The Grace Effect: A Review

When I requested a copy of  The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief by Larry Taunton, I had no idea what to expect. I only knew Ukraine was somehow part of the story.

So I was surprised to find that I had stumbled upon a book that weaves the story of Taunton’s adoption of a young Ukrainian orphan into a dialogue about a theological premise known as “the grace effect” or the idea that society as a whole benefits from those living out a lifestyle of following Christ.

For my friends who want a clearer understanding of the country I live in then I would suggest reading this book. To an outsider maybe Taunton’s views of Ukraine seem harsh, however, as one who lives here and has seen the corruption so prevalent in this society, I feel it is an appropriate description and critique.

However, I would also like to say that there is a growing population of those serving Christ in Ukraine. While the effects may seem small in the face of such overwhelming corruption, the effects of grace can be found here. As a whole though it seems that grace is a concept that is hard to grasp, at least for students that I work with.

As for Taunton’s writing style, I greatly enjoyed reading about Sasha and the story of their family coming together to adopt her, but the focus on the grace effect gets a bit lost and muddled in the middle. Taunton wraps it up nicely in the end, though it could probably have been written a bit clearer throughout as to how the focus tied into the story.

Nonetheless, an enjoyable read and one I would recommend.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through theBookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 FCR, Part 255.

Discovering Lewis Carroll and Robert Frost In Kyiv

Yesterday was an afternoon filled with a never ending team meeting, and a glance at the calendar shows an already full semester ahead. This year the spring will be about a month shorter than normal due to Euro2012 and I’m still hoping to devise a departure from Kyiv for that month!

Party Time at the Boys New Apartment
Of course there are also the party times that are great fun. This was Thursday's open house in the middle of a game of Crocodile (known to us as Charades)

Regardless, I have had time to do what I really LOVE to do this past week and that is spending time with students individually. English clubs for me are just part of the “job”. It’s one of my requirements and certainly not what I prefer.

One student I met with this week was surprised at how God used her at our recent Winter Camp and how one student who doesn’t even believe in God could come to trust us and feel he could ask questions without being condemned. She was also surprised when one of the staff approached her about possibly being a camp volunteer in August.

Another student is working hard to finish her Master’s degree and hopes to open a school for conversational English after. While working on her degree, she is also teaching English to business men and, when inspiration hits, writing a novel. Her Master’s work is based on showing that Robert Frost was not a homosexual. I didn’t even know it was a popular theory until our conversation yesterday (I guess that theory happened after I graduated high school?!).

Lewis Carroll photo
Lewis Carroll photo of Alice Liddell

Today I spent a couple of hours with another one of my student friends here. We got a bit lost in search of an art gallery, but in the end we found it. Inside was a small collection of photographs by Lewis Carroll. I didn’t even know he was a photographer. Many of the photos were already sold (and at roughly $60 I would buy one too just to own it if I had the money!) It was interesting to see the girl Alice that is speculated to be the basis for his literary work Alice in Wonderland. Afterwards we had supper and discussed how she is growing in Christ and becoming more connected at church. She also hopes to work as a volunteer in future camps and is taking English classes to further improve her language skills, as well as, meeting with one of the other staff each week to dig deeper into the Word of God.

 

THIS is what I love. Hearing about the passions of the students, their dreams, their struggles, their growth.

Please pray for us as we head into a new semester that we don’t get so busy that we lose the importance of spending time with students one-on-one. I know in the midst of the chaos I find myself wanting to just run away to my apartment and hide (and the cold weather doesn’t help that desire!!).

My team is leaving tomorrow for our Staff Conference where we will gather with staff and volunteers from all over Ukraine to worship, pray and plan together. Then next week will begin our normal schedule and, of course, the first will be Shevchenko club on Wednesday!

Looking forward to an exciting and fruitful semester!!

Public Transportation and Why It Frightens Me: A Story

Kyiv Metro train
Photo from kyivguide.net

The fluorescent lights cast their discolored radiance inside the metro wagon half-filled with people lost beneath bundles of wool, down and man made materials in the form of scarves, coats, hats and gloves.

