Category: Pastor’s Pen

Life Cycles

The seasons of the year are a great reminder of the fact that life seems to happen in cycles – almost everything seems to go in cycles, including nature, flowers, farming, churches, growing up, families, global warming (?) and much more.

As we come to the end of Summer this year (will the heat waves ever end?!) and soon enter into Autumn, I am reminded of the reference by Jesus in John 12:24 to the fact that a new seed doesn’t grow unless it first dies – a clear reference to His own death in order to bring us life eternal, as well as the fact that the death of one person (Jesus himself) will result in life for many thousands more. What an amazing gift to us by our Lord Jesus Christ!

Our church seems to “suffer” from life cycles. I personally dread hearing from members that they are leaving. This often happens in the middle of the calendar year, about the time when schools are about to reopen for the next school year. While it is sad that people leave us, I’m also grateful for the opportunity our church has had to impact their lives. I trust that those moving on will take with them the blessings they received from us and become a blessing to other people and churches wherever they go.

But, just as cycles continue, new people arrive – most often also before the start of a new school year. And the process starts over again. Welcome to all who recently arrived and are joining us for worship and fellowship. May your experience in Bratislava and as part of our fellowship be a true blessing to you. Please allow us to help and bless you in every way that we can. And my advice to you? Make the most of your stay in Bratislava and Slovakia so that one day you’ll take many good memories with you when you leave.

Challenge & Blessing!

A few weeks ago I was going through our church’s database, updating some information, moving names from one list to another, making contact with people we have not seen for a while. Two things really stood out for me.

Firstly, I was concerned to see that we have names on our database of people who still live in our city or nearby, but we have not seen them for quite a while. On Sunday, 21 July, I focused on the fact that the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to different people. This made me think that their gifts are no longer available to our church, but at the same time some other members who have the gift of encouragement may have the opportunity to reach out to these people to bring them “back into the fold”. If you have such a gift, please use it!

Secondly, I was amazed (almost shocked!) to see how many people have moved away from Bratislava over the four-and-a-half years that we have been here – over a 100 people have left, moved, or moved on somewhere else. Such is the nature of our international community! And soon we’ll (again!!) see more people moving away. Part of this is discouraging, like a never-ending battle to build the church. But part of it is also exciting if we think of just how many people have been impacted by our church’s ministry, fellowship, spiritual input and challenges. Most of these people probably have good memories of their time in Bratislava and as part of our fellowship. Their lives have been impacted and they can now continue to be a blessing to others wherever they travel and live in the world. In that sense, we really have family around the world. What a blessing!

Thank you to all who prayed and supported the purchase of the house in Vajnory. We are in the final stages of finishing the transfer, getting a kitchen installed, acquiring furniture and then moving in. As soon as we are settled in, you will be invited to come for a visit – hopefully by the latest the end of August.

A Guide sent

This past week marked the one-year anniversary of the rescue effort of the Thai football club boys who got stuck in a flooded cave, an ordeal that lasted from 23 June to 10 July 2018. It captured the attention and imagination of the world and will be remembered for many years to come. In fact, this year saw the inauguration of an annual marathon to commemorate the successful rescue effort, while a movie is in the making to show the efforts of people from around the world to bring the boys to safety.

The boys were cut off from life outside the cave when flood waters from heavy rain blocked their way out. It took a major effort simply to locate them, and when they were miraculously found alive after many days, it became dangerous even just to reach them and even more risky to try to bring them out of the cave. In the process one experienced diver lost his life when he ran out of air, but in the end the boys all reached safety, only because of the help of professional divers and rescuers.

Afterwards the boys needed the help of counsellors and advisors to assist them in dealing with their trauma, coming to grips with the death of a rescuer, and (I think) receiving guidance in wisely dealing with money (from the movie rights), as well as deciding on their own futures.

This made me think about our salvation. Without Jesus Christ giving up his life and without the help of the Holy Spirit, we too would still be “stuck-in-a-cave”, with no way out and no way of rescuing ourselves! Salvation is by God’s design, God’s initiative, God’s grace and God’s power. In the process of saving us, it cost Jesus his life and we can only be brought to safety if we trust Jesus Christ to save us, if we put our faith in Him and follow Him as his disciples.

But it does not end with salvation or being born again. The Bible tells us that God gave us his Holy Spirit as a Counsellor, Guide and Advocate. What a great Gift this is for us! As we journey through life here on earth, we are not alone. Jesus said that He is with us (Matthew 28:20), and the New Testament confirms that we are given the Holy Spirit to be with us (John 14:15-17), guide us (John 16:13), fill us (Ephesians 5:18), empower us (Acts 1:8). We are not alone and we were not left to live life in our own strength or wisdom. We have Someone to guide and lead us all the way! Our responsibility is to be filled with the Holy Spirit and allow Him to guide us each step of the way. May we experience the love, power and presence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our church!

On Mission with God

On mission with God

A while ago we focused in a sermon series on “Missio Dei”, which is Latin for “The mission of God”. When we read the Scriptures and understand the message of the Bible, it is clear from the first page in Genesis to the last page in the Book of Revelation that God is on a mission to save this world that He created!

It’s interesting to note that most corporates, businesses and organizations have a “mission statement”, referring to their main focus or main business. It helps them to clearly focus on what their real business is and therefore to not get distracted by unimportant issues. For several years now, there are experts who help organizations and businesses to decide, write and refine their mission statement, usually at great cost to the company or organization.

Many churches have also developed and accepted their own local mission statement. This is a good exercise since it provides them with a clear focus of what they are about, what they should get involved in, and even limit what they try to do. However, there is also a sense in which the main focus of any local church has already been given to us, namely to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost world. It means joining God in what He is doing in this world. God’s mission is our mission.

This is why the recent visit by a group of leaders and students from North Carolina should be an encouragement to us. The six students in the group are “just regular” people who paid their own way to respond to an opportunity to share the Gospel in different ways in a country none of them ever visited before. It reminded me that every Christian is on a mission to serve God, to share his love and the message of the Gospel of hope with people in need of salvation. Missions is not only for people in full-time service. In fact, pastors and missionaries often do not have the regular contact with people in the world in the same way as those who are in regular corporate or secular jobs.

Thank you to all who made an effort to accommodate and befriend the Gardner-Webb University team. They were a great help to us and we pray that they have been encouraged and challenged in their faith too.

Overhaul

When something like a car engine is renewed, it needs to be “overhauled”. The engine remains the same thing, but it needs to be given some new parts, while some old parts need cleaning, drilling, adjusting in order to give the old engine new life. In a sense, the same thing happened to God’s covenant.

 God’s plan of salvation has been the same one from even before the creation. However, it took a long while for the world to be prepared in order to receive God’s final Revelation, namely Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth to continue God’s existing, old covenant, but also to give in new meaning, new significance, and a new emphasis.

 This “old-new” (renewal) theme is strongly emphasized in the New Testament by Jesus himself, for example, when He spoke about the “new covenant in his blood” – Luke 22:20). It is also highlighted the authors of Acts, the Epistles and the Book of Revelation. Here in the Northern Hemisphere we even have the well-loved season called “Spring” to remind us that renewal is promised, that it is constant and consistent. Just as we expect Spring to arrive, waiting for the weather to change, knowing that new life (leaves, flowers) will appear, in the same way we are assured that Jesus not only brought new life to us when He died and rose from the dead, but that there is a promise of future life with Him for eternity.

 April-May is just that season of the year in our Christian calendar that speaks to us so much about God’s New Covenant, Jesus Christ who came to die in our place in order to offer us new life! Jesus came to renew God’s covenant, to give it new meaning, to bring it to fulfillment.

 Somehow, during this Spring, remember that God sent Jesus to give his old covenant an overhaul! And by His grace we are the ones who benefit from what Christ has done for us.

Love so amazing

It happens from time to time in every family that they either get together for a funeral or a wedding. In many cases these are the only occasions when some family members see each other, especially in the different family members are spread around the world. It’s actually very sad, since as family we share a bond that should be celebrated on a more regular basis. But reality is that for many of us in our church, these are the times when we travel home to be with family, either to share in their grief or to rejoice with them.

It is for this very reason that our church’s “motto” is: Your family away from home. Since we are an international church we recognize that for many (or most) of the members of our fellowship this is “family away from home”. Family members share a bond, grief together, celebrate with each other, journey through life together. And this is how I like to see our congregation.

This past month we have seen some amazing things, filling us both with joy and sadness. The following is a “taste” of the things we share together: a well-loved past interim pastor, Ron Clarke, passed away; a “not-guilty” verdict for a member for whom we prayed for more than a year; new people arrived and joined our fellowship; members found jobs; a baby was dedicated; a couple got married in a far-away country; prayers for protection and help were answered; we enjoyed a great time of fellowship and eating around the Thanksgiving Lunch; we trust God for his healing touch on members who are sick or will have surgery; and there is so much more. Some of these may sound insignificant, but these are the things that make church happen! And in all of these things we can be grateful for God’s love, care, protection and guidance. Thank you for being part of being Church!

During this month of December, we will celebrate the very reason why we are a “family away from home”. Yes, it’s Christmas and more reason to experience joy, happiness, fellowship, forgiveness and God’s grace. The God of heaven came down to “become flesh” (John 1:14), born as a human baby in order to be with us, to join us in our needs, to ultimately give His life so that we can become part of God’s family. May this month and especially the message of Christmas bring great joy to our hearts as we remember the true message of Christmas.

The Church: God’s exciting idea!

Many a young person grow up thinking that going to church is outdated, boring and a down-right useless or unnecessary. They could not be more wrong! Yes, there was a time I also thought that church was not exactly what my peers offered me, that I need to “go out there” and explore or enjoy the world. But, as it turned out, I found the Church of Jesus Christ the most exciting and challenging place to be!

In fact, I have discovered that Church is exciting! There are many reasons why I believe this to be so.

The Church is God’s idea. God always wanted the people that He created to be part of a community. We have heard it said a thousand times that “no man is an island”. We were born into a family, soon join different social groups, belong to different organization, seek to befriend our peers, find a person to marry and start a family – all of which simply serve to prove that we are not made to exist alone.

The Church gives us opportunity to meet some family members from around the world, become friends with them, be enriched by them, and give us opportunity to support those who feel led to go to other parts of the world to share the Gospel. The missionaries who are supported by our church enrich our lives and make our impact go far and wide.

The Church is where people find peace, forgiveness, acceptance and belonging. The local church in particular is an expression of God’s family. I like our church’s motto: Your family away from home. This is what we want to be to every person who belongs to our fellowship.

The Church is a place where we see God at work. Miracles happen, the biggest of which is when people are drawn by God to meet His Son Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Over the last while we have been privileged to witness several of these miracles right here in our midst! And miracles they are, since it has nothing to do with our ability or our efforts. God, by His amazing grace, prompted people to find Jesus and we are simply the observers who can enjoy seeing God at work.

Next time you kind-of wonder whether to go to church, just think about the amazingly exciting place it is! Thank you for being part of this church.

Joy-filled family

As we approach Autumn (Fall) I am reminded of the creativity and grace of God. How can anyone experience the weather, the colourful changes happening around us, look at the beautiful crafted mountains, stare into the seeming unending universe with all its undiscovered galaxies … and still not believe in God? The intricate nature of how the human body and nature around us work is proof of God’s design – nothing is left to chance and nothing this special could’ve simply developed on its own.

But, as much as I am intrigued by God’s design and almighty power, I am also amazed at his grace in being willing to accept and forgive a sinner like me. Despite my rebellion against a holy God, despite my inability to reach his standard to please Him, God himself came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ to take my sins on Himself, dying to pay the penalty for the sins of the world, and now offers the gift of forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

And then God accepts us into his family, provides us with a family of believers, so that we are not alone. Not only does God live in us by his Holy Spirit, He also ensures that we have brothers and sisters to love and support us.

And for most of us it is great to know that Bratislava Faith Community is that family for us – our true “family away from home”. In our fellowship we can laugh, sing, pray, worship, love, reach out, support, cry and rejoice over every person God adds to his (and our) family.

Let’s together make this family a wonderful and joyful place to be!

World-wide impact

Summer is such nice weather, providing us with an opportunity to be outdoors and enjoy God’s wonderful creation for a different perspective. It’s also the time when the schools have a break, many are travelling to see the world or to visit family in their home country. While all this is clearly understandable and to be encouraged, it does mean that attendance on Sundays at our worship services is affected. However, God does not sleep and the church does not take a break either! It’s great to have a home church and a “family away from home”. Whether you are in Bratislava or travelling somewhere in the world, please continue to pray for our church, that God would use us to reach the expat community in our city.

We rejoice in the fact that we are able to witness a baptism this month. It does not happen often enough, but when it does, it’s a great opportunity for us to truly celebrate the Lord’s saving grace. We pray that the Lord will bring salvation to many more as we seek to be witnesses in our families, neighbourhood and at work.

Although the numbers in church on Sundays do not always reflect it, it is good to be reminded that our church has made a major impact in the lives of many people since its inception in the 1990’s. It is no over-statement to say that hundreds of people have either visited or been part of the church here in Bratislava. Each one of these has been impacted by the international make-up of the church, tasting a bit of what heaven will be like with multitudes of different languages, nations, cultures gathering to worship our God and Saviour (Revelation 7:9).

 

I am praying that all of us are growing in our appreciation of who God is, how deep our salvation goes, how much God loves us and how wide the kingdom of God stretches around the world. May our church continue to focus on God’s grace, God’s Word, true worship and caring hearts to reach out to those who still need to experience salvation offered through Jesus Christ.

An ongoing story

Royal wedding reflections (pictures, analyses and more pictures!), Soccer World Cup, students taking examinations, end-of-school-year buzz, summer break, people travelling … it’s all happening in June 2018! Yes, June has arrived and with it much excitement as we are able to enjoy the outdoors much more than other times of the year. It also provides an opportunity for us to appreciate God’s creation from “up close” much better and more often.

Being in nature and seeing the beauty of it is a great reminder of the start of the Bible’s message: “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth” (Genesis 1:1). But, as Genesis clearly states, this was only the beginning. The Bible goes on to describe the progress of God’s story through Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, David, ultimately culminating in the coming of Jesus Christ to this world. And in the New Testament we discover that this was God’s plan and purpose all along. However, it did not happen overnight. God did not fast-forward the story! Many years, thousands of people and numerous events (good and bad) contributed to the chapters preceding the coming of Christ.

And the story of God continued through the Early Church in the First Century and for the past 2000 years. And, if you are a Christian, you form part of the ongoing story of God, planned even before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The final page of the story of life on earth as we know it will only be written once Jesus returns to earth at the Second Coming. Then life will continue in the presence of God for eternity – a wonderful reality to look forward to.

So, next time you enjoy the outdoors or get a glimpse of God’s wonderful creation, think about the story of God, culminating in your own salvation through Jesus Christ the Saviour.

Enjoy the Summer! And God’s blessings that come with it…