August 31, 2011
It's Alive: The Resurrection of a Blog
If you have followed at all our Brazilian blog (What Brazilian blog? This one.) You know that it has been quiet since May. During that time I have been working on content, and trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with it.
I am happy to announce that as of this week, the blog has gained new life. As usual, the theme will be theological. Some articles will be adaptations of posts that have appeared on this site. Others will be based on lessons and messages I am giving at our little congregation.
So if you speak Portugeuse--or know someone who does--head on over to the Caderno Teológico and check out the new content.
August 30, 2011
This week I began a Sunday School series at our congregation called Heroes of the Faith. My objective is to familiarize our people with the history of the Church through the lives of the great men who helped shape it. (we started with Polycarp, hence the title of this post.)
In the course of my studies I came across a site that makes the classic series The Ante-Nicene Fathers available in several digital formats. In the interest of edifying the general populace, I share the link with you!
August 29, 2011
Speaking Their Language
"What language do they speak in church? I don't understand it?"
The preceding question was posed one morning to my wife by one of the young boys who studies English with her. To understand the question one has to grasp the complete dominance of "sign gift" theology here in Brazil. Most certainly he has been exposed only to churches where more than half the service is conducted in some "angelic" tongue.
Yet, I wonder how many kids could ask the same question after a visit to one of our churches. Certainly the words we use can be found in any dictionary--but I am afraid their meaning would be lost on many children.
As I have frequently mentioned, we are privileged to serve as missionaries (or, as they put it "Church Staff Around the World") of Fellowship Baptist Church in Lakeland, Florida. No missionary could ask for a better sending church. And having a sending church involves more than just financial support and prayer letters. We have learned much from Pastor Piatt, Pastor Dan (aka, "Bro") and the church family--much that has been beneficial here on the mission field.
If you were to visit Fellowship Baptist on Sunday morning, you would witness a truly amazing sight. Just before the message Pastor Piatt calls all the children down to the front. There he preaches to them a sermonette, usually having to do with the message he is about to preach to the "big people". This sermonette includes visual effects--often involving one or more animals from his astonishingly large menagerie.
As I observed this practice, I realized that this was more than just "something nice to do". There is a very well-crafted philosophy behind this tradition.
Participation In calling the kids up front and speaking directly to them, Pastor Piatt affirms to them that they are an important part of the church. They are not spectators looking on as the "big people" worship--they are the church.
Pastoral Relationship In bringing the kids up front and speaking directly to them (while the adults listen in), Pastor Piatt helps to establish himself as pastor, not just of the adults, but of the entire church.
Transmitting Truth In the process of preaching to the kids he puts theological truths into language the kids can understand. They receive the same instruction and edification as their parents.
Generational Influence In these little segments, Pastor Piatt is making an investment in the future of the church. And the proof is in the results. The children who listened to those first children's messages years ago are now part of the youth and college-and-career groups. I'm sure there are other factors involved, but I know that the five-minute investment in the lives of the kids has played a significant role.
With these advantages in mind, I have made it my practice to do the same thing here in our little congregation. I'm not nearly as good at it, and I don't have a private zoo at my disposal, but One of the first ones was filmed, and sent to be shown at Fellowship Baptist. It includes a special greeting to Pastor Piatt. Now that the folks at FBC have seen it, I present it to you.
August 28, 2011
If You Speak Portuguese...
...you know just how wrong this is.
August 27, 2011
Book Review: The Seraph Seal
An alternative title for this review could very well be "Left Behind for Amillennialists". The Seraph Seal is a apocalyptic literature sans rapture, tribulation and millennium. It does have an antichrist, of sorts--and prophecies galore, from the Maya to Jeremiah. The authors make use of a technique called engaged fiction, for which there is a lengthy explanation at the beginning. Basically, it is using current events as a basis for fiction.
The Seraph Seal is Dan Brown meets Jerry Jenkins meets Glenn Beck. The main character--a history professor who specializes in ancient symbols--discovers that he has been chosen to save the world and confront his arch enemy--an American president bent on betraying America and amassing power for himself. Authors Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola manage to keep the story hopping, and kept my attention during most of the time. I found the ending to be somewhat of a letdown after so much buildup--but then the twist at the end perked me up a little.
Authors Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner obviously put a lot of research into the writing of this work, and have come up with a convincing scenario that could very well happen that way...if it weren't for the fact that it certainly will not happen that way. Still, I was able to suspend disbelief and enjoy most of the tale.
On a writing level, I thought they could have spent more time developing the personalities of the main characters. The hero and heroine go from being work colleagues to passionately in love in an amazingly short period of time.
Quick rating: some good escapist reading, don't base your eschatology on it.
Declaração de imparcialidade: O autor recebeu uma cópia gratuíta do livro em troca de uma resenha escrita neste blog. O autor não tem nenhuma obrigação de fazer uma avaliação positiva. E se você tem tempo para ler e traduzir isso, precisa é de um hobby!
