Friday, August 31, 2012

Weekly Devotional - August 31, 2012

"If the Lord delights in a man's way,
He makes his steps firm;
though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with His hand."
Psalm 37:23-24 NIV

Life is not lived on level ground. You deal with ups and downs, potholes and ruts, obstacles and challenges. You know those "Adopt a Highway" programs where community groups or Sunday School classes pick up trash along the sides of the roads?  I need someone to do that for the road of life I'm traveling!

And I have someone like that. So do you. His name is Jesus. Do you ever wonder how much stuff Jesus has picked up and removed from your path? We'll never know the full extent of what he does to protect us, but I don't think all the landfills on the earth could hold the trash he removes from our paths.

But sometimes he leaves it there. Sometimes he does not remove the obstacles. Sometimes he chooses to have us deal with the ups and downs. And I don't know why.

Psalm 37 does give insight into how we should live our lives. Just listen to some of the phrases from this psalm. "Do not fret." "Trust in the Lord." "Commit your way to the Lord." "Be still before the Lord." "Refrain from anger." "Turn from evil." "Wait for the Lord."

Can you do those things? Can you live like that? God promises us that his Spirit is with us to help us live like that. The key is to focus on the Lord or, as the psalmist puts it, "Delight yourself in the Lord" (37:4). Do you know what happens when you do that? "He will give you the desires of your heart."

When you delight in the Lord, the Lord delights in your way. He makes your steps firm and upholds you even when you stumble.

How do you deal with the ups and downs you are facing today? You can focus on the stuff in the way or you can focus on the Lord. Pray that God will delight in your way as you delight in him today.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Want To Be Like That

I took the 90 minute drive to Searcy today to visit one of our church members. Dee Beckham moved from Little Rock to Arlington, Texas a couple of years ago. She's now living in an assisted living facility in Searcy. Her sister lives in Searcy and she wanted to be closer to her.

Here's the back story. Dee and Jim have been married for quite a while. Second (at least) marriages for both of them. They make a wonderful couple. They've lived in our neck of the woods for a long time and were faithful in our church. As they aged, they both had illnesses and conditions so that they could no longer live on their own. Due to family issues (it's a blended family, remember) Dee went to Arlington to live with her daughter and son-in-law and Jim went to South Carolina to live with his son. Wouldn't that be a hard decision to reach? No decision at all, really. They had no choice.

Dee's 85th birthday was July 30. She came to Searcy to spend some time with her sister and decided to stay. Searcy is home to her and she and her sister are the only ones left. I found out last week that she had moved so I planned the trip to see her.

I've always enjoyed visiting with our seniors because they have good stories to tell and wisdom to offer. That's Dee and Jim! The last summer before moving away, they had lots of doctors appointments. They couldn't drive so I was their driver. And Riley (9 years old at the time) was my side-kick. That was a really good summer. Riley and I spent a lot of time together. I was able to show him a side of ministry I never saw as a child growing up in a preacher's home. We both enjoyed getting to know the Beckhams a little better.

What really sticks out about those summer conversations and today's conversation is this. Dee believes in prayer. Any problem they faced back then, she bathed in prayer. One of the first things she told me this morning was that she had been praying today for everyone in the church she could remember. Nothing is too small to pray about or too big for prayer to help. Dee is a prayer warrior. I want to be like that.

Another thing about Dee that I really admire is her simple understanding of our problems. During the summer trips to the doctor she asked about some of the problems our church was facing. I couldn't say much because of confidentiality so she did most of the talking. Finally, she said, "I just hope ________ will repent." Sin is sin and there's only one thing to do with it: repent. Dee understands the root of our problems, she knows the answer, and she's not afraid to say it. I want to be like that.

I count it a joy and a privilege to be Dee's pastor even if she will never again live in our community or attend our services. I'm a better pastor because I'm Dee's pastor.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Coffee, the Word, and Tunes

This has been a good morning. The weather has been nice. The house is quiet. The coffee was aromatic and tasty. The Bible challenged me. The songs helped me express my worship. I've neglected spending a lengthy time in this setting. Not sure why but my quiet time is often rushed, short, shallow. I don't like it like that. It's better like it's been this morning.

