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3M: Just Read It

This is my fourth day being home sick.  It has allowed me to watch a couple of movies, “The Impossible” and a Tyler Perry movie (which wasn’t nearly as funny as the one I watched in Dnipropetrovsk).  I don’t watch a lot of movies as I think most of them are not well done and you invest a couple of hours in them.  The first movie is good, the second one not so good.

The other thing being home has allowed me to do is catch up on some reading.  I try to read a couple of blogs from time to time just to stay informed on what is going on within the SBC or with colleagues.  The latter is always much more insightful, imho.

I was reading some comments from one blog post, where one commentator was advocating that it is not good to read opposing views.  It reminded me of a class I taught in Kazakhstan a number of years ago.  I was teaching students on how to read for research papers and other documents that they would be required to do while studying at the Bible Institute.

I shared with them a story about me while I was studying at seminary and about a particular topic I was to write.  I knew very well where I stood on the subject, however, I felt it was imperative to learn why the other side felt the way they did.  My eyes were really opened to some interestingly wild thinking and caused me to stand even firmer on my position.  However, had I not read their position, I might not have been fully enlightened.

This story caused us to spend the next hour debating this idea.  Most of the students did not see my point of view nor did they agree with me.  It wasn’t my main purpose getting them to agree with me, but I was definitely disturbed that they only wanted to read from their position.  I tried to reason with them to no avail.

I live in a country where “propaganda” is still the norm.  Many people will accept a position just because it seems like the majority of people hold that same position.  But I also wonder about the US.  I see more and more “misinformation,” “distorting the truth” and complete lies being propagated in social media today.

Usually, if I see something that really disturbs me, I can spend a minute or two checking out the facts.  I just wish more people did this.  That is why I try to be very careful about the things I re-post on my social media sites.  It doesn’t mean that I won’t make a mistake, but I will I am sure.

I guess the thing I wish more people would do is to read and think about what they are saying and doing.  In the end, we will be better educated to speak to the facts and spend less time sending out false information.

3M: Can’t hear for all the noise

After several months of pain in my left elbow, finally, I went to the doctor two weeks ago.  After doing some preliminary strength tests, he suggested that I have an MRI done.  I agreed and the receptionist at the clinic called and made the appointment.

That MRI was scheduled for today at 12 noon and so I showed up at the clinic a little before 12.  I knew that the diagnostic center was somewhere near the clinic and assumed that we would walk there.  The person who accompanied me walked outside and walked over to one of their ambulances and opened the door for me to get in.  I was somewhat shocked and couldn’t help but laugh as I sat down.

It took all of 3 minutes to drive there and we go out and walked inside the center.  Now, remember, I am doing all this in Russian and the lady asked me several questions and one of them was about implants.  I heard the question but didn’t remember that I have two implants in my mouth until sometime later!

The technician had me empty my pockets and lay down.  She situated my arm so the machine could do its job and rolled me under the machine.  She told me to lay still for 35 minutes!  For some reason, as soon as the machine started making all its noise, my heart rate accelerated.  With each change in the sound, I thought, this will be the last one.

Now, some of you may not know this, but I have ringing in my left ear (since 2005) and that clanging noise of the machine made it really difficult to lay still. Then, I remembered the question, “Do you have any implants?”  Well, it was then that I remembered I had two of them and I began to worry that the machine would pull my two implants right out of my mouth (maybe too many episodes of House?).

I was getting really uncomfortable in the machine and then I just started to pray.  My mouth was dry, my arm was hurting from the position she had to put it in so that they could do the MRI, so I prayed.  Through all the noise around me, a peace came upon me.  My heart rate came down, and before long she came into the room and got me out of the machine.

While I might not have been able to hear for all the noise, I take great comfort in knowing my God heard me, and brought me peace at the right time.


3M: Thirsting

Yesterday, our church planting group met for a time of worship.  I thoroughly enjoyed singing praise songs and hearing a great word from Psalm 63: O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you.

