God, this is too big for me!

Almost every time I study for a sermon, I have a long time of gathering information, following tangents, digging in the passage, in commentaries, in sermons of the “greats” (Chuck, Spurgeon, other CC pastors, Keller…), and then I get to a point where I throw it all in a pile and pout, because I don’t know what to do with all of it. 🙂 That was yesterday with 1 Samuel 16.

I shared that with my wife today, and she started talking with me about fearing people. Honestly, I do that a lot. I feel a huge pressure to perform as a preacher, to “bring it home”, even to entertain. I want to do all of that for several reasons: I want to attract people to God, I want to bring people into the church, and I want people to like me… However, I’m not the Holy Spirit, and, honestly, my motivations can be so off that I’m the one missing the lessons from 1 Samuel more than anyone! I take on a burden that’s way too big for myself! God is so gracious to me to allow me to study this stuff.

My dog sleeping on her chair in the living room. Yes, that is her chair.

After talking with her and taking a walk with my dog, I finally had a direction to take the sermon. I was originally going to talk about the dreams and plans we have. I think I have something better, though – God’s timing vs. our timing. One of the reasons I want to talk about that is because of a conversation I had with my driving instructor here in Ukraine. (I’m taking driving lessons again, because I’m transferring my license from America to Ukraine.)

My instructor talked about how he didn’t understand why God allows evil everyday. Now, some people might think that this is a problem with God’s goodness vs. evil or something like that, but that’s a misunderstanding of His plan. This is a timing issue – God will deal with the evil in the world, but in His own timing.

And that’s the main tension (at least that I see) in 1 Samuel 16. The cool thing about all of that is that you can link this to Christ as well. Here are some observations that I’ve made and may include in the sermon on Sunday:

  • God’s timing is not our timing, and He often told Biblical characters what He was planning on doing without telling them exactly when He was going to do it. This forced them to wait and pray and prepare their hearts for God’s work.
  • God is already working in every situation for each part of His plan. You can see this in the second half of 1 Samuel (where David gets a chance to work in the palace while waiting to be king) and in almost every other Biblical story where someone has to wait. God is already moving, preparing us or the situation around us for His plan. We need to be diligent and wait.
  • Both David and Christ waited a long time before the realization of God’s promise of kingship (David waited until Saul’s death, while Christ is still waiting at the right hand of God)
  • Christ is waiting with us and for us. He wants to be with us in Heaven, where there will be no more evil, no more crying, no more pain, no more sickness, etc. He doesn’t enjoy this time of separation and suffering. He wants it to end, but He is waiting, as we are, for us to come home.

I hope all of that encourages you. Please keep praying for this sermon series. I really want to see the church blessed by it… Not just so that I can get a pat on the back, but so that people will fall more in love with Christ and with the Word He’s given to us to teach us about Himself.

P.S. Please also pray for our pastor, Ruslan, who is recovering from a successful knee replacement surgery. He’ll be home soon from the hospital.

Pastor Ruslan taking some of his first steps after surgery

We need more books!

I just added a page to this site with a huge list of books that will be updated from time to time as we get them. Katya and I recently started seminary, which is one of the reasons why we are reading a lot more now; however, one of the side-effects if that is learning to enjoy reading more. Also, I’m doing a lot more preaching and teaching in the church, which is forcing me to be more well-read. Lastly, I’ve been witnessing more, which has pushed me to have conversations about subjects that I’m not familiar with (certain types of atheism or agnosticism, philosophies, other religions or religious viewpoints). More and more reading!

All of that to say – reading is awesome. We love books and are having a blast using them to minister to more people.

