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Archive for November, 2010

“Fell off of the Map”

Dear friends,

I hope this holiday has been good for you, and that you have been blessed. This holiday has been great for me too as I have seen all of my girls and gotten to spend a little time with them. God has been increasing his number in the world in amazing ways during this past year. Our pastor explained to us that our church has grown by three thousand since this time last year. I see friends, co-workers, and neighbors giving their lives to the Lord, and I see my brothers and sisters digging in and getting involved in showing Gods love on a neighborhood basis, and also on a worldly basis. This is a very exciting time to be alive, that we may see the revival of the faith that seems to be happening now.

I know many of you read this post regularly when I write, and I have made many friendships with the readers, and you may wonder if I have fallen off of the map, to which I can say “I have not”. I am not discouraged, or wavering in my faith at all, I know who gifts me with breath and bread each day and am grateful for that. I can only speak for myself when I say that I have times of words, and I have time of thought, I am currently in the latter. My goal has always been to encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ, not to get attaboy’s for my posts. Although my posts have dwindled lately, it is not to be seen as a trend of the future, but merely a time of thought. Do not doubt for a moment how dear you are to me, and how much you have encouraged me in the past. I will write more, but it will probably be after the holidays are over. As always, God bless and keep you all!

JFT

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For a proud man, giving up ones sense of self importance is a great struggle. He has worked his life to reach a point of power and influence, building what he thought was a career, a goal that every worthwhile man will pursue, only to find that the ladder has no top rung. So he climbs into infinity, that last rung just out of sight in the low lying clouds that block his view. He reaches a high place, and stops to rest, thinking finally that even though he has not reached the highest rung, he has still climbed higher than most, and that in itself is a huge undertaking. He turns around on the ladder to look back at his path, and is surprised to see that he is alone on this ladder.

He sees that the son he never took time with has fallen from the ladder and is splayed out at the foot, addicted to meth and seemingly lost in life; his heart has a slight twitch. His daughter that he doted on for a few years no longer knows him, and does not desire to spend time with him anymore. His heart has something akin to a small ache when he considers her and all the times he chose to work, ever climbing the ladder instead of attending her gymnastics classes, and later her choir concerts.

He looks farther still and sees his wife, the young girl he once called his soul mate who now lives another life, calling another man her soul mate now. His heart is ripped to the core thinking about how she always tried to make time for him and her to do things together, and he chose to work instead, saying that once he reached the next landmark in his career, they would get away, but they never did.

He sees no God in his life, when people cared enough to share their faith he would always find a reason to reject it. Those same people are now in their golden years and are happy, maybe he should have listened. He turns and looks up at the ladder going into the clouds, and decides to stop, and wonders if it is too late to change course. He reverses course and begins to climb back down the ladder, determined to humble himself to his son, and daughter, to ask forgiveness and check out that God thing. He descends.

In my quest to crush pride, I have learned a few things. To humble oneself before God and the world, you must first decide to deny yourself. Like any person in this world, we all have likes and dislikes, things we are willing to do, and things we refuse to do. Some refuse to clean a toilet because they feel they are above it. Some refuse to change diapers on their children, feigning a weak stomach they allow their spouse to handle that chore. Maybe when someone is rude to you, rather than defend yourself, smile and take it. Regardless of what it is that we feel we are above doing, most people have some things that they just refuse to do. I recently found myself in a place where I was with people who were brothers and sisters in Christ, and I was saddled with chores that I don’t particularly like. Would I pass them on to the people on the team that I didn’t know and be a huge slacker. Or would I just do them, not halfway, but all the way to the best of my ability. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The King of the world, the master of all, was humble, he washed feet, he did things that were WAY below what most of us are comfortable doing. In the end, He was humiliated, beaten, stripped near naked and nailed to a cross to die a criminal’s death. And I feel too good to do a simple task assigned to me, kind of changes the way I look at things.

I too have climbed the ladder in my life, have discovered the emptiness in achieving self gratifying success in the secular world. But, as I always believe it is not too late to change as long as my heart beats and I pull in air. I have discovered unsurpassed happiness in humility and service to others, far more happiness than I would ever discover climbing the ladder of career.

So I challenge you, think of those few things that you refuse to do, because you are grossed out by them, or you just really do not like doing them, and do them anyway. As you lament doing the task, think about how Christ performed the tasks he did in service to those he created, and you will find the humility flowing into your soul and the pride and arrogance leaving as you no longer dread it so much.

Proverbs 18:12   Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.

Proverbs 21:4  Haughty eyes and a proud heart— the unplowed field of the wicked—produce sin

God Bless

JFT

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Still dwelling on my recent mission trip to Austria, I have come to some conclusions about my walk, my faith, and my ability to submit to others. In short, I have summed it up to be this, I don’t know squat.

