Monthly Archives: February 2013





Last year R.C. Sproul Jr (son of the famous author and theologian) lost his wife, Denise, to the invasion of cancer. Afterward he wrote these thoughts which reflect the pain and hope believers experience in the death of those we love who are in Christ.

“Denise was carried by Jesus out of the valley of the shadow of death. She now dances with Him on the mountain of the lightness of life. She has, rightly, wisely, and through the very love of our Savior, left me. And I feel lost. By His grace, however, I have a path to follow. For His pierced feet leave bloody prints all the way out of the valley, all the way up the mountain. I will follow Him, who promised to be with me, even until the end of the age. He is a blessed man to dance with her. I am a blessed man to follow Him.”



“The Holy Spirit is present in us”    

“Do you not know – that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16

We should want to know all we can about the Holy Spirit

The intent of v16 is plain; believer, wake up to your Holy Spirit reality!

In my view, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the most under-appreciated aspect of our salvation

The Holy Spirit is part of the triune Godhead

This does not mean there are three Gods, or that one God wear three hats

Rather, there is one God who eternally exists as three fully equal persons

The Bible begins with God referring to Himself in the plural form (Genesis 1:1)

The Bible clearly identifies the separate persons of Trinity as in Isaiah 48:16-17

Our salvation is an inseparable interaction of the Trinity (Ephesians 2:18)

The role of the Spirit is to bring the works of the Son, from Father to us

“The work of the Spirit unites us to Christ, and then unfolds to us and in us the riches of the grace we inherit in Christ.” Sinclair Ferguson

The full work of the Holy Spirit began at Pentecost

Pentecost in Acts 2, was when the Holy Spirit founded the Church

In the Old Testament people were dependent on the Spirit as we are today

The OT often describes the Spirit coming ‘upon’ men, but the Spirit dwelling them was a rare occurrence

God promised a greater presence of the Spirit in his people

Jesus opened that door when he ascended and fulfilled his work

Now the Spirit would come down in a fresh way (Acts 1:4-8, 2:1-4)

Every believer has this Person who is God, living in them 

Acts used two words to describe the Spirit’s presence in us

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit

Pentecostals believe the baptism of the Spirit is a supplemental experience some believers have after their salvation

However, the only verse that explains Spirit baptism clearly states it is common to every believer

“In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Gks slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:13 

Spirit baptism is the moment of conversion, when the Spirit brings us into the body of Christ

The Filling of the Spirit

Being filled can happen many times; this word is used in two ways

At times the Holy Spirit enables a believer in unusual way as in Acts 4:31

But it primarily means the Holy Spirit has us fully as in Acts 6:3 

Why is the theology of the Holy Spirit important?

All that God is lives in every believer

This should amaze us and deeply impact how we face life 

Just as Christ did all that is necessary for our salvation, so the Spirit provides all that is necessary to live out our salvation

Jesus earthly ministry was carried out in his humanity via the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38)

Luke 4:1 he was filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit   

Luke 4:18 the Spirit anointed him to preach  

Luke 10:21 Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit   

Matthew 12:29 he cast out demons by the Spirit

Hebrews 9:14 through the Spirit he live a perfect life

John 5:12 Jesus said of himself; ‘The Son can do nothing of himself’

What an encouragement to know we serve God by the same enabling power as Jesus

If you’re trying to be sufficient for God – stop!  He is sufficient for you

These verses inform us about the true reasons for failing to follow God

We blame circumstances for sinful responses, yet the Spirit is in us

We blame our weaknesses for our lack of faithfulness, yet the Spirit is able

We even blame God for not ‘doing more’ to help us

God could not be more present in us

We could not have greater help

We fail to depend on the Spirit who has come to live in us

Closing observations

The Holy Spirit is for you

The Spirit of God is active in you

The works of the Spirit are beyond your perceptions

Don’t minimize His works to the pitiful size of our perceptions, instead, be freshly amazed:

“Do you not know – that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”




Prayer. We know how important it is.  When we go through sickness and difficulty we desire that others will pray for us and that God will hear our prayers.

But in the routine of everyday, we find it hard to be consistent, difficult to take the time to pray, and often rote in what we pray to God.
Often our prayer time can be like a To Do list for God:  Pray for family, health, finances, good weather.   But we know that something is missing from those prayers.

