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Category Archives: Russia

The shortest distance between two points is a zigzag

From the earliest days of geometry, we’ve been taught that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, that is not always the case in real life.

I go to Russia once a year to help train leaders. I fly from Boston to Amsterdam to Moscow to Anapa. During the first week, we meet in Tsibanobalka. Then we drive twelve hours to Elista in the steppes region of the Caucasus Mountains. You have to go the roundabout way to get there.

When it comes to spiritual growth, the shortest distance between two points is often a zigzag route. While God might take us from “A” to “B,” he often does it by way of “M,” “F,” “Q,” “V,” and “D.” We see a graphic example of this in Exodus 13:17-22.

The most direct route from Egypt to the Promised Land was the coastal route along the Mediterranean Sea. However, that was also the military road of the Egyptians. It was dotted with military fortresses and led directly through the land of the Philistines. Having recently escaped from 400 years of slavery, God knew that Israel was not ready to battle. At the first sign of conflict, they would turn tail and run back to slavery in Egypt.

In light of that, God took Israel on a zigzag route that was especially designed for them. They needed lessons that God had in store for them at Mt. Sinai. In the same way, there are times in our lives when we are not ready for God’s plan.

If you compare this to parenting, what parent in their right mind would give a three-year-old the keys to the car? No, you give a three-year-old a big wheel. Then you graduate them to a two-wheeler with training wheels. When the time is right, you take off the training wheels. Later, you let the kids drive the Autopia cars at Disneyland. When they turn 15 ½, they take drivers training to learn how to drive properly. Once they pass their drivers’ license test, then you finally let them drive by themselves.

As parents, we grow our children gradually. In the same way, God grows us gradually. Exodus 23:27-30 provides an interesting perspective. God says that he will help Israel “little by little . . . until you have increased.” Perhaps God will give you an assignment that stretches your character. You learn patience or compassion. Then God puts you in a situation that helps you gain new skills—job skills, life skills, ministry skills. Maybe God then stretches you and expands your network of contacts. Finally, God gives you an assignment that stretches your faith¸ teaching you to depend on him for strength.

God takes us on a zigzag path that is designed for our growth. Along the way, he provides encouragement. For Israel, that encouragement came in the bones of Joseph and the cloudy/fiery pillar that led them in the wilderness.

The bones of Joseph reminded Israel of God’s providence and his promises. 400+ years previously, Joseph told his brothers who passed it down through the generations that God would visit them and come to their aid. God would keep the promise he made to Abraham to return Israel to the Promised Land. When that time came, Joseph did not want to be left behind. By taking Joseph’s bones with them on their exodus from Egypt, the people demonstrated their confidence in God’s word.

The cloudy/fiery pillar reminded Israel of God’s presence and his provision. The pillar never left Israel. It demonstrated God was always with them. But the pillar also led Israel. It went before them and guided them through the wilderness.

Over 2,000 years ago a young Greek artist named Timanthes studied under a respected tutor. After several years the teacher’s efforts seemed to have paid off when Timanthes painted an exquisite work of art.

Unfortunately, he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent days gazing at it.

One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, Timanthes ran to his teacher, who admitted he had destroyed the painting.

“I did it for your own good.  That painting was retarding your progress.  Start again and see if you can do better.”

Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced the Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

30 years ago, I was pursuing a Ph.D. with the hope of teaching in a university or seminary. Every door I knocked on was closed and remained that way. Instead of academia, God kept me in the church, first as an associate pastor and later as a senior pastor. It was only this past spring when God opened the door for me to become an adjunct professor at a Christian college. I now blend church ministry with college teaching.

In bringing believers to spiritual maturity, the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag. It may not make sense at the time, but in hindsight we can sometimes see what God was doing.  Along the journey, God will remind us of his good intentions through his providence—he will come to our aid; his promises—he keeps his word; his presence—he is with us; and his provision—he will guide us.

If you are anything like me, your spiritual journey will have surprise twists, dangerous turns and an incredible destination. The Adventure is Just Beginning!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 6, 2017. (The title and outline were borrowed with permission from Dr. Donald Sunukjian.) It is part of a series of sermons on the life of Moses. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Russia 2018 ministry trip

I have been invited to return to Russia in 2018 to continue the process of helping train and equip pastors and young leaders. When I was there in March, several asked me to return to teach the book of Revelation. That is the plan for the upcoming trip. Click on the image below to open a pdf file of the trip proposal and details. Please pray that God provides all we need and more besides for the trip.

 

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Russia

During my recent trip to Russia March 12-26, there was a front page article in The Moscow Times about religious freedom. “Russia Calls for National Ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses” explained that

The Russian Justice Ministry has formally petitioned the country’s Supreme Court to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses from operating within Russia.

