Gifts

Thankful, Grateful, Blessed

Thankful, grateful and blessed.  I do my best to be and act like all three. What’s the difference? Probably really not much at all. Some have suggested that being grateful is about appreciating what one has, as opposed to what one wants. Being thankful or thanking someone often implies you are acknowledging your thanks for something that someone has given you. Blessed acknowledges the Divine favor you have received from Almighty God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

So, at this busy time of the year I offer a short meditation on these with some of my favorite Bible verses. As we face traffic, travel, difficult family members or loneliness and grief, cling to these three foundational principles of true joy and contentment.

thankful

adjective

feeling or expressing gratitude; appreciative.

 

Ephesians 5:19-21

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

 

Colossians 2:6-7

Spiritual Fullness in Christ

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

 

Hebrews 12:28

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,

 

grateful

adjective

warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received; thankful:

 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs. 

Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

 

Psalm 147:7

Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
    his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble
    but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise;
    make music to our God on the harp.

 

blessed

adjective

divinely or supremely favored; fortunate

blissfully happy or contented.

bringing happiness and thankfulness:

 

Matthew 5:3-11

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

 

Psalm 118:26-27

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
    From the house of the Lord we bless you.
The Lord is God,
    and he has made his light shine on us.

 

Ephesians 1:3

Praise for Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

 

There is always something to feel thankful, grateful or blessed about! I am thankful for all the encouraging comments I get on these devotionals. I am grateful to be a part of a kind, loving, faithful church community. And I am blessed to be able to serve. I know God has his hand of favor over us all!

Blessings to you and your families at Thanksgiving,

Jen

 


Let Us Be Thankful

Let Us Be ThankfullDon’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! ~Hebrews 13:2

As Thanksgiving approaches, I think it's appropriate to consider our many blessings. We truly live in one of the richest countries in the world, and although we still have many who are food insecure and living paycheck to paycheck or are dependent on social services, even our poorest are better off and more cared for than most people in the world today.

Most Americans are in the top 10% of worldwide wealth.  According to CNBC, “To be among the top 10 percent worldwide, you don’t even need six figures: A net worth of $93,170 will do it.

And even if you have just $4,210 to your name, you’re still richer than half of the world’s residents.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/11/01/how-much-money-you-need-to-be-part-of-the-1-percent-worldwide.html)

Here is what world poverty looks like, in numbers:

  • Over 1 billion people live on $2.50 per day or less, including 280 million people in extreme poverty who live on less than $1.25 per day.
  • More than 75 percent of the world’s poor populations live in rural areas and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.
  • In developing countries, the poor spend 60-80 percent of their income on food. Americans spend less than 10 percent.
  • Over 800 million people worldwide do not have enough food to eat and more than 3 million children die from malnutrition each year.
  • Nearly 1 billion people live without electricity.
  • 40 million children worldwide live without adequate shelter.
  • More than 750 million people lack adequate access to clean water.
  • 270 million children have no access to health services.
  • Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read or write.
  • 1.7 billion people do not have a bank account or access to basic financial services.

(https://finca.org/campaign/world-poverty/)

The most basic needs that we take for granted: security, literacy, electricity, clean water, availability of medicine and health services, access to banking, and adequate food, are major issues for most of the world’s people.  While we argue over how to pay for and adequately deliver these necessities to our population, many countries simply don’t provide them.

And yet, as essential as these basic physical needs are, their need for Jesus is even greater. Food and water will save their body, but only Jesus can save their soul. And we are abundantly blessed to be able to address all their needs. Missionaries, aid organizations like UMCOR, Samaritan’s Purse, Compassion International, World Vision, Bread for the World and many others take Jesus’ hands and feet and saving message of Grace all over the world to every tribe and every nation. The needs are great, and the cost is greater still.

Even in our great country, so abundantly blessed with wealth and ‘stuff,’ we face a spiritual desert. For many Americans, especially young adults, faith is not a concern.

Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.

The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.

Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66% of traditionalists -- U.S. adults born before 1946 -- belong to a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X and 36% of millennials. The limited data Gallup has on church membership among the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood are so far showing church membership rates similar to those for millennials.

