Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Of course, even on snow days, we have school time. Usually Bogdan is taking his afternoon nap then, but one day this week he was up. Jaan was listening to The Burgess Animal Book, and Bogdan was just fascinated by the picture we had open to go with it. When it was time for Jaan to narrate back, I asked him to explain to Bogdan what he had just heard. It was the sweetest narration ever! Full of detail and punctuated by Bogdan's loud and admiring commentary.
I realized that I had photos of only three children here, so here's the one who was left out:
And, last but not least, we had a fun day yesterday. One of the couples at church made it to their 50th wedding anniversary!
Friday, January 27, 2012
The Christmas season is a bit drawn out for us here, and in general, the holiday season is seen as continuing through Jan. 14th. Therefore we get to talk about Christmas for longer than you might. I like that.
Christmas is usually a time of warm and reassuring messages from churches across the land reminding us of how Eternal God became mortal man out of love for His creation and the desire to finally restore the fellowship which had been lost in Eden. That is the emphasis here in our little church as well, at least to a large extent. However, I have been wryly amused and quite disenchanted to hear The Fear Factor creeping into messages at church even during the holiday season.
"The Fear Factor" is what I’ve called the emphasis that is so thoroughly insinuated into the teaching and practice of the church here. That is, there are an abundance of veiled or open threats, reminders of potential punishment and urging to live in fear of God. This is presented as THE normal motivation for living in fellowship with God and leading a godly life. This is so prevalent that I often am unsettled, disquieted and just frustrated for hours after church meetings.
For example, an excerpt from an average Sunday morning service: “The Law of Moses didn’t bring anything to perfection, but then Jesus was born and now we can fulfill the Law with His help. ...We will only be blessed by God if we are constantly abiding in His commandments, like Israel when they were first given the Law. We must fulfill His Law worthily so as to be able to enter those heavenly dwellings He has prepared for us.”
Sound a bit confused? It is. This church is. What the Apostle Paul called “the Ministry of Condemnation that brings Death” is held up as the standard to strive for, the fulfilling of which brings blessings and at least some hope that a believer will actually make it to heaven.
“All who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'” (Paul the Apostle)
So what does this 'Fear Factor' look like?
(That is, aside from the foundational ideas of “Be Afraid, be Very Afraid,” and “Fulfill the Law in any way that is defined or be Punished here and eternally...”)
Some tendencies or local manifestations of The Fear Factor:
-There is an overarching motivation, especially among our church leadership of trying to avoid ‘spiritual responsibility’ so as not to be punished by God for some slight misstep.
-This is often related to avoiding ‘getting blood on our hands’ in any way.
For example: Not giving the communion cup to church members who we ‘know have sin in their lives,’ so as not to be 'partakers in their sins' and be punished for that by God. (Communion here has been literally called ‘the Scary-Good Commandment, by which we prove our worthiness not to be judged with this world.’)
-Along the same lines, when greetings from other churches/individuals are verbally passed along to our church on Sundays, we must warn the church not to say “We accept the greetings” if the person who conveyed them happens to be under church discipline or has sin in their life. If we say “I greet you,” or “We accept the greetings” from such a person, we become 'partakers of their sin' and expose ourselves to the judgement and punishment of God. (...Magic words, anyone?)
It's like walking a tightrope...
This is a quote I found in a slightly different context – but it could've been written down verbatim from one of the church leaders here:
“There is no more frightening reality in the life of any Christian than the reality of being held responsible for the souls of others. That we, by our negligence, can be guilty of a kind of spiritual homicide - that our hands can be stained with blood because of indifference... what an awesome truth!”
I could literally go on for pages, but maybe I’ve made my point? The thing is, the overall message of the New Testament seems to be pretty much the opposite of what I hear every Sunday. Sometimes I wonder if we’re reading the same book. (I won’t even bring up being on the same page.)
The New Testament letters to Christians speak eloquently and insistently on the themes of Christ Himself and God’s promises to us in Christ being THE Foundation of our Christian life. To make fear of punishment (temporal, physical, spiritual and eternal) the foundational and overwhelming motivation in and for the Christian life is quite simply to make our ‘Christianity’ an absurd and appalling travesty of what God intended to be a display of the riches of His grace to us in Christ Jesus.
