Tuesday, December 29

My favorite books for 2009

Not all the following were written or published in 2009, but are some of the best books that I got around to reading this past year. Several of these were listened to as audio books, others as Kindle downloads, but all are well worth the time and effort.

st Helpful: I can't say enough about John Eldredge's Walking With God. The Lord brought this book into my life at the precise moment I was needing to read its content. If I was forced to choose just one book to recommend that everyone read, this would be the one.

Most Challenging: The Starfish Manifesto by Wolfgang Simson gets my vote for the most stretching and important reads of 2009. Nearly every page of my Kindle copy is highlighted with thoughts and ideas that need further reflection. Since my previous post was a review of the book, I won't say anymore about it here, but would encourage you to read what I have written below for some of the reasons why I think this is one of the most important books of the year.

Most thought-provoking: A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren. The sub-title sums up what this intriguing book is all about: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN. A lot to chew on and think about.

Most Amazing Read: There's A Sheep in My Bathtub: Birth of a Mongolian Church Planting Movement, by Brian Hogan. My wife and I met the author back in October at the Antioch Gathering, and heard a summary of the book around the breakfast table one morning. One of the first things we did when we got back home was download the Kindle version of this incredibly uplifting story. You will laugh, cry, and be grossed out all within a single sitting. Do these things really happen? They do on the mission field! Be sure and read my wife's blog review of the book here. If you are even slightly interested in CPM, church planting, cross-cultural missionary life, this is one book you will have to put on your list for 2010!

Best Fictional Novel: World Without End by Ken Follett. I downloaded the audio version and listened to all 45-hours while walking in the mornings over a span of several weeks. The book could easily have been edited down to half of what it actually is and not lost its appeal. However, I enjoyed every minute of the fascinating lives of the characters in this Middle Ages saga taking place in England. My only regret about "World Without End" is when it finally did end!

Best Story: Right up there with Ken Follett is my other favorite story teller, Jeffrey Archer. His Prisoner at Birth is a modern version of THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO. I really enjoyed this well written and crafted tale, and can't imagine anyone not liking this great story.

Best Contemporary Thinking on Leadership: Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us, by Seth Godin. While a secular business-type book, the applications and implications are manifold for anyone in leadership. Seth is one guy who definitely thinks "out of the box" and challenges the way most things are seen and done in today's world. This was an eye-opening book on many levels and turned me into a daily reader of Seth's blog.

Best Book On Simple/House/Organic Church: The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small is the New Big for Today's Church, by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna. This is a practical and excellent addition to the growing number of really fine house/simple church books coming off the presses. For more on this title, read my blog review of the book here.

Most Prophetic: Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile, by Rob Bell. Much like Simson's "The Starfish Manifesto", Bell calls into question "things as they really are" and "shining the light of Kingdom truth on where we are headed as a nation." As one commenter puts it, "this book will challenge you to reflect on your own faith and ask yourself hard questions about your day to day opinions" of things and what our response should be as Followers of Christ.

Most Inspiring: I found Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations...One School at a Time to be a most insightful book. If you have ever doubted whether ordinary people can really make a difference in today's world, Greg Mortenson's story is living proof. While there is very little spoken in the book about religion or faith, there is more Christianity within its pages than most follower's of Christ even bother to think about, let alone live. If I had my way, I would make this obligatory reading for all missionaries and church planters.

Best Biography: Elijah: A Man of Heroism and Humility, by Charles Swindoll. Using available Scriptural passages and weaving them into the times, places, cultures and peoples of the day, Swindoll really brings Elijah's story to life. This is the first of Swindoll's "Great Lives" series that I have read. I am now eager to tackle some of the others like Job, Joseph, Paul, Moses, and Esther.

Most Moving: A powerful and magnificently well-written follow up to "The Kite Runner" is Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. A sad, but moving story about the hardships of women in Afghanistan. Both of Hosseini's books open up the rich history and culture of the Afghan people. However, they are not easy reads. The author does not spare us from the horror and tragedy lived by a people we know so little about in the West. Reading Hosseini reminds me of Bob Pierce's words, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” The book easily rates 5-stars, but beware--it will break your heart.

