Monthly Archives: November 2013

Evangelism – Part 3

One of the hurdles I have constantly encountered in establishing a prayer ministry here in Eastern Europe has been recognizing which of my practices or accepted traditions of prayer ministry are actually based on scripture, and which I have actually brought with me from my home culture. This is not to say that American traditions in the church are all wrong, necessarily. But, we must remember Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees in Mark 7, when He said, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men… You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”

Well, it is quite a humbling experience to be sure, when you realize – again and again – that your beloved ideas about how ministry and evangelism should look are exposed by the Word and Holy Spirit as nothing more than fleeting tradition and nostalgia. Freedom comes certainly, as does conviction and confession upon the recognition that pieces of my teaching – which I am presenting as truth – are in reality only my vain attempts to bring others in to share the darkness of my own prison cell.

One of the clearest examples of this can be seen in the mega-churches in the U.S., in which there is typically one man who is the “pastor” of thousands of people who come every Sunday to hear him preach. This man prays for and teaches the congregation, just as Jesus did. His name and image are usually quite well-known in the community. But practically speaking for almost all of the people in the church, the vulnerable details of his life and nature – his fears and struggles and joy, etc – are completely unknown. I understand that in some cases these pastors actually enter and leave the service accompanied by an armed guard. In these cases it is easy to perceive a very thick wall that exists around the pastor, meant to protect him from the very people he is called to serve.

Clearly, certain care must be taken as we spend time in prayer and discipleship. These things are very intimate by nature, and so we must be aware of the risk of unhealthy attachments forming between a pastor and someone he or she is serving. We know, for example, that Jesus had many women as close friends and supporters. However, we see a respect for certain relational boundaries when He chose only men to be in the inner circle of the closest 12. But this respect for intimacy in relationships, which we see Jesus display so beautifully throughout His ministry, differs significantly from the protective veil behind which so many of us in ministry keep ourselves hidden today.

Let’s recall, for example, the scene in Mark 8, at the miraculous feeding of the four thousand. Remember the words of Jesus to His disciples in verse 2: “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Jesus wasn’t there just to preach a good sermon. By the time Jesus fed these thousands of people, He had already spent three days with them, teaching them, talking with them, praying with them. He was one of them. He had a real compassion for them. He wanted to serve them and to ease their hunger.

We know that the great majority of Jesus’ time was not spent teaching these massive crowds, however, but was spent instead with a very small group of about 12 men. For three years Jesus spent almost all of his time with these men. We read in Mark 9:30-31 that at times, Jesus didn’t want anyone else to know where they were so he could spend time alone with them, teaching them. In John 17, we read the prayer of Jesus for the disciples, when He says, “I have revealed You to those whom You gave me… Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You. For I gave them the words You gave Me… They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me… I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world… For them I sanctify Myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (vs. 6-19)

Contrast these words of Jesus about the disciples with the scene described in John 6, when a large crowd approached Jesus saying they had been looking for Him. Jesus responded to this crowd, “You are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” Later he said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you… Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” John tells us in verse 66 that upon hearing these words, many people in the crowd that day turned and decided to follow Jesus no more.

But what about the 12 disciples? Jesus then addressed them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” We recall Simon Peter’s response, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Given His calling as Messiah – Savior of the world – by today’s customary practices throughout the church, it would seem that Jesus’ time would have been better spent getting His message out to the masses. Certainly, Jesus would have wanted as large an army of followers as He could have possibly built before His death. So why did He insist on giving so much of Himself to such a small group of men?

Jesus knew that the praise of the masses was as fleeting as the contentment of their full bellies. He knew that ultimately His church would not be built by the crowds of people who were only in it for the blessings and comfort He had to offer. He wasn’t looking to build an army of obedient “soldiers”. He was looking for brothers and sisters who knew Him intimately, who truly loved Him with all of their hearts, and who were ready to lay down their lives for Him.

