No one wins a war. One side might dominate another and claim victory, but no one really wins. As I watch the destruction of high-rise apartment buildings (most were built during the Soviet era), the loss is impossible to calculate. I lived in those kinds of apartments and spent so many hours visiting friends in them. Then, we consider what is more important – the loss of life. It just makes no sense. I’ve had a lot of hard conversations with God over the last four weeks. And like I’ve said before, while I still feel helpless, I refuse to be hopeless.
I still put my hope in God, who is greater than the missiles, tanks, or an evil mad man. So we need to pray to our God, who is still on the throne of the universe. We pray to our God, who knows each hair on our head and those of the 44 million Ukrainians and of the invading soldiers whose lives are not what they wanted them to be right now. He knows it all. He is compassionate, abounding in love and mercy. He is good… even when you or I can’t make sense of any of this.
So, we pray. And that is the most important thing we can do. It is not the least we can do; it’s the greatest thing we can do. Thank you for praying. Now it’s time for us to pray together. We have set up two options where we can come together and pray.
Join us Online
I’ll be hosting a prayer time online via zoom on Monday, March 28th at 7 pm. You can join the Zoom prayer meeting by clicking this link.
Meeting ID: 818 2868 4225
Feel free to invite others to join us.
Join us In Person
I’ll also be hosting an in-person prayer time. We’ll gather on Thursday. March 31st at 7 pm in the Student Union.
How to Pray
Here are some things you can pray about now, whether you can or can’t join us:
I’m so proud of our church. Your generosity overwhelms me. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” I’ve experienced the truth of those words, as generosity has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. Here are a few ways you have and can continue to make a difference through your generosity.
Pantano Christian Church
Thank you for your faithful support for the work and ministry of our church. Your regular and generous giving allows us to serve the people of our church, our city, and in strategic places around the world. We’re seeing thousands come to faith in Muslim areas of Africa and Hindu areas of India. Our global partners are helping villages create healthy communities while planting churches. And we’ve made it easy as you can give online!
Tucson Homeless Work Program
Thank you for the amazing Christmas Eve giving. We gave over $100,000 to the Tucson Homeless Work Program. You have made it possible to help those who want to work to get off the streets. Wow. Thank you!
You’ve given over $97,000 to help those facing war and devastation in Ukraine. The funds are going to one of our global partners who evacuated to Western Ukraine. They are funneling resources to 20 churches and organizations that are directly serving people in desperate need. You can follow me on Facebook to get regular updates. Wow! Thank you!
Journey of Generosity
If you’re already a generous person who supports your church and other non-profits, I want to invite you to a Journey of Generosity (JOG) two-day retreat. Generous Giving underwrites this free event to help you explore Jesus-like generosity without asking for anything in return. There is no cost and no surprise “ask” at all! At the retreat, you’ll see some incredible video stories, engage in personal Bible study, have focused solitude time with the Lord, and participate in authentic conversations.
My wife and I participated in this retreat, and it was a life-changer. I hope you can make this a priority! My friends Mark Harris and our elder Jim Weisert host this at the Tucson Country Club – 2950 N. Camino Principal, 85715. It starts Friday, April 1 at 2 pm and ends after dinner. Then it resumes on Saturday, April 2 at 8 am and finishes in the afternoon. Sign up and RSVP here. Email Jim at email@example.com if you have questions.
Generosity Plus an Arizona Tax Break
It’s tax season, and the State of Arizona allows you to make a donation to a school or charity. You can claim the donation on your taxes for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. In simple terms, you get to decide how you want some of your tax money spent! You can give to any public school or students receiving a Christian education through the Institute for Better Education. Or you can give to some amazing Christian non-profits we partner with like Teen Challenge, Arizona Baptist Children’s Services, Gospel Rescue Mission, and many more.
Thank you, Pantano, for your amazing generosity!
Last Saturday night Jolene and I put our granddaughters down to bed, and we had a great prayer time together. As often happens during this time, our granddaughters will ask questions. My oldest granddaughter asked if Russia was going to attack us. We assured her the war was a long way away and wasn’t coming here. Then our youngest granddaughter asked why we closed our eyes to pray. It was a precious time.
