Friday, May 31, 2013


I was trying to think of how I could write a blog post from my beloved Kindle. The internet access on it has been a nice treat this week, but typing is just about impossible. I was thinking that I could write "CP" and see if you all would guess that it stood for Chicken Pox and Changed Plans. Probably not.

We're still in Kherson. We should have been home by now, but last night, as we were getting ready to leave, they asked if we would stay another week. So, there are the Changed Plans.

As far as Chicken Pox, Jaan came down with them almost as soon as we got here. That made for a rough few days, but he was a trooper and is already starting to feel better now.

Photos are a challenge on this computer, so this is all I have for now:
Jaan and Bogdan down by the river.
I have a borrowed computer now, so I thought I'd type up what our time here has been busy with so far, before I forget. It's only been busy for about half of us. The other half has been going for long, slow walks and taking care of chicken pox. Anyway, in list form:

  • Late Thursday night - arrived in Kherson and found the apartment we had reserved.
  • Friday - walked around some, rested from the trip. Made plans to go to Agape seminar the next morning.
  • Saturday morning - woke up to. . . Jaan with chicken pox! So, Will and the girls went to the seminar. I stayed back with both boys.
  • Sunday - Will and the girls went to church in the morning. In the evening they invited Will to spend time with the teens at one of the Agape adaptation homes, so he went and ended up staying out until 1:00.
  • Monday - Will was up early to go on an orphange visit out in Kherson oblast. That evening he and Raia went with a group visiting another orphanage here in Kherson.
  • Tuesday - This was the big event for orphans from the surrounding area. More than 400 children came from orphanages all around for a puppet show, lunch, and a boat ride. (There are more photos on Facebook, too.) Again, Jaan, Bogdan and I didn't go, but Will, Raia and Asya were there.
  • Wednesday - Will started working on translating and dubbing Agape's informational video clips. Soon we'll be able to link to those in English. In the evening we met up with the Fedorchuk family (Agape founder and director) and a visiting American for dinner. Jaan was starting to feel a little better!
  • Thursday - Will worked on the videos more at the Agape office again and was able to finally spend some time talking in more detail with Alex Fedorchuk about the possibility of us working with Agape.
  • Friday - that's today, right? Today we rested. Will only went out with Jaan and Raia to pick up this computer that he's borrowing to do further translation work with, and do some shopping.
There. That's "just the facts." I'll try to do more fun details and pictures later, as I have time and computer access.

In the week ahead, Will should be finishing up with the videos, we'll be attending a session of Agape's Bible school, and then on Friday or Saturday--we're a bit tired and confused here--Agape workers from all over Ukraine will be coming together for a day of fellowship and another boat ride. Jaan will get to go on that one! And we'll be able to meet many of the people that are a part of what is happening here.

Of course, that probably leaves you with lots of questions still. It's the same for us, but we are glad to finally make some progress on decisions about where we'll be going next in life and ministry. Thank you for your prayers, and please keep praying.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Have we seen Christ?

 “Legalism doesn’t need God. Legalism is the search for innocence—not forgiveness. It’s a systematic process of defending self, explaining self, exalting self and justifying self. Legalists are obsessed with Self—not God.” 

For the past year or so, I’ve been reflecting more and more on what I have seen of Man-Centered Theology in my church and pondering how to help turn the focus of these believers more to Christ than Self.

Even though the theology here is not very systematic or cohesive, the bottom line is usually quite clear. Christ as Savior from sin, Victor over Satan and death and Redeemer from damnation - the central figure of our faith and confession - takes a second place to the importance of Me, My efforts and My ‘keeping myself blameless’.

As I was in church this past Sunday, this thought would not let me go: 
If I insist that my goodness, my zeal, my church-going, etc., is what saves me in the long run...

have I ever truly seen Jesus Christ?

