41 Questions To Ask a Potential Church

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Before being called to pastor Ballymoney Baptist Church, I inevitably faced a raft of questions from its eldership.  Beforehand, however, I also asked the elders some questions of my own. Since mentioning this in a prior post, I’ve been emailed several times to forward a copy of those questions to pastor’s in the same situation. Here then is a slightly ammended list of the questions I asked.

A. Theological Questions

1. What is the church’s statement of faith and how did the church devise it?

2. What has been the most vexed theological question the church has faced? Has there ever been a church split over theology or practice? Why?

3. On the wider scene, what theological trends and strands of false teaching would the elders at Ballymoney be particularly concerned about at the moment?

4. What are the key functions/roles of an elder at Ballymoney?

5. What is the elder’s relationship to…

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Hollywood’s Russia Conundrum: Time to Find Different Cinematic Villains?

We Minored in Film

You couldn’t have timed this any better (or worse, depending on how you look at it).  Last Thursday, news broke that Russia was getting pretty serious about outlawing foreign movies, most specifically American ones, that “demonize Russia and Russians.”:

“In some films, anti-social and sometimes anti-Russian rhetoric is present, confusing the younger generation,” the chamber’s first deputy secretary Vladislav Grib was quoted as saying on Sept. 24 by the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS. “At the same time, Russian pictures have a hard time reaching the screens and sometimes they are unable to do that at all […] We understand that there is no way for Hollywood to stop portraying us as the bad guys.  We just advise that Hollywood add some balance and introduce some good Russian characters into their stories too. Apart from being fair and politically correct, this approach will also help keep screens open for Hollywood.”

The…

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Life Together

When the darkness fills your skies,
Call to Christ and he’s surely to arise,
Our Saviour chased from us sin and night,
And He alone brings us joy, and life, and light.

Let us not forget that when trouble comes our way that we be careful not to be lost in this darkness that has come around our way. Because like the earth that spins by God’s own will He allows one side to be covered by the night and the other by the light of day. So much so is our darkness and our mornings. Pain is not our own for Christ has owned yours and mine and all those who would believe. The morning then is not our own either, it belongs to God and to the Christian family, to your brothers and sisters in Christ. When the pain and loneliness of night has come upon you. Dear friend, do not hide it from your Lord, do not hide to be left alone, but seek out your Christian family and see how soon you all will delight in the light. These things are good and true.

Keep up the good fight
with prayer, and song and Scripture,
because there will be another night.

What I’ve Learned After One Semester of Seminary

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I would first and foremost want to thank you all for your prayers, your calls, and texts. …And not just because today is Thanksgiving.

You are all just a bunch of blessings from the Lord. We love you and miss you and are so so so so so grateful to have you in our lives. We could not get through these last few months without your prayers. This evening we have been invited to have dinner with a group of seminarians and we are very excited to just relax, encourage one another, and eat like elephants.

I have compiled a list of things I have learned after my first semester of seminary. Yesterday was the last day of lecture class. So technically the semester is not over yet, since we still have two weeks of finals exams to do. Some of you might be wondering how that works. Well just as a quick note we call these two weeks as reading week or I call it study-until-you’re-blue weeks – blue weeks, for short. Throughout the weeks we have scheduled exams to take, some are online and some you have to come into class to take, but throughout these two weeks we do not have classes to attend to – except the exams of course. …you get the picture so not lets move on… ☺

My first semester has been a blast. Literally a blast. It was fun, fast, intense, took lots of energy and a little smoky at the end…just like a firecracker blast.

While I did learn many things in the classroom, most of the lessons were like little seeds that were planted in the midst of the lecture, reading, interacting with other students and so on.

1) We are made for relationships with God, and people.
a. When I came to seminary, I had no idea what I was walking into (I still think I don’t). After not having been in school for over 4 years, I was a bit nervous. A ton of insecurities welled up in me. Am I smart enough? Could I handle the heavy course load? Was this really what I was being called to? As a Russian-American, would I be fully accepted and acknowledged? Would I fit in? I hate to say that all these questions were surely in my mind as I arrived to Philly. Unfortunately the weight would often become heavier before it got lighter. Now and again I still think about these questions as I meet gifted, intelligent, and passionate people. I sometimes find myself longing for the gifts, skills, and talents of others. I realized it is in these moments that I lose sight of who my God is and who I am. My identity is being pushed and pulled to achievements and works and gifts instead of Christ. One of my professors helped me see this as he shared that he too sees this in his own heart. The more we are honest with God, the more we find peace and comfort to say with the Apostle Paul; “I am what I am by the grace of God”. With this I have been renewed in thankfulness and joy for who He is and who He has created me to be.

b. I learned how easy it is to be disconnected from God and people when you are in seminary. It has been a real fight not a challenge – but a FIGHT to do my morning devotions. I am always in a hurry and rushing like a Russian 😉 . This is the lesson I learned; if you plan on doing devotionals then do it right away, all the way and with a joyful heart.

2) Seminary is a lot of work.
a. Study at WTS is not easy. Not simply because the coursework is rigorous, but because on top of this coursework, you will be forced to look at the junk in your heart. Writing papers, taking tests/quizzes, and reading tons of books, while at the same time examining your heart, is weary work but comes with a priceless payoff.

3) I have a love/hate relationship with Greek.
a. The languages are huge here at WTS. I am still yet to take Hebrew but Greek has kicked my butt more times than I can count, no wait I can – 13 times (that’s every week since the first day of class).

b. Greek is my enemy because it kicks me while I’m down and wont let me get a breath. Greek is my friend because it takes me to the source of the message and gives me insight and appreciation for the text like I have never had before. Greek is heavily used in the upcoming studies for Systematics, New Testament, Apologetics and others. And WTS languages emphasis really sets you up for a higher education, as graduate school should.

c. My Greek class gave me the most grief but it also gives me the most joy. When I can read and break it down well (not a common phenomena I can assure you) I am happier than a room without a roof.

Prayer requests:
Please be praying for our little family to find a place to live closer to the seminary under $800mo. And also that final exams go well.
Sorry for the length of this post. I try to keep them short but I wanted to share something more this time. This is not an exhaustive list, and it will only continue to grow (so if you think this is long just wait until my last year of seminary…no no I’m kidding of course).

While these are things I learned in my circumstances what have you learned in yours.
What have you learned in the last three months?
What is God teaching you now?

So Far Its Been Smooth Sailing

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Thank you for all your prayers the Lord has been so good to us. So I’ll start with our MVP – Silas. He has been doing well getting along with the other (4yr old) toddler in the house. He is learning to share and play by the rules. She is also making him talk in Russian. The Lord has been merciful to keep him from any sickness and we hope that will remain the case through the winter season. 

I can not even begin to explain how or rather why God has given me such a loving and patient wife. I truly wish every man had a wife like mine – she is awesome!
Natalie has decided on working evening shifts three days a week at a nearby restaurant and in January she might get some students for her fitness training job, but it doesn’t seem to be the case for now. I think that one part-time job should be enough for us to get our own place and I don’t want Natalie to get overwhelmed. I’m in class and studying most of the day so when I come home (around 5pm) I hang out with my home boy Silas and then put him to bed around 7pm…that’s the plan anyway.
So far Natalie and I have decided that I not work and just focus on school. It has truly been like drinking out of a fire hose, but I am loving it. With all its pain and sleepless nights (literally I have nights when I study from 11pm and then pack up my books and go to my morning class…) I would not trade it for the world…well maybe I would but you know what I mean. Most of my time is devoted to Greek, so my only regret is not getting a head start on Greek before I came to seminary, but either than that
Natalie and I have made lots of good friends and I am meeting more and more Baptist brothers on campus. And just for the record my Presbyterian brothers are not giving me a hard time about my baptism convictions…well some do but it is always light-hearted and out of fun. I am learning more that I thought I could, reading more than I thought I could and growing in and by His grace.
We are still looking for a church to join. Almost every Sunday we have visited a new church but for now we seem to be gravitating towards Trinity Church (http://www.tcphilly.org/).
Please do not stop praying for us we continually need your prayers that God would fill us with knowledge of his will and direction through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.
Please continue to pray that we may live a life worthy and pleasing to him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God and our own finiteness.
Please continue to pray that we find a church family that is healthy and a good fit.
Please pray that all would be well with Natalie’s work and for a smooth and godly transition to work by seeking to redeem all things for His name and kingdom.
Please continue to pray for my spiritual and intellectual growth to be in a continual progressing balance for His name sake.
Your brother in Christ,

Pavel Nickoliyavich Bugriyev

It Has Begun

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The Lord has been abundantly gracious to provide a warm welcome here on the East Coast. The Philadelphians, the Westminster students, professors, and the local churches have been so welcoming and kind to us. Day one of class was a great experience and a joy-filled time. I was pleased to meet many new friends and hear from world-class scholars.

