Friday, November 17, 2017

Our goodbye to Cajamarca

     In about two weeks my family and I will be leaving Cajamarca after a little over six years.  This is beyond question the most difficult move we have ever made.  Not because of the challenges of moving in Peru, which is difficult enough, or the fact that it is not just a move within Peru but from one country to another in South America. Not even because of the foreseeable challenges of having to adapt to a new culture.  The biggest difficulty is leaving our church and the family we have made here.  One of the elders at our church asked me the other night as we were headed to dinner, "What have you enjoyed most in your time here in Cajamarca?"  Without hesitation I said the people.  But I went on to clarify and to expand on that response.  It is not the people in general, but the people of our church.  I love all the people here, yes.  The people here are so loving and open.  It is a very warm culture.  It is very different than where I am from and what I am used to.  But that isn't what I was talking about.  I have been amazed at what the Lord has done in the lives of several people who come to Refugio.  I told him, "we have seen lives radically changed by the Lord."  Never would I have ever expected to be a part of this.  I hope and pray that in Valdivia we will get to experience this as well.  But leaving our people is what is making this so difficult. 

     As I thought more about our time here I couldn't but help just praise Christ for His grace.  Everything that has taken place here, really has nothing to do with us.  We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  If we weren't here, the Lord would have raised someone else up who would have got to participate in what the Lord was doing.  I am so grateful that we got to see lives changed.  I am grateful that people are growing in Christ.  I am grateful that the Lord can use boneheads in His plan.  But during these last few months, I have also been able to teach our people and show them that the Lord's plan is beyond ourselves.  Too many times we focus on what is right in front of us and forget the big picture.  I have gotten to show them about the importance for Christ's mission of reaching the world.  About the priority of intentional church planting that we see in the New Testament.  There is a global focus in the gospel that sometimes we forget because we are only looking at ourselves and our issues.   It has also been an opportunity to teach them about obedience to the Lord even when it is difficult.  Even when we don't want to, it is always in our benefit to obey the Lord. 

     It has been a great internal struggle to actually let go.  I don't want to leave right now.  The church has reached the point that we have been wanting to get to for years.  Why leave right now?  Well, because that is the Lord's plan.   I am thankful for great encouragement and exhortation that I have received as of late.  I look at Adolfo and Raul and John and the rest of our key people at Refugio and I couldn't be more blessed and confident in turning the church over to them.  Their love and commitment to Christ and to His people is obvious.  Refugio will be in good hands.  Of course, she will be in the hands of Jesus, but I also mean those whom the Lord has raised up.  Looking at them has brought me great peace.  Each one of these guys brings something so unique to the table.  It is a great team and I couldn't be prouder to have been a part of them and to have served with them.

     The good thing is we aren't to far away and if the Lord allows it, we plan on visiting a couple times a year.  I can't say it enough, but it has been an incredible six years.  When I planted the church, even though I shaved my head, I had a full head of hair and no gray in my beard.  Well, my beard is full of gray and even if I didn't shave my head, I wouldn't have much hair to grow out.  I have seen and continue to see so many short comings in my life.  It has been a great time of refinement and stretching.  Without these past six years I would not have learned dependance upon Christ and learned of the empowering of the Spirit.  I have seen the results of when I strive in the flesh or when I am walking in the Spirit.  I can only imagine what the Lord is going to do in me these next six years.  I imagine more of the same.  But one thing is for sure, I look forward to the day when we finally see Christ face to face and we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.  I look forward to the day when we have no more goodbyes but we are all gathered around the throne worshiping Him forever more.   Saints from all the ages, from all the churches, from all the nations.  Nicole and I always knew it would be difficult to start this journey.  But never did we know it would be this difficult.  One thing though that we have learned in abundance is that the Lord's grace is sufficient.  It is one thing to know something in your head and it is quite another thing to know something experientially.  That is what is happening in our lives right now.  We are learning lesson after lesson experientially not just intellectually.  And for that, we are even more grateful. 

     On December 2nd, my son and I will leave the mountain in a van and drive to Valdivia.  On December 3rd my wife and daughters will get on a plane and fly down.  My son and I have already begun to shed tears and begun our goodbyes.  When the girls return from the States next week they will begin.  Please be praying for us and for those whom we leave.  These last six years have been incredible and the Lord has been faithful.  Thanks so much for all your love and support.  It would have not been possible without you.  May the Lord shower you with His grace today. 

Soli Deo gloria.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Atonement, sin, the cross and the true gospel.

A little over six and half years ago my family and I stepped into an unknown land.  We had no idea what was in store for us.  It was very much a time of uncertainty for us.  We had no idea how everything would pan out.  Part of the reason that even got us thinking of cross cultural service was my own personal experiences.   Through them I got this burden to see gospel churches planted.  It is so amazing to look back on divine providences and the counsel which ended up bringing us here 9000' in the Anders mountains of northern Peru.  It has been an incredible journey so far.  One filled with highs and lows.  Never did we imagine we would be doing what we are doing.  The first Sunday of September was our five year anniversary of planting our first church.  By God's grace it is a church that preaches the gospel of God's free grace.

