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


“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

 



Time in a bottle

000_0014 I have often wondered what makes photography so fascinating for me. Beyond the obvious of capturing images that are beautiful and emote some kind of passion in my senses, there is the whole realm of time, and trying to capture it in an image.  In photography in some enigmatic way we can stop time and forever keep that moment.  At least that is what it feels like.  As a result I have spent most of my adult life photographing my family, capturing precious moments in time.  And now as I look at my grandchildren through the lens of a my Nikon (affectionately called “Wynona”) with a 64 gig memory card, realizing that I can take literally 1000’s of high quality photo’s at no cost, every moment seems the right time to capture their time.   At a season in life when the months and years seem to fly by there seems to be more urgency in my work.  And now I have 10’s of 1000s of images all stored and backed up in portable hard drives that hold terabits of memories, time in little bottles.  I do not have the time to edit them all, so I keep telling myself, that someday, maybe when I retire, I will devote myself to this task, leaving my family with a visual record of years gone by.   As I consider the idea of time passing by so swiftly, the clock continues to tick as if in a countdown mode until my departure into a world where there will be no moments in time to capture.  Time will not exist and our minds will be able to recall all of the beautiful moments in God’s Paradise without the aid of technology.   And in this fallen world, there will eventually come that day, when all of my earthly efforts will no longer be meaningful, and ultimately destroyed.   Ravi Zacharias says: “[Time] never moves forward without engraving its mark upon the heart—sometimes a stab, sometimes a tender touch, sometimes a vice grip of spikes, sometimes a mortal wound but always an imprint.” The Lotus and the Cross   To be sure, the capturing of those special moments is a great treasure as we live in this world.  As the ravages of time erode everything but our souls, we can look back and “remember when”.  That can bring warmth to the heart, or tears to the eye, but always with a sense that what was, will not be lost.  If it were not important God would not have given us the ability to recall those momentous events in life.   But all of this will fade away into meaninglessness as we enter into the presence of God and begin a new life, a perfect life, in a new world, pristine in all of its glory.  There will be no more sin, no more hurt, no more betray or anger, no more tears.   Will we remember those times back in an old fallen world?  No.  Not only will we not remember, but we won’t want to call up those events.  Why should we?  Even the brightest moments on earth will seem to be dark in comparison to the glories of God’s eternity.  C.S. Lewis writes about this brilliantly in his book, The Great Divorce.  The greatest loves of this world will be far surpassed by the greatest love that time has known, the Love of Jesus for His own.  What a wonderful Family that will be!   That is why Paul who had a little taste of heaven said,   2 Cor. 5:4   For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. 1 Cor. 15:54       But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.   Laus Deo – Pastor Mike  


Racism Alive and Well

As our country grows more racially diverse each day, we see that racism is still a very difficult problem. It is a signal to all of us aaa-racism-ruinshow deeply sin is imbedded in our hearts and lives. A part of becoming new in Christ  (2 Cor. 5:17) involves allowing the Holy Spirit to root out the very depths of our prejudices and bias against people groups.

Recently several cases of blatant racism have been reported by the news media. There is Bundy, a cattle rancher locked in a dispute with the US Bureau of Land Management over land rights. In an interview, he takes the opportunity to reveal that there is a deep evil lingering in the depths of his heart as he makes outrageous claims about blacks. Then there is Donald Sterling, owner of a basketball franchise, who, apparently unknown to him, has a private conversation in his own home taped and released. It went viral. Again we see the darkness of racial evil dwelling in the soul. Shaquille O’Neal, a retired basketball superstar, after castigating Sterling on his racist comments, recently took to Twitter to mock the appearance of Jahmel Binion, who suffers from a rare disorder called ectodermal dysplasia. Thousands called out his obvious hypocrisy in condemning Sterling’s racism while mocking a disability. De-humanization comes in all shapes, colors and Sizes. Then a publically elected official, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., described Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African-American judge on the Supreme Court, as an “Uncle Tom”. He implied that it was OK for him to say it because he is black himself. All of this is just the very tip of the racist ice-burg. This should not be  shocking to us. Evil is alive and well all over the world. What is hard to believe is that after the last century where untold millions upon millions were slaughtered at the hands of atheistic socialism known as communism, there are still millions adherents to that system which promises utopia and true equality, but never comes close to delivering it. It is one of the most racist and biased forms of government ever imagined.   They are willing to tear down nations and destroy as many as necessary to achieve their satanic inspired visions. They are blind to the lessons of history. As true followers of Christ, we need to be at the forefront of these conversations that are happening in our work places, neighborhoods, friendships and families. The Good News of Jesus Christ demands that we confess our sins, dig out the very roots of evil & prejudice in our hearts, and then offer true reconciliation that only can come through the Spirit of God.   Coram Deo – Pastor Mike    

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