Gifts
Previous month:
March 2022
Next month:
May 2022

April 2022

Love Stands When All Else Has Fallen

Love Stands brite

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.

1 Corinthians 13: 7-8a (J.B. Phillips New Testament)

I had the absolute joy of watching my Godson get married this weekend. Seated with my best friends and their grown children, I could not help but think back to the time when we were in their shoes. It turned out that KJ and I had been married the longest of all the couples there. It’s hard to grasp how much time has gone by and all the ways we’ve grown and changed. Through all the vicissitudes of life, our commitment to each other remains.

Marriage is a good archetype of the kind of relationship that Jesus wants to have with us. In several places in the Bible we, the Church, are referred to as the Bride of Christ. And in Revelations, we see that we will be invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Like an earthly Bride and Groom, we will be dressed in special clothing, and bound together before God with great celebration. 🎊

As in marriage, when we accept Jesus, we make a life-long (and really, eternity-long) commitment to love, honor and obey Him. We promise to be faithful to Him only. We promise to put Him first in our lives and to consider Him before all else. We accept with joy that our former way of living as an individual, caring only for our self-interest has ended, and that a new way of life has begun. We are no longer our own. We live for someone else. We are a new creation with a new name.

And like earthly marriage, our relationship deepens with time. Challenges come, mistakes are made, and we learn how to grow and become better people. As we ‘do life together’ we learn to develop joy, patience, kindness, humility and many other of the fruits of the spirit. We come to understand that true love is sacrifice and as time passes, we get better at making sacrifices: our time, our money, our desire to have our own way, to have control over where life takes us and much, much more.

At Saturday’s wedding, as the longest married couple, they stuck a microphone in our faces and asked our advice on a happy marriage. “The wife is always right,” “be each other’s best friend,” “don’t go to bed angry,” were some of our responses. But I supposed we missed the chance to mention the most important ingredient of all: Jesus. KJ was recently talking about the Trinity, saying how just as there is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each person also is a trinity of body, mind and spirit. A marriage should also be a trinity – the couple and Jesus. We did the first few years of our marriage without Jesus in it, and it very nearly ended. There was little fruit of the spirit, little compromise, too much self-interest, and too many hurt feelings. Once we were born again through faith, we both realized that we actually did not know what real love was. I did a deep dive into 1 Corinthians 13 and was shocked to discover that I would have to give up my pride and vanity and throw away my list of wrongs and hurts! I was called to forgive even when I didn’t want to. Suddenly our marriage was going to look much different from those we grew up around and those that surrounded us then. I am now persuaded that it is impossible to truly, selflessly love another person without Jesus in your heart.

Married or not, the Holy Spirit can do amazing, profound, transformative work in you to sanctify you and make you the perfect Bride for Jesus. And this is who we were designed to be: people fully committed to Him, people fully dependent on Him, people sacrificing their will to His and receiving in return the unimaginable love, protection and care of One who can make all things possible and invites us into His eternal home to be part of the family forever!

PRAYER: Lord of New Beginnings, bless all the couples joining their lives together this wedding season, as well as all of those who are continuing in their commitment to one another. Send healing and comfort to those who wish to be married and are not. Stir the embers of love in hearts that have grown cold. Continue to transform us as we present our lives to You as an offering. Make us holy and worthy to be Your Bride.

Blissful Blessings,

Jen


My Work Here is Done

My Work Here is Done...to accept [our] lot and be happy in [our] work -- this is a gift of God.

-Ecclesiastes 5:19

After years of isolation and closures due to the pandemic, companies are trying to lure their employees back to work. Public facing companies and stores are increasing incentives to attract a workforce which seems less than motivated. Public service agencies and charities are struggling to find people to help everywhere from city streets to hospitals to war zones.

Everything about the job market, management and labor is coming under scrutiny. Young people graduating from college seem unwilling to put up with the hardships that people of my generation faced. But I counsel them that selling your labor is never an easy thing. We like to pretend we’re in control but having a boss to answer to breaks that illusion. Even Jesus himself suggests that life is hard work but reassures us that His path is easiest “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 Note that Jesus says you will still be wearing a yoke!

With the wisdom of some years, I consider what a blessing it is to have useful skills and to be able to put them to use to serve others, build something, or create and maintain the systems that make the world go. Work gives us purpose and purpose gives us dignity and fosters self-worth. To be sure, we are more than our occupation. But perhaps we are not more than what we do. Love is an action verb and so doing the work of caretaker for children or parents, the work of volunteering at church, the work of feeding the hungry, the work of visiting the homebound, the work of tutoring, the work of repairing roofs on a mission trip, etc. is the work of loving our neighbors.

Jesus was a busy guy. He was the original ‘man on a mission,’ and he never shied away from the hard, draining work of preaching, teaching, and healing. He wore himself out frequently but renewed his spirit by talking to His Father in Heaven.

Work can be hard, even a drudgery sometimes, but at those moments, it's important to remember Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” He is watching us, and our ultimate reward is from Him.  I know that's what my hubby was thinking as he and his fellow mission workers baked on a roof in Louisiana one day, only to watch fierce storms tear at their work the next.  Every bit of kingdom work we do here on earth stores up a treasure for us in Heaven. Laundry, cleaning the toilet, mowing the law -- if done out of love for others, and for His glory, will gain us the appreciation in Heaven that we often lack here on earth.  So, if you're overlooked for that raise, or someone else takes credit for your idea, remember that the only boss truly worth impressing is The Big Boss -- The Man Upstairs.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to find joy in my labor, and to seek approval from You and not the world. Let my work bring glory to You and Your Kingdom. And let me show Your love to others by being a servant like your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray, Amen.

Blessings,

Jen


The Nails, The Thorns and The Lamb

Lamb Crown of ThornsThis 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.

-- 1 John 3:16

In the Ladies’ Bible Study we’re doing Max Lucado’s He Chose the Nails for Lent. We’ve done this study before, but the revelations in it are so profound that it bears doing again. Plus, Max Lucado is a supreme storyteller.

I feet moved to share just a bit about the symbols of Easter that I had never considered before.

NAILS

Nails are meant to bring things together. They are also used to repair broken things. As a carpenter, Jesus undoubtedly had plenty of experience with nails. They were definitely tools of his trade. He spent his young life creating, building and mending. And in a very real way, he finished His life by doing the same thing for the Kingdom of God and all of humanity. Those nails tore his flesh, but as he was suspended between Heaven and earth, the joined them together by making a way for us to get back to God. Those nails repaired our broken relationship with our Father Creator. Those nails built a stairway to Heaven made of His body and blood and faith in Him as our Savior.

THORNS

Way back in Genesis when Adam and Eve thought it would be fun to be like God, God punished their sin by cursing the ground with thorns so it would be hard for them to get food (Genesis 3:17-19). So right there, thorns became a symbol of the punishment for sin. And remember Myrrh from the Christmas story? It was the spice used for anointing the dead which was harvested from a bush with long thorns. And there, after the terrible scourging, Roman soldiers made a crown of thorns and pressed it into Jesus’ tender flesh. The punishment for sin and symbol of death’s anointing turned into an ironic acknowledgment that Christ, the truest King of the Jews would take all the punishment for the entire world’s sin on His head until His death.

LAMB

In the agrarian societies of the Biblical lands lamb and sheep were a major source of nourishment. But of course, you had to raise it and care for it before it could be dinner. Later, the lamb became a symbol of sacrifice: first, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his only son for God and the sheep appeared, then later at the very first Passover when God commanded His people to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and use its blood to cover their doorways so that they would be saved from Death. Eventually, Jesus became the unblemished Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. How this works is a mystery, but there is a recurring pattern of God’s transforming work in our lives: that some form of death always precedes new life – and death never has the last word. Jesus, the unblemished, sinless lamb of God gave up His life in this world so that we could have life in the world to come. When we crucify our old, worldly ways to the cross daily, we die to sin so that we can live for and in Christ. We feed on the body of Christ at communion to be spiritually nourished and strengthened for the days ahead, just as the Jews feasted on their Passover lamb to be strengthened for their journey out of Egypt and out of slavery to sin and live fully as God’s special, holy nation.

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

-- Revelation 22:3-4

I have no doubt that God used all of these symbols and more in all of these ways, and more, to show us and tell us the most important thing that we could ever know: That 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

Wishing you a Blessed Resurrection Day,

Jen


RECONCILED, REDEEMED, RENEWED

 

Reconciled Redeemed RenewedWe all know the story of the cross and what Jesus accomplished there…but do we really? I find that every year I must ponder anew the profound work that was done on our behalf. I can usually focus on one aspect of the glory of the cross, but it’s much harder to comprehend just how much we needed it and all it accomplished for us – and of course, how much it cost God and Jesus to provide us with such an incomparable gift of love.

RECONCILED

Through the cross, we are reconciled to God. Sin is serious. Really serious. We tend to minimize sin because it is so intrinsic to our nature. But Heaven is a thoroughly holy place and not bit of sin can be there. So our sin has corrupted us, and made us unable to be with our loving God in a sinless Heaven. I like to think of this like the fact that there is no air on the moon. It’s just a fact, and there is no way to get to the moon without a spacesuit covering you. Jesus is our ‘spacesuit.’ His precious, sinless blood covers us and provides a way for us to come into the presence of God. But sin didn’t merely prevent us for entering Heaven. Our sin is also a conscious choice to disobey God. Our sin breaks our relationship with God. Through the cross God made a way for us to be forgiven, so that we can receive all the blessings and love that He wants to pour out over us.

Colossians 1:22  Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

REDEEMED

Through the cross we are redeemed from slavery to sin and the condemnation of the law. Sin broke our relationship with God. But it also broke us and our ability to relate to others. When God freed the Israelites from Egypt, they had been enslaved for so many centuries, that they did not know how to live on their own. They needed a lot of rules for living as their own nation, set apart and dedicated to God. On the mountaintop, God provided them: the 10 Commandments, plus some 650 more. The goal was to create godly people, but instead, their inability to keep those laws only showed them how sinful they truly were. Soon they became enslaved by the law, making even more rules so that they could keep the first ones and still failing, still mistreating one another. At the cross, God redeemed us from our slavery to sin and to the law. With Jesus’ sinless blood he bought us back, paid our outstanding sin-debt and made us free.  We do not have to remain in our sins for life, or until the next scapegoat, we do not have to feel guilt and shame and condemnation. No, through confession and the Holy Spirit, we can go boldly before the throne of God, our loving Daddy, ask for forgiveness, and it will be granted.

Galatians 4:4-6 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

RENEWED

Through the cross we are continuously renewed to become more Christ-like. We are broken people. Our original designer and creator made us to be perfect and live forever. We allowed sin in, and it corrupted our code like a malicious computer virus. It touches every aspect of our lives. But Jesus’ blood on the cross, spilled for us, provided a way of healing and restoration. The Holy Spirit now lives in us, and like hundreds of ‘nanobots,’ He searches out ‘corrupted code’ and restores it to the original, perfect design. This, however, is a life-long process. Our brokenness is extreme, and sin still corrupts us. But as we confess, ask for forgiveness, forgive others, pray and build our relationship with God, we gradually become more like Christ, the only existing perfect model. As we are daily renewed and transformed into holy people, we develop tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We learn to make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends us. Above all, we become love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And we let the peace that comes from Christ rule in our hearts, because as members of one body we are called to live in peace. And we learn to always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

Colossians 3:10-11 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.

 

A gift of this magnitude cannot be earned. It cannot be bought. It can only be accepted freely, with humility, because we know the cost was extreme. But God’s love for us is more extreme.

Hosanna, Hosanna!

Jen