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Letters of Christ  (June 2019 Update)

Few things are more exciting than receiving a letter. Receiving a good letter of recommendation for your long-awaited job might be the best of all! In 2 Corinthians 3, the Apostle Paul speaks about “letters of commendation” (i.e. recommendation). He says that he does not need letters of recommendation about his ministry – the people he has ministered to are his letters of recommendation! “Do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:1–3).

This is a common theme in Paul’s writings. When he was being criticized for his ministry, his response was always: look at the people and their changed lives as proof of the validity of my ministry. In ministry, we are in the business of changing lives. Sometimes we see the results; sometimes we do not see them for many years. But we continue to serve knowing that all the results are in the Lord’s hands.

May is a time for seeing the completion of another academic year while looking forward to getting ready for classes for the new year. For me, it means the last class of the semester is completed and graduation for the students has come. It is a time of remembering that all we do is to prepare students so that they will go out and be “letters of Christ” to the world.

Teaching Ministry …

In May, I taught my final class for this semester, Critical Thinking 1. This class teaches students to do research and to write clearly and logically. It is really one of the most important classes that we teach at the seminary because it forms a foundation for thinking that helps, not only in writing, but also in teaching Bible Studies and in preaching sermons.

This year’s class seemed very excited about learning to write and think logically. In all our exercises, we try to give biblical support and connections so students can see how this affect their ministries. We receive many positive comments in the student’s evaluations. One student’s comment in the class evaluation was, “I can now write an essay!” For many, this is a big step. Most schools here do not spend time teaching students the basics of research and writing so many students who come to seminary have trouble writing clearly.

Other students mentioned how this class helped them to think logically and eliminate logical errors in their thinking. But my favorite comment was “God was in this teacher! This was most important!” Of course, teaching the material is important, but I always hope that they are learning spiritually also. This is especially hard in a class on research and writing. But I try to incorporate many practical ministry and theological concepts in our examples. More than anything, I hope every student can see God’s Word at the foundation of all we do – even writing classes!

Also, May is time for graduation. It is exciting to see some of the fruits of our labors on graduation day. This year, we had students graduate in our Biblical studies program, Youth Ministry, Missions, Chaplaincy, Pastoral Ministries and Church Planting. We also had a number of students graduate in our Masters of Biblical Counseling Program this year including one student from France who is a missionary sharing the gospel with Muslims there (a very difficult ministry!). What a joy to see these graduates complete their studies and head out into various ministries!

In July, we will be traveling to Western Ukraine to help teach at an English Camp outreach in Svalyava near the border of Romania and Slovenia. Normally this church has a number of helpers coming from the UK to help with their camp. This year, they only have two helpers so Katya and I are excited to be able to come and help with this outreach. Be praying for us as we travel there and help teach English and the gospel at this camp.

Preparing for Fall … 

Even though classes are finished for this semester, my work is not. I am working on getting classes ready for fall. In September, I will be teaching Prayer and Worship (KTS) and then Evangelism (KTS). In October, I travel to L’viv to teach the Prayer and Worship class at Ukrainian Baptist Seminary there. In November, I will be teaching Church History at Kiev Seminary. I also have one more paper (from 42 students!) to grade that is due in the middle of June.

Also this summer, I will be creating a new Evangelism class for the Church Planting department. I have reformatted the class so that we will study the theology of evangelism each morning and then we will have some practical exercises and outreach each afternoon. This is an entirely new class so I have a lot of materials (handouts and PowerPoints) to prepare over the summer so that the materials can be translated before September.

Our Family …

June also marks the end of our first Home School year! The girls have learned a lot and it has been a lot of fun too! We have learned about God’s creatures and the girls are learning to read. This summer, they will be reading and doing some science projects. They are excited about school at this point. The first days of June, we took a short break and the girls were asking to do school. They even starting “playing school” so they could keep their routine. We will be doing some Bible verses and science and reading throughout the summer.

But we are looking forward to doing some out-door activities too. There were a couple of holidays at the end of May in Kiev and we enjoyed taking the girls to some of the activities. We went to Kiev Day one weekend and then to International Children’s Day the following weekend. They especially enjoyed the carousel, the plays, the bands and the water fountains!

We are also beginning to harvest some of our fruits from our garden. The girls are enjoying finding strawberries to eat nearly every day. They are also enjoying preparing salads from the garden. It has been a real blessing having our garden after living in an apartment so many years! We are looking forward to seeing the harvest God will give us this summer!

Prayer Needs …

Thank you for praying for Katya’s mother. In February, she had some strokes but she has improved a lot. Continue praying for Debbie’s mom and dad, Bill and Sally McCullough. Sally’s health continues to decline. Joy was able to spend a weekend with them just encouraging them and helping them out.

