Category Archives: Wisdom

Good Ministry = Good Seed + Good Soil + Time

1405 good seed

After 30 years (Back) Roman, Slava, Natasha, Valery, Don … Slava (Front) Sveta, Nina, Anke, Galya, Zhanna

34 years ago Slava and I met secretly in his rented room to talk about our faith. Last month we met again in St. Petersburg at the official office of a mission founded by his brother, Valery. Every person in this photo can tell a story of 30 years of struggles and victories to be faithful to Christ and His Great commission. On this trip after 28 hours in planes and airports (weather delays) and just 5 hours of sleep, there I stood with the friends who were charter members of our Leningrad small group Bible study in 1982.

Evaluating someone’s life and ministry is always hard, because so many results depend on circumstances that are unseen or outside our control. Wisdom suggests we be patient enough to see whether the seeds we plant stand the test of time.

THEN: 32 years ago Roman was newly married to Sveta and had a wicked, sarcastic sense of humor. Honestly, he drove me crazy in our Bible studies. But at home he also typed copies of books using carbon paper, so his friends could read them too. Slava and Galya were the Leningrad Baptist Church youth group leaders attempting to prevent Roman’s activities from getting reported to the KGB. Valery, Slava’s youngest brother wasn’t married yet to Zhanna, but had set up a Bible memory group for junior highers using a series of cassettes that explained discipleship. Zhanna nearly lost her first job, because she gave a sick friend in the hospital one of Roman’s “contraband” books to read. The other Slava was sharpening his tech skills by setting up a video library and a secret recording studio. Later TWR hired him to create Christian radio programs for USSR.

NOW: After founding three mission agencies Slava pastors a church in Vyborg. Roman runs Mirt ministry center and publishes a Christian journal that reaches 11,000 lay leaders every few months. Valery and Zhanna founded Wycliffe Russia and now are focused on providing good missionary care for the Russians sent out to work on Bible translation. All have travelled to India, Africa, Europe for their Lord.

IN BETWEEN: But they also have fought personal as well as faith battles. Two have to deal with diabetes, 1 lost his job, one has been ill 2 of last 3 winters with bronchitus. They have kids and grandkids who struggle to practice the faith these parents taught them. Parents have died and friends too. Car accidents, moves, financial struggles …

Why were these friends available to be photographed? They had just finished a weekly Bible study. That’s right, the first thing I remember doing with this group, they still do today – meet to read the Scripture and discuss how it applies to their life and ministry. Not because someone says they must, but because they are convinced they must to stay strong and sharp for His name’s sake. This is good seed planted on good soil!


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.

Watch for the Lightning!

Tolkien’s end of the age scenario in the Lord of the Rings contrasts completely with the one Jesus described on Mt. Olivet. Gandalf trusted Frodo to destroy a ring filled with corrupt power and to keep it hidden from evil enemies who could abuse it. Jesus told his disciples to openly spread the powerful news that they possessed. It was a life giving treasure that was to be shared with everyone.

Jesus did warn his disciples to watch, stay alert and pray until his return for two reasons.

When a lightning strike is near,  all senses are overwhelmed!

When a lightning strike is near,
all senses are overwhelmed!

The first reason — false prophets would attempt deception. But we should never be fooled, because His coming will be obvious and Jesus described it clearly. When the “Son of Man” comes the sun, moon, stars and planets will be affected. As clear as a lightning strike, no person in the entire world will miss it.

The second reason to be alert is because most will get depressed and anxious as “normal” life draws to an end. There will be no authority hindering the Antichrist and his followers from taking out their hatred of Christ on his followers. For the few believers Jew and Gentile left alive at that time, fleeing will be the only option.

But Jesus said we should lift our heads and take courage! Frequent natural disasters, persecutions and wars, indicate we are closer to that incredible day when Jesus begins His righteous rule. Jesus will remove the wicked and their selfish and corrupted rule over the poor and the weak of this world.

Let’s take this message of our king to the ends of the earth now, while we can before the time to flee arrives. We can still warn our neighbors and strengthen each other. Stay alert and pray!

God’s Arithmetic

Sometimes it is important to count carefully. A paycheck, bank statement, survey boundary marker, height of the Dubai towers, atomic clock and a soul are measured precisely, accurately. Luke counted 5 loaves and 2 fish and said that Jesus knows how many hairs are on our heads and sparrows are in the fields. His knowledge and attention to detail stretch far beyond my comprehension and tells me that God cares.

Христос воскресе …Во истинно воскресе!

