Friday, July 29, 2011

TV? (Updated)

Another update: More video!

Okay, this is really weird; I'm writing about TV. In April there was a documentary about "The Boy From Baby House No. 10." I couldn't find it online then, but last night I did. It was very close to home for us, because our dear friends adopted Vanya/John's best friend. I should go find some photos from the last time they visited us.... You can see them in the documentary a few times, if you watch carefully. (Would Andrei be embarrassed if I say that he was really cute back then? ) We even went to that baby house with them once or twice. What brought this back to mind now was that they'll all be on the Today Show today! We're planning to watch that online. Maybe I can come back and add a direct link later. Here's where we watched the earlier show:
(I list them all out like that, because they're kind of hard to find in order over there.)

Pray for the orphans! God gave John and Andrei families, but there are so, so many left behind.

The New York Yankees had a nice slideshow and article. I don't know how much the Today Show played on TV; there wasn't much online. One clip had a glimpse of Andrei yesterday, and then there was this:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Ah, apparently something did change. This article said to watch for an eight-minute segment, and this says that it wasn't shown on TV.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Grace Life

As I have already mentioned, again and again, I find myself pondering this:

how can I communicate and demonstrate Christ as our only hope, our foundation and guarantee of both salvation and sanctification?

Living by grace is counter-intuitive, it goes against all our natural instincts, I know that - but it is also what we are created for in Christ. “Perhaps the most difficult task for us to perform is to rely on God's grace and God's grace alone for our salvation. It is difficult for our pride to rest on grace. Grace is for other people - for beggars. We don't want to live by a heavenly welfare system. We want to earn our own way and atone for our own sins. We like to think that we will go to heaven because we deserve to be there.” (R.C. Sproul)

What can I do?

I'm expected to preach and teach, so I teach on the grace/works, faith/law contrasts in the New Testament. I try to emphasize the focus of not self, but Christ, the Christ-centeredness of true christianity vs. man-centered religion. I preach the Gospel of Grace vs. the False Gospel of the insufficiency of Christ.

...I do so because I know the true gospel is powerful and more than able to transform minds and hearts saturated with legalism and religion. I am confident that the gospel of Jesus Christ can and will turn hearts from law-keeping to Himself as sufficient for both eternal salvation and daily living, by his grace.

The Gospel supposes that, good and holy and perfect as the law of God is, it is entirely powerless either to justify OR sanctify. It cannot in any way make the old nature better, neither is it the rule of life for the new nature. The old man is not subject to the law, and the new man does not need it. The new creature has Another object before it, and another power acts upon it, in order to produce what is lovely and acceptable to God - Christ the object, realized by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (William Kelly)

How can I make this real for the people I minister to and with in this church?

This is all I can do:

Lift up again and again Christ as the object of our adoration, the focus of our lives, the essence of our Christianity; emphasize and re-emphasize the Holy Spirit through the grace of God as the only power capable of producing in our hearts: love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness.

I can only live by grace myself, daily dependent upon, hungry for God's grace in my own heart, in my own life, in my own family.

I can only act in grace as I attempt to serve these believers in this church, so that my interactions with them are grace-based and motivated by grace.

I can only speak of the Grace of God so abundantly poured out upon us in and through Christ Jesus, letting my words always be centered in and flowing from grace.

When at times I find it a challenge to see the point of this ministry, when I don't know if anything I do or say is even registering - that is when I can, more than ever, revel in the wonderful assurance that His grace is sufficient.

His grace is sufficient for my heart, and for the hearts of those who may catch a glimpse of that all-sufficient grace through me, through Phyllis, as we live here and minister the best we know how...

by, in and through the grace of God.

Our righteousness is in Christ, and our hope depends, not upon the exercise of grace in us, but upon the fullness of grace and love in Him...” (John Newton)

Fun with Julie

Meeting Bogdan

Celebrating Will's birthday (late)

Giving massages


Painting fingernails


Bogdan's first swim

I love this one!

