The Rebirth of the Church in Uzbekistan

rebirthI shared a bit of history with you last week.  It is important if you are going to understand the church & the culture of Uzbekistan.  Back in the middle ages the church in Europe had become corrupt, immoral and heretical, much like many churches in the mainline denominations today in America.  True Believers in God’s Word sought to reform the church bringing about the protestant reformation.  But while European Christianity struggled, the Nestorian Church in central Asia was blossoming.  Indeed, this place of Uzbekistan and surrounding countries were the flower of Christianity in those years.  It was a vibrant church, deep in faith & bringing enlightenment in the areas of medicine, education, astronomy, and business.  The math they learned from India, was adopted by the Muslims and later became known as the Arabic numerals.  It was India and the Nestorian Christians who advanced this.   Islamic leaders like Timur “the Great” (mentioned in my last blog) took all of this knowledge and wisdom from the Nestorians & then laid siege to them.  Timur was one of the chief despots who was responsible for the complete destruction of Christianity in Central Asia (from India to Moscow & eastward into China). He was the “ISIS” of his day. Christianity was literally wiped from the annuls of history until 20th century archeology discovered the evidence of this great Christian movement.            Now fast forward to the late 1990’s when Korean missionaries came to this land and planted the seeds of Christianity after the collapse of the USSR.  A new generation of Christians has emerged in Uzbekistan, discipled in the faith, nurtured by the spirit of God.  Then the Atheistic government discovered what the Korean’s were doing & had all the missionaries deported.  But it was too late.  You can still see & experience the impact of Korea in the culture, (I ate in a Korean restaurant last night).  But more importantly you see the fruits of their labors in a fledgling church.           Imagine the heavy hearts of these new believers as their leaders, their fathers & mothers in the faith, were taken from them, exported (not back to Korea) but to other countries in Central Asia were they continued their evangelism and church planting.  This is one of the greatest missionary efforts of our age.           One might think that the church in Uzbekistan struggled after that, but it did not.  They rose to the challenge.  They took the leadership reigns and organized themselves into a tremendous underground movement connected with other underground churches in the world.  They meet in houses throughout the country, intentionally keeping each “church” small in order to avoid detection from the government.  It is better to have hundreds of small house churches than to have larger churches that could easily be found and disbanded by the government.           The believers that I have met have all had skirmishes with the police, being arrested, imprisoned, beaten, or humiliated and released after some time.  But God’s spirit has given them courage and they are not afraid.  The authorities realize they are not afraid and can’t figure out why.  As a result, arrests are fewer and the beatings have pretty much stopped. Indeed, many of the police are curious as to what makes these followers of Jesus so committed to their faith.  But there is always that threat of arrest & the followers of quite aware of it.  They are very cautious and take great measures to keep their schools of faith & training hidden.  They continue to share their faith energetically, knowing that each time they might be compromised.  They smile about it.  “God is in charge”.           Therefore, it is not surprising to me that they never let me meet with one of the house churches.  They kept me away, and I met with the leaders in their homes for training and encouragement.  To be with them is an experience like I have never had before.  We reclined at a low table with pillows and cushions. There is always great food, and hot tea or coffee.  It is so relaxing, not like a formal teaching setting with chairs and a lectern. I would share, someone would translate and we would dialogue back and forth.           Their faith is genuine and their love for each other is so evident in all that they say and do.  It is like a big loving family has gathered together for fellowship in the midst of learning.  It was like the early church of Acts, reclining at a table.  We were breaking bread in a small room with the joy of Christ in their faces & the love of Christ in their voices.  I was touched and ministered to in a profound way. I came to share, but they gave me far more than I could ever impart to them.            They have the heart of Christ in their church.  They have the passion for the great commission in their minds.  They are reaching out to surrounding countries. They are strategizing and in a very organized way, they are bringing the Faith back to Uzbekistan after 500 years of silence. It is power-filled.  It is humbling to be with them and yet I felt like I was a part of their family.          Now it is on to Iraq.  – Love and Blessings, Pastor Mike


