Gifts

It's a Battle to Get Better

Armor of God“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

(Ephesians 6:13-17)

On my journey back to health I’ve had to learn some hard truths. I confess it is reassuring to see that the contestants on Biggest Loser all faced these too. The first and hardest truth, but the one most necessary for actual life-long change, is the acceptance of reality, and taking full responsibility for it. On a weight loss journey, it’s the hard acknowledgement that you are fat. I was morbidly obese. The morbid part means death. No one shoved pie down my throat in the night, I was digging my own grave with a spoon. Many of the reasons for that stemmed from lies I repeated to myself over the years that became a subliminal soundtrack in my mind: “You’re not worth the effort,” “It seems so good, how bad could it be?” “The doctor says you’re healthy” “You’re happy this way,” “You’re a disappointment,” “No one cares about you anyway,” etc.

You probably already see the similarities to coming to Jesus. We think we’re in control, but then, in the lonely, quiet moments, the truth of our sin and corruption reveals itself. And often what has kept us from kneeling at the cross are the same kinds of lies that the devil has been whispering to us from the beginning: we’re not worthy, we can’t be forgiven for THAT, it’s too much work to be saved, there’s not really a final judgement, people will disown you, or call you crazy, only the good die young, etc.

Whether it’s a spiritual transformation or a health transformation, or ANY kind of transformation, really, it WILL be a battle to get better. Nothing worth having comes easily anyway. And God is not shy in telling us in His Word that the struggle is point. It’s the struggle, the battle, that turns us into warriors, that builds character and teaches us perseverance, builds value in the victory.

So, it seems the Salvation Work-Out is a fighting discipline. Philippians 2:12 says “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”

ROUND ONE: Fighting the Old Inner Man. “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:19-20) This is a daily exercise. Like all exercises, it gets easier with time, but you’ll never be finished. If the great Apostle Paul struggled with it, we certainly will.

ROUND TWO: The Spiritual Battle. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12) If it wasn’t going to be a battle, we wouldn’t need armor! But God, the Great Personal Trainer, will supply all of the necessary equipment. Still, daily training is necessary so that you’re strong enough and know how to use the equipment when the actual fight comes.

ROUND THREE: Battle with the World. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you is the greatest accomplishment.” This has always been true, but in this age of social media, comparison and conformity are demanded like never before with real potential consequences. To follow Christ is to turn around in a massive crowd and start walking the opposite way. This is a full body work-out, but even more so, a battle of the will. Again, our Great, High Trainer is always in our corner shouting out words of encouragement, warning and instruction. And He is there to bind up the inevitable wounds.

Yes, getting better is a battle, but it absolutely WILL happen! “Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Whoo! I’m ready to suit up and get training! And here’s a pro tip, post note cards all over your locker room or training space (house or prayer closet) with your favorite inspirational quotes (verses) from the Trainer. He is the only One who knows our true potential and how to get the most out of us if only we will get real with ourselves, set aside our fear and hesitation and trust the process.

Get after it,

Jen 💪


The World is Our Cupcake

CupcakeIn the past all of us lived like them, trying to please our sinful selves and doing all the things our bodies and minds wanted. We should have suffered God’s anger because we were sinful by nature. We were the same as all other people.

But God’s mercy is great, and he loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, he gave us new life with Christ. You have been saved by God’s grace. (Ephesians 2:3-5)

I love cupcakes. They come in so many tantalizing flavors, sizes and colors. Cream filling, shimmering glitter, colorful sprinkles – they’re like little edible works of art. But there’s another side to cupcakes.

As I began my health journey over a year ago, I learned some hard truths about food. For decades the food industry told us that fat was the enemy. And beginning in the late 70s, the diet industry was happy to provide us with tempting, highly processed foods that were fat free. But to replace the missing flavor, they added salt and sugar. Sadly, this was the worst thing that could have happened because it turns out sugar is poison. Now, the obesity rate is staggering and the link between diabetes and heart disease is well established.

What’s more, studies have shown that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. And the food industry is well aware of it. In the 1970’s they discovered the perfect combination of fat, salt and sugar that would make a food nearly irresistible. It’s called the ‘bliss point.’ “Bet ya can’t eat just one” is a safe bet because using science against us they have created hundreds of foods that are highly addictive.

Back to cupcakes. Watching an old episode of The Biggest Loser the other day, the contestants were faced with a Temptation Challenge. Dozens of colorful cupcakes with all kinds of toppings were displayed on shelves. Under one of them was a prize. But in order to get the prize they had to eat any cupcake they touched. If they didn’t find the prize, they got a clue and could keep going. Many players participated, despite being 100 pounds overweight with health issues and on a weight loss show. The winner ended up consuming 1,300+ calories.

