Book Review: Valiant Ambition

valiant ambition

What led one of the great American generals of the revolutionary war on to become the father of our country? What led another equally great Revolutionary War general on to become the most infamous traitor in our countries history?

I confess that before I read Valiant Ambition, by Nathaniel Philbrick, I had never given either of those questions any thought.   But in order for us to understand how George Washington and Benedict Arnold ended up in such different places Philbrick shows us first just how similar they are. Both men had a common desire to be known for their military achievements. Both had great military victories and defeats. Both suffered from the attacks of other generals within the Continental Army and the Continental Congress. It is the similarities that makes the one great difference between them so striking. Here is how Philbrick highlights the difference:

Washington’s sense of right and wrong existed outside the impulsive demands of his own self-interest. Rules mattered to Washington. Even though Congress had made his life miserable for the last four years, he had found ways to do what he considered best for his army and his country without challenging the supremacy of civil authority. … For Arnold, on the other hand, rules were made to be broken. He had done it as a pre-Revolutionary merchant and he had done it as military governor of Philadelphia. … What made Arnold unique was the godlike inviolability he attached to his actions. He had immense respect for a man like Washington, but Arnold was, in the end, the leading personage in the drama that was his life. Not lost to his own character, but lost in it, Arnold did whatever Arnold wanted…

The fundamental difference between Washington and Arnold was that the former was willing to sacrifice for his generals, his army, and his country. Arnold, on the other hand, was not willing to make those sacrifices. That is why he contacted the British in order to find out how much they would pay him if he would help them win the war.

Valiant Ambition is a great study in the contrast of these two men. It highlights what led Washington to become one of the greatest leaders our country has ever known, and what led Arnold to become the best-known traitor our country has ever had. It is a study in leadership. It was the sacrifices Washington made that endeared so many men to him. It was the selfishness of Arnold that led so many men to despise him.


A Prayer App that Works

Like many I have struggled over the years to maintain a healthy prayer life. For me there have been basically two obstacles.

The first obstacle has been time. I have plenty of it; I just seem to have a hard time finding it.

The second obstacle has been organization. Over the years I’ve tried different systems for managing my prayer requests. Each new attempt fizzling out with time. Why? Some systems required me to have a special notebook or journal with me to pray (and if I don’t have it with me when I remember to pray the system fails). Other systems failed because they were not intuitive, it took too long to learn the system, and I gave up before that happened.


But I have now found a system to manage my prayer requests which is both simple and always with me, it is an app called PrayerMate.  I hesitate promoting a method like this because I know some people are not as comfortable with technology.  But it has been working for me for some time now, which is why I want to tell you about it.

How I have it Organized

PrayerMate is like a filing cabinet for your prayers. You can take your individual prayers (think files) and organize them into categories (think drawers) in your PrayerMate cabinet.

In my PrayerMate app i have 9 “drawers,” which the app calls lists. (The number in the parentheses is for how many “files” (i.e. prayers) are in each drawer right now (it changes regularly):

  • Praying the Bible (* populated by PrayerMate) – which is a feed I get which helps me use passages of Scripture for prayer
  • Preparation for Prayer (2) – which I have a few quotes about prayer that help inspire me to be serious in my prayer life
  • Biblical Prayer (40+) – which is a list of passages where NT authors are writing out prayer (you can download pre-set lists from within the app for this kind of thing.)
  • Family (15)-  here I have a file on each member of my immediate family.  I am able to list out individual prayer needs for each person.
  • Church Ministries (11)- here I pray for things that are happening in my church, ministries, special projects, etc.
  • Church Members (15)-  when a member asks me to pray for something i put it in this list
  • Pastors and Missionaries (13)- here I list many of my friends in ministry, as well as the missionaries that my family or church supports
  • Salvation (20) this is the list of all my friends who do not know Jesus

How I Control What I Pray and When

PrayerMate allows me to preset how many files I want to pull from each drawer.  I can control how often I pray for something or someone (i.e. every day, once a week, once a month). I can even set when I want a prayer request to be archived.

