Sunday, October 23

Blog sabbatical

Thanks to all who stop by and read the "M Blog". For a while I will be taking a blog sabbatical. Please check back occasionally. I do hope to resume writing again soon.

Sunday, October 9

October 9

191 years ago Guayaquil gained her independence from Spain. October 9 is Guayaquil Day. View some historical and current photos of the city where my wife and I have lived and served for 25 years.

Sunday, October 2

Church planting lessons

1) Work with what you have on hand. In Jesus miracle of the five loaves and two fish, he asked the disciples what they had on hand. Of course five loaves and two fish were not nearly enough to feed 5000, but when turned over to Jesus, He blessed those few loaves and fish so that they fed thousands. The same hold true in church planting. Start with what you have and turn it over to the Lord and watch him multiply the "little" into "much."

2) The importance of a few key details. The difference between success and failure in church planting often hinges on attention to a few key details. For example, it is a lot easier to gather people first and evangelize/disciple them, than trying to win individuals and attempt to gather them. Another is baptizing new converts as soon as possible. Ongoing relationship and mutual nurturing of leaders within an accountability group of fellow believers is also an important detail.

3) Materials are not the key. The most frequent question people inquire about is what materials we use. "Show us your materials." This is the least relevant thing and yet is what everyone thinks is the key to a successful church plant. Just get the right materials and voila you get a church planted. Not so. What is important is the person's perseverance through the ups and downs of planting a church. Knowing how to effectively use a few simple tools (materials) can go a long way, but nothing takes the place of an inner drive and love for the Kingdom.

4) "Just do it." Nike's slogan means don't wait to have all the answers before beginning. It is better to just get out there and start something, than to stand back waiting for conditions to be just right, or for more training. The best way to learn is to get out there and "just do it." Yes, mistakes will be made, but seldom are these mistakes fatal to the overall work. The grass is NOT greener on the other side of the road. It is no harder to plant a church where God has placed you, than it is for someone else in another "easier" location.

5) Pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers. Once you settle that He is the one who does the calling, then it becomes important to accept those he sends, regardless of the initial unpromising impression these folks might make upon you. Over and over it has been the "least promising" individuals who have panned out, while the really sharp, cool, educated types fizzle along the way.

6) Dealing with the "authority" issue of who can plant a church. Many are looking for authorization or blessing from their pastor, denomination, an ordination council, or respected leaders to give them the "green light." If there is any doubt in the mind of the novice church planter that he/she has the authority to plant a church, they will not do so. If, however, they understand their authority comes directly from Jesus, they will be mightily used of the Lord. Every church planter needs to settle in their hearts and minds that Jesus is the source of their authority issues. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth [therefore] go...make disciples...baptizing...teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..." One of my roles as a missionary is empowering people to do those things that Christ has already empowered them to do!

7) Have a clear idea of what it is that needs to be done. Many of our folks see themselves as simply "evangelists" and are out trying to win a few to Christ. Once they get it into their heads that they are apostolic church planters, fully invested with the authority to do ALL that such an undertaking entails--baptizing, serving Lord's Supper, counseling, teaching, praying for the sick, planting a church, etc.--they are transformed into amazing vessels for the Master's use.

8) Simplicity. This one cannot be emphasized enough. Neil Cole simply says, "Simple is transferable, complex breaks down." He goes on to say, "Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will break down early in the trasference to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going. The simpler the process, the more available it is to the broader Christian populace." Almost every mistake we have made in the church planting process can be boiled down to our making things more complicated than people can actually handle. I have the tendency to think "more" is better, but "less" is always more in the long run. This certainly applies to church. The more simple church is made to be, the more likely it will take root and grow. The more complex we make it, the more likely it will fail.

What do you think of the above? Anything resonate with your own experience? What are your own observations?

Friday, September 23

What? Haven't heard of the Society of Apple Pickers?

I recently stumbled upon this James Weber parable/story that Holy Spirit used back in the late 70's to help confirm His call on my life's mission. It comes from a Moody Monthly magazine article entitled, "Let's Quit Kidding Ourselves About Missions." See the original here.


Once upon a time there was an apple grower who had acres and acres of apple trees. In all, he had 10,000 acres of apple orchards.

One day he went to the nearby town. There, he hired 1,000 apple pickers. He told them:

"Go to my orchards. Harvest the ripe apples, and build storage buildings for them so that they will not spoil. I need to be gone for a while, but I will provide all you will need to complete the task. When I return, I will reward you for your work.

"I'll set up a Society for the Picking of Apples. The Society -- to which you will all belong -- will be responsible for the entire operation. Naturally, in addition to those of you doing the actual harvesting, some will carry supplies, others will care for the physical needs of the group, and still others will have administrative responsibilities."


As he set up the Society structure, some people volunteered to be pickers and others to be packers. Others put their skills to work as truck drivers, cooks, accountants, storehouse builders, apple inspectors and even administrators. Every one of his workers could, of course, have picked apples. In the end, however, only 100 of the 1,000 employees wound up as full-time pickers.

The 100 pickers started harvesting immediately. Ninety-four of them began picking around the homestead. The remaining six looked out toward the horizon. They decided to head out to the far-away orchards.

Before long, the storehouses in the 800 acres immediately surrounding the homestead had been filled by the 94 pickers with beautiful, delicious apples.

The orchards on the 800 acres around the homestead had thousands of apple trees. But with almost all of the pickers concentrating on them, those trees were soon picked nearly bare. In fact, the ninety-four apple pickers working around the homestead began having difficulty finding trees which had not been picked.

As the apple picking slowed down around the homestead, Society members began channeling effort into building larger storehouses and developing better equipment for picking and packing. They even started some schools to train prospective apple pickers to replace those who one day would be too old to pick apples.

Sadly, those ninety-four pickers working around the homestead began fighting among themselves. Incredible as it may sound, some began stealing apples that had already been picked. Although there were enough trees on the 10,000 acres to keep every available worker busy, those working nearest the homestead failed to move into unharvested areas. They just kept working those 800 acres nearest the house. Some on the northern edge sent their trucks to get apples on the southern side. And those on the south side sent their trucks to gather on the east side.

Even with all that activity, the harvest on the remaining 9,200 acres was left to just six pickers. Those six were, of course, far too few to gather all the ripe fruit in those thousands of acres. So, by the hundreds of thousands, apples rotted on the trees and fell to the ground.

One of the students at the apple-picking school showed a special talent for picking apples quickly and effectively. When he heard about the thousands of acres of untouched faraway orchards, he started talking about going there.

His friends discouraged him. They said: "Your talents and abilities make you very valuable around the homestead. You'd be wasting your talents out there. Your gifts can help us harvest apples from the trees on our central 800 acres more rapidly. That will give us more time to build bigger and better storehouses. Perhaps you could even help us devise better ways to use our big storehouses since we have wound up with more space than we need for the present crop of apples."

With so many workers and so few trees, the pickers and packers and truck drivers -- and all the rest of the Society for the Picking of Apples living around the homestead -- had time for more than just picking apples.

They built nice houses and raised their standard of living. Some became very conscious of clothing styles. Thus, when the six pickers from the far-off orchards returned to the homestead for a visit, it was apparent that they were not keeping up with the styles in vogue with the other apple pickers and packers.

To be sure, those on the homestead were always good to those six who worked in the far away orchards. When any of those six returned from the far away fields, they were given the red carpet treatment. Nonetheless, those six pickers were saddened that the Society of the Picking of Apples spent 96 percent of its budget for bigger and better apple-picking methods and equipment and personnel for the 800 acres around the homestead while it spent only 4 percent of its budget on all those distant orchards.

To be sure, those six pickers knew that an apple is an apple wherever it may be picked. They knew that the apples around the homestead were just as important as apples far away. Still, they could not erase from their minds the sight of thousands of trees which had never been touched by a picker.

They longed for more pickers to come help them. They longed for help from packers, truck drivers, supervisors, equipment-maintenance men, and ladder builders. They wondered if the professionals working back around the homestead could teach them better apple-picking methods so that, out where they worked, fewer apples would rot and fall to the ground.

Those six sometimes wondered to themselves whether or not the Society for the Picking of Apples was doing what the orchard owner had asked it to do.

While one might question whether the Society was doing all the owner wanted done, the members did keep very busy. Several members were convinced that proper apple picking requires nothing less than the very best equipment. Thus, the Society assigned several members to develop bigger and better ladders as well as nicer boxes to store apples. The Society also prided itself at having raised the qualification level for full-time apple pickers.

