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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, 2009

Stars to Steer By: Start

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Down at the church house, we’ve been talking about renewal, beginning again, and new dreams. Frankly, such talk is scary. The unknown stretches before us. We don’t know how it will turn out when we quit doing things the way we’ve been doing them. The status quo is ugly but comfortable. But if we keep doing what we been doing in the same way we’ve been doing it, we can only expect the same results. I selected today’s quote to encourage my brothers and sisters in my local congregation, and Christians around the world.

If we lack the courage to start, we’re already done. 

God, give us courage. Give us confidence that you are our power and strength when we courageously face the unknown and boldly attempt new things for your glory. Uphold us with your mighty hand, cradle us in your arms, and shelter us with your outstretched wings. In the name of the One who is your Eternal Yes to us. Amen.

Roe v. Wade–36 Years and Counting

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

One event of last week that passed almost unnoticed in the U.S. as a whole was the 36th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade. Incredibly, most of the population cannot personally remember that day (generally those under about 40 years of age). That historic day is history. It is distant. It is increasing irrelevant in our society. It is impersonal.

According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center last year (August 2008), a slim majority of the public (54%) says abortion should be legal in all (17%) or most (37%) cases, while 41 percent say abortion should be illegal in all (15%) or most (26%) cases.

The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by Pew Research in 2007, shows how religious affiliation influences views on abortion. The results show what percentage of members of selected demographic or religious groups believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases:

Jewish, 88 %
Mainline Protestant, 62 %
Catholic, 48 %
Muslim, 48 %
African American, 47 %
Evangelical, 33 %
Mormon, 27 %
Jehovah’s Witness, 16 %

For further details about these and other studies, go to pewforum.org.

When You Pray….

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Today concludes a week overflowing with special days (Martin Luther King Day, Inauguration Tuesday, Roe v. Wade Anniversary).  Certainly, the biggest news event was the inauguration of a new president (our 44th) in the United States. Not only was the inauguration itself covered in great detail by the news media, but the details of the first days of President Obama’s term have been analyzed, written about, photographed, broadcast, and discussed.

For the Christian community (and many outside the Christian community), Rick Warren’s invocation was the buzz leading up to the inauguration. What would he say? How would he indicate, if at all, his belief that prayer is in the name of (by the authority of) Jesus? How does a Christian say an “inclusive” prayer in a public setting? The answer is more and more difficult in our pluralistic society.

The text of Rick Warren’s invocation is available from a variety of sources. Here are some excerpts:

Almighty God, our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story.
The Scripture tells us Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our God; the Lord is one. And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.
….We celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility….
Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.
Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.
When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.
And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.
Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all.
…And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.

Warren concluded by including the text of the “Lord’s Prayer” (some call it the “Model Prayer”, recorded in Matthew 6 and Luke 11) in the invocation. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray in Matthew 6, he instructed his followers: be yourself (not like the hypocrites), be by yourself (go to your closet), become aware of God himself (eliminate distractions). Be brief, be dependent, be sincere. If we are not careful, public prayers can be said more to impress man than to get God’s attention. The words of Jesus deserve a rereading. When you pray….

Stars to Steer By: Applause

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

After the concert, no one applauds the piano, only the pianist.

Today, give credit to the pianist in your life who orchestrates and beautifies what you are and what you do.

Thank you, Lord, for accomplishing through me more than I could ever expect to accomplish by my own feeble efforts. Let me live so that my life exalts you and not me. Let me live so others see your presence in this world as you live in and through me. Thank you in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Spiritual Formation and Missionality

Friday, January 16th, 2009

[Today I am sharing a comment I recently posted on Missional Outreach Network in the Missional Spiritual Formation Group. If this is an area of interest, I invite you to visit the Missional Outreach Network and join the conversation.]

The spiritual body of Christ (in my observation) spends a lot of time in basic bodily functions (parallel breathing, eating, sleeping, drinking, etc.) and in this misdirection fails to fulfill the real purpose of the body. If spiritual formation does not enable the body (yes, the individual members, but in a missional context, the corporate body) toward the purposes of God, we may have misidentified the components, purposes, or results of spiritual formation.

Some recent literature suggests that spiritual formation occurs best (only?) in the context of the community. Such may provide a connection between the sentness of the body (exhibited in the sentness of individual members) and spiritual formation.

church, Church, big C, little c, who are we?

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I see an increasing number of articles that are asking important and hard questions about our self-understandings and self-identity as Christians. Answering these questions is essential in the task of being the missional, evangelistic body God intends. I am pleased that we as a brotherhood are thinking again about what we mean when we use the words “church” or “Church.” Such rethinking is essential if we are going to become genuinely missional and escape the “attractional” model of doing church. (I am amazed at how often we measure success by how many people can be attracted to our building.) In my own recent experience, success has been suggested based on the number of people at a funeral, the number who attended a secular program held in our building, and the number who came for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Easter activities. We have traditionally measured what we do as church by attractional standards, the #1 question being: how many were present? We have seldom counted how many studies were taught, how many contacts were made, how many people were served, how many evangelistic conversations occurred, or how many were brought to a saving relationship with God through Christ.

Just how significant this process is has been re-enforced on my mind as I have considered possibilities for new signage around our church building. We have correctly observed that the building is not the church; the church is the people. So we say, “the church of Christ meets here” (little ‘t’ and little ‘c’). Does that mean the congregation doesn’t meet anywhere else? Does it limit the use of our buildings (in our own minds)? What does ‘meets’ mean? Is this for fellowship? worship? study? We often put up a schedule. Are the times listed the only ‘meetings’? I saw a church sign that read, “Home of the _____ Church”. What does that mean? Is it accurate?

