“Wish granted”

Be careful what you wish for, they say, it may just happen. So last week I wished I could get sick, lie in bed, drink tea, and blow my nose. Boy, wish my other prayers got answered that quick. Right now I’m in bed sick, coughing my eyeballs out, sipping tea, and writing this post.

It’s late and I just spent all day reading through enough Ancient Near Eastern material to last me a good while. I’m getting ready for my Old Testament Introduction course and I’m trying to catch up on all of the ANE stuff so that my students don’t have to. I’ll just tell you that while it was fascinating to read and learn, it really did very little to help me better understand the Bible. It did even less to help me see the Bible for what it is – the Word of God. You know what? No amount of extra-biblical data in the world will tell you that what you are holding in your hand today is Scripture. So, while I am a bit sad I had to cancel tomorrow’s class, I’m so happy I teach my students not just fascinating information that will wow their peers (like knowing that Sumerian probably belongs to the sino-tibetan language group) but I’m passing on the words that have the power to change their lives forever.

Grace to you. (and don’t get sick!)

Oswald Chambers on ministry

Today’s entry resonated with my soul and so I hasten to share it with you: “Ministering as opportunity surrounds us does not mean selecting our suroundings, it means being very selectly God’s in any haphazard surroundings which He engineers for us. The characteristics we manifest in our immediate surroundings are indications of what we will be like in other surroundings.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have secretly wished to minister in a “more suitable” situation. “More suitable” need not necessarily mean “easier”. Not at all. In fact, sometimes I would picture myself as some “knight of faith” rescuing the perishing and saving the dying somewhere where I would have to sleep under mosquito netting, purify my water and embrace the lepers. I would “suffer” with the downtrodden and unwanted of this world. Instead, the Lord has given me a desk, a chair, and – a Bible. This is my ministry. And I begin to falter when I think of ministry as “out there”.

footwashingOne of the last things Jesus did for the disciples before crucifixion was also one of the most trivial ones – He washed their feet. The significance lay not in the washing itself (they were doing it every day) but in the One who was doing it. To see the King bow down and smell the stench and feel the corns carried more meaning to the stunned disciples than if He had healed every one of their ailments and fed them with an impromptu “fish and chips”. 

As believers we are all too often tempted to “dream big”, and that in itself is certainly not wrong. But it’s sad when “dreaming” takes up so much of our time and effort that we fail to see small yet real and meaningful opportunities to minister right where we are – in our home with the unruly kids, at  work with difficult colleagues, in line at the grocery store, at school during the recess. And ministering does not always mean saying “yes”. Sometimes ministering means saying “no” to someone now so I could say “yes” to him later. And at other times ministering means that I have to drop everything I am doing and just sit still next to a wounded soul. Hardly reading books and taking copious notes looks like ministering to anyone. But it is. “…Being very selectly God’s in any haphazard surroundings which He engineers for us…”  In other words, what we need is not new and better “ministry opportunities” but sensitive hearts right where we find ourselves.  Pauls says that in ministry we are but stewards.  And we know that it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.

“Lest he fall”

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Just read this morning about Y.E. Yang “toppling” the mighty Tiger Woods in PGA tour championship. In this world, no matter how good you are at anything, there’ll always be someone better, even if for a brief moment.

Golf is different in that you really have no one to blame when you lose since you and your opponent don’t play “against” each other in a real sense. Even in chess the opponents face one another, having to look each other in the eye. In golf the players face each other mentally, but the obvious “opponent” is a small white dimpled synthetic ball that all too often seems to have a mind of its own and surprise you just when you least expect it.

A less obvious opponent you are facing is your own self – your fears, your doubts, your false confidence, your pride, lack of concentration, frustration – the list could go on indefinitely. It’s been amazing to watch Tiger stand strong for this long – 14-0 is a long streak! And there’s no telling he won’t continue to be the best in golf for another several years. But the wonderful nature of this game is that even the best player is capable of making the worst gaffe and give way to a humble player with no pedigree to speak of.

So is in Christian life. When we have tasted the victory over sin and self, we count it a success and have a mini-party in our heart thinking that the next “championship” is weeks if not months ahead. Yet that same day we can fall flat on our face when we least expect it – because we least expect it.

If we are champions, it is only “in Christ alone”, as the song says. That’s why Saint Paul keeps reminding us of the danger of a settled mind. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed…” In Galatians 6:1 we find another exhortation: “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted”. Paul’s point is very simple: Never, ever think yourself too strong, too protected, too close to God to be tried and tempted.

This fact does not mean I will be on a constant lookout for ways in which I might get tempted. It does mean that through the day I will continually run to Christ for a fresh supply of much-needed grace to stand, should the temptation come. And He will always be faithful to provide it.

Movin’ up!

So….last week I got moved to a different office. Again. I think this was the third time I move in less than a year. Those of you who’ve known me during the seminary “glory days”, this news ought to put a smile on your face. I think in seminary I moved at least once and sometimes twice every year. One good thing that came of it is that I could never afford to accumulate much stuff since I had that hunch I’d be moving again. The history seems to repeat itself.

