Has God ever unexpectedly stopped you from getting to your destination?
That’s what happened to us last weekend.
Watch the video to hear about the details.
Yes, we did finally make it to Budapest but we couldn’t have done it without the help of Mihai and the wonderful people at Bethel Baptist Church in Satu Mare!
I don’t believe this happened by chance. God allowed it to happen and he orchestrated our meeting with the dear brothers and sisters in Satu Mare!
So next time your stuck or it seems that God has put you plans on hold, just remember that maybe God has you right where he wants you to be! Look around and I’m sure God will show you opportunities to serve and to be a blessing to others!
Question: Have circumstances ever unexpectedly stopped you from reaching your destination?
You need to set aside 44 minutes and listen to this sermon! It seriously made me rethink how I communicate the Gospel.
I know that seems like a lot of time but I believe this is an important message that Christians need to hear.
Jeff Durbin is the president of Apologia Ministries which includes Apologia Radio.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of softening the gospel for the sake of numbers. It’s so easy to excuse our lack of a clear gospel message with the fact that we are building relationships and doing “lifestyle evangelism.”
I listened to this sermon twice and some parts more than twice. I pulled out a few quotes below.
“The Good News is not good advice, the Good News is not Jesus asking you to give him a chance or a try!”
“Jesus doesn’t come to make your life simply better!”
“The message of the Gospel always came with a call to repentance and faith, not a try Jesus!”
“Perhaps the world thinks our message is irrelevant because it is irrelevant, when we give them the idea that Jesus is something you simply add to your story.”
“If we don’t go to the hard places, people don’t hear the gospel.”
“A bold proclamation of the faith that gets in the face of culture and sacrifices everything.”
“The story of the Gospel always came with a reminder of sin.”
“We soften our message, we soften our blow for the sake of numbers.”
“Jesus would fail every single seminary course on evangelism.”
“Jesus is the master of the church shrinkage movement.”
“Jesus talked about coming to die!”
“We don’t need people to fill a spot on a stage, we need people who are ready to give their lives in missionary sacrifice and to die for the sake of the Gospel!”
“If you come to serve Jesus in ministry don’t come for the sake of the stuff and the building, come for the sake of the lives of the lost.”
Question: How can we make the preaching of the Gospel in our lives and in our churches look more like Jesus’ and Paul’s preaching of the Gospel?
Is it possible to give thanks in the middle of war? Sometimes it’s the brutal reality of living in conflict that reminds us of all we have to be thankful for!
Here are some reasons we can still give thanks in Ukraine!
Give Thanks Because Our God Is Still in Control
Take a couple of minutes and watch the video in this post. These are kids from our church, here in Odessa, Ukraine and they’re singing about how our God gives us rain. This was part of our harvest celebration last Sunday.
The chorus goes something like this:
It is He, our Lord, who hides the water in the clouds,
It is He, it is He who keeps lightning in his hands.
It is He, our Lord, the Lord of angry thunderstorms
He spread through the heavens a bright bridge.
What a great reminder! No army can control the rain or direct the thunder clouds, no human ruler can order the wind or stop the lightning. These things are in God’s hands!
Give Thanks for the Simple Things
We tend to complain about those things that bother us and usually they aren’t the basic necessities of life. This Sunday we were reminded to be thankful that we have bread on the table and clothes on our back. If we have those basics then we have more than some and we have enough to live another day!
Give Thanks for a Place to Lay Your Head
Today I talked with a friend who is a refugee from Donetsk, he showed me a picture of his street. His house is only about a mile from the Donetsk airport. Grad missiles, Uragan missiles, mortars and tanks have destroyed every single house on his block, except for his! Miraculously it is still standing after several months of heavy fighting!
Pray for my friend, he’s planning to go back to Donetsk to care for some elderly church members in the next few days!
Give Thanks for the Opportunity to Serve
For our family we thank God for the opportunity to be in Ukraine at a time like this and to serve our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Ministry is work but it’s also a privilege and a deep joy! We are thankful that we can serve here!
