Gifts

In God We Trust

Bus Angel gamma15 BESTPsalm 84:11-12

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    the Lord bestows favor and honor;
no good thing does he withhold
    from those whose walk is blameless.

12 Lord Almighty,
    blessed is the one who trusts in you.

It’s all about trust.

Humans, and especially Americans with their ‘pioneer spirit,’ like to be self-reliant. We pride ourselves on it. It starts early -- who can forget the stubborn toddler who has learned the word ‘no’ and refuses help putting on their shoes and socks? They struggle valiantly, but sometimes, one needs to rely on others.

In fact, when we can be totally honest with ourselves, we will acknowledge that we were meant to live in mutual dependence on one another. And perhaps we can even admit that it’s nice to do so. It’s a wonderful thing to hand off tasks, duties and responsibilities to others…as long as there is trust.

TRUST: assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.

We trust in so many people and things. We trust that our chairs will support our weight. We trust that the water will come out of the spigot and be safe to drink. We trust that the power grid is intact. We trust that drivers will follow the road rules. We trust that the school bus will carry our children to school. We trust that our local, state and federal governments are providing services. We trust that the people in our lives will live up to their commitments. We trust that our employer will pay us for the work we’ve done. We trust our bank to keep our money safe. We trust that the church will be open on Sunday morning.

If you have been able to rely on those people and things, you should truly count yourself fortunate! Probably most of us have experienced the pain of not being able to trust a few of those things. Some of us may know the fear and uncertainty of not being able to trust but a few of those things. My hubby grew up in Iran in the 70s. One day he was wearing his bell-bottom jeans, riding his banana seat bicycle down to the neighborhood store to buy an American paperback novel and pick up some bread for his mom. The next week, there were soldiers on the streets, schools were closed, stores ran out of food and American books were being confiscated. He never thought such a thing could happen in his country. Now we have hour by hour photos and stories coming out of Afghanistan demonstrating how everything you trusted in could collapse in mere days. COVID and the politics of the last couple of years have weakened our trust in systems and institutions. And yet, we still have to trust.

We can’t do everything ourselves. We have to trust others. Yet others will eventually let us down because they are just human, and we humans can be wrong, make mistakes, or even sinfully lie, cheat steal and destroy.

We can only fully trust God. Only God’s character, ability, strength, and truth can be assuredly relied upon. God is GOOD. He will withhold no good thing from those who trust Him. (Psalm 84:11-12) God is ALMIGHTY. Nothing is impossible with God. (Mark 10:27) God is POWERFUL. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; (Psalm 147:5) God is TRUTH. God is not human, that he should lie…. Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19) Check out some of God’s awesome promises here: https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/gods-promises-verses-in-the-bible/

Myself, I have decided to trust. No more grumbling. I don’t like it? I wouldn’t have made that decision? I don’t want to? So what?! It’s not about me anyway. Other people are in charge of so many things in my life and I just have to trust that they’re doing their best until there is evidence otherwise. Even then, I have to trust in other people to discover it, report it and fix it. And sometimes stuff just happens. 

When I’m tempted to grumble or complain or even get involved, I’m gonna just give it to God and stay in my lane. If I’m trespassed against, I’m not gonna grumble and stew on it, I’m gonna forgive and give it God and keep on truckin’. And when I’m the one messing up and grumbled about, I’m gonna confess it, not stress it, give it to God and travel on. I’m well aware that in two minutes God will challenge me on this. But I have to. I can’t keep driving with all that junk in my trunk! I have to trust God to work it out.

Stay blessed,

Jen Jahromi


Heavenly Olympics

Olympic World GOALNo, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

--Philippians 3:13-14

I’m a huge fan of the Olympics. To me it exemplifies the amazing heights humanity can achieve when we strive for the best regardless of nationality, race, religion or age.  But even as I write that sentence, my childhood wonder and excitement are dulled by the reality of cheating schemes, politics, financial interests and accusations of bias towards and against various groups. I prefer to think about the waving flags from almost every nation, the cultural performances by the host country, the colorful uniforms, and of course, the astounding athletic performances that exemplify the ‘thrill of victory and the agony of defeat’.

I, myself, am no athlete. I used to joke about competing in target shooting or ping pong until I saw actual Olympic athletes in those sports! But oh, how I love the grace and beauty of ice skating and gymnastics. Or the speed and excitement of bobsledding and giant slalom. Or the nerve-wracking wait through multiple heats to get to the finals in swimming and track and field. I watch it all, even dressage, curling and water polo.

Each and every one of those athletes have trained hard. They had some dream when they were young and found a way to pursue it. Some overcame huge obstacles, some had it easier, but in every case, there was a lot of striving and pressing on. They had to rise to the top of their youth league, their high school, their college, their state, their nation! What dedication and perseverance that must take. They sacrificed sleep, family time, perhaps schooling, perhaps moving far away from their homes. There were doubtless injuries and setbacks along the way. There were probably dark times of doubt and frustration as mastery faltered. And as many family, friends and supporters cheered them on, there were others who criticized and wished for their failure, perhaps even sabotaged their efforts.

This is the picture of the Christian Walk that Paul paints in his letters. He frames it as a long period of pushing through hardship and striving fervently and unwaveringly towards the goal. Step 1: Forget what is behind and throw off encumbrances. Let go of the past. You can’t beat the ‘yips’ by dwelling on your past failures. God doesn’t remember your past anyway – it’s as far as the east is from the west. So put the past and its disappointments behind you and move forward.

Step 2: Strain toward the goal. Athletes do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. Press on to become more and more like Christ: instead of farther, harder, higher, stronger, we need to be more loving, more compassionate, more humble, more generous. Oh, it will require discipline and sacrifice. It will require giving up other dreams or plans or comforts, but the prize is eternal!

Step 3: The Heavenly Prize. Yes, no doubt about it, an Olympic gold medal is awesome. It represents a lifetime of dedication and competition. But it will eventually fade and crumble. I’m always sad to see gold medals and Superbowl rings and such in the showcases of pawn shops, but there you go – neither you nor your athletic achievements last forever. The Heavenly Prize, however, is eternal! Your Christian striving here on earth will yield an eternal reward. First, you are guaranteed to cross the finish line just by inviting Christ into your life and heart. But once beyond the Pearly Gate, there are crowns and prizes waiting for each of us. These are not showy tokens, but hard-earned rewards for meritorious service. (Matthew 5:11-12; Revelation 3:11; James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:19 and Philippians 4:1) Of course, if we have truly achieved a Christ-like character, there in the presence of the Lord Himself, we will likely follow the example of the twenty-four elders and cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet. (Revelation 4:10–11)

I wish there were a Heavenly Olympics here on earth. Imagine competing to be the best in the world at giving generously, compassionately serving others, evangelizing or being a good neighbor! Imagine getting a gold medal in praising the Lord! I’d watch that. Maybe in Heaven there is that kind of spectacle. Perhaps the saints and angels watch our good deeds and struggles and strivings like we watch reality shows. I know they are rooting for us and cheering us on.

So, enjoy watching the Olympics. But remember, you’re already in training for a Heavenly prize and an eternal crown of laurels. I hope to share the medal podium with you someday. Until then, I’ll be cheering for you!

Go for the Gold,

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


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


Martin Luther King Jr. and Resisting Evil

Kingml-pray-kneel-group

I was truly born a social justice warrior. With a strong sense of fairness, an inquisitive mind and a drive to make things better and more efficient, it is no wonder that, when stewed in the soup of the various rights movements, peace initiatives and anti-pollution campaigns of the late 60s and early 70s, I would be creating an Equal Rights for Children campaign by age eight, complete with ERiC the Mule as mascot. This has remained the core focus of my life. No question was ever more important to me than: How can the human race live together on our planet in peace, ensuring welfare and freedom for all? I chased this question through high school, college and finally into law school. I felt confident that it was possible. Until I met Jesus.

Becoming a Christ follower and Scripture student confirmed what I was beginning to suspect after a couple of years as a cop’s wife and law student: evil is real, humans are born with sin, and the world will not be free of sin and evil until Jesus’ return. There went my hopes of earthly utopia. So, I readjusted my question to: How does God want us to live together on this planet to provide the most peace and welfare to the most people possible?

The answer has been surprising. Thinking of Live Aid and Greenpeace and Amnesty International, I sought to change the whole world. But the scriptures seemed to suggest I needed to change my heart. And then I needed to change others by doing good:

1Jesus saw many people. He went up on the mountain and sat down. His followers came to Him. 2 He began to teach them, saying, 3 “Those who know there is nothing good in themselves are happy, because the holy nation of heaven is theirs. 4 Those who have sorrow are happy, because they will be comforted. 5 Those who have no pride in their hearts are happy, because the earth will be given to them. 6 Those who are hungry and thirsty to be right with God are happy, because they will be filled. 7 Those who show loving-kindness are happy, because they will have loving-kindness shown to them. 8 Those who have a pure heart are happy, because they will see God. 9 Those who make peace are happy, because they will be called the sons of God. 10 Those who have it very hard for doing right are happy, because the holy nation of heaven is theirs. 11 You are happy when people act and talk in a bad way to you and make it very hard for you and tell bad things and lies about you because you trust in Me. 12 Be glad and full of joy because your reward will be much in heaven. They made it very hard for the early preachers who lived a long time before you.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. If salt loses its taste, how can it be made to taste like salt again? It is no good. It is thrown away and people walk on it. 14 You are the light of the world. You cannot hide a city that is on a mountain. 15 Men do not light a lamp and put it under a basket. They put it on a table so it gives light to all in the house. 16 Let your light shine in front of men. Then they will see the good things you do and will honor your Father Who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:1-16) 

Then, thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Henry David Thoreau I thought I could change my country by peaceful protest or civil disobedience. But even then, the scriptures surprised me. They seem to suggest that we must humbly accept the evil done to us and pray for those who do evil to us, and even repay it with kindness:

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. 40 If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41 If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38-48)

Servants, you are to respect your owners and do what they say. Do this if you have a good and kind owner. You must do it even if your owner is hard to work for. 19 This shows you have received loving-favor when you are even punished for doing what is right because of your trust in God. 20 What good is it if, when you are beaten for doing something wrong, you do not try to get out of it? But if you are beaten when you have done what is right, and do not try to get out of it, God is pleased. 21 These things are all a part of the Christian life to which you have been called. Christ suffered for us. This shows us we are to follow in His steps. 22 He never sinned. No lie or bad talk ever came from His lips. 23 When people spoke against Him, He never spoke back. When He suffered from what people did to Him, He did not try to pay them back. He left it in the hands of the One Who is always right in judging. 24 He carried our sins in His own body when He died on a cross. In doing this, we may be dead to sin and alive to all that is right and good. His wounds have healed you! 25 You were like lost sheep. But now you have come back to Him Who is your Shepherd and the One Who cares for your soul. (1 Peter 2:18-25)

And now, in light of the Scriptures, I must even take issue with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character....

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

That expresses a wonderful aspiration - one that I whole-heartedly support. But I must take issue with his usage of ‘free.’ The scriptures clearly teach that it is a life in Christ that makes one free. It is the truth of the Gospel that makes one free. It is knowing that our personal, individual sins have been forgiven by God that allows us to live free of the burden of sin and shame. This is not political freedom. This is not legal freedom. This is spiritual freedom.

God loves us. He adores us. He absolutely wants the best for us. But the scriptures are very clear that His definition of that is vastly different from the world’s definition. God wants us to love Him and get all we need from Him. Our spiritual life is what is truly important. Therefore, even if we suffer in our lives on earth - suffer from abuse, enslavement, imprisonment, illness or worse – that will not keep us from experiencing freedom in Christ. Sin and evil can take away nearly everything, but they can’t take away our salvation nor our joy in the Lord.