For the benefit of the world wide church, there has been a resurgence in conversations about the gospel, gospel preaching, gospel centered ministry and everything alike.  I personally have received from so much of the material out there.  One thing I wanted to be true to in ministry, and still do, is the gospel.  Many things pass for gospel that in all actuality are not gospel.  We must never confuse the benefits of the gospel or by products of the gospel as the gospel.  It is easy to preach about the blessing of the gospel (and we should).  It is easy to share all about the wonderful results of trusting in the gospel (and we should).  But we can never confuse the results of the gospel with the gospel itself.  There is a very real and great temptation to soften the message of the cross.  The message of the cross is offensive.   The message of God's free grace to sinners isn't something that is easily preached or received.  I think many people take the sting out of the message and try to make it less offensive and soften the message, with maybe the best intentions.  They want to see people trust Jesus so they talk about the blessing of the gospel or results or other facets.  They will tell you to pray a prayer and then you are saved and all this type of stuff.  All the while never even giving the gospel or the demands of discipleship.  I am so blessed in my life to have been (and still am) surrounded by and discipled by,  incredibly gospel centered men.  Certain individuals have poured into me and I have great models to look and pull from.  Years ago, I was sitting in a class on a Sunday afternoon and one of those men who pastors a church in Half Moon Bay said something that I can still hear in my head as clear as if I was sitting in that room right now.  He said "I like to preach about the blood and the cross and sin."  That has profoundly shaped me and the way I view ministry. Possibly that class on a whole, more than anything else has shaped me into who I am as preacher.

Recently in our pastoral training program that we facilitate, we were discussing being ashamed of the gospel.  Talking about why and what that might mean or look like in their ministries.  After some good natured banter I said listen guys, it can be very easy to be ashamed of the gospel.  Maybe not in our minds, but by our actions.  Tons of the methods that people have developed are because of shame of the gospel.  I was very honest.  I asked do I desire a big church?  If I answer yes, why?  I could say oh because then more people are coming to Christ and hearing God's word......bla bla bla. I said all the proper answers.  But then  I said we need to examine our motives.  Cause in my pride, I would love to have a huge church.  But why?  So I could say look at me?  So I could say I am so effective?  Why?  There is a fine line there.  And I told them, I could have a big church if I wanted.  I really could.  I have no doubt I could get our church to explode.  How?   By softening the gospel.  By getting away from the gospel.  By preaching to the felt needs of people.  By preaching on the blessings of the gospel only.  I could teach a series on how to have a better sex life (sex sells!).  I could do a series on how to better yourself.  You know, self improvement, people eat that up.  I could teach a 7 step course to financial freedom and how to give you a better life and build better relationships.  Our church would grow!  There is no question about it.  But is that being a faithful minister of Christ I asked?  And that is a question I ask myself everyday as I rise.  Am I being a faithful minister of Christ?

When we look at how the Apostles did ministry we see that the focus of their preaching was the cross.  They had an atonement centered message.  They gloried in the message of the cross.  They could not live without it and they were willing to die for it.  And because they were, they exposed themselves to hardships, persecutions and even death.  See, the message of the atoning death of Christ for sin is the heart the Apostles gospel and that is to be the cornerstone of the Christian faith.  When we strip all that away, there is NO GOSPEL.  Jesus told people to count the cost before following.  We don't see much of that in our modern evangelicalism.  We have a tendency to emphasize the benefits of the gospel but not the gospel!  So many preach this easy believism.  Just pray this prayer and wah-lah you are a Christian.  It is like this magic formula.  We had dinner the other night with one of the elders of the church and his wife and we were talking about that subject.  Especially in this culture, to ask someone if they want to trust Jesus and pray this prayer, 99% of the time it will happen.  This is a people pleasing culture.  I told them I could get the whole restaurant at that point to pray the prayer.  It just doesn't hold weight here.  Besides we are called to make disciples not converts.  Yes it is great when someone trusts Christ.  We never want to minimize that.  In Luke's gospel it says there is rejoicing going on in heaven when one sinner repents.  But why do we make such a huge deal about the initial steps?  I think that we should make such a greater emphasis on the finishing steps.  Who celebrates because someone started a marathon?  It doesn't matter how well we start.  What matters is how we finish!  That is a great thrust of the Scriptures.  And many people, tragically, will not finish the race set out before them.  And many times, it is because they don't know the race they are entering.  Lloyd Jones (another one of those shaping influences who I was introduced to through PB on those Sunday morning classes) had grave concerns over this type of evangelism.  He said "I can sum it up by putting it like this: I feel that this pressure which is put upon people to come forward in decision ultimately is due to a lack of faith in the work and operation of the Holy Spirit. We are to preach the Word, and if we do it properly, there will be a call to a decision that comes in the message, and then we leave it to the Spirit to act upon people. And of course He does."  This is what we have done in our church.  We preach, we pray that the Spirit would do His work and we trust in the power of the gospel.  To God be the glory, we have seen people trust in Christ, but I am more concerned in how they walk and persevere than their initial trust.

