Thursday, November 29

Getting to know one another through our stories

Of the 50+ "one anothers" in the New Testament, I am not aware of any that exhort us to listen to one another's stories. Yet, I know of no better way to begin fulfilling the one another passages than by getting to know each other's stories.

Listening to one another's stories:

-brings us together
-unites us
-makes us more human
-gives us context for understanding each other better
-reveals our hearts
-corrects misconceptions
-draws us together
-makes us more of a "real" person
-reveals what we have in common
-makes us appreciate others more
-reveals areas we were unaware of before
-reveals how much more we have in common than differences
-fills in gaps about the "why's" of people's actions/behavior
-rids us of false impressions we might have had
-clarifies things we only vaguely knew before
-and a lot more...

The sum total of the above is that we are drawn together to better:

-be of the same mind toward one another
-be devoted to one another
-give greater preference to one another
-help to not judge one another
-build up one another
-accept one another
-bear one another's burdens
-care for one another
-serve one another
-tolerate one another in love
-be kind to one another
-be subject to one another
-consider one another more important than ourselves
-bear with one another
-forgive one another

These and other similar exhortations draw us closer to fulfilling the command of Christ to truly love one another as God loves us.

Sadly, most of us define people by a few skewed perceptions. We are quick to label a person based upon what someone else has said about them, or our own quick conclusions from distorted or partial facts. People seem a lot different when we know their story.

I know in my own life I do this all the time. I tend to define people by a single action, word, attitude, behavior, or impression. A brief encounter and I unconsciously label people: boring/interesting, liberal/conservative, shallow, uninteresting, creative, cry-baby, know-it-all, hick, bad/good, want to know better/never want to see again, useful, proud, etc. How is it that we are so quick to define an entire person's life solely on the basis of a quick impression, out-of-context facts, an incident, appearances, a word spoken, or hasty conclusions?

It upsets me to know others define me as something I am not. It hurts to be unfairly labled by the distorted conclusions people make about me based upon fragments of my story.

Recently I was hurt to find out a fellow brother in Christ despises me in his heart. This is someone with whom we have worked closely for many years. Why? I was born in the USA. No other considerations factor into the equation. I am an American, therfore I am the embodiment of all that he thinks is wrong about America. He doesn't see Guy Muse, he sees an ugly American.

Unfair? Of course it is. But that is what most of us do all the time with each other. We make judgements about people based on a few distorted facts or impressions without knowing the other persons story.

Suggestions for telling our story:

-allow time for "small talk" but suggest listening to one another's stories
-"break the ice" by being the first to share your story
-take the time needed to really hear one another's story
-ask questions allowing for further clarification
-share only what you are comfortable sharing, but enough to allow us to get to know the real you
-share family background and upbringing
-share struggles (people tend to identify more with weaknesses than achievements)
-influences in my life, key people
-how I got to where we are now
-who I am in my own eyes, how do I see myself?
-key milestones in my spiritual journey
-how I met Jesus
-events/experiences that have helped shape my life
-passions, interests, hobbies
-dreams, goals
-mistakes and what was learned
-pray for the person after hearing their story

What is important in all the above is that we get to know each other beyond that which is superficial. What makes people interesting is what is on the inside. The more we know one another, the easier it is to love and accept them for who they are. We want to know the real you, not the masks we hide behind. To know is to know.

Tuesday, November 27

One of the most talked about but least practiced passages of Scripture

Then Jesus came to them and said,  "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  (Matthew 28:18-20)
The Great Commission is surely one of the most most talked about, yet least practiced passages of Scripture.

Why do I say this?

Because of its familiarity. Most of us just assume that what we and our church are doing is fulfilling the Great Commission.

But is it?

The reason this passage can be such a stumbling block is that we do a lot of talking about and believe these words, but when it comes to putting them into practice, we end up doing something entirely different from what Jesus originally commanded. We read these verses one way, but practice them another.

Here is how many believers today interpret Jesus' words...

JESUS SAID: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
HOW WE ACTUALLY PUT THIS INTO PRACTICE: All authority has been given to to our pastor/denomination/church. These are our spiritual guides (covering). What they have to say weighs more in what we do (or not do), than what Jesus commanded. Permission to engage in the GC must first come from our leaders. Jesus is not sufficiently authoritative by himself.

