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Archive for the ‘Ministry Updates’ Category

What really matters? Black lives matter! Blue lives matter! All lives matter! While all these statements are true, one thing matters more – truth.  And when truth no longer matters, nothing else will.

For Christians, truth is an absolute. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul speaks about the resurrection of Jesus. He presents a long list of witnesses who saw Jesus risen from the dead.  He even includes a group over 500 people who saw Jesus at the same time. Paul tells us that, if the resurrection did not take place, then we are liars and we are above all men to be most pitied! Why? Because Truth matters! (more…)

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“True Freedom …” (July 2020 Update) 

Freedom means different things to different people. To some, freedom means having no restraints and no responsibilities. But this is not true freedom. Real freedom always includes limits and responsibilities. If freedom meant no restraints, then everyone’s freedom would take away freedom from others. Still others think freedom means having no accountability. It means being able to do whatever you want without any consequences. This is also not true freedom. Freedom without accountability always results in anarchy and anarchy always backlashes into totalitarianism – eventually taking away all previous freedoms. True freedom has consequences, responsibilities and restraints.  

In his State of the Union address in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated his view of what the world needed in calling for Four Freedoms that were essential for every human being – Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. His speech was a call for Americans to recognize that such freedoms could only be possible in a democracy. It was a warning that the growing forces of Nazism and Communism would always seek to reduce and eliminate these freedoms. It was a reminder that people came to the United States seeking freedoms that they were denied in their homelands. It was a reminder that the very foundation of American life is rooted and grounded in freedom. 

But there are some freedoms that are even more important than the ones outlined by President Roosevelt. All of Roosevelt’s freedoms can be taken away from us. That’s why we fought against Japan and Nazi Germany in the 1940s. That’s why America has stood for freedom against the Soviet Union during the years of the Cold War. That’s why the United States continues to stand against socialism and anarchism and other forms of oppression even today.  

 

In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul reminds us that all believers have Four Spiritual Freedoms that can never be taken away from us!   (more…)

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“Joy Unspeakable …” (June 2020 Update) 

Have you ever had the experience of being so overjoyed that you were left speechless? That is how Peter describes the experience of knowing Jesus. But unfortunately, what is inside the hearts of believers is often hidden from the world. 

This one essential, but often forgotten, element of our testimony is joy. Many Christians take witnessing very seriously. They are cautious to display a very serious tone for their lives to show the seriousness of the gospel and the holiness of their own lives. They would never want people to see them in any situation in the world just having fun. They avoid most social situations because the people there might participate in unholy fun.  

In reality, such an approach to life is not only not biblical, it is actually a detriment to our witness. It leads many non-Christians to reject the gospel, not because of its message, but because they see it as sucking all the joy out of life!   (more…)

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The Next Right Thing … (May 2020 Update)

Nothing is more defeating than defeat! It is one thing to be defeated – it is another to let defeat defeat you. And this is one of Satan’s favorite strategies – when a believer fails in any way, the devil never lets him forget it. He wants the believer to question all possibility of God’s grace. He wants our “defeats” to result in more defeat!

Not so with the grace of God. God’s grace is a constant reminder that, though a believer may fail, he need never fall. Grace reminds us of David’s sin and his restoration. Grace reminds us of Peter’s denial and his restoration. Grace always reminds us that there is not only mercy with the Lord – there is also renewal and restoration. Satan’s desire is to so mire the believer down in his own failure that he becomes useless in the service of the Lord. That’s why we should always say, “Don’t let your defeat defeat you!”

So how can we defeat defeat?

First and most important, we defeat defeat by recognizing that God’s grace and mercy is always greater than all our sin! One of my favorite songs is “Grace that Is Greater than All Our Sin.” It begins with a wonderful reminder: “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt.” It ends with a wonderful promise: “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, Freely bestowed on all who believe.” It concludes with an essential question: “Will you this moment His grace receive?” Satan’s accusations are designed to keep us from God’s grace. They are an attempt to make us feel that we do not deserve His mercy or His grace. But God’s grace is greater than all our sin!

Second, we need to remember that God can even use our defeats to shape us, teach us and grow us. Thomas Watson in his All Things for Good notes how God uses even our sinfulness for good.  He writes:

[Even] the sense of their own sinfulness will be overruled for the good of the godly. Thus, our own sins shall work for good. This must be understood warily, when I say the sins of the godly work for good — NOT THAT THERE IS THE LEAST GOOD IN SIN. Sin is like poison, which corrupts the blood, infects the heart, and, without a sovereign antidote, brings death. Such is the venomous nature of sin; it is deadly and damning. Yet, God, by His mighty overruling power, makes sin in the issue turn to the good of his people. Hence, that golden saying of Augustine, “God would never permit evil, if He could not bring good out of evil.”

