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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

You Crown the Year with Goodness - 2014

"You crown the year with Your goodness;
Your ways overflow with plenty." Psalms 65:11

Looking through my short journal entries for 2014, I see how it has been full of twists, turns and changes. We've had job changes, deaths of friends, enjoyable trips and events, a wedding and many challenges. But in all of this, we are certain that God has crowned the year with goodness. Every good gift comes from Him. He has overflowed our lives with "plenty." We are grateful to Him. Nothing that is now would be without Him. Nothing that we have would be possible without Him. He is sovereign over our lives and nothing that happens in 2015 will change that. Our job is to trust Him in every circumstance whether good or bad.

We are grateful to the Lord:

For giving us His grace in Christ. My wife and my children are in the Lord's path and we are thankful for this. Many in our immediate family are also walking with Him. Our little ones continue to learn about walking with Christ through the catechism they memorize on a weekly basis. Our little girl has learned how to read at 4 years old. Our 10 year old has become a runner even as he struggles with his ADD/ADHD. Our oldest boy, now a married man, continues to grow in the Lord and our oldest daughter is lukewarm in her faith. We will continue to pray daily for them.

We continue to pray for those in our family that have not come to the saving knowledge of Jesus. We are seeing God's hand on some and we pray that they would be awaken from their spiritual slumber. We will pray that 2015 be the year of salvation.

My wife and I completed our 23rd year in our marriage. God has continued to work in both us, building our character and teaching us how to love each other. We are thankful for God's grace in allowing us this time together.

We are thankful for his bountiful material provision. We have been given more than plenty in spite of job changes and additional expenses. We continue seeking to be good stewards of what He has entrusted to us.

We are thankful for our church family where I have served as elder this year. We have enjoyed serving with faithful men of God. I have learned much from all of them. We are honored to have so many godly men and women as our friends. Our pastors are also faithful to the Lord and to His church. I am thankful for those in our Sunday school who have listened and participated as we have been learning from the book of Acts. It has transformed me and I pray it will transform them as well. We hope to finish this book in 2015.

This year also marked my 5th year running six days a week an average of 3-4 miles. My 10 year old boy has also began running with me and doing well.

My 22 year old and I have almost finished reading together our second book and having Skype sessions to discuss it. We read Here I Stand and are two chapters short of finishing The Anabaptist Story.  I cherish this time with him as we learn together through the reading of these books.

We are very thankful for the wedding of our second born. This was perhaps the highlight of the year. What a God honoring ceremony! We are so thankful for the life of our son and his faithfulness to the Lord. His growth in Christ is evident. We are thankful for his beautiful wife who is part of our family. We couldn't be happier. She is a woman of God as well. God has given us great in-laws as well and we marvel at how He has orchestrated all of us being family.

We are praying that in 2015 some major changes happen in our family in relation to serving the Lord. Once again, we are trusting in the sovereignty of God. Our lives belong to Him.

As we begin the year 2015, let's give thanks to our God for his goodness shown in 2014. Join me in praying that in 2015 we would be faithful to the Lord, acknowledge Him in all our ways and have Him direct all of our paths.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hispanic Culture: Tiempo

Hispanics (as other cultures as well) are notoriously known for being late, according to those who go by their watches and not by the Hispanic cultural watch.  If for example, you invite someone to a party they will can show up two or more hours late.  I’m not kidding here. Not too long ago we went to a birthday party that started at 5 pm and we arrived after 5pm and only a few were there. People arrived a few hours later. To Hispanics, this is not late. Their focus is on the event and being part of it and enjoying the moment.

They see time differently, especially as it relates to social events. When Hispanics invite to a social event they tell ballpark beginning time but no end time. Time is at best an estimation (9:00 am means between 9-10 am).  This drives people crazy, especially those who adhere to “American” time.  It is rude to be late. For them, parties start on time and end on time. Not so, with Hispanics. Parties have an estimated beginning and no end.  The party ends when everyone leaves.  

Hispanics are not always late to everything.  Most get to work on time. For the most part, the social events are the ones that have a different "clock".  Don’t be surprised next time your Hispanic friend is not on time.  Remember he carries a watch, a watch you can’t see. It’s internal. You can’t change that!