JESUS SAID: Therefore, GO...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND: We understand "go" to mean come. Come to our church, youth group, event, concert, etc. Come is a lot more convenient for us than actually trying to find the time to go and engage relationally those who are lost and need the Good News. We go on mission trips, go to camp, go to conferences and concerts with high-profile Christian mega-stars, etc. The lost are expected to somehow find their way to us. They are supposed to come to our meetings and events planned for them. For the occasional permission granted to actually GO, those going are expected to bring home with them any who might respond. We can't have believers out there "doing their own thing" and starting "splinter churches." Real church is "mama church."

JESUS SAID: MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND:  Since we really do not know how to make disciples, we believe that what this means is that they need to hear the Gospel. Therefore, we focus on evangelistic events and invite people to pray and receive Christ. Church sports activities, Fall Festivals, youth car washes, Christmas pageants, and musical concerts are understood to be the appropriate means to reach people. Those handful who might raise their hand at one of our events are given an envelope of church literature. But "make disciples" is understood to be that they will now start coming to our church. There they will meet other believers, and hopefully learn more about God's Word and somewhere along the path turn into disciples (whatever that is).

JESUS SAID: BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND: This certainly does not mean I should be the one to baptize the new believer. If someone makes a profession of faith, it is my responsibility to make an appointment and introduce them to the pastor of the church. There they will be, 1) warmly received, 2) invited to participate in a new believer's class to prepare them for baptism, 3) when there are enough ready to be baptized and there are no circumstances which would prevent them from being baptized, 4) schedule a date on the church calendar, and 5) watch as the pastor baptizes them as part of one of our regular scheduled church services.

JESUS SAID: TEACHING THEM TO OBEY everything I have commanded you...
HOW WE ACTUALLY PRACTICE THIS COMMAND: The newly baptized believer is then expected to begin attending church on a regular basis. There they observe how other Christians look, talk, and act. "Church Culture" is quickly assimilated about what is acceptable, and not acceptable. Basically it is understood that the new believer will learn God's Word through the listening of the weekly preaching of the pastor, and maybe if we can get them up early enough, a Sunday School class.

With this understanding of the Great Commission, is it any wonder people think we are controversial in our teaching? But I ask--JUST AS WE ASK THOSE WE TRAIN--did Jesus really mean what he said?

Sunday, November 25

Lottie Moon quotes*

“What we need in China is more workers. The harvest is very great, the laborers, oh! So few. Why does the Southern Baptist church lag behind in this great work?"
Nov. 1, 1873, Tungchow

"How many there are ... who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God."
Sept. 15, 1887, Tungchow

"Why should we not ... instead of the paltry offerings we make, do something that will prove that we are really in earnest in claiming to be followers of him who, though he was rich, for our sake became poor?"
Sept. 15, 1887, Tungchow

"Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?"
Sept. 15, 1887, Tungchow

"Why this strange indifferences to missions? Why these scant contributions? Why does money fail to be forthcoming when approved men and women are asking to be sent to proclaim the "unsearchable riches of Christ" to the heathen?"
Oct. 3, 1887, Pingtu

"A young man should ask himself not if it is his duty to go to the heathen, but if he may dare stay at home. The command is so plain: "Go."”
Nov. 1, 1873, Tungchow

"Oh! That my words could be as a trumpet call, stirring the hearts of my brethren and sisters to pray, to labor, to give themselves to this people. But some will say, "we must have results, else interest flags"...We are now, a very, very few feeble workers, scattering the grain broadcast according as time and strength permit. God will give the harvest; doubt it not. But the laborers are so few.  Where we have four, we should have not less than one hundred. Are these wild words? They would not seem so were the church of God awake to her high privilege and her weighty responsibilities."
Nov. 11, 1878, Pingtu

"The needs of these people press upon my soul, and I cannot be silent. It is grievous to think of these human souls going down to death without even one opportunity of hearing the name of Jesus...Once more I urge upon the consciences of my Christian brethren and sisters the claims of these people among whom I dwell. Here I am working alone in a city of many thousand inhabitants, with numberless villages clustered around or stretching away in the illuminate distance: how many can I reach?"
Oct. 3, 1887, Pingtu

"I would I had a thousand lives that I might give them to ... China!"
Aug. 27, 1888, Zhenjiang

"When the gospel is allowed to grow naturally in China, without forcing processes of development, the 'church in the house' is usually its first form of organization. God grant us faith and courage to keep 'hands off' and allow this new garden of the Lord's planting to ripen in the rays of the Divine Love, free from human interference!"
Sept. 10, 1890, Pingtu

*quotes taken from website: Quotables: Lottie Herself and "Send the Light: Lottie Moon's Letters and Other Writings" edited by Keith Harper.