William Gurnall in his The Christian in Complete Armour says, “”God suffers [allows] his saints to fall to outshoot Satan’s design…. The mysteriousness of his providence hangs a curtain over this work that we cannot see what he is doing.” He then suggests some of the things God MIGHT BE doing when He allows our defeat.

  1. God can also use the fall of saints as an encouragement…. David’s sin was great, but he found mercy. Peter fell soundly, yet is now in heaven.
  2. God also allows Satan to trounce some of his saints by temptation in order to train them to help fellow-brethren in like conditions.”
  3. He allows them to train under Satan’s lash, to get experience in the ways of Satan’s and of their own hearts. No one handles poor souls so gently as those who remember the smart [hurts] of their own heart-sorrows.
  4. God turns their failings to further establish their faith. True faith rises and fights even more valiantly.

Satan wants us to drown in our defeats – God wants us to grow stronger from them.

Finally, whenever we fall down, we need to get back up and continue to serve the Lord. In your defeat, you need to ask what you can do next that might honor and glorify God. And then do it! Satan’s strategy is to keep believers from serving the Lord. His method is to discourage service by causing us to dwell so much upon our defeat that we become ineffective for the Kingdom. Nothing removes Satan’s accusations faster than repenting and serving the Lord again.

I had a friend who employed an effective strategy against Satan’s onslaught. Whenever he was discouraged or felt defeated, he would say, “I’m going to the town square and witness to some people.” He said doing this had a two-fold effect. First, since Satan hates the gospel, it caused him to flee. Second, when some responded positively toward the gospel, joy returned to his own heart when he saw that the Lord was using him again in spite of his failures. How can you defeat defeat? Get up and serve the Lord again! You will be blessed, God will be honored, and you will turn defeat into victory.

Our girls love the Frozen movies. In Frozen 2, Anna descends into depression when she is trapped in a cave and she has apparently lost her sister, Elsa, and her snowman friend, Olaf. Due to her own mistakes, everything seems lost and hopeless. As she sings, depression and defeat reign:

I’ve seen dark before, But not like this

This is cold; This is empty; This is numb

The life I knew is over; The light’s are out

Hello, darkness; I’m ready to succumb

Then at the end of her grief, she realizes that she must do the next right thing:

This grief has a gravity; It pulls me down

But a tiny voice whispers in my mind:

You are lost, hope is gone

But you must go on,

And do the next right thing

Anna rises from her grief and begins, step by step, to do the right thing not knowing what the outcome will be.

So I’ll walk through this night, Stumbling blindly toward the light

And do the next right thing

And with the dawn, what comes then?

When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again

Then I’ll make the choice, To hear that voice

And do the next right thing

But as she continues on, her actions ultimately result in rescuing her sister and saving the day! All because she made a decision to do the next right thing.

But this is not Disney theology. It is biblical truth. Years ago, Elizabeth Elliot often quoted a poem called “Do the Next Thing” by Minne Paull (1897). What should you do when all seems lost? Do the next right thing and leave the results in the hands of the Lord!

From an old English parsonage down by the sea

There came in the twilight a message to me;

Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,

Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.

And on through the doors the quiet words ring

Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

 

Many a questioning, many a fear,

Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,

Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.

Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,

Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

 

Do it immediately, do it with prayer;

Do it reliantly, casting all care;

Do it with reverence, tracing His hand

Who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,

Leave all results, do the next thing.

 

Looking for Jesus, ever serener,

Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;

In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,

The light of His countenance be thy psalm,

Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.

Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.

“Do the next right thing”

So, what will you do with your defeats and failures? Will you sit on the floor and let Satan convince you that you are not useful anymore? Or will you repent, receive God’s matchless, endless grace, and … do the next right thing?

Teaching …

I am currently teaching two classes at the seminary right now – totally online. When the Ukrainian government declared a total quarantine because of the Coronavirus, we needed to make a decision – quickly! Some professors decided that they could not do their classes in a totally online environment in such short notice. But we decided to try, even though it meant a lot of work in a short time converting the classes into online classes. But we did it and the first class is nearly completed (ends next week) and the second class has just begun. And the students’s responses about the classes have been very positive. Continue to pray for us as we teach these two classes. I have 17 students in the first class and 38 in the second, so we have lots of papers to grade! The quarantine certainly limits us but we plan to go on … and do the next right thing!