(https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx)

So, as we give grateful, unending thanks to our Creator and Almighty Father for the many blessings in our lives, let us also consider how to share those blessings with those who have such great needs. How can we serve God by serving others? How can we bring life-saving food, medicine and infrastructure to poverty-stricken areas? How can we bring the soul-saving message of Jesus’ work on the cross to generations without faith? We have what they need, let us open our hands and hearts to share generously.

She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy.

~Proverbs 31:20

Blessings,

Jen


Hope is an Anchor

Hope is An Anchor

Last month we had the good fortune to visit New England. As we passed through the southern coast of Maine, we just happened to pass by York Harbor Beach, and it was so stunning we had to go back and check it out. It turned out to be a cliff-side park with picture perfect views of the rocky Maine coast. To my surprise, it also featured this monument with a line from one of my favorite hymns, ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save.’

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Of course, it was Maine, inhabited for centuries by sea-faring folks in search of cod, lobsters, whales and more. And we had just been visiting a lighthouse so common along the rough, rocky shoreline. So, I suppose it makes perfect sense that ‘peril on the sea’ would be a common concern.

For so much of human history the oceans and seas were mysterious, dangerous and uncontrollable.  It was probably rather common for those who ventured out to be ‘lost at sea.’ So, it’s not surprising that in the Bible the sea tends to represent something wild and uncontrollable (by everyone but God, that is).

James 1:5-6

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Ephesians 4:14-15

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Both of these verses use the sea metaphor. Doubting our faith, lacking wisdom and spiritual maturity can leave us vulnerable to being ‘tossed by the waves and wind.’ What is the remedy? Our faith in God’s promise that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life! That hope is an anchor!

Hebrews 6:19-20

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf.

We're all in peril on the seas of life sometimes. We all get rocked by strong winds and blown off course now and then. But our faith in God’s promise and vow that belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior will bring us safely into a Heavenly Harbor one day, is a strong and trustworthy anchor. The fiercest storms on the surface of the ocean don’t affect the deep ocean floor where our anchor is secured.

Hold on tight to that precious anchor, our ‘blessed assurance.’ We don’t know when the storms will roll in. And when they do, we’ll be tempted to call out to Jesus like his disciples did, asking ‘don’t you care if we drown?’ He may not calm the storms in your life, but He can calm the storm in you. Find peace in the assurance of your salvation. Find peace in God’s promise never to leave or forsake you. Find peace knowing that no one can snatch you out of God’s hand (John 10:28-30).

And on this Veteran’s Day, I am reminded that ‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’ is also the U.S. Navy Hymn.  Let us pray the prayer of the final verse for every member of our military:

O Trinity of love and pow'r,
Your children shield in danger's hour;
From rock and tempest, fire, and foe,
Protect them where-so-e'er they go;
Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

Oceans of Blessings,

Jen 




Count Your Blessings:1,2,3...

Count Your BlessingsPraise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

-Psalm 103:2-5

In the pastor’s message about waiting on God he used the acronym WAIT to remind us what do while we’re in God’s ‘waiting room.’ The ‘W’ stood for ‘write down the lessons I’m learning.’ Purchasing a journal was suggested. I’m a big fan of ‘writing it down.’ The river of life is always flowing, and it is very easy to forget how you shot thru the last set of rapids when more whitewater is coming up quickly. But taking a moment when the water is tranquil to write down lessons or reflections can yield big benefits later.

I am especially fond of having a Gratitude Journal, or at least taking time once a week or so in the regular journal to consider prayers that have been answered, blessings that have been bestowed, breakthroughs in relationships, jobs or wisdom and to thank God for them. For me, as wonderful as the answers to prayers have been (oh, and they have), even more precious was seeing the WAYS in which the prayers were answered - always surprising, always unexpected, always completely out of my hands.  Over the years this has helped me to really get a feel for when God is at work in my life.

As a new believer, I was mired in the muck of negative thinking. My brain had been wired to see what I lacked and overlook all that I had. As I struggled through some difficult times, I decided to literally ‘count my blessings.’ Every Thanksgiving Eve service we sing that great, cheerful hymn, ‘Count Your Blessings:’

“Count your blessings, name them one by one;

Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

So that’s what I did. I started listing out all that I was grateful for in my life, big and small, from being alive to indoor plumbing. By the fourth page I started to grasp that my discontent was all in my head. Despite my troubles, I had so much to be thankful for! The recipe for contentment that always seemed to escape me became pretty clear: 1. Count your blessings, 2. Don’t compare yourself, your life, your anything with others (you are on your own, unique path), 3. It’s not about you anyway, so think about yourself less, and others more. Like all of God’s principles, they are simply stated and much more challenging to live out!

Developing an ‘attitude of gratitude’ changed my whole life. It made me a better mother, wife, daughter, friend, co-worker and just…a better person.  It’s one of the qualities that cause people to inquire which often leads to the ‘Jesus discussion.’

I still struggle with resentment and frustration sometimes, but then I remember that the world owes me nothing and I owe Jesus everything. He asks me to love and forgive and be humble, and He is Lord of my life, so I will do my best to love and to forgive and to be humble. Since I have given Him my whole life, I try to be very grateful for every good thing, remembering that Jesus warned us that in this world we WILL have trouble.

One of the things I’m especially thankful for is that we have a national day of Thanksgiving. Our culture has tried to turn it into a day of gluttony and materialism, but I am also grateful for all the faithful Christians who have and continue to teach their children and grandchildren the true meaning of the day: a day of gratitude to Almighty God for His hand of protection over our lives, over our nation and over our history. Every step of the way God has been with His people, leading us, preparing us, encouraging us to do His good will throughout the world. His miraculous providence was with our Pilgrim brothers and sisters, and it is with us still – even through COVID, culture wars, political discord, climate changes and economic concerns. God is in control – and that is a blessing we all can count!

Grateful Blessings,

Jen


Treat and You Will Be Treated

Treat and Be TreatedYou will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. -2 Corinthians 9:11

Reciprocity. The Pastor recently gave an excellent sermon on this foundational principle. God rewards those who do His will, and the manner of his reward is to bless people in the ways they have blessed others. Give and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Sow righteousness and reap a harvest of blessings.

Of course, God is no heavenly ATM machine who rewards people who do good only so they can be rewarded. If your motive is earthly accolades or greedy accumulation, then you will get your reward in praise and stuff, but not in heavenly blessings.

Serving the Lord is kind of like Halloween Trick or Treating, I think. One year, full of greed for candy, and quest for adventure, my neighbors and I decided to go all out. We came up with creative ideas for Halloween costumes and enlisted parental aid in making our imagined outfits a reality. With my mother and father’s assistance and direction, we crafted 3 costumes based on the Muppets. Kermit was made from a cardboard structure overlaid with green felt and half a plastic baseball for eyes. Fozzy the Bear had a chicken wire structure overlaid with brown fake fur, topped with a porkpie hat and neck scarf. Miss Piggy was the most ambitious, with a cardboard structure overlaid with papier-mâché and hand painted in pink. They looked great!  However, they also covered our entire heads and had only small holes for seeing. No matter, it was gonna be awesome.

We drew a map of the neighborhood and discussed and debated the most efficient route for maximum candy. We decided to head waaaay up the main road, several blocks from home and use pillowcases so we could really have a huge haul.

The long-awaited night came! We felt no need to head out early while the sun was still up. Time was not an issue. Up we trudged, block after block passing our friends collecting only in our neighborhood. Yes, the giant heads were kind of hot. Okay, my glasses were totally fogged up. But what enthusiasm we had!

When we finally began knocking on doors, people were amazed and delighted by our costumes. Our pillowcase bags began to fill up. With the foggy eyeglasses and limited vision, I began tripping over roots and landscaping. No problem. Our bags began to get really heavy, and we were still blocks away from home. No worries. Miss Piggy twisted her ankle in the fancy shoes she wore. We pressed on. Fozzy the Bear began to sweat so much his fur was getting soggy. But on we went.

Eventually we realized that we had to return home, only halfway through our route, to empty our sacks and get back out there.  By the time we returned home, weary, sweaty and bruised, we sadly realized it was much too close to bedtime to head back out. Nevertheless, we DID have nearly a pillowcase of candy each!

The next day in school, we learned a sad truth. While we were far away collecting Peanut Chews, Milk Duds, Jawbreakers and gumballs, right on the other side of the street the new family that had moved in was handing out full sized chocolate bars and extra treats for kids from the street.

We missed it. We missed seeing our neighbors. We missed seeing our friends and walking around with them. We missed coming home and seeing more friends come to our door in their costumes. In our quest for more we got more of what turned out to be not so important and missed out on what we realized was really important to us. And we got sore muscles, chills, and bruises to boot.

When we serve God, we need to be sure that our goals and planning are from Him and for Him and not for our own purposes or praise. Even when our goals are good, and our planning is sound, if it is not in God’s timing or will, the odds of us ending up unfulfilled are high. We need to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit so that when we receive our ‘marching orders’ we’re ready to get moving.

When we cheerfully serve, cheerfully give and cheerfully follow after God, with no motive other than to please Him, He will be faithful to provide us with strength, success and support. And these He will provide in amounts and in ways that we could never have imagined. Great is His faithfulness!

Wishing you lots of Halloween treats,

Jen


Dry Bones

Bear BonesThen he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” ~Ezekiel 37:4-6

God is in the RESURRECTION business. This may be one of the most difficult phenomena for us to wrap our heads around, because it just seems so unusual, so unlikely, so impossible…and that’s the point! Only God can do the impossible, so when we see the impossible, we can have faith and know it is Him.

It might be more correct to say that God is in the LIFE business. God has been giving life since the beginning -- angels, plants, animals, mankind. He breathes life into dirt and makes man, into dry bones and makes armies, into deserts and makes gardens, into barren wombs and makes families – and He can breathe life into you: your hopes and dreams, promises you thought passed you by, broken relationships….

Of course, the real miracle is not life, but ETERNAL LIFE. The Bible actually includes a bunch of resurrections by Elijah, Peter, Paul and Jesus, and one ‘accidental’ one by Elisha after he was dead!

Once when some Israelites were burying a man, they spied a band of these raiders. So they hastily threw the corpse into the tomb of Elisha and fled. But as soon as the body touched Elisha’s bones, the dead man revived and jumped to his feet! ~2 Kings 13:21

All those lucky people eventually did die again. But Jesus rose glorified to eternal life. By that miracle we all, through faith, have access to eternal life in Heaven in perfect, glorified bodies.

Without Jesus, we seem to have life, but in reality, we are just ‘dead men walking,’

“And I assure you that the time is coming, indeed it’s here now, when the dead will hear my voice—the voice of the Son of God. And those who listen will live. The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son. ~John 5:25-26

Without being alive in the Spirit we miss out on the resurrection power that flows through all believers. And yes, we have access to that power:

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. ~Ephesians 1:19-20

So, as you pass the skeleton and skull displays this season, think of them as a positive reminder of your mortality. Yes, we’re just dry bones now, but in Christ, those dry bones are rattling! God’s resurrection power has given us new life! We are born again by the Spirit, and we will live the next life for eternity!

Blessings,

Jen Jahromi

 


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 


Why Me?

Bunny Pout cropWhy won’t you leave me alone, at least long enough for me to swallow!  If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity?  Why make me your target?  Am I a burden to you? -Job 7:19-20

Listening to the Pastor’s message this past Sunday, I had a moment where I really thought he had read my mind. He was speaking about overwhelming problems and how they are the necessary precursors to miracles. But he suggested that many of us only see the ‘overwhelming’ part and respond in three ways: procrastinating, blaming others, and finally worrying, stressing and feeling frustration.

I have to admit that in facing the task of getting the Education Building ready for in-person Sunday School, I did ALL of those. And even as I finally began tackling the job bit by bit, I alternated between pouting at not being able to ‘pass the buck,’ stamping my feet in frustration, and whining “Why me?”

If we’re honest, we've all probably had (or at least thought) these responses to the problems that loom large in front of us. For some of us, those feelings pop up when we have a flat tire. Or get a cold. Or get caught in a freak rain shower.

Somewhere along the way, the unconscious thought that life should be good most, if not all, of the time creeped in. As Christians, we may be tempted to believe a good God should protect His children from every hardship, large and small. Even in our western culture, we have been conditioned to have a low pain threshold, both physically and emotionally.

We have shelves full of pain relievers to choose from, and when those aren’t enough, some turn to alcohol or illegal drugs. TV commercials tell us to pamper ourselves in comfort. Any type of difficulty or unpleasantness is treated like an affront to our happiness.

When challenges arise, instead of asking "Why Me?" why don't we ask, "Why Not Me?"

When we ask, "Why Me?" we make our circumstances more important than Jesus. We forget the temporariness of this life and the eternity of life with him. We forget that our challenges and suffering in this life teach us important lessons and develop our Christ-like character:

“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

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. -- James 1:2-4

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” --2 Corinthians 12:7-9

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. --1 Peter 1:6-7

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
    as a father the son he delights in

--Proverbs 3:11-12

That last verse reminded me why pouting, whining, stamping my feet and complaining to the Lord about the unfairness of my situation were the wrong reactions. I found myself thinking “I don’t wanna, I’m not gonna, you can’t make me!” My reaction was like a child frustrated and overwhelmed by a task. But the Lord is like a gentle parent who won’t let you out of the task but will stay with you as you tackle it bit by bit. This is how children grow and mature: by taking on increasingly difficult challenges. Why should we think that growing into mature Christians would be any different?

Adversity can be overwhelming, but escaping discomfort is not the most important thing in life -- Jesus is. Difficulties and trials are unfair. They kidnap our attention and try to force us to look only at our pain, disappointment or irritation. You don't deserve it, but there's no way out. You have to keep going, but don’t forget there's someone going through it with you -- Jesus.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” --Deuteronomy 31:8

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” --Matthew 28:20

Someday, you will stand face-to-face with your Savior. You will gaze at the beauty of your new home, filled with never-ending love. You will look at the nail scars on Jesus' hands. You will know your unworthiness to be there and, filled with gratitude and humility, you will ask, "Why Me?"

Humbly yours,

Jen


Happy Fall Y'All!

Harvest Bear FlagYou crown the year with a bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance. --Psalm 65:11

Welcome to Autumn! Or more colloquially, “Happy Fall Y’All!”

Fall is my favorite season. I like everything about it: the cooler temperatures, the colorful leaves, back-to-school, apples, pumpkins and gourds, fire pits, and two of my favorite holidays.

Another wonderful thing about Fall is the harvest. Harvest is the welcome reward for all the investing and tending and waiting since Spring. I fear that this is getting lost on newer generations that are farther from the land. And of course, these days we can find fruits and veggies in our grocery that are not in season here. But that isn’t how it used to be.

Back in the day, Harvest brought such joy because it was security for the future. A good harvest meant the farmers got paid for the year. A good harvest meant food to can, jam, dry, or pickle and store up to survive the winter. A good harvest meant that the family could bless others with the fruits of their labor. And what a joy to finally get to taste the fruits and vegetables as they came into season – things you hadn’t had fresh for a year.

THE LORD OF THE HARVEST

God also wants us to celebrate the Harvest. “Celebrate the Festival of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops you sow in your field. Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in your crops from the field. “ --Exodus 23:16  Yes, we harvest with joy, but God wants us to remember that the firstfruits of the harvest belong to Him. In truth, the entire harvest is His, because He has made everything and given us everything and blessed us with sun and rain.

But even more, God uses the harvest that nurtures our bodies, as a metaphor for the spiritual harvest that nurtures our souls.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. --Galatians 6:9

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. --James 3:18

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. --James 5:7

And the Spiritual Harvest is not just about us, it is about winning souls for Jesus and bringing in more people to spend eternity in Heaven. This is the last job Jesus gave us before returning to the Father, and it is what our Christian walk is truly all about:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” --Matthew 9:36-38

Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. --John 4:35

Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” --Revelation 14:15

One day, soon and very soon, there will be a great Harvest Festival in Heaven. That will be the best celebration because the abundant Harvest will be our friends and families, our neighbors and co-workers, the kids we taught in VBS, the lady in the grocery line we spoke to, the waitress we prayed with, the Mom at the playground we invited to church, the missionaries we supported, the kids and families they won to Christ, the children around the world we supported and wrote to every month, our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren who we never even met but who shared a legacy of love for Christ that we laid the foundation for. What a glorious day that will be! And if there’s some apple cider, s’mores, pumpkin bread and pickled beets there, all the better!

Happy Harvesting,

Jen