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Thanks for visiting our website! Picture of the Month: sharing the word in Pilanqui, Ibarra, Ecuador; a view of part of the crowd, two baptisms. [Click picture to enlarge.]

Preaching in Pilanqui

Ministry is always a team effort--Jan and I have shared the work of ministry and missions for 48+ years! Countless others have encouraged us, supported us, loved us, and prayed for us. In addition to the customary "Brother Bob," I am also known as dad and papaw. My favorite breakfast is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of quality coffee! My greatest joy in life is being part of the kingdom; my #1 priority is to advance "kingdom things" and help develop authentic "kingdom people." I seek to serve and share the good news about Jesus everywhere I go, helping people find Jesus and helping people mature in 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 ‘Church’ Category

It’s Sunday Again: Taking Church for Audit

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Twenty years after I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree, I decided to go back to school to earn a master’s degree. My Hebrew was a little rusty (OK, very rusty!) so I decided to audit a Hebrew course at the local university. There are two ways to audit a course. The first way to audit a course is not demanding—you go to class, you sit and listen, but you don’t have to do anything during the class or during the week between classes. You have the advantage of sitting in class, along with a more relaxed attendance policy, no tests, no compulsion to do homework, and you still get an AU on your transcript. The problem is that when you audit a course that way, you don’t learn much and you can’t do much when you finish. There is a second way to audit a course. You attend every class; you do all of the homework and the teacher grades it. You take the non-mandatory tests to measure your progress. You put pressure on yourself. You benefit, you learn, you grow, you are changed, you act. My ultimate goal in auditing the Hebrew course was to be able to do something—read Hebrew using a minimum of helps. The class was not the goal—the goal was what could occur when I finished the class.

A lot of folks are auditing church using the first method. They sit in class (church) sixty minutes every week, unless something else comes up. They are fulfilling the minimum requirements of their religious audit. They are mostly present, but they are content to let someone else do the studying. A week or two later, they cannot pass a test over the class content (preaching). They do not bring their textbook to class, they do not do any homework between classes; they are not diligent students of God’s Word. They are content to let someone else pray for them—-they leave with the same prayer life they came with. They are content to let others prepare, study, pray, and do the work–before class, during class, and after class.

How can you tell the difference between the academic auditor and the serious student? How can you tell the difference between the church auditor and the serious Christian? Just as in my Hebrew class, the difference is in the results. My goal was to read Hebrew. My success or lack of success was measured by reading Hebrew. Going to church is a good thing, but it is not the ultimate goal. Our commitment to the goal is reflected in how seriously we pursue the course—studying, participating in the discussion group, sharing, practicing, and reviewing. And ultimately, the goal is reflected in how we live, what we do, and how much our lives look like Jesus as a result of our encounter with the Master Teacher.

Your Cloud of Witnesses

Sunday, April 12th, 2015

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scoring its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb 12:1-3

Not long ago, I read an article suggesting that Revelation 19 contains a description of the “Final Battle”, with God coming to rescue us much as the Cavalry rescued those in trouble in the old western movies. Is this really the message of this chapter? Should we be anticipating some great physical battle in which Jesus Christ and his armies fight the forces of evil and overcome them once and for all? What does the Bible say?

Such an interpretation of Revelation 19 contradicts much of what the Bible clearly says in other texts. To use the book of Revelation, which admittedly contains highly figurative and apocalyptic language, to develop a timetable of events which contradict the clear, literal teachings of Scripture is fallacious. There is no great final battle coming in which Jesus and innumerable “returned armies” invade the earthly kingdom of his enemies. Such is a misunderstanding of Revelation and a faulty reading of the text. The Bible does not speak of a great heavenly invasion of the earth in the future. The hope which sustains the Christian is much better than the pre-millennial speculations and doubts that saturate the beliefs of many today.

The Bible clearly places the dead in the hand of God, awaiting the final return of Jesus (1 Thess. 4:10-17). Jesus has not been forced into a waiting game in which Satan has his way on earth, able even to overcome the faithful committed followers of Jesus. The decision as to how one lives one’s life and to whom one declares allegiance is one every person freely makes, with eternal consequences.

I think of those who have recently left our earthly ranks. They would tell us that the battle against Satan is lifelong. They would also tell that all of life moves toward death and judgment (Heb. 9:27). Pre-millennial speculations of saved ones miraculously and instantaneously snatched away, and those who have chosen the paths of evil given a second chance to correct their path have no merit in Scripture. None should find comfort in the hope that a second chance is coming. None should erroneously believe that they can never fall, buoyed by the false teaching that if they are wrong, they will have a second chance anyway.

