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  • The Great Wall






    “We want the Church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.”  C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters
    Over the past months, there has been an ongoing debate about establishing a wall to keep people out of the USA.  Wall building is hardly a new idea.  Walls are built to keep people out (Great Wall of China), and to keep people in (prison, Berlin Wall).  Satan has been erecting walls since the Garden of Eden. 
    Satan’s first attempt at wall building was designed to keep people from a relationship with God.  By introducing deceit and sin into the world, he was able to break the natural relationship and bond God intended between Him and us.  God’s love for us has broken down that wall and has made it possible to reestablish the relationship (Eph. 2:14).  However, Satan was at it again, building a different wall to keep the message away from those who need to hear it.
    The new wall is a stealth wall.  It is not easily picked up on our spiritual radar.  God’s plan is to unleash His people (the Church) to share the message of the Kingdom. The message is simple; God has already torn down the wall separating us and making reconciliation with Him a reality.  From Matthew 28:19,20 and Acts 1:8 we know that, as God’s people, our calling is to make disciples throughout the world, letting them in on the Good News that the wall is destroyed.
    However, Satan came up with a master strategy to wall people off from those who need to hear the Good News.  For centuries Satan as been at work building a mental wall that leads us to believe the wrong things and thus not do the right thing.  The key was to change the meaning of “church” from the people of God, to the place God’s people go.  By changing the meaning, people now “go” to church.  Evangelism and discipleship are now “programs of the church,” and the church is what we “do” on Sunday.  Monday through Saturday is for living in the secular world where we are walled off from Sunday church.
    This is not new.  It has been one of Satan’s key strategies from the beginning of the Church.  Jerusalem was safe and comfortable for the new, rapidly growing Church.  Rather than return to their home countries after Pentecost, believers moved to establish Jerusalem as the home of the new faith.  That all changed when persecution of the Church broke out in Acts 8.  If Christians would not break the wall that kept them from going to the nations (Acts 1:8), then God would allow the persecution that accomplished the same end.
    It is time that we rediscovered that the Church is you and I.  It is our calling to make disciples where we live and around the world.  As long as church is a place to go we will fail to go as the Church into all the world.
    Acts 8:4 (NLT)
    4  But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.
     2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NLT)
    4  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5  We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.


    “Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that "suits" him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.” 
    ― C.S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters






  • The Road Not Taken


    This is the title of a famous poem by Robert Frost. It also represents a concern I have about the future of the Church in Africa. When ICM began 30 years ago in Kenya the focus was on discipleship. The goal was to come alongside Christians leaders and teach them how to be effective disciplers in and through their churches. Over time this discipleship emphasis found expression in two delivery models.

    The first model, Africa Theological Seminary, began as a pioneer program in Africa. It came into existence in order to deliver quality, in-service, training for ministry leaders at various educational levels. The second model, the Christian Leadership Institute, was created out of a desire to provide quality seminars and conferences to further enhance a leader’s ability to disciple others.

    Both models have proven invaluable in helping leaders develop a Biblical foundation for discipleship, tools for discipleship and skills for leading the local church.

    But something is missing.
    As I travel the continent teaching, sharing and watching, I have come to the conclusion that far too many churches in Africa (and beyond) are taking a dead end approach to church development that hinders their impact for the Kingdom of God.

    Jesus came at just the right time to offer the world a way back to God. His message of reconciliation was preached through signs and wonders as well as words and deeds. The ultimate deed was his death on the cross for our sins.

    Recreconciliation with God was made possible by his death and resurrection. His message of reconciliations to the whole world was made possible by his life. Fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament, Jesus paved the way for a "nation of priests" commissioned to go into the whole world and make disciples of every people. This nation is more commonly known as the Church, the called out ones. But the Church has been called out in order to go into all the world. The Church is a nation of ambassadors commissioned with the message of reconciliation. As the Church, they gather in their various communities to worship, partake of the sacraments, and be equipped as effective disciples that come in to grow, so they can go out ambassadors to the world.

