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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 April, 2015

Stars to Steer By: Grace

Friday, April 24th, 2015

From an email sent by my friend, Jim Frazier–
“Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it you are bound forever to the Giver, and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like, Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give.” — E. Stanley Jones

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!

Easter: A good time to rethink the Gospel

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Many Christians do not realize how central is the resurrection to the Christian faith and message. The Christian message may be summarized as the “gospel”, literally, good news. Paul claims that the essence of the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This gospel message saves us, must be constantly remembered, and must be shared. There are at least 91 New Testament occurrences of the word gospel. There are many more references to events of the passion week–the suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. A casual reading of the early chapters of Acts suggests that the fundamental message preached by the early church was the gospel. This message of fulfillment, promise, and power was communicated and confirmed by Old Testament prophecy and the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

Paul describes initiation into the Christian faith as participation in the gospel of Jesus (Romans 6:1-6), baptism into the death of Jesus so that participation in his resurrection is assured. I am thrilled today that many will celebrate the importance of the resurrection of Jesus as the crowning truth of the gospel. Indeed, Paul affirms that without the resurrection, little remains but misery and a pitiful existence (1 Corinthians 15). But mere celebration of the resurrection of Jesus is not God’s ultimate goal for his human creation. Personal participation in the resurrection is God’s intent. Participation in the resurrection as Paul describes it in Romans 6 has two possible applications. First, you and I experience new life in Christ as we are baptized and the “old man” of sin is destroyed so that a new person comes forth. This may be also what Paul means in the phrase, washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5). Second, our hope of participation in the ultimate resurrection at the end of time is tied to our participation in the death and burial of Jesus in the initiation of immersion.

Today, I am glad for the desire of many to celebrate the resurrection.
Let us continually celebrate the good news of Jesus, the gospel, which is the story of his love demonstrated at the cross–his death, burial and resurrection.
Our baptism into Christ is evidence of our participation in the gospel, and marks his presence in us and ours in him.
Changed lives are the result, and thus evidence, that we are participants in the gospel.
Hope for participation in resurrection to the presence of Jesus is connected to our participation in the gospel.

Today, let the message of Resurrection lead you to faith, obedience, newness, and hope. If Christians are those who are like Christ, the connection between the experience of Jesus (the gospel) and our own experience as we imitate him in death, burial, and resurrection must not be overlooked.

Why Does the Date of Easter Change?

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

A few days ago, my wife observed, “Easter is late this year.” A couple of days earlier, a friend had remarked on how early Easter is this year.” Can both be right? Can Easter be both early and late in the same year? What are the extremes of the date of Easter? How early can it be? How late can it be? And why does the date of Easter change?

Calendar making was not an exact science in times past. The first calendars were lunar and amazingly accurate, being based on the 13 lunar cycles per year (364 days). In the time of Jesus, the lunar and solar cycles were known, but the 12-month calendar we know today (which keeps our calendar in sync with a leap day every four years except in century years divisible by four) did not exist. The Jewish calendar had 12 months which varied from 29-30 days. As a result the Jews had to add a shorter intercalary month periodically to readjust the calendar. Four years out of every 11 were 13-month years. The priests regulated this process to insure that the feasts were observed at the proper time each year.

The Jewish calendar began counting the New Year at the time of Passover (there was also a New Year in the fall—both are mentioned in the Old Testament). These are sometimes described as the religious New Year and the civil New Year. The lack of precision in the Jewish calendar meant that the date of Passover varied from year to year in comparison with the Gregorian calendar we use today.

In today’s world, Easter is observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (the first day of spring, a day when the day and night are of equal length). This calculation allows Easter to fall between late March (the earliest possible date is March 21 or 22–March 20 + a full moon the next day, with the next day being a Sunday) and late April (the latest possible date is about April 24–March 21 + 28 days to a full moon + 6 more days to the next Sunday).

The date of Easter coordinates with the Jewish Passover–in 2010 the Passover was the Monday preceding Easter. Incidentally, I am glad the first day of Daylight Saving Time has been adjusted. Before the date was moved to the second Sunday of March, Daylight Saving Time began on the first Sunday in April, and the “bad” time change sometimes occurred on Easter—as it would have this year!