Best Classic Literature: With the global tendency to move towards socialism, George Orwell's "Animal Farm" and "1984" are both worth rereading. Do we really want to keep moving in these directions? Have we learned nothing from history? If you have any lingering doubts, go ahead and pick up either one of these classics.

Most shocking: The book everybody is reading, but nobody admits! Quite simply, this is an embarrassing book. It is about the hard-to-believe, insider experiences of Wade Burleson and what he learned about Hardball Religion: Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism. If the stories and allegations in this book are true, why include it on my 2009 favorites? The subject matter is certainly not even close to being in the same league as the other titles above. The reason I think it is an important book, and should be widely read, is that fundamentalism of the kind outlined in this book needs to be exposed, confronted, and dealt with. If this kind of activity continues unchecked within the SBC, it will ultimately lead to Baptists being a small, insignificant body of believers, and minor players in the global missionary movement. It is precisely for the reasons so vividly described in "Hardball Religion", that books like "Starfish Manifesto," "Jesus Wants to Save Christians," "1984," "Animal Farm," "A Thousand Splendid Suns," "Tribes," "Walking With God," "There's a Sheep in my Bathtub," and "A Generous Orthodoxy" are must read books. Each one of these titles refutes in myriad ways why we must resist hardball religion and the fury of fundamentalism.

Have you read any of the above? What was your take on them? If your favorite 2009 read isn't on my list, please share in the COMMENTS what you found worthwhile reading. I still have several good books on my shelf and in our Kindle that I simply haven't gotten around to yet. I guess they'll have to show up on the 2010 favorites list!

Sunday, December 20

Starfish Manifesto (by Wolfgang Simson)

Wolfgang Simson's "The Starfish Manifesto: A Prophetic Roadmap for an Apostolic Journey" stands as one of the most important and thought-provoking writings I have ever read.

The October/09 release of the document during the Antioch Gathering is a good 5-10 years ahead of the pack. In the same way "Houses That Change the World" (re-released as The House Church Book) was a ground-breaking book whose ideas have taken many years to slowly "leaven the dough"--so too, are the challenging concepts presented in The Starfish Manifesto. I predict it will take a few years before Simson's latest book is given the attention it deserves--even by those within the house/simple/organic church movement. Why?

Starfish Manifesto is simply too radical. It assumes Jesus should be first in all areas of our life, and our citizenship should be transferred from the competing kingdoms of 1) self, 2) our organizations/denominations, 3) our nationalities, to absolute and total allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom alone. While many of us assume we have already done these things when we gave our life to Christ (and even serve Him in various ministerial capacities), SM blows out of the water all of our naive, watered-down versions of what it means to follow Christ. It calls into question too much of our comfortable, Western, individualistic, contemporary-Evangelical-lifestyle.

To align ourselves fully with Jesus teachings, apostolic principles and values as outlined in the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, is simply more than most of us are willing to deal with. Our lives are pretty set. Our ministry plates already full. We have convinced ourselves, we are "OK" as we are. Few of us are ready for anything that might call into question the life we have set up for ourselves.

While SM is a natural sequence to Simson's "Houses That Change the World", it makes "Houses" seem like a mere introduction to what must eventually become the new paradigm--namely the rule and sovereign reign of Jesus Christ in every area of our life. Yes, this is the same "Kingdom message" Jesus preached during his years here on earth, but a Kingdom we have never quite understood or submitted to.

While the move to more simple/organic church is certainly one of the first steps, it is only the beginning of what must take place. There are many other areas also needing realignment with the King/Kingdom before the church will be positioned to bring in the final great global harvest. Simson even assumes 1st century apostolic signs, miracles, casting out demons, and wonders should be normative. Why then, are they not? Why do we continue to try to do God's work in the power of our own efforts with minimal results? Simson spends many pages attempting to answer these very questions.