KTS under Quarantine …

So … what has it been like for the seminary, students and professors during the quarantine? I was asked to write an article for the seminary newsletter this month trying to give some perspective on the situation here in Ukraine. In Ukraine, we have been under quarantine since early March. It has just been extended now until May 22. It may even be longer (There is talk of extending it until July)!  Everyone is required to wear masks, have temperatures taken to enter the few businesses that are open and work from home if possible. There are no buses, trams, or metro for this city of nearly 3 million. Here is the article I wrote for the seminary:

“It is like something out of a science fiction movie. The busy streets of Kiev are almost entirely empty. The few that walk around are wearing masks. Lines outside grocery stores often snake around the corner, reminding some of Soviet bread lines.  All restaurants, movie theatres, and most businesses are closed. Airports, train stations, the metro and buses do not operate. It seems like everything in Ukraine has been stopped because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Everything except biblical, theological education at Kiev Theological Seminary.

“The quarantine has been imposed for nearly two months now and will be extended at least another 2 weeks. And after that, no one knows. But at KTS, students are still being equipped and prepared for ministry. But it has not been without difficulties. When the government ordered all schools to close, the professors and students at KTS were faced with many essential changes. Classes were quickly adapted to a totally online format using various media, including Zoom.

“For students, life during the quarantine has been difficult. Unlike most seminaries in the United States, almost all the students at KTS work a regular job to support their families while taking vacation time and education time to complete studies at the seminary. But during the quarantine, most students have been without work and without the normal means to support their families. Yet the students wanted to continue studying and learning about ministry. During this time, classes have been taught in Church Planting, Biblical Counseling, Old Testament, Theology, Youth Ministry, Christian Education and Pastoral Ministry. For many students, this has been a difficult challenge. Students miss the camaraderie of sharing their personal lives that the in-class sessions offer and opportunity to have personal dialogues with professors.  Additionally, most online classes require more work than a regular class. But the students are doing well, and they are learning how to adapt some of these same principles even to their own church ministries.  Most of the students are conducting church services, discipleship and youth ministries, and even outreach using the lessons they are learning through social media. Please continue to pray for the students as they continue their studies during this time of quarantine.

“For professors, there have also been many new challenges.  Before the quarantine, most had very limited experience teaching online.  This meant that they had to learn how to adapt classes to new online formats and how to use different types of social media that many had never used before.  Teaching online also meant a greatly increased workload for each of the professors. Online classes required professors to do much more planning in advance and also meant that they had many more papers to grade.

“The quarantine also affected a number of American missionaries who are serving at KTS. Some of our professors and their families were travelling in the States when Ukraine closed its borders and shut down all flights. Yet despite this difficulty, even some of these professors taught their classes using social media while they were still in America! For those still in Ukraine, the quarantine meant that they could not travel back to the states to visit family as they had planned. But all of them continue to serve the church in Ukraine in every way they can during the crisis.

“All of this reminds me of the ending of the Book of Acts. In reality, it doesn’t really end. It “ends” with Paul in house arrest awaiting trial. But even in this circumstance, he is still preaching and teaching the gospel. Luke concludes Acts with ministry continuing, even in the most difficult of circumstances, saying of Paul: “He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!” That’s what is happening at KTS in Ukraine. Everything else might be shut down but we are continuing to teach, and train, and proclaim the gospel “with all boldness and without hindrance!”

Please pray for us as we continue this essential work of equipping ministers for life and ministry during these times!

My Health …

After doing so well in my rehab the last few months, I had a very major setback last month. I was walking briskly an hour a day with no difficulty. Then I started having chest pains and difficulty breathing again on hills and stairs. My walking decreased rapidly to where I was having trouble with any distance and stairs and hills were impossible. I returned to the doctor and they tested a variety of possible issues (gastro, pulmonary, neurological and cardio). As my condition worsened, the cardiologist decided we needed another angiogram to check the stent and blood flow. Another angiogram was done and it showed the stent was fine but blood flow was severely reduced because of pericarditis that had returned. They diagnosed it as acute recurrent (or chronic) pericarditis requiring at least 6 more months of anti-inflammatory meds and rest and follow-up. Now, I still feel terrible and weak – much worse than I felt in December. I’ve been told it could take a few weeks for me to begin to feel the effect of the medicines.

This is much harder to deal with. I’m back on lots of meds, especially anti-inflammatory drugs and trying to rest. Acute pericarditis feels a lot like having a continual pneumonia. When the pericardial sac around the heart becomes inflamed, every beat and expansion of the heart rubs against the sac causing more pain and more inflammation. Even small amounts of exertion bring chest pain, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue. Where I was able to walk briskly for over an hour, now sometimes even a short walk to the bathroom leaves me breathless.

