Sunday, April 9, 2017

What Would I Do?

Terrorist attacks now days have become common.  We are angry about them, and we cheer on victories over such evil men when they happen.

Today's attack in Egypt made me think: What if they come for me?  What if I am their next victim?  What would my last thoughts be knowing that my life was being snuffed out by evil men who hate those who think differently than they do?

I am not afraid of death.  It is going to happen some day, and I am confident in my salvation through Jesus' death and resurrection.  I trust in Him alone to save me.

Yet, if I were to die today, I would miss out on so much.  I would not see my daughters graduate from high-school.  I would not walk them down the aisle.  I would not see my grandkids.  I would miss out on so many wonderful years with Sasha.  There are places I would never see and things I would never do.

Would I be thinking about all I would miss?  Would I be angry?  Would my last thoughts be hate filled at those who hurt me and will continue to hurt my family through their act for years to come?

Or would my final thought be like Stephen’s last words in Acts 7:60, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them?”

I hope it would be the latter, but words are cheep.  Hopefully, I will never have to find out what I would think and do in such circumstances.  Never the less, I would like my life, and my eventual death to be one filled with grace and love for others, even those who would purposely hurt me.  Only by God’s grace can it be so.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Bulgarian Liberation Day

Those who have studied America’s Revolutionary War will be acquainted with the words of Patrick Henry from his speech given on March 23, 1775, “Give me liberty or give me death!”

I was surprised years ago when I read a similar sentiment on a green flag with a rampant gold lion in my father-in-law’s garage here in Bulgaria.

“Свобода или смърт,” is Bulgarian for “liberty or death.”  These are the last words of a poem written by the Bulgarian poet Ivan Vazov.  They were a rallying cry during the Bulgarian fight for independence from the Ottoman empire which took place a century after America fought for her independence from the British empire.

As Bulgarians celebrate liberation from the Ottomans today, I am reminded of this message.  We can learn a lot about a culture by what they are willing to die for.   Many Bulgarians, like many Americans, value freedom even over life.

Happy Liberation Day!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Spiritual Warfare

If you hang around Christians long enough, you will eventually hear the term “the enemy” used.  This is a term that refers to evil forces at work to harm humanity and attack God’s children (the universal Church).  To speak plainly, when Christians use this term they are talking about Satan and his followers.

Spiritual attacks by the enemy can come in various forms.  They can be physical as in health or safety problems, they can be emotional as in struggles and conflict with others, and they can be spiritual.

The question is occasionally raised as to how to deal with such attacks.  It is a question that has a bit more depth than we might initially think.

The first problem in dealing with spiritual warfare is that we do not always know the source of our suffering.  Yes, sometimes suffering can be demonic in nature, but it can also come from natural sources.  Because we are fallen creatures, health and emotional problems can find their source in us.  As far as I am aware, there are only two stories in the Bible in which the Devil directly tempts people.  The first one was Eve in the Garden of Eden, and the second one was Jesus in the wilderness.  In both cases, the person being tempted was sinless.

Satan does not need to tempt us to do the wrong thing because we are already predisposed to sin.  We need to be rescued from our condition not encouraged to remain in it.

There are biblical examples of spiritual attack being directly responsible for physical problems such as in Job, but it is interesting in that particular story that the one afflicted never learns the identity of his tormenter.  In regards to Job, it seems God’s purpose was to bring Job into a deeper trust in Him rather than to teach him about the spiritual reality behind his suffering.

As the source of conflict and suffering is often unknown to us, it seems that our focus should not be on whether or not demons are causing our suffering but on how we are to react in such times.

First of all, we should pray.  Regardless of the cause of our sufferings, if they bring us closer to God they will have been worth it.  Thus, our first reaction as Christians should be to recognize our need for God.

Second of all, we should reflect.  Ask yourself, “What have I done to cause this suffering?”  If a sin comes to mind, confess it.  If you have wronged someone, apologize to him.  If you have been foolish, start living in wisdom.  If you are doing something wrong or stupid, stop it. 

However, even after prayer and self-reflection, it is possible that you cannot discern the cause of the suffering.

Years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer.  It was a terrible and aggressive cancer that could quickly kill its victims.  To make it worse, the cancer came as the result of a rare form of pregnancy that caused a miscarriage.  In a matter of weeks she went from the joy of expecting a child to being on the verge of death due to the ravages of this disease.

The good news about this cancer is that everything that made it so dangerous made it curable as well.  The bad news was that the cure required months of one of the most torturous regimes of chemotherapy in existence.  It was a very dark time for us.

At one point Sasha asked me, “Is there some sin that God is punishing me for?”  I responded, “Does anything come to mind?”  Nothing did, so we proceeded under the belief that this was not discipline for sin.  If your suffering comes because God is correcting your behavior, it is a good bet that you will know what He is correcting.

Yet not having a reason why is frustrating to the one suffering.  How are we to proceed in such circumstances?

We are to continue to trust God and keep our eyes focused on Him.