The apostle Paul says this of those who have not believed in Christ, both Jew and Gentile, “...their minds were blinded: for until this day the same veil remains when they read the Old Testament, the veil that is done away with in Christ. To this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart, clouding what they hear... the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, so that the glorious light of the good news of Christ, who is the image of God would not enlighten their hearts...” (2 Cor.3:14-15, 4:4)

I think that this is very applicable to many ‘christians’ in churches today.

Paul spent all of chapter 3 of 2nd Corinthians comparing the New relationship with God given through Christ with the Old covenant of Law. He starts with the ‘chosen people of God’ when discussing how people miss out on Christ. How does Satan so effectively blind the eyes and mislead the hearts of those who are ‘good people’, who believe in God, yet have never truly comprehended ‘the glory of God in Christ Jesus’?
           After all, these are people who studied the scriptures and knew the commands of God. They even recognized Him as the One true Creator who has the right to demand moral uprightness from His creation, and dedicated much of their time and energy to adapting their lives to His commands.

Yet they missed the very One to whom the Law pointed. Paul tells us that the purpose of the law was to reveal man’s need for the Savior promised by God. (Rom.3:19; Gal.3:22) However, God’s Chosen People took so much pride in the fact that God chose them above all others, and gave them His law that they turned their focus away from the promised Deliverer and to their own ability to keep the law. “Being ignorant of God’s righteousness, they zealously established their own righteousness as the ultimate standard, not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the Law, imparting His righteousness to anyone who believes in him.” (Rom.10:3-4)

I know that I have a tendency to over simplify complex theological concepts... but I am living and working and teaching in a very uncomplicated theological setting. I truly am perplexed at how people who claim to make the Bible their “Ultimate Rule” in teaching and practice can so easily set aside so much of the New Testament, the very essence of the New Covenant established with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is the crux of the matter to me:
Either I see in the Scriptures my own lack of righteousness and begin to seek the Answer - the repeatedly Promised Redeemer of the Law and the Prophets...
OR I see myself in every line.
My hands are clean before You, O Lord...” (Ps.18:20-24).
On every page of scripture, Old Testament and New, I see my chance to prove to God and others how good I really can be when I try.

If that is how I read the Bible, then my mind and heart is just as clouded and deluded as the most stubborn, self-righteous Pharisee. I may never truly see Christ.

...God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ... we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, not of us.”         

Not. Of. Us.

I am becoming almost desperate to walk into church and hear Christ Himself glorified far above any good that we may possibly find within ourselves.

my efforts, my attendance, my prayers, my appearance, my words, my blamelessness, my witness, my righteousness, my rejection, my acceptance, my separation, my repentance, my sacrifice, my sin... my sin, my sin, my sin...

I want to see Christ.

I want to hear Christ.

I want to praise Christ for His love, His mercy, His righteousness, His sacrifice, His resurrection, His goodness, His blamelessness, His beauty...

Jesus said that the Jews believed they would gain eternal life through their studying of the Scriptures, but that they would never attain their goal - because they never saw Him, the One to Whom all of Scripture points... and not having truly seen Him, they were not willing to come to Him and rejoice in accepting the Life He offered freely. (Jn. 5:39-47)
How is it that we are so ready to repeat the deadly mistakes that the Lord Himself pointed out so clearly, that his apostles expounded on in such detail?

Have we ever truly seen Christ?

Warrior-Chieftain and Lord, Vanquisher of hell, I Thy creature and servant offer Thee songs of praise, for Thou hast delivered me from eternal death. But as Thou hast unutterable loving-kindness, free me from every danger, as I cry: Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.
We see most eloquent orators voiceless as fish when they must speak of Thee, O Jesus our Saviour. For it is beyond their power to tell how Thou art both perfect man and immutable God at the same time. But we, marveling at this Mystery, cry faithfully:
Jesus, Eternal God!

Jesus, King of Kings!

Jesus, Lord of Lords!

Jesus, Judge of the living and the dead!

Jesus, Hope of the hopeless!

Jesus, Comforter of the mournful!

Jesus, Glory of the poor!

Jesus, condemn me not according to my deeds!

Jesus, cleanse me according to Thy mercy!