That said, I do believe God wants us to work toward justice and peace and equality and human rights and strive toward His righteousness in our daily living. 

8 O man, He has told you what is good. What does the Lord ask of you but to do what is fair and to love kindness, and to walk without pride with your God? (Micah 6:8)

But He also wants us to trust Him to bring about true justice and change: 

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord.

20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” 21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Overcome evil with good. There you have it. That is the Biblical prescription. Do not resist evil, do not disobey evil, do not avenge evil – overcome evil with good – unrelenting, overflowing, confusingly crazy amounts of good to the deserving and undeserving alike.


 Navigating the Chutes and Ladders of Life

Hand of Mercy 3

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

-Deuteronomy 15:10-11

I love games. As a child, my Mom, Dad and I spent many happy hours huddled over a game board, popping, spinning or lowering a cage on unlucky mice. I was able to pass along this tradition so that even in the era of video games, my kids and I spent afternoons trying to figure out whodunnit, conquering the world or building on Park Place. But we started out, like so many do, on games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. These are simple games with simple rules, and ones that adults tend to tire of quickly.  And I think I know why.  These are games of pure luck. Unlike many other games that require knowledge or strategy, Chutes and Ladders is just luck. When you play Candy Land with a 3-year-old, you truly have just as much of a chance to win or lose as they. I think that may rattle some of us. As we grow older and master games like Scrabble or Clue, we come to believe that skill and strategy ensure our success. We downplay the effect of pure, random chance on winning or losing.

But in Chutes and Ladders, you won’t have to ‘let them win’ because they could beat you on their own. A roll of the dice decides your fate. And this is my point. The randomness of luck, the fickleness of chance are lessons worth learning and worth remembering into adulthood, because life has this aspect as well.

It occurs to me that in every situation of life, the ‘Serenity Prayer’ applies:

Lord, help me to 1. Change the things I can, 2. Accept the things I can’t change, and 3. Give me the wisdom to know the difference.

We put so much emphasis on changing the things we can. We encourage getting a good education, being honest, working hard, saving money, avoiding bad friends, avoiding bad habits, etc. The massive number of ‘self-help’ and ‘do-it-yourself’ books testify to how much we emphasize changing what we can. And at some point, we may come to believe that we can change anything or everything. We may have even had great personal success at doing so, and therefore convinced ourselves that if we could, anyone can.

But what about that ‘accepting the things I can’t change’ part? Scientists and inventors have spent much of the last 2 centuries making the impossible possible. I love that. I do. But I wonder if that hasn’t filled us with hubris to think we can change anything. I think there are many ways to improve our human condition. We no longer live in a Dickensian world of workhouses, child labor and dangerously unsafe factories. Yes, there is still work to do. I suspect there always will be. But even in the most egalitarian society, there will always be poor, there will always be people who need assistance.

We don’t like to admit that part of life is a roll of the dice. We didn’t choose the family we were born into. We didn’t get to choose our gender, our race, our looks, our income level, our disabilities, nor whether any of those would be a hinderance or help in the time, country and culture we were born into.  In many games, players start out on the same square with the same amount of money. Then, using skill and strategy, they acquire more and go farther. In life, players don’t all start equal. And sometimes all the skill and strategy they can muster will not overcome that disadvantage.

Now for the wisdom part. Should we accept that part of our society will always be disadvantaged and give up? Certainly not. We should always strive toward social justice and bringing God’s will to earth as it is in Heaven. But realistically, human sin (greed, bigotry, crime, exploitation, selfishness, etc.), poor decisions (not changing the things that could be changed) and the randomness and luck of life chances all but ensure that poverty will always be with us.

So, despite our desire to pat ourselves on our back for what we’ve achieved, we must acknowledge that much of life is just random luck. And if you’re resisting that thought, remember that all that we have and all that we are, are from God anyway:

Lord our God, all this abundance that we have…comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. -1 Chronicles 29:16

We say ‘the less fortunate,’ but we need to embrace that truth. Sometimes people just have bad luck, fewer chances, more disadvantages. Acknowledge the luck of your advantages and blessings and share freely with others.

And the next time you play Chutes and Ladders with the kids or grandkids, help them to learn humility by pointing out that winning is random. Let them lose. Let them win. And let them see there is no place for gloating. There, but for the grace of God, go us all.


Star of Wonder

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 

Matthew 2:1-2

That star…. For me, that star was always the biggest wonder of all the miraculous things that happened on that Holy Night (besides God becoming man). I mean, God can send Angels whenever He wants to. Not to discount the awesomeness and amazing sight, but I doubt that takes much advanced planning. Now John and Jesus were miracles that took at least 9 months, and perhaps more to find godly women who would be willing to take on that kind of mission. But the star...assuming it was not supernaturally manifested, but an alignment of heavenly bodies in the night sky over Israel...THAT took a LOT of advanced planning.

This December, Jupiter and Saturn will put on a show for skygazers that hasn't been seen in roughly 800 years. Astronomers are calling it the Great Conjunction of 2020. On December 21 — coincidentally the winter solstice — the two largest planets in our solar system will appear to almost merge in Earth’s night sky. In fact, Jupiter and Saturn will be so close that you will be able to fit them both in the same telescopic field of view. That’s an incredibly rare occurrence. The last time Jupiter and Saturn were this close together was in 1226 A.D., at a time when Genghis Khan was conquering large swaths of Asia, and Europe was still generations away from the Renaissance.

Seekers of celestial significance will likely see the whole event as some sort of sign related to the kind of year 2020 has been. But you don’t have to put any stock in astrology to revel in the astounding beauty of this conjunction.  However, from an astrological perspective, much like the one the Magi had way back then, consider the meanings of these two planets:

  • In classical Roman mythology, Jupiter is the ruler of the gods and their guardian and protector. Astrologically speaking, Jupiter is associated with the principles of growth, expansion, healing, prosperity, good fortune, and miracles. Jupiter governs long distance and foreign travel, big business and wealth, higher education, religion, and the law. It is also associated with the urge for freedom and exploration, as well with gambling and merrymaking.
  • In classical Roman mythology, Saturn is the god of seeds, crops, and the harvest (agriculture), leader of the titans, father and founder of civilizations, social order, and conformity. Astrologically speaking, Saturn is associated with focus, precision, nobility, ethics, civility, lofty goals, career, great achievements, dedication, authority figures, stability, virtues, productiveness, valuable hard lessons learned, destiny, structures, protective roles, balance, conservation, and karma (reaping what you have sown or cosmic justice) but with limitations, restrictions, boundaries, anxiety, tests, practicality.

God is and was certainly aware of human perceptions of the meanings of the planets. And here we have the two ruler planets coming together on the longest night of the year heralding good fortune, miracles and religion combined with harvest, nobility, and great achievements through hardship.  What does that mean for us? God only knows. It could be something miraculous, it could be nothing at all. The Magi would probably know.

Certainly, it was a celestial event like this that caused them to pack up and head west.  It's important to pause and reflect on the profound wonder of 3 wise and powerful astronomers/astrologers from Persia or further traveling all the way to Israel just because of the sign they saw in the stars.  And this sign was so significant that they packed up the most valuable gifts in the ancient world to present to the King the star was announcing. These Magi were not Christians (no such thing yet), they weren't even Jews. Most likely they had copies of the Jewish scripture acquired during the 'captivity' centuries earlier.  But they had read them and interpreted them and witnessed a celestial event big enough to convince them.  Oh that we would have such faith!  Oh that we would drop everything in our lives to find Him.  Oh that we would present our most precious gifts (our hearts, souls, minds and strength) to Him and bow down and worship Him!  For Jesus was the fourth King present that day...the King of Kings who has taken away the sins of the world and who will soon return when every knee will bow before Him.

