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Thanks for visiting the website! This month’s picture was taken in Ecuador in August 2019, during a seminar I presented over the book fo Hebrews. [Click picture to enlarge.]

a seminar in Ecuador

Ministry and mission work is a team effort -- Jan and I have shared the task of ministry and mission work for over 50 years! Countless people have encouraged us, supported us, loved us, and prayed for us. In addition to the customary "Brother Bob" or "Hermano Bob," I am also known as dad and papaw in my family. One of my favorite breakfasts is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of rich Colombian coffee! The greatest joy of my life is being part of the kingdom; my #1 priority is to advance "kingdom things" and to help develop authentic "kingdom people." I seek to share the good news about Jesus everywhere I go, helping people find Jesus and helping people mature as disciples of Jesus. One of the greatest blessings of my life is to be loved by countless people around the world!


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Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category

Not By My Power

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

If you are like me, you want to be successful at whatever you attempt. Even more, you want to be perceived as successful by your peers. Maybe this attitude is a cultural thing, or perhaps it is a “man” thing (which is also a cultural thing). I know this: getting older often causes one to contemplate the accomplishments of life. It is easy to see one’s life as a failure.

Over a dozen years ago, Jan and I decided to leave my academic administration and teaching position at Ohio Valley University. Both of our fathers were experiencing severe declines in health, and we felt a strong need to be back in the center of the U.S. nearer our parents. We resigned with no place to go. We were not certain where God would lead. We were confident that God would provide.

A few months later, we ‘landed’ in McAlester, Oklahoma and spent almost two years in a delightful ministry, equipping a local church, developing new leadership, preaching and teaching, and relishing our return to the close relationships of local ministry. We were also blessed during this time to increase significantly our involvement in mission work.

Almost exactly two years after our resignation at Ohio Valley, Oklahoma Christian offered me the position of director of graduate Bible programs (in what is now the Graduate School of Theology) with primary responsibility to help get a new M.Div. program off the ground. I began in spring 2004, finishing out the 2003-04 academic year. I have described those months from April to August as getting one year’s work done in only four months. Through the next three and a half years, I worked in student development, financial and grants development, curriculum, program and track development, advertising and public relations, and taught several graduate classes. I got my “ministry fix” in a continuing string of interim ministry invitations—Blackwell, 29th and Yale in Tulsa, and Wellston. Along the way I also taught a regular Sunday afternoon Spanish Bible class at the Capitol Hill work in Oklahoma City. In 2006-2007 I served as Hispanic minister at the Edmond congregation to help get a new Spanish ministry off the ground.

As Jan and I look back over our life of ministry and service, we have been in quite a few places over 40 years of full-time ministry and academic administration. We have experienced the good times and the lean times. We have experienced those years where we witnessed (on average) a baptism every week. We have seen the church grow marvelously (I could say miraculously, meaning only that it was by God’s power). In 20 years of ministry with two different churches, we saw one church double over a decade and another church increase by 50% over a decade. We have also experienced the times of drought. We have preached in places where not one person signed on to follow Jesus for an entire year. We have enjoyed the fruit of God; we have patiently sowed the seed when it seemed nothing was happening. We have sowed the seed and seen it sprout in the most unlikely places; we have sowed it in seemingly good fields and seen it lay dormant with no results.

As I look back, I don’t remember what kind of results I expected when I began preaching. There weren’t many decisions to follow Christ in the little congregation where I grew up—mostly just the young people in the church were baptized. My early interactions with missionaries made clear that the goal in missions was bringing people to Jesus. It took me quite a while longer to see that goal also applied in our local congregations. Interestingly, in ministry I have always (for some reason unknown) counted baptisms. God eventually gave fruit in our ministry, and we didn’t even know what we were doing—only that he intended us to share the gospel message with everyone who would listen. The greatest fruit has come when we got out of the way and had no personal agenda or interest in recognition.

The challenge I see is that we who minister (and our churches) conclude if “we can make it happen” in one place, “we can make it happen” somewhere else. We expect amazing results always, and quickly. How arrogant and foolish! In a world that praises effective leaders and attributes success or failure in a ministry to people, it’s a reasonable expectation. But the conclusion is false. It is not by our power, but by God’s power.

When we learn this lesson afresh in our success-oriented churches and world, I believe we will return to the only source of power upon which we can depend. The gospel is God’s power for salvation. The church is powerless, weak, and diminishing exactly to the extent that it is failing to declare the marvelous mercies and glorious riches of the gospel. The church is shrinking because it has become hesitant to share the gospel, less certain that people outside of Jesus are lost. The church can reverse the trend when it learns where the real power is. The key is not in what we do, what kind of programs we offer, what kind of church we become, nor magic leaders. The power is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Who can you tell today?

It’s Sunday Again: What Time Is It?

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

My blogging friends know that the posting date/time stamp may not be the actual time of writing!  I confess–I am writing this on Saturday, but setting it to post on Sunday morning.
The spring time change! Spring forward! I call it the “bad” time change!

It is the “bad” time change because people refuse to get ready for what they know is coming. When our boys were growing up, Jan and I set the clocks forward early so that the time change occurred in our house on on Friday evening and Saturday morning. The boys got up on Saturday morning with the time change already done. Saturday was a shorter day (but not noticeably shorter). Despite all that has been written about how the time change is challenging because of body rhythms, our boys never seemed to notice. Sunday dawned fresh and new–with our family ready to worship God. This procedure may or may not work for you and your family, but I can tell you what won’t work.
What won’t work is to spend Saturday as normal, even stay up a little later than normal, and suddenly at bedtime remember that the clock has to go forward an hour. While some things are not easy to prepare for, I can guarantee you that total lack of preparation is almost certain to fail.

It is the “bad” time change because the church has forgotten that it has the responsibility of telling people what time it is. During our ministry at one church, the typical Sunday morning schedule was reversed–worship first, Bible classes second. [Not the subject of this writing, but if you’ve never experienced the freshness of fellowship and worship assemblies before Bible classes, you have no idea how it feels, what it does for the heart, how much calmer the kids are…..the list of positive observations is long!] With the worship assembly first, it was easier to manage scheduling. On several occasions during the year, the church shared worship without Bible classes following. We didn’t have Bible classes when we had guest speakers who were likely to preach longer than normal. We didn’t have Bible classes when we shared “special focus” worship times, for example, focusing on missions. And, we didn’t have Bible classes on the “bad” time change.
The instructions to the church members were to “come on the old time” and “leave on the new time”. We worshiped on the old schedule, and at the end of worship, set our clocks forward together. I usually preached on something related to “time.” Is it not the job of the church to let people know what time it is? In a previous time when churches had bells, wasn’t the reason to remind people of the time? Perhaps the church needs to rethink its responsibility to constantly tell people what time it is!

An Interesting Compliment: “He brought Jesus back to this church”

Monday, August 11th, 2014

In my experience, preachers get a lot of compliments. Maybe some don’t; God bless them! What is the highest compliment a preacher can get?

One compliment I think I will never forget.  It may qualify for the best ever. A church member said of her preacher, “He brought Jesus back to our church….” Thrilling, encouraging. Sad!—that Jesus would get lost down at the church, that the church would willingly or accidentally forget that Jesus is the center, that Jesus would be allowed to drop out of the vision of a church.

Would a church without Jesus miss him? Would they notice that he was gone? Is Jesus an essential part of what happens down at the church where you attend? If we are brutally honest with ourselves, too often the answer is “no”.

Woe be to preachers who let Jesus escape from the vision of the church! A great compliment: he brought Jesus back to our church! And that in a church whose sign says it belongs to Christ!

How Should We “Do” Church? (3)

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

In two previous articles, I have suggested some changes that we must make in how we “do church”. These include a renewed focus on Christ, Scripture, and others; a commitment to the world around us and a commitment to discipleship and involvement rather than consumerism.

