Category Archives: Bible

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!


Is Giving Supposed to be Fair?


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!

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?”

First Responses are Unreliable

Harvest time in Samaria

Harvest time in Samaria

Monday I leave for Russia. Partners will report on progress and plans for moving forward. What does one say to those who work hard, but see different results from their efforts?

John tells us the results Jesus encountered varied greatly.
• John 4. One Samaritan woman realized a real prophet had spoken to her and dared her whole village to hear Jesus too. They believed and begged him to stay several more days.
• John 4. Jesus healed the son of one of Herod’s officials in Capernaum. The man’s entire household believed, likely wife, children and servants.
• John 5. In Jerusalem Jesus healed a man disabled for 38 years. That man courageously defended his simple faith to the religious leaders. The sick gathered at the pool, the man’s parents and a crowd in the temple heard Jesus. Yet Jesus only convinced one man, the one he healed, to become a new follower. His opposition got louder so one hopes the national conversation about Jesus spread wider.
• John 6. Likely over 10,000 gathered from the 1000’s Jesus had taught, healed and lived among in Galillee. They witnessed Jesus create enough food to feed the entire crowd from a few loaves of bread and a few fish. The crowd was so electrified they wanted to name Jesus king and one assumes to start the rebellion they hoped would throw out their Roman occupiers. But a year later Jesus excoriates the same crowd for rejecting him and pronounces their final judgment will go worse than for Sodom.
• When the Son of God, teacher/preacher/healer extraordinaire, left the earth 500 watched him ascend to heaven and 120 obeyed his command to wait for the Holy Spirit. None of them had ever planted a church or traveled further than a four or five day walk from home (Capenaum-Jerusalem is 125 miles). Yet within their remaining lifetime, the gospel was growing in 100’s of cities and towns, at all levels of society in dozens of nations from one end of the Mediterranean to the other!

During each encounter Jesus convinced at least one to believe. What the rest did with that news differed.

Lesson for us: keep our faith in God, focus on the person in front of us and trust the Holy Spirit to spread the gospel from there!

Lesson for evaluators: Evaluating impact will not just count the 10’s, 100’s or 1000’s “touched” in the moment by a ministry. Look for:
1. Who is the core? What do they know of Christ?
2. What changes over time. The crowd is fickle. Watch what happens after testing (economic, theological, persecution)
3. God’s spiritual timing for a people group is unpredictable.
    a. 20-30 years ago Mongolia was known to have a handful of believers. Today 10K+ believe and churches are growing steadily for the last 10 years.
    b. Russia seems to have about the same 1 million believers today as when I visited the USSR in the 80’s.

Bad Things Happen

Every Leading Edge missionary faced trouble in 2012. The Christies were forced to evacuate their recently purchased home when the fire on the Colorado Rampart Range ran out of control. The Herrmans suffered a 30% pay cut when the Hungarian fiscal crisis hit Steve’s employer. The Helmers learned that Don has early stage, prostate cancer. Russia changed their rules for visa renewal again. Four plane tickets and 20 days later the Lessmans were home again. The D’Ettorres …

When bad things happen, we struggle to regain perspective. Typically Americans look for a hidden positive, then someone to blame. Habakkuk saw his country endure theft, extortion, murder and war. No figs, no grapes, no olives, no crops, no sheep, no cattle, nothing was left of the Hebrew economy after the Babylonian invasion.  So he complained – to God.

Habakkuk tells us what he learned. Lesson one: Whenever trouble arrives, get quiet and focus on God. “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him.” Hab. 2.20. Lesson two: Joy is a choice with an object. “I will rejoice in the LORD”.

Has trouble struck? Meet with the Sovereign Lord and remember. “He is my Savior… my strength.” Hab. 3.16-19.

Real Change

Tomorrow the US votes. Pollsters report that the “future of the world” may turn on the candidate for President chosen by one “independent, young, single female in Cuyahoga County, Ohio”. Would the prophet Ezekiel agree with the pollsters?

Ezekiel -- “God is Strength!”

Ezekiel — “God is Strength!”

After Babylon tore down the walls of Jerusalem and razed the temple, Ezekiel prophesied to refugees left behind in the desolation of Judea. Their detestable ways disqualified them from any inheritance. Next God told the exiles in Babylon their hearts still needed purging of “greed for unjust gain.” They were hypocrites, shepherds who cared only for themselves.

For over 1000 years prophets tried to convince rebellious Jews that YHWH was the ONE true God. National defeat, disgrace and exile finally purged that sin from their midst. Finally, the Jewish exiles DID STOP idolizing pagan gods. This remnant returned to Jerusalem and started over.

Will the pedigree of ANY nation or the plans of ANY leader ever impress God? No nation, no party, no president, no economy, no military is strong or important enough to turn God aside from His purpose: to redeem and call out His people to rule with Him for eternity!

Have the faith to put first things first.

Announcement by shofar

Announcement by shofar

Historical Notes:

605 BC. First Judean Defeat. Daniel and elite exiles sent to Babylon

597 BC. Second Judean Defeat. Main body of exiles deported to Babylon including Ezekiel

591 BC. 6th year after exile during 6th month. Ezekiel 11.18-21 Ezekiel is 30. This is the first message we have that God gave Ezekiel. It included good news with the bad—the kind we like to hear too. Exiles given “new hearts” would eventually return to the land of Israel, but those still devoted to “detestable idols” faced judgment. Ezekiel 14 Turn from your idols! Ezekiel 20.1ff. The prince in Jerusalem rebels. The remnant in Babylon enquires of God via Ezekiel. “Hearts devoted to idols.”

589 BC. 9th year 10th month. Ezekiel 24.16-27 As Babylon besieges Jerusalem for the third time in two decades, God gave Ezekiel a gloomy prophecy. Jerusalem and the Jewish homeland would turn into a desolate waste. This prophecy included a personal tragedy–Ezekiel’s wife, the “delight of his eyes” died, he was forbidden to mourn her and to make sure God took away his ability to speak.

587 BC. 12th year 10th month. Ezekiel 33. 22-33 Unable to mourn, three years pass until God gives Ezekiel back his voice. That same evening a messenger from Jerusalem came to Ezekiel with the word that Jerusalem had fallen, the king was executed and the temple destroyed. The next morning the exile community gathered at Ezekiel’s door to hear the news.

I’m sure Ezekiel (“God is strong”) wished to say something uplifting to his fellow exiles anxious for their homeland. But God’s message for the refugees left in Palestine was awful. The land would remain a desolate waste. Their detestable ways disqualified them from possessing the land God had promised to Abraham. And Ezekiel couldn’t spare his fellow exiles either. Their mouths may have expressed devotion, but their hearts were still greedy for unjust gain. God wasn’t fooled. They were hypocrites who had no intention yet of changing their ways; their shepherds only cared for themselves.