The United States of America has one of the most powerful militaries on earth. Its funding, equipment, and training are second to none. Most countries understand that head-on attacks against the US armed forces are impossible – even our greatest enemies have a healthy fear. That said, asymmetric warfare has thwarted even our great military. Hostile groups with long-obsolete, repurposed equipment have made decisive victory nearly impossible.
Their tactics often involve war crimes/crimes against humanity, so these groups serve as an illustration of a point and nothing more. They will answer to God for their crimes. The point is this: God often displays great power through insignificant, weak people.
God worked through Paul’s weakness to grow the church (II Cor 12.9). God saved the world as an impoverished person (Matt 8.20). God designated the poor to great faith and eternal life (Js 2.5). God included uneducated, blue-collar men in his group of closest followers (Acts 4.13). God considers service-oriented people to be the most important (Matt 20.26). God used Job as an example of endurance, proving his power when Job was at his lowest (1.9, 22).
All of us will face issues that are way beyond our power to handle. In those moments, remember that God does incredible things through insignificant people.
The war in Ukraine is tragic, with loss of life in the several thousands already. Families have been displaced. Untrained civilians fiercely resist invasion. NATO can’t make up its mind, leveling sanctions as though at war, but not declaring war formally. This – among other factors – is escalating an already volatile situation. A great many feel as though we’re at the brink of WWIII.
Maybe we are. Humans tend to show their very worst or their very best in times of crisis. When the pandemic started, millions forgot their humanity. Fights broke out in grocery stores, people forgot what patience, selflessness, and compassion were, and hoarding was the name of the game. Besides all that – as if we needed another polarizing issue – families, friends, and neighbors bitterly fought about masks and vaccines and social distancing.
But for many (most?) other people, it brought out their best. People checked on each other regularly. Personal feelings were put aside to accommodate the apprehension some felt. Resilience and benevolence was/is strong. The church was heavily invested in each others’ lives.
War is a tragic part of the human experience. Some may be fought for good reasons, but war itself is never good. We all hope the conflict in Europe will be resolved soon and with minimal loss of life. It might not, though. So what will we do?
Train the Brain – Determine to respond with levelheadedness and compassion, period. If it comes to war, we won’t forget our humanity. We will look out for others and act rationally. Our conditioned response will be, “How can I help other people?”
Be Like Jesus – He didn’t exploit weakness to gain an advantage. He didn’t stockpile supplies to the detriment of others. He wasn’t concerned about maintaining his standard of living. He fed people, healed people, gave them counseling, and gave them hope. That will be our response, whatever the future holds.
Be Cool – We might get scared, but it’ll never override our desire to look out for each other. We’ll demonstrate genuine faith in the creator by not acting like people who are controlled by fear.
Those are easier said than done. But we can do them, and I’m confident that we will. If the threat never exceeds high fuel prices or inflation, we’ll have made the best of a bad situation. If the threat becomes war, we’ll make the best of a bad situation. Dark days make it that much easier to shine God’s light. So that’s what we’ll do!
My first foreign mission trip was to eastern Ukraine in the Spring of 2002. I returned in 2003, and each time we flew in and out of Kharkiv (which is under siege as I type). We worked with the Bear Valley Bible Institute’s first foreign extension school, but also worked with brethren in the village of Slavyanogorsk.
We held Bible studies and taught English using the book of Mark and enjoyed success especially with young people and young adults. The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church was strong among the locals, but there was a congregation of about 30 there.
On my second trip, Kathy was able to go with me along with several other members of the Cold Harbor Road congregation in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where I preached at the time.
The memories we made together and with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine have left a lasting impression on my mind and my faith. Though I had always known that the church existed in places outside the United States, this was my first tangible experience with them. While we were separated by language and cultural barriers, we were drawn together by our common faith and hope. These first few trips increased my desire to teach and evangelize not only those in other nations, but also motivated me to try harder to do so locally. Those travels to Ukraine were extremely faith-building.
Right now, those brethren are displaced, distressed, and disturbed by the Russian invasion well underway. Their relatively modest houses and apartments have been at the center of fighting between Ukrainians and Russian separatists, with many of the cities in that region controlled by those separatists. They are in the crosshairs of danger, facing an uncertain future.
