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[noah: remembering the story]

Everyone – at least in Christian circles – seems to be talking about the latest movie called Noah.

Sam and I watched it last Friday with our friends.

I walked away, feeling quite content because I didn’t expect it to be a documentary or an evangelization tool. One of my friends, however, raved how unbiblical it was.

My own opinion? 

There certainly are many things that were not mentioned directly in the Bible account. However, instead of them being wrong, perhaps they were not mentioned? (Take into account that the story is over than 5,000 years old, if not older recorded and re-recorded.)

If anything, this movie made me wake up on Saturday morning and re-read the Flood story in the Bible to see what I forgot.

Another friend of mine reminded on his Facebook that our minds, most of the time, are “polluted” by knowledge. We have heard the story of Noah so many times (especially if you went to kids’ Sunday School or camps) that it is hard to remember what was in the actual Bible story and what was simply taught to us by our teachers. (Kinda like when everyone is convinced there were 3 magi who visited Jesus in the stable.)

I wish we could block the “context” as we read the stories.

To read what is written and not what we think is written

My friend Yevgen Shatalov compiled a mini-list of “Biblical Noah” myths:

1. “Everyone laughed when Noah built the Ark” – nowhere in the Bible it says that. It was added to make the story more challenging. (As if building such an enormous boat wasn’t a challenge enough.)

2. “Noah tried to call others into the Ark, but they declined.” Another improvisation. Bible only says that Noah and his family entered the boat along with the animals.

3. “Noah is a righteous man and the movie describes him as someone who killed.” Righteousness in the Bible is not sinlessness. David, Moses, Abraham – they all were righteous people, yet they fought with others and killed people. 

4. “Biblical Noah built the Ark on his own and in the movie, golems have helped him.” First, we don’t know whether he built it on his own or not (again, Bible does not say anything about it), and second, golems are characters we don’t know much about. Could they exist in the days of Noah? Perhaps.

Did you watch the movie? What do you think?

ineedsleep

[salvation & sanctification]

On my way to work this morning, reading Ted Dekker’s Slumber of Christianity, I wondered about something…

If sanctification is a moment and a process (i.e. there’s a moment when you’re sanctified, and that moment is a start of the lifelong process of becoming entirely sanctified)…

Is salvation a process and a moment then, following this logic? Paul and Peter keep talking about the HOPE of salvation, which means we reach the salvation only when we get to heaven. (Which makes sense, if one believes that it’s possible to “lose” salvation.)

So at the moment of sanctification we begin the process of salvation, and at the moment of salvation we complete the process of sanctification. 

Agree / disagree?

(Here’s a shout out to Bill Grandi, who wrote this kind of post yesterday – on a different topic, though – asking for opinions. That gave me the idea.)

Footnote: even though the Church I go to believes in the concept of entire sanctification, I am not sure I believe that is possible during this lifetime. While I don’t doubt the great power of God, I still don’t think we can become perfect before we die.

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[Halloween]

I tried to resist writing this. I tried to reason with myself and two quiet voices inside of me: one saying that it is my own life  I am living and the other whispering that my life is not for me.

Yet the daily verses kept coming and I felt the whispering voice grow stronger.

Couple of weeks ago we celebrated Halloween with friends.543865_10151999702858923_695118045_n

The entire celebration consisted of getting together, sharing food, enjoying conversation, and pretty much the only Halloween element was the pumpkin we carved. Oh, and meat balls shaped like mice.

Yet when I posted the picture of our Jack the Pumpkin, I got a ton of opinions regarding whether Christians can celebrate this pagan holiday.

My first reaction?

I do what I want, and  the more people tell me I cannot do something, the more I want to do it.

I do not worship that pumpkin; we did not have any other ceremonies connected with the holiday; what is the big deal?

But then the other voice I mentioned piped in that reminds  me of a passage in Corinthians we discussed just a few days before Halloween at a small group.