Jesus, take from me despondency!

Jesus, enlighten the thoughts of my heart!

Jesus, make me ever mindful of death!

Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!”  
Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Going to Kherson (and dacha photos)

Tomorrow we're leaving for a little over a week. We'll be visiting a mission called Agape that works with orphans. I actually first read about them in a Christian newspaper soon after we moved to Ukraine (as usual, I love to see how little our children were a few years ago!) and have been interested ever since. Last month Will went to a training session that they had in Khmelnitsky. Now we're going all together to visit them in Kherson. On Monday Agape is putting on a special day for children from local orphanages that we can help with. The rest of the time we hope to spend time together and get to know them and their mission. Please pray for safe, smooth travel, good fellowship and lots of wisdom to know if these are the people we should be working with next. Thanks!

And then, for no reason at all, here are photos from Saturday at our dacha:

In our grape vines
Working hard
"To your health!"
With friends
Most of the youth are out of town, but we invited the few who were here out for dinner and s'mores and had a great time together.

And that's all for now. You probably won't hear from us until next month (unless Will already has a post scheduled to go while we're away?).

Monday, May 20, 2013

A book about Americans, part 5

Last time I wrote about this book, I thought that Bogdan had done something to my notes and highlights. He had just hidden them, so they're back now.

The two sections that were really the highlights of the book for me were the one about babushki and babysitters and another about education. I noticed that the review or two that I could find in English focused on the babushka-babysitter part, too.

So, of babushki and babysitters:
The main problem of new American parents is that the country has practically no social institution such as babushki and dedushki - in the Russian understanding of their role. Of course, there are grandparents, but in most cases they live separately, often in other cities and states. They very rarely live with the young parents, who had happily left the parental home, and certainly they do not live with their grandchildren.
And, of course, there are wonderfully involved American grandparents (like ours!). But it's true, it's a whole different world.

A little further on in the same chapter:
They would never take upon themselves the upbringing of their grandchildren, as, in fact, it would never cross the parents' mind to ask them to. It is not in the tradition of America.
We actually have a friend here who will be bringing her toddler granddaughter from the other side of the country back to spend the summer with her, because the little girl "needs to learn how to behave." The young mother called for advice, and that's the solution they came up with.

And then the chapter goes on to explain the idea of babysitters in great detail. To the Russian mind, leaving small children with a teenager could sound crazy.

И русские читатели: разве есть такое слово "бебиситтерство"?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Of Ovis aries and Capra aegagrus...

“ is a mistake to reduce every decision about Christian living to a "Heaven-or-Hell issue."
David K. Bernard.

Grace is so counter-intuitive, so hard for our pride to accept, that we can take almost any passage in the Bible and make it justify our desire to prove our significance and worth through ‘good deeds.’ We can even twist almost any passage to make our eternal destiny be the result our own faithfulness, with Christ basically being the ‘enabler,’ at best.

“Grace surprises us - amazes us - because it is absolutely free and totally undeserved. It is not the justice we expect, or some vague divine mercy we hope for. It is a full and complete pardon from the guilt of our sins, and a new relationship to God that He has made possible.
 It surprises us because it is not fair. 
We who deserve eternal death are saved by the One who did not deserve death at all.” Charles C. Bing 

I recently heard two different preachers from two different denominations, from two different cities preach on Matt.25:31-46, in the space of one hour:
 "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...
He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels..."
Matt. 25:31-46

This is a passage I’ve heard preached on a good bit... not actually involving expository teaching with sound interpretation, but more as a good source of scary one-liners that can be used to springboard into preaching against (or for) one kind of behavior or another that will determine our eternal destiny.

This is a summary of the aforementioned sermons:
“We aren’t saved by our good works, but as we all know, ‘faith without works is dead, so neither are we saved apart from good works. What it comes down to is works are an absolute must to be saved. They are what give us, as Christians, the chance to end up standing on the right hand of Christ, as His sheep.” 



A couple of questions that are not usually addressed when this kind of teaching is being espoused:
-Is there no conflict here with the emphasis of the majority of the New Testament on eternal salvation being the gift of God, by His grace, completely apart from our ‘good works?’
-Should this be our main motivation to do good, to love and serve - so as to avoid ‘departing into eternal fire?’

In short - Yes, there is conflict; and No, this is not our motivation.

We can very quickly and clearly address the main concerns raised by such a misuse of this passage.
1. Jesus’ sheep are HIS, their nature is not revealed at the judgement.
(Jn. 10:24-30)
2. A believer is NOT judged to determine his eternal destiny.
3.We are saved, reborn and Created in Christ FOR (a life of) good works, not BY them!

Obviously, the most basic ideas of context and interpretive norms are ignored by those eager to use this passage to scare Christians into ‘Christ-likeness.’ Ignoring the greater context and the repeated message of the New Testament that Christ alone is the one and only guarantor of eternal life is one thing. I know that there is much in the NT that can lend to a theology of “Christ Plus,” and many sincere, godly people hold to this in one form of this or another, seeing this as God’s way to produce holiness in His children.

I understand that. I acknowledge the need for holiness.

This is the far more serious question that I have been pondering as I hear Matt.25 and other passages repeatedly used to ‘motivate to holiness and good works’:

Why do we so desperately want God’s acceptance of us, our worth as Christians, and our very eternal destiny to depend more upon what we do for Christ than what HE has done and is doing for us, in us and with us?

That’s what the bottom line is, after all. 
Christ is not enough. 
God’s promises to us in Christ are not enough. 

I must ‘do my part’ to earn eternal salvation. 
I have often wished that this, the essence of a works-based, man-centered ‘christianity’ would be clearly preached in churches that repeatedly make the same statement in slightly less clear terms. Then I could walk out and wash my hands of them in all good conscience.

I don’t want to be a part of an organization invested in moral reformation and behavior modification of basically good people through constant threats of eternal damnation.
I don’t want to be a part of a showpiece demonstration of ‘godliness in every aspect of life through complete separation from the world’.
I don’t want my acts of kindness towards others to be motivated by the promise of Hellfire if I act in any other way.

My only hope on the Day of Judgement for any positive outcome is the finished work of Jesus Christ. If God has welcomed me into His family by Grace, if He is ‘happy’ with me, it will be because of Jesus and what He did for me... plus nothing else.

On that basis and on that basis alone, there will be no condemnation on that day. Nor will there be any regret. Jesus will not frown at me and chasten me for wasting my life. At that moment, it will all be about Him sacrificing His life for me and taking it up again.


It will be about His zeal to complete the work the Father gave Him, not mine. It will be about the faithfulness by which He followed through all the way to the cross for me, the ever-faithless one. His love will be celebrated, not mine. His obedience, not mine. The Good News of what He did for me, not any story of anything I have done for Him.”
Michael Spencer

"God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great Love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...For by Grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the Gift of God not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Eph. 2:4-9

Monday, May 13, 2013

Easter photos (lots!)

I was going to post this yesterday afternoon. That has become my "blog time." If I can get a few posts written and scheduled on Sunday afternoon, then you'll have something to read that week. Otherwise, I don't really find much time to work on it anymore. However, after church here yesterday Will and Jaan went with the choir to another church, for another Easter service, so I was busy. But I'm grabbing some time now to write....

So, last Sunday I woke everyone up with "Christ is Risen!" and loud Easter music. Jaan said that he thought the building was on fire. Take a look at his face in the picture below:

Prettiest Easter cake we've ever had.
Will had to be at church really early, so he didn't get to share Easter breakfast with us (), but the rest of us had a fun and special meal. We get enough kulich/paska from other sources, so I don't labor over that. I do make a quick coffee cake every year. Remember how plain it was, with the closed tomb? By Sunday morning it was decorated and with an open, empty tomb. Over cake and juice, we all retold the resurrection story to Bogdan. And we told each other that "Christ is Risen" while breaking red eggs:

No, he wasn't trying to hurt her!
Bogdan's butterfly from the cake
Where is the butterfly, Bogdan?
After breakfast we got dressed and headed to church, stopping for photos on the way.

