How I Got to Russia

Here’s a quick recap of what got me started on this path:  For several years I was the administrator of South Shore Church (now Red River Church) in Austin, Texas.

I loved my job and thought I’d be there for a long time to come.

Mark Browne, then executive director of Mission Global Outreach (MGO) spoke at church in the fall of 1999, and some friends felt in their hearts that I should go to Russia and get to know Mark better. So, my friends surprised me by paying for my trip to Russia with MGO in January of 2000. I thought, ‘well, this will be great, a free trip to Russia. Should be interesting.” This was the beginning of an unexpected change in my life.

Well, after the trip I felt, through prayer, that I should return to Russia but I wasn’t sure in what capacity. While in Russia on that first trip, I had felt a call to “see the seasons change in St. Petersburg.”

The elders at church had been praying about my situation, and we all agreed that it was time for me to step off staff and move on to new things–that was a scary step of faith. But God has been teaching me that it’s quite alright to trust Him in difficult or confusing situations. Let me give a little background on that:

As I was praying in the summer of 1999, I sensed that the Lord wanted me to go on a fast–I hadn’t been planning to fast at all. (I was quite overweight, and that was an indicator of a lack of discipline which spilled over into other areas of my life.)

So, I prayed “how long should this fast be?” I felt that it should be 40 days. Then I asked “what kind of fast should it be?” I was thinking maybe one meal a day, or no TV/movies/radio/newspapers, something like that. The fast I felt prompted to do, however, was the following: no solid food, and nothing that had any flavor. Well, that kinda left me with water.

So, I started the fast in early July 1999. It was a long 40 days. As a matter of fact, at the time I said it should be called a “slow.” It was very difficult, but the benefits far outweighed (pardon the pun) the cost. I’ll tell you, if the Lord calls you to something, He will give you the strength to complete it, and the result will be very good. If you’d like to know more about the lessons I learned in the fast, please feel free to write me.

I will give God the glory, because I certainly didn’t have it in me to do something like that. This was a very big lesson in learning to discern the will of the Lord, and trust Him to guide my steps as He gave me strength.

So, back to Russia: Originally I thought I would probably return to Russia as a member of a team from Austin. As I was stepping off staff at the church, Mark Browne asked me to work as a staff member with MGO in the summer of 2000, serving the teams that work in the summer camps.

I spent three months living in a camp and an orphanage, serving kids and helping coordinate the various teams that came from the States. In the fall of 2000 I was elected to the board of MGO and was commissioned to go to Russia and start a Russian charity (now named MIR).

In less than twelve months I went from my first visit to Russia to living in Russia. It was quite a ride! And the ride continues . . . .

My readings in the Bible took me back to Psalm 23, and I know that the Lord is a good shepherd; He will lead us beside still waters, He will make us lie down in green pastures, and He will be with us in the valley of the shadow of death. His rod and staff (discipline, leadership, salvation) are comforting. So, we have nothing to be anxious about as we walk with Him.

I encourage you, whatever your situation, to seek after the righteousness of God and trust that everything you need will be provided. Put your faith in Christ. Very few will be in the situation in which I find myself, but we are all called to love God with all our being, and to love others as we love ourselves.

God is a loving Father, He is worthy of our praise; Jesus sets the perfect example for us all to be selfless servants, speaking the truth in love, walking by faith, and looking out for the needs of others; the Holy Spirit gives us the life of God as a river of living water, of blessing and truth and mercy, to flow through us to the people in our lives who God loves more than we can imagine.

Discipline

Do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him. For those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. (Hebrews 12:5,6)

A theme for me over the past few years has been Discipline.  The word has always had a negative connotation for me; to be disciplined was a bad thing.  But recently the Lord has been bringing His discipline to my life, and it has been very good.  I won’t say it has always been pleasant, but it has been a blessing.

