Monthly Archives: February 2014

Mission failure

There was once an old church in England. A sign on the front of the building read “We preach Christ crucified.” After a time, ivy grew up and obscured the last word. The motto now read, “We preach Christ.” The ivy grew some more, and the motto read, “We preach.” Finally, ivy covered the entire sign, and the church died. Such is the fate of any church that fails to carry out its mission in the world.

Cited in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy, by John MacArthur

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Posted by on February 27, 2014 in Books, Church, Preaching, Quotes


Can evangelicals and Mormons unite in dangerous times?

Can evangelical Christians and Mormons become co-belligerents against a common enemy? Can Southern Baptists and Mormons work together to combat a secular worldview?

These are the questions addressed by Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in an address given yesterday at Brigham Young University. His address is entitled, “Strengthen the things that remain: Human dignity, human rights, and human flourishing in a dangerous age.”  At the heart of his address is the central truth, “Men have forgotten God.” As a result, we have developed a secular worldview that relativizes morality and “actually undermines the very values that the prophets of the secular age claim to cherish and preserve — human dignity, human rights, and human flourishing.”

In his conclusion, Dr. Mohler makes the following statement.

In the Book of Revelation [3:2] we find the letter from the Lord Jesus Christ to the Church at Sardis. He commands that church to “strengthen the things that remain,” and those words certainly fit the challenges of our own culture and our own times. Without hesitation, we do our best to strengthen the things that allow and provide for human flourishing, that bear witness to human dignity, and that undergird human rights. We bear witness to the truth that these good things are not our own achievement or the result of our social experimentation, but are instead gifts of a sovereign and loving God, who brings himself glory and blesses his human creatures with these good gifts.

The task of those now living is to defend these truths in a time of danger — and defend them we must and we will. But we are not called merely to defend them, but to fulfill them and to receive them and to find our joy in them. This means that our task is not only to defend marriage, but to live that commitment before the watching world. Our task is not only to point to the dignity due every member of the human family at every stage of development, but to defend the defenseless and to work for the affirmation of this dignity in everyone — from the elderly to the infirm to the child with Down syndrome. We are not only called to defend human rights but to contend for them, and to insist that these rights are non-negotiable only because our Creator endowed us with these rights, and allows no negotiation.

When I was with you last October, I said something that got picked up by media around the world. I said that I believe that we will not go to heaven together, but we might well go to jail together. That was last October. That was four months and a few days ago. Since then, federal courts in your own state have ruled that your legal prohibitions of both same-sex marriage and polygamy are unconstitutional. Since that time, the President of your church has been summoned to appear in a secular court in London. Since that time, just over one hundred days ago, so much has changed.

Civil and criminal penalties have recently been leveled against bakers, photographers, and florists who could not in good conscience participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony. Erotic liberty is in the ascent and religious liberty is in peril.

We may go to jail sooner even than we thought.

This is why our conversation is really important, and why we need to stand together on so many urgent concerns. Most importantly, we are now called to defend religious liberty for each other, so that when they come for you, we are there, and so that when they come for us, you are there. We are learning anew what the affirmation of religious liberty will demand of us in this dangerous age.

Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, Dr. Mohler will make you think.

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Posted by on February 26, 2014 in Culture, News stories, Theology


Why churches get (and sometimes stay) stuck

14 months ago, I wrote a post on the idolatry of nostalgia, worshipping the good old days. This afternoon, I read a passage that speaks to the same issue. In his book, Dangerous Church: Risking Everything to Reach Everyone, pastor John Bishop states,

Dangerous churches are willing to look back in order to take the next step forward. Unfortunately, often we get caught looking at the past, at our accomplishments and failures, and our vision is limited and determined by what we have already done. We stay where we, stuck in our old ways of doing things, or we expect a miracle of the distant past to happen again. We stick with what is comfortable and normal. We allow for God’s work, but only in the ways we have seen him work in the past.

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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Books, Church, Quotes


Impact of Social Media

Social Media Video 2013 is a powerful description of the impact of social media on today’s generation. It caused me to ask, How can church leaders make better use of social media in presenting the gospel? We need to become more creative in presenting our timeless message.

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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Church, Videos


How dangerous is your church?

Dangerous church? I wonder how many of us have worked hard in our churches to be the opposite, to be safe. I would venture to say that most of us have become experts in creating safety. We know how to create a safe environment, safe programs, safe messages, and safety procedures. We have perfected the art of the safe church. We have made sure people will be welcomed, served, and not offended in our services. So why should we now be dangerous?

