Friday, December 28, 2007
Awhile back I came across a church that used envelopes for people to put their offering in that had two verses printed on them. They seemed to be taken completely out of context.
The first verse said, “I’m on my way to my wealthy place!” -Psalm 66:12
In my NIV Bible that verse reads, “You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” In context this verse speaks of God testing his people and refining them through affliction and suffering and then bringing them out of it to fulfill his promise thus bringing glory to His name. I don’t see anything that suggests that God will shower us with material wealth for giving money to the church. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is being preached among churches that promote the Prosperity Doctrine.
The second verse said, “Give and it will be given to you…” -Luke 6:38
If you read verse 37 and then verse 38, it reads like this, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” Jesus was speaking about spiritual abundance and that we would be held accountable for our actions in the world when we stand before the Father. You could even read these verses to say, “Give mercy and forgiveness and it will be given to you.” In verse 35 when he is speaking about material things he says this, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.” Yet the teaching of these types of churches tells its members to expect wealth as a reward for their giving. It seems as though people are being asked to make a monetary investment with the promise of a greater monetary reward. How does Jesus figure into this business transaction?
When Jesus speaks to the churches in Revelation, his message contradicts any promises of material wealth or freedom from suffering. To the church in Smyrna he says, “I know your afflictions and your poverty - yet you are rich!” - Revelation 2:9. In verse 10 he says, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” So Jesus is saying that even if we are poor and suffering we are rich and our promised reward comes after we have come to the point of death. If this isn’t clear enough, he says to the church in Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” - Revelation 3:17
I saw an article today that brings to light exactly the kind of hurt, anger, and bitterness these kinds of teachings can lead to. Here in Ukraine they are all too common. People who are lost, broken, and suffering flock to promises of prosperity and are willing to do just about anything to hold on to the false hope they are given that seems like an answer to their problems. The sad part is that Christianity in general gets a black eye because of what a few highly visible people are doing. The following article by Eric Gorski explains why several ministries are now under investigation. I thought it was also fitting to add John Piper’s thoughts on Prosperity Preaching after the article. He does a good job of showing what God’s Word has to say about this type of preaching.
Gospel of Wealth' Facing Scrutiny
Dec 27, 2007
By Eric Gorski
The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor's living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.
And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Fla., area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinn and a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.
Only the blessings didn't come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn't strong enough.
"I wanted to believe God wanted to do something great with me like he was doing with them," she said. "I'm angry and bitter about it. Right now, I don't watch anyone on TV hardly."
All three of the groups Fleenor supported are among six major Christian television ministries under scrutiny by a senator who is asking questions about the evangelists' lavish spending and possible abuses of their tax-exempt status.
The probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles - the "Gospel of Prosperity," or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.
All six ministries under investigation preach the prosperity gospel to varying degrees.
Proponents call it a biblically sound message of hope. Others say it is a distortion that makes evangelists rich and preys on the vulnerable. They say it has evolved from "it's all right to make money" to it's all right for the pastor to drive a Bentley, live in an oceanside home and travel by private jet.
"More and more people are desperate and grasping at straws and want something that will alleviate their pain or financial crisis," said Michael Palmer, dean of the divinity school at Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson. "It's a growing problem."
The modern-day prosperity movement can largely be traced back to evangelist Oral Roberts' teachings. Roberts' disciples have spread his theology and vocabulary (Roberts and other evangelists, such as Meyer, call their donors "partners.") And several popular prosperity preachers, including some now under investigation, have served on the Oral Roberts University board.
Grassley is asking the ministries for financial records on salaries, spending practices, private jets and other perks. The investigation, coupled with a financial scandal at ORU that forced out Roberts' son and heir, Richard, has some wondering whether the prosperity gospel is facing a day of reckoning.
While few expect the movement to disappear, the scrutiny could force greater financial transparency and oversight in a movement known for secrecy.
Most scholars trace the origins of prosperity theology to E.W. Kenyon, an evangelical pastor from the first half of the 20th century.
But it wasn't until the postwar era - and a pair of evangelists from Tulsa, Okla. - that "health and wealth" theology became a fixture in Pentecostal and charismatic churches.
Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin - and later, Kenneth Copeland - trained tens of thousands of evangelists with a message that resonated with an emerging middle class, said David Edwin Harrell Jr., a Roberts biographer. Copeland is among those now being investigated.
"What Oral did was develop a theology that made it OK to prosper," Harrell said. "He let Pentecostals be faithful to the old-time truths their grandparents embraced and be part of the modern world, where they could have good jobs and make money."
The teachings took on various names - "Name It and Claim It,""Word of Faith," the prosperity gospel.
Prosperity preachers say that it isn't all about money - that God's blessings extend to health, relationships and being well-off enough to help others.
They have Bible verses at the ready to make their case. One oft-cited verse, in Paul's Second Epistle to the Corinthians, reads: "Yet for your sakes he became poor, that you by his poverty might become rich."
Critics acknowledge the idea that God wants to bless his followers has a Biblical basis, but say prosperity preachers take verses out of context. The prosperity crowd also fails to acknowledge Biblical accounts that show God doesn't always reward faithful believers, Palmer said.
The Book of Job is a case study in piety unrewarded, and a chapter in the Book of Hebrews includes a litany of believers who were tortured and martyred, Palmer said.