We found this weirdo down on the beach.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The 7th wonder

Remember the seven wonders of Dneprorudny? We've been experiencing the seventh. It really has been wonderful, though! They were very fast and kind. Yesterday Raia fell, just off an office chair at home, but it was enough to break her arm. Our friend, Julie, is here visiting, so we left the other children with her, and both Will and I went with Raia to the hospital. That was especially good, because Will had to go off to find and buy cast supplies, but I got to stay with Raia. Without Julie, Raia might have had to be alone a little. She has a small fracture above her elbow. The doctor said that it was a bad place to break, but that she had a "lucky break," with everything staying in the right places. So, it should heal up just fine. Raia and Will are back at the hospital now; we should know more when they get back.

(Oh, last night, the person who came in after us was a very elderly babushka who had fallen out of an apricot tree and broken her arm! And like I said, they were really fast. They told us we would have to wait for an x-ray, but the ambulance went right out and got the x-ray lady for Raia.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Grace Plus...?

As I sat in church this past Sunday, I found myself thinking, for the thousandth time, it seems:

how can people so thoroughly entwine and confuse grace and works, especially concerning salvation, when the New Testament seems so clearly to make an either/or distinction? Without that distinction, the gift of eternal life, good works we do as Christians, the forgiveness of sins and a life of discipleship just get hopelessly entangled.

Martin Luther says simply, “Centering ones attention on oneself and determining what condition I am in and what I must do, I lose sight of Christ, who alone is my Righteousness and my Life.”

It seems so clear that all is by Grace, all due to Christ. Yet somehow, we preach a message of salvation received by 'grace through faith,' but then teach believers that “we will only be blessed if we are constantly abiding in God's commandments, like Israel when Moses gave them the Law. We must keep all His commandments worthily so as to one day enter into those heavenly dwellings that god has prepared for us.”

Christ alone is full of Grace and Truth. How is it that we so easily forget that, and focus more on our efforts? Again, the words of Luther come to mind, “if Christ is pushed aside, and I look only to myself, then I am finished... because this thought immediately springs to mind: 'Christ is in heaven, and you are upon the earth. How are you ever going to reach Him?' and the answer is thus: 'I will lead a holy life and do what the Law requires, and so will eventually attain eternal life.'

Luther unequivocally calls this what it is - abandoning Grace, abandoning Christ.

The narrow way, the long and weary road...

I know all to well that this habit of abandoning Grace is common, whether one lives in America, Russia, Africa or Ukraine. Still, even in the Russian Baptist churches that I've attended over the years, I've seldom heard it so clearly and consistently preached and taught as The Way for Christians to live and hope to gain eternal life.

On Sunday after Sunday, I've heard salvation presented as: “Jesus died to give us the hope of salvation, the hope of eternal life someday, which is eventually gained through a life of striving for holiness, because we know that 'there shall in no wise enter into it anything unclean!”

Correspondingly, sanctification and the Christian life is seen as being all about our efforts: “victory over sin is our responsibility, our battle, our striving – finding our strength in Christ of course, but we must gain this victory on our own...”

The problem is this. “
Grace stands in direct opposition to any supposed worthiness on our part. To say it another way: Grace and works are mutually exclusive. Our relationship with God is based on either works or grace. There is never a works-plus-grace relationship with Him.” (Jerry Bridges)

How can I, in this setting, best convey that “where Christ resides, there is no place for the Law, sin, wrath and death. Instead, now there is nothing but Grace, righteousness, joy, life, and the confidence of a son in his Father, who is now appeased, compassionate, and reconciled.” (Martin Luther)

This is the heart of Grace, where Christ resides. I find myself daily asking Him to display His Grace, first and foremost - but in that Grace, His life, hope, joy, confidence and so much more through this flawed child of His.

This is where I live, what my heart is preoccupied with these days.


( be continued)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Together again

I love this photo from when Bogdan woke up and saw that Jaan was home:

(He does look a little crazed, though.)

I was actually trying to get a photo of this.

Maybe I won't be such a bad mother, if he sucks his thumb,
while his pacifier is hanging right there?