Please continue praying for my health also. It is difficult to say how I am doing. Some days, I feel pretty normal. Other days, it is difficult to breathe and I get very tired. When I am teaching, I have to make sure I take a rest at every break and I usually don’t eat lunch in the cafeteria – I take a short nap instead. But, on the whole, I am doing okay. Thank you for praying for my strength as I teach.

Pray for Ukraine …

Continue to pray for Ukraine, especially regarding the war in the East. Russia continues to send more weapons into the area while denying they are doing so (they are caught on camera by UN observers frequently). They have stepped up attacks on the frontlines. We were seeing 1-2 Ukrainian soldiers killed per week. Last month, we saw 2-3 killed per day. Pray for peace in the east and for the millions of refugees this war has created. Also pray for those who minister in these areas, both chaplains and pastors.

One new concern is about what will happen in January 2020. Currently Russia sends most of its natural gas to Europe through pipelines in Ukraine. Russia pays Ukraine $4 Billion/year as a transit fee. This contract ends December 31, 2019. Putin has said publicly that Ukraine will not negotiate (not true – Ukraine will lose a substantial amount of much-needed money without this contract). Since 2014, Ukraine has not bought any gas from Russia. They buy gas from Europe that is really Russian gas resold to Ukraine. Last month, Putin said that the supplies to Europe will be reduced so that Ukraine will not have any gas. Without the gas transit contract and the European gas reversals, Putin said that Ukraine will freeze. He is correct. He has cut off gas supplies to punish Ukraine twice in the past (for a couple weeks) and that was when Ukraine was on “friendly terms” with Moscow. So we expect that, at the very least, gas prices will rise significantly. At worst, we will be without gas heat. In preparation, we are planning to convert our gas heating system over to electric as a precaution. This will cost us around $1000 but we think it is a better option than having no heat in the winter. We are hoping to do this near the end of the summer.

What about your life? What kind of letter of Christ are you? If the people you minister to were your letters of recommendation, would Christ commend you? Would you be a letter for Christ that the whole world could read and see Jesus? We want that to be our recommendation – that we are changing lives for the sake of Christ! Pray that we can be faithful to this task and also that our efforts will bear lasting fruit in His kingdom. Pray that we will truly be “letters of Christ” in Ukraine! Thank you for praying for us and for supporting us in this great work!

By His Grace,

Jim and Katya

Kristina and Nadia

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Planting Seeds … (May 2019 Update)

April is a time for planting seeds for us. Ministry involves many steps and many aspects. Paul tells us: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” Sometimes we plant, sometimes we water and sometimes we see the harvest. All are essential. But without planting seeds, there will be no harvest.

In the beginning of April, we started our seeds. We have to do all of this indoors because we cannot plant outside until early May. One of the most exciting times for us is when the first seedlings begin to push their way through the soil. Then we know – there is life! And we know that the seeds we planted will one day produce a harvest. Our next most exciting time is when the plants begin to produce fruit. But we also know that not all the seeds will come to life. But all our labors are worth it when we see the seedlings begin to sprout!

The same is true in ministry. We sow seeds in the hope of a harvest. Not all the seeds we sow in people’s lives will result in a spiritual harvest. But what joy when we begin to see life and an even greater joy when we see those sprouts begin to produce fruit! In Matthew 13, Jesus told his disciples a parable about the sower and the seed. The sowers sows his seed everywhere. He even sows in places that a normal farmer would not waste his seeds. He sows everywhere and waits to see where God will give the harvest.

We try to do the same. We sow many times never knowing about the harvest that our students will produce. But we sow in the hope of a great harvest for the Kingdom of God! Sometimes we sow intentionally. Sometimes we sow “accidentally” as people simply observe the lives we live and are drawn to the Lord. But without planting seeds, there will be no harvest.

Sowing Seeds in Ministry …

This past month was mainly a time of preparation. In gardening, times of preparation are essential for a good harvest. Most of April was spent getting classes ready for May. In May, I will be teaching Critical Thinking 1. This class teaches students to do research and to write clearly and logically. It is really one of the most important classes that we teach at the seminary because it forms a foundation for thinking that helps, not only in writing, but also in teaching Bible Studies and in preaching sermons. Be praying for us as we teach this class in the middle of May.

Also, May is time for graduation. It is a time when we see our “seeds sprout” and prepare to go out into the world to use what they have learned in ministry. We usually have 30-40 graduates with degrees in Pastoral Ministry, Church Planting, Youth Ministry, Christian Education, and Chaplaincy. We will also have graduates in our Master’s Degree programs in Biblical Counseling and Bible Studies. It is a time of great joy to see these students completing the work they began 4 years ago.