Христос воскресе …
Во истинно воскресе!

Our challenge as a mission is to remember every gift we handle is precious; every dollar we deliver to a partner matters.

There are also “big picture” moments when an estimate or a round number is the best kind of arithmetic to use. Counting the cost of a college education, the national debt, or profitability. Jesus fed about 5000. Abraham has descendants numbered “as stars in the sky”. The seas are to be filled; the fish to multiply.

Who can forget the tense moments for the Apollo 13 crew when the navigator furiously works his slide rule to check reentry calculations. I’m sure they would have loved to have a modern supercomputer doing that calculation instead! Then the pilot had to manually time the burn on an engine not made for the task and position the earth in his window to fly straight. But the point was to make it home. Three significant digits were enough to get their reentry angle right.

We are part of a cosmic enterprise greater than we can imagine. Myriads of angels and billions of believers are being gathered into an eternal kingdom fit to worship the only One worthy of praise, Jesus, the Lamb of God, the only Savior.

This Easter let us thank Him for no longer counting our sins and for his unbounded love. He is risen … He is risen indeed!!

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.

White Hair

Ancient of Days

Ancient of Days

Have you ever glanced at a white haired stranger and wondered what their life story might be? Now that I have some of those white hairs myself it’s easy to wonder if I’ll ever pass on a few pearls to the next generation that are as helpful to them as the ones I’ve heard. For example:

  • Pastor Geiger: Be as radical as necessary
  • My Dad: Nothing is more important than knowing whether you are accepted into heaven when this life ends.
  • My Mom: I love you.
  • Missions Exec: Tell your donors the truth – when your plans succeed and when they don’t.
  • Allan Bussard: The Bible calls us to unity. It follows that consensus building, not a democratic majorities are the preferred way for Christian groups to make decisions.
  • Slava’s dad: In Russia owning a place to meet and worship has always helped spread the gospel
  • Vicar in Bishop Hannington Church: The greatest threats to local church unity are the arguments between members about practical implementation of doctrine. When these arguments split a church body the instigators have disobeyed the primary command of Christ to be united in love. How ironic that the gifts of the Spirit of Unity are often to blame for church splits.

Looking up the history about my personal Bible hero, Daniel, I was surprised to learn that the “Lion’s Den” trial he faced happened when he was about 80 years old. Somehow picturing him kneeling to pray on his balcony facing east to Jerusalem with the spies hiding in the bushes sent by the 120 colleagues who ran the government with him is different than if he were in his 30’s. Somehow the understanding and faith involved in that act seems higher.

No wonder Darius struggled all day to find a loophole he could use to pardon his prime minister for the Babylon province. But at the end of the day Darius had to follow his own law and approve lowering this octogenarian into the pit with the pre starved lions ready to rip him to shreds. Darius deserves some credit for being the first to greet the dawn at the lion’s den door. He got to hear the man who had advised 4 previous kings say, “The Lord delivered me.”

At this time of year pictures of the infant Jesus nestled in a manger surrounded by his adoring parents, wise men and shepherds dominate. The reverent poses direct us to worship this child who in reality is the Lord of Hosts.

When Daniel saw Christ the scene was quite different. A white haired king seated on his throne prepared to judge all mankind. The “Son of Man” approached the “Ancient of Days” and “was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him… His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Daniel 7.14

So yes, when we see the baby in a manger, let’s worship Him in wonder for the love it took to leave His rightful place in heaven and risk living with us. And perhaps when the next white haired stranger walks by use it as a reminder to worship the Ancient of Days whose dominion will not end.

Train to Prague

Rain, Steam and Speed. Turner (1775-1851)

Boarding the train to Prague a young woman sat down in my coupé. She stared out her window, lost in thought. I opened my Bible and read. Hours later, we began trading stories about life in the cultures of Europe. Lyuba grew up in rural Slovakia, studied medicine in Germany and worked at a hospital in Prague. Soon the conversation turned serious.

Lyuba’s dream job was doing brain research at a university. But she took an emergency room job to stay with her Czech boyfriend. She hated the pressure of making life and death decisions every day. After 10 years of study, she felt lonely, unprepared, and trapped in the wrong job. Lyuba’s elderly parents wanted her to come home and start a family. She and her boyfriend were not ready for this.

I told a few ‘wisdom’ stories about my career and marriage decisions and pointed towards a Creator God who loves her. Lyuba listened respectfully, but remained skeptical that God was either real or relevant. There are few skilled gospel workers who can point people like Lyuba to the Lord instead of the despair of secular European culture.