Paul summarizes the ‘final battle’ in this way: “I have run the race, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). The promise of a heavenly crown for those declared righteous by the blood of Jesus illuminates each day in the life of a Christian. We eagerly await his final coming. We live victoriously never quite knowing which day will mark our final battle. Those who finish the course are blessed because their labors provide testimony of the battle they have fought and won (Rev.14:13).

The Psalmist writes these words of comfort: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant; you have freed me from my chains” (Psalm 116:15-16). May we live as God’s servants, freed from the chains of sin, victoriously running and finishing the course, so that we may declare with Paul, “I have kept the faith.”

The writer of Hebrews wrote to encourage Christians who were thinking of letting go of faith in Christ. Let us likewise use every opportunity to encourage those who are thinking of quitting the faith. Let our message be, “Hang in there.” Let us look to the great cloud of witnesses who have preceded us. Our daily reminder is the example of the faith of those who have already lived and died. In tough times, remember others who survived tough times. Trust God, because the cloud of witnesses is proof that it can be done. They are our inspiration to continue onward.

As you consider the cloud of witnesses the Hebrews writers describes, remember another cloud of witnesses, ever expanding. Remember the heart-stirring examples of faith and trust in the lives of those who have lived in faith since the time the book of Hebrews was written. Right up to today the number of souls in your witness cloud is increasing. Every year, in every church, there are those added to the great cloud of witnesses.

In another sense, each of us has our own cloud of witnesses—those we have known, those who are our mentors and models, our examples of faith. Who would you include in your cloud of witnesses? These faithful souls help us continue in faith. And let us so live that someday we will be in someone else’s cloud of witnesses!

Healthy churches require accountability

Monday, March 30th, 2015

Over the past several years, I have written about this topic several times. What is missing in many churches today is accountability. Lack of accountability explains why church members drop out, why church members do not live lives worthy of the gospel, and why church members are at times uninvolved in kingdom activities.

According to a Barna report,  only 5% of Christian adults say their church has a program or plan to help hold them accountable for integrating biblical beliefs and principles into their lives. Even among those church groups who were most likely to have some accountability structures, less than one in six local churches had such in place as a part of their church programs and shepherding efforts. Among those Christians who affirmed some level of accountability, the most common method was small group involvement.

When one reads what the Scriptures say about the nature of the church, and then compares the message of the Bible to these statistics, one must be impressed with the fact that one of the cornerstones of the biblical concept of community is mutual accountability. Church leaders will be held accountable for how they helped the members they lead experience accountability (Hebrews 13:17). That is, church leaders are accountable for whether the church members are accountable. Paul affirms to the Roman church that church members belong to one another (Romans 12:5). That is, our lives are to be so connected that we are experience integration. This is natural when we consider the church as a body. When one part of the body suffers, all suffer (1 Corinthians 12).

Whether a person is a Christian is demonstrated as much (or more?) by living transformed lives than by church attendance. Christians are transformed people–no longer selfish individuals living for self, but rather those who have surrendered control to God. Accountability is essential to that transformation and helps Christians, especially new Christians, make correct life choices which lead to healthy behaviors.

It’s Sunday Again: The Importance of the Church

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

The saving work of God in the world today is exerted through the church. Nowhere does the New Testament describe a saving work of God outside the church.
Do not say, God has not called the church to greatness. It’s not enough to be great when God has made it possible for the church to do incredible things by his power. But God’s incredible work must always be focused in the church. Do good things in the name of Jesus, but remember that Jesus condemned some who did good things. If you would imitate and obey the Lord, don’t neglect the importance of building up the local church. Value doing God’s eternal will above all. Kingdom people want to reflect the compassion of the King, but Jesus did not give his life to meet physical needs. Jesus gave his life to purchase the church, to purify the church, to empower the church. That is the big picture of our salvation.

This should cause us to rethink the how and why of much of what we do. Simple but significant. Do not make it harder than it is. It is time for innovative analysis and thinking about what we do, how and why. In a conversation at the workshop, a brother lamented the tremendous fallout rate of new Christians. Assimilation is not possible unless there is a local church into which people are baptized. Healthy churches can assimilate; unhealthy ones seldom will. Spiritual leaders are a part of God’s shepherding plan. We are trying to do God’s work without one of the primary tools—a healthy, vibrant local body.

Here is what keeps me going in strengthening churches, encouraging spiritual growth, developing leaders and teachers. Every day is a special gift of God—going to bed with a dream and waking up with a purpose. God’s purpose is nowhere seen more clearly than in the church.

