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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

When Pieces Fall

I have heard a similar thought from several ministry leaders: “I pray that God would take me home before I sin in such a way that it dishonors the body of Christ.”

Usually this idea is spoken in the context of serious sexual immorality or theft or something that disqualifies someone from service in professional ministry.  It is a thought that resonates in my heart.  I am willing to die for the Church, and I would rather be dead than commit adultery or fraud or anything else that would disqualify me from service in ministry.  I have known people in leadership who have disqualified themselves from ministry in terrible ways.  In some cases I would have rather heard that they had died of a stroke in their sleep than that they had fallen.  Yet though this idea may be meant to demonstrate resolve and bravery, it also has a mark of convenient cowardice mixed with a touch of arrogance.

It sounds good.  Rather than sin, we die and cannot sin.  It is interesting that this sentiment only seems to be made in relation to the so-called serious sins.  In reality, every Christian on earth dishonors Jesus on a regular basis.  Most of us don’t commit terrible sexual sins.  Most of us don’t commit felonies or fraud.  But we gossip.  We look at things we should not look at.  We slander.  We throw hatred at each other.  We borrow money and conveniently “forget” to pay it back.  Why not ask God to take us home before we commit these sins.  For that matter, why not take matters into our own hands by physically preventing ourselves from dishonoring God?  Why not gouge out our eyes if they cause us to sin as Jesus suggested in Matthew 18:9?

On the one hand, perhaps we don’t think these kinds of sins are that big of a deal.  We don’t think about our gossip as dishonoring to God.  We don’t care when we take advantage of others.  We make excuses for lying and backstabbing.  We delude ourselves.  We think, “Surely preventing such minor infractions is not worth loss of life or limb.”  By excusing our “lesser” sins as acceptable, we rewrite the moral code.  In doing so, we put ourselves in the place of God.  What could be more dishonoring than this?  Yet it is in exactly this way that we dishonor God daily.

On the other hand, we don’t follow Jesus’ extreme suggestion because we know that the cause of our sin is not our physical bodies.  Sin comes from our heart.  It is merely manifested in our tongues, our eyes, and our hands.  Our heart is the engine that drives the wheels of our sinful nature.  Blaming our eyes for coveting or our tongue for lying is like blaming the wheels on the car for not changing gears rather than looking to repair the transmission.

Getting back to the original thought, when a pastor asks God to take him home rather than letting him commit a terrible sin, he somewhat puts the responsibility for these great sins on God.  After all, if God had just killed the pastor with a heart attack before he slept with the office assistant, there would have been no adultery and the church would never have split.  Why does God allowing these sins to happen?  Doesn’t he realize how important the pastor is?  Doesn’t He realize the damage He has caused to the church by not killing the pastor?

Any ministry leader who thinks that God cannot handle his sin thinks too highly of himself.  Look at the story of King David of Israel.  If he had gotten an infection (untreatable at the time) and died in chapter 10 of Second Samuel, there would have been no affair with Bathsheba.  There would have been no murder of Uriah.  There would have been no civil war with Absalom.  David’s sin caused much suffering, and surely God saw it coming.  Why didn’t God prevent it from happening?

Rather than overriding David’s free will with a illness that prevented the sin, God worked out of that sin and accomplished much good.  From David and Bathsheba came King Solomon the Wise, and from the line of King Solomon came Jesus.  God allowed David to act in a sinful way, yet God was not defeated by David’s sin.

Terrible things happened because of David’s choices.  In the same way terrible things happen when a Christian sins, especially a ministry leader.  Such sins should not happen.  Yet God is so great that He can work even our worst sins together for good above and beyond anything we can imagine.

We are not so important that we can destroy God’s plans by our folly.

Finally, asking for death rather than taking responsibility for our actions is taking the coward’s way out.  It is cowardly to give in to sin rather than fight it in the strength and grace of God, and when we fall it is cowardly to prefer death to confession and repentance.

Rather than ask God to take me home before I sin, I would ask Him to transform me into a man strong enough to resist temptation.  I would ask Him to use my time on Earth to transform me into the man He wants me to be.

Death is better than sin, but righteousness is better still.  Let us trust Him to deliver us from evil.  Let us not give up doing what is right.  Let us enjoy another day walking with Him in His beautiful creation.