Thursday, September 22, 2011

Last Long Day of Travel

I was so excited with the way the trip was going until I hit the airport this morning.  When I left Keiv I told the guy behind the counter that I needed my bags to go all the way to Amarillo and he said he could only check them to Houston because my flight was the next day.  That happens when you trip home is more than 24 hours.  But you do what you can do.  The problem came this morning when Contenental tried to make my flight a domestic flight which would make my bag limit 50 pounds instead of when I started the trip at a 70 pound limit.  It weighted in at 54 pounds and they were going to charge me for the overlimit $100.  I refused to pay becuase they should have checked it all the way through.  Nevertheless, they waisted enough time until I missed the flight talking to this superviser and that superviser.  If you know me at all you know that I don't mind going to the top on things.  I ended up buying a small bag to get under the weight limit and then paying the $35 second bag fee.  And since I had a few hours to kill I called Contental and filing a formal complaint.  The customer service rep confirmed that I was right (you know how I like to be right) and filed all the necessary paper work for me to get the money back.  What a hassel.  Since I have been back n the State I've been taken by a cap driver and misteated at the ticket counter.  America is supposed to be better, Right!!!  It just goes to show the decline in this country.  I love the USA, but we need to be famous for more than just hambergers and fries. 

On a mental and spiritual note I'm still on a high for all the things the Lord showed me about myself on this trip.  Some of which, in all honesty, is a bit to personal to share with the entire world, but just know that I am forever changed.  I'm sure that these problems are to try and detour my thoughts from the Lord and all the goodness he is doing.  It won't work.  The ministry that God is doing in me is to important to be sidetracked.  It is amazing when the Word of God becomes real in your life.  I am experiencing 2 Corinthains 3:17-18 being set free from myself and being changed into the image of my Lord Jesus Christ.  Thank you for all your prayers for me.  As I am asking God to do a work in your hearts, I think its import that you realize God is doing a work in mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Thoughts from the Air

As I'm writing this blog, I'm on my first leg of a four leg plane ride.  But this was not the beginning of my journey today.  I woke up with the rosters (there were literally rosters outside my window), so that I could be ready to take the four hour trip from Revne to Kiev to be two hours early for my international flight.  In 2012 the Euro Games (soccer or Futbal, depending on where your from) is going to be hosted by Ukraine.  This is a blessing to me because in order to host these games they had to get their road ready to recieve the traffic from all over Europe.  One of the first roads that they improved was the stretch from Rivne to Kiev because of nearby Polland.  So, the ride this moring was nice and smooth and we got to the airport in great time.

I'm always amazed how the Lord uses me on these mission trips, and it's always an adventure.  It takes me a while to defrag and wrap my head around all the wonderful opportunities that God has presented.  I made more ministry connections on this trip to Ukraine than what I've ever made before.  This is the first time that God has opened doors to do true missions work around the world with the people of Ukraine and myself.  There is no doubt that the missions program of Fellowship Baptist Church has not only a world wide scope but world wide personel as well.  There are some major opportunities to help in some other places that Ukrainians will be much more effect at accomplishing.  This is not to say that we won't be joining these endevors, but it might mean we can expand the minstry without having to take all the trips ourselves; as well as partnering on some trips and make them truly international. 

On Sunday I will be outlining these opportunities and reporting to the Church on the huge success of this trip.  You won't want to miss it.  And remember it more than likely will not be published due to the sensitive information that we will be discussing so make sure you are in your place.  I have pictures to share and name to remember not only for Sunday, but truly for the rest of my life.

I've been able to keep up to some degree through email with the activities going on at home which seem to be just as busy as I was overseas.  I'm so proud of the ownership level that our Church body is willing to take on so that we can further the gospel around the world.  I can understand now the feelings that Paul must have had when he looked at Barnabus and said, "Let's go see how the churches are doing."  When you pour your life into a place it's hard to keep it off your mind and heart.  You want to protect the investment and watch it grow and I believe I'm seeing some real growth and expantion in Ukraine.

