Monday, June 21, 2010

Good News from Belarus...

Last year, I wrote about the orphanage/post-orphan ministry Spring of Revival is doing in Belarus, a country with 36,000 orphans and the most repressive in Europe regarding religious freedom. Last fall, Olga visited here in Massachusetts with her husband and children, and despite opposition (and the deportation of most American volunteers), they are continuing to minister to the "least of these". The children are thriving, spiritually and otherwise....a true miracle, considering their circumstances.

This morning, I received the latest ministry update from Belarus, with great pictures from the Christian summer camp SoR runs for kids from two orphanages. For more information and previous newsletters, see the Stoneworks International site.

Camp Time in Belarus
June 11, 2010

Olga Goncharenko just sent this wonderful update from Belarus about Camp that started May 28th:
There are 180 children at camp. We have brought 40 kids: 20 of them are from Stankovo orphanage (7 girls and 13 boys) and 20 are from Mozyr area that remains polluted by Chernobyl (8 girls and 12 boys).

Days at camp are full of different events. Every morning the children get up at 8 and then they do morning exercises. After that they get ready, clean their rooms and go to breakfast.

When breakfast is finished the children go to Bible class (there are 3 classes for different ages 7-9, 10-12, 13 and up).

When Bible class is finished it is time for a big game, in which the whole camp takes part.

Then it is lunch and after lunch it is quiet time when children stay in their rooms and read or take a nap.

Following nap time is snack and then it is movie time or time to play different sports, such as volleyball, golf, running, rope-jumping, etc.

Next, it is dinner and group time; afterward it is ’second dinner’ time. At the end of the day it is a meeting for the whole camp, where the director tells the results of the day and wishes everyone good night.

The children all sing together a good night song and go to their rooms. Then they get ready for bed, read Bible, talk and pray together. And then they all go to sleep.

That is how we spend each day at camp. The children learn more about God and Bible and also they get to have a good time.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Encouraging Seminar with NANC's Dr. Rick Thomas

This past weekend, my church had the priviledge of hosting NANC fellow Rick Thomas for a 2-day biblical counseling seminar for all of us who were interested in the training. For those of you who may not know, NANC (National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) is the certifying and overseeing organization of biblical counselors who, along with CCEF, provides Christ-centered counseling under the auspices of the local church.

Our church currently has three certified NANC counselors on board, and a slew of us in various stages of training. The program of study in which I am enrolled, the Institute for Nouthetic Studies, is the most comprehensive and lengthy of different training options - 14 different distance courses are required, covering 185 hours of lectures, with a plethora of reading material (much of it by Jay Adams). A friend of mine completed this course of study several years ago, and found it extremely helpful. The next step is a two-part exam, wrapped up by having 50 hours of your counseling supervised (and scrutinized) by a NANC "fellow", or mentor. Dr. Thomas is one such mentor, and he spent 11 hours with us over the weekend lecturing on how to serve God by becoming more effective counselors.

Frankly, as a relative "newbie", I probably gained much more from this seminar than some of the more seasoned "veterans" of biblical counseling did. Dr. Thomas taught seven workshops, including topics such as "Gathering Data", "Determining if a Counselee is Saved", "Idols of the Heart", "Suicide" and "Parenting". All were relevant and timely topics.

One of the things that I most appreciated about this seminar was its practicality - Jay Adams' eschatology lectures are nice, and I need to brush up on the finer points of Reformed theology (so I can hold my own with my 5-pointer homies), but in my humble opinion such intellectual gymnastics will lead neither myself nor a counselee closer to Jesus. Never let it be said that sound doctrine doesn't matter; on the contrary! Correct theology informs biblical counsel. The two cannot be separated. In and of itself, however, all the theology in the world will not encourage a struggling believer who is under condemnation...or a professing believer repent of a life-dominating sin.

The afternoon before this workshop began, I had coffee with a young woman who reads my blog and was in Massachusetts over the week. While her Facebook profile maintains she "lives passionately for Jesus" and she had spent 6 months at Vision of Hope (a nouthetic residential facility), by the end of the conversation she told me point-blank that she "wasn't ready" to repent (of her eating disorder and nightly vodka habit). She is currently content to "keep God out" of that area of her life, and keeps re-filling her prescription for bi-polar meds to convince herself she is "sick". If I were ever formally counseling this gal, I would need every speck of advice we learned on Friday night - persistent, redundant questioning (to understand what she is thinking and what does she want); and secondly, to find out if a) she understands what salvation is and b) if she is, in fact, saved.

One of the biggest (perhaps THE biggest) error that can be made in biblical counseling is to inadvertantly counsel an unbeliever. While no biblical counselor would do so intentionally (a person who has not been born again is incapable of pleasing God), I have generally gone on the assumption that when a counselee claims to be a Christian, we should take his or her word for it. This, I learned, is a mistake - almost everyone will claim to be a Christian, but many cannot even articulate the Gospel (this is especially true here in New England). Dr. Thomas included the following definition for salvation in our notes:

"Salvation IS: A counselee becoming aware of his terrible spiritual condition, accepting the just and desereved penalty of eternal separation from God, hearing and believing the Good News of Christ's sole, substitutionary atonement and committing his or her life to Christ as Savior, Disciple, and Lord."
Sometimes the simplest things are the things you remember the most clearly, and during the ensuing discussion on sanctification I appreciated the observation that God prunes differently in brand-new believers than in maturing ones. Drawing on the expectation of fruit, more fruit, and much fruit to indicate one is a true disciple (John 15:1-8), Dr. Thomas pointed out that often outward actions change first after regeneration - "You don't smoke, swear, chew, or go with girls who do," he quipped. Then, however, the Holy Spirit moves on to convict and change the Christian's attitudes - from anger, deep bitterness, etc. This is how the believer continues to be fruitful, but I have noticed it is often the point at which discouragement sets in (including in my own heart!) Not noticing spiritual change, the believer will often conclude, "I quit smoking and drinking, but I still have the black heart - I still have unforgiveness, lust, anger. I must not really be a Christian after all!" He or she sometimes then slips into condemnation or depression, not realizing the slow, gradual pace of the pruning process. The worst thing the blood-bought child of God can do is to assume that because the "rate" of spiritual growth has slowed, the Holy Spirit is not present.