Then I got ready for bed. On Saturday nights before I preach, I try to go to bed a bit earlier as my Sunday morning starts at 5 am. My usual nightly routine includes a prayer time as I lay in bed. But I found my prayer going in a direction I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I started by begging God to stop the war in Ukraine. I prayed for my Ukrainian friends by name. But the longer I prayed, the more unsettled I got. I absolutely believe God is all-powerful. I also believe that he is good. So why doesn’t he stop this stupid useless war? He can. Why hasn’t he? The more intensely I prayed, the angrier I got.
Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that my anger, frustration, and confusion were not unique to me or this time. How many times during World War 2 did people beg God for the war to stop? How many times have parents of a child with a terminal disease cried out to God to heal their child? How many times have those who have been victims of evil pleaded with God for relief and help? There’s nothing new under the sun.
Then I remembered how David was also angry and prayed to ask God to severely punish those who are evil. Psalm 109 is one of those prayers. I’ve now read that Psalm over and over. As I read it, I substitute Putin and his cronies into David’s cry for punishment. If you’ve not read Psalm 109 lately, click here to read it. He prays that his enemy’s days would be few and that his children would become beggars without a father. He prays that all kinds of evil be done to one who did him evil. He calls on God to multiply curses on his adversary. That’s how I want to pray. I empathize with David’s anger and disgust.
In days past, when I was unaffected by evil, I would read Psalm 109 and think how strange that such a writing would be included in the Bible. About 30 statements of judgment, revenge, or curse are declared in this Psalm. These are in direct opposition to the teaching of Jesus – read Matthew 5. Frankly, this Psalm seems wrong and inappropriate. Why is it even in the Bible? Because that’s how godly people feel sometimes. It’s a reminder that we are broken human beings.
My two words for this year are kindness and gentleness. You don’t see any of that in Psalm 109. But the Psalms do not always proclaim an eternal truth for all to embrace, but rather express the real emotions of one who’s suffering. I’m suffering as my dear friends are suffering. I know that I’m not alone in this anguish. I hear from my friends in Ukraine their version of this angry prayer. I have prayed my version of this Psalm against Putin and his war on innocent people.
But you have to read the Psalm to the end (this is often the case in David’s psalms). Read Psalm 109:21-31. It describes me. It describes you. It’s an admission of our need for help. It is a confession of our weakness and brokenness. It’s an admission of our humanity with all its carnal reactions. It’s also a declaration that in spite of the evil, God has not abandoned us and is with us, and his love never stops.
This Psalm reflects life. We are human and react out of the flesh. We are also children of God who are led by the Spirit. Both are operating at the same time. Because the flesh and the Spirit are at war, Paul writes this in Galatians 5:16-17 – So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
It is a daily journey in faith to learn to walk by or be led by the Spirit and not let the flesh have its way. What a difficult journey it is. And thanks be to God that his grace is abundant as we struggle to follow the way of Jesus.
I find myself breaking out in tears all through the day. For those who know me well, I’m not one who cries easily. My heart is broken. I’ve been in contact with many I know who live in Ukraine. I feel so helpless living so far away. I’m so grateful for so many of you who are praying and have opened your heart to the people of Ukraine.
Our family served as missionaries in a city called Kherson, Ukraine. CNN put a correspondent in Kherson so I’ve watched the invasion of “my” city on television. Both of my children have an amazing tattoo of Ukraine as they spent some of their childhood there. Kherson (the same size as Tucson) is the first major city on the main road out of Russian-annexed Crimea. It has the main bridge across the Dnieper River from Crimea to Ukraine so it’s a strategic point. It appears that the Russians now control Kherson.
We went to Kherson when it was part of the Soviet Union. We helped start churches. We saw thousands come to faith. We helped start Tavriski Christian Institute in 1997 which is training church leaders in Ukraine and Muslim Central Asia. We watched Ukraine declare independence in August 1991 and were there when the Soviet Union broke up.
Here’s what I want you to know. Ukrainians are the most peaceful people I know. Let me be clear. There are good and bad people in every culture and society. There are really good Russians. But Ukrainian culture as a whole loves peace and cherishes freedom. Before this week, I would tell people that Ukraine was the freest country in the world! Ukrainian and Russian languages are similar but different (like Portuguese and Spanish). But even the language tells us about the culture. Ukrainian is much softer than the guttural sounds of Russian. It reflects the softness of the people who love to be hospitable and cherish relationships. Ukrainians are loyal and very spiritual. To this day, my best and closest friends are Ukrainian.
