Friday, July 15, 2011

Mis niñas (My little girls)

Recently, mi esposa (my wife) Jennifer, along with some friends, started a new blog about how mothers can teach missions to their children. And this trip has helped me see how much our Charlotte Moon has been learning from us.

Our youngest daughter, Mary Mitchell (1 year 10 months old), has been missing me. Apparently, she gets up in the morning and points toward my bedroom door calling, "Dada," over and over. But, Charlotte (3 years 11 months old) tells her some variation of this:
Daddy's not there. He's in Nicaragua being a missionary, telling mean people about Jesus. But, his love is still in your heart, so just hold your hand to your heart, and he'll be there with you.
And if you know Charlotte, that's how she talks.

First, her words do my heart good.

But, you might be wondering about the "mean people" thing. When Charlotte first started realizing that some people (even cartoon characters like Swiper on Dora) can be mean, she started asking why that is. I've always told her that it's because they don't know Jesus.

Besides being an easy answer, it allowed me to ask a follow-up question. "So, what should we do when people are mean?" And even a 3-year old could figure out the answer. "We should tell them about Jesus." If the problem of sin is caused by not knowing Jesus, then the obvious response is to tell them about Jesus. I think this helps her turn the issue of someone else's meanness into a call for her to act in a loving way.

It also introduces the concept that sin is the result of not following Jesus, which I pray will one day lead to her truly knowing Jesus.

And Jennifer told me of another related story from this week. Charlotte has been going to her first-ever gymnastics camp. It's a one-week camp her G-Ma (grandmother) gave her for her 4th birthday coming up. Well, one day this week, the teacher informed Jennifer that Charlotte had been pushed in class. Jennifer asked Charlotte about it, and Charlotte seemed a little sad. But, Charlotte also said, "It's OK. It's just because they don't know Jesus."

Oh, how I love my little Charlotte Moon.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pastors' Conference - Day 7 (the last)

It is finished.

Of course, it's not finished in the same way Jesus finished. But, nonetheless, my work with the pastors here is finished...for now.

Rafael, some of the pastors, and I met at 2nd Baptist Church again. And today's topic was interpreting the Bible. We spent most of the time talking about parables. And then we talked about proverbs.

After the seminario, I went to the internet cafe and printed a document I made for the pastors. Last week, when I discussed Mark Dever's sermon application grid, I gave some examples from Job, Ezra and James. Well, the pastors were trying to write everything down, but that was going to take a long time. So, I told them I would get copies made for them.

I was finally able to get to the internet cafe and print it. Rafael helped me translate there, too. But, the cafe couldn't print enough copies. So, I took my one copy and walked about 4 blocks to the school supply/copy store. But, it was siesta time, so they were closed. I went back later, got the copies, and then eventually got the copies to Roberto, pastor of Iglesia Filadelfia. And that was the end of my official work here in Nagarote.

Of course, there was a bunch of other great stuff that happened today. But, I'll let someone else blog those stories. Other people have stories to tell, so perhaps you blog readers can encourage them to get on the blog and tell the stories. ;-)

Now, here's a picture of the church.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pastors' Conference - Day 6

Today was my second to last time meeting with the pastors. When we met today, we studied what the Bible tells us about sin.

Sin is a pretty basic subject in the Bible. But, it's also a complex subject. For example, how do you define sin?

Is it an action? Certainly some actions are sinful.

But, is it ever a sin to not act? Is it a sin to not help someone who you could help? Is that always a sin? If it is always a sin to not help someone you could help, then does that mean it's a sin to pass by a panhandler on the street?

Can thoughts be sinful? Every Christian knows the answer to that. But, that raises the question, is actually doing something sinful worse than just wanting to do something sinful?

And what does it mean to say that humans have a sinful nature? Does that mean we're born sinful? Are infants sinners?

And even if we decide we're sinners, so what? Why does God care? Why should we care? What are the results of sin?

And if we decide that sin is bad, and we want to fix the problem, how do we fix it? Again, every Christian knows that Jesus is the answer. But, why did Jesus have to die? Why couldn't God just forgive us. Muslims believe that God just forgives us if we repent and live a moral life.

So, the pastors and I sat down and looked through the Bible, to see what the Bible tells us about sin. We did a lot of page turning today.

Finally, we studied how Christ's redeeming work in our lives changes our standing before God. We looked at how we are redeemed, justified and sanctified so that we are no longer alienated from God. Rather, we are now adopted into God's family as co-heirs with Christ. And through his blood and death--through the curtain of the temple, which is his flesh, torn apart--we now have access to God.

At the end, we had time to address any questions the pastors had about the topic. Ramon, pastor of 2nd Baptist, asked about 1 Tim 6:17-19.
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. [Instruct them] to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.
He wanted to know more about what Paul meant that we God "provides us with all things to enjoy." It was a good question. And we had a good conversation. But, I'm not going to answer that question on the blog right now.