For instance, say you flaunt your freedom by going to a banquet thrown in honor of idols, where the main course is meat sacrificed to idols. Isn’t there great danger if someone still struggling over this issue, someone who looks up to you as knowledgeable and mature, sees you go into that banquet? The danger is that he will become terribly confused—maybe even to the point of getting mixed up himself in what his conscience tells him is wrong. Christ gave up his life for that person. Wouldn’t you at least be willing to give up going to dinner for him—because, as you say, it doesn’t really make any difference? But it does make a difference if you hurt your friend terribly, risking his eternal ruin! When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ. A free meal here and there isn’t worth it at the cost of even one of these “weak ones.” So, never go to these idol-tainted meals if there’s any chance it will trip up one of your brothers or sisters.

1 Corinthians 8:10-13 MSG

“But… but… but…” The first voice tried to find a foothold.

“But what?”

“But… Yes, you are right.”

I am not saying my friends are weak, and I am oh-so-strong. But while for me, Halloween is just a reason to get together with friends and  have fun, it might hurt other friends I care about.

And that’s the last thing I would want.

What do you think? Do you celebrate Halloween?

[BOOK REVIEW: When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey]

I saw this book on BookSneeze, got it, and then saw that a bunch of my friends also are reading it (or are planning on reading it).

_240_360_Book.879.coverThe book piqued my initial interest because it mentioned magic. I love Narnia books as well as Harry Potter series and Lord of the Rings. I believe that when we know what we believe, God provides so many stories we can use to share His message with people we know…but I am getting away from the book.

When Mockingbirds Sing is about a family who moved to a small town trying to get a fresh start. Adjusting to small town ways after living in a big city takes a while – for both sides. The things are complicated when little Leah suddenly develops a gift. Some claim it’s magic and therefore wrong. Some believe it’s from God and therefore should be wholeheartedly accepted. Some are hanging in the interstice, not sure what to believe, yet confronted with the fact that there is SOMETHING there. Everything seems so perfect… yet people are torn between beliefs and are struggling with relationships.

I enjoyed this book. It was not one of the “happy” books you read and everything is working out just as planned. There are difficulties that the characters face and they HAVE to deal with them. Yet the book also provides hope and joy that surpasses just this life. Once again, I liked the magic part about it, the belief in the Maybe. If anything, this book once again shows that we, adults, should learn from kids about what it means to truly believe… even when times are hard and we have to do something that hurts and scares us.

It’s a really cool book and I think it’s going to have a sequel. I am definitely looking forward to that book because I enjoyed Coffey’s writing style. He paints good word pictures and he is also honest about things in our life and questions we are sometimes afraid to ask for the fear we would be laughed at.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

[bible translation peculiarities]

Bible translations are weird.

On Sunday, I was reading Russian Bible (usually I prefer an English one) and noticed that in Luke 2:43 it says (literal translation from Russian):

“…Jesus remained in Jerusalem, but Joseph and His Mother did not know it.”

That verse in itself was interesting for me because of the way Luke points out “Joseph and [Jesus'] mother” – as if to stress that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ dad; to enhance the idea that Jesus was the Son of God born to Mary.

My next move was quite out of habit. I switched the translations in my YouVersion Bible to English.

After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first.

Luke 2:43, NLT

His parents.

It might seem like a little thing, but when you start thinking about theological implications of this tiny change, it can get you into deep woods.

So braving the language I can read but can’t really understand, I switched to a Greek version.

και τελειωσαντων τας ημερας εν τω υποστρεφειν αυτους υπεμεινεν ιησους ο παις εν ιερουσαλημ και ουκ εγνω ιωσηφ και η μητηρ αυτου

It is quite useful to know even bits and pieces of random languages and considering that Cyrillic alphabet was literally an updated Greek, it is easy to read for Slavic people.

Yoseph kai e meter autou: Joseph and His mother. Same as Russian translation.