Young and old hid behind printed words and electronic music, avoiding the acknowledgement of those around them.

In other words, it seemed like a normal day on the Kyiv Metro system.

Until she came into our wagon.

Coat half-zipped and holding a crumpled water bottle with maybe three gulps of liquid left, she took a seat across from where I stood leaning against the doors that boldly proclaim “No Leaning”. Call me a rebel or just call me tired.

She entered with a young man, maybe early twenties, and a teenage girl. They were grandchildren I presume, and the young man helped her to sit.

But she seemed agitated. Fumbling with her clothes and speaking in louder than normal tones. People began to look.

She clutched her chest and her arm and her chest and her head. Back and forth. Such a commotion.

I had no idea what was happening before my eyes so I simply prayed as I looked on.

She stood, unbalanced, and he caught her. Someone gave a pill for her to take and as she sat again she took it.

More clutching, muttering, moaning, trying to stand.

She rose again and lost her balance, tumbling into the row of people opposite. The young man reached for the intercom and spoke to the conductor as she fell to the floor.

I thought maybe she was having a heart attack. Maybe a seizure. Maybe just a panic attack. I had no way to know because I don’t speak this language or at least, it seems, none of the words they were using.

A few moments later she stood back up, pacing some more, and as we crossed over the river she began to cry and scream loudly. There was no calming her as she clutched the railing and palmed the door to exit.

Finally as the next stop appeared and the doors opened, the young man and girl escorted her off the wagon.

As we pulled away she still seemed to be yelling something as he looked at her clearly frustrated and confused.

A handful of people entered. A young couple sat in the space the older lady had occupied. Silence returned to the wagon and everyone returned to avoidance mode and I was once again reminded why.

Just another day on public transportation, you never know what may happen!

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Living Out Metamorphosis

metamorphosis

Hungry Catepillars
Hungry Catepillars - an interactive game we played

[met-uh-mawr-fuh-sis]

Noun:   

  1.  (in an insect or amphibian) The process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.
  2.  A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means; a major change in the appearance or character of someone or something.

Synonyms:      transformation, transifguration, metamorphose, change

____________________________________________

From crawling to flying, from death to life, from old to new. Some people love change and others say, “No thanks”.

Metamorphosis was this year’s camp theme. 41 students and 9 staff came together and studied excerpts from the book of Colossians with every planned activity focused on this concept of change.

Can people really change? Why do we change? What does true transformation look like?

It’s a pretty weighty theme when you really consider it (especially when tackling said theme while jet lagged).

For me it was a wonderful few days and I could see glimpses of God at work in student’s lives.

I discovered one of my girls from summer camp has become a Christian and is walking out that putting away old and putting on the new.

Winter Camp 2012 Small Group
My Winter Camp small group. I love these girls!!

This time at camp, I had the smallest small group since one student didn’t come. I was a-okay with this since I didn’t have a co-leader. I think everyone in the group agreed that an hour and half Bible study was too short for the discussions we were having. Funny to me, since I know Christians that don’t care to discuss the Bible for an hour and half. There were a lot of questions raised and some I am still trying to understand how to answer myself. (I regretted dropping out of my Biblical studies major a couple of times these days.)

At the end of camp I shared my testimony with the large group. I think it went well despite only having half my voice by that time. My prayer is that it connected with some of our students and will lead to some discussions in the coming weeks.

And so I am now back and trying to find a somewhat normal schedule and chase off the remaining jet lag. It is good to be again in this place I love and see God moving among the students.

_______________________________

Me and Veronica at Winter Camp 2012
Me and Veronica

In one last note, I am still needing support for this year to continue serving in Ukraine. Currently I have enough to keep me until maybe the end of March. If you are interested in being a supporter one time or monthly the details can be found here or on the side bar to the right of this post.

May God continue to bless you as you walk out a transformed life wherever He has placed you.

