Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Just a Wee Bit of an Update

It's been two days since I left the hospital after been taken directly to emergency from my flight home from Europe.  It turned out that dopeythe extreme pain in my shoulder was the first sign of my third case of shingles; my worst case yet by far.  The past two weeks have been a blur of pain and medication to suppress it.  The chicken pox-like blisters covered me from head to foot and while they are now pretty much dried up, the pain remains.  And the mental fog from the drugs.

I have had a while to think.  It is obvious to me from this experience (and other recent ones) that I am going to have to demonstrate a type of leadership uncommon in this kind of ministry.  Typically, those involved in working with the persecuted are led by those who like to be on the frontlines, out front leading the way.  That has been my life for several years.  But it is obvious that I need to select my traveling experiences far more carefully and start modeling a cross-centred style of leadership that ministers from a position of weakness.  Many talk of this; I am going to have to live it out.  My body demands it.  I think God does too. Thankfully, I have a Board and staff that support me in this divine experiment.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Some Thoughts from Proverbs 29

I have been doing my personal devotions out of Proverbs lately, which is quite ideal given my rather limited attention span given the drugs I am still receiving here in the hospital. The day before yesterday, I read Proverbs 29:26: "Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the LORD that a man gets justice."

There are many who suppose that the "problem" of Christian persecution can be solved, either universally or in a particular society and the key, they imagine, is to gain the face of the right political or religious leader, to make a sufficient enough lobby so as to get the right important person to speak on behalf of your cause.

I do not deny the importance of advocacy or lobbying efforts. Certainly we as an organization have seen significant results from time to time when a politicial leader speaks up publicly or (perhaps more importantly) acts privately on behalf of an unjustly imprisoned Christian. Advocacy efforts are an important part of speaking for those who have no voice.

But for all of our efforts, we must remember that it is from the Lord that justice ultimately comes. Few would deny the importance of prayer. But is is far easier to "do something" that you can point to with a sense of accomplishment. We must squarely ask ourselves whether we are really convinced that God is more powerful than our advocacy and lobbying tools. In whom do we ultimately put our trust? Do we really believe that prayer is the primary and foundational act of the child of God seeking justice in the world?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Returning Home

As I noted in an earlier blog, I injured my right shoulder while in Ukraine. At the time, it was just uncomfortable. It has since blossomed into full scale agonizing pain, so much so that I have only managed a couple of hours of sleep during each of the last three nights.  As I rode on the train yesterday to Bonn for meetings today, I came to the decision that I could no longer continue this trip. Enduring the pain that has spread throughout the right side of my body has become the focus of my life over the past few days, not the meetings that I have come for.  So I am returning home this afternoon.

While I am grateful that this injury had nothing to do with my cancer or stem cell transplant, it is still frustrating and very disappointing to have to cut this trip short, as I had such hopes for it.  Could I continue, I would.  But God is on control and while I plead for His touch on my shoulder during this time, I rest in this knowledge, even though I get very little rest otherwise.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost and Persecution

Today was Pentecost.  The following is a portion of the message I preached on at the Free Church Mennonite Brethren Church in Owingen, Germany:

Jesus' sermon in Luke 4:16-30 marks the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.  In chapter three He had been baptized at which time the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and the Father had confirmed his identity.  Then in chapter four He had been driven into the wilderness to be tempted.  Now, He goes into the synagogue and He announces that the Spirit of the Lord is upon to preach good news to the poor.  It is this anointing that prepares him for a mission that will be marked by humiliation, opposition, rejection, and suffering, as we see in how the crowd responds to His sermon.  They seek to kill Him.

Hardly a great way to begin one's public ministry.  If this had happened to me the first time I preached, I am not sure if I would still be in the ministry. Indeed, I suspect that my sermon was more a persecution of those who had to listen to it than the other way around.

But as we continue through the New Testament, we see that this event is a model for the remainder of Jesus' ministry.  Jesus goes forth and ministers in a context of opposition and hostility.  Ultimately, His ministry leads to the Cross, a symbol of weakness, shame, rejection and humiliating death. 

This is typically how God's purposes are accomplished in Scripture; through Spirit anointed messengers who spread the Good News in the face of opposition, humiliation, rejection, and death.  This is the path that Jesus walked and it is the path that His disciples will walk following the day of Pentecost. 