When the owner returns, the Society members will crowd around him. They'll proudly show off the bigger and better ladders they've built and the nice apple boxes they've designed and made. One wonders how happy that owner will be, however, when he looks out and sees the acres and acres of untouched trees with their unpicked apples.

Original version appeared in Let's Quit Kidding Ourselves About Missions, Moody Press. © 1979 by The Moody Bible Institute. Edited and revised by Howard Culbertson.
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Though this story was written some 30 years ago, little has changed. Let's quit kidding ourselves about missions.

Thursday, September 22

Sure-fire ways to avoid becoming a missionary

Adapted from 10 Ways to avoid becoming a missionary

1. Ignore Jesus' request in John 4:35 that we take a long hard look at the fields. Seeing the needs of people can be depressing and very unsettling. It could lead to genuine missionary concern. (John 4:35 "Do you not say, `Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest."

2. Focus your energies on socially legitimate targets. Go after a bigger salary. Focus on getting a job promotion, a bigger home, a more luxurious car, or future financial security. Along the way, run up some big credit card debts.

3. Get married to somebody who thinks the "Great Commission" is what your employer gives you after you make a big sale. After marriage, embrace the socially accepted norms of settling down, establishing a respectable career trajectory and raising a picture-perfect family.

4. Stay away from missionaries. Their testimonies can be disturbing. The situations they describe will distract you from embracing whole-heartedly the materialistic lifestyle of your home country.

5. If you happen to think about missions, restrict your attention to countries where it's impossible to openly do missionary work. Think only about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, China and other closed countries. Forget the vast areas of our globe open to missionaries. Never, never listen to talk about creative access countries.

6. Think how bad a missionary you would be based on your own past failures. It is unreasonable to expect you will ever be any better. Don't even think about Moses, David, Jonah, Peter or Mark, all of whom overcame failures.

7. Always imagine missionaries as talented, super-spiritual people who stand on lofty pedestals. Maintaining this image of missionaries will heighten your own sense of inadequacy. Convincing yourself that God does not use ordinary people as missionaries will smother any guilt you may feel about refusing to even listen for a call from God.

8. Agree with the people who tell you that you are indispensable where you are. Listen when they tell you that your local church or home country can't do without you.

9. Worry incessantly about money.

10. If you still feel you must go, go out right away without any preparation or training. You'll soon be home again and no one can ever blame you for not trying!

Tuesday, September 20

Things God cannot stand

Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings - meetings, meetings, meetings - I can't stand one more!

Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You've worn me out! I'm sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning.

When you put on your next prayer-performance, I'll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I'll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you've been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don't have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong.

Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless. Let's Argue This Out!

--God, Isaiah 1: 13-17 (the Message)

Monday, September 19

30, 60, and 100-fold

In the parable of the Sower (Matt. 13), seed was planted in four types of soil. Only one soil produced 100-fold. The norm is that only one in four people we disciple or train will be fruit-producing. To get a few fruit-producing disciples, we know many non-reproducing disciples will have to be trained. It is almost impossible to predict who these people will be. But God knows, and usually glorifies himself by using those "least likely to succeed" as the ones bearing 30, 60, and 100-fold.

What follows is an attempt to briefly describe how seed planted in the life of just one person has produced well over the 100-fold described in Matthew 13...

Marlene was a member of a local Baptist church in Guayaquil. For several years she tried to motivate her fellow brothers and sisters to be more engaged in evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. Excuses were always along the lines of "it is not in this year's budget," "we have a meeting planned to discuss this next month," "we have several outreach activities planned this year that will hopefully bring some new people into our church," "we don't have the money to plant a new church." No surprise that little to nothing was being done.

Marlene was part of an organic church planting training we were asked to do at her church through an invitation made to us by the pastor.

At the end of the training, Marlene respectfully requested permission to start a new house church, explaining to her pastor she wanted to put into practice what had been learned during the training. Her pastor gave his blessing.

Within a few weeks Marlene had won several friends and neighbors to the Lord through her house-to-house visitation, and through contacts made in her local business.

The first year Marlene baptized 18 and spent many hours discipling these new believers. They began meeting several times per week in Marlene's home as a new church start. The "mother church" with all their programs, budget, and paid ministry staff baptized three people that same year.

One of Maria's disciples was Martha. Martha employed a woman by the name of Monica to clean her house. Monica would share with Martha all the problems she was having at home with her husband and family. Martha offered to go to Monica's house and talk with her family. Martha invited Marlene to go with her.

Marlene and Martha listened to all the family problems and shared the Gospel with Monica and all the family she was able to gather to listen to the visitors. That evening Monica gave her heart to Jesus, as did her husband Medardo, and daughter Aneida.

Marlene and Martha continued to travel across town twice a week for several months discipling Monica, Medardo, and Aneida. Before long, Aneida's husband David joined the bunch, and the numbers started snowballing with nearly all of Monica and Medardo's families coming to know the Lord. [30-fold]

Soon Monica and Medardo had started a house church in their home. One day they came to me and asked if I would marry them. They thought if they were to continue to make disciples and start churches it was best they be married. So I married them, along with their daughter Aneida and David in a double wedding.

Within months, Monica and Medardo had started several new churches meeting in houses scattered throughout their community. They were now looked upon as the "wise ones" whom everyone would go to with their problems. [60-fold]

Aneida and David decided to begin witnessing to relatives located across town and start the work there by discipling family in the same way they had been discipled. A new church was planted there as well.

After several grueling months of daily discipling and planting several house churches in their neighborhood, Monica and Medardo decided to branch out to their Judea and Samaria. On alternate weekends they traveled out to a neighboring rural pueblo of Agua Fria (not real name) about three hours from Guayaquil. The weekend they were not in the pueblo, they were planting a new work in two distinct areas of Guayaquil where family members lived of people they were currently discipling. Always teaching the new believers just like they had been taught by Marlene. [100-fold]

After baptizing the first believers in Agua Fria, they left the work in the hands of their primary disciple, Juan (not his real name.) Juan did a great job until he fell into an adulterous relationship. At that point, grieved, Monica and Medardo took Juan and his wife into their own home for several weeks of restoration. Another brother was chosen to lead the new group in Agua Fria while Juan and his wife were being restored. (Church planting is often very messy!)

Monica and Medardo then decided that the Lord was leading them back to their hometown of Lomas to begin work there amongst the many people they knew. After spending their Sunday mornings working in Lomas, Sunday afternoons they teamed up with Marlene to train 30 new church planters in another town, Daule, not far from Lomas. Out of these 30, they are expecting about 7-8 to bear fruit. [100+-fold]

Things really start to grow exponentially when you realize we are only talking about one couple that Marlene discipled (Monica and Medardo.) When you begin looking at the discipleship/church planting lines of other people she has discipled/trained who are doing similar things, you begin to get the idea that maybe, just maybe, Ecuador can be won to Christ in this generation.

Here is a short video taken in May of this year of baptisms in just one of the many house churches started by Monica and Medardo. Almost everyone pictured in this video have their own lines of disciples/church planting, and all are the exponential fruit begun through Marlene's ministry. It is in their DNA to make disciples that make disciples.

Friday, September 16

Where two or three are gathered in his name...

Copyright © 2009 by Galen Currah, Edward Aw and George Patterson
This document may be copied, translated, posted or distributed without permission.

Jesus promised: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matt. 18:20) If you mentor those who multiply new gatherings and those who shepherd them, then you understand the importance of this basic unit of the living Body of Christ on earth. You can help your trainees plan, form and multiply many tiny gatherings as part of a bigger congregation.

What they can do

Little gatherings of two, three or more, prove entire capable of fulfilling many, biblical requirements of an authentic body. However little gatherings may be, they can:

* experience the Presence of Christ
* obey, together, all Jesus’ basic commandments (believe, baptize, love, pray, share, praise, commune, give, make disciples…)
* exercise spiritual gifts (evangelize, prophesy, exhort, teach, show mercy…)
* edify one another with loving interaction, practicing the biblical “one another” commands
* persevere through time, trials and persecution
* reproduce by adding members and forming new gatherings

Other advantages

The littlest of gatherings enjoy certain strengths and advantages that prove difficult for bigger congregations. Consider these:

* quick growth, easily doubling in only a few day’s time
* starting and thriving without budgets, benches, bells, banners
* a married couple worshiping with their children or servants
* easily moving location according to needs or convenience
* quickly learning from mistakes and make needed changes
* providing discipleship for seekers and new believers
* opportunity for new leaders to gain experience
* avoiding being bullied by oppressive laws and hostile authorities

Two or three of whom?