A young and admirable woman was on the team, she was from a large group out of Kentucky that came to serve. The students, who treated us all as royalty, do not really know what to make of us who traveled a long way to be their servants. One day, one of the Russians was talking to her and asked her what she does in the states, she replied that she was a financial planner; her father and her own a small firm that they run together. The Russian man did not know what to say, he had really never met someone who worked with people who had enough money to actually manage it, and the young lady began to become ashamed of what she does. We assured her she should not take it personal, but I think she still did a little.

You see, these people do not retire, they do not watch the DOW for a read on what their stocks are doing, because they have no stocks, they pray only for their daily bread.

One thing I did learn (besides the fact that I don’t know squat) is that I am happiest in life when I serve others. Whether I am serving in the parking lot ministry at church, whether I am working with the homeless, or giving a ride to someone who’s car broke down on the freeway on a hot day, I am happier then than at any other time. Doing His work has this affect on us, when we surrender to the Lord’s will and do as he wills, we can’t help but feel good inside.

So now the big question, why do I not spend more time in service to others when I know how wonderful it makes me feel inside. The only example I can think of is the selfishness I have that is supplied free of charge by the devil. You are too busy already, you don’t have any more time, your plate is too full already, you can’t afford it right now, etc., etc.

I imagine what it would have been like had the parable of the young rich man been told differently in the Bible. What if he had followed Jesus advice enthusiastically and said “is that “ALL” I have to do to have everlasting life”, and ran off happily to his house to begin selling all of his possessions. Then on the day when they are all sold, he tells Jesus he has a few errands to run, but afterward he wants to meet together and set out with Him as a disciple. He then sets out on his few errands with a fat bag full of money from the sale of his possessions, and hits the streets to see who has a need, and helps them when he finds them. When he returns, he takes up his cross and follows Jesus through His ministry. How much greater that parable would have ended if he had done as Jesus suggested. Think about the testimony this young rich man would have been able to give. But he chose to go away sadly, because he had many possessions.

Sometimes I still find myself at that crossroads, should I go and do His will, or shall I stay here and serve self like I am so good at. I find myself dreaming of being out on the edge, helping those that our world forgets and I know that is where I belong, what God made me to do, where I am headed in life (if God wills it). Where are you heading?

God Bless

JFT

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The pastor from Moscow smiled at me when I asked him if he was only a pastor, or if he had another occupation like so many of the pastors who are here. About 90-95% of the pastors in these regions work as electricians, construction workers, IT people, and English teachers to name a few. To most of them, being a pastor is not a paying job, at least not in earthly wealth.

“I am Lucky, I am full time pastor of six churches, so I am blessed” he responded in heavily accented English. In Russia, we must do much with little, every resource stretched to its limit, otherwise, the ministry fails. I asked him next how the church was growing in his area, and he told me something that made me do a double take, he said “Church grow much more under persecution than freedom, people take for granted now, it grow less”. When worshipping God is forbidden, and one has to risk their lives to worship and fellowship, it flourishes, as seen in China, North Korea, Uzbekistan or any other closed country. But when made legal, and worship is no longer a risk, people get lax. Although I don’t get it, I know it is true.

In various places throughout the Bible, we are told to consider it not just “joy” but “pure joy” when we face trials that test our faith, trials that lead to persecution that  produce perseverance in us. Yet we seek the opposite constantly, the freedom to worship without fear of persecution.

If you know someone who has been through a great trial in their life, and they have survived it and come out a wiser person, they will tell you that coming through that trial increased their perseverance. Many times you can see the increase in wisdom in a person who has just come through a great time of trial. Times of trial bring about humility in all of us, that in turn will lead to obedience to God, yet we constantly try to avoid any bumps in the road for the much smoother freeway.

These people had come from far away, some a three day car ride, some a two day train ride, some on long flights. Most were wearing borrowed suits, using borrowed or church laptops, many do not drive because they cannot afford a car. Vlad, an always smiling Moldovan who has a wife and three kids and pastors a church is a full time gas line inspector who teaches hai kee-do (martial art) to put food on the table. Isabella from Warsaw is an English teacher who uses her job to tell people about God, and she works with at risk children and young adults to get them on the right track in life and tells them about God in the process.

All of these people remember what it was like to be a Christian under communism, meeting secretly behind closed doors. They sought freedom to worship, and they have it, at least for a while. I walked away wondering how God will view my use of freedom, did I lay everything on the line to spread the gospel? It would be hard for me to say I did after meeting these fine people. What have you done with your freedom?

God Bless

JFT

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The young man had chosen to go into the ministry, he wanted to be a pastor, and had just graduated from a Bible college with a bachelor’s degree in theology. He circulated his resume about the country to various churches, but got no takers, so he moved into the big city anyway and continued the job hunt. In the end, the only job he could find was as a bus driver for the city, so he took it with the hope that it would just be temporary.