    But the emphasis was not on the local gathering but on the effective witness of every believer in their sphere of influence. It would appear that this model of coming in order to go is not emphasized enough. The road most traveled appears to be one that places the greatest emphasis on the gathering of believers.
    Come to GetWhen there is a shift to church as building there is a danger that it will become more akin to a social club than to a center for equipping people for the work of the ministry. Consider the following examples:


    · In a recent interview with a growing church in Africa, the leaders proudly revealed they had 40 programs in which members could participate on a weekly basis. This does not mean these programs are wrong or bad. But every person only has so much time. Where is the "going" into the community?
    · In West Africa, I turned on the TV and watched a few minutes of casting out of demons and flailing of bodies and limbs as people were healed of everything from lust to demon possession...miracles are good, but we should do them where Jesus did them: in the marketplace.
    · Riding around any major city in Africa you will see signs for “miracle services/crusades” on nearly every street corner. The call is, "come to get" something God has for you. These events are not wrong, but very incomplete. God's call is to take his message and healing power into every corner of the marketplace.

    I want to be clear: I do not oppose the miraculous. But we need to travel carefully along the road to ensure miracles do not replace transformation. Instead of transformation that comes from intentional discipleship, it would appear that some pastors believe that a show of God’s miracle power is the key to unlocking church growth.

    There are two consequences of this “Come and Get a Blessing” model: the laity views itself as ‘consumers,’ and pastors begin to view themselves as prophet/priests. The result is the local church becomes an entertainment hub, where the focal point of ministry is "priests and prophets" who are the intermediaries who deliver God's miracle to the congregation.
    Come to GoThe "Come to Go" church is committed to serving the congregation by equipping them to live for Jesus seven days a week. While the “Come and Get a Blessing” model is very prevalent, we can be encouraged that there are pastors and local churches who have not succumbed to the temptation to travel the road of a church as entertainment.


    These churches still offer programs, but they are geared toward equipping members to live for Jesus in all aspects of their lives – their marriages, families and work. In these churches, pastors see themselves as servant-leaders, committed to equipping their members to “go” into the community and be God’s blessing, light and leaven. ICM’s Africa Theological Seminary has been instrumental in equipping hundreds of these leaders. But there is a need for greater emphasis on discipling every member of every congregation to be a blessing.

    Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML)

    In 2013 ICM launched a pilot project called, “Discipling Marketplace Leaders.” There are many organizations working with Christians to help them become better business people. But none of these groups are doing so in direct conjunction with the local church. After two years of studying the synergy between the local church and their business people, the pilot project demonstrated that the local church increased its discipling, and business people increased their spiritual and financial bottom lines.

    Through DML, pastors gain a better understanding of how effectively disciple business people in their churches. It also helps business people understand the call as ministers to their communities by running their businesses as unto the Lord. The results are pastors commissioning business people to be ministers through their daily interaction within their communities. As a result, churches grow, giving increases, and members become more committed. Also, businesses who go through the program increase their personal income by over 100% and their business sales by more than 80%!

    ICM has now begun the process of rolling out DML in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, Ghana, and Nigeria. We are looking at 2017 as a breakout year where we reach a tipping point in the movement. We need your help! We are looking for business people and pastors who want to team up with us to make the DML movement possible in many more countries. We are also in need of help in meeting the financial challenges of taking this message to the nations.

    Want to learn more about DML? Send us an email at: dmlinfo@icmusa.org

    Want to partner with us to see this rolled out across Africa and beyond? Donate Here. Scroll down the fund list to: Discipling Market Place Leaders (DML) - 609045


    Frost ends his poem like this:

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference. (http://www.bartleby.com/119/1.html)

    It is time to take the road less traveled, it is the one Jesus took, and we are to follow.









  • Christian Commitment
    Discipleship is always guided by purpose.  Christian discipleship is committed to helping people grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18).  It is the process of becoming more like Jesus (Rom. 8:28,29).  What is often overlooked is that Jesus was guided by purpose.  To become like Jesus is not simply a character issue, but a life purpose issue.  Jesus was living out commitments that had begun with creation.
    He was committed to:
    The Great Mission: The Call to Stewardship
    26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like ourselves. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” Genesis 1:26-28 (NLT) (Gen. 1:22;8:17;9:1,7)
    The Great Vision: The Call to Purpose1  The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. 2  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. Genesis 12:1-2 (NLT)
     The Great Commission: The Call to Discipleship 19  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT

    The Great Commandment: The Call to Relationship 
    36  “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37  Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38  This is the first and greatest commandment. 39  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40  
  • The First Learning App

    Matthew 13:34 (NLT)
    34  Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. 

