Gifts

The Author

Peace Love and Joy cropLooking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, and despised the shame, and is set at the right hand of the throne of God.

-Hebrews 12:2

I love books. As a child, I eagerly awaited our trips to the library. Every book was like a ticket to some wonder-filled, entertaining land. I lingered over every one, savoring the word usage and swimming through the illustrations. From the time I was old enough to hold a crayon, I was writing stories and decorating them with pictures. Many people in my life were sure that I would be an author someday.

And I do have a book inside me that is struggling to come out. It’s an epic adventure of a boy and some friends who end up in a strange land of wonders and miracles and go on a quest to fight evil, restore a kingdom and experience personal transformation along the way. With naïve enthusiasm, I want to fill it with humor, daring, and wits, along with amazing supernatural encounters and some moral lessons as well. I’ve had the skeleton of an outline for years now. I thought if I threw enough stuff into my mind’s ‘stew pot’ something amazing would just pop out. But it hasn’t been like that. I’ve had some flashes of inspiration and there are a couple of notebooks filled with them, but it’s just raw material.

On cable, I discovered ‘The Great Courses: Writing Literature’ lectures. As I watch them and try to digest them, feeling memories from college days reawaken, it is becoming clear to me that there is sooo much more involved in coming up with a story than just some ideas. The plot is a carefully chosen selection of scenes and events and dialogue that move the story along, always with some point to them: showing characters’ desires, motives, traits, presenting challenges, facing challenges, transforming or not. There are all kinds of plot and character arcs. There are flat characters who just serve one particular purpose and round characters that interact with and shape the story. My ‘stew pot’ is getting larger and larger and it’s beginning to feel overwhelming.

The professor imparted some wisdom that had been imparted to him by his high school English teacher: Literature is bringing order out of chaos.

Okay, stay with me here for a moment. Our lives, in fact life in general, can be regarded as just a series of events: some causal, some not, some planned, some not, most of which do not have an overarching theme or redemption arc or really any point. What I mean is, If you listed out your day, or your week, or your life event by event: grocery shopping, trip to the dentist, signing up with a gym, etc., it would look to most people like what Pastor Bill describes as ‘spending’ your life - doing the stuff we all do day to day, year to year - the chaos of existence. And, you know, maybe it IS. Or, maybe there’s more!

Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the Author and finisher of our faith. The author’s job is to carefully pick and choose particular scenes, events and moments out of a life-full of material, and craft it together with a theme, to reveal a plot over time – to make it into a cohesive story and to give meaning to otherwise ordinary events.  Jesus does this with each of his followers, and if we take the time to look over our lives with his eyes, we will start to really see it. Foreshadowing? Oh, it’s probably there. A neighbor or teacher or parent that saw something in you that you didn’t see in yourself. Conflict? No doubt. Then success or failure and the transformation they brought about. Flat characters that came into your life for just a brief time to help or challenge you in one particular way – I’ll bet they’re there. Surely round characters that came into your story and made it richer and deeper, forcing you to grow in new ways. And if you are a Jesus-follower, I guarantee there’s a redemption arc – from sinner to saint, but perhaps from short-tempered to patient, from gruff to tender-hearted, from lone-wolf to people-person? I wouldn’t be surprised if there were also some answered prayers, some healed relationships, some inexplicable blessings, and some tragedies that eventually became triumphs in some way. Looking back, we see the hand of the Lord working throughout our lives to craft a story that brings Him glory and makes us more like Him.

And your story isn’t over. It’s still being lovingly written.

If Literature is bringing order out of chaos, if it is finding powerful meaning in a life full of ordinary experiences, if it is finding a theme that weaves everything into a cohesive whole, and if that can be done for every soul on the planet, then Jesus is truly the greatest Author that the world has ever or will ever know. I don’t think it would be too much to say that every story is HIStory.

PRAYER: O Lord, Author of life, help us to see the beauty of our own story, and give us the courage to share it with others to point them to You. Remind us of Jesus’ story which has the supernatural power to convict souls, break hearts and transform lives. Make us always ready to tell the old, old stories. Amen.