The first step to understanding the goodness of God’s discipline is accepting Christ’s authority. Jesus teaches the truth about man and God, and there is no other way to understand things of eternal worth than by being a follower of Jesus—a disciple.

How to think about discipline: one very simple analogy has come to mind.  When you comb or brush your hair, you bring discipline to it: order, beauty, and rest.  It’s a daily discipline that brings obvious results.  Failing to practice this discipline also bring obvious results.  One must exert a certain amount of force to discipline hair, and it’s always successful when the hair “submits.”  And certainly, we don’t comb our hair to punish it or because we are angry with it.

This is a limited analogy, but it helped me to understand that God does not discipline us to injure, limit, or punish us.  He disciplines us because He wants us to be beautiful, at peace, and conformed to His perfect will.  “God disciplines those He loves.”  God loves you, and His love will be shown at times through discipline.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (Hebrews 12:11)

Make no mistake, being disciplined will be unpleasant or difficult much of the time; it involves a death to self and acceptance of God’s will.  I’m sure you fail in self-discipline or self-control—we all do to some extent.  All of us have qualities which are not pleasing to the Lord, which are sinful, which hinder our ability to know Him more fully and serve the people around us. God says, “Anything that is not of faith, is sin;” and “Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  As hair submits to the comb, as a good child submits to loving discipline, so our souls must submit to God’s guidance.  And God’s promise is that He will give us abundant life; a life that is much better than our life before His discipline has had its effect.

Here is how this has worked out for me in the past.  At one point, I realized that I needed discipline in an area of my life, and I was not able to follow through on my desire to grow in this one area.  So, finally, I prayed and said something like “Lord, I do not have the ability to do what is right, I need self-control and self-discipline, but I don’t have it in me.  So, I submit to your discipline and ask you to discipline me according to your will. How would you like me to conduct myself?  What are specifics that will bring godliness to my life?”  Then, I sat there with a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote what I felt the Lord was calling me to. I wrote down four simple things.  Then I set my heart to submit to Him.  These four things (which are not what I expected to hear) have brought discipline to my life in a very good way.  I’m sure that there will be more discipline to come, and I welcome it.

I encourage you to seriously seek God and be willing to accept His discipline.   When we know that something is God’s will, we have much more power to persevere.  Be willing to change; don’t tell God what to do, and don’t play games with Him.  If you falter, remember that His mercies are new every morning; as you grow, thank Him and give Him credit for the good things He does–for He works in us to will and to do His according to His purposes.  As a loving child, wait patiently for your Father’s kindness as He raises you to be the person you were created to be.

The World

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. ~ James 1:27

I’ve recently been thinking about this scripture. As I work in Russia, I am called to minister the love of God especially to orphans and widows in their distress. So, I know that this is part of the pure faith that God has called me to.

But, there is more to being spiritually pure than serving the neediest among us; God wants us to avoid the pollution of the world. To please God and live by His Spirit, to be the people God has created us to be, it is necessary that we keep ourselves from being stained by the world. Other translations say that we are to avoid the pollution of the world. We are to actively turn from the ungodliness of the world. God does not want us to be defiled.

I think we all know some elements of what it means to be stained by the world, but we are often blind to the cultural pressures that are exerting force on our souls.

As I get a little distance from America, I can see that American culture presses people toward self-gratification and impatience. I was quite blind to it for many years, and now I’m seeing a little more clearly how that terrible, ungodly, force affects people in America–and many are not aware of how strong that force is. When we live in a culture, we can become inured to the cultural forces around us–they feel very “natural,” and we think that they are neutral. So to Americans (and myself) I say, begin to fight against self-gratification, make choices based on self-control and stewardship. Pray for understanding and strength to fight against it.

How else does the world pollute a person? What should you avoid so that your spirit will be able to abide with Christ in purity? Here’s a list that comes to my mind–yours may be different.