This kind of devotion to Jesus did not come easily for the disciples. Jesus invested everything in these men. He ate and drank with them, slept in their homes, traveled with them, showed them everything. They knew what He liked to eat, what made Him laugh, what made Him weep, when He needed time alone, how He felt when John the Baptist was killed, his favorite places to rest, that He could tell a good story. He was more than just “Lord”. He was their brother. Indeed, it was only as He became their brother that He truly became their Lord. And even one of them fell away in the end.

So why do we buy into this fallacy that the love of Jesus Christ must be shared from a protective distance? That we must be careful not to reveal too much of our true selves, but that we must protect ourselves emotionally and physically from the ones we are called to serve?

What it reveals to me is that I truly do not yet know Jesus. I do not truly trust Him. I do not truly love Him with all of my heart. If I did I would have no need to keep such protective walls between myself and those I am called to serve. In fact, if my nature were like that of Jesus Christ, such barriers would repulse me. We can not be free to show the love of Christ – to hope, to trust, to be all things to all men, to come out from behind our protective veils and to lay down our lives for the people we are serving – until we ourselves truly know Jesus Christ. There is no other way.

There is a new depth of intimacy and exposure in ministry, to which I feel the Lord may be leading me.  I can’t expect the praises of the masses, or for others to follow.  I ask for your continued prayers as I seek only to listen and to obey Him alone.  Love and blessings, and much gratitude to each of you.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

This is what its all about

Vika and Stephanie

If you’ve followed our adventures for any length of time, there’s a good chance you’ve heard us mention Sveta.  Miki first met her in 2001 in an orphanage for disabled children – of which she was diagnosed with a “milder” disability.   If you want some back story on Sveta and her life, check out some of our past newsletters on our blog or website.  (Dec 07, Jan 08, Aug 09, Mar12)

Lets just say that Miki and I think she’s a miracle.  While most of the people in her life have fallen away into depression, drugs, incarceration or death, somehow Sveta is still here.  Very few orphans succeed after graduating out of the system, but here she is:  living on her own, working a steady job and raising two daughters, Vika and Stephanie.

It hasn’t been easy.  Sveta’s made mistakes along the way, for sure.  One thing that she had going for her, however, was an aunt who was always present in her life.  She helped Sveta during the down times, even taking her in during challenging periods.  Another positive was our family’s presence in her life.  Sveta has always kept up with us and made sure we knew how she was doing.  We’ve celebrated birthdays, holidays and births together.  And Sveta was never ashamed to ask for help when times got tough.  We’ve fed her, clothed her, furnished her, moved her, prayed for her – whatever her and her two girls needed.

You know what this looks like?  It looks like family.

At some point along the way these 12 years, Sveta changed from one of our “orphan projects” to simply one of our most dear sisters in Christ.

And just like your families, ours have grown.  Now our visits to Sveta are even sweeter with her precious kids laughing and playing around our tea and conversation.  I’ll admit that sometimes it can be overwhelming to think that I may be the only male presence in these little girls lives.  As a parent with three kids of my own, I understand the importance of that.  So when you’re there, you play a little longer, hug them a little tighter and try to give them some positive concept of men.  How else would they ever learn to trust their “Father” in heaven?

 So much has changed since that summer in 2001 when Miki met Sveta in that orphanage.  Our work has dramatically changed from what we began doing then – some of it because of government scrutiny, some of it thru the Lord’s leading.  The passion for orphans and street kids has never diminished for Miki and I, and in many cases the relationships now (and our roles) are much deeper than simply delivering diapers, or repairing roofs or buying medicines – all of which still happens. God continually shows us how intertwined the Kingdom of God really is!  As John Wesley said, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”

So now Miki prays and offers retreats with shelter and church volunteers who minister to Sveta during the week.  When Sveta visits the Methodist Church service around the corner from her house, the songs she sings during worship I helped produce thru our music ministry.  When Sveta gathers with The Grace Center fellowship for homeless mothers, some of the supplies and salaries are covered by us.  Our role just keeps expanding.

Just as Sveta and her children consider us family, so also do we count you as a part of ours.  Without your love and support, we know there would be no way we could live here and do this work.  And just as Sveta trusts us to come to us in times of need, so now are we coming to you in ours.

