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My Thoughts on the Election

November 8, 2016

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

HO CHI MINH CITY – Tomorrow will end one of the most bizarre and polarizing election cycles in American history.

The candidates from the two leading parties are deeply unpopular (with good reason). And Evangelicals are deeply divided over how they should vote—or if they should vote at all.

Considering that the Bible has little to say about electoral politics (they didn’t have elections back then), here’s some wisdom from John Wesley:

I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against; and 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side. (From The Journal of John Wesley, October 6, 1774)

Whether you will be voting tomorrow in the United States elections or voting in a highly contested election somewhere else in the world, here’s how we can take Wesley’s wise advice to heart.

1. Vote for whom you think is most worthy. A simple yet often forgotten point about voting. It’s your vote; so you decide. Don’t worry about the pundits. Don’t worry about pleasing your peers. Don’t worry about pleasing your pastor. Vote for whom you think is most worthy—whether they are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, or a write-in.

2. Speak no evil of the candidate you voted against. In an election season when most people feel that they are in fact choosing between the “lesser of two evils,” it can be tempting to justify your vote by simply describing how “evil” the other candidate is. But as Christians, we are called to a different standard. Our words, even when critiquing a candidate, need to be full of grace. And our attitude should be that of humility—recognizing that apart from God’s grace, we are no better or less sinful than even the most corrupt and morally-bankrupt candidate.

3. Do not sharpen your soul against people who voted differently than you. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say: “I don’t know how someone who calls themselves a Christian can vote for _______.” If you find yourself saying or thinking that, I would suggest that either your circle of friends is too small—or that you’ve spent too much time on the echo-chamber of social media, where you usually only see the newsfeeds of people who think just like you. I guarantee you that people in your local church are not all voting for the same person. Even if you’ve wrestled and prayed over your decision and feel that it is the best vote a committed Christian can make, know that other committed Christians, who have put in similar thought and prayer, will be voting for another candidate (Ed Stetzer has compiled a series of opposing viewpoints from prominent evangelicals that you can view here). Guard your heart from pride and don’t allow the vitriol and disunity of the culture to creep into the church.

As I have said to my church on many election days in the Philippines, we may have a new president; but Jesus is still King. So let’s live (and vote) like it.

Blog / Church / Discipleship / Leadership

Post-Conference Thoughts: Back to Work

October 18, 2016

Every Nation World Conference

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA.  Deborah and I just got back to Nashville from Cape Town, South Africa, where we attended the Every Nation World Conference with thousands of delegates from fifty-eight nations. For those of you who couldn’t make it, check out the recap video(s) and mark your calendars for the next world conference—coming in 2019.

I often find that when I return home from a conference, I’m re-energized to pursue God’s mission for my life and my church, but sometimes I don’t know where to start. There are so many new ideas running through my head and so many pages of notes to sift through. How can I begin to implement the global vision and mission in my local context? And how can I convey the big picture to staff and leaders in my local church who weren’t at the conference?

As leaders, sometimes it can be difficult to translate the momentum of a world conference into concrete action in your local church context.

My advice: keep things simple. Channel all of your energy and momentum into building strong and healthy local churches and campus ministries. Building a strong, healthy church and campus ministry is not complicated. Difficult—yes. Complicated—no. The starting point for a leader is to focus on the few things that really matter: discipleship, worship, and leadership.

Strong, healthy churches and campus ministries must be great in these three areas:

1. Discipleship. As I’ve said many times before, God calls us to make disciples. When we do that, He will build His church. To assess how you’re doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively engaging our culture and community? Are we consistently establishing biblical foundations—in both new believers and old-timers? Are we effectively equipping every member to be a minister of the Gospel? Are we empowering disciples to make disciples?

2. Worship. Though I haven’t written this book (yet), you might say that there are 4 S’s to worship—singing, sermons, service, and sacrament. To assess how your church is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Do the songs we sing together as a church point us to Jesus and motivate us for mission? Are the sermons we preach theologically sound, culturally relevant, and Christ-centered? Does our “spiritual worship” (see Romans 12:1) include service outside the church walls? Does our worship prioritize and celebrate the sacraments of communion and baptism—or have they become empty rituals?

3. Leadership. As I’ve written recently, leadership development is crucial whether your church or campus ministry is small or large, growing or stagnant, new or old. To assess how your church or campus ministry is doing in this area, ask yourself these four questions: Are we actively identifying emerging leaders? Are we providing opportunities for instruction so that our emerging leaders can grow? Are we creating time for impartation so that we can pass on to future leaders the vision, values, and mission of our church? Are we making opportunities for internships so that emerging leaders can work alongside and learn from established leaders?