Television: TV is so ever-present that we often don’t judge the content of the programming. Most TV programming is completely Godless–it does not help us grow closer to Christ; many TV shows will at best distract us from our spiritual walk; at worst they will lead us into impurity. I tend to dissipate my life when the TV is around. O, how many hours have I completely wasted while sitting in front of the TV? This is part of what the Bible calls dissipation–our lives just dissipate without having any effect or growth as we sit mindlessly in front of the tube. Avoid the pollution of TV. “If your eye (cathode) causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away.” An entertaining TV show is not worth the purity of your heart.

Gossip: gossip pollutes the soul. Don’t talk about people behind their back, don’t revel in, and be entertained by, the troubles of other people, don’t judge them by speaking badly or carelessly of them. Gossip pollutes relationships at the heart level. Bless everyone, speak well of everyone, pray for and bless even your enemies. The world loves a gossip, and many people make their living by gossiping (TV shows, magazines, newspapers columns, etc.)

Advertising: this can be one of the most pure forms of worldly pollution I can think of. Most, but not all, advertising is designed to appeal to your passions/vices/weakness/lusts so that someone can profit from your desire for gratification/love/fame/respect. Avoid the lies of advertising, don’t let the temptations of advertising grip your soul. Advertising is often entertaining, but it does not have your soul’s interest at heart. It’s there to get your money.

Certain styles of music may pollute your soul; radio programs can stain us; greed for better cars/houses/possessions will pollute you; conversations, websites, and careers can also stain us. The list goes on. People will be affected differently, so it’s not a matter of being legalistic–God knows the heart, and we cannot judge people’s hearts. At the same time, some worldly things are not profitable for anyone to embrace–they are not of God and will lead to sin; they are polluted and they will defile us.

What is on your list? What is the Lord calling you to lay down so that you can have pure and undefiled religion? Do it. Avoid the pleasant pollution of the world and live to Christ. His ways will bring you true peace, purity and joy.

Thoughts about ministry in Russia

Here are some thoughts to help you prepare for ministry in Russia.

Throughout the past 2000 years, Christians have been going abroad to share the gospel of Christ.  Prepare yourself for service by practicing self-discipline. Your trip to Russia is not a vacation, it’s a vocation–call from the Lord to be a blessing to those He loves very much.  Be prepared to serve, not be served. Be willing to be the very last, and servant of all.  Of course, when you do this, you will have abundant life–a life of love, peace and strength.

Pray often and submit your spirit to the Lord.  You will be sharing in the work He is already doing.  Don’t assume that you’re making your own decisions–follow the Lord.  His will will be done.

Remember, as a follower of Christ, your life is not your own.  Since the Lord has called you to minister here, He will provide what you need when you need it.  He is a loving Father who knows what you need before you ask.  This will be an opportunity to learn this lesson deeply, if you’re willing to die to yourself.  If you’re not willing to die to yourself, consider whether or not you’re a disciple of Christ, because selflessness is necessary to being a Christian.  My experience is that we learn this more and more as we walk with the Lord.

Pray to learn contentment in every situation; ask for wisdom and faith.  These things are gifts from God that will be needed here.  I find myself using the word “learn” often as I write this.  To be a learner is the definition of a disciple.  You won’t come here with all the answers or be prepared for all that will happen.  You will come dependent on God to light your path one step at a time; “each day has enough trouble of it’s own,” so don’t be anxious for tomorrow.

If you feel overwhelmed or weary, remember that the Lord is your Good Shepherd; He will lead you through the hard times.  Also, tell your team members when you’re tired and ask them to pray for you.  Be transparent, vulnerable, human.

The Kingdom of God is not America.  Be careful not to associate American ideals with Godly wisdom. They overlap at times, but they are not the same.  Speak what the Bible speaks, and be silent when it is silent.  Show love and mercy to all who cross your path.  The Kingdom of God is much larger and more diverse than the USA, or Russia, or any other country.  Point everyone toward God the Father through Christ the Son.

Be encouraged. God is Love. Jesus did not come to condemn; He came to save!