We’ve had a rough week of unexpected challenges.

First, we’ve just learned that our ministry account is in the red once again.  We made it exactly one year in the black from the first time we had a deficit.  Second, our car just broke down.  And estimates for the repairs are around 1800 USD.  And winter is just starting here in Estonia – which is when the utilities bill hurts when it arrives!

So here’s some specific things you can do for us:
  • Pray for us
  • Consider supporting us with a monthly, quarterly or one-time donation.
  • If you already support us financially, please pass this message on to folks who you feel may want to support our work.  Please advocate for us with your neighbors, co-workers, family and definitely your Sunday school classes and church!
  • Charlie will need to travel to the US to do some fundraising early next year.  Our whole family can’t afford to travel this time – plus Isabel is in school now, which makes scheduling travel more difficult.  We need help with airfare costs.  Many of you are business travelers and have lots of airline miles.  Would you consider donating some towards a ticket for Charlie?
  • Once Charlie’s in the states, he needs opportunities to speak to your church groups and missions boards.  He’ll also need places to sleep while on the road. Can you help?

As we enter into this week of Thanksgiving, please know that we are thankful for each and every one of you.  Not only have you blessed our family, but you’ve made a tremendous impact on the lives of at-risk kids in Russia for these last 12 years.  Thank you for your efforts on behalf of the Kingdom!

Let us know how you’re doing, and may God bless you.

Charlie (and Miki, Isabel, Jasper and Celia)

Ways to donate to this ministry:

To make a donation by check:  Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/Russia 322” in the memo:

The Mission Society

6234 Crooked Creek Road

Norcross, GA 30092

 To make a donation by credit card or debit:  

Go to our website: http://www.actsofadvocacy.org and click on “Give” to go to the Mission Society “donations” page.

 To make a monthly pledge:  

Either contact us via email or phone (678-436-3016) so that we can send you the appropriate documentation, or go to our website: http://www.actsofadvocacy.org and click on “Give” to go to the Mission Society “donations” page.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Evangelism – Part 2

Many of you know that I partnered with a couple of local Christian organizations last week to put together a community prayer meeting here in Tallinn. We sent out invitations to all of the Christian leaders we knew in the city, even had information shared through a local radio station. We invited leaders to come together for one evening last Thursday, and to pray together that the community here would experience healing, and that the Lord would pour His love into our lives and relationships. I had been asked to share a message on prayer and unity that night, and so had prepared a short teaching focusing on the prayer of Jesus in John 17.

Once we arrived at the church, however, it became quite clear that God’s plans for the evening were a bit different than our own. First, besides the 2 charities hosting the prayer event, not a single Christian leader from a single church or other Christian organization showed up for prayer that night. Not one.

But, it turns out that the point of significance that evening was not who did not show, but who did. The Salvation Army in Tallinn runs a rehabilitation center for recovering addicts, and so attending our Tallinn community prayer meeting last Thursday instead were about 30 recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.

A few points of confession here:

  • When I noticed the men from the rehab coming in the door, my first thought was “Oh, no – I wonder if these men will make the leaders coming from the churches uncomfortable?”

  • My second thought was, “Many of these men do not even know Jesus. Will my teaching mean anything to them?”

  • My third was, “OK, so how will translation work? I was planning to teach in English, and have translation into Estonian. But now we will have to have a 3rd translation from Estonian into Russian for these men. This may really interrupt the flow of the service.”

Finally, just a few moments before the service was to start – after I finally accepted that none of the leaders we had invited would be showing – I decided to take a moment, and to ask the Lord what He wanted us to do. Immediately my mind went to the notes from a healing service I had done in St. Petersburg in October, which were saved on my laptop (which I decided strangely to bring to the service, even though I knew I would not need it). I quickly went to my bag, pulled out my laptop, and opened the old file. After a quick scan through to remind myself what it contained, I felt a clear affirmation in my spirit, “This is what I need to do tonight.” I folded up the notes I’d printed out for the teaching I’d thought I’d be doing that evening, and put them into my bible. “For another time,” I said to myself.

