Gifts

Our Holy Library

My Cup OverflowsIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  -John 1:1

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

-Hebrews 4:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about books lately. In learning to write one, you first need to ‘deconstruct’ it into its various parts: character, storyline, plot, theme, etc. As I’ve been pondering all this, my admiration of the Holy Bible has only grown. It truly deserves recognition as the Greatest Book ever written – although actually it isn’t! It’s one BIG book that’s filled with little books, so really, the Bible isn’t our Holy Book…it’s our Holy Library.

In Sunday School every week there’s a little one- or two-line description of the Bible and I was thinking that these little thoughts might bless adults as well. Here are a few:

  • The Bible is God’s true story of love!
  • The Bible has two main sections, the Old Testament about God’s covenant with us made through Noah, Abraham and Moses, and the New Testament about God’s covenant with us made through Jesus.
  • Even though God inspired different people to write the Bible very long ago, it is still relevant to our lives today.
  • The Bible was originally written in three different languages, but now it’s been translated into hundreds of languages from all over the globe.
  • Every part of the Bible is there for a reason, showing God’s loving plan for us.
  • The Bible is made up of different kinds of writing, including history, laws, poetry and letters.
  • It’s filled with all kinds of amazing things God wants us to know about him and how we can live in friendship with him.

I also recently pulled out an old copy of The Bible for Dummies. I honestly thought there couldn’t be anything in there that I didn’t know already, but to my surprise, there were a few interesting nuggets.

  • Israel had a large library of scrolls containing history, prophecy, wisdom, the law and more, but it wasn’t until the Babylonian captivity in 586BC that the scrolls that the Israelites were able to bring with them were edited and compiled, resulting in a relatively complete version of the Hebrew Bible around 450BC.
  • Interestingly, the books in the Hebrew and Christian Bible are ordered differently.
  • Additionally, the Catholic Bible contains a few books that the Protestant Bible does not. We call these apocrypha, and they include 1 & 2 Maccabees which tell the story of Hanukkah.
  • The Bible was written over a 1,500-year period by countless authors who lived on three different continents and wrote in three different languages.
  • In 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in a cave in Qumran. These were copies of the Hebrew Bible that were more than 1,000 years older than what was previously found. For the most part these were identical to the much newer copies we had been working from!
  • Abraham is considered the Patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here are a couple of things you might not know about Father Abraham:
    • The Muslims pray toward Mecca because of Abraham! According to the Koran, after their expulsion from the Garden, Adam and Eve made an altar to God at Mt. Arafat in Mecca. After it was destroyed by the Flood, Abraham (Ibrahim) along with Hagar and Ishmael rebuilt the shrine, now called the Ka’aba (cube) to which millions of Muslims make a pilgrimage every year known as the Hajj.
    • Islam’s founder, the prophet Muhammad, traces his lineage to Ibrahim through Ishmael.
    • Muslims believe that God ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael, not Isaac.
    • According to the Jewish Mishnah and the Koran, Abraham’s father was an Idol maker. One day, Abraham smashed all the idols except for the largest, and put a hammer in its hand. When his father returned and demanded to know what happened, Abraham told him the Idol did it. When his father would not accept that idols could actually do anything, Abraham had proved his point about the folly of praying to statues.
  • Jerusalem is a sacred city to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
    • The Temple in Jerusalem was God’s home on earth. Jews will not set foot on the Temple Mount because they are afraid they might accidently walk on the place that was designated as the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the now ruined Temple.
    • For Christians, Jerusalem is where Jesus was dedicated at birth, taught in life, and was crucified and miraculously resurrected.
    • Muslims believe that the Temple Mount is where God was ordered to sacrifice his son (as do Jews and Christians) but they believe it was Ishmael not Isaac. Also, that is the place where Muhammad was said to have been carried in a vision and then taken up to tour Heaven.

The Bible, though a vast work, has a coherent plot and storyline that centers around its main character, God, and His desire to have a loving relationship with His creation – humankind. Throughout, it highlights His overarching character traits of faithfulness, forgiveness and unconditional love. Knowing that a ‘wretch’ like me is a beneficiary of all that after all these thousands of years still blows my mind – every day.

Blessings,

Jen


The Author

Peace Love and Joy cropLooking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is set at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:2

I love books. As a child, I eagerly awaited our trips to the library. Every book was like a ticket to some wonder-filled, entertaining land. I lingered over every one, savoring the word usage and swimming through the illustrations. From the time I was old enough to hold a crayon, I was writing stories and decorating them with pictures. Many people in my life were sure that I would be an author someday.

