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Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg in their book, Becoming a Contagious Christian, provide a great formula for evangelism:

Close Proximity + High Potency + Clear Communication = Maximum Impact

Let’s briefly unpack this formula. In order to effectively evangelize today, you usually need to be in close proximity to someone in order to have the most impact. I find this true in the U.S. and in Colombia. Sure, people may listen to you if you share the gospel on the street, but I’ve seen that usually God uses a relationship in order to bring someone to Christ. How many non-Christians do you regularly meet with in order to build a relationship?

“High potency” in their book speaks about living a life of personal holiness and integrity. If you have friendships with non-Christians but are just like they are, you will not have any impact for Christ. You can even preach the gospel, but if you don’t live it, you’re just another hypocrite.

“Clear communication” of the gospel message is also vital. Many Christians think they can “live” the gospel without speaking it. Nope, that doesn’t work. We are called to preach/share/testify about Christ and about his gospel. Christ died for sinners, was buried, and rose again. The only way to be saved is to believe in him.

Now, Hybels and Mittelberg may have wanted to include prayer in “High Potency” (my copy is in Colombia so I can’t check on that), but I think the formula would be even better if we included another element, giving us this final formula:

Close Proximity + High Potency + Clear Communication + Focused Prayer = Maximum Impact

If we are not praying for growth in evangelism, for help to live holy lives, for wisdom to share the gospel clearly, and for specific unsaved people to be saved, I doubt very highly we will see Maximum Impact. Let me know if you have seen maximum impact without prayer, but I have not.

Now, this formula would be a great reference point for praying for missionaries. For example, based on Close Proximity you could pray, “Father, help our missionary build a new relationship today.” “Give them wisdom to find new contacts. Give them wisdom to know how to draw nearer to the contacts they already have,” and so on. I won’t parse that out any further, but I think the idea is clear.

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What is a furlough?

JasonWe’re back on furlough, and the question comes up, “What is a furlough anyway?” That’s a good question, and I think I have a slightly better answer than in 2009 when we were last on furlough. In a biblical sense, a furlough fulfills a similar purpose to that which Paul exemplified in Acts 14:27-28 (ESV) “And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.”

Nowadays this involves visiting all of your supporting churches, which in our case are sixteen. Our schedule is starting to fill up with missions conferences and weekend visits. We’re thankful for each of these churches. During our time with them, we report what God has done over the course of the last four years. We also renew our friendship with the people, and encourage them to continue to have a Great Commission mindset. Missions is not just something we do in another country but should be el pan de cada día (our daily bread).

We also use this time to renew our relationship with family members. It’s very important for our kids, who really are a mixture of at least two cultures, to know their grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. If they end up back in the U.S. for college, they will surely benefit immensely from these months here.

It’s also a time of personal reflection. What is my identity? If it’s tied too closely to a specific country or to a ministry, rather than to Jesus, I’m in trouble. I think that’s what happened to me last time. I felt out of place, inútil (lit. un-useful), and frustrated with almost everything. This furlough I’ve been more proactive and will be working here in Ames with our international student ministry. Our pastor also graciously invited me to attend the weekly staff meeting. Little gestures like that make a furlough a lot better!

We give God thanks for the opportunity to be back in the U.S., not because we like it better than Colombia, but because we’re learning to be content in whatever situation we are in (Phi 4:11).


Omalleytrent93I just finished reading an interesting book that is very relevant to working in Colombia: Trent: What Happened at the Council by John O’Malley, a Catholic scholar from Georgetown University.

My previous exposure to Trent was the occasional look at its doctrinal affirmations in preparation for teaching on various topics, like justification by faith for example. I really had no idea about the history of the Council. This books gave me a helpful understanding of the context of the council and its major debates. For example, why did the Council start in 1545 and not conclude until 1563? Or, why did the Council meet over the course of three periods (1545-47, 1551-52, 1559-63)? The author explains the political and religious reasons for this curious distribution of the Council.