Instead, I'll ask you, dear reader, what you think. Until then, I'll start getting ready for Thursday, my last day with the pastors.

Pastoral fellowship

Steve and Angela....

People other than Bruce

OK, Now that I have your attention.... Saturday was a time for the pastors and their wives to have a break and receive some of the pastoral care they devote themselves to giving others. Steve and Angela planned a great lunch for the pastors: carne asada (grilled steak) and pollo asada (grilled chicken). And the team brought and shipped about 1500lbs of clothing. Plus, they brought a treasure of gifts for the pastors and their churches.

This is Gertrudis meeting with the pastors' wives.

Here are Steve and Angela serving lunch to the pastors and wives.

This is the pastors looking through the clothes.

Here are this wives looking through the clothes.

These pastors are holding the microphones and various
electronics they received from the team.

I think this pictures shows that people were having a good time.

This is me telling about the books that were
being given to the pastors.

The guys

The ladies

And Roberto, pastor of Iglesia Filadelfia, is the only
one in the group who has a vehicle. So, he was
volunteered to help everyone get everything home.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Shocked by Jesus

When was the last time your were shocked or astonished by Jesus?

Beyond our group from Florida, there's another American staying here at Hostal Jerusalen. Her name is Cassidy, and she's a college student from Kansas City. She's here on a summer internship with the Rainbow Network, which is a charity helping the poor in Central America.

Cassidy describes herself as a former hard-core Southern Baptist who has become more liberal. She finds spirituality in the world and in other people. She doesn't go to church. She doesn't pray, in the traditional sense.

Yet, this afternoon, she had an encounter with Jesus.

She was out in the country, meeting with some local people, when they decided to pray. She, having no apparent way out, found herself in the midst of a prayer meeting. But, what she heard astounded her.

They read from the Bible:

And a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." (Mt 8:19-20)

Cassidy found this statement absolutely stunning. She called it “awesome.” But, as she started to tell me the verse, she paused, and I finished it for her.

I knew the passage. But, have I become too familiar with the passage?

Those of us who regularly read the Bible, or have a good familiarity with the Gospels, can sometimes read statements like that and miss the shockingness. We can miss the fact that Jesus was scandalous. He was shocking. He was counter-cultural.

He came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (My 20:28)

Think about what that means. He, the creator and sustainer of the universe, came to be a servant.

At the pastors' conference, the other day, I recounted my experience visiting Alfa y Omega on my second night here. Steve, Angela and I arrived after the service started, and we were standing in the back. Juan Bautista, the pastor, went and brought us chairs. And because he could only carry two chairs at a time. He made two trips. And so, I told the pastors, Juan's church saw him being a servant. It was a small thing, I know. But, it showed a servant's heart. And then I challenged the pastors with this question: “When your congregation looks at you, do they see Jesus or a fat politician?”

But, Jesus is more shocking than that. He not only came to serve, but he came to die in the place of others. We, as Paul wrote, are all sinners (Ro 3:23). And, we were once “dead in our trespasses and nature, children of wrath...” (Eph 2:1,3). One man says, “Let's roll” and puts up a fight before his own impending death, and the phrase becomes a national passion. Yet, Jesus came with the intent of suffering and dying for the salvation of people who hated him.

Do we miss the extent to which that is absolutely amazing?

We romanticize the life of Jesus, and we gloss over the degree to which his life calls into question our own lives. We miss the call of Jesus—the call that Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Or, I like how Francis Chan described our ignorance of biblical normality, and his goal for his life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pastors' Conference - Day 5

Most of the mission team was conducting a VBS today at Iglesia Filadelfia. So, Rafael and I were able to have another meeting with the pastors. It's a Sunday, so we needed today to be brief. We met from about 2:30-3:30.

Yesterday, I had given all the pastors a book, Comentario Biblico Conciso Holman (the Holman Concise Bible Commentary) by David Dockery. And I asked them to read through the chapter on Ephesians. So, I began today by asking them what they learned from that reading.

They talked about the similarities and differences between Ephesians and Colossians, the overall structure of Ephesians, its emphasis on agape love, and some other aspects of the book. So, I asked them more about how the Comentario might be useful to them as pastors. They all agreed they'd benefit from its information on historical and cultural backgrounds of the biblical contexts. And they'd benefit from its information on themes in the books. Ramon, pastor of Segunda Iglesia Bautista (Second Baptist), said he also read other parts of the book, and he thinks it will be helpful.