Friday, November 23

I cannot be silent - Lottie Moon of China

Who was Lottie Moon?

Lottie Moon - the namesake of the international missions offering - has become something of a legend to us. But in her time Lottie was anything but an untouchable hero. In fact, she was like today's missionaries. She was a hard-working, deep-loving Southern Baptist who labored tirelessly so her people group could know Jesus.

Why was the "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering" named for this early China missionary? Throughout her career, Lottie Moon wrote numerous letters home, urging Southern Baptists to greater missions involvement and support. One of those letters triggered Southern Baptists' first Christmas offering for international missions - enough to send three new missionaries to China.

Lottie served 39 years as a missionary, mostly in China's Shantung province. She taught in a girls' school and often made trips into China's interior to share the good news with women and girls. Lottie frequently wrote letters to the United States, detailing Chinese culture, missionary life and the great physical and spiritual needs of the Chinese people. Additionally, she challenged Southern Baptists to go to China or give so that others could go. By 1888, Southern Baptist women had organized and helped collect $3,315 to send workers needed in China. Lottie died aboard a ship in the Japanese harbor of Köbe on Dec. 24, 1912. She was 72 years old.

In 1918, Woman's Missionary Union (WMU) named the annual Christmas offering for international missions after the woman who had urged them to start it. Dec. 24, 2012, will mark 100 years since the death of Lottie Moon. The final day of Week of Prayer (Dec. 2-9) is dedicated to Lottie Moon, a portrait of obedience who influenced thousands to follow her, going just as boldly, obediently and sacrificially.

For several years now, my wife and I have set aside a percentage every month that we give to this missions offering.  Will you pray and ask the Lord how much He would lead you to give to this offering so that His Name might be known amongst the nations?  Like Lottie Moon, we cannot be silent.

Thursday, November 22

Impacto Mundial's Ghana Missions Trip

We are so proud of the eleven who worked so hard for so many months to make this trip to Ghana. The Lord did many wonderful things in and through them during the two weeks they traveled the country. Please pray with us that God would strengthen the call to make disciples of the nations that was begun on this trip.

Tuesday, November 20

La definición de la iglesia según el Nuevo Testamento

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

Lo que vemos 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 cada iglesia local era de "2 o 3 unidos en su nombre," o el número de personas que normalmente podrían entrar 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.

Sunday, November 18

What is the best way to start a church?

Answer: Start a church!

Back in the mid-70's, while getting a music degree from the University of North Texas, I was active in the church choir at Grace Temple Baptist Church. Terry Fansler was an extraordinary church musician, conductor and mentor. Terry believed, "the best way to have a great choir is to have a great choir."

These words can be applied to just about any worthwhile endeavor...

The best way to share the Gospel? Share the Gospel!
The best way to make disciples? Make disciples!
The best way to start a church? Start a church!

It seems a lot of our failure to obey the commands of Christ is rooted in our thinking if we can just somehow get people together and share with how to do something, they will somehow go out and implement everything we have taught them to do.


Personally, I think we have some of the best contextualized church planting materials and methodology being used in Latin America. But the best means nothing unless implemented. What is missing?


Desire may be there, but if there is no real intention of planting a church, a church will not be planted.

I may desire to lose 20 lbs. Believe I need to lose 20 lbs. Feel convicted about losing 20 lbs. Pray about losing 20 lbs. But I will never lose 20 lbs. until I actually start by losing those first few pounds on my way to losing 20 lbs.  

You have to do it, to do it!

Well meaning believers have been coming to our trainings for many years. But the truth is, very few have the intention of actually planting a church. It doesn't matter how good the trainers are, how wonderful the materials are, or how excited people get, IF THEY DO NOT PERSONALLY INTEND ON BEING AN INSTRUMENT IN THE LORD'S HANDS TO PLANT A CHURCH, THEY WILL NOT PLANT A CHURCH.

So, what needs to be done? How do we address this issue?

In our case, we will train anyone for ONE MONTH making sure they have all the basics that are needed to get started.  After one month, though, it is DECISION MAKING TIME.  Either DO IT NOW, or don't come back. The only way to plant a church is to get out there and plant a church. Those who do start at least one group (what we call an outreach group), we will continue to train/mentor/coach. But for those who don't?  Well, Dios te has been fun...see ya around...thanks for your time...chao (good-bye!)

