Merry Christmas!!

Merry Christmas!!  🙂

I hope you spent this Christmas season with your family and friends celebrating the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.

My grandmother is still recovering from her insomnia, depression, and back pain, so we did not spend Christmas day at my grandparent’s home as we usually do.  Grandpa, however, did come and visit us on the twenty fourth to be encouraged and to share his gifts with us.  I was surprised he had gotten us anything, since he has been caring for Grandma for the past (almost) two months.  Thankfully, Grandma is sleeping again and has no more pain.  She simply needs to be able to think clearly again and get out of the depression.  We are hoping that will happen in the next month.

Last night was also our church’s candlelight service.  It was wonderful to celebrate Christmas with our church family, and singing ‘Silent Night’ while holding a candle is always fun  (though it was a bit more interesting this year as I helped my three year old sister hold one too).  🙂

Then this morning, my family and I went to sing Christmas carols at a nearby nursing home with some church families.  Seeing some of the residents sing with us was sweet. 🙂

Afterword, in the afternoon, the four oldest girls went to see Les Miserables with our neighbors.  It is an amazing movie!!  If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend it.  Redemption, Mercy, Justice, Love, and Freedom are a couple of the main themes.  I was very happy to see that the director of the film kept all the great themes the book brought out.

Les Miserables poster

Since this is Christmas time I thought I would share a few of the similarities between Les Miserables and Christianity/The Bible.

#1 I’m sorry, I have not yet memorized the names of the characters…. so bear with me.  The main character, who was put in prison because he stole bread, gets out on parole.  He then finds himself at a convent of sorts and is invited in for a warm meal and bed for the night by a kind priest.  During the night, he steals as many silver objects as he can find and runs off.  He is basically throwing insults at the people who are trying to help him out of his predicament.

In the case of Christianity, we view Jesus as the priest.  We are slaves to sin, unable to free ourselves.  We even mock God and blame Him for our woes.  When Jesus came on earth two thousand years ago, people killed Him.  But even though we continued to hate Him, He gave us another chance at redemption—even after we have insulted him.

When the main character in the movie is captured by the local law enforcement agents, he lies and says, (to paraphrase) ‘The priest gave them to me.’  Of course, the men don’t believe him for a second and they cart him back to the priest.  But here is where the story takes a surprising twist.  Instead of taking back his silver, and having the thief put in prison, he says, (again, paraphrased) “You should have stayed longer, I wanted to give you these” (while handing him two large silver candlesticks).  He then remarks that the man should make a new and honest life from the precious silver that is now his.

When Christ gives us the gift of eternal life He doesn’t just give it to us so that we can continue in our old way of living.  He wants us to begin to follow Him and (with the Holy Spirit’s help) begin to produce the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).  Although… we can’t steal the gift of Life from Him, like the man did in the movie. 🙂

#2 Much later in the film, the main character has the opportunity to kill the main law enforcement officer who has been after him ever since he broke his parole and became a mayor.  But, instead, he helps the man escape and shows him mercy—something the other man has never shown.

We deserve to die.  If we were only held accountable before God with the things we judge others by we would be condemned ten times over.  Jesus, however, offers us mercy and forgiveness.  I appreciate how the movie shows the difference between total justice with no mercy and justice with a merciful and forgiving spirit.  God is both loving and just.  It is a tough concept to grasp because we always want justice to be given!  If we are truly honest with ourselves, though, we should not want this all the time.  We justly deserve hell—separation from God forever because of our sin.  He loves us even in our ugliness and filth of sin, but He is just as well. He cannot simply say, ‘Your sins are gone…  I will ignore them.’  A just God can not do that.  But, a merciful, forgiving, and loving God can come up with a solution to the problem.

That is where Jesus comes in.  Because He is God’s son, He was perfect, without sin.  Because He became a man (while still being fully God), He could die for us and be our lamb offering (in the Old Testament Jewish sense).  His blood paid for our sins so that we could now come near to God and He near to us.

I could go on… the movie had so many excellent redemptive portions!!  I hope you will go see it. 🙂  The music is superb as well… and with all the emotions flying around??!  It’s an emotional film, and it will pull at your heartstrings more than once.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!!

Today was…

(This post is about yesterday (Sunday, June 24th, 2012).  I started to ramble a bit… just so you know. 🙂  I wrote this yesterday in my journal and decided to share it with you as a continue to finish several other blog posts.  I plan to have at least 2 more blog posts this week on Wednesday and Friday.)

Today was a good day.
Today was a sad day.
Today was a day of new beginnings.
Today was a day of changes.
Today was the day God planned for me.

Thank you Lord for setting apart a Sabbath day of rest.  A day when we can take a break from many of our weekly tasks and worship you–alone and as part of the body of Christ (the Church).

I need and I look forward to each Sunday.  Today was especially wonderful because last week my family worshipped at a different church and the previous Sunday because of our huge extended family’s Father’s Day reunion (which I greatly enjoyed).  I laughed when we arrived at church in our large van and one of the dads’ jaws dropped at seeing me park the car.  I don’t know if I’ll ever tire of seeing the surprise on friends’ faces when I drive up. :p

When I walked in to the building, one of my sister’s friends (I was going to say “little” sister, but she is growing up and little no longer fits) came over, gave me a hug, and told me she had missed me.  It was really sweet. 🙂

Since our pastor was out of town this week a visiting pastor preached.  Currently we are in a sermon series in the book of acts.  The visiting pastor preached from Philippians 4:4-7.