As I read the New Testament, inspired writers addressed congregations and asked them to care about, pray for, and provide the needs of brethren who faced various crises. There were the poor and needy saints of Jerusalem, whom Paul tells Rome that Macedonia and Achaia had financially supported (Rom. 15:26; cf. 1 Cor. 16:1). The writer of Hebrews told his audience, “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (13:3). He praised them earlier in the letter for showing sympathy to the prisoners (10:34). We never know when similar circumstances might befall us. As Paul told Thessalonica, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1 Th. 2:14-16). While their suffering was primarily spiritual persecution, Paul urged empathy and endurance.
What can we do for our brethren who are at ground zero of this awful conflict? We can better inform ourselves of the specifics there (https://christianchronicle.org/ukraineexplainer/). We can pray, congregationally and individually (daily!). We can listen for opportunities to assist our brethren. Heaven will be filled with saints from every nation (Rev. 7:9). These brethren are part of our “household”; let us stand ready to do good for them (Gal. 6:10). Remember them as they suffer!
It was nearly twenty years ago that I walked with Keith Kasarjian through an orphanage in eastern Ukraine. I cannot remember how many children were there, but there were many. My first impression was their appearance–unwashed and tattered clothes, dirty bodies, and many had mussed or shaved heads. But my overwhelming impression was regarding their behavior. They clung to us, wanting our attention. They couldn’t speak much, if any, English, and our Russian was sparse. There was a hunger in their eyes, not for food but for attention and affection. While we were not there for very long, the memory of that evening is as fresh today as it has ever been. They had no family, few possessions, and terribly uncertain futures. Legally, culturally, and financially, adopting dozens of foreign children was virtually impossible. Not a few tears were shed when we said goodbye and as we looked back at that evening.
An orphan “is someone whose parents have died, are unknown, or have permanently abandoned them” (Merriam Webster online; Concise Oxford Dict.). While Scripture mentions physical orphans 36 times, including twice in the New Testament, the concept of spiritual adoption is an important way the New Testament describes what God does through Christ to make us part of His family. Particularly, Romans 8-9, Galatians 4-5, and Ephesians 1 describe this process.
Consider how we appear to God. Even our righteous deeds are like filthy garments (Isa. 64:6). He even figuratively described His Old Testament people as like castoff children abandoned and helpless whom He bathed, clothed, and took care of (Ezek. 16:1ff). But, that figure could certainly be applied to us today. Scripture depicts sin as making us stained (2 Pet. 2:13), spotted (Eph. 5:27; 1 Pet. 1:19), and unclean (Rev. 21:27). Yet, God saw us and loved us (Rom. 5:6-8). He wanted us to be part of His family (Eph. 2:19).
The difference between God and us is that He is able to take all of us. He wants to, and He has the resources and power to make it a reality. He feels perfect pity for us who are orphaned by sin, and He acts on that compassion by inviting us into His family. If we accept His offer, He makes it happen. That being the case, why would we ever reject what only He can give? We can go from being the lowliest reject to being a child of God!Truly, it doesn’t seem like much of a dilemma. If we see ourselves, spiritually, as we are, we will anxiously accept what only He can give us.
Recently, I was corresponding with Arthur Ohanov, a gospel preacher in Donetsk, Ukraine, who served as my translator on a couple of mission trips to eastern Ukraine in the early 2000s. In part, he wrote me, “As I am typing this letter I hear bombing in our city, but God is good! We continue our ministry of reconciliation of sinners with their Father!” Brethren like Arthur are heroes, facing difficulties we can only imagine in America. Walking the streets of Kramatorsk, Slavyansk, and Slavyanagorsk back then, I could not fathom that war, carnage, and death could possibly come to that region in so few years.
Periodically, people talk about how the immorality and unbelief in our nation will bring devastation to this nation. While that is undoubtedly a possibility, which we can see even with God’s special nation in Old Testament times, that belongs to the sovereignty and justice of God. Yet, nations throughout the centuries rise up and testify that national peace can quickly and dramatically give way to war and destruction.
Today, we wake up to calm and peace. At the throne of God, we can (and should) humbly thank Him for this tremendous blessing. Each day that begins like this represents a golden opportunity for each of us. Wherever we go, we encounter people who are alienated from God and who are heading for eternal catastrophe. We should consider this peace more than a privilege. It is an obligation. While we have time, we must try to reach as many as possible.
The deacons at Bear Valley have been working for several months, planning and strategizing to enhance our vision for the lost in our area. Many of our members have been approached and asked for help as we try to prepare ourselves as a church to more effectively carry out the Great Commission. That will continue to expand. We really need to feel the urgency expressed by Christ, who said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). “Night” may come by virtue of how swiftly our lives are lived on earth. It can also come at the hands of dramatic changes in our nation and communities. Because the future is wholly unforeseen, act while you can!