Your schedule may be more crammed than mine but I know that spending time with the Lord ALWAYS makes the day better. Let's say that you jump out of bed, hit the showers, feed the kids, get everyone off or delivered to their place for the day, drive through Starbucks for a shot of caffeine, rush to work just in time, then rewind all that eight hours later. Where's the time to have a quiet time?

A book is titled, "Too Busy Not to Pray." I think we can expand that idea to "Too Busy Not to Have a Quiet Time." Prayer and Bible study, time alone with God, is essential. What happens if your schedule gets one hiccup? That messes up everything! Doesn't it make sense that spending a little time with the Lord might help?

Here's how. First, he may keep your path smooth ahead of you so you get to all your stops today. Second, he may give you patience to deal with the delays when you hit the bumps. Third, he may have taught you something this morning that will help you be gracious to those who mess up your plans. I can think of many reasons I should reserve time for Jesus before I get started with the day.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the day and to tomorrow! This is the day the Lord has made. Let's rejoice and be glad in it...even if it's Monday.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Weekly Devotional - August 24, 2012

“I have declared to both Jews and Greeks
that they must turn to God in repentance
and have faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Acts 20:21 NIV

What does it take to be right with God? That’s a question that gets a variety of answers in response. The most common response I hear is that being right with God requires living according to a certain code. Doing the right things is the key to being right with God, they say.

Some of these people never go to church and aren’t involved in a community of believers. They think that being a good person who does good deeds is the goal of life. And if they believe in an afterlife, then being and doing good opens the portal to it. Some are extremely generous and do much good for their families and for society. But are they right with God?

Others go to church as if attendance is their religion. They are more pious than others when the church doors are open. They are as worldly as anyone when the doors are closed. They think they are better than others because they do more for the church and for the Lord than anyone else. But are they right with God?

The apostle Paul was one of those in this last group prior to his conversion to Christianity. Read the first few verses of Philippians 3 and you’ll sense the arrogance he once had. But keep reading in that chapter and you’ll learn what he thinks about empty piety and meaningless religion.

Paul knew what it meant to be against the Lord and he knew what it meant to be right with God. Two words: repentance and faith. Repentance is turning away from your sin and following God. Faith is dependent trust that following Jesus is the path of righteousness. Only through repentance and faith (both - one alone won’t work!) is a person right with God.

Are you right with God? Have you turned to him in repentance and placed your faith in Jesus? Pray that God will save you as you turn to him in repentance and faith.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do They Get It?

Do you think Jesus ever wondered, "Do they get it? Do they understand my message?" The Perfect Preacher may not have had those thoughts, but the rest of us who preach do. And often. Maybe every weekend!

I heard this in a Sunday School seminar two and a half decades ago: "The point of the lesson is not to finish the lesson but to have something click with the learners." I'm one of those preachers who studies and studies and gathers more information than would be reasonable to dump on my listeners. The hardest task in preaching for me is to boil the information down to the right amount that will help the people understand the text. Too little and they really aren't getting a Word from God but a word from me. Too much and they might miss the point of the text for all the points in the sermon.

A teacher/preacher might be tempted to pump the lesson/sermon full of information. After all, they need to know, right? But they also need to know what to do. My Pastoral Ministry professor said that pastoral ministry is the application of scripture to the point of a person's need. So they need to know what to do.

At the other end of the spectrum are the teachers/preachers who are light on information and heavy on application. Is it OK to know what to do but not know why to do it? I'd say, "No," and that's where the question of balance comes in. How much information and how much practical application is appropriate?

Jesus called people to love him and the Father. His test to see if someone loved him was to gauge their obedience to what he said. "If you love me you will keep my commands" is the tone of John 14:21, 23. Our high calling is to love the Lord and we show it by our obedience to his commands, too.

I don't expect my church to obey me but to obey the Lord. I do my best to make sure that what I teach and ask and require comes directly from the Lord with very little, if any, Loyd mixed in. So is it possible for me to know if they get it? Yes, with this question. Are they obeying the Word of the Lord?

Jesus may not have wondered if they got it, but I do. And it cheers my heart to see that they obey the Lord.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

CRBC Russia Mission Trip 2012

Here's a video we used in the mission trip presentation Sunday. It captures the essence of our time in Russia this year.