He worked a regular route in the city, ferrying people up and down the city streets during the daytime, and spent his evenings studying the Bible. He began to know the people who rode his bus regularly and build a rapport with them, even greeting them by their names each day. He also had some customers that were less than desirable, a group of gang members that would climb on the bus, yet refuse to pay for their ride. When he would ask them to pay, they would curse at him and threaten him with bodily harm. This was occurring with more and more regularity as time went on, and they became more hostile to him as they got away with more.

One day, he decided that he had enough, so he pulled over when he saw two policemen standing on the curb and told them about the gang members’ refusal to pay. The officers boarded the bus and arrested the young men and removed them from the bus. He was happy to know that he would no longer have to deal with them in the future. That evening, he pulled the bus into the yard and parked it, clocked out and walked out onto the street for his short walk home, and was greeted by the gang. They were waiting for him. They beat him severely, breaking six ribs, his right wrist and left ankle, they gave him a concussion, broken nose and broke out his two front teeth and left him in the gutter.

As he lay in the hospital, he knew this couldn’t stand and he decided to press charges against the group of men. They were arrested and held in custody pending their court date. Finally the day came for him to face his attackers in the courtroom. He Walked into the large courtroom, and looked over at the young men who were sitting together with their lawyer. They scowled at him as they sat angrily awaiting their judgment. Then a funny thing happened to the young man.

As he looked over at his angry attackers, he began to feel sorrow for them. The charges were read off one by one until they were finished. The judge found them guilty on all counts and sentenced the four angry young men to a year and a half each in prison for their crimes. To the surprise of the judge, the young man stood and asked if he could address the judge, and the judge agreed. He then asked if it would be possible if he could serve the sentences in place of the men who had attacked him, you could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom. The accused stared at him with their jaws agape as the young man made his request of the judge. The judge was offended and said “young man, I don’t know what you are trying to pull, but that is the strangest request I have ever heard before in my courtroom, and my answer to you is that it is ludicrous, it has never been done before. The young man answered the judge “your honor, I beg to differ, two thousand years ago it was in fact done, Jesus Christ bore the sentence of those who attacked him, in addition to your sins and mine, and if it pleases the court, I would like to take their sentence as well, then he sat again. The judge stared at him in disbelief also.

In the end, the judge still sentenced the men to the year and a half, minus time already served. The young man then began to visit his attackers, and they became friends. They were all released early for good behavior, and the young man led all four of them to Christ before their release. The four men then began a street ministry for troubled youth that has been responsible for many others coming to Christ. The young man, in reflection realized that he was in fact working in the ministry, but his concept of working in the ministry had changed. What is your idea of the ministry?

Matthew 5:38-42  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

God Bless

JFT

This story based on a story that was told to me in Austria on a recent trip

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Sergey was hanging out with all of his fellow Russians, laughing and cutting up. As I approached he turned to me and said, “pardon me, are you free?”. I said sure, what do you need, to which he replied “if you are free, why aren’t you smiling”, then all of the Russians busted up laughing as though they had never heard something so funny.

At first I didn’t get it, although I chuckled along with them as though I found it as funny as they did, and it was only later in the night during a reflection of the day that I understood the gravity of the joke, and a larger lesson came to me.

I did notice how all of the people from the former communist countries were smiling, really all of the time. I would see them walking by the pond, looking around at all of the beauty smiling pleasantly when they thought they were alone. I thought of Vlad from Moldova who was always grinning, Heldar the jokester from Estonia, BeQ  (Bayger) from Kosovo who always made you feel as though you were royalty when in his presence. All of a sudden things began to come together in my mind a bit more, as the understanding of a book on the persecuted church I had recently read began to make sense. The author wrote that he had never seen joy in the free world like he had seen in the underground church. When I read that paragraph two weeks before my trip, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around that statement, but now I knew, I had seen it.

I first met Sergey on Tuesday the 26th of October on the bridge over the creek that runs through the property at the Haus. He told me that he is fifty-six years old, and that just a month ago, his granddaughter obeyed the Gospel, and became the first person in the sixth generation of his family that are Christians. A smile of pure happiness then spread across his face. His grandfather (a pastor) had died in a Russian prison under the Stalin regime because of his faith. His father (also a pastor) was in prison for fifteen years before communism fell, and although he didn’t offer any explanation, I noticed there were a series of number tattoos under his wrist. He then said he was also a pastor and an advocate for a group called “open doors” that works to help those enduring persecution in countries where Christianity is illegal. He told me about the persecutions going on in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the rest of the “Stans”. He told me of atrocities that went on in a place I had never even heard of called “Belorussia, also called White Russia”. I was later to learn he was referring to Belarus. I asked him if it would be okay if I wrote about his story, and he said it would be fine, as long as I don’t show pictures or full names. Even though Russia is free now, Christians must still be careful. One of his fellow pastors in open doors went to a church a recently to tell his brothers and sisters about persecution of the church, and as he was getting into his car after the meeting, he was shot and killed.