I’m not going to do a formal review this book, but I did want to mention a few impressions that struck me from this book.

First, this book is another reminder that the Roman Catholic Church has not been as monolithic as many would have us believe. I had previously thought that Trent was a unified reaction against the Protestant Reformation, but O’Malley shows that the Council was actually the result of a three-way conversation (might I say struggle?) between the popes (a different one in each period), the bishops, and the monarchs. In the debates about almost every topic, these three players pushed and pulled for the position that would most benefit them. Charles V wanted reform of the moral aspects of the papacy, whereas the popes pushed for decrees on the doctrinal aspects.The popes tended to fear the power of a free council, so they controlled the agenda through the official legates they sent. These legates were the only ones who could propose items for the agenda.

Another interesting factor was that the attendance varied greatly over the course of the Council. This was in part due to the difficulties of traveling to Trent, located in the north of Italy, and to the tedium of attending a council that would last for more than a year at a time. The result of this varied attendance led to a rehashing of many issues over the course of the 18 years. At times, clergy from a given country could not attend certain sessions due to political reasons (the French for example). This again points up the eclectic nature of the different sessions.

The Council of Trent focused on two main issues: doctrinal and moral. These two issues were tackled in tandem. A given doctrinal point was determined and its practical outworking in the moral sphere was discussed at the same time. The main doctrinal points discussed were justification and the sacraments. The main moral issues were the abuses in the administration of bishoprics and parishes and the moral failure of many of the clergy. Many bishops had various bishoprics under their care and became rich as a result. The same happened with the priests and their parishes. Trent encouraged them to live in their region of pastoral care and dedicate themselves to their people. The issue of the marriage of clergy also came up. As others have mentioned, Luther’s teaching and example challenged the Roman Catholic Church’s position on celibacy as much as on the doctrinal issues. Sadly, the Council did not offer any reform towards the possibility of a married clergy, in spite of the desire of a number of bishops who attended. It’s no wonder that the RCC continues to struggle with moral failure on the part of their clergy.

I was also interested in the varied care that was given to various topics. For example, O’Malley says that the bishops took seven months to determine their position on justification. In contrast, they only spent several days on some of the last articles that dealt with marriage, veneration of the saints, and purgatory. These sessions were rushed because the pope wanted the Council closed by the end of the year. This fact left me wondering again about the pragmatism of the Council.

The book also offered a few historical tidbits that I found fascinating. For example, in the debate on the Apocrypha, the bishops were in disagreement. Some wanted to affirm the Apocrypha, while others didn’t. In the final decree, the Apocrypha was affirmed but no justification for its inclusion was given. Another interesting historical detail came as result of the Council’s discussion on the need to revise the Vulgate. Pope Sixtus finally had the Vulgate revised in 1590, but because of the poor quality of the work, Pope Clement VIII had another revision published in 1592 after Sixtus’s death. Since Sixtus had declared that his version could not be altered, Clement had Sixtus’s name placed on the cover page!

If you are interested in a review of this book, see Reformation21.




The Bible and Its Roots course

Biblia y sus raices

I’m three weeks into an eight-week course I’m teaching on “The Bible and its Roots in Modern Times.” We’re covering such areas as the organization of the Bible, the manuscripts of the Bible, textual criticism, the canon, and supposed errors in the Bible. Attendance of our church people has been a little down, but we’ve been blessed to have three pastors from different churches here in Santa Marta attending.

I wanted to mention two sites that I had not seen before. Internet has truly revolutionized studies of ancient manuscripts.

The first site has a copy of the Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls: . The first time I visited the site you could click on each Hebrew word and see a transcription on the right side, but that feature is currently down. At any rate, the resolution is incredible!

The second site does essentially the same thing for Codex Sinaiticus, which includes the oldest copy of the complete New Testament. This site provides a transcription of the Greek on the right when you click on a word in the Greek text. I’d previously been daunted by reading Greek with an older script, but using this site I have improved my understanding of the way they formed the letters and also of the abbreviations they used in ancient manuscripts.