(Related to this doubt is another fallacy: that Romans 7 described Paul pre-conversion. Surprisingly, this interpretation has caught on among some Lordship preachers, and has caused unnecessary doubt and anguish among Christians who are genuinely struggling against their sin).

In a later post, I would like to discuss "How Can We Evaluate if We Have an Idol?", or a desire that displaces our satisfaction in God. This was a useful lecture for every disciple of Christ, not just those counseling people with life-dominating sins.

Dr. Thomas has a treasure-trove of helpful webinars and blog entries on various topics of interest to biblical counselors, Bible study leaders and others in ministry, at his Mt. Carmel Ministries website: Sooo grateful for the opportunity to study what Scripture teaches us on the importance of discipling others under his tutelege!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Was Peter the First Pope?

Great apologetics essay by The Aristophrenium...and excellent example of why the synthetic principle (of hermeneutics) disallows us from building an entire doctrine upon ONE VERSE:

Was Peter the First Pope?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jesus, Who Was NOT a Political Activist daughter Valentina is in 7th grade at our town's public school. Her Ancient Civilizations class is interesting, if a bit off-the-mark at times. The teacher is great, although one red flag is the fact she uses films from the History Channel. (As any serious historian will tell you, that's not such a hot idea, unless you're into revisionist history).

A few months ago, a Scholastic handout came home, claiming that monotheism began with an Egyptian pharaoh (who, according to Wiki, lived about 1,400 years after Abraham). I pulled out my study Bible's timelines and we had a little one-on-one history lesson. I did not contact the teacher, as we were then involved in a 'thing' with the Science teacher over evolutionary theory being taught as immutable fact. (They're really going to start hating us at that school. No wonder all the other Christians in our town are homeschooling).

This month we're learning about the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity. Sounds great, right? Actually, the handouts (they don't use textbooks anymore, apparently) did pretty well on most of the facts...except when it came to Jesus. According to the main source, "Jesus was killed because he was a threat to Rome's power". Knowing full well the fallacy of that statement, my daughter nevertheless regurgitated it in a brief essay she was to write tonight for homework.

We had a chat. About revisionist history, what we know from the historical record contained in the Gospel accounts, why Jesus really came, and the (Jewish) conspiracy to kill Him. This is not new information for my daughter. She read the Gospel of Matthew in second grade, was in AWANA for several years, and was baptised at 12. One of only two Christian pupils in her school, my normally-reserved daughter has had to stand up a time or two for the truth (recently attempting to explain the Trinity to a skeptic).

I suggested she re-write the paper, pointing out the error in claiming Jesus was "a threat to Rome" or that he "started a new religion". Some things are too important to let slide by, we explained; sometimes you just have to take a stand. She was afraid that the teacher would fail her for deviating from the text. Explaining that teachers respect students who can think critically, I suggested she cite specific verses to support her rebuttal. (The Bible is a respected, acceptable historical accont; even by secular scholars). She agreed, and re-wrote the essay. Here is the (unedited) result:

The Spread of Christianity

"Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism, and Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of all 206 Messianic prophecies of the Torah. At the time of Christ, Judea was ruled by the Roman Empire. The three main groups of Jewish leaders were the Sadduccees, Zealots and the Pharisees. The Sanhedrin, or the ruling council, was mostly made up of Sadduccees. The Zealots were very political and against Rome, the Pharisees made a strict interpretation of Mosaic Law and added a lot to it. The Sadduccees were liberal, wealthy, and didn't believe in heaven or hell. Caiaphas, the High Priest, was a Sadduccee.

Jesus preached about faith and repentance and salvation, and not politics. He refused to get involved in political discussion. (See Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; and Luke 20:25). Later Paul and Peter told Christians to obey their rulers and to respect the government (see 1 Timothy 2:1-2, and 1 Peter 2:10,13). Jesus was not political, and Rome didn't take notice of Him. The Jewish leaders saw Jesus as a threat because He preached against their hypocrisy, He showed that they didn't really love God, and He claimed to be the Son of God and Messiah. The Jews expected a political Messih to save them from Rome, but Jesus saved them from their sins. The Sanhedrin wanted to kill Jesus when He gained popularity, but they didn't have the authority to kill people themselves, so they involved Pontious Pilate. They twisted what Jesus said, and charged Him with blasphemy and speaking against Rome as an excuse to kill Him, even though Jesus never did that. Pilate tried to release Jesus because he knew Jesus did not commit any political crime. (John 19:4;6). Finally Pilate gave in and Jesus was crucified, and He rose again on the third day, as was prophesied (Psalm 16:10; Hosea 6:1-3).

Seven weeks later, at Pentecost, Peter preached to thousands of people, and the Church Age began. The Apostles, including Paul of Tarsus, started to spread the Gospel all over the Mediterranean. For the next three centuries, Christians were persecuted in Rome by emperors. There were also a lot of heresies in the first four centuries. In 313, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which prevented Christians from being persecuted. Then in 325, the Council of Nicea set down the Creed, which said what all Christians believe in. Constantine also built Constantinople, which is Istanbul today."

(I helped her find the Scripture references.) Let's hope she gets a good grade....I have a feeling this is going to be the first secular-propaganda-refutation of many she will have to make over her academic career. She may as well start young.