Gifts

Proclaim Liberty

For you have been called to live i Let Freedom Ringn freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

-- Galatians 5:13

Freedom. From the earliest age we’ve been taught to desire it, to cherish it, but do we really understand what it means, especially from God’s perspective?

One way to grasp it is to think of its opposites: bondage, slavery, obligation. And now we start to see the problem. From our worldly perspective, freedom is the absence of obligations, the absence of bosses, masters or anyone else telling us what to do. But this is not God’s viewpoint.

The other day I sat pondering ‘praying about everything.’ I realized I had not really prayed over our upcoming vacation. I was thinking here about flight delays, weather, etc. But then a different thought popped in my head: I had not asked for ‘permission’ from God to go on vacation. I instantly rejected this thought. I’m a grown woman…I don’t have to ask anyone for permission about anything anymore! The thought persisted. ‘You are a bondservant, aren’t you? You’ve willingly taken a Master.’

Well, huh, got me there.

In Biblical times, most slaves had to be freed every seven years. But if a slave loved their master and decided to stay, they could become a ‘bondservant’ which would make them a slave forever. When we make the decision to take Jesus as the Master of our lives, we make a similar choice. We pledge what Jesus pledged in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Abba, Father…I want your will to be done, not mine.” Mark 14:36 That doesn’t sound like very much freedom.


In fact, the Bible says that in this life we will always be slaves to something.  Paul explains in Romans 6:16-18:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

There is a lot of talk these days about ‘agency’ and ‘setting intentions.’ But how much ‘freedom’ do we truly have? Our COVID experience showed us that our freedom to practice our religion could be restricted, our freedom to gather constrained and our freedom to not wear a mask overridden. Freedom to travel and work took a hit. Even our freedom to refuse medical interventions such as vaccinations was challenged. And although we cling to our freedom of speech, ‘cancel culture’ and ‘fact checking’ made it clear that some speech was freer than others.

Besides that, our freedom is restricted by laws, statutes, ethics, contracts and commitments, and vows we have made to ourselves and others. If you have children and a job and a mortgage, can you really just hop on a plane to Hawaii today with a one-way ticket? Well, theoretically, of course you can. We are always free to be disobedient, to break the law, and to break our promises. And we are free to reap the consequences of those actions, including a major restriction of our freedom: incarceration.

Freedom is an illusion. There will always be those with more power or money who will make the rules which curtail our ‘agency.’ There will always be obligations we must fulfill. There will always be a moral code that we feel compelled to obey. We can ‘set an intension’ to be happy, but our happiness will always be in competition with others’ happiness, and thus require compromise.

My hubby has often said that the best form of government would be a ‘benevolent king,’ who would truly seek the welfare of his people. He would give them laws that protected his subjects while still allowing them much control over their lives. That does sound pretty good…. But then, as Christians, isn’t that exactly what we have? In this life we will always be a slave to something, but Jesus tells us,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Through Christ we are free from the punishment for sin, free from death. We are set free by the Truth to see injustice, oppression, corruption and abuse the way God sees it. And we are free by the Holy Spirit within us to work against those evils. We are free to willingly accept the yoke of a bondservant pledged to serve Jesus for life by serving others. His way leads to life, abundance and righteousness. Our labor will build the Kingdom of God where one day we will dwell in a mansion as an adopted son or daughter!

So, as we observe Independence Day, celebrate your independence from sin, selfishness and worldly pleasures that last only for this lifetime and are a snare for your soul. Celebrate your dependence on God, His Mercy, His Grace, His Forgiveness and His Salvation. Humble yourselves, and ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling!’ Philippians 2:12.

DEAR LORD, help us to submit our strong wills and desire for freedom to You. Teach us Your ways and help us be fruitful and pleasing to You. Grant us courage to pursue justice and righteousness for Your namesake. God bless us and bless America and our world. AMEN.

Blessings of Liberty,

Jen 


Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Bright Hope for TomorrowThe Lord says,

“I love justice and I hate oppression and crime.
I will faithfully reward my people
And make an eternal covenant with them.
They will be famous among the nations;
Everyone who sees them will know
That they are a people whom I have blessed.”

Isaiah 61:8-9

We had hoped…

…that COVID would be over and done with by now;

…that our political disagreements would have become more civil;

…that the violence in our cities would have subsided;

…that supply chain issues would have resolved;

…that people would go back to working in all sectors;

…that the economy would have bounced back;

…that travel – local, national and international – would have returned to ‘normal;’

…that the world would “go back to normal.”

I’ve been looking at “the prophets” lately. It’s generally the part of the Old Testament after Psalms and Proverbs. It’s a shame that we don’t study these books too often because in them, generally speaking, God is specifically speaking to His people. He’s accusing them, He’s warning them, He’s admonishing them to repent, and perhaps most exciting of all, He gives them HOPE! He promises restoration, a Savior who will bring healing, and a time when God’s Kingdom will once again return to earth, and God and mankind will be reunited as they were in the Garden of Eden. Now change the ‘them’ to ‘us.’

By the time of the Prophets, God has decided to pass judgment on His people by allowing them to be taken into captivity by Assyria and then Babylon.  Those days were like the ‘End Times,’ full of injustice, crime, and corruption and worst of all, the kings and religious leaders who should have been rescuing and protecting their people were the ones exploiting them. Sound familiar at all?

Falling away from God to follow other idols of money, power, security, politics, entertainment, addictions, etc. always leads to judgment and consequences. Most of us are familiar with this famous promise from God, given after the dedication of Solomon’s Temple:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14

But perhaps less familiar is the other half of the promise:

“But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 7:19-22

And He did.

Of course, we have Jesus now as our New Covenant. But rather than absolving us of our responsibility as a nation, Jesus’ calling is even higher. It is a calling to make other people’s problems our own. It is a calling to take on injustice and corruption and bring healing and reconciliation whenever possible. It is a calling to bring God’s Kingdom to earth by making disciples, with each one of us as a Temple of the Holy Spirit where God dwells.

And this is the GREAT HOPE that the Prophets foretold. It won’t be complete until Jesus returns, but until He comes, we better get busy. There is plenty of injustice, violence and corruption for us to fight against. There are plenty of people suffering from the effects of sin. But there is bright hope for tomorrow! We bring that message of hope, and one great and glorious day, Jesus will return, and we will dwell in the garden once more, fully restored and in perfect communion with God!

1 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. 35 And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there.”

 Ezekiel 47:1,12,35

Hopeful Blessings,

Jen


You'd Better Be Good

You'd Better Be GoodThis is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. ~1 John 3:10

It’s funny, the many different ways Christmas has been secularized. In most cases a symbol of something profound and holy has replaced the original thing and the sacred meaning has been lost or minimized.

Advent is definitely one of those things. In ancient times Advent was much more important to the church than Christmas day itself. Like Lent, it was a time of waiting, preparation and self-denial culminating in the receipt of the greatest gift ever given: God’s own Son for mankind’s redemption. And not just the first time 2,021 years ago, but also the long awaited Second Coming when we will receive not just the promise of heaven, but heaven itself will come to earth.

This profound mystery of God’s redemptive plan of salvation for the family of man has been minimized by our culture and reduced to a picture of children waiting for the arrival of a jolly man bearing physical gifts in the form of toys, candy and fruit. You can hear the echoes of Advent in the words of the Christmas classic ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list,
He's checking it twice,
He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
And he knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness’ sake

Watch out, He’s coming! Well, that’s the central theme of Advent, isn’t it? ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord.’ Christ has come and Christ is coming. So, knowing that He is coming and that His coming is closer today than yesterday, how should we live? Well, we better not cry or pout!

You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! ~James 5:8-9

He’s got a list and He’s checking it! Have you been naughty or nice?

“Yet there are some in the church… who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. ~ Revelation 3:4-5

He knows ALL about you. He sees you at all times and knows the thoughts of your heart:

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
 You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.

~Psalm 139:1-3

So be good, for ‘Goodness’ sake.’ Well, God is Good, and God is Love and God is Jesus. But to say we should be good for ‘Goodness’ Sake’ to me minimizes the profound heart of the matter, the fundamental point of the Gospel message:

 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. ~1 John 3:16-18

God loved us so very, very much that while we were still sinning, and still far from a relationship with Him, He sent His one and only Son to give everything He had – his very life – to rescue us from Hell and from current and eternal separation from the love of God. This love is profound, so holy, that our response should be unspeakable gratitude and love so strong that we willingly lay aside our will, our possessions, our very lives in service to Jesus as his hands and feet to bless others.

Somehow the message of GIVING our resources, our time and our talents in service to others at Christmastide and throughout the year as an acknowledgement of the debt paid on our behalf which we could never have paid ourselves, has been replaced with RECEIVING gifts which are owed because of our good behavior. The sinless Savior who was ‘God with us’ and who gave his own life as the greatest gift to all mankind has been replaced with a ‘right jolly old elf’ in a red suit who gives gifts only to those who are worthy.

I’m not a Scrooge who says “Bah, Humbug” to decorated trees, flying reindeer, elves on shelves or even Santa. But I DO believe in keeping CHRIST in Christmas. The Grinch didn’t have to bother stealing Christmas, it seems that Madison Avenue, Hollywood and modern culture has done that for him. But “what if Christmas…doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!” If we who know the Truth of Christmas share it as freely as we pass the cookie platter, maybe a few hearts will grow three sizes…not from sugary sentimentality, but because they are now filled with the Holy Spirit of a loving God Almighty.

Merry CHRISTmas,

Jen


The Days of Noah

IMG_3861The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. –Genesis 6:5,8

A few weeks ago, events at church started up and I got to see friends face to face that I hadn’t seen in over a year. We met once again to do the business of Our Father, studying His word, supporting mission work and serving His people. And in chatting afterward, as I am prone to do, one topic repeatedly surfaced: how different and unrecognizable this world seems to us these days.

I’d like to say that selfishness, violence, lawlessness, challenging authority of all kinds and general godlessness are a new phenomenon, but if you know history or have read the Bible, you’re well aware that they are not. As I was painting the above mural, which is still not quite finished, I took time to meditate a bit on the days of Noah:

Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.  God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.

–Genesis 6:11-12

It makes me wonder what those ancient people had gotten up to. Whatever it was, I can guarantee you this: our current world is worse. Of course, it isn’t a contest, and even the tiniest of sins is offensive to God and disqualifies us for Heaven.

Back then, God redeemed and purified His creation with rain and a flood after saving the one righteous family left on earth – a precursor to Baptism.  His rainbow was the symbol of His covenant to never again destroy us by flood. Our relationship with God changed on that day. Sin is still a problem, but God also vowed to have compassion.  In Isaiah 54:8-10 the LORD says:

In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer.

“To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Of course, despite the compassion, mankind still sinned. It was clear that we needed much more divine intervention – we needed Jesus: his sacrifice and his resurrection.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.... --Peter 3:18-21

Now, as Christians baptized in water and the Holy Spirit, we wait again in times like the days of Noah. Again, God is patient, but an end is coming when Jesus will return to this earth once more.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." 

--Matthew 24:36-42

We really shouldn’t waste a moment’s time bemoaning or worrying about the current state of world affairs. That is all in God’s capable hands anyway. It seems to me that prudent Christians should be keeping watch. Are we keeping our lamps trimmed and burning? Are we seeing the signs of the times? If these are days are like the days of Noah, then the time is very short to rescue as many as possible before it’s too late. There are so many to reach, so many conversations to be had, so many relationships to build.

Even in the darkest days, the Lord is always at work looking for those ready to do His will and to pray without ceasing (2 Chronicles 16:9). I want to find favor in His eyes.

Blessings,

Jen Jahromi


One Bread, One Body

One Bread One BodyWhen we bless the cup at the Lord’s Table, aren’t we sharing in the blood of Christ? And when we break the bread, aren’t we sharing in the body of Christ? And though we are many, we all eat from one loaf of bread, showing that we are one body.  ~1 Corinthians 10:16-17

When I was a child, I remember hearing my Mother say “I don’t want to be pigeon-holed! I’m not a ‘joiner,’ I’m just ME.” Now, if you had known my Mom, you would immediately know that this was a very true statement, although it would have been hard to put her in any one category anyway – she was quite unique.

I have been surprised by all the categories, labels and pigeon-holes people seem happy to put themselves in these days: black, white, brown, gay, straight, trans, left, right, extremist, moderate, haves, have-nots, and all kinds of ethnic groups, religions and denominations…. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of identity based on where one lives, what one does for a living or what one enjoys as a hobby or one’s familial status.  I’ve been pondering this quite a bit lately because something about it strikes me as unhealthy.

I can definitely see that in a world set on a shaky post 9/11 foundation of violence and terrorism and other scary news, some true sense of security can be found in establishing an identity for oneself. I can also see that in a world where families are falling apart and people move around a lot, a sense of community can also be found in these identities. In those ways the labels might be beneficial. But I fear that they also can become limiting. It’s so tempting to believe that everyone in your little ‘box’ is like you, and everyone outside can’t or won’t understand and are too different. It becomes ‘us’ and ‘them’ instead of ‘we.’

As Christians, however, our identity is always in Christ. In Christ, although we are many, we are one body. Paul summed it up excellently:

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. ~1 Corinthians 12:12-13

In Christ, we represent the diversity of the entire world. According to Wikipedia, as of the year 2020, Christianity had approximately 2.5 billion adherents out of a worldwide population of about 7.8 billion people. It represents nearly one-third of the world's population and is the largest religion in the world. And we’re all over – there are Christians in nearly every country of the world. As of September 2020, the full Bible has been translated into 704 languages, the New Testament has been translated into an additional 1,551 languages and Bible portions or stories into 1,160 other languages.

Despite critics who are happy to tell you otherwise, for 2021 years there has been an unbroken family-line of faith connecting us with believers from empires, kingdoms, nations and multitudes of ethnic groups. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran in 1947 were proof that our translations of the Bible remained faithful to the original over thousands of years. A reading of Martin Luther’s Commentary on the Book of Romans from 1515 shows that our modern understanding of God’s Word has not altered significantly in over 500 years. Governments changed, borders changed, people groups migrated and were conquered, but the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ have never changed and never will change.

If we, as one body of believers, turn our eyes away from this modern world with its greed, rivalries, and lust for power and influence, and instead focus on following Jesus and living out the Word of God, we will soon see that there is so much more that binds us together than anything that could pull us apart. Whatever other identities we may possess, we are first and foremost Children of God. And that makes us all Brothers and Sisters in Christ. This is no small thing. We hold eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).  We carry the Holy Spirit in our body (2 Timothy 1:14). We are citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20).

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. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ~1 Peter 2:9-10

Every time we take the cup and break the bread at the Communion Table, we are joining with billions all over the world today, and millions throughout history whose faith caused them to give up their own desires and dreams for their lives, lay them at the foot of the cross and follow Jesus. It was a daring faith in 30AD, a daring faith in 1515AD and it’s a daring faith in 2021AD. But we are not alone!

Peace be with you,

Jen 


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