What should be amplified here is the grace and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, which He so wondrously displayed that evening, as well as His passion for those men from the rehab which had been greatly lacking in my own spirit. I had walked into that church with my heart set on gathering with the “important” and “influential” and “respected” among the Christian community here in Tallinn. I saw the rehab patients as potential “disturbances” to what I had planned to do (“in the name of Christ”). Now it is clear to me that they were His desire all along.

A few more things about that evening, which are clear to me now:

  • I had looked into a few different locations for holding this community prayer meeting, none of which had worked out. Now I see that God desired specifically for us to meet at the Salvation Army location, so that these men would be there, and would have an opportunity to experience His love for them.

  • Almost everyone in the room spoke only Russian. The few who did now know Russian spoke very good English. So in the end it was decided that I would speak in English, and that the message would be translated directly into Russian. I had been so worried that the Russian translation would interrupt the Estonian translation, but it turned out that no Estonian translation was needed at all.

  • If even 2 Christian leaders from the community had shown, I do not think I would have sought the Lord’s will to change my message that evening. It was only the clear, blatant message of no leaders showing at all that prompted me to take time and listen for the Lord’s will.

  • The Lord is still cutting me free from the chains and blinders of my own “plans” for spreading His gospel in this place.

Last Thursday evening at that prayer service, the Lord’s presence was clear, and through the message and a wonderful time of prayer He ministered beautifully to the men from the rehab, as well as to the organizational staff and volunteers who’d joined the service. But, those details aren’t for me to share in this setting.

Recently I read again the story in Mark 2:1-12 about the 4 men who lowered their paralytic friend down through the roof of a house to get him close to Jesus. As the story goes, there were so many people gathered around Jesus that there was no way for the paralytic to get near Him. So his four friends decided to go another way, carrying him up to the roof, making a hole in the roof, and then lowering him down with ropes right to the spot where Jesus sat.

A striking point for me in this story is regarding the actions of the four men. When they walked up to this house carrying this paralytic man, and saw the many people gathered inside and out to see this famous Jesus they’d all heard about, I wonder if the men tried to get through the people first. Maybe they tapped some shoulders and said, “Excuse me, please. Can we get this man in to see Jesus?”  I wonder if the crowd would have let the paralytic through them if he’d only looked and spoken and smelled a bit more like they did.  Climbing up on the roof meant the battle would be much more difficult, even dangerous for the paralytic and the four men carrying him. But mostly, it meant that they would have to break from the trend. The people in the crowd around Jesus were not willing to give up their place in order for the paralytic man to be able to get near Him. Therefore, these four men would have to take even greater, riskier, bolder steps of faith in order to get their friend to Jesus.

This story and the actions of those 4 men also prompt some very difficult questions for myself.  First, I wonder, am I a member of this crowd of people standing around Jesus, wanting to see some sort of neat show, waiting to see what I can get for myself or my family from Him?  Am I so concerned about sticking with the ” well-accepted in-crowd” of the church that I am not only turning my back to those who are suffering behind me (to be sure I won’t lose my own privilege and honor near the front of the crowd), but I am actually making their ability to experience Jesus more difficult?  Do I look at the suffering of these people, think to myself, “Well, you probably won’t really be healed anyway.  You’re too damaged – too far gone,” and then just turn my back to make sure I haven’t missed anything in my own little experience of Him?

Or am I breaking free from the crowd, in faith giving up my position of honor in the Christian circles, and going un-noticed over to those who need me to help them carry the paralytic up to the roof so that He can be healed and have freedom in the Lord? Mark 2:5 reads, “When Jesus saw their (the friends’) faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” It was the faith of the paralytic’s friends – their willingness to break away from the more comfortable, socially-accepted and acclaimed Christian circles and agendas, their devotion to getting their friend past the crowd, and directly into the arms of Jesus Christ – that saved him, and themselves.

