Monday, May 31, 2004

My First Two-Sermon Sunday

I have preached only five sermons in my life, and two of them have now been delivered in Russia this week. Cool!!

It still amazes me that I am in Russia and able to preach at all, let alone that I was able to say openly yesterday that God's kingdom is better than Russia (and America). What a blessing -- and what great evidence that God still controls this world.

Both sermons seem to have been appreciated. For the one I delivered in Nizhny, I had Masha teach me a few phrases in Russian. Because the gist of my sermon was that America is no greater than Russia, I thought I might be able to reinforce the point, and make a connection with the audience, by speaking their language. I learned only five phrases in Russian, and it took me an hour. Masha said I spoke the words well enough for people to understand, though somehow I suspect that they came out with a redneck accent.

My only faux paux came when I tried to deliver a traditional American invitation. I couldn't understand why nobody stood to sing after Alexander translated. Only later did he tell me that he didn't understand what I meant, so he hadn't translated those words. He thought I was inviting people to repent while standing and singing and was confused by that concept. Once again, lost in translation.

In Pavlovo, I neither spoke in Russian nor offered an invitation. The setting there isn't really conducive to an invitation as we know it. It's more like a Bible class. The three women in Pavlovo and the men who travel down from Nizhny sit on the couch and chairs gathered around a table. I delivered my sermon while sitting.

The topic there was a bit more sensitive. In speaking about the "unfathomable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8), I sought to encourage them to focus on what they have in Jesus rather than what they don't have in this life. I started by noting that the love of money is the root of all evil (I Tim. 6:10), and that when Paul wrote that to Timothy, he also mentioned that such misplaced love had caused people to leave the faith. He wasn't writing about rich people in the world, in other words; he was talking about Christians who erred when they lost their focus.

And that is a temptation to both rich and poor. The rich can become greedy, and the poor can become covetous. We don't want to be like the rich, young ruler who loved money more than God, and we don't want to be the thorny soil, where the seed takes root but is choked out by riches and the worries of this life (like the lack of riches). Instead, we should store our treasures in heaven. I closed with the quote from Proverbs that I cited on the blog last week: Pray that we be neither rich nor poor because both can be great temptations.

After worship service, the ladies all thanked me for the sermon, even though it was hard for them to hear. Tom also said he personally appreciated the sermon, particularly the conclusion. I stepped on all of their toes -- albeit gently, I think -- and instead of yelling at me or kicking me, they just moved their feet and thought seriously about whether they were walking the right path.

I am so thankful to see that many of the Christians here have such good hearts.


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