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December 2021

New Chapter

New ChapterWhy, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. ~James 4:14

Perspective is everything. The same situation with the same facts can be perceived completely differently by different people. Even a sentence like “Let’s eat Grandma!” can be an invitation TO dinner, or an invitation to BE dinner.

The above verse in James can be read in two different ways as well. Read with a pessimistic or fatalistic spirit, the verse could seem depressing. It expresses that we have no knowledge or control over what the future holds, and furthermore that our life is pitifully short in the grand scheme of things. Those statements are all true, although many do not care to admit it, or grasp the ultimate importance of this truth. However, read with a more optimistic, adventurous spirit, that same verse is a challenge. Life is short, so make the most of the time you have, use it wisely and step out in faith knowing that God holds it all in His hands!

Jesus told us “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32).  I really believe this. And some of the truth Jesus wants us to understand is ‘hard truth.’ You know, the kind of stuff that unsaved people don’t want to think about. Often, we, ourselves, don’t want to think about it.

Like: Life is unpredictable. There is no way to be sure what tomorrow will bring, let alone next week, or next year. Life is also unfair. Some people are born rich, beautiful or athletic while others are born poor, with lower IQs, or with disabilities. Some have loving homes, some not so much. We don’t get to choose for ourselves. Life is short. Even the longest human lifespan is a mere scratch on timeline of eternity. And death is inevitable. It comes for us all. Finally, any sense of control over these things we may feel is only an illusion.

When I reached adolescence and figured out these truths, I had that existential crisis many of us experience. What’s the point of living? Why bother going on at all? Am I just a pawn in the universe’s chess match? If you have teens and twenty-somethings in your life, I guarantee you these thoughts are in their heads. Perhaps you’ve thought them. Perhaps you still do.

That is why it is CRITICAL to understand how these truths can set you free! Life is unpredictable, that is true, so really, ALL things are possible. Amazing, wonderful, profoundly good things can be in our future! We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we can know that God holds our tomorrows. We can have a relationship with a loving God, who like the best parent ever, wants to teach us and guide us to our most fulfilling future. Sometimes the growth He wants for us is a little painful, but it is always for our best interests.

Life is sadly unfair. We do not all start at Go with $1,500 and the same number of rolls of the dice. Lucky for us, the point of life is not to own all the property and make all the money! God created us all differently with different strengths and weakness, different talents and challenges. Our goal is not to be the ‘best’ as our time and culture defines it, but to be the best version of ourselves as God defines that. And God defines that in Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “

Life is short and death is inevitable. If you need deadlines to get you going the way I do, then this is a motivator! No time to put off good works, dream trips, hugs, difficult discussions, or sharing the Good News. No time to delay in attending church, raising the kids to know Jesus, reading the Bible.

But also, although death in this world is inevitable, life in the next realm is ETERNAL! One thing we have complete control over is whether we choose to have a relationship with God by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior whose perfect sacrifice cleanses our sin and enables us to spend eternity in Heaven!

This is where the adventure is begun! Accepting Jesus as the Lord of your life is a daring adventure where your needs are provided by Almighty God, an amazing journey where miracles happen every day, a wonderful new chapter of answered prayer and movements of the Holy Spirit. Start that new chapter today! You don’t know what tomorrow will bring…isn’t that exciting?

Wishing you Blessings in the New Year,

Jen

**if you didn't get my new 2022 calendar and you want one, you can purchase one at Illustrated Christian Scripture Calendar

 


Joy!

Joy God with usBe joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. - Romans 12:12

Someone recently asked me what my ‘word for the year’ would be. (If you‘re not familiar with this concept, may I recommend One Perfect Word, by Debbie Macomber which encourages readers to intentionally focus —and act— on a single word for a whole year.) I took a moment to ponder this. The first thought that popped in my head was the word I would use to describe 2021: UNCERTAINTY. Then I considered what the opposite of that might be and ASSURANCE is what came to me. I give the Holy Spirit total credit for putting those words in my feeble mind.

UNCERTAINTY. We’ve all been feeling it. Even the few things we thought would be predictable have turned out to have twists: vaccines, elections, the weather, the economy. In my family it’s been multiplied: post-graduation plans, vacations, careers, elder-care decisions all put in a permanent holding pattern. Added to that were various emergencies that needed immediate attention: home repairs, health issues, technology problems. And then the cloud of uncertainty began to rain with two pet deaths, an extended hospital stay, an upcoming surgery and a cancer diagnosis.