The Starfish Manifesto has a way of putting into words many of the same issues I have long been sensing and feeling in my own spirit, but have not had the language to express. SM clearly calls into question much of what we continue to think as "normal"--yet grossly sub-normal Christianity. The reader many not agree with everything Simson writes, but to refuse to grapple with the prophetic voice within its pages will most certainly "short-circuit" and further delay the full expression of "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

As more and more people begin to engage the SM, I predict an even louder outcry than that caused by "Houses." What makes this a particularly tough read is that something deep in our spirits desperately wants these things to be true and part of our own lives, and yet recognize they are not. To move from "A" (where I currently find myself) to "B" (where I'd like to be) is quite a step of faith. Those of us in the whole house/simple/organic church movement who think we are already at "B" have a lot to consider within these pages. I, for one, want to move forward from this day onward with humility, fear and trembling to engage in the process of what I sense the Lord is leading us to move from "A" to "B".

If you dare to tackle the subject matter within its pages, I would first suggest downloading The Starfish Vision, to get a taste of what the Manifesto is all about. If something "clicks" as it did with my wife and I as we read through the "Reader's Digest" version, then you will want to download the entire Manifesto (a whopping 541-page pdf file) which is much more detailed and comprehensive.

If there is one criticism I might have of both works, is that, at least for the moment, they are only available as pdf documents. Most people find reading long pdf documents on their computer screen tedious. Even the available Kindle version which we downloaded from amazon.com for $0.01 (can't beat the price!) is poorly formatted, making it somewhat difficult to read. It is my understanding that a print version of the book is planned in the near future. Once in book form, I believe many more people will begin to engage with the content of this challenging book.

Until then, download and go to the trouble to print out the Starfish Vision. I believe the copy my wife reformatted and printed was 47 pages. If it doesn't shake you to the core, that's OK. Give it a couple of years, and come back and give it a second try! Eventually, all of us who claim to be followers of Christ will have to deal with the uncomfortable issues brought up within these pages.

Friday, December 18

What kind of Biblical leadership are we modeling?

Alan Knox makes a great point below. Go ahead and click on the links. If you're like me, you'll be shocked to see how far the meanings of these Biblical terms have changed...
Here’s an interesting exercise. Surf over to Google Images. (You may want to make sure that “SafeSearch” is on.) Then, search the image database for whatever term you or others use to identify the leaders among your church. Here are a few examples: "pastor," "preacher," "minister," "elder," "deacon," "priest," "presbyter," "bishop," "vicar."

Now, remembering that Jesus said that we should follow those who serve (that is, our leaders should be servants – Matthew 20:24-28 for example), search for the term "servant".

Why are the images so drastically different?

Of course, I suppose, there’s a better way to check this than by doing a Google search. Do the lives of our leaders look like the lives of servants?

Are we modeling the right kind of leadership that closer resembles Biblical servanthood? Or are we contributing to the false image the world already has of followers of Christ?

Tuesday, December 15

Are you a SETTLER or a PIONEER?

According to Wes Seeliger, there are basically two camps in Christianity: the SETTLERS and the PIONEERS. Each has their own unique understanding of "theology" that determines how Christianity, church planting, missions, ecclesiology, etc. is carried out in everday practice. While only an analogy, I find Seeliger comes mighty close to the truth. Could the roots of the tension, accusations, misunderstandings amongst us boil down to the differences between SETTLERS and PIONEERS?

Frontier Theology
by Wes Seeliger

There are two views of life and two kinds of people. Some see life as a possession to be carefully guarded. They are SETTLERS. Others see life as a fantastic, wild, explosive gift. They are PIONEERS.

To no one's surprise there are two kinds of theology. Settler theology and pioneer theology. Settler theology is an attempt to answer all the questions, define and housebreak some sort of "Supreme Being," establish the status quo on Golden Tablets in cinemascope.

Pioneer Theology is an attempt to talk about what it means to receive the strange gift of life and live! The pioneer sees theology as a wild adventure, complete with indians, saloon girls, and the haunting call of what is yet to be.

The Wild West offers a stage for picturing these two types of theology. Settlers and Pioneers use the same words but that is where it stops. To see what I mean--read on.


IN SETTLER THEOLOGY--the church is the courthouse. It is the center of town life. The old stone structure dominates the town square. Its windows are small. This makes the thing easy to defend, but quite dark inside. Its doors are solid oak. No one lives there except pigeons and they, of course, are most unwelcome.