Allow these questions to help you focus your energy and post-conference momentum on the things that really matter.

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

Why GO?

October 5, 2016

logo-graphic-2-01-2016-1

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA. Yesterday was the official start of our Every Nation GO Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. Over the next few days, thousands of people will be gathering from all over the Every Nation world to worship God, to connect with friends, and to remind ourselves of our mission: to make disciples of all nations.

You may be asking yourself — can’t I do all of those things from the comfort of my own home? Why take the time and money to travel half-way across the world for a conference?

Obviously, there are plenty of legitimate reason why people can’t come. But here are three reasons why conferences like these are important (which occur every three years):

1. WORSHIP: Though it’s true that you can worship God in your own local church (or anywhere for that matter), there is something powerful about worshipping God with people who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, and don’t speak (and sing) in the same language as you do. If you’ve ever been to a GO conference, you know that we make it a priority for our worship to give you a taste of the diversity of heaven — where God is being worshipped by every tribe, tongue, and nation.

2. FAMILY: Though you can (and should) experience Christian community in your local church setting, there is something eye-opening about connecting with our church family from around the world. Whether it’s hearing a testimony from a believer facing persecution in the Middle East or simply grabbing lunch with a local church member from the host country (in this case South Africa), you’ll be amazed to see that despite our many cultural differences, we share a bond of unity that transcends national, cultural, and linguistic differences.

3. MISSION: Though you can remind yourself of God’s mission wherever you are, throughout the Old and New Testaments, there is a distinct pattern of God calling His people to gather together to receive instructions and strategies from Him about the mission. Whether it was Moses and the Israelites meeting with God at Mount Sinai or Jesus and the disciples meeting at the Mount of Olives, God often chooses to impart mission and vision to his people when they are gathered together.

I can’t wait to see what God does in and through us in the next few days as we come into His presence and are equipped and empowered to go out into the world to make disciples.

Blog / Discipleship / Family

Parenting Lessons from a Funeral

September 19, 2016
Me with the Fabregas family after the funeral

Me with the Fabregas family at the funeral

NASHVILLE, TN, USA. This past weekend Deborah, William (my oldest son), and I spoke at a parenting seminar at Bethel Brentwood. During the half-day seminar, we talked about the four E’s of parenting (sound familiar?) and tackled four big questions that every parent should ask themselves:

  • How can we engage our children’s world?
  • How can we establish strong biblical foundations?
  • How can we equip our children for life?
  • How can we empower them to pursue God’s calling?

I opened the first session with a story about a good friend of mine who recently passed away at the age of 77.

Salvador “Bomboy” Fabregas was a pillar of our church for many years. He and his wife became Christians in their late 40’s. One by one his adult children came to faith, and most of his eighteen grandchildren have grown up in our church in Manila.

When we found out about his passing, I was in Nashville, so I quickly booked a flight to Manila so I could be there for the funeral.

One thing I will never forget about the funeral was hearing his grandchildren talk about their grandfather.

One grandson talked about his memories playing chess with (and always losing to) his grandfather. Another referred to his grandfather as one of his biggest fans on the soccer field. One granddaughter talked about how her grandfather was such a good listener and was always making sure he was up to date on what was going on in her life. For me, the most poignant story of all was hearing a teenage grandson tearfully explain that while all his friends complained about their obligatory visits to their aged grandparents, he absolutely looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed every visit with his grandfather.

Pretty soon a clear pattern emerged.

This grandfather was deeply engaged in the lives of his grandchildren—all of them, individually. He didn’t necessarily care about chess or soccer or high school drama—he cared about Carlos, Bea, and Daniel, and the other fifteen.

As a grandfather of two, I was blown away by the fact that my friend had eighteen grandchildren—ranging from their mid-thirties to their pre-teens—and every single one of them felt like the favorite. (Favoritism is destructive when one child or grandchild feels favored and the others feel rejected, however when all feel equally favored, favoritism is a thing of beauty.)

As parents, one of our most important jobs is to engage our children. Love what they love. Care about what they care about. Listen to what is on their minds.

It seems simple enough, but at certain stages, it can be really difficult for parents to engage their children. Maybe your son’s or daughter’s interests have changed to things that you know nothing about. Maybe your teenager is intentionally pushing you away. Maybe you a have a new baby in the family that is taking a lot of your time and attention. Or maybe you are simply too busy at work.

Whatever season of parenting we find ourselves in, let’s learn from my good friend Bomboy. Let’s stay engaged with our children (and eventually our grandchildren) all the way to the end.