After hearing Kyle recommend the book, “The Praying Life” by Paul Miller, for a while now, I finally read it. I highly recommend that you read this book. It is an easy-to-read, engaging and challenging book filled with personal examples from the author’s family and life.  He emphasizes that prayer is not the center of the book, getting to know a person, God, is the center.

Paul Miller explains how we push prayer to the side to be something good but not essential to life.  After all we have other ways to fix things, like money and hard work. Prayer is good but doesn’t really connect or seem that essential.

We struggle with prayer because we are focusing on the prayer itself instead of our God!  Miller says that prayer is “simply the medium through which we experience and connect with God. “ It is an intimate connection where the relationship and love for God grows.

He writes, “We don’t need a praying life because that is our duty. That would wear thin quickly.  We need time to be with our father every day, because every day our hearts and the hearts of those around us are overgrown with weeds. We need to reflect on our lives and engage God with the condition of our souls and the souls He has entrusted to our care or put in our paths.”

Greentree Church women have a unique opportunity this year for our annual Spring Retreat. The author of this book has an organization called “seeJesus” that provides Praying Life Seminars based on the book, “A Praying Life”.  We are privileged to have their Director of Women’s Ministries, Julie Courtney, present the seminar at this year’s retreat.

We all get frustrated with our inconsistencies and struggles with prayer.  At the retreat we will look at Jesus’ powerful, yet simple teachings on prayer and practice becoming child-like, patterning after Jesus’ own teaching and style of praying.  We will learn to ask our Father anything – with eyes wide open to the story he is creating in our lives.

The sad reality is that the topic of prayer does not seem as exciting as some other retreat topics, but there are few other topics as important.  We have a God who, because of His great love for us, desires that we grow in our intimacy with Him.  I am strongly encouraging the women of our church to do all you can to attend this retreat.  And invite a friend!



ordinary life

I think every Christian at some point, if not regularly, wants to accomplish BIG things for God. We would like to a person whose life encourages others and has an impact that lasts longer than a hand print in water. Perhaps you have sprinted out in an attempt to be that person and experience those accomplishments. But like a News Resolution jogger, you were quickly gasping for air at the end of the block and you gave up the run before it really got started.

Have you considered being ordinary for God? It may not make the headlines, but is that what God really is looking for from us? Being ordinary can be a good thing – at least it is when you define it like Steve Altrogge does in this blog article entitled “Let’s Be Crazy Ordinary This Year!”

So as people around you harbor grandiose dreams of great things, let us be people who fulfill ordinary things for a really great God!



One of the things I brought home from Belarus was a cold. It was a typical cold mixed with jet lag. The symptoms included a sore throat, congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing and a general feeling of blah.

The worst part was feeling tired! I was always tired, no matter how much I slept, I felt tired. This was not a sleepy tired or an I’ve-worked-too-hard tired. This was an exhaustion from the inside out. Every time I woke up from sleep, I wanted to sleep some more

It was on one of those days after I had slept for 10 hours and lay in bed enjoying a post sleeping nap, that I was reminded of God’s glorious promise to give us eternal rest

This is not the rest of sleep that our bodies so often long for, it is the rest that our souls crave, yet have never known

In Genesis chapter one, we are told that God rested on the seventh day. God did not need rest from the fatigue of His creation labors; rather it was the rest of completion. God had created a perfect world and He rested in that there was nothing to improve.

The Bible tells us in Hebrews chapter 4 that a similar rest is waiting for us. It is the rest of our being completed in Christ. Oh, we will have much to do for all eternity, but having to become godly will not be one of them.

Think of the grandeur of this rest:

No struggle with a sinful nature

No discouragement from another failure

No wrestling with fear and uncertainty

No daily battles against the evil one

No being battered by a harsh world

No fights, no arguments, no discord, no slander, no heartbreak, no disturbances of the peace!

In its place will be the rest of all things being in submission to God and in harmony with each other; the rest of abiding love between each other and for God. It will be the rest of being whole.

The Bible says in this life all creation groans. Those without Christ groan in the despair of a brokenness. The people of God also groan, but it is with expectation, like a pregnant woman giving birth. The groans are real, but a wondrous joy will soon replace them.