Blessings,

Jen


Godly Women's Mother's Day

Godly Woman's PrayerTitus 2:4-5

GOD’S WORD Translation

In this way they will teach young women to show love to their husbands and children, to use good judgment, and to be morally pure. Also, tell them to teach young women to be homemakers, to be kind, and to place themselves under their husbands’ authority. Then no one can speak evil of God’s word.

We often refer to the Bible as God’s instruction manual. In fact, KJ calls it Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. And it truly is! As I was saying in last week’s devotional, I didn’t have any models of Christian marriage in my life when I became a Christian. Nor any models of Christian parenting.  So, as the over-achieving student I am, I dug right in to the ‘instruction manual’ to see what God had to say about marriage and parenting.  Suffice to say that although there are similarities to the worldly versions, the focus is all different, and that difference changes everything.

Marriage is a partnership. We embrace that in our culture – a joining of two equals. In fact, many couples omit that part about promising ‘to love, honor and obey.’ But the Bible is pretty clear about marriage being a hierarchy. In fact, God is obviously VERY big on hierarchies because He establishes them again and again throughout the Bible. If you feel yourself resisting authority, as I did, BEWARE, because authority and obedience are major themes and powerful lessons in the Bible.

Yes, women are called to be obedient to their husbands. In other verses the term is ‘submission.’ Hoowee, if you want to see ladies get riled up right quick, try to discuss THAT in Bible Study! But in verse after verse all throughout the Bible, that is God’s plan. And it’s a beautiful plan. It’s a plan that is another archetype of our relationship with Jesus. Our relationships on earth prepare us for our relationship with God. And for any men who snickered at ‘submission,’ God calls every last one of us to submit to Him and His authority.

God knows us and loves us. Good parents know that sometimes what gets through to one child may not work at all on another. You tailor discipline and teaching to the nature and temperament of each child. And so it was with Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were partners, but in the Garden of Eden on that fateful day, Eve acted individually in chatting up that snake and tasting the forbidden fruit. Then she convinced Adam to try it too. Eve took authority, decided it would be awesome to be like God, and her punishment was to be ‘ruled by her husband.’ For being irresponsible and not taking authority, God punished Adam with hard work. Personally, I see some humor in this. I know it is my nature to want to ‘take charge,’ when reasoning together or submitting would be much more sound, and in KJ’s nature to let me go ahead and make those tough decisions so he doesn’t have to. Luckily, we haven’t tried any bad apples – yet.

AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION are such harsh words, and looking through a worldly lens, one can see that all kinds of negative power dynamics are possible in a system built on them. But that’s the uniqueness of the often-misunderstood Christian perspective. God IS love. Everything He gives us is based on love. Love is the fuel that makes His Kingdom go, on earth as it is in Heaven. Loving AUTHORITY is taking responsibility for the family’s best interests. It is taking the burden of leading the family in following God and discerning His will in every circumstance. And it is dispensing loving correction when needed. Loving SUBMISSION is just what the above verse in Titus 2 is all about. It is loving your husband by focusing on His needs, it is caring for the children and looking after their needs. (Of course, in the hierarchy, children should be honoring and obeying their parents.) It is being a good partner and making suggestions and recommendations, but understanding that in the end, the husband is the final authority. It takes a lot of good judgement and self-control not to overstep the authority God puts in our lives. But He gives us authority to help us stay on track and in His will and to teach us how to submit to Him which is the process of becoming holy and pure.

AUTHORITY and SUBMISSION are the two sides of the Divine nature. God leads, God commands, God guides, He gives us loving discipline. But He is a SERVANT LEADER. He cares for us, He provides for us, He comforts us, and all with kindness, humility and tender mercy. Jesus taught us humble submission. He washed feet, fed thousands, spent hours telling stories with a moral at the end, healed boo-boos, told the hard truth when necessary for others’ personal growth, taught how to pray and prayed a lot himself. That’s the picture of a godly Wife and Mother. It is a high calling indeed.

Happy Mothers’ Day,

Jen


Love Stands When All Else Has Fallen

Love Stands brite

Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen.

1 Corinthians 13: 7-8a (J.B. Phillips New Testament)

I had the absolute joy of watching my Godson get married this weekend. Seated with my best friends and their grown children, I could not help but think back to the time when we were in their shoes. It turned out that KJ and I had been married the longest of all the couples there. It’s hard to grasp how much time has gone by and all the ways we’ve grown and changed. Through all the vicissitudes of life, our commitment to each other remains.

