Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from my family to yours

Merry Christmas from our family in the United States to yours.

May God Bless you richly as we celebrate the birth of our Savior today. Seek Him and you will find Him. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Jesus loves you.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

Powderhouse Church (quite literally)

As I mentioned in a recent post, we toured an old Portuguese island fortress on our recent trip to Florianopolis. The original powder house where gunpowder and ammunition was stored was located high on the hill, behind a large rock outcropping (pictured above). Originally, ship cannons could not aim up or down, they could only shoot straight out and bombard the shoreline, so the ammunition stores were quite safe.

However, with the development of technology, ship cannons were devised that could rotate up and hit higher elevations. Realizing that the powder house was now vulnerable to Spanish attack, and also that the Spanish were devout Catholics who would never bombard a church, the Portuguese came up with an ingenious plan. They built a new powder house in an exposed position and built a facade around it so that it appeared to be a Catholic church. And indeed, the church was never bombarded by the Spanish.

The lesson of the "powder house church" has stuck with me. There are so many possible spiritual applications that it makes this ex-preacher's head spin. Let me give just one:

The real world example of a church full of gunpowder perfectly illustrates what Paul was talking about when he referred to the power we have through the Holy Spirit. One of the Greek words that Paul uses is actually the root word for dynamite. Through the Holy Spirit which Jesus Christ freely gives to all who ask Him, we have the power to cause an explosion of God's Kingdom here on earth. There is no limit to the power we have at our disposal if we allow God's Spirit to truly work in us.

So I ask you, and I ask myself, am I doing everything I can to unleash His power? Am I quenching the Spirit for fear of being labeled extreme, weird, or theologically questionable? Am I grieving the Spirit in some way? Am I being a conduit of the Spirit's power or am I clogging up the pipe? My prayer is that the next time Satan comes to bombard us and our ministry, that it will set off an explosion that will destroy the spiritual barriers around us forever and commence a move of God that will echo for all of eternity.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

World Champions! (With a spiritual twist)

Internacional, the professional soccer team that we cheer for here in Porto Alegre (POA), won the FIFA World Championship in Japan on Sunday!

They are only the fourth team in Brazil to ever win, and this makes POA the only city on the planet to have two different professional teams that have win the world championship (Gremio won it in the 80's). It is difficult to describe how big this is - it is far bigger than any sporting event in the United States, because it is truly a world championship, representing thousands of professional teams from all over the world. Inter was playing the mighty Barcelona, an team with a huge payroll full of world-famous superstars. Inter has no superstars and was given basically zero chance to win. But, they played well as a team, pulled together, and accomplished what was widely considered impossible.
The passion and energy that is being expressed is truly astounding. Tens of thousands of people gathered in public parks to watch the game on giant screens. When Inter finally scored with just eight minutes left to break a scoreless tie, the roar that rose up from the city was absolutely amazing. After the win, hundreds of thousands spilled out into the streets to dance, cry and celebrate.
The team arrived from Japan this afternoon. They had to land at an air force base in a neighboring city because the police were unable to secure the POA airport from the crowds. It took literally hours for the fire trucks on which they rode to travel the few short km into town to start their parade, because so many fans swarmed the interstate highway to meet them. It has been both impressive and somewhat saddening to see the worship and adulation that millions of Gauchos give to their soccer teams. If only they would give the same worship to Jesus!

Also, it has been both typical and saddening to see the mixture of witchcraft and syncretistic catholicism on the team. In one of the newscasts after the game, the astrologer who picked the jersey number for the player who scored the winning goal was interviewed and given considerable press. A frequent image at Inter home games is that of a statue of St. Anthony sitting behind their goal to bless them as they play. After the team won the title of South American champions, which sent them to the World Championship, one of the assistant coaches crawled across the field on his knees with an statue of Mary in his hands to fulfill his vow. The head coach later walked 20-some miles to a sanctuary of Mary in another city to pay off the vow that he had made.

However, there are bright spots! A number of players pulled off their jerseys immediately after the game to reveal shirts that said "Jesus loves you" or "Jesus changed my life" or "Only Jesus saves" in various languages and were photographed by the 1500 registered photographers. Reporters commented after the South American Championship that pagode, a musical style usually associated with wild partying was "already playing in the locker room." What they didn't mention is that it was Christian pagode being played to glorify Christ.

So...what to do? How about we pray for the Christian players on the team to have an increasing influence on their fellow players and coaches, so that when they win the World Championship again next year, all the members of the team will wear Jesus shirts for the photographers, to God's glory!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ministry in 2006

In reflecting over the last year, I found that it has been full of blessings and challenges.

