Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Off to Poland!

Tomorrow we start the long trek to Krakow. You probably won't hear from us for about two weeks now. Please be praying. Pray especially for all to go well with renewing our visas and reentering Ukraine; laws are changing, and there is a lot of uncertainty.

If you want to, you can go back and read about the last time we did this. The travel should be about the same this time. Oh, also pray for sleep on those trains! I love train travel, but last time we went to Kiev I wanted to swear that we'd never take an overnight train again. There's really no way to get around it, though.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Fear Factor, part 3.

This is the last post on what I've called "The Fear Factor" in my church here. It's basically a repeated emphasis in church teaching and practice: an abundance of veiled or open threats, reminders of potential punishment and urging to live in fear of God; in fear of His wrath, judgement, and punishment. Somehow this is supposed to be the normal motivation for living in fellowship with God and man.

"Fear of hell
is a good motivation to trust in Christ. However, once we trust in Him, we know that we will never perish (Jn 3:16), and that we never need fear hell again. To continue to fear hell is to doubt that Jesus has forgiven us.
(There are many) powerful reasons to obey God. Assurance of salvation doesn't promote sin. An earthly parent can motivate his or her children to obey without threatening them with hell. So can our Heavenly Father." (Bob Wilkin)

One of the things that amplifies and enables the Fear Factor in this church is a lack of actually studying the Bible. There is a lot of of repeating verses and passages that can be made to sound threatening - without trying to discover what is actually being taught in the passage quoted. This leads to misquoted verses like “only the pure in heart shall see God” (Mat.5:8) and "if we don't judge ourselves, God will judge us with this world!" (1Cor.11:31-32) being preached as passages on how to have assurance that you will be in heaven, and not end up in hell.

As I can, and to the extent that I can, without causing controversy, I try to teach on important distinctions made in the New Testament that are essential for healthy doctrine and practice. Last Sunday I taught a little about the difference between the Judgement Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne judgement. It might have seemed rather advanced teaching to some of our church members, but I was tired of hearing references where the two events were lumped into one horrifying event where our good works as children of God will be what determine whether we end up in heaven or hell.

As a part of that message, I read from I Jn.4, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement: because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1Jn. 4:17-18)

However, during the wrap-it-all-up final message, one of the deacons summarized my message in just a few words, giving it a completely opposite twist. “Brother Will reminded us of the importance of a life of good works and keeping our hearts pure before God as what is needed to avoid judgement. Like the apostle John says: ‘If our own hearts judge us, then God does all the more!’” And so the Fear Factor was firmly re-established in the hearts and minds of those present, lest they go away confident that they are a beloved child of God, whether or not they live a perfect life.

If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.

I don’t have the answer to the dilemma I find myself in, as I minister to people while disagreeing profoundly with so much of what they cling to. Sometimes I want to stand up and shout that our problem isn’t uncovering some tiny mistake made 5 years ago that God is still punishing the church for - the true problem, the astoundingly Large problem, the Elephant In The Room that no one acknowledges - is that we are attempting to justify ourselves before God on the grounds of our works! Christ did everything needed - and HE took our punishment in full, on the cross... “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God ...who made (Christ) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ...and when (Christ) had offered for all time this one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, for by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy!” (1Pet.3:18, 2Cor.5:21,Heb.10:12-14)

However, I’m not usually given to shouting. It generally doesn’t do much good. I do wonder how much effect we are having here at this point, and how much longer I personally can continue to endorse a system of Churchianity that I am finding I object to more and more.

Let me not love Thee
From fear of wrath
Let me not see Thee
From hope for gain
Let me look on Thee
For the beauty of Thy face,
Beauty I cannot see
With my eye
Beauty I cannot know
With my mind
Beauty I can feel
Within my heart,
Where Thou hast built
Thy marble temple
Where Thou hast lain
Red-yellow flowers
Where Thou hast hid
The treasure of Thyself.
(Song of Rabia-I-Basra)

By the grace of God we are where we are, at least for now, and my hope and prayer is that we may impact this church through friendships and conversations, through believers here observing our life and family. I pray that at least the possibility of a relationship with God based on Grace and Love might begin to cross their minds. I hope and pray that God will work in their hearts - that our emphasis of Christ alone as the Source of salvation, life, hope and strength may cause them to reflect upon the question of where their own hope truly lies.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death ...what, then, shall we say in response to these things?

If God is for us, who can be against us?


There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Recent excitement

It's been nice and quiet around here. We've been getting ready for our trip to Poland, working on school, and Will has been translating letters.

Also, the main water pipe for the city broke. (Here's a news video about that.) It only took a few days for them to get it fixed, but those few days were exciting. A water truck came around to the buildings, and everyone lined up for water. The spigot on the truck was frozen at first, so they actually lit a fire to get it going! Our children thought it was great.

The line at the water truck

Watching siblings go for water

Water's back on

And then, in other news:

Bogdan got a...

Bogdan got a new high chair.

Best friends

This next picture really doesn't show how funny Bogdan looks. Every time he smiles, I think he's holding his jaw off to the side, because his teeth don't line up at all. The funny look probably won't last for long, though, because yesterday and today he seems pretty miserable, which probably means new teeth are coming. I can't see anything yet, though.

Funny teeth

Somehow I don't have any new photos of Raia and Asya. I'll have to get some and do a whole blog post devoted to my sweet girls soon.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

New prayer letter

Click to read or print. Or come over here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012


Our visa invitations were ready in record time! It took less than a week for the church to write up a request and the religion and culture people to approve it. However, when Will went on Thursday to pick up the letters, there were some really big mistakes: they had us listed as living in a completely different city. He spent the day resubmitting in order to get those fixed. They probably thought that he was crazy to bother with corrections, but we really want to get everything right, as much as possible. Please keep praying for our visas, and for everyone else who is caught up in this now, too. It's much more complicated in some other regions of Ukraine, and March seems to be the month when everyone is renewing.

Bogdan has two new teeth! If these come all the way through, before he gets any more, he's going to look pretty funny. Several of our children have gotten first middle bottom teeth, then outer top teeth. (I just checked; it was Raia and Asya. Maybe Jaan got his in a more normal order?) Bogdan has his own funny order, though. He has the two middle teeth on the bottom, and now he has... how I do explain this? If you imagine the top, center teeth as 1-2-3-4, then he has 1 and 2, but no sign of 3 and 4 yet.

A group of homeless dogs tried to attack Jaan on his way home from music school a few days ago. They didn't hurt him much, but he was very shaken up, and he's very fearful now. He doesn't want to walk back and forth by himself anymore, "At least while the dogs are especially hungry," and I don't blame him.

We had our 11th anniversary! Apparently it's becoming a tradition to work on visas for our anniversary.


Our hot water heater had pretty much stopped working. When the plumber came to look at it, he cleaned this kind of stuff out of it:

That's after just a few months. The city water comes up out of the iron mine. Every time they turn it off, it comes back on dark reddish-brown. Apparently, we need some kind of filter.

One evening recently Jaan was looking through an advertisement from Metro, the big store that has everything, and he said, "Mama, I know what you need! One of these exercise machines! ...or one of these boxes of chocolate."

Do all four-year-olds wander around singing about embassies? (Asya does.)

I recorded part of a reading lesson, with Raia and Bogdan.

The temps here went up a little, then dropped off again. I'm happy. We've been spending time at the sledding hill almost every day, with a few longer walks thrown in. I got some pretty pictures on one of those walks. If you haven't seen them yet, here they are: one, two, three, and four.

Sharing snacks

Bogdan is very generous

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Discussion group/email list

See the box over to the side here? ---->

I started a group to discuss ministry in Ukraine! (Or should I say visas? That's probably what it will be now. Hopefully it will be much more than that, though.) If you live here, please come join and share your wisdom and ask your questions. You can read online like a forum, or get everything through your email. The only restrictions are that it's for those who are in full-time Christian
ministry and Ukraine. Please pass this on to anyone you know of who fits in those categories.

(If you don't already have a Google account, you'll have to set one up. I can try to help with technical details, if necessary.)

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Fear Factor, part 2.

The Apostle John tells us that:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18

However, I find myself almost daily running into reminders of the prevalent mindset that I have called "The Fear Factor", the emphasis that is so thoroughly insinuated into the teaching and practice of the church here: that is, an abundance of veiled or open threats, reminders of potential punishment and urging to live in fear of God; in fear of His wrath, judgement, and punishment. This is presented as the normal motivation for living in fellowship with God and leading a godly life.

In this view of Christianity, the radical New Testament approach to grace-life is basically turned into an updated version of the Old Testament life of condemnation under the Mosaic Law. Everything is conditional, and the demands upon a Christian are even greater than in the Old Testament. Since the New Testament spells out the importance of thoughts and motives, not just actions - there are exponentially more chances to be condemned by God.

That is the essence of the problem with the idea that “Jesus helps me keep all the commandments” that is so prevalent here. Law-keeping of any sort, shade or definition as a way of life must and does bring condemnation. It can do nothing else. After all, that was the intended purpose of the Old Testament Law - to show man that he does not and cannot measure up to the standard of God’s absolute holiness.