This is where you come in, my friend. It’s really hard to find English books in Ukraine, and reading on a screen-based device results in less comprehension and sore eyes for me. All of this is why our church is working on putting together care packages with books for us. If you would like to be a part of that, please click here.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

– Dr. Seuss

Martial Law in Eastern Ukraine

Thank you all for continuing to pray for Ukraine. Here is a (translated) quote from the Ukrainian BBC on the decision that was made by the Ukrainian Parliament this afternoon:

The Верховна Рада (Ukrainian Parliament) on Monday evening voted to enact martial law in the border regions of Ukraine for the next 30 days…

The president added a command to the measure that the country would only enact martial law in the regions that border Russia and the Azov sea [where the Ukrainian Navy was attacked], which include the oblasts (basically counties) of Cherihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, Odesa, and Vinnytsya.

Apparently the defense measures will be applied this Wednesday (the 28th). If you recognize some of the names in that list, that may be because we have missionaries and / or friends in all of those regions except for Donetsk. Please especially be praying for them. We are still waiting to see if / how this will affect us personally, as we do not live in one of those regions bordering Russia.

UPDATE FROM LAST POST: I need to correct something I said in my last post. The government is not considering and has not declared war officially against Russia. The wording confused me, because the words for “martial law” is literally “воєнний стан” or “a state of war” in Ukrainian. This basically means that the government recognizes that it is in a war, but it has not declared against whom.

One of my friends that lives in one of those regions the East says that they are doing well and, though they are watching the situation closely, he does not believe that they are in any danger. Here is a direct quote from our conversation:

As far as I can tell, it shouldn’t have any affect on daily life as long as Russia stays on their side of the border… So far they have for the last 5 years.

When he says “their side of the border” he means that particular part of the country, not the Donetsk / Luhansk (Donbas) area.

Prayer request: Russia attacks Ukrainian warships

Picture credit: NAVY.MIL.GOV.UA

Please pray for a currently developing situation in Ukraine right now. Here’s a (translated) quote from an article on the Ukrainian BBC site:

The Ukrainian Navy is reporting that Russian cutters have opened fire on a Ukrainian group of ships. There are six wounded sailors. The President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, is setting up a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine.

In other words, Russia has shown some serious aggression today against the Ukrainian Navy. Unfortunately, the country doesn’t expect much more than sympathy and “deep concern” from the other nations of the world.

People here in Ukraine (including us as missionaries) often wonder if the rest of the world remembers that Russia has been at war with us since 2014. It’s never been official, but, as I’m writing this blog post, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine is meeting with President Poroshenko about officially declaring war on Russia, as they have already been performing acts of war against Ukraine secretly since 2014. It was this time of year in 2014 when the Maidan began in Kyiv. People still remember those images of Ukrainian patriots being cut down by illegal police forces for months.

A declaration of war changes the way certain laws work. We don’t how this could affect ministry or daily life, especially for foreign missionaries and organizations in the country.

On a more personal note, we are sick, have had problems with the car, and Katya’s grandma has been doing very poorly, so this is just an addition to an already stressful time in the family. Grandma fell and scraped her head the other day while getting something in the kitchen. We are working on a way to monitor her 24/7 with someone in the family always at her apartment.

Please pray for the following:

  • Katya’s grandmother’s health and for wisdom with how to take care of her
  • Peace through strength for Ukraine
  • That God would give us wisdom for and the ability to minister effectively in this period
  • Our church, that it would grow and be an effective light for the Gospel in our city
  • Our health in general and the car
  • Revival in Ukraine

If you would like to read more the Russian attack on the English version of the BBC site, please click here.

Thanks again for praying for us.

– David and Katya Snead

A couple of ministry life lessons from vlogging

I’ve been vlogging on and off for almost two years. I can’t say that I’m terribly good at it, but it’s actually helped me to hone or build new skills in public speaking, talking under pressure while negotiating something, planning and improvising, and many other areas of life. I really enjoy it, even though I don’t have a high-energy, entertainer-like personality that we’ve come to expect from a YouTube vlogger. Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned along the way.

1. It takes time to get used to the camera

If you look at my first vlog… It’s terrible. It’s one of the first times in my life that I’ve deliberately stuck a camera in my own face. I don’t like being on camera, I have a slight stutter in real life that I have battled more with recently (especially when speaking Ukrainian), and I’m often nervous as my response to any kind of stress.