Because I am a minister, and have spent my life preparing for ministry, studying ministry, practicing ministry, and teaching ministry, I conclude with four observations for my friends in ministry. I hope by sharing these in a more public forum that I can also help the church understand ministry. Such is essential, because we have developed a model of church where ministry is focused at the top of a pyramid in church leaders and paid staff. We have paid lip service to the thought that “every member is a minister,” but we have not practiced it well in most places.

What kind of minister will help us answer the challenges before us? What kind of minister will help the church be church? What kind of minister will help us “do church” effectively. While many answers can be given, I focus on four commitments from my own life.

  • I want to be a minister that helps the church encounter and wrestle with Scripture as the very Word of God. The preacher must preach the word as it is, not as we have always thought it was. Bible study must be fresh and vibrant. We must study to learn, not just to reinforce what we have always thought.
  • I want to be a minister that lets people see and experience Jesus in their everyday lives. This begins in my personal life when I see and experience Jesus daily. The church will not advance beyond its leaders. I must seek the spiritual life; I must model genuine surrender to the priorities and call of God in my life.
  • I want to be a minister that understands and feels with the hurts of the world that God wants to save. I want to speak the language of our world and culture.  I want to be a viable voice in a world of conflicting siren songs. I want Jesus to have a voice.
  • I want to be a minister that releases Jesus to a waiting world. While we live in a secular world where many have rejected the church, there are many in this world who have not turned their back on Jesus. These are waiting for someone who can show them the reality of Jesus. I want to minister in that way, in a church that has caught the vision.

How Should We “Do” Church (2)

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

[This blog is a continuation from yesterday. Here are some additional items to consider as we ask whether our focus is biblical and healthy.]

3.  We must focus on people more than task. We must know who we are, and not only what we must do. One can do the right things without being the right person. One cannot be the right person without doing the right things. Thus, we must move our focus from rules to relationships. We must focus on intimacy more than issues. People matter to God. The Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath. This priority will change your life. God is calling us to togetherness in Christ.

4.  We must focus externally more than internally. What we do as Christians, both down at the church house and in our daily lives, is not about us. It is all about God. It is about God’s desire and plan in this world. Thus, we must move our focus from the church (club) to the community. We must see God’s purpose in our world. We must learn to think glocally (both global and local). We must focus on God more than self.

5.  We must focus on genuine discipleship. You can be a member of most churches of Christ by doing nothing more than attending a time or two each month. You may be able to be a member of the church with such antics, but you cannot be a disciple of Jesus Christ! Discipleship is demanding. Discipleship is hard. Discipleship calls us to discomfort, and giving up self, and cross-bearing, and priorities that are not natural is our world. Discipleship calls our focus away from personal needs, possessions, prestige and prominence, power, and even parents. How should we do church? We should say to one another, because it is what the Bible says, that being a Christian is demanding. You cannot just “get by.” You cannot be half-hearted. Faithfulness is not something that is turned on and off. A Christian everywhere, or a Christian nowhere. Ever a Christian or never a Christian. Christianity changes more than our Sunday schedule.

6.  We must focus on involvement. We must move our focus from consumerism to involvement. The question is not, “what will the church do for me?”, but “what will I do for the church?” (to paraphrase the famous phrase of John F. Kennedy). We are not here to be consumers, and we must not guide our outreach and evangelism by encouraging others to become religious consumers. Church is not about getting comfortable. Jesus came to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. We should call people to become Christians, and to live that out daily. Discipleship is daily.

7.  We must focus outside the building. This is not easy. We have built religious centers that attract few. We have put up steeples to say, “Here is religion; here is the church.” God is calling us to be light and salt and leaven in our world. He is not calling us to see how many people we can get inside a building; he is calling us to see how many Christians we can get into our communities and world to provide an example of transformation and spiritual reality.

I hope we have the heart to learn how to do church right. If we fail in answering the call of Jesus in our contemporary world, I fear that we are destined to nothingness, and that more quickly than we can imagine.

