Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Moscow Resprise

The last day of our very busy schedule we visited with the Dean and Director of an active and dynamic denomination that will remain confidential for now for obvious reasons. We had a great discussion but no photos because I lost the battery to my Kodak Digital Camera in the snow. So, you will have to use your imagination. (The two Pastors on the right are typical of the men and women we trained during this trip.)

They told us about the fact that their groups is growing by leaps and bounds through serving people's basic needs. They currently have one large Seminary or Institute in Moscow and ten schools for their uneducated pastors spread out all over Russia's 9 time zones. (NINE! We have four in the USA.)

The Dean showed us a photo of one school with 30 students but each student was the Senior Pastor or Second Pastor with several hundred members and ten or so other church plants and numerous staff members. He asked us to teach our Basic Counseling and Pastoral Care at every school so every Pastor can train his staff and people.

WOW! Talk about multiplication and ministry to the masses. They have the right ideas. The Dean is meeting today with our team to discuss them doing a pilot training at a Moscow Church. Pray with us about how we could possibly arrange such a massive training program all over Russia. Only God could pull it off and supply the team, time, materials and finances. This trip was very expensive as the Russian government is making it more difficult to travel there on a budget. We had to stay at a hotel for the first time and they are sky high.

But the opportunity is mind blowing in its implications for us and for Russian churches, most of which have no pastoral care and counseling despite facing immense problems. They do not trust secular programs and rightly so. The anti-Christian forces in Russia are very strong, but God is able to minister His healing presence. Through healing the good news is spread and peace is promoted throughout the world.
Pray for us and our friends overseas. Developing good relationships with the Russian churches is vital to God's plan of salvation and our future as a nation.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Moscow Challenges

Steve and I really love the people here are and enjoy their fellowship. However, in a short 10 day span we get a picture of just how difficult it is to minister in the pressure of a huge city with extremely difficult transportation. It takes Anatoly about two hours to get to a training session and two hours to get home. That time is taken up by a lot of walking, some bus rides, a Metro ride with two or three changes and hitching rides with a variety of drivers and cars from the Soviet Era.

Last night Steve visited an open men's 12 step group with several of our key male leaders. It is a unique and very satisfying foray into healing men from the ravages of intentional and intensive Soviet emasculation. Our good friend Yevgeny came by and led Steve by Metro and footsteps to the church that sponsors so many of the Recovery programs. Steve enjoyed the time and shared several new bits of good information with the guys. Then they returned to the hotel where we packed and prepared to leave for home.

Our team and the participants have a hunger for healing that exceeds almost any group I have ever seen. They have to work so hard to even participate that they are often exhausted when they arrive but still they work hard to change. Please pray for our team.

One footnote. Yesterday we met with the heads of a Denomination that has ten schools and seminaries around Russia. They asked us to prepare a training curriculum for all ten cities and send teams to teach the students there. The man who shared the details was severely persecuted for his faith and was denied a college education because he was a Christian. His grandfather was shot and killed because he refused to recant. Now the family leads their group's push to educate and train thousands of pastors and church leaders. WOW! May God bless them.

We are coming home today.

Amazing International Communication

Before I opened my blog to post tonight I wanted to see what the weather was going to be here in Moscow and in Cincinnati. It was easy to do. All that is required was a simple click on the Weather Channel and find Moscow was going to be 18 degrees F today with winds from the South East at 4 mph. Since we were going to take a two hour trip to a remote part of this huge city Steve and I knew we needed to put on several layers of clothing. (The layers were quite inadequate as we rode the Metro, an old broken down bus and hitched a ride in a tiny 1970's Lada for about six dollars after walking and freezing for almost an hour.)

Then I clicked on the Cincinnati Enquirer and took a look at the traffic cameras located out near my house in Symmes Twp. The temp was about the same as it is in Moscow but the traffic was sparse compared to what the people face here in this city of 14 million. (Traffic was stuck for hours last week during the first real snow of the season. Thousands of people entertained themselves with text messaging each other and the local radio station for traffic news. One guy was struck by the Christmas decorations that are still up and proclaimed, "What are you people doing leaving those decorations up this late?)

More later.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More About EQ

I was interrupted while typing the last post. We are here in a Moscow hotel and Steve and Galina returned from a short trip so we had some discussing to take care of and that ended my blogging.

The need for EQ in this nation cannot be overestimated. You may remember that the Communist Party strictly forbade the Church from educating its members in piety, love, kindness and compassion. In fact, the Law of 1929 was a direct attack on the core values of human caring as set forth in the Bible and God's family for the past 4,000 years.

In an earlier post I mentioned that in 1999 Mr. Gorbachev sent his Ambassador to Norway to the Norwegian Bible Society to ask for a favor. He asked that they print and distribute free several hundred thousand Bibles in Russian. "Why" they asked the Ambassador. "Because we have found that the Bible's message is critically important to the development of caring among the people. As a result of Atheism's worship of no-god, all that is lovely and beautiful was also killed.

The wonderful pastors and lay Christians who have graduated from our training are bright and beautiful light houses of love, sensitivity and compassion in a country devastated by evil for 70 years. Pastor Anatoly, seen here with Steve and Anya planning the retreat, has preached, taught and modeled God's emotional responses among his people and they are catching the vision of showing their community the way of the Spirit. Pray for him and his wife and team as they share God's light in a dark world.