The New Testament provides examples of many small gatherings, some of them consisting, at least temporarily, of two or three individuals. These include one individual sharing with another (a couple from Emmaus), newly-saved households (a Philippian jailor), home-based gatherings (Lydia’s house), apostolic teams (Paul and Silas), those praying for restoration (Matt. 18:19-20), training leaders (Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos). Thus, the two or three may consist of individuals, evangelists, married couples, heads of households, team mates, military personnel, students on campus, friends at coffeehouses, and so forth.

Basic unit of all growth

A silent reality of all social groups, including congregations, missionary bands, house gatherings and discipleship groups, is that they grow mostly in units of two or three. That is, every one or two believers finds another; every one or two couples seeks a third; every one or two shepherds seeks to train up a new one.

Shepherds, missionaries and trainers can enhance groups, both quantitatively in numbers and qualitatively in maturity, by paying attention to this basic pattern. Of course, this is not a matter of mathematical precision, but of simply working together on a micro-level to win folk to Christ and to disciple them in a normal, effective and reproductive way.


1 + 1 = 2


2 + 1 = 3


3 + 1 = 2 + 2


2 + 2 + 1 = 3 + 2


3 + 2 + 1 = 2 + 2 + 2


et cetera

Every believer seeks to win a friend, every couple finds another couple, and every shepherd appoints an apprentice. Next, every two friends win a third, or every two couples seek a third couple, every two shepherds appoint a third. Each of these “triads” seeks another individual, another couple, another shepherd, until they are four and can become two pairs of individuals, two pairs of couples, two pairs of shepherds. Thereafter, every pair, again, seeks another.

A tactic for reproduction

You can help your mentees plan to match every believer or believing couple with another believer or believing couple, for purposes of mutual encouragement. Such matching can happen during cellular or congregational gatherings, or between gatherings. Instruct every pair to pray and ask God to bring them a third believer or couple. The three will then pray and ask God to bring a fourth. When the fourth has come, these will form a new pair of two individuals or two couples who will pray and ask God for a third believer or a third couple.

Each of you mentors should pray and ask God for an apprentice mentor, and the two of you should pray and ask God for another apprentice mentor, then a fourth. Soon you will be two pairs of mentors, praying and asking God for yet another. This will continue until the Lord Jesus be revealed from heaven with power and glory.

Wednesday, September 14

Where's the passion for the nations?

I am one of those eternal optimists who believe the fulfilling of the Great Commission can be a reality in our lifetime. Yes, I know we are a long way from seeing this today, but it wouldn't take much to turn things around 180° and get back on track.

After all, everything we need is already in place to get the job done:

--Jesus' promise to be with us,

--the Holy Spirit's empowering,

--the Father's provision of needed resources,

--millions of Christ followers already on the front lines ready for action,

--millions more in "reserve" waiting to be deployed

--the Word to guide and us show the way,

--outposts strategically placed in all the key centers around the world,

--direct access to the Commander-in-Chief 24/7/365,

--apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers, servant-leaders willing, eager, and ready to train the saints for the work of service...

And yet with everything in place, why is it that we are further away from accomplishing the goal than ever before?

I believe we have substituted comfortable peace-time religion instead of engaging an all-out war effort to finish the task we were charged with 2000 years ago. It is about us and what we want and like; not Him and where is heart is for bringing in the harvest.

A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, "Son, go work today in the vineyard." And he answered, "I will not"; but afterward he regretted it and went. The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, "I will, sir"; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father? They said, "The first." (Matt.21:28-31)

Which of the two are we like today? The first or the second? Most of us are persuaded we are doing the will of the Father because we are "good Christians" who go to church and read our Bibles. Yet, we have been clearly told to work in our Lord's vineyard. Like the second son, we say, "I will, sir"--but our words are just words. We are not doing anything. It is perfectly OK to lie sing in church, "Send me, O Lord, send me to the nations, for your glory, send me..." but we have zero intention of changing a single thing about the way we live or our current lifestyle--certainly not up doing something as radical as going to the nations for the glory of the Lord!

As Steve Smith writes in T4T: A Discipleship ReRevolution, "The problem throughout history has never been with God--He is willing, passionate for His people to be reached. The problem is not with the harvest--the Spirit is doing His part to prepare a harvest even among hard peoples. The problem is with us--we need to recapture the first-century discipleship revolution that turned the world upside down. We need a discipleship re-revolution!"

I find it amazing so few Christians seem interested in even talking about evangelism, discipleship, church planting, or reaching the billions of lost souls scattered around the nations--not to mention actually engaging in these pursuits. The idea that we are followers of Jesus who fish for men (Mark 1:17) seems to be something missionaries and professional clergy are supposed to do.

The Church in America seems to have a totally different agenda from that of our Lord. She desperately needs to understand that the call to follow Jesus means death to one's self, one's ambitions, one's personal dreams, one's personal well-being. His Kingdom is first. His mandate of making disciples of the nations takes precedence over our own plans, dreams and ambitions. "Not my will but thine be done" was Jesus prayer (and ought to be our prayer!) His interests come first. His heart beat needs to be our heart beat. His glory is what it is all about.

We desperately need to recapture the first-century discipleship revolution!

Monday, September 12

Legacy church services through simple church eyes

We've been back in the USA for 70 days now. During this time we have had the opportunity of visiting some wonderful Baptist churches here in Texas. Texas Baptists are some of God's most precious saints on the face of the earth! However, after years of being immersed in simple church values and practices, it has become a personal adjustment to re adapt to the way legacy churches operate with their services, programs, practices and structures.

Here are a few observations coming from an "outsider" of going to church as is commonly practiced here in America.

Sunday Morning Sermon. Instead of preaching 30-45 minutes and then everyone going home and promptly forgetting all/most of what has been so conscientiously prepared, why not share a reduced 15-20 minute message and spend the balance of time allowing interaction by the congregation? This personal interaction with the message would bear far more fruit than simply listening to a good message. Depending upon the size of the church and seating layout, this could be done in several different ways:

1) The pastor could end with a few key questions that get at the heart of what he was trying to share. As people begin to respond back to the pastor a dialog could ensue amongst all those present. The pastor could facilitate the discussion as several share their wisdom and understanding from their rich experience.

2) People could be encouraged to break up into small groups and share with one another what they sense God is saying to them through what has been shared through the Word.

3) Ask people to share how they intend on applying what they have learned from the Word. What specific actions is the Spirit of God impressing upon them in response to the message?

4) 10-15 minutes could be spent praying for one another and applying the message within individual situations.

It is strange that week after week so much effort goes into preparing good Biblical messages, only to be concluded with an invitation which usually has nothing to do with what has been preached. Is church primarily about the message preached by the pastor? What happened to the exhortation by the writer of Hebrews, And let us consider one another, to incitement of love and of good works, not forsaking the assembling together of ourselves, as is the custom of some, but exhorting, and by so much more as you see the Day drawing near?


The offering. Instead of passing the plate while instrumental music plays in the background, or a "special" is sung, why not have someone testify how money given is actually impacting lives and making a difference in the Kingdom? For example, have the VBS Director come forward and share how the budgeted $1000 was spent and the impact this effort had on the lives of 200 kids. Share a few stories. Let people hear first hand how their giving is actually helping to make a difference in people's lives. Invite a missionary to share for a few minutes during the offering time what God is doing in their country and how the church's giving to missions is actually impacting Peru or wherever.

Sunday School. Instead of the goal being to get through the week's lesson, why not allow the Spirit of God to take us where He wants to lead us? Sunday School is the closest thing in legacy churches (in my opinion) to New Testament ekklesias--or has the potential of being so. Here we have the chance to really minister to one another through the Word in a smaller group setting. Yet, class after class, I have sensed that what matters is getting through the lesson, not on building up--encouraging--one another in the Lord. Sunday School seems more an intellectual, educational pursuit where we learn something from the Bible passage studied. There is nothing wrong with studying the Bible, but it could be so much more if we would allow the Living God to not only stimulate our intellects, but minister those studied truths into one another's lives.

Singing and praise. Maybe it's just me, but week after week, 70% of what is projected onto the overhead screen are songs I am hearing for the first time. I personally find it frustrating that all the songs are chosen ahead of time by the worship leaders and they are the ones calling all the shots from behind amplified instruments and microphones. My voice is dimmed and unable to compete with the electronic powers that dominate what passes as "worship" to the Lord. I am getting close to thinking that maybe the non-instrumental Church of Christ churches are far closer to the true spirit of worship with their a cappella singing than what passes for today's contemporary worship practices. As I said, maybe it's just me, but this is truly a struggle not being able to interact more with what is sung and hear from others what they are thinking/feeling as they sing to the Lord.

