Back to School

Yesterday I received my letter of acceptance from London School of Theology, where I will begin my postgraduate studies starting this September to get a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology.

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I will be studying via distance learning, which means I won’t have to travel at all and will be able to make my own schedule, both of which are important to me since I’m a full-time pastor and have a family at home. I looked into a local school in Colorado, but I prefer the British approach to education. Also, British schools are more affordable than US schools when it comes to studying Christian theology because in the US it is only taught in private universities because of the separation of church and state – whereas in the UK public universities can have theology departments. I would recommend Americans who want to study theology to really consider looking into studying via distance learning in Britain.

I’m excited to go back to school and continue my theological education. It’s been nice taking a year off, but I am ready to get back into it.

I am still in Kyiv; I fly home tomorrow morning. Today I got to visit Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary and speak to the students and staff.

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The faculty and students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary

Several months ago I met a couple who live in Berthoud, CO who run an organization called Ukraine Orphan Outreach. It was through them that I got connected to people at the seminary, and as it turns out there are several people from Calvary Chapel in Ukraine who work and study there.

I was impressed with their school and its mission: “To strengthen churches and transform society” – as well as the work they are doing to accomplish that. Having an interdenominational evangelical seminary in Ukraine is a great asset to the church here.

The school has many students from outside of Ukraine, and recently they started a second campus of their school in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They also operate several mini-campuses in cities around Ukraine, for people who want to study with them but have difficulty coming to Kyiv.

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A class at UETS

I’m praying that God uses and blesses the work of UETS to raise up and train many ministers of the gospel to work in this country and the former republics of the Soviet Union.

Something to Pray Earnestly About

As I wrote in a previous post, I am currently in Kyiv, Ukraine on a ministry trip. On my way here I had the chance to stop in Hungary for two short days, during which every moment was packed.

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“Otthon” – Rákóczi út, Budapest

I arrived in Budapest Tuesday night, met with a few friends on Wednesday, and got on a train to Eger to visit our friends from the church we started there several years ago. There was an open house gathering at the pastor’s house for anyone who wanted to come see me and it just so happened that one of my good friends and our former worship leader, who now lives in the Netherlands, was also in Eger that day, and was able to come out and visit.

Jani and Tünde and I stayed up late that night talking about life and ministry, and on Thursday I woke up early for a marathon of meetings with as many people as I could. It was a short time, but because of that it was also a very focused time. That evening, rather than taking the train back to Budapest to catch my flight the next day, Jani decided to drive me so that we would have more time to spend together and talk.

Pray for Pastor Jani and Golgota Eger. They are doing a good work in that city and region.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

Friday morning I flew to Kyiv, arriving at 11:00 AM. At 2:00 PM the Calvary Chapel Ukraine Pastors and Leaders conference began at the conference center in Irpin.

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Conference Center in Irpin, just outside of Kyiv

The conference was two days long and the theme was “Vision for Our Cities.” It was a pleasure to get to spend time with this great group of people who are doing important work, and get to share with them some of the things I’ve learned.

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Teaching at the CCUA Pastors and Leaders Conference

On Sunday morning I shared at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, and had a great time with that wonderful church which has great leadership and a great vision to reach their city and the country of Ukraine. Pastor George told me today: “We could literally start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it. People here are so receptive to the gospel, particularly in the East where the fighting is going on.”

“We could start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it.” – Pastor George Markey, Calvary Chapel Kyiv

As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

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A statue shrouded in national colors outside the church in downtown Kyiv

At church in Kyiv, I spent most of my time talking to people in Hungarian; an ethnic Hungarian man from the Hungarian-speaking region of Ukraine was there, as well as a Ukrainian girl whom my wife and I know from when we all lived Debrecen, Hungary. As more and more people in the world are moving to big cities like Kyiv, the world is getting smaller as it gets bigger.

Here is video of the message I shared at CC Kyiv:

New York Times Article on Muslim Refugees Converting to Christianity

From the NY Times: The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus

Something I have often written about and talked about is how when Middle Eastern refugees come to Europe and the West, for many of them it is the first time they have ever met Christians or even had the opportunity to hear the gospel or the freedom to read the Bible in their own language. We experienced this ourselves in Hungary, where we saw muslim refugees from Iran, Afghanistan and Kosovo convert to Christianity through our work in a refugee camp.

The New York Times posted this article recently about the conversion of a formerly radical muslim from Syria who converted to Christianity in Istanbul – an very interesting read especially in light of my post yesterday about my recent day-trip to Istanbul. His conversion was influenced by several factors, including his brother, also a formerly radical muslim, who had gone to Canada, where he met Christians and converted to Christianity.

Could it be that since these countries and cultures haven’t allowed Christianity to spread freely within their borders, that God is now bringing them to Europe and America precisely so many of them can hear the gospel and be saved? I believe so. I’ve written about that here: In Longmont We Met a Refugee from a Muslim Country. Here’s Her Story..

