Gifts

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


It's a Battle to Get Better

Armor of God“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

(Ephesians 6:13-17)

On my journey back to health I’ve had to learn some hard truths. I confess it is reassuring to see that the contestants on Biggest Loser all faced these too. The first and hardest truth, but the one most necessary for actual life-long change, is the acceptance of reality, and taking full responsibility for it. On a weight loss journey, it’s the hard acknowledgement that you are fat. I was morbidly obese. The morbid part means death. No one shoved pie down my throat in the night, I was digging my own grave with a spoon. Many of the reasons for that stemmed from lies I repeated to myself over the years that became a subliminal soundtrack in my mind: “You’re not worth the effort,” “It seems so good, how bad could it be?” “The doctor says you’re healthy” “You’re happy this way,” “You’re a disappointment,” “No one cares about you anyway,” etc.

You probably already see the similarities to coming to Jesus. We think we’re in control, but then, in the lonely, quiet moments, the truth of our sin and corruption reveals itself. And often what has kept us from kneeling at the cross are the same kinds of lies that the devil has been whispering to us from the beginning: we’re not worthy, we can’t be forgiven for THAT, it’s too much work to be saved, there’s not really a final judgement, people will disown you, or call you crazy, only the good die young, etc.

Whether it’s a spiritual transformation or a health transformation, or ANY kind of transformation, really, it WILL be a battle to get better. Nothing worth having comes easily anyway. And God is not shy in telling us in His Word that the struggle is point. It’s the struggle, the battle, that turns us into warriors, that builds character and teaches us perseverance, builds value in the victory.

So, it seems the Salvation Work-Out is a fighting discipline. Philippians 2:12 says “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”

ROUND ONE: Fighting the Old Inner Man. “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:19-20) This is a daily exercise. Like all exercises, it gets easier with time, but you’ll never be finished. If the great Apostle Paul struggled with it, we certainly will.

ROUND TWO: The Spiritual Battle. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12) If it wasn’t going to be a battle, we wouldn’t need armor! But God, the Great Personal Trainer, will supply all of the necessary equipment. Still, daily training is necessary so that you’re strong enough and know how to use the equipment when the actual fight comes.

ROUND THREE: Battle with the World. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to change you is the greatest accomplishment.” This has always been true, but in this age of social media, comparison and conformity are demanded like never before with real potential consequences. To follow Christ is to turn around in a massive crowd and start walking the opposite way. This is a full body work-out, but even more so, a battle of the will. Again, our Great, High Trainer is always in our corner shouting out words of encouragement, warning and instruction. And He is there to bind up the inevitable wounds.

Yes, getting better is a battle, but it absolutely WILL happen! “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.” (Philippians 1:6)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Whoo! I’m ready to suit up and get training! And here’s a pro tip, post note cards all over your locker room or training space (house or prayer closet) with your favorite inspirational quotes (verses) from the Trainer. He is the only One who knows our true potential and how to get the most out of us if only we will get real with ourselves, set aside our fear and hesitation and trust the process.

Get after it,

Jen 💪


The World is Our Cupcake

CupcakeIn the past all of us lived like them, trying to please our sinful selves and doing all the things our bodies and minds wanted. We should have suffered God’s anger because we were sinful by nature. We were the same as all other people.

But God’s mercy is great, and he loved us very much. Though we were spiritually dead because of the things we did against God, he gave us new life with Christ. You have been saved by God’s grace. (Ephesians 2:3-5)

I love cupcakes. They come in so many tantalizing flavors, sizes and colors. Cream filling, shimmering glitter, colorful sprinkles – they’re like little edible works of art. But there’s another side to cupcakes.

As I began my health journey over a year ago, I learned some hard truths about food. For decades the food industry told us that fat was the enemy. And beginning in the late 70s, the diet industry was happy to provide us with tempting, highly processed foods that were fat free. But to replace the missing flavor, they added salt and sugar. Sadly, this was the worst thing that could have happened because it turns out sugar is poison. Now, the obesity rate is staggering and the link between diabetes and heart disease is well established.