Several of the pastors in our program use tactics and methods to get people to make professions of faith. Other ministries around here do the same thing.  There are issues within the church that are reasons to divide over.  Methodology for the most part wouldn't be one of them.  I have great desire to set aside many of the non essentials to have unity.  There are certain doctrines that we don't need to be dogmatic about. With that said,  I would probably only attend one or two of the churches that are represented in our pastor training program.  But through this program pastors are becoming more grounded in the truth and developing a true gospel centered ministry.  That is one of the biggest goals of the program.  We aren't pushing a certain methodology, but pushing the gospel.  But one methodology we want to stay away from is any one that creates a false hope or false sense of security or false converts.  Lloyd Jones talks about how the Puritans in particular were afraid of what they would call "a temporary faith" or "a false profession." There was a Puritan, Thomas Shepard, who published a famous series of sermons on The Ten Virgins. The great point of that book was to deal with this problem of a false profession. The foolish virgins thought they were all right. This is a very great danger.  Never do we want to be guilty of producing this temporary faith or false professions.  We are to preach to the minds and to the hearts and let the Spirit do the work of drawing that person to Christ.

Lloyd Jones says "the order in Scripture seems to be this – the truth is presented to the mind, which moves the heart, and that in turn moves the will."  When we preach the gospel, the gospel will do its work.  We, like the sower in the parable, just sow seed.  Scatter and let God through the Word by the power of the Spirit operate.  These six years have been a learning process.  It will continue to be.  There are times when I am so over my head and under water that I don't know how I managed to get some air.  I expect many more days like that.  I have made many mistakes and I know many more are to come.  But one thing I know and believe with all my heart, the only thing profitable that I have to give is the gospel.  The same gospel that my mentors have preached.  The same gospel that the Apostles preached.  The same gospel that our Lord Jesus Christ preached.  The more I study it and read it and meditate on it and trust in it, the better I will be in giving and sharing and persuading and trusting in it myself.  I am grateful for those who have gone before me and who have shaped and molded me.  I am grateful for the small amount of influence I have in the lives of thirty pastors in this area to speak of these matters with them.  I heard someone say the gospel is great and all but we need to help the people on a more practical level.  Listen, ALL practical matters of the Christians life flow from the true gospel.  We never move beyond it.  The gospel is not just for non believers or new believers.  Matter of fact if you get tired of hearing the gospel, you need to seriously have a soul searching time.  The gospel should never be old or boring or unexciting.  We do not meet Christ at the cross and then move past it or outgrow our need for it.   One preacher said "All of our blessings are blood bought.  And the only hope of avoiding false doctrine and heresy such as legalism or license to sin (abused grace), is to continually treasure the cross and the tremendous price of Christ's atonement."   This is why we don't preach the moral code of Jesus or the example Jesus as the essential Christian message.  The true message we need to preach, trust, and love is the atoning death of Christ on the cross.  As difficult as that is.  As hard as it can be.  As offensive as it might be.  That is the message.  Christ and Him crucified.  When I stand before the throne of God, I will not be judged on my "numbers" but I will be judged on my faithfulness.  And it is not faithfulness in the things that I think are important but faithfulness to what Christ deems important.  So I will maintain by God's grace to be faithful to the gospel of our glorious Lord Jesus!

Soli Deo gloria

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Developing a culture of prayer

Every day is one day closer to the time we leave Cajamarca, Peru and head to Valdivia, Chile.  It has been crunch time for me and I don't see the load changing soon.  While my teaching schedule is now significantly reduced, other responsibilities have increased.  I only teach two more Sunday mornings and maybe two or three more times at our Firm Foundations classes on Wednesday nights.

So my load of work isn't with studying and prepping for teaching, it is with making sure all our leaders are understanding their roles and responsibilities.  I am not at all concerned with the messages that will be coming from behind the pulpit.  Our guys have an incredible grasp on the Scriptures and are grounded in the truth and are very gospel centered.  I guess you could call it our mission statement for RCC, but we have this framed on the wall when you walk into our church and we all passionately believe this must take place and all our leaders hold to this:

WE PREACH JESUS FROM THE BIBLE
While you may learn some good things like historical background on the text, how to be a better person, or how to date and marry well, none of those things are the primary purpose of preaching.  Without Jesus, none of those things matter.  Since Jesus is what we all need, and since the Bible is about Him, we preach Jesus from the Bible every Sunday.

So while us leaders meet and discuss issues and practical theology and where we stand, we all have a clear vision and heart to preach Jesus and Jesus alone.  Next week, I think I will talk more on that because I don't want to get on a rabbit trail right now, but the work right now isn't of that nature.  I am not working with their sermons or theological understanding.  The work is just talking over simple things.  Showing up on time (very counter cultural in Peru), guarding their hearts, praying for members of the church and taking more responsibility in their personal discipleship of members.  We have been talking about all the logistics of the financial issues of the church and how money will still be coming in to cover costs of ministry.  We are discussing who is going to be taking over children's ministry, orphanage ministry, and scheduling and all of those things that to be honest I am not the best in.  But these are areas that need to be nailed down and understood.

I couldn't be prouder to see our guys stepping up to the plate and taking ownership and grabbing ahold of the ministries they have been entrusted with.  But what I have seen that has most blessed my heart is the leaders desire to have a culture of prayer.  It shows that they understand that the church is the Lord's and they need His grace and power to do what it is they are called to do.  I love seeing this. 