Yet the prosperity gospel continues to draw crowds, particularly lower- and middle-income people who, critics say, have the greatest motivation and the most to lose. The prosperity message is spreading to black churches, attracting elderly people with disposable incomes, and reaching huge churches in Africa and other developing parts of the world.
One of the teaching's attractions is that it doesn't dwell on traditional Christian themes of heaven and hell but on answering pressing concerns of the here and now, said Brian McLaren, a liberal evangelical author and pastor.
But the prosperity gospel, McLaren said, not only preys on the hope of the vulnerable, it puts too much emphasis on individual success and happiness.
"We've pretty much ignored what the Bible says about systemic injustice," he said.
The checks and balances central to Christian denominations are largely lacking in prosperity churches. One of the pastors in the Grassley probe, Bishop Eddie Long of suburban Atlanta, has written that God told him to get rid of the "ungodly governmental structure" of a deacon board.
Some ministers hold up their own wealth as evidence that the teaching works. Atlanta-area pastor Creflo Dollar, who is fighting Grassley's inquiry, owns a Rolls Royce and multimillion-dollar homes and travels in a church-owned Learjet.
In a letter to Grassley, Dollar's attorney calls the prosperity gospel a "deeply held religious belief" grounded in Scripture and therefore a protected religious freedom. Grassley has said his probe is not about theology.
But even some prosperity gospel critics - like the Rev. Adam Hamilton of 15,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in suburban Kansas City, Mo. - say that the investigation is entering a minefield.
"How do you determine how much money a minister like this is able to make when the basic theology is that wealth is OK?" said Hamilton, an Oral Roberts graduate who later left the charismatic movement. "That gets into theological questions."
There is evidence of change. Joyce Meyer Ministries, for one, enacted financial reforms in recent years, including making audited financial statements public.
Meyer, who has promised to cooperate fully with Grassley, issued a statement emphasizing that a prosperity gospel "that solely equates blessing with financial gain is out of balance and could damage a person's walk with God."
Prosperity Preaching: Deceitful and Deadly
February 14, 2007
By John Piper
When I read about prosperity-preaching churches, my response is: “If I were not on the inside of Christianity, I wouldn’t want in.” In other words, if this is the message of Jesus, no thank you.
Luring people to Christ to get rich is both deceitful and deadly. It’s deceitful because when Jesus himself called us, he said things like: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). And it’s deadly because the desire to be rich plunges “people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). So here is my plea to preachers of the gospel.
1. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes it harder for people to get into heaven.
Jesus said, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” His disciples were astonished, as many in the “prosperity” movement should be. So Jesus went on to raise their astonishment even higher by saying, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” They respond in disbelief: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus says, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:23-27).
My question for prosperity preachers is: Why would you want to develop a ministry focus that makes it harder for people to enter heaven?
2. Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that kindles suicidal desires in people.
Paul said, “There is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” But then he warned against the desire to be rich. And by implication, he warned against preachers who stir up the desire to be rich instead of helping people get rid of it. He warned, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
So my question for prosperity preachers is: Why would you want to develop a ministry that encourages people to pierce themselves with many pangs and plunge themselves into ruin and destruction?
3. Do not develop a philosophy of ministry that encourages vulnerability to moth and rust.
Jesus warns against the effort to lay up treasures on earth. That is, he tells us to be givers, not keepers. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19).
Yes, we all keep something. But given the built-in tendency toward greed in all of us, why would we take the focus off Jesus and turn it upside down?
4. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that makes hard work a means of amassing wealth.
Paul said we should not steal. The alternative was hard work with our own hands. But the main purpose was not merely to hoard or even to have. The purpose was “to have to give.” “Let him labor, working with his hands, that he may have to give to him who is in need” (Ephesians 4:28). This is not a justification for being rich in order to give more. It is a call to make more and keep less so you can give more. There is no reason why a person who makes $200,000 should live any differently from the way a person who makes $80,000 lives. Find a wartime lifestyle; cap your expenditures; then give the rest away.
Why would you want to encourage people to think that they should possess wealth in order to be a lavish giver? Why not encourage them to keep their lives more simple and be an even more lavish giver? Would that not add to their generosity a strong testimony that Christ, and not possessions, is their treasure?
5. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that promotes less faith in the promises of God to be for us what money can’t be.
The reason the writer to the Hebrews tells us to be content with what we have is that the opposite implies less faith in the promises of God. He says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
If the Bible tells us that being content with what we have honors the promise of God never to forsake us, why would we want to teach people to want to be rich?
6. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that contributes to your people being choked to death.
Jesus warns that the word of God, which is meant to give us life, can be choked off from any effectiveness by riches. He says it is like a seed that grows up among thorns that choke it to death: “They are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the . . . riches . . . of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).
Why would we want to encourage people to pursue the very thing that Jesus warns will choke us to death?
7. Don’t develop a philosophy of ministry that takes the seasoning out of the salt and puts the light under a basket.
What is it about Christians that makes them the salt of the earth and the light of the world? It is not wealth. The desire for wealth and the pursuit of wealth tastes and looks just like the world. It does not offer the world anything different from what it already believes in. The great tragedy of prosperity-preaching is that a person does not have to be spiritually awakened in order to embrace it; one needs only to be greedy. Getting rich in the name of Jesus is not the salt of the earth or the light of the world. In this, the world simply sees a reflection of itself. And if it works, they will buy it.