Ephesians 4: the church that genuinely serves

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Churches that understand their identity, mission, and eternal purpose are most likely to do the things God wants. The church exists in God’s eternal purpose to unite all things under Christ. In Ephesians 4, the church participates in this purpose through the ministry of every member, facilitated by the leaders Christ places in the body.

What factors encourage genuine service?

  • 1. Attitude of SPIRITUALITY, Eph. 4:1-2
  • 2. Environment of UNITY, 4:3-6
  • 3. Acknowledgement and acceptance of God’s GENEROSITY, 4:7-10
  • 4. Commitment to GROWTH–teamwork and variety in the body, 4:11-13
  • 5. Churches functioning in MATURITY, 4:14-16

Ephesians 4:1-16–Understanding the church and what it does

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Ephesians 4 begins the practical section of Paul’s Ephesian letter.  Paul undergirds action with principle.  Chapters 1-3 focus on church identity, “Who are we?” The church must understand its identity and purpose.  Chapters 4-6 answer the question, “What do we do?”  The Christian life that reflects our shared identity in Christ Jesus includes requirements, reasons, response, and results.

  • Requirements.  Paul reminds that our calling in Christ is a calling to humility, gentleness, patience (forbearance), love, and relationships.
  • Reasons.  Our shared life is based in our mutual commitment to peace and unity, our common faith, the gifts of God, the nature of God’s community, and Jesus Christ.  This shared life is reality and merely a dream.
  • Responsibility.  We are responsible to and for one another.  We mature together, following the example of Jesus.  The body functions and is self-sustaining.  We must use our gifts.
  • Results.  The result is a shared life of stability and support.  The body focuses on Jesus and together lives out the truth in love.  God’s picture of maturity is not only for individuals.  Individuals mature as part of a mature body of believers.

Paul’s conclusion is that the church then grows and is edified through the mutual work of the members with all members functioning according to their own specific activities in the body.

Church Renewal–How?

Monday, August 18th, 2014

The church is in constant need of renewal. The past is never good enough; the present is fleeting; we want the future to be better–as bright and good as it can be. In my experience, many churches desire renewal but do not know how to find it. Church renewal occurs when multiple dynamics are brought into play simultaneously. This blog identifies and describes three essential components of church renewal. These are not a cure-all or a guarantee, but they are essential to the renewal process.

Church renewal seldom occurs unless the church is reasonably healthy. Many authors have written about church illness and church health. Here is a list of eight symptoms of church illness from Kent Allen: maintenance complex, failure syndrome, credibility gap, fellowshipitis, people blindness, overcrowding, leadership tensions, and old age. A church may function reasonably well despite the presence of some of these symptoms, but experience confirms that churches that look inward, cannot see outward, lack bridges of communication and credibility to their community, and have a history of failure seldom have the spiritual strength to move forward. Allen also lists eight signs of health: effective leadership, an agreed agenda, believing prayer, life-related Bible teaching, mobilized membership, community minded, ongoing evangelism, and new member assimilation and incorporation. Such lists suggest two needs: eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive.

While negatives must be addressed, many churches can take a major step toward renewal by focusing on the development of a healthy congregation. Committed leaders can actively work on processes for identifying a vision and mission that can unite the church, mobilize the members, and encourage the active involvement of new members. Coupled with prayer and fresh Bible teaching, these positives can help initiate renewal. Churches with a clear sense of identity and purpose are more likely to have the energy to reach others.

Churches struggle with renewal when they do not know who they are. Church identity is not an easy task. What we were in the past is not what we are today. Some think the church is the same as it was, but such cannot be. Churches that seek and find renewal usually find a renewed identity. There are lots of ways to give a church a fresh identity. Some of the more obvious ones are name, descriptions, vision, mission, personnel, and leadership. The church must know itself; the church must also escape any false identities that have arisen in the minds or perceptions of the community. The latter is usually more difficult that the former.

Churches that find genuine renewal have a clearly defined mission. That mission should be grounded in Scripture and God’s mission for the church. A church that knows who it is and what it is about is well on its way to renewal. Add a commitment to healthy church dynamics, and renewal is even more likely.

Churches that find genuine renewal have a sense of purpose that transcends self. God has exceedingly great goals for the church. He lends his exceedingly great power to the task. God’s glory dwells in the church that is genuinely his–indwelt by Christ, energized by a power beyond mere human efforts, fervently seeking to understand God’s purpose which has been demonstrated by God’s love and mercy.

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