Радуйтесь в Господе всегда; и снова скажу, радуйтесь.  Кротость ваша да будет известна всем людям; Господь близко.  Ни о чём не заботьтесь, но во всём, в молитве и прошении, с благодареием открывайте просьбы ваши пред Богом.  И мир Божий, превосходящий всякий ум, соблюдет сердца ваши и мысли ваши во Христе Иисусе.  ~Филиппийцам 4:4-7

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men.  The Lord is near.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Anxiety is very prevalent.  Did you know that the US has an official “Anxiety Awareness” day and month?? (April 22nd, and April)  Neither did I.  Society has no way of helping us cope with it.  Sure–we can escape for a short while through drugs, alcohol, games, sex, online sites, etc. but in the long run none of those things will help.  But when we trust in a God who gave us His son to save us from something far worse than death (hell) we know He will take care of us — even in the little and sometimes mundane parts of life.

For me, most of my anxiety lies in the future.  Where will I go to college?  Will I go to college at all?  If I do go, how will I pay for it?  What job/career should I study?  What if I’m being called into the mission field?  Just to name a few. :p  Coupled with another lecture  I attended on Wednesday evening about money, the sermon convicted me and helped me realize that money was/is becoming an idol in my life.  I was putting my faith and hope on money instead of on God who gives me everything I have.

After church a lady friend (a mother of 3 children) came up to me and asked me a ‘big family’ question.  “Growing up in a large family, what are your thoughts on the size of your [possible] future family?”  It’s a good question and I love being asked ‘big family’ and ‘homeschool’ questions. (If you have a question for me, ask me here.)  As for my answer: “I’ll be happy to love and raise however many children the Lord blesses me with (0 – ?).  If I am unable to have children of my own I would love to adopt children.  Now of course, this all depends on whether or not I get married.  I do not know if a godly husband is in the Lord’s plans for my future.

I enjoyed talking with a young couple (members of our church) who serve on a college campus as part of Campus Crusade for Christ.

 Immediately after eating a delicious meal with them (and with my family at home), I left for Russian church.  Today we sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness” in Russian and it was beautiful. 🙂  I love singing old hymns in Russian and English.  An elderly lady who was sitting next to me on the pew asked me in Russian, “Do you speak Russian?”  I was able to understand and reply!  It was really neat.

The sermon was from 1 Corinthians and it taught about loving others instead of judging them.  I think that too often we as Christians stay in our own little bubble.  We have our Christian community and anyone outside falls under our judgement.  Nowhere in Scripture does it command us to judge others.  God is the judge.  We are to love the sinner but hate the sin.  We like to go around pointing fingers and comparing our ‘righteousness’ to their sinfulness.

We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matthew 22:36-40James 1:27Matthew 25:311 Corinthians 13.) Don’t take me wrong here.  I don’t mean to stay we should allow practicing prostitutes, drunks, or homosexuals to join the church.  Not at all.  We should befriend, love, care for, and witness to them.  Church membership is for professing believers of Christ who are not actively living a lifestyle directly against God’s word.

How can we be the salt and light of the world if we are unwilling to invest in friendships with non-believers?

Лубов, one of the church members, came and spoke with me after the service.  She taught me: “спасибо за пение,” which means “thank you for singing.”  I am so excited to be finally getting to know more of the members at church.  🙂  I asked Руслан, “Где Ина?” (“Where is Ина?”)  He responded with a six (6) or eight (8) word sentence.  The only word I caught was sister. 😀  So, Ина is staying with her sister today. 🙂

Following dinner, we had our weekly family meeting.  My mom gave us all some very hard news.  One of the families who were our good friends had left our church.  The family has been in our church longer than we have been (over 8 years).  They have several children who are close friends to all of us.  (This is not the same family as the one mentioned here.)  It is so painful losing close friends from church.  Of course they will remain our good friends–but we will no longer see them each Sunday.  I know that God will use this split for His good… but it is so hard to see.

Please pray for my church.  There is a lot of conflict to be worked through.  I am praying that it will be resolved peacefully and that it will give all the glory to God.  And maybe that the handful of families who have left will return.  Even if they do not return–God is faithful.  They will serve Him in a new church body, and others will join our church.  It is just hard to have close friends leave.  Satan would love to see us all split apart.  It’s my prayer that everyone can solve their differences and that those who do not return join another good church and continue to serve the Lord Jesus.

I’d like to end this post with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs.

Here I am a sinner, broken and in need of you
Take my life and wash my fears away
For you are the great I am, rest assured I feel Your hands
Holding me until the darkness clears

Father to the fatherless, redeemer of my soul
My life is yours forever, my heart will always know

Your mercy saved me, mercy made me whole
Your mercy found me, called me as your own 

(Mercy by Parachute Band)