First Day in Sochi

This is a picture of the seacoast close to where I am currently working. I am not at the seacoast and not living in such luxury. The place we are staying and working is a local church and it is in the city of Sochi and not on the coast. It is just another big city in Russia and the church building, although nice, is nothing to write home about.

Let me tell you a little about this city… Sochi is the southern capital of Russia. If you traveled in Russia a lot and visited St.Petersburg, Moscow, Golden Ring and want to learn about Russia something new, then go to Sochi! Sochi is the modern resort where Russian elite is aspiring for many years. And today Sochi is one of the attractive destinations for international business tourism. Sochi is the host city for Winter Olympic Games in 2014. That was the decision announced on the 4th of July in Guatemala. The vote went to the 2nd round and Sochi eventually came through after Salzburg was eliminated in the first round, followed by Pyeongchang in the second.

Set in a spectacular location, on the coast of the Black Sea and at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia, Sochi is the largest resort region of the Russian Federation. It stretches for 147 km along the Black Sea coast of the Krasnodar region and includes the Krasnaya Polyana mountain resort area. Krasnaya Polyana mountains have great snow conditions and are largely protected from the wind. These unique conditions cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. Sochi stretches along the Black Sea coast approximately on the same latitude as Varna (Bulgary), Boston (USA), Toronto (Canada), Sapporo (Japan), Shenyang (China) and the famous French Riviera.

300 sunny days a year make Sochi one of the warmest cities in the Black Sea coast. Winter is hardly known here. That is why Sochi is called the city of three seasons (Spring-Summer-Autumn). Sochi has a unique northern subtropical climate. It is one of the very few places in the world that offers you the opportunity to get a beautiful sun tan in the morning and go skiing in the afternoon. You can swim in the sea from April until October, and go skiing from October through May.

Sochi offers you exquisite Caucasian and Russian cuisine, hospitality of native inhabitants, warm sea, palms and glaciers, alpine meadows and mountain peaks, high mountainous lakes and waterfalls uniting with good infrastructure and European service. Probably because of that the President of Russian Federation has one of his official residences in Sochi where he spends his holidays and organizes international summits.

The Reason for Highlighters

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again to see and to enter into Heaven.” (John 3). We believe that and so we repent with Godly sorrow for our sins, ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and make Him Lord and Savior by believing in our heart and confessing with our mouth. I am glad – thrilled – that I heard that message 33+ years ago and have been walking with Him since.

We believe this because it is in the Bible. However, we tend to ignore another part of the Lord’s advice about being born again. This was given to another man who was asking a direct question about gaining or having eternal life. A question similar to the one that Nicodemus asked. In answer to the question raised by the rich young man Jesus said that He should sell everything he had and give it to the poor and then follow Him.

Why is it that we believe the one comment that Jesus made and have built a whole theology and lifestyle around it and yet totally ignore the other comment Jesus made on the same topic? If you look in your Bible I bet one will be highlighted and not the other. Why is this so? Simple answer – we highlight the verses we like and tend to ignore the ones that would cause us to look at our hearts and bring about some major changes.

Sometimes I think that if we really wanted to hear what the Lord is saying to us we would need to be reading the parts that we did not highlight or underline or mark. It seems we highlight only those verses that we lke and that confirm our chosen lifestyle and the decisions that we have made which determine what we do with our time and money. In other words, the verses and words of Jesus that confirm or justify how we are living. Never mind the poor. Never mind the lost. Never mind the sick. Never mind our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering for the Gospel sake … we are okay because we are born again.

I guess that is the purpose of highlighters – to make us comfortable with the choices we have made and to allow us to feel good about our Christianity.

I wonder if there will be highlighters in Heaven?

True Disciples

We are in some really neat and yet intense meetings with a group of leaders from a network of churches in Russia. We are seeking the Lord together and working very carefully at planning out the steps they need to take to become an apostolic-prophetic network and move into what God is currently doing around the world. This includes the DNA of the network, the way they train their future leaders, the way the local churches see themselves and function in their various situations, and the many practical questions needing to be answered while implementing the changes and steering the ship.

It has been a good three days so far and with only 24 hours left to go we are feeling the urgency of finishing our discussions and completing the action plan even if it will need further work in the near future. These are brave men and women who are wanting to accomplish what God is speaking to them and are willing to risk a lot to do so – true disciples. It is an honor to be serving along side of them and working with them.