Then, I talked to them about what they perceive as their needs in terms of materials and training. Juan Bautista (Alfa y Omega) said he would really like a Bible atlas. And Ramon said he would like some more commentaries. So, as a group, we discussed what they'd like, and they came up with:
  • exegetical commentaries (They were clear they wanted exegetical commentaries that would help them get a deeper, verse-by-verse understanding of the Bible)
  • books on pastoral counseling
  • A good overview of the Old and New Testaments
  • books on homiletics (preaching)
  • discipleship materials

It has been encouraging to see how much these pastors care about good preaching.

Before the meeting started, I saw Ramon and Roberto talking to each other. So, I asked Cassidy if she'd be willing to translate for me, and she agreed. So, I asked the pastors what they think about the seminarios (seminars, as they call them) so far. They said that the seminars have been very helpful in giving them new perspectives on:
  • understanding the Bible.
  • preaching with application to the lives of their people.
  • preaching the love of Jesus.
They said the seminars have given them information they've never heard or had access to before now, and they think the experience is going to have a big impact on their teaching.

Toward the end of the meeting, I asked the pastors what they'd like to do this coming week. They decided they want to get together again on Tuesday and Thursday, from 8:00am to 12:00pm. I also gave them some choices on topics. They decided that Tuesday, we're going to study systematic theology (topics such as sin and atonement), and on Thursday, we're going to study more on biblical interpretation (perhaps parables, laws and prophecy).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Pastors' Conference - Day 4

Today was a big day for the pastors' conference portion of the mission trip. Rafael and I met with the core group of 6 pastors at 9:00am, and the pastors' wives came to the Hostal Jerusalen to have their own time together.

The first three days of the pastors' conference was open to any pastors or church leaders who wanted to come. But, when Steve and Angela planned this trip, they wanted to have this Saturday as a day for the core group of pastors and their wives. The core group is made up of the pastors from those churches where the missions groups have been conducting VBS programs for the three summers they've been coming here. And those pastors have been working well together and they've formed a network to share some of the resources the missions groups have provided over time--the computer projector, for example.

The men met again at Iglesia Filadelfia and we studied the theology of the book of Hebrews. I wanted to lead them through a book study to show how we can follow the train of thought in a biblical text, find main ideas, theological points, pastoral implications, etc.

I enjoyed the time and I think they did, too.

At noon, we walked back to the hostal for lunch. I joked that the 8 of us looked like a street gang walking down the road.

After lunch, I gave the pastors some books that I brought for them:
  1. Comentario Biblico Conciso Holman (Holman Concise Bible Commentary, by David Dockery)
  2. El Conocimiento del Dios Santo (Knowing God, by JI Packer)
  3. Evangelio y Reino (Gospel and Kingdom, by Graeme Goldsworthy)
  4. La Iglesia Deliberante (The Deliberate Church, by Mark Dever)
  5. La Supremecía de Dios en la Predicación (The Supremacy of God in Preaching, by John Piper)
I asked Blanca to help me translate as I gave the books out and explained each one. One thing I found humorous was that Blanca wasn't as familiar with some of the theological terms, but I was actually able to help her there.

I also noticed that a couple days ago when I asked her to help translate for me when I talked to woman who I remembered from my first trip here two years ago. Blanca did very well translating as I talked to the woman about Charlotte; I remembered the woman because she really liked Charlotte and even gave Charlotte and Mary (Jennifer was pregnant at the time) some gifts. And the woman asked that we pray for her, because she's having some health issues. Well, Jenny overhead this and said we should pray right then. So, Jenny prayed and Blanca translated. But, at one point, Blanca couldn't remember how to say "forgiving," as in "Thank you for forgiving out sins." But, I was actually able to help Blanca then.

Today I joked that I only know 10 words of Spanish, but they're all theological terms. That's the Spanish I've learned working with the pastors.

Finally, the day with the pastors was coming to an end. The last thing I did with the pastors is work out a plan to meet again tomorrow at 2:00pm. Most of the team will be conducting an afternoon VBS at Filadelfia, so I am going to use that as another chance to work with the pastors.

And I gave them a homework assignment. Read the chapter on Ephesians in their new commentaries.

After a time of rest, we gringos (white people) headed across town to see a festival going on. But, that will be the topic of a later blog post.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pastors' Conference - Day 3

I was up late last night trying to figure out what I was going to teach today. I had some general ideas, but the just didn't seem to be coming together. It's difficult to know what will work and what will not work in this context. And it's difficult to know what the pastors and church leaders need. And it's difficult to know how to communicate the ideas cross-culturally.

So, I was up until 1:00 am. Of course, part of that late night was eating cake and ice cream at Steve's birthday party.

I went to bed knowing that I did not have enough material to fill half the time for today.

But then when I woke up, I had an hour to get ready, and it all came together so well.