David wrote this Psalm during a dark time of fleeing his enemy.  While it was written during such a time, David brings great hope for living with a future confident in knowing God.

Our leader, Sergei, shared 3 truths why people don’t thirst for God.  The first reason could be that a person doesn’t have a regenerated heart.  Secondly, sin in a believer’s life.  Sin closes our eyes to the truth.  Our priorities change and one may not have a desire to be with other believers.  Lastly, sometimes a person doesn’t see the value of thirsting for God.

My heart was greatly challenged by Sergei’s words.  I pray that our group will thirst after God’s heart for the center of Donetsk.  I pray that we will be stirred to move out of our complacency.  I pray we will see what God values in His creation.  Lord, help me thirst for what is important to You.

3M: Do not fear

On Sunday, September 30, I had the privilege to attend New Hope Church in Kharkov.  It is an English speaking congregation full of students from around the globe who study in Kharkov.

It was great to hear a sermon in English by the pastor, who is Ukrainian.  He preached from Psalm 23:1-4 and provided me with some new insight into a passage that is often preached at funerals, but is useful in everyday life.

Recently, I have had numerous conversations with friends and acquaintances about the future.  Many young people in Ukraine do not see a future here.  They talk about corruption, the lack of opportunities to make real money, and a government that doesn’t care about them.

Ultimately, I think many of them are fearful since there doesn’t appear to be any change in the situation in Ukraine.  Just last week I met with a young man that spent the summer in America participating in the Work and Travel program.  I think he suffered some culture shock coming back to Donetsk after spending 3 months in Texas and New York.

In this text, we see that just as a shepherd cares for his sheep, so the Lord will care for his people, providing for their needs, guiding them, and protecting them.  Pastor V shared the story of how a shepherd would dam up a section of a river or running water so that the sheep could drink as they are afraid of running water.  That picture of care and love in the midst of fear is also true of our Lord.

Pastor V also shared a great illustration of the “valley of the shadow of death” of the uncertainties that lie in wait for us.  Those valleys are certain to come, but we do not need to fear them, for as David wrote in this Psalm, “you (Lord) are with me.”

It is amazing the number of times we read in the Bible that the Lord will be with us.  Throughout the Old Testament and concluding with Jesus’ last words, we are promised that He will always be with us.  Great comfort in times of need.  Whatever obstacles we may be facing today, surely, we need not fear as God is with us.

3M: The Harvest

Fall (or autumn if you are old school) is a wonderful season in Ukrainian churches.  Many evangelical churches celebrate Harvest Day by decorating their altars with those things which people harvested from their gardens.  Then, the church will have an extended morning service which includes numerous sermons, poems, songs by all age groups.  After the service, some of the churches provide some type of food for those in attendance.

Yesterday, Sunday, September 23, I preached in a church that had celebrated a few weeks prior, but I still wanted to share some thoughts from Matt 9:35-38     “And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (ESV)

There were 4 things that jumped out to me: teaching, compassion, pray, send out.  Jesus taught every place he went.  A great model for us as well.  We need to be teaching and proclaiming the gospel wherever we go.  However, all too often, since we were not taught to do this, we don’t do this.

Secondly, Jesus had compassion.  If only I could count the times the Lord has taught me just this year concerning having compassion.  Jesus said there were 2 great commandments: Love God, love others.  I cannot love others unless my heart is filled with love for God.  I must continuously pray for the Lord to fill my heart for love of God and others.

Thirdly, pray.  Another lesson the Lord is teaching me this year.  I need to spend much more time than I do on prayer.  I need to pray for my city more, pray for my neighbors more, pray for my family and friends more.  I think you get the picture.  However, in this occasion, Jesus told the disciples to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest.  I need to cry out to God concerning the city in which I live.  I need to pray earnestly to God for a great harvest to come.

Lastly, send out.  I need to seek for God to send out laborers unto the fields that are whitened to harvest.  What I understand from this verse is that the harvest is already ready.  We just need to pray for the laborers to go to the field.  Interesting, isn’t it.  That God has already prepared the field, it is ready for harvest, we just need laborers to go to the field.