Does this sound too harsh? Un-Christlike? Too much like the business world? How did Jesus respond to the undecided, wavering, excuse-making disciples in Luke 9:57-62? 

As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, "I will follow You wherever You go." And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." [that 'someone' never appears again in the pages of the NT] 
And He said to another, "Follow Me." But he said, "Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father." But He said to him, "Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God." [Jesus leaves this guy at the cemetery and moves on] 
Another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." [Jesus declares this guy 'not fit'. He too disappears from the scene.]

What do you think about these things? What has been your experience in training church planters? If you have personally experienced a better way to start churches (not something you might have read in a book, but something you have actually done and it works), THEN PLEASE SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH US. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, November 17

He made us in order to use us for His purposes, not our own

I am currently re-reading Evelyn Underhill's The Spiritual Life.  It is one of those rare classics that continues to speak as freshly today as it did when first published in 1937. While the book is in reality a series of transcribed radio broadcast talks, it remains a powerful reminder that we belong to Him, and God doesn't have to explain himself to us or make things work according to how we want them to be.

"He made us in order to use us, and use us in the most profitable way; for His purpose, not ours. To live a spiritual life means subordinating all other interests to that single fact.
Sometimes our positions seems to be that of tools; taken up when wanted, used in ways which we had not expected for an object on which our opinion is not asked, and then laid down.
Sometimes we are the currency used in some great operation, of which the purpose is not revealed to us.
Sometimes we are servants, left year in, year out to the same monotonous job.
Sometimes we are conscious fellow-workers with the Perfect, striving to bring the Kingdom in.
But whatever our particular place or job may be, it means the austere conditions of the workshop, not the free-lance activities of the messy but well-meaning amateur; clocking in at the right time and tending the machine in the right way. Sometimes, perhaps, carrying on for years with a machine we do not very well understand and do not enjoy; because it needs doing, and no one else is available. Or accepting the situation quite quietly when a job we felt that we were managing excellently is taken away. Taking responsibility if we are called to it, or just bringing the workers their dinner, cleaning and sharpening the tools. All self-willed choices and obstinacy drained out of what we thought to be our work; so that it becomes more and more God's work in us." (pages 75-76)

Thursday, November 15

C.L. Culpepper's audio testimony of the China Shantung Revival

This moving and powerful personal account by Southern Baptist missionary C.L. Culpepper of the Shantung Revival in China in the 1920's (one of the most remarkable mass moving of the Holy Spirit in history) continues to move and convict me each time I listen.

More than ever before, we need to be listening to the voices of these saints of old as they wrestled with personal sin and allowed the fullness of the Spirit of God to do what He so much wants to do--bring revival to his people! If only those of us who are called by His name, "will humble ourselves and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways," then He promises to "hear from heaven, forgive our sin and heal our land."

This testimony is well worth the 50-minutes it will take to listen. Many believe this revival was the catalyst for the house church movement that has flourished in spite of communist persecution for nearly 75 years in China.

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If you aren't familiar with it is a gold mine of free downloadable audio messages from the likes of A.W. Tozer, Leonard Ravenhill, Ray Steadman, Duncan Campbell, John Piper, David Wilkerson, T. Austin Sparks, and dozens more--even clips by William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army!

Wednesday, November 14

Things God is teaching me

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 careful how and what I communicate with others. If I am unable to build someone up, it is better to remain silent than use words that will 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 those things I assume I can handle on my own without his input.

This is the day the Lord has made. It is up to me to choose whether or not I will rejoice and be glad in it. This is a daily choice.

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 allows these things in my life?

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,
Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries...

Am I seeing God in every common bush, or am I one of those plucking blackberries?

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13

Follow-up letter from Wolfgang Simson

On November 7, the day after Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term as President of the United States, I posted a letter received from Wolfgang and Mercy Simson entitling my post Are we confusing the Kingdom of God with the United States of America? This turned out to be one of my most read posts of the past five years!

Due to the large volume of response to their original letter, a couple of days later, Wolfgang and Mercy sent out a Follow-up to the letter "Our Dear America" to address many of the questions and concerns generated by their original letter. If you were challenged by their original letter, I highly recommend you take a few minutes to reflect upon this more detailed explanation.