My commitment to this project goes well beyond these 5 days in Primorsko-Akhtarsk. I will be working with the president and vice-president of the union (network) to develop the training for their pastors as well as visiting churches within the network a number of times during the next 9 months. This is a serious, on-going time and financial commitment that Ralph Howe Ministries has made to this wonderful group of churches.

Today’s prayer needs: For strength for me personally and for Miroslav (my team member in this third week) as we are weary and looking forward to going home. For wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit for the twelve of us set apart in this “retreat.” For insights as I begin writing more of my book on the apostoilic church during my down time here at the planning sessions.

As always – your prayers and thoughts are greatly appreciated!

Catch and Release

I am coming to understand some of the deeper meaning behind the tearing of the temple curtain when Jesus was crucified on the cross of Good Friday. I have been thinking about this because Easter is only about a month away and so my preparation for teachings during this great season of the Church have already begun.

I have been thinking that not only was God redeeming that which was profane but God was setting all that was sacred free. The death on the cross redeemed or purchased back that which was lost – you and I. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins which is spiritual death or separation from God. Remember, that for the first time in all of eternity He was separated from the love of the Father while hanging on the cross. That is why He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” Because of this we have literally been purchased by Jesus and He now owns us. ‘Redeemed’ was actually a business term meaning to “buy back.” So, when we are born again we do not come under new management we come under new ownership. God owns us. So, He redeemed that which was profane – you and I.

But, we were created in the image of God and so by His death on the cross of Good Friday Jesus also set free that which was sacred – the real you – the “you” that was created in His image… your spirit person. He is now free to dwell in His people, the new temple, and no longer be hidden behind the veil of the temple in Jerusalem. Now God can be seen in the eyes of believers who are alive in Him. He lives in the ordinary and the mundane and is there every time two or three gather in His Name. He has redeemed His people and dwells with them. He has set free the sacred.

And, because of this, we can come to discover and know the real person on the inside of the physical body that houses us while on planet Earth. I can come to know the real me that was created in God’s image and appreciate who I really am. And, because I am loved, accepted and have been forgiven I can allow others to know the real me – no longer needing to hide because of guilt or shame. I can also let others know of the love of God which we can only do when we actually love ourselves. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” So, I can now, in His Name, love my neighbor and help them along in their journey of faith.

When fishing many people practice what is called “catch and release.” You hook and land the fish but you then take it off the hook and release it back into the water. In some ways this is what Jesus did for us on the cross. He caught us and bought us (redeemed) and then released us to be who we really are. Catch and release. Then He calls us to follow Him which is an invite to go fishing with Him.

Our Third Wednesday of the Trip

I am in the city of Primorsko-Akhtarsk, Russia working with leaders from a Network of 107 churches in the Russian Federation. This is my second time working with this Network this year and I am looking forward to two or three more trips in 2011 to be with these people as they move their churches forward into their future in God. They are hungry to see God move in a fresh and new way and are working at changing whatever needs to be changed to allow them to do this.

My work this week with the Network leadership is to pray and seek God’s face with them and be an apostolic advisor to them during their discussions. They are looking for further input into the nature of the Church should it become apostolic and prophetic as I truly believe it should and must. So, a lot of listening, some advice will need to be given as I am an objective observer because I am not part of their Network. And, I am sure, a great deal of my work will be between meetings and late into the nights as I listen to individual leaders, their concerns and insights, and their hearts. This is a major task and much needs to be accomplished during this week (2.5 days finished – 2.5 days left to go) so that they can begin to implement their new DNA as quickly as possible.

I will also be working with this Network as they redesign their training programs and Bible Academy where future pastors are raised up. I will be teaching in this academy for two weeks in November it appears. We could have a major influence here for the Lord through our work with this Network.

Prayer needs today: For strength and refreshing (day 14 of 20); for guidance and direction in all discussions and meeting so that we know the mind of Christ; for the building of personal relationships during these remaining few days here in this city. As always, your prayers are greatly appreciated.

And Greater Than These

Jesus said some amazing things – and this is one of the most amazing. And, because Jesus said it – I believe it. Recently I began to think about the “greater things” that He mentions we will do. Oh! I know I have not done all the “regular” or “normal” things that Jesus did and says we can do – but I can dream nonetheless.