After I preached yesterday, one young brother asked how he can go if he works 12-13 hours a day at his job, just so that he can provide for his wife and 2 children.  I mentioned that his field for now is where he works.  He needs to share often with those he works with and be the example of Christ in their lives.

What about me?  After preaching this and hearing this question from one brother, I understand that I must be more intentional with those who live around me, in the shops where I buy things, and in the coffee shops where I meet friends.  Changing habits are hard, but not impossible. Let’s be the example of Christ wherever he takes us today and every day.

3M: Sleepless, but not in Seattle

Sunday night I had a difficult time going to sleep.  Usually, I enjoy taking naps on Sunday afternoons, however, yesterday I was unable to sleep.  Then, when I finally went to bed, there was too many thoughts going on for me to sleep.

So, I got up and read the Bible some, and prayed.  The Lord has burdened my heart about a matter and I truly need to hear from Him concerning this matter.  I find myself in that proverbial rock and a hard place.

While I can’t go into too much detail yet, I am coming to a realization of something I have probably known in my heart for some time.  However, that doesn’t make the decision or the situation any easier. I am realizing that being a leader is “hard work” and you need to make sure that you make the right decisions since other people are involved.

One of my weaknesses is that I like to please people.  Not out of desiring their approval or love (at least I don’t think so!).  So, too often, I will allow myself to be put in a position that I find myself in today. I will let a situation or issue drag on, probably longer than it needs or should.  I like to think of it as a type of long suffering 🙂

Thus, I found myself unable to sleep on Sunday night.  Wrestling with God, but knowing that He is still in control, He still loves me and He is more than able to carry me through this situation.


3M: Knowing when to speak or when to remain silent

Recently I finished reading Jeremiah and Lamentations and now reading Ezekiel.  I have read the stories of how God used Jeremiah to be the voice to the Israelites, delivering difficult news to those hearing it.

Last Friday I was discussing an issue with a brother in Christ.  We have a common friend that is involved in an unhealthy relationship for a believer.  I shared with this brother that at times we need to be the voice to share with those in situations such as this brother.

Are those conversations easy?  Of course not.  How was Jeremiah received?  How will we be received?  Truly, it depends on our relationship with the person we want to talk with.

I remember being in a relationship with a woman 20 years ago.  Eventually the Lord revealed to me that we were not to be married and I broke off the engagement.  Interesting that every one of my close friends had been praying for the Lord to reveal this to me.  I wish they would have been bold from the beginning to share their concerns because I can assure you it would have been easier to break off a relationship than and engagement.  After the healing had begun, I told one friend to NEVER hesitate to talk to me if he felt I was making a wrong decision.

Concerning the current situation, I believe the Lord gave me an opportunity to speak to this young man.  Did he receive the news?  He is a smart young man who has seen a lot in his young life.  He took my news well, and this is not the first time he has heard it from me.  He could just tell me to be quiet or say he doesn’t want to hear it.

I feel that every time I see him I need to shine light on his situation before he makes a decision that he can’t change easily or without a lot of hurt.  It does take wisdom in knowing when to speak or when to remain silent.  Also, there is a difference between truly being concerned and meddling.  You will have to discern the difference.  I care about this young man and desire for him to live a life worthy, so that is why I speak.

To balance out this debate, I have another young friend who made some unhealthy decisions during the summer.  I have talked to him about this, but know that he isn’t ready to “receive” what I have to say, so I am trying to be wise in how and when I talk to him.

Ultimately, I believe that the Lord will give us direction if we are willing to listen.


3M: Great is His Faithfulness

I just started reading through the book of Lamentations.  Today, as I began reading chapter 3, I was struck by how desperate the writer was in the first 20 verses.