Within the thick, courthouse walls, records are kept, taxes collected, trials held for bad guys. The courthouse runs the town. It is the settler's symbol of law, order, stability, and most important--security, The mayor's office is on the top floor. His eagle eye scopes out the smallest details of town life.

IN PIONEER THEOLOGY--the church is the covered wagon. It is a house on wheels--always on the move. No place is its home. The covered wagon is where the pioneers eat, sleep, fight, love, and die. It bears the marks of life and movement--it creaks, is scarred with arrows, bandaged with bailing wire. The covered wagon is always where the action is. It moves in on the future and doesn't bother to glorify its own ruts. The old wagon isn't comfortable, but the pioneers could care less. There is a new world to explore.


IN SETTLER THEOLOGY--God is the mayor. The honorable Alpha O. Mega, chief executive of Settler City. He is a sight to behold--dressed like a dude from back East, lounging in an over-stuffed chair in his courthouse office. He keeps the blinds drawn. No one sees or knows him directly, but since there is order in the town who can deny he is there? The mayor is predictable and always on schedule.

The settlers fear the mayor but look to him to clear the payroll and keep things going. The mayor controls the courthouse which in turn runs the town. To maintain peace and quiet the mayor sends the sheriff to check on pioneers who ride into town.

IN PIONEER THEOLOGY--God is the trail boss. He is rough and rugged-full of life. The trail boss lives, eats, sleeps, fights with his men. Their well being is his concern. Without him the wagon wouldn't move--the pioneers would become fat and lazy. Living as a free man would be impossible. The trail boss often gets down in the mud with the pioneers to help push the wagon which frequently gets stuck. He slugs the pioneers when they get soft and want to turn back. His fist is an expression of his concern.


IN SETTLER THEOLOGY--Jesus is the sheriff. He is the guy who is sent by the mayor to enforce the rules. He wears a white hat--drinks milk--outdraws the bad guys. He saves the settlers by offering security. The sheriff decides who is thrown in jail. There is a saying in town that goes like this--those who believe the mayor sent the sheriff and follow the rules won't stay in Boot Hill when it comes their time.

IN PIONEER THEOLOGY--Jesus is the scout. He rides out ahead to find out which way the pioneers should go. He lives all the dangers of the trail. The scout suffers every hardship, is attacked by the Indians, feared by the settlers. Through his actions and words he shows the true spirit, intent, and concern of the trail boss. By looking at the scout, those on the trail learn what it really means to be a pioneer.


IN SETTLER THEOLOGY--the Holy Spirit is a saloon girl. Her job is to comfort the settlers. They come to her when they feel lonely or when life gets dull or dangerous. She tickles them under the chin and makes everything O.K. again. The saloon girl squeals to the sheriff when someone starts disturbing the peace. (Note to settlers: the whiskey served in Settler City Saloon is the non-spiritous kind.)

IN PIONEER THEOLOGY--the Holy Spirit is the buffalo hunter. He rides along with the wagon train and furnishes fresh, raw meat for the pioneers. The buffalo hunter is a strange character--sort of a wild man. The pioneers never can tell what he will do next. He scares the hell out of the settlers. Every Sunday morning, when the settlers have their little ice cream party in the courthouse, the buffalo hunter sneaks up to one of the courthouse windows with his big black gun and fires a tremendous blast. Men jump, women scream, dogs bark. Chuckling to himself, the buffalo hunter rides back to the wagon train.


IN SETTLER THEOLOGY--the Christian is the settler. He fears the open, unknown frontier. He stays in good with the mayor and keeps out of the sheriff's way. He tends a small garden. "Safety First" is his motto. To him the courthouse is a symbol of security, peace, order, and happiness. He keeps his money in the bank. The banker is his best friend. He plays checkers in the restful shade of the oak trees lining the courthouse lawn. He never misses an ice cream party.

IN PIONEER THEOLOGY--the Christian is the pioneer. He is a man of risk and daring--hungry for adventure, new life, the challenge of being on the trail. He is tough, rides hard, knows how to use a gun when necessary. The pioneer feels sorry for the town folks and tries to tell them about the joy and fulfillment of a life following the trail. He dies with his boots on.


