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Thanks for visiting our website! This month’s picture is from the August 2018 retreat of Colombian preachers in Santa Marta. I was honored to be asked to participate. [Click picture to enlarge.]

Colombian Preachers

Ministry and mission work is a team effort -- Jan and I have shared the work of ministry and missions for 49+ years! Countless people 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. One of my favorite breakfasts is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of rich Colombian coffee! My greatest joy in 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 serve and 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 April, 2012

It’s Sunday Again: Finding Family

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Yesterday’s leadership seminar was a superb experience–a men’s breakfast, morning sessions, and afternoon meeting with the shepherds yielded fresh mission and vision statements that can provide direction, dreams, energy, and enthusiasm for renewal and continued growth.
Today will be a time to focus on remembering God’s purpose and encouraging us to live out the reality of our family status in Christ. The contemporary church struggles to live out the reality of its grandeur in God’s eternal purpose. The church tends to live monochromatically–living out the reality of only one of the spiritual dynamics of integrated Chrisitan lives. God’s intent is that we Christians oscillate through the spiritual relationships of our life in abundant living, but our tendency is to live more narrowing, at times focused on spiritual realities, at times focused internally on the life and activities of the church, and sometimes focused externally. When these three dynamics are combined, they empower one another and bring us into abundant, fulfilling, lives of integrity and healthy relationships.

I am a Maximalist

Friday, April 27th, 2012

I have been accused of being a perfectionist. I like to do things well, I want to do things right. I am demanding–of myself and of others (perhaps too much of others). But I do not see myself as a perfectionist. It would be more accurate to say that I am a maximalist.
Especially in matters of Christianity, perfectionism is a dead-end approach. The “too hard” gospel leads to perfectionism and legalism. The “too soft” gospel leads to a false liberty and freedom. I am saved by grace; I am not saved by works. I will not receive my reward because I live a good Christian life. (I was amazed to hear this statement at a recent funeral.)
But these observations do not say that my actions are unimportant. I am committed to works of faith, not works of merit. I am committed to faithful obedience. I must do the best I can—that is the nature of loyalty and faithfulness. I cannot shortcut my faith response to Jesus my Lord. I do not rest in grace as an excuse for anything less than my best. I do not ask how little I can get by with. I will give everything I can; that is total commitment. The total commitment folks of the late 1990s were right in teaching, but wrong in practice. Christianity requires maximum commitment—anything less than my maximum fails to meet the Bible definitions of authentic discipleship.

Grieving for a little while….

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The discussion was lively and challenging with stimulating questions and observations as we reviewed the first two chapters of the book of First Peter.  As is often the case, we were a little hard on ourselves.  Maybe we don’t suffer enough…perhaps our faith is not strong enough…or our spiritual sacrifices are not sacrificial enough….

What is the balance between rejoicing and suffering?  I admit that answers are not easy, but there is help.  In the midst of the text (1 Peter 1:6) is a little word we easily overlook.  The verb is usually translated “to grieve”, but it can carry the idea of heaviness and affliction.  The question is not only, “Do we suffer?”  The question is, “What causes us grief?”  Do we hurt for the situation of our world?  Are our hearts heavy for the circumstances of those we know and love?

It is true that we often fail to do what we think we should do.  But before we are too hard on ourselves, let us observe that we sometimes fail to act because we have tried before without results.  We have spoken up for the Lord, accepted the ridicule, and seen that hearts were hardened more than softened.  We have tried to share the gospel, but faced hearts protected by stone walls.  We have observed the disinterest, the immorality, the lack of commitment.  I regret (repent?) that I fail to act, but I also affirm that my heart is heavy for the lost and those outside of Christ.  I grieve for the spiritual demise and decay in my nation.

May God gives us hearts that can always be touched by the hurts around us.  Such “grieving” demonstrates faith just as does our faithful endurance of suffering.

Worship and Enjoyment

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

C. S. Lewis said something like this in his little work on the Psalms: “We praise what we enjoy.”

We are not thankful for what we do not enjoy. We do not praise what we do not enjoy. Some folks do not come to church because they do not enjoy. Some folks feel no compulsion to praise God because they do not enjoy his presence in their lives.

