Gifts

Nailed It!

Nailed It BestJesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. -John 8:34-36

My pastor gave a sermon a couple of weeks ago in which he noted that the more convinced we are that we are wretched sinners in need of a Savior, the more we will serve Jesus with the passion of our lives. Luke 7:47 says “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

In our modern culture I wonder if we appreciate how serious sin truly is. Since the beginning of God’s law, mankind has been pushing back, re-interpreting and just plain fooling ourselves that we didn’t hear God quite right. Adam and Eve and that apple, Korah and his upstart followers, David and Bathsheba, Ananias and Sapphira and the lie about their gift. The world reads those stories and their take-away is that a ‘loving’ God would never be so harsh and full of wrath. God must be a narcissistic megalomaniac to demand such strict adherence to his Word, especially knowing full well that humans are natural sinners. Perhaps you’ve had that thought yourself? I know I’ve wrestled with it.

Here are a few points to ponder as you wrestle with the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin:

First of all, God is God and we are not.  in Isaiah 55:9 God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Proverbs 30:3-4 reiterates this from the human perspective:

I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

It is unimaginably presumptuous for any human to think that we could even begin to understand God or His ways with the 3 pounds of gray matter in our skulls. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and eternal. He somehow created everything out of nothing. He is waaaay too big and all-everything to even be conceptualized by us. In many ways it’s like trying to teach algebra to your dog. Algebra exists and its principles describe aspects of your dog’s life, but it will never be understood by your dog. However, out of His love for us and desire for relationship, He has revealed some things to us. He has placed eternity in our hearts. He has given us a conscience which understands the concept of right and wrong although we are free to override it. And He has spoken to some of us and in that way given us the Holy Scriptures containing everything we need to live our best lives. Who but the Inventor could really know that anyway? Yet from the beginning of time until now we have been trying to ‘backwards engineer’ humanity and work God right out of the equation. It’s as foolish as removing the batteries and expecting the gadget to operate properly.

Secondly, God is immutable - unchanging and unchangeable, and that quality is also true for His Holiness. Holiness is the perfection, or wholeness of God. It is a state of being. Instead of viewing holiness as God’s Law - as a set of arbitrary ‘rules’ which could be adjusted by the Author, I suggest that it is better to view holiness the way we view Scientific Law – a set of rules that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way which are discovered rather than invented.  Isn’t it odd that we readily accept Scientific Law but so often challenge God’s Law? In Sunday School I use the analogy of space to demonstrate this concept. ‘No man may come to the Father except through Me’ has been scorned as highly intolerant for centuries. Yet, consider this statement, ‘No man may get to the moon except with a spacesuit.’ Who would challenge that? That is not an intolerant statement barring those without spacesuits from access to the moon. It is also not a statement that overlooks or rules out other valid ways of getting to the moon. Rather it is a mere statement of fact based on unchangeable Laws of Science that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way. Heaven cannot contain even the tiniest amount of sin. The only method for sinners to enter Heaven, therefore, is to be covered by the sinless blood of Jesus. Why? I don’t know. It just is. Why is the universe expanding faster and faster rather than slowing or contracting? I don’t know. It just is.

Finally, sin is death. Sin isn’t ‘like’ death, sin IS death. It is the thing that ended immortality in the Garden and gave us a life-expectancy. As sin increased, so did disease, war, hatred and everything that is not Good. Sin is highly corrosive and highly contagious. The more it eats away at us and spreads amongst us all over our world, the more evil there is, because evil is the absence of Good. Sin opposes, corrupts, condemns and seeks to destroy Good. God is Good. And sin opposes and seeks to destroy God. It’s difficult to see how a lie here or there, a little bit of cheating or stealing, some pre-marital fun or exploring other religions could make us enemies of God. But those are evidence of our sin condition, a condition that eats away at our soul, turning us away from God and Good, making us slaves to our own pride and pleasure. The only way to regain ‘Goodness’ was to buy us back - redeem us from slavery to sin. And that is what Christ has done. Sin held us hostage, but He ransomed us with His sinless blood. He paid off our ransom and debt and nailed it to the cross, marked ‘paid in full’ for all in Heaven and earth to see. We’ve been bought at a price – a very high price. Why was that the only way? I don’t know. I don’t claim to understand it, but I believe it.

PRAYER:

Father, forgive us, for truly, we know not what we’ve done. Amen.

Stay Blessed,

Jen Jahromi


Finding God in the Garden on Earth Day

Spring Flowers less luminous8 Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. 9 The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.

8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.

-Genesis 2:8-9,15; 3:8

 

Kiss of the sun for pardon. Song of the birds for mirth.

You’re closer to God’s heart in a garden than any place else on earth.

–Dorothy Frances Gurney

Earth Day is tomorrow. No matter how you may feel about the politics around climate change and environmental issues, one thing is for sure: God created us to look after the earth and care for it. Genesis 1:28 says 'Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”' He has made us stewards of His creation. I think He has placed a desire to commune with or be fascinated by nature in all of us. I think this is a part of us that is definitely ‘in His image.’

God started His relationship with mankind in a garden. He planted beautiful trees and flowers and plants and came and strolled among them to meet with Adam and Eve. That must have been a glorious foretaste of Heaven, living carefree in a beautiful place with God as a personal, loving father. No wonder so many of us feel close to God in our gardens!

Then of course, it all changed, and mankind gradually became so sinful that God decided to start all over with just Noah and his family. Again, it all started with plants. What joy after 260 days on that Ark with all those animals to receive the olive branch from the dove and realize there would be an end to the flood!

And once God arrived back on earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, He continued to enjoy meeting in nature. Sitting on a mountainside, Jesus used the beauty of the flowers as a parable about how much God wants to give us and bless us.  “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30.  In many ways the Mount of Olives was the first church. And the gardening metaphors continued: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” John 15:1

Just as man’s sin spoiled the paradise of the Garden of Eden, so man’s sin spoiled the tranquility of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus chose to meet with his father in prayer one last time. Jesus went to the garden amidst the spring blossoms and flowering trees and the sounds of birds settling for the evening for his last good memories of earth. 

And in the perfect circle of completion way that God tends to do things, it both ended and began again in a garden at Jesus’ tomb. You may recall Mary Magdalen meeting with the resurrected Jesus: He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” John 20:1 And the irony of that statement is that Jesus IS a gardener: the Great Gardener, giving life to all things and sowing, nurturing, pruning and reaping souls to join Him in the Garden of Heaven. And yes, naturally, there is a garden in Heaven:

Eden Restored

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. -Revelations 22:1-2

So, if you find both delight and disappointment in your garden and on the earth, remember that you are not alone – that’s exactly what God found as well. But be assured that a time is coming when we will experience a whole and perfect garden, free of weeds and thorns and pests, with people of all nations tending it, protecting it and enjoying it.

PRAYER:

Holy and loving Father, on this Earth Day, help us to remember to be good stewards of the creation You have made. The earth and everything in it are Yours, and we are just temporary caretakers. Speak to us through delicate blooms and intricate patterns, cathedral forests and colorful meadows. Help us to know You better and appreciate Your glory even in our own backyards. And nurture the seed of faith You’ve planted in our hearts until it becomes a huge, sheltering tree amidst a fragrant garden that draws all those we meet to You and Your love.

Stay blessed,

Jen Jahromi


Knit Together by Strong Ties of Love

Knit Together in Love drk

Today would have my mother’s 81st birthday. She passed away in June 2011 and it's hard to grasp that it’s been ten years without her. He legacy has been handicrafts – all manner of decorative items hand knit, hand crocheted, embroidered, cross-stitched, beaded, embellished with paper, clay, tiles, stamps and oh, so much more. I’m more of a pen or paintbrush kind of a crafter, so knitting, crocheting, tatting and weaving have always seemed a little magical to me. How do you take a single yarn or thread and turn it into a sweater, a scarf, lace or a rug? Humans have been doing it for centuries. On a recent trip to a Native American museum, they had a display showing the most primitive kind of loom which turned out all kinds of woven textiles made of natural yarns and fibers. My Iranian husband grew up around the carpet trade, from tribal rugs to elaborate silk carpets. The amazing colors and patterns and pictures, not to mention the advanced planning and meticulous attention to detail make all of these handmade textiles true works of art.

We too, are a hand-crafted work of art. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” And like that intricate Aran knit sweater with cable stitches, seed stitches, garter stitches and more, as Christians our lives are twisted together as strands and knitted together into masterpieces of love. And like those wool sweaters and carpets, when we are knitted and woven together, we can withstand anything that life throws at us. As it says in Ecclesiastes 4:12, “…a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

It’s important to stay together. There is undervalued power in relationships and community. Perhaps that is part of what God decided to teach us during this pandemic. I found this passage in Colossians to be particularly relevant to us right now:

2 I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. 3 In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

4 I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. 5 For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.

-Colossians 2:2-5

What does Pastor and Apostle, Paul, want for us? Encouragement. Strong ties of love. Confidence in God’s mysterious salvation through Jesus. Hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Do you need any of that today? I do! And why does Pastor Paul want that for us? So no one will deceive us with logical sounding lies! Have you heard any of those in the last year? Daily we see the truth called a lie and a lie called the truth. But here is what I heard God speaking to us, his church, right now, and what we as a church need to communicate to each member: “For though I am far away from you, I am with you in spirit. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.”

I pray with my whole heart that as we slowly start to come out of our homes and resume some semblance of ‘life before,’ that we will reunite as a church, still knit together in love, still encouraged and encouraging one another, still confident in God, His power and our salvation. This past year has been filled with every kind of crisis, from weather related disasters to pandemic viruses to social upheaval and unrest, to political dissent to financial downturn to drastic changes in employment and education to forced isolation. All of our society’s institutions have been scrutinized, criticized and called into question. It will be a miracle if God’s people have been able to withstand this onslaught of skepticism and emerge firm in their faith. But our God is the God of Miracles. Who can withstand His mighty power?

If you’re feeling a little ‘unraveled’ by all we’ve been dealing with, if relationships have become strained or community has been lacking, be encouraged that the church is ready and waiting for you. Your brothers and sisters stand waiting to welcome you back and reunite, whether in person, by Zoom, by phone, internet or some other means. We are with you in spirit. Our hearts are with you. We are knit together in love into one beautiful, eternally comforting blanket and we are ready to wrap you up in it!

Stay blessed,

Jen


Christ, Our Passover Lamb

 

Christ our Passover Lamb

1 Corinthians 5:7-8

I love literary symbolism and our Bible is chock full of it. My favorite is the ‘type,’ a literary prefiguring where a person or story serves as a metaphorical prefigure of another that is to come later. There are so many, and that’s what amazes me: thousands of years in the past Christ was hinted at by so many stories in the Old Testament.

In Sunday School we just learned about the first Passover. Passover is such a ‘hint’ at what God was preparing with the Messiah and Easter that in hindsight, it’s almost impossible to miss. But I’ll hit some highlights to show just how much of an unbroken line there is from Moses and the Hebrews to us today.

  1. The Need for Salvation: Moses was a miracle baby who should have been killed in infancy. These were desperate times for the Hebrews. Although living as slaves, God blessed them and increased their numbers. But Pharaoh feared their power. They were abused and oppressed and had no spiritual leaders. After crying out for God’s mercy, it still took 10 terrible plagues until they were set free from bondage. Before Christ arrived, there were 500 years of silence from God. The Israelites strayed from God’s word and devised their own sects and rules. They were occupied by Greece and then Rome, persecuted and burdened by extreme taxation. Still Rome feared there would be uprisings. Today the world is still in need of deliverance from sin and suffering. People still subjugate and abuse others, and we are still pushing God out of the equation and trying to do things in our own power.
  2. The Leaven: God instructed the Hebrews to rid their homes of yeast and any kind of leavening. Yeast is a wonderful symbol of sin: “Your boasting is not good.  Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”  (1 Corinthians 5:6). The thing about yeast is that it is in the very air, surrounding us always just like the temptation to sin. The Hebrews had to prepare by ‘cleansing’ themselves and their homes. John the Baptist made it abundantly clear that God wanted Israel to repent of sin and cleanse themselves with the waters of baptism. Repentance first and then Deliverance. Today we know that arrogance and pride are the number one reason people refuse faith in Jesus Christ. But if we repent and accept Jesus as our savior, we will be delivered from sin.
  3. The Blood of the Lamb: For God, atonement requires blood: Leviticus 17:11 "…it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” God instructed the Hebrews to paint the blood of the unblemished sacrificial lamb on the doorposts of the house so the Angel of Death would pass over them. Jesus came as the new Passover lamb, pure and unblemished by sin, dying as a sacrificial atonement for the sins of all mankind. Now, we must all be symbolically covered by the blood of Jesus to receive forgiveness from and reconciliation with God.
  4. The Feast: In the original feast they ate the lamb that had been sacrificed along with unleavened bread and other foods, and drank wine. By Jesus’ day the Passover meal (Seder) had become ritualized including starting with a prayer over the wine to remember the deliverance of the first Passover. Jesus used the symbol of eating the body of the sacrificed lamb at The Last Supper when breaking the bread: This is my body, broken for you. He changed the prayer over the wine from a remembrance of physical deliverance to one of spiritual deliverance: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” This meal is now our Holy Communion.
  5. Deliverance: The original Passover caused the death of all the first-born Egyptian boys and animals. It was so terrible that Pharaoh finally granted freedom to the Hebrews and sent them out of Egypt with all the resources they would need for their journey. By Jesus’ day Israel was crying out for deliverance from Roman rule and persecution. They expected their Messiah to come as a king and conqueror, driving out the Romans and reestablishing the line of King David. Instead, they got a meek and mild teacher, healer and miracle-worker who delivered people not from worldly captivity, but from the captivity of sin and death. This is a far better deliverance - a permanent, eternal one. But so many people then AND NOW could not fathom this gift from God. They didn’t accept His free gift of redemption then, and many do not now. Others, however, are just waiting to hear this miraculous Easter story of God’s love and receive eternal salvation.

There’s plenty more that could be said about the symbolism and similarity between Passover and Easter. In fact, a whole study could and probably has been done on it. For me, it all highlights just how almighty God actually is in planning and spanning thousands of years of human history, weaving together people and events to bring about His good and perfect will for us. He is so much bigger than we could ever dare to imagine. He knows and loves each one of us intimately and personally and yet can hold the universe together at the vastest and most microscopic levels. He is an amazing, awesome God.

PRAYER:

Father God, I am in awe of You. You have performed wonders, brought about miracles, woven together history, and yet are still concerned about me. I am humbled. Help me to share Your Awe with others. Make me an Easter Person who keeps the miracle of reconciliation and resurrection in my heart and on my mind always.

Easter blessings to you,

Jen Jahromi


Amazing Love


Amazing Love dkrBut God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Happy Ash Wednesday. Who ever says that? Ash Wednesday is a day of contemplation, fasting and repentance. Which is as it should be. As we contemplate the reason for Good Friday, we realize that Christ died for US. Not for ‘them’, or ‘the Jews of His time’, or ‘The Church’, but for each one of us, personally. We had sins and trespasses and secret shames on our accounts. That debt of sin was going to keep us out of Heaven. No matter how much good we put back into the world, we could not have paid off our debt of sin. Jesus knew what He came to do. He knew that His sacrifice would benefit sinners throughout generations to come. He knew that although He could not end sin, He could end the punishment for sin: eternal separation from Father God. And he went to the cross willingly. And once again, God brought something good out of something tragic. What the Jewish and Roman leaders had meant for evil, God used for the ultimate good: the salvation of the world!

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10

While looking up verses for my Valentine’s Day lesson, I noticed something that I probably knew on some level, but God poked me to consider more deeply. There are a few different kinds of ‘love’ verses in the Bible. The ones that might come to mind first are the ‘commands for us to love’: love one another, love your neighbor, love the Lord your God. I would also include here the Love is… verses that tell us how to love. I’ve looked at these verses a lot because loving is the essence of Christianity. However, the other day I kept finding the ‘God’s love for us’ verses, and taken together they are just so powerful:

Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.

Psalm 36:5

For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.

Psalm 5:12

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;

    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

Jeremiah 31:3

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.

1 John 4:16

For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Romans 5:5

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

May you have power to understand how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is.

Ephesians 3:18

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.

John 3:16

These verses prove the eternal Truth that “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19. To be Godly is to love. To be Christ-like is to love. And not merely to love those who love you, but to love those who reject you, who disobey you, who are your enemies, who don’t understand you, who will never know you, who may never appreciate your love…your extravagant, crazy, AMAZING LOVE.

PRAYER:

As we march into Lent, oh Lord, let us strive to show the world your unfathomable, extravagant, crazy, amazing love, and “let his banner over [us] be love.” Song of Songs 2:4

Jen