And friends, the world is our cupcake. The world and its sin and godlessness are wrapped in all kinds of tempting and delightful packages: promises of fame, fortune, beauty, comfort, acceptance, pleasure, etc. available for the price of only a bit of compromise. But compromise to sin has its costs – costs much greater than a few hundred calories. Marriages, families, friendships, businesses, reputations, health and souls can all be lost by succumbing to temptation and sadly, sometimes it only takes just once.

Satan’s job here is really pretty easy. All he has to do is to convince us to be selfish and do what makes US happy, what would help US. And after all, don’t we deserve to be happy? Don’t we deserve to get ahead? Isn’t everyone else lying and cheating and using others in order to ‘make it?’ And in the final analysis doesn’t God want us to be happy?

Hopefully you know the answer to all of those questions is No. We don’t DESERVE anything in this life except for God’s anger for being so disobedient and sinful. Everyone is not sinning to get ahead, but even if they were, “…what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) And although there are many good things God wants to give us, these are gifts to advance His Kingdom. His goal is to make us Christlike – humble, surrendered and obedient to Him – because that is what we were created to be and that is the highest, best version of ourselves which will lead to the greatest personal growth and deep, abiding joy. By God’s grace alone we have this option.

We are those sick, obese contestants reaching for the delightfully tempting cupcakes. God, our Great High Personal Trainer, is desperately trying to remind us of our final goal. He is trying to save us from ourselves and our addiction to sin. We know full well that in our own power we cannot resist the temptation. Our brain chemistry is even fighting us. The desire for temporary reward is clouding the joy of long-term success - salvation. The only way through is to fully trust, follow and obey the only One who truly has our best interest at heart at all times.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Your sister in temptation,

Jen


We Are the Lighthouses of the World

Lighthouse Collage“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

I love lighthouses. I’m not sure why, but I always have and now visiting them is one of my many ‘collections.’ Perhaps it’s because a lighthouse’s mission is so much like our Christian mission – to illuminate, to guide, to give hope, to save.

Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. Daniel 12:3

Like a lighthouse, we can bring light to dark places. Part of our duty as Christians is to shine. Our light stands in stark contrast to the darkness of the world and points the way to Christ and God’s salvation. We can illuminate the goodness of living for Christ, and the Truth found in God’s Word.

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you live.
There I will go to the altar of God,
    to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise you with my harp,
    O God, my God!

Psalm 43:3-4

To sailors arriving at port, the sight of lighthouses guided them to a safe harbor. To the Hebrews wandering in the desert, God provided a pillar of fire at night to guide them. And Jesus asks us to guide others to Him. The first step in making disciples is to bid them come and meet Jesus. He is our safe harbor, our secure anchor, our refuge from the storms of life. Once people are guided into safety, they can begin to experience what it means to find their rest in Him.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

Ephesians 1:18

For sailors caught in a tempest, a lighthouse is a beacon of hope. They know that the safety of the shore is nearby. The light of the Holy Spirit gives us the confident hope of the safety of eternity in God’s Kingdom. Hope is such an amazing thing for people facing trials. Just a small ember of hope can be the difference between hanging on and slipping under the water. We carry this precious hope with us every day, and we should be ready to share it with those barely keeping their heads above water. The sure safety of the Solid Rock is always nearby!

This is what the Lord commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles, so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.” Acts 13:47

And there it is – our ultimate mission is to shine, guide, and give hope so that unbelievers will ‘see the light’ and find Jesus and salvation. The weary, the lost, the abused, those that feel unworthy and unloved can all find fulfilment in the loving arms of God the Father, eternal life in the friendship of Jesus the Son and guidance and correction in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

This mission of salvation and guiding light has never been far from the American imagination. Not only are we called to it as individuals, but our country adopted it as our national mission from its inception. Now we have our own colossal lighthouse of liberty guiding all pilgrims to the Land of the Free.

…A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 –Emma Lazarus

 

Have a wonderful, blessed Independence Day, remembering that all our blessings of liberty, all our vast lands and resources, all the wealth and resilience of our people are gifts from God because God HAS blessed America. I pray He will continue to, as we continue to serve and glorify Him.

God bless America, Land that I love, Stand beside her and guide her ‘Thru the night with a light from above; --Irving Berlin

Shine on,

Jen 


Your Kids Want YOU

Right Path… When Joseph arrived, he embraced his father and wept, holding him for a long time. (Genesis 46:29)

If I were to ask you to tell me your father’s name and a little bit about him, I would expect an answer like, “His name was Bill, and he joined the Navy right out of high school and then became a mechanical engineer.” If you continued you might tell me where he worked or lived or how many kids he had. But if so, that’s because you are an adult.

