Monthly Archives: February 2011

Have you ever wanted to ask God a question?

A Conversation with GodBook review: A Conversation with God: If you could ask God any question, what would it be? By Alton Gansky

Beginning preachers are told to “keep the cookies on the lowest shelf.” It means to be simple and clear in your explanation of what a passage of Scripture means. Without becoming simplistic, a preacher should strive to make the difficult things of Scripture clear and understandable to his congregation.

Alton Gansky has taken that same advice and applied it to the field of theology in his latest book. He seeks to answer questions relating to God, Jesus, the Bible, Heaven and Hell, Future Things, and problems of daily living. But rather than write a typical theological treatise, he employs a question and answer approach.

The book is written as if an average person were presenting his/her questions to a panel of “experts.” The questions include “Can I lose my salvation? What is Heaven like? How can we believe you created us? and many others. However, the “experts” are God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a number of people from the pages of Scripture.

One of the strengths of the book is that the author takes difficult theological terms—justification, reconciliation, etc.—and defines them in everyday English. He puts the cookies on the lowest shelf.

I could see the book being used in two ways—one would be a resource for apologetics, answering the questions posed by critics; the second would be as a tool to disciple a new believer.

While the book is easy to read, it deserves time and reflection to process the insights.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 28, 2011 in Books, Theology


A view from the kitchen

Carol jotted down her thoughts about our recent ministry trip to Russia.

A view from the Kitchen…

While Mark was busy teaching each day, my (Carol’s) time was primarily spent helping in the kitchen preparing and serving the meals. I think most of my time was spent observing life in Russia…

Meal times:

  • People eat simply & healthy
  • Vegetables are served in bounty at most meals
  • Processed foods are rare
  • Bread is served at every meal
  • Leftover food is eaten at another meal
  • They like really “hot” mustard
  • People usually eat what is directly in front of them on the table (passing bowls or plates of food is not the norm)
  • Maple syrup is “new” to them…they will pour it out of a plain container, but will avoid a bottle with a “maple” leaf label (a picture communicates what’s in the container)
  • Some of the younger men helped clear the table
  • When a person came late to a meal, Sandzhik (revered leader) would make sure they had all they wanted to eat
  • Fasting is taken seriously, even on retreats at special places with good food


  • Mode of transportation… walking or riding the bus…some old cars, many newer cars
  • If a wife owns her own car, her husband can prevent her from driving it
  • Old rusty gates & fences… with many coats of colorful paint
  • Old (50+ years) houses next to new red brick houses
  • A couple of new log cabin homes (very unusual)
  • Clean broken sidewalks…little trash on roads
  • People drive fast, pass fast (I learned that one can get a special permit to drive as fast as they want without getting a ticket… for the right price)
  • People say please and thank you often
  • Gypsy dogs roam freely

Free time

  • Is spent singing, dancing, talking, banya (sauna), & if the weather is nice walking
  • Also like playing Wii & movies

Life in General

  • Simple
  • Follow instructions without questioning (get on bus, get off bus, get on bus to travel from terminal to plane on tarmac at Domdomevo in 7° driving snow weather)
  • Waste nothing
  • Survival is a full time job
  • Dental & medical care is difficult
  • If taken to hospital, you will first need to pay the doctor to be seen in a timely manner (even though “medical care” is free), then you will need to purchase your own medications and food while in the hospital.


  • The commitment of leaders to get training…driving 16 hours to a seminar, clearing a schedule to attend the next seminar, going home for a night for a small group bible study and then coming back by 8am the next morning (via bus round trip 12-15 miles)
  • Asking questions
  • Praying for personal renewal & commitment
  • Planting churches in communities where no churches exist
  • Fasting

I am grateful for the opportunity to go and share in this ministry. The impact of the people is far greater on me than probably I was to them. Much to learn, remember and to pray for these new friends.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Russia


Tales from Tsibanobalka

Our ministry trip to Russia has come and gone. Now the challenge is to process the lessons learned and to overcome the jet lag, travel fatigue, and post-ministry trip letdown. To help process the lessons, Carol and I wrote a report on the trip which talks about what we experienced and what we learned. Feel free to click on the link to read it. To get over the jet lag, well, that just takes time–about one day for every time zone. Since we crossed 11 time zones, we should start feeling normal in another week.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 27, 2011 in Russia


The benefits of trials

One benefit of surviving a trial is that it teaches us to pray as well as deepens our faith. Not only does it help us personally, but it causes people to seek us out so that we can help them get through their trials. Listen to how Mark Buchanan describes it in his book, Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus every season of your soul.

…when you want someone to pray for you, you instinctively seek someone who’s endured at least one long, hard, dark winter. Better if it’s been many such winters. You know, without even knowing the details, that such people have deep faith, faith rooted, in season and out, in the character of God revealed in the Word of God, not faith subject to whims and moods, or to life’s wheel of fortune, its random sequence of pitfall and windfall.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 26, 2011 in Books, Personal growth, Prayer, Quotes


Border crossings

What happens when your appearance does not match your passport photo? Does it create a problem getting in or out of a country? I can now answer those questions with conviction.

As I mentioned on previous occasions, I lost all my hair this past year due to illness. Which means that my appearance doesn’t match either my driver’s license or my passport. As Carol and I prepared to leave for Russia, I contacted the US Passport Service to ask if I should get a new passport. While mine has one more year, I asked if I should renew it early. I was told that it was not necessary because they expect a person’s appearance will change over a 10-year period.

