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A City Set On a Hill … (July 2021 Update)

In March of 1630, John Winthrop delivered a message to the new arrivals who had come to settle what is today Boston. Preaching to them from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Winthrop warned his fellow colonists that the “eyes of all people are upon us.” He explained that their “experiment” on American soil would make them like a “city set on a hill” for all the world to see. And that their success or failure in this experiment depended upon their willingness to uphold their covenant with God and with each other. Even as America celebrates another year of its independence, the world is still watching. And many are wondering if that experiment will continue to shine for all the world to see.

But Jesus was not speaking about a political experiment in Matthew 5. He was speaking to his disciples about the testimony of the church to the world. In verses 14-16, Jesus outlines his plan for the witness of his church. Let’s take a look at it and remember its importance even for us today.

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The Cost of Freedom … (June 2021 Update) 

Fifty-one men gathered together to make one of the most important decisions of their lives. Some had already sacrificed much up to this moment. Others were sacrificing much just by being present with these men. All knew that they would sacrifice much more in the years ahead – their fortunes, their homes, their families, and even their lives. Some were not even supportive of the direction they were heading. But all knew that what they were doing was essential if they were ever to have real freedom. 

With this in mind, these men met together in Philadelphia to decide on a declaration of independence from Great Britain. After much debate, they voted 12-0 in favor of independence on July 2nd (with New York abstaining for the moment). The whole of Congress approved the final draft of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The official signing took place on August 2nd. The mood at the signing was far from a celebration. In fact, the mood was very somber as delegates went one by one up to the desk to sign the document. Signer Benjamin Rush said they signed “what was believed … at that time to be our own death warrants.” The final line of the Declaration of Independence read: “We Mutually Pledge To Each Other Our Lives, Our Fortunes, And Our Sacred Honor…” Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “Yes, we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Such was the cost of freedom in 1776! 

Most Americans today have forgotten the sacrifices that these men and many others made so that we can be free today. They think of freedom as “free” rather than something that was costly and fought for. Nearly 60 years ago, John F. Kennedy said, “The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.”  

Freedom has never been “free.” Not here in America; not anywhere in the world. Ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer what freedom from Nazi tyrany cost him. Ask William Tyndale what freedom to print the Bible in the language of his people cost him. Ask any Anabaptist of the 16th century what it cost them to worship freely in their own manner. Freedom has never been “free” and it never will be. Ronald Reagan reminded us that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” Freedom is never free! It is always costly. 

This was never more true than with the greatest emancipation in the history of the world. Nearly 2000 years ago, a carpenter from Galilee hung on a cross so that everyone who believes in Him would be free from the penalty and the punishment of sin. But, like most Americans today, most evangelical Christians celebrate their freedom in Christ without remembering the cost of that freedom. For us, this freedom is without cost. But it was not free – Jesus purchased our freedom with his own blood (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It is free for us – but it was very costly for Him! 

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Little Providences from A Big God! …  (May 2021 Update) 

Every day, we experience “little providences” from the hand of God, but we usually don’t notice it. The providence is mysterious – often even hidden from our eyes. Yet the little providences that we do see remind us that the Lord is working all things together for good even behind the scenes. 

The word “providence” is a Latin term which literally means to “see before.” It means that God sees everything before anything happens and He makes plans to accomplish what He desires. Biblical providence is not the same as fate or luck. Luck is blind, but God is all-seeing. Luck is what happens accidentally; providence happens because God sees and plans ahead. Fate is impersonal; it does not care about the people who are affected. Providence is personal; it comes from the hand of a loving Father. 

Since we don’t see what God is doing, we are often (at least initially) frustrated by the providences of God. We desire one thing, but it seems like God is letting everything get in the way of our plans! Providence often feels frustrating – until we see the amazing way God is working out everything for His glory and for our good. On our trip back to the US this past month, we experienced many “little providences” – some caused me a great deal of frustration. But the Lord showed us His kindness and His wisdom in each situation.  

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In 1996, just 5 years after Ukraine gained its independence from the USSR, Kyiv Theological Seminary opened its door to its first students. Since then, KTS has prepared students for many different ministries in Ukraine, including Pastoral Ministries, Church Planting, Biblical Studies, Christian Education, Biblical Counseling, Youth Ministries, and Missions. KTS has also developed Master’s degree programs in Biblical Studies, Youth Ministry, and Biblical Counseling. And a number of our graduates have gone on to complete other Masters and Doctoral degrees in Europe, Great Britain, and America. But most of all, KTS has excelled in training and preparing Ukrainians for church ministries in Ukraine. 

It has been my joy to be part of this ministry of teaching and training since September 1996 – that will be 25 years this fall. I first came to Kyiv to teach at the end of September 1996, and I have been teaching there ever since. It has been my joy to teach some of the best students in the world during these years! Many of these students have returned to KTS to teach and direct many of its programs. Even the current President of KTS, Ruslan Khmyz, was one of my first students at KTS! Eight (8) former students are now professors at the seminary and four (4) serve as Program Directors at the seminary. Five (5) more are serving as Assistant Directors for the various seminary programs. One former student, Vitalii Mariash. is now our Academic Dean and another, Eduard Borysov, is the Director for our Talbot Seminary Master’s Degree program. (In addition to those serving at KTS, some of the first graduates are also teaching and serving as program directors and professors at Ukrainian Baptist Seminary in Lviv). It is amazing to look back and see how God has raised up leaders from these students who are now teaching and training the future leaders for the church of Ukraine! 

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Legos first appeared in 1946 in Denmark, but they never really gained popularity until the 1970s when they began to add various themes to their blocks. Since then, Legos has been one of the most popular toys for children (and adults) of all ages. Why is this? In fact, Legos were not alone in their popularity. Before Legos, there were plenty of other “construction toys.” Many of us can remember the hours spent creating with Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, and other popular building sets. In fact, even without these “sets,” children from the dawn of civilization used blocks of wood and stones, mud and sand to build their creations. But why? I think there is one simple reason – we were created in the “image and likeness of God.” 

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