In Sunday School last week, we asked the kids the same question and not one of them mentioned their father’s profession. A few mentioned some hobbies, but by far the most common answers were about the qualities of their father: he’s kind, he’s funny, he throws us on the sofa, he draws with us, he’s creative, he builds things, he loves me….

To me, this is evidence of what Pastor Bill suggested last week: kids don’t want our stuff, they want time with us. I think this is true even as we grow to adults. A friend recently shared that she lost her dad when she was 15. One of her deep regrets is that they didn’t get to know each other as adults, to become friends and spend evenings just playing cards and talking. I know personally that I didn’t really appreciate my parents as individuals until the day I became a parent myself. Suddenly all their worries and warnings and stress made perfect sense and I regretted how selfish I had often been. Then our relationship deepened as we related more personally.

God instituted the family as the primary societal unit – our tribe. In those ancient days, mothers and daughters spent a lot of time together, cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc. Fathers and sons spent a lot of time working together in the fields, or in the workshop apprenticing, or walking to town. These were the precious moments of ‘quantity time’ that God wanted us to spend talking about the right way to live: “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

The special events of ‘quality time’ are what we tend to remember the most: trips to the zoo, craft time with grandma, road trips, outings, special family meals, etc. But it’s in that ‘quantity time,’ being taxied around in the car, doing chores together, dragged along to the store, helping out at church, etc. where real conversations can happen about the real challenges kids are facing and how God wants us to handle them. And God’s laws and life principles bear repeating again and again, especially in these crooked times where the world will constantly bombard our kids with messages of greed, instant gratification, selfishness, self-indulgence, vengeance and all kind of sin.

If we want to raise resilient kids who can stand firm through any storm of life, we must always be teaching them the golden nuggets of our faith such as, “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3-5) Watching us and learning from us how to actually live these principles out in our lives will be far more precious and useful than any ‘thing’ we could give our kids.

We only have one chance to lay a firm foundation under the ‘right path’ for our kids and teach them to follow it. And those years slip away so quickly. But it’s much easier to do if you do it a little at a time every day, do it with a tribe of family and believers, and ‘practice what you preach.’ Like Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Blessings,

Jen


You Raise Me Up

Soar like eagles“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine,” Exodus 19:4-5

When I think of my dad, I often think of the song, “You Raise Me Up,” which I played at his Memorial Service.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be.

Although my dad hoped I’d be a physicist and didn’t really understand my other pursuits, he nevertheless fostered my vast interest in the world from the microscopic to the cosmic. I was a hesitant child and he always took the time to encourage me and nudge me toward adventure. His presence made me feel safe and secure. I am very grateful for my dad. I was blessed to have a mild-mannered dad who stuck around and took his family responsibilities seriously, rarely lost his temper and tried hard to do the right thing in every situation.

However, no matter what kind of dad or dads you might have had, the Bible provides a description of God feeling the full range of emotions a parent might have. Of course, God is not a man that He could be sinful, intoxicated or abusive. But He has been proud, nurturing, angry, a disciplinarian, absent, loving, supportive, and more.

THE PROUD PAPA GOD

You are of great worth in My eyes. You are honored and I love you... (Isaiah 43:4)

And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17)

THE NURTURING DADDY GOD

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” Hosea 11:1,3-4

THE ANGRY FATHER GOD

Who can stand before His indignation?

And who can endure the fierceness of His anger?

His fury is poured out like fire,

And the rocks are thrown down by Him.

(Nahum 1:6)

 

Who is a God like You,

Pardoning iniquity

And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?

He does not retain His anger forever,

Because He delights in mercy.

(Micah 7:18)

THE ABSENTEE FATHER GOD

“‘Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath.” (Jeremiah 7:29)

She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” (1 Samuel 4:22)

THE DISCIPLINARIAN DAD GOD

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. (Proverbs 3:11-12)

Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. (Deuteronomy 8:5

THE GOOD AND LOVING FATHER GOD

Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:13)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort… (2 Corinthians 1:3)

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (Matthew 6:26)

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:14-17)

 

Being a human parent forces us to accept our vulnerability. We have responsibility for our children, but we cannot control them, nor the world they live in. The best we can do is to love and nurture them, teaching them wisely and hoping that they will obey us and trust out of love because they know we are acting in their best interest. In the same way, God has given us free will and allows us to learn through pain and suffering. His will is to shape us into the best versions of ourselves out of His great love for us. And like a parent He asks us to trust and obey. But He will never force us. We can’t imagine an all-powerful God could be ‘vulnerable,’ but if God is indeed our father, then God daily puts His heart at risk for the sake of love.

Blessings,

Jen