Over a Cup of Coffee

The scene at Starbucks can best be described as eclectic. You know, a little of this and a little of that. That's how it ought to be, given the music that plays over the loudspeakers in this place. Let's walk across the room together.

Here's a local pastor meeting with a young man. They talk about life, the Lord, and a sundry list of other things. This is a good place to meet for that. The coffee shop is a central location and, if the young man is not particularly involved in church, it's a neutral site. Some folks just won't come to the pastor's office. I rarely come here when I don't see a Christian man or woman mentoring a younger person.

Here's a student working on an assignment for the first week of college. Fingers flying on the keyboard. Head down. And earphones in. What? Earphones in while working on an assignment. Starbucks is not the library! But anyone 40 or younger has little or no problem concentrating while their senses are also engaged in two or three or more other things. I'm too old for that. I want people to sit quietly and calmly and look at me when I teach or preach. But the truth is that younger people can be fully engaged with more than I can. We come from different technological worlds. The video games of my day was Atari Pong. That's about it. A place far, far away from what kids grow up with today.

Here's a couple of businessmen talking over a presentation to be presented this afternoon. The free internet allows them to pulls files from their company's network servers. They edit and improve them to make the most impact later today. I try to use the technology to do the same. I can sit here (trying to block out the room noise!) and work on next week's sermons and Bible studies. Being online makes this much easier. Although I didn't grow up with lots of technology, I've adapted rather well to it.

Here's a mom and daughter catching up on the back-to-school stuff with the grandkids. One shows pictures on her phone to the other. They laugh and carry on like nothing else matters. And nothing else does. At least for the moment. You need times like this. Work pushes family to the background and that can be dangerous. Men and women alike have responsibilities outside the home but the home must come first. Take a little time to celebrate those things that really matter. Your greater responsibility is to the Lord and then your family. Sometimes a cup of coffee helps put that in perspective.

And then there's me. Watching all the others. People are interesting, aren't we? I can't tell you what's playing on the speakers but my foot was tapping as I thought about what to type next. I'm using this coffee shop to maximize some downtime between appointments today. Just came from the hospital after checking on a church member who had an outpatient procedure this morning. I have a meeting at noon. Instead of driving 20 minutes back to the office and then 20 minutes back to town, I just parked it here for a couple of hours. And I got a little done, too.

And I enjoyed a cup of Starbucks.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Church Family or Family Church?

Just had a conversation about churches with another person who cares deeply for churches. We talk often about things in the churches we serve. We share concerns and celebrations, obstacles and opportunities. It's good to talk with people who have similar passion, experience, and situation. The Bible says that one man sharpens another as iron sharpens iron.

We talked today about several things but this is on my mind right now. Is your church a church family or a family church? I guess that question might not be relevant if you attend a church with several hundreds of people. But if your church is several dozen or less it's a valid question.

We talk about fellowship and unity in the church. The idea is that Christians, especially those who are part of the same local church, are supposed to live in community with each other. Note that I did NOT say "in the community" but "in community." We are to share life together. The good and the bad. The ups and the downs. We are to encourage each other and help each other. We are to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

The church is to be a family who loves one another, cares about one another, helps one another, shares with one another, leads one another, works alongside one another.

Is that a good description of your church? Or does the term "church family" bring to mind a mafia family? With a boss or kingpin? With everyone else doing what one or a few say and afraid to oppose anything? With nothing passing a vote without their approval?

Even if most of the people are related to one another, the church ought not be that kind of family. The church has a dynamic different than any earthly organization or community or institution. Its leadership is different. Its relationships are different.

Churches should examine themselves to see if they are a church family or a family church. Don't be afraid to take a look. And don't be afraid to make changes to become the New Testament body of believers you ought to be.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Recent Messages

I didn't plan it this way but the last few sermons I've preached at Cross Road Baptist Church have advanced a theme that's been on my mind for a while. Seems like each week when I begin praying and planning and preparing the sermon for next Sunday, I gravitated to this theme.

Here are links to the sermons and short descriptions of each.