Remember when…

During the Holidays, I always turn a little nostalgic. One of my very first320857fcaa3e147d2dfd00f06f83d6d1
memories is being in Virginia for a brief time after Dad left the Navy.  I must have been 2, maybe a little more.  But I remember walking down the street with my Dad and Mom.  We had gone down town in Hampton to do a little shopping.  I was all bundled up in my winter clothes, and a light snow was coming down so slowly that you could reach out a catch a big snowflake for a second before it desolved.  All the stores had their Christmas lights on.  Obviously I can’t remember everything of that event, but in my mind it was like a Normal Rockwell painting.  That memory has brought me wonderful feelings about the holidays ever since.  It was one of those picture book memories that shapes my attitude and feelings about Christmas.
Maybe that is why I am obsessed, (Maybe a little too strong a word – depending on who you're talking to – if you talk to my family, it is spot on),  obsessed with capturing the past so that I will remember the wonderful events of days gone by.  I guess that is why I love decorating our Christmas tree to the music of the Messiah every year. As a youth, I would buy a big calendar to put on my wall beside my desk in my bedroom.  Each day I would write down what happened – just the high points & the things I did not want to forget.  Later in college I would graduate to a journal, at first hand writtpen-and-journal (2)en.  I have boxes of stuff out in the garage, keep sakes that take me back in time.  I have things that I have purchased from all of the world on my journeys, decorating my office at work and at home. Some things especially have deep meaning & I connect them to some important event that took place.  
My memory is so poor, & getting worse.  So these things help me keep in touch with my past.  Especially my photography – I can look at those old photos, and recapture the days gone by.  They help me to remember the blessings of God and the great joy that He has allowed me to have.
There is a flip side to this.  During a very dark period of my life, that came and went for about 10 years (mostly dark) – I kept a very detailed journal of the events, my failings and my feelings. It was much easier to do since I had joined the computer age.  So I wrote a lot.  I was struggling with depression during those years.  Finally I started to get well, thanks to therapy, my wife and some very loving people at Pathway. But I wouldn’t let go of that dark past.   I would occasionally go back and read about what I had gone through and how it had such a devastating effect on me.  The worst part was not so much what had happened, but what I thought about those situations and how they affected feelings and my self-image. For years I hung on to those writings – going back to visit occasionally.  It was like going back to a garbage dump.  It was smelly. It was awful.  And it would drag me back down into the darkness.  I couldn’t really break free.  God had forgiven. I had forgiven.  But there it was, always waiting for me to return & recapture the pain, the hurt and the evil darkness. Finally I did what Jan (my wife) had kept telling me to do. (Sometimes we men don’t always listen right away to those who love us.)  I deleted it all, and threw all of the hard copies into the shredder.  I would never be able to go back now. It hurt when I did it.  But now they were gone.   It was like cleaning a wound, hurtful and yet the only way for it to heal up.  Over time, those things began to leave my conscious memories.  Then I began to experience the real healing that I so desperately needed from God. There is a great spiritual lesson in all of this.  There are things in life that God wants us to remember.  He wants us to look back and count our blessings.  He wants us to remember just how good and faithful and loving and forgiving and wonderful He really is.  Hence, we need to remember His kindness for two basic reasons. The first, so that we know where our blessings come from & can praise Him. Second, so that we can heed his warnings, and not go “off-roading” from His plan.  He wants us to keep our lives in His circle of love. The good memories keep us on track. And then there is the matter of the brokenness of our lives, the results of the darkness.  He wants to forgive them.  We need to forgive others and ourselves.  And then we need to bury those events in the graveyard, never to go back.  Not even to lay flowers.  There will come a time, when you are so healed, that you can share them with others to help them in their despair. But this is always from the side of victory, not defeat.  As a result we praise God all the more. Worship Man In the coming “holidays” focus on the good memories and try to banish the hurt and pain of things forgiven.  God has forgiven them, and buried them. We need to do the same, and then move on in the Love, Joy and Peace, that comes when we remember all the great things God has done for us, in us and through us.
Mike-e1342678172131-150x150
In Christi Gloriam,
Pastor Mike