    That was such a cute story!  Did you hear the one about….?  Can you believe what happened last night on the TV show…(fill in)?  I was moved to tears when I heard the story of what they went through.
    You cannot go through a day without interacting with a multitude of stories from a multitude of sources.  Why are we so taken up with stories?  It turns out that stories form the bedrock of our understanding of the world around us.  Lisa Cron put it this way in her book Wired for Story (see my book review):
    Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution—more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it—a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.
    It turns out that stories are imbedded with information we need for facing the challenges of each day.  Our brain is a glutton for information and prefers it in a story.  Stories operate on both an emotional and cognitive level.   Think of stories as the first nonexperiential method of real learning, the first learning app.  I say nonexperiential, but it is not quite true.  If the story has an emotional component then we “experience” the story vicariously. To hear the story about a lion roaming in a certain part of the forest is much easier than the potential outcome of self-discovery.
    Stories are critical to helping us understand the rules of living.  This includes character and values.  The catch is the brain disdains lists, but loves stories. The brain wants to “figure it out” not have it handed to us.  This is why inductive study is far more satisfying than deductive study.  The brain loves to engage in the story to figure out what is right and what is wrong.  Through this process, it adds to a life narrative of how we should respond to the world around us.  Core Beliefs (what I hold to be true about the world) and Character (how I relate to others) are enhanced by the stories we listen to and engage in.  As we swim around in this fish bowl of stories our unconscious is pulling from those stories the information it deems important and then melds that to our life narrative. Like a fish sucking oxygen from the water, we absorb information from the stories we listen to or watch.
    The foundation of Christianity is not the doctrines of the Bible, it is the story of the Bible.  In particular, it is the wonderful, amazing story of how almighty, eternal God became a baby that he might grow up and suffer a humiliating death so that those he loved could love him back.  Doctrines support the story, not the other way around.

    This Christmas tell the most amazing story ever told.  Make the story the center of Christmas, as it is the center of his-story.
  • For Every Miracle in the Church....



    International Christian Ministries exists to disciple and equip the leaders of the church.  But the goal is not simply better-equipped pastors, but more focused pastors and leaders who align to the purposes of God.  The measure of success is impact on the marketplace, not miracles in the church.  Discipleship that does not have as its purpose to impact the marketplace is not effective discipleship.
    Growing to become more like Jesus is one way to understand discipleship.  Too often the focus is on "character" rather than "commitments."  Galatians 5:22 (NLT)  22  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness... Part of the transformation process is becoming more like Jesus in our character.  But that is not all.  God calls us to become more like Jesus in our commitments.  Jesus had a Kingdom of God commitment (Lk.4:43).  In fact, it was his major commitment and he admonishes us to have the same commitment (Matt. 6:33).  If we are committed to the Kingdom of God it means that our focus, our time, talents and treasure are utilized for that purpose.  Your heart follows what you are committed to.

    Unfortunately, the world is ruled by a prince who wants to distract us from committing to the Kingdom of God.  He uses every possible opportunity to move our focus from the Kingdom of God to self-interest. Mark 4:19 (NLT) 19  but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced. This shift from the Kingdom of God to the kingdom of self, leads to a church that focuses on attracting members rather than equipping saints.  Rather than a message of sacrifice there is a message of prosperity.  Rather than a message of giving it is a message of receiving.  Rather than miracles in the marketplace we "perform" for the crowds in the church.  

    If we really want to be like Jesus we would focus on the marketplace and the message of the Kingdom of God.  In the church, we would shift from a message of what we get, to how we might be effective ambassadors to the community around us. 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 (NLT)  19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20  So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 

    For every miracle in the church, we should see forty miracles in the marketplace.  That is roughly the ratio of miracles that Jesus did in his ministry.  If you want to be like Jesus you need to see the marketplace as the place for living out your faith.  ICM seeks to help pastors and leaders align to the commitments of Jesus by helping them Disciple Marketplace Leaders.

    ICM is committed to discipling  leaders who equip their congregations to be salt and light to their communities and to the world.


  • Africa Rising...Still

    At the beginning of the 21st Century Africa was known as a hopeless continent.  We in ICM have always held that the key to unlock the future for Africa was people...and people are not hopeless.  Of course since that time things have changed dramatically.  Africa is now see as the rising economic star.  It has all of the right ingredients: lot's of people (becoming ever more educated), abundant resources that are still untapped, and now governments that are shifting from oligarchy to greater democracy.  China, India and other more developed countries are rushing in to help build an infrastructure to get the resources out of Africa and are at the same time building a growing middle class who will by products made from them.  But is that what God wants for Africa?