I wonder if the “greater things” have to do with love being seen in and through my life. God said that three things are important and remain forever – faith, hope and love. The greatest, He states, is love. Of course, the Bible states that love covers a multitude of sin. And, it states that love never fails. We, as disciples or followers of the Lord will be known by our love. God is love according to 1 John. And, we are called to love Him, ourselves, and our neighbors as ourselves. Seems to me that “love” is very important. Maybe the “greater things” have to do with His love being seen in us more than in some tremendous and powerful move of miracles, signs and wonders. Wouldn’t it be just like Jesus to do things that way?

Jesus raised His friend Lazarus from the dead – but Lazarus died later on probably of old age. Jesus healed the sick, but eventually some would die of another disease. He fed the thousands, but the next day they were hungry again. But we remember His love. Let’s suppose that it was not that Jesus healed a leper but that He touched a leper that is important. No one touched lepers back then. But Jesus did because He loved them.

Think about it – that incredible love now lives inside all of us who are born again. In John 14:13 right after the verse we are looking at Jesus reminds that that the Holy Spirit now lives in us because He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven and paid the price for our sin. The Holy Spirit, according to Romans, is how God’s love was placed within us. We are the hands and feet of Christ in our world today. Jesus, by His Spirit, lives inside of you and me and we will do even greater things than Jesus did because the love that was in Him is now in millions of people who follow Him – His disciples. The love that lived in the radical Christ now lives within millions of ordinary radicals all over the planet and so greater things are happening.

Just a thought!

Here’s a second thought – What would the world look like if we truly believed, as Paul the apostle figured out, that we no longer live, but only Jesus lives in us? (Galatians 2:20)

Spiritual Fathers

My second day near the city of Primorsko-Akhtarsk in Russia. I am working with some great men and women of God – leaders – who are wanting to bring change to the Network they lead (107 churches) so that it is better able to represent Jesus in modern day Russia and begin an aggressive church planting strategy. They are hungry to see more people saved and the Church become everything God planned it to be. They are ready for change.

This is the first full day with them as we arrived around supper time last night coming in from 12 days of ministering God’s Word in Ukraine. We are here until Friday the 25th of March when we drive to the City of Sochi, Russia to minister in a local church for the weekend and then we will fly home. Our team is simple – myself and my administrator Miroslav who is here as an apostle-in-training at our expense. The Network we are working with are covering my expenses while with them including air fare while in Russia. It is good to be able to continue training young apostles so that they can grow and mature more quickly.

There is definitely a shortage of spiritual fathers and mentors in the Church here in Eastern Europe. But, there is no shortage of work for me to do and a tremendous number of young men and women that I can relate to on a daily basis. The need is great here and a lot of the young believers really do want to be discipled and mentored. So, along with building relationships and helping them as much as possible through emails and Skype – we are redesigning our 30 courses used in Global Discipleship Training Schools in Canada and will be posting them in English and Russian on line as quickly as the rewrite and translation can be accomplished.

In Canada where I live we have just as many young people called to be apostles and prophets but few avail themselves of opportunities to be discipled and mentored. That is really sad. However, I admit that I am not short of work to do even if the majority of it is overseas in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Today – please pray for the 12 men and women (that includes my team in the total) who are meeting to seek God’s will for their 107 churches. Your prayers are much appreciated.

I Have Been Thinking

I have been thinking of a number of things during the past few hours as others teach and minister at a conference where I am the main speaker but have a few hours just to sit and listen to others minister. If I may, let me share my thoughts….

1> I am amazed, seriously amazed, at the lack of good teaching that exists in the Church around the world. There is so much opinion and culture, tradition and religion mixed into the word being preached that the teachings don’t even resemble what God was and is trying to say. As a result we have weak Christians who are unable to discern truth from error and so are being deceived by “every wind of doctrine.”

2> I am amazed at how hungry true believers are for good teaching – Bible teaching that has content, depth, and releases life as it moves into the heart (spirit) and soul. I believe God is creating this hunger among His followers who are true converts to the Christian faith. Others, in spite of being called believers, are chasing after man-made manifestations, doctrines of demons, and every weird thing that is currently infiltrating the Church.

3> I am amazed at the size of the following that many have who are self-declared “ministers of the Gospel.” These people, who are not called by God nor anointed by Him, have strange, non-biblical doctrines and beliefs that are spreading like wildfire on a dry prairie. It is as if a ‘spirit of stupidity’ has been released upon those who attend churches without proper teaching and leadership.

