Gifts

Hold on to Hope

Hope is An AnchorWe went on a cruise this past summer. As we left the port, the sun was setting, the water was calm, and it was a beautiful scene. The next day the sea was black and churning. It was scary to think of that huge cruise ship being tossed around like a toy. By the next day, the waters were completely still, and a beautiful opaque blue-green color.

Life can be like that too – one day smooth sailing, the next day a storm looms on the horizon threatening to sink you. Many people describe hopelessness as drowning or sinking.

What do we hold on to in those storms of life? We hold on to hope. Hope is our anchor.

This certain hope of being saved is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls, connecting us with God himself behind the sacred curtains of heaven. Hebrews 6:19

Troubles and trials are a natural part of life, and they help us to develop the hope that makes our anchor even stronger.

3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to be patient. 4 And patience develops strength of character in us and helps us trust God more each time we use it until finally our hope and faith are strong and steady. Romans 5:3-4

We develop a strong anchor as we hope and trust in God and in Jesus as our Savior. And we’re not anchored into sand, that shifts and slips, we are anchored into solid rock.

Yes, he alone is my Rock, my rescuer, defense and fortress. Why then should I be tense with fear when troubles come? Psalm 62:2

God, himself, is a strong, secure rock and so being anchored to him provides assurance of safety.

24 “All who listen to my instructions and follow them are wise, like a man who builds his house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents, and the floods rise and the storm winds beat against his house, it won’t collapse, for it is built on rock.

26 “But those who hear my instructions and ignore them are foolish, like a man who builds his house on sand. 27 For when the rains and floods come, and storm winds beat against his house, it will fall with a mighty crash.” Matthew 7:24-27

Our hope of salvation is our faith in Jesus as our Savior. We demonstrate that faith by trusting God and obeying His Word which anchors us firmly to Him.

Evil men have tried to drag me into sin, but I am firmly anchored to your laws. Psalm 119:61

Disaster strikes like a cyclone and the wicked are whirled away. But the good man has a strong anchor. Proverbs 10:25

Without that strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls, we have no hope. Without faith there is no hope. Without Christ there is no hope.

Remember that in those days you were living utterly apart from Christ; you were enemies of God’s children, and he had promised you no help. You were lost, without God, without hope. Ephesians 2:12

Ours is a fallen world, subject to the ravages of sin. Storms of violence and cyclones of anger threaten our world daily. Hopelessness is mounting. But we who are anchored tight to the Rock of Ages know where our help comes from. It comes from the Lord, maker of Heaven and Earth. It comes from Jesus, Christ who has overcome the world and defeated death. This is the hopeful message we have for a world of people going under – even in the storms you can have a firm anchor of hope in salvation.

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… 1 Peter 3:15

Hope-filled Blessings,

Jen

 

 

 


Be Bold


Wait on the LordJoshua 1:9

“Yes, be bold and strong! Banish fear and doubt! For remember, the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

This is the Sunday School verse for our new unit. It’s truly one of those verses one should memorize early and bring out often for reassurance. I told the kids as much. But I wonder how much it will stick with them when the challenges inevitably come.

Joshua and Caleb were two of twelve spies sent into Canaan to find out if it was really ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Spoiler alert – it was: the grapes were the size of pomegranates and the pomegranates were the size of men’s heads. Only one little problem: the people were all giants and made the Hebrews look like grasshoppers – oh, and they lived in equally formidable walled cities. When it came time to report back to Moses, Joshua and Caleb reported it all, and enthusiastically recommended rushing in to take the cities. The other ten were just doom and gloom, pointing out all the ways it could all go terribly wrong.

Those ten forgot one important thing. God, the God who created the world, the grapes, the giant men – God who led them out of Egypt with 10 plagues and miracles – that God told them to trust Him. He promised to bring them to this new land and to be with them. But very real dangers and fears shut down their faith. Long story short, only Joshua and Caleb would be allowed to enter the Promised Land, and everyone would have to wander in the wilderness for 40 more years until they raised a new generation that would trust God.

It's hard to go against the current. It’s hard to live counter to the culture. You have to be brave to see and acknowledge the Emperor’s New Clothes for the scam they are. And it takes courage to be a voice above the crowd. This is what the Lord calls us to, though. Noah built that ark having never seen rain. Abraham brought his son to be sacrificed despite God having told him he'd be the father of nations. And Jesus sent his Apostles to preach a message that sounded radically different from what they were teaching in the synagogues.

In these times where the culture has moved so far from basic Biblical principles, we are called to live a holy life, set apart for God, living within the culture, but living by God’s laws, especially love and mercy, and above all, trusting Him. It isn’t easy. Fear and doubt are always lurking just around the corner. And Satan is happy to whisper in our ears all the reasons we should give up, compromise or follow our own understanding or the wisdom of the world rather than the prompting of the Holy Spirit. But if we daily put on the armor of God, we can exercise and grow our faith until it conquers our fears.

IF GOD BRINGS YOU TO IT, HE’LL SEE YOU THROUGH IT.