    Matthew 25 tells us that poverty is something that needs to be dealt with.  And it is.  Over the past 50 years extreme poverty has been cut in half.  But there is more.  Africa, like the rest of the world will always have poor, sick, orphans, widows, etc. But Africa, like other continents, will also have a middle class that have disposable income.  The question is, "what will they spend that income on?"  In the US we spend our disposable income on a lot of stuff for us.  Billions of dollars are spent on vacations, pet food, cosmetics, alcohol, tobacco and on and on.  While many of these things are not bad, they end up leaving very little for Christian ministry and missions.  Africa can be different.  If ministry leaders join with lay leaders to help provide market place training with the goal of expanding the churches influence things just might turn out differently in Africa.

    The 21st belongs to Africa.  What will the do with it?

    Africa Rising - Global Affairs

    Church Based Business as Mission (CBBM)

    Phil

    International Christian Ministries Inc
  • The Jesus Model of Discipleship

    Over the centuries writers have puzzled about how Jesus made disciples.  Before departing this earth he gave the believers their marching orders: Make disciples of every people group everywhere.  Since that time the Church has had a mixed review as to achieving this end.  It is apparently much easier to make converts that disciples.  If we define a disciple of Jesus as one who is becoming more like Jesus while fulfilling the mission of making disciples of every nation, then we have had only moderate success through the ages.  Maybe it is time to revisit the Jesus Model of Discipleship.

    Virtually every book written about Jesus and discipleship has been done from the limited vantage point of trying to discern what Jesus did rather than why Jesus did it.  When analyzing the "what" we have very little room to maneuver around the "why."  The emphasis is on the method that Jesus used rather than the principles that he used.  This is an important distinction as it limits our recognizable options.  The methods of Jesus are fairly straight forward:

    • He made disciples while pursuing a higher vision
    • While many disciples chose to follow him, his core team was hand picked.
    • Rather than pouring over Biblical texts the disciples listened to Jesus
    • Rather than an event, they experienced a major life style change by joining his team
    • While interacting with Jesus the disciples spent a lot of time interacting with one another
    • The disciples did not stop at listening, Jesus sent them out to experience ministry by doing
    • Jesus was a master at taking experiences and turning them into learning opportunities

    As a theological educator I am very concerned that we have swallowed a model of education that flows out of the Enlightenment and its emphasis on rationality and the scientific method.  While both play an important part in helping us understand our world they also lead us down a path dead end when it comes to developing virtues and values.  

    We need to return to the Jesus Model to discover the principles.  Jesus understood that discipleship is a process and he developed a model that was culturally appropriate for the time in which he lived.  We need to return to the model and discover the underlying principles so that we can develop methods that are compatible with theological education and the time in which we live.  We MUST incorporate into our current methods of theological education teaching and training that transforms our students and makes them transformers for their churches and communities.  I am reminded of a short poem by Rick Warren

    Methods are many
    Principles are few
    Methods change often
    Principles never do

    Let's go beyond the methods and find the principles from which to construct new methods that achieve the mission to make disciples of all nations.

    Phil
  • Garden of Eden Discovered

    It is true, no hoax.  I know “about” where the Garden of Eden is located.  Ok, ok, it may not be exactly, but definitely the neighborhood.  After a thorough search and a lot of study we have been able to narrow the possibilities down to one key region.  In the past it was thought the Garden may have been located in what is now Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. There is still speculation that this area may have been the site of the building of the great tower that led to a “babel” of languages.   But we now know the truth!  Let me explain.
    The story of man is written in the code of our genetic makeup. All humans carry genetic features that help us track where they have come from and where they went (such as the Y chromosome known as M168).  More and more evidence is stacking up that through genetic tracking we now know that man originated in Africa.  While there is some doubt as to the exact location (some are holding out for South Africa while others agree that it was probably East Africa) there is a growing consensus that we are all African in origin.

    God gave the command to Adam to go and populate the world shortly after his creation (Gen. 1:28).  It was evident that God had a mission for His creation and that it called for us to be busy about His work.  While there was some hesitation and delay, Adam and Eve’s dependents began to head out of Africa to populate the globe.
    Once again God is calling on Africans to go forth in maturity to fulfill a mission.  Matthew 28:19,20 (the Great Commission) gives us the clarion call of Jesus to Go and be about the Father’s business of making disciples.  Just over a decade ago the continent of Africa was called the “Hopeless Continent” .  But now across the web and across the world Africa is being viewed as the continent of hope and potential.  Global Christianity is also seeing something new and fresh.
    Africa On Mission 

    Just a few weeks ago I had the privilege to participate in a missions conference in one of the state capitals of Nigeria.  What made it a bit unusual was that it was organized and paid for by a local church.  Over 1,500 leaders from 15 countries joined together to work out strategies for completing the Great Commission in their generation.  Most of the speakers and workshop leaders were African.  It was an encouraging time of witnessing what has begun in Africa. Once again God is calling on the children of the new Adam to move out of Africa on mission to complete what so many others have contributed to but failed to complete: fulfilling the Great Commission.  It is poetic that as the first Adam moved out to physically populate the earth now the representatives of the last Adam are going forth with the message of a new birth to populate heaven and bring forth a people from every tribe, tongue and nation to worship our God (Rev. 7:9).1 Corinthians 1:27 (NLT)
    27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 
  • Wisdom vs ???