Examples: he has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; besieged me; made to dwell in darkness.  Verse 16 really grabbed my attention: “He has made my teeth grind on gravel.”  Through these verses, one can get a clear picture of how the writer felt.  The picture drawn is not left to uncertainty as seen in verse 18: “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”

However, the mood changes in verse 21 as the writer states: “But this I call to mind, and therefor I have hope…”  Immediately, my mind perked up to the change in his spirit and made me long to see what was about to happen.

Then, verses 22-23 brings incredible hope to those finding themselves in seemingly hopeless situations.  “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  Wow, as I read these verses I wondered, if in my own life, I faced a similar situation, would I be able to say this?

Of course, I want to say yes.  I have faced some incredibly difficult things in my life, and was driven to my knees searching for answers.  And like the writer, I came out of the depths of those problems, seeing that the Lord’s hand was always right beside me. Truly, great is His Faithfulness.

3M: Be strong and courageous

I really enjoy visiting churches outside of Donetsk.  One of my goals for 2012 has been to spend at least one Sunday a month do just that.

Yesterday I had the great privilege of going to Dzerzhinsk.  More than 40,000 people consider it home and as I drove into the city there was a sign that proudly stated, :Dzerzhinsk: City of Miners.  I learned there are 6 working mines in the city.

I was able to find the church with some help from the locals who knew where the street was and then a lady walking on the street helped point me to the church.   Church leadership was waiting for me and we quickly discussed the order of the service and agreed to what would take place.

After I preached, the pastor preached from Joshua 1:6-9.  In these 4 verses the phrase “be strong and courageous” is repeated three times.  Joshua is one of my favorite Old Testament books and I love the concluding promise in verse 9: Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

More than three years ago, I did a short study on the promise often repeated in the Bible that God is with us.  I had mentioned this study and the promise during my sermon and then the pastor preached from Joshua where the Lord made the same promise to Joshua.  I love it when the Lord puts sermons together like He did yesterday.  It brought great encouragement to me.

After learning more about the church and the area surrounding, I realized that they are in the midst of great opportunities in their community.  As I left there, I reflected on the pastor’s sermon and prayed that they would be strong and courageous as they try to reach people with the gospel.

A week of celebrating 50 years of life! 31-40

It has been great to reflect on people, places and events that have impacted my life.  Here is 31-40…

31)  Work at Catholic Charities: outside of what I do today, working at CC was the second best job I ever had!  I got to work with refugees from around the world, teaching them English, preparing them for the GED, and helping them navigate the new world they lived in.  Sandy Myers and Julie Torres were a tremendous blessing.
32)  Another job I held while in seminary was working at Mardel Bookstore.  It was there that I met David Bryant, Craig Sims, Jonathan Whitlock and John.
33)  Moved to Kiev, UA in Sept 2003.  Culture shock seeing all the changes that had happened in the 4 years since my last visit.
34)  Team retreats in western Ukraine: the Carpathian mountain region is beautiful and Mukachevo is one of my favorite places.  During those early years back in Ukraine, Sam and Deanne Taylor were a tremendous help and blessing.  As was Carol R.
35)  Being at Grace Church from the first worship service and seeing how God has blessed them.  Valodia Omelchuk is being used by God to do great things in Troeschina area of the city.
36)  Great friends from my time in Kiev: Pasha, Tolik and I have birthdays in August and we had a great time one year celebrating together.
37)  When Grace started, I was the oldest person there and there was one couple: the pastor and his wife.  It has been great watching all the singles from Grace get married and have children.  It is still a blessing to see these young people living out their faith each day and in the mates they choose to marry.
38)  Mick and Dalese Stockwell letting me watch NFL football late at nights and then crashing on their couch.
39)  Then, Mick taking to me Kazakhstan to live for a few month and leaving me there when it was -35!
40)  Stateside (furlough) has been great.  Getting to travel around the US, staying in people’s homes, eating great food.  Some of my favorite people to stay with is Dale and Billie Woodard.  They know how to love on a M.

Tomorrow, Aug 9, I will reveal the last 10.  This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination.  I may have to save those for a book to write some day in the future.