To be a dangerous church is to be about what Jesus was about. It is to be singularly, radically, and dangerously focused on making disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

We can take our cue from Paul’s words in Acts 20:24: “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus–the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Sadly, statistics tell us that most churches are either confused about what it means to reach people for Christ or too comfortable to reach people for Christ, thus not changing the way they attempt to reach the world. Churches have become too safe.

Rick Warren, in the Foreword to Dangerous Church: Risking Everything to Reach Everyone, by John Bishop

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Posted by on February 19, 2014 in Books, Church, Evangelism, Quotes


Tales from Tsibanobalka – 2014 edition

From February 9-17, Carol and I were in Tsibanobalka, Russia, where we served at the House of Grace. Here is our report of our activities. Click on the link if you’d prefer a full copy of the pdf version.

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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in House of Grace, Ministry, Missions, Russia


Novel insights about love

While traveling to and from Russia, I read the Steven James’ latest novel, Singularity (The Jevin Banks Experience, Book #2). It was a good, well written story that kept me engrossed and helped pass the time on the long flights and layovers.

I appreciate how the author weaves Christian values and principles into his stories without coming across as preachy. While entertaining, the author causes his readers to think. Here is an insightful quote on the nature of love.

It’s a mystery to me how love can offer you more than you’d ever imagine and allow you to give away what you don’t even realize you have—and somehow end up richer for it all in the end. The more you give, the more you have to give; the more you keep love to yourself, the less of it you have. It’s the paradox at the heart of every relationship.

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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Books, Quotes


Novel insights about life and death

While traveling to and from Russia, I read the Steven James’ latest novel, Singularity (The Jevin Banks Experience, Book #2). It was a good, well written story that kept me engrossed and helped pass the time on the long flights and layovers.

I appreciate how the author weaves Christian values and principles into his stories without coming across as preachy. While entertaining, the author causes his readers to think. Here are two quotes from the book that caused me to reflect on life and death.

After the death of a friend, Jevin Banks, the main character, begins to reflect on life and how we fill our days.

My friend Emilio is dead. He will never smile again, never laugh again, never dream or hope or love again. It’s over. Whatever he might have wanted to accomplish in this life will remain forever undone. His soul has escaped this vale of tears and slipped into eternity, and his body has been left behind for us to mourn and bury. Dust to dust. Life to death. Hope to grief.

I arrive at his corpse and stand for a moment looking down at the sheet covering his body. It strikes me that we cover the dead, we treat them with respect, not for their sake but for ours. We extend reverence to corpses in an attempt to affirm the value of our own lives and to mask the stark truth of our own mortality.

After all, if we just treated our dead like the skin-encased sacks of blood and bones and soon-to-be-rotten meat that they are, we would feel that—apart from the breath that separates us—we’re as finite and susceptible to the grim reaper as they were. And that’s just too terrifying a thought.

So we distract ourselves, divert our attention from all that, cover up the truth beneath the frantic, stifling busyness of our brief and worried days. If I were a devil trying to tempt people to squander their lives, I would simply keep them buried in urgency and obsessed with trivialities; otherwise they might just take the time to reflect on life and death and eternity and wake up to the things that matter most. (my emphasis)

During the brief memorial service for Emilio, Charlene—the Christian in the story—shares a biblical view of death.

Xavier and I say a few words, then Charlene, who isn’t afraid of expressing her faith, gets up. She reads from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.”

She speaks for a few moments about hope and how much it matters and how vital it is that we place ours in the right person—she says “person”’ rather than “place,” which strikes me as a bit of an odd way to phrase things. The villagers and police officers listen quietly to her translator.

Finally, she recites the 23rd Psalm from memory, and a line about walking through the valley of the shadow of death strikes me. I guess I’d always thought the Bible said the “valley of death,” but it’s just the “shadow of death” instead. And if a shadow is covering the valley, it means there’s a brighter light shining somewhere beyond the horizon.

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Posted by on February 18, 2014 in Books, Funerals, Quotes, Scripture, Theology


Saturday afternoon in Tsibanobalka

DSCN0100The seminar is now complete and the men have gone home to their respective places. We are beginning to unwind and decompress as we watch the USA-Russia Olympic hockey match.

This morning I had the group review the life of Joseph and highlight the major lessons they learned. They shared many insights from Genesis 37-50. Afterwards, I helped them look at the big picture of what God was doing. I explained how God was changing Joseph’s character, skills, and perspective even as his life was going from bad to worse.