Perhaps it’s just one of those things you take for granted when reading the Bible, but there are people for whom it is news that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ father… and besides, I simply like learning this kind of trivia. Perhaps one day I will even be able to use it somewhere :D

BTW, I have checked English translations – almost all have “parents” instead of “Joseph and His mother” (you can see parallel Bible verses here). At the same time, there are other manuscripts that say “his parents” in Greek… So confusing – why not just stick to one idea?

What do you think? Important? Not important? Something to take into account?

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[prevenient gravity... I mean, grace]

I finished listening to my Harry Potter audio books recently and because I needed something to listen just before going to bed, I started listening to astronomy lectures by Professor James Kaler again.

As he was talking about how our solar system works, something he said triggered a memory of a discussion I recently was a part of with my mom and a couple of my friends.

Gravity…

Gravity equals the product of the two masses divided by the square of the distance between them.

What’s so remarkable about it?

Because gravity is dependent on the distance between the objects and one can never divide by zero (or stretch the distance into infinity), that means you can never escape the Earth’s gravity, even if you’re million light years from it.

Yes, the gravitational pull of our planet will be tiny and overwhelmed by the other bigger and closer objects. But Earth’s gravity will never be equal to zero.

Amazing, isn’t it? 

I also mentioned prevenient grace in the title.

If you think about it, one can never really escape God.

We might try to pretend we went too far away.

We might try to say that there’s nothing left between us.

But there is! 

There are other attractions in this life and we often feel their pull on us.

However, I do believe that God’s grace, His prevenient grace, always reaches out to us trying to remind us about home.

Sometimes we do go far.

Sometimes we forget about it.

But His love and grace are there, waiting for us to finally realize its presence.

The link to the place where we truly belong, even though we have left it back in the Garden in return for the “better” things.

God has created this world in a wonderful way. Learning about how it all works together is absolutely incredible and since one of my key strengths is Connectedness, I can’t help but see His character in His creation.

And just because I’ve been listening to this song all day long, gotta share it with you.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTKytXwQRTE&w=450&h=253]

Michael Skinner and Masha Galisevych Miroshnichenko

[on joy and choices]

You know the feeling…

When you are going through a mental battle with yourself, trying to figure out what to do and what on earth is going on…

And then find out that someone has thought along the same lines.

It is a freeing realization, in a way.

You realize you are not alone in your war.

On Sunday, a friend of mine preached at Church.

I have known him since he was 2 years old. His parents, his older brother, and he came over to Ukraine as missionaries seventeen years ago. Much has changed in that time and this year Michael graduated from high school here in Kyiv and moved to the States to attend a university; his parents moved to Hungary, and it was generally a year of changes.

This Sunday, however, the entire clan was at our Church. His mom and all three brothers were in the worship team, his dad shared some thoughts before the sermon, and then Michael got up to speak.

I listened to him and, considering that we have spent quite a lot of time together as kids, I was proud of the man he has become.

He spoke of our identity in Christ.

He spoke of suffering that comes as price for being with Christ.

He also spoke of joy.

The topic has been on my mind for several weeks now, especially since that Bible study group meeting I shared about.

Joy…

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

There is a reason joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit.

You cannot simply have joy in light of dire circumstances. Our minds and hearts don’t work this way.

But, however impossible it seems sometimes, joy can be found in any circumstances.

While talking about suffering, Michael also mentioned something that has been on my mind for a long time.

In a way, being persecuted for being a Christian is good.

It makes the choice between right and wrong clearer.

  • Preach the Gospel and you might die.
  • Don’t preach the Gospel and you might live.
  • But we are called to share the Good News, so the right choice is obvious.

There are times when I wish, in a way, that Christianity still was banned in Ukraine.

By that I, in no sense, mean that I wish for parents to be separated with their kids and people going through terrible sufferings…

But it does clear up the choice options – as well as weed out people who are in this just for money or fame or something.

Also, people really know what they believe.

