Monthly Archives: January 2012

BELARUS JOURNAL 1.31.12

Eric standing in the graveyard of villages at the Khatyn Memorial

Thank you for your prayers, we had smooth sailing or rather smooth flying to Belarus. Sergei Lukyanov, our partner in SEE Global, met us at the airport and we went to the SEE Global office to go over our schedule for the next 2 weeks. Then we were off to settle in at the apartment where we will stay most of this week. It is located near Victory Square, which is actually a circle.

The apartment is near two interesting points of history. One block away is the house where the first meeting of the communist party on Russian soil took place. A few yards further is the apartment where Lee Harvey Oswald lived during his defection to the Soviet Union, before returning to the U.S. and assassinating President Kennedy.

We had dinner at a restaurant decorated with medieval touches.  There we were met by ambivalent servers and gusts of cigarette smoke – ah yes, this is the Minsk I remember.  Our dinner bill only came to $30, but seeing the charge of 281,000 rubles did make me catch my breath for a moment.

I slept fairly well in my comfy bedroom; I hope Eric did on the couch. Don’t feel too bad for him, it was a pull out bed. Today our bodies attempt to regroup from jet lag. Our schedule is full, so today may have been the only chance to show Eric some places of interest. We decided on Khatyn, which is the best choice if you can only visit one historical sight in Belarus.

Khatyn is a poignant memorial to the brutality suffered by Belarus during World War II, or the Great Patriotic War as it is called here. Some historians have said that Belarus proportionately suffered more in the war than any other nation.

Khatyn had been a small village with unfortunate geography. In response to nearby partisan activity, the Nazis collected all villagers into a barn and set it on fire, shooting those who tried to escape. The memorial not only remembers that horrible event, it has a cemetery for the hundreds of villages that were “killed” during the war. There is also a memorial to the many labor (death) camps on Belarusian soil. Some of these camps were specifically for children.

I think Khatyn is best visited on stark winter days like today. The bite in the air and the quiet stillness are fitting to the horrible memories contained in the black granite and concrete memorials. To understand Khatyn, is to understand the past centuries of Belarusian history. This land has been dragged along a trail of suffering that is hard to fully digest.

It may be psychologically fitting to visit Khatyn in winter, but not when the temperature is minus 8 degrees! After walking 25 yards I wanted to surrender. We pressed on, but it was a short visit.

The drive this morning gave me a chance to catch up with Sergei on some of my Belarusian friends. Sergei works with several young men with leadership potential. We talked about what is happening in their lives. I will see some of them tonight.  One of my great joys is seeing spiritual maturity growing in the young people at Greentree; to be able to have a small part in that happening in Belarus, it a wonderful blessing of God!

Back in the apartment I had to go over what I would teach tonight for a young adult Bible study. It is hard to concentrate when you are tired.  I worked in my room to the soothing sounds of Eric’s heavy breathing. He was asleep 45 seconds after lying down. My body was calling rather persistently for a nap, but I don’t want to mess up adjusting to new sleep patterns, so I drank a 5 Hour Energy and stuck it out through the afternoon.

I spent the evening with older teens and young adults at Bethlehem Church. Sergei started with a handful two years ago. He focused on serious Bible study and building relationships that challenged them to grow. The result has been significant growth in number and maturity. I can see a lot of parallels in what the Paones have accomplished at our church.

The young people enjoyed some interaction over tea, which was followed by worship. I knew all the songs, but I could not think of the words with them singing in Russian.  A few of the young people I know from the Bible College and others I have come to recognize from involvement with the church. I wish you could have been there to watch, it would take a callused heart not to be excited by their enthusiasm. My heart was full as I sat observing them.

I spoke from Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, a favorite passage which tells us how we find meaning in life. I thought this would be helpful to this age group. I tried to get them involved through questions with some success. Whatever they felt about the message, they expressed appreciation to me.

As we were getting ready to leave, a friend of mine named Dima, who had been teaching the younger teens downstairs, insisted that he take us out for pizza and then drive us home. Dima is very gracious and has good spiritual wisdom. His English is limited, but we managed to keep the conversation going through our meal. He took Jeff and me out this way last year; both times he had a pizza prepared before we left to take home for his wife.

We arrived at the apartment at 10:30, pleased with the day and ready for sleep. We cherish your prayers for us.

We want our time to be as productive as possible, please pray for wisdom in all our conversations and teaching. Continue to pray for physical energy and health of body – particularly in these first few days.

As a special request, ask God to provide for Ray and Sue Bohlin.  For years they have taught faithfully at the Minsk Bible College. They are scheduled to come over in March, but are having a hard time raising support.