For example:  I have a total limit of 19 prayers.  The app won’t give me more than 19 at one time.  But I can also control how many prayers come from each list.  So generally, I pray for two pastors/missionaries I know, as well as for two church members and two church ministries.  PrayerMate shuffles them for me and it keeps track of how often I have prayed for something/someone.

The only major drawback of this app for me is that it does not sync across my devices, so changes made on my iPhone don’t get made on my iPad. This can be frustrating, but I’ve learned to work around it and hopefully a future edition will fix that problem.

Anyone looking for a system or an app to help them manage their prayers should look into PrayerMate.

Book Review: Strangers Next Door


stranger next door

In a previous post I wrote about the book Strangers Next Door by J. D. Payne. In this post I want to briefly explain the layout of the book so that you have a sense of the big picture as you read it.

From my point of view the book can be divided into four parts:

Chapters 1-3 set the stage by talking about God’s sovereignty in the movements of people around the globe. Payne introduces terms and presents charts to help us get our bearings.

Chapters 4-6 are a survey of the history of migration. We start in Eden and end the West today seeing how God has moved people.

Chapters 7-9 talk about refugees, students, and other unreached people who are living in the West.

Chapters 10-12 finish the book by giving guidelines and suggested strategies to actually work among unreached people groups.

In chapter 11 Payne gives a 5 –step strategy to help those who want to begin working with unreached peoples groups.



  • What do we know about the people (culturally, spiritually, demographically)?
  • Why are they in this community?
  • What are the bridges to connect with them?
  • What are the best ways to share the gospel?


  • Now that they are believers, what is the best way to teach them the Scriptures?
  • Are we casting the vision for them to return to reach their social networks?
  • How can we model spiritual disciplines and local-church involvement for them?
  • Is the Spirit leading them to unite to form a local church?


  • Are we treating the new church as partners in the gospel ministry?
  • How will we continue the encouraging, training, and coaching after they return to their people


  • How do we assist migrants to return to their peoples across the globe?
  • How do we travel with them to assist them in the planting of churches in other parts of the world?
  • Are we sending long-term missionaries to serve alongside them in church planting endeavors?


This is just a sample of the types of questions you will find yourself wrestling through as you read this book.

Few books or authors have had as profound of an impact on my views of ministry in recent years. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing the church seize this wonderful opportunity it now has to befriend, serve, and evangelize the unreached people groups around us.



Praying for Muslims

Today is the last day of Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims celebrate the giving of the Qur’an to Muhammad. Our church has spent the last 30 days praying for the Muslim world.  Specifically praying that more Muslims would have opportunities to hear and respond to the message of the gospel.

Why Pray?

There is an unprecedented movement of people moving from Islam to Christianity in the world.  Islam began in the seventh century, 622 A.D.  From the time of its birth in the seventh century up to the nineteenth century there were a total of five movements of Muslims toward a Christ. (A movement is at least 1,000 people turning toward Christianity.) In the twentieth century there was a total of eleven movements recorded.  So far in the twenty-first century there have been seventy-two recorded movements in the house of Islam.

We are praying because we will not see the gospel spread in the unreached people groups of the world (including within in Islam) without a commitment to prayer. We are praying because God is obviously already at work and we want to see that work continue.

The Effects of Prayer

I have to confessed that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when we committed to having the church do this.  I wasn’t sure how people would respond. I wasn’t sure if people would participate at all. But God was gracious in showing me some of the effects of these prayers.

One of my favorite stories of this past month was a conversation I had with a member of my church just before one of our worship services.  She came up to me to tell me how much she was enjoying and learning from the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World booklet. Then she told me about a Muslim woman that she met one day in front of her home.  This woman was standing in the rain with her child waiting for the bus.  My friend invited her to stand in the carport while they waited for the bus.  Now after spending time praying for followers of Islam around the world this member of my church was thinking about her neighbor. She’s been hoping that she will run into her again so that she can speak to her. (Since it is summer they aren’t coming to the bus stop.)