Marriage is a good archetype of the kind of relationship that Jesus wants to have with us. In several places in the Bible we, the Church, are referred to as the Bride of Christ. And in Revelations, we see that we will be invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. Like an earthly Bride and Groom, we will be dressed in special clothing, and bound together before God with great celebration. 🎊

As in marriage, when we accept Jesus, we make a life-long (and really, eternity-long) commitment to love, honor and obey Him. We promise to be faithful to Him only. We promise to put Him first in our lives and to consider Him before all else. We accept with joy that our former way of living as an individual, caring only for our self-interest has ended, and that a new way of life has begun. We are no longer our own. We live for someone else. We are a new creation with a new name.

And like earthly marriage, our relationship deepens with time. Challenges come, mistakes are made, and we learn how to grow and become better people. As we ‘do life together’ we learn to develop joy, patience, kindness, humility and many other of the fruits of the spirit. We come to understand that true love is sacrifice and as time passes, we get better at making sacrifices: our time, our money, our desire to have our own way, to have control over where life takes us and much, much more.

At Saturday’s wedding, as the longest married couple, they stuck a microphone in our faces and asked our advice on a happy marriage. “The wife is always right,” “be each other’s best friend,” “don’t go to bed angry,” were some of our responses. But I supposed we missed the chance to mention the most important ingredient of all: Jesus. KJ was recently talking about the Trinity, saying how just as there is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each person also is a trinity of body, mind and spirit. A marriage should also be a trinity – the couple and Jesus. We did the first few years of our marriage without Jesus in it, and it very nearly ended. There was little fruit of the spirit, little compromise, too much self-interest, and too many hurt feelings. Once we were born again through faith, we both realized that we actually did not know what real love was. I did a deep dive into 1 Corinthians 13 and was shocked to discover that I would have to give up my pride and vanity and throw away my list of wrongs and hurts! I was called to forgive even when I didn’t want to. Suddenly our marriage was going to look much different from those we grew up around and those that surrounded us then. I am now persuaded that it is impossible to truly, selflessly love another person without Jesus in your heart.

Married or not, the Holy Spirit can do amazing, profound, transformative work in you to sanctify you and make you the perfect Bride for Jesus. And this is who we were designed to be: people fully committed to Him, people fully dependent on Him, people sacrificing their will to His and receiving in return the unimaginable love, protection and care of One who can make all things possible and invites us into His eternal home to be part of the family forever!

PRAYER: Lord of New Beginnings, bless all the couples joining their lives together this wedding season, as well as all of those who are continuing in their commitment to one another. Send healing and comfort to those who wish to be married and are not. Stir the embers of love in hearts that have grown cold. Continue to transform us as we present our lives to You as an offering. Make us holy and worthy to be Your Bride.

Blissful Blessings,

Jen


My Work Here is Done

My Work Here is Done...to accept [our] lot and be happy in [our] work -- this is a gift of God.

-Ecclesiastes 5:19

After years of isolation and closures due to the pandemic, companies are trying to lure their employees back to work. Public facing companies and stores are increasing incentives to attract a workforce which seems less than motivated. Public service agencies and charities are struggling to find people to help everywhere from city streets to hospitals to war zones.

Everything about the job market, management and labor is coming under scrutiny. Young people graduating from college seem unwilling to put up with the hardships that people of my generation faced. But I counsel them that selling your labor is never an easy thing. We like to pretend we’re in control but having a boss to answer to breaks that illusion. Even Jesus himself suggests that life is hard work but reassures us that His path is easiest “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 Note that Jesus says you will still be wearing a yoke!

With the wisdom of some years, I consider what a blessing it is to have useful skills and to be able to put them to use to serve others, build something, or create and maintain the systems that make the world go. Work gives us purpose and purpose gives us dignity and fosters self-worth. To be sure, we are more than our occupation. But perhaps we are not more than what we do. Love is an action verb and so doing the work of caretaker for children or parents, the work of volunteering at church, the work of feeding the hungry, the work of visiting the homebound, the work of tutoring, the work of repairing roofs on a mission trip, etc. is the work of loving our neighbors.