 

BELARUS JOURNAL 1.30.12

ON OUR WAY

Today, my brother Eric and I are traveling to Belarus for SEE Global.  SEE Global is a mission organization formed in 2010 by Sergei Lukyanov, a church planter and former Director of the Minsk Bible College and myself in cooperation with churches throughout the United States.

Sergei and I worked together for several years on developing ways to Support, Encourage and Equip pastors in Belarus.  SEE Global provides the organizational structure for those activities.  SEE Global ministries include:

  • The Minsk Bible College – a one year Bible training program
  • A continuing education program for pastors
  • An annual retreat for Pastors and their wives
  • Regional conferences for church leaders
  • Encouraging sister-church relationships between churches in the United States and Belarus
  • The ‘Apostles Project’, which challenges larger churches in Belarus to support struggling church plants

The teaching and training ministries of SEE Global are almost evenly conducted by pastors from Belarus and the United States.

My class last year ended with a display of Belarusian enthusiasm

Our schedule over the next two weeks will be full. Eric will be teaching the book of Romans at the Minsk Bible College. I will be teaching the continuing education course.  On the weekends both of us will lead conferences and preach in churches.  We will also look for as many opportunities as possible to spend time with pastors.

I have been coming to Belarus for 14 years and have made many deep friendships, so for me returning to Belarus has a sense of homecoming. This is Eric’s first trip to Belarus. He is an excellent teacher with far more theological savvy than me, so the Belarusian believers will appreciate his ministry to them.  Continue reading

BE AMAZED and AT REST

Wired.com used the following illustration to help us picture the size of the observable universe. It’s big, huge, immense, gargantuan and any other word you want to throw out there. But in the end, we simply cannot wrap our mind around its size.

“Place a penny down in front of you. If our sun were the size of that penny, the nearest star would be 350 miles away.”

Wow!  If the sun was a penny in my front yard, the nearest star would be located in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Raleigh, North Carolina; or Portland, Maine.

Here is a more amazing thought: God created the universe by simply calling it into existence. Genesis 1:16 gives us the biblical record of this event.

“Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.”

I love the way the verse ends, “He made the stars also.” After creating the earth, sun and moon, God also made all the stars – not a big deal. And for God it really wasn’t! He willed it to happen, and in that moment they were all there.

Be amazed at God

Let the world be captivated by reality TV stars and who has the biggest house in the neighborhood; while we are captivated by thoughts of God who is ever amazing!

Rest in God

Anyone who can create a universe that big, can also take care of you and everything that concerns you!

SOME RUSSIAN WISDOM

He who likes skiing downhill, must enjoy climbing uphill

This is a Russian saying I recently heard quoted by a Belarusian church planter supported through SEE Global.

In applying this saying to life, I think all of us enjoy skiing downhill more than walking uphill. In other words we enjoy life when it is pleasant and the things we enjoy come quickly. However, before that can happen, one must climb uphill.

Of course in modern times that Russian proverb has been messed up a little bit by ski lifts. However, you get the point. We have to be willing to work and give effort if we want to see fruitfulness come from our life.

As Christians we can say that the consistency of submission to God, and the disciplines of a godly life are necessary if we want to have the joy of skiing downhill. These disciplines include reading and acting upon God’s Word, prayerfulness, involvement in our church, serving those God has put in our life, and anything else that helps us put God’s will above our own.

Yet, many Christians want a life of perpetually skiing downhill without the climb of daily committing ourselves to serving God. Then they wonder why there is no downward hill for their skis. Their life just sits there without progress, like a skier on a Kansas plain.

There is a reason we can take joy in the climb of living in a way that consistently puts God first.  It is the very best way to have a fruitful life; and it is the only way to have a life that counts for eternity.

 

CHERISHING ALL THAT GOD GIVES

Guest Blogger:  Debbie Huber

Two weeks ago I un-decorated our Christmas tree.  I look forward to decorating the tree in early December and appreciate its beauty everyday it is up!  Our family collects “vintage” and old-fashioned ornaments.  We have old ornaments handed down from family members, ones purchased at antique stores or yard sales, gifts from others, and even a hand-made one or two.  Conversely, taking them off the tree is one of my least favorite and sad chores of the year.  When I know it is time for the tree to come down I begin to dread the un-decorating.

This year as I began to take each ornament off one by one, I found myself examining each one, reminiscing about where and when I got it.  I thought about the people who gave me some as gifts. I remembered how old my children were when I received the ornament.  I turned them over in my hands studying the individual beauty of each one.  As I cherished and carefully wrapped each one to put it away, I suddenly realized that I was enjoying the job that I had been dreading!

Many of our days consist of activities that we dread, either because they are mundane and tedious, difficult, or unrewarding.  We go through the motions, completing them because we have to, but showing no thought of God in the midst of them.