Monday, November 12

Why everyone is NOT a missionary

Herbert Kane writes, "The Chinese have a proverb: If two men feed a horse, it will lose weight; if two men keep a boat, it will soon leak. What is everybodys job is nobodys job. If every Christian is a missionary, missionary work is bound to suffer. It is correct to say that every Christian is, or should be, a witness. It is not correct to say that every Christian is a missionary."
One of the common misconceptions about missions is that all believers are missionaries. It continues to be stated so often that few question the validity of this oft quoted misconception making the rounds from our pulpits and missions conferences.  I truly wish it were true, but frequent repetition does not make it so.  I personally believe we need to correct the language we are using and stop calling all believers missionaries. Gordon Olson says it well when he states:
"If every Christian is already considered a missionary, then all can stay put where they are, and nobody needs to get up and go anywhere to preach the gospel. But if our only concern is to witness where we are, how will people in unevangelized areas ever hear the gospel?"

The Great Commission is taking the Gospel to our Jerusalem. This is where we live. It is where most of our time, efforts and ministry are centered. But Holy Spirit empowered believers are likewise charged to be His witnesses to their Judea, Samaria, and, yes: the ends of the earth--the nations.
When we begin to move beyond our Jerusalem and seek to engage our Judea, Samaria, and the nations--then, we become misionaries--the sent ones that we are meant to be.
I believe Jesus intent was for us to be fully engaged in all four regional dimensions of the Great Commission. Too many have deceived themselves into believing they "aren't called to missions."  Really? It would seem the burden of proof would be more on the side of our being NOT CALLED to engage the nations. For too long, disciples of Christ have excused themselves from doing what Jesus commanded simply because they have chosen to live a life to their own pleasing. It has nothing to do with anything God might be asking of us and His call on our lives.
When we lose sight of just how serious our Lord was about Acts 1:8 we run the risk the disobedient Jerusalem church ran into in Acts 8:1
"And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria...those who had been scattered went about preaching the word..."
It took some serious persecution allowed by the Lord himself to get them to obey, and engage their Judea, Samaria, and ends of the earth. In our present imbalance of uneven distribution of Christians, do we not think the same could again happen today? Just how serious was our Lord when He commanded us to "make disciples of the nations?"
So everyone may indeed NOT be a missionary, but it is my belief that we should deliberately seek to do everything in our power to make sure we ARE missionaries.

Friday, November 9

Como sembramos nuevas iglesias

Hay dos pasos...

  1. Reúne a las personas.
  2. Haga discípulos.
Suena sencillo, pero no es fácil. Ambos puntos tienen que ser bañados día y noche en oración continuo.

Reúne a las personas. Es más fácil reunir a personas y ganarlas para Cristo, que ganar a personas y tratar de reunirlas. La mejor forma que sabemos para reunir a gente es con la comida (sí, con comida real que a todos nos gusta!)

Invite a sus amigos, familia, y vecinos a comer. La idea de las comidas es llegar a conocernos. Al conocernos mejor, se crea confianza. Comiendo juntos es una forma natural de empezar a relacionarnos con quienes eventualmente queremos ser iglesia.

No hay un devocional planeado para después de la comida. No tenemos una Biblia escondida debajo de la mesa que sacamos mientras todas terminan su postre! Si un tema espiritual surge en forma natural de alguien en el grupo, siga el liderazgo del Espíritu Santo. Comparta abiertamente como Cristiano que eres, pero no domine el diálogo. No trate de corregir o tener la última palabra en cuanto a los temas que salen.

Si las cosas les va bien, anima a todos traer uno o dos amigos más para la próxima vez. Pregunte quién podría traer una bebida, empanadas, fruta, humitas, torta, sanduches, etc. al próximo encuentro. Desde el principio vaya enseñando que el Cristianismo es compartir el uno con el otro de lo que tenemos.

Haga discípulos. Continúe con las reuniones de comida por tres o cuatro semanas hasta que haya suficiente confianza y amistad entre los integrantes del grupo. Durante estos primeros encuentros utilice actividades de grupo que puedan animar que la gente dialogue de temas espirituales. Recuerde, Ud. está orando día y noche por todas estas personas y lo que Dios va a hacer en sus vidas!

En el contexto Ecuatoriano donde hay una apertura hacia el evangelio, uno puede introducir estos elementos tempranamente, aun en la primera reunión. Especialmente si la “persona de paz” es bien conocida y respetada por las demás personas en el grupo.

