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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 October, 2010

Travel Day: A Full Day

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

Pan American Lectureship Day 1

A travel day means up early–as I write it is 4 a.m.  The coffee is making and we will leave for the airport soon.  We are looking forward to meeting up with the rest of the group in Houston.  Our shrinking world makes it possible for us to be on the ground in Honduras by 11 a.m. local time.

The afternoon includes a tour of Baxter Institute and the JMA Clinic, followed by a few introductory matters and dinner.  I have been asked to serve as a guide for a portion of the tour, and will be thrilled to share part of the Baxter story with those attending this year’s PAL.  One big news item (and something different, even for those who have previously visited Baxter), is the near completion of the President’s Home.  For the most recent update and some pictures, you can go to the Baxter Home Page and follow the link to the update.

Pan American Lectureship #47

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Next week marks the 47th annual Pan American Lectureship. This year’s lectureship will be held in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The lectureship has been described as a “movable spiritual feast” due to the fact that it moves each year from one location to another across Latin America. Its purpose is to call attention to the opportunities and challenges in Latin American mission work.

Yours truly is privileged to participate in this year’s lectureship with the assignment of guiding a textual study of Galatians each day. In my preparation, have gained a new appreciation of the book of Galatians as a “missions manual.” Galatians was the first book written about Christian mission work. It deals with a major concern of the early church: how does one communicate the gospel in a different world and culture? What does it mean to “change religions”? These and other questions cannot be handled effectively without inquiring about and understanding the essence (essentials) of the gospel.

Galatians deals with missions from a “Goldilocks perspective.” Paul writes in Galatians about the problem of a “too hard” gospel. He describes what one may call a “no gospel” gospel. He says there is a version of the gospel which is no gospel at all. At the other end of the spectrum is a “too soft” gospel which makes no demands at all. Paul holds out for the “just right” gospel that balances liberty and license.

[Additional notes which expand this subject are available on my Bible Index Page under the New Testament section.]

It’s Sunday Again: The Best Is Yet To Be

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Each Lord’s Day, the church assembles to partake of the bread and to drink the fruit of the vine. We do this because of what Jesus taught his disciples just prior to his death. We do it because Jesus participates in the feast in his kingdom. We do this because the early church did it. We do this because the Bible speaks of it.
A favorite passage concerning the communion or Lord’s Supper is 1 Cor. 11:23ff. Based on this text, from a practical viewpoint, we participate in this communion feast to remember, to be strengthened, to connect with one another, to declare our faith, and to anticipate his coming. We remember his death; we demonstrate his life. We anticipate the time our living Lord will return. The church celebrates in the phrase, “until he comes.” The Supper is the weekly reminder that Jesus is coming again. He will return to claim his church.

This idea, that the church celebrates his absence “until he comes” calls to my mind the “Parable of the Fork.”
A woman was on her death bed; she spoke to her family and minister and asked that she be buried with a fork in her hand. They asked her why, and she recounted the background of her idea, something she had thought about from the time she was a little girl. The family honored her wish, and when people went to the funeral home and viewed the body, they noticed the fork in her hand.
The minister saved any reference to the fork until the end of the funeral service. Then he observed that many were probably wondering about the fork. The woman had told her family this story: “When I was a little girl, they sometimes said as the meal was finished and the dishes were being cleared, ‘Keep your fork.’ I liked those times, because when they said, ‘Keep your fork,’ I knew something better was coming. I want to ‘keep my fork’ because I know something better is coming.”

Paul wrote to the Corinthians to say that the Supper is a declaration of the Lord’s death “until he comes.” Indeed, the Supper looks forward to the time Jesus returns to claim us and take us to him eternally. The Supper looks forward to something better. You won’t need a fork to eat at the Table this morning, but I want you to remember–“keep your fork.” Something better is coming.

Reflections: Holmes Road

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Note: I was recently asked to write a “reference” for inclusion on the website of the Holmes Road Church in Lansing. Jan and I worked with this church for almost a dozen years. It is hard to believe that over 23 years have passed since we left that ministry.

How can I describe the Holmes Road church? Where should I begin? I can share facts—Holmes Road was our home and ministry for almost a dozen years, the church where our boys grew up, the church where our ministry matured. But facts do not tell the story.
Holmes Road is our family; it will always be part of us. When we think about Holmes Road, we think about people. We think about love and relationships, students, life-long friendships, unique experiences, faithful people, acceptance and belonging. Together we learned to depend on God, and God richly blessed our ministry with the church.
Holmes Road is unique, the potential for the future limitless, the church culture one-of-a-kind, the possibilities endless. It is not often that one still has so many special relationships and friends two decades later. Every time we visit, Holmes Road reminds us that “you can go home.”

