DAA FranceesFrom July 6 to 20, these three young men from International Bible Church (Daniel, Aaron, and Angelo Francees) are in Aruba participating in a summer evangelism campaign for children with Child Evangelism Fellowship, known in the ABC islands as APEM (Aliansa Pro Evangelisashon pa Mucha). They will be presenting the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to hundreds of children. Last Sunday in our testimony time, their mom, Liana, gave the report that so far, 20 children have professed a new faith in Christ through this ministry. 

Please pray that the Lord will continue to work to convert children by the power of the Holy Spirit as these guys share the Word.

I ASK FOR YOUR PRAYERS for the Bonairean government’s approval of an expansion of our land lease, so that we can construct additional classroom space. This new space will seriously enhance our ability to advance the gospel here in Bonaire, especially among families with children.

Last December, the government land office reserved land adjacent to the church; they would consider granting us a long term lease on that land if we met several important conditions. Essentially, they required us to develop a plan for the building and demonstrate that we have the resources to construct it. Wednesday, I delivered a packet of documents to the government of Bonaire. We believe that packet of documents shows that we have met these requirements.

So the ball is now in the government’s court. PLEASE PRAY that International Bible Church will “find favor in the eyes of the king” so that the government of Bonaire will grant us this lease. I cannot tell you how persuaded I am that this will not happen if God doesn’t work in the hearts of the government officials involved in the decision.

ALSO PRAY that the Lord will provide wisdom (perhaps embodied in a person with contracting skills) for the management of the construction process itself.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain that build it.” We don’t want to find out what we can do; we want to see what God will do with us.

Please join us in seeking his direction and provision in this project for the gospel.

Here are some drawings illustrating what we hope to build.

Lot-LayoutfloorplanFront---rear-elevations

Lately, I’ve been seeing people on Facebook taking various sides in a current debate about the nature of sanctification and the role of the Law (or commandments) in it, so I thought, why not jump in. My view is that if we define sanctification properly, the Law has no role in it whatsoever. Sanctification is entirely a work of God’s grace in which we human beings only participate by being its subjects. In other words, while sanctified people obey, obedience is not the same thing as sanctification, and sanctification is never the result of obedience. I have written an article presenting my view with biblical support. It’s a little long to post here, so click here if you want to read it. The paper elaborates the following Fourteen Theses:

1. Sanctification is that saving work of God’s grace by which he sets a person or group apart for his exclusive use.

2. Sanctification is a definitive work of God, a change of status imparted by God’s laying claim to his people.

3. Sanctification has an already-not yet aspect.

4. Sanctification is an aspect of salvation and, therefore, should never be described as a work of man.

5. The present work of sanctification, therefore, must always be framed as merely an application of our definitive sanctification, grounded in the gospel, and appropriated by faith.

6. Even “progressive” sanctification is definitive.

7. The obedience of the sanctified life depends on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

8. Sanctification is progressive only in the sense that Christians progress in their experience and outward demonstration of their definitive sanctification.

Sanctification and the Practice of Discipleship

9. Sanctification cannot be separated from the fellowship of the body of Christ.

10. The proclamation of the gospel is the heart of discipleship.

11. Worship should be framed in terms of presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices, confessing our sanctification, not making it.

12. The commandments of scripture must be exposited, but should always be empowered by the exaltation of Christ as the object of our faith, hope, and love.

13. Our growth in Christ is not a matter of our own exertion but depends on the power of the Holy Spirit, so we should operate at all times in a posture of prayer.

14. Understanding the definitive nature of sanctification and properly relating it to Christian life and growth has the effect of simplifying our concept of discipleship.

Here in Bonaire, a small band of missionaries operate an extremely significant ministry. From this tiny island, they proclaim the good news of God’s grace in Christ to millions of people all over the western hemisphere on a daily basis. They take the gospel into nations whose governments are hostile to the faith. They train pastors in remote villages. Churches are born where the Bible is taught and the gospel is preached. The ministry is called TWR (or Trans World Radio).