But it is hard to rest when I’m teaching two classes right now (one is finishing and the other starting). So I am working for thirty minutes to an hour and then resting for a couple hours.  It has been hard.  And I am not allowed to do much exercise during this period because it will aggravate the heart. Be praying for strength as I finish these classes and try to get some rest too!

Family Time …

The quarantine has had little effect on our family since we live in the country and homeschool. We canned and preserved as much as possible from our garden in the summer and so we still have plenty of food for another month or so. But it has impacted our thinking in many ways. Even though toilet paper is not scare here in Ukraine, I have gotten to thinking about each “square” that I use. Previously, I never cared how many squares I used. Also, we frequently think about how to stretch meals so that we have fewer trips to the store.

Our girls continue life pretty much as normal during the quarantine. We homeschool in the mornings and we continue to read from the Chronicles of Narnia every night. We are nearly finished with Prince Caspian now. With the “warmer” spring weather, the girls are enjoying skating, riding bikes and climbing trees. But sometimes they even feel the effects of the quarantine. One time, as we were putting the girls to bed, Kristina said, “After I fall asleep, wake me up and put me in the car and drive around the neighborhood and then come back home and we will pretend we came to a motel.” Yeah, they haven’t been in the car for over 2 months now!

Easter time was a special time for us even though we were not able to be at church with friends. On Friday, we had our Passover Seder meal and remembered God’s deliverance of Israel and how the Lord’s Supper reminds us about Jesus death for us as the Lamb of God. On Easter Sunday, we participated in church service through zoom and then had an Easter egg hunt for the girls in our yard. We had a great time remembering what Jesus has done for us and eating candy and eggs!

Financial Needs … 

God continues to surprise us with His provisions and His timing. This month, we had two unexpected gifts that again helped us financially. But we know that we really need to add 3-5 new families to get our support level back up to its previous level. We know this will be an especially difficult time for people in America with all the job cut-backs and job losses. This is one reason we are asking you to prayer for our financial support. We need to be sure we can get our support level back to in case some other families need to reduce support during these times.

Pray for Ukraine …

Thank you for praying for Ukraine. We continue to be under an almost complete quarantine in Ukraine with most business closed and no buses or metro operating. This is becoming difficult for many people in Ukraine since they depend on having work to survive. And it is also difficult for pensioners who not only have a limited income, but they totally depend on mass transportation to get anywhere.  Our quarantine has been extended from April 24th until May 20th now. This means more and more people have needs. Our church in Kyiv is responding to meet some of those needs by supplying bags of food and other necessities to people who need them. Rather than complaining about our limitations during the quarantine, our church has decided to do the next right thing. Be praying for the churches of Ukraine as they try to minister to both spiritual and physical needs of people in Ukraine!

Forgotten in all this is the war that is still going on in the East. The Russian-backed forces continue to attack Ukraine daily even though almost everything else has shut down in Ukraine. But evil never takes a break!

Thank you again for your support and your prayers. We hope you are all doing well, and more importantly, we hope you are finding ways to continue serving the Lord, even in the smallest of ways. If you are struggling, or depressed or feeling defeated, remember God’s grace and then take steps to do the next right thing!

By His Grace

Jim and Katya, Kristina and Nadia

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Hope … out of Hopelessness… (April 2020 Update) 

Nothing is worse than a feeling of hopelessness! When the doctor comes out of the operating room and says, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do.” It is a feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes, we have tried everything and nothing works – in fact, things even got worse. And this feeling of hopelessness can overwhelm us. That’s how the disciples felt on the sabbath after Jesus was crucified. They had put all their hopes on Jesus. Not just their hopes – the hope of Israel and the hope of all mankind rested in the person of Jesus. But now, all those hopes were gone. Their long-awaited Messiah was dead. Their teacher and their friend was in the tomb. All hope was lost!  

That’s how all the disciples and the followers of Jesus felt after the crucifixion. We see this most clearly in Luke 24. Luke records the encounter of Jesus with two disciples on the Emmaus Road on the first Easter morning. They were talking about the events that had just occurred and they were sad, they were discouraged, they were without hope (Luke 24:17). But they had a glimmer of hope – some women had returned from the tomb and said the tomb was open and the body was gone. The women even said that an angel told them that Jesus had risen from the dead! (Luke 24:22-24).   (more…)

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