Steve, Galina and Brother Yevgeny travelled to Ramonskoe Saturday to teach Anatoly's people about the biblical approach to male-female relationships. They had a great time with lots of laughs and learning's about conflict and caring. The is Christian EQ in action.

We are reproducing in Russia the programs we developed around the USA. Thank God we learned how to train lay pastors, small group leaders and lay counselors at CHPC and Upper Arlington. God graciously gave us some terrific people to practice with and on so we can offer the Russian Christians the wisdom we developed back then.

This is the primary way to bring evangelizing, healing and church growth to a hurting world.

EQ for the World

Emotional IQ or EQ is widely recognized today by researchers and is widely sought by business leaders. Even such retailers as Wall Mart and Target train their people to warmly greet customers when they arrive so they will want to return and shop there again. Although the term EQ was only recently invented the idea is as old as the first passages in the Bible. Over and over we learn from God's word that we humans have been created in the image of God and it is clear that the Bible shows our God to be very emotional.

As we read the various stories about the good, bad and ugly characters that fill the pages of scripture we cannot help but notice they are filled with emotions. Sometimes these emotions result in acts of kindness and caring but at other times the result is harmful to themselves and to others. These good emotions are called, "The fruit of the Holy Spirit."

It is obvious to me that the bad, ugly and damaging emotions of humans do not originate with God. They are contrary to God and contrary to God's will. They are what we call, fleshly or sinful in nature and God is holy and without sin. So, we can have some feelings that are right and holy and some that are wrong and unholy.

Most of my professional life I have worked to help people transform their unholy and unhealthy emotions into feelings that are pleasing to God and man. This was the focus of my 1975 doctoral dissertation and several books that came from that work. Here in Russia we are happily carrying the same call of God with great results in the lives of leaders and their flocks.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Reformed Pastors in Moscow

Two of our favorite new friends in Moscow are pictured here as we were drinking tea or chi in a new Coffee Bean Cafe located across from our hotel. These men are from a medical background when they came to Christ. Shortly afterward they gathered men and women together and began to teach and worship the Lord.

Pavel and Mihail attended seminary and are reaching out to the recovering community in Moscow as a place of safety and love. We shared our insights and ideas with them and they with us in an effort to build a stronger network of believers dedicated to healing and growth. They are part of the Evangelical Christian Association of Churches in Russia that has some 100 members.

This is a unique idea in Russia as well as the rest of the world. However, the resources we in America take for granted are nowhere to be found in this part of the world. Thankfully, Pavel and Mihial are using their medical, theological and 12 step knowledge to offer hope in an otherwise bleak and hopeless part of the country.
It is often said by preachers that "Christ is the only hope for the world," but living in the USA, the wealthiest nation on earth, numbs us to that reality. Here in Russia where the leaders attempted to crush Christianity and all its contributions for over 70 years we can see the terrible results in addiction, abuse, trauma, callous behavior and the enormous pain people carry in ever day life. When citizens of America complain about a police state they simply are out of touch with a reality that the people here lived in for so long.
The absence of Christ's love leaves a terrible gap in society. People were not motivated to care for others under the rule of the Soviets. Despite a thousand years of Christian history the cruel hand of the atheists caused horrible damage to the souls of the people. PTSD is rampant among the populace so the people do what they can to cope. Alcohol, depression, drugs, sex and work are the handiest ways to get relief.
The churches do what they can but have so little training or experience in ministry to wounded hearts. And, they are very small and have great barriers to overcome to carry out the simplest kinds of ministries. People like Pavel and Mihail are doing their best and need our prayerful support. Steve and I are extremely happy to know such good people.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Russia Today

This Picture says it all. There is a beautiful little Russian Orthodox church next to the Metro station where we board the train. Across the street hangs a sign that says, "Strip Show for Divorced Women!"
Sex, sin, divorce and family destruction next door to the church. The task is to give people hope for a future with Gods love.

Round Up With the Team

Galina, Steve and I spent most of today with the team of teachers, lay counselors and group leaders. These are the key men and women who are spreading the good news of God's love and healing throughout the Russian Federation. I am amazed by their knowledge and skills When compared with most Russian citizens, this group of people has developed first class abilities in the areas of care, counsel and facilitating recovery for families caught in the vortex of addiction.

One of the most amazing things we observed this week is the way so many of the team has implemented their understandings into their own lives. For example, we heard several testimonies from the team about how they have looked carefully at their family histories and saw patterns of dysfunction that flowed from generation to generation. In each case, they took action to prayerfully seek healing from God for that pattern and are now experiencing the peace that comes from reconciliation.

The family life in Russia was devastated by the policies of the Soviet system. The result is divorce, alcoholism and domestic violence at alarming rates. Thank God that He has revealed ways to heal the family tree and break these patterns for future generations.

These testimonies have convinced me that I need to intensify my efforts to teach people the benefits of family of origin work. I want to show them how to bring Christ's healing flow into their troubled places. Please pray for our friends in Russia as they spread the gospel to others.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

LifeWays Faculty Team in Russia

Pavel is telling us about his good news. Natalia, Yerina and Natalia getting ready to fight the weather.

Yerina and Natalia in the group discussion.

It is quite cold here in Moscow and the snow has been falling for many hours making our transportation rather tough. In Moscow one cannot get around without a lot of walking so we have challenged the wind and freezing weather to some real battles but the elements have won all of them. Thankfully the Metro Underground system is fast and warm but also very crowded.