The enemy would like nothing better than for our focus to be on anything other than God during such times.  He would like nothing more than for us to think that he is the source of our suffering and to ignore the one who loves us.  He would have us look at the waves we are sinking in rather than on the one who can keep us from sinking.  Anything that takes our eyes off God is good enough for him.

Jesus Walks on Water by Ivan Aivazovsky

This is the true nature of spiritual warfare.  The goal is not to hurt us temporarily through momentary pain.  The enemy wants to hurt us long-term by causing us to focus on anything other that God.  The only way to win is to keep our eyes looking to our Lord.

Have you ever wondered why some people do not seem to suffer much?  Have you ever wondered why wicked people sometimes seem to live a good life?  Perhaps it is because they do not need to be visited with suffering to lose sight of God.  No spiritual enemy needs to attack them because the enemy is winning that battle.

Yet ours is not a faith that seeks mere earthly comfort.  It is a faith that seeks a relationship with a righteous God.  He is reaching out His hand to us.  The enemy wants us to put our hand anywhere else.

When you are under attack, put your hand in Jesus’ hand.  Only He can win this spiritual war.

(This article is dedicated to my former professor Dr. John Heart whose teaching helped me through the darkest time of my life.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dog Verses God

Tonight I read Exodus 11 to my daughters. This is the chapter where Moses warns Pharaoh about the upcoming death of every firstborn son in Egypt.  (This was one of the many times in the Bible where it would have been preferable to be female.)  As I was reading, verse 7 popped out to me.  "But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any person or animal. Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel."
I understood the meaning.  God was going to treat the Israelites differently than the Egyptians and kill neither them nor their animals.  But what was up with the talk of dogs?  Then the picture of various Egyptian deities popped into my head.  I wondered, “Wasn’t there a dog-god or something like that.” I did a little research.
It turns out I was right.  There was a dog-headed god.  He was called Anubis.  Anubis was the god of the underworld, protector of the dead, and god of embalming.
The ancient Egyptians were very interested in death and embalming. Mummies are elaborately embalmed corpses, and the pyramids are nothing more that massive tombs.  Death was a big deal to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt, and death was represented by a dog-headed god.
In essence, it appears that what Moses was saying was, “My God is going to pass through your land and kill every first-born son.  Not everyone will be killed, just this specific subset of your people.  However, your dog-headed god will not be able to so much as bark in the presence of God’s people.  The LORD will triumph over your great god Anubis.  All of those fancy pyramids you build and the elaborate embalming processes you go through are nothing to Him.”
To this day in Egypt, the pyramids are a big deal.  Regardless of the fact that most Egyptians today are Sunni Muslims, these remnants of a pantheon gone by remain the central tourist site in their country.  Yet the dog-god that inspired their construction could not even bark that terrible night thousands of years ago.  Even death bows to God.
When you read the Bible, ask questions, and then look for the answers.  Go deeper. Doing so is like watching color TV rather than black and white.  There is so much more to see if we open our eyes and look.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Third Evil

Evil takes many forms in the world.  Most evil remains below the surface.  It can be destroyed simply by being brought to light.  For example, child pornography thankfully remains taboo in western culture (though sadly not the whole world).  It exists, but those who participate in it are considered among the vilest creatures.  Simply by being found out, such evil people can be stopped.

Other forms of evil are forced on the masses by a minority.  For example, mob violence, cruel dictators, and forms of criminal activity (both illegal and sanctioned by governments) that allow a few to get what they want on the backs of others.  There are examples of this around the world.  Such evil is more difficult to eradicate.  In some cases it can be destroyed through peaceful means as Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated in the United States in the 1960’s.  In other cases it can only be defeated by fighting back.  The good thing about such forms of evil is that they are widely recognized as wrong, and thus they do not often remain in place.

Hidden evil is done in private.  Criminal evil is done publicly but is generally not approved by the majority.  Yet there is a third kind of evil that is even more insidious.  It is when the majority adopts an evil and embraces it as a cultural norm that evil is most destructive.

During the United States’ first century slavery was considered the norm by the majority population in the southern states.  It was upheld as a virtue and the natural order of things.  The prosperity of society was believed to depended on it, and when the value of slavery was threatened, hundreds of thousands of people died defending the enslavement of their fellow man.  Those who wanted to free the slaves were considered criminals and had to operate underground.

When good has to hide, you know that you are living in a corrupt culture.  If we have to hide living righteously, speaking righteously, or even thinking righteously, we can be certain that at least part of the society we live in has been seriously corrupted by evil.

Are there things that you know to be true and right that you are afraid to talk about for fear of what others will think about you, say about you, or do to you?  If so, then you are living in a place that has so thoroughly succumbed to evil that it now hates that which is good.

There is hope.  The corruption need not continue.

Before refrigeration, decay was slowed or even halted by salt.  Meat was kept from rotting by being packed in salt.  As a kid, when I had a sore throat I was told to gargle salt water.  Salt can help cure infections.  What the world needs is spiritual salt to fight against the decay and corruption of evil.

“You are the salt of the world.” -Jesus of Nazareth

You are the tool to fight decay and corruption.  You are the one who can preserve your culture from evil and purify it from unrighteousness.