“The Problem of Pain”

C. S. Lewis on "the God We Think Will Satisfy" us, found in his book The Problem of Pain26435: "What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, "What does it matter so long as they are contented?" We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heavena senile benevolence who, as they say, "liked to see young people enjoying themselves," and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, "a good time was had by all." That sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Why didn’t God create the world that way? If you have had any experience in this world at all, you know that that is not the way things operate. And if you have been paying attention, you will realize that the world is not that way because of evil. There is a dark force in the world that that somehow plagues us. You know it is true, because, just like me, you’ve had to do battle with it. Some people have a better track record than others, at least on the surface it seems that way. But in the secret places of our hearts and lives, we find that this darkness always has a way of winning the day. That is it did, until Jesus came to in order to deliver us from that very evil. I didn’t get a chance to finish my sermon yesterday (I know, so what’s new?) So I thought I would wrap it up with my conclusion that I never reached. The most important verses in Titus 3 are 4 through 7. Here is Titus 3:4-7 in the New American Standard Version. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Notice in Vs. 4, how He came after us. As I said yesterday, we may not always be faithful to Him, but He is always faithful to us. It is just a part of His nature, His Holiness and Righteousness. It is just the way God is, He loves you and me, the crowning point of His creation. He will go to any length in order to enjoy our company for all eternity. Even if it means sacrificing His Son on our behalf. Then beginning in vs. 5 Paul gives us one of the best summations of the "Gospel" in 3 brief verses. In the Greek, it is just one long sentence describing how we are saved from the darkness, and enter into the light. It is clear that there is nothing good enough in us to merit salvation, so God delivers it to us as a gift. Out of His own deep love for us, He pours out His mercy upon us. It is described as a "washing", a deep cleansing if you will, deep enough to penetrate to most darkened soul. And what does God use for His cleanser? "Regeneration" & "Renewing" these two are mixed together in the most potent way by the Holy Spirit of God. And the Spirit pours it out generously over our lives. Remember in Psalm 23 where David says, "Thou annointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over". That is what the Father is doing to us. Pouring His cleansing power generously over our lives so that we will have His power in full strength, not only to be saved from past sins, but to be protected from any future darkness that might try to creep back into our lives. Jesus Christ made this possible when He took it upon Himself to take the punishment for our evil. Hence forth, He is our Savior, the one who pulled us out of the pit of Hell itself. Notice in these verses, the Father, Son & Holy Spirit all play a part in our cleansing that saves us from the darkness. As a result we stand, not condemned, but justified before God Himself. That means we have been vindicated and now find ourselves acceptable in His sight. And not just acceptable, but part of His Forever Family. And what is the result of all this? We become "Heirs" to His Kingdom and His Glory. The darkness, death, and the devil himself, no longer have control over us. In Christ, with the Armor of God, we have the power over him. His desire is to take us home to be with Him for all eternity. Jesus told His followers that He is building a place for them. Can you even begin to imagine that, our Holy Father, building a new Heaven and a brand new pristine world, that He wants to share with us for all eternity. It doesn’t get any better than that folks. John Wesley’s comments on verses 57 are concise and penetrating. "In this important passage the apostle presents us with a delightful view of our redemption. Herein we have, (1) The cause of it; not our works or righteousness, but ‘the kindness and love of God our Savior.’ (2) The effects; which are, (a) Justification; ‘being justified,’ pardoned and accepted through the alone merits of Christ, not from any desert in us, but according to his own mercy, ‘by his grace,’His free, unmerited goodness: (b) Sanctification, expressed by the laver of regeneration, (that is, baptism, the thing signified, as well as the outward sign), and the renewal of the Holy Ghost; which purifies the soul, as water cleanses the body, and renews it in the whole image of God.(3) The consummation of allthat we might become heirs of eternal life, and live now in the joyful hope of it. Meditate on those verses and Wesley’s analysis. It is profound! It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a nutshell, the Readers Digest version, the Cliff Notes if you will. Sunday, I shared with you that we were all a part of the "League of the Guilty". God is in the business of changing that in our lives. He indeed is Re-making us in ways that we never dreamed. This coming Sunday I want to take you into that dream. I want you to Re-think your world view! Come Sunday, and dare to Re-think, to catch a glimpse of God’s dream for you and the ones you love.
Mike-e1342678172131-150x150Veritas pro Christo et ecclesia,
Pastor Mike
 