August 26, 2011
Day of the Soldier
Yesterday, August 25th, is the day Brazilians celebrate the "Day of the Soldier". When I picked up the boys from school, I found my youngest had enlisted.
August 25, 2011
The Tyranny of "Almost There"
Several months ago I wrote a piece about the Succeed in Life Church located in Houston, TX. This church is actually a part of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a Brazilian "prosperity cult". It is pastored by Renato Cardoso, son-in-law to IURD founder Edir Macedo.
The post I wrote about them has generated a surprising amount of response. A couple have commented attempting to defend the SIL church. Most have written to share stories of spiritual abuse suffered while involved with the SIL/Universal church.
Since I wrote the article, the SIL website and blogs have become more open about their connection to the Universal Church. I follow the blogs, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. Recently an article was posted on Cristiane Cardoso's blog entitled Almost There. It is attributed to one Bishop Celso Junior. (Cristiane is the pastor's wife and daughter of Edir Macedo). Between fashion tips and posts about the Christian life, this post caught my attention because it goes to the heart of what is wrong with the SIL/Universal Church--and all other groups that preach a similar doctrine. (Note: since I began work on this project, Mrs. Cardoso's blog has been reformatted, and is apparently now only available to subscribers. A Portuguese version of this article can be found on the blog of Edir Macedo himself.)
If you visit the main website of SIL, you will see banners such as these:another ministry with which I have more than a passing acquaintance. And, let's be honest: there is a principle of cause-and-effect, controlling one's anger is essential, better marriages are a good thing, and getting out of debt is a key feature for financial success.
Who wouldn't want to click through and find out more?
The problem lies in the formula presented to achieve these goals. It is this: faith + financial contribution = success. Keep this in mind as you read the opening paragraphs of the post:
A couple of days ago, during the service, I thought of an interesting way to explain why many people aren’t successful in the Campaign of Israel, as well as in other areas of their lives.
Many are "almost there!”.
They are almost baptized in the Holy Spirit, almost married, almost successful, almost healed, almost delivered from a spiritual problem, etc...
Why are they ALMOST there?
Because their sacrifice is also ALMOST there!
Do you see what is being said here? People have participated in the campaign, have contributed, have had faith, but their marriage, health issue or spiritual problem has not been resolved. And what is the reason given for this lack of results? They simply have not sacrificed enough, ie, they have not put enough in the offering plate.
He then goes on to give three examples from the Bible. We will take them one at a time.
The rich young man ALMOST made it, but there was one thing missing.
The problem with the rich young man (Luke 18:18-23) was not that he did not do enough. He thought he could keep the law and attain eternal life by his own efforts. Christ simply showed him that his own efforts were useless. THAT is the point of that passage, which the good Bishop completely distorts.
Moses and the people of Israel almost made it into the Promised Land, but there was something missing.
Once again, a Bible account is totally misrepresented in order to get people to give more. The people of Israel were kept out of the Promised Land because of their rebellion--not because they didn't give enough. And, it could be argued that Moses was kept out because he did too much--namely he struck the rock when God wanted him to simply speak to it.
Ananias and Sapphira almost made it as members of the early church, except they were missing the other half of their sacrifice.
This one is so blatant as to be criminal. Acts 5:3-4 is crystal clear on this point: they were not judged by God because they didn't give the money from the sale of all the land. Rather, they died because they lied to the Holy Spirit.
Something the leadership of SIL/Universal should consider very carefully: which is worse, lying to the Holy Spirit, or lying in the name of the Holy Spirit?
But the article doesn't stop there. He goes on to give three positive examples of how people sacrificed and supposedly "made it" spiritually.
Abraham and Sarah were nearing the end of their lives and didn’t have any children, but they made it.
And they made it because of what great sacrifice? Indeed, Isaac was born despite Abraham and Sarah's sinful attempts to make it happen on their own, and despite Abraham's doubts and Sarah's blatant unbelief.
Gideon and his people were nearing the end of their strength, but because of him and the 300, they made it.
Seriously? If anything, they "made it" because God clearly demonstrated his power despite the overwhelming fear and unbelief of the people. God deliberately limited the number to 300 to showcase His power, not their effort.
Zacchaeus was almost doomed to spending eternity in hell because he was a thief, but through his sacrifice, he and his family were saved.
Once again, Christ's blessing in Zachaeus' life was based, not on any effort on his part, but on God's saving grace.
If there is any doubt as to the motivations behind this barbarous treatment of the Word of God, the last paragraph removes it completely:
In this Campaign of Israel, those who understood are going to remove the word ALMOST from their sacrifice, and as a result, they’ll also be eliminating the word ALMOST when it comes to receiving their miracles!
