Discipleship

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For the past two months we’ve been walking through an experiential study of the Spiritual Disciplines as laid out in Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline. This week, we’re going through the Corporate Discipline of Confession. If you’ve missed my introductory post on this topic, I encourage you to go back and review it.

As we turn from its justification to its practice, I felt it helpful to use Foster’s “Diary of a Confession” section as a guide. During the past three days in which I’ve been silent in this space, I’ve been preparing, selecting setting up and appointment with my confessor and spending time in reflection, in the evaluation my past as I prepare to give my own confession.

The reflection consisted of dividing my life, as did Foster into three sections. In my case I chose adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood as my sections, effectively separating my life into my post conversion experience, my time of ministerial formation, and my life as a minister. I then spent time in focused meditation over the course of three days allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the past sins that came to the fore. My goal was not to explain or justify those memories, simply to write them down as I that which I believed necessary for me to share in the upcoming session.

Of course, the benefits that I’ve already received from this time of preparation led me to reflect on why I hadn’t taken the initiative to go through this process before or why I had never received an invitation to do so from the Christian communities of which I’d been a part. My search for reasons brought me to an article on CovenantEyes.com, the website of company that produces the accountability software that we use on our electronic devices.

In the article entitled, “Shame-Killing Churches: A Vision of Real Accountability” the author, Traylor Lovvorn, explains why so few Christian communities are able to operate at the level of the trasnformative community that it should be. He cites a Dr. David Powlison when talking about the problem of shame:

Shame [is] “a sense of failure before the eyes of someone else.” When this “someone else” is a perfect and holy Creator and our perspective is vertical in nature, this sense of failure is healthy in that it opens the door to the Gospel and allows us to see our desperate need for a Savior. But when our perspective is horizontal and we are comparing ourselves to peers and fellow believers, shame turns toxic and leads to a deep-seated unease with who we are that causes us to withdraw and hide.

Any attempts to establish community and accountability that do not account for and address this underlying issue of toxic shame only piles on a deeper sense of failure and drives men further into isolation and away from genuine community.

I invite you to read the rest of the article for his description of, what to me is, a far too common problem in our Christian community. Although his struggle was related to the sexual, I believe that his experience is a specific experience of an all too universal problem.

How do we escape this isolationism, the popular cliché that our private, hidden, relationship with Jesus is enough? I feel even more strongly now that it is by becoming vulnerable through confession. It’s by breaking down the facade that we’ve worn before others and showing them the radical nature of the redemptive work, a work that continues to the present day in every believer, and it’s by offering grace for those who are walking that same road with us.

As I write this, I’m readying for my own scheduled time of confession. To tell the truth, the preparation has already had a profound effect. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to living out the experience. After these last two posts, I hope you might be as well.

Photo credit: “Soderledskyran brick wall/a>” by Håkan Svensson utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

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In our consideration of the Spiritual Disciplines as treated in the book, Celebration of Discipline, we now turn our focus from service to the Spiritual Discipline of confession. This is also a movement, as the book suggests, from the outward Disciplines of Simplicity, Solitude, Submission, and Service, to the Corporate Disciplines, which include Worship, Guidance, and Celebration, as well as Confession.

Of course, such a categorization of confession may seem strange to some. “Isn’t the confession of our sin a private matter between ourselves and God?” we may ask. Foster affirms this but also points out that the Bible calls for us to confess our sins one to another (James 5:15). He suggests that the reason that many of us struggle with the guilt of our past sins is because we have left this corporate discipline behind as a casualty of the reformation.

As a former catholic, I lament the loss of this spiritual exercise. If there was one thing that has maintained meaning for me in my religious practice after coming to faith in Jesus Christ it is the sacrament, as it is called, of Reconciliation. I remember the catharsis that I experienced as I audibly confessed to another human being the sins that I had committed, and there was a power that I felt as I heard the words of absolution. As I left the booth or the room where I gave my confession, I remember that there would be a lightness in my step, a smile on my face, and a joy in my heart.