Officials are calling for the religious group to be disbanded for being an “extremist organization.”

The move would see Russia’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses unable to legally meet or distribute literature.

After reading the article, I had a discussion with the missionary I was working with. John and I both agreed that this was not necessarily a bad thing because the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not proclaim the true gospel. However, we were concerned that if this group was outlawed, who might become the next target for persecution.

Yesterday, The Moscow Times reported, “Russia Outlaws Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The Russian Supreme Court formally banned Jehovah’s Witnesses on Thursday, labeling the group an extremist organization. The religious group in Russia will now be forced to dissolve.

The decision equates Russia’s 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses to terrorist groups like the Islamic State, and makes it illegal for congregations to meet or distribute literature.

The court refused the group’s earlier appeals to recognize the organization as victims of political repression, and declined to hear testimony from witnesses who claimed that the Russian police have falsified evidence against regional religious groups.

In an article in Christianity Today, “Russia Bans Jehovah’s Witnesses as Extremists,” the author states,

To human rights and religious freedom advocates around the world, the move comes as a major blow. While ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Kremlin have put ongoing scrutiny on all non-Orthodox faiths, this case represents the first time the country has banned a registered religious group.

“If Jehovah’s Witnesses are persecuted, then that means later ‘on the block’ will come other religious movements—for example, Protestant churches,” law professor Anatoly Pchelintcev told Portal-Credo, an Orthodox news site. “For the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Armageddon has arrived, and the faithful of other religions await the apocalypse.”

Still, some Russian evangelicals see the repression of Witnesses as reason to worry, according to William Yoder, spokesman for the Russia Evangelical Alliance. Some have brought up German pastor Martin Niemöller’s “First They Came For” poem and asked, “How soon will it hit us if we don’t protest?”

Is this the first domino to fall? Which ones are next in line? What impact will this have on evangelical churches? What impact will it have on evangelical missionaries?

Hmmm. Much to pray about.

To be continued …

 

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2017 in News stories, Russia

 

We have two seasons–Winter & Road Construction

Kind of describes some of the roads we traveled in Kalmykia, Russia, and a few at home in MA.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2017 in B.C., Fun, Russia

 

Russia 2017 Trip Report – Homeward Bound

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2017 in Ministry, Missions, Photos, Romans, Russia, Scripture

 

Russia 2017 – Elista Class

Here are the pictures from the week in Elista, Russia. I had 12 people in my class on Romans and John Musgrave had 6 men in his class on church leadership. We were staying at City Chess, a complex built in 1998 and the host of the World Chess Championships in 2006. It was a great week. Thanks for praying.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2017 in Ministry, Missions, Photos, Romans, Russia, Scripture

 

Russia 2017 – Thursday in Elista

Today was the final day of our class in Elista. A few of the students came early and were led in worship by Slava, who brought his guitar.

We spent the first hour talking about Romans 16. I explained that often we want to skip the first part of the chapter because it is just a list of names. I emphasized the words Paul uses to describe these individuals—hard worker, risked their lives, servant, chosen, beloved, kinsman, approved. I also pointed out that some of the folks are not named, just referred to. In this life, people may not remember your service, but God does, and he will reward us for what we do for him.

After spending 15 chapters teaching sound doctrine and how to practice it in daily life, Paul then warns the Roman church of the danger of false teachers. I stressed that we need to be vigilant and on guard against those who will seek to divide us over minor, non-essential issues. I encouraged them to work towards maintaining unity.

Since I ended early, I gave them a 15-minute assignment to think about two things—(1) What are the lessons you learned from our study of Romans? and (2) What is one lesson you want to put into practice this week? When we came back together, they shared some very personal lessons and heartfelt desires for growth. Rather than try to apply a dozen lessons, I encouraged them to focus on one. We then closed with a time of prayer for one another.

After lunch, the two groups (my class on Romans and John Musgrave’s class on church leadership) gathered for a group picture. Sandzhik gave thank you gifts to John & Naomi Musgrave, Lena, my translator, and me. He said he had asked people what they were learning and he was impressed and encouraged by what they were taking to heart. He closed by saying he was looking forward to our next visit and the classes we would offer.

The afternoon was spent relaxing, reading, and running errands. In the evening, we had dinner at the home of Mergen and Elza.

We start the homeward journey tomorrow morning. We will drive from Elista to Krasnodar on Friday, and then to Anapa on Saturday, where I will catch a flight back to Moscow. On Sunday, I will make the long journey home—Moscow to Amsterdam to Boston.

Thanks for praying.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Ministry, Missions, Romans, Russia, Scripture