What’s more, studies have shown that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. And the food industry is well aware of it. In the 1970’s they discovered the perfect combination of fat, salt and sugar that would make a food nearly irresistible. It’s called the ‘bliss point.’ “Bet ya can’t eat just one” is a safe bet because using science against us they have created hundreds of foods that are highly addictive.

Back to cupcakes. Watching an old episode of The Biggest Loser the other day, the contestants were faced with a Temptation Challenge. Dozens of colorful cupcakes with all kinds of toppings were displayed on shelves. Under one of them was a prize. But in order to get the prize they had to eat any cupcake they touched. If they didn’t find the prize, they got a clue and could keep going. Many players participated, despite being 100 pounds overweight with health issues and on a weight loss show. The winner ended up consuming 1,300+ calories.

And friends, the world is our cupcake. The world and its sin and godlessness are wrapped in all kinds of tempting and delightful packages: promises of fame, fortune, beauty, comfort, acceptance, pleasure, etc. available for the price of only a bit of compromise. But compromise to sin has its costs – costs much greater than a few hundred calories. Marriages, families, friendships, businesses, reputations, health and souls can all be lost by succumbing to temptation and sadly, sometimes it only takes just once.

Satan’s job here is really pretty easy. All he has to do is to convince us to be selfish and do what makes US happy, what would help US. And after all, don’t we deserve to be happy? Don’t we deserve to get ahead? Isn’t everyone else lying and cheating and using others in order to ‘make it?’ And in the final analysis doesn’t God want us to be happy?

Hopefully you know the answer to all of those questions is No. We don’t DESERVE anything in this life except for God’s anger for being so disobedient and sinful. Everyone is not sinning to get ahead, but even if they were, “…what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) And although there are many good things God wants to give us, these are gifts to advance His Kingdom. His goal is to make us Christlike – humble, surrendered and obedient to Him – because that is what we were created to be and that is the highest, best version of ourselves which will lead to the greatest personal growth and deep, abiding joy. By God’s grace alone we have this option.

We are those sick, obese contestants reaching for the delightfully tempting cupcakes. God, our Great High Personal Trainer, is desperately trying to remind us of our final goal. He is trying to save us from ourselves and our addiction to sin. We know full well that in our own power we cannot resist the temptation. Our brain chemistry is even fighting us. The desire for temporary reward is clouding the joy of long-term success - salvation. The only way through is to fully trust, follow and obey the only One who truly has our best interest at heart at all times.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Your sister in temptation,

Jen


We Are the Lighthouses of the World

Lighthouse Collage“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

I love lighthouses. I’m not sure why, but I always have and now visiting them is one of my many ‘collections.’ Perhaps it’s because a lighthouse’s mission is so much like our Christian mission – to illuminate, to guide, to give hope, to save.

Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever. Daniel 12:3

Like a lighthouse, we can bring light to dark places. Part of our duty as Christians is to shine. Our light stands in stark contrast to the darkness of the world and points the way to Christ and God’s salvation. We can illuminate the goodness of living for Christ, and the Truth found in God’s Word.

Send out your light and your truth;
    let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you live.
There I will go to the altar of God,
    to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise you with my harp,
    O God, my God!

Psalm 43:3-4

To sailors arriving at port, the sight of lighthouses guided them to a safe harbor. To the Hebrews wandering in the desert, God provided a pillar of fire at night to guide them. And Jesus asks us to guide others to Him. The first step in making disciples is to bid them come and meet Jesus. He is our safe harbor, our secure anchor, our refuge from the storms of life. Once people are guided into safety, they can begin to experience what it means to find their rest in Him.

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.

Ephesians 1:18

For sailors caught in a tempest, a lighthouse is a beacon of hope. They know that the safety of the shore is nearby. The light of the Holy Spirit gives us the confident hope of the safety of eternity in God’s Kingdom. Hope is such an amazing thing for people facing trials. Just a small ember of hope can be the difference between hanging on and slipping under the water. We carry this precious hope with us every day, and we should be ready to share it with those barely keeping their heads above water. The sure safety of the Solid Rock is always nearby!