As I look back on planting this church, I do believe one area that I failed greatly in was developing a culture of prayer within the church.  I am not saying I didn't pray or anything like that.  I prayed and still pray.  I am desperate for the Lord and nothing that has happened would have ever happened if we didn't pray.  But, I think I prayed more out of fear or because I had no idea what I was doing or things like that.  I thought maybe the church would just have a culture of prayer.   It wasn't something I focused in on.  We have corporate prayer time before each Sunday service, but it was never something that was an emphasis if that makes sense? By the Lord's grace, our leaders have now developed their own desire to pray as leaders and as a church and several within the church are seeing the importance of corporate prayer, but I failed the Lord's people in that area greatly.  And so when we head to Valdivia, our church will have a culture of prayer.  It will be a priority as much as preaching the gospel!  Prayer, both corporate and individual, will be a major focus of RCC Valdivia.  

It is totally by the Lord's grace that RCC BaƱos del Inca has been established and is flourishing.  Truly the Lord has done a great work and it is humbling to play a small part in it.  It was definitely by His might and His power.   I told the pastors in our ESI training, which I will get into next week talking about preaching and ministry, but I told them we need to glory in our redeemer.  I see so many people promote themselves and what they do and even exaggerate and claim things that aren't theirs or claim things that other people do and say they are the ones doing it.  It is sad and shameful. One thing is for sure when it comes to us and all that has taken place here, WE DID NOTHING!  It was all of the Lord and we just happened to be in the right place at the right time and people sacrificially have given to this work.  Even though I never developed a culture of prayer, we prayed and it was prayer that opened the gates.  Don't misunderstand what I am saying.  I am not saying we name it and claim it and all that garbage, but I am saying when we pray it shows how desperate and dependent we are on Jesus.  Prayer is the life line of the Christian and it sure is the life line of any true ministry and church.  This is something I knew, and believe, but I don't think I truly conveyed that to our people.  But our Lord is gracious and has shown them.

As I continue to work with our leaders on the transition of the church, I am so grateful to our Lord that even though I failed greatly in establishing a culture of prayer, He is!  Even when I am unfaithful, He remains faithful.  In my weakness, His power is made perfect.  I have learned a lot over these last 5 years of planting a church.  I have made many mistakes and I will make many more on the next one, but I am excited to plant another one once again.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Not sure

Where do I begin?  Do I express how our days are rapidly coming to an end in Peru?  Do I cry about how sad that is making all of us?  Do I write about how excited we are to get to Valdivia and start a new work?  Do I vent about how I can't wait to leave Peru because I am tired of being associated with certain individuals and always having to say, "no we are not with them"?  Do I say I can't wait until we don't see people who are "smiling faces" like the song sings about?  Do I begin by saying how hard it is to leave Peru because all the Lord has done here and what not?  Do I say we have so many mixed emotions and do not know how to deal with them?  I just don't know!  I sat down at my computer this morning at 7:45 to write out my heart.  In the past it has always helped me to work through what I am feeling by writing out my thoughts.  I have written severals posts this morning and deleted them.  It is now almost noon.  I still haven't be able to process or clearly express myself.  I am sure glad I finished my sermon for Sunday yesterday.  At this point I don't even know if I could manage to put a sound message together.  This is uncharted territory for me and my family.  Leaving Peru is the hardest thing we have ever had to do.  It is harder to leave Peru than it was leaving California.  Yet at the same time we are excited.  It almost makes me feel guilty that I am excited.  Most of the excitement though isn't about moving back to a coastal town or a town that has sausage.  I am excited about starting a new work and those challenges, but more than anything I am just tired of being here and seeing people and what they do and the talking that goes on.  We never try to air out our dirty laundry or speak to much on the hardships because......really what good does it do.  I internalize a lot.  I try to hold my tongue and never speak ill because gossip is an ugly sin.  But I will say that I believe it is the Lord's grace that we go through certain trials and circumstances, but it takes the proper perspective to see that.  I am glad to see true colors and all of that because it makes it easier to leave.  Being surrounded by it, it is hard to keep your nose out of it.  But once we are gone, the only thing we will hear about from Peru is from our church and our people.  One of our national leaders told us the other day that he doesn't want to have any part of anything that is not from us or our sending churches.  With us gone, it will make it so much easier for RCC to be independent from anyone else in this area.  So that makes me excited, but then I think about all our people who we have invested in and have come to love so deeply.  I think how my daughter who was born here is so proud to say I am Peruvian!  I think about the simplicity of life here.  I think of how blessed we are to be part of such a loving and selfless church.  It brings tears.  How are things going to look in Chile?  Not sure!  It definitely won't be a Peruvian church we will be part of.  So we will have to learn how to "do" church again.  One thing we never wanted to do here was export American evangelicalism but  to bring biblical Christianity.  We see too many people try to make "American Christians".  I read a thought provoking statement the other day by David Platt who is president of the IMB.  He said "we desperately need to explore how much of our understanding of the gospel is American and how much is biblical."  Wow!  This is one of the things that irritates me about so much I see.  Yet, I need to make sure what we do isn't because we are American or because of church tradition but because it is gospel.  So I have fears about Valdivia.  But I know that if I take the path of Paul, and decided to know nothing among anyone except Jesus Christ and him crucified, I am going in the right way.  One of the greatest complements I have received was the other night at our elders meeting.  One of our elders said that our church is a church that preaches Christ and Him crucified and only that.  We have seen lives change.  People have come to trust in Christ.  We don't have people raise their hands.  We don't post pictures about how someone came to know the Lord or said some prayer.  Especially in this culture.  People will tell you anything because they are people pleasers.  And besides,  how do you know if the seed fell on good soil?  You don't!  We preach Christ and Him crucified at RCC and that will continue.  In Valdivia, church will look different, but one thing will remain the same.  We will preach Christ and Him crucified.  We are not doing what we are doing to build our kingdom or our church or our style of American evangelicalism.  We have had challenges here with all of that.  It is hard to leave, but at the same time it is easy.  I don't know what is in store in Valdivia, but I do know the Lord is moving us and our days are coming to and end here.  Well, that it is it.  I don't know what I have even just wrote or expressed or if it makes sense.  I typed out what I was saying and I won't even go back and edit it because this is the rawest form of who I am.  I just hope that in it and in some small way you see my open heart and my desire to honor Christ in all we do.  But I also hope it reveals ways you can be praying for us.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