As the year began, I taught several classes of church planting to students in the Baptist seminary. We recently got an email from André, one my former students who is currently starting a church in the nearby city of Gravataí. He says, “Thank you for teaching me about how to plant churches! You know, every time that I am at our church plant, the Spirit of God has reminded me about our classes. I think that I will be able to graduate next year, and my senior project will be the following: ‘Is it possible to plant churches with almost zero financial investment?’ I intend to use our actual church plant as the example and foundation for my senior project. I’m counting on you to help teach me. By the way, I have a colleague from the seminary who did not take the Church Planting Movements class, and I am passing on to him everything that I know and we want to start a Church Planting Movement in the city of Guaíba, where he lives.”

While the door to teaching at the seminary has closed under difficult circumstances, we rejoice at what God is continuing to do as a result of our short time there. Please pray that God will continue to give us opportunities to influence pastors, students, and laypeople to start new churches.

I also taught several laypeople in a decentralized training institute. I am pleased to report that these four students will be graduating this coming Sunday, and that two of them are already planting a new church in a slum area in the nearby city of Novo Hamburgo. We rejoice for the fruit that God is bringing through them and pray that God will continue to give us opportunities to be involved in training future leaders and church planters.

As you know, we have already handed off the church planting work in São Leopoldo, which was a tremendous challenge, a learning experience, a time to be humbled, and a blessing.

As we look back over the year, we thank God for the blessings that He has given us. We thank Him for the privilege of serving Him here in Brazil, and we thank Him for the many Southern Baptists who help us to be here through their generous giving, as well as for the faithful prayer warrior from many different denominations that intercede on our behalf. As we look towards next year, we are both excited about the possibilities for future ministry, and sobered by the immense need that the 3.5 million gauchos in Metropolitan PoA have to meet the Savior whose birth we now celebrate.

Please pray that:

1. God will give us clear direction for our ministry in 2007.

2. That God will place on the hearts of Southern Baptists to give generously to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering so that we and 5,500 other IMB missionaries can continue their ministries.

3. That God will move on the hearts of Gauchos to turn to Christ and be saved.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The BIG Meeting

Well, we had our meeting on Saturday with the mother church pastor. It was sort of a mixed bag as far as results.

Let's start with the positive aspects of the meeting. First, all of the relational issues appear to have been resolved. I saw this as absolutely essential for the survival of the work - after all, Jesus said that if we aren't unified, we have nothing. Also, there appears to be a clear direction for the future, which is good. Alexandre, one of the original members of the church planting team, has been officially designated as the leader of the work. Alexandre shares the CPM, simple church vision and if he steps up to the challenge, has the potential to really see the work take off under his leadership. I saw Alexandre as the only one who could really keep the work on course and who had the gifts to keep it going.

Unfortunately, we also took a couple of steps back. During the meeting, frustrations about the simple church model were expressed by several of the original team members, who, in their effort to get back in the good graces of the mother church pastor, took pot-shots at our methodology. The mother church pastor, while he stressed his commitment to church planting and his desire to see churches spread rapidly throughout the city, also insisted that all of the members of the various home groups be brought into the mother church for services on Sunday night. In other words, he wants to bring the work closer to a single, traditional church plant.

On the other hand, everyone agreed that our strategy has been highly effective. The pastor went so far as to state that once the work was more structured and established, he would like for the church planting team we trained to move on to another neighborhood and start over. He also invited me to move my focus to another neighborhood and start another new work there.

So...where does this leave us? Well, we have semi-officially handed over the work into the hands of a Brazilian leader who shares our vision. We leave 5 home groups (some of which could probably be considered simple churches, and some not) and a group of new believers. The structure between the home groups is still a bit loose at the moment, although there are plans in place to tighten this up shortly. Also, the relationship with the mother church has been fixed, although the new leader will have to push against the tendency to make this a single, traditional church plant.

We have felt for some time now that God was telling us that it was time to put the work into the hands of Alexandre. The timing was right, and the transition is being made, although we will still be involved in a more limited capacity. So what will the long-term future of the work be? Only time will tell. Pray that the work will thrive, that God will give Alexandre wisdom and boldness, and that we will all be able to continue to rejoice together in what God is doing in São Leopoldo.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Important Meeting on Saturday

For all of you who have been following the continuing saga of our church plants in São Leopoldo, you know that we have had some bumps in the road with the pastor of the mother church. He has now meet with most all of the members of the church planting team individually and it appears that most of the relational issues are ironed out.

Tomorrow (Saturday, December 2), our core church planting team will meet with him as a group in an attempt to better define the relationship between the church plants and the mother church. This is a crucial meeting for the future of the work.

Please pray that:
1. The Holy Spirit will fill the hearts and minds of each one present and that He will guide the meeting without being quenched or grieved in any way.
2. That God's will for the future of the work will be evident, and that nobody's personal opinion will interfere
3. That all will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in the meeting.
4. That Alexandre (who was ordained by the mother church last Saturday) will step to the front and truly take the reins of the work and lead it on to be all that God wants it to be.
5. That both during and after the meeting, the body of Christ would be unified and there would be no division or hard feelings that Satan could exploit.

This is a make or break meeting - pray that God will make it into something great!

Thanking you for your prayers,