Homecoming Joy


moscow4 copy

Mike & Friends. Red Square Christmas.

Our phone calls out directions to a Christmas party as we drive past the festive lights in the new neighborhood. We collect our gifts from the car and walk towards the door. Laughter filters through a window, then our host greets us at the door. “Welcome! Merry Christmas!” The first round of hugs and kisses give way to “Here, let me take your coat, put those presents over by the tree, what would you like to drink?” The scent of fresh baked pies, clove spiced wassail and a cinnamon candle waft over us. Warm drink now in hand, the first, “Hi, how are you?!” is followed by more hugs … Later by a crackling fire someone reads about shepherds tending flocks, angels singing, wise men delivering gifts and the wonder-filled sight of the newly born child humbly nestled in Bethlehem’s manger. He is the Son of David, our Savior, Christ, the Lord!

Isn’t this how we start to learn joy? Warm and safe in a place where caring people welcome us unconditionally, not judging whether our year passed “successfully” or “painfully.” We want help to laugh with loved ones and be content!

Now let’s take this picture multiply the intensity times ten, square the welcome and then add the comfort to infinity! This is the level of joy waiting for us when our Savior, once swaddled in a manger, welcomes us to His feast in our true home we will enter when heavenly Jerusalem descends to earth.

As long as we are imagining that day picture too the hosts of believers waiting to say “Hi! Welcome to the wedding feast of the Lamb!” Pavel and Julia will want to greet you. Zbyszek from Poland, Sasha from Ukraine, Roman and Viktor from Russia too. Zvonko and Maritsa … Did you really think heaven only holds personal family and friends for us to see again. Won’t all the ones you’ve prayed for, supported, sent messengers with the gospel be waiting there too?

May the love of God, the joy of Jesus Christ and the peace of the Holy Spirit fill you this Christmas!

Advertisements

Is Giving Supposed to be Fair?


IMG_0685

Zvonko & Maritsa. Daruvar, Croatia

Fair implies following an agreed set of rules overseen by an impartial judge with good operational control over enforcement. We all expect this kind of “fair” when it comes to paychecks, voting booths, sports referees and dare I say our parents’ love!

Fair is clearly influenced by our culture and as well as by written rules. For example, it used to be right to give the family farm or firm to the oldest male relative; never the daughter. Birth order not competence determined the inheritance. America started with a lot of single pioneers who were the “other” sons and daughters seeking their fortune away from home.

But our culturally derived “sense of fair” is not the primary standard of Biblical giving. After Moses collected plenty to build the tabernacle, he refused gifts from willing donors who brought their gifts too late! Paul collected money from his Greek Church friends for believers in Jerusalem suffering from famine. But Paul didn’t ask to help Palestinian Samaritan unbelievers hurt by the same famine. These fundraisers were not operating on our idea of fairness which assumes everyone gets the same treatment. They exercised discretion or judgment.

Jesus challenged his disciples’ norm for fair giving when he measured a widow’s 2 mites as worth more than the bags of coins dumped in the collection box by the rich. He also recommended they give whenever someone asked. God seems to judge givers by what motivation them, not the size of the gift. Challenging, but this does seem fair!

The primary “rule” for Christians who give is freewill generosity. We must give generously with a joyful heart. We have two bedrock motives to base our obedience to this rule:

1) All we have comes from Christ. So we are stewards, good managers, using our master’s resources as He intends.

2) Since Jesus gave His life for us, we do owe Him everything.

Here are several Bible commands concerning the practice of giving that do still seem fair:

  • If I earn more, then I give more; if less, then less. Moses recommended a flat 10 per cent of our income, our “harvest” (depending on how we earn our money), should be set aside regularly. It wasn’t a tax, but a freewill offering. This wasn’t collected from wealth or after a death. There were no calculations to consider “deductions, exemptions or credits!”
  • Our poor neighbors deserve our personal consideration. Groups should create systems to care for the poor and the strangers or aliens who were the refugees of Biblical times. The systems can be modeled after the ones set up in the Law such as a “Jubilee for debts” or a portion of the local tithe collected every third year.
  • Evangelists, teachers and pastors who equip us for ministry should get as much of their living FROM our regular gifts as the time we demand of them is worth.
  • Parents should pass on a portion from what they earn to their children and not declare everything a gift to the church. Jesus was particularly upset by the Pharisaic implementation of the Jewish inheritance rule of “Corban.” Similar to the Pharisees, the clergy in the Middle Ages asked for indulgences. Parishioners gave unhealthy amounts because they were told their eternal life depended on it which is not only an error of justice, it is theologically awful.
  • Rewards for giving are based on motivation not the size of the gift.
  • Others may commend large, public gifts. But that motivation disqualifies those gifts from any reward in heaven!

Parallels with Joshua


CSL Dave

David, Faith & Ethics Teacher. C.S. Lewis School. Bratislava, Slovakia

On my recent trip in Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia, I was struck by the parallels between the efforts of young leaders to create new spaces to share their faith and the task set for Joshua to free Canaan for occupation by the Jewish nation.

Joshua was: Our partners:
·       Often outnumbered by stronger armies fighting on their home turf. ·       Compete with governments agencies with only limited financial or people resources.
·       Promised victories in every place where his feet would tread. ·       Are responsible to go and disciple the nations, especially their own whether received as respected “insiders” or rejected as suspected “outsiders.”
·       Mandated to destroy sick, idolatrous cities in Canaan desperate enough to use deceptive ploys to stay alive. ·       Decide how to work with local officials whether they recognize the worth of these efforts; or are corrupt and faithless.

David is the son of one of the original founders of the school. He graduated from CS Lewis School, earned a degree abroad and has now returned to help a new generation implement faith in their lives. He talked with me about his students’ desire to create a coffee bar in the old Soviet building their high school moved into this fall. Yes, David as their teacher, is building a platform for youth to learn basic lessons of business and financial responsibility. He also represents a next generation spiritual leader obeying the command to go and disciple a new generation.

The director of Wycliffe Russia just emailed a letter about the challenges faced by the 14 Russian families and 8 singles sent to work in Africa and India to translate the Scriptures. The ruble dropped nearly 50% in value over the last year. Russian churches are unable to compensate by doubling their current support in a horrible economy. Missionary families are cutting their expenses and making decisions about coming home early or not.

Yes, it is tough to go and disciple the nations. But over 30 Russians did follow our Savior’s command and are writing the Scripture into new languages, when none of them could have imagined this opportunity two decades ago!

We are God’s Poetry


1506 CSL grad

2015 Graduates. CS Lewis School. Bratislava, Slovakia

In June, 820 young people finished their school lessons in Bratislava, Slovakia. 10 years ago a team of Christians from a local church fixed up an old Soviet school building, recruited teachers enrolled a few hundred students and named their school after CS Lewis. Parents pay tuition covering half the costs and the city pays the other half.

Bratislava is now giving CS Lewis School the chance to claim a 25-year lease for a second school campus. Over the summer, teams of parents and contractors started using the $600,000 raised to repair part of the campus, so that the high school age students could begin last week. But they still need to raise another $1,000,000 for repairs to the rest of the campus that was left derelict over the last decade. The school board may now offer a solid education founded on an integrated faith perspective in the capital city of Slovakia to over 1300 students a year!

I’m sure like me your response is, “Beautiful! Praise God for this opportunity!” If you have ever tried to start something you will likely appreciate the courage and hard work of these Slovak founders undertaking this challenge. People of faith who have experienced God’s grace can’t stop offering the same for their neighbor.

After Paul tells the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; … it is the gift of God, not of works.” He continues, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” We derive our English word poetry from the Greek word “poiema” – translated workmanship in this verse.

We are God’s poetry, a beautiful story that in an unexpected way says so much more than a casual glance reveals.

Still Thirsty?


Still Thirsty? Algae "Bloom" - Reuters

Still Thirsty?
Algae “Bloom” – Reuters

On our way to Toledo to help my daughter Katrina pack for her move, my family stopped for lunch in Ft. Wayne. Just before we got back on the road, Katrina called. “Buy lots of bottled water.” Toledo’s water department had warned residents not to drink or cook with tap water. The water supply was contaminated by a toxin released by algae in Lake Erie. Boiling wouldn’t help. We were amazed to find just 4 hours after the emergency was announced in Toledo, the run on bottled water had already gone regional reaching us an hour away in the Ft. Wayne Meijer store.

