Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Problemas No Se Solucionan-Problems Don't Solve Themselves

In my article on "moldy churches" I wrote about unresolved conflict and how it can create divisions in the church. The same principles apply to families as well. Recently I saw this firsthand.

We have a family in our church that has been struggling to deal with a very serious problem which could potentially be quite harmful to almost every member of the family. The parents and the older children are on one side and the youngest child and her boyfriend are on the other side. I have tried to help on several occasions, but a "third-party" can only do so much to bring about resolution. The power to solve the conflict is in their hands. I have highlighted priorities and pointed out several viable options. I have encouraged them to make compromises. I insisted that it was time for action. Nothing was done. Of course, things got worse, much worse.

Our human nature encourages us to wait, rather than take action. This is especially true here in Peru. It is part of the culture as well. The Spanish language uses the reflexive tense to emphasize a common understanding that many times things "just happen" on their own. If a plate falls to the ground (se cayĆ³ el plato), it's as if the plate does it by its own effort. As a result no one is responsible for the broken plate. If someone loses his/her computer (se me perdiĆ³ la computadora), it's as if the computer lost itself. No one is responsible for its loss. Their world view allows things to just happen on their own accord. The same concept can be extended to problems. Problems should solve themselves, especially if one waits long enough. It is not necessary to do anything, because eventually it will work itself out.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke on unity in the Body of Christ. I pointed out that conflicts in families, at work and in the church don't just happen. People are responsible for the conflicts. I also told them that conflicts don't solve themselves. In fact they get worse when they are ignored. People must decide to do something or the conflict will never go away.

After church the parents asked to speak with me. They finally decided to do something to end the "war." Over the past few days they have taken positive steps to reach out to their daughter. I trust it will be bring about restoration.

Friday, October 8, 2010

"Moldy" Churches

The humidity here in Lima is nearly 100% during the entire year, even though it never rains. The changing seasons do little to affect the moisture content of the air. Residents of Lima often joke that those who live on the Peruvian coast are actually breathing water, sort of like fish. One of the greatest problems created by the humidity is mold. It grows everywhere there has been moisture. Clothes or shoes that are unused for a few months begin to produce small green fuzz. At it is difficult to find because it grows undetected. A musty odor is often the first clue that mold is present. By then, it is too late.

Unresolved personal conflict is similar to mold, especially in the church. The original problem that could have been easily dealt with using the Matthew 18:15-17 principle begins a process of fermentation. Within a short time the small misunderstanding turns into bitterness and hatred. And then "fuzz" begins to spread, many times undetected by the pastor or church leadership. The "offended party" starts to talk. It takes the form of a prayer request or a small group session of "unburdening." The "offended party" needs support. He or she needs people to be on his or her side. Certainly such benign intentions could never be harmful. However, at this point individual problems become small group problems. Soon small group problems become larger group problems as the "chain of concern" continues to grow. The mold is everywhere! Each person interprets the information received through the filter of their own experiences and prejudices. It doesn't' take long for the unresolved personal conflict to be transformed into a "full-blown" church division.

Once mold begins to grow it is so hard to kill. One missionary family who lived by the ocean had throw out their "damp" couch because there was no way to destroy the mold. I believe that Satan enjoys destroying the church from within. His work often takes this "innocent" route.

The afore mentioned Matthew 18 principle gives the following steps:
1. If you have conflict with someone, go to them personally
and work it out.
2. If you can't fix the problem, then find a friend or your pastor to
go with you. Try again to resolve the conflict.
3. If this doesn't work, then take the issue to a still larger, neutral
group, like the church board.
4. If everything fails, forgive them, separate yourself from them
and move on.

This process takes time and it takes work. But the results are miraculous. I've seen it work on every level. As a pastor I'm motivated to follow this plan because it is God's way of dealing with conflict and because I know that no one wants to be a part of a "moldy" church.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Creativity vs Repetition

Every culture has both strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Peruvian culture is very strong at duplication. If a Peruvian can see something and see how it works, he or she can reproduce it and many times improve it. This is especially true when it comes to technology. We have many wonderful ministry items in our church that demonstrate this cultural strength.

However, most Peruvians have difficulty inventing and creating. They find it hard to break old paradigms and to accept new ideas. So when a Peruvian is presented a problem, he or she will immediately search their memory bank for something they have seen or done. If there is no point of reference, the typical response is confusion and bewilderment. In "brainstorming" sessions with our church staff, we often receive blank expressions and silence.

My cultural observations became a topic of debate at a recent pastoral meeting. Over the past several years the Peruvian Assemblies of God has been teaching a very specific model of church growth using small groups. This model is being promoted for every pastor in every church setting. It is a step by step process that can easily be repeated. Unfortunately few have experienced the same success as the "original" model. A few "original" thinkers are now starting to question this way of learning. They are calling for a philosophical shift that goes against cultural norms. They are asking for church growth principals that can be applied differently in different contexts. They are wanting creativity, not repetition. Current leadership is struggling to accommodate their demands because it outside their cultural "box."

In the meeting I had a chance to speak. I shared the following. "The action that naturally accompanies learned models is "repeat". The action that naturally accompanies learned principals is "apply". Scripture gives us principles rather than models. Paul creatively applied ministry principals in different contexts; culturally: Jerusalem vs Athens, religiously: Jew vs Gentile, environmentally: peace vs persecution, etc. He interpreted his setting, he listened to the Holy Spirit and he courageously ministered to meet needs. Most successful ministries tend to work this way." My comments were well received by some, but not by others.