Thank God that He does not turn His back on the suffering behind us. Thank God who always will be found by those who seek Him. Thank God that He Himself makes a way past the crowd so that no suffering soul will be unable to get to Him. Thank God who humbles us, and strengthens us, and honors us to be the very hands and feet that may carry our suffering brothers and sisters up to the roof when no other way can be found. Amen.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Evangelism – Part 1

Evangelism – Spreading the gospel, or the “good news” of Christ. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20.

It is becoming more and more clear to me that I have put so many boxes – like walls of a prison – on the ways and means I am willing to use to share the good news of the love of God to others. I know that God wants to break every one of these prison walls in my life, so that I will be free to lavishly spread His holy love constantly and to every single person I encounter. The reality is that unless we are asleep, or living alone in a cave, then the opportunity to show the love of Christ is available to us constantly. Every person we will encounter on every day of our life is a child of God for whom Jesus died, and in whose life He wants to pour His love.

Some examples of these “prison walls” I see (these categories are not exclusive, very much overlapping one another, but I use them only as a method of presentation):

1 – How evangelism should look. Many of us are working to express the love of God out of a prison built on the belief that only our words can effectively get it done. We operate under the idea that evangelism must involve preaching, or offering to pray the sinner’s prayer, or some other method in which we use our words to clearly state that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who has saved all of creation from sin and death. But when we study the life of Christ, it becomes so clear that we are neglecting a multitude of methods He Himself employed for sharing His love with the people around Him. We fail to recognize the great power of mercy, and compassion, and forgiveness to break the chains of sin and death in this world. Even when these things are shared without words, and particularly when they are not asked for.  Let us remember the compassion of Jesus as He hung on the cross, when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34

2 – In what setting the love of Christ should be shared. In this case the prison may be a bit more literal, in that great money and effort is spent to be sure that almost all of our evangelizing happens within the walls of a church building, or maybe at a missions event specifically set up by Christians. We often work very hard to stay “safe” within the confines of our self-made church walls and activities. But is this safety robbing us of the freedom to serve the heart of Christ? Can we really speak to people where they are, if we are only able to come to them as “outsiders”, who really don’t understand their lives and passions? Can we break free of this prison? Can we begin to spend our time at the bars and dance clubs and shelters and prisons and hospitals and nursing homes and schools, sharing our lives as well as the love of Christ with people who may not ever make their way into our church building? Can we pick up our guitars and drums reserved for praise and worship at the church, and go out playing in the streets as David did? Can we work and play and create and share our passions with those who don’t know the Lord, in the places where they live their lives? While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’” Matthew 9:10-11

3 – With whom Christ’s love should be shared. Currently the structure of many evangelical approaches means that the love of Christ is shared almost entirely with people who have walked into our church buildings or have come to an evangelical event – anyone who is already showing an interest in Jesus Christ. Those who may be looking for fulfillment in other ways, however – drugs, alcohol, financial success, physical fitness, social status, etc. are primarily getting exposure to Jesus Christ from other, likely non-Christian sources. Then there are those moments when we are around people who do not know we are Christians. When we’re at the grocery store when the cashier starts talking on her phone and we have to wait. Or when we are cut off in traffic. Those people do not know we are Christians. Is our obligation to show patience and compassion in those circumstances as pressing as when we are around folks from our church?

But perhaps most tragic is the negligence – even refusal – of the church to express God’s love to the social groups that many of us seem to have determined God no longer loves – homosexuals, women who have had abortions, Muslims, just to name a few. Are we passionate about showing these folks that the Lord adores them, that He loves that they are His sons and daughters, that He died for them? Are we asking the Lord to cleanse our prejudice and hate, and to pour into us His love and compassion for them? Or are we concerned that lavishing too much compassion and love onto these groups will displease our Christian community? Do we believe He desires for us to serve, support, feed, clothe and love on these individuals as His children, too? “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

How long shall I remain confined to my prison of safe, comfortable, approved-by-man evangelism? Am I willing to allow the Lord to free me, that I may show the love of Christ lavishly and constantly, as He did?

Father, continue to break these chains that keep me from knowing and loving You, and from being obedient to Your desire, Your heart, in all things. Amen.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized