Same but different

In November of 2001, I made my last trip to Moscow, Russia before moving back to the states. Moscow is a beautiful city and I always enjoyed visiting, was grateful for those called to serve there, and content to arrive back home again.

On the last night of my visit, in the cold twilight, I walked across Red Square for what I anticipated to be the last time. It was magical. A light snow began to fall. The lights from Lenin’s tomb (btw, he’s still there, unlike Jesus) caused the snow to sparkle in the growing darkness. Walking past the Kremlin walls toward St. Basil’s Cathedral, I felt as if I was stepping into a John LeCarre or Ian Fleming spy novel – Bond, James Bond.

I remembered a conversation I had with a colleague from the IMB a couple of years before. He told me that the late fall was always a wonderful time for new missionaries as they moved to Moscow. For many, snow and cold weather was a novelty. They saw the beauty of the city to which God had called them. However, the second fall was very different for many. It was difficult, as they knew, the second time around, how long, cold and dark a Russia winter can be. And snow is not nearly so beautiful in the spring thaw, revealing the mud beneath. To cope, they needed to gather together with others who had walked the journey before for encouragement and support.

I’ve reflected on this experience much in the last few days. Joan and I are approaching a season of life when our kids are again out of the house. It feels a lot like last time. There was excitement and joy as we anticipated the experiences that were to come for them. Today, we have the same excitement and joy over what is to come for them. Yet, having been here before, we realize how much time and distance will separate us. We can’t help but be a little melancholy.

This morning, we meditated on Hebrews 10:24-25: And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. We were reminded how much we need one another and how much we need a relationship with others. Meeting together habitually to be encouraged and “stirred” up and assured that regardless of what is to come, we are not alone.

I’m thinking about Easter now. The disciples had experienced the death of family and friends before. They knew the heartbreak and loneliness that is present in loss. The Bible says they had gathered together. Likely to mourn and grieve because they “knew” what to expect. But this time was going to be different. Imagine the ladies rushing into the room in excitement and joy. Imagine Jesus suddenly standing among them even though the doors were locked. Imagine their surprise when they realized the truth of the statement, He has risen! (Mark 16:6) He is not in the tomb (unlike Lenin). He is alive. And that message continues to stir us to love and good works today.

So, as you head again into an experience that feels like last time, don’t ignore the difficulty that you experienced before. But don’t get overwhelmed. Expect God to show Himself in new ways. And make surrounding yourself with others a habit.

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