By and large, all of these people have lived under communism and not been able to practice their faith freely until the iron curtain fell, but now they can freely worship, and they are giddy about it, but they still proceed cautiously. The Moldovans (former USSR) are working very hard to evangelize far and wide in their country because they feel their days of freedom are numbered, and they want to win as many souls to Christ as they can before the country falls under the control of the next dictator. They actually really practice urgency in their spreading of the Gospel, because they do not take freedom for granted. The lessons I have learned from all of these dear brothers and sisters I will carry with me from now on. So I ask you, “are you free? Then why aren’t you smiling. God Bless and  dasveedAnja!

JFT

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This is an account of  ***** who gave this testimony to us last night. He only asked that I not use his name, as it is still dangerous because of Al Qaeda. The entire account is true.

I live in Tunisia, an arab country that is mostly Muslim in number. I pastor a church and work with youth, and I also teach english at the American school. Our church planned a day trip outing for the youths, and I announced it around among the kids. It was a trip to the city with lunch and recreation, and it cost ten dinars apiece. The bus was nearly full when a neighborhood kid came up to me and said that he wanted to go. I knew the kid, I am from the neighborhood and we all  know about each other. I knew that this kid had gone to Algeria and trained with Al Qaeda recently, we all knew it, so I raised the price to try to discourage him. He said he had heard much about our church, and that I was learned in the word, and that he wanted to sit next to me on the trip so that he could question me further on Jesus, I was in fear. I finally told him the price was fifty dinars to go, and he said fine, and told me he was in. He came back with the fifty dinars as promised.

The night before, he called me no less than ten times to make sure that I knew he was coming, and that I would not leave without him. I thought about making out my last will and testament before we would leave, certain we would be bombed on the trip. The morning arrived, he called again to make sure I wouldn’t leave without him, and I assured him I would not. He arrived early, and he was wearing a jacket, It is not cold I thought, and I noticed he had a bulge in the tummy section, so I made him open it and show me, and then I patted him down. The bulge was a newspaper, he was clean. The trip went well, I was not blown up in my bus, and he asked me all about Jesus, to which I answered everything. He was pleasant and excited as I told him what I knew. As we returned to the church in the bus, I began to suspect that he might be sincere, so why had he received terrorist training?

He began to call me and invite me to dinner at his home then, and I again hesitated and postponed several times before finally accepting about  a month later. I did not bring my associates from church as I didn’t want to expose any of them to danger. If I got blown up, it would just be me and the work would go on, and I would be with Jesus. They live in one of the worst slums in my city, but as I pulled up before their home, I noticed the parking area in front of the home had just been washed with water. The wall in front of their home had just been painted, hours before, and it had been done for me. I walked into the home, and his mother had prepared a large meal for us, and had set it up as nice as she could. They had no table, but a piece of plywood on a few stacked blocks, they had one chair, and it was reserved for me. They did not eat until I had finished, and then they ate a little. They had done everything they could to serve me, and they treated me like royalty. I asked to go to the toilet, and they looked embarrassed and took me to their outdoor latrine, they had no toilet. I fell in love with this family, and then understood why a young boy could be lured by Al Qaeda and the promise of money for his family.

I meet daily with my friends at the coffee shop, and they are all still muslim. I told them the sad story of how poor this family was, and their hearts were softened too. They all gave money toward the family and we raised about the equivalent of one hundred fifty Euros (200 US). The first thing I got for them was a toilet, but with the other money, we were able to help them out a lot. They were so grateful and kind, and kept thanking me over and over, and I told them it was God.

That was three weeks ago, and I have now been here for over two weeks. My young friend got a Facebook account so that he can keep in touch with me. He told me that his mother dreamed of Jesus last week, and They both have obeyed the Gospel now and taken up the cross. I reached down and opened my pocket and I still have the fifty dinars he gave me for the trip, I will be returning it when I get back.

As if that wasn’t enough wonderful news, one of my dear friends from the coffee shop wrote me since I have been here. After he helped the family he had been touched, and had been thinking, as have some of my other Muslim friends. He informed me he had just purchased a piece of land while I am here in Austria continuing my Bible education. He is going to plant a crop on the land, but before he does, he wants me to come over. He wants me to come over, and bring the biggest cross I can find, and pray over his land for a blessing from God. I am speechless as I receive this news. He then says that he is waiting for me to return, because there is something he wants to tell me, and there is something we must do together on my return, but that it is a surprise.

I am excited about my return, God is really working in Tunisia, my home.

God Bless

JFT

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