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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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I love the Toy Story movies and I especially love Buzz Lightyear. He repeats his motto boldly – “To infinity and beyond” like it is really possible. But, in reality, it is not even logical. You cannot go beyond infinity! However, when speaking about God, it actually might make sense. In other words, even infinity itself is not sufficient to describe the majesty of God. Infinity is at least a concept we can grasp.  But God’s existence and power is actually – well, beyond infinity! 

Lately I have been reading about some of the theories of Stephen Hawking and other scientists concerning their ideas of multiverses. (That’s a whole other story.) But in the process of reading their theories, there was one common concern that all scientists in this quest had – the idea of infinity bothered them greatly. It was a concept that they acknowledged mathematically but they could not fit into their theories. Infinite is something that they could not measure, so they had to work with imaginary numbers to avoid infinity in their equations (because infinity would either result in models with endless loops or collapsing in on themselves). And since they could not test their theories on an infinite universe, they had to examine only small sections of the universe and then extrapolate their data which again leads to an unworkable infinity! 

But God is infinite. He defies measurement. He defies understanding. Simply put, the Lord is beyond measure. Therefore, one attribute of God is infinity – or we might say, infinity and beyond! 

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In the Year King Uzziah Died (January 2021 Update) 

Those ominous words come from Isaiah 6:1. For Isaiah and the nation of Israel, the death of King Uzziah was a national and a spiritual tragedy. It is difficult for us to imagine what the death of Uzziah meant for Israel and Isaiah. Uzziah had served as King of Judah for 52 years from the time he was just 16 years old! He was the best and most popular king since King Solomon. His rule had meant peace and prosperity for Israel. But now everyone was concerned about what would happen to Israel, especially since the newest superpower, Assyria, was threatening invasion. It appeared that Israel would fall apart. It was a time of great national crisis. But it was also a time of great personal crisis for many, including Isaiah. Uzziah was the only King that Isaiah had known in his life. 

But it was also a time of spiritual crisis. This beloved leader, in his final days, had overstepped his power. He wanted to be named the High Priest as well as King. He was warned not to do so, but he entered into the Temple and to offer the holy incense. The Lord struck him with leprosy because of his great sin. And Uzziah had to leave Jerusalem and live in seclusion until the day of his death (2 Kings 15). The actual penalty for violating the sacred place of the temple was death (Numbers 18:7). Instead, God struck Uzziah with leprosy, a disease that has been described as a living death. Uzziah had done great things for Israel but, in the end, his pride and arrogance lead him to a disgraceful life and a lonely death. 

First, in his distress, Isaiah went into the temple and what he saw there was that God was still seated on the throne (Isaiah 6:1)! No matter how tragic things appear on earth, God is still seated on the throne. And he also noticed that “the train of His robe filled the temple.” This indicates the majesty of God. Isaiah sees God seated like a King ruling over all. He not only saw God “seated” on His throne; he saw that God’s “train filled the temple.” These are scenes that portray the majesty of a Holy God. God is King and He rules over all that happens in the world. The occasion for Isaiah’s vision was the death of King Uzziah. With the death of Uzziah, the destiny of the nation of Israel was in question and Isaiah was concerned. But when Isaiah “saw the Lord high and lifted up,” he was reminded that – no matter what was happening on earth – even if evil and chaos might reign for a while on the earth – a thrice holy God was still seated on the throne. In difficult times, we need to take time to go into the temple and remember that our majestic God is still seated on the throne. 

The past few months have been difficult ones for everyone. The events of the past week probably leave us all wondering what the future will hold. The truth is, only the Lord knows. In fact, that is a comforting truth. Not only does the Lord know what will happen, He was not surprised by any of the events of the last few months that have surprised all of us. He was in control and He will continue to be in control. But what should be our response? Look at Isaiah’s experience in Isaiah 6. (more…)

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