December 23, 2008

Christmas 2008 (an open letter)

Dear Friends and Family,

Merry Christmas to all of you! Our family wishes you and your family a great holiday season! It’s a good time of year to reflect on life, to consider all of God’s blessings and to keep in touch! This Christmas we made some minor changes. We didn’t make Christmas cards and we’re emailing this Christmas letter instead. Also, no pine tree, we decided to decorate our palm tree instead. The most important thing for us is not to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas, the joy of Christ’s birth!

Aside from some cost savings, the cutting down of pine trees seems to be a bad idea for the environment. The idea has an interesting pagan history in Jeremiah 10.3-4: “For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.” The main difference between this and our present Christmas tree tradition is that this verse refers to carved idols. Nevertheless, I liked the idea of a living palm tree to celebrate Christ’s birth. There applications of this idea listed below.

One of the highlights of the past year has been seeing our little boy Jacob growing. It’s especially funny to see how he mimics unusual things. Recently, I noticed that when he falls down or simply wants to get up off the ground he will lie on his side and raise up his arm to me. I realized that was pretty unique and then remembered how he has been watching soccer games a lot on TV while he sits in his high chair. Often, when a player falls, he’ll wait until a team mate comes to lift him up. So Jacob waits on the floor with his hand up this way.

This is just one funny example of many. He is a great blessing, even though he tends to have a strong willed “Warden” temperament. Olya and here two sisters were very quiet and peaceful children. And so her family often says “these are not our genes!” Olya said her child would be “sholkavi,” meaning “like silk.” So they joke with her about that.

In May the Ukraine government changed the passport/visa laws making life more difficult for us missionaries. One of the problems is that the laws frequently change and are not officially posted on any website. Basically, foreigners are required to leave the country every three months and now, from what I understand, are required to stay out of Ukraine for a certain amount of time. I just returned from a border run to Moldova simply to get my passport stamped.

In June it was a blessing to be able to visit so many in the US. The time seemed to go by too quickly, however! We had a chance to visit practically the whole family. It was also a blessing to stay with Lee Liversedge in Sag Harbor and to visit with Pastor Doug Kinney and the Community Bible Church on Long Island. Another highlight of the summer was to have a youth team visit us in Simferopol. The team, mainly from Kiev, organized an elaborate children’s festival the kids loved. They were a great example and encouragement to us. It was also a blessing to work with them in street evangelism in downtown Simferopol.

In the fall it was a nice surprise to have a group of medical students come to our fellowship. This past Sunday there were students from Nigera and India. We are glad that the bi-lingual service ministers to people from different lands. We also hope to have a new church website at some point. In the mean time, I started a blog in July which is a good way to spread the good news and connect with people. I also have songs available for download at, including "Christmas Jubilation" for free. I started using Facebook recently, which seems to be a good means of keeping in touch with news, photos or what have you. Also in the fall, Olya was accepted for higher education distance learning classes. The idea is to receive an English teaching degree and teach in a school, possibly teaching Jacob this way. But it has been difficult to find adequate study time because of Jacob’s present needs.

I read some interesting news about Simferopol recently: “The United States and Ukraine Friday signed what was termed a Charter of Strategic Partnership calling for cooperation in defense, energy, trade and other areas. The United State will set up a diplomatic mission in Ukraine's Crimean region. ...a small but symbolically-important diplomatic post in the Crimean regional capital, Simferopol.”

All in all, it seems the world has entered a very challenging period. But God is good all the time! We are grateful to the Lord for His goodness, mercy, protection and provision and grateful to have friends and family like you to keep in touch with! Wishing you God’s love most of all this Christmas and New Year!

Rick, Olya and Jacob

The Palm Tree Metaphor:

Scripture says that “the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree… planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God” (Psalm 92:12-13). There are many ways in which palm trees reflect spiritual life.

#1 - Palm trees are resilient. In a storm, palm trees will not break, but will bend as needed. After the storm they rise again to their former state and to continue their growth. Job 13.15 describes Job’s determined attitude in trials: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.” Proverbs 24.16 also talks about spiritual resilience: “For a righteous man falleth seven times, and riseth up again.”

#2 - Palm trees flourish in the desert. Most plants and trees are unable to withstand the environment of the desert. Palm trees, however, are able to flourish in the desert. Messiah is described as growing like “a root out of dry ground” in Isaiah 53.2. Christians likewise can flourish because we live by faith not by circumstances and we have His supernatural source of strength.

#3 - Palm tree roots go deep tapping into hidden water. Likewise, Christians must be deeply rooted in a relationship with Christ and the Word of God. Some individuals' roots grow outward to fads or things that are momentarily popular. In difficult times they may not survive spiritual storms or dry seasons of their life. However, mature servants of God seek to grow deeper in Him and His Word. “…Being rooted and grounded in love.” Eph 3.17

#4 - The life of the palm tree is in the heart of the tree. Such should be the life of a Christian-- drawing its strength from an inner source and strong in spirit/heart. In addition, Scripture reminds us that even though the outward man may be perishing, the inward man is renewed day-by-day. II Corin 4.16

#5 - A group of palm trees in a desert forms an oasis. When Christians dwell together in harmony, God pours out His blessing. Together we form the body of Christ, an oasis for those thirsty and needing to find the comfort of Christ. It’s important to so live, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some.” Heb 10.25

#6 - A palm tree is an evergreen. A palm tree remains green throughout the year. For Christians, eternal life isn’t some far away distant reality, it begins in our relationship with Jesus Christ and continues on from there. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” Jn 17.3

#7 - A palm tree's fruit gets sweeter with the age of the tree. The longer a palm tree lives, the sweeter its fruit gets. As we grow in our spiritual journey with Jesus Christ we become more like Him. We decrease and He increases in our lives. This resulting fruit comes in our lives in His time and in His way. “…And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season.” Psa 1.3

#8 – A palm tree symbolizes grace. Products are made from virtually each part of the tree. In a similar way, by God’s grace, “God uses all things for good to those who love Him and keep His commands.” Romans 8.28

#9 – It is a symbol of freedom and victory. Why did the Jews place palm branches at Jesus’ feet as he rode into Jerusalem? Because, as Messiah, they believed he would bring political freedom. The palm was printed on Jewish coins and represented their freedom before Roman rule. To the Romans the Palm was a symbol of victory. In Jesus we have both spiritually. We have freedom and victory over sin and death. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Rom 8.2

#10- John saw palm branches in the new heaven. In Revelation chapter 7, described in John's vision of heaven there "was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'... (source of palm tree metaphor: “Are You a Palm Tree Christian?” at blog “On Mission Monday,”)

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