Give Thanks for the Present
Honestly many Ukrainians are worried about the future. Elections are coming up this month and a sense of uncertainty is growing. More than a few people have told me of their desire to move out and get away from it all.
Our harvest celebration encouraged me. It reminded us all to give thanks for what God has already given and what we have now!
It reminded me not to worry about tomorrow!
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Give Thanks for Your Brothers and Sisters
There’s nothing like giving thanks to God with other brothers and sisters in Christ. Corporate thanksgiving is powerful because it turns your perspective away from yourself.
It helps you realize that God has placed you in a community of people who love Jesus and who stand by your side through the trials of life!
We are thankful for our church Hope for People and are also thankful for our many supporting churches and brothers and sisters in Christ in the US who help keep us here.
If you want to join that team you can do it here.
Yes, even in wartime God gives us reasons to give thanks. It’s encouraging to see churches in Ukraine thanking God for his blessings!
Question: How do you give thanks to God during the trials of life?
You may have heard on the news that there is a cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine now. It’s true, politicians came to a public agreement to stop fighting, however, those who live in Donetsk tell us something else.
October 1st was the first day of school in Donetsk, they delayed the start of school for one month because of the fighting. Unfortunately two rockets killed about a dozen people in the city that day. One rocket landed in the school yard and another one landed not far from the school where it destroyed a city bus.
Pray for Churches in Eastern Ukraine!
Despite the cease-fire the situation in many towns in Eastern Ukraine is still desperate! Many are still without water or electricity and there is almost nothing on the store shelves!
Please remember to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ as they struggle to survive in Eastern Ukraine. Pray that peace will come soon and pray that God would protect them and strengthen them to keep serving.
We’re Giving More Ministers an Opportunity to Study!
I want you to know how active Christina is in our ministry, this week she has been working doubly hard with our translation team! They are putting the final touches on the first course for our online theological training program.
Why am I excited about this program? Because it will open wide the doors for many ministers in churches world-wide to study theology and build a strong foundation upon which they can serve in their local church!
Please pray for our translation team as they finish editing these courses and pray for me as I prepare to facilitate the first course in January 2015.
We Need Wheels
We have no car! Generally we can get along here without a car, however, with the tedious situation in Ukraine we believe it is wise for us to have our own transportation. Should Russian tanks come rolling into Odessa we would probably be asked to leave. At that point relying on public transportation may be a problem.
That is why we are looking to purchase a vehicle that could safely and reliably evacuate our family if things get violent here in Odessa. Of course we are praying that won’t happen but it’s best to be prepared.
I’m planning to travel to a car market a couple hundred miles north of us next week to see if I can find something. We could still use some help with this purchase so if you’d like to donate you can do that here.
World Magazine Feature
A couple of weeks ago a writer for World Magazine called me and asked me a few questions about Ukraine. My interview is featured in the October 4th Issue. It’s part of the cover story called Holding On.
If you don’t read World Magazine I highly recommend it. You’ll find that their writers bring a Christian worldview to the major events of our world today!
Question: I’ll let you ask the question this time! What question do you have for me? Call me and leave a message (747) 221-6478 or record your question here.
This month World magazine featured an interview with me in their cover story!
You can check out the full article with my interview in the October 4th issue of World Magazine.
Caleb Suko, a Baptist missionary in Odessa, sees the anxiety as he interacts with friends and neighbors. In his blog about life in Ukraine, Suko writes about the new normal: “People are on edge and it shows in their faces. Smoke rising in the distance could just be someone burning garbage, or it could be a provocation, the beginning of something ugly. A distant boom makes you wonder, ‘Was that a car backfiring or was it something much more ominous?’”
Read the full post on World Magazine.
Back in June I wrote about how Peter Dudnik’s church in Slavyansk was seized by separatists and then used as a military base and as a firing position on Ukrainian forces.
Thankfully in August Ukrainian troops regained control of Slavyansk and Dudnik’s church building was returned to the congregation.
Recently reports have surface that Russian Orthodox priests worked alongside rebels to seize not only Dudnik’s church but other protestant churches in Eastern Ukraine. This alarming trend reveals the surprising truth that the war in Eastern Ukraine isn’t simply about politics. There are deeper religious currents at work.
Novorossiya is what the rebels have called the breakaway nation that they are trying to establish. If they succeed it will not only encompass Donetsk and Lugansk but also Zaparozhiya, Kharkiv, Kherson, Nickolaev and Odessa.
The recently written constitution of Novorossiya identifies Russian Orthodoxy as its main religion:
“The normative form of spiritual and religious education will be belong to the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is allows for freedom of religion, with the exception of religions that are foreign to Russian cultural and civilization.”
Yes, you read that correctly! They include the words “freedom of religion” but it’s kind of like saying,
“You’re free to worship however you want as long as you choose to worship in the Russian Orthodox Church!”
Unfortunately evangelical Christianity is foreign to Russian culture and for many protestant churches in Eastern Ukraine this means that they no longer have a building to gather in! It also means that they are often labeled “Western spies!”
You may recall that nearly the same scenario that happened in Dudnik’s church also played out in my friends church in Antratsit just a month ago where Orthodox priests also accompanied the separatist when they seized his church.
Here is a list from the Baptist Union of churches that have been seized by rebel forces in the last few months in Donetsk and Lugansk.
1. “House of Prayer for All Nations” -Antratsit, Lugansk region
2. International Union of Churches Evangelical Christian Baptist -Lugansk
3. “Bethany Church” -Donetsk
4. Donetsk Christian University
5. Brotherhood of Independant Churches and Mission -Donetsk
6. “Renewal Church”, Union of Free Churches -Krasny Luch
7. “Word of Life Church” -Donetsk
Additionally as a result of fighting the following churches were either damaged or destroyed.
1. “Christ the Savior Church” -Lugansk (damage to walls and roof)
2. “Revival Church” -Pervomaisk, Lugansk region. (burned)
3. Evangelical Christian Baptist Church -Ilovaisk, Donetsk region (destroyed by a rocket)
Please take some time to pray for Evangelical churches in Eastern Ukraine. Don’t be fooled into thinking that everything is better there now because of the cease-fire.
Times are still desperate, armies are still shooting, people are still dying and persecution is still happening!
Yesterday in the center Of Ukraine’s second largest city a pro-Ukraine crowd cut the legs from underneath Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and pulled his image to the ground!
You may think, “Big deal, it was just a statue!”
It was a big deal and let me tell you why!
Lenin Was More Than a Leader, He Was Divine
One thing the leaders of the USSR quickly realized was that they couldn’t just get rid of the idea of God. People need a god, they need something or someone to worship.
It was clear by the time Lenin died that in the eyes of many people he had already risen to divine status. Nearly a million people passed by his body within the first 3 days after his death.
Soviet leaders decided that it would be good to keep Lenin around and had his body embalmed and placed for viewing in the Lenin Mausoleum. They also quickly renamed St. Petersburg, one of the most significant Russian cities, to Leningrad.
What followed in the years after was the creation of thousands of monuments, stories of how he loved children, songs of praise and many romanticized paintings of Lenin! His portrait hung in every classroom and children learned from an early age how amazing Lenin was and that he loved them and that he was their “grandfather.”
They even had a saying about Lenin that went like this:
Lenin was, Lenin is, Lenin will be!
Does that sound familiar? Maybe because it describes the nature of God!
Here’s an excerpt from nice song that children would sing about Lenin.
Lenin – is the blossom of spring,
Lenin – a victory cry!
Hail the centuries, Lenin,
Our dear Ilyich!
The fate of peoples dreams of generations
He foresaw with his eagle eye.
Immortal, in life, Lenin will live forever
It was his wise work that created the communist party.
Lenin Was Really a Russian Leader
They may have called it the Soviet Union but in reality the former USSR was a Russian led and Russian dominated state. Moscow was the capital and the glory of the Soviet Union. Russians saw it as their empire, their dominion.