Jesus was a busy guy. He was the original ‘man on a mission,’ and he never shied away from the hard, draining work of preaching, teaching, and healing. He wore himself out frequently but renewed his spirit by talking to His Father in Heaven.

Work can be hard, even a drudgery sometimes, but at those moments, it's important to remember Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” He is watching us, and our ultimate reward is from Him.  I know that's what my hubby was thinking as he and his fellow mission workers baked on a roof in Louisiana one day, only to watch fierce storms tear at their work the next.  Every bit of kingdom work we do here on earth stores up a treasure for us in Heaven. Laundry, cleaning the toilet, mowing the law -- if done out of love for others, and for His glory, will gain us the appreciation in Heaven that we often lack here on earth.  So, if you're overlooked for that raise, or someone else takes credit for your idea, remember that the only boss truly worth impressing is The Big Boss -- The Man Upstairs.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to find joy in my labor, and to seek approval from You and not the world. Let my work bring glory to You and Your Kingdom. And let me show Your love to others by being a servant like your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray, Amen.

Blessings,

Jen


The Nails, The Thorns and The Lamb

Lamb Crown of ThornsThis 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.

-- 1 John 3:16

In the Ladies’ Bible Study we’re doing Max Lucado’s He Chose the Nails for Lent. We’ve done this study before, but the revelations in it are so profound that it bears doing again. Plus, Max Lucado is a supreme storyteller.

I feet moved to share just a bit about the symbols of Easter that I had never considered before.

NAILS

Nails are meant to bring things together. They are also used to repair broken things. As a carpenter, Jesus undoubtedly had plenty of experience with nails. They were definitely tools of his trade. He spent his young life creating, building and mending. And in a very real way, he finished His life by doing the same thing for the Kingdom of God and all of humanity. Those nails tore his flesh, but as he was suspended between Heaven and earth, the joined them together by making a way for us to get back to God. Those nails repaired our broken relationship with our Father Creator. Those nails built a stairway to Heaven made of His body and blood and faith in Him as our Savior.

THORNS

Way back in Genesis when Adam and Eve thought it would be fun to be like God, God punished their sin by cursing the ground with thorns so it would be hard for them to get food (Genesis 3:17-19). So right there, thorns became a symbol of the punishment for sin. And remember Myrrh from the Christmas story? It was the spice used for anointing the dead which was harvested from a bush with long thorns. And there, after the terrible scourging, Roman soldiers made a crown of thorns and pressed it into Jesus’ tender flesh. The punishment for sin and symbol of death’s anointing turned into an ironic acknowledgment that Christ, the truest King of the Jews would take all the punishment for the entire world’s sin on His head until His death.

LAMB

In the agrarian societies of the Biblical lands lamb and sheep were a major source of nourishment. But of course, you had to raise it and care for it before it could be dinner. Later, the lamb became a symbol of sacrifice: first, when Abraham was about to sacrifice his only son for God and the sheep appeared, then later at the very first Passover when God commanded His people to sacrifice an unblemished lamb and use its blood to cover their doorways so that they would be saved from Death. Eventually, Jesus became the unblemished Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. How this works is a mystery, but there is a recurring pattern of God’s transforming work in our lives: that some form of death always precedes new life – and death never has the last word. Jesus, the unblemished, sinless lamb of God gave up His life in this world so that we could have life in the world to come. When we crucify our old, worldly ways to the cross daily, we die to sin so that we can live for and in Christ. We feed on the body of Christ at communion to be spiritually nourished and strengthened for the days ahead, just as the Jews feasted on their Passover lamb to be strengthened for their journey out of Egypt and out of slavery to sin and live fully as God’s special, holy nation.

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

-- Revelation 22:3-4

I have no doubt that God used all of these symbols and more in all of these ways, and more, to show us and tell us the most important thing that we could ever know: That God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -- John 3:16

Wishing you a Blessed Resurrection Day,

Jen


Who Needs Luck?

Irish Frienship Wish15 Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way.