Blessings of Boldness,

Jen


Dream Big, Pray Big

George Muller OrphanageProverbs 3:3-6

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

    bind them around your neck,

    write them on the tablet of your heart.

4 Then you will win favor and a good name

    in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight.

When I became a Christian in my early 30s, the first thing I wondered was ‘what is this all about?’ I understood the believing in Jesus, and I experienced the joy and lightness of unburdening myself of sin, regret and shame. But now what? What does that look like on a day-to-day basis in an era so far removed from first century Judea? As I began reading various famous verses, and listening to hymns, it became clear that trusting and obeying was a key. And as I dug into that further, it seemed the Word was saying to trust completely, thoroughly, dare I say exclusively in God to meet my needs. At that point I realized I had not given Jesus complete control over all my life, and I remember getting down on my knees in my office at work and recommitting every part of my life to Him: my work, my dreams, my marriage, my children. But I will admit that I have not thoroughly trusted God to meet every need.

Last week in Sunday School we watched a cartoon about George Müller. Here are some excerpts from Wikipedia about him and his work:

The work of Müller and his wife with orphans began in 1836, with the preparation of their own rented home at 6 Wilson Street, Bristol for the accommodation of thirty girls. Soon after, three more houses in Wilson Street were furnished, not only for girls but also for boys and younger children, eventually increasing the capacity for children who could be cared for to 130.

Through all this, Müller never made requests for financial support, nor did he go into debt, even though the five homes cost more than £100,000 to build. Many times, he received unsolicited food donations only hours before they were needed to feed the children, further strengthening his faith in God. Müller was in constant prayer that God touched the hearts of donors to make provisions for the orphans. For example, on one well-documented occasion, thanks was given for breakfast when all the children were sitting at the table even though there was nothing to eat in the house. As they finished praying, the baker knocked on the door with sufficient fresh bread to feed everyone, and the milkman gave them plenty of fresh milk because his cart had broken down in front of the orphanage.

He cared for 10,024 orphans during his lifetime, and provided educational opportunities for the orphans to the point that he was even accused by some of raising the poor above their natural station in British life. He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_M%C3%BCller)

That is some faith! That is some trust! This man accepted his mission from God and trusted the Lord for everything. And although I have not been so faithful in my trusting, I can say that in my 10 years with our Food Bank, God has always shown up when we needed something or someone. We’ve never had to turn anyone away, nor cancel a distribution because the shelves were bare. And in my personal life, I’ve seen some truly miraculous resolutions to difficult problems and a few unexpected checks that arrived in the mailbox at just the right time. I’m sure you have too.

Despite knowing that our God is Jehovah Jireh, the Great provider, I still struggle to trust everything to God. It’s hard to grasp how much God wants to bless us in every part of our lives. It’s hard to imagine what He might have for us in his closet of blessings if we only prayed earnestly for it.

As we begin this new year, we look around our community, our nation and our world and see so many issues, conflicts and concerns that seem so big, so difficult, so intractable that even unbelievers remark ‘that would take a miracle to fix.’ But our God is still in the miracle business, so let’s pray for those miracles. Peace in Ukraine? And end to oppression by the Taliban? Drug Cartels destroyed? Addictions overcome? Violence Shunned? Cooperation and compromise by politicians? Why not?

The next cartoon on our Sunday School DVD was the story of Gideon, a little nobody who trusted God to help him defeat the whole Midian army with a handful of soldiers, some horns and lanterns. Our God is a God of miracles, a God of last minute turnarounds, a God who loves to answer the prayers of His faithful in a big way, a God who listens to your prayers and promises to provide your needs. Time to pray some big prayers.

Dream big, Pray big,

Jen


Bucket List

New ChapterFor me, there’s nothing like cracking the spine of a brand-new journal, flipping through the empty pages full of possibility and promise just begging to be filled with inspirations, observations, meditations, doodles and scribbles. Building on the theme of Pastor Bill’s New Year’s message, a fresh journal and a fresh new year are our invitation to continue the ‘never ending story’ of our lives and walk with God.

Here's the thing about stories, though…they are almost never random or spontaneous. Real life contains very few of the ‘meet-cutes’ of a Hallmark movie, sudden crises with a hero of an action movie or opportunities to solve a mystery. In the real world, if you want an experience or adventure, you’ll most likely have to plan it yourself. Years ago, that idea was christened ‘a bucket list’ – a list of things you’d like to accomplish before you ‘kick the bucket.’

Bucket list research conducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine asked whether people had a bucket list, and if they did, to list up to five items in order of importance. Ultimately, more than 3,000 people responded to the survey. They found six common themeswhich were:

  • Desire to travel (78.5% of participants)
  • Desire to accomplish a personal goal (78.3%)
  • Desire to achieve specific life milestones (51%)
  • Desire to spend quality time with friends and family (16.7%)
  • Desire to achieve financial stability (16.1%)
  • Desire to do a daring activity (15%)

Then they made some bucket list recommendations. They advise that we have a blend of short and long-term goals and desires. They also suggest we limit the list to three to five items. Write down several things you’d like to accomplish, experience, see or share – and update your list from time to time as your feelings change or you check them off over time. “Your bucket list is not a static list of impossible fantasies,” the researchers advise. “Rather, it is a ‘value map’ for your future life milestones and accomplishments.”