When reaching Hispanics with the Gospel it is important to understand that they will be likely late for church. Some do learn to be punctual but many will continue to arrive late no matter what. It is important to not make it a serious issue that ends up discouraging them to attend church. Services in Hispanic culture run longer than your typical American church. Worship is longer and spontaneous, the preaching is longer and things linger for a few hours. Hispanics don't mind this because once again, time is relative. It is the event that is important.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Threat of the Way, the Foolishness of Idolatry and God's Mission - Act 19:21-20:1

Here is the audio recording for Acts 19:21-20:1 taught during our Sunday School hour at Village Bible Church.

The Gospel transforms the way we live and those things that we thought were worthwhile become meaningless in light of the cross.

When this transformation happens it changes our culture and challenges the culture around us. It often goes head to head with the world's culture. This is exactly what happens here. The Gospel has brought change to many people in Ephesus. But this is creating social change that is met with opposition.

Artemis temple is gone! Artemis is gone! Nothing remains except ruins! All of the people are gone! But God's people who follow the Way are still here. Jesus still is Lord! God's Word will continue to prevail and bear fruit.

As believers, we should understand that the Way is still a cause of threat for non-believers. They will see us as threat when our lives are transformed by the Gospel and we oppose the lies of the culture. The world will fight back because they do not want to exposed as fools. We must not give it nor compromise. We must be bold in proclaiming God's truth. God's mission will go on and will be fulfilled. We should be encourage from this.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Hispanic Culture: Comida (barriga llena corazón contento)

Another cultural characteristic of Hispanic culture is food. There is no question that Hispanics love food.  The saying, "Barriga llena corazón contento" (stomach full, happy heart) has the idea that when you have eaten well, you feel happy and satisfied. It reflects the Hispanic culture's attitude that food has a special place in daily living (not only this, but many Hispanics have experienced hunger due to poverty and now there is abundance and it should be enjoyed).

Every time there’s a special occasion there is plenty of food.  There’s always lots of left overs even after people have eaten twice.   A typical carne asada (grilled beef) party might include chicken, shrimp, rice, beans, grilled onions, corn and/or potatoes. Then there’s also the salsa and the tortillas. 

Let me just say a few more things about tortillas (a whole post can be written about
them). Being a Hispanic myself, I almost always eat tortillas (There are some South Americans that do not eat tortilla). Not eating with tortillas is like not having utensils to eat.  I’m not exaggerating here.  In fact, many Hispanics use the tortilla as a utensil!  Not eating with tortilla is like eating a hot dog without a bun! Then there are those “calientitas," hand made tortillas. I love it when my wife makes them.  No wonder Gary Soto wrote “An Ode to Tortillas."

There’s no stinginess in food among Hispanics. Just look at our waist. In fact, being robust is a sign of being healthy, a result of being well-fed. One favorite saying from my mom to those who are robust is "hermosa" or "(beautiful) hermoso." It refers to someone who is robust. In Hispanic culture being too skinny is seen as malnourishment. Food is to be enjoyed much like eating chocolate for many people. It is also a way to enjoy the company of others ("vente a comer" - come eat, is often a common invite when coming into a home while eating is taking place). What better way to get to know people than by sharing a meal. 

When sharing the Gospel with Hispanics it is important to make food a part of it. A good way to get to know people and show hospitality is by inviting them to go eat or have a meal at home. When inviting out to a restaurant, pick something that is authentic and be prepared to pay. Hispanics have a saying, "El que invita paga," which means that if you invite, you are paying. If you do decide to do it at home, try to have some home made food. Do not offer processed American food. There’s nothing worse for a Hispanic than to go to eat with someone and eat sandwiches or hot dogs. Have plenty of food and offer the left overs. In church, "comida compartida" (pot lucks) should be a regular. When invited to go to someone's house for a special occasion be ready to eat a lot. Hispanics will insist on you eating a lot. In fact, denying their offer sends a message that you did not like their food (and vice versa). It is a way for them to make sure you are enjoying your time.

Food is not trivial when it relates to the Gospel. After, all the Lord's Supper was part of a Jewish meal. Much of Jesus's teaching on the Gospel and the Kingdom involved dining with people. (See Mark 2:13-17; Matthew 9:10) In the Kingdom of God, there will be eating even though it wont' be necessary. See Mark 1:4; 14:25; Matthew 8:11-12; Luke 13:28-29; Luke 15:1; Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 22:1-3.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

How God Uses HIs Servants - Acts 19:1-20

Here is the audio recording for Acts 19:1-20 taught during our Sunday School hour at Village Bible Church.