Learning, in a different way

Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001Last year I began a ThM program in Baptist history, which later turned into a New Testament focus. I had wanted to do the coursework this year and the thesis next year during our furlough. As the months have continued to move along, I finally realized that I would not have the time necessary to complete the program. As a result of much prayer, I have realized that I have often struggled to pour myself into the ministry in which I am serving because I’m distracted by the “next thing,” which in this case were further studies. I contacted the seminary to let them know of my desire to focus fully on the church planting ministry here in Santa Marta and discontinue any further plans of study with them. This decision was not easy, but I believe it will be a blessing for my family, our people here, and me. I also decided to stop studying French, as that was motivated by the ThM.

I wanted to mention that these detours have proven to be blessings. For example, I learned a lot about John Gill and the 18th century Baptists through my studies in church history. I learned more about the glory of Christ in Luke-Acts through my initial research towards the thesis I was to write on that topic. In three months of study, I reached a point in French where I can understand about 70% of your average journal article in that language. Nothing goes to waste in the ministry.

Now the question remains, how should I continue to learn in a non-formal way? I wanted to mention two new resources that have proven to be very helpful.

First, I’ve been listening to many lectures and debates in which James White has participated. He can be found on www.sermonaudio.com, if you search for his name. His lectures on Islam are very helpful! (Just a note to our prayer warriors out there… after our last prayer letter I met the first Muslim I have known in Colombia, and he already sat in on one Bible study!) You can also listen to many of his debates on youtube. I think that listening to debates is a great way to learn about theology and different religions. Plus it’s almost always interesting.

Second, I wanted to point your attention to Justin Brierley’s British radio show Unbelievable? His show is dedicated to debates between Christians and non-Christians and also between different Christian positions. Brierley does a great job of moderating these debates, and if you look at the topics I’m sure you’ll find some that will interest you.

Why do I mention these resources? So that you too can continue learning about our faith and how to engage with people of other worldviews. May the Lord help us to make an impact in the world through a clear, loving, and insightful presentation of the gospel.


A bottom-line mentality?

trendABWE has encouraged all of their missionaries to pray for the Muslim world during Ramadan of this year (July 9th through August 8th). We’ve started early, so that if we miss a few days we’ll still finish the prayer guide they gave us. In thinking about Muslim evangelism, I picked up my copy of Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader (Perspectives) and read a chapter called “On Turning Muslim Stumbling Blocks into Stepping Stones” (pp. 650-654 in my 3d ed.). I wanted to share a couple of challenging thoughts from this chapter. Even though the author speaks of Muslim evangelism, the ideas apply perfectly to other contexts.

Here are a few of the thoughts that impacted me.

“In order that we might share the suffering of Christ, God has engineered the fruit-making process so that it always involves sacrifice. But people invariably seek ways to turn the altar into a stage for seeking applause” (p. 650).

“Are we going into the Lord’s service in order to compete for success, to show what we can do, to prove ourselves?” (p. 651).

He then continues by calling out a damaging attitude towards missions which he calls a “bottom-line mentality.” This mentality judges that the only worthwhile indicator of success is growth in numbers. In a Muslim context, someone with this mentality will probably not last long because the results are not often very evident. I heard a conversation two weeks ago with a Turkish pastor who said that a church of 5-10 people in Turkey is a “mega-church.”

“The best answer to a false bottom-line mentality is to realize that any line man draws is not the bottom line. The real bottom line is the Day of Judgment when we stand before Christ and give account” (p. 651).

He says that the key to overcoming this mentality is to have a “harvest mentality.” This mentality understands that Jesus has said that the fields are “white already to harvest” (Jn 4:35). This mentality also exercises faith in the gospel. “If we are going to call people to faith, we ourselves must exert our faith in God to be faithful to His promise to win to Himself at least a representative segment from every tribe and tongue on earth (Rev 5:9,10)” (p. 651).

