Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is Repentance an Ugly Word? Part I

I don’t think we hear much about repentance these days? In fact, I’m not sure most people know what to think about the word. Among Christian circles and in deep theological discussions the role of repentance is heavily discussed.
In the next two days I want to say something about this word, although not everything I can or should say (that will come later). But, is “repentance” an ugly word? What do you think?

Let me begin with Mr. John. John the Baptist is known as a preacher of repentance in the Bible. Matthew recorded his words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2, NASB). Luke adds that John came “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (3:3).

What is repentance? And what does Luke mean by the phrase “a baptism of repentance”? Is repentance a condition for forgiveness? And, what does the imagery of “fire” in Luke 3 represent?

In Luke 3 John is talking to Israel, calling her back to covenant faithfulness (=renewed commitment to God alone). That is, to confess her sins and get right with God. He is telling Israel to prepare for the coming of Messiah. They are to be baptized as a symbol of their repentance “for the forgiveness of sin” (v. 3). The “forgiveness” experienced by Israel in v. 3 is one of forgiveness for covenant unfaithfulness (=not living seriously about their relationship with God; See vv. 10-14).

John calls Israel to repentance. What does this mean? The meaning of repentance goes beyond a simple change of mind about something, to describe more the redirection of someone’s life in conformity (likeness) to the character and ways of God. John is calling Israel to perform deeds that prove that they have repented of sin. That is, they must align their lives according to the ways of God because the Messiah is coming and they must be ready (vv. 4, 6.)

Now, there’s another tricky word in Luke 3. It’s the word fire. What does John mean when he uses the imagery of “fire”? Fire in the Bible can be used to refer to several things. One of its references is to eternal punishment. The term can also be used of God’s judgment upon people while they are alive. I believe that the fire described in v. 9 is that of temporal judgment and not eternal damnation (see John 15:6 for the fire of judgment experienced by saved disciples. See also John 13:10-11). In other words, Israel must repent of her waywardness and turn to God in obedience or face God’s response to sin (=wrath, v. 8; see Luke 13:1-5).

Those who truly repented sought out answers from John about how to practice repentance. They asked him three times: “Then what shall we do?” (vv. 10, 12, 14). John provided tangible ways of how to obey God’s commands in terms of their relationship with other people. It's interesting that repentance for sin is here related to how we respond to people. Sin against God most always has a bearing on how we treat or feel toward others. The heartfelt questions and the answers provided by John are the response that God was looking for from Israel. A repentant heart pleases God and restores relationships.

In order to escape God’s wrath or temporal judgment, Israel needed to refocus her complete attention on the Lord by repenting. It is helpful at this point to clarify that repentance can precede the point of an individual’s salvation, or it can take place at the moment of one's salvation and/or follow throughout life. This is not the same as talking about salvation (justification) which is received only by faith in Christ alone (see John 6:47; Galatians 2:16). One can repent of sin in their life without necessarily believing in God’s provision for salvation. However, John is specifically talking to Israel and warning her of her need to prepare for the revelation of the Messiah, in whom they would later need to believe in, or else, face the consequences of their rebellion against him in the coming wrath (v. 7; some believe this to refer to the destruction in A.D. 70), and in the subsequent eternal judgment of unbelievers.

So, is repentance an ugly word? I don’t think so. Tomorrow we will look at how some people thought that repentance was not necessary because they were of the lineage of Abraham. We will also look at some practical applications from Luke 3.
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Civil Saddleback Welcome to Obama and McCain

I don't know about you, but I enjoy following the Presidential Campaigns, the Conventions, debates and the drama of Election Night. I will vote my conscience and perform my obligation as citizen of the U.S. Ultimately, I know that God will take my vote, the way I vote, the results of all our votes, and all the doings of man, and continue to lead history toward his intended goal. Yes, it matters how I vote; I should take it seriously. But, God is still in control, and I can rest on this biblical truth.

