christian life" without doing the things that Jesus commanded us to do. We have hired people to go into all the world, to visit those in prison, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to care for widows and orphans. The average Christian doesn't have to do it. --Cal Thomas

Missionary zeal does not grow out of intellectual beliefs, nor out of theological arguments, but out of love. -- Roland Allen

Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth. --John Wesley

Which speak to your heart? Any quote in particular stand out for you? Please share in the comments section any other good quotes you have run across.

Some of the above quotes come from and

Monday, June 1

How to change traditional churches into New Testament churches

*Victor Choudhrie's 15 essential steps for changing traditional churches into New Testament churches.

1. Replace professional clergy with Priesthood of all Believers with authority to baptize, break bread and equip fishers of men. (1 Peter 2:9)

2. Replace Church building with "House of Peace." (Luke 10:5-9; Matt. 10:11-13)

3. Replace programmed Sunday service with daily informal gatherings. The Bride of Christ must have intimacy with her Lord every day and not just for a couple of hours a week lest she become unfaithful. (Acts 2:46-47; Hebrew 3:13)

4. Replace tithing with sharing the enormous financial resources and goodwill available in Christian homes. (Deut. 8:17-18; Acts 5:32-34)

5. Replace the "Crumb and Sip" Holy Communion with simple "Community meals" eaten together with gladness from house to house. (Acts 2:46; 1 Cor 11:20-23)

6. Replace loud music with speaking to each other in psalms and spiritual songs making melody in your heart. (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16)

7. Replace the spectator church to participatory, interactive, prophetic and Missionary sending church. (1 Cor 14:26-31; Acts 13:13)

8. Replace organizational and denominational churches with citywide network of house churches. (Romans 16:3-15)

9. Replace barren church with multiplication. The Bride must not remain barren, but reproduce and fill the earth. (Acts 1: 8; 1 Cor 9: 19-30)

10. Replace submitting to one man - by submitting to each other. We must encourage, comfort, exhort, edify and serve one another. (Galatians 5: 13; Eph. 4: 2, 15)

11. Replace purposeless church with a goal oriented mandate to disciple nations. (Romans 15: 20; Matt. 28: 19)

12. Replace powerless and fruitless church with militants who heal the sick, raise the dead, expel the demons, bind the ‘strongman’ and plunder his possessions. (Matt 11:12, 12:29)

13. Replace all presidents, directors, chairman, secretaries and all the other non-biblical titles with apostles, prophets, and the fivefold ministry gifted elders. Change from a dead organization to living organism. (Eph 4:11; Titus 1:5-9)

14. Replace all Sunday schools, Bible schools, and prayer cells and cottage meetings and call them full-fledged churches. So that they can disciple, baptize, break bread, equip and send missionaries. (1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15)

15. Replace all selfish goats who are members for hatching, matching and dispatching with sheep who take care of the hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick and the prisoners. (Matt. 25:31-46)

*Victor Choudhrie is a cancer surgeon by profession. He is a senior Fellow of the American and British colleges of surgeons. He quit his job as the Director (CEO) of the Christian Medical college, Ludhiana in Punjab, India in 1992 to take up full time Church planting ministry in central India. His wife Bindu is also in full time church planting ministry, equipping women to be house church leaders and trainers. God has blessed this ministry abundantly. Large numbers of grassroots level leaders have been trained who have planted thousands of house churches all over India as a result.