So although this is not the time of our rest, we can have peace, because the rest of eternity is getting nearer every day!



My last day in Belarus; tomorrow doesn’t count because I leave before the roosters wake up. I slept in, finished off my eggs and bread for a hearty breakfast, but then wasn’t sure what to do with myself. It’s too early to pack and although I could start on work I have waiting at home – the motivation was hiding from me. I found it hard for my mind to settle. It was a nebulous place of no longer feeling I was part of one place, but not yet being able to put my feet down in the other.

I started collecting odds and ends of extra stuff I could leave behind; paper napkins, a 5 liter water bottle and some leftover food. I walked into the male dorm for the first time. Voices were coming out of a room that ended up being the kitchen where I found a surprised Maxim and Nicolai. Max speaks halting, but good English, so I explained these things were for the Bible College office and students.

I inquired about yesterday’s test. Nicolai had a big smile as he said with a heavy accent “100%”. It appears they all did well. Max then asked if he could take some of the things I brought to the orphanage ministry he has worked served for the last four years. As he talked about the children, his eyes lit up and enthusiasm was written across his face. Once again these students have lifted my heart.

When I went back to my apartment, I saw other unopened items I was storing in my Belarus suitcase until next year. “What am I doing holding on to any of this!” was the thought that screamed in my head. I gathered everything I could find to give away. Along with food, I had a sweater and several gifts people have given me, including Raisa’s handmade socks. I have some at home and the orphans surely need all this far more than me. Maxim’s eyes were big and filled with gratitude as I returned with my meager treasure of stuff.

I was glad to be a small help to Maxim, but it also made me long to know each of the students better. Teaching them was a great privilege and a lot of fun – but getting to know them beyond the classroom was a failure I want to fix.

This afternoon was the meat of my day. Sergei, Anatoly and I stretched lunch across the afternoon as we discussed ministry plans for SEE Global. We began at a sushi restaurant on the second floor of the nearby Hippo Market. This was Minsk’s first SuperWalmart styled store. The three of us talked about personal matters for awhile before moving onto serious discussion.

At the end of our meal we had to move to another restaurant when I discovered they served tea but not coffee. It was there we asked Anatoly to give us his impressions from working for SEE Global over the last six months. He responded with what he called his “uncombed thoughts”. He thoroughly enjoys working with the SEE Global staff team and he is excited about the organized way in which our ministries are being carried out.

One of Anatoly’s responsibilities is to translate the quarterly ministry reports we receive from pastors supported through SEE Global. He is often brought to tears as he reads them. He commented that he never wants to get so used to reading them that it becomes like reading a newspaper. He has appreciated traveling with me and other SEE Global teachers to visit pastors in difficult places. It has given him a greater understanding of what other pastors go through in his own country.

 I shared with Anatoly how thrilled I am to have him on our staff. He is a great asset as a translator, pastor and teacher. God has given us an outstanding team of people who love Him and work together graciously in order to serve the church.

My time in Belarus was punctuated by one last visitor. Matt, the young man from Belarus who worked in the United States and was part of our church 18 months ago stopped in to see me. I helped him catch up on what is happening at Greentree and in the lives of the people he knows from our church. He sends his greetings to all of you!

Finally it was time to pack, finish today’s blog and bring an end to my 18th visit to Belarus. God has added immensely to my life by connecting my heart with His people in Belarus. Then He connected our church with the church in Belarus. Then He raised up SEE Global to allow an expanded ministry between over a hundred churches in Belarus and a few dozen of churches in the United States. Often I have to say Wow inside!

All of this is His grace for I am unworthy and insufficient of the smallest part. Yet He has filled my heart for it all and much more beyond. My prayers for the work of God in and through Belarus are big. Please pray for Belarus and the spread of the gospel. Ask God to strengthen churches and add whole families to them. Pray for the encouragement of faithful pastors and their families whose daily lives involve struggle and sacrifice.

For those of you who come to Belarus and serve the gospel here via SEE Global or with our church ministry teams – thank you for the sacrifice, love and commitment you have given. It has made its mark in the hearts of many who in turn are influencing others.