In any case, many are nervous about our country electing the "other" guy to Office of President instead of their candidate. We are (many are) anxiously waiting for the debates that will follow the Conventions in August and September. For those who still need to hear (or understand) more about the different views represented among the candidates . . . Wait no more! We will have a unique opportunity to hear from both the Democratic and Republican nominees in a historic forum which will take place on the campus of Saddleback Church between Senators Obama and McCain, on Saturday, August 16, from 5-7 p.m. (PST). Questions will be posed to each "respective presumed Republican and Democratic presidential nominees for one hour each" by Rick Warren. For more information go to: The Saddleback Civil Forum will be streamed live on

This Election Year study well the candidates; watch the debates, pray, and then vote accordingly. But, never forget the Scripture which says: "God changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. . ." (Daniel 2:21; See Isaiah 45:1; Proverbs 21:1).
Por Su Gracia y Poder

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sounds from Cuba (continued)

There are several reasons for why I have decided to continue ministering long term in Cuba. First, I believe the doors are now open for churches in the U.S. to partner with the Cuban churches to provide encouragement, and specialized leadership and theological training in areas they feel we have something to contribute. Long is past the idea that any one group of churches (from the U.S., or elsewhere) have a monopoly on the gospel or theological education. Our posture is one of dependence on each other, and reciprocal learning.
Yet, pastors on the Island cry out, "Please, tell the churches in the U.S. not to close their hands against us, but to open them to bless us." Second, I have met other U.S. ministry leaders who are ministering in Cuba by evangelizing communities, helping set up local churches, and identifying existing house churches whose pastors are disconnected from other nearby pastors simply because they don't know that they are there. Furthermore, many churches have been working in isolation one from another. But, through the ministry of SCPI, and others, churches are slowly crossing denominational divides and sitting around the table together to discuss how they can reach the Island as a unified Body.

Third, and very persuasively for me, is the tug of God's Spirit on my heart. The result of my visit in May has been a growing love for those on the Island and a desire to become more involved in ministry (whatever shape that may take) in order to help further God's work in that country.
Visiting Cuba for me had been a lifelong dream and somewhat of a yearning, since often I sensed that my life was missing a puzzle - seeing the country that birthed me. I am convinced that God is inviting me to join him in what he is doing in Cuba. I don't exactly know what this means in the long run. I only know, that as the Apostle Paul, who heard a voice in a dream of a man calling him to leave Turkey and go to Europe (biblical Asia Minor & Macedonia, Acts 16:6-10), God is undeniably calling me to follow his leading in Cuba.

Why me? First, let me say, that I am humbled that God would speak to my heart about becoming involved with him, in any ministry. Having said this, when I think of my journey to the U.S. as a child of four years old, the years spent in New Jersey, growing up in Miami, being bi-lingual (and bi-cultural), the theological education God has allowed me to obtain, the passion of my heart to see cities and communities reached with the Gospel, I think God has been preparing me throughout life for this time. I'm not moving to Cuba.
However, I do plan to visit the Island often and help develop the leadership and further the ministry already taking place. I don't know what will happen politically, nor how much true and lasting reform might come (only God knows the future). Neither do I ignore (or forget) the pain of separation and the endless suffering that both the exile community living abroad and especially those living under Communism have endured. Yet, I choose to move forward to whatever mission God has for me, and for as long as God plans for me, both out of obedience to his Lordship and because of love for the people of Cuba.

So, I ask that you would please pray for me. Pray that I would clearly discern the wishes of our heavenly Father and have the wisdom to know how to be a blessing. Pray that I would seek to be faithful to him and his purposes for my life until the day he calls me home. And, I ask that you pray for my family, that God would protect them and provide for them during the weeks I will be out each year. I am reminded of a psalm which reads, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you " (Psalm 32:8). This is my prayer for you.
Por Su Gracia y Fidelidad

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sounds from Cuba

It's been a few months since my trip to Cuba in May of this year. I've delayed writing for various reasons, one of which, had been an inner struggle about future involvement on the Island. After getting back I couldn't help but talk about my experiences as I visited my native country forty-two years after leaving it in 1966. I proudly showed my pictures and shared the exciting stories of my trip. Yet, for several months, I pondered about what this trip would mean for my future.