Most of that went away with practice. It’s taken a while, but even with my third video, there’s a huge improvement over that first video.

The easy way to apply this to any other skill is to be patient with yourself and don’t be scared to do the hard work. Doing anything well takes time, and you’re not going to be Andy Stanley or Casey Neistat on your first try. They also went through a long, hard journey to be who they are where they are.

2. You don’t have to follow an exact script

One of the things that I had to work on was knowing what I wanted to speak about and being able to speak from cursory notes. This is also something that I’ve had to work on with delivering sermons… And I’ve worked out a system for both. Here’s what my system is based on:

Now, my capacity for memorization is literally terrible. I can remember concepts very well, but remembering specific words is extremely hard work for me… nearly impossible. Another complication for this is my perfectionism. For sermons and some of these videos, I used to write our every word that I wanted to say exactly how I wanted to say it. Then, I tried the impossible task of performing or speaking live from the ridiculously detailed notes.

What ended up working for me is drawing my notes. I draw a “mind palace” and speak with the drawings in front of me. This relieves me from either trying to remember all of what I want to say, or from reading it word-for-word.

My application from this lesson is to find what works for you. There are some great preachers that I’ve come into contact with here in Ukraine. Mike Pratt, the pastor of the first church I served in, used shorthand notes that probably would only make sense to him. Benjamin Morrison, another preacher that I’ve talked a lot with about the art of giving sermons, actually writes out his entire sermon manuscript-style. I don’t think he preaches from that set of notes, but that’s a major part of the process for him. Other preachers around Ukraine don’t use any notes at all, or can fit all of a sermon onto a single page of bullet points.

None of that works for me. I’ve actually tried them all, and I never felt comfortable with any of those methods. However, when I discovered that “mind palace” thing and started to draw my sermons, something clicked. I’ve always had trouble

3. A good soundtrack goes a long way

My first few videos on the channel didn’t have any soundtrack. Big mistake! I quickly learned to get creative with finding different Creative Commons tracks on Soundcloud and CCMixter, but it wasn’t until I started thinking about how editing and music go together (thanks, Elijah Leschenko, for the tip!) that the videos started to get much better in their sound composition.

If you would like to see how much this is changed, you can compare this video (just watch the first 30 seconds or so):

To this video (just watch the first minute or so):

Life lesson: add a little music into your life. Aesthetics are important, and sound is a big part of that. It helps people to relax, to work harder, to enjoy a film, and even to open up and talk, depending upon the situation.

4. Creativity takes work

I’ve taken several breaks from vlogging, because it was simply too much work. To get one 5-minute video done takes a minimum of 4 hours. If I want it to be really polished and put-together, it can take me 8 or 9. That includes planning, shooting, searching for the right “free” song online, editing, finding pictures and funny images to add, adding titles, polishing the edit, and uploading onto YouTube.

This is obviously also true about any other endeavor. Preaching a good sermon, for example, requires, at least in my case, usually around 4-10 hours of preparation. I think Timothy Keller once said that he prepares somewhere around 15-18 hours per week on Sunday sermons.

The next project that I’ve been bouncing around in my head is creating a podcast. I actually have some 20 odd episodes planned out, but I don’t have the timing figured out yet. That’s the life lesson that I’m taking away from this – creativity takes a lot of work, but, if you plan it well, you can make some pretty cool stuff.

If and when I start that podcast, I will let you guys know.

5. Be concise

The latest thing that I want to get down is being more concise. That doesn’t mean that all of my videos need to be 2 minutes or less… I just want to work on saying the most relative information, not ramble, and be ready to change up my tactics when speaking.

If you watch my latest video, you’ll be able to see more what I mean.

My most recent vlog post:

Most people stop watching this video (I know by Google’s stats) by about the 2:17 marker. By that time, I’ve been sitting in my office chair and talking for almost exactly 60 seconds. It’s not that long, but the video is pretty low-energy already, and by that time, I’ve almost started to ramble.

If I could redo this video, I think I would break up the subjects that I wanted to talk about and set a timer. I would talk for 45- to 60-second slots, changing something visually every time I changed subjects. That could mean getting up from my chair and going for a walk, changing my shirt, saying “hi” to Katya, or something else.

I don’t think I can blame people’s inattention on how “inconsiderate” they are, that they aren’t happy to hear about our journey through seminary, or some other kind of nonsense like that, but that’s what a lot of pastors (my friends) do with their preaching. When people tell them they’ve preached a boring sermon, they say something to the effect of, “Well, if you were more spiritual, you would’ve gotten something out of it.”

Timothy Keller disagrees. I’m pretty sure it’s in his book “Preaching”* that he talks about how it’s your responsibility to both speak accurately and present accurately the Truth that God has in His word. We can use a metaphor for this: people enjoy their meal in a restaurant much more if the tables are clean, the floor is swept, and the music is peaceful.

In the same way, people will hear your preaching much better if there aren’t encumbrances, like a constant tendency to say “um”, a completely monotonous voice, rambling on about the same subject, etc.

This is something that I’ve been actively working on in my preaching. I have a pretty monotone way of speaking, which has, in the past, been hampered by my inability to take my eyes off of my speaking notes. (See #2!) Now that this has been handled, I’ve been able to be much more expressive in my way of speaking, even stepping away from the pulpit and walking around, because it’s much easier for me to remember a set of symbols that I just saw than a paragraph of notes.

*I’m not 100% sure, because I’ve read a couple of books of his about preaching, and it may have been in one of his other books.

A letter from my pastor

Hey, guys. My pastor is having some serious health problems, and he needs help to pay for his operation. Here’s a letter that he’s getting ready to send out:

October 13, 2018

Dear friends and siblings in Christ,

My name is Ruslan Stropysh, and I’m the pastor of God’s Love, a small Ukrainian Baptist church in Lviv, Ukraine. The Lord saved my wife and me about sixteen years ago, restoring our relationship through His love and grace. During that time of healing and restoration, we adopted two special needs children and have been serving in orphanages or orphan ministry ever since. We believe that this is God’s calling for us, and have expanded our ministry to at-risk children, teenagers, and their families in our area of the city. We are currently raising five children, including the two that we adopted, and three young boys, brothers, that we are raising as their foster family. All but one of our children have special needs or some kind of disability.

Unfortunately, a few years ago, my health took a turn for the worse. In addition to a joint disease that affects my hands and other major joints in my body, I am in severe need of a knee replacement and am in constant pain. This year, my family finally convinced me to start walking with a crutch; I hate being inactive and didn’t want to use a crutch or cane, but using it helps me to get around much more easily.

The pain and problems that come along with it greatly affect my ability to be a father to these children and a pastor for our church. My doctor says that my knee is so bad that it must be replaced soon, otherwise my leg muscles will become atrophied. My femur has already become deformed and there is no cartilage left, so the joint is basically bone-on-bone.

Please pray and consider helping us. We do not have enough money for the operation, and I am less and less able to work to save up for it or even to pay for our family expenses.

If you would like more information, please contact David Snead, our missionary from America, by clicking here.

Blessings and love in Christ,

Ruslan Stropysh
Pastor, God’s Love Church
Lviv, Ukraine

Memories from last winter…

The cold weather is coming in… Being from Texas, it’s hard for me to say that I “love” winter. I don’t like being cold. I miss being able to go swimming in the backyard pool on Christmas. Snow is cool for the first week, but the mud and crud afterward, along with the cloudy skies for 5 or 6 months can be downright depressing…

But somehow cold weather brings people together. Katya, I’m ready to go through another winter with you. Last winter (pictured above) was especially filled with plenty of amazing memories. I’m sure this one will be, too.