Testing and Tempting

I’ve been pondering this from James:

. . . the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. . .

There is a difference between testing and tempting. The Lord allows our faith to be tested. He wants us to pass the test; He will give us the grace to pass the test. He never tempts us toward evil.

A Tempter wants us to fail. A Tester wants us to succeed.

Our trials, our battles against sin, are allowed so that we’ll be complete, mature. The important point is that we need to let perseverance have it’s full effect, allowing hardships to do their work in us, considering them as discipline from a loving Father so that we’ll share in His nature (see Hebrews 12).

When hard situations arise, I often pray, ‘Lord, let this difficulty do it’s work in me so that I’ll be a better disciple and love you more.’ Rather than avoid the hardship, I submit and allow perseverance do its work — this is my goal.

So, press on and let these difficult situations, these pressures and hardships, form the image of Christ more deeply in your heart.

Prayer for Peace from Methodist Bishops

The following letter was sent from Bishop Eduard Khegay and Bishop Christian Alsted calling the church to prayer concerning the difficult situation in Ukraine and how it affects Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil.1:2)

In a time of turmoil and unrest in Ukraine and other European countries we write to You, the people called Methodists in the Nordic & Baltic and the Eurasia area to encourage You to continually devote yourselves to Christ in prayer for peace and understanding among the peoples of this world.

Many things divide the earth’s population – nationality, culture, language, economy, ethnicity, gender and age, however the kingdom of God has always been a realm that despite of all gathers people together in mutual love in Christian community. While the political winds are shifting, the church is called to be a fellowship not of this world and yet sent into this world to reflect the self-sacrificing life of Christ. (John 17: 16, 18) This is by no means an easy task, and we continue to be challenged by the ever changing circumstances under which we live, as we seek to interpret and live out what the church should be, a redeemed and redeeming community.

As United Methodists in the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference we are bound together in a covenant to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our mission is along with other Christians to be part of Christ’s redeeming and transforming work in people’s lives, in the society and in world, rather than only to be successful and recognized. To “spread scriptural holiness” is to grow together and as Christ followers intentionally influence the society “to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God”. (Micah 6:8)

Jesus said to his followers: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives.” (John 14:27) Trusting in this promise we ask our churches to unite in prayer…

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be comforted as to comfort;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in forgiving that we are forgiven;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

May we as the United Methodist Church be such an instrument of peace always reflecting the love of Christ.

Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.

Eduard Khegay Bishop of the Eurasia area

Christian Alsted Bishop of the Nordic and Baltic area

Encouragement

A good friend sent me a note yesterday. I had written to him, thanking him for his partnership and mentorship over the years as we’ve worked together in ministry. His letter was a great encouragement —

At church I am in a 5 person rotation for leading opening hymns and prayers and scripture. I was leader yesterday, and the Psalm was Psalm 15 (see below). Without necessarily naming these ideals specifically, I feel we have tried to live by them in our dealings, and it has borne great fruit in our lives and for the lives of others.

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,

who does what is righteous,

who speaks the truth from their heart;

whose tongue utters no slander,

who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others;

who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the Lord;

who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;

who lends money to the poor without interest;

who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

 

note: I will point out that I believe under the New Covenant we are not to despise people. Our battle isn’t against human beings; it’s a spiritual battle. We’re to despise (feel contempt or a deep repugnance for) vile spirits and attitudes. I’ve experienced plenty of extortion, gossip, manipulation, etc, all of which I despise. I love the extortionists, the gossips and the manipulators. (Or at least I’m working on it.)

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8

Lessons Learned

A friend, Shannon Taylor, recently posted an item that is a great encouragement to people who are leaving their home country to serve in Christian ministry:

Seven Years Later…

Today marks seven years from August 1, 2006, the day I boarded a plane and moved to Asia. What a ride it’s been – full of growth, challenges, adventures, tears and joys I never would have imagined! Recently I was asked for some advice by a young woman considering going into full-time missions. That got me thinking. So to commemorate seven years, here are 10 important lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. BE FLEXIBLE. One can’t say enough about this when living cross-culturally in places where the western values of planning and preparedness don’t always reign. And it’s especially important in a developing country where politics is crazy, city-wide strikes are common, and you may or may not have electricity or water (which isn’t clean even when you do have it) at any given time.

2. LAUGH EASILY & OFTEN – ESPECIALLY AT YOURSELF. If you can’t do this, you’re gonna end up crying far too often… like when you accidentally say something really embarrassing when trying to speak in a foreign language, or when you have absolutely no idea what people around you are talking about, or when there’s no room on the bus and the driver tells you unkindly to climb on the roof, or when you’ve forgotten to bring your own toilet paper into the asphyxiatingly stinky squatty potty during a power outage (keep in mind frequent GI issues in such countries), and the candle inside goes out and it’s pitch black and there’s no water to flush or wash your hands (true story). Continue reading

A Few Thoughts This Morning

As some of you know, we’re facing some hard times over here these days (in Russia, inspections and investigations; in Belarus, upheaval and difficulty; financial shortfalls everywhere). I sent an email to our team and thought I’d share it with you —

———–

Recently I’ve been contemplating Hebrews chapter 12 and want to share a few thoughts.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

God allows hardships for our good, so that we’ll be more like Him, so that we’ll share in His holiness. Hardships create a harvest of righteousness and peace if we’ll allow ourselves to be trained by them.

This is something God has been impressing on my heart: will I allow these current hardships to train me to be more like Him? Discipline is NEVER pleasant, but it’s good. Even Jesus was ‘made perfect through suffering‘.

Suffering will make us more complete, more mature, if we walk through it in God’s way. I pray that, as we face these stressful, difficult times, we will stand on the true hope that a good harvest is coming as a result of this loving discipline God is allowing in our lives.

We need encouragement when we’re going through tough times; we need to hear good words that will lift our spirits. It’s almost comical how the writer of Hebrews does this; it certainly goes against my natural tendencies:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,

and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

This is the word of encouragement: difficulties are a sign of God’s love for us. The idea is that rather than trying to get out from under our difficulties, we should be thankful and know that God is lovingly treating us like His children.

I think hardships are also a sign of God’s trust in us; He knows exactly what difficulties we can carry and He allows them into our lives. This good word says: Be encouraged, God is disciplining you! 🙂

I don’t mean to imply that the difficulties we face are not as bad as they are. We’re all walking through some very hard times. But God has a purpose and a result in mind; if we’ll submit to Him and endure this hardship as discipline, then our future will hold increasing righteousness and peace and we’ll share in God’s holiness. The very things we long for will be ours as we walk through these hard times with Christ as our guide.

In Him —

Mike

10 Years Ago

Ten years ago, I left the U.S. on November 2 and arrived in Russia on November 3. I did not know how long I would be in Russia. All I knew is that I was to be part of a team to start a Russian charity (now known as MIR) and help run it for a while.

Over this past decade, God has been teaching me lessons. Some of which I’ve learned and some of which He continues to teach, to get them through my thick head. I am, even at my age, still a child in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here are a few thoughts as I reflect back — Continue reading