All of these missionaries attend International Bible Church, and I want to invite everyone to pray for their ministry. TWR Bonaire has embarked on an ambitious project to boost their AM radio signal from Bonaire to as much as 500 megawatts. This transmitter upgrade will extend their reach into Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, the Yucatan, and all of the Caribbean. If you care about the advance of the gospel, you’ll want to take a look at this video.

 

twr-button Maybe you’d like to help by making a donation to the Bonaire Transmitter Upgrade Project. This button will take you to TWR’s webpage with project information and a way to give online.

cubansThis button goes to a TWR blog post about Cubans who listen to the broadcast from Bonaire.

 

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I ran across this blog post recently when several facebook friends shared it. The post struck a chord with me, in part because in the church where I serve, we have a time each week in our worship service called “Blessings and Testimonies.” It’s basically an open mike, and anyone can share anything about how God has blessed them that week.

What we usually hear is a testimony of something good that happened—someone traveled safely, someone got a raise or a promotion or a good grade or a better car, someone was sick and got well, or someone met with success in this or that venture—all those things that are generally regarded as blessings. In other words, we set aside time in our Sunday service for people to say exactly what Scott Dannemiller calls “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.”

Like Mr. Dannemiller, I also wonder whether it’s a good idea to use the label blessing for such material good fortune. I think it sometimes reflects a distorted view of God that sees Him as “some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.” And, as Scott points out, what about the people God didn’t bless?  Were they unfaithful or unworthy? Is all this blessing talk a low-grade prosperity doctrine infection? Maybe.

But with respect, Scott’s proposed solution is way off-target. First, he says that to call such things blessings is a lie, that to give God the glory for everything I have is NOT the right thing to do. But is that biblical? James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Paul wrote to Timothy, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1Ti 6:17 NAU).

When I recently moved to a remote place outside the U.S., I needed to buy a small pickup. After several days of looking, I came across what can only be called a spectacular deal. If Mr. Dannemiller is right, I should not give God the glory for this good fortune. But the Bible says that if this is indeed good fortune, it is indeed from God—a blessing.

Mr. Dannemiller does seem to want to acknowledge God’s hand in these things, even if he doesn’t want to call them blessings. At the end of his post, he tells us that from now on, he’ll say “I’m grateful” rather than “I’m blessed.” I must admit this is a bit baffling to me. If it’s not a blessing, why am I grateful?

Confusing Blessing with Reward

This, I think, reveals the heart of the issue, which is this: what exactly do we mean when we say blessing? Is a blessing an occasion of God’s grace, an expression of unmerited favor? Or is a blessing God’s positive response to my faithfulness—God’s positive reinforcement, so to speak? If I say I am blessed, am I announcing God’s approval of who I am or what I’ve done, or am I simply saying I’ve had an experience of God’s goodness that I certainly don’t deserve?

If I notice that a blessing is just a specific experience of God’s grace, then the list of things I can count as blessings gets longer, not shorter. The most-blessed person is the one who best recognizes his undeserving nature. I think this is the point of the beatitudes. This approach allows me to perceive God’s blessing even in times of difficulty—when an accident occurs, or I don’t get the raise or the promotion or the good grade, or when someone gets sick and they don’t get well. By this approach, the Christian who lives on $10 per day and the one who earns millions can both say, “I am blessed.”

I look forward to hearing someone stand up in our Blessing time to tell us how God drew near to them in the midst of a catastrophe. That will be a sign of maturity. But I don’t think we’ll get there by denying that our everyday good fortunes are blessings from God.

It’s been a little too long since I’ve published an update, and a lot has happened since my Christmas season report. I’ve highlighted the prayer items like this.

