Church Planting Boot Camp…

It is not often that the Bay Area is blessed with a conference specifically focused on the subject of Church Planting and that has such heavy weight speakers as the upcoming Church Planting Boot Camp sponsored by Acts 29 Network, The Gospel Coalition and the NorCal Network.

I want to encourage you all to consider attending this conference, especially if you are a part of the “gathering” Gateway Bible Church or simply want to be encouraged and blessed by the following speakers:

  • D. A. Carson
  • Matt Chandler
  • Mark Driscoll
  • Scott Thomas
  • Jeff Vanderstelt

This is sure to be a thought provoking and very instructional time around God’s Word.  Here are the details…

The conference will be on June 3-4th from 9-4 each day.  If you would like to register with us please let me know or send an e-mail to

Questioning Love Wins

A well known Emergent Pastor from Michigan by the name of Rob Bell, known for his NOOMA videos,  has recently released his book entitled “Love Wins” which has caused a stir among evangelicals and even the general media due to its teaching which contradicts a number of theological convictions and is a drift back toward universalism and liberal theology.

At the 2011 Gospel Coalition Conference recently held in Chicago a panel of theologians and pastors discuss their struggles with this book.  It is a healthy discussion, gracious, yet theologically honest.  I would encourage you to download it or listen to it here.

I want to thank the Gospel Coalition and Desiring God for making this resource available.

Enjoy and grow…

Drinking My Cup…

I have been following The Gospel Coalition and just finished listening to James MacDonald preach on Psalm 25.  Toward the end of his message he mentioned that his mother, from his childhood, would quote this verse from John 18:11 which says…

“So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the father has given me?”

It hit me that Jesus is our greatest example of one who had to endure what the Father willed for his earthly life.  He went into the garden saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)  The same plea is recorded for us in both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels respectively (Mat. 26:39, Mark 14:36) and is preceded with Christ expressing deep grief and anguish “to the point of death” (Mat. 26:38 & Mark 14:) about what lay before Him.

Now, not that our struggles, trials or burdens even come close to the sufferings Jesus experienced as He bore our sin and was that “sacrifice once for all”.  Yet, there is a similarity to what He goes through in His humanity that is encouraging and comforting.  In no way was Jesus trying avoid the will of  His Father, but the weight of the prospect of what He had to do labored heavily on His heart.

Similarly, we who are God’s children, who desire to do the will of the Father are taken through trials, disappointments, and times of testing that we really don’t want to endure.  We know that they are necessary for God’s refining of our souls and for the further unfolding of His divine plan, but we really wish that there was or could be another way.  We say to him…

“Father, I know you have a purpose, but would you please go easy on me…still, not my will but yours be done.”

This is especially encouraging for me as the last year has seen plenty of heartache, trial and struggle for my life, family and ministry.  Now, through it all, and with God’s strength, I have found myself praying a similar prayer.  I don’t want to go through the valley of refinement or to see the way sin disrupts, destroys and divides God’s people.  Yet, since I serve a sovereign God who is fully aware and fully in control of my life and the responsibilities of my life I know that I must submit my natural inclinations to His divine plan.  He knows what is good for me.  He knows what He must do in the lives of the people I love.  He knows what it means to refine His church and how to bring about the glory and honor that He is due.

So, even though we may not like the prospect of walking through the mud and marshy wasteland of a valley, the reality is that we are still walking on His path of maturity and growth toward Christ-likeness.  We are firmly in His plan.

“Lord, help me to stop fighting your plan and to put my sword away.  In stead, help me to be willing to drink the cup that you are giving me.”

The 2011 Gospel Coalition Conference

The 2011 Gospel Coalition Conference kicked off today with a great message from Dr. Albert Mohler.  One of the great benefits we have these days is the availability of “live streaming” and/or the possibility to download and hear the message on your ipod almost immediately (that is after they upload it.)  I would love to be present, but having a trip to Russia which God orchestrated was a priority.  So, I can sit back and benefit thanks to an effective usage of modern technology.