Easter 2013
Children singing at church
Quick tea afterwards
Then we went with a group to visit a tiny village church.

Headed out to village
Beautiful flowers there!
From a distance, they even looked like dogwood, much bigger than they show up in the photos I took. In my photos, they pretty much just look like apple blossoms, but in real life they didn't. The tint was purplish, instead of apple pink. Katya and I guessed that they're айва, and it looks like we were right.

Bogdan was tired of sitting and just plain tired--it was nap time--so he and I did more wandering around the village than anything else. He was determined to find a "moo," but was satisfied with lots of goats, chickens, birds, butterflies and other bugs. Going for a walk felt like a great way to celebrate, and the church babushki were happy to see him before and after. Plus, the older children got to sing for everyone:

Children singing in the village
Tea again
I loved the yellow fields on the way there and back!
(It's too early for sunflowers yet; this is rapeseed. Maybe even prettier?)
Done in!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

DIRTY dacha day

Bogdan was initiated into the joys of mud today. I realized that at this time last year, he wasn't even walking. He enjoyed our dacha then, but couldn't really get involved like he is this year. Asya carefully mud painted him all over, and he loved it. He kept signing for me to sit in the basin with him, but I'm afraid that I didn't oblige him in that one.

The dacha chairman came by while there were wallowing and commented on how "original" these children are. We often laugh about how our neighbor drives his grandchildren out and carries them from the car to the hammock. They sit and read or play quietly, and then he carries them back and drives off. Their feet don't ever even touch the ground. And our children greet him painted black and yelling, "Grandfather, we're Africans!"

Thursday, May 09, 2013

С днём победы!

We just got back from a little Victory Day excursion. We congratulated some of the veterans, visited the war monument, listened to a concert, and carefully examined every inch of the city museum.

(Easter photos are still coming soon.)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

A Christ-Centered Easter...?

Christ is the head of the Church...that He may in all things have preeminence.”
Col. 1:14-18

As we’ve been approaching Easter here, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how the theology of a particular church is reflected in the understanding of the Christian Life displayed by its members. Man-centered theology leads people into bondage to legalism, while Christ-centered theology glorifies Christ Himself above rules and traditions, holding Him up as more important than anything and everything else.

What is the message of the Resurrection that a visitor might hear on Easter Day if they were to wander in and quietly sit down in the back of our small-town church...?

The preacher standing behind the simple homemade pulpit proclaims the simplicity of the gospel... as he understands it:“Christ died for us, and rose again to pay the price for our sins so that we can now live for him. We must reject our sins, repent before God and man, begin going to church and 'bringing forth Fruits Worthy of Repentance.' As we continue in a life of church-going and service, confession and holiness, we can have that sacred hope of one day making it heaven...

if we can keep our hearts pure and don’t fall away!”

Then the choir gets up and sings “Christ rose again to give us the hope of attaining eternal life...”

Pretty clear, one would think, even to someone who wasn’t used to church. The main point of this whole Easter business is that God has finally given mankind an actual, guaranteed chance of making it to heaven through a life of good works.

It makes me shudder, quite honestly.

The problem quite simply is, as John MacArthur says, "a supplemented Christ is a supplanted Christ."

How can we ever repair this myopic, self-centered and egotistical focus of Man-centered Theology when it is pervasive enough to turn even the Celebration of The Resurrection upside down and inside out??

"In Christ, as a great storehouse, lie all the riches of spiritual wisdom, the massive ingots of solid gold which when coined into creeds and doctrines are the wealth of the Church. All which we can know concerning God and man, concerning sin and righteousness and duty, concerning another life, is in Him Who is the home and deep mine where truth is stored... The central fact of the universe and the perfect encyclopedia of all moral and spiritual truth is in Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Lamb slain, the ascended King." (Alexander MacLaren)

A Christ-centered theology and practice of the Christian life is the only thing that can save us from ourselves, our self-focus and self-reliance. A Christ-centered theology is an absolute necessity to keep us from falling away from grace into a system of self-reliant, performance-based Christianity that is essentially a New Testament version of the Old Testament Law.
It really doesn’t matter what we call it; ‘Right Living,’ ‘Requirements for a Committed Life,’ 'Living by God’s Non-Optional Principles,’ ‘Keeping the 49 Commands of Christ’... the fact is, even if we say that it’s not for salvation, the effect is the same.

Self-focused rule following cannot bring about sanctification in us any more than it can give salvation to us. It only brings condemnation.

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul couldn’t have said it much more clearly, “You idiots! What are you thinking!!?? Having accepted the gift of eternal life by faith, through the working of the Holy Spirit, you think that now you can live the Christian life and ‘make it to heaven’ by your own efforts?? Has someone brainwashed you, cast a spell on you, or what??” No one who is trying to be righteous before God through law-keeping can do it... in fact anyone who is relying on their works through law-keeping are under a curse!

Christ himself must be the foundation, the center and the focus of our daily Christian life.

If we have trusted Christ to be our Savior, we have come to depend upon him as the only one who can give eternal life and forgiveness of sins. We have acknowledged that HE is the only one who can make (and has made) us righteous before God - the only one who can (and has) saved us from the righteous wrath of God, taking our punishment upon himself.

If this is true of us, then Christ in fact has become the One Foundation and Center of our life. He is the central reality of our life - HE promises to do all that we cannot do in and through us, if we only will entrust ourselves to him by faith, rejecting our own efforts to deserve anything at all before God.

At Easter, we are reminded once again of this, of Christ Jesus himself, his life, death and resurrection - the central reality of our very existence as Christians.
No church, denomination, or tradition can replace Christ as the Foundation; no Celebrity Pastor, ‘Christian Cause’ or popular teaching can take the place of The Resurrection at the center and core of Christianity. When we allow these things to take precedent over Christ Himself, his death and resurrection, we give ourselves over to an understanding of Christianity that has become more Man-centered than Christ-centered.

Christ is our Hope. Christ is our Anchor. He is the Guarantor of eternal life, and He is the source of our holiness.

May we speak more and more of Him, and less of ourselves, our churches, our dogma.

Wishing to save the world, O Sunrise of the East, Thou didst come to the dark Occident of our nature, and didst humble Thyself even to the point of death. Therefore Thy Name is exalted above every name, and from all the tribes of earth and heaven, Thou dost hear: Alleluia!

Being both below and above, Thou didst never falter, O Thou immeasurable One, when Thou didst voluntarily suffer for us, and by Thy death our death didst put to death, and by Thy Resurrection didst grant life to those who sing:

Jesus, Sweetness of the heart!

Jesus, Strength of the body!

Jesus, Purity of the soul!

Jesus, Brightness of the mind!
Jesus, Gladness of the conscience!

Jesus, Sure Hope!

Jesus, High Praise!

Jesus, my most exalted Glory!
Jesus, my Shepherd, recover me!
Jesus, my Saviour, save me!
Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Christ is Risen!

We're enjoying a wonderful, full day of celebrating the Resurrection. I'll write more tomorrow...

Saturday, May 04, 2013


Bogdan has really enjoyed the Bible stories and activities this week. When I called him into the kitchen after his bath tonight--just to let him see the breakfast cake I had made--he came running, climbed up to the table and waited expectantly. I showed him the closed tomb and the plain-looking cake, and then put it away. Nothing more tonight. His response was "Nyum?" and a very sad face. I tried to comfort him with the explanation that it's all for tomorrow, but I don't think he understood much. He's in for a big surprise!