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

Why You Should Stop Searching for Authentic Community

September 12, 2016

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

TOKYO AIRPORT. A few weeks ago, my oldest son, William, preached a sermon at Bethel’s Wednesday night service on the importance of church community.

He opened with this quote from German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945):

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. [from Life Together (1939)]

The main idea behind Bonhoeffer’s quote is that Christian community is not about warm feelings—it’s about active engagement. I often hear people say they don’t feel like their church is creating authentic community.

The truth is: it doesn’t really matter.

Because our job is not to create authentic community. Our job is to participate in it. If you see the creation of authentic Christian community as the church’s responsibility, you’ll constantly be disappointed in your pastor or your church or even yourself. But if we see Christian community as an eternal spiritual reality—created and sustained by God in Christ—then we will be freed to love and serve and forgive even when we don’t feel like it.

So how do we participate in Christian community?

The answer may be disappointingly obvious. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I regularly attend weekly worship gatherings—or do other weekend activities take priority?
  • Do I faithfully tithe to my local church—or do I hold back in giving because I have an issue with the new building program?
  • Do I actively participate in weekly small group discipleship—or do I complain that my church feels too big?
  • Do I willingly serve at my church—or do I come only to get fed?
  • Do I thank God for my local church family—or do I fantasize about finding a better, more “authentic” church community?

Like our natural families, spiritual family is real whether we feel it or not—and whether we like everyone or not. We don’t have to create it. God already did that.

All we have to do is engage.

Blog / Discipleship / Missions

Multi-ethnic Ministry and Ministry Flexibility

August 16, 2016

hands Brown Smaller ResMANILA, PHILIPPINES. Last week, following a sermon I had recently preached on Luke 24:46-49, I asked the question: What does Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry look like in practice?

Looking at Peter’s first attempt at cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry (in Acts 10), we discovered that in order for Peter and the early apostles to reach every nation, they had to be willing to set aside their Jewish cultural (and culinary) preferences and eat every food. Peter’s willingness to accept Cornelius’ hospitality (and eat his non-Kosher food) was a crucial first step, but it was just the first step.

Peter didn’t stop there. He went on to preach the Gospel to Cornelius and his household. And that’s when things got really interesting…

Remember, Peter was preaching the Gospel to non-Jews for the first time. He had never seen a Gentile become a follower of Jesus, and he assumed that anyone who responded to the Gospel would probably need to convert to Judaism (and be circumcised) before they could follow the Jewish Messiah. In Peter’s mind, the discipleship process looked like this: repentance, circumcision, baptism in water, and eventually, baptism in the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit, it turns out, had other plans.

All those who heard Peter’s message were baptized in the Holy Spirit and immediately began speaking in tongues—before he even finished his sermon (see Acts 10:44-48)! The Jewish disciples who had traveled with Peter were shocked at what they saw. Not only had these brand new Gentile believers skipped the “crucial” step of circumcision, they had not even been baptized in water before they were baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Peter was also shocked. But he decided to abandon his own ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, saying, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” (Acts 10:47)

In short, if Spirit-empowered, multi-ethnic ministry requires us to be adventurous in our eating, it also requires us to be flexible in our ministry expectations.

Imagine if Peter had been unwilling to adjust his ministry expectations and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. Imagine if he had silenced the new believers from speaking in tongues. Imagine if he had made everyone (well, all the males) be circumcised first, then baptized in water a few weeks later, and then baptized in the Holy Spirit only after they completed the process.

How would this story of cross-cultural, multi-ethnic ministry have played out differently if Peter had rigidly held to his own ministry expectations?

Perhaps it’s easy for us (Gentile) believers in the 21st century to see that Peter made the right decision when ministering to Cornelius and his family. But at the time, what Peter was doing was highly controversial and shocking to many Jewish believers.

Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry often requires that we be flexible with our ministry expectations in order to reach people who are very different from us.

Here are a few modern examples of this from around the Every Nation world:

Example 1: Friday worship services in the Middle East

  • Though most Christians throughout church history have gathered to worship on Sundays, most of our churches in the Middle East hold their weekly worship services on Friday. Why? Because Friday is the day of the week when most people in majority Muslim countries have off work. If our missionaries were rigid about worshipping on Sunday, then few people would be able to come since most people work and/or attend school on Sunday.

Example 2: Discipleship groups in the pub in Western Europe

  • Though many American evangelicals and Pentecostals choose to abstain from drinking alcohol (this includes me), our missionaries to Western Europe have found that one of the best settings to make disciples is in the pub. Why? Because pubs have a different function in European society than they do in American society. In the eyes of Western Europeans, pubs are less a space of drunkenness and partying than they are a space of conversation and community—kind of like a coffee shop. That’s why many of our Every Nation missionaries find pubs to be a perfect place for small group discipleship.