~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

I’m a holiday person…perhaps too much. I just always loved the colorful classroom decorations for the various holidays as the year wore on, and especially all the symbols. St. Patrick’s day has lots of lucky symbols: four leaf clovers, rainbows, pots of gold and horseshoes.

I have no idea where the idea of ‘the luck of the Irish’ came from. But it does make me wonder if, indeed, there is such a thing as luck. I used to believe in that kind of stuff, but as a Christian, I find myself much more skeptical of luck, coincidence, and even fate or destiny. I now believe much more in blessings, God’s will and the hope of the blessed assurance.

Ultimately, we know that bad things still happen to good people. And we know that even as believers we have little control over our destiny, as God holds the future in His hands, and He is historically tight-lipped about what the future holds. Further, we know that we are endowed by God with free will to make decisions and choose how to live.

So then, how are Christians different than anyone else? The answer is in what we believe and how that belief changes how we view things. Non-believers may see themselves as victims of venomous fate, or see themselves as naturally lucky or cursed, or believe that all they have is due to their own hard work and smarts. But what happens when the luck runs out, or the business fails, or they fail? When things look bleak, who do they turn to? Where does their help come from? I can tell you from past experience, they are hopeless. They have nothing to put their faith in that is firm and unshakable. They can ‘hope’ that things get better, but unlike Christian ‘hope’ they have no assurance of a loving God who sifts everything through His perfect will and “plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Christians who truly believe and behave like God is control have no fear of the future while the world is in chaos and anxiety is pervasive. Christians who know God is in control don’t need to hoard or save excessively. They get on their knees, and then they get to work. And eventually this calm assurance begins to attract the attention of others. And when others ask about your ‘luck’ or your hopeful assurance, be ready to explain it. Be ready to explain that Christ’s death on a cross of shame freed us to live a life reconciled to God, as his precious children. And because we can trust Him to bring something positive for our benefit out of every situation, because we can rely on Him to lead us in His will, we never have to be anxious, we never have to feel hopeless. Our help comes from the Lord, maker of Heaven and earth. Our feet will always be on the solid rock even when the storm is raging around us. And when our time comes, sooner or later, to leave this earth, we know for sure that a glorious Heaven is waiting for us.

So, who needs luck? Just give me Jesus!

Top ‘o the Mornin’ to ye,

Jenny 

May there always be work for your hands to do.

May your purse always hold a coin or two,

May the sun always shine on your windowpane.

May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain,

May the hand of a friend always be near you,

May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

 


Seed of Faith

Spring Flowers…What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. ~1 Corinthians 15:36

I am not a gardener. I have probably drawn more flowers than I have ever successfully grown. I call myself “the accidental gardener” because most of the things that pop up out of our garden are a complete surprise. One year we left the Halloween pumpkins out too long and the next Fall, to my amazement, there was a crop of mini pumpkins which somehow planted, watered and grew themselves.

My lack of a green thumb aside, I love to watch things grow. I cheerfully anticipate the first crocuses of Spring, the hyacinths, tulips and daffodils of Easters past, and the buds on the trees. Spring brings a colorful renewal of life from gray, dead winter that practically preaches its own sermon.

The Bible is just FULL of verses, analogies and parables about seeds and growing. Like seeds, we also grow – not merely physically, but spiritually. And we need ‘good soil’ and ‘water’ and ‘nurturing’ in order to flourish and produce a harvest. Additionally, just as in nature, we must die to our old state (like winter) in order to experience rebirth and resurrection (like spring). And like seed, God’s kingdom starts small, growing in one heart, but increases exponentially as it ripens and is spread to become a blessing and harvest for many. Jesus and the Apostles used parables and analogies around all these various concepts to try to illustrate God’s kingdom and our part in it.  Here are a few of my favorites to ponder:

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-8, 13-20)

3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

The Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29)

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30-32)

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

John 12:23-25

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

1 Corinthians 3:6-7

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

The Resurrection Body (1 Corinthians 15:36-39,42-44)

36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

1 Peter 1:23

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

2 Corinthians 9:10-11

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You 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.

Like a fruit, our seed of faith can grow and produce more seeds of faith for us to scatter and plant to create a harvest of more believers which grows the kingdom of God and produces more fruits of the spirit and more righteousness that eventually comes closer to bringing God’s kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven! What a wonderful blossoming of faith that will be.