Part Four: Some reflections on the practical outworking of Man-Centered Theology

Christ is the head of the Church...that He may in all things have preeminence.”
Col. 1:14-18

In wrapping up my thoughts (for now) on Man-centered Theology and how it works out in my local church, let me again briefly state what I mean by "Man-centered Theology:"
A view of Christianity where the overwhelming focus in teaching and practice is on self, rule-keeping, outward appearances and performance; whether ‘to please God,’ to ‘prove one’s salvation,’ or to assure that we ‘make it to heaven.’ This focus inevitably leads to a system of spiritual bondage and condemnation every bit as harsh as the Mosaic Law in the Old Testament.


Is there "miracle cure" for this chronic illness that spreads with fatal results in so many churches? 

Yes. God’s Ultimate Remedy:  the Gospel of Grace. It's Powerful enough for salvation, sanctification, and it's our only guarantee of heaven, period.

In the Christian life expounded by the apostles it’s called “a Christ-Centered Theology.”

So let’s think about this. If I am presented a ‘gospel’ that emphasizes my behavior more than Christs’ sacrifice and resurrection, then I have based my Christian life on faulty assumptions, at the very best. At worst I have simply adopted one more man-made system of behavioral conditioning, having completely bypassed Christ, his supernatural work of salvation, and his offer of eternal life as a free gift.

If my Christian life looks back to my promises to God instead of God’s promises to me in Christ Jesus, I have committed myself to an empty religion and a life of perpetual self-condemnation and failure.

Strictly speaking, biblical Christianity is not at all the same thing as 'Religion'. The essence of Religion is this: the attempts of mankind to please God (the gods) and earn his approval; to attain eternal life/nirvana/etc., through ones’ efforts and good works.

The essence of biblical, Christ-centered Christianity is this: the Creator God himself, in his grace, drawing mankind to himself and reconciling man to himself through Jesus Christ.

This is the Gospel of Grace: Completely apart from all effort and worthiness on our part, a perfect and holy God became man, lived a sinless life on this earth; He took upon himself the just punishment for the sins of all mankind and died in our place. He rose again, conquering death, and gives eternal life to all who simply take him at his word, believing that He himself is the only Truth, Way, and Life - that there is no other way to heaven except through faith in Him. I must trust Him to do what He promises as the Guarantor of eternal life to all who believe in Him. I can do nothing else, nothing more to assure my salvation or acceptance before God. I must trust Christ and entrust myself to Him. I must trust that He saves me and loves me not because of my worth, but because of His Grace.

This is Christ-centered theology:
The focus and sum of my Christianity is Christ Himself - the confidence that His death and resurrection, all that was accomplished by Him in and through that is what gives me all that I need for life and godliness. A Christ-centered life begins and ends with the awareness that my life is lived in daily dependence upon Him and what He has done, without which I may all too easily fall from grace into a life of self-dependence and man-centered religion. (Gal.5:4)

The Christ within who is our hope of glory is not a matter of theological debate or philosophical speculation. He is not a hobby, a part-time project, a good theme for a book, or a last resort when all human effort fails. He is our life, the most real fact about us. He is the power and wisdom of God dwelling within us.” (Brennan Manning)
A Christian life lived with any other focus eventually becomes a study in hypocrisy, self-condemnation and pseudo-asceticism, plumbing the darkest depths of the human soul. The natural result of self-centered religion is a man-made system of control and performance, public punishment and shaming, manipulation and abuse.

Lord, give me the grace and boldness to speak up for the glory of your Grace and the splendor of your Name. Anything else is pointless.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Clean Thursday, Good Friday

Last night we made unleavened bread, as my friend Allie mentioned, and read about the Last Supper. The recipe there mentions that Jewish rules allow 18 minutes from the time the dough is mixed until it goes into the oven. We definitely couldn't fulfill that requirement! That led to some great discussion about law and righteousness and what Jesus did for us.

(This morning we also took leftovers out with us for snack, and it was rather funny to hear Raia explaining Jewish Passover to the various neighbor children as she shared her matzo around.)

Tonight we read about "The Darkest Day," taped the light switches off, and got ready for bed in dark and (relative) quiet.

And now we wait....