Monday, June 27, 2011


I recently heard a statistic that only 15-20 percent of those who accept Jesus as their savior and grow in their faith will ever go on to reproduce the process in others.  This was at first a bit discouraging to me, though the speaker spun it as normal.  I certainly would hope for better results than that.

Then I remembered the parable of the four soils.  In this parable the farmer sows seed on four different soils.  One soil (the path) is so hard that the seed is trampled underfoot and the birds eat what is left.  No new life springs up.  The second soil is the rocky soil.  This soil produces new life, but it does not last because it has no root.  The third soil is good soil, but choked by weeds.  Though the seed produces life, there is no fruit because the plant is not properly nourished.  The final soil is good healthy soil without weeds, and it produces a crop 60-100 fold.

The first soil represents those who hear the word and reject it.  You will not find such people in your church.

The second represents those who accept the word, but quickly fall away and so produce no fruit.  You may see such people in your church, but they will not last long.  By the way, if you know such a person you may want to check up on them.  Something has “uprooted” them, and they may need your help. 

The third soil represents those who hear the word and accept it but get distracted by life and never produce fruit.  Your church is probably full of such people.  If you are one of them it is time to pull up your “weeds,” by removing the distractions that are keeping you from obeying the word and sharing your faith with others.

The final soil represents those who hear the word, remain in it, grow, and in doing so produce a massive crop.

The point is this, according to Jesus’ own parable, most people will never lead others to Christ or help them to grow in their faith.  Most will never turn followers into leaders or students into teachers.  However, those who do will do so in abundance.  A 100 fold crop in 1st century times would be an amazing crop.

Not everyone we work with will prove to be fruitful, but those who do will be very fruitful.  All we have to do is find the “good soil” and invest deeply in them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trip to the Past

Keeping with the theme of my last post, I wanted to share some of my thoughts from our trip to Thessaloniki last week.  We took a two day trip to Greece as a family to celebrate our 10th anniversary.  True our anniversary was last month, but this was the first weekend when we could get away.

Greece is not to far from Sofia.  Driving to the border only takes about two and a half hours.  Then it is another two or so hours to Thessaloniki.  It is similar in distance and time to a drive from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Madison, Wisconsin using only the back roads (with mountains and a passport check at the border).

As I sat on the beach while the girls splashed around in the sea, I imagined Paul traveling to this port city.  He would have stayed for about a year and then left a small fledgling church all on its own.  His actions today would probably have been considered a failure by many missions experts.  After all, spending only one year in a city and then moving on leaving a congregation of fledgling believers behind would be seen as foolish and a colossal waste of time and resources.  Besides, trusting the Holy Spirit sometimes seems like the crazy thing to do.  Our own plans make more sense in our minds.  We do know one thing.  Paul did not consider his time there a failure (1 Thessalonians 2:1).

After his departure the church grew, and when Paul sent them his first letter he was able to thank God for them.  They had become a model to all the believers in Macedonia (1 Thess. 1:7)  His next letter continued the theme of rejoicing and growth in this church (2 Thess 1:3).

That is not the end of the story for the Thessalonian church though.  As I sat on the beach I looked up into the mountains that surrounded the city.  I thought of two young Thessalonians centuries later whose hearts burned to take the message of salvation through Jesus up into those mountains and beyond to Bulgaria.  Their names were Cyril and Methodius.  They developed an alphabet specifically to share the gospel with the Slavic peoples.  (One of their first stops was Bulgaria.)  The Cyrillic alphabet has changed a bit over the centuries, but to this day it is still used in numerous countries.  Their influence has lasted for centuries and it stretches from the Bering Strait to the Balkan Mountains.  The gospel transforms souls.  This we know.  It transforms cultures as well.

What will our future hold?  We are not the first to come this way with the message of life.  We will likely not be the last.  Will our influence be as pervasive as Cyril's, or Methodius', or Paul's?  Will the work we do thrive when we leave it behind as Paul did.  Will the people we reach go out and reach others?  We certainly pray so.  We make our plans, and assemble our partnerships in the hopes of having a great impact here, but our true success and our lasting impact will come only when we follow the Holy Spirit's leading.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Understanding the Past

Several weeks ago I met with a man who is a leader in the Church here in Bulgaria.  I asked him to tell me one thing he thought I should know about Sofia.  He answered, “You should know that you are not the first ones here.  Bulgaria has a long spiritual history.”

All you have to do is walk through downtown to realize the truth of this.  There are several churches and beautiful cathedrals.  There is also one of the biggest synagogues in Europe and a mosque right in the middle of down town.  These are all still in use to this day.

There is also the historic Church of St. George.  This fourth century building located right in the middle of the city is considered to be the oldest building in Sofia.  Think about that.  The oldest building in the city is a church from 1,700 years ago!  We are obviously not the first Christians ever to set foot here.

The Cyrillic alphabet used today by most Slavic languages from Russia to Serbia was created by two missionaries from Thessalonica, Greece to translate the Bible into Bulgarian.

Yet, despite this deep spiritual history, there a lack of understanding as to what it means and how it applies to life today.  It is our desire to teach (or rather re-teach) the people of Bulgaria about how their spiritual history is applicable to their life today.  We want them to see the reality behind the spiritual structures that dot the 

To do that, we need to take the advice of our Bulgarian friend and learn about this history.  We need to know the spiritual realities of this country.  That is why we are devoting a significant portion of our first couple of years here to understanding the culture.  It is tempting to just jump in and assume that we know everything.  It is easy to believe that we are entering a spiritual vacuum but that is not reality.

“You are not the first ones here.”

Every person in the world has a spiritual understanding that comes from their culture, and their spiritual culture (whether they know it or not) comes from their culture’s history.  If you don’t understand the past of where you live and work, you will be less effective in influencing the present.

Even Sasha, who has lived in Bulgaria, most of her life, needs to take the time to reflect on how Bulgaria’s past affects the present.  This is not something we often think about, especially in our home cultures.  Yet wherever you live, you should take the time to understand why people think and act the way they do.  There is always a reason, and the more you understand them the more effective you will be in sharing the love of Jesus with them.