Sunday, July 23, 2017

It's What We Do

I have the privilege this week of attending the ReachGlobal Europe Conference in Slovenia.

Early in the week we had a slide show with pictures of ministry sent in from all over Europe.  One thing that stood out to me was how many pictures were nothing more than a group of people gathered in a living room or a coffee shop.  Yes there were pictures of schools and churches and camps, but most of the pictures were merely people in life together.

This should not be surprising.  Ministry is about people, and people are not projects.  If we truly care about those around us we are naturally going to spend time with them.  This is what we do.

Earlier in the week we talked about Jesus washing His disciples’ feet during the last supper.  He did this to show them the extent of His love for them.  The most influential ministry workers I have ever met are not those with the best programs or the most charismatic personalities or the greatest ability to preach or those who have the most meetings, they are the ones who love others the most.

This is who we are.  This is what we do.  We are ReachGlobal Europe, and we love others as Christ loves us.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Veliko Turnovo

We recently took a trip to Veliko Turnovo, the former capital of Bulgaria, to visit friends who live there.

Tsarevets Fortress in Veliko Turnovo

Veliko Turnovo was home to a massive fortress that held out against the Ottoman Empire’s invasion of the Balkans for longer than most.  It was one of the last bastions of the old Bulgarian Empire before it was finally conquered.  Bulgaria would remain enslaved to the Ottomans for half a millennium.  As the renaissance would take Western Europe into a golden age of exploration, Bulgaria remained in chains until on March 3, 1878 they once again regained their freedom.

Now partially rebuilt, the Tsarevets Fortress looms on the cliffs over the modern city of Veliko Turnovo as a reminder of Bulgaria’s struggle for freedom.

Veronica, Alexis, and a friend exploring the ruins of Tsarevets

We took the girls there along with some friends who live in the city.  It was great to show them their heritage and remind them of a cry shouted in both Bulgaria and the U.S. in their fights for freedom.

Свобода или смърт!

Give me liberty or give me death.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Remembering Georgi

Georgi with his family.  (Sasha is the littlest one.)

A year ago today, Sasha’s dad passed away.
  The anniversary of a traumatic event is often a time of increased grief and stress for those who went through it.  In Bulgaria, it is traditional to commemorate the anniversary of the passing of a loved one.  Today we went to Sasha’s hometown to be with family and remember Sasha’s father.

We visited the grave early in the morning with the traditional bread, wine, water, and grain.  The bread and wine symbolize the body and blood of Christ just like in church communion services.  The water symbolizes the water of baptism (a longstanding and ancient tradition by which Christians demonstrate faith in Jesus).  The grain represents the hope of resurrection.  These four elements in concert paint a complete picture of the Gospel.  We are saved through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This salvation comes to us by grace through faith, and it will lead to the bodily resurrection of all who believe.

After the visit to the grave, we had a meal with the family back at the house and spent the day together remembering Georgi.

At one point, I was siting on a chair doing a Sudoku out of the local newspaper.  I suddenly remembered how I would often sit doing Sudoku while Georgi sat on the next chair over reading the sports section.  I was blessed to get to know him, and we all continue to miss him dearly.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Not So the Wicked

Earlier this month, Sasha and I attended a conference in beautiful Croatia.  We visited the seaside city of Split and saw the massive palace of Emperor Diocletian.

Diocletian was Emperor of Rome in the late third and early fourth centuries.  He violently persecuted Christians in more extreme and terrible ways than any of his predecessors.    The ruins of his amphitheater, where many Christians would have been killed for sport, still stand in Split.

Yet now, centuries later, his empire has crumbled.  His palace still remains, but it has been converted into a city center.  Inside the great walls are little shops where tourists can buy souvenirs.  The upper levels of the walls have been converted to apartments.  People live in the palace of this evil man as if it is just another part of downtown Split, and right in the middle of the palace stands a large church.

Evil will not prosper.  All that evil people do will eventually come to ruin.  Even this great and terrible Roman emperor was eventually brought low and his palace turned into a place of commerce, dwelling, and worship.

Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. 
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 
For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
Psalm 1:4-6

The wall of Diocletian's Palace in Split Croatia, now used for apartments and shops.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Knowing Good and Evil

As Sasha and I were walking in the park today she shared a thought with me that inspired this blog, so this one is from her.

Adam and Eve were put in a perfect and good world.  They were given one command, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

Why were they forbidden from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?  Knowledge is, generally speaking, a good thing.  Knowing right from wrong is a good thing.  Why is it bad to know good and evil?
We have to remember that Adam and Eve did know what good was.  In fact, they knew it better than any of us do.  We live in a good world that has been corrupted by our evil.  They lived in an uncorrupted perfect and good world, and they were good people too.  We sometimes talk about people as if they are good.  We say things like, “He’s a good guy,” or “She’s a good kid.”  When someone once called Jesus “Good teacher,” He responded by saying, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.”  We ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” when in reality, bad things do not happen to good people.  They just happen to people who are not as bad as some others.
Adam and Eve knew good in a way that none of us ever has.  Remember that the tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In disobeying God’s command they chose to commit an evil action.  Thus, they became aware not only of the existence of good, but of the harsh reality of evil.  They experienced first hand what it means to be aware of both good and evil, not only in theory, but in experience as well.  They gave up experiencing just good to willingly experience evil.
It is strange for us to think this way.  We who experience both good and evil on a daily basis have become so accustomed to it that we no longer think about it.  This is the world our first parents made, and it is a world we each continue to make every day in our words and deeds.  There is only one way out of it.  Just as Adam stepped out of a good world and brought us into an evil one, so the second Adam, Jesus, stepped into an evil world to bring us back to a good one.  All who believe in Him, His death for our sins, and His resurrection will one day go to this good world forever.

Salvation has come.  Someday the knowledge of evil will be but a theory perhaps reflected on in academic circles while the experience of true and uncorrupted good will exist for all.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Trust The Truth

Years ago, a former airplane pilot told me a story about his training.  He explained how one day he was up flying with his instructor sitting in the copilot seat.  The horizon looked slanted, so he began to bank right to keep the plane level.

After a short time his instructor asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m keeping the plane level.”

“Does your instrument panel say you are level?” inquired the instructor.

“No, but if I fly level according to the instruments, the ground is slanted.”

The instructor calmly asked, “Did you calibrate your instruments before you took off?”

“Yes,” replied my pilot friend.

“Then trust your instruments,” advised the instructor.

We do not have an instrument panel to give us guidance in life, but we do have God’s word in the Bible.  Just as a pilot should calibrate his instrument panel before every flight, we should regularly recalibrate our lives by spending time in God’s word.

There will be times when thing seem wrong as we travel through life.  We will be tempted in times like this to look at the world around us and adjust according to what we see.  In doing so, we risk becoming crooked ourselves.

Do not look at the world when you need to adjust.  Look at the control panel.  Look at God’s word and let Him instruct you.  Keep your life calibrated to the truth.

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.)