Today we had a great meeting with several of the members of our "Faculty" who lead our groups and teach our seminars all around the Russian Federation. As you know, this is a huge country with nine time zones compared to four in the USA. God has opened doors for Galina and our friends in places that heretofore never heard of the 12 Step Programs or how Christ came to set the captives free. (Is 61)

This afternoon we met in the Lifeways office to reflect on the time we spent with the pastors and leaders at the seminary the past two days. Steve and I used it as an opportunity to share the five stages of group development and what we do at each stage to facilitate the group's growth.

Tomorrow more team meetings and supervision with a focus on lay counseling. We are looking forward to plenty of good conversations and insights from our team of bright and eager helpers. Please keep them in your prayers.

Small Groups Investigate Church Issues

Two 12 step experts meet for the first time.
Paul and Anatoly rejoice in their new found fellowship.

Three of our female team Members Share Insights

Pastors Meet, Eat and Greet for Growth

Three Pastors arrive for training.
Three ladies share their issues with great intensity.

Gary and Galina Plan the next session.

Pastors and Leaders Excited to Learn

In 1999 the Russian government's Duma passed a new law to regulate religious organizations. The law stipulated that every church had to be a member of an association or denomination that was at least 15 years old. This was quite a shock to the numerous new congregations spread about the huge area of the Russian Federation for most were very independent.

One such association was called, by my loose English translation, The Association of Evangelical Churches, and it gathered about 120 new churches into its fold. There is a variety of theological persuasions and types of churches. Some were established with the help of American or other missionary societies. Many grew up as a result of God's sovereign work in bringing people to Himself who then sensed a call to minister to other new believers. Few have any pastoral or leadership training.

A high percentage of the members are Reformed and Presbyterian and they are the very first people I have met over here who are from that persuasion. Galina has ministered to several of them personally and with their congregations. For the past two days, Steve and I along with seven members of the Life ways Team, had a seminar for some 20 members of the group at their seminary. They loved the fact that I understand their theology and were very open to receive our teachings.

The churches here are very fragile. The barriers to growth and ministry are so numerous and foreign to us that it is hard to explain what we actually do and teach. For example, it takes some of the participants over two hours by train, subway and bus to get to the seminary. They are often so exhausted that learning is a challenge. Yet, they listen intently and were extremely responsive to our approach. Our team did a marvellous job with testimonies and teachings.

At the end of each training session we ask for insights from the participants. With one exception, every leader shared a key learning and made a decision to take steps to change their behavior. This was a great blessing for us and them. Pray that God will show us and them how we can support the Association as it plans better training and support for its pastors and leaders.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Healing the Family Tree So I Can Be ME

Steve, Galina and I are having a wonderful time helping our Russian Ministry Team understand, analyze patterns and bring healing to their family tree. I am getting excited about the teaching I am planning for the Vineyard Community Church.

Every Wednesday night in March I will be teaching people how to do a genogram and come to a better understanding of their "Family of Origin". This class will be very interactive, lots of fun and deliver a bunch of healing.

I did not begin to really understand myself, let alone my children, parents and siblings, until I had completed four or five generations of my genogram. The genogram is quite simple to construct but it can reveal a lot of old patterns and how they are able to affect me and my offspring now.

I am planning to involve the group in "Family Sculpting" and developing "Family Maps". These are dramatic ways to see how the family changes when a big event occurs. So, I am hoping to see you with me at the groups on Wednesday evenings. Call the VCC for more information.

(Hurry and make your plans. I may never teach this again!)

Family Relationships Are Getting Better

Steve and Olga doing a role play to show how family relationships can be healthier. We have certainly seen a lot of healing take place as a result of our ministry. It is obvious that the only hope for a great future in Russia lies in the churches learning how to be healing communities.

We get to teach 25 Pastors this week so please pray for us. Olga and her husband Sergei are very active in their church and are set to lead a "Teleios Team" in the near future. Lay people who know how to care and counsel and set up 12 step groups are critically important to this nation.

The Team Together With Steve and Gary

Steve helping one of the team understand her family background.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Friends in Russia

Steve spent Sunday with Pastor Anatoly and his family in the city of Ramenskoe, about 75 Meters from Moscow. The couple on the left is Steve's interpreter and her boyfriend. The church is warm and filled with excitement about its growth in Christ.
As you can see it is finally cold and snowing here so the people are happier with some normal weather. It has been unusually warm.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Exploring Prague

Gary with Mathias and Carie who run three hostels in Prague. One is next door to this interestingly named Italian place. Carie is from San Diego and Mathias from Germany who met at church. This is truly an international city.

On the left Gary is buying a local delicacy called, TURDLO. It always makes me laugh to say it. It is finally getting cold here so it seems more normal to walk around the city or take a tram.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Sasa Translates for Me

Sasa Fleck is translating the Bible into modern Czech as well as ministering to me by translating my English into Czech when I taught Family Life at Craig and Sarah's. You can contact his web at: This will take you to the Czech page but you can go to the English site from there. The Springer web is

Christian Counselors in Prague

Pavel and Julia Raus, the only Christ centered professional Counselors in all of the Czech Republic.
Pray for God to raise up workers for the healing harvest in Central Europe.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Men Gather to Learn about Family Life

Petr, Craig and Gary in the afterglow of ministry

Prague Family Systems

The students gathered at Craig and Sarah Springer's home Wednesday night to work on family systems issues. They were lively and very interactive as Gary & Sasa share insights from their lives.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Exploring New Visas

I made it, but it wasn't easy. To get into Russia I need have a tourist Visa and that requires a letter of invitation and a voucher that the tourist company or the Passport company gets for me. This is a very expensive process. The Russians may have acted like Socialists at home but they certainly learned how to charge the Capitalists when we visit them.