Cancun

cancun-tripAs many of you know, just after Christmas my family gathered for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in Cancun. I found it refreshingly cool there in Cancun. One might think that getting from Bonaire to Cancun would be an easy trip, since it’s just right over there on the other side of the Caribbean. But apparently, not many people take vacations from one tropical destination to another, so to get there I had to fly through Houston. The thing is, Cancun is right on the way to Houston. With a clear sky, you’d be able to see Cancun out the port-side windows as you flew around the west end of Cuba.

momsiblingsIn any case, we had a great time celebrating Mom’s upcoming 80th birthday with the whole family. And I mean the whole family–not a single one was absent–41 people altogether. Here’s a photo of Mom and her five kids. Mom’s the short one in the middle (I say this because nobody in this photo looks 80 years old, unless it’s the white-haired guy in the back).

And here’s a photo of the whole crew:

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Catching Up

Land Lease News   Coming back from time away, there’s always some busy time getting up to speed again. And it seems that as soon as I returned, things are happening quickly. Many of you have been praying for the government here to approve IBC’s lease on some land next door. We are already a bit pressed for classroom space, and we applied some time ago for land next door to build on. In December, the land office gave us a conditional approval of the lease, which requires us (in the next six months) to develop an acceptable plan and prove our financial capacity to build. Since the island postal service was effectively not operating during the month of December, there was some delay in our getting the letter.

Last week, we had a very encouraging meeting with our architect, who made some great improvements to the basic design we had in mind. He will prepare documents to respond to five of the six conditions we have to meet. The sixth, proving financial capacity, will require us to meet with bankers. While you’re thanking the Lord for providing this conditional approval, please continue to pray that we will obtain the bank guarantees we need, as well as being able to fulfill the other conditions on time. Also pray for a speedy final approval.

I expect this building–and the corresponding improvements to the property in general–to be a great asset in our efforts to advance the gospel here in Bonaire. One of the things that is essential to the growth and development of the church is our capacity to serve children and teens with midweek, club-type ministries. Our current facility is not quite up to it. The new facility will provide seven good sized classrooms, and a large meeting room, along with outdoor play area and parking. I hope you will stand with us in prayer as we move forward in faith for the cause of the gospel.

The Saga of Obtaining Bonairean Residency   Also delayed by December’s postal outage was the news that early in December, my residency and work permit were approved by the immigration department (IND). When I got back from Mexico, I went in to the IND office, and they said, “Give it another week; we mailed it to you December 1.”

After a week, I went back, and the young woman at the window took about two minutes to print me another authorized and stamped copy of the document (the government here LOVES rubber stamps). She could have done this the week before, but I think I didn’t have the right shirt on, or didn’t take long enough on the courtesies. As an American, it’s hard for me to remember who’s serving who at the government offices, so I get to what I want a bit too quickly.

But now I had my residency! Just one more simple step, and the process is complete. The final step involves registering at the Census Office and receiving the official Dutch Caribbean ID card, called a sedula. My friend and immigration guide, Brandon Neal went along to help. When we arrived at the Census Office, the lady at the front desk began to ask us about the documents they required.

IND approval letter? Check.

Passport? Check.

Birth certificate with apostille? Check.

Marital status certificate validating your never-been-married claim? What???

Even Brandon had never heard of this.

“What is that?” we asked.

“A document from your home country that certifies that you have never been married.”

“What is that?” we asked. Then we smiled nicely, and went off to figure out how to prove that something has never happened.

Just the week before, I had had lunch with James Moore, the new U.S. Consul General to the Caribbean Netherlands. My friend Michael Gaynor (that’s the Chat n Browse Michael) is the consulate warden in Bonaire, and he invited me along. So I thought, I’ll send Mr. Moore an email, and get his advice.

I got a very quick reply from the Vice Consul Morgan Miles, the first sentence of which was “There really is no equivalent US document.” He also let me know that one approach was to compose an affidavit swearing my singleness, which they could notarize in the Consulate in Curacao. “While such statements have been accepted in the past, only the Bonaire authorities will be able to reliably tell you if it will be accepted in your case.” Trip to Curacao for all this was going to run up to about $200, for a solution that might not work.