January 11th the Second Time Around

It’s January 11th. I just arrived back in Kyiv. Funny thing is that I arrived here last year on January 11th. A lot has changed in a year. My biggest thankfulness this time around may be that I actually had a place to go home to instead of sleeping on the couch at the office.

Anyway I just wanted to send out a quick note to say that I’m back in Ukraine. Made it safe and sound, with no problems and no sleep. Just finished unpacking and repacking and am now going to try to keep myself awake for about another hour and half before face planting (in hopes of helping get my body clock set… huge pain right now but better a couple of days of misery than a week).

Please pray for me and the other staff as we start Winter Camp TOMORROW!!! Being in the States for the last month and half, I feel a bit out of the loop and completely unprepared. Our theme this year is Metamorphosis, so it’s all about transformation. Pray that student’s lives will be transformed by Christ and that transformation would begin this weekend.

Until next week…

Good night 🙂

Genesis 10-11

Genesis 10

Oh family trees in the Bible… if you are a genealogy lover this chapter is for you. I enjoy taking time to look up names and find meanings and guess at just how some names were pronounced. Other than that I get lost in all these lines of names and by the time I’ve finished a verse have already forgotten WHO it originated with.

It is always interesting to note the few names that get singled out with some tiny explanation that usually leaves you wanting a little more. I assume if the author took time to single the person out then there is good reason to pay attention.

10:8-12 Nimrod

  • He is pronounced as the 1st great warrior in the world – WOW!
  • He was a “great hunter before God” – what exactly does that mean?
  • “His kingdom got its start with Babel” and he built Ninevah… hmmmm

Genesis 11

This chapter goes all wrong when they decide to make themselves famous (v.4) and build a tower to the heavens. There is always the danger of trying to build ourselves and our abilities up and make ourselves a name among others instead of seeking after God.

Interesting also to note that they say it is so they won’t be scattered (v.4) but then God comes down in 11:8-9 and breaks them into various languages and scatters them throughout the world. What they were afraid would happen they brought about.

It reminds me of Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (NIV)

 

Genesis 9

Genesis 9

9:1 God blesses Noah and his sons though I’m sure they must have already felt blessed at being the only humans alive and being off the boat. Though can you imagine what it’s like to ONLY have your family and no one else, literally, in all the earth? When God blessed them to “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the earth!”, they were probably more than happy to add to the numbers.

9:2 All creatures will be afraid of humans and we are responsible for them.  Reminds me of our cat Dusty, appropriately named after crawling into the dryer vent. His meow every time he sees mom sounds like a screaming banshee, poor guy is terrified and all she did was rescue him.

9:3 And THIS is why I’m not a vegetarian! See God gave us animals to eat. YES!!

9:4 Wait… does that mean no medium rare steaks 🙁

9:5-7 God will justly punish anyone/thing that kills a human.

  • 9:5 So does that mean animals get judged too in some way?
  • 9:6 “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans let his blood be shed” Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. Guess that will make you think twice before hurting someone. It’s like the death penalty long before a court system. I know, I know I’m in the Old Testament… old law… but I still bet it made people think twice before flying off in rage. Regardless of the fact that this is in the Old Testament it still stands as proof of the sanctity of human life.
Victoria Falls, Zambia
A photo I took at Victoria Falls on the Zambian side in 2009

9: 8-17 God establishes covenant with Noah, his family, and the wildlife. This is ridiculously important. Covenant is an agreement between two parties with with stipulations and promises on both sides. I read somewhere earlier today that this word comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to cut”. It’s like the line in the sand in a sense that once you’ve crossed into it, there is no turning back.

Stipulations of this covenant: God will never destroy everything by flood again

God gives rainbows as a reminder to Him and to us of this promise (v 13-16)

So does that mean God is capable of forgetting since He says it will remind Him? I wonder sometimes if He looks over the balcony of Heaven and takes account of different people, places, etc. Does He ever get fed-up with us humans and the level of corruption and sin here and see a rainbow and think, “Oh yeah, but I promised.” Totally speculation and probably not how it happens. I’m pretty certain that little reminder mechanism is much more for us than for God… cause I’m pretty forgetful.