Everything significant happened in Moscow. The communist party headquarters was in Moscow and from it flowed all power and authority. Although Russia was technically a republic of the USSR it had by far the largest population and the greatest landmass. The other republics recognized that the Soviet Union was really a Russian union.
Lenin Represents the Soviet Style Leadership
Soviet style of leadership is typified by a system that is held together with bribes, threats, fear and oppression. It is a system that allows only the dishonest to get rich and stay rich. It promotes cronyism and corruption.
If you grew up in Ukraine or Russia then it’s safe to say that if you see a wealthy person or a person with political power you immediately assume that they are corrupt. You know that there’s very little chance of getting to where they are with out being involved in some less than honest practices.
Many Ukrainians are demanding a new style of leadership. A style that looks more like Western Europe, where laws are meant to protect the people and not those in power. Where you can live honestly, obey the law and still do well. They don’t want to be forced back into this new form of the Soviet Union that is rolling across the border to the East.
Lenin Represents the Current Russo-Nationalistic Movement
The current movement of Russo-nationalism certainly looks much different than the communistic utopia that Lenin tried so hard to create. Honestly, I think Lenin himself would be horrified by what is happening in Eastern Ukraine right now. However, for Ukrainians Lenin represents Russian domination and authority.
Lenin represents the forceful expansion of the Russian Federation into places like South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
What the Toppling of Lenin Means in Kharkiv
Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second largest city and it lies less than 20 miles from the Russian border. Kharkiv is primarily a Russian speaking city and historically has many close ties to Russia. Many people who live in and around Kharkiv travel back and forth to Russia on regular basis for business and to visit family.
Despite these close ties to Russia Kharkiv is making a bold statement! They are saying,
“We do not welcome a Russian invasion! We do not want Russian control! We do not want to go back to the Soviet Union!”
Thankfully, so far Kharkiv has managed to successfully keep Russia from slipping her fingers around the neck of this Ukrainian city. Now that the Lenin idol is down, I’m hopeful that this will mark a future free from Russian aggression!
I always enjoyed throwing my children as high into the air as I could.
I never dropped them!
And they never doubted that I would catch them.
This picture reminds me of the kind of trust I should have in my Heavenly Father!
Innocent and undiluted trust brings joy.
It brings joy to me His child when I know whose hands will catch me.
It brings joy to my Father when he sees the smile on my face.
Question: What do you need to do to regain a childlike trust in the Heavenly Father?
Worry isn’t as harmless as we often think! It can sneak into your mind and quietly begin to destroy your life if you’re not careful!
In this episode of “Now Is the Time” I identify seven ways worry can destroy you. I also show you the one mistake we often make that leads to this type of destructive worry.
(If the player doesn’t appear above you can click here to listen.)
What Worry Destroys
We tend to worry about what we think might be dangerous but we often don’t realize that worry its self is one of the most dangerous things we can engage in!
- It destroys your health
- It destroys your productivity
- It destroys your mind
- It destroys your family
- It destroys your finances
- It destroys your confidence
- It destroys your faith
A Revealing Question
It’s one thing to understand the destructive nature of worry and it’s another thing to know what to do about it! Jesus asked his disciples one shocking question after a terrifying experience on the Sea of Galilee.
He simply said,
“Where is your faith?” Luke 8:25
The answer to this question both reveals the reason we worry and points to the solution for our worries!
“The faith that Jesus was talking about is not a general faith that is often referred to in today’s popular culture. It is not faith in some higher good or simply having a positive outlook in life. It most certainly is not faith in yourself, in your abilities or talents. Jesus called us to a faith much higher than ourselves. He called us to believe in the only thing that can actually lift us from our worries and set us on solid ground. Jesus called for faith in himself!” What If…
World Magazine interviewed me about the situation in Ukraine. The interview appears in the cover story for the Oct 4th issue.
Here are my thoughts about the Mars Hill/Mark Driscoll debacle.
Ask me anything anytime you want or give me a call and leave a message (747) 221-6478.
Question: How have you noticed that worry destroys your life? In What ways does faith in Jesus give you peace and rid you of your worry?
I’ve never been to a service at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. However, I do have family who attend Mars Hill and a few other friends who are involved in the church. So I’ve been watching the unfolding drama of Mark Driscoll from a far with some interest.
It’s strange how we react when a big named preacher gets himself into trouble. It’s like that fender-bender on the highway in rush hour traffic. Everyone slows down way more than they need to, just so they can catch a glimpse of the poor guy whose insurance rates are about to double! Sometimes we may even secretly think to ourselves, “I bet he wasn’t watching the road!” as we rubber neck past the scene.
Use Some Caution!
Which is why I think we need to use the uttermost caution before we jump to our keyboards and start giving our opinion of what went wrong in someone else’s church and how their leadership should respond.
If it’s not your church, then maybe you should stay out of it. Maybe you don’t know the whole story, maybe you should focus on the problems in your own church before trying to tell other churches how to fix their problems!
What I’m saying here is not a judgement on Mars Hill or on Mark Driscoll. Whether or not the accusations about Pastor Mark are true , I don’t know and it’s not mine to make the call!
Certainly Mars Hill does have problems that they are working on and I’ll let them do their thing. What I’m writing about here is a lesson that we can all learn from these recent events.
Quality in the Pulpit
I’ve listened to Mark Driscoll’s preaching and I’ve read a couple of his books like “Doctrine” and “Religion Saves.” While I certainly don’t agree with everything he teaches, I’ve found both Pastor Mark’s books and preaching helpful in the last couple of years. He’s a gifted speaker and writer and many have benefited from that.
Character out of the Pulpit
Reading some of the letters written with concerns about Pastor Mark, I have noticed one common theme. Those former church members and leaders who have voiced their concerns tend to point out that they believe Pastor Mark to be abusive, controlling and angry.
Theses are serious character problems if they typify a persons day-to-day behavior behind the scenes. These are also issues that can be kept hidden from 99% of the people who listen to Pastor Mark’s sermons and read his books. If you’re like me then you don’t have a personal relationship with Pastor Mark and so there is really no way to even know whether his character matches up with what he preaches.
What You Don’t See Matters
It would be almost tempting to think that his character doesn’t really matter that much, but it does!
God’s Word clearly lays out for us the requirements of elders in the church and character plays a primary role! A brief reading through 1 Timothy 3:1-7 reveals such important qualifications as:
- Not violent but gentle
- Not quarrelsome
- Not a lover of money
Oh yes and there’s one more!
- Able to teach
For too long the Western Church has elevated knowledge and the ability to teach above all other qualifications. We send guys to seminary and figure if the school spits them out on the other side and slaps a degree in their hand then they’re pastoral material!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against seminaries or theological education! I’ve been to seminary and I teach theology! They are vital but they can’t stand alone! What I’m saying is this:
The character of the pastor or preacher is the framework upon which good theology and great preaching is built!
Give me a knowledgeable pastor who studies his Bible 8 hours a day and can recite large portions of the New Testament in Greek, yet lacks moral fortitude and discretion, and I will show you a man who will eventually destroy every church that so foolishly allows him to lead it!
Give me an unlearned man with a willing heart who simply understands core Biblical values and lives by them unrelentingly, and I will show you a man who despite the lack of a seminary degree will be used of God to accomplish what others could only dream of!
Character outside of the pulpit must precede and accompany quality in the pulpit!
It Hurts to Learn
This is a painful lesson that churches need to learn and that pastors and preachers need to understand. If we are not carefully aware of character, we can easily fall into the temptation that as long as the sermon is great, then that’s all that matters.
I think God said it best when he told Samuel,
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Sam 6:7
Churches can’t look at the heart like God can but they can take careful observation of the attitudes and tendencies that typify a man’s life. Through prayer and patience these things often become clear.
On the other hand if pastors are honest, they know the problems of their own heart. As a pastor and a preacher I must daily fight with prayer and the Word to make sure that my life represents my teaching, to ensure that my character at home and in private matches my words in public!
This is constant battle for all pastors, one that we must never pull back on! Thankfully God can and does give us the strength we need.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” 1 Peter 1:3