Well, so it went for about a week. Before it was sorted, I had called the Davidson County Clerk’s office, the Tennessee Office of Vital Records, and the Dutch Embassy in Washington, DC (where I was advised to talk to my local court clerk’s office and to call the Municipal Population Affairs Department at the Hague in the Netherlands). Michael G. had a lawyer friend asking around about it here in Bonaire.

My email exchange with the Dutch Embassy convinced me to try a little harder to get through to the TN Vital Records. They let the phone ring for a LONG time, but finally someone answered. When the person who answered put me through to someone who could help me? Voice mail on the first ring!! “I guess I’ll just go home,” I thought, but instead, I left what I’m sure was a sad and desperate-sounding message.

I really couldn’t believe it when my phone rang ten minutes later and I was talking to Sandra Stafford at TN Office of Vital Records. She new exactly what I needed, and she could take my order with a credit card over the phone, and the letter certifying that I had not been married in the State of Tennessee in the last thirty-six years would arrive at my Tennessee address by the end of the week! All this for only… $197. As it happens, a couple of guys from Trans World Radio are in North Carolina this week, returning on Saturday. Sheldon has mailed the document to them and they will bring it with them to Bonaire. Cue angelic chorus.

This is, by the way, the SHORT version of the story. Please pray that the unmarriage certificate arrives safely and is accepted (no problem anticipated) so that I can get registered and get the sedula. The sedula is a national ID card that you really need to function in society. Getting a bank account, getting a driver’s license, and getting health care all depend on the sedula (a partial list).

More Fascinating Adventures & Things to Pray About

Ministry at IBC is going very well, and people have been about as welcoming and encouraging as possible. The response to my preaching and teaching has been very positive, though some of you will be surprised to hear that it goes a bit long from time to time. Byron helped by showing off with a 30 minute sermon when he was here in December.

At the beginning of the year, we started an exposition of the book of Philippians on Sunday mornings. In our Tuesday Bible Study, we’re working our way through 2 Timothy, and for our monthly men’s breakfast, I’m teaching through my series called “The Challenges of Discipleship.” The elders have stepped up in caring for the congregation, begun to work on getting a handle on oversight of our various ministries, and are working on developing a statement of purpose. Please pray that through all of these efforts, the Spirit will strengthen people with power in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith.

This time of year, we have a very steady flow of visitors from every conceivable kind of church background. We also have a substantial population of winter residents. We also have people who have come back to the church to check out the new pastor. In this environment, it is most apparent that you can’t assume the gospel. Please pray that every time I speak, that the simple gospel will be clear and that the Spirit will use it to grow faith in the listeners.

Keep praying for Eppie. His recovery is progressing, but it’s a long road, and he’s still not able to work. In his case, government slowness means that he still hasn’t received the financial assistance he’s entitled to, so the church is still paying his rent. He is able to get around on crutches, and he came to church one Sunday. More than anything, of course, we hope and pray that this is the occasion for the Lord to get ahold of Eppie’s heart.

Along the same lines, you could say a prayer for Alfred Stutterheim, an elderly Dutch member of the church. He recently developed an infection in his foot that Doctors here in Bonaire were not able to eliminate. His condition got very serious, and the decision was made to send him for more advanced care in Colombia. Alfred once worked as a guide at the Corrie Ten Boom house in Amsterdam. He is a dedicated brother, and very interesting to talk to. Pray also for his wife Itske as she has to deal with these things as well.

In closing, a little observation from Philippians 1:1. In this text, Paul calls himself a slave, and the people he’s writing to, he calls saints. I guess most of us would rather be saints than slaves, but the reality is that these two words are pretty synonymous. A slave is someone completely possessed by another and completely dedicated to his master’s service. A saint is someone claimed by and set apart to God for his exclusive use. Slave? Saint? same thing.

The love of Christ is a pretty good reason to move.

(Today’s update title is the first line from James Taylor’s song, “Mexico”)

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