Example 3: One2One discipleship in Japan

  • Though the One2One discipleship material has been an effective tool for teaching new believers (and even pre-believers) the basics of the faith, our missionaries in Japan found that the material—originally intended for a Catholic Filipino audience—assumed too much background knowledge about the Bible and the life of Jesus. Our leaders decided that to make the tool more effective in their context, they needed to rewrite the One2One book with a Shinto/Buddhist/secularist Japanese audience in mind. Among other things, this involved adding a “Chapter 0” to lay the groundwork for Chapter 1 on Salvation.

These are just a few of many examples of how our cross-cultural missionaries have needed to be flexible with their ministry expectations in order to do effective Spirit-led, multi-ethnic ministry in every nation.

Remember, the truth of the Gospel does not change, but how we communicate and embody that message should change depending on our ministry context.

So let’s learn from Peter and remember to be flexible and, most importantly, to be led by the Holy Spirit as we go and make disciples of all nations.

 

Blog / Discipleship / Leadership

The 20-Hour Work Week: Is Hard Work Compatible with God’s Grace?

November 17, 2015

MANILA. A while back I posted  a blog that included a rant about hard work that was inspired by my observation that some ministers and businessmen seem to believe that hard work is not compatible with the Gospel.

Christians with a functioning work ethic today are becoming as rare as Bigfoot sightings.

The 20-hour work week is the new normal, but when we add 20 hours hanging around coffee shops, and another 20 doing social media, we call it a 60-hour work week. It is amazing how little is actually accomplish in the modern 60-hour work week.

Why are we so allergic to work?

Today’s Church has a whole generation of teachers who misunderstand and distort the grace of God, turning it into an excuse for laziness and licentiousness.

The fact that we are not saved by works does not mean we are not supposed to work. Work is a good thing, a blessing from God. Genesis 2:15 tells us, The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden TO WORK IT and take care of it. This was before the  fall so work was originally part of the blessing, not the curse.

Paul saw no conflict between grace and work, rather he saw them as working together in harmony. Consider the following:
Ephesians 2:8-10
Verse 8 – saved by grace…
Verse 9 – not by works…
Verse 10 – to do good works…

Is hard work compatible with God’s grace? Paul thought so. I agree with Paul.

1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the GRACE of God I am what I am, and his GRACE to me was not without effect. No, I WORKED HARDER than all of them—yet not I, but the GRACE  of God that was with me.

Blog / Discipleship / Family

The Myth of the Gifted Child

November 17, 2015

TUGUEGARAO, PHILIPPINES. Last Saturday I flew from Manila to Tuguegarao, then drove to Aparri to meet my friend, Ferdie Cabiling (aka The Running Pastor) at the finish line of his epic 2500 kilometer (1400 miles) run across the Philippines. Ferdie’s goal was to run from Sarangani to Aparri (from south to north) at least 50K per day and finish in less than 50 days in his 50th year all for the benefit of deserving Real Life Scholars.  Learn more about the Real Life Scholars and the Real Life Foundation here.

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“Your sons are so gifted.”

I’ve heard it a thousand times…

— At William’s elementary school piano recitals: “Wow, he has a musical gift”  (No, he’s practiced every day, since he was five.)
— At James’ junior tennis tournaments:  “I wish my son could hit a forehand like that” (Try training seven days a week for a few of years.)
— At Jonathan’s art shows: “He obviously has a special gift for art” (You should have seen his “art” before we hired an art teacher to mentor him.)

Yeah, we have gifted kids — they were gifted with a mother who wouldn’t allow them to waste time doing nothing. And they were gifted with a father who was on a ten-year anti-TV, anti-video game kick during their formative years. That’s why they spent countless hours reading, listening to music, and developing killer kick-serves.

My sons were also gifted with mentors/coaches/teachers who helped them discover and develop a few of the skills and talents that God hid in them.

Gifts are free. Talents are costly. They must be discovered, developed, and funded.

But sadly, most talent is never discovered, never developed, and never funded. It is simply wasted while staring at a screen. Tragic.

What are you doing to develop your gifts and talents?
What are you doing to help develop your kid’s gifts and talents?

I’ll never forget the junior tennis tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee when the father of a kid sixteen-year-old James had just destroyed turned to me and said: “I bet you paid a lot of money for his forehand.” That father understood that if gifts and talents are to be developed, they must be funded. He was right, I paid a lot of money for that killer forehand, and it was worth every dollar/peso.