And I do have a book inside me that is struggling to come out. It’s an epic adventure of a boy and some friends who end up in a strange land of wonders and miracles and go on a quest to fight evil, restore a kingdom and experience personal transformation along the way. With naïve enthusiasm, I want to fill it with humor, daring, and wits, along with amazing supernatural encounters and some moral lessons as well. I’ve had the skeleton of an outline for years now. I thought if I threw enough stuff into my mind’s ‘stew pot’ something amazing would just pop out. But it hasn’t been like that. I’ve had some flashes of inspiration and there are a couple of notebooks filled with them, but it’s just raw material.

On cable, I discovered ‘The Great Courses: Writing Literature’ lectures. As I watch them and try to digest them, feeling memories from college days reawaken, it is becoming clear to me that there is sooo much more involved in coming up with a story than just some ideas. The plot is a carefully chosen selection of scenes and events and dialogue that move the story along, always with some point to them: showing characters’ desires, motives, traits, presenting challenges, facing challenges, transforming or not. There are all kinds of plot and character arcs. There are flat characters who just serve one particular purpose and round characters that interact with and shape the story. My ‘stew pot’ is getting larger and larger and it’s beginning to feel overwhelming.

The professor imparted some wisdom that had been imparted to him by his high school English teacher: Literature is bringing order out of chaos.

Okay, stay with me here for a moment. Our lives, in fact life in general, can be regarded as just a series of events: some causal, some not, some planned, some not, most of which do not have an overarching theme or redemption arc or really any point. What I mean is, If you listed out your day, or your week, or your life event by event: grocery shopping, trip to the dentist, signing up with a gym, etc., it would look to most people like what Pastor Bill describes as ‘spending’ your life - doing the stuff we all do day to day, year to year - the chaos of existence. And, you know, maybe it IS. Or, maybe there’s more!

Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the Author and finisher of our faith. The author’s job is to carefully pick and choose particular scenes, events and moments out of a life-full of material, and craft it together with a theme, to reveal a plot over time – to make it into a cohesive story and to give meaning to otherwise ordinary events.  Jesus does this with each of his followers, and if we take the time to look over our lives with his eyes, we will start to really see it. Foreshadowing? Oh, it’s probably there. A neighbor or teacher or parent that saw something in you that you didn’t see in yourself. Conflict? No doubt. Then success or failure and the transformation they brought about. Flat characters that came into your life for just a brief time to help or challenge you in one particular way – I’ll bet they’re there. Surely round characters that came into your story and made it richer and deeper, forcing you to grow in new ways. And if you are a Jesus-follower, I guarantee there’s a redemption arc – from sinner to saint, but perhaps from short-tempered to patient, from gruff to tender-hearted, from lone-wolf to people-person? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were also some answered prayers, some healed relationships, some inexplicable blessings, and some tragedies that eventually became triumphs in some way. Looking back, we see the hand of the Lord working throughout our lives to craft a story that brings Him glory and makes us more like Him.

And your story isn’t over. It’s still being lovingly written.

If Literature is bringing order out of chaos, if it is finding powerful meaning in a life full of ordinary experiences, if it is finding a theme that weaves everything into a cohesive whole, and if that can be done for every soul on the planet, then Jesus is truly the greatest Author that the world has ever or will ever know. I don’t think it would be too much to say that every story is HIStory.

PRAYER: O Lord, Author of life, help us to see the beauty of our own story, and give us the courage to share it with others to point them to You. Remind us of Jesus’ story which has the supernatural power to convict souls, break hearts and transform lives. Make us always ready to tell the old, old stories. Amen.

Blessings,

Jen


Godly Women's Mother's Day

Godly Woman's PrayerTitus 2:4-5

GOD’S WORD Translation

In this way they will teach young women to show love to their husbands and children, to use good judgment, and to be morally pure. Also, tell them to teach young women to be homemakers, to be kind, and to place themselves under their husbands’ authority. Then no one can speak evil of God’s word.

We often refer to the Bible as God’s instruction manual. In fact, KJ calls it Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. And it truly is! As I was saying in last week’s devotional, I didn’t have any models of Christian marriage in my life when I became a Christian. Nor any models of Christian parenting.  So, as the over-achieving student I am, I dug right in to the ‘instruction manual’ to see what God had to say about marriage and parenting.  Suffice to say that although there are similarities to the worldly versions, the focus is all different, and that difference changes everything.