And there you have it. If you didn't receive the blessing you were looking for, it is because you didn't give us enough money. What a convenient system!
Of course this system is nothing new. In the times of the Gospels the temple leaders had the same kind of scheme worked out. They would declare people's animal sacrifices "unfit", and force them to buy lambs at exorbitant prices. When Christ saw this, he had a fit of righteous rage and drove these charlatans out of the temple, declaring in the process "My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Luke 19:46).
For those of you who are trapped in this system, you need to know that these "formulas for success" are merely scheme's for the leadership of your "church" to turn a hefty profit. You should be aware that there is a biblical formula. It is Christ + Nothing = Everything. He is our focus, he is our all in all. He gives grace to control anger, communicate with your spouse, and make wise financial decisions. But these things are not our goal--Christ is.
I urge you: reject the "bishops" and their pyramid schemes. Leave the "den of theives" and turn to Christ, who says "Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.
August 24, 2011
Musical Interlude: Dave's Highway sings "It Is Well"
I know I am a little late to the party on this one, as this group has been around for some time. However, I won't let that stop me from posting this video for your enjoyment and edification. My prayer is that the amazing musical harmony demonstrated by these young people is but a reflection of the interior harmony which can only be a result of a relationship with Christ.
August 23, 2011
Baby Jonah with Jesus
For several months we have been following the Silverberg family, fellow BMM missionaries serving in the Bronx, NY, as they fight for the life of their newborn son, Jonah. Last Wednesday, little Jonah lost his battle and entered the presence of Jesus.
Having two young sons of my own, I cannot imagine the devastation felt by these parents--faithful servants of Christ in one of the most difficult mission field in the world. And this after a roller coaster of emotional ups and downs as the doctors fought to save little Jonah's life. I know that the readers of this blog will lift this family up in your prayers, crying out to God for mercy, comfort, and demonstrations of His sovereign goodness in their lives.
The funeral will be at 10 am Saturday morning at their church in the Bronx.
August 22, 2011
Introducing Acampamento Elim
And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters. Exodus 15:27
Ever since before we arrived Brazil, we have been aware of the great need of our churches in São Luís for a camp. As it stands right now, when one of our churches wants to have some sort of retreat (say, during the yearly social upheaval that is Carnaval) they are forced to rent some kind of facilities for the event. The problem is that, during these periods, retreat centers (called chácaras) are in high demand. One of our churches was able to rent one this February, for over $1200 for the weekend. Most of the time our churches have to settle for sub-par facilities--like schools--that are not made for such events and are uncomfortable, to say the least.
In recent years even these accommodations have become scarce. Add to this the fact that there is no camping program available for our kids and no retreat program available for our teens and young adults. These advantages, which most churches take for granted--both in the US and Brazil--are unavailable here.
For these reasons we decided that one of our goals here in São Luís would be to start a camp program. And, in order to have a camp program, you need a camp.
Last month Itacyara and I were considering financing a piece of property here in São Luís. Our idea was to eventually build a house on it so we could get out from under rent. The piece of land was 10 by 27 meters (about 29,000 square feet). The price was roughly U$11,000.
As we were working through the details of the financing, we became aware of a property near the city of Morros, about an hour and a half from the city. It is 40 by 250 meters (or over 100,000 square feet, more than two acres). The front of the property is bordered by the highway, and the back, by a river--suitable for swimming. The price? U$6,250.
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When Itacyara, Pastor Francisco and I went to look at the property, we were immediately impressed with how ideal it was for a camp. When we got back home from that initial trip, Itacyara and I sat down and talked things over. We decided to forgo the purchase of a piece of land here in the city, and instead buy the land in Morros. A block of it--comparable to the size of the land we were going to acquire in São Luís--we will develop into a house for us, over time. The rest we will develop into a camp and, when ready, turn it over to an association made up of men from our churches here in Maranhão.
During the following weeks we secured the financing, made the final negotiations, and, this last Friday, we sealed the deal.
Here are some pictures of the property, as we found it on our first trip:
The scene above made Pastor Francisco think of the oasis at Elim, mentioned in Exodus 16:27. We all decided this would make a great name for the camp--whose purpose will be to serve as an oasis for our churches in São Luís.
Itacyara and I have never been so excited about a project as we are about this one. It represents the beginning of the fulfillment of a dream--one we have had for a long time.
You can be sure that you will be hearing more about this as we go along. For now, I leave you with two immediate prayer requests.
1. More Land We have an opportunity to buy roughly another acre of land adjacent to the one we already own. The price tag is U$6,000, which is not much, but it is more than we are able to afford right now. The purchase of this additional piece of land would greatly enhance our ability to develop this property.
2. Development Obviously, the development of this property into a working camp facility will take some time. Thus, we ask that you pray that God would provide funds and volunteers to work with us in this process. We are scheduling a work-day there next month with some men from our church to do some initial clearing of the brush.