What made that morning even better was that while I was having this conversation another woman in our church came up to share how much she has learned about Islam.  She commented that she had so many misconceptions about Islam; but the booklet and the videos we were watching had helped her.

Next Step

Next year Ramadan is from May 27 – June 25. I hope you’ll consider joining us as we pray for the gospel to advance in the Muslim world (of course you don’t need to wait till then). Why not set a reminder for yourself to order a copy of the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World booklet. Perhaps even ask your pastor/friends to join you as well.


Prayer: Confessing an Unforgiving Heart

This week I am in Grand Rapids at Calvin Seminary for a seminar titled: Forgiving Those Who Hurt Us.  As a participant in the seminar I was asked to write a prayer on the subject of forgiveness.  This prayer is based off a sermon I preached on Mark 11:25

Gracious Lord,

We come to you in need of forgiveness because our hearts have been unwilling to forgive. We have let the wrongs that have been done to us to fester and grow like cancers on our souls.

Because of our unforgiving hearts, we have not walked in the example of Jesus, who on the cross cried out to you asking that you would forgive his executioners. Lord help us to know how to love our enemies by forgiving them.

Because of our unforgiving hearts, we have undermined the unity you have created in the church. By the death of Jesus you created one new people, but we have allowed sin to divide us. Lord help us to forgive those who have wronged us in the hope that reconciliation may happen.

Because of our unforgiving hearts, we have shown that we really haven’t understood the gospel. Like the unmerciful servant we have disparaged the grace you have shown us. Lord help us to forgive so that we may be reminded of the beauty of your gospel.

Lord heal our unforgiving hearts so that we may experience your grace and live as the people you created us to be.

We ask this in the name through which we found forgiveness, Amen.





Did you know that together the United States of America and Canada have 451 unreached people groups* living within their borders? I didn’t know that until I read Strangers Next Door by J. D. Payne.

541 people groups. 28,945,173 persons (and that figure is from 2012!)

To put that number in perspective for you the total number of unreached people groups living in other Western Countries (Europe, Australia, New Zealand) is 632. The U.S. is the third largest country with unreached people groups in the world (China and India are numbers one and two).

I stumbled onto J.D. Payne by “accident.” Actually I know it wasn’t an accident, though I cannot for the life of me remember when I first heard his name. But over the last six months I have read a few of his books, listened to his podcast, and in the process have come to learn more about Diaspora Missiology. Diaspora Missiology is the integrated discipline of “bringing migration research to bear on the study of missions.” (p. 151)

At the heart of this is an understanding that God is absolutely sovereign in the movement of people across the globe. Payne writes: “as kingdom citizens we understand that the Lord of the nations is working our his will in the universe, and the migration of peoples to other lands is not a serendipitous occurrence.” (p. 30)

That means that the Congolese families that have been relocated to Palm Beach County as refugees are here because God brought them here. That means that my dear friend from West Africa is here, as an asylum seeker, because God orchestrated it in his plan. That means that the people who are coming to our church’s ESL program are in our country, and in our ESL program(!), because God ordained it to be so.

How should the Church of Jesus Christ respond to this amazing opportunity? Friendship. It is possible for us to befriend, serve, and witness to people who are unreached… and all we have to do is drive around town or walk across the street. What do we do with such an amazing opportunity?

Are we as followers of Jesus prepared for such wonderful opportunities to serve and share the only hope for abundant and eternal life? For the most part, I believe the church has neglected numerous similar opportunities in epochs past. Now we live in a time of unprecedented movement, and these are days of grand opportunity. The peoples of the world are now living next door to us. May be recognize the sovereign hand of the Lord who has moved them and join in his mission, that they may know him and make him know. (p. 94)

* An unreached people group is a group of people that has less than 2% claiming to be Christians.


