Monthly Archives: March 2010

Don’t Forget to Grieve: Why every worship service shouldn’t be a “celebration.”

Here’s a post I read this morning by Bob Hyatt.  He was able to pinpoint something that’s been eating at me “just below the surface” lately.  I’ve been crying some lately- much to the dismay of my self-perceived stoicism.  This was a breath of fresh air for me.  I hope it is for you, too.

I once attended a Good Friday service where the pastor encouraged us to look at Good Friday positively, to see the crucifixion through “Easter eyes.” To be honest, the bright lights and the upbeat music and mood felt to me like a missed opportunity. His intentions were good. He wanted to protect us from feeling defeated as we meditated on the death of Christ. But in doing so, he robbed us of exactly the feeling and experience that Good Friday is meant to give us.

Those of us who inhabit the sphere of “American Christianity” live in a world that doesn’t know when, how, or even why to grieve. For us, Christianity is about victory, it’s about feeling better about ourselves. It’s upbeat, inspiring, short, and peppy. I know one pastor of a large church who once asked his worship leaders not to play any songs written in a minor key. Too much of a downer.

Like all of us, I was hit hard by the events of September 2001. I was up early on the morning of the 11th for a meeting and was actually watching TV when the second plane smashed through the tower. I walked around the rest of the day numb and in shock. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t.

I went to services that weekend, hoping someone could help me with my grief, hoping that with the people of God I could feel what I needed to feel, process my questions and grief, and come to some resolution. But instead of mourning, instead of an honest admission that we have no idea why things like this happen, I was asked to salute the flag and sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” What I needed was a church service. What I got was a pep rally. We needed to grieve. Instead we were told to feel better.

And we wonder why so many of us struggle with a persistent, low-level depression. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because when we should, we refuse to grieve. We hold in the tears, when they should come out. That emotion tends to leak out in other ways, at other times—some not nearly so appropriate or healthy as crying.

I’m absolutely amazed when I see television coverage of third-world countries, particularly the coverage of disasters. When I see the keening, wailing women, the men tearing their clothes from their bodies and even the hair from their heads in anguish, I realize how emotionally impoverished we stoics in America are. I realize that the grief and mourning which the Bible speaks highly of is completely missing from our vocabulary. We’ve lost the ability to grieve.

And with it, I think we’ve lost the ability to be truly joyful. Have you ever wondered how those who live in other cultures, even those who live lives of impoverishment can smile so broadly and celebrate so joyfully in the midst of their impoverishment? We watch our news in amazement as year after year, at times of victory or celebration, they fill the streets, dancing in joy, eyes bright. The closest to that we ever come is when our team wins the Series, or the Superbowl. And even that is a pale mockery of the joy that we know we should feel at times, but never seem to find. We wish we could dance the way that they dance, or feel the joy and excitement they seem to feel.

Take Easter, for example. Every year the pastor stands and does his or her best to project the words “Christ is risen!” And we half-heartedly answer, “He is risen indeed.” Usually we have to try it a couple of times to work up any enthusiasm at all.

And the reason we don’t feel the joy at Easter that we know we should feel is because we don’t feel the grief at Good Friday that we could. We enter our well-lit sanctuaries on Good Friday, sing some songs, hear a nice message about the crucifixion, and go out for dessert afterwards with our friends. We enter with smiles on our faces and leave the same way.

Good Friday ruined the first disciples’ weekend. Maybe we should allow it to ruin ours, as well. For them it felt like the end of the world. Maybe we could pretend, even for a day, that’s it’s the end of ours, too—that while what Jesus went through on our behalf is something to be celebrated, it’s also something to be mourned, to be anguished about, to grieve.

This Good Friday, allow the grief to seep deep down into your bones, into your bowels. Meditate on the wounds, the suffering, and the deep, deep love of Christ. Allow the tears to well up from the pit of your being, escape your eyes, and roll down your face. Let the sobs rock your body. Leave the Good Friday service in silence. Extend your mourning through the night and into Saturday. Leave the TV off. Wear black. Refuse to medicate, distract, or otherwise soothe yourself. Mourn. Grieve.

If you do this, as the sun rises on Sunday, you will finally know what Easter is all about.

Bob Hyatt is pastor of the Evergreen Community in Portland, Oregon. Read more on Bob’s blog.

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My Testimony by Luba Timofeyeva

This is our friend Luba.  She is truly one of a kind and, in our hearts, unequivocally a “world changer”.  The fact that she’s probably cringing out of humility while reading my glowing assessment only makes me love her more!  (I’m sorry Luba, We just love you so much!)

We met Luba at the very beginning of our journey with Russia back in 2001, and have worked together on multiple occasions since then, despite her being a days travel away from St. Petersburg.  Luba ministers to at-risk young women serving time in a detention center in Ryazan.  (There’s a photo below of her and some of her girls).  She puts so much effort into their salvation and their future life out of prison, and I am ever amazed at the connections she has made over the years with dozens of women who now have full lives in Christ.

And does she love the Lord!  She has been such a witness to Miki and I over the years.  One of my fondest memories of Luba is one of the times she worked with us in St. Petersburg.  Our team was staying at a guest flat owned by a ministry partner here in town- but the unique thing was that it had a large bookshelf full of Christian books:  anything from novels to C.S. Lewis to deep theology.  Luba was in heaven!  She explained that access to this kind of literature in her town was next to nothing.  But because these books were only for the flat, she knew her opportunities were limited to dive in.  So what did she do?  At night, after all of our work was done, Luba would COPY these books by hand so that she’d have an opportunity to read them later.  Ever since witnessing that, this has been one of the clearest examples to me of what desiring God looks like.  (And by the way, If you’re a Christian author concerned that a Russian school teacher has just copied your book to make a profit- be at ease.  You have my word that she just wants to know as much as she can about Jesus!)