Why not join me…

Click here

Here is the lineup:

Tuesday, April 12th

  • Session 1: R. Albert Mohler, Jr.: “Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus” (John 5:31-47)
  • Session 2: Tim Keller: “Getting Out” (Exodus 14)
  • Session 3: Alistair Begg: “From a Foreigner to King Jesus” (Ruth)
  • Session 4: Panel Discussion: Preaching from the Old Testament
    Panel: Tim Keller, John Piper, Crawford Loritts, Don Carson, Bryan Chapell

Wednesday, April 13th

  • Session 5: James MacDonald: “Not According to Our Sins” (Psalm 25)
  • Session 6: Conrad Mbewe: “The Righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:1-8)
  • Session 7: Matt Chandler: “Youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:14)

Thursday, April 14th

  • Session 8: Mike Bullmore: “God’s Great Heart of Love Toward His Own” (Zephaniah)
  • Session 9: Don Carson: “Getting Excited about Melchizedek” (Psalm 110)

I hope that you will also take advantage of the great preaching and instruction going on in Chicago this week.

Thumbs Up!

Last week I was ‘enjoying’ a six hour layover in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport waiting for a plane to take me to Frankfurt and ultimately back home to San Francisco.  Now, what’s always interesting to me is the uniquely different people you see and the varied cultures and styles of dress that converge at such a node of traveling pleasure.  So, here are a few of my personal observations with a little bit of commentary.

First, I was struck with the footwear of the average Russian young woman.  Was it a fixation with the comfort of Sketchers Shape-Up’s or maybe the latest Tom’s?  No.  What these young ladies love to wear are 5 inch above the knee pointed boots.  Seriously, if you were not wearing them, you were apparently a fashion-less recluse, because they were all over the place.  On a number of occasions I saw young ladies running at a hasty speed in these, and in one particular instance, the lady was rushing through busy traffic with a baby in hand.  It was one of those “Cheetos Cheetah” head shaking moments when your are really questioning what you are seeing.  Now, I understand fashion.  I have a pair of Cole Haan’s in my closet, some Polo ties and shirts and even a pair of Jordache jeans (just kidding!), but is the snow so high that knee high’s are necessary?  Are you going to be riding a horse in the course of your day?  Do pointed high heels really give you that sure footed grip in the snow and ice?  Well, I am comforted, because as a guy, I don’t need to wear them to be cool.

Second, as I sat at an airport gate, a location where we found some empty chairs in the mass of people, I noticed how unique all the people were that were also at that gate.  They had Turkish features but their babushka’s (Grandmothers) were dressed in typical Russian fashion.  Then they announced the boarding for Dushanbe which caused me to scratch my head even more.  Where in the world is Dushanbe?  I had no clue.  Was it a city in Russia? We had just been to Ufa, Bashkortostan, for two weeks of ministry and I hadn’t heard of that either seven years ago, so where was Dushanbe?  So, quickly I fired my computer up and Googled it, and found out that it is the capital city of Tajikistan.  Wow!  So, where is Tajikistan?  Apparently Stan had a lot of brothers, Tartar, Uzbek, Afgan, Kazak, Krygys and the well know Turkmin as well as his little brother Tajiki.  It got me thinking.  There is still a lot of this world that God created that I know nothing about and even in these places God has a remnant of a church pursuing Him for His glory.  Now, out of curiosity, I want to visit Dushanbe!  Who knows.

Next, I found that some behaviors were somewhat culturally unusual.  Word to the wise.  If you are an American male visiting the countries of the former Soviet Union and you have an urge to exercise your more gentlemanly side by, for example, opening up a door for a lady who might be coming behind or in front of you, don’t expect any smiles, encouragements or spaciba’s.  If you are a young American lady and you are expecting for a Russian man to open the door at the mall, the airport, or to give up his seat on the bus don’t wait too long and don’t say I didn’t warn you when your face is planted on the glass door.  Keep your expectations low and be hoping for a surprise.  I know that there are some Christian young men who are working at their chivalry.

Then, I was taken back at one lady, a mother with three children.  She was waiting with her children and husband at the gate, sitting curled up on the chair with her right thumb firmly planted in her mouth sucking away.  It struck me as odd.  I don’t think it is a reflection of any particular culture, but it was for me a quick reminder that we can all be adults and children at the same time.  Now, I wonder if her children will follow her example when they grow up.

Finally, on another note, every time I have flown into Russia I have been forced to fly on Aeroflot which is always a challenge to anyone’s nerves.  For example, on every Aeroflot plane that I have been on all the seats are different colors and even different sizes.  My friend Don Magee from Lakes Baptist in Walled Lake, Michigan, tells of his experience on one Aeroflot flight.  The plane was about 1/3 full but they put all the passengers in the front of the economy section.  So, since Don was tired, after the plane got to cruising altitude he did what many typical American commuters would do and go back and find a row to stretch out on and take a long nap.  He was hastily chased down by a very distraught stewardess saying “nyet, nyet”!  She was complaining to him and ordering him back to his seat.  When he finally found someone that spoke English the reason she gave for him needing to stay in his seat wast this, “if the plane goes down we need to be able to identify the passengers.”  Really conforting isn’t it.  On another occasion the plane had no overhead compartments.  Well, they did, but much like you would see on a Grayhound bus.  So, when we were taking off all the carryon lugguage was tossing and turning, straps and purses were falling out as well as coats and warm fuzzy hats.  It was really amuzing and a great test of faith that God was in control.

Well, this time I flew Siberian Airlines aka S7, and wow, what a difference.  They were extremely professional, well mannered, attentive to the customer, well groomed with smart uniforms.  The planes were new, roomy and very comfortable.  I will be flying S7 again if I have the option.  I was very impressed.

This is one of the reasons I love to travel and don’t mind a layover in an airport, especially if it is international.

White or Tie-die?

Many of you are already aware that Rob Bell has recently written and published a new book, “Love Wins”, which has caused quite a stir within the Christian Culture, and in my opinion, rightfully so.  Now, this post isn’t about the “reasons” why I don’t like his book but more about the comments that I am reading and hearing from so much of Christendom.

It seems that when false teaching is exposed the commons responses are “why are you so unloving?” or “you shouldn’t judge” or “why does there have to be so much division in the church…aren’t we supposed to be united around Christ?” and my favorite (or should that be least favorite?) “you are so focused on doctrine when the Scriptures call us to spread a message of love and salvation.”

Now, please give me a moment to put down my tie-die T-shirt and Willie Nelson wig and contemplate on these statements:

First, it is most loving to question claims that have every appearance of distorting the truth.  People’s lives and souls are at risk here and we cannot trifle with them.  It is extremely loving to question that which may cause harm to the body of Christ.

Second, Scripture teaches us that we ‘are’ to judge, but not with an attitude of condemnation or with a different standard (read Matthew 7:1-5 and don’t stop at vs. 1 but read all the way through to vs. 5).  Another word for judge is “to discern.” Sadly we have allowed a good word like judge to be distorted by our culture rather than seek to use it in its biblical manner.

Third, I could say that there wasn’t division in the church until you came up with your distorted teaching which then created the division, but I will refrain from such lowly remarks.  In stead I will focus on the reality that we ‘should’ be united around Christ and His teachings.  But Who is this Christ and what did He say?  What is His Gospel and how does one obtain the Good News?”  Are we to assume that when we say “be united around Christ” that we are all talking about the same thing?  I don’t think so…and to claim that we are would be dishonest and irresponsible.

Finally, the attack on ‘doctrine’, in my humble opinion, is a red herring to get us away from using any standard of measurement and to simply rest on a warm and fuzzy unexplained and unarticulated ‘message of love and salvation’ which has no answers for mankind and leaves them hopeless.  Certainly much damage has taken place because of arguments about various doctrines, but that doesn’t mean that we stop being careful to articulate God’s truth with clarity and with care.

Well, all this took me back a few years to when I was in college.  It seems that controversies in the church always abound and some cause more damage than others.  I would say, however, that many of the controversies caused me to open up my Bible and study God’s Word carefully to come to a conclusion that I believed to be true.  Sadly, I was in a context that taught things that I struggled with, but God used that struggle to sharpen me as a person.

As I reflect on those years here is a short list of what we were struggling with then:

  • Is the King James Version the only inspired version of the Bible?
  • Is repentance necessary for salvation?
  • Must we embrace Jesus as our Savior, Lord or both?
  • Is the blood of Jesus described in the Bible literal or symbolic of his crucifixion?

Now, just in case you  thought that the debates today are ‘hotter’ than they were just twenty years ago I have included a video for your watching pleasure.  It is an interview with Dr. James White (of Alpha & Omega Ministries – and with hair) on the subject of KJV Onlyism.

But to wet your appetite here is just one sample quote…

“You are a devil, plain and simple…why dignify the lying claims of a servant of Satan?” That is what Texe Marrs, a leading Christian author and speaker in the early 1990’s had to say in a letter to James White in 1993 regarding the controversy over the King James Version being the only inspired Bible for the English language.