Now, I know that confession has been criticized for its abuse, for the idea that comes from a misunderstanding of its purpose that we might sin to our heart’s content just so long as we give confession afterwards, that in this game that we play with God, as long as we follow the rules of giving confession, that he must forgive us. This is an attitude that we must reject. Still we must ask ourselves, do we negate the benefits of modern medicine because there are those who abuse prescription drugs? Do we stop giving to charitable organizations because there are those who have embezzled funds?

Certainly, I’m not advocating a return to empty rituals, I’m inviting us to experience the grace that comes from recovering a neglected Spiritual Discipline. In the days that come, we’ll explore what Richard Foster and the Bible have to say about the Discipline of Confession and we’ll take some time to walk through its practice. I expect it to be uncomfortable, but I hope and pray that, like any exercise, it will bring us benefit from its practice.

What would you say about the Discipline of Confession as we begin? What, if any, experience do you have with its practice? Have you experienced any benefit from it? Have you witnessed its abuse? Share your thoughts with me in the comments section.

Photo credit: “Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Toulouse – chapelle des reliques – Confessionnal” by Didier Descounes utilized in accordance with a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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As we close our time in the Sprititual Discipline of Service as considered in the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, I think that it’s important to relate my own experience with it during the past week. For me, as Foster suggests, my focus on service has been an exercise in the cultivation of humility.

Perhaps a bit of background might help to explain. I grew up in a household with pretty strict divisions of labor. Tasks were assigned by sex, age, and/or experience. For example, unless it had to do with the grill, my dad was strictly uninvolved with meals. In the same way, I never remember seeing my mom out in the driveway with my dad when it came time to change the oil in my car. And when it came to the menial tasks like setting the table, or doing the dishes or cleaning up after the dog, that was the domain of the children. When we would ask our dad to buy a dishwasher he would usually laugh and say, “Why do I need another dishwasher? I already have three! Of course, he was referring to us, his three sons. Needless to say, we didn’t find his joke very amusing.

I relate my childhood experience to explain its effect: all of the above created in me an expectaction of a time when I too would be above certain tasks, when I would be able to dedicate myself to the important things, the manly things, and leave the tasks that I considered beneath me to others, namely my own children!

As I have spent time in reflection on the Discipline of Service, however, I have realized how it breaks down this division of labor, how it calls us to humble ourselves and to accept the personal responsibility to fill the need that’s before us. This is not to say that before this past week that I hadn’t done the dishes, or that I’d left Kelly to slave away in the kitchen to prepare each and every meal, but I have to admit that my default attitude toward such tasks had been that they were beneath me, that they didn’t belong to me. I would routinely find myself, as did the disciples before their last dinner with Jesus, making every attempt to avoid the menial yet necessary task, even when I was staring at, or perhaps, as in their case, smelling the call to service before me.

The most interesting observation for me, however, has been the freedom that this humility has given me to engage in truly meeting the need. Now, instead of complaining about something that has been left undone, I am free to simply do it myself. Instead of arguing about whose responsibility the task might be, I am liberated to simply step in and meet the need and enjoy the benefits for having done so.

Granted, this reflection is in no way suggesting that we shouldn’t come to an agreement beforehand about certain familial responsibilities or teach our children to participate around the home so that they too cultivate an attitude of service, but it does suggest that when others let us down, we still have a choice. We can pick them up or put them down. We can encourage through serving or embarrass through shaming. As we continue to progress in this discipline my prayer is that we will increasingly choose the former and not the latter.

How ahout you? As you’ve progressed this past week in the Discipline of Service or have had other experiences with this exercise, what have you observed either within you or among those you have served? I look forward to reading about your thoughts and experiences.

Image credit,”Washing dishes with soap“ by peapodlabs, used in accordance with a Creative Commons license.

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On October 20th and 21st, leaders from throughout the district of Yucatan gathered together for a historic event called the Escuela de Multiplicadores (Multipliers’ School). This two-day session was held in preparation for the kickoff of our new church planting cycle, utilizing materials and methods from Red de Multiplicación (RdM). Its goal was to provide the information and the inspiration necessary to set goals for church planting in the two-year period ending in May of 2019 .