How worthy is the name of our God to be praised for the work He is doing through the sacrifice of His Son for us. How gracious of God to use us in these marvelous things. May the eternal value of them always be fresh in our hearts, so that He always receives our faithfulness!

Thank you – THANK YOU for being part of these precious days I have had with these beloved people.


Postscript:  It is early in the morning on Wednesday and I am in Frankfurt airport. Internet was not available last night so I am now posting the final entry of my 2013 Belarus Journal. More importantly – I am on my way home and will be able to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my sweetheart. See you soon my wonderful wife!


The guy’s dorm is right above me so I hear a lot of banging noises at night, I imagine being under the girls dorm would be quieter. Sixteen young men or women live on each dorm floor. Michael Bishko is among the young men up there and I enjoy giving him a hard time about the noise. Last night I heard a loud burst of laughter and immediately recognized it as belonging to Vasa.

I especially missed being with the class, they took the test for my Romans course today. I wanted to stop by this morning, but I had to leave before they assembled. Even the snowman they created outside my window has been demolished. All that remains is a mash of snow. Sigh.

Most of today was taken up visiting Vasily and Veronica Chizhikov in Vileika to the northwest. Vasily had been my student at the Bible College and them again for the last three years in my continuing education course at the seminary which meets across the hall from the Bible College class.

The unexpected part of the trip was my driver. Last week Viktar Krutsko asked about my upcoming plans, when I mentioned today’s trip his eyes lit up – Vileika is where he grew up. Viktar arranged it with Sergei to take me, so I had the President of the Union of Baptist Churches in Belarus (and all Eurasia) as my driver, guide and translator.

Conversation with Viktar was enjoyable and interesting. He has a wealth of knowledge about the church in Belarus over the past century. I asked many questions about the church during Soviet days and in the years since the Soviet Union broke apart enabling Belarus to become an independent nation once again.

Vileika is a town of 20,000. Viktar lived in a tiny village of 200 people a couple kilometers away. We drove through his old village. The homes were all old style wood cottages, somewhat like log cabins made with squared off beams instead of logs. Many of them were never painted. He pointed out the ancient and decrepit building that used to be a church and was where he was married. Further on we saw the building where he accepted Christ during a song service.

When we reached the church building in Vileika, Vasily, Veronica and another woman were waiting for us. Vasily became the pastor the same day he graduated from the Bible College in May 2009. There were two people at the church then, it has increased to five. It has not been an easy path, but Vasily said it has been a good ministry classroom for him.

Before long I had a wonderful surprise when Alexander Shtanko came in with his wife and a woman from his church named Zhenna. Alexander is a good friend who has a church in Ashmany which is 50 miles away near the Lithuanian border.  I did not know that his church has been working with Vasily as a support and encouragement. I did not think I would see Alexander on this trip so this was a treat.

Vasily asked me what Greentree was emphasizing at this time in the life of our church – the answer was membership and small groups. I was then invited to share a message from Scripture with them. In the slightly panicked rush of thoughts brought on by that question, I settled on Philippians 1 which I have preached a couple times on this trip. I was able to walk through the passage with them and draw out the main thoughts of that sermon. When I was finished, Viktar took Vasily’s guitar and sang for us. I had not known that Viktar sang or played an instrument.

The greatest encouragement to me in our time together was Zhenna reminding me that she faithfully prays for my children. Alexander had told me about this a couple years ago and to be honest I had forgotten it. To meet Zhenna and hear her share with me about her prayers was as I told her the most precious gift she could give me! How wonderful it is to be with God’s people in far places and find out how connected we are in Christ; and then experience the strong bonds of love that immediately reach out to one another. This reality has been a prominent feature throughout this time in Belarus.

Please pray for Zhenna’s own three daughters who are not living for Christ.

In the evening Anatoly took me to Borisov to meet with the leadership of the church. Sergei Zhukovski wanted me to talk with them about how the team can grow in unity and godliness as they work together. This request came out of my time with the SEE Global leadership team on my first full day in Belarus two weeks ago.

