free-gift17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17, NIV)

This time, when people start thinking about what Christmas presents to prepare for those who are their own and dear, I remembered a six-year old girl that had found her parents’ old photos in an old chest at home. She wrapped the photos and tucked them under the Christmas tree. Needless to say, the parents were overjoyed to see themselves again as they were fifteen-twenty years before. Their daughter gave them the gift they already possessed – the memories of the bygone days.

The case reminds us of something very important. Christmas should not be only the experience of getting more, but it should wake us up to what we already possess. God has already given us what we need: the Savior, His love, hope, eternal life, peace of mind, faith, fellowship… However, in the tumult of everyday life we don’t always experience these gifts. Getting accustomed to what we have, we tend to lose touch with God’s riches.

While opening our Christmas gifts, let’s re-open what we have already received from our Heavenly Father.

Thank you, Father, for Your love and spiritual wealth You have bestowed on us. Help us embrace Your abundance again.

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“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

I have received a reminder on my Facebook Messenger: “628 people who like Kyiv International Fellowship Church haven’t heard from you in a while. Write a post.”

I knew that the prompt had been generated automatically, but still I felt it was my duty to write a devotional which I post from time to time. “All right, I thought, when I finish what I’m doing now…” And then it occurred to me that most of us live in the bubble of WHEN: “When I’m less busy, I’ll study the Bible more systematically,” When I do away with these chores, I’ll call my colleague and comfort her,”   “When I’m not so stressed, I’ll be more patient with my friends.”

The Bible has also such “when-examples.” In John 20:25, Thomas told the other disciples that he would believe only when he saw Jesus’ scars and put his finger on them. However, there are many more cases when God’s people engaged in spiritual matters unconditionally and wholeheartedly. Sold into slavery by his brothers and unjustly thrown into prison, Joseph could have said, “When I get out of prison, then I’ll serve the Lord.” Instead, he started serving God right there, in prison (“…the Lord was with him… — Genesis 39:21), and before long he was the second most powerful man in Egypt. The moment Jesus said to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” they left their nets and at once followed him. As soon as the angel told Mary Magdalene and the other women to inform the disciples about Jesus’ resurrection, they immediately hurried off to do it. The bottom-line of the lesson I learned this time was: LORD, I SAY “YES”, WHAT IS YOUR COMMAND?

Father, help us put on top of our priority lists those matters which you think are the most urgent. May we never procrastinate when we hear your order.

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Raphael,_Christ's_Charge_to_Peter_(1515)John 21 is about Simon Peter’s restoration by Jesus. Having been defeated by his earlier denial of Christ, Peter, with six other disciples, decides to return to his old life – to fishing. After unsuccessful attempts to fill their nets, they catch a large number of fish, and they understand that it was Jesus who helped them with the miraculous catch. Still in the boat, Peter hears the words “It is the Lord!” He picks up his clothes, jumps into the water and swims to Jesus standing ashore. His heart is overflowing with repentance, he is sure he will be forgiven. And he IS forgiven. Jesus restores Peter to fellowship, appoints him as shepherd, and tells him to feed Jesus’ sheep.

Sometimes we may be knocked down by hard times, get lost and defeated, and we can forget WHO may be the Helper. Let’s put, then, what has happened in the biblical context and just listen. We will hear the words “There’s the Lord!” Don’t lose a single moment then. Follow Simon Peter’s example to the fullest. Leap into the sea that stretches between the Lord and you, and swim towards Him. You’ll be restored and re-commissioned.

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2018-11-14bRemember the former things, those of long ago; I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me (Isaiah 46:9, NIV)

In his poem When you walk along a snow-covered path(Як ідеш ти білою тропою…), a Ukrainian 20th-century writer Maxim Rylskyi advises that his reader (a young man) should notice and remember “moments of beauty” he comes across in his life: the sun flashing through an opening in wintry clouds, the sparkling snow, a friendly voice stirring your heart, a warm smile lighting up a girl’s face. Remember such things, the author says, because my grey hair has taught me to treasure every moment, and if you think that there will be a lot of such instances, you are sadly mistaken. Each moment you have engraved in your mind will be like godsend when you sail into your old age (as if into a harbor) after a life-long voyage.

I read Maxim Rylskyi’s poem when I was a high-school student. I’m not sure if it was that literary piece that made me take mental snapshots of all fascinating things, but I have memorized and can very clearly visualize faces, conversations, talks, voices, intonations, sounds and even smells of the past. Now, when I’m tired or, for some reason, tense and upset, I close my eyes and call back the “moments of beauty” I have recorded in my mind. Each of them is a GODSEND. Then I feel inspired, encouraged and refreshed…

Father, thank You for our ability to memorize those beautiful things you have created, sent to us and stored in our hearts. May we always remember that it is You brighten our days, rejuvenate and inspire us with your gifts.