4> I am amazed at the persecution that arises when someone is preaching the truth with boldness and authority. It is really interesting how many speak negatively about what is being taught and accomplished gossiping to others without checking facts and talking directly to the one they are being critical of. This ministry and its seriously balanced and Bible-based teachings are being opposed and spoken against by many pastors and leaders who don’t know us and have never checked their facts. Something good is happening elsewhere and that concerns them.

5> I am amazed and find it very interesting how false apostles and false prophets rise up and attack as soon as the truth is taught with authority and power. The antichrist has his leaders for the harlot church just as the Bride of Christ (the real church) has her leaders. And true apostles and prophets are being attached by the false apostles and prophets. It is interesting to see this battle unfold as we earnestly contend for the truth once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

6> I am amazed at how little is actually going on to win the lost. There is a lot of talk about evangelism and reaching out – but more talk than action and with little results. But, God is moving upon the hearts of leaders and everywhere we go we are being asked to teach and train people in supernatural evangelism and the presentation of the Gospel to today’s young people around the world. This is so basic to the work of the Church and the life of each and every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

7> I am amazed at how little is really happening in some countries and yet how much is happening in other countries … and the reason for the difference lies in the hearts of the people and not in the heart of God. And, the way you tell which type of country you are in is found by examining the role of apostles and prophets and the acceptance of these two ministries in the Church in that country. I work overseas in Eastern Europe and Asia because they appreciate the ministry we bring to them even if they have yet to develop an understanding of the role of apostles and prophets. We don’t use the word apostle to describe what we are doing – we simply serve God’s people in the Name of Jesus.

There is so much that I am amazed at today in the Church… Maybe I will continue this blog tomorrow.

We Are On the Move Again

Today I fly from L’vov to Kiev – the capital of Ukraine; then to Moscow – the capital of Russia; and then to Krasnodar, Russia where I will be picked up and driven to the city of Primorsko-Akhtarsk. In a villa outside the city I will be meeting with ten men and women for the next five days (until Friday noon).

These men and women are leaders of a Network (called a Union) in Russia that I have worked with once before and who have asked me to join them for this time of prayer and seeking God’s face. The purpose of the time together is to hear what God is saying about their union of 107 churches and how it needs to change to minister to the people of Russia and to grow and become more vibrant and alive with the life of God. I am to be a prophetic voice and a consultant for them during their time of hearing from God and redesigning their many churches.

This will be, for me, a time of continuing to build relationships with these men and women of God. A number of their churches have already invited this ministry to work with them in the local church – this as a result of a five day leaders school I ran for them in Moscow in January of this year. During the coming months I will also be working with them to redesign the courses taught in their Bible college where they train the next generation of pastors. As well, I will be teaching for several weeks in their school in Moscow in the late fall.

If you would be so kind as to pray for the remainder of the travel today as well as for the week of meetings I am about to enter. Greatly appreciated.

How We Face Death Is Important

There is a morgue in a home for the dying in India run by some believers who love those who are dying due to disease and poverty. As you walk in to the morgue there is a sign on the wall that reads, “I’m on my way to Heaven.” And when you turn around to walk out, another sign says, “Thanks for helping me get there.”

That is so neat. The workers in the house for the dying are there to simply show Christian love as they care for the people who live in this home. When people arrive at this facility there is nothing more that can humanly be done to bring them back to health and wholeness. Life has been hard to them and their bodies will no longer recover. But, we are created in God’s image and therefore we are a spirit-being and there is much that can be done and accomplished in that realm.

When a person (not a patient or a number) comes into this home for the dying they are treated with respect and dignity regardless of how they have lived – and most have lived their whole lives without any dignity and respect. They are cared for, bathed, fed, spoken with and treated as Jesus would treat them if He were there. And, He is there and can be seen through the loving care and loving words of those who work there without salaries and often without thanks. Because of this loving care many are open to hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and become believers before they die. Thus, the “Thank You” sign as you are leaving the morgue.

I wonder if our friends, family and neighbors see Jesus is our words and actions – see Him so vibrantly displayed that they will come to know Him and thus avoid an eternity in Hell? I wonder if our lifestyle is speaking to others about our Christian faith and our relationship with Jesus? I wonder if anyone notices anything different about us – as there should be a great difference between us, as believers, and others who do not believe? I just wonder.

Oh! And here is something else I wonder – what words will your family and friends speak when it is your time to enter Heaven? How will they remember you? How will they honor you? Will they make mention of your love for and walk with Jesus?