The Passport company had trouble getting the letter so they called and said, "Send more money." It sounded like my son when he was in college. So, Saturday came and the Visa arrived but no letter of invitation. I am in a panic for Monday is my flight to Prague and it is a holiday. I called Galina to see if she can get one to me but they say, "Ours will not match the one registered by the Passport company.

I called and I called but nobody answered. I was nervous. However, they called me back just before I left for the airport and said, "The letter is in the fax." I went to the office and it was there. Panic over. Prayers answered. No money back because of there mistakes. OK, I am just glad to be in Prague with a Valid Visa for Russia.

My flight was late out of New York. Remind me next time to avoid New York. But, Czech Air made up the time and we got in to Prague at 8:00 AM. PTL! The people cheered when we landed. I joined them even though the flight was smooth and the crew was excellent.

Craig Springer was there to pick me up and we had a great time sharing today. More on that later. Now it is time to sleep. I have meetings and a teaching tomorrow.

Prayers and praise needed. Thanks!


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Traveling Again

By my rough figures I have made well over 100 trips to countries overseas to train leaders how to "Heal the broken hearted and set the captives free". During those trips I have met some of the most wonderful people in the world from the most diverse cultures and backgrounds imaginable. Every culture has valuable contributions to make and when we are able to overcome the natural differences between us and develop a community of care and nurture with each other the benefits become more obvious.

In my last post I mentioned the research by a Dutch professor who has studied various cultures and tried to analyze them according to several key characteristics such as Individuality, Masculinity and Submissiveness. Because each of us varies on these characteristics the whole community can come up with greater insights and decisions when we learn to cooperate and listen to each other.

This will be my first ministry trip to the Czech Republic and I am excited about learning how to relate with them so we can share the gospel more effectively. Part of the learning can only come by trial and error but I hope to avoid the major errors by preparing in advance of my trip. That preparation led to the discovery of the Dutch prof's web site.

We know that the former Czechoslovakia is one of the least evangelized nations in Europe so the opportunities are great. I expect to see many conversions in the near future as a result of the movement to plant churches in Prague and reach the general public. I am visiting Craig and Sarah Springer to help them design effective ways to touch the people in Prague.

My strategy is to first build up the church and its leaders. Most of the efforts by Westerners to hold "Evangelistic Meetings" failed in the Eastern Bloc. Few of the people who came to such meeting in the Nineties are uninvolved in the church today. There was too little follow-up. They did a lot of street witnessing, preaching and tracts by Christians from the USA, Scandinavia and Germany, but not much fruit. Those who started with the Lord soon fell away because there was no fellowship, teaching or trained leaders.

I don't do open air evangelism. I am not as skilled and gifted as the local Russians. As a Chinese Christian said, "Please tell the Americans we love them but we do not want or need them to teach us about evangelism. We are experts in evangelism but we do not know much about discipleship. Tell them to send us trainers and teachers."

I can't speak the language or follow up with pastoral care. However, the local pastors, counselors and mature lay people have the needed skills and desire to do all those things. So, we train them how to do pastoral care more effectively.

It is also very costly to send large numbers of Americans to evangelize overseas. Even when we go build a school or church it costs a lot of money. That money can often be better spent by giving it to the local Christians who then hire poor people from the church and community to do the construction. National Christians need to be seriously consulted before we suggest any type of ministry "for them".

No nation wants to be told what to do or how to do it. Especially when they can do it better than we. So, the first lesson is to listen carefully to their needs, their desires and their requests. An acrostic I like is AS I GREW: Always Spiritual, Inviting while Genuine; Respectful; Empathic and Warm

Genuine by knowing yourself and what you are thinking and feeling. When we are unaware of our own inner life we can react with frustration, anger or frenzy rather than peace, love and joy.

Respectful of all persons, giving them and their nation, religion, culture and family honor.

Empathic Listening that works hard to understand the ideas and feelings of others.

Warm Caring that indicates you are interested in the other person.

Cross cultural ministry is hard work and requires self knowledge, understanding others and the understanding of a culture. But the work pays off with friendships, influence and spiritual advances. We always follow the B.S/B.S. Principle that says: Build Solidly/Build Slowly for the work needs to stand for centuries.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why Do Others Dislike Us Americans?

Take a look at these two graphs from a Dutch Professor from over 100,000 IBM employees around the world. USA is on the left and Scandinavia the right. The web is

The far left Triangle is Power Difference or how Submissive people are. The USA is a little higher. The second is Individualism and both are high but the USA is the highest in the world, scoring 91 out of 100. The third is crucial to why so many Europeans find us unlikable. It is Masculinity and we are very high but they are very low. They see us as "Cowboys" with guns and big talk. When we say that we will "Kick terrorists out of America" they cringe and want to "negotiate". They saw Saddam's capital punishment as awful as his murders.

Most media folks have never studied the psychology of perceptions nor have they looked seriously at the large differences in people cross culturally. Whatever our cultural is seems to be THE ONE RIGHT WAY all cultures should be.

Will Rogers was asked after he returned from a tour of France what he thought of Paris. He mused for awhile and replied, "They have the smartest people in the world. Every one of them, even including the children, can speak a foreign language." Rogers was pointing out that Americans see every other language and culture as unnatural.

While Europeans are much less Masculine in preference than Americans, most Middle Eastern Muslims are even more Masculine. They see America as "The Great Satan" because of our loose sexual mores, alcohol and drug consumption, disrespect for parents and leaders as well as God. Why do they hate us? Because of our "sinful ways and our lack of courage". That makes both evangelism and foreign policy quite a challenge. They ask, "Why would I choose a religion and a government that promotes immorality? We punish sinners but you coddle them."

When I travel and minister overseas I always listen a lot. I try to understand the local culture and how to communicate accurately. For example, most cultures are much quieter than we in the USA. We speak loudly and laugh like donkeys to quote a man from Europe. We tell people how they should run their lives and countries and we seem to know it all. They cannot get the good news of Christ if its meaning is distorted by my clumsy style of talking and laughing.

At a retreat in Norway Steve was teaching and I interrupted him to tell a story. This was our natural and normal style of being a tag team and helping each other out. However, since I was the "Boss" my interrupting was seen as very rude and crass. Both Steve and I had a lot of explaining to do. It was a terrible faux pas on my part.

Please pray for us as I go to Prague for a week and join Steve in Moscow for ten days. We need the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. One of the key values in the Eastern bloc is PATIENCE and that is not an American or a Sweeten virtue. (Steve is much better than I.) We are going to be very busy so we do need physical, emotional and spiritual strength.

January 15-20 Gary to Prague
January 20-30 Steve and Gary in Moscow

Books and Media Misperceptions

I have worked with Evangelical Pastors, Denominational Leaders and Elders for the past forty years but I am nearly always amazed at how we are perceived by many people. A book was written recently by a well known reporter from the New York Times, one of the most highly regarded newspapers in the world. I read a review of that book in the Wall Street Journal and am shocked by its distortions.

Here is part of what the reviewers said about it.

Christopher Hedges, the former Times reporter,... has a new book out with the hauntingly ambivalent title, "American Fascists -- The Christian Right and the War on America." Contributor Rick Perlstein reviews it in Sunday's book section and finds it unconvincing:

"Hedges was a longtime foreign correspondent, for The New York Times and other publications. But he writes on this subject as a neophyte, and pads out his dispatches with ungrounded theorizing, unconvincing speculation and examples that fall far short of bearing out his thesis."

By not quoting from Hedges book, Perlstein was kind. The Los Angeles Times assigned its review to professor Jon Wiener, who delves deeper into Hedges' text and unearths disturbing quotations suggesting the "liberal" Hedges has an authoritarian intolerance for opinions he disagrees with.

Here's an excerpt from Wiener's unfavorable review of "American Fascists.""Nevertheless, Hedges concludes that the Christian right 'should no longer be tolerated,' because it 'would destroy the tolerance that makes an open society possible.' What does he think should be done? He endorses the view that 'any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law,' and therefore we should treat 'incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal.'

Thus he rejects the 1st Amendment protections for freedom of speech and religion, and court rulings that permit prosecution for speech only if there is an imminent threat to particular individuals."Hedges advocates passage of federal hate-crimes legislation prohibiting intolerance, but he doesn't really explain how it would work. But does this mean that Hedges favors prosecuting Christian fundamentalists for declaring, for example, that abortion providers are murderers or that secular humanists are agents of Satan? He doesn't say."


As I work with Evangelicals it never occurs to me that we are a threat to any body's freedom. We can barely round up ten ministers to attend a free lunch to discuss evangelism let alone enough "Right Wing Nuts" that could take over the country. But Mr. Hedges is absolutely sure we have great power to coerce the government. He thinks that George W. Bush is in our pocket.

I am not sure if you all see those fears as ludicrous as I do, but these kinds of people need to see a professional therapist for their paranoia. Take your medication, sir. We who "Run Evangelical Christianity" cannot even make our own members obey us let alone the President and Dick Cheney.

For thousands of years anxious people have found reasons to fear harmless individuals and groups. The Jews in Europe were murdered by paranoid people who placed all kinds of weird behaviors onto God's Chosen People. Are the media moguls similar in their suspicions? I don't know about the big guys but Mr. Hedges and some other reporters sound like they would certainly take away our freedom of speech and assembly.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cross Cultural Ministry

A light went on in my head a few years ago about the power of diversity in thinking and how different people have widely differing perceptions about the same events. For example, I discovered that no two children have the same parents. Just ask one of your siblings about how they remember your childhood and see how different each of you perceived the same events.

In some ways we could say that no two people have the same culture so mis-communication and mis-understanding is actually more common than clear communication and clear understanding. Do you remember "Cool Hand Luke" played by Paul Newman? He was a prisoner who tried over and over to escape only to be brought back by the guards in a bloody mess. The famous comment was, "What we have here is a problem in communication!"

Many of us have returned from Christmas holidays with family members in tatters to say, "We have a problem in communication." But how can that be? We grew up in the same house with the same parents. It is hard to imagine how different people can be and how challenging it is to communicate with others, even family members, without deep misunderstanding.

The more we add other layers of culture, gender, marital status, experience, education, race and religion the greater is the likelihood of misunderstanding. For example, I am heading for Prague and then on to Moscow next Monday. I have been thinking and praying about ways to teach and minister more effectively and one thing stands out in my mind: "Never tell the people in Europe what they "SHOULD DO!"

Europeans dislike Americans because they perceive us as: Loud, Booming, Aggressive and Arrogant Know it All's. They particularly dislike our"Cowboy" image. So, Bush is hated because he speaks plainly, aggressively and forcefully about war and peace.

They also dislike Preachers, Missionaries and Christian Workers who are forceful, aggressive and loud. So, I know we need to be gentle, caring and speak softly. We must not laugh openly or draw attention to ourselves. We need to dress conservatively and be very, very patient. In other words, not very American.

Pray for Steve and me as we venture forth once again into the genteel areas of cross cultural ministry. There are many traps and land mines so we need the wisdom of God and the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Diversity in America

This post is a bit different from the others I recently put up but it seems relevant to all the churches I am helping right now. Take a look at this photo I took in Norwood, Ohio. Here is the setting. Jens-Petter Jorgensen, my Norwegian friend and Board Member, and I had just finished breakfast at Big Boy and were leaving to go visit my friend, Pastor Doug Glanton.
Doug is a retired P&G guy who now pastors a mostly African American congregation in Cincinnati with a few hundred members. Afterward, Jens and I having lunch with Dale Linder who is on the staff of one of the biggest churches in America, Crossroads Community.

The amount of diversity in these few interactions is mind boggling. Ministry to people from the variety of backgrounds, races, religious ideas and socio-economic interests requires a lot of flexibility and listening. We cannot automatically assume that we will understand any of these people for each has a unique culture, point of view and experience. Each person must tell us what they like, dislike and want from life. We canot assume much of anything.

As we left Big Boy I happened to look over and see the marquee of the Quality Inn Hotel next door. It says, Welcome, Muhammad and Fitzpatrick Family. This summarizes America today and is a huge challenge to Christian leaders. Just imagine what kinds of differences this family will be forced to confront inside its own homes and children. Muhammad, an Islamic name and Fitzpatrick, an Irish name.

Just imagine the challenges of pastoral care, preaching and counseling people from Norway, America, Africa, Arabia, Ireland, Germany and Russia but all in the same church. Some come with a small church attitude that expects the Pastor to do everything for them. Others are from a big church where lay people do most of the ministry.
Add to that the fact that each has a unique cultural, social, economic and educational background. Christian leaders sure do need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to care for this kind of diversity. And, they need some understanding Elders and Members who see that America is now a Foreign Mission Field as much as China or Africa.

Old and New Friends

One of the many blessings of returning home is seeing some old friends and making new ones. Here is an old friend, a former student at Horace Mann Elementary School, and a new friend, Jason Newell whose grandparents and family I knew well as a kid.
Roger Grunewalt was one of my favorite students back in 1964-65 when he and several other kids were in my class and on the basketball team I tried to coach. They had pity on me and decided to let me use them as guinea pigs.
I discovered over the years that many students, church members and counseling clients are our best teachers. They can tell right away if the teacher, coach, pastor, counselor is weak, unsure or trying to learn what to do. As a result they are our best teachers. Many times they show more mercy to us than we do to them.
The kids at "Horse Man" were great people. They saw my insecurity and decided not to destroy my reputation. They learned a lot despite my fumbling. They had a great sense of humor and let me laugh at myself and they laughed with me. Now Roger is using his high IQ to build great schools and other institutions for people to study, work and live in.
Jason Newell, on the other hand, is new to me as an adult. I know his Grandparents, Short and Frieda Joy. They presently live in my parents former home and were wonderful friends and neighbors to them in Ina, Illinois. Jason's Mom, Aunt and Uncle grew up with the Sweeten boys and made Ina proud of their exploits.
Jason is a Wildlife Manager with the Rend Lake Conservancy District, if that is the correct name. He was touched deeply by the Lord and has a strong call on his life to advance the King of Glory as well as His Creation.
Both Roger and Jason as well as David Fields, the Ordinand we celebrated Sunday, are strong reminders of the way God created His Kingdom to work and expand. In Ephesians Four, the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to write that all of God's people have gifts. No one who has the Spirit of God within themselves is without a supernatural supply of His energy and gifting as well as talents. On Sunday we saw how that works as we Ordained David to a special call to Pastoral Care and acknowledged the call of every believer to use his/her time, talents and influence for God's purposes.
We desperately need more Christian engineers, architects, writers, counselors, doctors, nurses, farmers, scientists, housewives, horse traders, car salesmen, pilots and educators as well as Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers. There are no SECULAR JOBS! Every position is set apart for God's glory. Whether one is called and equipped for special ministry inside the church structure or in an organization run by a for-profit group God is in charge and He is the source of our joy.
The early church had no formal clergy, big structures, church buildings or denominational oversight. Yes, they recognized the leaders that God had already anointed and used. These men and women came from the ranks and learned on the job not in an seminary. That seems to be the best way to learn.
How am I bringing glory to God where I am? That is the big question.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Brother Tom

While in Illinois Karen and I had an opportunity to chat with younger brother Tommy T. Sweeten. He is a very funny and insightful former coal miner who always keeps us laughing with his humor. He missed his calling as the "Ernie Bum beck" of southern Illinois.

Tom wrote this piece as a letter to the editor of the Mt. Vernon Register News today. I am not responsible for Tom's comments or his views so don't sue me.

To the Editor:

Yesterday I (drove) over to St. Louis to catch a flight to Phoenix. I have flown many times out of dozens of airports around the country but this was the first chance to watch the Transportation Administration in action as an observer instead as a participant. I, of course, couldn't go past the security check as I didn't have a ticket so I watched the process from the "sidelines" so to speak.

The first thing that I noticed was the number of TSA personnel present. There must have been 20-30 people in the TSA uniforms, this at 7:00 pm on a Saturday evening in a nearly deserted East terminal at Lambert.

Another thing was the fact that most were reading some sort of newspaper or magazine. It didn't seem that any of these "defenders of freedom" had any interest in stopping some bomb toting terrorist, it seemed they were more concerned with the latest sports scores or what The Donald and Rosie had to say about each other.

There were probably 5 passengers at the security check point waiting to go through and each and every one of them had to remove their shoes, coats, hats and empty their pockets. Now, one incident of a man trying to light a bomb in his shoe about 4 years back and we are still taking all footwear off, including open toed sandals.

One of the TSA employees came up to me with a tube of toothpaste and gave it to me and said: "Your wife had this in her luggage, it is 3.2 ounces and she is only allowed 3 ounces". I dutifully accepted the contraband and hastily exited the airport for fear of a major strip search and having to remove my shoes, socks, bra and garter belt.

It would seem that the patients have taken over the asylum. I can send a 400 pound package through airfreight on the same plane without so much as second glance from the TSA but can't take a 3.2 ounce tube of toothpaste with me. I have scratched a hole in my head trying to figure this out but to no avail. Does the term "Swallow an elephant but choke on a gnat" ring any bells?

Now Tom may not think his trip down the Rabbit Hatch was very beneficial but I disagree. On January 15 I fly to Prague for a week and on to Moscow for ten days. You can rest assured that I will not try to take any big tubes of tooth paste with me.

Thanks, Tom

Ordination Pictures

Here are more photos of the Elders and Leaders at the ordination.
Larry and Linda Howard, Bill and Nida Woodfall and David and Brenda with Stacey and Jason Newell.

Ordination Party and Spiritual Celebration

Gary and Karen Sweeten++++++++++++++++++David and Brenda Fields

David and Brenda Fields

Wendell and Claudine Keller

I do not know how many ordinations you have attended over the years but I have been to several. In fact, I have been ordained twice and spoken at a few. (Once as a Ruling elder and once as a Teaching Elder) We had a wonderful time in the Spirit at Grace Community Church in Mt. Vernon this morning. It was a most unusual ordination.
  • First, it took place in the midst of the morning worship service.
  • Second, the worship was absolutely dynamite. In fact, Grace Community normally has great music and worship but it was special today. The intensity and freedom of the worship teams and the response of the people, leaders and the Ordinand, David Fields, made everything come together in a deeply Divine Day.
  • Third, the people and the leaders seemed to genuinely love David, each other and the people ate Grace.
  • Fourth, the congregation was very excited and thankful to have David as the new Pastor.
All in all the day was a great time of emotional and spiritual expressions. It reminds me that "Pain is inevitable but misery is optional" and
"The only thing that is not strange is change."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Going Home?

Although Karen and I have been in Cincinnati for 40 years we still refer to southern Illinois as "home". It is not really where our hearts are located for that organ beats for Cincinnati and the family, friends and fellowship we have here. However, our memories of childhood are still in Jefferson and Perry Counties.

This is a big weekend. David Fields is being Ordained to the Gospel Ministry at Grace Community Church in Mt. Vernon. I have provided some "Oversight" and counsel to the Elders and Pastors there for many years. Now we are launching not only David but a new era in ministry for that region. I am also transferring my "Mantle" so this ends my responsibility but not my love for the church.

Tom Smith has been Pastor for at least ten years and Grace Church has provided much of the reality of its name for many people. The preaching is rich, the worship powerful and the healing real. If you are therabouts, come and see what God is doing on North Route 37 and you will be blessed.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Rise of Arrogance in Anti-Religious Thinking

I have not been called a "jerk" since about the fifth grade. That is a term favored by kids whose vocabularies have not yet developed to the point of subtle communication so potty terms and other infantile attempts to insult are the fall back position. How is it then, that an old friend from high school recently used jerk to describe me because I believe in Jesus Christ?

There is a great article in today's Wall Street Journal that you can access online at the following address It is written by Sam Schulman and takes to task the so called "New Atheists" whose shallowness in thought and thoughtfulness is apparent. They are reduced to calling believers jerks. Rather than dealing with the real problems associated with their faith in no God the well educated but ignorant men simply attack us with thinly veiled anger and frustration.

My friend is what one would assume to be well educated. He is a lawyer but obviously missed some of the classes on critical thinking and the use of nuance in debate. I remember him as a good friend and, like the rest of us in adolescence, confused. However, he was not especially rude or haughty as he seems today. That must be the result of losing faith in God and depending only upon himself.

When we read the essays and books of this new class of haughty atheists we are reminded of college freshmen living together in a dorm having a discussion after attending their first class in philosophy where the prof asked such penetrating questions as, "Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?" He would then use that verbal paradox to destroy the underdeveloped faith of the new students.