If anybody is interested in knowing more, or in helping with either of the two requests mentioned above, please do not hesitate to shoot me an e-mail.
August 13, 2011
Meet Me in São Luís: Alcântara
This post is part of an ongoing series which seeks to introduce the readership of this blog to the many fascinating aspects of one of Brazil's best-kept secrets--the city of São Luís.
About an hour--by boat--from downtown São Luís is a little peninsula called Alcântara. Although seemingly unimportant when seen on a map, the history of this "finger" of land is intricately wound up in the history of São Luís itself. Back in the days of "King Cotton", when the prosperity of Maranhão was wholly dependent on slave labor, Alcântara was the stopping-off point for slaves en-rout from Africa to São Luís. It was in Alcântara that they were disembarked, inspected, "trained", and sold. And the island of Alcântara grew rich because of this horrific trade.
The end of the slave trade marked the beginning of the end of the prosperity of Alcântara. Today, many once-proud mansions lie in ruins. Others have been preserved as museums. A fort that once projected the power of the Portuguese Crown, and later, the newly-formed Brazilian Empire, is now a soccer field with only the crumbling remains of bulwarks and cannon as testament to its glory days.
In 1859 word came that Dom Pero II--then emperor of Brazil--would be visiting Alcântara. The peninsula went into a frenzy of preparations. It became known that whoever built the nicest house would receive a special position from the Emperor himself. Two brothers began construction projects. When it became evident that one house (pictured above, with Mikey in the window frame) was much nicer than the other, the owner of the less fancy house killed his brother in a fit of jealousy. Both houses remain in an unfinished state to this day.
Dom Pedro II never visited Alcântara.
Alcântara is an obligatory stop for anybody visiting São Luís--especially if you are at all interested in the history of this magnificent city.
August 4, 2011
A Week of Bloodshed
Things have been somewhat exciting around our neighborhood of late. The week got started with a "bang" (literally) on Monday, when some hoodlums in the bairro next to ours started acting up near the home of a police officer. Some reports say they were even throwing stones at his house--something they had been known to do before. The officer ran out of his house brandishing his gun, and shooting every which-way. One of his bullets struck a 16 year-old girl and killed her.
The bairro (called, ironically, Bom Jesus, or Good Jesus) erupted in outrage. People were screaming (again, literally) for justice.
On Tuesday night things were just beginning to quiet down again when, in another neighboring bairro, another act of violence stirred everything up again. The unsaved husband of a member of one of our churches was trying to leave his home, and found his driveway blocked by another car. The owner of the car, a woman, was at that time patronizing the bar owned by the man's mother in law. He sent his daughter to ask the woman to move the car. She refused, and began to heap abuse on the daughter. Upset, the man walked over to the bar and confronted the woman. Far from backing down, she slapped the man across the face. Enraged, he pulled a revolver out of his belt and shot her four times--killing her.
An already inflamed populace exploded once again. Rival gangs got involved, and the police had to show up in force to make sure there was not an all-out war.
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That night, some men broke into the sanctuary of the First Regular Baptist Church (which is located a stone's-throw from the bar where the second murder took place) and took everything of value--video projector, TV, sound equipment, among other things. Based on the way they were able to break in, it is assumed that they took advantage of a social-outreach the church held on Saturday (offering free medical treatment, food, and other services to the needy of the community) to case out the church.
Our own experience this week is far less tragic--some neighborhood boys managed to jump our wall and steal Mikey's bike and a couple pairs of "crocks" from our back yard. In all, nothing compared to the mayhem around us. Nevertheless, the purchase of a dog is part of our immediate plan.
This chaotic context is a fact of life for all the members of our little congregation. We ask that you keep them (and, while you're at it, us) in your prayers. And above all, please, please pray that the light of the Gospel will penetrate the intense darkness that surrounds us.
August 2, 2011
Your Friends' Farms Need You!
For this reason I was amused by the following posters, re-imaging the popular Social Media sites as war-era propaganda posters.
And just to clarify, I will never, ever, ever play Farmville.
A Joyful Baptism
Two Sundays ago the little congregation where we are presently working gathered at a local swimming pool for one of the most joyful moments in the life of any local church--a baptism. We rejoiced as two new converts--one young man and one married woman--obeyed Christ in the waters of baptism and were formally inducted into church membership.
Pastor Francisco with the two new members.
Pastor Francisco baptizes Viviane.
Yours-truly leads the service. I found out later that some of the young people were eagerly anticipating a misstep that would result in my falling into the pool. Fortunately, they were disappointed.
Where's Captain American When You Need Him?
The precarious situation of the dollar, as well as the US economy in general, is not lost on Brazilians. The following cartoon appeared in one of our local newspapers two days ago:
Unfortunately, it's going to take more than an imaginary superhero to get us out of this one.