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3M: The Gospel, simplified

Today is Easter Monday in Ukraine and many other Slavic countries.  It is a national holiday, with many businesses and schools closed.  That is why many Evangelical churches will plan evangelical events during the day.

Gethsemane Church is the largest Baptist church in Donetsk.  They have a wonderfully talented choir and they prepared an Easter drama and performed it in one of the cultural houses in town this morning.

I shared with a couple of Americans that all of the voices are recorded since they lack the equipment to do it live and they didn’t show the crucifixion scene.  Yet, I left there today excited to have seen the last days of Christ life portrayed and the Gospel message was clearly presented.

This afternoon, as I was walking through town with a friend, I reflected on the drama I witnessed today compared to the ones I have been a part of or seen in the US.  I thought of how we used special techniques to show the resurrection, the crucifixion, etc. in US.  I thought of the thousands of dollars spent each year on advertising, ticketing, etc for such events.

Please do not misunderstand me.  I am not trying to condemn one method over the other.  They are different.  However, the Gospel message is the same and I thoroughly enjoyed its simplicity today.

I think too often in my life I am trying to use the new, better methods for presenting the Gospel.  The Gospel hasn’t changed in 2,000 years.  The Message is still the same.  And God is still using that Message to knock on people’s heart, and giving them opportunities to respond, no matter the language, budget or presentation.

I thank the Lord for reminding me of this important fact today.  May I remember it tomorrow and in the future.  Christ is Risen!  He is Risen, indeed!

3M: Revisiting the past

This past weekend I visited Lugansk, UA.  Lugank is the first place I lived outside of the US and where God gave me a heart for the Slavic peoples.

Going home is always interesting.  You never quite know what to say to people after not seeing them for so long.  Yet, after those first few moments, you settle in and things seem just right.

That is the situation I found myself in.  Just moments after arriving at Emmanuel Church where we would spend the weekend, I met one sister I have known for 16 years.  One look at her smile and I knew everything would be alright.

A little later my friend Sergei arrived.  Sergei is the pastor of Emmanuel.  I cannot begin to tell the ways Sergei helped me during those 3 years I lived in Lugansk during 1994-96.  He came to my rescue on many occasions, even driving 2 hours late at night to pick up me and my friend Doug in another city after we had an accident.

Throughout the weekend, I saw people I have known since those early years in Lugansk.  Each of them helped mold me into the person I am today.  I am extremely thankful to the Lord for allowing me to live in Lugansk and have those friendships and connections with people.

As I drove out of town Sunday afternoon, I reflected on what had taken place over the weekend: a prayer walking seminar, a youth meeting and a Sunday service.  I felt blessed to have been a part in each of them.  The visits to Lugansk do not happen often, but when they do, I leave the city with my heart filled with new memories to add to those made so long ago.

 

3M: Finding beauty in all things

March means that one of my favorite flowers is in full bloom in Texas.  The Texas Bluebonnet has always been one of my favorite flowers, but it has taken an even deeper place in my heart since I can only enjoy them through pictures that friends share with me.

I tried my best to grow some last spring.  I started the seeds in my bedroom with the flower box near my heater.  As the sun came out more and warmed up the enclosed balcony, I put them out there.  They sprouted, grew very tall, but most of them never blossomed into the deep blue/purple like I am used to seeing in Texas.

I live in the city of Donetsk, UA.  It is not know for much natural beauty due to the city being an industrial city.  However, I have found several spots in the city that I enjoy very much, one of them being just minutes from my apartment.

This past weekend, I traveled to Svyatogorsk (means Holy Mountain), which is about 2 hours north of Donetsk.  It is a favorite among the people living in this area.  I would say it is the first or second most mentioned place to visit in our area.

  Spring is not in full bloom yet, so there wasn’t much greenery in the area at the time, but it is still a place of beauty.  The church and monastery sit on the bank of the Severo-Donets River.  It was built in the 14-15th century.