Blessings of buds and blossoms,

Jen 


Facing Mortality

Young ManTherefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. ~2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Lent, and Ash Wednesday in particular, are the one time of year we are confronted with our mortality. Most people prefer to think on that subject as little as possible. Death is an inconvenience to all we hold dear: family, work, meaning, control, freedom, etc. But make no mistake, it is a fate that all of humanity WILL share. Pondering that and making a decision about our eternal destination will either bring us to the cross in humility or send us running into the world to try everything under the sun.

My mother-in-law has end-stage lung cancer and dementia. As unwilling spectators of her decline, there has not been much dignity in death. As hard as it is to watch, though, I am mindful that she is still a beloved child of God with a home in Heaven, and that one day, sooner or later, this may very well be my own fate. God was well aware of this progression, and through Solomon, he gave us a poetic look at our inevitable decline in Ecclesiastes 12.

12 Remember your Creator
    in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
    and the years approach when you will say,
    “I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
    and the moon and the stars grow dark,
    and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
    and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
    and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
    and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
    but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
    and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms

    and the grasshopper drags itself along
    and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
    and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

 

(My Transliteration)

Remember God and make a decision to follow Jesus while you are young before you get old and it’s too late, and the time comes when you find no pleasure in life.

Before your mind becomes clouded and your mood depressed.

When your hands tremble and your legs and back stoop.

When your teeth are too few to chew your food well, and your eyesight grows dim;

When your hearing fails and sounds are hard to hear;

When you wake up early in the morning and at the smallest sound;

When fear of falling and of crowds keeps you from going out;

When your hair turns white, and you’re your vigor and desire to be active are gone, and you no longer care for the things that once brought you joy.

Then you will die, and people will mourn for you.

Remember God now and be reconciled to him before the silver cord of your lamp is broken and your golden light goes out forever, before you can no longer be filled with the water of life, and your body becomes dust, and your spirit returns to God for judgment.

 

Yes, we were created to be eternal beings, but because of our choice to sin, we have become mortal beings, living in our ‘earth tents’ for just a short time. And this tent will wear out.

But death is not an ending, it is merely the beginning of a new chapter. As the Bible points out, a seed seems dead until it bursts forth with a seedling. (1 Corinthians 15:36) Similarly, we will receive a new imperishable body and be reunited with the Lord. How all this comes about is still a bit of a mystery. But the Bible does say, “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” ~2 Corinthians 5:1.

For those who have chosen to fear God and accept Jesus as the Lord of their lives, taking his light yoke as willing bondservants, a glorious new beginning awaits us: ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” ~Revelation 7:16-17 And as Sara Groves sings, “I know to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord, and from what I know of him, that must be very good.” (What Do I Know).

Blessings of Abundant Life,

Jen

 


A Traveler's Tale

A traveler was walking through the wilderness. As he crested a rocky hill, he heard a weak, desperate bleat. Going over to a low thicket he spied a sheep hopelessly caught in the thorns. Pulling out his multi-tool, the traveler quickly cut away the thorns and freed the sheep.

“How did this happen?” the traveler asked.

“Oh,” began the hurting sheep, “I was with the flock, being led by the shepherd, the same as every day. Then I saw a rabbit over here eating some tasty looking berries. I wandered over here to have some. They were farther in the thicket than I thought, and I scratched my nose and legs. Worst of all, the berries were bitter and terrible. When I tried to leave, I realized I was stuck, and I didn’t even know which way the flock went. All I want now is to get back to the shepherd.”

“Everything will be alright,” said the traveler. “I know the way to the Shepherd.”

They continued down the road together and eventually came to a town. As they strolled down the main street, they heard the sound of loud sweeping down a side street. Turning to check it out, the traveler spied a silver coin in the dust at their feet. He stooped to pick it up and noticed that the face on it seemed to be crying.

Bemused, the traveler said, “Well, how did you get here?”

The face on the coin blinked and said, “I belong to a poor widow. I am her dearest treasure. She was counting me and the other coins when a chariot rode by at top speed and rattled the table. I fell off, and as luck would have it, I landed on my edge and rolled right under the door. Now I’m lost! I’m lost and I’ll never be found!