At the beginning of May, Katya and I also participated in a Missions Conference at the Word of Life Conference Center in Kyiv. This was a conference to encourage students to think about being involved in missions. One of the great joys of my life and ministry is to see so many young people from the churches I have served. We currently have young people and friends from these churches serving in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Mozambique, Indonesia, France, Japan, Mexico, Ukraine, and other places around the world. It is so exciting to read about their work and ministries each month.

The conference had many encouraging messages about missions and we especially enjoyed talking with many of the students. I was also surprised to see many of my students and former students from Kyiv Seminary and from Lviv Seminary who were present at this conference. Katya was part of one of the first Word of Life Bible Clubs in Ukraine in the early 90s. So she was also able to spend some time with some friends from that club who are on staff with WOL now. We are hoping and praying that many of these students from the Missions Conference will also follow the Lord in missions somewhere in the world. From planted seeds to seed planters – that is the goal of missions!

Sowing Seeds in Family …

Katya is continuing to teach Kristina and Nadia in Home School. We are grateful for these lessons and for the impact it is having on their lives. They spend time each week, not only learning about God’s wonderful creation, but also learning verses from the Bible. We know they don’t understand everything, but we also understand that we are planting seeds that we hope will grow up to salvation one day.

We are also planting seeds for our girls to be lovers of books. Our Home School lessons include a lot of books and the kids love them. However, many times, when we say, “It’s time to read,” they continue playing and say they would rather just play. I’ve learned to sit on the couch with the book and say, “Okay. I’m going to read (title of the book)” and then start reading. Immediately they drop their toys and come running to sit on the couch or they say, “Wait a minute” and then come running. We hope we are planting seeds for reading – that they will fall in love with books and great stories – and especially with the greatest book of all – The Bible!

This year we had a special Easter celebration including a Seder meal. It was really a special time for the girls as they asked the questions and saw the Jewish pictures in the Passover meal. Through it, they not only learned about God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt (they loved singing, “Go Down Moses”), but they were able to see Christ in the Passover too. Then we had an early morning celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and a family time together afterwards.

April is a really beautiful time in Ukraine when all the flowers begin to bloom. The Ukrainian name for the month of April is Kviten which means “flowers.” We love seeing all the cherry and apricot trees in our yard blossoming. The blossoms don’t stay long but they are a reminder that we will have fruit in a few months!

Prayer Needs …

On April 8, my father passed away in Cincinnati, Ohio. We were glad that we were able to see him in December but we knew when we left, that it might be the last time we would see him. Like many missionaries, the distance and costs involved in traveling home for funerals makes such trips prohibitive. But we are blessed to live in an age when we can return home every 2 years. Many early missionaries left their homes and families knowing they would never see them again. But it is still difficult to lose a family member. Please pray for us in the weeks ahead, especially for my younger brother who has cared for my father over the last few years.

Also, be praying for Katya’s mother. In February, she had some strokes and she has been trying to recover since then. She is improving but slowly. Also, pray for Debbie’s mom and dad, Bill and Sally McCullough. Sally has been very sick and weak for a few years and her health continues to decline. Bill has been caring for her for years and he is getting weaker too. Pray for them. They have been a real blessing to my life.

Last month, our dear friend, Scott Clark, died from brain tumors (I mentioned this last update). All my children were deeply impacted by his life. Scott and Jo often cared for Joel and Todd when Debbie was sick. Joy and Meredith both worked for Scott. As Joy and I were talking this week, we both talked about how many lives he impacted. He planted many seeds that bore fruit for the Kingdom of God. Some of the impact was intentional. Some was accidental – his life and words impacted people just as he lived his life. Joy and I both said that we hope we can plant seeds and touch lives that way he did.

What about your life? Are you planting seeds? Are you intentionally living for Christ and making an impact on lives? Are you living your life in such a way that, even when you are not intentionally planting seeds, people see your life and are impacted by it! In gardening April (in our climate) is a time for planting seeds. But in the Kingdom of God, we are always planting seeds everywhere. There is no “season” for sharing the gospel – “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). There is also no “season” for planting seeds in people’s lives. Pray that we may be “instant, in and out of season!”

Pray for Ukraine …

On April 21st, Ukraine elected a new president, Volodomyr Zelenskiy. He was elected with 73% of the vote. Zelenskiy is a comedian with no political experience. He created a TV series called “Servant of the People” in which he plays a history teacher who becomes president. It is hilarious and also very insightful about Ukrainian politics. He takes over in a very difficult time in Ukrainian history with an ongoing war in the East and Russia threatening Ukraine with the possibility of all-out war.