The event was a historic one, not because of the methods and materials that we were explaining (we had introduced materials from RdM in June of 2016), but because this was the first time that district officials had ever gathered to prioritize and strategize for the planting of churches in this way. The outcome of this first ever effort was more than what we could have hoped for.

Arturo Robles, the National Coordinator for RdM joined us from Mexico City for the event. During the sessions, he explained the philosophies and function of RdM and emphasized the belief that a healthy church was a reproducing church. He encouraged each participant to to be involved not simply in the growth of their church but also in its multiplication. It was gratifying to see the vision of the district of Yucatan full of churches becoming clearer to our pastors as they came to under-stand their role in its realization.

The time together culminated in a round table discussion led by our regional presbyters in which they challenged our participants to respond to the question ”What should we do?” We asked them to fix a number of churches to be planted as a goal to be reached by 2019. Reflecting back on the past two years, we found that 17 churches had been added to the 225 already in the district, bringing us to the present total of 242. As the numbers from each table were reported, the regions set a future goal to plant 158 churches, a growth of over 900% in comparison with the previous period. The sense of hope and commitment that that number represented brought tears of joy to our eyes.

The Escuela de Multiplicadores was indeed a breakthrough for our church planting efforts, something we celebrate. We understand, however, that the work is still ahead—in the recruitment of workers and the mentors that will guide and encourage them. That is the focus of this month of November. Will you pray that many will answer the call?

Photo Captions:

  • Arturo Robles, National Coordinator of Red de Multiplicación trains district leaders during the Escuela de Multiplicadores (large).
  • Regional Presbyter Juan Hau encourages participants from the western region in the goal planning session (top).
  • Regional Presbyter Raúl Sánchez takes a moment during discussions in the central region (bottom corner).
  • Dave shares inspiration from Isaiah 6 during the morning devotional (bottom right).

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The missionary task is two-fold. Primarily, it involves incarnating into the host culture, which includes partnering with the national church to spread the message of the gospel and discipling those who believe, but there is another part of the equation. Without the engagement of those who send, without inspiration to participate in the Great Commission in a practical way, it won’t be long before the missionary must return for lack of support.

Here in Mexico, the reduced costs of travel make it easier to bring these two worlds together, but this presents another difficulty—how to blend them. How do we utilize external support without harming the indigenous church? How can we insure a positive experience for those who come while producing a lasting effect for those who remain?

Such a balance requires a thorough understanding of the situation on the ground as well as flexibility on the part of those who come to minister. Fortunately, our partnership with church planters like Roberto Ortega, Josué Díaz, and Yónatan Segura provide that necessary insight into the local situation, while teams, such as our most recent from supporting church Chapel Springs of Bristow, VA, adapt to meet the immediate physical and spiritual needs our national partners express.

This past week, then, it was a joy to see this team of 19 youth and adults link arms with our Mexican brothers and sisters to make an impact in Kiní, Dzemul, and Motul, Yucatán. The trip began with a powerful welcome service, one in which a former spiritist couple committed their lives to Christ. This was followed by a week of construction on the church parsonage and bathrooms in Kiní in the mornings and Vacation Bible School ministry and sports in the evening in all three locations.

The week was not without its difficulties, heat and sickness among them, but, having worked together, a church building is nearer to completion in Kiní, a children’s ministry has begun in Dzemul, and a fledgling church plant has enjoyed increased public awareness in Motul. For this synergy in missions, we’re thankful.

Photo captions:

Rebekah gives explanation during VBS craft time in Dzemul (large).

David Bontrager gives shape to the parsonage in Kiní (top).

Mexican/American partnership in outreach to Motul (middle).

Bittersweet: The last missions team for our trio (bottom left).

Dave and Kevin minister in the midst of construction material (bottom right).

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Have you ever had a great idea that came to you before others were able or willing to take it seriously? Maybe you had shared it with a few individuals without effect. Perhaps you even attempted to put it into practice, but you lacked the support to be able to see it through. Let me encourage you to not give up, because, if this past weekend was any indication, persistence pays off.