We met at the Iglesia Filadelfia again. The local church leaders had asked for more time. So, our schedule was 8:00 am to 12:00 pm, with a 2 hour lunch break, and then another meeting from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. But, schedules are far more flexible in Latin America. Rafael and Roberto (pastor of Filadelfia) have joked that saying 8:00 am means we'll start at 9:00 am. And that was true our first day. But, the people have been coming early. Today, we only started 30 minutes after our scheduled time.

In Latin America, it's a really good sign when people start arriving closer to the actual scheduled time.

Session 1 lasted for 1 hour and 40 minutes,and 16 people attended. Again, that was a great turnout. Remember that the pastors and church leaders have other jobs. They have to take time off from those jobs in order to attend. And some had to travel long distances. So, I appreciate every one who attends.

Our first topic was how to identify Christ in any biblical text. I used the ideas of Bryan Chapell. And we practiced with some texts from the Bible: Job 42:7-17, Ezra 1:1-11, Ezekiel 24:15-27, and Zechariah 3:1-5. At the beginning of the week, I explained that the entire Bible is about Jesus (see Luke 24:44). So today, we talked about how we can identify how the texts point to Jesus.

Next, we talked about different types of people who exist in our churches. I used the ideas from J.I. Packer here. I explained that in our teaching, whether preaching or teaching a Bible study, we need to consider the situations and needs of several different groups of people. Here are a couple examples. Some people might be ignorant of the Word, but have the desire to learn. Such people need clear, thorough instruction. Or, others may know the Word well, but they have never been humbled by it; these could be the Pharisees of our churches, or people who have heard all the teachings, but simply refuse to believe. They need to be confronted with their sin and challenged to respond. The various groups need to hear different things in the Word. So, it's good for teachers to consider the needs of each group and who should be addressed, and how each can be addressed, when teaching.

Then, we took a nice break.

After the break, we had session 2, which lasted for 1 hour and 20 minutes.

In session 2, I focused on 6 ways of applying the truth of a text. Again, this was from Packer. And we returned to our examples from Job, Ezra, Ezekiel and Zechariah, and we discussed the applications of each passage.

Then, it was time for lunch. During our 2-hour lunch break, I ate a quick lunch. And then I went back to work refining my plans for the afternoon session. Before I knew it, it was time to get back to work.

Session 3 lasted for 1 hour and 40 minutes. There were also 16 people in attendance, although it wasn't the same 16. Some from the morning sessions could not attend in the afternoon. But, we gained some people in the afternoon who couldn't attend in the morning.

I explained Mark Dever's sermon application grid. I explained the parts of the grid, and then we practiced them with Job 42 and James 2:1-13. I had focused on Old Testament passages in the morning, because I began with the task of identifying Christ in the text. That is usually pretty easy in the New Testament, but I wanted to show them that Jesus is throughout the Old Testament, too. But, in the afternoon session, I wanted to make sure I also showed how to teach from the New Testament.

When the session was over, I asked the people to complete another feedback form. And I asked them to add something on the back. I wanted them to describe how these meetings together would affect or change their ministries. I said it's fine to say you've learned a lot, or that it's been beneficial. But, I wanted them to think about what difference it was going to make for them.

Here are some of the feedback responses (from the 4 standard questions and today's addition)
  • One asked to learn more about the history and cultures of the Bible, so that he could better understand the texts.
  • One person said he learned a new method for preparing sermons, but all the information made his brain tired. He also said that he learned that the theme of restoration is throughout the Bible. And he asked if we could discuss the concepts of revenge, punishment, discipline and payment found in Hebrews 10:29-30 and 12:7.
  • Two said they learned how to organize their teachings of the Word.
  • One said he learned more about preaching to the unsaved people in his church.
  • One said that he will be more careful about examining his own faith and his spiritual life.
  • One said he learned more about how God pardons our sin and has mercy on us and gives us a purpose in life.
I won't be teaching again until Saturday, because the mission team is taking a trip tomorrow and Friday. But Saturday I'll be with the pastors from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, and we're serving them lunch, too. Meanwhile, the ladies on the team are going to be spending the day with the pastors' wives.

And here are some pictures from today.

Most of the pictures are pretty self-explanatory. But, I want to add something to this first picture. It's a picture of Ramon, who is pastor of Second Baptist Church, here in Nagarote. He's the only one of the pastors who has attended any amount of seminary. And he's been asking a lot of questions. The other pastors have even joked about it. I think, maybe, he's been testing me. But, all the questions have been good and relevant. And he keeps coming. So, I'm happy.

Oh, and this is the projector set up at the start of the afternoon session. The mission team had provided a projector last year. It's housed at Filadelphia, but available to all the pastors in the group. They've formed a local cooperation for sharing resources. And this year I brought some books for the group to share.