Usamos una variedad de herramientas. Cuales elementos usamos depende del grupo con quien estamos trabajando, su receptividad a asuntos espirituales, etc. Algunas de las herramientas que sabemos usar para romper el hielo y abarcar temas esprituales son:

• Videos cortos bajados de YouTube. En el VCD hay 6 juegos de videos con tres temas que rotan entre 1) un rompehielos chistoso, 2) un valor humano, y 3) un drama, relato o historia Cristiana

• Escuchando las historias de vida de cada uno en el grupo (ej. ¿dónde nacieron, un poco de su niñez y juventud, su familia, sus sueños, trabajo, etc.)

• Cantando juntos con un cancionero acompañado por CDs

• Rompehielos (tenemos una lista larga de que escoger según el grupo)

• Lista de preguntas preparadas de antemano para llegar a conocernos mejor (también están en una hoja)

• En grupos que están abiertas y deseando estudiar directamente la Palabra de Dios podemos usar la herramienta “Siete Señales de Juan” (un estudio evangelístico de la vida de Jesús.)

Escogemos de nuestra “cajita de herramientas” la más apropiada para el grupo. Después de tres o cuatro semanas tendremos una mejor idea de quienes de los asistentes tienen más seriedad en cuanto a las cosas de Dios. Recuerde, nuestra meta es hacer discípulos, no convertidos. Un discípulo sigue a Cristo. Un convertido sigue a una religión. Estos discípulos-en-formación van a estar en diferentes niveles de entendimiento y compromiso con el Señor. Algunos bien podrían haber confesado su fe en Cristo, otros no. Seguimos reuniendo semana tras semana animando siempre a todos seguir invitando a sus amigos.

Al llegar la tercera o cuarta semana, hacemos al grupo una pregunta clave,

¿CUANTOS DE NOSOTROS DIRÍAMOS QUE AMAMOS A DIOS? Después de darles la oportunidad de alzar la mano, compartimos las palabras de Jesús,

Si me amáis, guardaréis mis mandamientos...El que tiene mis mandamientos y los guarda, ése es el que me ama; y el que me ama será amado por mi Padre; y yo lo amaré y me manifestaré a él. --Juan 14:15,21

Un discípulo de Cristo es alguien quién obedece las cosas que mandó Jesús. Nadie puede ser un seguidor de Cristo sin guardar sus mandamientos.

¿Cuáles son algunos de los mandamientos de Cristo que deberíamos guardar?

A partir de allí empezamos con el Primer Mandamiento de Jesús: Mateo 22:36-40.

Pedimos a tres personas leer el pasaje en voz alta.

Después hacemos TRES PREGUNTAS del pasaje...

¿Qué nos manda hacer Jesús en este pasaje? Diganos en sus propias palabras lo que Ud. entendió.

¿Qué significan estas palabras de Jesús?

¿Cómo vamos a poner en práctica este mandamiento? ¿Qué acción específica vamos a hacer para cumplir con lo que Jesús nos está mandando hacer?

Estas tres preguntas forman el modelo para seguir usando con el resto de los “Diez Mandamientos de Jesús” que se estudiarán semana por semana. Una vez que este patrón de auto-alimentarse se aprende, puede ser usado con cualquier pasaje de la Biblia y fácilmente es reproducible aun con nuevos creyentes quienes también pueden empezar nuevos grupos con sus propios amigos y familia.

También a partir de este primer mandamiento de Jesús en Mateo 22, enseñamos el uso de una herramienta que consta de un marcador para ayudar a todos obedecer lo que Jesús nos mandó. Un GRUPO DE TRES consta en tres personas quienes se ponen de acuerdo reunirse durante la semana para cumplir con TRES propósitos: 1) un plan para empezar a leer la Biblia, 2) preguntas para rendir cuentas entre los tres, 3) orar el uno por el otro y por amigos/familia que necesitan del amor de Dios.

Hay otros detalles más, pero esto básicamente es como capacitamos a obreros para abrir iglesias en las casas. Le invitamos a probarlo para ver como le va. El paso más importante es HACERLO. En el camino habrán muchas preguntas, dudas, etc. pero todas estas tienen solución en hacer camino al andar.

Wednesday, November 7

Are we confusing the Kingdom of God with the United States of America?

The following is a public letter received this morning from our friends Wolfgang and Mercy Simson in Germany. I think there is much to ponder in their words. Are we the people, who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ confusing the Kingdom of God with the United States of America? Where do our true loyalties lie? 