IN SETTLER THEOLOGY--the clergyman is the bank teller. Within his vaults are locked the values of the town. He is suspicious of strangers. And why not? Look what he has to protect! The bank teller is a highly respected man in town. He has a gun but keeps it hidden behind his desk. He feels he and the sheriff have a lot in common. After all, they both protect the bank.

IN PIONEER THEOLOGY--the clergyman is the cook. He doesn't furnish the meat--he just dishes up what the buffalo hunter provides. This is how he supports the movement of the wagon. He never confuses his job with that of the trail boss, scout or buffalo hunter. He sees himself as just another pioneer who has learned to cook. The cook's job is to help the pioneers pioneer.


IN SETTLER THEOLOGY--the bishop is the bank president. He rules the bank with an iron hand. He makes all the decisions, tells the tellers what to do, and upholds the image of the bank. The settlers must constantly be reassured of the safety of their values. The bank president watches the books like a hawk. Each day he examines all deposits and withdrawals. The bank president is responsible for receiving all new accounts. This is called "the laying on of hands."

IN PIONEER THEOLOGY--the bishop is the dishwasher. He does the chores so the cook can do his job. He supports the cook in every way possible. Together the cook and dishwasher plan the meals and cook the food provided by the buffalo hunter. They work as an interdependent team in all matters related to cooking. Humming while he works, the dishwasher keeps the coffeepot going for the pioneers. Though the dishwasher has an humble task he is not resentful. All pioneers realize that each man's job is equally important. In fact, in the strange ways of the pioneer community, he is greatest who serves most. (A bishop is the servant of the servants of God. If the servants of God are cooks, what else would a bishop be?)

The complete book from which this was condensed is available from the author for $6.95. Wes Seeliger, 4027 Lanark, Houston, TX 77025

Saturday, December 12

It's your choice

December is the traditional month in Southern Baptist church life to collect the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for international missions. Click here to see how the offering provides for Southern Baptist missionaries around the world.

"Every penny given to Lottie Moon is used to support Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas. The offering represents 54 percent of the International Mission Board’s total income."


International Mission Board vital stats
• 5,618 missionaries (as of 4/20/09)
• 26,970 new churches*
• 565,967 baptisms*
• 562,091 new believers in discipleship*
*As reported in the 2008 Annual Statistical Report

Status of World Evangelization
• 11,599 people groups worldwide; 6.6 billion people
• 6,454 unreached* people groups; 3.8 billion people
• 5,850 Last Frontier** people groups; 1.6 billion people
*Less than 2 percent evangelical
**Less than 2 percent evangelical, no active church planting

Lottie Moon past and present
• 2009 goal: $175 million
• 2008 goal: $170 million
• 2008 receipts: $141.3 million


With $180 to spend for Christmas, What can one buy for around $180?
All nice gifts. But consider how that same $180 might be invested in the Kingdom...

Last month $180 was used here in Guayaquil to train 15 church planters in CPM methodology. These 15 went out, and put into practice what they learned. One month later, 14 new outreach groups* have been started, and over 100 souls added to the Kingdom. Two of these "churches in formation" have already gone to 2nd generation church plants.

I am not asking you to do anything more than what we are also willing to do. This year our family is giving one Christmas gift apiece to one another. Our gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in 2009 is $600. We know where these monies go, and live amongst the people whose lives are transformed because someone gave so that they might hear. Over and over we see how small amounts of money given for Kingdom causes is multiplied way beyond the dollar amounts much like the "five loaves and two fish."

Nobody is telling anybody else what to do with their money, but honestly, I can't think of a better place to invest than in the Kingdom of God through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

It's your choice.

*we call them "outreach groups" until they baptize their first batch of believers. After that, we refer to them as churches.

Friday, December 11

What motivates team members?

As a Strategy Coordinator for the Guayas Mestizo people group, I have often benefited from the sound advise gleaned from Jay Lorenzen's OnMovements blog.

Teams that build movements was an especially helpful piece. In this post Jay quotes Bill Allison that team building "requires an understanding of what motivates the people on our teams."

In working with the twelve men and women that currently make up the Guayas Mestizo Team, the following tried and proven principles have paid off well in helping to motivate our team...