As for me and my house we shall serve the Lord

     If I was a gambling man I would bet that the majority of Christian homes have Joshua 24:15 mounted on the wall somewhere.  I know the majority of Christian homes that I have been in have that verse on display.  As cliche as it may be, that is a superb vision for anyone's home.  We want to serve the Lord in our home in the way we love each other and treat each other.  We want to serve the Lord with what we do for entertainment and in our free time.  Every aspect of our home we want to honor and serve our Lord.  Obviously we fail in this area every day.  Each member of my household.  Yet, by the Lord's grace we press on to do just that.  And by the Lord's grace we will be doing that in a whole new way and literally in our own home.  Let me explain.

     When we got confirmation to head to Valdivia to pioneer a new church plant we were once again stepping into the unknown.  Logistically we didn't know how things would line up.  There are still many factors that we aren't sure of but we are just waiting to see how the Lord directs and what doors He opens.  It has been so encouraging already to see the connections made and opportunities opened.  When we took our visionary trip last year to Valdivia, we couldn't have been more excited to get down there and start the work.  Some hiccups have come on the way, but that is to be expected.  But during that trip I remember my dad saying with a little joking in his voice (I think), "Even if you don't come down here, I am."  You have to understand something about my dad.  He is a beach bum.  He loves coastal living.  There is something about the salt water that is in the air and the sand that gets stuck everywhere and in all places.   Being there on that visionary trip drew him in!

     Allow me fast forward.  I can't remember the exact timeframe, but my parents told me they purchased a piece of property outside the city of Valdivia.  I was so overwhelmed with joy for them.  Especially after they told me they could walk to the beach in five minutes!   This is what they deserved.  Both of them worked very hard to provide and take care of their family.  My dad worked in heavy construction for what seems like forever.   They to me are such an example of finishing strong.  Here is my dad at the time of retirement.  The normal "American dream" is to work hard and then retire to some nice place.   No one would have ever blinked an eye if they took off to some remote island in the South Pacific to live out their days.  But they packed it up and headed to the mission field.  They came to Cajamarca.  Yes, Cajamarca is a wonderful place, but it isn't retirement material.  Not only that, we are like in the back end of space from the coast.  We are 9000' up in the Andes Mountains.  The only coast you will see is when your surfing the web which will just get you grumpy. So when they shared that they bought a coastal property I couldn't have been more happy for them.  But the news didn't stop there.  I could talk about all the open doors that have come by them doing this and the people they have meet and opportunities we have learned because they purchased this land.  Hopefully in future posts I will share some of those things.  Let me just say, we are way ahead in the game in understanding options in Valdivia and the culture through this process.  It was a crash course on Valdivia.  But that isn't all either.

     During a Skype conversation my dad told us that they would like to give us some of the property if we wanted to build our own home.  Nicole and I were completely shocked and beyond grateful.  We didn't know how this would all work out, but we knew the Lord had some type of plan.  During our visionary trip we looked at the cost of renting.  Valdivia is a very expensive city.  So the opportunity to build a house could in the long run be a benefit for us.  Still, there were many factors.  We both just couldn't believe that my parents were willing to give us a section of their property that they had worked so hard for and so deserved.  I wrote them after the Skype and asked are you sure?  To our great delight they said yes.  We want to help you guys out.  So Nicole and I with grateful hearts said yes we would love to build our own home, even though we didn't know how we would afford it.

     Through some contacts, my parents recently told me that the city of Valdivia is planning on incorporating the area where the property is into the city.  According to the Valdivia zoning laws, the size of the property can't hold two homes.  They have permits to build two homes, but if and when the city incorporates our area, they wouldn't allow it.  These contacts told them you need to get a second house built on the property so it can be "grandfathered" in.  So next month I will be heading down there to put in the foundation and the sub floors and hopefully to roll up the exterior walls.  But we didn't know how we were going to pay for that.  So here comes the next part.

     Nicole Skyped her parents and told them all that was happening.  Once again to our surprise, Nicole's parents joyfully said they would help us out with the costs of the house.  Without their help we really had no idea how this would even be possible.  We are beyond grateful for their willingness and hearts to help in all the ways they do.  Without hesitation when they heard about this, they said what an amazing opportunity, whatever it takes we will get it done.  Much like my parents, they have worked hard and provided and continue to provide for so many.  They are getting towards the retirement age,  I think, yet they keep on so they can support the ministry here and many others.  We couldn't do it without their help.

