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.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Cross at Maidan

Cross at Maidan

Photos of flaming tires, police in riot gear and sniper victims in Kyiv finally grabbed the attention of all the major television networks. Conspiracy theories, rumors of higher prices and lost jobs are blowing up Facebook and Twitter. For the Americans just beginning to pay attention to demonstrations that started 3 months ago over a conflict that goes back over 10 years, the swirl of lies, betrayals and ominous warnings make it hard to tell the “good guys” from the bad. Who should we believe? Putin says this – “Aren’t Russians our friends now?” Merckel says that – “The EU may be our competitors, but also our best allies.”

Jesus said. “Blessed are the shalommakers for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Making peace Jesus’ way does not mean taking a quiet seat next to a still pond watching the birds sing. It is costly and dangerous.

Anti war demonstrator in Moscow

Anti war demonstrator in Moscow

One one eventful day Jesus stood before: his top religious and judicial leaders — Annas & Caiaphas, then the hastily assembled Sanhedrin court; his political rulers — Herod and Pilate; the military — temple soldiers arrested him; then Herod’s soldiers mocked him and the Roman soldiers flogged him. Finally, he stood before the public, his own people who had turned into the Jerusalem mob. He never displayed fear in the face of his persecutors. He prepared for his enoromous, awful day with a prayer vigil. We cannot tell if the strain he displayed speaking privately to His Father was over the execution he knew was coming or the unprecedented separation death would create between the Father and the Son of God.

Jesus told his followers they would be blessed for making peace. But he also said standing for peace for the gospel’s sake would be costly. Following his example requires physical courage and the will to risk one’s personal reputation to be a peacemaker like him. Like Him we are expected to tear down barriers and speak from a kingdom-of-God perspective, rather than a nationalist one.

Priest outside Crimean army base.

Priest outside Crimean army base.

I have observed that grounded believers are acting as peacemakers and ambassadors for Christ. They are choosing what to say in the pulpit, the market and the town square in their neighborhood in light of their Savior’s example. How do they stand with their Lord in these situations?

Orthodox priests have taken to standing between demonstrators and riot police and praying for them both. Some of our Protestant friends have prayed with demonstrators at Maidan Square and served all comers with cell tents, blankets, warm food and a cell phone charge. Last week a lay preacher from a Kyiv Baptist church became the acting president of the nation until Ukraine votes what to do next.

UK Foreign Sec. Hague & Interim President Turchynov

UK Foreign Sec. Hague & Interim President Turchynov

Imagine you are Turchynov and must pick up the phone to talk with a regional govenor who refuses to recognize your authority or respond to a mafia boss or oligarch who is offering to help, an ambitious politician who wants influence in your administration, an army general with soldiers facing a roadblock, a reporter, a police chief, a foreign banker, …

Shall we not pray for our friends making decisions right now in Ukraine, Poland and Russia? Pray for believers choosing today to say kingdom words of peace to neighbors in Ukraine, Poland and Russia!

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!

Laying Privilege Aside

1312 feet washed

“Jesus Washing Peter’s feet.” Ford Maddox Brown. 1852-56 Tate Gallery, London

We understand a little what it is like to lay aside a privilege. We use simple words and talk about different subjects with toddlers than adults. When a child asks, “Daddy what do you want for Christmas?” I don’t answer, “New carpet for the family room!” I’m not even surprised my Canadian wife doesn’t care about which BCS bowl game OSU wil get this year.

Another example of how complex it is to mix an adult’s wishes and a child’s, is attempting to choose a game that suits the whole family. The older kids must act “bored” if the game is too childish for their all important teenage dignity. Younger kids won’t play if they know they are going to lose. The adults want everyone to have fun or enjoy a new challenge. Someone always has to set their own wishes aside to make it fun for others.

When I was 10 or 12, I remember a “Crazy 8’s” card game at my grandmother’s house over the Thanksgiving holiday. Her table was crowded and we had to use a double deck for there to be enough cards to deal everyone in. I was seated next to the one uncle who never gave any quarter in a card game. He competed to win and in other games like uker that only the adults played he nearly always did. The first hand I drew only had Ace’s, King’s, 2’s and 8’s. Every time it was my turn to play my uncle either had to draw more cards or miss his turn. When I laid down my last card he was left with a ton of points sending him over the limit in just one hand. With a red face he slammed down his hand on the table and quit. We didn’t have the same idea of fun!