The question is: what will we Christians do with this opportunity?

“Should I Not Have Compassion on that Great City?”

Greetings from Kyiv, Ukraine! I have been in Europe for the past week on a ministry trip to visit some ministries that White Fields Community Church partners with in Hungary and Ukraine, with the focus of my trip being here in Ukraine.

I got a good price on a multi-destination ticket with Turkish Airlines. Part of the reason for the low price is that it included a 12 hour layover in Istanbul. I can understand why for some people that would be a terrible inconvenience, but for me on this trip it was a great added bonus! Recently I’ve been teaching classes on the history of Christianity, and Constantinople is a big part of it, so I looked forward to the chance to get to see the “New Rome” and the old capitol of the Byzantine Empire along with the Hagia Sophia – the largest Christian church in the world for nearly a thousand years, and a building that changed architecture.

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Inside the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), built in 537 AD!

Istanbul, with 14 million people, is the largest city in Europe. During my time there I went to the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait, and from there I could begin to get a glimpse of just how big this city is. It was great preparation for the conference I was coming to teach at in Kyiv on the topic of “Vision for Our Cities.”

I was reminded of the message of the Book of Jonah, which is summed up in the final verse, where God says to Jonah, “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”

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Looking across the Bosphorus from the Asian side, toward the “Golden Horn”

Jonah’s view of Nineveh was that it was a city full of terrible sinful people who did terrible sinful things, and that they deserved God’s wrath. He was frustrated and upset by the fact that God wanted to offer them a chance to repent and receive mercy. But God spoke to Jonah at the end, and pointed out that Jonah was more concerned about plants than he was about people. God, on the other hand, cares more about people than plants – and so therefore, how could God not care about a city full of his most masterful creation, whom he loves? God wanted Jonah (and us) to understand the way that he feels about people, and about cities full of people: he loves them and we should too.

“And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?”

On the streets of Istanbul and in the public transport areas I saw a lot of refugees from the Middle East. While I was in Turkey, the United States issued a ban on bringing laptops and tablets onto flights originating from 10 airports in 8 muslim-majority countries, including flights originating from Istanbul, something which will affect me on my flight home. The ban came as the result of the discovery of a plot to put explosives into an iPad.

As I walked through downtown Istanbul towards Taksim Square, I began wondering what it would be like for someone to do Christian ministry in that city. I was surprised at how European it was; aside from the mosques and minarets, most of the city looks like any other large European city.

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Galata Tower and a typical European neighborhood in Istanbul.

At the same time, I remember the news about German missionaries who were killed in Turkey a few years ago, and I realize that it would not only be difficult, but also dangerous for someone to do Christian ministry there.

Cities in general are “humanity magnified.” And because of that, there is inherently a dual nature to all cities: on the one hand they are full of the pinnacle of God’s good creation: people who are made in His image – on the other hand, we are fallen and so cities also have more brokenness, danger and sin.

The story-line the Bible tells is one which can be summarized in four points: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. That means that because of Jesus there is hope for humanity.

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Istanbul: very European and yet unquestionably Muslim

A Google search helped me find some international churches in Istanbul. I pray for their safety and for them to have effective ministry in this great city. May we truly understand the message of the Book of Jonah and may God give us His heart for cities like this one.

Marriage Retreat Weekend Recap

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Blue skies and the Mummy Range in RMNP behind us

This past weekend we were up in Estes Park with some couples from White Fields for a marriage retreat we organized together with a couple other churches.

For Rosemary and I, this was our first time team-teaching together, and it was a great experience. We taught a session on the importance of Christian community and the local church for a healthy marriage.

In preparing for the retreat, our thought was to get away from the things which we don’t like about marriage retreats, such as:

  • The awkward sex talk
  • Going to a great location and then spending all of your time cooped up inside a building listening to lectures
  • Brow-beating lectures about what you need to do “more and better”

I have been to marriage events in the past where instead of strengthening and encouraging marriages, the retreat seemed to only fuel existing discord and frustrations, so that on the car ride home the wife was saying: “Were you listening to what the speaker said? Those are all the things that I’m always telling you that you need to change and do better!” – and the husband saying: “Did you hear the part about how important it is to have sex even if you don’t feel like it? That’s what I’ve been telling you for years!” And both wonder why they spent $200 to get in a fight, when they were doing alright before the “retreat.”

Instead, our vision was to host a true retreat – and focus on the experience rather than a particular speaker. Our theme was connecting with God, your spouse and Christian community and our goal was to encourage, give some tools, biblical guidance and challenges, and create a setting where couples could be refreshed and reconnect with each other and spend time with other couples.