The Lord used Paul in three ways: 

Ruins of the temple for Artemis in Ephesus
1. To Instruct Others: From Disciples Of John to Disciples of Christ vv. 1-10 

2. To Engage Others Boldly: From Public Proclamation To Personal Discussions With Believers vv. 8-10

3. To Perform Miracles: From Deliverance of the Devil to Servants of the Lord vv. 11-20

Monday, November 10, 2014

Hispanic Culture: Pasión (de corazón).

Another characteristic of Hispanic culture, one which is often misunderstood is "pasión" or passion. This is not limited to what we associate with romance (After all the Spanish language is part of the Romance languages) but more in general and how they embrace life. This "pasión" or passion can be seen in many ways. For example, in social settings Hispanics tend speak loud, listen to loud music and interact in a very lively manner. It is not rude to talk over each other or to have lively debates or discussions. This is not offensive. It comes out of their passion for life. It can also be seen in sports like futból (soccer). Their passion is evident, some to the extent of giving up anything (like church) for it (in America there is passion for sports as well but in my opinion it's not an overall personal trait).

Hispanics are people of the heart. From early in life, Hispanics are fostered to
think not only with their minds but with their hearts ("con el corazón). Emotion or passion is part of it as well. "Novelas" (soap operas)  are successful in Latin America, much because of the passion that's involved. There are strong emotions and drama which attracts Hispanics even if the same plot repeats over and over in each new one.

Hispanic's passion can be often misunderstood by the American culture. It can be seen as unbalanced when it is especially expressed in discussion or where convictions are involved. They can be seen as pushy or intolerant when they express their views in a very forceful way. This is not the case. This is just a reflection of where their heart is and what they consider important.

When reaching out to Hispanics to share the Gospel it is important to show passion. A Hispanic who sees a person passionate about what they believe sends a strong message. It shows them that this is something valuable. When presenting the invitation to believe in Christ, it should be communicated that this is done "con el corazón" (with the heart). They understand what this means. Our Christian services should have lively worship that engages the heart and shows our love for Christ (Should this not be the case with all those who believe in Christ? After all we have the best news anyone could hope for), preaching that comes from the heart which often involves good stories that they can relate to. However, we don't want to substitute "pasión" and good story telling for truth either. God's truth should be presented in a dynamic fashion and never substituted for a feel good presentation. Dynamic interaction in the congregation is also necessary. Being passive is not an alternative to reach out Hispanics.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

La Gran Fiesta - Mateo 22

Sermón hoy en Village Bible Ministerio Hispano.

Puede encontrar las notas aquí

Village Bible Ministerio Hispano

Nuestros servicios se llevan a cabo los domingos a las 9:30 AM en el gimnacio. El servicio envuelve tiempo de adoración a Dios a través de cantos y alabanzas, estudio de la Biblia (el mismo tema que el servicio en Inglés) y tiempo de compañerismo. Los niños y jóvenes tienen sus clases en Inglés. A las 11:15 AM tenemos clases dominicales para todas las edades. 
El ministerio Village Bible Ministerio Hispano es parte de Village Bible Church en Garden Grove, CA. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Hispanic Culture: Mi Casa es Su Casa - Personalismo

One very important aspect of Hispanic culture is "personalismo" or the idea of being personal. This is an attribute that goes against being impersonal or individualistic which is prevalent in our American culture. "Personalismo" is seen in every aspect of Hispanic culture. It is evident in the family which extends itself to more than just the immediate members. It is not uncommon to have long-time friends who have being "adopted" participate in family functions. In our family we have several close friends whom we consider family.

Hispanics enjoy knowing people and spending time with them. This is why there are many well-attended "fiestas" (parties) for every occasion. There is usually a lot of food (which we will discuss in a later post), loud music and much excitement.

Hispanics love visiting others (and being visited) which doesn't require pre-scheduling. They like being spontaneous. This is all part of "personalismo" (and hospitality) and a hard concept for American culture to understand who often requires scheduling and notification before a visit. On one occasion, I decided to visit an American friend without letting him know. I was told I had to call before showing up.

"Personalismo" is also shown in the way people are greeted and treated without any care for social status. When attending an event or visiting someone, the person is treated warmly and usually with a handshake, hug, and/or kiss (for the most part with the opposite sex, though man to man kiss is not foreign in Latin America). Guests are made to feel at home ("Mi Casa es Su Casa") and hospitality is expressed in multiple ways (e.g. offering of food, asking if the person is comfortable, letting them watch a favorite TV show or sport, etc...).

