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March 2022

In Loving Memory

In Loving MemoryLove one another deeply, from the heart.  For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

~1 Peter 1:22-23

Four deaths in just a couple weeks. More saints gone home to be with the Lord. But in the midst of the funerals, we also had chances to be together as a family and a church.

And during this time the Lord impressed upon me that it is critical to love the living.  Our time on this earth is limited.  And the ever-present reminders of its fleeting nature are a reminder to us to share God's love and His Good News TODAY. 

Our life is but a mist, but our mortality does not have to be a sentence of doom. For Christians it is a source of great Hope. As Peter teaches us in the verse above, those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ have been born again to eternal life.  If you don't have this 'blessed assurance', I strongly urge you to read the Book of John in the New Testament of the Bible. If you do have this assurance, I urge you to overcome any fears and misgivings you may have and share the Good News this week with someone you care about at home, work or school. The clock is ticking. Although these conversations are hard, I think of a Sara Groves song, “Conversations,” which is about sharing Christ with a friend:

And I would like to share with you
What makes me complete
I don't claim to have found the truth
But I know it has found me

The only thing that isn't meaningless to me
Is Jesus Christ and the way he set me free
And this is all that I have, this is all that I am.

Maybe we can start simply and say something like “can I share with you what has changed my life for the better and helped me make sense of the world?” I know I share other things all the time: my latest diet, a new recipe, my latest fitness routine, a new face cream, an organizing technique… I share freely and there is never pressure for anyone to join me. I want to share Jesus with that ease.

And all of us need to be more intentional about loving those who are dear to us.  I was raised in a family that was not big on displays of affection.  But I have worked to actively overcome my hesitancy.  Hugs have been proven to be therapeutic -- try to dole them out liberally. Take every opportunity to show your gratitude and affection for friends and family. Let them to know you love them, you’re thinking about them, and praying for them. Of course, God's love is more than a 'warm, fuzzy feeling', so go out of your way to be helpful or kind when you can. I have a lot of work to do in this area.  While forgiveness comes pretty easy for me, selflessness sure doesn't. Still, we only have NOW to send that 'Thinking of You' card, or take that casserole to a sick friend, or share our faith with a friend at work, or hug and kiss our kids -- and spouse or tell your parents you love them.  Tomorrow may be too late. Peter goes on to remind us in verse 24 that 'all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,...' so make those loving memories TODAY.

PRAYER: Dearest Lord, thank you for all of the people you have brought into my life. Help me to put aside my own fears and selfishness to reach out to them with love and affection. Let me not pass by an opportunity to share your Word with others, remembering that the chance may not come again.  And teach me to walk in Your ways, so that I might bring glory to You through your Son, Christ, Jesus.  Amen.

Peace to you,

Jen

 


Nowruz Pirooz

No Ruz origI went down to the grove of walnut trees and out to the valley to see the new spring growth, to see whether the grapevines had budded, or the pomegranates were in bloom.

~Song of Solomon 6:11

Nowruz mobarak to all my Iranian family and friends. My haft sin table is set, the sabzeh are grown and my hyacinth is blooming!

No, I'm not trying to be cryptic. In Iran (formerly Persia) the first day of Spring is their New Year. And to celebrate, they use many of the same symbols of Spring that we do here in America. Dyed eggs symbolize new life, apples symbolize good health, as does garlic and wine, gold coins represent the wish for prosperity, the mirror doubles all the good fortune, the spring flowers and green plants are for new growth. All these things and more are arranged to set a 'Haft Sin' table, which means ‘7 'S's’.  Each of the 7 items start with the letter S, you see (although all of these below are usually included, as well as others).

sabzeh– wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish

samanu– a sweet pudding made from wheat germ

senjed– the dried fruit of the oleaster tree

sîr– garlic

sîb– apples

serkeh– vinegar

sonbol– the fragrant hyacinth flower

sekkeh– coins

The rest is much like our new year, with a countdown, a feast and perhaps fireworks. Before Nowruz there is a kind of national 'spring cleaning' both physically and spiritually. People do a deep clean of the whole house, beating rugs and sweeping out the dust bunnies. On the Wednesday prior, there’s the Chahar Shambe Souri Festival where people get together and leap over 7 fires to symbolically repent and cleanse themselves of various vices. Then, 13 days after Nowruz, everyone packs up and heads out for a picnic. Personally, I've always thought that the first day of Spring makes a much better new year than January 1. And by the way, in Iran the new year is 1401!