     Are we going to be in Valdivia for ever?  Only the Lord knows.  There is plenty of ministry to do.  Plenty of zones to reach there.  What if the Lord moves us on like he is doing here in Cajamarca?  Well, we would have a house that we could rent out to help cover our ministry expenses if we leave.  Or even a house to sell if needed to cover a move to another location.  Or when we get to retirement age, we can have a place to live out our last days on this earth.  Who knows what the Lord is going to do, but there are many options.

     Nicole and I have been blessed with incredible families.  We are beyond thankful to our God for the families He placed us in.  We are beyond grateful for what both sides are doing for us.  We know that it is the Lord who has given us all this and we are thankful first and foremost to Him.  I know for a fact, that neither of our families want any credit or glory or praise or thanks, but I wanted to share and to share this, I need to paint the whole picture and give thanks and credit where it is do.  Our families are incredible even if none of this transpired.  Our love for them and gratitude for them would be no different.

     I am also thankful for ReGeneration and CCC and CCS and CCHMB for your love and support and to be so willing to help out in any way possible with this.  We are overwhelmed by all you do for us and by expressing such joy and excitement about this and what we are doing.  

     In a few weeks I will post some pics of Valdivia and the property and the work we get done.  If anyone is wondering at this point about the ministry here in Cajamarca, yes it will be continuing and the Lord is doing some really cool things right now.  Our goal here is to see this church have it's own property as well, which we are praying for.  I will be sending out a newsletter next week or so.  If you are not on our mailing list, shoot me your email and I will add you.

Soli Deo gloria


Friday, June 2, 2017

Looking back on God's faithfulness.