Dr. Brandon Crowe is my advisor with whom I will continue to meet every Thursday morning for prayer and mentorship. Dr. Crowe is the professor of New Testament here at Westminster. Already he has proven to be a gentleman and a scholar…and as an added bonus he has a great sense of humor. I am so excited to develop a life long friendship with such a kind and brilliant brother in Christ.

We have been so blessed to have a place to stay at the home of a loving and godly Ukrainian family. A special thanks to Volodia and Nadya Gordynskiy and to the family with whom we are currently staying with now, Zhan and Alla Kiselev.

Words can not express what a huge blessing these few weeks have been. Thank you all for your prayers since the Lord used your prayers as means to bring about his purposes.

Due to popular demand here is my class schedule:

Fall Semester of 2014: Duration 9/4/2014 – 12/12/2014

AP101 – Intro to Apologetics
with Dr. William Edger: Tuesdays 8:30 – 10:30, and Wednesdays 8:30-9:30.

CH211 – The Ancient Church
with Dr. Carl Trueman: Thursdays 11:00 – 13:00.

NT011 – New Testament Greek
with Mr. Brandon Szerlip: Mondays and Thursdays 14:00 – 16:00.

PT111 – Orientation to Ministerial Formation
with Timothy Witmer: Tuesdays 14:00 – 16:00.

ST101 – Intro to Theology
with David Garner: Mondays 11:00 – 1300.
This adds up to 13 credits total.

It has been encouraging to receive your financial support and to hear from you personally, but moreover to hear you say that you are diligently praying for us.

Please feel free to ask about any areas of our lives or to expand on anything that I have written in the past.

Support for Seminary

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Dear friends and family,
Natalie and I have decided to move to Philadelphia so that I can study at Westminster Theological Seminary. Presently, God is leading me to a period of intensive study of His Word in the seminary to obtain a Master’s Degree in Divinity. I hope to use the abundant resources God has provided to play a part in serving the universal Church either directly in the local church or by laboring within a para-church context.

I am open to pastoral ministry, but rather uncertain that God has called me to be a pastor. One thing I am certain in is that I would like to see my ministry and vocation to overlap, as I want nothing more than to spend and be spent for the beloved bride of Christ. I do not associate going to seminary with an exclusive calling to pastoral ministry. It is my simple wish to obtain a greater theological education that I may carry on serving the Lord with zeal and knowledge.

Brothers and sisters, would you be willing to help us through prayer and financial support? Would you partner with me in praying for me and my wife and baby Silas as we walk this journey of faith wherever the Lord may lead in the future?
Every investment entails some amount of risk. You can invest in stocks, relationships, and politicians, but few things will last into eternity, and none of these are guaranteed to succeed. I encourage you to pray with discernment to see where God might use you in this prospect.

We are praying for $800/month for living expenses excluding food, insurance, travel and tuition. Tuition cost per semester is approximately $12,000.
I am excited and humbled by this opportunity to go to Westminster Theological Seminary. Excited, because I see the hand of God already at work, and humbled, because I don’t deserve any of the blessings I have already obtained in this and will obtain. Our date of departure is set for August 18, 2014 and I am committed to providing updates through my blog that can be found on my Facebook page.

Sincerely your brother in Christ,
Paul Bugriyev

If you would like to support us by prayer please email me at: p.bugriyev@gmail.com with the subject title “I promise to pray“.

If you would like to support us by a financial contribution you may give by the following three methods:
1) Credit Cardhttp://www.gofundme.com/bldl34
2) Check – Paul Bugriyev, 3050 Jimmy Way, Roseville, CA 95747
3) In person – Please call me and I would love to thank you over a cup of coffee and prayer for one another. 916-692-0811.

Romans 8:28  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”