I Can’t Wait!

rushing-where
 
 
 
 

A long, long, time ago, Alabama sang a song that 'fit me to a tee':

 

"I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why.
Don't know why I have to drive so fast
My car has nothing to prove,
It's not new But it'll do 0 to 60 in 5.2
Can't be late, I leave plenty of time
Shaking hands with the clock,
I can't stop I'm on a roll
and I'm ready to rock
I hear a voice That say's I'm running behind
I better pick up my pace, It's a race
And there ain't no room For someone in second place."

 

I remember my mother laughing at me when I was 5 years old and just starting kindergarten (a traumatic life style change for me). My question was very simple. “How long do I have to keep going to school?” After falling apart in laughter, she gently broke the news to me that it would be, at the very least, another 12 years.

 

In my mind, the starter’s gun shot out, & my “race with time” had just begun.

I couldn’t wait to finish kindergarten.

I couldn’t wait to finish grade school and then high school.

I couldn’t wait to finish college. I stumbled out of the starter’s gate & it took me 5 years, but I finally did finish.

By then, I was a follower of Jesus and had my call to full time ministry.

I couldn’t wait to get married and have our own children.

I couldn’t wait to finish Seminary & come back home to California.

I couldn’t wait to get my first church in Kernville.

I couldn’t wait to become an associate up in Yuba City. But after 3 years,

I couldn’t wait to leave.

I couldn’t wait to finish my doctoral studies, but no one seemed to notice.

I couldn’t wait to grow a large church in Orangevale, but it all fell apart right before my very eyes. I wasn’t completely broken, but I was badly bent.

I couldn’t wait to get well, to get my mind right. It is still a battle at times.

I couldn’t wait to get on the “mission field”. After several short term trips,   I couldn’t wait to get into the 10/40 window and reach those yet unreached.

 

I know what you must be thinking. “Now there is a “Type A” Driven man."

And I have no defense for that accusation. As you can clearly see, I have been impatient for most of my life.

The good news is that God has a lot of patience.

2 Peter 3:8-9 NASB

8     But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

9     The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

 

For people like me, that is incredible. He could have squashed me like a bug, years ago. But His love for me, my soul, my eternity, is so very important. He was (& is) waiting for me to accomplish the task that was assigned to me when I became a follower of Jesus.

 

For me, I just keep prodding and kicking, like a rice farmer in Myanmar, trying to get that beast of burden to move a little faster. Some might say that I am too persistent. There is a big difference between being impatient and being persistent. Impatient people like me worry so much. We are fearful that we might run out of time & thereby miss out on the opportunity. I can see it all now. They are closing the door to the plane that I should have been on. As I race to the terminal gate, I am too late. I missed my connection. And so I worry. Always thinking about what might have been.

Matthew 6:25-34 NASB

25     “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink;

nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

33     “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,  and all these things will be added to you.

34     “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Life becomes so much sweeter when we allow God to do the leading and directing. He has His own timetable.

 Mike-e1342678172131-150x150

Tempus fugit – Pastor Mike

 



The Suffering of Jesus

resurrection morning

It was just after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the grave.  People were excited.  Certainly this man was the Messiah who would restore Israel.

The Pharisee’s were angry and fearful that Jesus might cause a rebellion in which the Romans would flatten them.  They decided that Jesus must die and on that day He became public enemy number one.  He had to hide out for a few days.  If He was going to die, He would be the one to orchestrate that whole narrative, not the Pharisees.  Six days before the Passover, Jesus comes back to Bethany to have a last Sabbath dinner with His good friends, Martha, Mary and Lazarus.  The “cat was out of the bag”.  People flocked to Bethany to see Jesus & also Lazarus who was giving testimony about his coming back from the grave.