Ukraine’s independence has lasted 31 years. Now get this. That is the longest Ukraine has ever had independence. Ukraine has no natural borders to protect it (the name Ukraine means “borderland”). It has been conquered and ruled by the Mongols, Poles, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and now an attempt by the Russian Federation. Ukrainians love their freedom and independence and they won’t stand for Russian occupation. Look at their recent history to keep their independence from Russia:
The cost of lives and property is immense. But there is another cost as well. It’s close to my heart. In 1997 we established the Tavriski Christian Institute (TCI). We were to celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall. It is the first Christian college in Ukraine that has received state accreditation. TCI is sponsoring Christian training for pastors and leaders in central Asian countries where believers there are under constant persecution. TCI professors and teachers can go to these restricted places because they hold Ukrainian passports. TCI is helping support church planting movements in Muslim countries where few can go.
Today, TCI has been evacuated. The TCI property is right on the Dnieper River and is just a mile or so from the main Turupinski Bridge. This bridge is the main way to cross the river from Crimea to the rest of Ukraine. 20 helicopters of Russian special forces landed right by TCI. They burned and cleared all the cattails and brush from the river to make sure they can protect the bridge so their tanks and military support can cross the river. Russian snipers are controlling the bridge currently. Will TCI students and staff ever be able to return? Will TCI have to become remote and relocate? The future is unknown for TCI and 40 million Ukrainians.
Russia also invaded the south of Ukraine to get water. Their first main target was the hydroelectric dam in Kahovka (some 40 miles from Kherson). They needed to open up a water canal that is the main source of freshwater for the entire Crimean peninsula. When Putin illegally invaded Crimea and took it from Ukraine, the Ukrainians cut off their water supply in response.
Yes, in some ways there are two Ukraines. Western Ukraine (basically from the Dnieper river west) is predominantly Ukrainian-speaking. Eastern Ukraine is predominantly Russian speaking – however, almost all can speak and understand each other’s language. But even Eastern Ukraine is split also. Many who speak Russian identify culturally as Ukrainian and love their country. There are those who speak Russian who watch only Russian propaganda television and side with the Russian Federation. That’s why there have been the breakaway regions (instigated by Russian operatives). In general, there’s been peace between Ukrainian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, until the Russian operatives began their work of disunity.
When Putin invaded Crimea in 2014, he sent Russian operatives into Kherson. They were driven out by a united city. Part of the unity in that city developed through the faith community. For decades, the Protestant churches and the Orthodox churches have worked for unity. Every Sunday, leaders, and congregants would meet in the central square where the statue of Lenin used to stand. They would pray together for their city and country.
So what can you and I do? We can pray. Like believers for the last 2000 years who have faced persecution, it seems so little. But do we really believe in a God who is greater than an invading army? I do. I’m praying daily that Putin repents and surrenders to Jesus. I’m praying for the Russian and Belarusian people to stand up and revolt against this tyranny. I’m praying the Russian oligarchs will take a stand against Putin (even if only for selfish reasons). I’m praying for a miracle of resilience on the part of the Ukrainian people. I’m praying that the West fully support and supply the Ukrainian people. I’m praying that the believers still in Ukraine will stand strong in their faith as they love and serve all and be a witness to the life-giving Jesus. I’m praying for peace as other bad actors in the world might be tempted to use this to further aggression in other parts of the world. Pray for peace. Pray that in the midst of chaos and conflict that the kingdom and influence of God will advance.
Many of you have asked how you can help financially. We’ve been able to set up a way to get the funds into Ukraine! The funds you give will go to help Ukrainian refugees and the churches and Christians who remain in Ukraine to serve their people and advance the love of Christ. You can give at https://pantano.church/give/. Select the Ukraine fund.
I’m now in daily contact with Ukrainians (thank God for the internet) and we have ways to ensure that help gets to those who need it. Thank you for your love, prayer, and support. Please keep praying. I’m confident that God will not ignore the prayers of tens of thousands of believers.