July 8, 2012
"Living in Unity"
Romans 15:1-13
Believers are to bear with the week, glorify God, and accept one another.

July 15, 2012
"Why Encouragement Matters"
1 Thessalonians 3:1-5
The message of encouragement must point people to God's love for them, Jesus' sacrifice for them, and God's purpose for their lives.

July 29, 2012
"A Worthy Example"
Philippians 3:17-4:1
You are a role model. Are you a good one or a bad one?

August 12, 2012
"Better Together"
Hebrews 10:19-25
The best (only) context in which to live out the commands to draw near to God, hold on to our hope, and encourage one another is within the local church community.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #10

We're home. Been home since midnight Saturday night or Sunday morning. The trip back across 11 time zones is hard. Like any return trip from almost any destination, the excitement is gone, the adrenaline is gone There's not much to look forward to except suitcases full of dirty laundry.

Pastor Pavel puts this into better perspective. When asked at the first of the week what he would like to see happen, he said he wanted to establish relationships with unchurched families of the kids who attended camp. That's something to look forward to! He told the missionary, with a smile on his face, that he had addresses and phone numbers for all these families. I'm praying for this church as they move into the community to impact eternity!

We'll be doing the same at Cross Road. Pray for us as we try to impact eternity in our part of the world.

What are you looking forward to? You can answer that question in lots of ways; just make sure it will make an eternal difference in somebody's life.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #9

We leave for the airport in about 6 hours. I'm still working! That's OK. I'll have lots of long flights to get a nap or two. But I usually don't sleep on planes. I can take a nap Sunday afternoon. And all day Monday. And Tuesday.

This trip has been successful on many fronts. Let me mention two or three. Just when it looked like reaching Talitsa was going to be a far-off dream, we saw the hand of God at work this week. A man who pastors a church in the area is also interested in reaching beyond his town and into Talitsa. An interest in the Russia people was birthed in my heart in July of 1986 when I came to the Soviet Union as part of an Economics class at Arkansas Tech University. Then when I had the opportunity to come to Russia in February 2008, God stirred a passion in my heart for the city of Talitsa. We came back in 2009 and 2010. But in 2011 there was just not much glimmer of hope that a church would be planted there. I stayed home that year but prayed anyway. This trip has shown me that God works off the radar of my understanding. My faith is strengthened and my desire to pray for and work in Talitsa is rekindled.

Another point of success is that Cross Road Baptist Church has shown it can partner with another church (this one happens to be in Russia) to accomplish kingdom goals. Two American churches (Little Rock and Louisville) sent six people to partner with the church in Ekaterinburg for a week of children's ministry. We're not really sure what to call it. It was like a day camp and we used VBS material. And it worked. Most importantly, God worked through the camp and the churches to touch lives. One parent (a non-believer) said she wanted her kids to come back day after day because she could tell a difference in them. They were singing and happy. That's what the gospel does: it wraps people in the love of Jesus and changes them. Her children are not yet believers but they have tasted of God's goodness and seen the examples of many transformed lives before them this week.

The third point of success may not look like it at first. The woman who normally directs the camp was not able to lead this year because she was pregnant. She had the baby this week. But her sister stepped up to the task and learned that God empowers his people to do what he wants them to do. Many of the Americans and Russians fought with a stomach virus. Our manpower changed on a day-to-day basis. But we trusted God to use those who were able to accomplish his purposes. Even things like travel schedules and exchanging money were messed up. But God is in control! We live in a physical world and fight spiritual battles. Satan uses both spiritual and physical things to stop us. God is sovereign in both realms and always acts in accordance with Romans 8:28. This week was a Romans 8:28 week, for sure.

We head home soon. We get home late Saturday night. Since we are traveling west, we are chasing the sun. That makes for a long, long day of travel. I think I'll schedule a few naps for next week.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #8

It's hard to believe that this week is almost over. The Russian believers here in Ekaterinburg are doing a wonderful job leading the Amazing Wonders Aviation VBS. The Bible lessons have been translated into Russian for the teachers. The theme song is in Russian. Even the Americans are speaking some Russian. Not very good though.