Clear Exegesis…

The following video is of two Theologians that I respect greatly, R. C. Sproul and D. A. Carson (Note:  Changing my name to R. A. Phillips), talking about the problems associated with exegesis.  Numerous examples are given and Sproul finally affirms that without clear exegesis the Bible can become a “wax nose”, easily manipulated to say whatever we want it to say.  Be careful, though, as you may find a hole in your exegesis.  This will be 25 minutes well spent…

A Setting Sun…

As the sun sets over Ufa on our last night there we had some great opportunities to fellowship together with brothers and sisters who have become very deer to us.  These are all servants of God who are being used to reach people for God in different ways and with different gifts.

First, I want to introduce you to Peter Zhuk and his wife, Tamara.  Peter is the head of the Russian Baptist Union in Bashkortostan and has been our key partner in the area welcoming us in, treating us with a Christ-like hospitality and is an example of fatherhood and love.  He and Tamara have eight children and have adopted at least six children — I’ve lost count.  They have both been honored by the Mayor of Ufa for their care and love for children and the adopted.  Although he looks rather intimidating he is really a gentle bear and is committed to the care of his family as well as for all the pastors and church planters under his care.

Next, I want to introduce to you three young ladies:  Marina, Elena & Karina.  I met Marina on my first trip to Ufa in 2005 one week after she embraced the Jesus as her Lord and Savior.  When I returned in 2007 with a team of eight Marina was one of our key translators both in the classroom and as we went out into the churches.  Marina did an excellent job translating for us on this trip and is a godly young lady who’s heart is fully committed to serving the Lord in the Street Kids Ministry.  Elena is Marina’s roommate and very close friend.  Both of them have worked together for a number of years in the Street Kids Ministry as well as with Summer Camp.  She has a warm and encouraging spirit and is always smiling.  She loves the Lord and is humble.  Karina is a beautiful young lady, and her story of grace is amazingly wonderful.  She was a Street Kid, living in abandoned homes, in basements and attics of buildings, walking the streets with a band of other kids just trying to survive.

"Marina, Elena & Karina"

You can just imagine the kind of life she had to endure while on the street, yet God, through the Street Kids Ministry was at work drawing her close to Himself.  She is a living example of why ministries like the Street Kids Ministry and Camp are so important.  Add to that the reality of her thankfulness that drives her to work with the ministry that God used to change her life.

Finally, there is Arkaday and Goulia.  I don’ t know their last name, but I do know that they are a wonderful couple that serve the brothers extremely well.  Arkaday works as Peter’s secretary (and no, I have never seen his legs).  He is gifted at administration, getting breakfast ready for American pastors, packing large suitcases into extremely small vehicles and generally overseeing the details of the Baptist Union.  He is humble, teachable and has a very gentle spirit.  His wife, Goulia, has the gift of hospitality and extended it to us in Pavel’s home as well as in their own.  They have three children and have just recently moved into their first house in a village outside of Ufa – think duplex and think old.  Since they had just moved in we pastors decided to bless her and Arkaday with a housewarming gift of a Tea Set with matching plates, etc.  she was overwhelmed with joy and we were overwhelmed with the opportunity to give and meet a need.

So, last night we said goodbye, hugged one another and prayed for God’s blessing on lives.  This morning we left Ufa thankful for a trip that we believe was successful and accomplished the goals that we had set out to accomplish.  We were able to download our insights with the meetings we had with both groups (Baptist Union & those who have left).  There is still much that both sides need to do and we challenged them to take initiative to move in some specific ways.  There have been some extremely hard conversations with all the groups and even at the end with Peter.  I, Bud and Genry are still talking through our insights and understandings of the “state of the union” and our responsibilities as we all reflect on our last seven years of ministry together.

Sunset over Ufa

God is not done with the believers in Bashkiria just like He is not done with us.  Sometimes it takes someone whom we trust and is on the outside to see the blind spots in our ministries.  We trust that we have been faithful to do that and to glorify God in the process.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Your obedience to go before the Lord on our behalf is greatly appreciated.  We just wish that you could spend time with our friends as we have.  I am sure that you would love our brothers and sisters as we all do.

O.K. I am getting seriously drowsy…my body clock is starting to kick in…

God bless…and pray us home!