"Our dear America – where do you go from here?"

Today, Obama has been re-elected; all the efforts of many Christian leaders, prayer movements, “prophets” and “concerned Americans” who have lobbied, written appeals, articles, books, letters-some have even done films to warn not to vote for him have come to nothing. Many of them have behaved as if the future of the Kingdom of God is at stake. Well, it is not.

Can we, as foreigner who dearly love you as a people, say a few words into this situation? Because it is evident to us that God has a clear plan with your nation. But many don't seem to see it, and therefore run the danger of fighting the wrong fight, wasting precious time and resources, and even endlessly call upon God to do what he just will not do.

The German weekly Der Spiegel, kind of a German Time magazine, has a cover picture of Uncle Sam in bed, titled, The American Patient: The Decline of a Great Nation. We think this is a prophetic picture. As your friends, we know, acknowledge and admire that America has had a great past. But how will your future look like?

God chastises whom he loves because he knows: pride will come before the fall, and humbleness and brokenness is the only condition he responds to. We personally sense we need to tell you: the destiny of your nation is in God’s hands, not yours. It is not at all about Obama or Romney, it is about God using all the nations in the world according to his global and unchanging plans. Did you ever allow the thought that God in his sovereignty is using Obama like a pawn on his chessboard to humble the US as a nation because he wants to show his grace to a nation gone completely selfsufficient?  A nation that is so full of independence, individualism, nationalism and trusting a greed-and-fear-based economy that there may be only one way open to heal it from its idolatry and re-align itself with the Kingdom of God: a crisis beyond anything that America has ever seen?

In 2008, God has been challenged by a man standing up in public, preaching to the cheers of a huge crowd: “Yes we can!” We watched it; we saw the tears of excitement in the eyes of the people; the statements were received as if coming from the Messiah himself, and the electoral rallies had all the flavor of a religious revival. "Yes, we can" is the exact opposite of the King of kings saying: "Without me, you can do nothing!"

If God is the one who "deposes kings and raises up others" (Dan 2:21), does it really matter what are the names of the current puppets set in place by God that advance both the New World Order and the Kingdom of God? Neither Herod, Pilate nor Cesar were truly important for the development of the Kingdom. That is exactly why Kingdom people do not play in the Second League, but the First, the one that matters. The one that puts the Kingdom first, and everything else-including their own nation-second.

The problem of the current commotion and insecurities arises when even the people that call themselves after God keep confusing the Kingdom of God with the United States of America. And when that happens, especially through Christians with a public voice, then we have truly lost all perspective of the coming Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the predictions he has made that will precede his coming.

America is being publicly humbled by God; and he is going to use Obama-and those after him-to further advance his agenda that will lead all nations to kneel before that one true King Jesus very soon. If any nation wants to become a tower that reaches up to high heaven, it will be humbled by a God who will not share his glory with people relying on their own strength.

America, where do you go from here? What does this mean for you? The future is going to be very, very rough. Your securities will vanish, the economy will go down, the education system will become even worse, the streets more dangerous, the churches even more divided, the youth even more disillusioned-unless there is a true movement that abandons all those idols mentioned above, and radically repents, makes a radical alignment with the King of the Kingdom of God and his constitution, live the Law of Christ in all areas of life, first and foremost in the areas of sex, money, power and how we “do church”. This is a defining moment for you as a nation. You could go down, as the German journalist of ‘Der Spiegel’ predicted. Or, America could be literally re-invented by Kingdom people who are ready to implode the prevailing myths about Americas greatness, and replace it by God’s greatness. The King has even greater things purposed and would fulfill those purpose IF those who call themselves after Jesus the King, would turn away from their self-made religion, self-made churches and religious factions, self-made visions of success, and their self-made, harmless God.

Can we lovingly but urgently call you back at this hour to begin and initiate a movement to reposition and repatriate yourselves into the eternal Kingdom, by submitting yourself not only in theory but also in practical deeds to Jesus the King, starting to obey the King and his liberating decrees in all the areas that count? You might even want to write a declaration of dependence on God and each other, because by idolizing anything else before and over God, you will become illegal aliens in the country that counts, where we all are called to have our home: the Kingdom, the one place where our true citizenship, nationality and allegiance lies (Phil 3:20). This is the only one country that will not be shaken, as it has an unchanging King.