I'll end with some words of wisdom from my dear, wise father-in-law:

No one can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start from now and make a happy course.
I hope you will have a year that starts Right and ends Happy.

 

PRAYER: Dear Lord, let all the earth rejoice at Your creation, especially those approaching Springtime. In these dangerous times of wars and rumors of war, help us to bridge cultures and customs with Your magnificent mercy, grace and love. Help us all to shine Your light around this glorious world of Yours. Amen.

 

Sad saal bey in saalha! (May there be 100 more joyous years),

Jen


Who Needs Luck?

Irish Frienship Wish15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way.

~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

I’m a holiday person…perhaps too much. I just always loved the colorful classroom decorations for the various holidays as the year wore on, and especially all the symbols. St. Patrick’s day has lots of lucky symbols: four leaf clovers, rainbows, pots of gold and horseshoes.

I have no idea where the idea of ‘the luck of the Irish’ came from. But it does make me wonder if, indeed, there is such a thing as luck. I used to believe in that kind of stuff, but as a Christian, I find myself much more skeptical of luck, coincidence, and even fate or destiny. I now believe much more in blessings, God’s will and the hope of the blessed assurance.

Ultimately, we know that bad things still happen to good people. And we know that even as believers we have little control over our destiny, as God holds the future in His hands, and He is historically tight-lipped about what the future holds. Further, we know that we are endowed by God with free will to make decisions and choose how to live.

So then, how are Christians different than anyone else? The answer is in what we believe and how that belief changes how we view things. Non-believers may see themselves as victims of venomous fate, or see themselves as naturally lucky or cursed, or believe that all they have is due to their own hard work and smarts. But what happens when the luck runs out, or the business fails, or they fail? When things look bleak, who do they turn to? Where does their help come from? I can tell you from past experience, they are hopeless. They have nothing to put their faith in that is firm and unshakable. They can ‘hope’ that things get better, but unlike Christian ‘hope’ they have no assurance of a loving God who sifts everything through His perfect will and “plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Christians who truly believe and behave like God is control have no fear of the future while the world is in chaos and anxiety is pervasive. Christians who know God is in control don’t need to hoard or save excessively. They get on their knees, and then they get to work. And eventually this calm assurance begins to attract the attention of others. And when others ask about your ‘luck’ or your hopeful assurance, be ready to explain it. Be ready to explain that Christ’s death on a cross of shame freed us to live a life reconciled to God, as his precious children. And because we can trust Him to bring something positive for our benefit out of every situation, because we can rely on Him to lead us in His will, we never have to be anxious, we never have to feel hopeless. Our help comes from the Lord, maker of Heaven and earth. Our feet will always be on the solid rock even when the storm is raging around us. And when our time comes, sooner or later, to leave this earth, we know for sure that a glorious Heaven is waiting for us.

So, who needs luck? Just give me Jesus!

Top ‘o the Mornin’ to ye,

Jenny 

May there always be work for your hands to do.

May your purse always hold a coin or two,

May the sun always shine on your windowpane.

May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain,

May the hand of a friend always be near you,

May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

 


Seed of Faith

Spring Flowers…What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. ~1 Corinthians 15:36

I am not a gardener. I have probably drawn more flowers than I have ever successfully grown. I call myself “the accidental gardener” because most of the things that pop up out of our garden are a complete surprise. One year we left the Halloween pumpkins out too long and the next Fall, to my amazement, there was a crop of mini pumpkins which somehow planted, watered and grew themselves.

My lack of a green thumb aside, I love to watch things grow. I cheerfully anticipate the first crocuses of Spring, the hyacinths, tulips and daffodils of Easters past, and the buds on the trees. Spring brings a colorful renewal of life from gray, dead winter that practically preaches its own sermon.

The Bible is just FULL of verses, analogies and parables about seeds and growing. Like seeds, we also grow – not merely physically, but spiritually. And we need ‘good soil’ and ‘water’ and ‘nurturing’ in order to flourish and produce a harvest. Additionally, just as in nature, we must die to our old state (like winter) in order to experience rebirth and resurrection (like spring). And like seed, God’s kingdom starts small, growing in one heart, but increases exponentially as it ripens and is spread to become a blessing and harvest for many. Jesus and the Apostles used parables and analogies around all these various concepts to try to illustrate God’s kingdom and our part in it.  Here are a few of my favorites to ponder:

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-8, 13-20)

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32)

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

John 12:23-25

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

The Resurrection Body (1 Corinthians 15:36-39,42-44)

36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

1 Peter 1:23

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

2 Corinthians 9:10-11

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

Like a fruit, our seed of faith can grow and produce more seeds of faith for us to scatter and plant to create a harvest of more believers which grows the kingdom of God and produces more fruits of the spirit and more righteousness that eventually comes closer to bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven! What a wonderful blossoming of faith that will be.

Blessings of buds and blossoms,

Jen 


Facing Mortality

Young ManTherefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. ~2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, are the one time of year we are confronted with our mortality. Most people prefer to think on that subject as little as possible. Death is an inconvenience to all we hold dear: family, work, meaning, control, freedom, etc. But make no mistake, it is a fate that all of humanity WILL share. Pondering that and making a decision about our eternal destination will either bring us to the cross in humility or send us running into the world to try everything under the sun.

My mother-in-law has end-stage lung cancer and dementia. As unwilling spectators of her decline, there has not been much dignity in death. As hard as it is to watch, though, I am mindful that she is still a beloved child of God with a home in Heaven, and that one day, sooner or later, this may very well be my own fate. God was well aware of this progression, and through Solomon, he gave us a poetic look at our inevitable decline in Ecclesiastes 12.

12 Remember your Creator
    in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
    and the years approach when you will say,
    “I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
    and the moon and the stars grow dark,
    and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
    and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
    and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
    and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
    but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
    and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms

    and the grasshopper drags itself along
    and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
    and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

 

(My Transliteration)

Remember God and make a decision to follow Jesus while you are young before you get old and it’s too late, and the time comes when you find no pleasure in life.

Before your mind becomes clouded and your mood depressed.

When your hands tremble and your legs and back stoop.

When your teeth are too few to chew your food well, and your eyesight grows dim;

When your hearing fails and sounds are hard to hear;

When you wake up early in the morning and at the smallest sound;

When fear of falling and of crowds keeps you from going out;

When your hair turns white, and you’re your vigor and desire to be active are gone, and you no longer care for the things that once brought you joy.

Then you will die, and people will mourn for you.

Remember God now and be reconciled to him before the silver cord of your lamp is broken and your golden light goes out forever, before you can no longer be filled with the water of life, and your body becomes dust, and your spirit returns to God for judgment.

 

Yes, we were created to be eternal beings, but because of our choice to sin, we have become mortal beings, living in our ‘earth tents’ for just a short time. And this tent will wear out.

But death is not an ending, it is merely the beginning of a new chapter. As the Bible points out, a seed seems dead until it bursts forth with a seedling. (1 Corinthians 15:36) Similarly, we will receive a new imperishable body and be reunited with the Lord. How all this comes about is still a bit of a mystery. But the Bible does say, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” ~2 Corinthians 5:1.

For those who have chosen to fear God and accept Jesus as the Lord of their lives, taking his light yoke as willing bondservants, a glorious new beginning awaits us: ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” ~Revelation 7:16-17 And as Sara Groves sings, “I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of him, that must be very good.” (What Do I Know).

Blessings of Abundant Life,

Jen