As expected, we sat around drinking tea and eating cookies. Sergei asked me to address the men as I wanted on the topic of how we exercise leadership within the church. To be honest I feel as though I did this poorly. I knew the primary points I wanted to make, but instead of cohesiveness they heard me ramble. I was glad to get to the Q and A portion. At least then I felt I was being specific in what I had to say to their questions.

Early on it was hard to read the group to know how they were processing what I shared, but they seemed to be positive and encouraged when we had finished. Sergei himself was gracious and asked that we continue this discussion on my next visit. He also asked me to warmly greet the people of Greentree on his behalf.

Tomorrow is my last day in Belarus; it will be a low key day of conversation about SEE Global with Sergei and Anatoly. Pray for our wisdom in these conversations. And pray for the men in the Borisov Church that God will continue to bind them to each other and to Him.

I am thankful for your willingness to prayerfully stick with me on this trip. That support is an immense help to me and all that takes place while I am here.



The lack of a translator caught up to us a little this morning. We communicated with our limited vocabulary, raised voices and pantomime.  When those didn’t work we waved our hands over the matter and gave up. It is snowing gently, Belarus doesn’t get many heavy storms, but a gentle snowfall does add up after a few days.

The service in Gatovo is not until noon – I am not used to having lots of free time on a Sunday morning. I came down early when Marina was making plates of sliced bread, meat and cheese which is a typical Belarusian breakfast. I ate until satisfied, reviewed my sermon and went back upstairs to read. After a couple hours Vladimir came in and told me it was time for breakfast. We already had breakfast I protested. That argument didn’t work so it was back downstairs where Luda had made an omelet AND a breakfast quesadilla. I felt like a Hobbit having “second breakfast”.

Once we arrived at church, there was a mix of old and new. There were familiar faces I have known since my first visit and there was a row of young visitors. These were friends of a young man named Sasha who is new himself and became a member a few weeks ago.

Raisa greeted me on the back row with two pairs of hand knit wool socks; one pair for me and one for Jeff Galupo. She has not missed providing these since I visited her home years back. A surprise was seeing Annya, a young woman from Gatovo who married and moved to Ukraine. She was here for a visit. I made point of greeting Tanya, a long time member, whose husband Anatoly died unexpectedly in December.

I have developed the practice of providing my own lyrics while I am in worship where the language and songs are unknown to me. I don’t want to stand by while others worship. I have become better at this practice and feel I am participating fully. My sermon was from Matthew 9:35-38 on the theme “The people around us need God to work through us”. The people of our sister church are good listeners. It is a joy to preach for them.

During the announcements afterward, Anatoly described our visit to the Silivonets yesterday and the idea of having men from the church visit and fellowship with isolated pastors. As people shared testimonies and prayer requests, Raisa mentioned that she recently suiffered a second stroke, but she is trusting God even if He takes her life. Please pray for Raisa and for Tanya as well, the sorrow is still fresh from the loss of her husband. Also pray that there will be a movement among churches to encourage one another.

The closing song featured something new, Sasha who has been in the church a couple years played the accordion with the worship team. It was an interesting addition.

The afternoon was spent in the wonderful company of the extended Bukanov and Chukhalionak families. We spent hours eating and talking. This was our final time together which made it hard to end. When I arrive in Gatovo at the beginning of a trip it seems as if I was here a few months ago, but when I am leaving to say I will see you in a year seems like a very long time.

We had a time of prayer together before Anatoly and Annya took me to the seminary apartment. We all praised God for this friendship and the fruit it has borne in our lives – may it continue long and fruitfully even into our children’s lives!

A few minutes after Anatoly left he called to say he ran into Andrei Grushin and could they come by to see me. Andrei was pastor in a blue collar town a couple hours from Minsk. It was a hard place for him because the people took traditionalism to an extreme degree. He is a gentle man and it beat him down emotionally and physically. Last year he moved to Minsk and works with the English ministry and with a large church in Minsk. I could see he was content.

One of the blessings of having many years of coming to Belarus under my belt is the number of relationships which have been establish throughout the country. On each visit there are surprise meetings and renewed connections.

After Andrei left, the apartment felt empty. It only took a couple days at the Bukanovs to have that effect. I am also feeling my time in Belarus comeing to a close. I have a couple more days, but the excitement of having many ministry opportunities ahead is almost over and the sadness of leaving is growing.

