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 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 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,

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.