*side rant* Rainbows are gorgeous and beautiful and I get really annoyed that they have been perverted these days and taken as a sign for homosexuality. *side rant ending here*

9:20-27 Noah gets drunk, passes out naked and has to be covered by his sons. I don’t know what Ham did but it merited his cursing, while his brothers received blessings. I’m pretty sure there is more to it than just seeing his father naked (after all, that would be Noah’s fault for passing out drunk while naked). Whatever happened Canaan became cursed because of it.

Job 5 – 6

Job 5

5:1-7 Is it just me does Eliphaz show a bit of cynicism here?  He basically says, “Go ahead and call out for help IF you think someone will actually answer you.” He talks of the foolish and silly persons, inferring that Job must be among their company for this to have happened to him.

5:8-16 Eliphaz speaks of seeking God in the midst of affliction, which is actually sound counsel. This is especially essential since on earth we only see a portion of what is happening. If we only look at it from one side and say that when tragedy strikes then surely we must be to blame then we surely box God in. He uses the good and the bad, all for His glory. If we focus only on the comforts and things that sound good to us then we risk stepping over into a prosperity Gospel. God never promised a walk in the park, only that He would be with us always. In turning around the evil for good it may not (and most likely will not) happen as swiftly as we would like or in a way that seems logical to us.

 

“So, what a blessing when God steps in and corrects you! Mind you, don’t despise the discipline of Almighty God! True, he wounds, but he also dresses the wound; the same hand that hurts you, heals you.” 5:17 -18

When we do find ourselves in a place of being corrected by God we should count it as a blessing. His wounds bring healing. What a paradox!

5:20-26 Sounds great, but I’m not so sure. Promises that God will keep you protected from vicious gossip, you’ll see your children grow up, and you’ll live to an old age. What of people that have been condemned to die under Communism or other regimes out of gossip or misspoken words? What of Christians who have had children die of young ages? What of Christians who have died young? Does God protect us? Absolutely, but His ways are higher than our ways. We have to be listening to God and following where He leads. We live in a fallen world and it effects us. Though at the heart of it, the things of the world may touch us painfully and deeply, but God is the Author of Peace.

Job 6

6:1-7 Job basically says, “Look, I think I have a reason to complain and blame God.”  Don’t we do the same thing? Men stand in times of trial and raise fists to God shouting,cursing, blaming.

6: 8-13 Job is at the end of his rope and prays for God to just kill him. He has lost his hope. I think in the stages of grief Job jumped headlong into depression.

6:14-30 He accuses them of being so-called friends.
v. 21 “…there’s nothing to you! One look at a hard scene and you shrink in fear.”

OUCH!! I think Job’s friends did well in coming and in sitting with him in his week of mourning, but they ran into trouble when the started to make accusations that he must have done something to deserve such treatment.

“You pretend to tell me what’s wrong with my life, but treat my words of anguish as so much hot air.” 6:26

Is there an issue of expectations at play here? Expectation for his friends? Their expectations of Job? Expectations of God/personal theologies that they couldn’t come to terms with?

 

 

Genesis 6 – 8

Genesis 6

6:1-4 Hold up. WHAT?!?! Giants in the land? Union between the sons of God and the daughters of men. Ummm??? I feel like I’m reading some sci-fi novel not the Bible. Sure I’ve read it before, but I guess I just by passed it.

So when I think about it though I know in Job it refers to angels as the “sons of God” because I’ve been reading over there too at the moment. But I also know that in the Bible the children of God are referred to as “sons of God” but is that a New Testament term only? So were they fallen angels (which when you start to think of angels willingly leaving the presence of God it’s just kind of mind blowing) or were they men who worshiped God and were carried away by their lust?

6:3 God decides that He doesn’t want to breathe life into people for 800-900 years and that the average life span for man will now be 120. I guess we’ve lost a couple of decades since then.

6:4 Giants in the land… which comes from the unions occurring in verse 1. This seems like it would make more sense that it was a union between women and angels but that still just seems crazy.