Well I’ve rambled enough.  The reason for this post was to let Luba give her testimony- So without further adieu:

It was in 1996 when I first heard about Jesus Christ and His gift of forgiveness and salvation.  I was a schoolteacher of history that time and a strong atheist.  I taught my students that the religion had been a deception and exploiters had devised it in order to wield power over poor people.  I thought only about my family welfare and my work at school.  I was sure that my lifestyle was good and virtuous and didn’t understand that I was a great sinner.

Life was not easy and was unpredictable.  My mom died from cancer at the age of 49.  My brother was killed in Afghanistan at the age of 31.  Even having my own family (a husband and two daughters) I often felt myself lonely and unhappy and started to think that there had to be more to life.  When Soviet regime ruined and many people rushed to Orthodox churches (we were not allowed to go to a church earlier), my younger daughter and I went there too.  Later I had a desire to know about the real faith and wished to have the Bible.

Soon two American ladies, the believers, came to our school and had a meeting with the staff.  They showed us the Jesus film, told us about the love of God and suggested to have a Bible study with us.  I and four more teachers started to visit the Bible study and at last could hold the Bible in our hands and read it.  I was really interested in reading the Bible and later my knowledge of the Lord reached my heart and for the first time I felt the reverence for Him.  I repented and received Jesus into my heart.  In 1998 at the age of 49 I was baptized.  The former atheist has become a Christian!  I am now a child of God inseparable from Him.  Praise be to God!

And I am always very grateful to my American brothers and sisters in Christ that they’ve helped me to come to know God, that they helped us, Russian believers, to plant a church in Ryazan.  And of course I understand that it is God who has made those amazing things possible.

God has blessed me abundantly with wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as with a wonderful family.

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Serving both sides of orphanhood

Now that Jasper has arrived, we’re trying to get into a routine around here.  Miki and I are both starting to venture out into our ministries a little more.

Miki had another opportunity to visit Intake Hospital #15- where children who’ve recently been given up to the state go before assignment to an orphange.  This time the facility was packed with new kids entering into the system- with limited staff.  I’m glad she was there to help that day.  She also delivered childrens clothing sent to us from Love Russia partners in France.  (Thanks Isabelle B.)

I delivered a large amount of lumber to The Harbor Vocational Center as part of Love Russia’s partnership with the charity.  The Harbor helps orphans transition into society through transition homes, life skills education and now, vocational training.  (see http://www.theharborspb.org/)  The lumber is for the wood shop, and the kids really do great work there.  Our goal is for them to find jobs, which is difficult given the stigmas of orphanhood in Russia.

Two sides of orphanhood in one week:  the beginning and the end.  Both Miki and I have felt drawn to the intake and graduation processes in the life of orphans.  I wish we could meet them at the door, give them love, and hold their hands until the day they’re comfortable leaving the orphanages.  Though that is not possible, we know that Jesus is right there- every step of the way.  For that, I give thanks.

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The Gospel and the Least of These

“A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man’s social conditions. Religion deals with both earth and heaven, both time and eternity. Religion operates not only on the vertical plane but also on the horizontal.

It seeks not only to integrate men with God but to integrate men with men and each man with himself. This means, at bottom, that the Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change souls of men and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so that the soul will have a chance after it is changed.

Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion. Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see – an opiate of the people.”

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Stride Towards Freedom:  The Montgomery Story)

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What can seperate us?

(This is a recent blog post from Jim Ramsay- Senior Director of Field Ministry at The Mission Society.  (Our agency)  Miki and I have learned so much from Jim and everyone else at TMS.  I thought I’d pass this little nugget along.)

March 2, 2010 by Jim Ramsay

We know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, but what is it that separates us from living out the love of one another that He commands us to demonstrate?

I was recently attending a consultation of people representing organizations who have an interest in a particular unreached people group. My reason for attending was to learn more about the needs for ministry in the area and seek others who we might collaborate with. Sorry about the vagueness of where this is, but it’s a pretty sensitive area and publicity is not helpful.

One person mentioned that she was recruiting a team to work in the area. When I mentioned that we might be able to find personnel to become part of a team, her first response was that they need to be people who held to a premillennial return of Christ, believed in eternal security, and did not engage in speaking in tongues. I was a bit taken aback. What took me aback was not so much her position on these particular issues, but that from the starting gate, these became the key determiners of who could make part of her team. It hit me, where was the Kingdom in all this? How can we hope to demonstrate the Kingdom of God to unreached peoples, when issues that are probably not even on their radar prevent us from working together?

Especially as we engage in the work of God’s Mission, we have to find ways to deal with the very real differences in our interpretations of His Word in ways that allow us to work side by side in unity. As my colleague Frank Decker often asks, “Jesus plus what equals the gospel?” Jesus plus eternal security? Jesus plus a belief in premillennial return? Jesus plus infant baptism? I have observed that when missionaries go with rigid understandings in these areas of differing interpretations, the result often is that the church they plant will lift up these distinctives to the same level as belief in Jesus Himself. In such a way division is implanted in the DNA of a new church. But when we go with a recognition of differences, but a firm commitment to unity in the foundation of the gospel – Jesus Christ and Him crucified – it provides a much stronger witness. It gives the new church the tools to deal with the differences that are bound to develop as their church grows and interprets the Scriptures for themselves.

Do I have strong feelings on the issues she mentioned – you bet I do and I can speak to my interpretations with passion. But will I allow them to separate me from others who have a faith in Jesus Christ and are seeking the Kingdom of God? I pray to God that I never will.

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