The context of Jesus’ saying shows us what the salt and light are. They are the joyful willingness to suffering for Christ. Here is what Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. . . . You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:11-14).
What will make the world taste (the salt) and see (the light) of Christ in us is not that we love wealth the same way they do. Rather, it will be the willingness and the ability of Christians to love others through suffering, all the while rejoicing because their reward is in heaven with Jesus. This is inexplicable on human terms. This is supernatural. But to attract people with promises of prosperity is simply natural. It is not the message of Jesus. It is not what he died to achieve.
Dominic, Edna, Kaylee, Ashlee, Greg, and Joshua in front of the famous Nizhyn Pickle (Огірок)
We spent (Western) Christmas (as opposed to Orthodox Christmas on January 7th) in Nizhyn (Ніжин) (or Nezhin if you say it in Russian) with the Fournier family. Paul and Gretchen Fournier invited us to spend Christmas with them and their three children Kaylee, Ashlee, and Jesiah at their home in Nizhyn. Paul is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Nizhyn or Церква Голгофи as it's known in Ukraine. We were also joined by Tracy Groves from Chernihiv and Will and Ira McIntosh from Nizhyn. Will is from San Luis Obispo (small world) and Ira is Ukrainian, but speaks English so well that it's difficult to notice her accent.
We had such a great time while we were there. Dominic and Joshua said it was one of the best Christmases so far. All of us fell in love with their beautiful children. Dominic who has never wanted to hold a little one before, was carrying around one year old Jesiah and having fun entertaining him. The boys had it rough at night though. Paul made them sleep outside in the play structure that he built. OK, they begged him to let them stay out in the fully insulated, heated, electrically equipped, club house complete with DVD player and two beds, but they were rudely awakened in the morning by a rooster that decided to perch on the roof and crow.
On Wednesday night we were excited to be able to attend a service at the church in Nizhyn. After studying God's Word, we hung out and talked with some of the members of the church. We felt so welcomed there and were encouraged by all that God is doing in the lives of His people. The church began as a Bible study that Paul and Gretchen led among students from the university there in Nizhyn. Their faithful work has brought about much fruit. We were blessed to hear how God has been leading Paul and Gretchen there in Nizhyn and in the time before they moved there. They are a huge encouragement to us. We are so grateful to them for opening up there home and their lives to us.
On Christmas night we all gathered around to watch the 1953 classic "Roman Holiday" with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. It's a story about a princess that just wants to lead a normal life. I'll leave you with what we agreed was the most memorable quote of the movie from Audrey Hepburn.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
After her election, Tymoshenko reaffirmed her intention to radically reform the Ukrainian government; a plan that includes reducing bureaucracy, revamping the 2008 budget and reorganizing the opaque natural gas sector.
“Practically everything in this country is misbalanced,” Tymoshenko told reporters.
“Making money off politics has become the norm. Making money off government has become the norm. Chaos, indecisiveness and tactics instead of strategy have become the norm in practically every branch and sphere of our lives,” she said.
“All this must finally be defeated. I have the intention, as the newly elected prime minister, to instill order in the country quite dynamically and effectively, but without losing ties with all political forces.”
In the same session parliament approved by two votes Tymoshenko’s Cabinet of Ministers, which includes a foreign affairs minister who favors NATO membership and a physics professor and university rector as education minister. In divvying Cabinet posts, the Tymoshenko Bloc gained control of the economic sphere, Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense received humanitarian posts and the Presidential Secretariat was given the armed forces. The first moves declared by Tymoshenko included cutting bureaucracy in the government’s ministries. -Kyiv Post
Ukraine has both a President and Prime Minister, so this doesn't mean Yulia will be suddenly calling all the shots, but it does mean that at least in theory, Yulia will be asking some tough questions of those who have been "running" the government. I can't pretend to fully understand the politics of Ukraine, but I do know that if she was running for President in the United States, I'd vote for her. She has something that most U.S. politicians lack, style. Her style includes making bold statements about her intentions and her beliefs regarding the opposition parties. The typical American politician would cringe at the thought of really saying what's on their mind or worse yet make a decisive statement about something they couldn't back peddle out of later. So for whatever faults Prime Minister Tymoshenko might have, I applaud her willingness to stand up and boldly say what she thinks. Imagine how much easier it might be to choose a candidate to vote for if the candidates weren't afraid to speak their minds for fear that they might actually have to stand on one side of the fence or the other. People might not agree with everything that Yulia does, but at least she does it with style.
During Yulia's campaign, you couldn't go anywhere without seeing some catchy Yulia logo or T-shirt. The boys even got these cool Yulia notebooks at school with a flowery, artistic picture of her on them. Kids actually wore shirts and back packs with a cartoon image of Yulia on them because she's the coolest candidate to hit the campaign trail yet. I was just wondering how a similar campaign might work for Hillary. Hmmm...
Thursday, December 06, 2007
On Monday we took a trip up North to visit our friends in Chernihiv for three days. We stayed with Conor and Koren McNamee and their two little ones, Gavin and Emma. They are part of a thriving church plant there in Chernihiv. We spent most of our time just talking about all of our experiences in Ukraine. It's always a treat to be able to talk with other English speakers, especially other Americans. Conor and I have a similar sense of humor, which according to our wives, could be dangerous. It made for some late nights and a lot of laughs though.
On the second night we were there, we had dinner at the home of our friend, Tracy Groves. She made us a great dinner and gave us a bag of hats and gloves that we're going to give to the orphans at the Voloshka orphanage here in Bila Tserkva. (Thank you so much Tracy!) After dinner we all walked over to where the church holds an English club. We watched an episode of The Cosby Show and then split into three groups. Tracy and Conor each led a group while Edna and I led the third group. We had fun going through some questions about what we watched and then answering the questions the group had about us. It was really cool to be able to share about how Jesus has changed our lives and to be able to discuss the Gospel so freely with so many people that have yet to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior.
We ended our trip to Chernihiv with a short walk through the park and a look at the Cannons of Chernihiv with the McNamee family. We had such a great time just hanging out with them and enjoying their hospitality. We left feeling refreshed and encouraged about the work we're doing here in Bila Tserkva. (Thanks Conor and Koren for making us feel so welcome in your home.) We're looking forward to our next trip up to Chernihiv around Christmas time. Chernihiv is a beautiful city with a rich history. You can read more about it by clicking HERE.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
I joined the California Army National Guard with the idea that it would be interesting to be a part time soldier. I had heard all the stories about my father’s time in the National Guard, never imagining that I would end up serving full time on active duty for most of my enlistment and at one point in the same battalion that he served in. As an Infantry soldier I served as a sniper, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle gunner and later commander, a fire team leader, a squad leader at a youth academy, and an instructor for training troops for overseas deployments. My most memorable achievements include being qualified as Expert with the M-24 Sniper Weapon System, taking top team award during a sniper competition, and being selected as Soldier of the Year for the 40th Infantry Division.
The Army took me back and forth across the United States dealing with chemical weapons to hurricanes. I saw several different countries and met lots of interesting people because of the Army. I also was saddened to see the loss of two soldiers from my company who were Killed in Action in Iraq. SPC Daniel P. Unger and CPL Victor H. Toledo Pulido made the ultimate sacrifice.
God has used all of these experiences to prepare me as well as my family for serving the people of Ukraine and making the life giving knowledge of His son Jesus known to as many as possible.
Interestingly enough, my most cherished moment while serving in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina was not when I met a former President of the United States, but when I met “Buddy”. Buddy was an 85 year old WW II veteran who settled in New Orleans after serving in the United States Marine Corps for the entire duration of the war. I volunteered with a few other soldiers to help clean up Buddy’s property after our regular duty hours had ended. Hurricane Katrina had brought trees and tree limbs down all around Buddy’s home. We spent several humid evenings getting his place cleared of debris and listening to the stories Buddy had to tell. Spending time with an American hero like Buddy made it all worth it.
I volunteered once to serve in Iraq, as did my entire company without exception. Those of us who had served a year of duty under Operation Noble Eagle were turned down. When the soldiers from my company that were selected to go returned home from Iraq after 18 months, I was there to meet them when they landed. Some came back wounded and changed from their experience, but they all expressed a similar opinion, “We are making a difference. We’ve seen it”.
While training soldiers for deployment I met one soldier who was going back for his third time. I asked him why he was going back and he didn’t even hesitate to answer. He said he was doing it for the people of Iraq. He said the people of Iraq were thankful for what we were doing. He told me that you probably wouldn’t see it in the media, but he said the majority of Iraqi people were grateful for being liberated from the terrors that they had been subjected to under Saddam Hussein. He told me about the friends he made there and how he wanted to do his part to see that they remained free.
The Military Forces of the United States are all volunteers. There is no draft in place. Each member of the Armed Forces has volunteered to protect the lives and freedom of the citizens of the United States and in some cases they volunteer to protect the lives and freedom of strangers.
I’m proud to have served with all the Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines who have put the freedom of others above their own personal comfort and safety. Please remember them and honor them.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Today we had church at the Invalid Center again. It’s the same place where we have English Club on Wednesdays. We had a great time with the children and have started teaching them some of the Ukrainian worship songs we got from Calvary Chapel Kyiv. Ukrainian children love to sing and it wasn’t long before they were singing better than us. We are working on putting together some kind of performance for Christmas. This is where the confusion began. We weren’t sure which Christmas to celebrate.
In the 17th century most European countries adopted the Gregorian calendar, but Russia (later to become the Soviet Union) used the Julian calendar until 1918. Most holidays are thus celebrated 13 days later according to Orthodox tradition. We assumed that our church would celebrate Christmas on January 7th and had made plans to be in Chernihiv on December 25th. We found out tonight that Western Ukraine and most people here in Bila Tserkva celebrate Christmas on December 25th. It was decided that since we would be out of town then that the church would instead celebrate Christmas on January 7th so that we would be here to put on a children’s performance. We’re happy, but still a little surprised that we can choose which Christmas to celebrate.
