Peer Pressure – Pay Your Bill!

Here in Bulgaria if someone doesn’t pay their gas bill, the gas company will shut off the gas to the whole building—something they could never get away with in either Italy or the US (or most civilized places).  They are counting on the neighbors to put pressure on the offender to pay his bill, and it seems to work pretty quickly.  Buck and Nadia don’t suffer much since their apartment is well-insulated, their stove is electric, and there is a backup boiler for heating water.

This method harks back to Communist times, when the government would punish whole blocks or even whole communities where a dissident lived by shutting off the heat.  This was easy for them to do because whole communities were heated from gigantic boilers that looked a lot like nuclear reactor cooling towers.  The heat was shut off for a whole town like shutting off a faucet.

And speaking of dissidents, I heard about another pastor who had suffered severe persecution under the Communists.  There were no details given, and that is either because the family didn’t know the details or because the details are so unpleasant that they didn’t want to speak about it over a meal.  After reading “Tortured for Christ” by Richard Wurmbrand, either one is possible.

Some churches seek to keep their people in line by peer pressure, and by preaching about being ever on guard against sin.  It’s a very common topic in Italian churches.  But a legalistic approach like this is the opposite of grace.

Lately grace has been on my mind.  Pastor Fabio preached two weeks ago that when Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished,” He meant that all the curses of original sin and all the works of the devil have been undone and paid for.  All our sin, all our sicknesses, and death—all of it has been undone and paid for by Jesus’ blood.  No peer pressure is needed to keep us in line.  I John 3:6 says: “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.  No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.”  And John wasn’t saying that we would never sin because he also wrote: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.  But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One,” I John 2:1.  The difference is an occasional sin versus a lifestyle of habitual sinful behavior.  Grace covers the first one, while the second neither knows or appreciates grace.

No church and no pastor anywhere will have a congregation of perfect people who never sin.  And we need to be aware that not everybody who comes to church—not even every active member—is really and truly born again.  That’s what the parable of the wheat and weeds was about (Matthew 13:24-30).  Some people love church, love the music, love the activities, but just don’t really love Jesus.  No amount of peer pressure will ever change them, either.  The only thing that truly changes lives is love.  Love triumphs over all, and that is the story of grace.  God is good!

 

Buckaroo

Greetings from Bulgaria!

As my plane was landing, I could see that Sofia is a beautiful city, and seeing it on the ground confirmed what I had seen from the air.  I am staying with Buck and Nadia, pastors who God had led to leave their church and town to move three hours away to Sofia, but not to start another church.  What they had always done is church planting, but here God is calling out of their comfort zone.  While they are wondering what to do, Nadia has been working prostitutes and other trafficked people.

I met Nadia at a conference in Estonia in October, and we had hit it off.  So when Operation Capitals of Europe set Sofia as their next capital, I contacted Nadia.  She invited me to come for a few days before the start of OCE.  I think this was divine timing.

Last night Buck and Nadia had some friends over and invited me to a Christian musical that had been locally written and produced.  The friends are a couple: Anya is Bulgarian and Sasha (which is a male name) is Russian, and they are both dancers.  The conversation was mostly in Bulgarian.  My ears grasped at a few familiar sounding words, but mostly it sounded very much like Russian.  Buck ordered pizza from Domino’s, and I saw pretty much everyone put ketchup or mustard on their pizza—even my fellow Texan!  I tried mustard on mine, and it was really good!  I would never put mustard on an Italian pizza, but it’s good on American pizza.

Seeing that my plate was empty, Buck asked me if I wanted another slice, to which I responded, “No, I’m good.”  He laughed about how funny it is to say “I’m good” when refusing seconds.  I told him about trying to explain the Texanism “fixin to” to non-Texans, and how I had had to train myself to use the more universally understood “I’m getting ready to.”  He laughed.  He could relate.  Now I keep hearing myself saying “I’m good,” when I had always said it unconsciously.  But as I thought about it, it’s kind of a nice affirmation to say about myself several times a day.  I am good!

The musical was called “John, Son of Thunder.”  Of course, it was all in Bulgarian, and set in modern times, but it wasn’t hard to follow along, since I have read the Gospels.  The music and dancing were really great, and the set design was imaginative.  The audience was most of the spectrum of Sofia’s Christian community, and they pretty much all know each other.  I commented on how nice it was to see Christians of all denominations coming together like this—it’s only really happened in Milan with the March for Jesus.

This morning I woke up to snow falling, but it hasn’t stuck.  For me, snowfall is always a miracle from Heaven.  Who know what God has in store for us today?  But I know this:  He’s good, and whatever He has for us will be good, too.  I’ll say it again: God is good!