Report on my Trip to Cuba


the historic capitol building in Havana

I just spent four days in Havana with some of the brightest and godliest leaders of the church in Cuba, leaders from Holguín, Camagüey, and Havana. Artists, businesspeople, doctors, and pastors, men and women who love the Lord and want to see the spread of the gospel in Cuba.

What was i doing in Cuba?

For the past two years I have been coaching pastors in the US. Coaching is a process in which I help a church leader apply the gospel to the relational, personal, missional, and spiritual realms of his life.

leading the devotional on Wednesday morning

Through my relationship with CMM I have been invited to help them train and evaluate coaches for a denomination in Cuba called Los Pinos Nuevos. This particular trip was all
about evaluation.  I sat in as two leaders coached each other.
Here are some observation I had from my time:

Spiritual Warfare

One of the things that struck me the most was that everyone I interacted with had real physical, emotional, relational, and/or spiritual problems in their lives.
  • Two leaders were having significant problems with members of their families.  There were alienated relationships, animosity, and real pain in these stories.
  • One leader was about to leave his hometown to go plant a church in a new city. His daughter is now going to have to travel an hour by bus to get to her school.  They are moving into a one bedroom house as they wait for permission to add onto the building.
  • One leader’s grandmother was on her deathbed. He was 14 hours away from her during our training.  Each day he tried to call to get an update on her condition.
  • One leader is dealing with severe health problems.
  • One leader is grieving the reality that he cannot be with his newborn grandchild that is in the US.
  • One leader recounted for me how his children had been threatened by a neighbor day after day.  They finally had to move to another city in order to provide safety for his children.
All of these stories point to the reality of real spiritual warfare.  These men and women are facing attacks because God is at work in what they are doing.


The two biggest needs that this movement has are resources and leaders.  The first probably won’t surprise you.  But it might be easy to underestimate the second.
I have been to Cuba four times now since the Fall of 2014.  In that time I have met many people whose deepest desire is to leave Cuba.  I can’t blame them.  If i were in their shoes I’m not sure what I would do – life in Cuba can be very difficult.
This reality means that leaders are regularly leaving the island and leaving vacuums behind them.  In fact I have personally met four leaders/couples who are no longer in Cuba.  Keep in mind that when I am in Cuba I am only working with key leaders.  That means that about eight key leaders of the churches in the region of Santa Clara have left: pastors, seminary leaders, ministry leaders, key men and women.

Hennyer and Lari

But inspire of that there are some amazing young leaders that are being raised up.  One example is the couple in this picture. Hennyer and Lari are helping to lead a movement to engage, evangelize, and disciple the artistic community in the city of Holguín.

Why do I want to keep going back to Cuba?

It is this leadership dynamic that compels me to keep going back to Cuba.  When I am in Cuba I am learning from men and women who know suffering in a way that I probably never will.  I interact with leaders who are suffering loss and spiritual warfare in a way I just don’t understand.  I want to keep returning to Cuba because I have so much to learn from these leaders about what it means to take up my cross and follow Jesus.

The loss of leaders also means that there is a constant need to help raise up new leaders.  Fortunately Los Pinos has a leadership development system that seems to work very well.  The fact that I get to have a small part in helping them develop their leaders is a huge honor.  I want to keep returning to Cuba because I want to help them in their leadership development plan.

But most of all  I want to keep returning to Cuba because I want to spend time with the friends I am making there.

Would you join me in praying for the leaders of Los Pinos Nuevos in Cuba?

  • Pray for protection from spiritual warfare.
  • Pray for them as the continue to grow and develop in the skills of gospel coaching.
  • Pray for key leaders who are suffering from serious and dangerous health problems.
  • Pray that God would continue to provide them with leaders committed to seeing the gospel impact Cuba.