The schedule for the final two days is not completely clear; pray that God will help me to use each day well.



Luda sent us on the road this morning with a hearty breakfast under our expanding belts. A few inches of snowfall last night slowed us down on what was already a long drive. It took four hours to reach Ivanova in western Belarus. When you get outside of Minsk, Belarus is primarily forest and farmland. The predominant trees are evergreen and white birch. Our drive kept the beautiful scenery before us of trees artfully painted with fresh snow.

We were guests of Sergei and Irina Silivonets, who were in the same Bible College class as Maxim and Dinah in Borisov. The Silivonets have gone out of their way to keep in touch with me through the years. They have visited me in Minsk and Sergei follows my blog via translation software. We have also connected with them at SEE Global’s retreat for pastors and their wives.

Debbie and I have a soft spot in our hearts for this couple and it was a joy to be in their home for the first time. Sergei was wearing a big smile and Irina who is an exuberant contrast to Sergei’s quietness welcomed me with the kind of hug reserved for long lost friends. As expected, we received generous hospitality for our stomachs and our souls. Throughout our stay their 3 boys, Andre, Daniel and Ivan wove their way around our legs, laps and where else they could plop themselves.

As we began to exchange family and ministry information Sergei brought up a few theological questions. He is teaching Romans in the church Bible study and wanted my thoughts on a couple passages. Sergei’s church like so many others is small and struggling. The people are mostly older and female. As soon as they gain a new member, they lose an older one to death.

He meets with a few pastors in his region on occasion, but that cannot fulfill their need and desire to share life with committed believers where they live. When I asked what discourages him the most, Sergei answered, people’s indifference. Unbelievers simple don’t care about spiritual matters and to a lesser degree church members can be comfortable with conducting church as it has always been.

Sergei’s dream is not extravagant. He asks God to send 2 committed families to share ministry with him; families that would be a source of fellowship and who could take on responsibilities in church life. Would you please pray for this?

I also ask you to pray for their son Ivan, who is 18 months and has developmental problems. His muscle tone has always been behind schedule and he still does not talk. However, he is a happy little guy. Irina suffers from a nagging cough especially during the humidity of summer. Doctors cannot find the cause, but it hangs on.

The Silivonets moved into a new apartment building last year for which they are grateful. Their car is another matter. Like many Belarusians who do have cars, it is an around town vehicle that is not trusted for long trips. Recently he had a flat tire, as he was putting on the spare the jack went through the floor of the car! Yet, for all their challenges in life and ministry, we heard no hint of complaint or self-pity.

An area of encouragement for Sergei has been the opportunity to teach a course at the Bible College the past two years. Sergei and Andrei Malets, who is Dean of the Bible College, attended seminary together and are close friends. Half of the curriculum at the Bible College is taught by Belarusian pastors, I am glad to know Sergei is part of that team and is getting more connected with SEE Global.

We drove over to tour the small old home that was transformed into their church. Then back to their flat for more Slavic hospitality of tea, coffee and cake. Eventually we had to begin our long trek back to Mikhanovichi. In the car Anatoly talked about having some of the maturing young men from their church visit these isolated pastors for a day or two in order to encourage them in fellowship. It would also be a help the young men who make the trip. I think it is an excellent idea. Perhaps we can expand the idea among the other pastors on the SEE Global leadership team.

Anatoly headed off to greet his own family once we reached Vladimir’s house which meant we were without a translator for the evening. I didn’t mind at all, I settled into the joy of simply watching and listening to the interaction of a family I so dearly love.

The Bukanov’s three grandchildren were present with Marina their mom who is Bukanov’s oldest daughter. The children noisily tore through the house from room to room upstairs and down with all the carefree abandon of children at Grandma’s house. I have not seen them for a couple years so I took pleasure in watching them in their new stage of maturity. They have no idea I have prayed for them almost every day of their lives. To sit and watch them was a treat for me.

This home has long been one of my favorite places in the world to be. Yulia, the younger daughter, and her husband Oleg (who grew up in the church) also live with her parents. Tonight it was just me and the family. We had a delicious dinner and then hung out in the relaxation of a friendship that didn’t need to entertain or even have conversation. It was an evening of deeply felt contentment.