The Americans are doing the crafts and recreation, with the help of translators. Actually, the two women doing the recreation have lived here for three years so they don't need the help of translators but the rest of us do. Jessica and Jocelyn were in the IMB Journeyman program. They've been back home for a year and a half. We thought of them immediately when putting our team together for this trip. It's been a joy having them with us.

Deana, Shirley, and Gwen are doing the crafts. The translators are helpful but we have been able to communicate much of what the kids need to know just by pointing or showing them what to do. Most of the kids have wanted to use English on their crafts rather than Russian for the words and stuff. And most of them know a little English. At least enough to make me feel bad for the small amount of Russian I know.

My job has been to introduce the daily theme in the opening gathering and then to reinforce the theme in the closing gathering. I'm also teaching the kids a song in English. "Every Move I Make" is a little long but they are doing a good job and they love the choreography. A couple of girls "interviewed" me today. One question was, "Bob, do you like to dance?" I laughed inside and said, "Well, in America pastors aren't really supposed to dance." The translator said, "It's that way in Russia, too, but you are pretty good." Now keep that to yourself because I've never been, am not now, nor will I ever be a dancer! (But I'm pretty good at whatever it is I'm doing!)

Tomorrow is the last day. We'll head home Saturday and get home about midnight Saturday night. Eleven days away from home is a long time but the good news regarding our "Reaching Talitsa" emphasis and the exciting week we've had in VBS day camp makes it worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #7

We've just wrapped up the second day of VBS day camp at the House of Prayer in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Everybody that was sick yesterday is feeling much better today. Just a couple of folks are not yet back to full strength. Thanks for the prayers and please keep praying for all of us to either get to 100% or stay that way for the rest of the trip.

Just like yesterday, the kids were great. They pay attention, are obedient, and treat everyone respectfully. OK, maybe not completely...they're just kids! But I am impressed with them! Today's Bible study was based on the event recorded in the book of Daniel where Daniel was thrown into a lions den because he would not pray to the king instead of to God. Sometimes we have to make a hard decision to stand strong in our faith or stand up for what the Bible says. That's not always well received by people around us. I'm not aware of any lions dens around today but we may face opposition in other ways when we stand up for the Lord. Stand up anyway! That's what Daniel did and it turned out OK for him.

One of the things I love about working with the Russia children is that they don't really understand the language barrier and don't pay much attention to it. They will smile and say something in Russian that seems to be really important to them. Something like, "Are we going to have crafts again tomorrow?" We may not understand what they are saying but we can tell by their sweet faces that it's important. We'll either smile and say, "Yes," or we'll grab one of the few who can speak both Russian and English. Most of the time a smile and "Yes" work just fine!

I know I'm clumsy when it comes to ministering to children, but the rest of our team is doing great. I'm so glad Deana, Gwen, Shirley, Jessica, and Jocelyn are here. Please keep us in your prayers as we rest tonight and go after it again tomorrow morning. (By the way, the time is 10:50 pm on Tuesday night in Ekaterinburg and 11:50 am on Tuesday morning in Little Rock. We are half way around the world!)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #6

Today was the first day of the VBS Day Camp. About 25 children attended and had a great time. They learned about the time God stopped the waters of the Jordan River so his people could cross into the Promised Land. God is awesome and has mighty power over all he created!

Crafts, recreation, and music were home runs! The kids sang out loud - every one of them! They made bags and airplanes. And flew their foam airplanes outside. They loved it all.

On a personal note, at least four of the Americans have a stomach bug. Pray that we'll be well, hydrated, rested, and back to top form. I believe this is Satan trying to stick his nose in God's business. He can't win!

The kids love the VBS and we are loving on them. The adults, both Russian and American, are working together and with the Holy Spirit. God is at working out his plan for this week. I'm glad I'm here to experience it.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #5

Sunday was a great day. We headed out to the House of Prayer (all churches that are not Russia Orthodox are called this) to worship with Russian believers. The place was packed with over 100 people - men, women, boys and girls. In my limited experience in Russia, this was very refreshing to see!