Marriage is a partnership. We embrace that in our culture – a joining of two equals. In fact, many couples omit that part about promising ‘to love, honor and obey.’ But the Bible is pretty clear about marriage being a hierarchy. In fact, God is obviously VERY big on hierarchies because He establishes them again and again throughout the Bible. If you feel yourself resisting authority, as I did, BEWARE, because authority and obedience are major themes and powerful lessons in the Bible.

Yes, women are called to be obedient to their husbands. In other verses the term is ‘submission.’ Hoowee, if you want to see ladies get riled up right quick, try to discuss THAT in Bible Study! But in verse after verse all throughout the Bible, that is God’s plan. And it’s a beautiful plan. It’s a plan that is another archetype of our relationship with Jesus. Our relationships on earth prepare us for our relationship with God. And for any men who snickered at ‘submission,’ God calls every last one of us to submit to Him and His authority.

God knows us and loves us. Good parents know that sometimes what gets through to one child may not work at all on another. You tailor discipline and teaching to the nature and temperament of each child. And so it was with Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were partners, but in the Garden of Eden on that fateful day, Eve acted individually in chatting up that snake and tasting the forbidden fruit. Then she convinced Adam to try it too. Eve took authority, decided it would be awesome to be like God, and her punishment was to be ‘ruled by her husband.’ For being irresponsible and not taking authority, God punished Adam with hard work. Personally, I see some humor in this. I know it is my nature to want to ‘take charge,’ when reasoning together or submitting would be much more sound, and in KJ’s nature to let me go ahead and make those tough decisions so he doesn’t have to. Luckily, we haven’t tried any bad apples – yet.

AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION are such harsh words, and looking through a worldly lens, one can see that all kinds of negative power dynamics are possible in a system built on them. But that’s the uniqueness of the often-misunderstood Christian perspective. God IS love. Everything He gives us is based on love. Love is the fuel that makes His Kingdom go, on earth as it is in Heaven. Loving AUTHORITY is taking responsibility for the family’s best interests. It is taking the burden of leading the family in following God and discerning His will in every circumstance. And it is dispensing loving correction when needed. Loving SUBMISSION is just what the above verse in Titus 2 is all about. It is loving your husband by focusing on His needs, it is caring for the children and looking after their needs. (Of course, in the hierarchy, children should be honoring and obeying their parents.) It is being a good partner and making suggestions and recommendations, but understanding that in the end, the husband is the final authority. It takes a lot of good judgement and self-control not to overstep the authority God puts in our lives. But He gives us authority to help us stay on track and in His will and to teach us how to submit to Him which is the process of becoming holy and pure.

AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION are the two sides of the Divine nature. God leads, God commands, God guides, He gives us loving discipline. But He is a SERVANT LEADER. He cares for us, He provides for us, He comforts us, and all with kindness, humility and tender mercy. Jesus taught us humble submission. He washed feet, fed thousands, spent hours telling stories with a moral at the end, healed boo-boos, told the hard truth when necessary for others’ personal growth, taught how to pray and prayed a lot himself. That’s the picture of a godly Wife and Mother. It is a high calling indeed.

Happy Mothers’ Day,

Jen


Love Stands When All Else Has Fallen

Love Stands brite

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.

1 Corinthians 13: 7-8a (J.B. Phillips New Testament)

I had the absolute joy of watching my Godson get married this weekend. Seated with my best friends and their grown children, I could not help but think back to the time when we were in their shoes. It turned out that KJ and I had been married the longest of all the couples there. It’s hard to grasp how much time has gone by and all the ways we’ve grown and changed. Through all the vicissitudes of life, our commitment to each other remains.

Marriage is a good archetype of the kind of relationship that Jesus wants to have with us. In several places in the Bible we, the Church, are referred to as the Bride of Christ. And in Revelations, we see that we will be invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Like an earthly Bride and Groom, we will be dressed in special clothing, and bound together before God with great celebration. 🎊

As in marriage, when we accept Jesus, we make a life-long (and really, eternity-long) commitment to love, honor and obey Him. We promise to be faithful to Him only. We promise to put Him first in our lives and to consider Him before all else. We accept with joy that our former way of living as an individual, caring only for our self-interest has ended, and that a new way of life has begun. We are no longer our own. We live for someone else. We are a new creation with a new name.

