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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 January, 2008

When the Sermon Comes to Life

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

The sermon Sunday morning challenged the congregation to develop a global view of God’s work and interests in this world. A specific example urged that we pray about things beyond our little circles of knowledge and interest.

A few hours later, news came of the devastating fire that had occurred early Sunday morning at Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas. SWCC has a long heritage of service despite tremendous challenges. The College, which serves a primarily black student body, has survived with much sacrifice from a limited donor base.

The email I received requested prayers, so I contacted some brothers who maintain prayer warrior lists. Surprisingly, some of those I contacted did not pass on the request for prayers!

One of the prayer lists is maintained by an elder I work with. He has a global view of God’s work. He goes on mission trips; he supports missions financially. He has a big heart for a big world. He sent out the prayer request to his distribution list almost immediately. People prayed—about something bigger and grander than the local situation.

It does a preacher good when he sees his sermon come to life!

Challenges for the Church: Strengthening the Foundations

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Barna Research Reveals Four “Mega-Themes” in U.S. Culture (#4)

As today’s young adults, teenagers and adolescents have become accustomed to radical individualism, they have introduced such thinking and behaviors into the realm of faith realm. Faith is an acceptable attribute and pursuit among most young people. However, their notions of faith do not align with conventional religious perspectives. In fact, the values that young people are prone to embrace, while generally consistent with Christian beliefs, are not based on biblical foundations. For instance, young Americans have adopted values such as goodness, kindness and tolerance, but they remain skeptical of the Bible, church traditions, and rules or behaviors based upon religious teaching.

The challenge before the church is great. How can the church address individualism? How can understandings of faith find footing in the foundations of Scripture? The church has a problem with validity. Our young people, and the non-Christian community around us, will remain skeptical of church, the Bible, our traditions, and our rules until they see the living reality of Christ within us.

Barna concludes, “It is a well-established fact that our society is continually re-inventing itself. The outcome of such innovation and change, however, is largely dependent on the guidance provided by cultural leaders. It is the core function of a leader to help people apply their creative ideas and energy to reinvigorating society in alignment with a positive and preferable vision of the future. Without a shaping influence that produces a common good, we devolve into anarchy. “Each of us has an obligation to do what is best not just for ourselves but for others in the world, too. Our society is running the risk of becoming so independent and self-absorbed that we will abandon our responsibility to society and to making the world a better place….”

Challenges for the Church: Strengthening the Family

Friday, January 11th, 2008

Barna Research Reveals Four “Mega-Themes” in U.S. Culture (#3)

Most parents want to do a great job of raising their children. However, Barna studies conducted among parents of children under 18 revealed that few parents have a strategy or plan for how they will accomplish that goal. Barna’s surveys point out that most parents underestimate the influence they can exert on their children. Consequently, they often neglect activities that would strengthen their relational bond with the children. Many parents, even those who are Christians, overlook the need to foster deeper a connection between their children and God, or to enhance the child’s worldview as a critical component of their decision-making skills.

The church must acknowledge that God’s word provides guidance for marriages, families, and relationships between parents and children. The church has an incredible opportunity to influence family life in our nation by providing classes which communicate God’s will and plan for families. Churches must be cautious lest “church activities” separate children from parents rather than providing shared family activities and strengthened bonds. Further, the church must not hesitate to assist parents by providing “world-view” and values-based training in Bible classes. The church is the place where Christians expect help in understanding how to help children connect with God.

Challenges for the Church: Redefinitions of Christianity

Thursday, January 10th, 2008

Barna Research Reveals Four “Mega-Themes” in U.S. Culture (#2)

The research also reported that people are reframing Christianity to suit individual tastes. In comparison to past surveys, slightly fewer adults (and many fewer teens) identify themselves as Christians. The image of the Christian faith has taken a beating due to a combination of factors: harsh media criticism, “unchristian” behavior by church people, bad personal experiences with churches, and ineffective Christian leadership. The result is that those who choose Christianity are reformulating what “Christian” and the Christian life mean.

For instance, spiritual practices among those who claim to be Christians are shifting dramatically. New practices are in vogue: racial diversity and tolerance within congregations, spiritual diversity in conversations and relationships, valuing interpersonal connections above spiritual education, and accepting divergent forms of spiritual community (e.g., house churches, small groups, and cell groups). Traditional ventures which integrate discipline and regimen in personal faith development are becoming less popular. Repeating the same weekly routines in religious events is increasingly considered stifling and irrelevant. Rigid beliefs, including the idea that there are absolute moral and spiritual truths, are perceived by a large and growing share of young people to be evidence of closed-mindedness. The result is new, individualized forms and structures of the Christian faith that will have consequences on the practices of Christianity for years to come.