This is what the Lord commanded us: I have made you a light for the Gentiles, so that you could bring salvation to the end of the earth.” Acts 13:47

And there it is – our ultimate mission is to shine, guide, and give hope so that unbelievers will ‘see the light’ and find Jesus and salvation. The weary, the lost, the abused, those that feel unworthy and unloved can all find fulfilment in the loving arms of God the Father, eternal life in the friendship of Jesus the Son and guidance and correction in the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

This mission of salvation and guiding light has never been far from the American imagination. Not only are we called to it as individuals, but our country adopted it as our national mission from its inception. Now we have our own colossal lighthouse of liberty guiding all pilgrims to the Land of the Free.

…A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

 –Emma Lazarus

 

Have a wonderful, blessed Independence Day, remembering that all our blessings of liberty, all our vast lands and resources, all the wealth and resilience of our people are gifts from God because God HAS blessed America. I pray He will continue to, as we continue to serve and glorify Him.

God bless America, Land that I love, Stand beside her and guide her ‘Thru the night with a light from above; --Irving Berlin

Shine on,

Jen 


Your Kids Want YOU

Right Path… When Joseph arrived, he embraced his father and wept, holding him for a long time. (Genesis 46:29)

If I were to ask you to tell me your father’s name and a little bit about him, I would expect an answer like, “His name was Bill, and he joined the Navy right out of high school and then became a mechanical engineer.” If you continued you might tell me where he worked or lived or how many kids he had. But if so, that’s because you are an adult.

In Sunday School last week, we asked the kids the same question and not one of them mentioned their father’s profession. A few mentioned some hobbies, but by far the most common answers were about the qualities of their father: he’s kind, he’s funny, he throws us on the sofa, he draws with us, he’s creative, he builds things, he loves me….

To me, this is evidence of what Pastor Bill suggested last week: kids don’t want our stuff, they want time with us. I think this is true even as we grow to adults. A friend recently shared that she lost her dad when she was 15. One of her deep regrets is that they didn’t get to know each other as adults, to become friends and spend evenings just playing cards and talking. I know personally that I didn’t really appreciate my parents as individuals until the day I became a parent myself. Suddenly all their worries and warnings and stress made perfect sense and I regretted how selfish I had often been. Then our relationship deepened as we related more personally.

God instituted the family as the primary societal unit – our tribe. In those ancient days, mothers and daughters spent a lot of time together, cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc. Fathers and sons spent a lot of time working together in the fields, or in the workshop apprenticing, or walking to town. These were the precious moments of ‘quantity time’ that God wanted us to spend talking about the right way to live: “And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7)

The special events of ‘quality time’ are what we tend to remember the most: trips to the zoo, craft time with grandma, road trips, outings, special family meals, etc. But it’s in that ‘quantity time,’ being taxied around in the car, doing chores together, dragged along to the store, helping out at church, etc. where real conversations can happen about the real challenges kids are facing and how God wants us to handle them. And God’s laws and life principles bear repeating again and again, especially in these crooked times where the world will constantly bombard our kids with messages of greed, instant gratification, selfishness, self-indulgence, vengeance and all kind of sin.

If we want to raise resilient kids who can stand firm through any storm of life, we must always be teaching them the golden nuggets of our faith such as, “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:3-5) Watching us and learning from us how to actually live these principles out in our lives will be far more precious and useful than any ‘thing’ we could give our kids.

We only have one chance to lay a firm foundation under the ‘right path’ for our kids and teach them to follow it. And those years slip away so quickly. But it’s much easier to do if you do it a little at a time every day, do it with a tribe of family and believers, and ‘practice what you preach.’ Like Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)

Blessings,

Jen


There's A Snake in Our Garden

Young ManThere’s A Snake in Our Garden

I’m not a gardener. I dabble in weeding and mulch occasionally. But the other day, as I was surveying our front flower beds, I saw something slithery. It was a tiny brown snake. I shuddered but left him to do whatever it is snakes do. Later, I told Kurosh, “There’s a snake in our garden, beware.”