While finishing my B.S. at Southern Illinois University I had a roommate who was in this dilemma. One day at lunch he said in all seriousness, "What if we are not real? What is all this life is an illusion and we do not exist? That there is no God and we are deluding ourselves?" He was near tears as he sat depressed at the table unable to eat his mashed potatoes.

I reached across the table and pinched him rather hard on the arm and he screamed in pain while drawing back his hand. "Why did you do that?" he asked in surprise. "It was all a dream and did not really happen," I replied. He was dazed for a short time and then said, "Oh, I see. It is real." and started to eat his beef and gravy.

I am shocked that a lot of the most popular atheists are thinking at about the same level as this guy. They have little of the finesse of humility of the older sort who asked the same questions but answered with a depressed state that they just couldn't muster any faith but were sad about it. In fact, one dismisses the concern by many Christians who wonder if research on unborn babies is a slippery slope similar to what Hitler led his scientists down by saying, "Their concerns are obscene." His ability to understand and articulate the opposition's philosophical point of is breath taking.

So, if the opposition is reacting to God at such a visceral but intellectually dishonest level I don't think we have to worry about a revival of unfaith in the world. This is especially true when our side is producing multiplied millions of bright, committed well trained thinkers. Jerry Falwell, one of the men considerd to be a chief jerk among all of us jerks, has developed a university that has a world-class debate team. One that is superior even to tose at Harvard, Yale and NYU. The atheists should never underestimate a godly, Spirit-inspired mind.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

African Memories

In the last post I mentioned that Jens-Petter Jorgensen was on our Life Way Ministries Board as an International Rep. He and I met while at a 1983 Leaders' Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The above photo shows Jens-Petter with the Bishop of Southern Africa sitting outside a cafe in Nairobi. That Bishop was overseer of between 30 and 40 million Believers in his church. (He said it was hard to keep track of everyone so the count was approximate.)
The one on the left show me with a group of African dancers after they had chosen me from the audience to do a traditional dance with them. I had a ball with the group as they showed us several different types of traditional dances.
No doubt you will notice that both of us had facial hair.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Old Friends are Still Involved

In 1983 I was sent by the Presbyterian Renewal Board to Kenya Africa to represent us at a big meeting of Renewal Leaders from around Africa, Asia and Europe. It was given quite an exalted title of Leaders of Leaders and I was pretty proud to be invited.
That pride soon turned into humility after I heard the testimonies of the African leaders. These men and women had suffered from persecution, terror, hunger and poverty and still were filled with joy. I felt like a lion in a den of Daniels.

One of the best things to have come from that trip was meeting Jens-Petter Jorgensen, founder of the OASIS Movement for Spiritual Renewal in Norway. We immediately came to like and respect each other. Some of it was the result of mutual embarrassment at our lack of spiritual maturity when compared with the African leaders.

But the meeting with Jens-Petter was certainly Providential. After some time of sharing he said, "You are God's man for Norway." I was stunned and scared. Here I was in Africa, supposedly representing American spiritual leadership and I felt like a complete dud. How could I possibly be "God's man in Norway" or anywhere else for that matter? I was a spiritual midget.

What drew Jens-Petter to say such an audacious thing was the result of learning that I was a strong Evangelical that put a lot of emphasis on God's Word. Then he found that I was also a person who had experienced God's grace through the Holy Spirit and believed in praying for miracles. That was not all though for he also heard that I was a Clinical Counselor and headed a Christian Center for Healing and Growth called, The Teleios Center.

Jens-Petter said, "In Norway we have people in all three of those camps but hardly anyone in all three at the same time. You must come and teach us." After he and his new wife Astrid came to visit us in Cincinnati we agreed to teach at the annual Pastors' Conference. Larry and Ellen Chrouch, Steve Griebling, Hal Schell and I all went to Oslo in January of 1986. The leader of the meeting, Kjell-Petter Dahl, spontaneously asked us to pray for people and God's Spirit showed up in an incredible way. Pastors were healed, blessed, delivered and set free on the very first night. God is good.

This photo is of Jens-Petter and Steve Griebling at the Board Dinner on New Year's Day, 21 years after our first visit to Norway. We are still very good friends and Jens-Petter is on the Life Way Ministries Board. God is good.

Life Way Ministries, Inc Board Photos

Gary and Karen Sweeten, Founders of Life Way Ministries, with Rev. Ron Peake, LWM Vice President, and wife Paula.

Life Way Ministries, Inc Board Meeting

We started the New Year off right with a dinner and all day board meeting with the almost all new board of our Non-Profit Ministry. Here are some photos of several Board Members and their Spouses.

Front and center are Jim and Dawn Donovan who hosted us. Behind Jim is Jens-Petter Jorgensen, International Rep from Oslo, Norway. Behind Dawn is Steve Griebling, a colleague and friend for many years. The couple is Jim and Cyndi Wineinger. They are seated in front of a beautiful Nativity arrangement by Dawn in her wonderfully appointed and peaceful home.

Celebrate Freedom

A new book has just been released that shows the strengths and weaknesses of Evangelical Christian's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Just as the fact that the Abolitionist Movement was spearheaded and energized by Evangelicals been under reported by the secularists so is the involvement of Christians in the Modern Civil Rights Movement. However, the story is not all positive about the ways we have acted in that regard.

Go to where you will find an interesting interview by the author. Charles Marsh, a Professor at University of Virginia, wrote The Beloved Community, to reveal the truth about history.