The one thing that completely took me off guard was the personal relationships that I formed on this trip.  I expect to meet people, no doubt, but to feel the love in my heart for people like Victor and Marina that took care of me in Lugansk or Tanya that administrated the class there.  I feel like a gained family members.  I'm hoping Tanya gets the opportunity to come and visit us in the States.  She has expressed the desire to do some missions work around the world and I believe that the Lord has brought us together for that reason.  You will be hearing more about her as we go forward.  I also met a Ukrainian Man that is missions work and is the pastor of two Churches there.  He also travels to the same part of the world that I do for some front line missions work.  I am sure that he will be someone we partner with in the future.

Two weeks into the trip I went to Zdubolnev and Rivne to work with some Churches that I have taught through the College in the past few years and again God showed himself to be mighty.  When I arrived the Pastors wanted me to talk with a young woman named Lena, or Helen in English, that has been in the process of making a decission to follow Christ.  As we met with the 17 year old girl I was immediatly impressed with her confidence and strength of character (not a trait uncommon among Ukrainian young women).  We talked about the basic meaning of becoming a follower of the Lord and she was very polite and even was willing to speak English with me.  As we got up for Church the next moring I realized that Lena was a neighbor to the family that was keeping me.  They had invited her to breakfast to translate for me and the family (a real treat and blessing).  As we got to Church Lena pulled me aside and said, "Mr. Sizemore,  I have been thinking a lot about what you were saying last night and I want you to know that I have truly decided to follow Christ and make him the Lord of my life."  I couldn't have been any happier.  I know that God has been bringing many witnesses into Lena's life, but I felt very prividged to be another one.  She came to the class that I taught on evangelism and helped me with the family all week long.  Again, God had formed a friendship that I didn't expect.  You can find Lena and Tanya both on my facebook friends.  I think it would be so cool if some of you would give them words of encouragement from the Lord.

I realize this is a long blog entry but you must understand that this is just a quick summary of how God had molded my life through this trip to Ukriane.  I feel revived and refreshed.  The Lord knew exactly what I needed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Class Dismissed

Well last night was the last lecture for the class here in Lugansk or "Luhansk" (depending on what map you look).  The class was strong every night.  What I love more than anything ae the new relationships that I form.  I met a missionary couple named Yuri and Andrea.  I am so excited about the possiblities and doors the Lord is revealing. 

We have the final exam tonight and I have been telling the guys that all the questions on the quizes would be on the final.  Now they are so nervous that they will not do well with a 54 question quiz.  I remember that feeling, but I also remember it driving me to study to pass the course, and the feeling of accomplishment when I did well.  They also need these experiences. 

Every time I come I and humbled and reminded that the Ukrainian Baptist Churches have some things down better than we do.  They are not near as far behind in Discipleship as we are in America.  They simply need a little focus on what they are already doing.  Last night we were discussing the difference in a goal, objectives, and the tactics that accomplish the objectives and goal.  I was sharing the blessing of Fellowship Baptist that the people have taken ownership of the goal and objective and we hold very loosely the tactics by which we accomplish those goals.  Tactics are where the rubber meets the road, where things get done and not just talked about.  Taking an idea from the idea stage and putting it to practice according to the world around at the present time.  And because the world is always changing there are times we need to change the tactics to be successful in the minsitry.  Thanks Fellowship for being the example that can be immulated all around the world!  You all are aewsome!!

I am about to start my second leg of the trip here in Ukraine.  Tomorrow, I will get on a train and travel about 24 hours to the other side of Ukraine to Zdolbuniv.  this will be the first time I have traveled by train.  I will be in a simi-private room but at least I will have a bed so that I can get some rest.  We have been working with the Church in Zdolbuniv for the past 3 years as they continue to impliment their discipleship process.  This week we will be focusing on personal evangelism.  I am excited to share with them some of the new ideas I have on evangelism and how it should flow into the natural course of life.

For a Christian who has fallen in love with the lover of my soul.  How can you not share and talk about such a relationship.  Yet so many keep silent.  Jesus is the best thing that has ever happend to me and He is the very reason I am who I am and do what I do.  To know me is to know Christ.  To fellowship with me is the fellowship with Christ.  To learn of me is to learn of Christ.  If this was the way people viewed God's children many more would come to Christ.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Do We Disciple?

Sunday was such a busy day.  I was up at the crack of dawn reading studying and preparing for the two messages I was going to preach in a few hours.  Saturday night Urie asked me to challenge the people with the reason why we disciple in the Church.  I had another message I was going to preach entitled "Seeking the Lost" but God had other plans.  If you know me at all you know that I love the question, "Why?"  Why also seems to get to the bottom of things even to the point of revealing motives about a certain situation.  So, as I was asking the Lord to answer this question of why we disciple people; God opened up a whole new understanding of Ephesians chapter four.  I love the book of Ephesians and have preached throught and studied through the book on many occations, but, as happends so many times, there's always a little bit more.  The context of Ephesians 4 is defined in verse 3 when the church is told to "Endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."  The rest of the chapter is an explaination of how to do that.  Jesus is gracious even today in the Church to give gifted men that will know how to keep unity in the Body.  It is these ministers that 'perfect the saints, do the work of the ministry (reconciliation), and edify the body of Christ.' I had always seen these as the three goals of the Church, but that is not the total answer to the "Why" question.  The minister does these things in the body to keep the unity of the Spirit, the unity of the Faith, and the unity of Love.  Needless to say I had a great time challenging the Church to become unified and win their community with the love of Christ.

As normal, I preached at the Church where we are holding the college.  This is the larger of Urie's two Churches, and located in Lugansk.  The second Church is about 30 minutes outside of Lugansk in the town Where Urie lives.  It is a smaller congregation, but in all honesty I felt more power of the Spirit there.  Needless to say, I had some great fellowship with Urie and his wife Andrea (she's an American).  Urie has spent some time studying in the States and speaks great english.  He's been serving as my translator which is nice, becuase of his education in Seminary, he understands some of the terms I'm using in the scriptures.

As Monday morning rolled around I was excited about going back the little cafe/pastry shop I had found that provided free wifi for customers.  They make the best capachinos (excuse the spelling, this app doesn't have spell check).  I should have taken a picture of the design in my glass.  It was the coolest cup of Joe I think I've ever had. 

I have been so impressed with the reception of discipleship among these pastors.  Last night the class almost turned into a counseling session as the pastors were getting serious about implimentation and what that really looks like.  I look for that night as I teach the class because if we never get to that point, then I know they are just shining me on.  Tonight we are talking about how to start the discipleship ministry from scratch.  It should make for some interesting conversation.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

First Week Down

This has been a good week in the Lord and with the Class here in Ukraine.  I've been teaching a class on Biblical Discipleship, one of my favorite subjects in the world.  I was just discribing to the class last night how wonderful it is to be apart of God's work as he changes a life for all of eternity due to your investment through the Holy Spirit.  And how wonderful it is to be able to share that ministry with others in my congregation.  I am learning that when Jesus said "if a man would lose his life he would save it" not as a salvation passage but as a call to find the true meaning of life.  There is always a night that we end up discussing Church discipline in great detail as we talk about hold people accountable to the Scriptures, and that was last night. 

I was introduced to a wonderful cafe called Vienna Paistories.  It is an Italian style cafe that makes me feel right at home.  It blows a Starbucks away.  The coffees are supurb, not to mention I am writing he blog on the free wifi for customers.  It's my little piece of heaven here in Lugansk. 

It's Saturday and I actually slept in a little today (8:30).  We don't have class on Saturday which has given me a chance to hang my laundry out to dry, litterally.  I have a great opportunity to preach as two different Churches tomorrow so I would ask all to pray that God moves the hearts of the people in each service.  I also had an opportunity to call Vitaly my pastor friend from Rivna yesterday.  He plans on making the trip to Stolbunov and being apart of the conference there.  I was happy about that.