A possible solution? Un-program the worship times. Give worship back to the people. Yes it would be messy at first and some would not like it--it would be awkward--but after a few weeks of adjustment, worship would gradually return to being worship instead of what, seems to me, a programmed performance where we follow along with whatever is fed to us from up front.

Prayer.
Probably the most striking thing I have noticed after years of being away from legacy churches is the almost non-existent place of prayer in the gatherings of believers. Prayer is used more as a way to begin and close meetings, but I have seen little real praying when believers gather. Singing praise and worship songs is certainly a way of addressing our Lord, but there are so many other aspects of our communion with God that are going unaddressed in our gatherings: prayers of repentance/confession, prayers of united intercession and supplication, prayers for laborers (Lk. 10:2), prayers for wisdom/guidance/discernment, spiritual warfare, prayers for healing and for the sick, prayers for those who do not know the Lord, etc.

I suspect the reason prayer is downplayed is that prayer takes time. Maybe the problem is we have to cram everything in between 11am-12noon. There simply isn't time for prayer if we are going to sing for 20-minutes and listen to a 30-minute message. But then, is it any wonder we have such little spiritual power in our midst? Maybe we should reschedule church on Sundays from, say, 5-8pm to give us adequate time to deal with truly being the Body of Christ and all that implies.

So, what are some of your thoughts? How can we be the church, be God's people; instead of going to church and doing church?

Thursday, September 8

The power of the Gospel to change lives

Today is my 55th birthday.

In my daily devotional read for today, September 8, Charles Spurgeon writes a truth well-worth being reminded of:

By virtue of our union with Christ we bring forth fruit. Every bunch of grapes have been first in the root, it has passed through the stem, and flowed through the sap vessels, and fashioned itself externally into fruit, but it was first in the stem; so also every good work was first in Christ, and then is brought forth in us. O Christian, prize this precious union to Christ; for it must be the source of all the fruitfulness which thou canst hope to know. If thou wert not joined to Jesus Christ, thou wouldst be a barren bough indeed.

For some reason, the past few days, God's Spirit has brought to mind many people whom, over the years, He sent our way. Lives transformed by the power of the Gospel. Name...after name...after name, fruit of our lives being rooted in Christ. Many have been names I had forgotten, but there was a time in the past when they were at the center of our attention. These, in turn, have gone on to reach others in an ever-expanding ripple of transformed lives. Most of the people who call me friend or hermano (brother) are actually the fruit of those whom we initially poured our lives.

I confess that often I wonder if any of what we do really matters. Is it worth it all? Like many others, I tend to focus on all that is going wrong at the moment, what I don't like, or what is not good. Negative stuff tends to dominate much of my thinking.

But God is actively at work all around us. He chooses to bless the world through our hands, feet, mouth, prayers, eyes, smiles, works, experience, witness, etc. When we allow ourselves to reflect upon all the people whose lives have been touched by the Lord through us, it is a cause of much rejoicing. Our hearts are greatly encouraged!

I can remember back in 1990 when it became evident that my wife and I could not have children of our own. It was quite a blow, but I remember that we both were united in our prayers that if this was God's will, He would instead give us a great harvest of spiritual children. Not only has He seemed pleased to answer this prayer by giving us spiritual children, but even a greater harvest of grand, great-grand, and great-great-grand spiritual children. And to top it all off as icing on the cake, he gave us two of the greatest kids on the planet: Joshua (1991) and Anna (1996)!

Many people see social networking on sites like Facebook a waste of time. What I see everyday are names and faces of precious souls whom the Lord has done great works of transformation. I could tell you amazing stories about each of them and how God has led them today to be the ones loving others, ministering, witnessing, serving, teaching, etc. Indeed they are the ones today ministering to others. They are the ones teaching others. They are the ones helping others!

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Wednesday, August 31

When does bad theology get in the way of a person being saved?

Upon seeing an advertisement for an American youth church choir that would be performing in our city, my wife and I decided to attend. We arrived at the largest church venue in the heart of the downtown capital city of the country we were living in at the time and sat towards the back.

The musical performance was first-rate. Our hearts rejoiced at hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed so boldly through these youth. After the musical presentation, the Gospel was openly preached. The words coming out of the mouth of the one preaching were straightforward leaving no doubt, or wiggle room, that the only path to God was solely through faith in Jesus' shed blood on the cross.

"The Church will not save you...your good works will not save you...it is by grace that you are saved by faith...Jesus conquered death by his resurrection from the grave and today stands at the right hand of the Father...open your hearts to Jesus and receive him as your Savior and Lord..."

At the end of the evangelistic message an invitation was given for sinners to stand and publicly profess their faith in Jesus. Dozens stood. Tears were shed. Men and women fell to their knees crying out "Lord, forgive my sin." The youth gathered in small groups with those standing, leading them in the "sinner's prayer." I had a hard time believing the amazing things we were witnessing. Was spiritual awakening finally coming to our city? To this Latin American nation? PTL!

You might be wondering why this revival-like atmosphere would have so captivated me. The reason was that all of the above took place in a Roman Catholic cathedral in the capital city of a Latin American country. The one preaching the Gospel message was a fully-garbed RC bishop!

I was blown out of the water to say the least. Not a single word had been spoken in the two hour evangelistic service that I was not in full agreement with.

But then something very unexpected happened.

In the final two minutes of the service, the priest who had so effectively preached the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone, raised his hands in a benediction and said,

"Hallelujah! God has been so good to us tonight. Let us all stand and join our hands together and give thanks to MARY, THE BLESSED MOTHER OF OUR LORD JESUS, for all she did for us this evening!"

I nearly croaked. How could he possibly believe that Mary had anything at all to do with what the HOLY SPIRIT had done that evening?

That was one of the most memorable services I have ever participated in. And yet, with all due respect to our RC brothers, was marred at the very end by what I consider to be clear theological heresy.

Which of the following theological stances can be considered so false as to actually stand in the way of a person's salvation if adhered to?

-hell is a non-literal place
-Mary is the mother of God
-a person can lose their salvation
-women pastors
-evidence of the indwelling Spirit is speaking in tongues
-the practice of baptizing infants
-only ordained clergy can administer baptism/communion
-any one of dozens of other 2nd and 3rd tier Christian teachings

I like Paul's response to the Romans,

Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions...Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Rom. 14:1,4

It would seem from Paul's perspective that there are brothers (saved brothers) whose theology is "weak" and can even be flawed. But we are to accept these weak brothers and not pass judgment on their inaccurate opinions and beliefs. They do not answer to us for their false/misguided beliefs, but to their master.

Yes, another's theology might be wrong. But when does that bad theology stand in the way of their being saved? Can we still be saved and yet have bad theology on certain matters of faith?

What is the raw essence of the Gospel? The bare minimum that must be believed, or one is lost/condemned? This is something I have thought a lot about over the years. While I have strong evangelical convictions, it doesn't take long being around Christians of other faiths, traditions and denominations before one realizes there are some major theological differences between us!

Peter's response to the listening crowd was, Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Paul and Silas responded to the Philippian jailor's, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Again Paul writes, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved..."

Writing to the Corinthians Paul elaborates on what he considered of FIRST IMPORTANCE For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... What is of first importance is Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

So in summary, there can be a lot of bad/false/inaccurate theology out there, but if 1) a person repents and is baptized, 2) believes in the Lord Jesus, 3) confesses with their mouth Jesus as Lord, 4) believes in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, THEY WILL BE SAVED regardless of any bad theology they might adhere to.

Of course, for me, that is what "making disciples" is all about, "teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded"--making sure we correct any bad/false/inaccurate beliefs as we teach them about Christ. Good theology comes from knowing and obeying Christ and all that He taught us about the Father.

So what do you think is the essence of the Gospel--that which absolutely must be present for a person to be truly saved? I am open to hearing any of your thoughts on the matter.

Friday, August 26

That's dying to self

While a student at Liberty University, Shelly Fowler McDonald served alongside our church planting team in Ecuador as a short-term volunteer. One time when we were going through a particularly trying time, she shared these timely words of blessing from a John MacArthur Bible study that I have never forgotten.

Dying to self is...

-When you are not forgiven or you're neglected or purposely set aside and you hurt with the insult or oversight, but your heart is happy and you're content to be counted worthy to suffer for Christ- that's dying to self.

-When your good is evil spoken of; when your wishes are crossed, your advice is disregarded, your opinions are ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger arise in your heart or even defend yourself but take it all in patient loyal silence- that's dying to self.

-When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, or any annoyance; when you can stand face to face with foolishness, extravagance, spiritual insensitivity, and endure it as Jesus endured it- that's dying to self.