Cuba, 775 miles long and 191 miles wide, is a most beautiful Island. The Royal Palm Trees stand tall and impressive. The valleys are breath-taking, and the people are playful and friendly. In the midst of the suffering most Cubans make the very best of their limitations and try to make ado through innovative ways. For example, in order for you to use someones email connection (few have it) you might barter with them by giving them two eggs for their time. The monthly food control allotment booklets (Control de Ventas Para Productos Alimenticios) are still being used but sometimes certain items are not available, or the money to purchase them has run out ($12 - $20 a month per worker is not uncommon pay).

I met several pastors during the training I led through SCPI or Saturation Church Planting International ( This organization is partnering with Cuban churches to help them in their church planting (=new church starts) efforts. With close to 12 million inhabitants, and less than 5,000 churches ministering the gospel, many denominations and churches have come together to start a total of 16,000 house churches by the year 2020. What an amazing challenge!

I'm now making plans to return to the Island in September to provide further training.

Many in the Cuban exile community look disfavorably at visiting Cuba. They feel that visits should be limited to only humanitarian needs, and that too many people from around the world, including the U.S., are traveling to the Island simply for pleasure. For example, the waters of Varadero beach are aqua blue and the hotels on the richer side of the peninsula are second to none. Some estimate that two million visitors travel to Cuba each year. This fact, they argue, has helped the Fidel & Raul regimen to stay in power and survive longer than otherwise would have been possible to do so. Yet, many continue to visit at will without truly understanding the full history - and present reality - of Cuba.

I can understand the strong sentiments of many in the Cuban community in the U.S., because I am one of them. However, due to this strong stand against visiting the Island, many don't see how clergy involvement from the U.S. can contribute to the growth of an otherwise growing church. After spending a few days in Cuba and seeing the servant-heart of pastors on the Island, it is true that we have little to teach them about church planting per se. The church under communism is growing and Christians are reaching out to others. So, why get involved? Why return with further training?

Tomorrow I will share a few reasons for my sustained involvement in Cuba.
Por Su Gracia y Fidelidad

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Think Glocal!

Last Sunday I preached on Acts 1:8. The gist of what I said was that through the power of the Holy Spirit believers can influence others to faith. When we look at the Book of Acts (which relates our story 2,000 years ago), we can't help but learn that followers of Christ are called to have a glocal outlook on ministry. That is, we are simultaneously to consider how our lives are actively being used by God to help take the good news of Christ to our "Jerusalem . . . Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (NASB) or "to the ends of the earth" (NIV). We are to both embrace a local approach as well as a global view on how our lives can impact God's Kingdom work. We must not be limited to our Jerusalem (in my case Marco Island); neither, become exclusively globally focused. Rather, I must have a rhythm in my life which is both near and far reaching - glocal!
To view the message (best with Mozilla) on Acts 1:8 please follow the link:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Power in Prayer," or "Power of God through Prayer"

I often hear people say that there is "power in prayer." I think it is better to think in terms of the object of our prayers, God. We can say words haphazardly, and without much forethought, or we can actually think rightly about what we are praying about. Yet, the power is not in the praying. It comes from God. Our faith is placed in God, not necessarily on how, how much, or what words we pray.

Is prayer important? I think most of us would answer 'yes'. Yet, when we look at our lives, we often are guilty of not spending quality and quantity time with God in prayer. This is detrimental to our lives. I've been reading again Bill Hybels' book, Too Busy Not to Pray: Slowing Down to Be with God. He reminds us that "Prayerless people cut themselves off from God's prevailing power, and the frequent result is the familiar feeling of being overwhelmed, overrun, beaten down, pushed around, defeated" (13). Perhaps we don't pray more because our faith is in our prayers instead of on God. The Apostle Peter reminds us, "Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7).