I talked about the challenge of breaking the cycle of generational sin in a family. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all guilty of lying and deception. Joseph was the first person to live with integrity. Some families pass lies, greed, pornography, anger, etc., down through the generations. They might be the first one to say, “Enough,” and stop the cycle and help their children pursue righteousness.

I ended the morning by taking them through Hebrews 11:8-23. I demonstrated how each of the patriarchs lived by faith.

IMG_1698We gave each of the men a pair of socks as a gift. I said that the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” While I could not make their feet beautiful, I could help them stay warm. People from my church gave me money to use in buying the socks and it was our gift to them. We also gave Lena, my translator, a gift bag of cooking tools and supplies since we heard she likes to cook.

After lunch, we started the process of getting ready for the next group. While Carol was helping with the dishes, I stripped the beds so the laundry could be started. Now, we rest and reflect before starting home tomorrow.

IMG_1700The group was very positive in their comments on the evaluation form. One of the men said the teaching was “excellent” and another said he wanted to hear from me again. That is encouraging to know I hit the mark and met their needs.

John and I have begun to talk about returning next year to teach another class. We both agreed there is great benefit in returning year after year to teach the same folks. You can do more than just teach content. You can build relationships and invest deeply in a group of people. This is the third time in four years I have had the privilege of teaching at House of Grace. I know several of the men from previous classes. I am able to hear how they have grown and changed over time. This approach follows the practice of the apostle Paul who continued to return to the same city and church or wrote letters to the people in order to help further establish them in the faith. IMG_1703I hope that I will be able to return to invest in these men.

Thanks for praying.

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Posted by on February 15, 2014 in House of Grace, Photos, Russia, Scripture


Friday evening in Tsibanobalka

The seminar is nearly over. I’ve taught 15 hours in the past two days. I will finish with another 2-3 hours tomorrow morning. Yesterday, I taught through the life of Abraham. Today, I covered the lives of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Tomorrow morning I will wrap up with a review of Joseph’s life and a look at Hebrews 11’s description of the Patriarchs. I knew I was done for the day when I my eyes were having trouble focusing on my notes and my translator was struggling to keep up with my words. Lena has done a wonderful job but translating all day long is hard work indeed.

Several of the men have had an “Ah, ha!” moment. Their eyes light up, their heads nod in agreement, and they rapidly copy down what is said. They especially copy the principles I suggest are in the passage and the lessons I have learned personally from the study. During dinner, Erdnya said he appreciated what I taught about Isaac. Again, it encourages me that I am hitting the mark and finding the balance between explanation and application.

Last night, the men took off for the Black Sea beach after dinner. Tonight, they are boxing on the Wii. It is pretty entertaining to watch. During the break times, they play chess, play guitar, check their phones, drink tea and eat snacks, or go for a walk.


I asked Carol to write a few thoughts about her view from the kitchen:

…did you know that Russians love their tea? Several times a day “chai” is enjoyed. So, one of my jobs has been to keep the hot water coming… The days have been busy helping Naomi with preparing 3 main meals and 2-3 snacks a day for our guests. We have had 17 guests to feed. On Wednesday, we went into Anapa to the grocery store to pick up the fresh bread and vegetables. There was one aspect of shopping that I thought was actually a pretty good idea. In the frozen food section, they offer bulk frozen foods (pasta, vegetables, etc) and you get to purchase exactly the quantity that you need or want. It seems economical to buy as much or as little as you need.

Wednesday we experienced the “Car Wash/Pizza Place.” It’s a unique 2-in-1 stop. There are no automated car washes here. If you need to get your car washed, it’s done by hand. So we took a field trip to the local car wash that conveniently had a Pizza Place upstairs. So, while you eat Pizza upstairs, you watch your car being washed via video screen. Pizza was good, and depending on the line for the car wash, it could take 90 minutes or so to get the car taken care of…Lots of time to chat with friends!

Tomorrow the conference will end around noon with lunch. Afterwards, we will help clean House of Grace from top to bottom…washing sheets, cleaning bathrooms; floors and whatever else needs to be done. The Musgraves have another group coming in for a retreat next weekend, so we want to be sure it’s ready for them.


Today was Valentine’s Day. John bought flowers for Naomi and Carol and we enjoyed a heart themed cake for dessert.

Thanks for praying.

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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in House of Grace, Russia, Scripture