Several years ago I met Alistair Begg at a conference.  We talked for a few moments, but we kept in contact over the years through email.  Several times he asked me to come up to the BASICS Conference which his church Parkside puts on.   Last year I finally went.  I didn't realize that when he was asking me, it meant Parkside was taking care of all the costs.  But it was God's plan for me not to go until last year.  Parkside owns several houses around the church that they use to house their missionaries.  They put me in a house with Kep James who was really their first missionary and who has been in Boliva since the eighties.  Kep is an awesome guy with an amazing ministry.  He planted a church in the city of La Paz and a few years ago he transitioned the church to a local Bolivian.  So it was cool to pick his brain as I am going through that process right now.  Before I left the conference last year, Parkside approached me about partnering up with us to do ESI in Cajamarca.  I was so excited about this for numerous reasons.  If the local pastors here can be equipped and get a good grasp on the gospel, no one can even imagine the impact this could make in our region.  Beyond anything I had ever hoped for.  Besides that, we have had several pastors and leaders from other churches throughout this region come to the church and ask us if we could train them on how to preach the Bible like we do.  The problem was, I couldn't.  We just aren't equipped to do that or have the means.  Well now through ESI, that is possible.  One pastor who had approached us several times is from an area called Bambamarca, which is a good distance from here.  This is getting ahead of the story, but he is signed up and will be going through the training.  So let me explain ESI.  ESI is a ministry that Kep developed in the past few years to help equip local church leaders.  It is a three year program that works to encourage and train faithful servants to build a biblical model of ministry, as Paul outlines in Romans 15:14, “I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness (godly character), complete in knowledge (biblical understanding), and competent to instruct one another (ministry skill).”  So the training equips and mentors church leaders to reflect Jesus in their Character, Bible Understanding and Ministry Skills.  One of the things I love about it is that, it focuses in on the gospel.  It focuses in on the main issues.  It focuses in on the majors.  You know like grace alone, justification by faith alone.  The things that are salvific. All the other stuff, all the peripheral, all the issues that don't lead to salvation, are not emphasized.  So it breaks down barriers.  It allows us to work with any denomination.  What has happened here in Peru and South America for that matter (that is why Kep had this vision to establish this ministry), there is a line.  That line is the gospel.  So many churches operate above that line or below it.  Meaning that if you are below the line, character and godly living doesn't really matter.  Correct doctrine and theology surely don't matter.  Cause correct doctrine (if applied to the heart) always leads to and produces godly living. But if you are below the line, you don't want that.  These are churches indifferent towards doctrine.   Below the line is liberalism and various other issues.  Below the line you have no guidelines.  If you are above the line, you have added to the simple truth of the gospel.  You have added man made traditions and called them law.  It is the legalistic churches.  These are the churches that add to what it takes to be Christian or to be saved.  Many of these pastors don't even know they are above or below the line.  Many of them have not been trained in any way, shape, or form.  Many of them have heard a story and that is all they know and they just repeat that.  They don't know how to study on their own or apply the Scriptures on their own.  Many have been "schooled" by what they see on "Christian tv".  So Kep saw the need to help out the local churches.  So out of his church he started this program.  The program has expanded.  There are now ESI centers in 5 Latin American countries.  Last September, I believe, Parkside flew 2 of our guys and another pastor who I knew was doing training in a region north of us, down to Southern Peru to learn how to do this training.  It looked as if we were only going to have 5 or 6 guys in the Cajamarca region doing the ESI.  But we had 19 pastors and leaders signed up in the region north of us.  But a few days before Edwin (the director of ESI in Southern Peru) ordered the material I got an email from the pastor in the northern region saying he will not do the training cause he wants a good relationship with his sending church.  Only God knows what took place in that situation, but it is sad that for whatever reasons, the gospel and the training of men in the ministry was deliberately hindered.   But I know God will deal with that and the repercussions of it.  But we had 5 or 6 guys here so I was still excited.  Well, things have developed.  The city heard about this training and approached us asking if they could help out in any way.   It is so the Lord's hand.  We now have 30 church pastors and leaders who will be coming every Monday to the municipalidad (the city has given us a facility to host this) and going through this training.  This is a huge blessing.  There are several guys who will be coming from different churches that are over an hour away.  This is exciting for us as a church.  This week we had an elders meeting and we went over the vision and direction of the church.  One of our passions is for people to have a high view of the Scriptures.  We feel that we need more biblical churches.  We need churches committed to the preaching of the word.  We feel that is the means God has ordained to reach and feed His people.  The minute we start diverting from the Bible and using gimmicks to reach people we have strayed from the plan of God.  The Apostles didn't use gimmicks.  They preached the word and that was the pattern that was laid down since the beginning.  They didn't make it up.  But now man thinks we are wiser and we use drama and other gimmicks in church.  We think that is going to save people.  Isn't it amazing that the Apostles saw anyone saved?  How did that happen?  They didn't have movie equipment or anything like that (I am saying that tongue in check). Alistair always says, don't play any movies cause the people are gonna want to see the movie and not listen to you.  That is some great wisdom there.  I went to a church for years that would play movie clips during the sermon and once the movie came on, all I could think about was the movie and I would want to get home as fast as I could to go watch it.  I wouldn't even remember what the pastor was talking about.  My fellow elders feel the same way.  So we have this strong conviction that the word of God is to be the center point of the public gathering.  We feel we need more churches who have a high view of the Scripture.  Well through ESI, there is no doubt this will begin to take place in the churches of those who go through this training.  We don't need to plant more churches in this area, we need to equip and train the pastors who have congregations and churches that are already established.  Sure many of them are off theologically.  Many of them I would not step foot in.  But the great thing about ESI is they will learn the gospel.  They will learn how to live the gospel.  And they will learn how to minister the gospel.  Of course there will be some issues and practices that we might not do in our church, but once again those are the peripherals.  Some guys will be way over on one side of the spectrum and other guys will be way over on the opposite side of the spectrum, but it's ok cause once we get them clear on the gospel and in agreement on the essentials we can build on that.  Everything else will fall into line.  Augustine said, "In essentials unity, essentials liberty, but in all things charity (love).  To quote Alistair again he says "Let the main things be the main things."  He also says "the main things are the plain things."   I like that.  So I got a little sidetracked there, but Monday Edwin will be flying up and we will introduce ESI to all the applicants and to the mayor and city officials.  I am super grateful and thankful for Adolfo and for his drive and vision to help get this going and all the work he has already put in, not to mention all the work that is still to come on his part.  I am grateful that Parkside is flying Edwin up to be at the kick off of this Monday.  Not only that, but Parkside provides all the material for each person going through the training.  Each person receives a personal library that runs about $600.00.  Many of these books for this program Parkside had translated.  It is such a blessing for these guys to be able to get these books.  I am excited to see how the Lord uses this.  Our church is excited to see how the Lord uses this.  Looking back I can see how the Lord's providence led to all of this.  God began orchestrating this years ago.  As I see that, I am so expectant to see Him do amazing things here in Cajamarca.  I will be leaving this area soon.  Sooner than later.  I am really on my last days here.  So to see this established before I go gives me a great joy and peace.  The Lord does His work.  Oh, one more little piece of exciting news, ESI will be happening in Chile as well.  More to look forward to!

Soli deo gloria

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Reflections

It has been about two weeks since I returned from the BASICS Conference in Cleveland Ohio.  I am super blessed that Parkside Church once again brought me up and provided everything for me to get there and for me while I was there.  This year was awesome also cause my bro Don was able to come with me.  I know without a doubt that he was blessed beyond measure as well.  One thing for sure, it isn't a restful time.  Not even getting into the thirty six hours of travel to get there, or the running around to get some much desired American products at Target.  Setting that aside, the conference itself is a lot.  It is a full three days.  Besides that, during breaks and free time, and each day after the conference ended, we were meeting with the Parkside director of ministries or their missions pastor or some elders from the church.  It was a full go.  I am not complaining at all.  I was so excited and blessed.  It was a good busy.  There are certain conferences you go to that when you come back you are ready to hit the ground running.  This isn't one of them.  I needed a couple days off to digest and process all that took place.  The problem was (I don't know who did the preaching schedule, oh ya it was me), I had to preach on Sunday (we got back to Cajamarca sometime on Friday) and then my wife and oldest daughter left on Tuesday morning for Chile for two and a half weeks!  But the Lord is gracious and I have had quiet early mornings to process and go through several of the main points that I came away with.  Sitting under teaching for hours a day for three days, it is a lot to try to retain.  Over the next several months, I will be going back through all the teaching sessions to re-chew on them.  And over the next couple weeks I plan on opening up this blog and just write out with no real structure or thought on some of the things I took away and my first impressions.   So today is the first of those.  It is funny cause what I am going to write about is really what hit Don the most.  It hit him immediately.  For me, it took me a little while for it to take hold.  It resonated with me right away, but over the last two weeks it has just brought this great joy and gratitude to my soul.