-When you see another brother prosper and see his needs being met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor even question God while your needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances- that's dying to self.

-When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up in your heart--that's dying to self.

-When you never care to refer to yourself or record your own good works or seek commendation; when you can truly love to be unknown- that's dying to self.

-Truly loving to be unknown...faithfully serving so that others may prosper and draw closer to Jesus. Accepting any and all tasks, regardless of where that leaves you- that's dying to self.

Wednesday, August 24

Things I am in the process of learning

Be faithful in the little things. God will accomplish much through my small acts of obedience.

Thoughts are sub-conscience prayers. Be aware of what I am praying.

What is not given is lost. What am I hanging on to that ought to be given away?

One negative comment packs more power in someone's life than a dozen positive remarks. I need to be very careful how and what I communicate with others. If unable to build someone up, it is better to remain silent rather than use words to tear someone down.

Confront problems, hurts, misunderstandings, and mistakes as soon as possible. Don't allow Satan to carry out his agenda of rejection, suffering, division, fear, and pain.

What does God have to say about it? It is not about me deciding everything and doing things as I deem best. If He is Lord, he is lord of ALL, including the things I think I can handle on my own without his input.

This is the day the Lord has made. I choose to rejoice and be glad in it. This is a choice I make daily.

John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Who is actually increasing/decreasing in my life? Am I moving in the right direction?

Seek first His Kingdom. Does this thing seek to advance my kingdom or His Kingdom?

Charles Swindoll writes that life is 10% what happens and 90% how I react to what happens. Am I focusing more on what has happened, or how I am reacting to what has happened?

Mother Teresa wrote, "Slowly I am learning to accept everything just as He gives it." Am I learning to accept all things without complaining and whining, understanding that it is God who allowed it?

Excellence is in the details. Attention to details is one of the ways I best worship God who is worthy of my best.

People come first. Everything else falls in line behind people.

We are blessed to be a blessing (Psalm 67). Am I using my blessings to bless others?

Sunday, August 21

Think you know me?

25 random things about me. Would love for you to share in the comments section which of the following surprises you the most. Feel free to share a few random things about yourself while you're at it!

1. 39 of my 54 years have been lived in Latin America (Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica.)

2. Linda and I were engaged four years before getting married.

3. I prefer hymns over contemporary praise and worship songs.

4. I watch very little television, but will view 4-5 movies/documentaries every week.

5. I am not a sports fan, but can tolerate those who are.

6. I love books of all kinds and read/listen to 3-4 every month.

7. I have lived with 2-3 migraines/week for the past 20 years--no treatments seem to work.

8. At age 17 I had a root canal procedure done in Ecuador without any anesthesia.

9. More people know me as "Guido" than Guy.

10. One of my biggest life regrets is not keeping up my proficiency in playing the piano and guitar.

11. Some of my favorite foods are freshly baked bread & butter, cheese, popcorn, avocados, corn chips & salsa, and good coffee. I am perfectly content to make a meal out of any one, or combination of these.

12. Before I die I'd like to learn to dance, speak semi-fluent Italian, visit all 50 States in USA, and spend at least a month each wandering around Spain and Italy.

13. I function better by instinct than by planning. Really.

14. I am most attracted by the mysterious.

15. I love to travel, but stress out making all the necessary arrangements for a good trip.

16. My favorite fruits are a good Texas cantaloupe, Chilean cherries, and Ecuadorian papaya and bananas.

17. The people living that I probably admire the most are my parents.

18. I have had a mustache 31 continuous years. I plan to shave it off when I can maintain a weight under 180 lbs. for six consecutive weeks.

19. I most admire creative or artistic people.

20. Favorite stores: Best Buy, Walmart, Amazon.com.

21. My idea of a really exciting time would be to spend a month by myself in some far off lonely place without anybody else around.

22. I love all kinds of music--everything from A-Z. Daily, I spend more time listening to music than any other single activity.

23. Books recently read that I have enjoyed or been challenged by: The Help, Unbroken, Blink, Love Wins (didn't agree, but was a challenging book), Water for Elephants, The Tipping Point, Six Word Lessons to Discover Missional Living.

24. I hate talking on any kind of phone. I will do so to take care of business, but anything more than that quickly sets me on edge. I'd rather email or text message any day, than make a phone call.

25. I really believe that Texas is the closest thing to Heaven here on earth!

Thursday, August 18

The apostles' teaching

They were continually devoting themselves 
to the apostles' teaching.

What exactly did the apostles teach?

Undoubtedly it was what they learned from Jesus during the three years they walked with him. And what did Jesus teach? The answer is found in the pages of the four Gospel accounts. Open at random Matthew, Mark, Luke or John to learn firsthand what the apostles were teaching new Jesus followers.

"Teaching them to observe all I commanded you..." was clearly what Jesus expected them to teach. We start with Jesus commands. They are the ABC's of discipleship. When we are obeying what Jesus commanded we are his disciples.

One of the Apostles, John, explained it this way:

It is only when we obey God's laws that we can be quite sure that we really know him. The man who claims to know God but does not obey his laws is not only a liar but lives in self-delusion. In practice, the more a man learns to obey God's laws the more truly and fully does he express his love for him. Obedience is the test of whether we really live "in God" or not. The life of a man who professes to be living in God must bear the stamp of Christ.   I John 2:3-6 [J.B. Phillips trans]

Pretty clear, isn't it? The one who professes to be a Christ follower obeys what Christ said to do.

And what did Jesus command his disciples to do? How do we know if we are really his disciples?

Jesus commanded us to...

1. Love God with heart, soul, strength and mind. [Matt. 22:3-40]

2. Love one another and our neighbors. [John 15:12, Matt. 22:37-40]

3. Make disciples of the nations. [Matthew 28:18-20]

4. Seek first his kingdom. [Matt.6:33]

5. Pray for harvest laborers. [Luke 10:2]

6. Observe the Lord's Supper in remembrance of Him. [1 Cor.11:23-36]

7. Follow Jesus example of servant leadership. [John 13:12-15]

8. Abide in Jesus. [John 15:4]

9. Love our enemies. Do good. Don't judge. Forgive. Don't condemn. [Luke 6:27-37]

10.Freely give to others. [Luke 6:38]

We tend to emphasize a lot of other stuff and only give lip-service to Jesus' list. Our own list of "do's and don'ts" consists of things like: Go to church. Read your Bible. Tithe. Witness to the lost. Don't drink. Don't cuss. Don't ______. All good things for sure, only none are in Jesus own Top Ten list.

I have learned that if we start living what Jesus commanded, all the other stuff starts falling into place.

The apostles taught what Jesus taught. Nothing more, nothing less. Do we know what Jesus taught? Are we obeying those teachings? Knowing what Christ taught is one thing; obeying and living that teaching is quite another. Any new follower of Christ who obeys what Jesus said to do is a disciple. But can one rightly be called a disciple who knows these things but does not really obey?

It is not how much we know of the Gospel, but how much we obey of what we know. Knowledge does not make us disciples. Obedience does.

Tuesday, August 16

Being part of a motivated team

In Teams that build movements Jay Lorenzen shares a motivational checklist for understanding what it is that motivates the people on our teams.

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.

Have you found other things that help motivate team members to be all that they can be in their service to the Lord?

Saturday, August 13

More thoughts on storehouse tithing and kingdom giving

This post is a follow-up to my previous blog post Kingdom giving trumps storehouse tithing.

I personally believe NT believers are to give MORE than 10% to the Lord's work. Not only do I believe this, we have personally practiced this for many decades now.

The tithe (10%) is an OT commandment, a reference point. In the NT 100% belongs to the Lord. In regards to "how much" of that 100% should be given back to the Lord, Paul answers, "each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart..." That is the NT teaching on how much.

Jesus himself did not tell his disciples what percentage they should give; rather,

"Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure--pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return."

There is no percentage, only that we will receive back in the same measure that we give. Some will purpose/measure more than others, but this is something every believer must come to terms with before his Lord.

Jesus does refer to tithing in Matthew 23:23, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others."

But who is Jesus talking to? Scribes and Pharisees. These words were not directed to his disciples. He addresses this rebuke to those who were still under the Law of Moses. They were under the whole law, including tithing. We, his disciples, are not. Why would NT believers be expected to keep only part of the law (storehouse tithing), and not all of the law?

Though Jesus was a Jew, born into the teachings of the Law of Moses, He came teaching the Kingdom of God. He commanded his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).

Kingdom giving is a natural expression growing out of all that is implied in "seeking first the kingdom." We give joyfully and liberally to kingdom causes because that is what Jesus said we are to seek. That doesn't mean part of that giving can't be to our local "storehouse" (of course it can), but it isn't FIRST in what we seek. Kingdom is.

