Gifts

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


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


One Nation Under God

One Nation IndivisibleThere is one body and one Spirit. There is one hope in which you were called. There is one Lord and one faith and one baptism. There is one God. He is the Father of us all. He is over us all. He is the One working through us all. He is the One living in us all.

-Ephesians 4:4-6 NLV

I hope you will indulge me just a bit because this all came together in a way that makes me believe it is straight from the Lord.

Last year I made this illustration. Those are real kids with whom I went to school, and the reference photos were all taken around 1976. Now last month I was feeling the need to get a little funky, so I created a YouTube playlist of Stevie Wonder songs. And I heard the song “Black Man” from the album “Songs in the Key of Life” for the first time. This song was written in 1976 for the Bicentennial. I’ve listed the lyrics below but give a listen because it is one funky jam.

The song recognizes the achievements of men and women of various racial backgrounds for their contribution to our glorious country. What particularly struck me was how many of the people mentioned I had never heard of or knew little about. It surprised me because my generation was bathed in messages of unity. We were teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony with a Coke and a smile. Sesame street was fully integrated. Even the colors of Benetton were united. But history still belonged to the Great Men.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in that for us now. In the Bible, Old Testament and New, God continuously reminded His people to care for the ‘other’: the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, the poor. Over thousands of years God kept sending the message that His world was made for all men (and women) and yet we didn’t seem to grasp it. Maybe every generation has to re-learn this message. Personally, I’m fine with that. It’s a great message. It’s THE Christian message. Others may try to co-opt it or twist it to fit some new-fangled ideology. Don’t scoff or mock, just tell the next generation the truth: the enemy is never people, the enemy is sin and sinfulness. The only identity that really matters is the identity we have in Christ! Red or yellow, black or white all are precious in His sight. We are One Nation of humanity, Under God, Indivisible!

 

Black Man

by Stevie Wonder and Gary Byrd

 

First man to die for the flag we now hold high was a black man (Crispus Attucks)

The ground where we stand with the flag held in our hand was first the red man's

Guide of a ship on the first Columbus trip was a brown man (Pedro Alonzo Nino)

The railroads for trains came on tracking that was laid by the yellow man

We pledge allegiance all our lives to the magic colors, red, blue and white.

But we all must be given the liberty that we defend,

for with justice not for all men History will repeat again

It's time we learned this World Was Made for All Men

Heart surgery was first done successfully by a black man (Dr. Daniel Hale Williams)

Friendly man who died but helped the pilgrims to survive was a red man (Squanto)

Farm workers' rights were lifted to new heights by a brown man (Cesar Chavez)

Incandescent light was invented to give sight by the white man (Thomas Edison)

Now I know that the birthday of a nation Is a time when a country celebrates,

But as your hand touches your heart, remember we all played a part in America

to help that banner wave.

First clock to be made in America was created by a black man (Benjamin Banneker)

Scout who used no chart helped lead Lewis and Clark was a red woman (Sacagawea)

Use of martial arts in our country got its start by a yellow man (Yamashita Yoshitsugu)

And the leader with a pen signed his name to free all men was a white man (Abraham Lincoln)

It's time we learned this World Was Made for All Men.

God saved His world for all men: All people, All babies, All children, All colors, All races, This world's for you and me.

(call and response with children)

Who was the first man to set foot on the North Pole? Matthew Henson - a black man

Who was the first American to show the Pilgrims at Plymouth the secrets of survival in the new world? Squanto - a red man

Who was the soldier of Company G who won high honors for his courage and heroism in World War I? Sing Lee - a yellow man

Who was the leader of united farm workers and helped farm workers maintain dignity and respect? Caesar Chavez - a brown man

Who was the founder of blood plasma and the director of the Red Cross blood bank? Dr. Charles Drew - a black man

Who was the great American heroine who aided the Lewis and Clark expedition? Sacajawea - a red woman

Who was the famous educator and semanticist who made outstanding contributions to education in America? Hayakawa - a yellow man

Who invented the world's first stop light and the gas mask? Garrett Morgan - a black man

Who was the American surgeon who was one of the founders of neurosurgery? Harvey William Cushing - a white man

Who was the man who helped design the nation’s capital, made the first clock to give time in America and wrote the first almanac? Benjamin Banneker - a black man