You can check out how our Thanksgiving went by going to Danny Foote’s blog. (Why blog when someone already has and has done a much better job. Thanks Danny. )
Monday, November 19, 2007
Yesterday, we made the trip to Kyiv and went to church at Calvary Chapel Kyiv with our friend Maria. It was nice to see some familiar faces and meet a few new people as well. As we were leaving we got a phone call from Maxime. We let him know that we would not be at church in Bila Tserkva and that there wouldn't be any Children's Ministry. We had lunch with Maria and then made our way back to Bila Tserkva.
After we were back home, Maxime came by to see us. We found out that he had gone to church (by himself on the bus across town) to hear the message even though he knew there wouldn't be anything special for the children. This was very encouraging to us. We could tell that Maxime has a genuine interest in hearing the Word of God.
Maxime saw a worship CD that we had brought back from Calvary Chapel Kyiv and asked what it was. It was a collection of Christian worship songs in Ukrainian and Russian that they're worship team had recorded. We let the CD play on our laptop while Maxime read through the words. Then something unexpected happened. Maxime began singing along with the songs. He not only began singing, but insisted that we let all fourteen songs play. He gave each song his full attention and didn't want to be distracted while he concentrated on singing the words. When the CD was over he begged us to let him sing along to it again. Sadly, we had to send him home because it was getting late, but we promised that we would all sing these songs during Children's Ministry on Sundays.
We were all a little shocked that Maxime, who has a very short attention span, had set down and actually listened to a whole CD. He not only listened, but sang all the words. In the past we've tried to let him listen to Christian music, but he was never interested and couldn't sit still for more than a few minutes anyway. We are so thankful and encouraged by all the changes we continue to see in Maxime. All in God's time.
The title of the CD, by the way, is "Час" (chas), meaning time, as in "Now is the Time to Worship".
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Tonight we went to see Kristina, a ten year old girl from our church, perform in a singing competition. She is a very talented young girl who is always excited to attend the Children's Ministry on Sundays. She is currently taking English lessons from Edna and we hope that she might someday help out as a translator in church.(Yes, she's that quick of a learner.)
We were very impressed by the talent of all the children that performed tonight. The youngest girl was only four years old, but she sang and danced as good as the older kids. We're convinced that all Ukrainian children are born with the ability to sing and dance and then begin playing musical instruments as soon as they can walk. We can't think of any other explanation.
Ukrainians are usually disappointed when we tell them that no one in our family can sing, dance, or play a musical instrument. Oh well, at least we're pretty good at speaking English.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Dominic and Joshua on the way to church
Coming from California, I never imagined that I would one day be trekking through the snow with my family to get to church (where they don't speak English) and then catch a ballet performance. That's exactly what we did tonight. The funny thing is that it all seems normal now. Even the part where we all cram into a van that has twice as many people in it than it has seats, feels normal. (That part never was strange for me at least. We had them in the Army. They were bigger and we packed even more people into them. We called them "cattle cars".)
After church tonight our friend, Fedir, treated us all to a night of ballet. We stayed as long as Maxime and Joshua could keep from running all over the theater (about 20 minutes). It was an interesting evening and the ballet was one more thing that I can say that I never thought I'd see. Life is full of surprises in Ukraine.
Friday, November 09, 2007
God put it on our hearts to look into the possibility of someday starting an English club as a way of sharing the Gospel in our own language. When we showed up at the invalid center here in Bila Tserkva last Wednesday with the intention of getting a tour of the facility, we were introduced to six young people who wanted to speak English with us. We thought we were only going to see what goes on at the facility and see how we might help out in the future. We weren’t expecting to immediately begin teaching English, which we did for an hour before getting a tour.
The invalid center treats infants, children, and young adults for all types of mental and physical disabilities. We were impressed by all the different types of physical therapy that they offer and the expansions of the facility that are underway. The director invited us to have dinner at his house and asked if we would consider working with some of the other groups of children at the center. The director is a Christian and is very open to any type of Bible teaching that we might want to do with the children there. This is a huge open door that we didn’t see coming.
We had only been thinking about the possibility of an English club for a little over a week when God seems to have directed us to one. We weren’t prepared to start one, but we could hardly say no to agreeing to return each Wednesday from 10:30am to 12:00pm. We were so blessed at how eager the six young men and women were to have two native English speakers to talk to and learn from. Their ages range from 17 to 25 years old. They each suffer from some type of mental or physical disability, but that hasn’t deterred them from meeting together for the last two years. I asked them if they considered themselves an English club already and they said no, that they just meet once a week to learn and practice speaking English together. I said that sounded like an English club to me, so from now on, we are an English club. Please keep this new development in your prayers.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Our good friend, Fedir, invited us to go see a performance put on by a group of Ukrainian dancers last night. Along with traditional Ukrainian and Russian dancing, they had several gifted singers. All the music for the event was performed by an orchestra. The energy and skill of the dancers was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Dominic and Joshua are still talking about it. We all had a great time and can say that we are more in love with the language, culture, and people of Ukraine than ever before. Thank you, Fedir, for an evening rich in Ukrainian culture. Дякую. Я бажаю тобі щастя.
Click on the photos for larger sizes. These are just a few of the pictures I took. You can see more by going to Flickr.