Imagine the Good Samaritan passing by the injured man on his way to Jericho saying to himself, "poor guy, wish I could help, but my tithe has to go to the storehouse..." To me that is a woefully distorted view of all that Christ taught concerning loving God and our neighbor. To think all I have to do is faithfully deposit my entire tithe to First Baptist Church, and somehow that is supposed to cover all those other needs the Lord might want me to do something about. For example, giving towards famine relief efforts of the 14-million people in Africa!

What we teach new disciples in our church planting is not OT storehouse tithing, but NT giving to the Kingdom. The majority of our house churches give upwards of 70% of their monies to kingdom causes. Individual disciples we work with commonly give 30% or more of their earned income to the Kingdom.

The way we approach the subject of tithing/giving/kingdom finances is to start with Matthew 6:33. If we are to seek first the Kingdom, what is implied by that?

We then take a look at all the passages in the NT about how money was gathered, what it was used for, and what things got financed in the early churches.

In a nutshell, what comes out of this investigation is that 1st-century disciples giving went to advance apostolic ministry, helping fellow brothers in time of need (famine relief), and providing for widows/orphans.

We contextualize these findings and basically say:

1) evangelism/missions
2) needs of the saints
3) needs of not-yet-believers

To me the issue is not whether or not a believer should give to the Lord's work (of course they should), but WHERE it is deposited, and how it is used. I affirm again, kingdom giving trumps storehouse tithing.

Thursday, August 11

Kingdom giving trumps storehouse tithing

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." -Malachi 3:8-10

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. -Jesus (Matthew 6:33)

The last book of the Old Testament is emphatic that Jews were robbing God unless they brought the "whole tithe into the storehouse."

The very next books in the Bible, the Gospels (Matthew-John) resound with the theme of THE KINGDOM. Little is said by Jesus about the temple except, "...not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."

Jesus himself is introduced in the early chapters of the Gospels as traveling throughout Galilee "preaching the good news of the kingdom." The kingdom theme is mentioned nine times in just the first six chapters of the opening book of the New Testament. Jesus himself brings the matter to the forefront with the first command he issues to his disciples, "seek first the kingdom."

While there is no denying that Malachi 3 storehouse giving is biblical for Jews living under the Old Testament Law of Moses, Jesus came preaching the good news of the kingdom, not the superiority of the temple system. The very "storehouse" that the Jews were to bring the "whole tithe" was destroyed in 70 A.D. Since the temple no longer exists in Jerusalem, it seems strange to continue to insist from the Malachi passage that NT believers are robbing God if they no not bring their "whole tithe" into their local church offering plate.

How is it that we are able to twist the Malachi passage into saying something that it does not say?

Like many, I was brought up with the understanding that 10% of what one receives should be given back to the Lord through one's local church as our "tithe." Anything beyond the initial 10% is considered "offering money." We are free to give our offerings to other kingdom causes, but the "tithe" goes intact to one's local church.

But does "storehouse giving" align itself with Jesus command to SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM? Are local church budgets, programs, buildings, parking lots, salaries, maintenance, etc. synonymous with Kingdom interests?

To me, the Kingdom is the broader sphere of Christ's reign. While storehouse giving can certainly be in line with Paul's admonition to give what one purposes in his heart (2 Cor.9:7), it should not be seen as the one and only biblical way of giving. For me, kingdom giving trumps storehouse tithing.

If storehouse tithing gave way to kingdom giving, the argument goes that our churches and programs would crumble overnight. The whole structure of church-as-we-know-it would collapse.

Would this be a bad thing?

Undoubtedly things would be terribly chaotic for many of us, especially for those like myself who depend upon storehouse tithing/giving to pay our bills and feed our families. But I am convinced that after the dust settles, there would be a dramatic surge forward towards the fulfillment of Kingdom purposes in all spheres of life. We would finally begin to make giant steps forward in making Christ known amongst the nations.

Yes, some people, ministries, churches, organizations would suffer and probably die off within days. I am not saying it would be pretty. Many of us would suffer the consequences of this upheaval. But others, who have long been neglected or underfunded, would flourish with fruit bearing 30,60, and 100-fold.

As a missionary, I see lots of pain, suffering, disease, violence, poverty, and hopelessness. Within the Body of Christ we have all the human and financial resources to meet the needs around us. Yet, very little gets to where it is most needed. Why? Our resources are tied up in in-house use. What would our world look like if churches held back 10% for internal use and gave 90% to Kingdom causes in the world?

The time has come for kingdom giving to become the norm for Christ followers. This doesn't mean we neglect or turn our backs on those who serve us in the Lord, but it does mean we get serious about seeking first the kingdom, rather than seeking first the needs of our local storehouses.

Monday, August 8

Acts 1:8 or Acts 8:1?

Jesus last words to his disciples before ascending to Heaven were, "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

The apostles knew this teaching. They had undoubtedly taught it over and over to the growing Jerusalem church. Yet, only a small percentage of the thousands of believers seemed to be taking Jesus' words seriously.

When we don't obey what Jesus said in Acts 1:8, we are setting ourselves up for an Acts 8:1 wake-up call.

Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him [Stephen] to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
(Acts 8:1)

Interestingly enough, not even the apostles themselves seemed to grasp the magnitude of Jesus' words!

In the midst of all that absorbs our attention--health, work, family, material possessions, ministry, church, etc.--as important as these are, we must realize Jesus died for the whole world. He loves those in Somalia, Haiti, Iran, and India as much as he loves us. His focus and love is on the nations. Jesus is dead serious about the priority of taking his message of love and salvation to all people groups on the face of the earth.

Instead of using Jerusalem as our launching pad to Judea, Samaria, and the nations, we go the opposite direction. We start with our Jerusalem, segment down to our suburb, and from there to our own little micro-worlds. Our kingdoms gets confused with His Kingdom.

But one way or another Jesus will make his name known to the nations. We can either willingly obey, or be persecuted and scattered. Both get the job done!

I want to be careful to not jump to hasty conclusions, judge anyone, or over-generalize; but maybe, just maybe, we are beginning to get a taste of a 21st Century version of Acts 8:1. When our personal kingdoms and local Jerusalem consume nearly all our time, energy, and resources, and do so at the expense of the Great Commission; we shouldn't be surprised when the Father reactivates Acts 8:1 measures to get us out of our secure comfortable environments and out into his harvest fields. Seek first the Kingdom of God means SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM OF GOD!

Monday, August 1

Nuestra misión: La Gran Comisión

Pocos videos han podido captar en tan pocas palabras la esencia del discipulado y la misión de la Gran Comisión. Lo que sigue es la iglesia del Señor como debería ser.



Friday, July 22

El llamado de Dios

En este programa de Enlace-TV comparto un poco de mi testimonio personal del llamado de Dios a servirle como misionero en un diálogo junto con los Hnos. Luis Caicedo Sevillano y Joseph Bermudez Moreno.


Videos tu.tv

Wednesday, July 13

La iglesia que encontramos en el Nuevo Testamento

La iglesia no es nada más, ni nada menos, de lo que encontramos en las páginas del Nuevo Testamento.

Lo que encontramos allí es:

1-La iglesia es el cuerpo de Cristo. (Efesios 5:29-32)

"...porque somos miembros de su cuerpo, de su carne y de sus huesos."


2-La iglesia es "la familia de Dios." (Efesios 2:19-22)

"Así que ya no sois extranjeros ni advenedizos, sino conciudadanos de los santos, y miembros de la familia de Dios, edificados sobre el fundamento de los apóstoles y profetas, siendo la principal piedra del ángulo Jesucristo mismo..."


3-En esta familia hay una sola cabeza: Cristo Jesús. (Efesios 5:23)

"...Cristo es cabeza de la iglesia, la cual es su cuerpo, y él es su Salvador."


4-El tamaño normal de esta iglesia era de "2 o 3 unidos en su nombre," o el número de personas que normalmente podrían congregarse en una casa. (Mateo 18:20)

"Porque donde están dos o tres congregados en mi nombre, allí estoy yo en medio de ellos..."


5-El lugar donde la iglesia se reunía era en las casas de los creyentes. (Romanos 16:5, 1 Corintios 16:19, Colsenses 4:15, Filemón 2)

"Saludad también a la iglesia de su casa...Las iglesias de Asia os saludan. Aquila y Priscila, con la iglesia que está en su casa...Saludad a los hermanos que están en Laodicea, y a Ninfas y a la iglesia que está en su casa...y a Arquipo nuestro compañero de milicia, y a la iglesia que está en tu casa..."