Spiritual Giftedness. Do your team members really understand their spiritual gifts? As a team leader, you need to help people understand and discover how God has wired them spiritually. Using your primary gifting to serve God is highly motivating.

Clarity. Do your team members know exactly what you want from them? Don’t make the assumption that staff and volunteers know what you want them to do. Spell it out clearly. Put it on paper. Review it once a year.

Tools and Training. Are your team members equipped with the tools and training to do their ministries well? Non-existent or ineffective tools and lack of training take the motivational wind out of the sails of your team members. Get the tools and materials they need into their hands. Build confidence through training.

The Big Picture. Do your team members understand the BIG PICTURE? Do they see the connection between what they are doing and the vision/ mission of your joint efforts together? The quickest way to destroy team motivation is to create a feeling of disconnection. No one wants to be a cog in a bureaucratic machine. No one wants to just fill a slot. Help your team members understand the vision and mission and where and how they fit.

Thankfulness. Are your staff and volunteers recognized, publicly appreciated, and championed for their work? There is a direct connection between appreciation and motivation. Most staff and volunteers don’t choose to serve so they can be loved, appreciated and thanked. Yet, notice how people tend to flock to teams where those things are practiced.

Wednesday, December 9

December 9, 1986

Twenty-three years ago today, December 9, 1986, my wife Linda and I were appointed as missionaries with the then Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. (Today known as International Mission Board, or IMB.)

I was just looking at the appointment certificate signed by R. Keith Parks and recalling much of the drama that accompanied our appointment. Actually the "drama" was spread out over nearly ten years...

As a college student at the University of North Texas I struggled with God's call upon my life during much of the 70's. I was pretty open to doing whatever God wanted with me, but always shut the door on foreign missions.

Strangely enough, this was due to my great admiration for missionaries. Growing up as an MK on the mission field (here in Ecuador) my heroes had always been missionaries. I truly admired them and considered my own missionary parents some of the finest people I have ever known. I knew in my heart I was not that caliber of person! The idea of ME being a missionary was beyond my comprehension. I couldn't preach, teach, sing, counsel, administrate, evangelize, or do ANYTHING as well as my missionary aunts and uncles. I didn't even necesarrily LIKE doing many of those things anyway. I was more into the music scene and interested in the communication arts.

The years went by in college with me praying continuosly that God would "reveal His will for my life."

As a college student I was active in the University of North Texas BSU program. I was involved in many mission endeavours during my college years from 1974-1979. One of the frustrations I experienced was how few of my fellow BSUers or home church members seemed interested or responsive towards global missions. We would go to missions emphasis meetings geared for college students and hear wonderful speakers and great music. During the invitation I would "peek" and see only a small handful of people responding to God's call. It didn't matter that my own heart was bursting on the inside. All I could see and understand was that all the OTHERS were NOT responding. What was wrong with THEM? Didn't THEY know there was this huge world out there and all they seemed interested in was their own little world?

Slowly it began to dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, God could use me in some small way. As a music major, I could play the guitar and piano, and could manage to sing in tune. Through my minor, Mass Communications, I knew a bit about radio, TV, film, drama, etc.

Christmas of 1977 I went home to Quito, Ecuador to spend the semester break with my missionary parents. While there I decided I would try and get a reaction out of them by announcing that I thought maybe God was calling me into foreign missions. I intended it to be just an opening to discuss with them and hear their thoughts about what they sensed God's will might be for me, especially since my graduation was less than a year away.

Much to my astonishment and surprise they made the comment, "well, son, it's about time you finally figured out that God has been calling you all these years...we've known this for a long time now...we're so happy for you..." I was totally floored! We did talk about the matter during those days and I sensed God speaking to my heart through the words of my parents as they related all the "signs" God had worked in my life over the years. Only a fool like me wouldn't have seen the Hand of God at work in my life!

When I got back to Denton, where Linda and I were members of Grace Temple Baptist Church, I went forward on a cold winter's Sunday night during the general invitation and told the pastor, Bro. Robert Richardson, that I felt God was calling me into missions. There were no fireworks or lightening flashes. I don't even recall anyone coming forward after the service to shake my hand. But the deed was done in Heaven.