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11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jer. 29:11, NIV)

In Ernest Hemingway’s story The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a writer is dying of gangrene at the foot of this African mount after his unsuccessful attempt to unravel the mystery of a leopard’s skeleton high up in the snows. Deliriously, Harry (the writer’s name) sees his past life in a stream-of-consciousness way. He wasn’t happy in his private life, his best story hasn’t been written, his talent is destroyed.

Years later, I saw the star-studded 20th – Century-Fox film based on the story, with Gregory Peck as Harry. In the end, Harry’s female companion (using a first-aid manual) opens his wound, releases the infection, a medical party arrives by airplane, the vulture and hyena, which until then have been circling around the tent, disappear never to return. The typical Hollywood happy ending has made of a film a naïve and shallow love story.

Why did the authors of the film let Harry survive, then? The answer is simple: they wanted make the film a ticket-selling movie. Why did people flood into movie-theaters to see the film? Because many of us are addicted to happy endings. Every day we see enough pain in this world, and it may be quite natural that in such films people hope to find their “happily-ever-afters.” Why should they be treated with another doze of woe – in addition to what they see in their apartment buildings or read and view in the media?

Christians are not addicted to happy story-endings. We know the TRUTH which is contained in our biblia sacra – the Bible. It is our highest authority, our sacred manual and guidebook. No matter, how bad life may get and how far we fall, God’s Testament is the rock-solid guarantee of our future joy with Him.

Our Father, thank You for your love and promise to fold us in Your arms

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positive thinking

“O love the Lord, all ye His saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.” (Ps. 31:23, KJV)

A few days before and after the feast of Halloween, there appear articles in the Christian press criticizing this pagan-based celebration. Sharing the believers’ attitude and finding nothing good in imitating evil forces, I wouldn’t be over-critical. One thing is that I know people who, while children, used to dress scary on the last night of October, but eventually, found their way to Jesus in their adolescence. Another reason is that this world is so crammed with Evil that we wouldn’t have enough time and energy to look upwards into Heaven if we spent all our selves on fighting what is even rightfully considered to be sinful.

The moment I hear the word “Halloween” (All Hallows’ Eve) I am becoming positive. I start thinking about All Hallows’ Day – All Saints’ Day, which is celebrated on 1stNovember in honor of all the saints – known and unknown – and which is accepted by many Christian denominations: the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Reformed Church, the Methodists, the Lutherans and other Protestant churches. In the Anglican Church, All Saints’ Day is part of the season of Allhallowtide, which extends to Remembrance Sunday. On this day, not only the Apostle Paul, or Augustine of Hippo, or John Wesley can be honored, but also those individuals who have personally led others to faith in Christ, such as one’s grandmother or friend. It is common for families to visit cemeteries in order to lay flowers and put up candles on the graves of their deceased loved ones. It is a national holiday in a number of historically Christian countries.

In fact, on this day we honor all those who are SAINTS (Ps. 31:23, KJV), and who, in other translations of this verse, are called “faithful” (“Love the Lord, all his faithful people!…” NIV), “His people” (“Oh, love the Lord, all of you are His people…” Living Bible), “holy men” (“all ye, holy men of the Lord, love Him…” Wycliffe Bible), “godly ones(”O love the Lord, all of you, His godly ones…”, Amplified Bible), “His legal followers” (Easy-to-Read Version), “…all who belong to Him” (New Life Version), etc.

Our Father, we are grateful to You for reminding us that we are those who You have justified and keep sanctifying while we are on the way to You.

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Phil-21320 David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished (1 Chronicles 28:20. NIV)

When I joined our village library as a pre-school kid, my Dad told me that I should read (“from cover to cover”) every book I would borrow. Since then, I have never left unfinished any book which I started reading – even though the book seemed boring or was not quite “for my age.” That rule became my principle in relation to everything else I was doing: I would bring to completion all things I began. I developed that tenacity in myself. The moment I came across a challenging math problem at high school, I never gave up until the problem had been solved. When I decided upon learning a foreign language I never stopped before I could communicate in that language even on the elementary level. Later in my life, as a teacher or as a parent, I always went all the distance and always did the job I had planned.

Recently I have paid attention to a verse from 1 Chronicles 28. With a kind of joyful surprise I read the words David said to his son Solomon: “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.” That was my discovery: it wasn’t only Solomon to whom David spoke, it was also me. Almost the same words I heard from my Dad more than six decades ago. In all my efforts to push all matters through and to get any job done, God had always been with me giving me courage and strength. It wasn’t only MY endeavor. HE was standing behind me.

Heavenly Father, thanks for making us understand that it’s You who directs us and helps us succeed by dint of hard work.

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