Actually, I think this was a great move since I moved upstairs to a larger room, which I’ll be sharing with Matt Fisher (a SEBTS alumnus, btw) who is supposed to arrive sometime at the end of the month. This year I’ll also be combining teaching with the responsibility of coordinating the fledging Master’s program, which starts in two months. This will include finding and corresponding with potential professors who might be willing to come and teach here, grading papers for non-Russian-speaking profs, communicating with the students, and a ton of other nitty-gritty stuff that comes at you when you least expect it (hey, when you’re in Russia, it comes with the territory).

The oddest thing I found out this past week is that unless I find a replacement I might have to teach a class the day of my wedding. Yeah. This is so out-of-whack I am actually kind of tempted to do it and make history in the process….  I doubt Lena will be as excited about this when she finds out.

I preached this past Saturday evening and Sunday morning at two churches in Krasnodar. The Saturday evening service came up a bit unexpectedly. My father-in-law-to-be called me the evening before and asked if I wanted to preach at his church the coming evening. I knew he really wanted me to preach there so I agreed but had very little time to prepare. My text was Matthew 26:36-44 and I talked on the subject of fervent personal prayer. I didn’t get much sleep the following night so I felt the Sunday morning’s sermon on Gal. 4 was a bit rough. Lenochka didn’t feel very well that morning so she stayed at home and prayed while I preached. There was a great feedback from the people afterwards, some even willing to come to my workplace to discuss things even further. Thanks be to God.

Lena and I have been watching the Tolkien trilogy in Russian and finished the “Return of the King” yesterday. Whew, that is one long movie (we watched the “director’s cut”, which is about 20% longer than the theater version). I’m amazed she sat right through all of the battle scenes, orcs and all.

I’ve got to teach an English class in about five minutes so I’ll close here for today.

Grace to you.

Sunday’s best

There is a long-standing tradition in local evangelical churches that once a guy proposes to a young lady they must be officially announced or “presented” as a couple to their respective congregation(s). So, this Sunday it was Lena’s church’s turn to “host” us as we were officially presented as a bride-and-groom-to-be. Really, there was very little pomp and circumstance, the whole ceremony amounting to a simple announcement tacked to the end of the worship service and a prayer of blessing over us.

Oddly enough, in a community where the older generation is overly preoccupied with reminding the young how to keep up appearances until the wedding day, we were told: “You both are so educated, we’ve got nothing to tell ya”. Huh. And I thought premarital counseling meant hours of grueling Q&A’s, tests, budgeting proposals, and rigorous theological discussions 😉 I’m sure my pastor will generously compensate for any lacunae left in our matrimonial education. I don’t believe you are ever too old or too educated to receive some wisdom from a godly man or woman. It’s another thing that it might be tricky trying to impart advice to someone whom you’ve met three days ago… 

I know the desire of both of my and Lena’s heart is that the time leading up to the wedding and the wedding itself and the life that follows after be lived as an act of worship before God – coram Deo. I am unceasingly grateful for a bride who seeks God  before anything else – it does make a difference.

“To everything there is a season….”

“….and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). The past two months that I have ignored the blogosphere have been filled with so many events that I gave up entirely trying to keep a record of my life on the net. This just goes to show that I haven’t become a net junkie and can easily survive for more than a week without checking my email, facebook, wordpress, etc. It may also indicate that I am (hopefully) becoming less concerned with what others think (or may think) of me. Most importantly, I have provided you with some extra time to do useful things around the house or spend time with your family or read your Bible or finish a work project and not get in trouble with your boss! By the way, if you’re reading this at work, well…..you get the idea.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so here’s my thousand-word excuse for leaving you “hanging” for two months straight (as if I needed an excuse:) :

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Lena and I have met the first day I came to work but it took me over seven months to admit to her (and to myself) that I liked her a lot more than just a co-worker and a friend. She has also admitted that she had “ulterior” motives for sitting in on some of my classes! Indeed, it’s stunning when God decides to write your love story and you let Him do it His way. I think after the last heartbreak I pretty much gave up the idea the Lord had any plans for me in this regard and certainly not this soon. That’s why I was quite incredulous at first. The only way I know how to describe the progress of our relationship is “a walk by faith”. After meeting with Lena’s parents I saw no serious reason to continue to “hold off” and so, early at dawn on June 19 I proposed to her in the garden where we used to spend time talking and praying together. She said “yes” and I had more of a sense of peace rather than victory or relief or whatever else the poor guy may experience on such a nerve-wrecking occasion. We both are traveling quite a bit this summer, having just returned from a youth camp in the mountains where we all spent a week in tents, cooked on an open fire and took cold showers in a frigid mountain river. Wild animals, inclement weather, dangerous ascents and stunning scenery, we’ve experienced it all and then some.

Indeed, to everything there is a season and our task is to discern which season is upon us and what is required of us now. I am happy to say that in God’s infinite wisdom, sovereignty and grace He seems to have granted me “a time to love” (Eccl. 3:8) and I am so very grateful. To Him be the glory.

Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego

hi everyone! I haven’t disappeared off the face of the planet, just have very intense two weeks of teaching, practically non-stop. It’s been a blessing and a joy but I also had to put a lot of man-hours into preparation since this is the first time I’m teaching at this level. Graduation is scheduled for this coming Saturday so I should get back to blogging shortly thereafter. Blessings to you, guys!