Our team had decided to have a retreat at a Christian camp located on the edge of town.  We spent the afternoon exploring the monastery and the hills around the church.  It was a bit cool and windy up on the mountain, but I spent some time reflecting while doing all the walking and it caused me to think about the beauty that surrounded me.

Society today places a high value on outer beauty.  But, Jesus warned us about doing this in Luke 11:39.  Sometimes, I’m afraid I may miss a blessing because I am not seeing it in the right light.  Sometimes, maybe I struggle being around a person because they say things I don’t like.  Yet, Jesus says, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.” (Luke 11:39)

I certainly don’t want to be like the Pharisees, but probably I am like them too often.  My desire is to see the beauty in all things.  Pray that I will see people through Jesus’ eyes and love them with Jesus’ heart.

 

3M: Experiencing God

In the early 90’s Henry Blackaby released a book called, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God.  Without actually going through the course myself, God used this course in other people’s lives that eventually influenced me moving to Lugansk, Ukraine in 1994.

Since then, I have been through the course myself on a couple of occasions and thoroughly enjoyed it each time.  I have also led several groups through the course and, in fact, leading several people through it right now.  It has been great to sit and listen how God is using the course in their lives.

I have been telling the Church planting team in Donetsk about the course for a couple of months.  So it was great for me to hear Dan Upchurch, professor at Kiev Theological Seminary, use the 7 Realities of EG in discussion of Church planting strategies.

I am excited about the things the Lord is doing in my heart and life right now.  Another blessing is seeing God at work in the heart and lives of believers where I live.  Just last night, during a discussion with a young brother who is going through EG, we were able to recall some of the things he is learning in the course and use them to apply to a situation in his life.

That is truly Experiencing God.  How are you experiencing God at the moment?

Feb 15: Snow and sun

This morning I decided to visit the Synagogue in Budapest.  It is a beautiful, old building.  As I got on the tram, the snow began to fall, and by the time I got to the stop I needed, it was coming down quiet heavily.

It was cold, snowy and windy.  The synagogue was fairly cold inside.  It is a big building with 2 balconies.  I think I would have enjoyed it more had the weather cooperated a little more.

I left there to head to a shopping area and while the bus I was on was stopped to pick up passengers, a car slid into the back.  I knew what this would mean and after a couple of minutes, the driver came back and told all of us to get off the bus!  I wasn’t too sure where we were and so I asked a young couple and they spoke English and helped me get to where I was going!  BTW, the little car was no match for the bus!

After being indoors at the shopping center for a couple of hours, I got ready to head back to the place where I am staying and the sun was out.  Most of the sidewalks had been cleared and it was above freezing!  Quite a change from the morning.

By the time I reached the house, the sun was gone and the snow started falling again.  I shoveled some of the snow away from the entrance and then went inside.

Tomorrow (Thursday) I should have 3 new teeth (2 implants and a new crown) in my mouth, which means I will be heading home on Saturday.

Feb 14: WVU joins Big 12

The schedules came out today for the BIG 12 Conference.  Wish I could be in Austin later this year for the matchup between WVU and Texas.  Should be an interesting game if Texas can solve its QB issues.

The other great matchup in Austin is Texas playing TCU after Thanksgiving.  That should be packed with emotion as it will be the first time the two teams have played in Austin in a looong time.

Seeing the schedule brought back the realization that Texas and A&M will not be playing on Thanksgiving night.  It makes me all the more thankful for Kim Macklin, who worked some magic to get for her, her husband and me in 2009.  I will remember that game for a long time.

How long till college season begins?!?

 

Feb 10: time in a chair

Today I spent more than 2 hours in the dental chair.  I woke up very early this morning (try 3 a.m.) and couldn’t go back to sleep.  After sitting in the dental chair for that long, I waited for almost an hour before I had lunch.