When sharing the Gospel it is important to consider several things as they relate to "personalismo."  First, Hispanics like to be treated like real people, not like a number or a project. They want to know others and be known. It is important to build relationships with them before sharing the Gospel. This may take time but once they become believers they share their faith with their extended social network which includes family and friends. Second, attend social events to which you are invited. This is important for building relationships. When arriving it is important to say hi to everyone with at least a handshake. The same is repeated when leaving the event. No one should be excluded to avoid the risk of being offensive. Third, it is important to practice hospitality with them as well. Nothing will deter them the most from attending church than a place where people are cold and don't show any hospitality. This can be done by offering a good embrace and even offering a meal after the service. 

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Dos Caminos, Dos Destinos - Mateo 7:13-14

Sermón hoy en Village Bible Ministerio Hispano.  Dos Caminos, Dos Destinos según nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Puede encontrar las notas en PDF aquí

Village Bible Ministerio Hispano

Nuestros servicios se llevan a cabo los domingos a las 9:30 AM en el gimnacio. El servicio envuelve tiempo de adoración a Dios a través de cantos y alabanzas, estudio de la Biblia (el mismo tema que el servicio en Inglés) y tiempo de compañerismo. Los niños y jóvenes tienen sus clases en Inglés. A las 11:15 AM tenemos clases dominicales para todas las edades. 
El ministerio Village Bible Ministerio Hispano es parte de Village Bible Church en Garden Grove, CA. 

Affirming Others in the Faith - Acts 18:18-28

Here is the audio recording for Acts 18:18-28 taught during our Sunday School hour at Village Bible Church.

This passage talks about Apollos. Here is a description of him:

1. He was Educated  v. 24

He was originally from Alexandria which was the second most important city in the Roman Empire. Egypt was the center of learning during this time. Alexandria contained one of the largest libraries. It was here where the Old Testament was translated by scholars into the Greek language. There is no doubt that he was a very educated man.

2. He was Eloquent in Speech v. 24b

Not only was he very educated but eloquent or competent in speech. There is no doubt that he was his education included training in rhetoric.

3. He was Skilled in the Scriptures v. 24c

Apollo was able to take Old Testament Scripture and prove that Christ was the Messiah. He was very skilled in doing this.

4. He was Instructed in the Way of the Lord v. 25a,c

We don’t know how he came to know about the Gospel but he was “catechized” or instructed in the way of the Lord. But not completely. He knew the facts about Jesus, that he died, was buried and rose from the grave but didn’t know about the application of the Gospel, specifically what Matthew 28:10 says regarding baptism. He didn't know about Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit.

5. He was Fervent in Spirit v. 25b

This man was passionate about what he believed. He was not a man who was shy or calm about it.

6. He Spoke Boldly in the Synagogue v. 26 a

Apollos was bold in proclaiming in the synagogue that Jesus was the Messiah.

7. He was Affirmed by Aquilla and Priscilla v. 26b
Aquilla and Priscilla both explained the things he didn't know. It is important to note both are involved and also how it was done in private.

This is a good precedent for both having couples serving the Lord and how we should approach others who need to be explained things they still don't know.

8. He was Received in Corinth v. 27-28

We know he was well-received from 1 Corinthians 1-3 where we find that divisions had taken place based on personalities such as Apollos.

Apollos gifts came in handy. He was able to defend successfully the faith concerning Jesus the Messiah.

We need more men like Apollo. Men who are educated, trained, fervent and humble who can preach the Gospel and defend the faith.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hispanic Culture: Roles

Hispanic culture follows traditional roles ("roles" is spelled the same in Spanish but the "e"  [and s] is pronounced with the equivalent of the short sound in English). Normally, the father is the bread winner outside of the home. He works really hard to provide for his family. Usually, this involves long days and coming home tired.  Arriving at home he expects his wife, who is a homemaker, to greet him with a good "cena" (dinner). Evening will involve watching TV (e.g. "deportes" - sports or "noticias" - news) and relaxing. In his home he usually is the one who "lleva los pantalones," the one who is in charge. This means that he is mostly involved in major decisions but delegates the running of the home to his wife. He is also involved in major discipline issues. The roles are clear cut and no inter mixing (e.g. men don't do dishes, don't cook, don't do laundry).

The wife is involved in caring for the children, educating, and disciplining them. She runs the day to day operations of the home. She wears many hats including being the official cook. It is also the wife that also will make sure the children are following the traditional religion (Catholicism for the most part). She is often involved in church activities.