We can barely imagine what Jesus laid aside to live with us. Jesus laid heaven aside where angels were his servants who would immediately obey his every order. Instead he chose to sleep on a floor, walk on dusty roads in sandals and put up with accusations and criticisms that weren’t remotely fair. He told his disciples t the moment of His capture that at any moment a legion of angels was still available to answer his command. Jesus refused things even the most privileged among us, like Presidents or billionaires, never dream of.

In that unforgettable moment in an upstairs room before the Passover meal, Jesus even set aside his rights as his disciple’s rabbi coming as a guest to the meal they had prepared. He wrapped a towel around his waist; knelt before each disciple; removed their sandals; then washed and dried their travel soiled feet. Right up until he reached Peter a stunned, guilty silence seems to have settled over the room. Peter finally broke the silence with his typical over-the-top comment, “wash my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus used this teachable moment to offer a blessing and a command about servanthood. “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. … you will be blessed if you do them.”

Words and Deeds

2013 CEP conference in Malenowice. Conferees told their faith journeys of loving God and their neighbors.

2013 CEP conference in Malenowice. Conferees told their faith journeys of loving God and their neighbors.

I rarely seem to be able to speak succinctly what is on my mind. When I’m under pressure it gets worse! My daughter, a TV news producer, crafts sound bites facing a drop-dead deadline. When the cameras are on she quickly talks her anchors and reporters, through technical glitches and wholesale changes for breaking news.

Jesus knew exactly what to say in every situation, whether pressured or not. I do find it encouraging that even Jesus, had a hard time answering the main question of the Jews, “Who are you?” Jesus’ problem was not His ability to speak, but His audience’s ability to listen. No matter how many times he repeated “I am the light of the world” or “If you knew me you would know my Father”, they couldn’t recognize that the Messiah, the Only Son of God was standing in front of them in the person of Jesus. Their training from youth and the stories they had learned after decades living in exile was summarized in one core belief; YHWH is the only true God for Israel. It was impossible for them as a nation to hear anything else.

Accused of blasphemy by a crowd holding rocks, Jesus pointed to His deeds. (John 8) The Jews admitted His works were good, But a few dared to claim that Satan, not God, had not helped Him do those works.

When people face us with stones, words won’t matter. That’s when our deeds should speak. This challenge for integrity, getting our words and our works to line up is the challenge of living a “whole” Christian life. Our words and our deeds must derive from the same source, from where everything that is good and holy begins.

For us who have trouble getting the right words out, we still have the chance for God to be glorified by our deeds. Well, James and Solomon agree that keeping our words few is not a bad practice. And what did Jesus teach us about deeds? We love God by obeying His command to love our brothers and sisters in the faith and also our neighbors, whether they believe yet or not.

Brothers and sisters, let us love one another.

Don’t Seek the Living in a Graveyard

Jesus trampled down death by death.

Jesus trampled down death by death.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?,” the angel said. “He is not here (dead in the cemetary); he has risen! Remember how he told you, …”

Forget the women’s shock of hearing from angels who looked like shining men. Heaven had caught them going to a graveyard to look for the living Son of God. Talk about getting things wrong!

These women had both the courage and compassion to carry burial spices to the tomb of their friend, Jesus, who was now a condemned criminal. But that morning their view of reality was shattered. Others had the same problem. Two men walking to Emmaus were told they had never truly understood “all that the prophets have spoken!” Peter, two nights before, had let fear rule over his heart enough to deny his friend Jesus thrice, when his captured leader, Jesus, actually had “all authority in heaven and on earth.” Peter had walked on water with Jesus and witnessed him raising people from the dead! But he finally found out that Sunday evening what Jesus had meant by saying, “On the third day ….”

In another instance of shattered reality, Nicodemus first came to Jesus assuming he was still a “teacher of Israel” expecting this “student” would answer questions about how he did miracles and spoke so well. Instead, Jesus proved he was the Teacher and challenged Nicodemus to be “born from above” and to get out of the dark. Jesus told him to come toward the “light that shines in the darkness.”

“God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life!” After receiving this message nothing about this life is the same.

Do you truly listen to the “Living Word,” Jesus Christ, when you read the Bible in your hands? Is there something God has said about your life or this world that you just don’t understand?

Pray for ears to hear now what God is saying rather than wait until the next time angels are scheduled to come with trumpets and announce the coming of the Lord in judgment. Perhaps, you too have been looking for the Living One in the wrong place and need this reminder that Jesus is “with you (the ones who believe in Him) to the end of the age.”