It’s not just God-the-being-out-there-somewhere.

It’s not just we-go-to-Church-on-Sunday-it’s-a-tradition.

It’s not just we-pray-before-eating.

It becomes more than a habit.

It becomes a relationship.

And then it is possible to truly rejoice because we really know what is going on.

Because we know the One we believe in.

Because we start really identifying with Christ… even though the sufferings, even in spite of the hardships.

Our youth pastor also spoke about joy two Sundays ago.

Joy is not just an outward emotion, but also an inner confidence that hope and faith provide.

When you see it as such, it is easier to “rejoice always,” as Paul has told us.

Inner confidence.

Joy.

Whatever the circumstances life may throw at us.

If there are anything good in New Year resolutions, then this is mine: to remind myself each day of “rejoicing, praying, and being thankful.”

May your 2013 be filled with rejoicing!

[rejoice, pray, be thankful]

Ever had a conversation that went like:

What is the goal of a Christian?

To do the will of God.

What is the will of God?

Uh… Well… Um…

Yeah, I’ve had that situation many times in my life.

When you think you do know the right answer… but it turns out to be one of those squirrel stories. (“I know the right answer is Jesus, but it sure sounds like a squirrel.”)

Knowing right answer does not always guarantee that you know all the right answers to the questions that follow.

But as we came to the last chapter of 1 Thessalonians we’ve been studying with my friends on Tuesdays, I had to grin when I saw it.

There’s the answer. Right there, plainly spoken, not a riddle.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying.  Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT

Out of the three, being thankful in all circumstances is probably the easiest for me. (Easiest out of three. I don’t mean that it’s always easy for me to be thankful in all circumstances.) I have learned that God allows certain things in our life that we might not like or that may hurt… but in the end, looking back, you can see how God has worked miracles BECAUSE of that painful thing in your life. I still have a long way to go before I will be thankful for everything that happens DURING the time when it happens, but one step at a time, right? :)

Never stop praying? Ever since I’ve started living on my own, it became a bit easier because I can pray / speak aloud when I want and there is nothing that distracts me (I rarely watch TV). I can wake up and say “Morning, God.” I did do it before, but it just felt a bit weird when there was someone else in my apartment. *Shrug*

This last thing, however, (the one that was actually first in the list Paul mentioned)… Rejoice always. Some other translations interpret it as “be always joyful” or “cheerful.” That one is the toughest for me. A part of me wants to blame it on being a realist and an adult, but another part of me screams in protest and argues that I just ceased to be a kid. Also, be always cheerful? What does it mean? Walk around and grin like an idiot? I don’t think that’s it, but it sounds like it.

As I ponder on application of these to my life, I think of Paul who penned these words 2,000 years ago.

His life was tough after he became a Christian. Yet, even from prison, he writes to his friends in Philippi,

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

Philippians 4:4, NLT

How? What does it mean?

How could he be rejoicing?

And yet, he did rejoice.

What do you think about these three points of the will of God for our lives?

Rejoice, pray, be thankful.

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

As for me, I’m planning on writing those on a post-it note and place it on my mirror, so as I leave home every day, I will not just recite the mantra of “Keys, wallet, work pass, cellphone,” but also, “Rejoice, pray, be thankful.”

[mind, faith, and winter]

Last Friday, we had glorious weather.

It was 54F, sunshiny, and a bit unexpected for the last day of November, yet no one complained.

The weekend was cloudy, but then on Monday, it felt as if frozen hell broke loose.

I walked out of my apartment building during the fall… but when I got to work and got out of the bus, it was winter all the way. Fierce wind at our hill where my office is located was trying to make human snowmen out of us as we hurried along the little sidewalk towards the entrance.

In a matter of a few hours, everything we could see from our 15th floor office windows was covered with snow.

It did not stop snowing for entire day. The roads were slippery, the traffic was terrible, and my mood (considering that the only reason I tolerate snow is because I like snowboarding… otherwise, I can’t stand that white wet substance) was on the edge.