How Should We “Do” Church? (1)

Monday, July 14th, 2014

A preacher friend of mine and I were visiting about the greeting program at the church where he ministers. He wanted to make some changes to insure a better contact with visitors. His problem? The same deacon had organized the greeters and the greeting program for a long time. It was generally ineffective. My preacher friend couldn’t make any headway against some strong opposition to improvement and change. The only solution we saw was to let the current program continue to function and institute a new parallel program that would do essentially the same thing, only better.

In the course of our conversation, he mentioned a conversation with a minister friend. His friend works in ministry outside the churches of Christ. His friend was trying to help him understand why the churches of Christ are plateaued or declining in growth and are generally ineffective in touching our current world. The comment of his friend was revealing: “You guys have the best preaching in the world. You know how to preach; you know how to work with the text. You just don’t know how to do church!”

You may not agree with this objective assessment from a person who understands ministry and is able to see us with unbiased eyes from a vantage point outside us. My worry is that he may be right. How should we do church? When we come together for worship, are our shared activities informed by Scripture (we would like to think so), by the world about us (God forbid!), or by a body of tradition and habit that has arisen over a long time (the most likely answer).
That this is generally true of our churches becomes more obvious when one spends a little time on the mission field. Our brothers and sisters in other places do a lot of things differently than we do. Visiting the mission field is fresh and vibrant. When I visit other places, I am challenged and encouraged.

Think with me. How must we change?
1.  We must focus on Christ. We must move from our historic focus on church to focus on Christ. Our allegiance is to Christ. He will never disappoint us. He is always the answer–to a whole host of problems. Christ is perfect; the church is imperfect. We are human. The church is not the goal, Christ is the goal. My little children, I suffer the pangs of birth for you, until Christ be formed in you. We conform our lives to Christ. He is our example and model. The model is not the NT church; the model is Christ. The church is the means to the end. This doesn’t mean we never talk about the church. You cannot have Christ without the church. But our focus is Christ. We must focus on Scripture more than tradition. We read the Scripture through the rose-colored glasses of our heritage and our traditions. We cannot change the slightest thing. We have lost freedom in Christ, exchanging it for a box of our own making.

2.  We must focus on others more than self. We must move from self-centeredness to others-centeredness. Christ did not come to the healthy, but to the sick. He did come to rescue saved people; he came to seek and save the lost. Frankly, what we do is mostly for us. We do what we do because we like it and are comfortable doing it. I could make a long list of things that we could do that would not contradict Scripture, but we will not do them because they contradict our traditions and move us outside our comfort zone.

Blessed to be a blessing….

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

In the last several months, Jan and I have enjoyed several opportunities to reflect on life and ministry. We have been invited to return to five congregations in which we ministered full-time. The opportunity to teach and preach in these churches has been a special blessing. These congregations represent 27 years of the time we spent in full-time local ministry. We have reminisced and rejoiced as we shared time with brothers and sisters who are dear to us. We have been blessed by their continued generosity and interest in the ministry and mission we are now pursuing.
In addition, we have reconnected with several special friends from our past, spending time with Ken and Joy Dillman (15th Street, Tulsa) and Bill and Betty Sims (Plymouth, Michigan). Last Sunday we were in Bella Vista, Arkansas for a Mission Emphasis Sunday. While there, we were blessed to spend some time with Lowell and Judith Carmical whom we also knew in Plymouth, Michigan.
We are continually amazed at friendships in Christ that do not end even though time and miles separate us. Heaven will indeed be a wonderful place of glory and grace!

It is easy for us to lose perspective. Sometimes, Jan and I look longingly at those who have lived in the same place for many years and have life-long friends with whom they regularly spend time. We try to imagine what it would be like to have such roots and stability, with friendships that have been continuously nurtured and enjoyed. We are tempted to jealousy, but we are brought back to reality when those very people remind us that we have friends around the world.
Friends around the world! Friends in Christ in most of the states of our nation; brothers and sisters in Christ among the nations of our world. We are bound together by love in Christ, hope for the future, and prayer for one another.

“Dear God, help me never forget that I am blessed to be a blessing. Thank you for the wonderful way you have blessed our lives with friends and spiritual family in Jesus.”

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