6:5 “God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil-evil, evil, evil from morning to night.” Sounds familiar, kind of like humanity as we know it right now. In this case it causes God to regret making man and deciding to start over. But why did He rework all of creation and not just people, after all weren’t humans the ones that sinned? Then again I guess the ground was cursed because of people so I guess it had pervaded all of creation.

6:8 “But Noah was different.” I like this part. Noah stood out. He caused God to pause. Though it is striking that of everyone alive it seems Noah was the only one that caught God’s attention as a good man. What made Noah so different?

6:9 Noah was a good man, a man of integrity and “walked with God”. Again we see this phrasing. What does it mean to “walk with God”?

6:14-21  Noah had some serious trust and faith in God. Did he look at God and say, “I’m sorry. A what? What’s a ship? How do I build it? What’s a flood?” You know those sort of questions. Did it seem preposterous to Noah? Yet he did it anyway. And how do you gather enough food for your family and all the animals for an unknown amount of time? Proof that walking with God has always been a crazy journey.

Genesis 7

7:1 “out of everyone in this generation, you’re the righteous one”. Wonder how that made Noah feel. What about his family?

7:16 God shut the door to the ark. Gives new meaning to God opening and closing doors.

An ark. 40 days and 40 nights. A sampling of everything that has breath on this ship. What did they do with all the poop? Did they make nose plugs, cause the smell had to have been horrid. Not to mention all the noise. And what about animals that are usually enemies, were they under some kind of heavenly trance to keep them peaceful?

7:24 150 days the floodwaters took over the earth… that’s like almost half a  year… in a boat… with a bunch of animals… and your family…

Genesis 8

So actually it was after 150 that “the worst was over”… they still ain’t off the boat. So I always thought it was 40 days and 40 nights, but I guess that just accounted for the rain and flooding, not the dying process or the water receding process which obviously took longer than 40 days.

7:11 “It was the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month that it happened”

8;13-14 “In the six-hundred-first year of Noah’s life, on the first day of the first month, the flood had dried up. Noah opened the hatch of the ship and saw dry ground.By the twenty-seventh day of the second month, the Earth was completely dry.” 

Sooo all in all they were on the ark a year and 10 days???!!!!!

8:20-22 They finally get off the ark. Can you imagine the joy!! Noah builds an altar to God and brings an offering and I can imagine that he also brought a prayer to never make him step foot on that boat ever again! God promises to never do that again… yayy!

Job 3-4

Job 3

I’m guessing that Job had been in a state of shock, I mean, who wouldn’t be?! Here in the beginning of chapter three he breaks the silence and begs for the day he was born to be released. So personally this would probably have been on day one for me, but Job was apparently pretty amazing.

3:8 Just what is that sea best Leviathan? Yeah, I know there are no answers but I’m thinking dinosaur meets Loch Ness monster of the sea

Job begins vocally lamenting and, as expected, there are a lot of “Why” questions.

“What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning?” (3:23)

Proof that after all Job really is just a normal person. He may trust God completely and be honorable, but he has officially come to the end of himself. Even the best person would be undone at the tragedy he has endured. And who hasn’t asked the above question at some point. Truth is life really just doesn’t make sense sometimes

Job 4

Eliphaz needs to work on his encouragement skills because I’m pretty sure I am depressed after reading his offer to encourage and clarify.

4:6 “Shouldn’t your devout life give you confidence now”  Hmmm… doesn’t he mean shouldn’t God give you confidence now, your faith in Him, your trust in Him?  Confidence in a devout life is a shaky foundation because no matter how devout you are still human and will mess up somewhere. Besides that would be a confidence and faith in yourself more than in God.

4:7 I’m sure many innocent people have ended up on the scrap heap after all doesn’t it say somewhere in the Bible that “it rains on the just and the unjust”.

You see the beginning of his friends suggesting that Job must have done something to bring this on himself. Weren’t they supposed to be comforting him?? But I’m sure we do the same. We come in to try and help a friend, trying to bring comfort, and end up speculating and potentially doing more harm than good.