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.

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.

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.