    What comes to mind when I ask, "what is the opposite of wisdom?"  The first thing that came to my mind was foolishness. But I have had to back track and reconsider.  The first thing we need to do is define our terms.  Wisdom has different uses and different meanings in different parts of the Old Testament.  What we are most interested in is the wisdom discussed by Solomon and mentioned in Proverbs and Psalms.  This has been defined as -"the art of reaching one's end by the use of the right means" (Smend).  Godly wisdom would be "achieving the purposes of God in God's ways."  Foolishness can be defined as a "Void of understanding or sound judgment; weak in intellect; applied to general character."   
    Frederick Herzberg was a psychologist who did a lot of work on motivation.  He developed research on what motivates us and what can demotivate us.  What he discovered was that what motivates us does not necessarily demotivate us in its absence and visa-versa.  For instance (see chart) having a sense of achievement can be very motivating, but not having a great sense of achievement is not necessarily demotivating to the same degree.  Which brings us back to wisdom.  The absence of wisdom is not necessarily foolishness.  In fact I would argue that the vacuum left by a lack of wisdom leads to rules and regulations (see previous post).  If we cannot count on people doing the right thing then we need to put into place rules to ensure they will do the right thing.  The problem, of course, is that we will never be able to put enough rules into place to ensure the right thing is done.  When rules replace wisdom the absurd replaces the obvious (see Barry Schwartz).  Decisions are no longer guided by common sense and wisdom but by fear of the consequences for not keeping the rules.
    Christian ministries need to be guided by wisdom not an abundance of rules and regulations.  If we have staff who are not wise and do not understand the difference between wisdom (focusing on God's interests) and poor judgement (self-interest) then we need to do some major training or find new staff.  Godly living and holiness can never be the by-produce of rule keeping.  This was proven over and over by the experience of Israel through the ages.  Jesus came not to set up right conduct by an abundance of rules, but to change hearts so that the natural choice would be to live wisely in order to glorify God with all that we say and do. Christian organizations need to focus on developing wisdom in their staff to guide Godly decisions. Rules are designed to provide standard responses to situations and is a sure way to kill creativity and initiative. I still like the Nordstrom's rules for their organization:  
    Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. No other rules!
    I think will rewrite the ICM rules:

    Rule #1: Use Godly wisdom in all situations.  There are no need for any other rules!
  • Rules Rule!

    The origin of the word bureaucracy is interesting.  It is a French word that means "rule by desk."  According to some sources the word came into being when a German business man complained to his French partner the frustration he was experiencing in shipping products to France.  The response was simple:  we have a government that rules from their desks through rules."  We are constantly seeing this in the world around us, including our ministries.  If something bad happens our rule makers spring into action to make a new rule. Rules have a purpose as Scott Simon points out:
    "Scott Simon,  NPR said, “Rules and procedures may be dumb, but they spare you from thinking. "

    The counter point to rules is the virtue of wisdom.  Practical wisdom is the combination of moral will and moral skill (Aristotle), according to Barry Schwartz.  Rather than being rule makers theological institutions need to be wisdom developers.  This is not lost on businesses that have huge employee handbooks that cover everything they can think of to cover...themselves against unhappy employees suing them.  Of course developing wisdom, as with all virtues, takes a lot more time and energy...and has a lot more long term value.  Any country that bases its well being on rules will end up ruled by autocrats, bureaucrats and eventually dictators.  We do not want nonthinking people who follow the rules, we want spiritual mature people able to listen to their God and carry out their tasks with passion and compassion.  

    Take a few minutes to listen to Barry Schwartz at a Ted Talk:  Recorded

    Or read his comments at: Transcribed talk

    My friend, Greg, pointed out (more than once) the value of simplicity when he shared with me Nordstrom's Employee Handbook:


    Nordstrom Rules: Rule #1: Use best judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules.