Recap of Recent Travels

I just got back on Saturday night from a 2-week trip, during which I was in NYC, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine – then a quick jaunt to Southern California, before making my way back home just in time for daylight savings! My internal clock was so confused by that point that losing one more hour of sleep didn’t even register.

Hungary

The purpose for the European trip was to visit White Fields‘ missionaries and ministry partners in Hungary and Ukraine. I got to spend time with Pastor Jani and others from Golgota Eger, the church my wife and I started back in 2005. We also spent time in Budapest at Golgota Budapest and with the leaders of the Anonymous Ways Foundation which helps to rescue women out of sex-trafficking.

Ukraine

After a few short days in Hungary, we flew to Kiev, Ukraine where Mike and I taught at a Pastors and Leaders Conference for Calvary Chapel Ukraine. Our topic was “movement dynamics” and we gave biblical and practical instruction about leading missional churches for about 50 pastors and church leaders from all over Ukraine.

Kiev

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of preaching at Calvary Chapel Kiev. Here is the video of that service if you’d like to watch it:

After church we spent some time with George Markey, one of the pastors of Calvary Kiev, and he shared with us the vision for urban church planting in Kiev – a city of about 5 million people. Their vision is to plant 30 churches in Kiev in 5 years! This year their goal was to begin with 2 church plants, and God has already raised up people for those in the northern Obolon region of the city and in the southern Teremky region. Please join in praying for God’s work in Kiev through Calvary Chapel and for this big vision they have for church planting!

Ternopil and Kharkiv

Sunday evening, three of us got on an over-night train to Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, near the Russian border – while Mike and his wife Marika took a train in the opposite direction, to Ternopil in Western Ukraine to visit friends from Calvary Chapel Ternopil.

In Kharkiv, we visited with friends from Calvary Chapel Kharkiv, including Pastor Victor Fisin and Assistant Pastor and missionary Nate Medlong, whose aunt is a member of our church. Nate and his wife Diana are on the front lines of ministry to orphans and children in the foster system in Kharkiv. God is doing great things through their ministry, so please keep them in prayer.

UETS

Returning to Kiev, I got to speak to the students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, and then we spent time with one of the teachers and the director of the seminary afterwards. UETS is a doing a great work, raising up pastors and leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. They have a strategic partnership with the seminary I am currently attending: London School of Theology (LST), and they have several hundred students attending their many campuses all over Ukraine and one other former-Soviet country. Pray for their work!

California

While the others from the team came back to Colorado, I had one more trip before I came home: I went to Thousand Oaks, California for the first Expositors Collective – an interactive seminar for young people who have a desire to preach and teach the Bible well. As one of the leaders, I coached a group of young men who had a range of different experiences: from Bible college students to interns, to a staff pastor who sometimes preaches at his church. It was a great event, and one that was geared towards ongoing mentorship. This was only the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collective to encourage expository Bible teaching in the next generation. For more information, check out expositorscollective.com

It was a great trip, but I’m glad to be home, here where God has called me to be!

Local Ministry Spotlight: Ukraine Orphan Outreach

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Based out of Berthoud, Colorado, Ukraine Orphan Outreach is a local non-profit you should know about that is having a global impact.

UOO works to help the kids who are falling between the cracks in the system, by establishing transition homes for orphans who are aging out of the system as well as helping to facilitate adoptions of older orphans with adoptive parents in the US. They also organize camps and other activities for orphans in Ukraine, to be able to have fun and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:27

When we lived in Hungary, my wife and I were involved in ministry to orphans, and we saw how difficult life is particularly for kids as they get older and especially when they age out of the system and have to move out on their own.

Here are some statistics from UOO’s website:

12,000 children age out of orphanages every year with no where to go.
70% of the boys are incarcerated after only 2 years of being out of an orphanage.

60% of young girls that age out of orphanages are pulled into sex trafficking.​

10% of the children who age out of orphanages commit suicide within 2 years.​

Friends of mine here in Longmont have adopted through UOO, a couple from our church met on a UOO mission trip, and through UOO I have made good contacts and friends in Ukraine, including at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, where I will be visiting in March when I will be in Kyiv for a pastors and leaders conference.

How You Can Help:

Become a Sponsor

For $35/month, you can sponsor an aged-out orphan to live in one of the transitional homes. Click here for more information.

Attend Their Annual Fundraiser

This year’s fundraising event will be held on March 9, 2018 at Foundations Church in Loveland, CO from 5:30-9:00 PM.

Tickets are $20/person, $35/couple, $50/family – and can be purchased here.

My wife an I attended their fundraiser two years ago, and they put on a great event.

Donate Online

If you’d like to support their work with a donation, you can do that online here.

Here is a video which shows what they do in their transition homes:

Pray for this ministry and help spread the word about the important work they are doing!

An Important Perspective on the Difficult and Mudane

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A while back a friend shared an interesting concept with me, which I have come to see applies to many areas of life. We were on our way to meet with a ministry that our church supports and we knew that there would be some hard conversations that needed to be had – some behaviors and attitudes which needed to be confronted and challenged, some practices that needed to be critiqued.

What my friend told me is that things like this are hard in the moment, but when you zoom way out, and you take the big picture view of what is going on, they are actually beautiful – and if you can keep that perspective, it helps you to do those things which are difficult in the moment.

The example he used was his family: if you look at any given moment up close, it probably doesn’t look that beautiful: dad is frustrated and scolding the kids for not doing their chores, mom is complaining that someone left their shoes in the middle of the floor, siblings are bickering with each other, the dog is barking and scratching up the glass door…  It’s all terrible, right?

Except it’s not. If you zoom out from the details of the moment and take the 30,00o foot view, where you see what is happening there as a whole, what you see is something beautiful: you see a group of people who are living together, who love each other and are committed to each other. And 20 years from now, it’s not going to be the siblings bickering that you’ll remember, it’s the big picture of the family that was together.

The point is: Even if in the moment it isn’t glorious and beautiful, in the big picture it is.

I think this can be applied to many areas in life. In general, creating things and building things is an inglorious process, but the big picture of the process itself, not only the finished product, can be a beautiful thing.

I know someone who felt a calling to move his family to a certain city a few years ago to plant a church. They were excited, they felt that they loved the culture of this city, that it would be a great fit for their family, and they expected that God would use them to birth a new church. After arriving in town and getting established, they set up the church’s website, affiliated with a group of churches, and announced a weekly meeting. They were prepared that it might be slow-going getting started, but they were excited when someone they had invited showed up for their Bible study. However, little encouragements like this became more and more rare. For two years they did everything they could think of to get this church started, the whole family was involved, and the husband worked also worked a full time job to pay the bills. After two years, they shut it down and moved back to where they had come from, disappointed and confused: had they not discerned God’s will correctly that this is what they were supposed to do?  Or was it possible that God had led them out there on purpose, knowing that the church plant would not succeed, in order to teach them something?

If you would have looked at any given moment, you might have seen intense discouragement. You might have seen kids complaining that their parents had taken them away from their friends back home to move to this place, and for what? To have a Bible study in their house that was poorly attended? You might have seen a marriage that was struggling under the stress and sadness of a dream that was not materializing. Nothing beautiful. Nothing glorious.

But when you take a step back and look at the big picture, you do see something that is beautiful. You see something that is downright glorious. You see a family together, taking a step of faith and following God; working together and serving together, praying together for God to work in a city and call people to new life. You see a man and a woman who are seeking God for direction, and asking Him to speak to them. You see a group of kids who have a mom and dad who are setting an amazing example for them of values which really matter… That is beautiful. That is glorious.

That isn’t to say that everything people do is glorious in the big picture. There are plenty of things which are not. But doing things that matter often consists of doing many things which aren’t glorious or pretty or fun. Sometimes they are messy or painful or even just super boring. This is true of business, school, relationships, marriage, and just about anything else that matters.

Keep that perspective in mind this week: try to see the big picture in the difficult moments, and let that encourage you to continue on working for things that matter.

Every Single Day

There are certain messages that you hear, which you never forget. I remember hearing Jon Courson speak at a missions conference in Austria in the early 2000’s. I don’t remember much of what he said, but I do remember this phrase, which he repeated several times:

Read your Bible and pray,
every single day.

Novel concept for a group of missionaries and pastors, right? 

Well, it is actually. Because one rut that preachers and Bible teachers in particular tend to fall into is that of only reading your Bible to look for something to preach on or teach about: “sermon material” if you will. 

What I have found is that when I read the Bible purely to hear from the Lord and delight in His Word, it keeps me so fresh and alive as a Christian, that it makes me a better minister.

For example, yesterday I was reading through 2 Chronicles, and I read chapters 20-23. That’s one of those sections of the Bible that people like to skip over, because it’s full of hard to pronounce names and stories that are downright confusing – because it’s never clear who the “good guy” really is (hint: the only “good guy” in the story is GOD himself!).

After reading those passages, I went to meet with a brother from our church, and it just so happened that the very chapters I had read spoke directly to what he was going through in his life – in a way that was actually quite moving. And it wasn’t just one thing – it was several things from various stories in those 4 chapters. If I hadn’t been reading through the Word consistently, I’m sure I would have had something to share with this brother, but it wouldn’t have been so alive and prophetic as this was.

Another thing I remember Jon Courson saying: 

Wherever you are in the Word, that’s where you are.

That was basically Jon’s way of saying that in the providence of God, the scriptures you will read as you read through the Bible will often apply directly to the situation you are in. I have found that to be very true. 

May we never be people who only look to God’s word for “material” that we can USE in speaking to others. May we come to it always as the fountain of life.  But if you do that, you will also find that when you hide His Word in your heart, you will have plenty of “material” to share with others. 

The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death. – Proverbs 14:27

…The Harder They Fall

On my way home from church on Sunday I saw a Facebook message saying that the pastor of the largest church in the movement I’ve long been associated with had resigned due to moral failure.

I hate hearing this kind of stuff.

Over the last several days I have seen tons of posts on social media from other pastors about this pastor’s fall. I understand that they want to address what’s going on. I understand that they are upset and want to talk about it. I’m not sure if we should be posting that kind of news everywhere though. At what point is it just gossip? Gossip is still gossip if you present it as a “prayer request”. Isn’t it spreading sensational news about someone else’s junk that really has no bearing on us personally?

I opened the CNN app on my iPad on Monday, only to see an article on the front page about this pastor’s moral failure and resignation. Great – more fuel for those who are always looking for fodder against Christianity and the Church.

I’m upset that someone in that man’s position would risk his legacy, his family and the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ for some fleeting moments of pleasure.

I am sad for his wife and kids who have to go through all of this in the public eye. I am concerned for that church, and pray that the people who attend there will have the maturity to walk through this process as a body, faithful to the heart and will of God.

I am glad to see that high moral standards are upheld, and exceptions aren’t made for someone because they are gifted, talented and popular. Personally, I loved listening to that man teach. He is truly a gifted communicator. I heard someone put it this way: “David kills Goliath no matter how you read the story, but some teachers are able to make the story come alive – whereas other teachers make you wish someone would hit you in the head with a stone and put you out of your misery.” This man is a great teacher. But I am glad that his skill and celebrity were not used as an excuse for making an exception to the rules for him when it comes to moral standards for those who will serve as leaders in the God’s church.

This situation is one more sober warning for Christians, and especially for those of us in leadership and ministry, that we must watch over our hearts with all dilligence, because it is from the overflow of our hearts that our actions proceed.

 

To Seminary or Not to Seminary

Seminary – AKA “Semetery”: the place where young people who love God go to have their faith shaken and their enthusiasm killed forever. At least that’s how seminary was portrayed to me as a young Christian who was eager to serve the Lord.

Today, as a pastor and seminary student, I have to say that I actually agree with that. I can see how seminary can kill a young person’s faith and enthusiasm. However, I think that seminary is a good thing, and something pastors should do. For me, going to seminary has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, both personally, and for my calling as a pastor.

I didn’t start going to seminary until after I had already been ordained and pastoring for years. The group of churches I was ordained in didn’t require formal seminary training in order to be ordained; they simply required 4 years of theological training, which could be received in an institution like a Bible college or seminary, or on the job, through apprenticeship/discipleship. I did the latter. I was encouraged that men like Peter were unlearned men whose training came from having been with Jesus.

When I had been a pastor for a few years, I began to really feel the desire to deepen my understanding of theology, church history, and the many other topics that are taught in seminary courses. A friend of mine turned me on to a great school in England, which I have been attending now part time for several years. I’m not doing it because I need a degree in order to become a pastor; I’m doing it to make myself a better pastor.

We need to train the called, not call the trained.

And I have to say – I think this is the ideal way; I believe that we should be training the called, not calling the trained. If someone has a calling on their life and an enthusiasm to serve the Lord, then why would we lock them up for 4 years and tell them to read a bunch of books before they can go out and serve the Lord?  That’s now what Jesus did. Read the first few chapters of the Gospel of John – you see people who had little to no theological understanding leading people to Jesus. The woman at the well went and told the whole town about Jesus. The man born blind simply testified to what had happened to him.  However, enthusiasm can only take you so far, especially as a pastor. The job of a pastor is to teach and the lead as a shepherd, and they need to be able to do that with understanding about God’s Word and people.

The Problem with Being Self-Taught

I know that many people would respond that one doesn’t need to go to seminary in order to get a theological education. Surely there are a number of books available, and if one is a disciplined student, then they can simply educate themselves while doing the work of the ministry.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones is perhaps the greatest example of a master preacher and pastor – certain one of the greatest of our modern age. He was known by those who looked up to him as “The Pastor”. Dr. Jones never went to seminary nor had any formal theological training. He had studied to be a medical doctor, and later switched to Christian ministry, becoming a pastor. Dr. Jones is often cited as a perfect example of how one does not need to be sequestered in a seminary in order to receive theological training – it is possible to be self-taught.

Here’s the problem with being self-taught, which I realized years ago, when I desired to deepen my knowledge base and started trying to teach myself:  When you teach yourself, YOU pick what you want to learn and read. The great thing about being part of a seminary program is that I am forced to read and consider viewpoints which I would have otherwise avoided. Basically, self-taught people tend to read things which simply bolster the positions which they have already held.

For some people, being faced with views other than those who they already hold leads them to confusion and uncertainty. Certainly I have become a lot less dogmatic about things I used to be dogmatic about, because I more understand now the complexity of the questions and arguments. And it is this uncertainty which leads to confusion and disillusionment for many young seminarians who go to seminary because they want to know God more and because they have a passion for the Gospel and for serving others like Jesus did. They go to seminary hoping to be set on fire in a greater way and be given tools to minister effectively, and find themselves bogged down in discussions which bring into question things which they never thought were issues! And then the Bible becomes a book you read for school, and you hear people splitting hairs on seemingly irrelevant theological arguments, and it can easily kill one’s enthusiasm.

The study of theology is faith seeking understanding – Saint Anselm

As Anselm said: The study of theology is “faith seeking understanding”. And I believe it should be treated that way. Karl Barth taught that Christian theology should be an endeavor done by Christians who are committed to Jesus Christ. I agree with that. I also believe that if someone has a desire to serve God, we should encourage that, rather then kill it by making them jump through a bunch of hoops first. Let’s see who is called and then be diligent to train them, rather than training people to death and then asking them to be called and enthusiastic about the Gospel.

What do you think?  Seminary, or not to Seminary? Comment below!