Friday, October 26, 2007
As most of you know, I took a very sudden and unexpected trip to California. The Lord laid it on my heart to make the trip to see my Mother and Father in law, Ann and Rich. Ann had a knee replacement in April which healed up very nicely. Then, in July she stepped into a hole and herniated several discs in her back. She had been in a lot of pain and was left feeling a little depressed from it all. Right before my arrival, she went in for a procedure called an epidural, which is a conservative approach before surgery.
Before I left Ukraine for California, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to come to be a blessing to Ann and Rich, to uplift and encourage my Mom in particular. I wanted to help her around the house with whatever was needed. I just wanted to bless her in any way I could. I was also feeling some depression trying to take hold of me and I also asked the Lord to encourage my heart, teach me new things, and renew me spiritually during my trip.
Rich, Me, and Ann
I just wanted to tell you all how much God has blessed not only Ann and Rich, but also me! Ann and I prayed together just about every day. We went before the Lord in prayer, asking Him to be the lifter of our heads, that He would lift the pain, and heal her back. Each day, we could see the Lord working in so many awesome ways. Slowly, her back pain was easing up and she was able to do things that she wasn’t able to do before. I would drive her to physical therapy and saw such an improvement in what she was able to do each time she would go. We both began to feel the fog of weariness and depression lift from our lives. We thanked God everyday for the marvelous things He was doing in our lives. I am so grateful for her. We have a very special relationship and from what I can tell, a rare one. She truly loves me like her daughter, and I love her like my mother. I don't know what I would do without her.
I was also blessed by the people I would meet. God always has a way of leading us to the people we need to talk to. I was so impressed by the office where Ann has physical therapy. She goes to Bacci & Glinn in Visalia. Bob Bacci is a Christian and has no problem letting his clients know. He has bibles out to read and also literature from Crown Financial. Another surprise to me was that he contracts from a place called Workforce Chaplaincy. A Chaplain named Paul Gendron visits and provides spiritual advice or counsel for the employees and clients. It was so nice to meet Bob Bacci and Chaplain Paul and tell them about our lives in Ukraine. It was such a blessing to know that Ann is being treated by the best in town!
When I left Ukraine, I brought our dog Boris back to live here in Visalia. The Ukrainian’s thought we were crazy, but he wasn’t allowed to stay in our apartment and we didn’t want him to freeze to death in the winter. Rich wasn’t too happy about the idea at first because we had left our little Jack Russell Terrier (Spencer) here with them and he was hit by a car and killed. It was so hard on them to lose him because they grew so attached to him. Boris was used to life in Ukraine and he had no idea what life here was like. He had never been put behind a fence, never had a dog toy/bone to play with. This ranch is such an ideal place for him we thought. Well, when I would take Boris out of the yard for walks he would go to the neighbors who have children and dogs. He would get under their fence somehow and just want to play with all of them. We were beginning to think that maybe he would be happier somewhere else. I placed an ad for him in the paper. The next day, Rich had a change of heart and decided that Boris deserved another chance. Thank the Lord for such a blessing!
I also made a trip to San Luis Obispo and stayed with my very dear friend from Calvary SLO, Tiffany Cook. I stayed for 4 days and had such a wonderful time! I want to thank Tiffany for her kindness and hospitality during our stay. It was so good to see Justin and Arabella again. My, they have grown! We had such a great time together doing girl things. We went shopping in downtown SLO and she blessed me with some new shoes! They were exactly what I needed for Ukraine. Thank you Tiffany for your valuable friendship and unconditional love and acceptance towards me. And thank you for the clothes that you gave to me to take back for Maxime!
Edna, Maia, and Anya
I visited Calvary SLO on the same Sunday that Jake & Anya spoke at the church about what is happening up in Chernihiv. Jake said it the best when he spoke and said that America is cool for a few weeks, and then you want to go home. I wanted to cry when he said that because it is so true. I felt pure indifference visiting my hometown, which I have always loved so much. It just didn’t seem the same to me. I was really missing my real home in Ukraine. God really sealed that in my heart that day and I won’t ever forget it. I had a wonderful time meeting with the ladies who attended the Fall Gathering on Saturday, and then catching up with those I met with on church that Sunday. I felt so blessed to be counted worthy to serve the Lord in Ukraine and then come back and share with my friends all of the amazing things God is doing there.
I want to say a big THANK YOU to Pastor Bryan. He gave me a $200 shopping trip to Michael’s so that I could get anything that I needed for the children’s ministry at our church in Ukraine, House of Mercy. And thank you to Cindy Ecret, as she donated to me a very big bag of her own assortment of different crafts! Thank you to Roxanne Foote who gave me a big bag of books for us and the boys to read. And Taffy! Thank you for the bags of Butterfingers for the boys! I just felt so full of joy and happiness because those were things that were really needed back home since we began a children’s ministry with nothing but some markers! Now I am loaded up with so many crafts that I had to call the airline and get a missionary waiver for a third piece of baggage. Praise the Lord that I can take the excess piece free of charge!
Me, Tricia, Elijah (who turns 1 next month!), and Mike. They are our old neighbors. I also met the new tenants of our old place (which is behind us) and they now go to our church, CalvarySLO!
On the last day in SLO, I visited as many of my friends as I could possibly fit into one day! If your picture is not posted here, you may go to Flickr and look at all of the photos I took of my trip there. Thank you to all of my friends who greatly encouraged me, prayed for me, and gave to me. It meant so much to me. I felt so much joy that weekend that I thought I would burst! God is so awesome and so faithful to provide for all of our needs.
For the last week, I have been very anxious to get home. I leave here this Monday. The Lord has put so many things in my heart and has renewed my passion for serving the people of Ukraine. He has filled my heart with so many ideas. But most of all, he has truly renewed me, encouraged me, spoken to me, and erased any lies the enemy had created in my mind during my last few weeks back in Ukraine. He has taught me so much during my trip here. Just deep, personal things that have been sweet to my soul. I am so grateful for the time that He gave me here.
And last, but not least! I want to thank my wonderful and very capable husband for what an awesome job he has been doing taking care of our boys and our home in my absence. We've been able to communicate daily via email or sometimes by phone. I am truly blessed to have a husband who is so committed to the Lord and loves me with all his heart. What more could I ask for in life? Praise the Lord for all of his blessings!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Today they carried Babusya Maria from our apartment building on the way to the cemetery. I don’t know if she was sick, but she seemed well enough the last time I saw her. It made me realize how much of a mist or a vapor our lives really are as we are here one day yet vanish the next. We have been reminded of it several times since coming here. To get back home once, Joshua and I had to walk around the body of a man who had drowned in the river. Another time, all of us sat on the bus watching as they began to take away the body of a man who it appeared had just collapsed and died while walking in the parkway. Even now, a girl from our church is suffering from a terminal brain disorder. Death is a simple fact of life here.
I think Babusya Maria was a believer, but I don’t know. I never took the time to find out. We talked about the weather, how beautiful the river is, and how the boys are doing in school, but I never ventured to speak about what really matters, Christ. I guess I felt my language skills weren’t up to the task or maybe since she appeared healthy I didn’t feel a particular urgency to discuss salvation. Whatever the reason, I missed that chance.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
1 Peter 3:15
А Господа Христа святіть у вашик серцях, і завжди готовими будьте на відповідь кожному, хто в вас запитає рахунку про надію, що в вас, із лагідністю та зі страхом.
1 Петра 3:15
I have to ask myself if I was prepared to give the reason for my hope. I know in my heart that I was prepared to give that answer, but Babusya Maria never asked me to. The reality of death and those perishing around us without having known Jesus should be a call to boldly share the Word of God. Yes, be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but why wait to be asked? Simply tell them, possibly before it’s too late, in anyway you can, that Jesus is the reason for the hope that you have.
I want to be able to say that I lived my life as Paul did in the last verse of the book of Acts. Luke tells us about Paul,
Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.
І проповідував він Боже Царство, та з відвагою повною беззаборонно навчав про Господа Ісуса Христа!
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to help them understand the parables or concepts properly until Maxime asked me something that I couldn’t answer in my own words. He pointed to the bread and the wine set out for communion and said, “What’s that?” I explained that it was bread and wine. He said, “I know, but what’s it for?” Maxime is learning, but still knows very little about the Bible. I started thinking of ways I could explain it to him. Then I started thinking of ways I could explain it to him in Ukrainian. I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to explain and have any confidence that he really understood. I decided to let God’s Word speak for me. I found all the relevant verses in Ukrainian and had Maxime read them. Finally, he understood and realized that we do this to remember Christ as he instructed us to do. This of course has prompted him to ask more questions like, “What was his body given up for and what is the new covenant?” The beauty of this is that God’s Word has not only brought understanding to Maxime, but also more interest in His Word. All I did was point Maxime in the right direction and let God’s Word speak. This isn’t a substitute for good solid Bible teaching, but it was the only tool I had at the time. It turned out to be a surprisingly sharp tool as well.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Хто жінку чеснотну знайде? А ціна її більша від перел: довіряє їй серце її чоловіка, і йому не забракне прибутку!
-Пр. Соломона 31:10-11
It’s hard to imagine just how much you will miss someone until they’re gone. Edna has been in California for more than three weeks now and will be coming back home on the 30th. It’s not that I can’t manage to keep our home in order, but it feels strangely empty and cold without her. I realized as soon as she left that she was the one who brought life to our home and made it a place of comfort and warmth. Now it feels as if it’s in a state of slumber, waiting for her return. I’m not the only one to notice this. Our boys have both commented on how things feel different without Mom here. We find ourselves doing things around the house not because it has to get done, but because Mom would have done it that way. The neighborhood kids have all asked as well, “When is Miss Edna coming home?” They know that she would always stop what she was doing to bring out tea and cookies and play a game of UNO with them.
Separation shows you just how much you can rely on the person you love to hold you together emotionally. The strain of everyday life, especially in a foreign country, is eased by that person you have committed your life to. Working together to raise a family, maintain a household, and share the Gospel with people can be one of the most rewarding things in the world, but it can also be very demanding. The key is to cherish these times good or bad, because the best day in your life would be the worst if you didn’t have your beloved to share it with. I’m so thankful that God granted me that perfect companion to share this life with for all its sorrows and joys.