If we would grow in our praise, gratitude, and worship, let us learn the lesson of Paul’s words to the Philippians: Rejoice!

Stars to Steer By: Cheap

Friday, April 20th, 2012

My mother saved sayings and quotations. They were everywhere–little pieces of paper in books, on shelves, in and on her desk…. I started ministry doing likewise. Soon I had an envelope box filled with little strips and pieces of paper, many cut or torn from church bulletins. The box got fuller and heavier over the years.
I recently threw my treasure box away (the Internet is filled with sayings and poems and pithy sayings), but not before one last look. I saved a few of the quotes I liked best, typed them into a document for future reference. Most do not have authors cited. I have tried (with Internet searches) to the find the author of the paragraph below, but without success. If someone knows the author, I will gladly add that information.

Christianity is a way of life that is most demanding. We are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ to such an extent that we make the world stand up and take notice. We are to walk with Jesus even when it is not popular. We are to daily serve him in the spirit of holiness. There is nothing cheap about that.

We Are Not Doing What We Know to Do

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

[Note: A blog posting edited and forwarded–explanation of the two older comments.]

Although my previous blog was titled, “What we are doing isn’t working”, my reflections since writing that piece have led me to conclude that the problem is most likely not what we are doing, but what we are not doing.

To borrow a term common in the church planting movement (with reference to planting churches that will plant churches), we have lost our DNA.   In too many places, the evangelism DNA strand that motivates outreach has been subtly replaced with a self-centered strand.

 The early church had a strong effort in evangelism.  They went everywhere preaching the word.  They could not but speak what they had seen and heard.  They constantly shared the good news of Jesus.  The churches of Christ as recently as 50 years ago had a strong emphasis in evangelism.  Domestic evangelism and foreign missions were emphasized.  Almost every church had an evangelism program of some kind.  Home Bible studies were common–filmstrips and charts, and open Bible studies.  Evangelism training series were taught and Christians attended such series.  At one church where I ministered, almost 10% of the congregation attended a training series.  Later at another church, the number was only 5%, but in both locations, evangelism was boosted.  There was a time when Christians unashamedly invited their friends, neighbors and families to church, and people came.  Churches hosted multiple evangelistic activities and special series.  Gospel meetings declared that the gospel mattered for eternity.  Not only did local churches host events, the members came to the events.  In the early years of my ministry, I remember driving an hour or two to attend gospel meetings and to hear great gospel preaching.  We didn’t go by ourselves–we invited others to go, and we shared sweet fellowship.  Entire youth groups would go together to hear gospel preaching.

Some of the details of what a local church can do have changed, but there are many good ways to bring people to Jesus at the beginning of the 21st century.  Up until about 15 years ago, Jan and I set up all the home Bible studies we could handle simply by contacting and inviting Bible study with those who visited our services.  This included spouses and family members of members, visitors, newcomers to the community, and others who visited the church on special occasions.  Now we have fewer visitors.  Why?  Perhaps there is less interest, but I am confident that one reason we have fewer visitors is that we issue fewer invitations.

Gospel meetings can be effective–if we make a concerted effort to make certain non-Christians and unbelievers are present.  Perhaps our greatest problem is that we are no longer certain about who is saved and who is lost.  Those outside of Christ are lost.  People who are not faithfully living for Jesus are lost.  A majority of those we know are lost.  Since the Lord could come at any time, it is time for us to get serious.

Some churches spend one night per week (often Monday) engaged in activities focused on outreach and evangelism.  Some churches use this time for activities that are inwardly focused, but the churches that are growing use this night primarily to reach out.  Some churches use focused (not random) benevolent programs to reach unbelievers effectively.  The list could be continued beyond the length available here.

What do these efforts share in common?  An emphasis and desire to reach the lost.  Churches that know that the folks without Christ are lost, churches that focus on reaching those folks, are still succeeding in bringing the lost to Jesus.

What We Are Doing Isn’t Working!