6-Estas familias que se reunían en las casas se caracterizaban por su perseverancia en la doctrina de los apostoles, el partimiento de pan, la comunión y en las oraciones. (Hechos 2:42)

"Y perseveraban en la doctrina de los apóstoles, en la comunión unos con otros, en el partimiento del pan y en las oraciones."

[Por unos pocos años, hasta la destrucción del templo en el año 70, la iglesia en Jerusalén aparentemente también seguía con las costumbres judáicas de la Ley de Moisés, junto con sus sacrificios, y su sistema religioso sacerdotal. Esto era una excepción y no la norma para las demás iglesias que encontramos en el Nuevo Testamento.]


7-El propósito de reunirse era para estimular y exhortar el uno al otro al amor y a las buenas obras. (Hebreos 10:24-25)

"Y considerémonos unos a otros para estimularnos al amor y a las buenas obras; no dejando de congregarnos, como algunos tienen por costumbre, sino exhortándonos..."


8-Pablo enseñaba a la iglesia que cada creyente debería venir a la reunión preparado para contribuir algo de edificación para los demás. (1 Corintios 14:26)

"¿Qué hay, pues, hermanos? Cuando os reunís, cada uno de vosotros tiene salmo, tiene doctrina, tiene lengua, tiene revelación, tiene interpretación. Hágase todo para edificación."


9-El acto principal de las reuniones centraba en el comer juntos la cena del Señor. (1 Corintios 11:18-20)

"Pues en primer lugar, cuando os reunís como iglesia, oigo que hay entre vosotros divisiones; y en parte lo creo. Porque es preciso que entre vosotros haya disensiones, para que se hagan manifiestos entre vosotros los que son aprobados. Cuando, pues, os reunís vosotros, esto no es comer la cena del Señor..."


10-La misión de la iglesia fue dada por Cristo Jesús de hacer discípulos a las naciones en Jerusalén, Judea, Samaria y hasta los fines de la tierra. (Mateo 28:18-20 y Hechos 1:8)

"Y Jesús se acercó y les habló diciendo: Toda potestad me es dada en el cielo y en la tierra. Por tanto, id, y haced discípulos a todas las naciones, bautizándolos en el nombre del Padre, y del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo; enseñándoles que guarden todas las cosas que os he mandado...pero recibiréis poder, cuando haya venido sobre vosotros el Espíritu Santo, y me seréis testigos en Jerusalén, en toda Judea, en Samaria, y hasta lo último de la tierra."

Lo descrito arriba es lo que el Nuevo Testamento dice en cuanto a la iglesia. El quitar o añadir de estas enseñanzas es quitar o añadir de lo que fué enseñado y practicado por Cristo y los Apóstoles.

Pablo dice, "Por esto mismo os he enviado a Timoteo...el cual os recordará mi proceder en Cristo, de la manera que enseño en todas partes y en todas las iglesias."  Pablo no dejaba que las iglesias que él fundaba siguieran sus propios costumbres o que hagan lo que les daba la gana. Había enseñanzas y prácticas bien establecidas y eran iguales para todas las iglesias.

Todos los cambios que tenemos hoy en dia empezaron a comienzos del segundo siglo con la muerte del Apóstol Juan. Las enseñanzas de la iglesia descritas arriba fueron cambiándose poco a poco para acomodar lo que ya se estaba practicando.

A comienzos del tercer siglo con el Emperador Romano Constantino, la Iglesia tomó una forma distinta de la que vemos en las páginas del Nuevo Testamento. Ellos justificaban los cambios al explicar que la Iglesia es como una semilla. Al ser plantada en la tierra de la historia, la semilla muere en su forma original para dejar un árbol creciente con muchas ramas. Lo que encontramos en el Nuevo Testamento es el inicio de la Iglesia (la semilla), pero no es su forma final.

Esta enseñanza de la iglesia no proviene de Jesús, Pablo, ni ninguno de los apóstoles. Pero pocos cuestionan los cambios que se han dado a través de los siglos. Creemos que hemos "mejorado" los patrones dejados por los apóstoles. Justificamos nuestras prácticas extra-bíblicas a igual que lo hacía la Iglesia Católica Romana para poder sobrevivir. El volver a ser la "semilla sencilla" de la iglesia nueva testamentaria sería el fin de la iglesia institucional como la conocemos hoy en dia.

El punto que quiero destacar es que la iglesia tradicional con toda su infraestructura extra-bíblica reconozca la legitimidad bíblica del creciente número de creyentes sinceros que buscan volver a retomar las enseñanzas y prácticas de la iglesia primitiva. La iglesia que no sigue con las enseñanzas descritas arriba es la que debería ser cuestionada ya que ha dejado practicar lo que fue entregado por Jesús y los Apóstoles.

Thursday, July 7

If you aren't helping anyone to follow Jesus - are you really following Jesus?

Over the years I have read dozens of books related to church planting. Six Word Lessons to Discover Missional Living by David DeVries now sits among my top five favorite titles. It would seem David has read all the same books and managed somehow to summarize them all in 140 pages. He does this with "100 Lessons to Align Every Believer with the Mission of Jesus" (the sub-title of the book.)

Six-Word Lessons gives 100 simple to understand six-word lessons. Just six words per lesson? Yes. Each lesson is explained in 2-3 carefully worded sentences. This is the ultimate "less is more" book of the year!

Here is Chapter One in its entirety:

Follow Jesus. Help others follow Jesus.

Jesus said, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men." (Matthew 4:19)

First, follow Jesus fully. Then, help others to follow Jesus.

If you aren't helping anyone to follow Jesus - are you really following Jesus?
Enough is said in this chapter alone to keep me busy the entire year. And yet there are 99 others just like it!

Some of the categories dealt with in the book:

1. Love God. Love People. Make Disciples
2. Disciples Make Disciples Who Make Disciples
3. It’s His Mission, What’s My Part?
4. Think and Act Like a Missionary
5. Discover God’s Heart for Your Neighborhood
6. Embody the Gospel Where You Live
7. Church Isn’t a Destination, It’s People
8. Time To Take the Missional Challenge!
9. Lessons I Learned Planting a Church
10. Don’t Skip Reading the Final Chapter

Tuesday, July 5

If you thought like a missionary...

Ernest Goodman has written a great post entitled If you thought like a missionary...

The word “church” would conjure images of people, not buildings.

Your plans for the year would be limited only by your creativity, not your available funds. You’d have a plan for what happens after you’re gone (a plan that could be implemented tomorrow).

You’d worry more about getting things right than being right. You’d know that every decision you make along the way has far-reaching implications for the work. Missionaries think about the long-term strategic consequences of decisions like establishing elders too soon, dividing up families for Bible study, and growing one large church vs. starting several smaller ones.

Church planting would be more than just starting a church and being its pastor; it would entail discipling indigenous leaders and pastoring through them.

You’d exegete your cultural context, not consume it. What you learn would inform what you do, because indigeneity would be a goal of your work.

You would love your city, but never quite feel comfortable in it. Something would always remind you that you are a stranger, pilgrim, and at best, an acceptable outsider.

Your church would understand that it’s only a part of what God is doing around the world. There’s a lot to learn from believers of other times and in other contexts. Global involvement cannot wait until local work is mature.

Your team would spend more time listening to the Holy Spirit than listening to you.

Your family’s active involvement would be vital to your ministry. Missionaries, at least the ones that last, include their spouse and children in building redemptive relationships.

The people you’re ministering to would have your mobile phone number. The real one.

Your stories would be current, first-person, and self-depreciating.

You would be keenly aware of the depth of your inadequacy, the dangers of the spiritual reality, and the blessing of God’s gracious provision.

You should become a missionary.

Sunday, July 3

Church planting lessons from David Watson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 30

3 questions for every believer

1. What are you doing to deliberately make disciples?

2. What are you doing to intentionally plant/reproduce new churches?

3. What are you 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 follower of Christ or 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, June 27

Our changing roles

My wife and I arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador as missionaries in December of 1987. In those early missionary days we labored at the center of "the action."

We were in high demand by the churches, associations, and Ecuador Baptist Convention and all their related institutions and programs. A lot of our time was spent attending all the different meetings of both our own denominational work, as well as the events and programs of other evangelical denominations.

I served on various denominational boards, committees, and task forces. Our advise and opinions were respected and listened to. We were constantly called upon to preach, teach, administer, counsel, train, and coordinate ministries, institutions, and strategy. Each of us wore multiple ministerial hats.

All of us were responsible for carrying out an assortment of assignments, often in areas we were not particularly gifted in, but "someone" had to fill those shoes, so we took on these tasks as well. Our phone rang incessantly. Rare were the days when we had an entire evening to ourselves without someone in our home, someone dropping by to chat, or the phone ringing day and night.