Earlier today, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke to a joint-session of the United States Congress. It was an impassioned plea, from beginning to end, as he spoke in his broken English about the trials his people have endured for many months now. He gave poignant examples of brave men who were killed for their courageous stand against ruthless enemies. One of his imploring calls for help invoked our own past path as a nation and our pursuit of liberty. It was about then that he exclaimed, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”
Poroshenko was speaking not of the Ukrainians but of the Russian people, who he believed had been fed the idea that freedom is a luxury that they should not necessarily expect to enjoy. He rebutted such a view. We have such a hard time in our nation comprehending life in a land where freedom is such an elusive commodity. But, for those people, it is a daily battle!
In the spiritual sense, this stated idea is most true and important. Sin is a horrible dictator and master, brutalizing and bringing death to those who are under its power. Eternity is in the balance for us. Will we leave this life as free men and women or as slaves? What makes this so much more paramount is that it is harder to discern spiritual bondage than physical bondage. We may think ourselves perfectly free all while toiling in the chains of darkness!
Paul made his own impassioned plea to the saints at Galatia. He wrote them, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (5:1). Can you imagine a nation or even an individual who had endured torture and seen loved ones murdered now enjoying the rights and privileges of freedom but volunteering to return to that former way of life? It is unthinkable, unless we speak in the spiritual sense. People continue to run toward and embrace the enslaver of souls. To any one, we would implore, “Freedom is not a luxury. It is a necessity!”
The United Nations’ very conservative estimate is that well over 2,000 people have died in the Donetsk region of Eastern Ukraine in fighting between that nation’s government have clashed with separatists. So many of the towns and cities in the region have congregations of God’s people, many of their preachers trained in our foreign extension school that for years was in Kramatorsk and of late has been in Gorlovka. One of our graduates reports that two gospel preachers have been kidnapped this month, though one of them has since been released. Our brethren in Ukraine have been facing the terror of daily bombing and shooting as well as fear for their safety when they assemble.
The ebola outbreak is an ongoing health concern and it is not yet contained. Nations affected include Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and even Nigeria. One of two Americans on medical missions in Liberia, Dr. Kent Brantly, is a member of the church. While its not clear whether any of our native brethren in these African nations have gotten sick or died, they certainly feel the threat and concern of a disease that claims between 50 and 90 percent of those who contract it.
Around the world at any given time, we have brothers and sisters who face health scares, hunger, harm, and hatred. Persecution, natural disaster, famine, and war are no respecter of persons, and “our people” are often affected. How they need our constant prayers as well as whatever assistance we can prudently provide.
On our pews in the local church, though without the drama and press coverage, there are always those who are struggling with hurts, heartaches, health, home, and hardship. They may not trumpet their complaints or even publicly ask for encouragement, silently suffering. As we interact with each other, let us keep in mind the potential hidden concerns and burdens being borne.
Paul encourages us, in the spirit of unity, to “have the same care for one another” (1 Co. 12:25). He tells Colosse, “Put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col. 3:12). He tells Philippi to to look out “for the interests of others” (Phi. 2:4). Are we busy and bothered by our own concerns? Certainly! But may we ever cultivate greater sensitivity toward the silent suffering of our spiritual family, both near and far.
On at least three fronts, there are major battles occurring—ISIS and the existing governments in a handful of Middle Eastern countries, Israel and the Palestinians, and Ukraine and Russian-led rebels. In each of these conflicts, both sides are trying to gain ground or at least hold onto what they already have. They are trying not only to win the actual battles they are fighting, but they also seek to win the battle of public opinion. With the money and lives invested, neither side in any of the conflicts can bear the thought of losing.
While “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12) and “we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3), we face a deadly adversary (1 Pet. 5:8). He is the enemy, though he has a great many who have “been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Ti. 2:26). They are fighting his battles for him of their own free will (Js. 1:13-15), and they are more than willing to engage those of us who would steadfastly resist him (1 Pet. 5:9).