In the fast food restaurant, I dozed off, I was so tired and was awaken when I received a text message!  Well, I am looking forward to next Thursday, as I will have my new implants and crowns in my mouth!  Let the chewing begin!

February 7: A little bit of home

After spending almost 2 hours in the dental chair today, I went to Starbucks to treat myself and to visit a colleague who was there waiting on his wife.  I find great comfort in walking into a Starbucks in places outside of the US.

What I like about it is that no matter the decor of the store, it seems a little piece of Americana is there.  The smell of the coffee, the atmosphere: music playing but not so loud that you can talk to another person, etc.

I love walking into the store and knowing that whoever is behind the counter will be wearing that fashionable green apron and more than likely they will have a smile on their face and they will speak English!  There may be a Starbucks outside the US where they don’t speak English, but I have yet to find one!

The bags of coffee will be for sale, along with the various mugs, and the sandwiches and treats. It is just so expected in the Starbucks and it brings a slice of home to the heart of one so far away from home.  Thanks Starbucks for bringing a little bit of home to me today in Budapest!

P.S.  Later this week (probably Friday) I will write my 900th post on the Ragan Report…

February 4: Openness

I witnessed an event yesterday that I desired to write about this morning.  However,  last night I read about Josh Hamilton’s relapse and some peoples comments on an ESPN blog that I decided I wanted to write about his relapse and his openness.

When I read about his relapse and his quick response to the press, I was reminded about several verses from Galatians 1: 1-3 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (ESV)

I have grown to really like Josh Hamilton.  I am a huge Texas Rangers fan and watching him grow into his role for the Rangers has been exciting.  Even more so, I realize that he is living out his faith in Jesus Christ each and every day.  And when he has fallen, he has taken ownership and has asked for forgiveness from his family and fans.

Last year, Josh threw a baseball up to a little boy and and his dad reached over the railing to catch the ball, he fell and died.  I can’t begin to imagine the hurt that Josh and his family must have felt through that situation.  I think Nolan Ryan and the Rangers did a great job considering the hurt that family went through, even to this day.  I was sitting in the stadium last fall for the first playoff game when the little boy threw out the first pitch.  The emotions when Josh caught that pitch were electrifying.  It is a scene that I will cherish for a long time.

I have no idea the demons that Josh faces each and every day, but in some respect we all have those same demons trying to cause us to stumble and fall.  Due to Josh’s history, he must walk a tight rope each and every day.  After I read about Josh’s relapse (on Facebook, where else!?) I went to my Twitter account to see if his wife (who I follow) had said anything, and of course she had.

Both of them faced this situation head on.  I admire them for their ability to do this.  Too often as Christians, we face our demons alone.  I know I have and still do in many respects.  Galatians offers us some sage advice to help one another bear those burdens.

Through Josh’s relapse I pray that he will find victory over those demons, his family become even closer than it appears they are now and may Jesus Christ receive the glory.  I, like many others, will pray for Josh, his wife and his family.  That’s what the family of God should do.

February: Journaling

I am taking several people through Experiencing God.  It is one of the best courses I know that challenges believers to new heights.

One of the young men studying with me grew up in a family of believers and I think he is the fourth generation Baptist.  After the first week, he shared with me how he was moved by some of the things he read.

One group is studying the Russian version and the other young man is studying in English.  It has been challenging for me as well to take two groups through the study in different languages and they are in different weeks.

I have challenged them to try to journal every day in February.  So, I decided to take the challenge myself.  Not sure that I will have internet every day in February, but I am going to try to blog as often as possible.

At this moment I am watching BBC news and they are reporting more than 70 people in Egypt have been killed in post match riots.  It is sad news for sure.

I am out of Ukraine at the moment, but have been keeping up with the weather situation in Donetsk.  At this moment, it is -8 F (-22 C).  Now for my Texas friends and others who live in the south, that is COLD!!!  Having lived in Kazakhstan, I have seen it much colder, but the difference is the humidity.  Kstan tends to be dry, and UA has more humidity.