It’s a New World

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

I have been reviewing my blogs for 2010–close to 150 in almost 300 days. Along the way, I have done some recategorizing to make searches easier and more consistent.

My conclusion after rereading this year’s writings is that we live in a new world! The church faces challenges the magnitude of which it has never faced in recent history. The changing world has confused those who have not noticed the change. The church is not exempt. The adage most thought you could depend on is no longer accurate: “Doing the same old things will yield the same old results” is no longer true. In this new world, doing the same old things yields nothing.

The U.S. population is little inclined to religious change. Bible illiteracy is rampant–we know very little about the Bible. Worse, most don’t care since the objective truth of Scripture has become obsolete in a world of relative, individualized truth. The way the gospel spreads must be rethought in a new world. The good news is shared in different ways.
Religion is out, spirituality is in. Churches that operate in the capitalistic, resource-driven realm often fail; churches that operate in the hearts of humans with little concern for appearances often succeed.
In the area of missions, it seems increasingly apparent that mission work that depends on the perpetual flow of U.S. dollars may not be taking into account the economic realities of the new world. Mission work and leadership, church identity, church expectations, ministry, and most of our favorite subjects are not the same in this new world.

Has anyone noticed?

Crystal Cathedral Bankruptcy: Will anyone learn anything?

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The news earlier this week that the Crystal Cathedral has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy again raises the question about what it means to be a church, and how churches ought to live out their ministries. The Crystal Cathedral, established over 50 years ago by Robert Schuller, is $43 million dollars in debt with over $7.5 million of the debt unsecured.

Such news is especially troubling in view of the fact that churches can register as charities, accept tax-deductable donations to support their ministries, and have certain legal protections as non-profit corporations. Unfortunately, more and more churches (and para-church organizations) are creating administrative structures and activities that require significant funding to support the organization even before any ministry is done. Such activities often extend beyond Christian ministry and bring the organizations to the brink of insolvency.

You may recall that earlier this year, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback church, asked his church to come up with $900,000 to keep the church from going into bankruptcy. How is it possible that churches which receive millions of dollars each year and have millionaire preachers can reach such a point? Unfortunately the answer is seldom that they have overextended their finances by faith to fund ministry, or that they have met an emergency need and failed to receive the necessary resources. The simple answer is that riches and wealth are enticing—and impressive in our culture. Most of those who live in this culture prefer to attend that church with the upscale, recently constructed building and all the trappings of worldly success. Churches hungry (greedy?) for more and more parishioners to fund more and more projects may spend as much or more on public relations and outreach as they do on real ministry. Those who teach trust in God often appear to trust in something or someone else.

If we are not technically still in an economic recession, it feels like it to many unemployed, underemployed, and those with decreasing incomes. It is not clear that the old way of doing church (and missions) is the way of the future. It is not clear that the dependency on more and more contribution dollars is the key to successful church planning. In fact, the church may have to face the prospect of doing more with less, becoming more frugal, seeking the most economic methods for ministry, and cutting the cycle that says successful ministry and missions demands the perpetual and increasing flow of dollars.

Note: A PDF version of this blog is available as an article: Crystal Cathedral Bankruptcy.

Two Special Weekends

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Today is a travel day. After a too-short visit with the Lansing church–two leadership workshops, two “missions emphasis” Sundays, sermons, classes, and typical ministry with hospital visits, Bible studies, visits, fellowship and encouragement, we will be home by mid-afternoon.
These crisp, fall days are reminders of special times past, reminders of a dozen years of lives intertwined and supporting one another. It is intriguing to be able to re-enter a church system and pick up the rhythms of ministry almost automatically.
We have not lacked things to do during these few days–churches and communities are filled with ministry opportunities, but they are not always easy to see. One reason I love the Lansing church is that it helps make the opportunities easy to see. “Visit with my spouse….call my friend.” Always there are shut-ins, cancer patients, hospital visits, phone calls, counseling….
Ministry is a privilege. I love to be reminded of that truth. I love to preach; I love preaching even more when people respond and recommit. “We will see our world; we will change our world; we will live faithfully; we will depend on God.” The Christian life is not complex, my Christian life can be defined in a few basic commitments. “This we will do, God permitting.”

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