There is much I don't understand about prayer, but I do know, both from Scripture and from personal experience, that God is able and willing to come to our rescue and he does answer our prayers. He does this for His glory, for His Kingdom and to give us the delight of our hearts. But, let us place our faith and trust on God, and not our praying.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Life on Target (Continued)

Discerning God’s calling for our life should precede the choice of our career, job, or place of our service for God. According to Guinness, “the main way to discover calling is along the line of what we are each created and gifted to be. Instead of, ‘You are what you do’, calling says: ‘Do what you are.’” Here are a few questions to consider: What do you enjoy doing? What do you dream about? What would you like to do? What would you do if given the chance? What has God filled your heart with that seems to burst from within? How would a picture of your preferred future of activity look like?
From a Christian understanding of God, the Lord endows all his children with natural talents. If you are alive you are good at one or several things: you are artistic, athletic, an intellectual, hands-on person, good with numbers, a people person, a combination of the above, etc. For those of us who follow Jesus we also believe that God has given us spiritual gifts or abilities given by God to bless other people toward growth and maturity in spiritual areas of their lives. Spiritual gifts are about other people, not us. When we take our talents and gifts and then combine them with a desire to honor our Creator and touch the lives of others, we began to get a glimpse of our calling in life. Guinness states that it isn’t that “God is finding us a place for our gifts but that God has created us and our gifts for a place of his choosing – and we will only be ourselves when we are finally there” (46).

But, you may ask, “How about this stinking job that I’m tied to?” According to Guinness we may experience tension in our pursuit to find work that “perfectly fits our callings.” For example he cites how the Apostle Paul (in the New Testament) at times gave himself up to the work of tentmaking in order to do what he was – work as a minister of the gospel. Guinness writes:
But tentmaking was never the heart of Paul’s calling, it was only a part, as
all of life is. As part of our calling such ‘tentmaking’ at worst is work that frustrates us because it takes time we wish to spend on things more central. But at best it is work that frees us to get to that which is central. By contrast, whatever is the heart of our calling is work that fulfills us because it employs our deepest gifts (50-51).

Guinness is saying that perhaps for a period of time you might need to work or be involved in activity that will financially allow you to make ends meet. It’s not your favorite or desired form of employment, but it pays the bills. But, at least it allows you to progressively move closer to your preferred activity to that form of expression that aligns your time and talents (and gifts) to your soul’s longing for meaning and impact. Or, perhaps you’ve accepted your employment as essential to survival, but yet have found expressions of who you are in an outside activity which give you meaning and a true sense of success.

Finally, here are four simple but profound questions (someone shared these with me) that are helping me at this time of life as I re-evaluate my purpose and mission on earth. First, what is my mission? That is, what is my mission in life? Or, depending on where you are, and your age, what’s my mission for the next stage or second half of my life? What are the causes or organizations that I’m drawn to? What do I sense a burden for? Basically, what do I sense is God’s purpose for me? Write it out. Share it with others. Second, how will my life look like if I complete God’s mission for me? What adjustments will I have to make? What do I need to begin doing now? Third, what are the core values that drive me and the things I do? In other words, what’s important to me? What are things I believe in deeply? Finally, what are some goals for the next stage of my life? That is, what are the specific steps I will take to fulfill my mission and vision?

May I suggest a book for you to read? It’s called Half-Time: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance, by Bob Buford. Its intended audience is for those who have already played the first half of the game (life). It’s for people who are asking some of the tough questions about how to invest and live their lives during the second half of their lives. But, it’s filled with awfully great wisdom and practical questions that anyone in their thirties will benefit from.

Have you answered “the ultimate why” question for your life? Perhaps you didn’t grow up to be a cowboy. But, can you honestly say that you are doing what you are? If not, take some time for yourself, do some reading and reflecting, seek God’s guidance (through prayer) and the input of trusted friends and family members, and begin to live out your mission and vision for your life now.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Living Life on Target

As a child, do you remember what you wanted to become when you grew up? I wanted to be several things. First, I knew I wanted to be a cowboy in the Wild West (that must have been right after the Christmas someone gave me the two slickest silver pistols I’d ever seen). Then I put away my pistols and picked up a baton, dreaming, for whatever odd reason, that I would be an orchestra conductor some day. Finally, in my pre-adolescent years I dreamt of becoming a military pilot. I’ve not become any of those things, but funny enough, I do love westerns (and the west), I play drums, and I’ve taken flying lessons.

Sadly, a lot of us still don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. Feeling well and living well comes from more than taking care of one’s body. Surely, when one is sick or is out of shape, few things get our spirits up. Yet, having a sense of wholeness comes from various sources. One is our physical well being. Second is from finding our spiritual bearing. A third (related to the second) has to do with finding one’s place in this world. By this I’m referring to what the world renowned violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, once stated, “I did know instinctively that to play was to be.” What were you created and gifted to do? What gives you the most passion and satisfaction in life? If given the opportunity, what would you do for the rest of your life?

In terms of people’s activities most go throughout life without finding their sense of purpose. Os Guinness in his book, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, writes about the importance of matching one’s giftedness to one’s vocation or calling. He writes, “Somehow we human beings are never happier than when we are expressing the deepest gifts that are truly us” (44). I think a lot of people are frustrated, and not necessarily so, because they have or don’t have lots of money. Sometimes people are bound to certain jobs because of the market (times are rough now). Sometimes people are bound to a particular kind of work because it pays the bills (not because they enjoy it). But, how many people do you know can tell you that they are doing what they are? (Continued tomorrow)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sunset Beauty

"Life is precious." Those were the words of my mother this afternoon after getting back her test results. After being in the hospital since Sunday we now know that what she has is a severe case of colitis. With medication she should be fine in several weeks.

As the evening set over Broward county she looked out the hospital window and commented how different the sunset looks through the eyes of life. When life is uncertain and terminal disease seems inevitable it is difficult not to feel depressed. This evening, however, the sunset is beautiful. I thank God that what could have been, is not. That mom will be with us longer. God is faithful and trustworthy, and I thank him.
Por Su gracia y fidelidad.

Monday, July 14, 2008

An Emergency Call. . .

You're never ready when the call comes in. Last night coming back from church I got a call from my sister telling me that my mother was being taken to the hospital . All I heard was "emergency room" and "heart pain." I immediately felt my body changing, becoming cold and nervous. I had misunderstood what she had said. She had said it was "not the heart." But, in that moment all I heard was that my mother was probably having a heart attack. As I write this morning my mother is in the hospital undergoing investigations for bloating and pain she's been dealing with for the last several weeks.

As Christians we believe the Lord is in control, and worthy of our trust. But, we're never truly ready for "the call". It's important to show love to family and friends. To appreciate the days we have with each other, because we just never know when "the call" might come in. In our case I pray for my mom and ask the Good Lord to heal her and extend her life.

When "the call" comes in, you're reminded of how much you love your folks. Let's not wait until it's too late to flesh out our love for those around us. Life is truly too short. Express your love for someone today.
Por Su gracia y fidelidad. . .

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Joys of Living in Color

I grew up in New Jersey where the four seasons of the years are each distinct and the fall is amazingly colorful. In some ways I feel my life is enriched for having so many likes and experiences that represent a broad list of the beautiful (and not so beautiful) things of life: I enjoy teaching kids how to play drums; I enjoy reading philosophy; my niece and nephew call me "The Claw" because I hunt them down in the pool; I love tennis and chess; I love learning languages, although I struggle with Hebrew; I'm the happiest man next to my wife and children; I've been pained by the suffering among some of the children of D.R.; seen the poverty and longings of the Cuban people; love the romance of Quebec City; climbed Chichen Itza , love to study and teach La Biblia . . . and so much more.

I'm a blessed man.

Many would call me a generalist because of the many likes and interests I possess. This is why I've called my blog "Musings 'de muchos colores' (of many colors)." Here are some of the things I will probably be writing about:
* Spiritual issues
* Theological topics and questions I ponder
* My thoughts on trips to Cuba
* Some family stuff
* What I'm learning from my readings
* What I'm learning from others
* Personal experiences
* ¿Quien sabe qué más? (who knows what else?)

I'll be writing mostly Monday-Thursday of each week. Please feel free to respond to any of my posts at any time.
Por Su gracia y fidelidad . . .