Do you have a bucket list or a ‘value map’? Failing to plan is planning to fail. You wouldn’t head off on a road trip without a destination and a map or GPS. Life is not so different. There’s only so much time and money and health that we have to accomplish our goals. Can we afford to leave it to chance or wishing? The little everyday concerns of life can become a sticky mire that keeps us from our path to fulfillment. Many of us have been shocked by the amount of time we’ve spent catching up on emails, scrolling through social media or binge-watching series. Without goals and an action plan, days, weeks and years can fly by unnoticed while our ‘bucket lists’ collect dust.

‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey’, you say. True enough! But make sure you are actually on a journey, not just on a treadmill, spending your life but not investing your time, ultimately going nowhere.   

As Christians, a list of goals or values map is even more important. If we accept that “it is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others,” (Ephesians 2:10) then we know what needs to be part of our ‘bucket list.’ “Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. Why is it that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity; until finally we all believe alike about our salvation and about our Savior, God’s Son, and all become full-grown in the Lord—yes, to the point of being filled full with Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13 TLB)

I came to the Methodist Church because a friend knew I loved to sing, and they needed choir members. I came early to pick up my kid from a Good News Club and saw how much fun you could have sharing Jesus with children. I was asked to direct our Food Bank after I casually shared a story from my past as a non-profit lawyer. I didn’t develop these talents and interests in order to serve God, but there was a need for them in His Kingdom. I’m sure you have dreams and interests and talents that God is waiting to use as well.

Take a moment to identify your interests or talents. Match them up with missions and ministries at church, or in the area, or further abroad. Then start dreaming and making a plan. ‘Turn over a new leaf’ and begin writing the next chapter of your story wherein you accomplish three to five personal and Kingdom goals! 2023 could be your best year yet!

Dream Big!

Jen


Love Each Other Warmly

Love Each Other Warmly22 You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.

23 For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God. 24 As the Scriptures say,

“People are like grass;
    their beauty is like a flower in the field.
The grass withers and the flower fades.
25     But the word of the Lord remains forever.”

And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.

In the Pope’s Christmas Message this year, his theme was peace, and that Christmas is the birth of Peace. “Jesus Christ is also the way of peace. By his incarnation, passion, death and resurrection, he has opened the way that leads from a world closed in on itself and oppressed by the dark shadows of enmity and war, to a world that is open and free to live in fraternity and peace. Let us follow that road!” “To follow Jesus means doing away with the burdens that can weigh on us and become obstacles, the Pope went on to say, and they can include greed, pride, thirst for power, hypocrisy, problems of old as they are of today that "exclude us from the grace of Christmas" and "block the entrance to the path of peace." The Pope lamented that a result of this reality is that the "icy winds of war" still hurt humanity today.” (https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2022-12/pope-at-urbi-et-orbi-the-lord-s-birth-is-the-birth-of-peace.html)

It's a powerful message for a world so war-weary, from Ukraine to Yemen, Afghanistan to Algeria and so many points in between. Civil war, terrorist insurgency, drug wars, ethnic war and invasions continue to make headlines and break our hearts. (https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/countries-currently-at-war)

It’s tempting to think that we are helpless in the face of oppression and war and strife. After all, what can one little me do, way over here, to make any difference to those suffering way over there? Well, this has been the dilemma of the world from the beginning, hasn’t it? How can we possibly stir the hearts or change the behavior of others? The answer is simple. We can’t. Molding hearts is God’s territory. The Holy Spirit influences people to change their own behavior.

But we are not helpless, nor unnecessary. Prayer is an activating force that can send God’s power anywhere in the world, to any people or person. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16b

In addition to prayer, we must love each other warmly and deeply with all of our hearts. A loving heart that puts others’ needs and best interests first has no room for “greed, pride, thirst for power, hypocrisy”, and other sinful desires that lead to conflict, strife and war.

Satan, that deceiver of old, would love to convince us that we must meet force with force and subjugate others to bend them to our will. He delights for us to think that we are helpless to change the world and combat injustice. He doesn’t want us to realize that by changing ourselves, by allowing Jesus to work in and through our lives, by learning to love boldly and humbly lay aside our own ambitions, by praying continually with all kinds of prayers and petitions we ARE changing the world. Each prayer and petition bring God’s Kingdom a little closer. Each act of kindness and love brings Jesus more clearly into view. Each healed spirit heals the world. “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” Romans 8:37  

It isn’t magic, but it is magical. Love heals and restores and renews and brings hope in places only prayer can reach. So, resolve to make love your calling-card wherever you go this year. Sprinkle it everywhere, put it on everything, send it in letters, send it in texts, send it in prayers! Our amount of time is small, but our impact doesn’t have to be.

With warm, loving prayers,

Jen