And like earthly marriage, our relationship deepens with time. Challenges come, mistakes are made, and we learn how to grow and become better people. As we ‘do life together’ we learn to develop joy, patience, kindness, humility and many other of the fruits of the spirit. We come to understand that true love is sacrifice and as time passes, we get better at making sacrifices: our time, our money, our desire to have our own way, to have control over where life takes us and much, much more.

At Saturday’s wedding, as the longest married couple, they stuck a microphone in our faces and asked our advice on a happy marriage. “The wife is always right,” “be each other’s best friend,” “don’t go to bed angry,” were some of our responses. But I supposed we missed the chance to mention the most important ingredient of all: Jesus. KJ was recently talking about the Trinity, saying how just as there is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each person also is a trinity of body, mind and spirit. A marriage should also be a trinity – the couple and Jesus. We did the first few years of our marriage without Jesus in it, and it very nearly ended. There was little fruit of the spirit, little compromise, too much self-interest, and too many hurt feelings. Once we were born again through faith, we both realized that we actually did not know what real love was. I did a deep dive into 1 Corinthians 13 and was shocked to discover that I would have to give up my pride and vanity and throw away my list of wrongs and hurts! I was called to forgive even when I didn’t want to. Suddenly our marriage was going to look much different from those we grew up around and those that surrounded us then. I am now persuaded that it is impossible to truly, selflessly love another person without Jesus in your heart.

Married or not, the Holy Spirit can do amazing, profound, transformative work in you to sanctify you and make you the perfect Bride for Jesus. And this is who we were designed to be: people fully committed to Him, people fully dependent on Him, people sacrificing their will to His and receiving in return the unimaginable love, protection and care of One who can make all things possible and invites us into His eternal home to be part of the family forever!

PRAYER: Lord of New Beginnings, bless all the couples joining their lives together this wedding season, as well as all of those who are continuing in their commitment to one another. Send healing and comfort to those who wish to be married and are not. Stir the embers of love in hearts that have grown cold. Continue to transform us as we present our lives to You as an offering. Make us holy and worthy to be Your Bride.

Blissful Blessings,

Jen


My Work Here is Done

My Work Here is Done...to accept [our] lot and be happy in [our] work -- this is a gift of God.

-Ecclesiastes 5:19

After years of isolation and closures due to the pandemic, companies are trying to lure their employees back to work. Public facing companies and stores are increasing incentives to attract a workforce which seems less than motivated. Public service agencies and charities are struggling to find people to help everywhere from city streets to hospitals to war zones.

Everything about the job market, management and labor is coming under scrutiny. Young people graduating from college seem unwilling to put up with the hardships that people of my generation faced. But I counsel them that selling your labor is never an easy thing. We like to pretend we’re in control but having a boss to answer to breaks that illusion. Even Jesus himself suggests that life is hard work but reassures us that His path is easiest “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 Note that Jesus says you will still be wearing a yoke!

With the wisdom of some years, I consider what a blessing it is to have useful skills and to be able to put them to use to serve others, build something, or create and maintain the systems that make the world go. Work gives us purpose and purpose gives us dignity and fosters self-worth. To be sure, we are more than our occupation. But perhaps we are not more than what we do. Love is an action verb and so doing the work of caretaker for children or parents, the work of volunteering at church, the work of feeding the hungry, the work of visiting the homebound, the work of tutoring, the work of repairing roofs on a mission trip, etc. is the work of loving our neighbors.

Jesus was a busy guy. He was the original ‘man on a mission,’ and he never shied away from the hard, draining work of preaching, teaching, and healing. He wore himself out frequently but renewed his spirit by talking to His Father in Heaven.

Work can be hard, even a drudgery sometimes, but at those moments, it's important to remember Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” He is watching us, and our ultimate reward is from Him.  I know that's what my hubby was thinking as he and his fellow mission workers baked on a roof in Louisiana one day, only to watch fierce storms tear at their work the next.  Every bit of kingdom work we do here on earth stores up a treasure for us in Heaven. Laundry, cleaning the toilet, mowing the law -- if done out of love for others, and for His glory, will gain us the appreciation in Heaven that we often lack here on earth.  So, if you're overlooked for that raise, or someone else takes credit for your idea, remember that the only boss truly worth impressing is The Big Boss -- The Man Upstairs.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to find joy in my labor, and to seek approval from You and not the world. Let my work bring glory to You and Your Kingdom. And let me show Your love to others by being a servant like your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray, Amen.

Blessings,

Jen