A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I was reading through an online advertisement for family-oriented, Christian DVD’s for sale through a Christian retailer. Just in time for Christmas you can buy a heart-warming DVD called The Christmas Blessing. The artwork for the DVD had a picture of Rob Lowe on it. This caught my attention as Rob Lowe isn’t someone I would normally associate with Christian themed movies. I decided to read more about the movie and was a little shocked to read that the main character, who has his belief in God and his faith renewed by Christmas miracles, is played by Neil Patrick Harris. I find this a little disturbing since Neil Patrick Harris is currently living with his boyfriend and last year was quoted as saying, “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."
The most disturbing part about this is not the actor’s lifestyle, since he is free to live and die as he chooses, but the fact that he would be cast in the role of a Christian in a family-oriented movie. Of course other Christian produced movies have used unsaved actors to promote Christian based entertainment, but not in this manner. The movie The Visitation is a good example. Edward Furlong (not a Christian) was cast as the villain in the movie. A lot of the cast and crew were Christians. Christians portrayed Christians for the most part and according to someone who was on the set, Edward Furlong was a little strange, but he would patiently listen to other Christians who shared their faith with him.
It just seems wrong to me that in the case of The Christmas Blessing, we as Christians would be served up a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems to me that the aim of a family-oriented, Christian movie should be to inspire people and give impressionable young children suitable, Christ-centered role models on and off screen.
It makes me exam my own role in all of this as a Christian consumer. I have the (buying) power to reject the use of what I call “Christian Mercenaries” in media intended for a Christian target market. Can you imagine Marilyn Manson cast as John the Apostle in The Passion of the Christ? Or how about as the host of a Children’s Bible Stories TV show? I’m sure if the money was right he’d become a Christian Mercenary.
How much responsibility do we have as Christians to behave as Christians when we act as consumers? What I mean is, do we make consumer choices like the rest of the world or should we make choices based on what the Bible teaches us? An example of this could be your choice of coffee. If you can choose a Fair Trade coffee over a non-Fair Trade coffee, then why not choose a coffee that promotes better health and education for the impoverished people who grow it? Love your neighbor as yourself.
I would also apply this to avoiding a consumer choice that promotes something very unbiblical. Someone told me of an encounter they had with a person from the corporate office of Peet’s Coffee and Tea who was responsible for community outreach programs and donations of coffee products. The company representative was contacted to see if they would be willing to donate coffee for an event that was being held to benefit the homeless and local needy families. She was interested in donating coffee until she found out that the people volunteering to host the event were affiliated with a Christian organization. She was very rude and stated that Peet’s wanted nothing to do with Christians. (Except maybe as customers?) In contrast the same request was made to Starbuck’s who were happy to donate coffee as long as the event being held was not used to promote any specific doctrine. Fair enough.
I decided to check this out for myself by going to both companies’ websites. In regards to donations, Peet’s states, “Please note: Peet's does not donate to political or religious organizations.” Starbuck’s policy states that they will donate to religious organizations as long as it is not “for the purpose of promoting religious doctrine.” These policies of themselves would not necessarily make me choose one over the other, but what they support would. I looked into what both of these two coffee giants claim to support and was a little disgusted with what Peet’s says they proudly support in regards to the arts in the community.
“Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Berkeley Rep (Berkeley Repertory Theatre) have enjoyed a growing partnership over the last decade. Our two companies have a shared history in Berkeley since our beginnings in the 60s.” “We are delighted to continue our mutually beneficial relationship for another exciting season.”
I read further into a couple of the plays that were listed on Peet’s website and copied some exerts from their reviews.
Secret in the Wings
“The play is spattered with age-old horrors that appear repeatedly in mythology and folklore: cannibalism, beheadings, live burials, incest, children chopped up and replaced with changelings, gruesome metamorphoses that stem from a thoughtless curse. The suggested connection between pedophilia and fairy tales, often sexual in nature, is an unsettling overture.”
Fêtes de la Nuit
“Be forewarned: Fêtes de la Nuit is a naughty valentine. It contains strong language, adult themes and nudity. It’ll be irresistible to mature audiences!”
I understand that we’re talking about the city of Berkeley, but my point is that given a choice, this isn’t what I want to support through my purchases of Peet’s coffee. I guess what I’m trying to say through all this ranting is that we as Christians have the consumer power (and biblical responsibility) to make a difference in this world. We can’t be overcomers in this world if we avoid worldly things, but we can display Christ in how we act as consumers. When we accept a movie like The Christmas Blessing because we have rationalized that it brings about a greater good or knowingly make poor consumer choices, we begin to chip away at the Cross. We start to turn the Cross into just another piece of jewelry that everyone wears around their neck. We cheapen what Jesus did for us.
I usually avoid these types of topics, but with retailers gearing up for Christmas, I thought it was a good time to vent my concerns. I’d be happy to hear any of your thoughts on the subject.
“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
Sunday, October 07, 2007
We just got back from church where I tackled the children’s ministry by myself for the first time. I couldn’t find any of the pre-packaged kids’ packets that I liked so I put one together from scratch for the parable of the lost sheep. I didn’t have a translator so I relied heavily on God’s Word to speak for itself, in Ukrainian. I asked if everyone understood and they did, except for Dominic and Joshua. Oops. I went through the parable again in English and then we went to work on coloring and crafts. My class consisted of five Ukrainians and two Americans. We are praying that this number will continue to grow as word gets out about how much fun the kids are having while learning about the Bible.
See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.