The hotel desks handed out water bottles with the room key and we couldn’t order “Frostie” shakes at Wendy’s, because the water was unreliable. After we finished the packing, while driving home from Toledo, we saw people standing in line at water distribution points manned by National Guard water purification units. From constant reminders like this that the water was contaminated, we learned how precious clean water is.

But “Living water” is even better than clean water! 20-30 minutes with Jesus was all it took to convince a woman to leave her everyday water pot beside the well in Sychar, Samaria. She wasn’t heedless to leave behind an essential possession she used every day. And she wasn’t frightened of the strange men, Jesus’ disciples, who joined him at the well.

No, nothing else seemed important anymore. The prophet with “living water” was at her village well right now. He could even be the Messiah! Even though the people in her town despised her as an adulteress and could easily just laugh at her, Jesus had forgiven her. Her village had to meet Him.

Have we had a thirsty conversation with Jesus recently? Do we have “water pots” worth dropping so our neighbors can hear we have found “living water?”

Evangelism is Hard Work


Steve & Lidia Hard at work in Budapest

Steve & Lidia
Hard at work in Budapest

Inviting someone to follow Christ is spiritual work. The love it takes to prepare a soul for an invitation is also labor. Join Lidia and Steve and pray for their Hungarian neighbors.

“Marta, one of my coworkers of five years has a difficult personal situation and is now depressed. I have been praying and talking with her.

Since Christmas Steve and I have been helping Sarika, a feisty, retired engineer in our building, who is physically slowing down. I have been shopping for her and building a relationship.

Another non-Christian family – Tamás, Emese and Bence (19) are our neighbors too. They are a relationally sick family and in dire trouble. Both of them have been unfaithful. The wife, has struggled with deep depression and has cancer. Recently Emese attempted suicide and it is a miracle that she survived. Éva, from our church, who is herself battling with cancer, has befriended Emese. “Why did I survive?” asked Emese. Éva replied, “Because God has a plan for your life.” Emese is listening. Lidia takes daily meals to Bence.

On July 5th 10,000 will attend a festival in western Hungary. We lead a prayer seminar andwill hand out bookmarks Steve created to draw interest to Praying Mothers (Imádkozó Édesanyák). Later Family magazine will do an interview about Praying Mothers.”

Does Lidia’s example encourage you to labor in the harvest field in your neighborhood?

Missa Kept Me Alive


Namet: Alive and praying for his friends to believe

Namet: Alive and praying
for his friends to believe

Namet, a believer for only 3 years, was driving five other coworkers home from work when they were hit by a train. Every two months in Baku a carload of people are killed at this same extremely dangerous railroad crossing. But this time no one died!!

Namet’s pelvis was broken and he was confined to bed for two months for recovery. But not one person in his car perished!!! At work everyone decided Namet and his colleagues were delivered because he is a believer in Missa (the Messiah).

This obviously is not a way one plans to make Christ known. But in this case Namet had clearly done his job of letting his light shine at work. His colleagues knew of his faith in Christ and so they gave Jesus the credit for delivering them. Our colleague who reported this incident also mentioned that other stories about “Missa” are drifting from Azeri believers in Azerbaijan into their homeland of Iran where 20 million Azeri Shia still call on Allah.

Other gospel efforts are underway this summer by Leading Edge partners in Eurasia. Mission to the East just gave a sewing workshop for teens in Orzhiv that “sowed” news about Christ in western Ukraine. Mirt in Russia handed out ribbons and gospel tracts at Easter. ARKA is about to start summer camps in a few weeks in the Ukraine as well as Poland. SLOT is finishing preparations to host 6000 Polish youth for an Art Festival. Jodi in Budapest is finding many new contacts in the business community. Let’s pray for Christ’s name to be praised in all 10 timezones of Eurasia this summer!