The previous president, Poroshenko, really did a pretty good job. He improved the economy, built up the army, created alliances with European countries, and improved the police force. He did a lot but the one area where he did not do enough was in the area of battling corruption. Zelenskiy’s strong message was that he would fight corruption and the people of Ukraine overwhelmingly supported him.

Please pray for him and for the Ukrainian government over the next few months of transition. Also, continue to pray for our servicemen serving on the front lines in the East. The Russian-backed forces attack every day and usually 1-2 Ukrainian soldiers are killed. There are nearly 300 Ukrainian soldiers held in Russian prisons, including the 24 sailors captured in international waters by Russian ships last summer. We also have many chaplains and students serving in the East that are trying to share the gospel in these difficult circumstances. Please remember to pray for them also.

Thank you for praying for us! We want to continue to plant seeds here in Ukraine hoping that there will be a great harvest for the Kingdom of God!

By His Grace,

Jim and Katya

Kristina and Nadia

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What is Man? (February 2019 Update)

What is Man? (February 2019 Update)

“What is man that thou art mindful of him and the son of man that thou dost visit him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels and hast crowned him with glory and honor” Psalm 8:4-5. A biblical (as well as rational) view of man is that man is special and unique. His is different from all the animals in so many ways it is impossible to list them all. And these differences are not merely differences in degree. They are substantial in quality and in number.

So “what is man?” In Genesis, we are told that God created man “in His own image and likeness; male and female, He created them.”  What does this mean? For one, it means that God created man different from all the animals. Only man is said to be “created in the image of God.” In Genesis 9:6, God spells out the difference vividly: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” Animals may kill animals; men may kill animals; but man may not take the life of another man for one reason: he is in the image of God. As much as you may love your cat or your dog, and even though they may feel like family, they are still animals. Only man is in the image of God. And that makes him special, unique and valuable.  (more…)

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Giving and Receiving (January 2019 Update)

I always remember telling my children: “Christmas is not about receiving; it’s about giving.” I hope it helped them to remember that God gave us the greatest gift of all by sending His only Son for us.  That’s the message of Christmas. But reflecting on this past Christmas, I think my annual reminder to my children was not totally correct. Christmas is about giving and receiving. We emphasized the giving because we wanted our children to focus on the people they were giving to, not the presents they were receiving. But Christmas is about giving and receiving. And sometimes, receiving is the hardest part. (more…)

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Teaching about the person and work of Jesus is one of the great privileges of being a seminary professor.  Nothing thrills my heart more than teaching about Jesus and what He did for us.  I had that privilege once again this month teaching Christology and Soteriology with Eric Oldenburg at Kiev Theological Seminary. The Bible is full of passages that remind us of His glory and the wonderful salvation He provided for us! Paul reminds us that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). John reminds us: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:19). Peter declares: “Christ dies for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). In Revelation 5:9, the elders fell down before the Lamb and sang a new song: “Worthy are you to take the book and break its seals; for you were slain, and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” All of this makes us cry out with the angels: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing…. To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:12-13). What a wonderful savior indeed!  (more…)

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Colossians 1:10 is one of my favorite verses. Many times we are involved in doing good things that are not fruitful for the sake of God’s kingdom.  Often it is difficult to tell if our labors are fruitful in the present and we have to wait to see fruit in the future.  Sometimes God gives us a glimpse of fruitfulness even in the present.  But it should always be our desire, not just to do good works but to be fruitful in those good deeds.  So Paul prays for the Colossians: “that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” That is our prayer also – we have much to do, but most of all, we desire to walk worthy of the Lord and to please Him in every way.  But especially that we might be fruitful in our work.  

April is a time of preparation, getting things ready for the fruit that is to come.  Sometimes it seems like a lot of work without seeing fruit.  But every now and then, God gives glimpses of fruit for His kingdom in every good work.  Here are a few glimpses of our work in April.   (more…)

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The Reason for the Season! … (December 2017 Update)

Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year since I became a follower of Christ.  I know that December 25th is not the day of His birth and I know that modern Christmas celebrations have become so commercial that it is often hard to find Jesus in them.  But I enjoy remembering and celebrating the fact that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” I also enjoy the lights that remind us that He is “the light of the world” and that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never conquer it.”  So, for me, Christmas is a time to remember – and to celebrate.  Jesus is the reason for the season!  He became a man so that He could go to the cross and die for my sins.  And He arose from the dead and will come again someday! That is worth celebrating – but none of it would have ever happened without that one night in Bethlehem.  “For unto you is born, this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord!” (more…)

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