Russian Look-a-likes…

Well, in the four times I have been to Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia, I have met some great people, some funny people and some not so nice ones.  Be the people you see in this post are good friends whom I love in person and in the faith and who also enjoy my humor…so, here goes, with absolutely no malice intended.  Drum roll please….

Mark SlobyodanMark Slobyodan – Mark is a fine young man who plays he guitar well, leads worship at his church and serves as our interpreter every once in a while…  His parents, Victor and Natalia Slobyodan oversee the Children’s Ministries in Bashkortostan which includes the summer camps, Immanuel’s Child, Orphans Reborn and the Street Kids Ministry out of the Good News Church.

click here to see his look-a-like.

Sergei Loshak – Surgei is a pastor at the House of Prayer in Ishembey!!!  Although he started the church in Salavat which now has a beautiful building and is a strong ministry, Surgei has been hard at work in a the nearby city of Ishembay.  Surgei has a wife and six children: Four boys, one with special needs (blind and cannot speak), and two beautiful girls.  They are a lively but fun bunch.  God has blessed them recently with a new home.

click here to see his look-a-like.

Marat – Sorry, but I don’t know his last name.  He is simply Marat and heads up all youth ministries in Bashkiria, and was our trusted driver this past weekend.  He has a brand new…o.k. two year old Lada that he bought brand new for &5000.  After two years, he is thinking about buying again, but something that might last alittle longer…

Click here to see his look-a-like.

Now these are just some of the friends who have helped us in ministry here in Ufa, Bashkortostan.  They are good brothers and can take a joke and give it back in an instant.

God has been good to work through these men in different ways on this trip…

I am sure that they are coming up with their own look-a-likes for me…

Fetal Position…

It is just about 9 a.m. on Saturday morning and snow is covering the ground.  The sun is trying to break through the clouds but so far the clouds are winning.  I’m tired from the previous night’s long visit with the brothers and can only think of one thing I really want to do.  Can you guess what it is?  Yup, that’s right.  I want to get inside a Lada and ride for three hours sitting in the front passenger seat while in the fetal position.  No, I am not sick and no I am not having a nervous breakdown.  It is simply the only position any sane person can put themselves in to somehow feel comfortable in that car.  Now, while I was in the front enjoying flashbacks from my mother’s womb Genry and Mark were in the back in fetal trances of their own.

Genry with Velodia and his wife

Now, to give some perspective our driver, Marat who is also the head of youth ministry in Bashkortostan and a good brother (think Freddy Mercury), told us that the cheapest watch you can buy at the airport costs more than his car.  Of course, we were all surprised at such outlandish possibilities, but we had to believe him.  Think about it…the choice between a watch and a Lada…it is a hard one, really.

Well, after three hours and a brief stop at Marat’s apartment midway for some tea we arrived in Koumertou where we visited with Velodia (which is short for Vladimir) whom Genry’s church, Grace Community Bible Church of Burney, supports.  So it was especially important for Genry to come face to face with Velodia and some of his church family.  As usual, when we arrived we were greeted with a table spread with extremely appetizing food.  When we sat to eat I made the biggest mistake one can make in these situations…I was the first to finish my plate!  What that meant is that as I turned to ask Velodia a question one of the sisters filled it up again and I was now stuck having to have two helpings.  Now  honestly, food is the language of love wherever you go, and this lady hovered over us ready to pounce when our plates seemed depleted so we had to come up with a strategy of eating slowly and resting a piece of bread strategically on the plate go give the appearance of fullness and to keep her at bay.  The problem was, she saw right through it and more was on the way.

We were asked to share some songs so I pointed to Genry and when he was given a guitar he began to play many of the songs that he wrote.  They really enjoyed his singing and then eventually we all sang songs together.  We took time to look at pictures of the first service in that church that took place when there was just a small village there.  Now there is a city of 70,000 people.

Well, we eventually had to say goodbye and Marat (aka Freddy) drove us two hours to get to Sergei Loshak’s home in Sterlatimak.  There we visited with his family in their new home and celebrated God’s goodness to him.  He has six children, two girls and four boys.  One of their boys is a special needs child who is blind and can’t talk.  We fellowshipped late into the evening and I had a good night’s rest.

So, in just a few minutes we will be leaving to go to the church in Ishembay where Sergei is the pastor.  Later Marat will come and we will all ride with him back to Ufa.  Getting back in that Lad will be like the chicken getting back into the egg.  The problem is that there are four chickens…fattened by the feedings…

Signing off…