In this media age, the devil’s soldiers have used means previous generations did not have at their disposal to spread his ideas across the nation and all over the globe. But because there have been people willing to battle him, he has not gained ground all at once. The moral erosion has happened slowly over time, attitudes about foul language, alcohol, modesty, sex outside of marriage and living together, adultery, homosexuality, and much more. Doctrinal erosion also occurs subtly and gradually, but denominationalism has given way to modernism, post-modernism, and emergent theologies. The Lord’s church is impacted by assaults on its distinctiveness, and elderships, pulpits, classrooms, and memberships can gradually lose their militancy, courage, and resolve to stand up for God’s revealed will. It is easy to be cowered by charges of extremism, hatred, or sanctimoniousness, especially when there are examples of such to be found.
Yet, we cannot forget that we are in a battle. God needs us to stand in the gap and continue fighting for His truth, even in the face of opposition and resistance. Paul reminds us that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:4). The weapons in our left and right hands is righteousness (2 Cor. 6:7). We press on in spiritual armor (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 6:11ff). When each of us as soldiers in the Lord’s Army arrive at the time when we must lay down our armor, may it be said that we gained ground and served the Lord’s cause successfully. May it never be that we gave up ground to the enemy!
The internet is such a great search tool. Many, including Christians, use it on a daily basis to be informed, inspired, and intrigued. Yet, it seems to me in the years I have been blogging, and especially in the last year or two, that so many are most interested in provocative and salacious ideas. Perhaps it is the same morbid curiosity that makes us rubberneck when driving past a wreck on the highway. Yet, the metrics that indicates searches on my blog show a much greater interest in the political and social latest trends and topics than articles that are more straightforwardly biblical or doctrinal (i.e., grace, the judgment, worship, etc.).
Why are we so intrigued with marathon bombings, LGBT, missing airplanes, national tragedies, outrageous and outlandish behavior from athletes and celebrities, second amendment and other political and governmental topics, hot-button-issues in our brotherhood, or controversial topics? Certainly, as we live in this world and particularly western culture, these are daily topics of conversation. As we immerse ourselves in our technological tools (phones, tablets, computers), these are often the “trending topics.”
In our haste and zeal to slake our thirst for these things, let us be sure to also feed our souls on what will strengthen us and prepare us for the bigger fish we have to fry. The blessed, righteous man is described as one “whose is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). That in no way means the righteous person is aloof and uninterested in his or her world, current events, and even popular icons of the age. The key difference is on what he or she meditates upon and delights in. What thrills and appeals to us more? What do we more actively pursue?
The answers to those questions are dependent upon the individual. One can be both informed about the world and more interested in the Word. However, may we each be cautioned about what proper balance is as well as where our greater interest lay. What draws our attention and attracts us? Let us be sure it is hunger and thirst for righteousness (Mat. 5:6) more than anything under the sun!
My first mission trip was to eastern Ukraine. Ironically, years before coming to preach at the Bear Valley congregation, I was in attendance with many other American brethren at the first graduation of a Bear Valley Bible Institute extension in the city of Kramatorsk. Despite mildly corrupt practices at the airport and in some local governments, Ukraine was a seemingly peaceful country.
If you watch or read the news, you know that tension, violence, and instability is currently a daily occurrence in that nation. At least dozens of protesters were killed by ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and his security forces. A new cabinet was elected, an interim president named, and asylum was granted to Yanukovych in Russia. Russian president Putin seems inclined to interfere, given that there is pro-Russian sentiment in parts of eastern Ukraine and pro-western sentiment in much of western Ukraine. Now, there are dark clouds gathering in the Crimean region bordering southeastern Ukraine. Russia and the European Union seem to be engaged in a tug-of-war over this nation that has tragedy draped like a pall over its storied history.
Despite all the friction and fighting, the citizens continue to speak of their desire that Ukraine remain one nation. That may prove difficult (some facts gleaned from BBC.com and The Washington Post, Will England and William Booth, 2/27/14).
What a dramatic illustration of the need of unity and the external forces that threaten to undo it. The Lord’s church has faced the threat of internal and external forces intent on trying to divide and hurt the body of Christ. The devil has been a constant force to that end. The early church faced Judaizers, gnosticism, and false teachings about the resurrection, the deity of Christ, and the second coming. A few centuries was all it took for a new, false church to form. Ultimately, protestant denominationalism was spawned from it. Cults, world religions, skepticism, and unbelief challenge us. So does worldliness and immorality.
We get to choose how we respond, both locally and on the whole. We can splinter and divide, or we can rally around the supreme authority of Christ. There will always be pressures seeking to push us apart from one another. We must have even greater determination to stick together, bound by the banner of the Bible!