by David Sisler

Sometimes you have to stand back in order to see up close.

For most of the several billion souls on Planet Earth, July 29, 1995, was probably passed in very unremarkable fashion. There were a few important event. My brother, Kyle, celebrated the 44th anniversary of his birth. Di and Charles had another wedding anniversary (but probably not too many sent congratulatory cards). The Pittsburgh Pirates lost to the Mets 2-1 and ended the day 17 games out of first place.

I mention that date now, almost five months later, because of a meeting which took place, totally unnoticed, in a city of three million souls. Eleven people, ten men and one woman, five foreigners and six Russians, met in House 14, Flat 3 on Mayakovskygo Street in Samara, Russia, to take the first small steps towards organizing a Russian Bible School which will serve the immense Lower Volga Region of Russia.

The people who gathered in that small flat were, according to any popular standard, very unremarkable. But together, they took a giant leap of faith. You see, they do not have a building in which to house the school. They do not have a staff of teachers. They do not have the first ruble of funding. They do not have any students enrolled. They have only the barest outline of a curriculum. But they do have one thing which is of incalculable value--they have the confidence that the vision they are following, the dream they are pursuing, was given to them by God.

The genesis of the spiritual revival which is sweeping across the nation which occupies one-seventh of the earth's land, was commitment and courage: commitment to their Lord and the courage to live their faith in the face of incredible obstacles. For a long time, the awakening was carried largely on the basis of unflagging zeal. But zeal has an deadly tendency to become dogmatic and rigid, and those are the twin dangers the Russian church faces today.

I hoped it would never happen, but I saw it begin the very evening of the Bible School meeting when a group of Russian pastors met to formalize a list of requirements for church membership. It's the same trap into which Christians have fallen since the days of the Upper Room. Always the motives are the highest -- "We must protect the Church!"

In the first century it was Simon Peter insisting that all male believers be circumcised. In the twentieth century, it was Pentecostal believers drawing up an elaborate list of rules to protect the church from creeping worldly influences.

All too often zeal becomes hard. To keep zeal from becoming intolerant it must be tempered with compassion.

Zeal insists that it is always right. Compassion is concerned only with knowing that God is right.

Zeal demands to hear something new and clever, and then becomes frustrated when it learns, in the words of the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, "there is nothing new under the sun." Compassion understands that the "world through its wisdom does not know God" and directs its vision beyond this world to the eternal Son of God.

Zeal succumbs to the seductive temptation of intellectualism and speaks above the heads of its listeners. Compassion remembers that "the common people heard Jesus gladly," and knows that God's minister does not need to be clever, just clear.

Thomas Chalmers was one of Scotland's noted preachers of a century ago. For seven years he experienced a correctness, but a lack of spiritual life and power, the same lack of spiritual life and power which threatens God's Church in Russia today. Once a friend told him, "I find you are busy, but no matter when I come to see you, you are never at your studies for the Sabbath."

Chalmers replied, "An hour or two on Saturday evening is quite enough for that."

Then something happened. Chalmers experienced the power of a new affection. The same friend commented, "I never come in now, but I find you at your Bible."

The man whose heart had been changed said, "All too little, my friend, all too little!"

The more earnest and faithful the preacher, the more he must seek to be hidden behind his Master. That is why a Russian Bible School has such an awesome potential in God's work. A look at its mission statement will tell you why: "To lead men and women to the incredible depth of God's Word so they will stay hidden behind God's Son, for only from that position of obscurity can the preacher lead men and women into the Light."

Sometimes you have to stand back in order to see up close.

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 12/9/95

Copyright 1995 by David Sisler

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