What I learned from all of this is that humans really need a certain amount of certainty in order to function. Worldwide, I think we’ve exceeded the recommended amount of uncertainty, and this is perhaps what has led to so much stress, anxiety and dysfunction by so many people in so many places.

This was definitely the case in Israel in the Year 0. The weary world had been waiting. A Messiah King who would be Savior to the world had been prophesied from long ago. He had been implied since the beginning, in the Book of Genesis, and written about often in the Book of Psalms. Isaiah 7:14 says “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). That was written somewhere around 740 to 700 BC!

By Year 0, though, uncertainty reigned, and most had given up even hoping. Yet, a few were ‘joyful in hope, patient in affliction and faithful in prayer’ and had a steadfast assurance that God would be with us in the person of Messiah. “Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.” -Luke 2:25 There was also a prophet, Anna…. She was very old; … She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” -Luke 2:36-37 I suspect that there were some in Israel who thought they were wasting their lives spending so much time at the Temple, praying and waiting and believing with assurance that Messiah was on His way.  I’m sure there had been others in all those hundreds of years who believed fervently but never got to see the Christ. They were all correct – He came! – and they are all certainly in Heaven now waiting for Him to come to earth again.

We, too, are waiting. “For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet seen of old, when with the ever-circling years shall come the time foretold when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling, and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing.” (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear) What a wonderful promise! Christ was coming. Christ has come. And Christ will come again!

The old Christmas hymns do not ‘sugar-coat’ life on earth. Many were written in desperate times of persecution, war and upheaval. Even in our affluent, digital age of instant everything, there is still plenty to be patient through and to pray about. My prayer list has never been longer. So how did they – and how do we get from anxiety and affliction to joy? How did Simeon and Anna? ASSURANCE! The ‘hope’ we’re supposed to be joyful in, is the ‘blessed assurance’ that Jesus is ours and we are His! In The Redemption of Scrooge, Matt Rawle defines Joy as “the steadfast assurance that God is with us.” Jesus, himself, promised in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Sure, life is hard. It’s full of uncertainty. But the antidote to uncertainty is ASSURANCE: assurance that God is with us; assurance that if Jesus is our Savior, we are children of God with Heaven as our inheritance; assurance that the Holy Spirit will come into our hearts to comfort and guide us; assurance that ‘although the wrong seems often so strong’ God is the Righteous Ruler and has already won the war! Christ, the Prince of Peace, is coming again to claim His Kingdom, wipe away every tear, and make every believer fully whole and perfect! REJOICE! REJOICE! Immanuel has come to thee!!

Wishing a Merry and Joyful Christmas to you and yours,

Jen


Love Came Down at Christmas

Love Came Down at ChristmasSo the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

~John 1:12-14

I love the Gospel of John. Before I had the Holy Spirit to guide me, it seemed confusing and repetitive. Now I can read it and see the beautiful Truth it reveals: Jesus is the bridge between God and this world – He was in the beginning when all of Creation was made through him; He was when He took on flesh and came into our world as an atonement for our sin and the means by which we could be reconciled with God; and He will be again when He comes back to end this age and make all things new once again, including us. He is literally the beginning and the end of our story – the Alpha and the Omega (or A to Z in English).

And that story is a Love Story. God created the world and everything in it to delight His children. God IS love and He wanted to be loved, as we all do. He shared His Divine Wisdom on the best way for us to be happy and content, but disobedience and sin entered the world and broke our relationship. He sent punishments for sinfulness. We continued to disobey. He sent rules for us to follow to bring us back to Him, but we kept on breaking them. He sent Prophets to warn us of the consequences of continuing to choose our own rebellious ways, but we ignored them and killed them and suffered those consequences.

Finally, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” ~John 3:16. Of course, we killed him. But – plot twist – that was actually God’s plan all along! We THOUGHT we killed Him, but no…. Actually, He gave His life willingly, taking on the punishment for our sin, so that we could be made holy and once again be in communion with God, not just here on earth, but also in Heaven for eternity. “God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.” ~2 Corinthians 5:5. Not just God WITH us, but God IN us! His Holy Spirit comes and lives in us and keep us on the right path, continually renewing our minds and transforming us little by little into the likeness of Jesus.

What is Jesus like? Well, if you’re asking that, then get to know Him better by reading the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Listen to His words, meditate on His actions. Learn to recognize the voice of your Shepherd and Master! But here’s a quick start guide – Jesus is the embodiment of the Fruits of the Spirit which the Holy Spirit is continuously prompting us to exhibit: LOVE, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

God IS love. And God came down at Christmas to teach the world what Love is: joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. True Love is sacrifice: we give our time, our talents, our thoughts, our effort for others – our family, our spouse, our church, our community, our country, our world. We no longer live to please ourselves, but to please God by serving others, by repaying evil with kindness, by repaying injustice with forgiveness, by replacing curses with encouragement and anxiety with hope. Love is allowing Jesus to shine in us and through us to bring light and life into the hearts of those walking in darkness.

At this point I realize that what I really want to say would be quoting from one of my favorite Christmas Hymns, and since it says it (sings it?) much more eloquently than I, I’ll leave you with the last two verses to ponder:

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Author: Phillips Brooks (1868)

3 How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.

4 O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray,
cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Immanuel!

With Love,

Jen


Peace on Earth

Zazzle - Glory & Hope Zaz - Front“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.  ~John 14:27

Peace. Isn’t that what we all want? So much so that it’s become a trope answer at beauty pageants. So much so that we’ve invented symbols for it: ✌🕊☮. So much so that people are moved to make signs and go stand on street corners and in front of government buildings to demand it.

And yet… The history of the world is war, as my hubby often says. And despite the empires, kingdoms and warring tribes of antiquity, the 20th century was by all accounts the bloodiest, war-fill century of all time.

As an international history major in college, I pondered this A LOT. I was also studying political science and there were a lot of philosophers and politicians espousing ideas of various kinds of utopias if only we could educate the populace and give up outdated ideas of culture and religion. The cognitive dissonance was deafening.

cog·ni·tive dis·so·nance

/ˈkäɡnədiv ˈdisənəns/

noun

PSYCHOLOGY

the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

We are now living in a time when more people on the planet can read than at any other time in history. Even ordinary people in impoverished countries have some access to the internet and its limitless information on history, psychology, philosophy and politics. My point is that if the spread of worldly knowledge and the destruction of religion and culturally accepted morality were going to lead to Utopia, then we should be experiencing that now. Peace should be reigning as we all acknowledge and accept that there is plenty of room, food, water, medicine, money, mates, resources and everything else for everyone on the planet if we only freely share and distribute it properly and compassionately. Are you chuckling yet? Scoffing? Feeling depressed? Me too.

I think this was all part of God’s plan to lead me to Him. Perhaps it’s His method for leading a lot of people to Him. The peace the world gives is temporary treaties and negotiated deals that are all too easily broken when it suits a leader, a country, a movement. It's unsatisfactory and unsatisfying. The peace the world gives ends a war, but it doesn’t mend hearts, fix brokenness or soothe a soul. That kind of peace is only found in Jesus.

When Jesus arrived, He came into a war-filled world. The heroic Maccabees had retaken Israel from the Greeks a few hundred years earlier (that’s what Hanukkah is all about) The Jewish faith had broken into four different sects which vied for power leaving them vulnerable. The Romans conquered the Greeks and then rolled into Israel. A non-Jewish king, Herod, claimed an illegitimate throne by ingratiating himself to the Romans. Up in Galilee where Jesus’ family was from, insurgent terrorists – the Zealots – were harassing the Roman invaders in the name of God. The expectation was that Messiah would arrive and finally bring peace to His people, if not the world.

Mankind today still expects this. Luke 2:14 has been misunderstood for centuries. The King James version reads: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” which sounds like a promise to the world that God has decreed world peace and good will amongst mankind. When I was a kid that’s definitely what I took it to mean. And there was the cognitive dissonance again. 2,000 years ago, God declared peace on earth, but where was it? Certainly not in Vietnam, certainly not in the Middle East, certainly not between the USSR and USA. It made me skeptical of God’s word.

Later, I read it in the New International Version: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Hmmm. Much more specific. Not world peace, but peace to individuals. This is not the peace the world promises with treaties and laws and military build-ups. This is the inner peace of knowing that no matter how crazy and tragic the story gets, there WILL be a happy ending. No need to panic, the war has been won, the battles have been decided, the Good Guy wins and rules in perfect justice and love forever. That really is GOOD NEWS!

If our focus this Advent season is on tragedy, on the news, on world affairs, on social media, on frustrated friends’ and family’s rants, even on our own personal tragedies, then we will have no peace. Fear will invade bringing along anxiety, sadness, depression and anger. But if we can force ourselves to focus on Jesus, the emblem of God’s promise of the happiest of endings, we can live in peace. Our bubble of joy and hope, love and peace will repel the anger of the world, it will protect us from toxic attitudes and behaviors. It will not save us from hardship or persecution, but it will determine how we move forward in spite of them.

“So don’t be troubled or afraid.” Our happy ending is assured. As certain as that Hallmark Movie kiss at 1h59m, Jesus has overcome the world – He’s on His way back, and He’s coming for you!

Advent Blessings,

Jen


You'd Better Be Good

You'd Better Be GoodThis is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. ~1 John 3:10

It’s funny, the many different ways Christmas has been secularized. In most cases a symbol of something profound and holy has replaced the original thing and the sacred meaning has been lost or minimized.

Advent is definitely one of those things. In ancient times Advent was much more important to the church than Christmas day itself. Like Lent, it was a time of waiting, preparation and self-denial culminating in the receipt of the greatest gift ever given: God’s own Son for mankind’s redemption. And not just the first time 2,021 years ago, but also the long awaited Second Coming when we will receive not just the promise of heaven, but heaven itself will come to earth.

This profound mystery of God’s redemptive plan of salvation for the family of man has been minimized by our culture and reduced to a picture of children waiting for the arrival of a jolly man bearing physical gifts in the form of toys, candy and fruit. You can hear the echoes of Advent in the words of the Christmas classic ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list,
He's checking it twice,
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
And he knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake

Watch out, He’s coming! Well, that’s the central theme of Advent, isn’t it? ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord.’ Christ has come and Christ is coming. So, knowing that He is coming and that His coming is closer today than yesterday, how should we live? Well, we better not cry or pout!

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! ~James 5:8-9

He’s got a list and He’s checking it! Have you been naughty or nice?

“Yet there are some in the church… who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. ~ Revelation 3:4-5

He knows ALL about you. He sees you at all times and knows the thoughts of your heart:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
 You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.

~Psalm 139:1-3

So be good, for ‘Goodness’ sake.’ Well, God is Good, and God is Love and God is Jesus. But to say we should be good for ‘Goodness’ Sake’ to me minimizes the profound heart of the matter, the fundamental point of the Gospel message:

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:16-18

God loved us so very, very much that while we were still sinning, and still far from a relationship with Him, He sent His one and only Son to give everything He had – his very life – to rescue us from Hell and from current and eternal separation from the love of God. This love is profound, so holy, that our response should be unspeakable gratitude and love so strong that we willingly lay aside our will, our possessions, our very lives in service to Jesus as his hands and feet to bless others.

Somehow the message of GIVING our resources, our time and our talents in service to others at Christmastide and throughout the year as an acknowledgement of the debt paid on our behalf which we could never have paid ourselves, has been replaced with RECEIVING gifts which are owed because of our good behavior. The sinless Savior who was ‘God with us’ and who gave his own life as the greatest gift to all mankind has been replaced with a ‘right jolly old elf’ in a red suit who gives gifts only to those who are worthy.

I’m not a Scrooge who says “Bah, Humbug” to decorated trees, flying reindeer, elves on shelves or even Santa. But I DO believe in keeping CHRIST in Christmas. The Grinch didn’t have to bother stealing Christmas, it seems that Madison Avenue, Hollywood and modern culture has done that for him. But “what if Christmas…doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” If we who know the Truth of Christmas share it as freely as we pass the cookie platter, maybe a few hearts will grow three sizes…not from sugary sentimentality, but because they are now filled with the Holy Spirit of a loving God Almighty.

Merry CHRISTmas,

Jen