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February 2022

Lift Up Our Hearts and Hands to God

Lift Up Our HeartsAs New Testament Christians, living in the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we are daily working out our salvation. We meet with God in prayer and in the Bible and He shows us the sin still lurking in our hearts or points us to ways to be more Christlike. This is a wonderful blessing.

But while we are working on being renewed personally, I wonder if we forget to be concerned about being renewed corporately. As the body of Christ, we, a finger or an ear, cannot be unconcerned about the rest of the body, for if the other parts are sick or wounded, we will inevitably suffer. Similarly, if we, as a nation allow sin to prevail without repentance and reconciliation, we should also expect God’s discipline.

Many have been wondering in this last couple of years if the Pandemic is God’s judgement against us. Or if the rampant violence is, or if the lack of respect for authority is, or if the civil unrest is. Honestly, I don’t know. But I do know that the Old Testament is filled with God’s warnings to His people to remain holy and keep his commands. He sent warnings and prophets to guide them when they strayed from Him. And when they refused to submit and repent, He allowed some pretty bad things to occur.

The Book of Lamentations is filled with heart-wrenching cries for mercy from those who had to endure times of great suffering. And what is truly interesting is that in all of that, the writer never blames God. No, in fact, he thanks God for his compassions that are new every morning. He notes the importance of learning to ‘take a yoke’ or humble oneself completely. He trusts in the Lord’s compassion in not letting hard times last forever. He trusts that the Lord will see injustice and respond to it. And he acknowledges the sovereignty of God, and that sin is the cause of their suffering. His conclusion is that he and the nation must return to God, lift up their hands and hearts to heaven and repent.

We have had a front seat view of just how counter-intuitive this response to crises is. We see so many, and perhaps ourselves, decrying the government response, or expressing anger at neighbors over vaccinations, masking or politics. We see people protesting angrily from every political spectrum. We watch Congressional hearings try to pinpoint causes and point fingers. But do we see an acknowledgement that God is sovereign and hear prayers for mercy and forgiveness? Have we seen prayers of repentance from the Body of Christ, and from the nation?

I know that our little church certainly has been acknowledging and praying. But surveys are suggesting that many have fallen away from church in general, quite different from the nationwide response after 9/11. I can’t help but feel that the answer is, as it always has been, more Jesus, more prayer, and more repentance. So, join me in lifting your hearts and hands to God in heaven and begging God for his compassions and lovingkindness, even as we search our hearts and ask God to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Jerusalem was eventually restored by God through the righteous – so great is His faithfulness. I pray our nation and world will be too.

LAMENTATIONS 3:19-42

19 I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.

28 Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.

31 For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
    or grief to anyone.

34 To crush underfoot
    all prisoners in the land,
35 to deny people their rights
    before the Most High,
36 to deprive them of justice—
    would not the Lord see such things?

37 Who can speak and have it happen
    if the Lord has not decreed it?
38 Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that both calamities and good things come?
39 Why should the living complain
    when punished for their sins?

40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
    and let us return to the Lord.
41 Let us lift up our hearts and our hands
    to God in heaven, and say:
42 “We have sinned and rebelled
    and you have not forgiven.

With hope and repentance,

Jen 


A Love Letter from God

Love Letter from Christ - FrontLove never stops being patient, never stops believing, never stops hoping, never gives up. Love never comes to an end.... So these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. But the best one of these is love.

– 1 Corinthians 13:7-8,13

Valentine’s Day…some loathe it, some love it. I’m in the latter category. Despite the claims that it is a ploy created by card companies to sell more cards, I’m still all for a day that begs you to tell those you love how you feel. Besides, selling cards is also MY business! But honestly, I chose cards because I really, truly believe there are not enough kind words and encouragement out there. We all would love to have one more chance to send a dearly departed loved one a goofy, sappy valentine card with some groaner of a pun, i.e.: I love you a latte! ☕

My hubby and I are not the most romantic people. We appreciate the little things and honestly, most Valentine’s Days pass without a romantic night out, flowers or gifts and definitely without boxes of chocolate! But we do take the opportunity to fill a card, or perhaps just a note paper, with the mushiest, most sentimental expressions of affection and gratitude. We like to pretend it’s a contest to see who can make the other cry (I ALWAYS lose), but actually, it’s a much-needed anchor in a stormy world full of vicissitudes. I still have all those cards in a drawer. Every now and then I read over them, remembering the tough years and the good years, and you could never tell which was which from those cards because they all affirm the love and the value of the relationship despite the current circumstances.

While my hubby was away for National Guard training, we wrote many letters to each other. Because of our separation, the letters were filled not just with love and encouragement, but also with promises and hopes and plans for the future. We both remember the excitement we felt when we read those letters.

God, himself, decided his precious creation – us – needed the same sort of kind words, promises and encouragement. So, he wrote us a love letter. A love letter 66 books long: The Holy Bible!  The Bible is truly a love letter from God. In it, he writes about the value of having a relationship with us, his hurt and disappointment when we rejected his love, and his joy at being loved by us. He also enumerates promise after promise concerning giving us all the best things this life has to offer, things like joy, hope, faithfulness, salvation, protection, and eternal spiritual life. And because we are currently deployed far from home, separated from him, he tells us how much he longs to be together with us, and how he has wonderful plans for our lives and a place prepared for us so that we can be with him forever.

In the good times and the tough times, his promises stand. His love and faithfulness remain as a beacon of hope and strength while we’re apart. And like my Valentine’s Day cards, his words are a sure and steady anchor in a world full of uncertainty, chaos, distractions and temptations.

With love,

Jen


A Traveler's Tale

A traveler was walking through the wilderness. As he crested a rocky hill, he heard a weak, desperate bleat. Going over to a low thicket he spied a sheep hopelessly caught in the thorns. Pulling out his multi-tool, the traveler quickly cut away the thorns and freed the sheep.

“How did this happen?” the traveler asked.

“Oh,” began the hurting sheep, “I was with the flock, being led by the shepherd, the same as every day. Then I saw a rabbit over here eating some tasty looking berries. I wandered over here to have some. They were farther in the thicket than I thought, and I scratched my nose and legs. Worst of all, the berries were bitter and terrible. When I tried to leave, I realized I was stuck, and I didn’t even know which way the flock went. All I want now is to get back to the shepherd.”

“Everything will be alright,” said the traveler. “I know the way to the Shepherd.”

They continued down the road together and eventually came to a town. As they strolled down the main street, they heard the sound of loud sweeping down a side street. Turning to check it out, the traveler spied a silver coin in the dust at their feet. He stooped to pick it up and noticed that the face on it seemed to be crying.

Bemused, the traveler said, “Well, how did you get here?”

The face on the coin blinked and said, “I belong to a poor widow. I am her dearest treasure. She was counting me and the other coins when a chariot rode by at top speed and rattled the table. I fell off, and as luck would have it, I landed on my edge and rolled right under the door. Now I’m lost! I’m lost and I’ll never be found!

“Everything will be alright,” said the traveler. “Nothing can truly separate you.”

The traveler took the coin to sound of sweeping where there was a joyful reunion. After a small neighborhood celebration, the traveler invited the widow to come along with them. He promised her that where they were going, all that she had would always be enough. She gladly accepted.

They continued out of the town and out into the countryside dotted with farms. As they passed close to one farm they noticed a loud grunting of pigs. Turning to look, they saw a young man with a pail full of rotted fruit balancing on a hay bail to feed a group of excited pigs. As he swung the pail, the momentum carried him over the fence and into the pigpen, full of mud and filth.

“Do you need some help?” asked the Traveler, kindly.

“I’m beyond help,” cried the young man. “I’m beyond hope!”

“Not at all,” the Traveler reassured him. “Where we’re headed, everyone gets just what they need. It’s a place full of help, full of hope and full of love. Would you like to come with us?”

“You don’t want me. I was so selfish. I rejected my father and demanded my inheritance. I left him to go my own way. I was going to make it big, but I spent all I had trying to impress strangers, doing things I don’t even want to remember. They all left when the money ran out. Now I’m alone with no family…just pigs.”

“Sounds like what you really need is forgiveness,” offered the Traveler. “I promise you will find it where we’re headed.”

The young man climbed out of the pigpen and joined the band on their way. They traveled a long time, with the mysterious traveler telling them wonderful stories of the place they were headed. Finally, on a hill, far away, they saw an estate. As they got closer, they saw an old man running out to meet them followed by a trail of servants.

“Oh! I’ve been waiting for you all!” He cried, embracing them one by one. He had the servants place a robe on them. Finally, he embraced the muddy young man.

“Father? Father!” the youth cried, as the old man embraced him.

"All is forgiven, my dear son."

The old man wiped tears from his eyes. “We shall have a great feast! You will all be washed and dressed in fine linen. You’re part of the family, now. I have special rooms, prepared just for you. Whatever you need, just ask and it will be given!

And the sheep that wandered found a home. And the coin that was lost, was given a special place of honor. And the son that willfully rejected his father, was forgiven and reunited with his loving family.

Adapted from Luke 15

“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Whether you wandered away, distracted by the world with its charms and its worries, or got lost because of an unfortunate decision or mistake, or willfully rejected the Father and His love, remember, there is always a place for you in the Father’s house. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Your inheritance of grace, mercy and forgiveness are waiting for you.

Blessings,

Jen


New Year all Year

0210131602aHappy New Year! What again? Yes, Tuesday began the Lunar New Year – Year of the Tiger. Supposedly, the tiger is commonly associated with something like bravery, courage and strength, and can also be viewed as an uplifting animal that can give people hope. Another animal that can give people hope is Punxsutawney Phil, that prognosticating groundhog who will either predict a longer winter or early spring.

In just a few more months at the Vernal Equinox, spring will arrive and with it, Nowruz, the Persian New Year. And then a season later, in September, Rosh Hashana will bring the Jewish New Year.  So, if you’re having trouble with your resolutions, you have plenty of opportunities for a ‘mulligan’ or do-over!  For that matter, as the saying goes, ‘tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life!’ So every day is the day to start.

Jesus was all about the fresh starts. In fact, that’s why He came. You mess up, you make a big mistake, you make a bad decision…the world might never let you forget it, but Jesus will forgive and give you a clean slate. Confession will cover you in His grace and God will see only His righteousness, not your sin.  For anyone who has lived with shame and regret, this is such a wonderful experience to let go of the burdens of sin weighing you down!

People seem to love the next new thing: new cars, new homes, new cell phones, the latest fashions, new vacation destinations, new crossword puzzles… New can be really exciting. And now the New Thing can be YOU!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

…Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Colossians 3:9-11)

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

So, whether you are looking forward to dancing dragons, groundhogs, bunnies or the Year of the Tiger, make sure that for you and your family this is also the Year of the Lamb – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and who is just thrilled to take away YOUR sins and give you a fresh start full of courage, strength and hope.

Blessings of Newness,

Jen