Day Five (Jan 1) – A Brand New Year [Ukraine Missions Trip]

This entry is part 5 of 9 in the series Ukraine Missions Trip 2009

This is the fifth entry in the series I am writing about my trip to Ukraine – I didn’t have daily internet access while there so I recorded each day for later publishing.  And later [much later actually] is now.

  • It was a beautiful bright sunny day today (although cold!)
  • Today we didn’t have breakfast until 10am allowing us some time to sleep in because of the late night before.
  • It was a bit of a slower day today because almost everything was closed with it being New Years Day
  • Ed Dickson with some of the kids who were at McJoyful
    Ed Dickson with some of the kids who were at McJoyful

    The entire team went to McDonald’s for McJoyful and we ended up having lunch there.

  • Following McJoyful we came back and got ready for the New Years day service at 4pm at the Krivoy Rog church (Pastor Gregory’s church).
  • The service was not a typical service but it was awesome with a wide variety of skits, special music, the worship was amazing, loud, special guests and of course I had the privilege of speaking.
  • Before service I met with the pastor and deacons in his office for prayer. Very moving. They had just been talking about not worrying what man thinks about you but being more concerned about what God thinks of you. My contribution was that our identity is in Christ.
  • I spoke on the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and who touched Jesus and was healed. The topic of course was faith. What’s interesting, and is something I didn’t know…when I started the message Pastor Gregory turned to Ed and asked him if Ed had said anything to me about what the church had been teaching and Ed said no. Apparently, the focus of the messages for the last month have been on faith! Wow! It’s things like that that are so encouraging. Here I was, not sure what I should speak on and simply trusting that God would direct me to the right message. It turns out that it was the exact message he wanted spoken. Praise God!  I LOVE it when God shows how He is at work even in the smallest things!!
  • I gotta say I love speaking with a translator.  While he was translating I had time to think about what I wanted to say next.  Sometimes I had to remember to slow down though…when I get going I can speak pretty fast sometimes.
  • Spent some of the evening loading some pictures from Dan’s camera onto my computer and then Walt, Ed, Dan and I watched a quick slideshow of the pictures he had taken so far. It was pretty cool to see the pics of the past week and I’m sure will spark some memories when I view them later.

I stumbled across this site thanks to a Catalyst Post and it’s a useful look at varying perspectives on God. This site gives voice to the raw thoughts of many that the average Christian would never hear. At the very least it gives insight into the struggles some face with the whole “faith” thing and serves as a good reminder of the people God wants us believers to share His gift with… (and take a careful look at just how well we’re sharing!)

Which comes first (why faith matters)

Can a flame exist over ice?I just read an interesting post by Seth Godin called, “Which comes first (why stories matter)“. In it, Seth points out the interesting relationship between the work we do and the story we have. Two points caught my attention:

The work is what people talk about, because it’s what we experience. In other words, the work tells a story.

Then a bit later he goes on to say,

…if you decide what the story is, you can do work that matches the story. Your decisions will match the story. The story will become true because you’re living it.

As I read this article I immediately thought of James 2,

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. – James 2:17-18 (NIV)

The Christian story is one that should have influence over everything the believer does and everything we do should flow out of the gospel narrative and how it has transformed us (the story). James articulates that faith (the story we believe in) is connected with the “works” we do and if there are no works then there really isn’t any faith.

So, if churches and Christians already have an incredible story to tell, is what we’re doing telling it?

Choosing Blasphemy?

I recently came across this article in Newsweek (January 8, 2007, Jerry Adler) – here’s an excerpt,

‘Hi my name is Lindy and I deny the existence of the Holy Spirit and you should too.’

With that five-second submission to YouTube, a 24-year-old who uses the name “menotsimple” has either condemned herself to an eternity of punishment in the afterlife or struck a courageous blow against superstition. She’s one of more than 400 mostly young people who have joined a campaign by the Web site to stake their souls against the existence of God. That, of course, is the ultimate no-win wager, as the 17th-century French mathematician Blaise Pascal calculated?it can’t be settled until you’re dead, and if you lose, you go to hell.

I went and visited the site and discovered that the “blasphemy challenge” offers an incentive for those who would do what Lindy did. Guess what the incentive is? People who take up the challenge and follow the instructions (which include the requirement to explicitly say, “I deny the existence of the Holy Spirit” in their video) will receive a free copy of “The God Who Wasn’t There”.

Here’s what I don’t understand. First, there are actually people willing to risk an eternity in hell for a video that basically promotes there is no God and mocks Christianity? C’mon there’s gotta be a bigger payoff than that! But then I get thinking of the Lindy’s and the Michael Lawson’s who are meeting the challenge for their free video. What has happened in their lives to give them such a bad taste for God and such a willingness to rush into the opportunity to “blaspheme”?

Second, this viral vitriol against Christianity and God is getting ridiculous (getting? it’s beyond that)! Does belief in Jesus Christ really pose that much of a threat to those who choose not to believe? Ah, but perhaps it does…perhaps its the fear that one’s “freedom” might be infringed or trodded upon if this religious monstrosity is allowed to flourish. Forget the fact that most significant historic accomplishments were done by believers, forget the fact that almost every school of higher learning was founded by believers, forget the fact that nearly every major hospital, orphanage, or some sort of social care organization was begun by believers. Oh but faith must be stopped because our “freedoms” and “intelligence” and “progress” will suffer… hogwash!