I preached from the passage in Mark 8 about Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ. A Russian pastor preached from Romans 1 about the need for salvation and the change in lifestyle that brings. The pastor of the church, Pavel, preached. Yes, that's three sermons! We observed the Lord's Supper. There was music and drama. One adult man gave his testimony of coming to Christ recently. The pastor's son, Mark (14 yrs old), gave testimony of repenting and accepting Christ just this last Monday night. We prayed. I love the way Russians pray. I can't understand what they are saying but I can tell they are praying from their hearts.

The service lasted over two hours. We commented about the length of it and how American Baptists couldn't take it. But then I thought about our Sunday morning routine. Bible study begins at 9:45 and we are usually leaving shortly after noon. That's over two hours! We just don't spend the time all together in one place. Maybe we should try a service like this some time.

We had lunch at the church before decorating for VBS. The meal was more of a snack by Russian standards. Cheese and bread. Bread with cabbage and potatoes. Cupcakes. Apple cake. Cucumbers. Watermelon. Another kind of melon. Candy. Coffee and tea. It had been a long time since breakfast (it was about 2:00 now) so we partook generously!

The church is now decorated for VBS. Balloons and streamers. Airplanes and posters. We prayed for God to work his will this week in us and through us. Join us in this prayer as we hope to impact many families this week.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #4

We had a good day of preparation today. The Americans and Russians met together at the House of Prayer (the church) to talk about next week's VBS. Then we hit the streets to let children and families know about the event. We spent about an hour playing in the courtyard of an apartment complex. The idea was to connect with children and their parents. We probably started a little early because the crowd was sparse. Those who were in the courtyard noticed us and the Russians were able to talk with a few families. We hope to see more kids tomorrow.

After about an hour, the Americans took to the streets for a little sight-seeing and souvenir shopping. The Russians went to another complex to meet more families.

The sight-seeing tour led us to The Church on the Blood. This Russian Orthodox church is built on the exact site where Romanov czar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War.

We rode the metro today. I've only ridden subways in New York City, Ekaterinburg, and Moscow. Ekaterinburg's subway stations are extremely clean. New Yorkers ought to take a lesson from the Russians in this. Ekaterinburg has a population of over two million people. Although the streets were packed with cars today (Saturday), the metro stations are packed through the week. Lots of folks move through these areas every day. Deana found a little shop underground that sells rings that she really likes, among other items. It is operated by a Russian Orthodox convent. Most of the shoppers in our group picked up a thing or two here.

Our next stop was a shopping area near the circus. This is an outdoor gathering of merchants selling products ranging from old collectable coins to hand-made crafts to Martrioshka (nesting) dolls. A lot of money changes hands in this place that is packed with people looking for a bargain or a souvenir.

Back to sight-seeing. The next stop was the Memorial for the Politically Oppressed. The site is built around mass graves found several years ago. In the graves are the remains of tens of thousands of people who were executed for their religious beliefs during the communistic rule of Stalin. While people of all religious faiths were persecuted during his regime, Christianity seems to be the center of the persecution because the Christian cross takes a dominant physical, architectural position in the memorial. Many people died for their faith. My prayer is that the current inhabitants of Ekaterinburg will come to and cling to Jesus Christ even though such decisions may lead to persecution.

Our last stop on the sight-seeing tour was the border between two continents: Asia and Europe. We stood on the line! One foot in one continent and the other foot in another continent. The border is a popular stop for wedding parties. Russian weddings begin at the government office where it's all official. Then the wedding party makes the rounds of popular places in the area. The entire wedding party and families move through the city. Several were at the border while we were there. Their traditions are a little different than our. They probably would say the same thing about a traditional American wedding!

Then we shopped some more, had supper in the food court of Mega Mall (the name is accurate), and headed home to the Home Hotel. We'll attend the House of Prayer tomorrow for worship services then spend the afternoon decorating for VBS. Please pray that we can help the Russian Christians make an impact among families for Jesus Christ.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #3

This is Friday night, actually it's already Saturday morning. We've spent the evening in the home of a Russia couple who are active in a Baptist church in Ekaterinburg. The church is having a day camp next week and we are here to help them. We had supper with some of the camp's leadership so we could get to know each other and talk about the week ahead. It's going to be a busy week.

We do some preliminary work tomorrow (later this morning, really!) at the church then head out to some parks/playgrounds to create some interest. We'll interact with families, play games with the kids, and ask parents for permission for their children to attend (a requirement in Russia).