It occurred to me then that we all have a snake in our garden – “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” (Revelation 12:9) And like my little friend, just because you don’t see him doesn’t mean he isn’t lurking just out of sight. Jesus knew well that temptation would always be an issue, which is why it’s included in the Lord’s Prayer.

It seems to me that temptation is one of Satan’s most effective weapons in making Christians worthless for the Kingdom. As C.S. Lewis, wrote in Mere Christianity, “Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. ... We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.”

I face hundreds of temptations daily: temptations of distractions, temptations to eat what I shouldn’t, watch what I shouldn’t, spend what I shouldn’t. The temptation to remain on the sofa with a cat in my lap is a strong one. Temptations to cut corners, procrastinate, go easy, give up too soon are daily companions. I’m frequently tempted towards the ‘small’ sins like idle chatter, gossiping, swearing, telling white lies, exceeding the speed limit, etc.

But perhaps the worst is the temptation to ignore the important work God has called me and all of us to: caring for others, looking in on neighbors, defending the oppressed and powerless, showing mercy, refraining from judging others, giving generously, and sacrificing my precious time, etc. This is followed closely by the temptation to put off the daily practices which would make me mindful of my negligence to my Godly duties: prayer, Bible reading, Bible study, meditation, and daily acts of worship.

Paul really had it right in Romans 7:18-25: “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Evil is always dwelling in us, and Satan is ready to encourage it by whispering in our ears tempting us to do the easy thing, the pleasurable thing, the worldly thing, the thing that will not raise any eyebrows or ruffle any feathers – in other words, the wrong thing. As Paul warned in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Sounds a bit hopeless, but remember, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) We cannot, but with God all things are possible. Begin developing godly habits. God’s Holy Spirit will lead us if we’ll listen.

PRAYER: Lord, Guard me today against the serpent’s temptations. In my heart I want to love and serve You only. Help me to resist the temptation to go my own way and do my own thing, the temptation to live as the world lives and not as You have called Your followers to live. Stir up the embers in my soul so that the fire of devotion burns so loudly it drowns out Satan and the world. Put me to your service today.

Watch out for that snake,

Jen


Blessed Are The Peacemakers

Upon My Knees levels color col enh BESTBlessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:9-10

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation which designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which that ‘date falls as Police Week. Tens of thousands of law enforcement officers from around the world converge on Washington, DC to participate in a number of planned events which honor those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) is a federal holiday for honoring and mourning the U.S. military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Since 1971, it has been observed on the last Monday of May.

This is the time of year when I consider how very hard it is to defend the oppressed and powerless and fight evil and violence. Although I’ve been concerned about justice and society since my elementary school days (Equal Rights for Children!) I have to admit that I haven’t come to any comprehensive conclusions. Evil is the absence of Good, like black is the absence of all color. Since God is absolute Good, all evil and violence are really an attack on God and His kingdom. Evil represents humans going their own way and doing what is right in their own eyes. But remember that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) However, here are a few things to contemplate:

IT’S RIGHT TO BE ANGERED BY INJUSTICE AND EVIL: Defending the rights of the powerless is one of the things God asks us to do: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17) And Jesus, himself, had strong words for the religious leaders of His day: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)

BUT DO NOT RESIST AN EVIL PERSON: Jesus said it best in the Sermon on the Mount - “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:38-44)

VENGEANCE IS THE LORD’S: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)

GOD IS THE ONLY RIGHTEOUS JUDGE:

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

(Isaiah 11:3-5)

 Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

(Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Jesus is our ultimate role model for righteous living. He focused on bringing healing and repentance personally to individuals He met in the course of His ministry. He didn’t take up arms or foment rebellion. However, He didn’t shy away from ‘speaking truth to power’ either. He called for each individual – those in power, those in business, those who were powerless – to live their lives in accordance with God’s law of love, justice and mercy. And when He was unjustly arrested and tortured, He went like a lamb to the slaughter, without a fight, trusting that God’s plan was bigger and better. And wasn’t it though!

Be Blessed,

Jen


Keep Safe in God's Love

Keep Safe bkgdA Call to Remain Faithful

But you, my dear friends, must remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ predicted. They told you that in the last times there would be scoffers whose purpose in life is to satisfy their ungodly desires. These people are the ones who are creating divisions among you. They follow their natural instincts because they do not have God’s Spirit in them.

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.  Jude 1:17-25

I chose this illustration to represent the month of May in my annual calendar last year. And by God’s perfect timing, the scripture passage that is represented in it, is oh, too relevant to us and our church now. For those of us who heard Pastor Bill speak about the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church, there may be a sense of loss and confusion as our church drifts away from Biblical teachings in many areas. But remember that this is not a new occurrence in the history of God’s people and is also part of end times prophesy.

Looking at the various books of the Prophets you’ll see God railing against the religious leaders for leading His people astray and following the culture of their times. God’s wrath allowed the nations of Israel and Judah to be invaded by the Assyrians and carried off into captivity. Nevertheless, God brought them out and restored them to the land that He promised them. And in the time of Jude’s letter, similar corruption and false teaching was occurring. Christian sects were following the cultural norms of the day and doing what seemed right in their own eyes. This led to the writing of the various epistles and the eventual creation of our New Testament Scriptures. Finally, the Book of Revelations clearly warns us that things will again be this way in the End Times.

The question of the day is what we should do in response to all this. I’m far from being able to discern God’s perfect will, but I have found comfort in a few passages that I came across this week in my various Bible studies.

Micah 6:8

 No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.

First, we need to be sure that we, ourselves, continue on the Heavenward path by doing what God has called all of us to do. We should be exhibiting the Sermon on the Mount attitudes and bearing the Fruits of the Spirit no matter what the world around us looks like or does.

John 14:27

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give peace to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  You heard Me say that I am going away. But I am coming back to you.”

Next, we need to embrace God’s peace. His peace is not the fleeting peace of a world in turmoil, it is the rock steady peace of the assurance of eternity. This world is not our home. We have been chosen by God and nothing can pluck us out of His hand. We have to let go of anxiety and fear and settle into peace.

Jude 20-21

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.

Finally, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. God already knows what He’s going to do. We don’t. But we know His will is perfect, so we can confidently and earnestly pray for His will to be done. We know He holds the world in His hands, and that He will keep us safe in His love.

The history of God’s people is a history of a few faithful men and women who believed God in spite of the circumstances surrounding them. Their faithfulness was rewarded and increased again and again over centuries. We are the faithful remnant and God will use us in His perfect plan. So, walk by faith and not by sight.

PRAYER: Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. Jude 24-25 

Be Blessed,

Jen


Spring Renewal

Spring is Sure to FollowFor sure, I tell you, unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it will only be a seed. If it dies, it will give much grain. Anyone who loves his life will lose it. Anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it forever. John 12:24-25

Summer and winter and spring time and harvest…if there is one thing we can count on in this world it is the changing of the seasons. No matter how long the winter, spring’s new life is sure to follow. God has always been in the business of bringing what seemed dead back to life.

It all started in the garden. Eden was in bloom constantly, reminding us of the perfect fruitfulness we were created for. Sin entered and the ground now produces thorns and has to be broken up with hard labor. This is similar to the state of our fallen hearts – much to keep us from being fruitful, and always tending toward hardness. But God’s plan for our lives is to transform and perfect us once again.

Along with sin came death. Humans fear death, but in reality, it has been a natural part of creation since ‘The Fall.’ Dying flowers leave behind seeds for future growth. The dying leaves of autumn give way to new buds in springtime. The pruning of branches and stems makes plants more fruitful. The separation of the chaff from the wheat makes it edible and nourishing. And all that dies is sown back into the earth to make fertilized soil for more growth.

This same principle applies to our growth in Christ. Jesus compared himself to a seed in the verse above. When a seed dies and is buried, it will produce a crop. When Jesus willingly denied Himself, gave up His life on the cross and was buried, His resurrection produced a harvest of righteousness. You and I are part of this crop of believers who will inherit eternal life in God’s new Eden at the end of time.

In the meantime, however, God is still using this principle to make us more Christlike - more perfect - now, here on earth. Dying to ourselves in order to live more abundantly for God is our daily task. As it says in Romans 6:3-4, “…don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” God desires that we have a new, abundant life in Christ. Jesus, himself, left this command for us in Luke 9:23 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

What does this look like in our lives? Every day we must make the conscious choice to submit our will, our desires and our plans to the Lord. This is definitely a challenge because when we ask the Lord to use us to do His will, He will! But His plans are so much better than our plans. And His plan is to grow us and mold us and make us His hands and feet to do the good works He has planned for us from the beginning. This kind of submission is hard, and that’s why it needs to be a daily practice.

We must also prepare ourselves for the inevitable pruning. Remember, God’s goal is our perfection, not our comfort. As Jesus said in John 15:1-2, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Ouch! So, if there’s an area of our lives that is not bearing fruit – even if it a ministry that we love, or a way of doing things that we’re comfortable with – the Lord, in His wisdom, might prune it away so that we can be more fruitful. And even in the fruitful areas, the Lord does not want us to become satisfied with just okay. He is always pushing us towards more growth.

Finally, just as the trees and annuals seem dead in the winter but come back to life in the spring, we should not be too quick to give up on dreams the Lord has given us. God can make a way where there seems to be no way, so be faithful and anticipate a resurrection where there seemed to be a death.

So, as we embrace the warmth and beauty of this spring, take time to be quiet and seek God’s will for newness in your life. Could He be pushing you to use your talents in a new way? Might He be nudging you toward the mission field or a ministry opportunity? Even a mature tree can experience new growth with careful pruning and tender care.

Be Blessed,

Jen


Hens and Chicks

Shadow of Your Wings paintnet“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37

As we approach Mothers’ Day, I wanted to highlight just how difficult a job motherhood really is. No doubt I could start with laundry and dishes, sibling rivalries, finding a balance between family, work and self-care, or staying on the same page with your spouse, but I won’t. I want to dig deeper, to the heartache.

God knows the heartache of parenthood very well. Again and again in the Old Testament we read of His anger, disappointment and heartbreak as He watches His wayward children reject His warnings and encouragement and stubbornly go their own way to their ultimate detriment. Being a mom, or any parent, often feels like watching the world’s slowest train wreck – we see it coming, we warn, we threaten, we try to intervene, and yet the feared outcome arrives, and we are left to watch our children struggle with the consequences.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t end at childhood. As our chicks grow into responsible adults, they have to make their own choices about politics, morality and faith. It can be painful to watch them veer off the path we carefully cultivated for them, a path with a firm foundation of faith, that would lead them to their truest best life. But worldly college campuses, cosmopolitan cities and digital virtual reality are filled with pit falls, traps and delightful distractions promising much more than a godly life could offer, and ultimately delivering none of it. As we struggle to remain relevant in our grown child’s life, it’s hard to know how far we should go in our admonitions and telling the truth in love.

If you look at the verses just before the one above, be warned – you’ll see Jesus at His saltiest, giving the religious leaders a dose of very tough love. This is not the picture of the loving teacher with a baby on His knee and little kids all around. This is more of an Old Testament prophet giving God’s harsh warning to repent or else.

So, as parents, how do we watch our kids and others’ kids assault campus security, destroy school property and espouse non-historical viewpoints with truly antisemitic rhetoric? It wounds our souls. It makes us feel pity and compassion for these kids who ‘know not what they do.’ It angers us that this could happen in the 21st century in the wake of ‘wokeness’ and the kindness campaign.

First off, the assault on our children and young people is coming from every angle these days: social media, the internet, bullying, school safety issues, the general rise in violence, the pervasiveness of drugs, the normalization of irresponsible sexual activity, exploitation, the eroding of ethics, incivility, and a real push to remove faith from all public life. As Greg Bell says, ‘we have to teach our kids to believe in God before the world teaches them not to.’