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

I reject pragmatism! I do not want to make decisions (especially decisions about church, ministry, and missions) based exclusively on “what works”. Yes, I admit that sometimes doing what God wants does not yield immediate results. I also admit that doing what God wants may not yield results at all. Church history reminds us that the church throughout history has lived through peaks and valleys. Someone has to live during the “valley years.” Some days I wonder what it would be like to live one’s entire life in the valley–a time characterized by spiritual disinterest, spiritual inactivity, spiritual rejection. That could be the case in our U.S. society and culture today. That is one reason I relish my involvement in mission work which takes me to places in the world where people are hungering and thirsting for spiritual nourishment, for life that feel like life, and something greater and more lasting than this world can offer.

Despite my rejection of pure pragmatism, I feel compelled to note when something isn’t working. Especially if it seems many or most of those involved think it is working!

Sunday morning church attendance is dropping across the nation. Overall, we are not growing; we are shrinking. The rural churches across our nation are generally smaller than they were just a few years ago. It is easy to ignore the bleak reality. It is easy to perceive a glimmer of hope because of congregational transfers, but the reality is that we are not winning our little corner of the world for Jesus. We are not providing a viable voice in our community. We are barely heard. We preach to ourselves. We rejoice when most of our members happen to be in town on a particular weekend. We consider it success when our assemblies are swelled by members from other churches of Christ. It is easy to ignore the fact that much of our “success” in local congregations comes by transfers from “feeder churches” as people move to larger population centers. The feeder churches are about the dry up and blow away–and what will happen next is obvious unless something changes.

The logical question in light of this grim analysis is this: What has gone wrong? Wasn’t there a time when we were among the fastest growing religious groups in the U.S.? (Perhaps so, although some of the statistical methods which led to that conclusion have been questioned more recently.) Let me suggest some of what has gone wrong. I am not writing solely of my local situation, but of the church in general in the U.S. I am generalizing (dangerous). I recognize that there are some genuine bright spots. Nonetheless, we have to ask the hard questions about who we are and what we are doing.

The church has a SELF problem. The church is selfish. We have become fat and lazy. We have fed ourselves and not others. We have spent our resources on ourselves. We have learned to limit “church” to a few (4 or less) hours per week. The church is narcissistic (self-centered). Our message is us. Most places, church is too much about church. We too easily ignore the needs around us…feeding the needy, taking the gospel around the world through missions, reaching lost people next door. Our actions say that we are pretty sure that the church exists primarily for its members.

The church has a SPIRITUAL problem. The church is not spiritually sharp. In many places, the church is in a spiritual malaise, some churches are spiritually dead. We are not “into” spirituality. We live our spiritual lives by physical values. Our lack of spiritual focus is reflected iln our conversations, our priorities, our schedules, our absences, and our attitudes.

The church has a SACRIFICE problem. The church is not into sacrifice, and church without sacrifice is church where the message of cross has been twisted to communicate benefit without responsibility. The typical church is not producing disciples of Christ because it is generally Christless.

The church has a SAFE problem. The church has become safe, comfortable, and predictable. No apple cart upsets here, KISMIF to the extreme (keep it safe, make it fun), my favorite songs (and only songs I know, please), no hard questions, no comfort zone exits. I want it to feel normal and traditional, just like I like it (whether it encourages and helps the non-Christians or not). The typical church doesn’t take any chances or put itself into situations where we would have to grow and depend upon God and each other. By our actions and inactions, we miscommunicate the nature of the Christian faith to our children and our kids drop out in droves.

The church has a STUFF problem. The church is too often a place of materialism, lack of imagination and conformity. Spiritual death is certain; mental death is not far behind. One doesn’t have to look hard to see it: personal materialism and church choices based on external concerns; consumers who come to events to receive rather than to give and church choices based on who offers the most goods and services. The typical church encourages consumerism–making church choices (choose us!), hopping from church to church (try us out!), looking for the best deal (why we’re better!). If the children’s program, youth program, any program, preaching, worship, leadership, membership, or carpeting is imperfect, go to the next church. One seldom hears folks wondering about where they can be used best or where God most needs them.

Next: what is the solution?

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