It hasn’t snowed today, but getting to work was still quite an adventure because you basically have to ice-skate… because everything is covered in ice now. While ice-skating is a good entertainment sometimes, you usually ice-skate on smooth ice… The one outside on the streets is not smooth.

My faith path reminds me of this kind of weather.

Sometimes you’re enjoying a wonderful day where everything goes like it should and you can walk around, reveling in the sunshine and smiling at strangers.

Sometimes, however, you think you’re dressed up warm enough, only to discover that life blows a truckload of snow in your face. And the path becomes slippery. And you have to negotiate your way with extreme care… or risk making a fool out of yourself, face-planting. You think you’ve known what you believe and suddenly one question imbalances you.

The hope that remains is for the spring to come.

Whether some of the questions are important or not – that’s an entirely different story.

But they are there – and they are not alone, they give birth to a billion other questions…

And those who are as unlucky as I am can’t shut down their minds.

Think, think, think, think.

THINK!

* * *

But the spring will come.

And the questions will make sense… or will not matter.

* * *

By the way, these two photos were taken by me at our office balcony. Friday vs. Monday…

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[AC or BC?... or ABC?]

My friends and I are studying 1 Thessalonians together.

It’s an awesome study group for several reasons.

1. The people there are fun to spend time with. Most are young adults from the youth group and the hosts are also a young couple, missionaries who came to serve in Ukraine in May.

2. It’s a heaven for linguists! The Bible study is usually in English (because Joey and Ree speak English and we are learning), we study a Russian Bible (because most of the people at the Bible study speak Russian and it’s hard for them to read that much English for now), and since Joey knows Greek, we also get our Greek lessons. Aw, I love it.

3. It has been a blessing for me to be able to talk about theological stuff with people who are not afraid to think… and who are Christians. I have enjoyed spending time with my non-Christian friends talking about and studying the Bible, but with them there are times when you have to stop at the basic principles or stories, like Jesus and feeding the 5,000… At this Bible study, we talk about more meaty stuff.

Last week I had a question about a verse we have read and tonight we have spent a couple of hours studying the implications of the verse.

We sent Timothy to strengthen and establish and to exhort and comfort and encourage you in your faith, so that no one of you should be disturbed and beguiled and led astray by these afflictions and difficulties to which I have referred. For you yourselves know that this is our appointed lot.

1 Thessalonians 3:2-3, AMP

Quite straightforward, ain’t it? Troubles are part of our calling. Or is that what Paul meant?

The reason I even noticed that there was something interesting was because we were reading Bible in Russian while I was looking at English version on my iPod simultaneously.

The thing is… in Russian, it sounds like Paul is saying, “We have sent Timothy to encourage you and strengthen your faith…  because that is what we are destined for.” The part about the afflictions is less stressed and it’s like Paul simply mentions it matter-of-factly.

So we divided the verse into three parts. 

A: We sent Timothy to strengthen and establish and to exhort and comfort and encourage you in your faith

B: so that no one of you should be disturbed and beguiled and led astray by these afflictions and difficulties to which I have referred.

C: For you yourselves know that this is our appointed lot.

What is C referring to? A or B? Both?

AC: It is our calling to encourage and strengthen the faith of those we know – especially if they are new Christians (“old” Christians need encouragement often as well).

BC: Considering the times Paul was writing this letter and all the persecution he has been facing along with other followers of Christ, suffering and trials were, as Amplified Bible adds in parenthesis, “unavoidable in our position, and must be recognized as” our appointed lot.

I find these kinds of passages rather interesting to study because they get you to a whole new level of understanding the full message of the Bible. It is a book you can read and read and read, and no matter how many times you’ve seen the passage, read it again and you’ll be able to find a new lesson in it. I think it is one of the reasons Bible is one of the most awesome books ever written.

So what do you think?

AC or BC? Or, perhaps, ABC?