This article challenged me to think about our ministry. I must admit that I easily get discouraged with the lack of results in people with whom I invest time. Sometimes it seems that the people with whom we work more in evangelism give fewer results. May God help us all to work faithfully, believing in the power of his Holy Spirit to use the gospel to save people.

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Helpful lectures on canon

canon-revisitedThe issue of canon is one that comes up occasionally here in Colombia. People will ask about why our Bible has fewer books than the Catholic Bible. Another common perspective follows a Dan Brown-like view that the canon was something imposed in the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. I frankly always felt a bit ignorant about canon, or perhaps thought that nothing new could be said, but I was wrong. I wanted to point you to a lecture series by Michael J. Kruger on this topic. Kruger is one of the leading evangelical scholars on canon. His style is very easy to follow, and he has obviously devoted much time to distill the issues on this complex subject. The second lecture was the least strong in my opinion because he relied a lot on Covenant Theology, but the other three are excellent and enlightening. In today’s world, understanding something about canon is no longer a luxury. You can find the lectures here:


I haven’t read his book yet, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books, but I’m sure it would be very good as well.


ThM change and a great book


Last week I changed the focus of my ThM program from church history to New Testament. I have enjoyed all of the research I’ve done on John Gill, but my adviser just didn’t have the time needed to direct my studies. So, instead of completely dropping out of the program, I decided to start from scratch in NT. I’ve begun to look for a thesis topic, as that’s the key factor still missing. If you have any ideas, please let me know. If I had to pick a topic right now it would on something in the gospel according to Luke. I could use a better understanding of the gospels, and I’ve always loved Luke (John would be my other favorite of the four).

On another note, I wanted to pass along a link to a book that has proven to be a great blessing in my spiritual life. This book was one recommended to me by a friend in Toronto. I’ve been reading a prayer each day, and they are very challenging and have deepened my understanding of what pray can and should be.

Valley of Vision (Leather): A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions


New evangelistic study

libres-portadaI just finished writing a four-lesson evangelistic study for our ministry context here in Santa Marta. I’m praying that this study will more effective than the other studies we have used. In the past we’ve been using “The Story of Hope” Bible study, which I like very much. Unfortunately it is a Bible study that requires many sessions in order to finish (I would estimate about three months of meeting each week). As you can imagine, this investment is not easy for either us or the people with whom we study.

In the same vein as other studies that are available here in Colombia (e.g. Proyecto Felipe), this study can be left with a new person. They do the study on their own, and then the mentor stops by to talk through the questions and answers.

I received permission from the publisher to include the actual biblical text in the study, so a new person doesn’t even need a Bible to do it.

The study is called ¡Libres!, which would translate as “Free!” in the sense that “the truth will make you free.” The first lesson looks at Ecclesiastes 1-2 to talk about the vanity of life without God. Lesson 2 deals with the Ten Commandments and our lost condition. In these first two lessons I concentrate on our tendency to idolatry. Lesson 3 begins to introduce the solution to our idolatry and sin: the Person of Jesus Christ. I unapologetically discuss God as Trinity as the basis for the Christian faith, and the two natures of Christ as God and man. In the last lesson, I direct the reader to understand how to receive Christ personally, looking at 2 Corinthians 5 and Romans 10.

As my coworker Alfredo has mentioned numerous times, the idea is to train our people to use this material and encourage them in that task. If it’s only our pet project, that won’t go far, but if our people embrace it, God can use it to share the gospel with many more people here in Santa Marta. Pray that this study would be used by God’s Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in the Lord Jesus.

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Ubuntu-LogoI’d always thought that Linux sounded cool. Maybe that’s the anti-establishment side of me, but when I needed to buy a new computer I considered the possibility of trying Linux. Windows 8 had gotten bad reviews, and Macs are too expensive here in Colombia to justify buying one. I started looking into Linux and found that Ubuntu is the most popular flavor of the open-source OS. I figured I’d give it a try.