Over the years, all of the above has decreased to a mere trickle of what it was 20 years ago. Has the work diminished? Not at all. In fact far more is happening now on multiple levels than anyone could have ever imagined. But our personal influence and role has definitely diminished from what it once was. A better description would be our influence and role has changed. While we are certainly still loved and respected by our Ecuadorian brethren, the things we used to do--as "principal actors on stage"--are now being done by those we poured ourselves into years ago. The very men/women/youth we taught, counseled, trained, and encouraged have taken our place. As I reflect back over the years of all the assignments, responsibilities, tasks, and roles we have played; ALL, without exception, are today in the hands of capable nationals who are doing an excellent job.

One of the hardest missions lessons is the one John the Baptist must have also struggled with: "He must increase; but I must decrease." Someone once defined missionary success as working oneself out of a job.

But actually saying these words is a lot easier than living with the consequences of someone else now doing and filling the roles one used to have. We too want to be needed, sought after, consulted, and called upon. In fact, instead of the phone ringing in the evenings with yet another crisis for us to solve, we now can sit most nights quietly reading a book without interruption.

So what are we still doing here if we have successfully worked ourselves out of all our jobs?

The task is far from completed. With only 5-7% of the population in Ecuador followers of Christ, much remains to see the Great Commission fulfilled in our region of the world.

What I sense is most needed is not more missionaries coming from other parts of the world to help us, but rather a needed shift in role that existing missionaries play.

We must begin to see ourselves more in the apostolic role of encouragers, enablers, equippers, trainers, motivators, connectors, and coordinators who are principally engaged in mobilizing God's people into the ripe harvest fields He has prepared over the past decades.

There will always be room for the first generation apostolic church planter who goes into unreached/under-reached territory to proclaim the Gospel, make disciples, and leave a NT ekklesia. However, in the later stages of a ripe harvest field (like Ecuador) missionaries best serve the King by helping the church understand what remains to be done, how to accomplish the task, provide tools and training, and mobilize to lead hundreds of laborers to bring in the harvest the Lord has given.

Another way of understanding this role change is to explain it this way: I can feel great about spending 30-40 hours a week directly engaged in proclaiming the Gospel, making disciples, baptizing 15-20 and hopefully planting 1-2 churches in a year's time...or, I can spend that same time modeling, training, mobilizing several hundred others to do the same things, and at the end of the year see the Kingdom grow by dozens of churches and hundreds of baptisms and scores of new disciples also equipped to going out and making even more disciples.

In the first role we are the primary actors on stage. Everyone sees us, needs us, and looks to us for direction. In the second we are behind the scenes and the ones "seen" are those we are coaching. The difference in the way we understand our apostolic/missionary role is between planting a church, and being an instrument in the Spirit's hands for dozens of churches to be planted all over the region.

What do you think? As usual, your thoughts and observations are welcome.

Saturday, June 25

Creeré

No me canso de escuchar esta canción de Tercer Cielo. Es definitivamente una de mis favoritas. La letra me levanta y me inspira seguir adelante. Si has sentido desánimo y crees que no vale la pena continuar, escuche el mensaje de esta canción y adelante mi hermano! Dios está contigo. Creo y vivo para ver al Ecuador rendido a los pies de Jesucristo. Y que de aquí saldrá un ejercito para hacer discipulos a las naciones. Con estas palabras y este hermoso canto me despido del Ecuador por unos meses. Ore por nosotros durante el tiempo que estaremos fuera del pais. Sepa que siempre los guardamos en nuestras oraciones y en el corazón. Ahora, con la música...sube el volúmen y CREÉ EN EL SEÑOR!

Friday, June 24

What would it look like if...

What would it look like if, as leaders, we focused less on the things that make our churches entertaining and more on making disciples?

Monday, June 20

Pastoring is a gift, not a title

One of the people I follow on Twitter is Kathy Escobar. The following blog excerpt comes from a post entitled rethinking the word 'pastor'. I like what she has to say.

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i believe pastoring is a gift, not a title. many have come to believe that being a pastor means someone who 1) has gone to seminary; 2) “runs” churches; 3) preaches sermons; 4) marries and buries people. i really don’t think this was the biblical idea of the word poimen, which is synonymous with shepherding...

pastors are the people who are caring for, shepherding, loving, and journeying in close-relationship with people wherever they are, whether that be as part of church, at work, in their neighborhoods, etc. their focus is on relationship, relationship, relationship. years ago a young woman told me that the weekend communicator at the mega-church she was going to was a “really amazing pastor.” it was hard because i wanted to say back to her, “honey, he is not a pastor. yep, he’s an amazing speaker and teacher and extremely gifted CEO,but he will never, ever know your name, let alone your story… he will never counsel you or have you over for dinner, hold your babies or be with you when you or one of your family is sick in the hospital or going through a rough patch. he will never do anything that someone with a true pastor’s gift will naturally do.” yet, he will get all of the kudos and benefits of being a “pastor” without ever actually shepherding or being in pastoring relationships with people. i can’t tell you how many times i have heard from a variety of different churches that their senior pastor “isn’t really a people person.”

to me, pastoring doesn’t require an education. sure, we can all learn new skills and strengthen our gifts, but i know many-a-pastor-in-the-truest-sense-of-the-word who has never taken a class at Bible college or seminary. again, we are mistaking a gift for a role or a job, a leader for a pastor. often people will ask me if they should get seminary training to learn how to become more pastoral. my response “um…well….in my opinion, the best education you can get is to start working the 12 steps for yourself and steep yourself in learning about codependence, boundaries, and spiritual and emotional healing individually and in groups. and yeah, that’s free!”

we need to quit calling people who don’t like to be with people pastors because it is diminishing and unempowering the ones who do. it’s so funny to me how there are women in all kinds of churches who shepherd, love, and care for people and can’t ever be called “pastor” and yet i have seen men-who-can’t-stand-people-and-only-are-in-charge-of-networking-the-computers be called an “operations pastor.” it’s comical on one level, but on a whole other one, it’s not funny at all. my vote is to call preachers who never interact with a person in their congregation beyond the big-donors-they-golf-with “weekend communicators” or “executive directors” and reserve the word pastors for people who are providing spiritual and emotional care to people.

most people’s true “pastors” aren’t the pastor of their church, they are close friends or people in community who care for them and love them. the person who you are going to call when you are hurting, who will be with you in the hospital when you are sick, who loves your babies and cares about their well-being beyond just words, who will provide prayer and spiritual and emotional support when you need it, that’s your pastor. i have a lot of amazing pastors in my life–some with pastor titles, some without–but they are all lovely naturally gifted people that do all of these things for me in different ways. i have one challenge for us this week–tell those people, whoever they are, that you consider them one of your pastors and are thankful for their love & care. it will encourage them–and maybe surprise them more than you might expect. i think that is a step in the right direction to re-claim the word far beyond official church leaders.

i do believe there are all kinds of amazing pastors truly pastoring their churches. their gifts line up with their role and they love their people in amazing ways. i am privileged to know some of these pastors and see their heart for shepherding their communities. it doesn’t bother me a bit that they are called pastors; i honor their heart and commitment to live out what they are built to do. journeying with people is hard work, and i deeply respect those shepherds out there who are really shepherding.

like the word “church”, i don’t know if we will never be able to fully redeem the word “pastor.” i think it might be too far gone. there’s too much baggage with it. the seminary system that cultivates people who have to get “paid pastor” jobs to pay their bills after all that debt perpetuates it. people confusing leadership & pastoring perpetuate it. people who don’t have anyone to fan their natural gifts into flame and validate them will stay underground thinking they might not have what it takes to contribute as much as they could. and so we’ll keep re-creating little systems where there is a separation between the “professionals” and the “not-so-professionals”, the “strong leaders” from the “real shepherds” and those who aren’t the pros or loud or leader-y enough will continue to feel inadequate or unprepared or un-infused with support to use their gifts. i recently told someone that the refuge is “full of pastors.” it is. there are so many mercy-people, shepherds, true lovers of people. they have no education or training or any of the put-together requirements we have placed upon the role. but they naturally pastor people, advocating, caring, and loving for others.

i am not calling for the abolishment of pastors. i believe it is a beautiful and lovely gift; one of the many beautiful and lovely gifts that it takes to make a body whole. i’m just calling for a re-thinking of the word so that its true meaning & purpose shines through instead of associating it with a whole bunch of things that have absolutely nothing to do with the heart and spirit of pastoring...

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For the entire article click here.