Jesus spoke of himself when he said,

…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36, NIV)

Freedom from what? Freedom from sin, from slavery to sin – that propensity to place self above everything else (even God) and constant dissatisfaction in life. What the proponents of don’t seem to realize is that the very subject of good vs. evil predicates some universal absolute standard of measure from which conscience is formed. The very presence of our present day imperfect (because of sin) civil law and order, government, and “justice” finds it’s roots in the perfect justice and order of God.

Now am I saying the unbeliever is incapable of good, or is incapable of placing others before themselves? No. The corollary is also true – Christians and believers aren’t perfect either and sadly we too do things contrary to the teaching of the one we follow. However – the very fact that the good is recognized in the non-believer and the bad is recognized in the believer is significant in any discussion on the existence of God. Truly, if God really didn’t exist then why are atheists so concerned? Why the battle? Does it really matter then if there is good or evil? If the Christian is hypocritical or the non-believer a saint?

And finally, the question that keeps my head shaking through the whole thought process is the question I’d ask those posting their “blasphemy” on YouTube. “What if you are wrong?” Let’s reverse things for a moment. I’m a Christian. I believe that I have been saved from death (hell) and saved to life (here and later in heaven) by my faith in the work of Christ on the cross and His resurrection from the grave – a work that dealt with my sin (which separated me from God). I believe that Christ now works in and through my life and He has a unique purpose for me in this world. My life is richer because of my faith in Him. My love is fuller because of Him. My joy is more complete because of my faith in Him. My hope is more sure because of my faith in Him. With that said, if you were to ask me, “What if you are wrong?” My reply would be simply, “then I haven’t lost anything…” Can the “YouTube blasphemers” say that with the same degree of certainty?

Book Review- Chasing Francis

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale

Rating: 3 out of 5

Author: Ian Morgan Cron

Year: 2006

Publisher: Navpress

ISBN: 1576838129

“Chasing Francis” is the story of a pastor in a large church struggling with his faith in the light of different personal tragedies encountered in the first few pages of the book. After being forced to take time away from being a pastor Chase Falson embarks on a pilgrimage led by his Uncle (a friar in the Franciscan order) in which he learns about Saint Francis. In the course of this pilgrimage, Chase is forced to rethink some of his faith-positions in the past and his relationship with God. If you think I’m going to tell you everything that happens think again :lol:!

Ian Morgan Cron introduces in the preface of this book that the reasons for writing this book arose out of a discussion he was having with NavPress about how Francis’s,

…unique spin on ministry and the spiritual life might add something to the conversation about church in these postmodern days.

In the course of their discussion they came to the conclusion that such a analysis would best be told in story form rather than adding to the already prolific amount of biographical work on Saint Francis.

The result is what Cron terms, “wisdom literature” – a balance of fiction and nonfiction as he wrote a fictional story (Chase Falson and Putnam Hill Community church) pulling from the non-fictional history (Saint Francis). In the synthesis of the two Cron is adding his understanding of how looking at the life of Saint Francis has much to reveal about the way church is done as it transitions from a modern world to a post-modern world (catching up so to speak).

I thought the story was a good read, not spectacular but good nevertheless. It would definitely have more relevance to those involved in any form of ministry in the church but certainly others will appreciate the freshness in learning about Saint Francis. I must admit I didn’t know too much about Saint Francis prior to reading this book and his life is intriguing. However, in light of the fact that this is not a full biography of his life but rather a synopsis (which Cron readily admits) I’d be best to read more about him before drawing any firm conclusions.

With that said, however, through this book there are some interesting parallels made between the way the world and the church was in the time of Francis (transitioning from medieval to industrial) and what the church (western church specifically) and the world are going through right now as we transition from modern to post-modern. I especially identified with the exposing of the rampant consumerism the church has bought into that results in the church losing the ability to make an impact in culture.

Even though I enjoyed reading this book there were a couple things that bothered me.

1. Much emphasis was spent on the character and life of Francis to the detriment of emphasis on the life of Christ.
Of course Cron is quite clear that this book is an attempt at sharing about Saint Francis in story form but I find it ironic that Chase Falson finds his way back to God primarily through the influence of studying the life of Saint Francis without any supplementation through scripture and study of the life of Christ. I couldn’t help shaking the feeling as I was reading that in the course of his pilgrimage Chase Falson is being “converted” to the ways of Saint Francis rather than the ways of Christ.

Now, I’m not saying that Francis has nothing to teach us – far from it. But I do believe that somehow Cron could have weaven into his story a bit more by way of example in what Christ did that inspired Francis so much (or even shared specific scriptures or two). Even in Falson’s impassioned plea to his congregation at the end of the story, very little (too little IMHO) is mentioned about Jesus Christ.

Note that the accompanying study that the author included in the end of the book also carries little reference to scripture or the life of Christ. It would have been of more benefit to me if some time had been taken to highlight the influence the life of Christ had on Francis (paying attention to any particular scripture texts etc.)

2. The conclusion felt rushed.
I’m sure this had more to do with limits imposed by publishers rather than the will of the author but it seemed that the conclusion of the book was put together rather quickly.

I guess the major concern for me in reading this book is simply the fact that taken alone it seems to suggest that if we live as Saint Francis did we’ll be better (or at least more authentic) followers of Christ. But therein is the oxymoron. Would we really be followers of Christ – or followers of Francis?