It may be too late find that first Christmas star, but it's never too late to find Jesus in your heart.

And as you enjoy the show in the sky this month, keep in mind that Jupiter appears brighter because it’s bigger and closer than Saturn. Jupiter sits just over half a billion miles away, while Saturn is roughly double that distance. So, as you look out at the two, you’re really staring down the barrel of our solar system and out into interstellar space. This cosmic perspective is a precious reminder of our place in the solar system. And hopefully, it makes us all feel a bit closer and more connected to the outer planets, and to the One who created them all, even if the pandemic has us feeling farther apart than ever before.

PRAYER:

Lord, help me to appreciate the incredible gift of love and forgiveness that You gave us by sending Jesus into our world.  Guide me to be more intentional in giving my heart, mind and body to you.  I worship You in Your awesome, incomprehensible wonder and want to live out Your plan for my life, no matter the cost! Amen.

Keep looking up,

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

www.zazzle.com/visionsandverses

Parts taken from https://astronomy.com/news/2020/12/jupiter-and-saturn-will-form-rare-christmas-star-on-winter-solstice


Heal Our World

Heal Our World

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.
Malachi 4:2
 
Blessings,
Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

You Matter

Dolphin Ride the Morning1

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

- Psalm 139:13-16

There is a whole lot of shouting going on right now about whose lives matter. Suffice to say those are political arguments. What I want to convey is God’s point of view: YOU matter. Whoever you are, whatever your race, your gender, your age, your income, your abilities, your faults, your mistakes, your brokenness: YOU are precious to God.

If you’re like me, that may make you feel a bit uncomfortable. You may prefer to think that PEOPLE are precious to God, or ALL OF US are precious to God. It’s nice to hide in the anonymity of the collective. But hear this: YOU, yes you, personally, matter to God.

God knows each of us and He can see in us the best version of ourselves, the persons we were created to be. It’s very easy to let the world around us define who we are. The world looks at skin color, gender, education level, accents, hairstyles, clothing and other outward appearances, but God looks at our heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) We may feel unprepared, unable, unworthy, even useless, but God knows the good works Has prepared for us. (Ephesians 2:10) Perhaps we even feel victimized, persecuted, discriminated against, lied about – no worries, God can still use you. Our issues and brokenness actually add to God’s glory: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” - 2 Corinthians 4:7  We are frail, cracked pots, but God uses us anyway.

Just ask Joseph, a young man with big dreams who was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and left to rot in prison. After years of faithfully doing the small work he was given, he finally ended up second in charge of all of Egypt. Or look at Gideon, a nobody from the smallest tribe, so afraid of the bad guys harassing his town that he did his work in a hole at night. But God saw him and addressed him as a mighty warrior – and by the end of the story, he was! Or Mary, a young girl from a backwater town and an unimportant family, who, through faith and making herself available to God, became the mother of the Messiah. Or consider the Samaritan woman at the well – her personal life was a disaster and the whole town knew it. Her race was despised, and her religion was considered illegitimate, but Jesus, the Messiah, sat with her, took a drink from her, and in a short conversation made it clear that He knew all about her sin and still offered her salvation. She became the first Gentile witness.

And God will not give up on you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. He stands at the door knocking, waiting for you to open up and let Him in. Even when you get on a boat and sail in the opposite direction of His will for you, He can re-route you with a storm and a whale (figuratively). You cannot hide from His love -- even on the other side of the farthest ocean or in the deepest depths, God sees you and loves you and guides you.

It seems that this time of fear and isolation is causing a rise in the suicide rate. Anger and violence permeate the news. Natural disasters abound. Civility has flown out the window. Frustration and a sense of powerlessness can slip easily into hopelessness – but don’t let it! You matter to God! He has a plan for your life! You have a purpose! You have value! YOU matter!

“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

Jennifer Fefel Jahromi

©2020