Well, there is a flower festival in the market place today.  So, I guess Tanya and I are going to walk through on our way to do some shopping.  I'm praying for the service tomorrow at home.  I know it will be good with Sam Gill in the pulpit.  Blessings to all.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Getting the Gospel Right

If you've been reading my blog, I had mentioned that I was reading a book entitled "Getting the Gospel Right, A Balanced View of Salvation Truth" by C. Gordon Olson.  I started diving into the book because of the renewed interest of the old arguments between Calvinism and Arminianism.  I have taking some time everyday to read some of this 300+ page book basiclly to better be able to clearify to others my personal understanding and stance on the scriptures when it comes to the doctrine of salvation.  I must say, this book has been a great help in defining my terms and knowing how to systematicly put the arguments together and sometimes take them apart.

The more I study both Calvinism and Arminianism the less I like both.  It is sad to me that people would think that you must be one or the other in the fact that both ideas are lend to the extremes of their respective views.  There is a chapter in the book that I have found to be a great help in my discipleship class and that is chapter 11, "Are we saved by discipleship."  I found this to be very helpful even in the midst of teaching this discipleship class.  There was a major clearification that was made.  There are many passages like Luke 14 where Christ is laying out ground rules for being his disciple. One must be careful not to take these as salvation passages because to do so is to have a works based salvation.  Therefore, salvation must be a separate event and conclusion drawn before the level of commitment discribed by the Lord in this passage and others like it.  I do believe and preach that salvation is the beginning of discipleship, but understanding that not all will reach this level of commitiment with the Lord.  This also helped to clearify the statements of Christ such as, "If a man would lose his life, he will save it."  Understanding that this is not a salvation passage brings the conclusion that a person doesn't know true life until it is given totally to the Lord.  "For He is our life!" 

I would encourage all that have questions to order a copy of the book from Amazon and give it a read.  A word of causion.  This is not a picture book.  This is a book of inductive study that can, at times, get pretty weighty.  If you have a hard time swimming in the deep end of truth.  This may not be the pool in which to dive.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Attention Class

I had spent quite a bit of time and effort this summer making sure I was ready and prepared for this upcoming discipleship class in Lugansk.  I completely reworked all my notes to enclude basicly all I have learned about discipleship over the past 15 years (I'm sure it will be a book some day).  Because of this preparedness I did have to run around like crazy on the first day of class making sure all was in order.  Tanya, my assistant and administrator for the class, and I were able to run some arrands and spend some time getting to know the city around us.  That basicly means looking for places to eat and finding the free WiFi in the area.

It is always exciting to teach in a new area because I know that new relationship will be built that will last for all of eternity.  As the first class session ended (which was basic introductory material) I was feeling a stong connection with the pastors in the class.  We have a class of about 12 to 15 and there are about 10 churches represented in the group.  They are all dealing with the same thing: how to make the Bible come alive in everyday life.  We have had two sessions now and many tears have been shed betwee us as we have discussed the ministry roads God has taken us down. 

Urie, my translator, is pastoring two churches in two different towns and doing some wonderful missions work in the same areas that Fellowship is involved with.  It is so cool to sit and discuss partnering in missions trips outside of Ukraine.  I would ask that you would pray for wisdom and direction as I try to bring Urie and Jacob together next month.  (If you don't know who Jacob is; I could tell you, but then I would...........)  Nevertheless, there is a movement of the Spirit that is happening in that part of the world that is much bigger than just our desire to go.  There are major connections that are happening between me and my new friend and co-laborer.

I am amazed at the fuctionality of the poverty in the area of Lugansk.  What I mean is: I know that no one has any money yet life seems to just go on and everyone lives, breaths, and makes due.  I am afraid if americans found themselves in this situation that they would just sit at home is protest.  I see these guys going to work and working as hard if not harder than anyone in the States but yet they get just a fraction of the compensation.  Its not that the boss is mean, that's just all they have to pay.  One might ask about the cost of living and so forth.  Lets just say that the only house your going to live in is the one you build.  Strangley enough, I don't feel that the people are mad about this way of life, it's just life.  I find myself wanting to be mad for them, but then I realize I'm the one with the chip on my shoulder and I need to change.  And with the way things are headed in America,  we might just find out before to long.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

It's one thing when you watch the movie.  It is something else entirely when you live it.  I left the house on the 9-2 and drove to Amarillo to catch my first leg of the international flight to Kiev.  When Pastor Don, a friend of mine from Washington D.C., came to visit; I was appologizing for our small airport and he said, "No, you don't understand.  This is like and executive Airport.  No lines. You just go right through."  He has a way of putting things into perspective for me.  So, I left from the executive airport there in Amarillo and it was easy.  It is nice that they book my bags all the way through to Kiev.

So, I get to Houston and forgot to call my mother back before I left (and it's her birthday, I won't hear the end of that). Hi Mom!  And I had a little bit of a layover in Houston.  We took off on time at 4:00 p.m.  Now if you are of the conservitive nature you might want to skip to the next paragraph.  We had dinner on the plane about 6:00 p.m. and I have not been feeling well on day.  So, I got a glass of white whine to help settle my stomach and help me sleep (It's scriptural people, look it up).  And sure enough about 7:00 I was out.  I slept for a solid 4 hours, which for me on a plane is a big deal.  If you know anything about international travel: you always loose your night hours.  So, it is important to get as much sleep as possible to help your body adjust to the new time zone.

We get to Frankfert right on time and I have an hour layover which is perfect.  I find my gate and head to the bathroom to wash my face.  I have been traveling now for 16 hours straight.  We get on the plane headed to Kiev and we are delayed due to some people and luggage problems, but the seat they have me in is directly over the cargo door for all the luggage, and so I pray, "Lord, it would really cool if I could see my luggage being loaded onto the plan.  And sure enough,  A new trailer pulls up and I watch both my suitcases get eaten by the planes belly.  Good stuff.  I didn't by anyone on any flight that spoke conversational English.  So, I haven't said more than two words to people all day long.  I keep reminding myself that Americans are loud and it causes me not to stand up and yell, "Does anybody speak English."  I figure the Lord is saving my voice or my testimony for another time.

I arive in Kiev about 20 minutes late but that is no big deal.  I was going to have to wait on Ron's assistant Tayna anyway.  She has been riding a bus all day to meet me at the airport so that she can lead me on the Lugansk.  Luckly the airport had free internet (which is new) and I was able to call Ron and let him know that I had arived and where I was waiting to meet up with Tayna.  It all worked out well I was only waiting for about 15 minutes we she showed up.  She says she is starving and we need some food before our bus departs at 5:30 that evening, which is a few hours away.  So we get aquanted around some pizza in the airport and she tells me that I am like all the other professors showing pictures of my wife and kids.  What can I say, I'm proud of them.

We board the bus, that is late and Tayna informs me that this is about a 15 hour bus ride and we will be there in the morning.  I have already been traveling 24 soild hours.  My american side started to kick in and say, "Isn't there a faster way. This has got to be poor planning."  But as I was running the sinario through my "fix it" brain I remembered the last plane ride I had from Kiev to the interior (the Indiana Jones story many of you have heard) and I realize this is just what it takes to get where I'm going.  So, off we got into the bumpy but steady ride to Lugansk.  We arrive after watching the sun come up again at 7:00 in the morning Sunday morning.  Our ride is not there and after an hour and me preaching to Tayna about the need for patience, we are finally picked up by a man named Victor.  He takes us to his home and shows us where we can get some rest.

At this point I am excited about two things: Food in my belly and my head on the pillow.  So, after a quick run to the grocery store I was able to take a shower while breakfast was being prepared.  And while I am drying off Tayna yell's through the door.  Are you ready to preach this morning?  I said, "Of course I'm ready to preach."  she replied, "You Are?"  to which I replied, "I'm a preacher!  That's what I do."  So the pillow will have to wait.  We got to Church that has been converted from a old house (very common in this part of the world) and had a great service as the pastor preached a wonderful message on sanctification and I followed it up with a message on the love relationship with the Lord.  We got back to Victor's about 1:30 and it wasn't long after until I was finally getting a much needed Sunday afternoon nap.  The Church here is excited for the class tomorrow and I know the Church at home is praying, so I know it will be a good class.