What is the church to do in the midst of such startling redefinitions? What people expect from a church is changing significantly; what churches believe, teach, and do is equally in flux. It seems that some churches want to distance themselves from anything Christian, or at least from traditional versions of Christianity. This is a time for seeking God’s will and way. Some of the changes mentioned have solid foundations in Scripture. Few are the congregations that could not be helped by increased understanding, deeper fellowship, wider connections, and appreciation of diversity. Most congregations would do well to consider how assemblies can avoid being stifling and irrelevant; preachers must accept anew the challenge to bring God’s word to the world in which we live. At the same time individualism, dislike for discipline, and misunderstandings of the nature of truth must be addressed.

Challenges for the Church: Helping the Self-Satisfied

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Barna Research Reveals Four “Mega-Themes” in U.S. Culture (#1)

A Barna report published last month (December, 2007) identifies four significant “mega-themes” in contemporary U.S. culture: high self-acceptance or self-satisfaction, new definitions of Christianity, increased challenges and concerns in parenting and family dynamics, and individualized “designer faith” with rootless values. Each of these poses a challenge to biblical Christianity and suggests areas in which the church must take positive action.

Barna reports that Americans generally have a high opinion of themselves. While many Americans see the need to change and grow, most also see themselves in a positive light. Uncertainty results because growth is difficult and unpredictable, and changes are accepted on the basis of feelings more than facts. Most Americans are willing to change as long as the result is personal benefit and enjoyment which avoids pain, conflict and sacrifice. Individualism and selfishness have strong holds in the personal lives and values of most adults. A social famine in our society is evident in that adults, especially those under 30, want to connect to a number of other people and possess a nagging sense of loneliness and isolation. Connections are mostly impersonal (think Internet, text messaging and phone calls via mobile devices) and are not as fulfilling as desired.

Let me focus the challenge for the church in several questions.

  • How can the church address the frustration which results when people with lofty goals and high self-regard come face to face with their inability to reach those goals?
  • How can the church effectively communicate that the lasting goals in life are not physical and financial, but spiritual?
  • Does the church have an answer to the uncertainty that arises from rampant individualism and selfishness which are rooted in feelings?
  • Can the church demonstrate effective and meaningful fellowship and brotherhood in a world thirsting and hungering for meaningful connections?

The challenge inherent in these questions suggests that no impotent, mediocre version of Christianity will suffice.

We say, “It’s not about us; it’s about God.” Do we believe it? The clarion call echoes forth: the church must reach up to God so it can reach out to others. Where is the authentic church that lives out the spiritual reality of Christ’s presence so that life is fulfilling in its challenges and failures, so that we are not at the mercy of our feelings, and so that the ultimate values of life are not rooted in self? Where is the church that connects with others through its continuing connection with God? Will we be that church?

Minister Survey: Confronting the Challenges of Ministry

Monday, January 7th, 2008

A cross-denominational survey of ministers yielded interesting results.  While the survey is dated,  the current church climate does not suggest that things have gotten better.  If anything, the challenges are likely greater.

  • 90 % of them work more than 46 hours a week.
  • 80 % believe their ministry has affected their families negatively.
  • 33 % say that being in the ministry is an outright hazard to their family.
  • 75 % report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 50 % feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 90 % feel they were inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands.
  • 70 % say they have a lower self-image than when they started in the ministry.
  • 40 % report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 70 % do not have someone they consider a close friend.

I have no way of knowing which of the above items jumped off the page at you.  Ministers and churches must work together to address the intense challenges presented by the contemporary world.
____________________
From Partners in Prayer, by John Maxwell, p. 80.  Citing a Fuller Institute “Interdenominational Survey of Preachers” (1991).

Beginning the New Year Well

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

Today I follow up on my December 29 blog. How do we begin the new year well? What I have in mind is more than resolutions. Here is power that will continue when the resolutions are broken and forgotten. Here is spiritual power for spiritual living throughout the year. A word that for me is even more powerful than assurance is confidence. Confidence speaks to our faith in the One who walks beside us. Confidence is going forward with faith and fidelity. How can we live 2008 confidently?

Commit to RENEWAL. Recognize that renewal is an ongoing process. Renewal is not done once, never to be repeated. Paul wrote that the inner man is continually renewed day by day, even when the physical body is deterioriating and aging.

Continually REBALANCE life. Life is a series of choices. Today’s choices are not the same as yesterday’s. We progress (and we regress). We face new challenges. New opportunities come. Our lives cannot focus on everything at once. We cannot do it all. We have to decide what is important.

RELY on God. The essence of confidence is that the power for Christian living is not of us, but of God. This is prayer, this is God’s daily presence. God is God. Know who He is; observe what he does!

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