Like Jesus, they wait until they are empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to begin to obey Jesus' commission in Acts 1:8 to take the gospel to the world; a world which the Bible says is in a state of rebellion to God, hostile to the Word of God and the people of God; a world that is not marked by an openness to the things of God but a rejection of them. They go out as lambs among wolves.  They are sent out as "witnesses" and witnesses, as we note in Scripture and church history, often martyrs

And like their Lord, his messengers are anointed by the Spirit to preach the gospel to those in need.   And like their Lord, we read in Acts that they almost immediately ran into opposition.  Already in chapter 4, Peter and John are arrested and interrogated for a sermon they gave in chapter 3 shortly after Pentecost.  In their prayer in 4:25-29 they recount how David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, had said:

'Why did the Gentiles rage,
        and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
        and the rulers were gathered together,
             against the Lord and against his Anointed'-

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,

They knew that just as Jesus had suffered, so would they.  Being empowered by the Spirit would not protect them from persecution; indeed, the Spirit empowered them for persecution and continued ministry.

This is a principle that we must not miss in Scripture. The purposes of God are always carried out in an environment of conflict, with God's messengers suffering rejection, opposition, pain and even death in order to carry this good news to others.  They suffer so that others can be healed.  They die so that others can live.  They suffer shame and rejection so that others can receive honor and acceptance with God. 

Do they do this on their own strength?  No, it is only possible because of Pentecost.  It is only possible because the Spirit of the Lord is upon them, empowering them in times of weakness, giving them the words to say when words fail them, praying for them when they don't know what to say.  Life lived in the shadow of the cross is life lived in the power of the Spirit.  There is no contrast between a theology of the cross and a theology of the Spirit.

A cross-centered gospel requires Spirit-filled, cross-carrying messengers.  In the plan of God, there is no other way that His purposes can be achieved.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Suffering the Effects of Persecution in the Present in Ukraine

I am in Germany now, having arrived yesterday after five days in Ukraine. The Ukrainian trip was enjoyable, though physically challenging for me. We visited a number of elderly pensioners who were persecuted for their faith by Soviet communist authorities during the years of 1946-1990. Many of them are now rather sickly, forced to spend a disproportionate amount of their meager pension on medications. Additionally, prices have risen to on electricity and gas (both of which used to be quite cheap) and these elderly saints now find themselves in real financial need.

Since 2004, The Voice of the Martyrs has been assisting a number of these pensioners with finances to supplement their paltry pensions. Coming off of this trip, I realize that we will need to increase our subsidies rather significantly, given the increasing inflation and the decreasing health of those we serve. We will mention this more in upcoming editions of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter.

I would like to share some of their stories with you right now, but I hurt my right shoulder during our trip back to Kiev from Lviv over some rather rough roads. Hence, I am finding it rather painful to type. Here are the faces of some of the dear sisters that I met.

1a 3a  4a Anna Kolotska

Monday, May 05, 2008

More on Theology Matters

On Friday I read an article,"Why Theology Matters" by Michael Craven, which I think speaks to the weblog discussion that's been going on recently regarding the importance of theology in the Christian walk (see also Glenn's April 14 entry "Is Doctrine Worth Dying For"). I found the article to be very articulate and challenging and I especially liked Craven's reminder the lack of a proper biblical theology leads to a "less than adequate witness of the Gospel." To read it, click here. Hope you will find it a worthwhile read as well.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Leaving for Europe Tomorrow

laptopjet I would appreciate your prayers as I leave tomorrow evening for 16 days in Europe during which I will be visiting various ministry partners in Ukraine, Germany, Belgium, and Holland.  I will also be speaking at a church in Germany on Pentecost and to a youth conference in Holland.  The trip will involve a lot of traveling as you can see from my itinerary:

May 3-8 in Ukraine
May 8-13 in Germany
May 13-15 in Belgium
May 15-18 in Holland

I will try to blog from Europe as I have opportunity to keep you up to date with how things are going.  This is my longest trip since my stem cell transplant in December 2006 and so there is a bit of apprehension on the part of some.  But I am feeling fine and am confident of God's ability to keep me healthy.  Pray that I will be able to encourage my co-workers and that there will be some profitable decisions made.  Pray especially as I visit some elderly pensioners in Ukraine who were persecuted by the Soviets when they were younger.  I find their testimonies absolutely enriching and I rejoice that we have been able to assist a number of them over the years since their pensions are very small.