If there is any way that we can help you in this great challenge and task – we want you to know we will.

Wolfgang and Mercy Simson, Germany

Monday, November 5

Keys to sustain a church planting movement

Recently a friend and co-laborer was in Cuba investigating the remarkable church planting movement that continues to flourish on this island of 11-million people. While there he asked one of the leaders who has been at the center of this movement what they thought were the keys in bringing about and sustaining the church planting movement that has being going on now for close to 20 years. His response was the following in bold (the comments after are my friend's observations which he shared with us):
1. Extraordinary prayer is fundamental.  Prayer is the fuel that powers the church planting movement in Cuba and the key to its success. Each of the last four years Cubans have participated in 50 days of prayer and fasting for spiritual renewal, evangelism and church planting. More importantly, prayer is not a once a year program, but a daily part of Cuban life. Like the early church, members pray in the temple, in homes, and on the street. Multiple prayer groups meet daily; prayer vigils are common; “Mothers Who Pray” meets weekly to intercede for the youth of the country; and Wednesday night prayer meeting is actually that, a protracted time of prayer. Prayer is also part of the Cuban evangelism strategy. Church members establish friendships with their unsaved neighbors, ask how they can pray for them, pray for the neighbors’ felt needs, not just once, but continually throughout the week, determine how God is responding to the prayers, and as God answers, look for open doors to share the gospel.

2. One must never lose the vision of planting churches.  The second thing that impressed me about the work on the island of Cuba is the singleness of purpose. It doesn’t matter which church you visit – historical, cell, or house – each has the same goal: MPI (movimiento de plantación de iglesias) [CPM-church planting movement.] They want to see a church within walking distance of everyone on the island.  How did all churches come together to have a common vision and work together for the same end? According to Cuban leaders there are two key factors:
  1. The MPI began as a spark passing from pastor to pastor not from the convention or association to the churches. It spread from below, not from above. Their advice is “don’t argue or struggle to convince others of the vision; make it so attractive that others become envious of what you are doing. Spend more time praying for the pastors who oppose the new paradigm than you spend debating with them about its merits.”  
  2. The MPI did not create a divorce between the historic church and the house church. Both are biblical patterns, and it serves no purpose in arguing that one model is better than another. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Each model appeals to different people. The key is that each church, no matter the type, multiplies itself by starting a new work where none exists.

3. Evangelism must be systematic and strategic.  Without question, the thing that impressed me most about my visit to Cuba was the passion of the people to do the work of the Lord. All--from the youngest to the oldest--are using their God-given talents and gifts to extend His kingdom. Cubans have the same demands of work and family as all of us, plus the added burden of inadequate public transportation. Nevertheless they find the time everyday to pray, share their faith, and participate in a house church, outreach event, or social action program.

4. Continuous training is essential, using people who are dedicated full-time to this task.  Leaders of groups find time to get training and to train others. Over and over it was emphasized that no plan or program we present, no matter how good it may be, will be successful if not accompanied by a passion to do the work of the Lord. Where does this passion come from? What motivates the people? According to the leaders I interviewed, this passion does not stem from focusing on the number of lost people around us.  Instead, it stems from a great love for Christ.  Only our love for Him is capable of motivating us to obey, and only when we are obedient will we love others and seek to make them disciples.

5. Keep the new churches focused on reaching out, not focusing inward on their own needs and structure. While my friend did not comment on this particular point, my own experience of visiting Cuba twice in the past is that the focus was all about those around them who had not yet come to know our Lord. The attention, prayer, visits were for those outside the church. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" was something I felt personally being in their midst as love was poured upon me without expectation of anything in return. This same kind of love was contstantly poured out on those around them.

6. Avoid a divorce between the traditional and house church.  The church planting movement in Cuba is based on unity. Historic churches, cell churches and house churches not only co-exist but work cooperatively to extend the kingdom of God. How did this come about? Some say that it evolved based on the government’s prohibition against new church buildings; others attribute it to the government’s tacit approval of small groups meeting in homes. While both of these factors influenced the present situation, the most important factor was the conviction, after carefully studying God’s word, that each model of church has a scriptural basis and there is no room for debate over which model of church is correct.
To read more in detail about the Cuban CPM that continues to flourish, Cuba's Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement by Kurt Urbanek is a must-read. My own copy is heavily high-lighted and highly recommended reading for anyone involved in church planting. The Spanish version of the book can be purchased here.