The Peruvian Assemblies of God would be revolutionized by this new way of thinking. Only time will tell which voices will speak the loudest and which paradigms, if any, will be changed.

Friday, May 28, 2010


For more than 4 years we have been praying for and working hard to raise funds to purchase property or larger facilities for our church plant here in Lima. We continue to pray and believe for a miracle even though only about 20% of the amount needed has been raised.

El Oasis continues to grow numerically which we believe also reflects the spiritual growth of the congregation. 175 children, youth and adults attended last week's Sunday AM service. It is a very challenging moment for us because we don't want to lose this momentum as we battle the physical limitations of our rented facilities. In November a triangle planter in the center of the sanctuary was removed so that 20 more chairs could be added. In July we will probably return to multiple services.

The congregation has also responded via offerings to the church building fund. They do not appear to be discouraged by the huge financial mountain that must be overcome. $1200 was given in a special offering in March. Once a month, at the end of the Sunday AM service, the women of the church sell food and snacks. All profits go to the church building fund. This averages nearly $100 a month! Also a local businessman is considering a large donation to help us renovate our current facilities, since we have neglected routine maintenance (painting, carpet, etc) in our saving for the future. Their faith and energy have surprised and inspired us.

However, the greatest surprise was yet to come. A few weeks ago a large family in the church came into my office. They looked very sad as they each one handed me envelopes full of cash. It was all an act. They were really excited because they had come to tithe on their inheritance It was their desire to give it all to the building fund. The total was $17,420. I was in shock. This was by far the largest, single amount ever given to the project (the previous high was $5000 given by a church in the States). It was a sacred moment as we prayed, dedicating this money to God's plans for the future. When we least expect it...Surprise!!!!! God is still working!!!! We can't wait for the next surprise...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Last week we lost our internet service for 2 days. In some foreign countries this is normal, but here in Lima not so much. I was amazed at my reaction to not having internet access. I felt panic. We could not call our daughters or our parents. (We do have a "land line," but it is so expensive.) We could not transfer money into the girls' accounts. We could not check e-mail. We could not check on international news, the stock market or baseball scores. Austin could not play any "on-line" games. What were we going to do? How would we survive? How long would this last?

The last time help such anxiety was during our first few weeks in Costa Rica where we studied Spanish. We had no car. It seemed like I had always driven. Driving was a right! Owning a car was like having an arm, a hand or legs. It was a necesity for living. It was difficult at first, but we made adjustments and modified our lifestyle. We survived for 1 year without "wheels."

The part that bothers me the most about these 2 moments in my life, is how "things" had become so important to me and to my well-being. I am not very astute when it comes to technology and I do not own very many technological devices. My cell phone is basic. Our TVs are simple and old. I really thought that, unlike others, I would have no problem if certain "things" were taken away from me. I was wrong. Last week's "near disaster" has caused me to, once again, evaluate how much time and how much importance I give to "things." It is easy to think we value "people" more than "things." But, is it true? How much do you need "things?" How much time do you spend with "things?" Last week I had a lot more time to give to Austin, to Kerri and to the Lord.

It is hard to imagine that the first A/G missionaries took several weeks to cross the ocean before arriving on the mission field and that for many years their only contact with home were letters. I am humbled by their commitment and their sacrifice.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Over the past several weeks I have been on a spiritual journey to not only understand the true meaning of "disappointment," but to also learn how to manage disappointment when it happens to come my way. While it can take many forms, my own personal pilgramage has helped me to cope with self-disappointment, disappointment with others as well as disappointment with God. I have been reading and studying the book, Disappointment With God, by Philip Yancey. I would highly recommend it if you have ever felt like God is or has been unfair, silent or hidden.
This brief reflection is not an attempt to summarize the book nor Yancey's own process of self-discovery concerning disappointment. I only want to take a moment to formulate a few ideas which have helped me move forward in the face of disappointment. I would like to challenge you to join me in this journey that many have traveled. C.S. Lewis walked this path too in his book, The Problem of Pain. Here are few insights I continue to process:
1. Man's disppointments are better understood if we look at disappointment from God's perspective. The entire Biblical witness reveals how God has constantly dealt with mankind's failure. His love and faithfulness "in spite of" give us a worthy example to follow.
2. A common mistake is to believe life should be fair, because God is fair. However, God is not life. The two are distinct. Life is unfair; God is fair. Our definitions and our expectations are in error.
3. Perhaps God is constantly speaking. We are just incapable of understanding all that he seeks to communicate. Or perhaps a full understanding of God knows would be harmful to us. It is the difference between flesh and spirit; the difference between living in a 3 dimensional world and existing in a reality without dimensions. This is best seen in God's reply to Job in the last chapters of this mysterious book. He doesn't answer his questions. God recounts his greatness and awesomeness as Creator and Lord of the universe.
4. Faith and fidelity are not the same. Faith is trust and confidence that God will intervene. Fidelity is that "hang-on-at-any-cost" faith that continues to believe even when the expected miracle does not come. Fidelity is necessary when we reach the final moments of our life on the earth. It is the type of "faith" that carries us into eternity.