Not By My Power

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

If you are like me, you want to be successful at whatever you attempt. Even more, you want to be perceived as successful by your peers. Maybe this attitude is a cultural thing, or perhaps it is a “man” thing (which is also a cultural thing). I know this: getting older often causes one to contemplate the accomplishments of life. It is easy to see one’s life as a failure.

Over a dozen years ago, Jan and I decided to leave my academic administration and teaching position at Ohio Valley University. Both of our fathers were experiencing severe declines in health, and we felt a strong need to be back in the center of the U.S. nearer our parents. We resigned with no place to go. We were not certain where God would lead. We were confident that God would provide.

A few months later, we ‘landed’ in McAlester, Oklahoma and spent almost two years in a delightful ministry, equipping a local church, developing new leadership, preaching and teaching, and relishing our return to the close relationships of local ministry. We were also blessed during this time to increase significantly our involvement in mission work.

Almost exactly two years after our resignation at Ohio Valley, Oklahoma Christian offered me the position of director of graduate Bible programs (in what is now the Graduate School of Theology) with primary responsibility to help get a new M.Div. program off the ground. I began in spring 2004, finishing out the 2003-04 academic year. I have described those months from April to August as getting one year’s work done in only four months. Through the next three and a half years, I worked in student development, financial and grants development, curriculum, program and track development, advertising and public relations, and taught several graduate classes. I got my “ministry fix” in a continuing string of interim ministry invitations—Blackwell, 29th and Yale in Tulsa, and Wellston. Along the way I also taught a regular Sunday afternoon Spanish Bible class at the Capitol Hill work in Oklahoma City. In 2006-2007 I served as Hispanic minister at the Edmond congregation to help get a new Spanish ministry off the ground.

As Jan and I look back over our life of ministry and service, we have been in quite a few places over 40 years of full-time ministry and academic administration. We have experienced the good times and the lean times. We have experienced those years where we witnessed (on average) a baptism every week. We have seen the church grow marvelously (I could say miraculously, meaning only that it was by God’s power). In 20 years of ministry with two different churches, we saw one church double over a decade and another church increase by 50% over a decade. We have also experienced the times of drought. We have preached in places where not one person signed on to follow Jesus for an entire year. We have enjoyed the fruit of God; we have patiently sowed the seed when it seemed nothing was happening. We have sowed the seed and seen it sprout in the most unlikely places; we have sowed it in seemingly good fields and seen it lay dormant with no results.

As I look back, I don’t remember what kind of results I expected when I began preaching. There weren’t many decisions to follow Christ in the little congregation where I grew up—mostly just the young people in the church were baptized. My early interactions with missionaries made clear that the goal in missions was bringing people to Jesus. It took me quite a while longer to see that goal also applied in our local congregations. Interestingly, in ministry I have always (for some reason unknown) counted baptisms. God eventually gave fruit in our ministry, and we didn’t even know what we were doing—only that he intended us to share the gospel message with everyone who would listen. The greatest fruit has come when we got out of the way and had no personal agenda or interest in recognition.

The challenge I see is that we who minister (and our churches) conclude if “we can make it happen” in one place, “we can make it happen” somewhere else. We expect amazing results always, and quickly. How arrogant and foolish! In a world that praises effective leaders and attributes success or failure in a ministry to people, it’s a reasonable expectation. But the conclusion is false. It is not by our power, but by God’s power.

When we learn this lesson afresh in our success-oriented churches and world, I believe we will return to the only source of power upon which we can depend. The gospel is God’s power for salvation. The church is powerless, weak, and diminishing exactly to the extent that it is failing to declare the marvelous mercies and glorious riches of the gospel. The church is shrinking because it has become hesitant to share the gospel, less certain that people outside of Jesus are lost. The church can reverse the trend when it learns where the real power is. The key is not in what we do, what kind of programs we offer, what kind of church we become, nor magic leaders. The power is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Who can you tell today?

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