Throughout our journey, I had no problem at all. That is, until we started home. In Moscow, it was quite comical when the Passport  Control agent looked first at my passport, then at me, then at my passport, then at me, then at my passport, then at me. She then looked at Carol, who started laughing at the scene. Eventually, she stamped my documents and allowed me to leave the country. In Los Angeles, it became wearying when the Passport Control officer let me in, but the Customs agent said I needed to “go to Line B” to have my identify verified since I had no other picture ID with me. Fortunately for me, the line B agent was bald and said he understood hair loss very well.

After traveling 15,000 miles for two weeks, I didn’t think it would be that hard to get back into the States. I definitely need to renew my passport before traveling internationally again. I may want to get a new driver’s licence as well, even though it is only one year old.

1 Comment

Posted by on February 25, 2011 in Fun, Russia


A gray day in London

On the way home from Russia, we stopped for two nights in London. We visited            Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Sherlock Homes Pub, and attended Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. It was an enjoyable time, even though it was a cold, gray day.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 24, 2011 in Uncategorized


Betrayed by the groundhog

We returned last night from Russia and landed in a driving snowstorm. Seems the snow followed us all the way from Moscow.

I’m guessing the day lilies are feeling betrayed by Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 24, 2011 in Flowers, Photos, Winter


Monday night in Moscow

We left Tsibanobalka this afternoon, drove to Krasnodar, and then flew to Moscow, where we are now waiting for our flight to London this evening. We will spend tomorrow sightseeing in London, and then in the evening we will attend “Love never dies” at the Adelphi Theater. The musical is the sequel to “Phantom of the Opera” and was nominated for several Laurence Olivier Awards, which I believe is the British version of the Tonys. We fly home to Seattle on Wednesday.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Russia


Sunday morning in Tsibanobalka

We concluded the class on Joshua with lunch on Saturday. I had the group do some inductive Bible study looking for attributes of God, promises to believe, commands to obey, and examples to follow. During the sharing time, they showed great insight with the different things they listed from the book.

While the group was doing their study, I had a long conversation with Misha, my translator. He is the academic dean of a Bible college in Krasnodar. In addition, he is one of the elders of his church. Throw in being a husband and father of two children, he is a busy man. He asked a number of questions about how to train and mentor leaders. John Musgrave shared in his introduction of me on Thursday that I had done that for several years. Misha asked about how you develop a philosophy of training, what curriculum I used, what authors I found helpful, and what kind of experiences I included. It was a wide-ranging, hour-long conversation which revealed his desire for effective, long-lasting ministry. He has a great heart for ministry and training others.

During the last session, I used a lesson taken from Walk Thru the Bible, The Three Chairs. It looks at what happened after Joshua died and how Israel fell away from God. The pattern of Commitment, Compromise, and Conflict is also illustrated in the descendents of Abraham and David. Afterwards, Sanjik said he had many questions about why godly parents sometimes have rebellious children and this lesson answered his questions. Several of the men recognized their own need to recommit themselves daily to following God.

We had a time of prayer about personal commitment as we wrapped up the class. Before lunch, the group gave Carol and me two thank you gifts—one a plate from Kalmyk and the other a Zhael vase. Beautiful gifts to be treasured and appreciated, as well as reminders to pray for these men. After lunch, the group was on their way to their respective homes.

In the afternoon, John and I discussed the results of the class evaluations that each man filled out. They were overwhelmingly positive—facilities, schedule, price, food, material, presentation style—everything scored very high. John & Naomi have found a need and are meeting it well.

After the group departed, the task of cleaning began. Carol and I pitched in, along with Lena, the Musgrave’s assistant. The house was cleaned from top to bottom and mounds of laundry were started.

In the evening, we went to the Musgraves favorite restaurant in Anapa, an Armenian place. Good food—grilled pork chops, fresh veggies, fresh hachipura (cheese bread). We also saw the sun set over the Black Sea, beautiful even though it was cloudy and cold.

This morning, we will attend church in Anapa, where John will be preaching on John 4:34, God is looking for people who will worship him in spirit and in truth. This is the church formerly pastored by Victor Semukhin.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 19, 2011 in Russia


Saturday morning in Tsibanobalka

Today is the last day of our class on Joshua. I finished teaching through the book yesterday afternoon. This morning I will give the men an assignment to help them review the lessons. It will include some inductive Bible studies questions—(1) What attributes of God do you see in this book? (2) What commands are we to obey? (3) What promises should we believe? (4) What examples should we follow? I will counsel them to look for which ones apply only to Israel and which ones we should practice today.

I will give them the first hour to work on this assignment. Then we will come back together and review what we learned. Following that, I will close will a lesson on “The Three Chairs,” a sermon I have given before. It graphically illustrates what happened after Joshua died (Judges 2:7-10). Hopefully, it will be an encouragement and a challenge to them.

During one session yesterday, I asked the men which of the promises found in Joshua meant the most to them today. Several mentioned promises found in chapter 1: God will never leave us; God will help us be successful if we obey his word. Kostya mentioned a promise given to Rahab in chapter 2, that not only would she be saved, but her whole family as well. Since Kostya’s family is Buddhist, it revealed his heart for his family to know Christ. It also revealed a depth of faith you might not expect from a new believer.

We have eaten well during our time here. John & Naomi plan and prepare healthy and hearty meals for their guests. They include spices and items that these pastors might not normally buy because of their limited budgets. As Naomi explained, it is their way of honoring these servants. It provides a good example for us to follow as well.

During the breaks in between sessions, or in the evening, someone might pick up a guitar and play a song. Sometimes others will join him in singing. Misha, my translator, is one who has often played during those times. Last night, several of the Kalmyk group began to dance some of their traditional dances. It was quite entertaining to watch.

Thanks for praying. We’re in your debt.

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Russia