     The next day, the 1st day of the week (Sunday), the day we refer to as the triumphal entry, Jesus, the “outlaw”, came out and openly entered Jerusalem with a crowd of Jubilant Israelites welcoming their King.

“Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel.” (John 12:13) They were convinced that Jesus was about to re-establish the Davidic Kingdom and remove the Roman domination.

(That great welcome would swing 180 degrees a few days later when Jesus didn’t deliver what they wanted)  The Pharisees were powerless to stop Him, he was much too popular on that Sunday.

John records the events of the next few days, but strangely “omits” what took place on Wednesday.  Sometime on Tuesday Jesus says

John 12:27,28

27     “Now My soul has become troubled;

and what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’?

But for this purpose I came to this hour.

28     “Father, glorify Your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven:

“I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.”

Soon it is Passover night, the moon is full.  Jesus celebrates His last earthly Seder with His disciples.  Afterwards, they cross the brook Kidron and head up to the Mount of Olives where Jesus would spend His final free hours in prayer and in agony.  He had prayed here many times before, but we often don’t hear the content of His prayers.  Luke 22:39-44 tells us that He was in so much agony that his sweat “became like drops of blood” Modern medicine surmises that under extreme conditions of duress, capillaries in the head burst forth drops of blood literally pouring out of the skin like perspiration.

It was while being in this state of agony, thinking forward to the excruciating pain (literally “out of the cross pain”) that was waiting for Him that He was praying so fervently.

What was so agonizing for Jesus?  The pain that He was about to undergo?  The disciples asleep and soon to be forsaking Him?  Maybe He was focusing on the sin of the entire world (from the beginning of creation to the end of time).  He was about to pay the ultimate price for all of that sin.

Our sin would be placed on Him, so that we might receive His Glory.

     Whatever the reason for His agony, we see that Jesus who is fully God,

is at the same time fully man.  Here, His humanity is on full display.

In Matthew 26:38-39 we see more of His nightmare into which He is freely walking. He didn’t have to do this. It was the Father’s will, but it was His choice.

“I am deeply grieved, to the point of death.

Then he prays to God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me;

yet not as I will, but your will be done”

Pause to reflect on Jesus suffering and how he handled it.  His suffering was not pointless nor was it needless.  Neither is ours.  Each of us has our own “Via Dolorosa” (the way of suffering).  And just as Jesus was the Son of God, we too are His children (though obviously not like Jesus, the 2nd person of the Divine Trinity).  But none the less, we are God’s family.   He does not cause our suffering.  That is the business of the evil one.  But when He does allow us to suffer you can be sure that it is not needless or pointless.

As author Kim Reisman has noted, “The truth is that the Jesus way isn’t about God taking pain away from God’s people; it’s about God providing us with strength, courage, and meaning, with abundant life, often in the midst of pain.”(1)

         In American culture there is a different perspective on suffering. In our pursuit of happiness and pleasure, it should never happen.

When it comes we are quick to categorize it as an accident, just a bit of bad luck.  It could have happened to anyone, but unfortunately for you, your number came up.  It is simply the order of nature.  There is no rhyme or reason to it.  Richard Dawkins and his ilk tell us that life is empty, pointless, futile, a desert of meaninglessness and insignificance.  Just like the rest of the world, (“red in tooth and claw”), our suffering is a part of the evolutionary process.  Tough luck, too bad, so sad!

         Thank God for Jesus Christ!  He tells us and shows us that suffering can and does have purpose and meaning.  Ultimately God is on the Throne and He will have the last word.  In the end, Jesus is resurrected to sit at the right hand of God. But His suffering and death, far from meaningless, provides our way out of sin and death.  He reunites us (the prodigals) with the Father.  He walked the Via Dolorosa, and so must we take up our cross.

I wonder what the purpose and plan for our pain might be.

Surely God knows, and that is enough.

         Coram Deo – Pastor Mike

(1) Kimberly Dunnam Reisman, Following At a Distance

(Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 75