Blog / Discipleship / Worship

In Light of Grace, Does Obedience Matter?

October 19, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO. (I wrote this blog a couple of weeks while visiting ourEvery Nation church in NM.) Does the doctrine of grace nullify the law? Does God still expect us to at least attempt to obey His word? The way some people preach grace today makes it seem that obedience no longer matters. Maybe it doesn’t matter to some preachers. But it matters to God.

How common it is today to “relax” God’s moral, ethical, and relational standards. No matter what the culture says, sex outside of marriage is sin. Coveting, lying, and stealing are also sinful. Bitterness, unforgiveness, and hatred are common, but wrong.

Speaking about the Law, Jesus said we should not think that He came to “abolish the Law or the Prophets.” Rather, He came to “fulfill” the Law. He then said, “until heaven and earth will pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until it is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17,18)

Jesus was was the embodiment of grace, but He was not anti-Law. In fact, He gave a serious warning to those who would like to “relax” the demands of the law. “Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teachers others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) Often when I hear a radio or TV preacher, it seems they are teaching people to relax God’s commands. I guess that means our generation has produced some of the least in the kingdom.

The Gospel tells us that no matter how sinful and disobedient we are, God still loves and redeems us, by grace through faith. Our obedience does not increase God’s love for us, and our disobedience does not decrease His love for us. While we were sinners, He loved us enough to sacrifice His one and only Son for us.

If God loves us whether or not we obey, what then is the point of trying to obey His Law?

Our obedience does not increase His love for us, but it does increase our love for Him. The more we obey, the more our love for Him will grow. Jesus said it like this, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word.” (John 14:23) He did not say, If anyone keeps my word, the Father will love him. No, the Father loves us if we keep the word, and if we do not keep the word. Reading and obeying God’s word, increases our love for Him.

Summary: We cannot increase God’s love for us, but if we want our love for God to increase, we must read and obey His word.

More blogs on this topic: Grace or Truth?   Grace is Supposed to Change Us,    The Certainty of Forgiveness.

And finally, here’s a great worship song about the transformational power of grace: Grace Changes Everything.

Blog / Church / Discipleship

Declaring War on Low Expectations

September 29, 2015

NASHVILLE. It is common in some modern ministry circles, to not only accept, but to actually celebrate low expectation and smallness. Big vision is considered arrogant and status quo is confused with humility. While some visionaries are certainly arrogant and some small-thinkers are truly humble, this does not mean that biblical humility and big vision cannot peacefully coexist. From Moses to Paul to Medieval martyrs to modern Bible translators, church history is filled with humble visionaries who dreamed big and actually accomplished much.

Consider the familiar words of Jesus in John 15. While exhorting his disciples to “abide in the vine” and to “remain in Him” Jesus listed five levels of fruitfulness that seemed designed to help his followers think bigger and expect more.

1. No fruit. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away. (John 15:2) Other translations say he cuts off fruitless branches. This text is more an exhortation to fruitfulness than an explanation of the doctrine of perseverance of the saints. Bottom line: fruitlessness is not an acceptable option. So, if your church or campus ministry is doing activities that are not bearing fruit, they probably need to be cut off or taken away. Unless of course, busyness is our ultimate goal.

2. Fruit. Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes. (John 15:2) Fruitfulness is the goal. Fruitless branches get cut off, and fruitful branches get pruned. Either way we get cut, so we might as well get cut for fruitfulness rather than for fruitlessness.

3. More fruit. He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:2) The divine purpose in pruning (cutting things off) is so that we bear more fruit. If you have been fruitful in church planting or campus ministry, the next step is more fruit.

4. Much Fruit. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8) We have all been repelled by insecure leaders who think ministry growth and size is all about them. Fortunately, they are the exception not the rule. If your ministry has born fruit and then more fruit, I suggest you brace yourself for more pruning. And after the pain of pruning, it might be a good idea to start planning, preparing, and staffing for much fruit.

5. Lasting Fruit. I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:16) Alternate translations use the words remain or last. Jesus wants our fruit to abide, remain, and last. Unfortunately it is common for churches and campus ministries to experience much fruit that vanishes as soon as we tweet about it. Jesus is not interested in giving us temporary fruit. His fruitfulness progression goes from no fruit to fruit to more fruit to much fruit to lasting fruit.

Are you praying for, planning for, preparing for much fruit? Or have you made peace with no fruit or with little fruit?

The fields are ripe for harvest. That means we declare war on fruitlessness and low expectations, and begin to think and dream big as if God really wants to give us fruit, more fruit, much fruit, and lasting fruit.