Understand, however, that these attacks are ultimately from Satan. As His time grows short, His attacks grow more intense. How do we fight that deceiver? Ephesians 6:16: “In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Rebuke the devil: tell him to leave, and quote promises from Scripture just as Jesus did when He was tempted. And most of all pray. Pray for your kids, pray for my kids, pray for the little kids, pray for the adult kids, pray for the grandkids, pray for all the kids everywhere. Pray for God to protect them, pray for Him to surround them with good and godly teachers and mentors, pray for them to distinguish wise teaching from worldly teaching, pray for them to know Right from wrong. Love them unconditionally with agape love even when you don’t support their choices, and be ready to forgive quickly.

Do not be discouraged or dismayed. The world may look unrecognizable sometimes, but God is still in control. Jesus will gather all His chicks in Jerusalem one day. Sing along as I remind you of a very real and encouraging truth:

This is my Father’s world.

O let me ne’er forget

that though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let the earth be glad!

(Maltbie Babcock)

 

Be Blessed,

Jen


Camels and Needles

Yard saleJesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10:23-27

A couple of weeks ago we had our annual church yard sale. It’s a wonderful event that raises funds for the church while allowing us to embrace the spirit of Earth Day: Reduce, Reuse and Upcycle!😉 And while many treasures were purchased, what really struck me, as part of the clean-up crew, was how many treasures were left to be loaded onto the Good Will truck.

So many books, toys, décor and more were packed up. They weren’t in poor condition, they were just no longer wanted. And at the risk of offending, they were a clear symptom of the American condition: Affluenza. I am by no means uninfected. If we want it, Amazon, QVC, and a host of catalog companies and big box stores are ready to make our acquisitive dreams come true. Before we can even wear the thing out, the newer, faster, better, more fashionable model is being advertised everywhere.

Being constantly bombarded by advertising leads to dissatisfaction. It has been said that there are two ways to be rich: one is by acquiring much, the other is by desiring little. Or again, discontent is defined as wanting what you don’t have, and contentment is defined as wanting what you do have. Basically, the farther apart your desires are from your reality, the more unhappy you will feel, even when what you have is objectively enough.

We learned about the Rich Young Man in Sunday School this week. You remember him, the guy who asked Jesus how to gain eternal life. “Sell all your stuff, give everything to the poor and then follow me,” Jesus replied. Well, that guy went away very sad because he loved his stuff, or being rich, or being important in others’ eyes, or all of the above, more than he loved God. Then Jesus tells the story of the camel and the eye of a needle, scaring all of the disciples into wondering who, then, could be saved.

The issue is that stuff is a real distraction. We want to have our quiet time with God, but after we watch our favorite show on our huge tv. We want to say our prayers, but after we play that awesome videogame in hi-def. We want to give to that charity, but we just spent so much renewing our spring wardrobe, or on the car, or buying the books on our summer reading list. Which is not to say that any of these things are wrong or bad, just that they ARE distractions, and we need to be mindful of where we are spending our time, attention and money. What we absolutely CAN’T do is let them become little gods, or idols, in our lives. Put God first!

However, Jesus was very clear about the challenge of putting Him first in a life filled with stuff. Stuff slowly pushes God right out of first place. We invest our stuff with meaning – it becomes status, power, adequacy, success, happiness, reward… But these are all things we should be getting from God.

  • Our status is a Child of the King, what could compare with that? (Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— John 1:12)
  • Our power is same power that raised Jesus from the dead! (being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience… Colossians 1:11)
  • Our adequacy is found in God (But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9)
  • Our success is determined by how successful we are at living for God (I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8).
  • Our happiness is not the fleeting emotion of circumstances, but the abiding joy of the Lord. (Be full of joy always because you belong to the Lord. Again I say, be full of joy! Philippians 4:4)
  • And our reward…oh man, it’s just the best reward that there ever could be…eternal life with God in Heaven! (“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:40)

So, enjoy your stuff. Think of ways to bless people through your stuff. Generously share your stuff by using it with others. Donate your stuff when you’re done with it. But don’t let your stuff get between you and God. Put God first!

Be blessed,

Jen