Since 2012, when I stumbled upon church planting material from Red de Multiplication (Multiplication Network) in preparation for a class, I had the feeling that they were on to something that could revolutionize the way we do evangelism and outreach. Their program emphasizes people over property and discipleship over building construction. It is a low cost, high impact plan that has since been adopted by evangelical denominations world-wide with tremendous success.

Since that class, I’d been looking for an opportunity to introduce these ideas on a wider scale. In the intervening years, there had been some meetings and a few false starts, but this past Friday, June 9, my opportunity finally arrived. That was when we held our first church planting workshop: “Sembremos Iglesias Saludables” (Let’s Plant Healthy Churches)

During two days, June 9 and 10, our District Superintendent, Magaly Balam, opened her church to us as we hosted fellow missionaries Jerry Brown and Peter Breit, representatives for the Commission of Evangelism and Church Planting (CEPI), for the first session of training. From my opening devotional, underlining our vision, through the step by step outline of the process, the participants listened with interest. As Jerry, Peter, and I went through the material, it was clear that it was striking a chord, identifying areas of weakness in our traditional models while providing solutions to overcome them. At the conclusion of our time together, there was a consensus among the attendees that they had been given a valuable tool, a tool that they wanted to put to use.

What was even more satisfying was what went on behind the scenes. Working together with my organizing team, District Secretary, Alfonso Vera, and Pastor, Felipe Sabido, we were able to create a tentative structure and invite key leaders to collaborate with us to guarantee that the church planting process would move forward. All of those who were asked heartily accepted their role.

Of course, the work has just begun. There is much to do to ensure that we move from this step of vision on to training and finally implementation, but the fact remains that, after 4 long years of waiting we have finally begun. Persistence pays off!

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I know that a picture of me working on a laptop may not seem like a big deal. What would you say, however, if that time behind the screen is being utilized to help see 1 million people come to Christ!

Just last month, Network211, the Internet ministry with which we’ve partnered since August of last year, reached its one millionth evangelism response. That means that 1,000,000 people have viewed an online gospel presentation via sites like JourneyAnswers.com (RespuestasdelaVida.com in Spanish) and have responded to it with either a question, a prayer request, a salvation decision, or a rededication. You can read the article on PE News.

Closer to home, our team has had the privilege of interacting with over 1,000 evangelism responses since our partnership began. Those are people, throughout Spanish-speaking Latin America, but principally in Mexico, who have been touched by the message that they’ve experienced online.

Still, this is just the tip of the iceberg. While Network211 has set a goal of making 100 million unique gospel presentations, we have set our sights on physically connecting into faith communities those who are responding in the virtual space.

We’re confident that, as we’re able to train more partners to promote these evangelism presentations, we’ll see increasing response in our region. This will enable us to either direct seekers to existing churches or start new works where none currently exist, helping to turn decisions into disciples. This is just one more way that we’re working to see our vision of the Yucatan full of churches, diverse in class, status, education, and language but united in their love for the Lord and one another become a reality!

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How do you inspire someone to see the need? It requires exposure; it demands engagement, and that’s exactly what we’ve been fostering as we continue pressing ahead to see our vision of the Yucatan full of churches become a reality.

It began with a conversation, a suggestion that pastor Felipe Sabido utilize the Alpha course to encourage outreach in his congregation “La Mies” in northern Merida. You can imagine my pleasure, then, when last month, I was invited to preach the kickoff of “Start”, their 12 week course based on Alpha. Their plan: to host groups throughout the city, inviting friends and neighbors to explore the truths of Christianity in a non-threatening environment. We’re looking forward to track with them as they open their homes to those seeking after Christ.

At the same time “La Mies” was planning their outreach, 27 students from “Instituto Bíblico Bethel” were hitting the streets. My evangelism classes took to the public spaces of Merida to discover the impact that Christianity was having on the everyday lives of those they encountered there.

While they found some encouraging signs, they also encountered areas of concern. For example, although 21% of those surveyed identified with an evangelical church, even they had difficulty explaining what it meant to be born again, and although a whopping 84% agreed that the Bible was the word of God, only 9% reported reading it on a regular basis. Clearly, there is work to be done.

