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July 2021

Heavenly Olympics

Olympic World GOALNo, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

--Philippians 3:13-14

I’m a huge fan of the Olympics. To me it exemplifies the amazing heights humanity can achieve when we strive for the best regardless of nationality, race, religion or age.  But even as I write that sentence, my childhood wonder and excitement are dulled by the reality of cheating schemes, politics, financial interests and accusations of bias towards and against various groups. I prefer to think about the waving flags from almost every nation, the cultural performances by the host country, the colorful uniforms, and of course, the astounding athletic performances that exemplify the ‘thrill of victory and the agony of defeat’.

I, myself, am no athlete. I used to joke about competing in target shooting or ping pong until I saw actual Olympic athletes in those sports! But oh, how I love the grace and beauty of ice skating and gymnastics. Or the speed and excitement of bobsledding and giant slalom. Or the nerve-wracking wait through multiple heats to get to the finals in swimming and track and field. I watch it all, even dressage, curling and water polo.

Each and every one of those athletes have trained hard. They had some dream when they were young and found a way to pursue it. Some overcame huge obstacles, some had it easier, but in every case, there was a lot of striving and pressing on. They had to rise to the top of their youth league, their high school, their college, their state, their nation! What dedication and perseverance that must take. They sacrificed sleep, family time, perhaps schooling, perhaps moving far away from their homes. There were doubtless injuries and setbacks along the way. There were probably dark times of doubt and frustration as mastery faltered. And as many family, friends and supporters cheered them on, there were others who criticized and wished for their failure, perhaps even sabotaged their efforts.

This is the picture of the Christian Walk that Paul paints in his letters. He frames it as a long period of pushing through hardship and striving fervently and unwaveringly towards the goal. Step 1: Forget what is behind and throw off encumbrances. Let go of the past. You can’t beat the ‘yips’ by dwelling on your past failures. God doesn’t remember your past anyway – it’s as far as the east is from the west. So put the past and its disappointments behind you and move forward.

Step 2: Strain toward the goal. Athletes do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. Press on to become more and more like Christ: instead of farther, harder, higher, stronger, we need to be more loving, more compassionate, more humble, more generous. Oh, it will require discipline and sacrifice. It will require giving up other dreams or plans or comforts, but the prize is eternal!

Step 3: The Heavenly Prize. Yes, no doubt about it, an Olympic gold medal is awesome. It represents a lifetime of dedication and competition. But it will eventually fade and crumble. I’m always sad to see gold medals and Superbowl rings and such in the showcases of pawn shops, but there you go – neither you nor your athletic achievements last forever. The Heavenly Prize, however, is eternal! Your Christian striving here on earth will yield an eternal reward. First, you are guaranteed to cross the finish line just by inviting Christ into your life and heart. But once beyond the Pearly Gate, there are crowns and prizes waiting for each of us. These are not showy tokens, but hard-earned rewards for meritorious service. (Matthew 5:11-12; Revelation 3:11; James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:19 and Philippians 4:1) Of course, if we have truly achieved a Christ-like character, there in the presence of the Lord Himself, we will likely follow the example of the twenty-four elders and cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet. (Revelation 4:10–11)

I wish there were a Heavenly Olympics here on earth. Imagine competing to be the best in the world at giving generously, compassionately serving others, evangelizing or being a good neighbor! Imagine getting a gold medal in praising the Lord! I’d watch that. Maybe in Heaven there is that kind of spectacle. Perhaps the saints and angels watch our good deeds and struggles and strivings like we watch reality shows. I know they are rooting for us and cheering us on.

So, enjoy watching the Olympics. But remember, you’re already in training for a Heavenly prize and an eternal crown of laurels. I hope to share the medal podium with you someday. Until then, I’ll be cheering for you!

Go for the Gold,

Jen Jahromi


My Light and My Salvation

My Light and Salvation TextThe sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.

-- Isaiah 60:19

I love lighthouses – really a big fan. I like to look at them, climb up them, collect them, both in in-person visits and as dust-collecting tchotchkes. And I draw them. In fact, looking back at my illustrations, nearly all my beach ones have a lighthouse.

To me they seem a bit magical: a guardian, a beacon to show you the way. In fact, light itself is pretty magical. It is both a particle and a wave. Photons give light AND heat. Plants absorb it to give them life. And in humans, light helps regulate our moods. In concentrated form, it can cut through nearly anything (lasers) and it travels super-fast! In my science fiction imagination, light is somehow connected to love which is like The Force in Star Wars and binds us all together (I mean, God IS love and IS light…) And did you ever notice that God said “‘Let there be light’ and there was light” on Day 1 of Creation, but the Sun and Moon weren’t created until Day 4? Tell me that isn’t a little magical…

Well, I may be over-stating the case, but God comparing Himself to light makes a lot of interesting and educational analogies:

Light casts out darkness. You can’t turn down the darkness, you have to turn up the light. Darkness is merely the absence of Light, just as Evil is merely the absence of Good. When you turn up the light, darkness and all the sin that happens there flees. Those who do their evil deeds in the dark just hate it when goodness and light shows up. God is Goodness and Light. And he asks us to be just that in the world.

Light guides and saves us. The original lighthouse had to be that pillar of fire God used to lead and protect the Hebrews as they escaped Egypt. For 40 years the Israelites had a Heavenly night-light to show them where to go, and to keep danger away. For most of naval navigation, lighthouses brought sailors safely to shore or kept them safely away from rocky dangers. Similarly, God guides us and warns us and protects us from danger -- if we heed the warning.

Light gets brighter the more it is reflected. If you get to the top of the lighthouse, you will likely see one or two giant rotating reflectors that take a relatively small light and magnify it into a light that can be seen for miles. We have no light of our own. In our natural state we are cold and dark like the moon, but like the moon, we can reflect the light of the Sun/Son and shine it brighter and farther - from the little corner we’re in on out to a darkening world.

The way even the littlest light brightens a room is amazing. At our candlelight service on Christmas Eve we light the entire sanctuary just with our individual candles. And the original light is not diminished one bit by the next person taking some and passing it on. This is obviously God’s plan. He is the tall tower of light and salvation, protecting us and guiding us, and we absorb the light, ridding us of darkness, and reflect that light on out into the world drawing more and more people toward that light and salvation, to find comfort in its awesome warmth.

Blessings of warmth, light and love to you,

Jen Jahromi

My Lighthouse by Rend Collective


Joy Comes With the Morning

Joy Comes in with MorningSing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
~Psalm 30:4-5


“Hang On, Baby, Friday’s Comin’!” Do you remember that iconic 70’s poster with the kitten clinging to a branch? We all know what it’s like to hang on, hang in, keep it together just a bit longer because relief is on the way. Often it seems so much easier to keep on keeping on when the end is in sight. That burst of energy you get when you see the finish line coming up. Or for me, the final hard push when I can see I’m almost to the scenic panorama at the end of hike. I’m always amazed at how much there is ‘left in the tank’ when I think I’ve pushed myself to my limits. Truly, hanging on a bit longer is possible.


But what about when the end is NOT in sight? How many hikes have I been on when I kept telling myself the mountaintop was just around this next bend, only it wasn’t. Nor the next one or the one after that either. Is this the right trail? Should I check the map? Should I just call it quits and go back?


In the Bible, God frequently calls His followers to step out in faith with no clue as to what will happen, only that the result will be good. Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Red Sea, Joshua and the Jordan River, Gideon, Virgin Mary, Peter and those fishing nets… It takes a lot of faith to trust God for a happy ending when everything looks mighty desperate or downright impossible. But I have seen the impossible become possible more than a few times. God can make a way when there seems to be no way. And in my experience, the outcome is more unexpected and better than anything I could have planned.


Here are a few stories of God’s goodness to us when we were desperate and helpless but hopeful:

  • After two years of being illegal immigrants in Spain, there was one final opportunity to get to America – apply as refugees through the Red Cross. The downside? If turned down, all other options were off the table and deportation to Iran was imminent. As the family waited in line, they were overheard by a nun. This nun in Madrid had worked closely with their priest and friend in Barcelona who was sponsoring them. She took extra time to review their case. In the end, they were one of the few families accepted!

 

  • As the city schools were failing, a plan was made to send the kids to Hereford Zone schools using the grandparents’ address. The plan was to return home to the city each evening. However, after the first month it became apparent that the grandparents’ health had been deteriorating and they were not able to take care of themselves without help. The ‘just for school’ plan became a permanent ‘relocation’ plan. The blessings were many. The city home was sold above list price rescuing us from near bankruptcy. The grandfather’s health deteriorated much more quickly than anyone predicted and he passed away just over a year later. By living together, his grandkids were able to spend more precious time with him, and grandma was supported through her loss and grief and also her deteriorating health.

 

  • Out of the blue police showed up at the door saying our son had been charged with a crime in Texas, although he had never been there. He had supposedly violated a new internet law they had just passed. They wanted to extradite him. By the grace of God a deal was made to take him ourselves. A criminal attorney was required which was ridiculously expensive. By the grace of God, a check from an Aunt’s estate arrived the next day in the exact amount needed. After several nervous and heart wrenching months, the law was overturned as unconstitutional which also allowed the whole matter to be expunged from the records.

 

Weeping may last for the night, but JOY comes in the morning. Enduring is hard. Not knowing is hard. Trusting is hard. And all the endings aren’t happy ones. But God has an amazing, supernatural way of weaving together the broken pieces of hopes and dreams and making a newer, better reality with them. He may turn you down a different path, a longer path, perhaps a harder path, but in the end, the destination will surpass what you had planned.


I’ve seen it with my own eyes. These are just a few of the stories. “All I have needed His hand has provided.” His faithfulness has been Great. And because I am sure of this down to my bones, I am also sure that He will work all things to our good in our future. I am not adventurous, I’m not a risk taker. I’m a planner, measuring out the cost/benefit of every situation before I make a move. Trusting my future to God with no clue how it will turn out is a challenge. But then I remember that, doing a cost/benefit analysis, what cost would ever be too much in doing God’s will? Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. And what benefit could there ever be that would be better than the plans Almighty God has for me – plans to prosper me and give me hope and a future? There’s a bet you can’t lose! God wants to bless us more than we want to be blessed – more than we could dare to ask or imagine!


So, hang on, Baby! JOY is comin’!

~Jen



Kind Words Are Like Honey

Kind Words Like HoneyWe are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. ~2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Many of our Devotional writers have admitted to feeling worn out and beat up after this long time of adjusting to life during COVID. I second that emotion. And what’s worse, just as the vaccinations arrived and the masks were on their way out and life hinted at a glimmer of normalcy, my family’s life took an unforeseen turn into the Valley. Unexpected difficulties, unexpected houseguests, unexpected breakdowns and repairs, unexpected medical issues, unexpected expenses coupled with other expected expenses and situations that are just up in the air and cannot be resolved quickly or easily have combined to create a stress swamp that we are just trudging through every day with no foreseeable end in sight. We are really feeling pressed, perplexed, persecuted and ‘beat up.’

I don’t do stress well. There seem to be a lot of Type A people out there who conquer every challenge and zip around from appointment to appointment and ‘get ‘er done.’ I admire that, but that is not me. More than 1 or 2 appointments, big projects or a long to-do list can put me in a tailspin. In those times I resort to ‘one week at a time’ mode. I focus on just the priority items that must be done that week. I break the big projects in pieces and keep lists. I’ve been in ‘one week at a time’ mode for more than a year now. Lately, it’s been ‘one day at a time.’ Jesus was certainly right in saying that ‘each day has enough trouble of its own!’ (Matthew 6:34) Frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m not crushed or in despair, but they are following a little too closely, circling like vultures.

If you aren’t currently feeling this, then I’m sure you have, or you will. Unfortunately, it’s the human condition to experience hard times, low times, stressful times, confusing times. It’s easy to feel under attack in these periods. And it could be that you are on Satan’s radar. Spiritual attacks are real and usually accompany the physical difficulties. It’s easy to be crushed or fall into despair, to feel abandoned and alone. Like a wounded animal, you may want to lash out or hide away to ‘lick your wounds.’ But resist this temptation. These hard times are exactly why God put you in a family and church family!

What you need is encouragement! You need those kind words to wash over you and bring healing to soul and spirit. I’m certain that kind, caring words from others stimulate your brain somewhere, like social media likes, flooding your brain with happy chemicals which probably make your body feel better for a time too. I see far too many people suffer in silence and go through things alone when what they really need is a team of encouragers sending notes, listening, praying and putting things into perspective. Sometimes, just having someone remind you of God’s many promises to be with you always, of his abounding love, or of his amazing ability to make a way when there seems to be no way, can really bring relief. It’s easy to get ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘valley vision’ when you are struggling through that valley of the shadow. When someone reframes your problem, or helps you to see it from God’s perspective, or even just reminds you that He knows more about your issue and has more resources to resolve it than you can ever imagine, it can open a window of possibilities and blessings that you couldn’t see before.

Being an encourager is a high calling. It’s easy to be cynical and critical, but it is much harder to play Pollyanna’s ‘Glad Game’ and find something positive in every situation. There really is always something to be thankful for, but you may need others to help you find it. I like to hold on to any thank you notes I receive. In these times when I am running out of ‘spiritual gas,’ re-reading these notes and emails filled with kind words, or even just acknowledging that there are some friends and family who cared enough to write them, is a true boost.

And if you, like me, can use a few kind words, here you go: If you are reading this devotional, then I can guarantee that there are some people in this church family who love you, who are praying for you, and care about whatever you are dealing with or going through. If you need a hug, or a chat over coffee, or someone to pour your heart out to, just ask! Linda, our office secretary is a real prayer warrior and is always happy to give a listen. I, myself, would be happy to listen to any troubles that aren’t my own! Our church is full of sympathetic hearts. It’s okay to unburden yourself and lean on others for a time, enjoying the sweetness and healing of kind words and loving hearts. After all, Jesus himself likened the church to a hospital where broken spirits are bound up, mended and restored. Hang in there, God goes before us and follows us and places his hand of blessing on our heads. (Psalm 139:5).

Blessings,

Jen Jahromi


He Lifted Them Up and Carried Them

    Balloon USAAnd he became their Savior.

In all their suffering he also suffered,

    and he personally rescued them.

In his love and mercy he redeemed them.

    He lifted them up and carried them

    through all the years.

-- Isaiah 63:8-9

I love America. I can’t sit through the American Adventure show at Disney’s Epcot without my heart swelling in pride and overflowing into copious tears (click here to check it out). It takes me back to my childhood, when every year my Dad and I would pack up and head to the Towson Independence Day Parade. Banners waived, local politicians shook our hands, bands played Sousa marches and sirens blared. That patriotic feeling of pride in our freedoms was planted deep within my heart. And even learning about her flaws and blemishes in college only soured me temporarily because for all her mistakes and flaws, she’s still the best and freest country in the world, in my opinion.

The hubby and I read a lot of books on various episodes in American History. And the more we read, the more we are astonished at the obvious ways God blessed this country and intervened to direct our path. Like the stubborn Israelites, we have at times rejected God, turned our backs on His mission and even denied His Lordship.  But despite our revisionist history, I think it is fair to say that we are a Christian nation. It was the love of Christ and desire to serve Him freely that brought the pilgrims to our shores. It was the belief that all people have inherent value and rights bestowed by God that underpinned our Declaration of Independence and later Constitution. It was our belief that God created us for good works that led us to grow our country with hard work and enterprise. It was our conviction that enslavement of other humans was repugnant that led to the election of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. It was our faith that evil can only be conquered by Good that led us to go to war for freedom around the world. Oh yes, I know that many of these ideals were corrupted by greed, lust for power and other ulterior motives. Just read the Bible and any history book to see that it has always been that way. Nevertheless, this county was founded and built to a great extent by people of faith seeking to serve God and serve others as freely as possible.

God has lifted us up and carried us through all the years. You may say that things look a little bleak right now. You may question whether God has lifted his loving hand of protection from us. You may feel that our beloved ideals are being twisted and trampled and the very freedoms that led the Pilgrims to venture to these shores in the first place are the ones most under attack. That may well be. Let’s face it, Jesus promised us troubles and persecution in this world. But He overcame the world, and we must too! This isn’t a time for hand-wringing, this is a time for sleeve rolling, and bootstrap pulling – and knees bending in prayer! Never has America needed the salt and light of Christians more. Never has our culture strayed so far from Biblical principles of morality and holiness. Never have more Americans been ignorant of the Bible, and unaware of who Jesus is and what He has done for them. The ‘news’ programs argue over solutions this country’s problems, but we who know the power of Christ, know what the only lasting solution can be: being born again into the family of God through faith in Jesus.

As we celebrate our freedom and the many blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, let us also resolve to be brave in our faith. Our country desperately needs our Good News of love, forgiveness and redemption. Take up the flag, but also take up the cross and confidently declare: ‘Imitate me as I imitate Christ!” 1 Corinthians 11:1.

Wishing you freedom and bravery,

Jen Jahromi