How do you approach the events of everyday?  Do you remember the one who gave you these moments, the one who created these interactions?  Do you cherish that God wants you to use these tasks for His glory?

Just as cherishing each ornament changed my whole attitude towards un-decorating the Christmas tree, cherishing each moment in your day as given by God will change your focus from the drudgery to the joy of being a child of God!

How much do you cherish your salvation?  Do you appreciate what you were rescued from?  Are you amazed that God opened your heart to see that you were lost in your sins and that Jesus paid for you by His death on the cross?  There was nothing we could do on our own, but God loves us so much that even when we had no thoughts of Him, He came to us and rescued us!

How thankful are you for your spouse?  Do you thank God for very specific things about him?  Do you tell your spouse that you are thankful for these things? A regular habit of being specific in thankful prayer for your spouse will help us to grow in our appreciation for them and the little things that seem to bother us will become even more insignificant.

When we approach the mundane of the day, do it with thoughts of praise and thankfulness to God!  The more we focus on thankfulness and appreciation for even the small things in our day it can increase our appreciation and love for our God and we can begin to cherish every moment as God-given.

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 1.23.12

“Learn to fear our sin” Acts 5:1-11

1.  What was Ananias sin?

There was no sin in keeping part of his profit (v4); his sin was hypocrisy, motivated by pride and greed

2.  This sin was serious, because it was a sin against God (vs 3-4)

Romans 11 tells us all things are from God and for Him, this means every sin touches God, He is the main character in every offense

Fear sin, because every sin involves God

3. Another serious matter about this sin was how it could have effected the church

The Acts church had been devoted to God, but now we see a different heart and path inserted into church life

Fear sin, because by nature it always spreads

4.  Certainly there were other sinners in the Acts church; why this judgment?

It emphasized a message the church needed to learn. God wants to use the church, but he hates sin. If we pursue fruitfulness for Christ Kingdom while holding to sin, it will not work

Jesus tells us in Luke 16:13 “a servant cannot serve two masters”

Fear sin, because God never takes sin lightly

5.  Critics say it was unfair to judge one couple

In reality, it is God’s grace that doesn’t destroy us all

If God judged every sin with death, there wouldn’t be any church on earth (or people)

If God never revealed his wrath, we would treat sin (more) lightly

Fear sin, because God’s attitude toward our sin is the same as it was to Ananias’ sin

6.  God’s judgment on Ananias and Sapphira produced fear (vs 5 & 11)

We are not to live afraid of God, 1 John 4:18 tells us “love casts out fear”.

However, we should fear living against him

  • Fear the way sin always corrupts and always spread
  • Fear the reality that God cannot accept sin
  • Fear the way sin pulls us away from God and into wasting our life

7.  God wants the church to fear its greatest danger

God did not want these believers to fear their weaknesses, because the Holy Spirit was sufficient

God did not want them to fear the growing persecution, for we find the church kept growing

But when sin appeared in the church, God wanted them to fear

8.  If sin takes root in the church, leaders need to confront it

This is a hard issue for pastors; it is unpleasant and people often get angry

Yet, if your pastors fail to confront sin, they fail you and they disobey God

Be thankful, when you see pastors taking sin seriously, because they are being faith to God’s call

In fact we all share in responsibility to protect each other by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:16)

9.  Some thoughts on how to respond to the one thing we should fear

We are in a constant battle for our heart, so take it seriously (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Hate your own sin most of all, it is easy to hate the sins of other people

Don’t give sin a place to settle, be merciless with temptation when it first arrives

Be connected with God’s people, so they can help watch your soul

Growing in love for God, is the best protection from loving

Is known sin in your heart?    Are you willing for God to reveal your sin to you?

 

CHURCH HISTORY MADE ACCESSIBLE

Would you like to learn more about the history of the church? I don’t mean of our local church, but THE Church. Reading about the lives of those who served before us can be very uplifting; and knowing more about the history of God’s work over the years is helpful in understanding what we believe, what others believe and why the church does what it does. God’s people have gone through struggles and have found God to be faithful for centuries, learning these stories is good fertilizer for our faith.

Erik Raymond highlights some very readable book series that are not intimidating.  These books are definitely worth a look. You may find out that reading on this topic excites you to learn more about things of which most Christians remain in the dark. Find it here

WE NEVER KNOW WHAT’S INSIDE THEM

Several months ago Pat Tedeschi, our pastor of outreach, shared a great idea for making a connection to share our faith (he got the idea from Jim Donahue, who is a pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA).