You have a choice.  You can be salt and face the wrath of a corrupt world, or you can give up your saltiness.  Yet be careful.  If salt loses its saltiness “it is no longer good for anything.”

Make your choice today.  Stand up for what is right even when it is unpopular and be the salt of the world, or give up your saltiness and be useless.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

How the Blisses Saved Christmas

I got a slip in the mail yesterday telling me that I had a document to pick up at the local post office.  I had been waiting for this slip for weeks now.  I diligently checked the mailbox every day.  I even leafed through every flier to make sure the slip was not hidden inside it.  We were expecting a package and we wanted to be sure to pick it up promptly lest it be returned to the sender or we be forced to pay a fine.

I took the slip down to the post office after I dropped the kids off at school.  After waiting in line behind two other postal customers, I finally got my chance.  I presented the post office the slip and was in return given a second slip of paper telling me that that package was waiting for me a the Central Customs Agency.

It has been years since we have had to take a trip to the Customs Agency near the train station in Sofia.  For a while now we have been able to call the Agency and have them deliver packages directly to our door, so it came as a bit of an unpleasant surprise that this time there was no option for home delivery.

We wasted no time.  Sasha and I walked down to the subway station and rode the five stops to the train station.  We then walked two blocks to the Customs Agency.  As we walked there, Sasha reminded me that it was Friday and the slip of paper directed us to go to window number 13.  It’s a good thing we are not superstitious.

We entered the large hall of windows with a beautiful Christmas tree on display in the middle and a large glass-ceiling overhead.  We approached the window where again I found myself in line behind two people.  When it was my turn I handed over the slip of paper and my ID card.  I was then asked the question, “What’s in the package?”

Sasha and I had been expecting this question and had rehearsed several answers.  We were fairly certain that the package was from my folks back in Illinois, but we could not be totally sure yet as we had not seen the package.  The best answer we came up with while waiting was, “I don’t know.  Ask Santa.”

We did not give the lady this answer.  Instead I chickened out and just said, “I don’t know.  I think its gifts.”  This was probably a wise move as any sarcastic responses might have caused her to return the package to America.

She had me fill out a form and then handed me some documentation with the instructions, “Go to window 28 and pay a 4 Leva import tax.”

“Right!” I thought, “Go to window 24 and pay a 8 Leva import tax . . . or was it window 21?”

“Sasha, where were we supposed to go again?”  (It’s nice to have a Bulgarian with you in such circumstances.)

We wound our way through the bowels of the building until we found a wonderfully ancient set of yellow windows.  We were so happy that we had made it in just a few hours from the time we got the slip of paper to the time we got our package.  We went to window 28 to pay the 4 Leva tax.

Upon taking our money, the lady at window 28 handed us a new clump of documents and told me to go to window 30 to pick up our package.  Fortunately window 28 was just two windows down from window 30.  (Amazing concept, I know.)

We went to window 30 ready to pick up our package that we had hurried to get since we had received that slip of paper in the mail just a few hours before.  The lady at window 30 looked at our documents.  Then she looked at her book listing off the packages.  Then she looked at me.  Then she asked me my name.  I smiled and refrained from pointing out that it was on the slip of paper in front of her.  Instead I just said, “David Bliss.”  She found my name and had me sign the ledger.

She then informed me that there was a 2.10 Leva fine for being late picking it up.  I smiled and said, “No problem.”  As she left to get the package, I pulled out the three small coins necessary to pay the fine.  Meanwhile Sasha began to get a little ticked off.

“We just got the slip today!  How can we be late?”

I smiled through my teeth and said, “We don’t have the package yet.  You catch more flies with honey.  After we get it you can tell her off.”

Fortunately the lady took so long getting her package that Sasha and I were laughing by the time she came back.

Window lady 30 placed the package directly in front of me.  I reached out to grab it and she rather sharply declared, “Wait a moment!”  I smiled again as I withdrew my arm from the window.

Window lady 30 then went over to window 29 to get some important documents.  She then handed us our new wad of documents and our package.

We rejoiced at our success.  Package received!  It was Christmas presents from my Dad and Mom.  We had just saved Christmas!

Me with the package in the central customs building.  Mission accomplished!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Living at the Crossroads

One reason I love serving in Bulgaria is that we are not just serving Bulgaria.

We have worked with people from all over the world.  I have had the privilege of teaching the Bible to people from every inhabited continent.

The heart of what we are doing here in Bulgaria is discipleship.  We want to teach people who in turn can teach others.  We do this through small groups and mentoring.  The effects have spread throughout the world.  There are people in Africa, Europe, both Americas, and possibly Asia who have been a part of our small group ministry.

People come to Bulgaria for all kinds of reasons.  Some stay.  Most move on.  This can make our work here a bit sad as we are constantly saying good-bye to people.  Yet it is also fulfilling as we have the chance to invest in people who will make an impact around the world.

Could you be a part of this?  There is room on our team!

A small group that meets in our neighborhood.  There are four nations represented in this picture.