What encouraged me, however, was to hear of the opportunities that the students were having, not only to discover the needs, but to meet them as well. 66% of those surveyed reported an openness to receiving follow up studies, while dozens received prayer and words of encouragement in the city streets and parks. One of my students summed up the sentiment the best. “We wouldn’t have known had we not gone.”

Pray with us that these experiences continue to bear much fruit!

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I sat there in the audience as I heard the report. It was Missions Sunday and we were hearing from a recently returned missions intern. Like many other missions interns she had been sent to a remote, indigenous village. However, in this particular case, the work in that village had been going on there for 20+ years. She also reported that village was nearly 50% Christian. This information made me scratch my head. Why would she be sent there? She was sent there because the church had been without a pastor for two years. There was no one who had wanted to “go” to that poor, remote village.

I wondered if I was the only one hearing her talk. I wanted to ask, after twenty years, weren’t there those among the village qualified to take up leadership of the congregation, especially if half of the population professed Christ? Had the discipleship process been so slow that, even after all that time, there was no one who could serve as the pastor? By calling on a missionary to fulfill that role, were they dooming the work to remain a foreign one, one that would continue to need outside resources to even survive?

Still, as I reflect on some of the works that we’ve observed, even had a hand in planning, I have to admit, there are several that are dependent on foreign resources and personnel just to stay afloat. And while, in many of those cases, we can marvel at the testimony of change in individual lives, the organization fails to fulfill its potential, because it’s been held back by its “overprotective parents” or its unsustainable model.

“There’s got to be a better way,” we’ve told ourselves, and we believe we’ve found that way. In our summer 2015 newsletter, I spoke about a training seminar that Kelly had taken called “CHE.” Since that time, both of us have had the opportunity to receive training, and we’re now at the point of putting our training into practice.

CHE or Community Health Evangelism is a system that enables a community to take responsibility for their own holistic well-being (physical, emotional, and spiritual). Limiting outside resources, CHE empowers participants to discover biblical personal wellness and strive to make their community a better place to live. It’s decidedly low-tech with a view to invite grassroots participation from the very beginning and to train up leaders to take over the program soon after it begins.

Since our time in Tixpehual, seeing the slow progress that the A/G has made in that town, we’ve asked ourselves if that community of roughly 3400 people would be a good place to begin a CHE community. We’ve investigated and determined that the interest was there to move forward. This coming Friday, November 13, we begin a vision seminar designed to explain CHE’s potential.

Can we guarantee that CHE will be the answer to the slow, halting progress in Tixpehual? In a word, no, but we can begin well through CHE. Through it we can help its leaders and participants to understand that the gospel can and will grow. It will grow when we realize that it is an integrated message that brings wellness to the whole person and when we personally engage in applying that message to our situation.

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Expanding Horizons

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Just last week, as I was sending birthday greetings to Noemi Uitzil, a pastor who has been working with our Jesus Film effort, I was told of new movement beyond the borders of the state of Yucatan in Punta Laguna, Quintana Roo.

Punta Laguna is a small, Maya village, known for its nature reserve, where the spider monkey and the racoon-like coati roam free. Here you’ll find the villagers spending life much like their ancestors had when the town was established in 1930. Chickens and pigs are common sights on the village streets, so too are the women of the town, routinely seated before an open flame, preparing tortillas for the afternoon meal. Towns like these have been difficult to reach, particularly because of the traditional way of life that many of the villagers lead, which includes the practice of a syncretistic faith blending indigenous Maya beliefs with Roman Catholicism.

Nevertheless, it would appear that a new wind is blowing in Punta Laguna. Noemi and her husband, Pedro Pablo projected the Jesus Film in Maya there this month, and their effort is paying off! Two families have committed to the discipleship process, welcoming Noemi, Pedro Pablo and fellow church members to teach them more about the God of the Bible and his Son, Jesus, who died for their sins.

We’re encouraged to know that this effort, started in the District of Yucatan in 2011, continues to advance, pushing even into new territory with this event in Punta Laguna.

Won’t you pray for this fledgling group, that they will receive the support and encouragement to not only remain firm, but also to grow?

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