Who was the legendary hero who helped establish the League of Iroquois? Hiawatha - a red man

Who was the leader of the first microbiotic center in America? Michio Kushi- a yellow man

Who was the founder of the city of Chicago in 1772? Jean Baptiste - a black man

Who was one of the organizers of the American Indian Movement? Denis Banks - a red man

Who was the Jewish financier who raised funds to sponsor Christopher Columbus' voyage to America? Luis de Santángel - a white man

Who was the woman who led countless slaves to freedom on the underground railroad? Harriet Tubman - a black woman

 

Blessings of Freedom to all,

Jen


Make Lemonade

LemonadeFrom his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

–John  1:16

When we look back at 2020-2021 I doubt that the first thing we’ll think of is blessings or gratitude or abundance. But perhaps it’s time to reframe our perception!

Apparently fear sells soap and wins elections, and so that’s what we’ve been inundated with since early 2020 and even well before. A spirit of fear has invaded our lives for far too long. Worry over what might happen has kept too many of us from seeing all the good things that DID happen and the bad things that DIDN’T happen.

Despite the virulence of COVID, by and large the curve WAS flattened and the majority of hospitals were not overwhelmed and most patients received the competent care they deserved. Despite broken supply chains, most stores and companies were able to ‘pivot’ and consumers were able to do without or try something different, and our economy is on its way to recovery. Despite many restaurant and business closures and resulting lost jobs, the government, the charities and the churches stepped in in a big way to try to keep people in their homes with food on the table. Praise God that many families were able to keep working from home, going to school from home, and had the resources to weather this storm. Division and anger threatened to unravel our country, but it is still holding together. Violence has taken hold in cities around our country, but this is stirring communities, churches and various governments to work together, speak out and address issues that have been swept under the rug for far too long. We value our health more, we take everyday activities for granted less. Our world has been profoundly shaken, but we are still standing.

Yes, there has certainly been tragedy. There is definitely hardship and uncertainty still with us. We are much less sure of what the future holds. But believing we could be sure of the future was an illusion anyway. Now we know the power of God to stop the entire world in its tracks. Now we’ve been shaken awake from our complacency.

This is a time to literally count our blessings and name them one by one! For all that COULD have happened, God’s loving, restraining arm held back so much. So many threats and fears were not realized. So much of what once was has been spared. Hopefully we’ve come to realize that it isn’t all about us and our plans, desires, and preferences. Our purpose is to do God’s will, and His will is for us to be salt and light in this world. Salt sitting in the cupboard doesn’t preserve anything. Salt sitting in the cupboard doesn’t flavor anything. And you can’t turn down the darkness – you have to turn up the light. To reach a battered, broken, hurting, vulnerable world, we need to be out in it: not just in the soup kitchens, but in the cities, on the internet, in the schools, in the national conversation. We need to show the world the love and grace we have received. And we need to be always praying and praising God with gratitude for all He has done for us and given to us and for His hand of protection that remains over us.

How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world. – Psalm 31:19

Blessings!

Jen Jahromi


Go Confidently

Go Confidently Rainbow

 

It’s a funny trick of time that at the moment when our children are finishing school and stepping out into ‘real adult life’ for the first time, we are in the reminiscing phase of life where we can look back at the un-glossed truth of our own past with all it’s joys and mistakes and adventures and disappointments. That small space of time seems to go by so fast. And I suppose that’s why all graduates are forced to endure the well-meaning cautionary tales of wisdom that we can’t help ourselves from sharing.

God himself has chosen to share some cautionary tales of wisdom with us as we travel in His way. And He has made it quite clear that, like every proud parent, He is concerned with our future success and wants us to ‘live our best life.’ Here is just some of what He says about it:

 

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

 

Philippians 1:6

Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

 

Proverbs 19:20-21

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

 

Proverbs 16:1-3

To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the proper answer of the tongue. All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

 

1 Timothy 4:12

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

 

Psalm 20:4

May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.

 

Deuteronomy 31:8

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

 

Proverbs 2:6-8

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.

 

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

 

Proverbs 24:14

In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul. If you find it, you will have a bright future, and your hopes will not be cut short.

 

Psalm 138:8

The Lord will work out his plans for my life— for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

 

Psalm 37:23

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.

.

Psalm 139: 4-6,16-17

 

4 You know what I am going to say

    even before I say it, Lord.

5 You go before me and follow me.

    You place your hand of blessing on my head.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

    too great for me to understand!

16 You saw me before I was born.

    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

    before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.

    They cannot be numbered!

 

As our graduates step out into their futures of uncertain opportunity and unclear expectations, they (and we) can be completely, totally, thoroughly certain of one thing: God knows us, loves us, has a plan for us and is always with us!

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE CLASS OF 2021!

Blessings,

Jen 


Freedom in Surrender

America autocor colenhLive as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

1 Peter 2:16

We Christians can talk a good game. We are so good that we can not only convince those around us, but even convince ourselves of our piety or our sold-out commitment to God. I’m speaking from personal experience here, but I suspect I’m not alone.

Of course, we can’t fool God. But He has given us a few ‘quizzes’ for us to take to gauge our true commitment. He is acutely aware of what we love in this world and what is most likely to usurp His place in our hearts. He asks us to give up the world’s security and put our trust in Him alone.

First is money and possessions. Remember that rich young ruler in Matthew 19:20-22?

The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?”

Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

First off, it’s pretty obvious this young ruler had convinced himself of his piety! But Jesus knew exactly where his heart and thus his treasure truly lay. Money itself is not evil, just the love of it that keeps us from sharing our blessings with others and with God. Generosity is a little quiz for us.

Second is family. This one is more difficult. In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” Jewish superlatives were different than ours, but the meaning is still pretty clear: nothing and no one can retain first place in your heart. It has to be Jesus first. 

Many of us have family members who are not Christians or who do not put Christ first in their lives, and it causes friction. It is challenging to surrender our children to the Lord and allow Him to work their lives apart from our advice and desires. But as the saying goes, God has no grandchildren. No one gets to Heaven because of the faith of a family member. We all have to make our own choice and will be held accountable for our own actions and thoughts and choices. Putting God before family is another ‘quiz’.

Last is our life. This one might be the most challenging of all. The verse above touched on it, but as Christians we should be thoroughly convinced that death is not the worst thing that could happen to us. As humans, our core motivator is to stay alive for as long as possible. But as Christians, our core motivator is to do God’s will. Our hope and our trust is that Heaven and Jesus are waiting for us when our earthly mission is complete whether that is at age 1 or 100.

As he was about to be stoned to death for his unwavering belief, Acts 7:55-56 says, But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand.  And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!” “

Surrendering our life to the Lord is the key to eternal life: If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it -Luke 9:24. And 1 John 3:16 says, “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.” Jesus urged us to love one another as He loved us, and He was willing to die for us, so we should accept that as a possibility. Romans 12:1 urges us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God as true and proper worship. We must be willing to love God so much that we entrust Him with our ALL of our life to use in whatever way He chooses. Complete surrender as slaves to Christ is the hardest test.

Thank you to all the martyrs, missionaries, first responders, soldiers and sailors who have given their lives for their brothers and sisters. We honor their courage and sacrifice!

PRAYER:

Lord, we surrender our finances, our families and our whole lives to you. Help us recommit to you daily as we forgo the security of this life to place our trust fully in you. We know that true freedom is only found in following you.

Blessings,

Jen


Time for a Spiritual Spa Vacation

Garden textBlessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3

If you’re familiar with the song ‘You Raise Me Up’ you might recognize these lyrics:

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be…

I realized the other day that this is precisely how I’ve been feeling. Not exactly anxious, not exactly depressed, but weary and burdened. It’s been a long year in which there was an abundance of troubles, from the biggest, major world-wide kind to the little pesky annoyances kind. Of course, there were still all the regular ‘this is just life’ kind as well. I spent a good amount of time identifying them, casting my cares on Jesus, and laying them down at the cross. The 40 Days of Prayer study was very helpful in reminding me to keep in constant contact with the loving Father who tells us ‘do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God...’ (Philippians 4:6)

Still, at some point, especially in the last few weeks, the burdens felt a bit more like the Space Invaders video game where you shoot at an overwhelming hoard of spaceships and they JUST KEEP COMING.  The promise in the second half of the verse above has seemed illusive: ‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 4:7)

If you’ve being feeling this, you are not alone.

And, I realize, my troubles are ‘light and momentary burdens’ compared with the stress that Jesus and his apostles faced, and the prophets before them. And what did those spiritual warriors do when they were pressed hard? They went for R&R: refreshing and renewal. What is needed is a spiritual vacation. You may have heard of people ‘going to their happy place’ or entering their ‘mind palace.’ Well, these ideas have their roots in the prayer and meditation that Yahweh instituted since the beginning of time.

I suspect spiritual R&R will require more than reading a chapter or two in the Bible or a few devotionals, but hey, that’s a start. I suspect intentional prayer, fasting and meditating on a passage of scripture, taking notes, asking questions and cross-referencing would be helpful too. These are like our Spiritual Spa Treatments.

Here are the passages I was meditating on when I drew and painted the above illustration. I think they’re good destinations for a Spiritual vacation.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 27:4-6

4 One thing I have desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in His temple.
5 For in the time of trouble
He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle
He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.

6 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me;
Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
8 They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

And of course, Psalm 1 above.

I pray that we can all find some peace, some relief, some refreshing and renewal sitting at Jesus’ feet for a little while even though there are many things to do, even though the enemy is prowling around us, even though in this world there is trouble. Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world! Bon voyage.

Blessings,

Jen 


Nailed It!

Nailed It BestJesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. -John 8:34-36

My pastor gave a sermon a couple of weeks ago in which he noted that the more convinced we are that we are wretched sinners in need of a Savior, the more we will serve Jesus with the passion of our lives. Luke 7:47 says “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

In our modern culture I wonder if we appreciate how serious sin truly is. Since the beginning of God’s law, mankind has been pushing back, re-interpreting and just plain fooling ourselves that we didn’t hear God quite right. Adam and Eve and that apple, Korah and his upstart followers, David and Bathsheba, Ananias and Sapphira and the lie about their gift. The world reads those stories and their take-away is that a ‘loving’ God would never be so harsh and full of wrath. God must be a narcissistic megalomaniac to demand such strict adherence to his Word, especially knowing full well that humans are natural sinners. Perhaps you’ve had that thought yourself? I know I’ve wrestled with it.

Here are a few points to ponder as you wrestle with the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin:

First of all, God is God and we are not.  in Isaiah 55:9 God says, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Proverbs 30:3-4 reiterates this from the human perspective:

I have not learned wisdom,
    nor have I attained to the knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

It is unimaginably presumptuous for any human to think that we could even begin to understand God or His ways with the 3 pounds of gray matter in our skulls. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and eternal. He somehow created everything out of nothing. He is waaaay too big and all-everything to even be conceptualized by us. In many ways it’s like trying to teach algebra to your dog. Algebra exists and its principles describe aspects of your dog’s life, but it will never be understood by your dog. However, out of His love for us and desire for relationship, He has revealed some things to us. He has placed eternity in our hearts. He has given us a conscience which understands the concept of right and wrong although we are free to override it. And He has spoken to some of us and in that way given us the Holy Scriptures containing everything we need to live our best lives. Who but the Inventor could really know that anyway? Yet from the beginning of time until now we have been trying to ‘backwards engineer’ humanity and work God right out of the equation. It’s as foolish as removing the batteries and expecting the gadget to operate properly.

Secondly, God is immutable - unchanging and unchangeable, and that quality is also true for His Holiness. Holiness is the perfection, or wholeness of God. It is a state of being. Instead of viewing holiness as God’s Law - as a set of arbitrary ‘rules’ which could be adjusted by the Author, I suggest that it is better to view holiness the way we view Scientific Law – a set of rules that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way which are discovered rather than invented.  Isn’t it odd that we readily accept Scientific Law but so often challenge God’s Law? In Sunday School I use the analogy of space to demonstrate this concept. ‘No man may come to the Father except through Me’ has been scorned as highly intolerant for centuries. Yet, consider this statement, ‘No man may get to the moon except with a spacesuit.’ Who would challenge that? That is not an intolerant statement barring those without spacesuits from access to the moon. It is also not a statement that overlooks or rules out other valid ways of getting to the moon. Rather it is a mere statement of fact based on unchangeable Laws of Science that describe reality in a true, universal and absolute way. Heaven cannot contain even the tiniest amount of sin. The only method for sinners to enter Heaven, therefore, is to be covered by the sinless blood of Jesus. Why? I don’t know. It just is. Why is the universe expanding faster and faster rather than slowing or contracting? I don’t know. It just is.

Finally, sin is death. Sin isn’t ‘like’ death, sin IS death. It is the thing that ended immortality in the Garden and gave us a life-expectancy. As sin increased, so did disease, war, hatred and everything that is not Good. Sin is highly corrosive and highly contagious. The more it eats away at us and spreads amongst us all over our world, the more evil there is, because evil is the absence of Good. Sin opposes, corrupts, condemns and seeks to destroy Good. God is Good. And sin opposes and seeks to destroy God. It’s difficult to see how a lie here or there, a little bit of cheating or stealing, some pre-marital fun or exploring other religions could make us enemies of God. But those are evidence of our sin condition, a condition that eats away at our soul, turning us away from God and Good, making us slaves to our own pride and pleasure. The only way to regain ‘Goodness’ was to buy us back - redeem us from slavery to sin. And that is what Christ has done. Sin held us hostage, but He ransomed us with His sinless blood. He paid off our ransom and debt and nailed it to the cross, marked ‘paid in full’ for all in Heaven and earth to see. We’ve been bought at a price – a very high price. Why was that the only way? I don’t know. I don’t claim to understand it, but I believe it.

PRAYER:

Father, forgive us, for truly, we know not what we’ve done. Amen.

Stay Blessed,

Jen Jahromi


Finding God in the Garden on Earth Day

Spring Flowers less luminous8 Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. 9 The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.

8 When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden.

-Genesis 2:8-9,15; 3:8

 

Kiss of the sun for pardon. Song of the birds for mirth.

You’re closer to God’s heart in a garden than any place else on earth.

–Dorothy Frances Gurney

Earth Day is tomorrow. No matter how you may feel about the politics around climate change and environmental issues, one thing is for sure: God created us to look after the earth and care for it. Genesis 1:28 says 'Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”' He has made us stewards of His creation. I think He has placed a desire to commune with or be fascinated by nature in all of us. I think this is a part of us that is definitely ‘in His image.’

God started His relationship with mankind in a garden. He planted beautiful trees and flowers and plants and came and strolled among them to meet with Adam and Eve. That must have been a glorious foretaste of Heaven, living carefree in a beautiful place with God as a personal, loving father. No wonder so many of us feel close to God in our gardens!

Then of course, it all changed, and mankind gradually became so sinful that God decided to start all over with just Noah and his family. Again, it all started with plants. What joy after 260 days on that Ark with all those animals to receive the olive branch from the dove and realize there would be an end to the flood!

And once God arrived back on earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, He continued to enjoy meeting in nature. Sitting on a mountainside, Jesus used the beauty of the flowers as a parable about how much God wants to give us and bless us.  “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30.  In many ways the Mount of Olives was the first church. And the gardening metaphors continued: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” John 15:1

Just as man’s sin spoiled the paradise of the Garden of Eden, so man’s sin spoiled the tranquility of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus chose to meet with his father in prayer one last time. Jesus went to the garden amidst the spring blossoms and flowering trees and the sounds of birds settling for the evening for his last good memories of earth. 

And in the perfect circle of completion way that God tends to do things, it both ended and began again in a garden at Jesus’ tomb. You may recall Mary Magdalen meeting with the resurrected Jesus: He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” John 20:1 And the irony of that statement is that Jesus IS a gardener: the Great Gardener, giving life to all things and sowing, nurturing, pruning and reaping souls to join Him in the Garden of Heaven. And yes, naturally, there is a garden in Heaven:

Eden Restored

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. -Revelations 22:1-2

So, if you find both delight and disappointment in your garden and on the earth, remember that you are not alone – that’s exactly what God found as well. But be assured that a time is coming when we will experience a whole and perfect garden, free of weeds and thorns and pests, with people of all nations tending it, protecting it and enjoying it.

PRAYER:

Holy and loving Father, on this Earth Day, help us to remember to be good stewards of the creation You have made. The earth and everything in it are Yours, and we are just temporary caretakers. Speak to us through delicate blooms and intricate patterns, cathedral forests and colorful meadows. Help us to know You better and appreciate Your glory even in our own backyards. And nurture the seed of faith You’ve planted in our hearts until it becomes a huge, sheltering tree amidst a fragrant garden that draws all those we meet to You and Your love.

Stay blessed,

Jen Jahromi