And a photo of the girls
An incredible troupe of stilt walkers performed for the city's birthday. You can see one of them in the parade behind Raia and Asya, who were watching from the sidelines. Isn't Raia's face great?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Happy birthday!

This little city where we live is celebrating its 50th birthday! After living in central Russia, where everything has such a long history, that seems pretty young, but it's a special birthday anyway. In honor of this holiday, I thought I'd point out a fun article: The Seven Wonders of Dneprorudny. They are
  1. iron mine (of course)
  2. "sea"
  3. park
  4. "The Centipede"
  5. mining monument
  6. museum
  7. traumatology-orthopedic center
I agree with all of them, except that I didn't even know about the museum here. (How could I have missed that?) Some of them are very close to us. The sea is my favorite part of Dneprorudny, and the park is just wonderful, too, even if it is completely overgrown and neglected. The huge apartment building up on stilts--"The Centipede"--is directly in front of ours. It's what our windows look out on. The mining monument was right by our old apartment, and we still see it every day. If you come visit, I could show you almost all the seven wonders in one day! Well, I can't get to the mine, and we'd skip the hospital unless you were really interested (I do have lots of connections there!), but I'd take you to the others.

And a completely unrelated photo....

They're back from camp!

(By the way, there was an even more important birthday recently, but we haven't celebrated it yet.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Big boy!

Yesterday Bogdan had his four-month check up. He has more than doubled his birth weight now: 7 kilograms! Our doctor is on vacation, so we saw another one, and she was much more pleasant.

When we first got the stroller, he was so tiny

Recently: look how he fills it up!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Questions about Grace

The grace of God. I know that my life would have no hope or light without it. I know that His grace to me in Jesus Christ is the foundation my life is built on. Grace for daily life, for salvation and sanctification is His gift, freely given.

It's also what often seems is most lacking in my church.

How can I be a conduit of His grace?

What can I do? Sometimes I feel like protesting - I'm only one person, after all. How can I convey the absolute vitality, the centrality of Grace in our lives as Christians, how can I get across this Grace that I am so utterly dependent upon, so constantly aware of and grateful for...

I don't want to cause confusion or argument by teaching too much that is radically different from what they've been taught for years. I don't want to seem to set myself up as “The Spiritual One.” I don't want a “grace revolution” on my hands here, even if it were possible – which I doubt.

I'm here to serve these people, not divide them.

Still, when works/performance/'doing my part' is such a pervasive focus, how can I best re-direct the attention of these people I love to Christ as the only source of life and righteousness? “The apostle Paul argues that Christian righteousness is a righteousness of Christ living in us, and not our own righteousness. However, Christ and my conscience must merge so that in my field of view there is nothing left but the Crucified and Risen Christ.

For if Christ is pushed aside, and I look only to myself, then I am finished - because this thought immediately springs to mind: 'Christ is in heaven, and you are upon the earth. How are you ever going to reach Him?' and the answer is thus: 'I will lead a holy life and do what the Law requires, and so will eventually attain eternal life.'

"Centering ones attention on oneself and determining what condition I am in and what I must do, I lose sight of Christ, who alone is my Righteousness and my Life.

"Without Him there is no help, no counsel, but only despair and destruction.

"This evil is very common, because such is human weakness that in time of temptation or in the face of death, we will immediately abandon Christ and turn again to our own works.” (Martin Luther)

Lord, I desperately need your grace, more than anything else, as I attempt to bring more grace, more understanding and compassion into our interactions with one another as your children here in this place.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A new prayer letter

Click to read or to print.

By the way, I wrote this letter a few days ago. Will and Jaan are at camp now.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Brotherly love

Jaan wanted to try rocking Bogdan to sleep tonight.

Another photo of the cutie

Friday, July 08, 2011

Thinking about Grace, cont'd.

Grace has been on my mind a lot lately...

Grace in general, and in particular, the Grace of God as the essence of, the foundation and means of the Christian life.

More specifically, how can I convey the absolute vitality, the centrality of Grace in our lives as Christians. How can I most clearly communicate Grace as the only grounds for our relating to God, the only basis for building relationships with other Christians and the only foundation for relating to those within our own families?

As Jerry Bridges has observed: “We are brought into God's kingdom by grace; we are sanctified by grace; we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we are called to serve by grace and, finally, we are glorified by grace. The entire Christian life is lived under the reign of God's grace.”

This is what keeps running through my mind, percolating in my heart, keeping me awake at night — As I attempt to serve this church, how can I teach and demonstrate, speak and act so that Grace becomes more of an essential paradigm for living for people who have largely only known the opposite: conditional acceptance, assurance and approval; love, forgiveness and mercy that is limited or earned; relationships that are manipulated to produce 'Godly behavior'; in other words, performance-based Christianity, Legalism, and Churchianity.

I am aware that I may be over-sensitive on this topic. Still, it sometimes seems that this church is simply saturated in all that I just listed, that it is thoroughly entrenched in believers minds and hearts. So much so that whatever I say or do in an effort to re-orient the church toward Grace and Faith seems only the tiniest firefly of grace-light in a murky swamp of Legalism and Performance-based Christianity.

...I say “God's unconditional love”, they reply “God is an All-Consuming Fire!” I teach on Assurance in the Promises of God, they reply by preaching on “God's faithfulness to His Threats Fear God, or else!!” I seek to encourage relationships based on Grace and Freedom in Christ, and they reply with Conditional forgiveness and fellowship ... it's like we're speaking different languages.

Not that this is anything horribly unusual, unheard of, or even peculiar to this small Ukrainian Independent Baptist Church we're in here. It's not, sadly enough to say.

Almost 50 years ago, C.I. Scofield said that "Most of us have been reared and now live under the influence of
Galatianism. Protestant theology is for the most part thoroughly Galatianized, in that neither the Law nor Grace is given its distinct and separate place in the counsels of God, but they are mingled together in one incoherent system . The Law is no longer, as in the divine intent, a ministration of death (2 Cor.3:7), of cursing (Gal.3:10), or of conviction (Rom.3:19), because we are taught that we must try to keep it, and that by divine help we may.
Nor does Grace, on the other hand, bring us blessed deliverance from the dominion of sin, for we are kept under the law as a rule of life, despite the plain declaration of Romans 6:14 - «sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace!"

This is a malady that has afflicted the church and detracted from the glory of God's grace in Jesus Christ from its very first days, so I'm not complaining about this church being a special case.

I'm not even complaining. This is where God has us for now, and these are the questions I struggle with.

How can I most glorify Christ? How can I live out Grace in a way that is simple and comprehensible?

How can I convey this, that “Our righteousness is in Him, and our hope depends, not upon the exercise of grace in
us, but upon the fullness of Grace and Love in Him, and upon His obedience unto death. (John Newton)

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Last night the young couple who recently got married hosted picnic to thank everyone for helping with their wedding. We didn't get many photos, but here are a few.

Bogdan's first shashlik

With Lyuda's kitten

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Thinking about Grace

(Phyllis asked that I write a bit and contribute to the overall picture of our life that this blog gives. A couple of days later, I sat down and began to write. I have a hard time being brief, but I wanted to share thoughts, challenges for me in this particular place in life, so I wrote out a few pages over a few days. =) We decided to parcel out what I wrote, so please accept this as intended, in a spirit of 'to be continued...')

Thinking about Grace...

How important — how intrinsic of a part does Grace have in my life?

Grace as a foundational concept, a paradigm for living, a daily reality like fresh-brewed coffee in the morning...

I sometimes wonder how well I convey, visibly, in words and actions just how vital Grace is to this heart and mind. Does my wife see and hear grace in my words to her, in how I choose to spend time with her(or not)? Do my children sense any grace in my attitude toward them, my interaction with them?

I ask myself these questions because of this:

how is it that when Grace is the very ground I stand on, the air that I breathe, when I am so utterly dependent upon, so constantly aware of and grateful for Grace...

that I often somehow forget to actually put this into words, to consciously seek to convey the sense of the one thing I truly could not live without?!


I guess Grace is always worth thinking about.