“Living under a law mentality is like being a slave to the world's most demanding taskmaster. There's always more to do. And you'll never do enough to please him. As the apostle James teaches us, 'Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.'” (Andrew Farley)

Personally I find it quite depressing that the following is conveyed as the essence of Christianity:

1. I reject my sins and I promise to faithfully serve God all of my life.

2. I try very hard not to ‘break any commandments.’

3. I do everything possible to avoid incurring the wrath of God. (His Judgement/Punishment/Condemnation of me, His child.)

4. I hope that some day, if I manage to hang on ‘til the end of my life, I might be found worthy to be with God in heaven. (“With Jesus’ help,” of course.)

What hope of heaven is there truly when there are so many conditions I must fulfill, albeit ‘with Jesus’ help?’ As a system of manipulation and behavioral conditioning, I guess it’s not bad - but if that’s really all New Testament Christianity is, then how does it actually differ from any other world religion out there?

I try repeatedly to bring this out in conversations, Bible studies and sermons. However, the most commonly repeated and clearest message from the pulpit here is still the following: “God gave us salvation by His grace and now the rest is up to us, if we want to make it to heaven.”

I have brought up the Apostle Paul’s question and reproof in his letter to the church in Galatia: “I would like to learn just one thing from you - Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?” That only brings the response of “Well, we know we don’t have to be circumcised to be saved!”


The ‘good’ thing about legalism is that it often brings us to absolute misery and disillusionment with “what I can do” ...and this state can lead us to a true dependence upon God.

Of course, the opposite of that is when entrenched in a legalistic system, many or most of us do not conclude that the problem is with the system, but usually presume that we ourselves are the problem. (Especially since that is most often what the system teaches us.)

When or if disillusionment with ‘the system’ finally comes, be it church, denomination, etc. often leads to a rejection of Christianity as a whole.

I can only pray that those who have already turned away from the church here may find true freedom and peace in a true understanding of the astounding and all-sufficient Grace of God provided for us in Christ- both for eternal salvation and for daily sanctification.

I pray especially for the young Christians I am working with here, who strive to become ‘better and better’ Christians by doing more and more. May God reveal His grace to them as they study his Word and reflect on the life of our Savior... and my prayer is that He may in part reveal His abundant and all-sufficient Grace through me and my family.

As for those who are convinced of such things as “we provoke God to pour out His wrath on us by allowing our daughters wearing pants to prayer meetings....” I can only pray that God will prove them wrong and in His amazing and preposterous Grace reveal to them how he longs for their hearts to be filled with Love for Him - not Fear of Him.

We are worthy of the fires of Gehenna, if for no other reason, than this - that we fear Gehenna more, are occupied more with Gehenna than with Christ.

...If we loved Christ as we ought to love Him then we would understand that to wound the One whom we love is more horrific than Gehenna itself.

But we do not love - and therefore we do not have the slightest conception of the weight of such a punishment.” St. John Chrystosom

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18

(to be continued...)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Russian Kindle books and...

...Pilgrim's Progress.

I've had several people ask me questions lately, and I decided to answer them here, so that I can remember my answers.

Last things first, at least if you're going in the order of my title here: Pilgrim's Progress is part of Jaan's school reading this year. AmblesideOnline recommends the original English, which I agree with, so we're working towards that. I'm taking several steps to get there, though. First, over the summer, I gave Jaan a Russian translation of Little Pilgrim's Progress to read on his own. (Note: I haven't read it myself, and I don't know what the translation is like. Jaan loved it, though, and it gave him an understanding of what the story is about.) Now, for this year, he and I are listening a Russian audio version, a translation, not a retelling. Then, next year we'll get the English audio that AO suggests. All this might be overkill for some books--children's version, then actual translation, then the original--but I think Pilgrim's Progress can live up to it. Oh, Russian speakers, please don't miss Pushkin's intro to Pilgrim's Progress!

Then, Russian books for Kindle: when did Russian start working on Kindle? I don't think it did when I was given mine, but now it does. (Since the latest software update?) Anyway, Jaan's been reading on my Kindle quite a bit lately. I've been downloading most from RoyalLib. They have several formats available for each book. I get the HTML version and put it through this converter. The final product is quite readable, and I'm rather picky about how my ebooks are formatted.

Any other comments or questions on these topics? Do you have suggestions for good Russian ebook sites?

May 27: I'm editing this to add that Флибуста has become our new favorite source for Kindle books.