The retreat turned out even better than I had expected. Some great admin work was put in by the staff of Calvary Belmar in Lakewood. Brian Boehm of Trail Ridge Counseling taught one of the sessions and presented some great material that Rosemary and I will be looking at for weeks to come. Brian and his wife Nicole did a ton of work to make the retreat special and they deserve much of the credit for it being a success; they designed and led several key parts of the weekend.

If retreats are done right, they can be awesome experiences. We look forward to doing more of these in the future.

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Mule deer at the retreat center

True Colors

I saw a quote today posted online that said this:

“Occasions make not a man fail, but they show what the man is.”
Thomas à Kempis

A Conversation

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad a few years ago. We were talking about a prominent pastor who had committed sin which resulted in him to losing his position and ministry along with the respect of his peers.

I commented to my dad, “I guess he showed his true colors.”

My dad wisely and graciously responded, “Maybe those aren’t his true colors. Maybe that was just something he did in a moment of great weakness and darkness.”

In other words: I was suggesting that the good things this man had done for years were really just a facade, and finally his true self was revealed. My dad on the other hand was suggesting that maybe the terrible things the man had done were more of an anomaly than the true essence of who he was.

The Issue

Should we determine a person’s character based on their worst moments or on their best moments?

That’s not a very easy question to answer.

Surely no one would say that we should judge Adolf Hitler’s character based on his best moments. However, all of our greatest cultural and even faith heroes are people who had dark moments in which they did bad things. Martin Luther King Jr. committed infidelity. Moses was a neglectful father. Martin Luther had a racist rant. The list could go on.

Despite the fact that we like clean-cut distinctions, to label people either “good” or “bad” – the messy reality of life is that all of us do both good things and bad things. We commit sins which hurt others and grieve the heart of God, and we do wonderful things which benefit others.

So, which you is the real you?

An Example

David and Saul. Both were kings of Israel. Both were chosen by God for the people. Both began very well – and both committed grievous sins which had tragic effects for both their lives and the lives of many others because of their position as king.

And yet, one of them is called “the man after God’s own heart” whereas the other is remembered as an anti-hero with no concern for God. 

It could even be argued that David’s sins were worse than Saul’s. Saul attempted murder, but David actually committed murder and adultery.

However, the great difference between the two men is that David, when confronted with his sins, was quick to repent and turn back to God. Saul, on the other hand, when confronted, stubbornly persisted and resisted God.

This response to God of humility and willingness to repent – this fundamental desire to live for God and please God, seems to be at the heart of what separates these two men.

The Promise

There is a sense in which I agree with the above quote from Thomas à Kempis, and yet I am hesitant about what I perceive to be its inference.

I agree with the quote in as much as it is saying that ALL people are fallen and therefore the reason we sin is because we are sinners at heart; our very nature has been corrupted and opportunities to sin simply reveal this fact.

However, it seems that the inference of this quote is that in a given situation, some people fail and others do not – and this reveals their fundamental character. Furthermore, a person who does not fail in that given situation should feel a sense of pride that they are fundamentally better than those who did fail.

If this is indeed what is being inferred, this attitude, while commonly held,  is contrary to the gospel.

The message of the gospel, that God took on human flesh in order to pay the price for your sin and redeem you, has 2 simultaneous effects on the person who really understands it:
1) it makes you incredibly humble – because it tells you that you are not fundamentally better than anyone else. You are made of the same stuff and you are in the same boat: a sinner who is hopeless without a savior,
2) it makes you incredibly confident – because it tells you that you are loved by God, and that He is wholly committed to you, forever.

The promise of the gospel is that if you will repent of your sins and turn to God – like David did – and put your faith in what Jesus did for you, then not only will God justify you, but He will also redeem you, and as part of that He will sanctify you, from the inside out by the power of His Spirit – and the end result will be that the “true you,” the version of you free of sin, which He created you to be, will ultimately be revealed.

Romans 8:19 says, For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
1 John 3:2 says, We do not yet know what awaits us when He appears, except that we will be like Him.

The real you is the you that you are in relation to God – the you whom God declares you to be – and if your faith is in Jesus, then the you whom He is making you into by His Spirit: the version of you without the corrupting effects of sin which have marred the image of God that you bear.

The promise of the gospel is that it will be so for those who have embraced God’s offer of salvation in Jesus.

Politics and Identity

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Over the past few weeks, I, like many of you, have been following the political developments in the U.S. In such a caustic and antagonistic climate, I would much rather be known for my stance on Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel than for my personal convictions about political matters. That is the drum that I will beat and the hill I will be willing to die on.

Why is it that the political climate is so caustic and people are so divided? According to many sociologists, philosophers and theologians, the issue is one of identity: namely, that one of the most common ways that people create identity is through “the exclusion of the Other.”