In today’s world, we feel compelled to ‘name’ the local congregation. We use the names of towns, streets, subdivisions, even intersections. What do those names say? Restrictive ‘names’ among the denominations often signified parishes or limited areas of service. Before street addresses and 911, intersections gave directions. Some religious groups have gone to numbers: First, Second, Third. A group in Lansing, Michigan used an interesting name: “The Original Church of God #2.” What does our ‘name’ say? Does our name say where we are, or whom we try to serve? Does it restrict us? Is it dated or contemporary? Is it welcoming or discouraging?

Have we lost something in our insistence that the church is not the building but the people? Religious leaders, pastors and ministers in various religious groups, even Christians in the pews, have known and said for some time that the church is not a building. This means that the church is not a place! Being the church does not depend on being at a certain location. The church does not become something special when it meets at M&O. We should also note that the church is not a thing. The answer to the question, “Is there a church in such-and-such city?” must not be answered by whether there exists an official institution, a regular meeting, or a meeting place. If there are Christians living in the city, the church exists in that city.

One of the things that occurred in the Constantinian era and after is that the church was institutionalized, that is, it came to be thought of as a something that existed based on its superstructure (religious leaders, buildings, official status) apart from the participants. The move to identify the church with a place thus became an easy transition. Both of these concepts (church as institution, church as place) seriously weaken the church. Neither place nor thing provides much vitality to attract others. (You may note that most growing churches get a tremendous amount of identity from the people who are involved and always present to welcome, connect, and share life.) Place and thing eventually result only in loyalty to self.

The rethinking of what we mean by ‘church’ has taken us down some strange and interesting roads. Some has suggested that the church is to be defined as “shared event”—with the event most often cited being that of worship (although it is often re-characterized as “celebration”). The church cannot be adequately defined by event. Eventually the church will revert to being a ‘thing’—a different kind of thing than an institution, but nonetheless a ‘thing’.

For the last few weeks, I have been working on materials to help the church where I minister rethink our vision and mission as a church. I am considering mottos that might communicate our purpose succinctly and clearly. I am thinking about values and beliefs. We began the process in a very interesting discussion last Sunday morning in a combined Bible class (purposefully combined, because all needed to hear the same conversations to begin the process). One comment suggested that the church’s identity focuses around ‘joy’. I could not help but think of a similar identifying statement from Phyllis Tickle (Emergent Village): “I believe both church and Church are “a body of people, delighting in God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit.”

To write a mission or vision statement is no easy task—it can provide daunting challenges. A church may find that the differing views of mission (what the church is to go forth and do), or differing visions (the goals or objectives of the church) among its members are either conflicting or contradictory. The problem in clearly stating the vision and mission begins in self-identity. Who are we? What are we here to do? How will we do it? The order of the questions must be preserved.

My hope in the process is that we might find self-understandings that give us encouragement and demand action and dynamic living, a body in motion, fluid, morphing and changing, flowing into the crevices and corners of our society, our community, our nation, and our world. This church cannot be pinned down, located, or humanly owned or controlled. When anyone attempts to confine the church which Christ established, empowers and directs, the true church will simply rejoice and move ahead into the mystery of the future. (Such will obviously require that we escape any understanding of church as tied to location.) I also hope that our self-understanding (based on God’s calling) allows us to be comfortable and even delight in the midst of ways and cultures that are biblically relevant and acceptable but are not part of our traditions. Such a self-understanding is essential if we are to bring the saving gospel of Christ to our world.

My purpose in writing is not to give final answers. My purpose is to suggest a conversation. I am absolutely certain that this is a conversation we must have if we are to survive as a viable body beyond the 2000th anniversary of the establishment of the church, now only a little over two decades away.

(to be continued)

Shine in 2009

Monday, January 12th, 2009

[Today I am sharing my bulletin article for this week.]

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ first recorded discourse, Matthew’s Gospel records these words of Jesus, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:11-16). Our congregational theme for the last several years has reflected this idea. Although Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), we are the light of the world as we imitate him. We seek light so we will not walk in darkness, and we shine to make it easy for others to find the pathway and walk in the light. Light has come into the world but the world does not comprehend it, and in fact has rejected it. Paul writes of those who reject the light because their deeds are evil. Evil doers are active at night, not in the daytime. Light is to be shared—when my candle lights my own path, it also lights the path of those around me.

We are considering an update for our theme in 2009, but selecting another theme will not relieve us of the responsibility to let our lights shine. We will never escape the obligation to walk in the servant footsteps of Jesus. The words of Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), will never go out of style for genuine Christians.

One church Jan and I attended gives unique names to its classes and ministries (one way to escape the worn terminology of Young Adult 1, Young Adult 2, Auditorium, etc.). I remember teaching or attending the Encouragers, Builders, Sowers, Upwards, and VIP. The latter class (Voices in Praise) spent more time than normal at the beginning of class in singing. One of the ministries of that church is called Pathfinders. The name says it all!  That name reminds me of the need to let my light shine and help others find the way.

In Matt. 5:16, Jesus called his disciples to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” Regardless of what we choose as a motto and vision as we move into the future, I trust we will continually shine brightly in the world.

Rob Long, a former student of mine, recently reminded me of an acronym that suggests what this means. To be a light in the world means that we Share Jesus, Honor Jesus, Imitate Jesus, recognize our Need for Jesus, and Exalt Jesus. Let’s SHINE in 2009.

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