“Everything will be alright,” said the traveler. “Nothing can truly separate you.”

The traveler took the coin to sound of sweeping where there was a joyful reunion. After a small neighborhood celebration, the traveler invited the widow to come along with them. He promised her that where they were going, all that she had would always be enough. She gladly accepted.

They continued out of the town and out into the countryside dotted with farms. As they passed close to one farm they noticed a loud grunting of pigs. Turning to look, they saw a young man with a pail full of rotted fruit balancing on a hay bail to feed a group of excited pigs. As he swung the pail, the momentum carried him over the fence and into the pigpen, full of mud and filth.

“Do you need some help?” asked the Traveler, kindly.

“I’m beyond help,” cried the young man. “I’m beyond hope!”

“Not at all,” the Traveler reassured him. “Where we’re headed, everyone gets just what they need. It’s a place full of help, full of hope and full of love. Would you like to come with us?”

“You don’t want me. I was so selfish. I rejected my father and demanded my inheritance. I left him to go my own way. I was going to make it big, but I spent all I had trying to impress strangers, doing things I don’t even want to remember. They all left when the money ran out. Now I’m alone with no family…just pigs.”

“Sounds like what you really need is forgiveness,” offered the Traveler. “I promise you will find it where we’re headed.”

The young man climbed out of the pigpen and joined the band on their way. They traveled a long time, with the mysterious traveler telling them wonderful stories of the place they were headed. Finally, on a hill, far away, they saw an estate. As they got closer, they saw an old man running out to meet them followed by a trail of servants.

“Oh! I’ve been waiting for you all!” He cried, embracing them one by one. He had the servants place a robe on them. Finally, he embraced the muddy young man.

“Father? Father!” the youth cried, as the old man embraced him.

"All is forgiven, my dear son."

The old man wiped tears from his eyes. “We shall have a great feast! You will all be washed and dressed in fine linen. You’re part of the family, now. I have special rooms, prepared just for you. Whatever you need, just ask and it will be given!

And the sheep that wandered found a home. And the coin that was lost, was given a special place of honor. And the son that willfully rejected his father, was forgiven and reunited with his loving family.

Adapted from Luke 15

“In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Whether you wandered away, distracted by the world with its charms and its worries, or got lost because of an unfortunate decision or mistake, or willfully rejected the Father and His love, remember, there is always a place for you in the Father’s house. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. Your inheritance of grace, mercy and forgiveness are waiting for you.

Blessings,

Jen


New Year all Year

0210131602aHappy New Year! What again? Yes, Tuesday began the Lunar New Year – Year of the Tiger. Supposedly, the tiger is commonly associated with something like bravery, courage and strength, and can also be viewed as an uplifting animal that can give people hope. Another animal that can give people hope is Punxsutawney Phil, that prognosticating groundhog who will either predict a longer winter or early spring.

In just a few more months at the Vernal Equinox, spring will arrive and with it, Nowruz, the Persian New Year. And then a season later, in September, Rosh Hashana will bring the Jewish New Year.  So, if you’re having trouble with your resolutions, you have plenty of opportunities for a ‘mulligan’ or do-over!  For that matter, as the saying goes, ‘tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life!’ So every day is the day to start.

Jesus was all about the fresh starts. In fact, that’s why He came. You mess up, you make a big mistake, you make a bad decision…the world might never let you forget it, but Jesus will forgive and give you a clean slate. Confession will cover you in His grace and God will see only His righteousness, not your sin.  For anyone who has lived with shame and regret, this is such a wonderful experience to let go of the burdens of sin weighing you down!

People seem to love the next new thing: new cars, new homes, new cell phones, the latest fashions, new vacation destinations, new crossword puzzles… New can be really exciting. And now the New Thing can be YOU!

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

…Put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, (Colossians 3:9-11)

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

So, whether you are looking forward to dancing dragons, groundhogs, bunnies or the Year of the Tiger, make sure that for you and your family this is also the Year of the Lamb – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and who is just thrilled to take away YOUR sins and give you a fresh start full of courage, strength and hope.

Blessings of Newness,

Jen