We arrived Saturday night in Cleveland and after a shower, meal and a good night sleep we awoke early on Sunday morning to head over to Parkside to spend time praying with the pastors and elders before service.  We were told that Sinclair Ferguson would be preaching the morning message.  He preached from Romans 8:28.  Just a few weeks ago, when Mud and Miracles were here in Peru, Pastor Brian preached from Romans 8:28.  Pastor Brian's message was one of the best messages I ever heard, not only from Romans 8:28, but best messages from anywhere in the Bible.  For me it was so special to have him preaching in the church that I pastor.  He has graciously allowed me to teach in his pulpit on multiple occasions and so I was extremely honored and excited for our people at Refugio to hear him.  (Several people during the week asked if Pastor B was going to be teaching again the up coming Sunday, to which I replied no, and they would reply back "oh" with disappointment all over their faces).  So I was curious how Dr. Ferguson would compare.  I am not going to lie.  It was good.  It was right up there with Pastor Brian's.  It was the best message I heard while there at the conference.  It was better than any of the conference messages (and all of them were on point).  Dr. Ferguson's message was one of the best messages I have heard on Romans 8:28.  It was from a different perspective than Pastor Brian's.  I am still partial towards Pastor Brian's but Dr. Ferguson's was a powerfully good message.  Kay Carter, who is Alistair's assistant, told me on Monday afternoon that it was one of the best messages she has ever heard and she sits under Alistair's teaching.  Think about that.  Anyways, the point Dr. Ferguson made was, we as God's people are blessed.  We are blessed because God loves us.   He loves us so much that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Ultimately, we are not blessed because of material possessions or because or our health or  because of anything else.  See that is what has begun to really soak into my soul and give me this overwhelming joy and gratitude.   Here is why this has made such an impact on my soul.   I look at my life and I think, "wow, I am blessed."  Why do I say that?  What makes me think I am blessed?  Honestly the first thing I will think about is my wife.  The Lord has blessed me with an incredible woman.  Then I look at my children.  The Lord has blessed me with four incredible and unique children.  I think about what I am doing.  I am blessed to be able to play a small part in what the Lord is doing here in Cajamarca.   All of that is truly a blessing from God.   There is no doubt.  I am not taking anything away from that and I thank Him everyday for those blessings and many others.  But the main reason I am blessed, is because I am a child of God.  Because while I was a sinner, Christ died for me.  That is the blessing.  Cause let's be honest, there are people who do not know the Lord, who have great families.  People who have great "jobs".  And so often I hear people talk about how the Lord has blessed them (and it is true, I don't want to take anything away from what the Lord gives) but they are speaking in materialistic ways.  "Oh the Lord blessed me cause I have this new house or new car or new job or whatever".  "Isn't God good, look at what He gave me."  I hear, "God is good to me because of_________", fill in the blank.  What if you didn't have that?  Would you still be blessed?  Would God still be good?  How often do people hear you speak of how good God is because of the cross?  Would you still give glory to God if you didn't have the "items" you wanted? Material items are no sign that God is blessing you.  The Bible tells us that God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  We are told the wicked prosper.  Materialistic blessings are not great signs that you are blessed.  We know that every good and perfect gift is from our Heavenly Father.  We know that even for those who do not love Him, what they have are blessings from God and by His grace.  But we, as believers need to grasp this, that we are blessed because while we were sinners, Christ died for us.   What separates us from those of the world?  Is it because we have been blessed with family, friends, job, wealth, health, possessions?  No!  The world has all of that.  I can't help but see some prosperity gospel, which is no gospel, in our use of language.  "I am blessed because I have this and I have that."  Really?  That is why you are blessed?  Since that message I find myself now saying, "Lord I am blessed because I am your child.   I am blessed because of the cross.  Thank you."  And from there I proceed to thank Him and praise Him for the earthly gifts that have been bestowed upon me by His gracious hand.  I want to be sure that I relish in the greatest blessing.  I want to be sure that my highest praise and thankfulness is not for anything other than Christ and what He has done.  We must be sure that we are not looking to temporal, earthly items as our blessings (which they are blessings, don't misunderstand me), but we have an eternal inheritance that will not rust or that thieves can steal.  We have an inheritance that is beyond measure.  We will be with the Lord for ever, the same Lord, that while we were yet sinners, died for us.

I am grateful for such an incredible woman to share my life with and who pushes me to serve Jesus more passionately.  I am grateful for my four crazy kids.  I am grateful for where the Lord has me.  I am grateful for many of these blessings that the Lord has granted me.  And really they are blessings because I am His.  But my biggest blessing and what I want to keep at the front of my mind and my speech and in what I do is the cross of our Lord Jesus, where He died for me while I was still a sinner.  No longer am I a stranger,  I am a child of God.   What a glorious thought.