Not too long afterwards, on April 11, 1978, there was an appointment service at the Tarrant County Convention Center in Ft. Worth, Texas with the full board in session (William L. Self, presiding.) Dr. Baker James Cauthen was then President of the Foreign Mission Board. That man could preach a missions sermon like no other living person of his day. The hymn of invitation was "Take My Life, and Let It Be." By that time there was absolutely NO DOUBT in my heart that God was calling me to serve him overseas. I was one of the first to make it down to the front!

That night three couples were appointed to Ecuador. Little did we know that years later we too would end up in back in Ecuador and actually serve alongside two of these couples, Jim & Dawn Packwood, and Jack & Karen Ables!

Well, thanks for reading my story. There is more to tell, in fact--a lot more, including my wife's call into missions and how that got us together, but I'll stop here for now.

If you think there is even the remotest chance that God might be leading you to serve Him overseas, my prayer for you is that you would consider Dr. Cauthen's paraphrased words as I recall them, "unless God has specifically told you to stay put, He has called you to go." International Missions is a big step of faith, but in our 23 years so far, I wouldn't trade any of it for the world.

Monday, December 7

Questions worth pondering

We met Mike and Leslie at the Antioch Gathering and were instantly drawn to their sweet spirits and loving disposition we felt when around them.

Mike and Leslie openly share their journey of transitioning out of "church-as-we-know-it" and into "church-as-God-wants-it" in a recent fascinating blog post entitled I kissed traditional pastoral ministry good-bye: an explanation of why I am leaving pastoral ministry for the sake of mission in the future.

I sense from past comments and private emails there are a few of you reading that are also going through the same journey Mike and Leslie have gone through.

I am reprinting the questions that led them to this decision. PLEASE click the link above to read in their own words the ANSWERS discovered to these questions that led them to make these huge life changes.
1.) What IS “church” anyhow?

2.) If Jesus were in bodily form now in the Bay Area, where would he be? To whom would He minister? And how would he spend his time? And shouldn’t ALL CHURCHES take note of this? What would it look like to take Luke 15’s Lost Parables seriously? Would Jesus really leave the 99 for the one lost sheep, or was he just being hyperbolic? Did he really come to “seek and save the lost”?

3.) Shouldn’t my primary role be not so much teaching, preaching, and TELLING people how they should live but, instead, living out, modeling and SHOWING people the way of Jesus? Incarnating the very thing I’m asking them to do and being a forerunner or a “first fruit” of the transformation God is wanting to do among us?

4.) As much as people in my church appreciated me and believed that I should be paid for what I did, should I be? And does the Scripture teach that I should be paid as a norm or more an exception?

5.) If Ephesians 4:11-12 is to be taken seriously, then what would it look like to have ALL FIVE gifts operational in the church: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist. Pastor, and Teacher? And can we push past our knee-jerk reactions to what an Apostle or Prophet may be that are simply based on ignorance or fear? In particular, Leslie and I have spent the last three years asking what apostolic and prophetic leadership in the body of Christ is and does.

6.) Is CHURCH even the primary lens we should be using to filter in all Christian and ministry reality? Shouldn’t it, instead, be Kingdom? And what happens when one makes this shift? So what would it look like then if every believer lived for the Kingdom (or as Matthew 6:33 said, “sought first the Kingdom”? What would it look like then if every spiritual community lived under the rules/government of the Kingdom and cared more for the King/Kingdom than for church as they know it?

7.) This difference in approach gets at the final question we wrestled with: is the difference between secular and sacred as big as we really have come to believe?

8.) SINCE it is no longer about CHURCH as we know it, what would it look like if the boundary markers of “church” were not the four walls of the church building or small group hosting house’s four walls? What would it look like if the boundary markers for who we are to make disciples of and spent most of our time with moved beyond the Christians we would normally meet in “church” as we used to know it. What if, instead, “CHURCH” included all the local people of the city and beyond? What if the CITY or REGION itself was the “church” or “parish” to which all Christ-following members were to “minister”? What if the whole world was the “parish”? And what if we could create multiple sanctified-secular expressions that brought the Kingdom to everywhere and everything we did?
Care to share your own understandings of any of the above questions? Which of the above caused you to most ponder?