When a food server brings your meal at a restaurant and they ask if there is anything else they can do for you (or even if they don’t ask), tell them you are about to pray for your meal and ask if you could pray for them.  It is an easy way to open the door for more conversation; and they usually appreciate the request.

On two occasions in the first few times I tried this, I had a waitress ask me to pray for their upcoming trip to Las Vegas. You never know what request will come up. It is a bit of an adventure.

Yesterday, I was having breakfast in a diner with a man from our church. When I asked the waitress if we could pray for her,  emotion immediately came to her face, and she asked us to pray for her daughter. It was obvious that her heart was deeply troubled, but until we asked, her face did not show it; and we would have never known she was burdened. Later in the meal, she mentioned that her daughter had several serious problems.

I can still see the pain on her face. Up to that moment, she was just another person bustling at work around me – then in an instant I saw her as someone whose heart was crying for God’s grace, even if her mind does not not yet acknowledge it.

That waitress was not an unusual case or an exception in society. We constantly encounter people who look like business as usual on the outside, but within, they are in turmoil from sorrow, fear, brokenness and a host of other burdens. Sometimes it takes just a simple question and our expression of concern to bring that bubbling pain to the surface.

This encounter reminded me of several important realities:

1.  People desperately need Christ; people I know and people I meet

2.  When we show compassion and concern for people, a door is often opened to share Christ

3.  We have to slow down and notice the individuals who cross our path, if we are serious about reaching them

4.  The goal today is not my “to do” list, it is to love my Savior and to serve his agenda

5.  There is great joy in being used by God in someones life – even a little bit

6.  God has been so very good and gracious to me

7.  I am not as available to God as I should be, but every step I take is worth taking

May we all be reminded of these realities, and take steps based upon them to be used by Christ in the lives of people he has placed on our path

And if you think of it, ask God to touch Evelyn and her daughter in such a powerful way, that they will know Jesus is alive and sufficient for all they need

 

Woman meets child born out of rape 77 years ago

Minka Disbrow is 100 years old. In 1928 she and another girl were raped by three men. Minka gave birth to a daughter she named Betty Jane, who was given up for adoption at the urging of her parents.

Over the years Minka thought often about Betty Jane and what had come of her life.  Five years ago Minka asked God to make it possible to meet her daughter. Our faithful God answered that prayer when out of the blue she received an unexpected phone call. You can read the whole story in this article.

SERMON LEFTOVERS 1.09.12

“What do we have to give?” Acts 3

Every believer received great things to give

1. We have received Jesus!

  • v14 he is the Holy and Righteous One
  • v15 he is the Author of Life
  • v20 he is the Christ appointed for us

This Jesus has given us the privilege to use his name, for ourselves and to touch others

We do not offer an idea or a religious structure, we offer a person who lives to save

2. We have received grace, the ‘blotting out of our sin’ v19

Something blotted out is removed, never to be seen again

Sin was our biggest problem; it was unsolvable and hung threatening over us

Now we are clean and have an abundance of grace flowing through us to share in a hurting world

3. We have received healing, what vs 20-21call “times of refreshing”

We were crippled and blind, yet God himself is performing a work of perfect completion in us

We don’t experience the full restoration now, but it is fully true now

All who are in Christ “walk in newness life”, so we have much to give

Do we minimize the greatness of what we have received?

1. By devaluing it in our own experience

The beggar never experienced walking; what a tremendous life change

We have been made to see and walk. Do our hearts ‘leap and praise’?

We often act as if nothing special is going on in our life

2. By losing sight of the power in the gospel (Romans 1:16)

The gospel which changed our eternity is sufficient for any person, or need

We should have ongoing enthusiasm for the gospel which brings fresh grace daily

3. By focusing on what people think they need most, instead of what God says they need

We are to guide people away from popular answers, and to Christ

This is not an excuse to ignore other needs, but meeting physical needs is a doorway, it is never the answer

The world cannot give what those in Christ have

The beggar knew what he wanted from Peter – coins. He had no thought of asking for what Peter actually gave him

God wants to do greater works in people then they realize.

We are called to be mindful of what God has to give through us

To give what we have received (love, truth, grace, hope, forgiveness, Christ), is a great way to live!

How sad, if we who have the riches of Christ, give the world’s rags instead

All this applies to fellow believers as much as to unbelievers

Every Christian we know needs love, truth, grace and more Jesus

There are two responses to the message of Christ

1.  One is to deny and push away. Twice Peter said they had ‘denied’ Jesus

The consequences Bible gives are terrifying: it is our “destruction” v23

2.  The other response is to “repent” and believe vs 19-20

Repentance is not fixing our life or meeting God’s standard

It is turning to Him for forgiveness and then following Him

Christ brings the restoration, he makes us whole