Traditionally, roles are tied with idea of respect both to parents, grandparents and any adult. Children are expected to respect parents and not question any decision. The same is the case with grand parents. Contradicting, raising your voice or yelling to parents or grand parents is strictly forbidden. This reminds me of the constant lectures to our children concerning how they (i.e., children their age) speak to parents today and what we got if we spoke back to our parents in the same manner when were were growing up. It usually starts with "Si you le hubiera hablado a mi mamá o papá como tu me hablas..." ("If I had spoken to my mom or dad the way you speak to me..")

Changes are taking place the Hispanic culture, especially relating to family. With this follows the neglect in the basic values taught to children. Respect to parents and grand parents has eroded. Behavioral issues in children have become more prevalent (as a teacher in public schools this has been my observation as well) and in my opinion, much because of the lack of instruction and discipline in the home.

There are several implications for the Gospel relating to roles. First, we need to make sure that we engage males when sharing the Gospel. It is important to get them involved in spiritual things and help them become servant leaders, not just providers in their homes. This has been a struggle in many Hispanic churches. Male leadership is lacking and more needs to be done to engage the males in our Hispanic culture. Second, we need offer family training. We need to have clear and explicit Bible instruction concerning the roles of husbands, wives and children. Thirdly, we need to provide a structure in the church that helps affirm the traditional values which includes respect for everyone and especially for the things of God (Hispanics who attend a Catholic church show great respect for everything they encounter). Fourth, we need to show leadership ourselves. They understand the concept of leadership (most Latin American countries have been influenced by the idea of "caudillo," one man who leads the way). American culture asks permission for everything to make sure they are not offending. Hispanics are not offended when a leader is forthright. Many times they won't do anything unless they are "forced" to do it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Hispanic Culture: Aquí Se Habla Español

In Hispanic culture, the Spanish language is considered just as important as all other values. Not speaking Spanish, which usually happens with grand kids, is anathema and will incur the title of "Gringo" (a slang term for White American). The idea is that you are forgetting your language (your roots) and do not want to be associated with the Hispanic culture. This is not acceptable in Hispanic culture.

Why is Spanish so important to Hispanics? Spanish is an extension of the Hispanic culture. It is considered the "mother" tongue by which everyone is united and values are communicated. Many parents (like mine and my wife's) and grandparents are monolingual and only speak Spanish and everyone is expected to speak Spanish to them. It is the language of family. It is interesting that, in our case, where both English and Spanish are part of our daily lives, each has a different role. English is used for most day to day conversations and for work. Spanish is usually reserved for more personal communication. It is never used for disagreements or arguments. English is for that!

Spanish is not only spoken to interact with family members, but it is watched on TV. Spanish is the language of novelas (soap operas), news and sports (i.e. fútbol).  It is no wonder that Univisión has one of the best ratings in the United States.  Spanish is also used to listen to music such as your typical folk music mariachi and a variety of genres.

As much as we think that the fact they are in America will make them learn English, the fact is that this isn't the case. In fact, Spanish speaking in the United States has increased and remains the most spoken next to English (Use of other languages have tripled. Chinese is the second most spoken) and almost 39 million people speak it. Most of the people that speak Spanish are from or have their roots in Latin America. Will Spanish decrease as the first generation passes away and subsequent generations become monolingual? It is possible but trends (i.e., immigration) seem to point otherwise. There is also a significant percentage of non-Hispanic Spanish speakers which also has an effect. If Spanish will become less prominent, it won't happen soon.

The implication for the Gospel is that we need to reach Hispanics in both languages. Our churches need to offer services both in Spanish and English. Many churches today have either an English service but nothing in Spanish. The fact is that while this seems adequate to reach English speakers, most English speaking Hispanics do not feel welcome in a church that is culturally distinct. In fact, about 62% are not Christians (They consider themselves Catholics. The biggest group not religiously affiliated are US born ages 19-29 [55%]).They are the biggest non-reached group in the United States.

Then you have Spanish churches that have no English service. They are able to reach the Spanish language speakers but are losing those whose English is their dominant language. I have observed that even those who speak Spanish are not literate in Spanish and often are not fluent readers or writers. Having one church with services in both languages seems to me the most effective way and a better way to use resources. Furthermore, having services in both languages reinforces the cultural distinctive of keeping family together. There is a great harvest to be reaped but it requires intentional and strategic steps to reach all generations of Spanish speakers.