Switching operating systems is something like conversion to Christ. I want to share a couple of comparisons between conversion and switching to Ubuntu that have crossed my mind since making the change.

First, I experienced many doubts about the change. Would Ubuntu meet my needs? Would I invest a lot of time and energy in learning a new OS to find it was a waste of time? Would my productivity be hampered? These doubts are similar to those that people experience before conversion. Jude advises us to “have mercy on those who doubt” (v. 22, ESV). Sometimes we may not understand the doubts of people contemplating the claims of Christ, but we should show mercy towards them and try to comprehend their hangups in order to answer them. Although God is sovereign in salvation, he uses us as his instruments to alleviate mental and emotional barriers to the gospel. After reading a number of articles on Ubuntu I determined that some aspects of my workflow would probably change, but that I would probably be able to continue to meet all of my responsibilities.

Second, in switching to Ubuntu I made a number rookie errors. For example, I initially installed the newest experimental version (12.10), but within a short time I was reaping the consequences of that decision. Some of the programs I tried to install crashed repeatedly. I finally went with the long-term support version (12.04) and have enjoyed much greater stability since. This can be compared to many new Christians who begin their Christian life in churches that are not Word and gospel-centered. These churches focus on experience. They promise prosperity, joy, and productivity. They tend to downplay the gravity of our sin, and the greatness of our Savior. They shun historical theology and prefer the latest and greatest. What happens to these new believers, if they are believers? Usually they conform themselves to the theology of their new church, imbibing the experiential bent of this Christianity-lite. Others leave frustrated or hurt. Thankfully, some find another church that is sound in doctrine and practice. How can you know the difference? A sound church should emphasize the five solas that came out of the Reformation (Five Solas). It should be focused on the gospel of Christ and on the clear exposition of the Word of God. The pastors should be approachable when people have questions about their teaching. As the Bereans, the people should be encouraged to receive “the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Obviously, many more factors must be examined, but these are perhaps the most fundamental.

Third, I passed through various trials in my switch to Ubuntu. At least three times I was on the verge of pulling the plug. Linux has a program called Wine which can be used to run Windows applications. Wine is a mixed bag. I have been able to run Bibleworks in Wine, but other programs act crazy in Wine. Don’t even think of trying to run Microsoft Office in Wine! When I learned this, I almost reinstalled Windows 7. Thankfully another program, called Virtualbox, saved me. You can install other operating systems on Virtualbox. I have Windows 7 installed and am thinking about installing a Mac OS too. At any rate, you open Virtualbox and run Windows as a guest OS within Ubuntu. I have had very little problems with this set-up. I run a few of the Microsoft programs I absolutely need within Virtualbox. I’ve shut off Internet capabilities for Windows 7, so viruses are not a problem, and of course Ubuntu doesn’t even need virus protection. So, in spite of my moments of weakness, I’ve persevered. This illustrates the manner in which the author of Hebrews talks about our salvation. I take the warning passages in Hebrews as exhortations to persevere. Although our salvation is secure in Christ, God never speaks of our salvation as a ticket to heaven. True believers must persevere, and they will because God’s grace will carry them through the testing of their faith. Peter expresses well this balance in 1 Peter 1:3-5:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Finally, in both Ubuntu and the Christian life, we need to be willing to change. Ubuntu is not Windows, nor is it Mac. Almost two decades of using another OS makes the change difficult at times. You need to learn how to use the command line to type in some code with Ubuntu. Some people will not be able to do this, just as some people refuse to leave their former habits behind. True believers have died to their former way of life, but in the practice some do not live in light of this death (Romans 6:11).

I could go on, but I will leave you with these thoughts. One major difference between Ubuntu and conversion is that Ubuntu is not a good change for everyone. In contrast, conversion to Jesus Christ is the best change anyone can experience. No true believer has ever regretted it. Think about what Paul says and receive the reconciliation that comes through faith in Jesus:

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.