Saturday, December 5

What are the alternatives?

Ernest Goodman, blogger at Missions Misunderstood asks What are the alternatives?

[Those involved] in the system, especially those who are invested in it, tend to stick with it because they don’t see any alternatives. The current, broken system is better than nothing, right?
  • Why do so many churches treat missions as just another program of the church?
  • Why do we pile kids into a church van, drive to an Indian Reservation to do Backyard Bible Clubs and call it “missions?”
  • Why are so few churches actively and directly engaged in planting the gospel among people who don’t know and believe it?
  • Why do missionaries treat partner churches like volunteer labor or children to be babysat?
  • Why do some only consider ministry among “unreached” people groups to me missions?
What are the alternatives? In each of these cases, churches and individuals act according to what they’ve been taught. They do what others are doing, they do what they think they can. They go where they think finances, prudence, and church leadership will allow. They spend what they think they can afford. They act when they think it will help them. They don’t always even know why they do what they do (and don’t do what they don’t do.)

We need alternatives. We need to know about churches the orient their entire existence around the mission. About the value of humanitarian trips to our obedience as believers. That the Great Commission is the church’s responsibility. How churches can do so much more than paint houses and prayerwalk. That the people groups of the world are not static, and that obedience is the best strategy. If we don’t know, it’s unlikely that we’ll do anything different.

What do you think? I agree with Ernest, if people don't know, it's unlikely anything different will be done than the way things are currently being done. So what should we do to begin helping others to see alternatives?

Friday, December 4

Interview with Tony and Felicity Dale

Good radio interview with Tony and Felicity Dale, including a report of the recent India Summit held in New Delhi. Very exciting!

Gottalife Radio with special guests Tony and Felicity Dale

Wednesday, December 2

Isn't it time we gave the church back to Jesus?

A few years ago I was invited by one of our Baptist churches in Ecuador to preach their Sunday evening message. Even though I came prepared to preach, as I sat waiting my turn, I sensed from the Lord to use the allotted "message time" to lead the church in a 1 Corinthians 14:26 gathering. When given the pulpit, I briefly shared two brief passages about what we should be seeking when the Body of Christ assembles:

Hebrews 10:24-25 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

1 Corinthians 14:26 What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

I asked the congregation to rearrange the plastic chairs into a circle. Then with a few words of encouragement to literally "stimulate one another to love and good deeds" and "each one has..." for the edification of the saints, we began...

At first there was little understanding of what was expected, and the "how to" do what the Scriptures exhort us in these two passages. With a little prompting and some awkward silences, people slowly began to open up. We sang several songs of their choice, a couple of testimonies were shared of how God had been working in their lives. A sister shared a passage of Scripture that had spoken to her during the week. Someone asked for prayer. We gathered around that person laying hands on them and prayed. One brother confessed he had long harbored in his spirit something against another brother who was present. The two asked forgiveness of each other, hugged, cried, and prayed for one another.

By then we had gone well over the "30 minutes" allotted sermon time, but nobody was eager to break up and go home. After TWO HOURS of open sharing and Spirit-led interaction, I turned the "service" back over to the pastor of the church. He stood, thanked me (didn't he mean the Holy Spirit?) for leading them in a most "interesting" evening. Everyone was then asked to rearrange the chairs back into rows. The offering was collected, and the pastor announced that next week they would resume their regular message series. What we had just experienced was simply an interesting Sunday night special program, but was clearly not the norm for the church to continue to meet in this fashion.

Why are we so programmed oriented when we gather as the church? There is so much that the Head of the Church, Jesus, wants to do in our midst: heal, encourage, build up, teach, yet to risk any embarrassing or awkward moments that might take place in such a Spirit-controlled environment, we end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Obviously we are much safer controlling all that is said and done by carefully planning of what takes place when we gather, and WHO gets to be the ones to speak/share/lead.

Why are we afraid to gather today in what is clearly a much more Biblical way, than what takes place in most churches with a controlled program format? Isn't it time we gave the church back to Jesus?