Please pray for our team: Deana, Gwen, Shirley, Jessica, Jocelyn, and me. Pray for the Russians - I haven't got all their names, yet. Pray that the children will be interested and the parents will be approving. Pray that the gospel will be heard and embraced.

Russia Mission Trip - Post #2

We had a great day today, Friday, August 3.

Breakfast at Home Hotel consisted of two eggs, sunny side up with ham, bread, and some kind of berry juice that was really good. The server works really hard to speak English and she did a good job but we could tell she was a little embarrassed about it. All the staff here speaks English with some degree of success. They are much better at English than we are at Russia. We should do better.

After breakfast we headed to Talitsa. This city of about 30,000 people has been on our church's prayer list. We want to help plant a church in the city, which is Russia's equivalent of a county seat town. The drive was extra long because we usually stay in Kamishlov, a city about halfway between Ekaterinburg and Talitsa. But we didn't plan the trip that way this time. Add to that the construction detour and we were in the car about 4 hours each way. But the drive was worth it!

Our prayer for the last year or so has been that God would raise up a leader through whom God would work to plant the church. We feel it's important for the leadership to be Russian so that the church is Russian, not American. We may have met him today. His name is Vadim and he is the pastor of Spiritual Renewal Baptist Church in Troitsky. Troitsky is Talitsa's neighbor and apparently the two communities almost consider themselves to be one. The church is small, 12 years old this week, and has survived some turmoil. Vadim pastored the church a few years ago and has been back for one year. So we had never met him. The turmoil happened while he was away. He feels God has led him and his family back to this church in order to reach the community.

It seems that about the time I think I have God's plan figured out for Talitsa, I learn something that changes everything. That's how I feel today after meeting Vadim. I believe he is the man God will work through to reach the Talitsa area. I'm pretty excited about this! Will you pray with me about three things Vadim emphasized in our conversation?

  1. Pray that the church will regain a standing with the city officials so that they can have more freedom to minister.
  2. Pray that the church's members will continue to grow spiritually.
  3. Pray that the church will be evangelistic as they engage the community.

Let me expose some thoughts to you. On the drive to Talitsa I was praying asking God to help me understand what I've been calling "Reaching Talitsa." Should we continue? Is it time to move on? So I'm ready to partner with Vadim and lead our churches to partner together to reach Talitsa and the communities nearby. God is good and he's up to something really good!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Russia Mission Trip - Post #1

Our day began with the sound of the alarm at 5:15. But we had not slept much. As with most trips, Deana and I stay up late the night before, get up early in the morning, and sleep very little in between. We like to go!

One reason we stayed up late last night was to repack. Our original ticket to Ekaterinburg was on Delta all the way. That changed a week or so ago and the last leg of the trip (Moscow to Ekaterinburg) is ticketed by Aeroflot. The main thing that means for us is that the baggage allowance is different than we had anticipated.

We thought we'd each get two bags free. That's not the case, though. One free and the second at $80! So we repacked!

Another reason we stayed up was to deliver Riley to Deana's parents where he'll camp out until we get back. They had plans last night so we were able to take him over there rather late. And he misses us more than other times we've been separated. I think ice cream will go a long way soothing his feelings. And swimming.

We are flying Delta and that means delays. We've been running behind from the start. Little Rock to Atlanta was delayed. But so was Atlanta to New York. We are in flight now. The captain just announced we are being rerouted to delay our arrival in New York due to weather. Our short time between flights at JFK may be evaporating. We won' t really know until we get there. Maybe the weather is keeping that one on the ground for a little while.

We were to be joined in New York by two young ladies who served as missionaries in Russia for three years. They now live in Louisville, KY. Their flight to New York was cancelled. They will now go to Atlanta, Amsterdam, and Moscow on the way to Ekaterinburg. They'll get there about five hours after we are scheduled to arrive.

Lots to pray for as we begin the journey.

1. Travel delays and safety
2. Family stuff (separation and sickness are both part of the mix back home)
3. Quick recovery from travel
4. Our willingness to let God work in and through us

Check back soon for more updates. Check Facebook for short updates, pictures, and video.