According to Zygmunt Bauman, “We can’t create ‘Us’ without also creating ‘Them.’ Social belonging happens only as some other contrasting group is labeled as the Different or the Other. We bolster our identity by seeing others in a negative light and by excluding them in some way.” (Modernity and Ambivalence, p. 8)

In other words: I can feel I am one of the good people because I know I am not one of the bad people. Therefore the “Other” must be degraded, excluded and/or vilified in order for me to have a sense of self-worth.

Croatian theologian and professor at Yale University, Miroslav Wolf, in his book Exclusion and Embrace, says that the reason we indulge in these attitudes and practices is that by denouncing and blaming the Other it gives us “the illusion of sinlessness and strength.”

One great example of this, Timothy Keller points out, is: “If I find my identity in working for liberal political and social causes, it is inevitable that I will scorn conservatives, and the same goes for conservatives regarding liberals. In fact, if the feelings of loathing toward the opposition are not there, it might be concluded that my political position is not very close to the core of who I am.” (Making Sense of God, p. 145)

In order to do this, Wolf says, we must “over-bind” and “over-separate”: To over-separate means to fail to recognize what we do have in common, and to over-bind means to refuse other people the right to be different from us.

This practice is common in many areas, not just in regard to politics.

Keller goes on to say: “If my identity rests to a great degree in being moral and religious, then I will disdain those people I think of as immoral. If my self-worth is bound up with being a hardworking person, I will look down on those whom I consider lazy. As the postmodernists rightly point out, this condescending attitude toward the Other is part of how identity works, how we feel good and significant.” (Ibid.)

Jesus himself gave an example of this:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14 ESV

Jesus is describing people who excluded, degraded and vilified others for the purpose of bolstering their own sense of self-worth, value and identity. However, much to their surprise, Jesus tells them that God does not play this game – in fact, he is very much opposed to it, because it is rooted in pride and self-justification rather than humility.

What then is the solution?

The solution is this: we must find our identity not in being better than others, but in who we are in God’s eyes, because of what Jesus has done for us. We need an identity which is centered on the Cross.

The fact that Jesus went to the cross to die for our salvation is both a profound statement of our sin and failure, and at the same time the greatest expression of love and of our value to God. In this sense, my identity and value is not based on me being better than other people – rather it does not allow me to see myself as better than others. I, like them, have sinned and fallen short. My value, according to the gospel, is that God loves me so much that he was willing to pay the greatest cost and hold nothing back; he is that devoted and committed to me.

May we be those who find our identity in Christ, rather than in our political or other affiliations, and may the way Christians express their political views not be a hindrance to the message of the gospel.

Five Scriptures to Read on Inauguration Day

  1. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

    First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

  2. Jeremiah 29:7

    But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

  3. Romans 13:1

    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

  4. Philippians 3:20

    But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

  5. Psalm 47:6-9

    Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
    For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
    God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
    The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.
    For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!

“All That is Gold Does Not Glitter”

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring

I remember as a kid, discovering my parents’ record collection, and listening to their albums on the turntable in our basement. My favorite album was Led Zepplin IV: the one which had all the symbols for the title.

In that album there were several references to J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, particularly in The Battle of Evermore and Misty Mountain Hop, and of course the opening lines of Stairway to Heaven: “There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying the stairway to heaven.”

That is a reference to a poem from The Fellowship of the Ring, a riddle which is found in Gandalf’s letter to Frodo, which he left for him at Bree. Frodo only realizes later that the riddle is about a person: Strider, AKA Aragorn, the true king – who is the Christ figure in the story.

Yesterday was Tolkien’s 125th birthday. Born John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the Oxford don never actually aimed to be a fantasy writer, but the fantasy literature he wrote led to a subsequent surge in fantasy writing. Tolkien did not consider The Lord of the Rings to be his greatest achievement. Tolkien’s main passion was linguistics, and he created multiple working languages over the course of his life.

As I have written about before (see: Addison’s Walk), Tolkien was very interested in the topic of what he called “fairy stories,” and why it is that they captivate people the way they do, especially in an age of science and reason. He believed that the reason is because the characteristic features of all the great stories reflect the deep human longings – and as such, they point to an underlying reality which is more real that reality as we experience it.

Upon further reflection Tolkien recognized that all these key elements are also present in the gospel story of Jesus. His conclusion was that the gospel is not just one more story which points to this underlying reality, but that the gospel isthe underlying reality to which all the stories point.

The movies that move you to tears. The stories which you can’t get enough of, even though they contain the same elements as all the other stories: heroic self-sacrifice, life out of death, love without parting, good overcoming evil, victory snatched from the jaws out death, etc… The reason we can’t get enough of these stories is because they point to THE STORY which is written on our hearts. Tolkien was the master story teller precisely because he understood this.

When Tolkien wrote “All that is gold does not glitter,” he was not only referring to Aragorn, but to a fundamental and biblical truth: that some of the most precious and truly valuable things in this world are not monetary or even material at all.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,”

“…your faith which is more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:3-4, 7)