“In love God the Father predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious GRACE, which he has freely given us in the One he loves!” Eph.1:4-6
I simply cannot find this God of love and grace who was revealed through Jesus Christ amongst all the fear. At church leader's meetings, I often end up biting my tongue more than actually contributing to discussions - because we may be speaking the same language in one sense, but theologically, we're on different planets. As I lead youth meetings and preach and teach I find myself repeating the same themes over and over and over:
God's undeserved goodness to us in Christ Jesus is THE total of our hope - both for regeneration AND for sanctification. Fear was never meant to be the main motivation for either, but the Love of God and his Grace.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18
...to be continued.
(ps. all pictures from random internet image searches - not my own, unfortunately.)
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Bogdan's doctor dropped by a few days ago. She said that he's skinny and doesn't have enough teeth, so she recommended feeding him meat. Hmm. (All our babies have tended to be small and get their teeth late.) She also prescribed vitamin D drops, which probably aren't a bad idea this time of year. If you have a favorite American brand, please let me know. It looks like oil-based and natural would be best, and what we can get here is nothing special and in water.
I've had a lovely morning. Bogdan is still coughing, so I stayed home from church with him. My plans to knit and listen to a sermon got canceled by a certain clingy little guy. So, we sat in the rocking chair, listened to quiet praise music and just looked out the window at the winter wonderland outside. Sunshine! And snow!
This has been the most snowless winter yet, I think. That's hard for me. I love snow. Even in Russia I didn't get tired of it. So, days like this are a special gift for me.
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Then, after church, we had tea and went out caroling, mostly to the babushki who are too old or sick to leave their homes.
Saturday, January 07, 2012
And one photo from the beginning:
I also recorded our children saying one of their Christmas poems just now. They learned new poems for tomorrow, but this one is by a classic author. They said it in church on December 25th, This video is after a whole day of candy and partying. I should have recorded it earlier!
We put off caroling with the Sunday school until tomorrow, although we did go to our own neighbors.
Thursday, January 05, 2012
- AO books! Of course, what is there to go wrong with such wonderful selections? We like ALL of them. Raia loves when I read Year 0 books aloud, just to her, too. She and I recently finished Winnie the Pooh.
- Folk songs and hymns: They actually seemed to connect with them and really learn and enjoy them for the first time.
- Math: We like MEP! Toward the end of the term, I started using a timer with Jaan, and that's really good for him. I generally give him 5 minutes for each section, and he races to get them done, instead of dawdling over them for as long as he can.
- Copywork for Jaan: he's finally writing! This has been a struggle for him in the past. I think I few things changed this term. First is probably just maturity; maybe his hands are just finally ready to write. Second, I let him type up (computer=fun) his selections in the fonts with arrows that show how to form the letters, before he copys them. And, third, we've moved on from just letters and words to real, interesting poems, quotes and verses.
- Reading for Raia! I am just amazed to hear her starting to put sounds together! We're still not done with the primer, and she's still not reading books, but she's definitely figuring out words. I just heard her reading chapter titles from one of Jaan's books
- Artist study: It just didn't happen. I got the pictures printed, Will bought me a frame for them, and that's all. We'll use the Fragonard pictures for next term now.
- Nature study: Of course, we were outside, enjoying nature a lot, but we didn't sit at the table to draw, paint, observe or discuss even once. Next term's focus is trees, and I'm going to set aside Tuesday evenings to study them. (Wait. I guess we did do formal nature study, just once. That's better than nothing.)
- Bible memory: I'm not really happy with how slowly and painfully they're learning their selections. I had Jaan and Raia each memorizing a different Psalm, and they got most of the way through them, but... well, I'm just not happy with how it went. I'm going to switch over to the Simply CM method and use their Verse Pack 1, for all of us in the next term, to see if that's any better.
Monday, January 02, 2012
Then the next big day coming up is "Second Christmas." This year we'll be having a children's program for everyone to invite their grandchildren, friends and neighbors to on that day. Again, the youth are preparing all of this. Also, the older people in the church insisted--kind of last minute--that there has to be a Christmas service actually on Christmas day, too. (The plan had been just to have the Christmas service the next day, on the 8th.) So, there will be a church service 10:00-12:00 on the 7th, and then the children's program starting at 12:00. Of course, church the next day, too. Pray for endurance!